Some years ago, my most successful teams typically had a retention
rate of 60 to 70 percent. In other words, my best teams typically
had about 11 or 12 of the 18 players I drafted at season's end.
Nowadays, I'm lucky to keep it over 50. It's not bad drafting (at
least not usually), but rather a sign of the times. Players get
better during the season, some get worse, others get suspended,
etc. Many owners typically need to make one trade during the course
of the season and injuries usually claim at least a handful of players
along the way. It's a grind. Owners who are willing to embrace the
grind are the most successful.
Part of the grind is trying to find the following week's (and
even next year's) stars one week before their "breakout."
Quite often, the magic formula is when ability (talent) meets
opportunity (playing time) and is combined with a positive environment
(favorable matchup). Short of that, we'd love to snag the upcoming
week's surprise fantasy MVP, whether it be to win a fantasy matchup
we otherwise weren't supposed to or block another owner from having
him on their roster.
I can't speak for every fantasy owner, but most of us in competitive
and/or high-stakes leagues acquire or sharpen the ability to find
comfort in chaos as the season comes to an end. Very few of us
get to play all season with essentially the same lineup we drafted
in August. Winning fantasy titles usually requires taking a chance
on at least one - if not multiple - relatively unproven players
in the final two to three weeks of the season.
To that end, I compiled a list of 12 players who currently sport
an ownership rate lower than 25 percent on Yahoo! who
I believe have a shot at helping owners get into the league championship
game next week. At least one player at every position is available
in each of my high-stakes leagues with 12 teams and 18-man rosters
at the moment, so the odds some of the players - if not most -
will be available in many leagues. A win this week typically guarantees
owners finish in the money, so finding a potential high-upside
streamer (and hitting on him) is kind of a big deal.
For what it's worth, I used two of the players I mentioned in
last week's "Meet the Kids"
article in my most important high-stakes league and rode them
to an upset win despite being without Melvin
Gordon, watching Leonard
Fournette struggle for a mere 6.1 points and getting fewer
than 20 points from Drew
As an added benefit, I chose to list some players I'd bench this
week in order to start the player I discuss. Good luck.
It's always more reassuring to take a gamble on a player who
has already proven he can play at a high level at some point in
his pro career. We all know about the downside here: the current
supporting cast - outside of Jared Cook and maybe Jalen Richard
- has a lot left to be desired. The receiving trio of Jordy Nelson,
Marcell Ateman and Seth Roberts isn't keeping defensive coordinators
at the office late at night. Carr also doesn't run very much (50
rushing yards through 13 contests) and he's lost a fumble in three
of the last five games. But before we dismiss everything Oakland,
consider Carr is actually having a sneaky good season. After throwing
eight interceptions over the first five games, he has none over
his last eight. He has passed for multiple touchdowns in four
of his seven outings since the Week 7 bye, three of which have
come in the last four games. He is also completing 69.5 percent
of his attempts. However, the real reason why Carr needs to be
considered this week is the matchup. The Bengals have intercepted
one pass since their Week 9 bye. They have about a handful of
full-time players playing well on defense, only one of which plays
in the secondary (S Jessie Bates). One concern about streaming
Carr would be his home splits (12:5 TD-to-INT ratio) versus his
road splits (6:3), but his two most recent contests outside of
Oakland (at Arizona in Week 11 and Baltimore in Week 12) proved
he can handle himself well away from the west coast. (If Carson
Wentz is unable to play this week with his back issue, Carr would
be my first readily available choice to replace him in my fantasy
Mullens has seemingly done enough over the last two weeks to
keep C.J. Beathard on the sideline and put himself back into the
regular streaming conversation for fantasy purposes. It should
come as no real surprise that his resurgence has coincided with
the emergence of Dante Pettis and transition of George Kittle
from a nice second-year tight end prospect into a near-elite option.
