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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer


Manufacturing Luck
All Out Blitz: Volume 134
12/14/17

For as long as I can remember, fantasy owners and enthusiasts alike have argued about how much of this hobby is about skill and how much of it is about luck. I have always argued the skill of the owner plays a huge role in getting teams to the playoffs, but luck supersedes skill in the fantasy postseason because most of the teams have similar talent (and upside).

That's not to suggest luck isn't somewhat important, because being able to dodge multiple key injuries throughout the season or avoid being every opponent's Super Bowl also helps pave the way to a fantasy championship. This "luck" can extend all the way back to the day of the draft, as owners who land (and hold onto) the likes of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are going to have an advantage over their competition for the entire season because finding highly skilled players with such high-usage rates is hard to do and even harder to acquire via trade. (After all, fantasy football is often as much a game about volume as it is anything.)

With that said, it's easier to overcome an off-game from Tom Brady or an early injury to Alvin Kamara in Week 7 against a low-scoring 2-4 team in your league than it is when you're facing a nine-win team in Week 14 who was among the top scoring teams in the league. It's also easier to overcome those same obstacles in October because there is still time left to reposition your assets and build depth if you need to trade a player or two in order to do so.

The point to be made here is owners often need to manufacture their own luck at this point of the season. Since the trade deadline has long since come and gone, the only magic most of us can work on our teams is via the waiver wire and lineup decisions. Critics are quick to question bold lineup decisions at this point of the season because there isn't enough evidence to support (and there hasn't been a six-month offseason for the fantasy mafia to start his hype machine). I try to constantly evaluate my roster and decision-making throughout the season so I can avoid making moves out of desperation, so when I make a "bold call,' it is usually because I've put a few weeks of thought into said player(s).

For the rest of this piece, I've chosen to take a look at what's likely out there for fantasy owners in deeper leagues, and exactly what 16 players I'd be willing to roll the dice on - in some way, shape or form - over the last week or two of the fantasy season. It's important to understand we don't always have to like the options we are sometimes forced to choose this late in the season, so keep that in mind as we proceed:

Note: Players are listed by position in the order in which I would pick them up.

Aaron Rodgers

Trust in Aaron Rodgers. The Packers starting QB is back and should be in your lineup this week.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

This one is rather obvious, and the fact is he should have been scooped up weeks ago in any league in which he was dropped. In all of the leagues in which I was able to acquire him, I will be starting him this week - even over the likes of Brady (I'm convinced the Achilles' injury is a bigger issue than is being reported) and Russell Wilson (matchup).

Nick Foles, Philadelphia

Not only is Foles now the starting quarterback for the Eagles, but he is a former Pro Bowler who was able to post a season four years ago that would make even Brady proud (27:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio). I'll be the first to recognize that year was likely a huge anomaly as well as the fact he has made stops in St. Louis and Kansas City since then, but he's working with a pretty solid supporting cast in 2017, and that is often half the battle. Add in the fact that he'll face the Giants and Raiders over the final two weeks of the fantasy season, and we have someone with a probable floor of 200 passing yards and two touchdowns readily available for desperate former Wentz owners. On most other fantasy teams, he is best-served as bench depth.

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

Houston hasn't been as egregiously bad against quarterbacks lately as some would have you believe, but the Texans' defense isn't going to get better until next year and Leonard Fournette isn't chugging along quite like he was in September and October. It's probably not a coincidence that Bortles has scored at least 20 fantasy points in each of the three games in which Dede Westbrook has been a big part of the offense, even though the rookie caught his first touchdown pass only last week. Much like Foles, the schedule (Texans and 49ers) over the final two weeks of the fantasy season should provide a high floor for owners hoping for production from an unlikely source.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco

