Managers typically find themselves in one of three spots in the
week before the fantasy playoffs begin:
(1) "get this over with so my team enjoy its first-round
(2) "I'll do whatever you want (insert name of player or
deity here), just get me into the postseason"
(3) "please end the existence of my terrible team already!"
Hopefully, most readers find themselves with a 3:1:1 ratio or
better for every five teams they manage. All of the preparation
and knowledge in the world will not help your team overcome significant
injuries to your top option at every fantasy position. However,
if you are fortunate enough to diversify your player portfolio
enough in August and September, then there is a good chance you
have more of the first two teams above and less of the last kind.
Our job is far from over regardless of how well our fantasy teams
are doing, however. The truth of the matter is there is almost
always someone on the waiver wire - assuming the trade deadline
has passed as it has in the overwhelming majority of leagues -
that is (or will be) an upgrade over what you currently have.
In other cases, the path to winning is making sure that a potential
league-winner is on your bench and not in the lineup of another
Every transaction for the rest of the season should either push
your team closer to a title or, to a lesser extreme, keep a fellow
owner from doing the same. December may be the month of giving
in reality, but it is the best time to be selfish in fantasy.
Now is not the time to be a taker and not a giver. With the odds
of at least half of your league having checked out by now reasonably
high, it makes your job that much easier.
Unlike the long-running reality TV series of the same name, my
"Undercover Bosses" this week won't be focused on high-level
executives learning more about their company. What I am looking
for are potential bosses (as in players doing something with stylish
confidence or authority) who are either floating under the radar
or otherwise unknown quantities. Discussing high-upside backup
running backs such as Alexander Mattison or "third"
receivers who are already logging significant snaps such as Van Jefferson serves no purpose, so those kinds of players will not
Players are listed from the least likely to be a "boss"
to the most likely. After each player's name, I will list his
matchups during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15-17 in the majority
Pinning hopes on a Taysom Hill-led passing attack is not any
fantasy manager's idea of fun. With that said, there are at least
two reasons why Humphrey is worth consideration in deeper leagues.
His usage - both in terms of snaps and targets - has been on the
rise over the last three weeks. He has taken advantage of those
opportunities as well, catching six of his eight targets for 100
yards and two touchdowns. Given the current state of the New Orleans
offense, that is not too shabby.
There is a much more significant reason or two to stash Humphrey
in leagues where there is not a lot left on the waiver wire at
receiver. Humphrey has been playing almost half of his snaps in
the slot recently. At 6-4 and 225 pounds and on a team lacking
a proven option at tight end, there was already reason to believe
Humphrey was making a push to be the big slot HC Sean Payton has
long favored. Then the most important domino fell earlier this
week when Deonte Harris was handed a three-game suspension. While
Harris was not living in the slot per se, he was sharing snaps
with Humphrey. That's not a small thing, as Harris had emerged
as the most dynamic receiver in this offense.
While Humphrey probably will not become a full-time player even
with Harris' absence - the Saints are much more likely to utilize
two or three tight ends more often to aid Hill as a runner - he
seems like the most likely Saint to benefit from Hill's presence.
Why is that? Because Hill already is not a great deep-ball thrower
and is now dealing with a finger injury that is likely to make
him less likely to throw to vertical receivers Tre'Quan
Smith and Marquez
Hasty is a long shot to crush the fantasy postseason. If Elijah
Mitchell (concussion, knee) can clear the league's concussion
protocol in time for Week 14 and stay healthy the rest of the
way, Hasty probably will not play more than a handful of snaps
in any game outside of maybe some garbage time action. Jeff
Wilson appears to be the main backup to Mitchell, which means
Hasty needs two obstacles removed from his path to see anything
more than third-down work. About that …
Mitchell has already missed time this season due to shoulder
and finger injuries, so there is at least a small chance he could
get nicked up again. Wilson had his surgically repaired knee flare
up on him in Week 13 despite playing a meager 13 snaps (three
on offense). Although Wilson has reportedly already dealt with
this issue before and insiders have noted that it tends to resolve
itself in a couple of days, it's not a given San Francisco wants
to put more on his plate after he failed to get much going in
a Week 11 start versus the Jags. The 49ers are concerned enough
about their running backs that they worked out three free-agent
runners on Tuesday (Dec. 7) and signed one of them (Brian Hill)
Beyond the injury statuses of Mitchell and Wilson, the major
reason why Hasty is even worth considering is the fantasy playoff
schedule I have been touting since the summer. The Titans have
done a good job limiting running back production for most of the
season, but they appear to lack the offensive firepower to force
San Francisco to throw more often. The Falcons and Texans rank
fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of most fantasy points
allowed to running backs. Like Tennessee, they also lack the weapons
to get the 49ers out of their comfort zone on offense. Finding
the winning lottery ticket in this backfield might be tricky given
the specifics of the current situation, but it is worth taking
a low-risk flyer on someone like Hasty if he happens to be the
last man standing in Week 16 or 17.