The Seahawks are arguably the best defense of the five he has
faced thus far and he proved to be more than serviceable when
he threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle less than
two weeks ago. While it should be noted 300 of those yards and
both scores came after halftime in a blowout, owners don't typically
care when the production comes so long as it is repeatable. While
this week's matchup at home in San Francisco should theoretically
create a closer result than 43-16, it seems unlikely the 49ers'
plan of attack will change much - a heavy dose of Jeff Wilson
(assuming Matt Breida sits again) along with at least 15 combined
targets for Kittle and Pettis. Kittle should see plenty of Bradley
McDougald again (3-of-4 for 49 yards in McDougald's coverage in
Week 13) and Pettis figures to avoid sticky slot corner Justin
Coleman again as he is now a full-time perimeter receiver following
the season-ending knee injury to Pierre Garcon. Pettis had his
way with both outside corners in the first matchup, as Shaquill
Griffin (2-for-2, 25 yards) and Tre Flowers (3-for-4, 104 yards)
each gave up a touchdown to the rookie. A repeat of Week 13's
numbers isn't all that likely for Mullens, but 300-plus yards
and two scores probably are.
I was stunned to learn Dixon is rostered in only 21 percent of
leagues as of Dec. 12. Maybe owners don't want to deal with the
musical chairs backfield in Baltimore. Maybe 79 percent of owners
in their league's fantasy semifinals don't need a running back
who may or may not be atop a depth chart with an unclear pecking
order or might only be useful in Week 16. I doubt that is the
case though. I have one high-stakes league in particular where
Dixon would be in the running to be my flex play this week had
I held onto him for one more week, especially given all the recent
injuries at the running back position. The Ravens are averaging
a remarkable 46 rushing attempts since Lamar Jackson became the
starter four games ago - 17 of which are going to the rookie quarterback.
That leaves as many as 29 to go to the running back position,
which is more than enough to make two backs viable in fantasy.
Gus Edwards is still in the mix, but Dixon is the most talented
back Baltimore has and the only one left on the roster who has
the ability to break a long run on a semi-regular basis. As the
Ravens proved again last week against Kansas City, the defense
will almost certainly keep Baltimore in any game - including at
home against Tampa Bay in Week 15. The Buccaneers have been gutted
by all-purpose backs in recent weeks. It would seem HC John Harbaugh
wouldn't mind having one back carry more of the load and use Edwards,
Ty Montgomery and Javorius Allen to complement him. We can't be
sure if that process will begin now or in the playoffs (if they
even get there), but the Ravens owe it to themselves to see if
2018 is going to be the year Dixon finally shows he can be the
same all-purpose dynamo in the NFL he was at Louisiana Tech.
Remember the days when Marlon Mack was tearing up the fantasy
world? Well, that was over a month ago. He hasn't exceeded 13.9
PPR fantasy points in any of his last five games and scored fewer
than 10 in three of them. Since he doesn't play much on passing
downs, he depends on early-down work to make his fantasy owners
happy. The Cowboys have been shutting down running games lately,
instead giving up volume to pass-catching backs. Enter Hines.
The rookie hasn't kept up his early-season pace for obvious reasons
(the return of Mack being the most obvious), but he is easily
the most likely Colts' running back to step up in Week 15, factoring
in everything from Dallas controlling the time of possession (and
number of possessions) to bottling up the Colts' rushing attack.
Hines is not guaranteed to get loose considering how well linebackers
Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are playing, but a former
college receiver like Hines should be able to get free a time
or two in the same way Darren Sproles did last week against the
Despite his two-score game against the Packers in Week 13, picking
up Edmonds now is merely a stash-and-hope add. David Johnson missed
practice Wednesday with a quad injury but is expected to play
versus the Falcons in Week 15. However, would it be that much
of a surprise if a 3-10 team with nothing to play for besides
draft position decided to play it safe it safe with its best offensive
player down the stretch, especially when the coaching staff believes
Edmonds isn't a huge drop-off? What makes this week so appealing
for Edmonds if Johnson is limited in any way is the matchup: Atlanta
has allowed a league-high 97 receptions to the running back position.