I don't often make it a habit to recommend relatively inexperienced signal-callers from teams with one credible NFL receiver who has enjoyed limited success in the league (Marquise Goodwin), but Garoppolo is quickly proving he needs to be taken seriously. Streaming quarterbacks has never been my favorite pastime, but the former Patriot should be in that conversation this week against the Titans. San Francisco has moved the ball in two starts under Garoppolo, who is averaging 313.5 yards passing in those outings. If the Niners can turn one more of their red zone drives into a touchdown this week - they bogged down twice inside the 20 versus the Texans - it's reasonable to believe Garoppolo has a shot to crack 20 fantasy points (assuming six points per passing touchdown) for the first time with San Francisco. In addition to being a good one-week fill-in for Wentz owners, I would rather start him this week than other established quarterbacks such as Alex Smith and Andy Dalton this week. He needs to be considered a one-week rental, however, as the Jaguars are on deck in Week 16.

Running Backs

Mike Davis, Seattle

It's hard to imagine a situation in a competitive league in which Davis made it through unclaimed last week, but he is probably the one running back on this list I would feel comfortable starting in the highest of high-stakes leagues moving forward. No, that's not to say I believe he has four-touchdown upside, but he's the unquestioned starter and possesses 20-touch upside for an offense that would probably like nothing more than to rely on a running back this week considering how much Russell Wilson has struggled against the Rams - and their team speed - in his career. Durability remains a question mark for Davis, who unsurprisingly was forced from Week 14 with an injury (rib), so that is something perspective owners will want to monitor as the week progresses. Assuming he is cleared, he's a top-20 play at running back in each of the final two weeks against the Rams and Cowboys.

Kerwynn Williams, Arizona

Before David Johnson arrived on scene in 2015, Williams had a short brush with fantasy relevancy as a rookie in 2014. We are seeing a similar thing playing out this season with Johnson sidelined, Chris Johnson gone and Adrian Peterson (neck) unlikely to return the season. D.J. Foster is a more talented back, but HC Bruce Arians has a way of making newcomers to his team "earn it" for a longer period of time than most coaches. Despite checking in at 5-8 and 198 pounds, Williams doesn't provide much in the passing game, so all owners have to bank on is the 18-carry average he has seen since becoming the starter. There within lies the rub, however, as volume is often king in fantasy football, and there's little reason to believe he won't see similar workloads over the final two weeks of the fantasy season with the Redskins (Week 15) and Giants (Week 16) next up on the schedule. As with most backs still available on waivers at this time of year, there isn't a ton of upside here, but a running back with 20-touch and 10-point potential in fantasy can sometimes help an owner survive and advance. I'd rather take my chances with Williams now than Samaje Perine or Frank Gore for the remainder of the fantasy season.

Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay

HC Dirk Koetter probably won't let us know until it is too late, but Barber's time has come. One game after posting the Buccaneers' first 100-yard rushing game of the season, he outrushed Doug Martin 58-26 while receiving only two more carries (12-10) in Week 14. Koetter may not be around long enough to see it bear fruit, but he owes Barber a chance to prove himself to be "the guy" (or at least "a guy") in the Bucs' backfield in 2018. Barber doesn't have much of a line to run behind anymore, isn't going to wow many folks with his talent and his 3.8 YPC isn't exactly the stuff of legends, but the fact he has done more to move the offense than Martin is enough of a reason to see what he can do in a featured role. Although he is more of a hope-and-stash at this point, he would immediately move into the flex conversation if Koetter announced his under-the-radar mid-game benching of Martin in Week 14 was, in fact, a changing of the guard. If that happens, I'd be willing to roll with Barber versus the Falcons this week over RB2 types as such Perine, Lamar Miller and Gore this week.

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis

Mack's place on this list is more of a common-sense recommendation as it is anything else. Yes, he still struggles in pass pro. Yes, his upcoming matchups (Broncos and Ravens) stink, but hear me out. Gore is coming off a 37-touch game in the snow against the Bills and will only have three full days to rest up for Week 15 versus Denver. With Gore turning 35 next summer and the Colts going nowhere in 2017, Indianapolis would be wise to use the final two or three games of the season to take a long look at Mack in something approaching a featured role. But there's more to it than that. With Denver and Baltimore capable of stuffing the running game, the Colts could use Mack's explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield even more over the final two weeks of the fantasy season. Is it something championship-seeking fantasy owners want to hang their hat on? Probably not. Then again, I'm not sure I want to get caught using someone like Gore or Alfred Morris in my flex spot this week either.