OC Joe Brady was fired over the weekend, supposedly for his unwillingness
to run the ball as much as HC Matt Rhule would have liked. Prior
to Brady's departure, Abdullah has emerged as a trusted option
on passing downs since joining Carolina. So why is he here if
the team wants to run more?
Had Christian McCaffrey (ankle) been able to finish the season,
he would have had his hands full trying to carry fantasy managers
through the fantasy playoff gauntlet that features the Bills,
Bucs and Saints. While Buffalo has occasionally given up gaudy
rushing production this season, it remains in the top third of
stingiest defenses against fantasy backs. Tampa Bay and New Orleans
rank first and third, respectively, in terms of most rushing yards
allowed to running backs. (Both have given up eight total TDs
to the position.) What it means is that the deck is stacked against
Chuba Hubbard to get much done for his fantasy managers, even
if he handles 15-18 carries per game.
The likely struggles of the running game should mean more pass
attempts than Rhule or new OC Jeff Nixon would prefer. If Carolina
sticks with the same setup it had during McCaffrey's first absence
this season, then Abdullah could end up logging more snaps than
Hubbard during the fantasy playoffs. No one will mistake Cam Newton
for being Mr. Checkdown - especially when he can still make plays
as a runner - but it is not a big ask for Abdullah to see the
same kind of work in the passing game moving forward that he did
around the time CMC was easing his way back into the lineup. In
fact, I would argue he could be significantly more involved given
the level of competition Carolina will face over the final three
weeks of the fantasy season. There is potential flex value here.
The Titans must have upset the football gods. The only non-linemen
on offense to play in all 12 games are QB Ryan Tannehill and backup
TE MyCole Pruitt. Tennessee could be getting healthier soon, as
Julio Jones (hamstring) was designated for return from IR over
the weekend. Whether he will return this week or not is another
story. A.J. Brown (chest) cannot play again until Week 16. Marcus Johnson (hamstring) is done for the year.
While nothing is ever guaranteed anything in the NFL, a 200-yard
passing day is generally a low bar for a quarterback to reach.
Assuming that can be the expectation until Jones and Brown return,
Westbrook-Ikhine is a great bet for at least 50 yards receiving
each week for an offense that may have no choice but to give major
snaps to rookie Dez Fitzpatrick and Golden Tate. The second-year
Indiana product delivered consecutive useful fantasy efforts before
the team's Week 13 bye, filling Jones' complementary role in Week
11 before assuming the No. 1 mantle and scoring a touchdown against
the Patriots one week later.
At worst, Westbrook-Ikhine is locked into a complementary receiver
role for at least the next two weeks. Given how snake-bitten Jones
has been and the uncertainty of Brown's return, he could finish
the regular season out as the go-to guy. The Steelers, 49ers and
Dolphins do not present the easiest path to fantasy glory, but
receivers with double-digit target upside have value almost regardless
of their situation. Tennessee will try to remain a power running
team for as long as it can each week, but the odds are reasonably
strong that Tannehill will need to throw a bit more often down
the stretch than he did with a healthy Derrick Henry.
In his last three full games since returning from a finger injury,
Tagovailoa is the overall QB8. He's not posting prodigious rushing
numbers (seven yards) or throwing for a ton of yards (249-yard
average), but what he is doing is avoiding turnovers (one interception)
and making the most of his volume (80 percent completion rate).