Meanwhile, Edmonds has caught 15 of his 17 targets. I will attempt
to pluck the Fordham product off the waiver wire for $1 of FAAB
on as many of my remaining this week as I have room to add him
in the event Arizona takes it easy on Johnson or he encounters
a setback during practice.
Regular fantasy starters I'd consider benching in favor
of Edmonds this week: None. Merely a stash who can be
dropped Saturday or Sunday in the likely event Johnson is not
limited in any way.
Kerryon Johnson may go down as the first running back evaluation
Detroit has nailed in years. With that said, the Lions were much
too slow in giving him more work and only did so when Theo Riddick
was injured or limited in some way. Detroit never quite embraced
Ameer Abdullah, gave him a terrible line to run behind and cut
him once it got better. I would argue Zenner is the next best
all-purpose back the Lions have had on their roster over the last
few years and he rarely ever sees the light of day on offense
because he is somehow stuck behind LeGarrette Blount and Riddick.
Zenner has never been nor will he ever be a special talent, but
all he ever does is play reasonably well just about every time
he gets an extended look on offense - usually at the end of the
season when the Lions have fallen out of the playoff race and
everyone in front of him is dealing with some kind of injury or
out for the season. Week 14 was a perfect example of how much
more explosive he is than Blount. While the 32-year-old journeyman
was seemingly stuck in neutral against a porous Cardinals' run
defense, Zenner entered the game looking spry, made a few jump
cuts and showed impressive acceleration when he saw a crease.
With Golden Tate gone, Marvin Jones out and Johnson possibly done
for the season, the Lions could use a back capable of hitting
a 15- or 20-yard run on occasion. Will he get that shot after
last week's showing? Probably not. Nevertheless, the fact Detroit
gave him quality time in a close game last week indicates the
coaching staff may be ready to have him at least share early-down
work with Blount.
Regular fantasy starters I'd consider benching in favor
of Zenner this week: None. Merely a stash for now in
the unlikely event Blount fumbles again and/or Detroit somehow
chooses this week to realize Zenner has more to offer than Blount.
Anderson's been a hard cat to pin down in 2018. Following a 123-yard,
two-TD eruption in an upset of Denver in Week 5, he did not exceed
50 yards receiving OR score a touchdown until he topped both marks
in Week 14 against the Bills. Is he back? Maybe, but I don't think
we see a return to his 2017 form until at least 2019. So why is
he here? Mostly because the Texans are rolling out 34-year-old
Johnathan Joseph and journeyman Shareece Wright as their perimeter
corners these days. Houston's front seven helps to minimize the
effect this otherwise lackluster duo would have on most defenses,
but big-play receivers have enjoyed success against the Texans
recently. The targets have been consistent for Anderson lately
too, seeing at least six per game in four of his last five outings.
Obviously, it seems more likely Houston will get to Sam Darnold
more often than the rookie will get to DC Romeo Crennel's unit,
so this is only a play for owners desperate for upside and/or
those who can handle Anderson's low floor.
As most expected, Hamilton lived in the slot in Week 14 - running
31 of his 46 routes inside - during his first extended playing
time in the wake of Emmanuel Sanders' season-ending Achilles'
injury. The rookie did most of his damage late, but nine targets
is a hefty number for any unproven player to get when he runs
most of his routes in the sweet spot of a quarterback's vision.
HC Vance Joseph made it clear earlier this week he wants QB Case
Keenum to take more chances downfield moving forward (which is
terrible advice for him and the very thing most of Keenum's former
teams have been trying to minimize). Perhaps it works this week
if Browns CB Denzel Ward (concussion) cannot play, but if he can,
he should be able to do a good job of checking either Courtland
Sutton or Tim Patrick on the outside. Slot CB T.J. Carrie has
been better than expected the season, but Cleveland has a real
chance to force Denver into a negative game script and make Keenum
throw 42 times again this weekend. Not all of those targets will
go opposite of whichever receiver is on the opposite of Ward (and
thus facing Terrance Mitchell). Keenum also has seemingly lost
interest in throwing to the tight end, leaving the only "safe"
throws to go to Phillip Lindsay and Hamilton. I'm not sure the
rookie receiver has a ton of upside this week - especially if
Denver plays with the lead - but he should get plenty of volume
for a second straight week.