Wide Receivers

Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco/Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville

In just about every competitive league, Goodwin and Westbrook should have been claimed off waivers weeks ago, but I'll throw them on here in case there are some readers who play in leagues with small benches. Over the last three weeks in PPR leagues, Goodwin (15.4 points) has nearly been the equal of A.J. Green (15.9) and Adam Thielen (16.2). He's averaged 10 targets in Garoppolo's two starts and has produced at least 16 fantasy points in three of his last four outings.

Westbrook has been slightly less productive over the last three weeks (14.3) - on par with Golden Tate (14.5) and Josh Gordon (14.2) - but he has seen no fewer than eight targets in any game over that span and his PPR point totals have increased in each of his four career outings. Whereas I still have some apprehension regarding Goodwin (he faces Jacksonville in Week 16), I will be starting Westbrook in every league I have him this week against Houston and next week against San Francisco. Even though he posted a healthy 5-81-1 line against Seattle last week, it wouldn't surprise me if he puts together an even bigger performance in one - if not both - of his next two games.

Torrey Smith, Philadelphia

As hard as it may be for some to fathom, Smith has seen two of his three biggest snap counts of the season over the last two games (58 in Week 13, 67 in Week 14). Perhaps even more surprising, he has seen his biggest target numbers (seven and 11, respectively) over that same time. At this time of year, it's easy for owners to forget that a backup quarterback's favorite receiver may not be the starting quarterback's go-to guy, so he may have that going for him (although Foles clearly leaned on Nelson Agholor following Wentz's injury in Week 14).

With that said, I understand Smith has burned so many fantasy owners over the years that he could probably go 10-200-2 this week and still be hard to add in Week 16. But it is hard to deny the talent, situation, recent attention and upcoming schedule (Giants, Raiders) Smith possesses. It would take some real guts to follow through with what I'm about to say when it comes to making out a lineup in a high-stakes league, but I may be more willing to start Smith this week than other WR3 types such as T.Y. Hilton or Ted Ginn Jr.

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville

Much like anything else with the Jaguars' passing game, putting faith into Cole feels like walking into a trap. (He has three targets in each of the last two weeks after all. Thankfully for him, he's turned one of those three looks into touchdowns both times.) Prior to that, however, Cole was seeing fairly regular usage and producing at a low-end WR3 level much of that time - even when the matchups weren't always particularly strong. It's safe to say he's a nice part of the Jacksonville passing game at this point, so the question becomes to what degree owners are owners willing to buy in to his ability to get deep in favorable upcoming matchups against the Texans and 49ers? Like the name above him on this list, Cole is not for the faint of heart and probably should only be used in the deepest of leagues by the most desperate of owners, but he's already carved out a pretty nice floor and sees a lot of time on the field (40 snaps in Week 14 was his lowest total since Week 5).

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay

Godwin is the eventual successor to DeSean Jackson who should give the Bucs one of the best deep passing games in the league one day in the near future. Mike Evans' owners would tell you that day started last week. Considering Godwin's 40 snaps were four more than he had in the previous two weeks combined, perhaps Tampa Bay is going into evaluation mode. (Jackson only had 30 snaps by comparison.) Is this "trend" something I'd want to be my fantasy fate on? Not really at least not this week. However, if the Bucs really are turning the page on this season, then it stands to reason they may want to give more playing time to one of their buzzworthy players over the spring and summer, if they have determined Jackson is not long for Tampa Bay. If this week is a repeat of last week, I could make a case to start the rookie if I was truly desperate for a high-upside option in the deepest of leagues in Week 16.

