George Kittle's Possible Return and Fantasy Expectations in Week 9

Jimmy Garoppolo bounced back with a big game during last week's homecoming in Chicago, finishing as the No. 2 fantasy QB in Week 8. Jimmy G has more rushing scores this season than Lamar Jackson, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey. Still, Garoppolo is tough to rank as a top-15 fantasy QB in Week 9 facing a strong Arizona pass defense that ranks No. 2 in DVOA and has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Moreover, fewer points need to be projected with Kyler Murray either missing this game or hobbled while dealing with a "legitimate" ankle sprain.

Elijah Mitchell has missed practice this week with a rib injury, but assuming he's good to go, he's a top-10 fantasy RB as San Francisco's clear feature back. The rookie has been given 36 of the team's 42 carries over the last two weeks. More targets would be nice for Mitchell's fantasy value, but he leads all running backs in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt and explosive carry (10-plus yards) rate. The Cardinals have arguably the league's most improved defense this season but have lost J.J. Watt, and Sunday's game script could prove favorable for San Francisco should Murray sit. Mitchell looks like fantasy football's best waiver wire pickup of 2021.

JaMycal Hasty would become a fine flex option should Mitchell's rib injury force him out of Week 9, and Jeff Wilson Jr. needs to be stashed in deeper formats after he was designated to return from IR this week. George Kittle's expected return Sunday should be a nice boost to San Francisco's rushing attack.

Kittle can immediately be treated as a top-10 fantasy tight end if he's back, but expectations should be tempered given his injury and opponent; the Cardinals have allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends this season (and just 28.1 yards per game). Moreover, Kittle has yet to see a single red-zone target this year and somehow has just three since the start of last season. His lack of touchdowns isn't a fluke.

Brandon Aiyuk recorded season-highs in snap, route and target percentages last week and even got praise from Kyle Shanahan, so he's back on the fantasy radar. He'd become a strong Week 9 start should Deebo Samuel's recurring calf injury force him to sit, but the NFL's target share leader is expected to go Sunday. Samuel also ranks top-three in yards per route run and fantasy points per game while leading in yards after the catch. The Cardinals defense has been terrific this season, but they've been middling versus fantasy receivers.

The 49ers defense could be a sit or start depending on whether it's Murray or Colt McCoy getting the nod at quarterback for Arizona. A hobbled Murray will likely affect the Cardinals either way, and he's slowed down significantly after receiving MVP hype early on, totaling just 38 rushing yards over the last four games. The 49ers have allowed only 6.8 YPA this season, while both DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are battling injuries/COVID. Chase Edmonds is a fine fantasy start this week, but James Conner is risky being so touchdown dependent and in a game McCoy may play QB.

The 49ers are the only team in the NFL that ranks top-six both in yards per play and yards per play against, as San Francisco remains a sleeper better than its record may suggest.


Dalton Del Don has been with Yahoo! Sports since 2013, covering fantasy football, baseball and basketball. He appears on multiple podcasts each week and currently resides in the Bay Area, where he is an avid fan of the Golden State Warriors and 49ers.

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