Don't look now, but Taylor has strung together two solid fantasy
efforts in a row. A 100-plus yard showing against the Jets in
Week 13 seemed somewhat reasonable for a player of his ability
in a favorable matchup, but six catches on seven targets for 59
yards against the Jaguars in Week 14 is a bit different - especially
since it came in the same game Derrick Henry flipped the fantasy
universe upside down. Both Janoris Jenkins and B.W. Webb have
graded out better in coverage of late as the Giants do everything
to convince themselves they can still make a run, but Taylor spends
more time on the left side than anywhere else, which is where
he'll see Jenkins more often than not. (Unlike 2017, that's a
good thing in 2018.) Last week's activity also likely came as
a result of primary slot receiver Tajae Sharpe getting hurt. If
Sharpe misses Week 15, it would only increase the odds Taylor
sees at least five to seven targets again, which is about the
range he's needed to be useful in fantasy this season.
What's this? Two Jets in the same story about being capable streamers?
That's just crazy. Yes, yes it is. While Anderson is a bit more
of a hunch, Herndon is more of a solid-play-based-on-previous-results
kind of option. Most owners remember Herndon as the only reliable
starting-caliber fantasy player from the Jets between Weeks 6
and 12 before he ran into difficult tight end matchups in the
Titans and Bills of the last two weeks. I very much believe this
rookie will soon become a low-end TE1 in fantasy if he can stay
healthy, perhaps as soon as next season. But the reason he appears
in this column is his Week 15 matchup. With the notable exception
of David Njoku in Week 13, the Texans have been shredded by tight
ends for over a month. In fact, there only sustained success against
the position this season was during a stretch in which they faced
Geoff Swaim, Charles Clay, David Grinnage and Mike Gesicki in
While Firkser is not quite the last man standing at tight end
for the Titans, he is probably the last healthy one capable of
having any kind of impact in fantasy leagues. It goes without
saying his 7.4, 9.2, 13.2 and 5.7 contributions in PPR leagues
is not the stuff of legend, but each of those scores came while
sharing time with Jonnu Smith. That will no longer be a problem
with Smith done for the year following his Week 14 knee injury.
He's also posted the aforementioned numbers while playing no more
than the 24 snaps he logged last week (previous high was 19).
As a result of Smith's absence, Firkser should see more than 30
moving forward. This week's opponent (the Giants) have been much
better against tight ends than in recent years, only surrendering
double-digit fantasy-point performances five times (Zach Ertz
x2, George Kittle, O.J. Howard and Jordan Reed). Thus, Firkser
does not come with a huge upside this week. What is clear is he
has earned the trust of Marcus Mariota. It never seemed as though
Smith did, so Firkser should be capable of another seven- or eight-point
The addition of Eric Swoope this week may throw a wrench into
the plans of Arnold becoming a bigger deal down the road, but
the former college receiver for Wisconsin-Platteville was slowly
but surely becoming a more important part of the offense prior
to last week's surprise deactivation. Since we can only speculate
as to why it happened (rumor has it that New Orleans expected
to run the ball more often than usual versus the Buccaneers, thereby
making it less important to have an undersized tight end like
Arnold active). Assuming Arnold plays this week, he will get his
shot at a Carolina defense that has yielded more PPR points to
tight ends than all but two teams despite mostly shutting the
position down for the most part over the last four. Perhaps the
Panthers solved their back-end issues over the last month, but
they certainly haven't faced a team capable of attacking them
in as many ways offensively as New Orleans can. Arnold is only
worth a start in the deepest of leagues, perhaps those where the
owner may not have been able to snag Vernon Davis as a replacement
for Jordan Reed.
Regular fantasy starters I'd consider benching in favor
of Arnold this week:Austin
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.