Tight Ends

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay

One of the things that makes me question how much teams use analytics effectively during their week-to-week preparation is the degree to which some quarterbacks/offensive coordinators don't relentlessly attack a specific defensive weakness. Other quarterbacks/offensive coordinators fall so much in love with one particular pass-catcher, formation or concept that the offense fails to reach its potential. Then there is Jameis Winston, who has carried over his tendency to pepper tight ends with targets from Florida State to the NFL - this season in particular. Given the talent at tight end he has at his disposal, it's easy to understand. This year, however, it seems to be coming at the cost of his two former Pro Bowl receivers.

With that said, betting on a Bucs tight end this season has been a good call if you nail the right one, which, of course, has been the tricky part. Last week seemed to signal a bit of the changing of the guard that most of us knew would happen eventually given the immense talent Howard possesses. That's not to say Cameron Brate is going away, but the rookie has seen 50-plus snaps in four of the last five games while Brate is averaging 33 over that same span. Much like other pass-catching tight ends, a mid-30s number for snaps is not uncommon. What is uncommon is having a well-rounded and more dynamic tight end like Howard that is every bit as good in the passing game and just needs time to earn the trust of his quarterback. Howard has been worth starting in fantasy in three of the last four weeks and has a quarterback who leans heavily on the position, so his tough upcoming matchups (Falcons and Panthers) aren't as big of a deal as they may be for other tight ends. At a position in which at least one of the final four teams in your league may not have a top-five option, betting on Winston's tendency to target tight ends could bear fruit. I might even go so far as to say he is in the conversation to be a top-10 option at the position this week.

David Njoku, Cleveland

An analyst can probably lose his "fantasy expert card" (if such a thing existed) for recommending two rookie tight ends. The same analyst could probably get banned from the industry for doing that AND suggesting one of those plays for a winless team with a rookie quarterback. (Nevertheless, I'm still going to roll the dice.) However, much like with Howard above, the talent is undeniable and there is enough recent evidence to suggest Njoku will "hit" again before the end of the season. The upcoming matchups (Ravens and Bears) aren't as intimidating as they appear, especially now since most of Baltimore's attention will be focused on Josh Gordon and Chicago has typically allowed the few athletic tight ends it has faced to put up TE1-worthy numbers. The question to me with Njoku isn't going to be if he will ever be good, but rather how quickly he will become great if Cleveland gets above-average quarterback play at some point. Considering he has been decent as a 21-year-old rookie with utter chaos around him tells me it will happens sooner than later. The fact the Browns would appear to have most of the same pieces now they should have in place to begin 2018 has me believing Njoku could finish strong THIS year. If your tight end slot has been a revolving door this season and you're still in the championship hunt, I would seriously consider using Njoku this week.

Kicker

Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh

It's not often analysts find a reason to work kickers into their articles, but I'm going to make an exception here. I only mention Boswell because he is available in my most important high-stakes league, so I know he has to be available in a few less competitive leagues as well. In leagues that reward a four fantasy points for 40-yard field goals and five fantasy points for 50-yarders, Boswell is the highest-scoring kicker in fantasy over the last four weeks. It certainly doesn't hurt his cause he has converted all 12 of his attempts - including at least three in all but one game - over that stretch. Even if we push the starting point back to Week 7, Boswell only trails Greg Zuerlein by two fantasy points. The great thing about the Rice product at the moment is that his production is about as bankable as it gets for kickers because Pittsburgh is moving the ball well and rarely punting, which makes a kicker who has missed one of his 26 field-goal attempts since Week 4 pretty attractive. Something tells me Boswell is going to be real busy this weekend versus the Patriots, who rank seventh in red zone defense (TD only) and typically do a good job of keeping the Steelers from scoring touchdowns. If I had to bet on one kicker scoring 15-plus (and as many as 20) fantasy points this weekend, my money would be on Boswell. In my aforementioned league (assuming I win my blind bid for him), I feel strongly enough about my position on him that I will be using Boswell to replace Kai Forbath.


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.