Let's not get crazy: among quarterbacks who have played at least
two games during his "hot streak," Tagovailoa is the
QB14 in terms of fantasy points per game. With that said, the
past is not what any of us should be concerned about here. After
the Dolphins come off their Week 14 bye, they finish the fantasy
season with the Jets, Saints and Titans. Miami has not run the
ball well all year, while its final two opponents - New Orleans
and Tennessee - are among the best in the league at stopping it.
In other words, volume should not be a problem for Tagovailoa
during the fantasy playoffs. That volume combined with the allure
of facing three defenses that rank inside the top nine of fantasy
points allowed to quarterbacks should be enough to get last year's
No. 5 overall pick at least one three-touchdown performance.
Maybe the defense continues to play at such a high level against
three offensively challenged teams that Miami doesn't ask Tagovailoa
to throw it 40-plus times in any one of those games. Considering
the state of the Dolphins' rushing attack, however, it seems likely
he will get there once and maybe even twice. With Jaylen Waddle
already proving to be a tough cover and DeVante Parker back in
action, Tagovailoa has the playmakers to do more than just play
efficiently. He may not end this final stretch as the one under-the-radar
quarterback that goes toe-to-toe with Tom Brady or Kyler Murray
during the fantasy playoffs, but the odds of him putting up a
dud in any of his next three outings are relatively low.
Howard (ankle) deserves to be lower on this list if Miles Sanders
(ankle) isn't ready after the Week 14 bye. He could also be virtually
useless in December if all is well with Sanders, he is forced
to share time with Boston Scott/Kenneth Gainwell and Jalen Hurts
(ankle) is ready to handle his typical rushing workload (about
10 carries per game). However, a funny thing happened while Sanders
was on IR and Scott was drawing starts in his absence: Howard
was getting a consistent workload and doing something with it
each time. The Eagles' backfield distribution in Week 11 against
the Saints indicated Howard could have some staying power moving
forward (10 carries versus 16 for Sanders). Maybe Scott's six
rushing attempts in that game were nothing more than him not getting
"hot" fast enough. It just felt as though Philadelphia
thinks Howard's ability to run between the tackles meshes well
with what Hurts and Sanders give the team on the perimeter.
Outside of the uncertainty of Sanders' health and Howard's role
when he returns - likely Week 15 - the other big drawback is the
same one he has had throughout his NFL career: he offers nothing
in the passing game. The remaining schedule is not favorable either
with two games left against Washington and one against the Giants,
but the Eagles have already proved they can run on any defense
if they want. He may end being nothing more than a touchdown-dependent
flex option during the fantasy playoffs given his limitations,
but he could also wind up as a high-volume RB2 if Sanders has
yet another issue with his ankle.
While the effectiveness of the Tennessee offense declined greatly
the second that Derrick Henry got hurt, the general plan of attack
has not. The Titans want to run the ball and do so with power.
Foreman is the only back on the roster that can provide that thump.
For all the good things that Jeremy McNichols does for the offense,
he has rushed for less than 300 yards in his career since being
drafted in 2017. The same can also be said about Dontrell Hilliard.
Making matters worse for both players is they are essentially
the same kind of player - more of a scat-back and less of an early-down
Foreman's career exploits are not much better than that of his
teammates, but his 19-carry showing in Week 12 against the Patriots
suggests the Titans are ready to put the fortunes of their running
game in his hands. Yes, Hilliard ran for more yards against New
England, but 68 of his 131 yards came on a draw play that broke
for a touchdown late in the first half. If Tennessee is going
to do anything between now and the playoffs - when Henry is expected
back - it should be on the shoulders of Foreman, if only because
of the ridiculous amount of injuries the team has suffered at
The Titans' playoff schedule does not look to be overly kind
to running backs, but there aren't many players who can make such
a claim in a given year anyway. Absent a series of lightweights
to push around, the most fantasy managers can ask for is volume.
Tennessee churned out 270 yards on the ground against a good New
England defense in its last time out, giving us all the proof
we should need that the Titans can run on just about anyone. Fantasy
managers should expect the Titans to run at least 30 times in
most of its remaining games, and I suspect Foreman will get the
bulk of the opportunities on early downs and at the goal line.
Pittsburgh and Miami aren't explosive enough offensively to get
Tennessee away from what it wants to do, making the 49ers (Week
16) the only fantasy playoff opponent that could force Tennessee
to abandon the run. If the Titans run as much as I think they
will, keep the games as close as I think they will and use Foreman
in the way I outlined above, he has RB2 upside.
The reaction to Seals-Jones (hip) this week has been lukewarm
at best in my fantasy leagues. Managers may not want to use a
roster spot on a player right now if they don't know if he will
go in Week 14, but Washington's starting tight end usage has been
one of the most predictable things in football this year. Whether
it has been Logan Thomas, Seals-Jones or rookie John Bates, the
starter has typically played anywhere from 90-100 percent of the
Even if we assume Seals-Jones' hip isn't quite ready for Week
14 - he was limited in practice on Wednesday (Dec. 8) - he should
be cleared by Week 15. With Thomas (knee) done for the year, the
coast is clear for RSJ to feast. Why feast? It does not get much
better than a full-time tight end seeing Philadelphia twice (Weeks
15 and 17), which has been a sieve against the position. The Eagles
allowed at least one tight end to reach double-digit fantasy points
in six straight weeks until the Giants and Jets ruined the fun
over the last two games, but even their tight ends found the end
zone. If Washington is truly interested in exploiting its biggest
mismatch in those weeks, Seals-Jones could easily finish as a
top-five tight end during the fantasy postseason.
There is one major reason Osborn appears this late: not nearly
enough has been made about Adam Thielen's high-ankle sprain. If
a high-ankle sprain is what he is dealing with, it is hard to
imagine he will be back in Week 15. Week 16 should not be considered
a lock either. High-ankle sprains may be harder on running backs
than receivers, but they are also not the type of injury that
receivers return from seamlessly in two or even three weeks. There
is a real chance Thielen may not look like himself for the rest
of the regular season.
Osborn isn't going to be a one-for-one replacement for Thielen
and he sure won't be the same kind of red zone fiend. However,
I paid a decent price to make sure I landed Osborn in a handful
of deeper leagues this week and I did so with the expectation
that I will start him as a flex through at least Week 15. Osborn
has already proven he can be a capable sidekick, even if defenses
don't go out of their way to contain Justin Jefferson during Thielen's
absence. If opponents overcompensate for Jefferson over the next
week or two, Osborn would be a strong candidate for 10 targets.
In the four games in which he has drawn at least seven targets,
last year's fifth-round pick has scored at least 14.6 fantasy
points three times.
Expectations should be set at about 4-5 catches on 7-8 targets
for however long Thielen is out since Jefferson could easily see
another target or two and Tyler Conklin could as well. With that
said, it should surprise no one if Osborn finishes inside the
top 36 receivers during the fantasy playoffs IF Thielen is slowed
as much by his ankle injury as I think he will be.
It almost feels like cheating to put a player averaging 20.1
fantasy points over the last two games into this kind of column,
yet I have been able to snag him in two high-stakes or experts'
leagues over the last week and didn't have enough FAAB to grab
him in another. Gage has attracted at least seven targets in four
of his five starts since a Week 8 dud that could have been due
to a groin injury. Gage is not the kind of player that managers
should expect to carry them through the fantasy playoffs, but
circumstances sometimes mean more than individual talent. As long
as Cordarrelle Patterson continues to give Atlanta some semblance
of a running game and defenses continue to view Kyle Pitts as
the Falcons' primary receiving threat, opponents will probably
settle for Gage and his 10.5 yards per catch.
While Buffalo does not appear to be the easiest matchup for Gage
in Week 17, he should benefit from the absence of Tre'Davious White (ACL). San Francisco and Detroit are average matchups at
worst for Gage, who saw many snaps in the slot (26) as he did
out wide last week. While he has lined up in the slot almost as
often as he has on the perimeter for the season, expect Gage to
be used in much the same way Calvin Ridley was being deployed
before his departure. Gage cannot be expected to replicate Ridley's
numbers week in and week out moving forward, but his recent usage
gives him WR2 upside for as long as defenses pay more attention
to Patterson and Pitts.
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.