Much like the real game in any team sport, complementary players
on a roster often decide fantasy championships. Certainly, an epic
200-yard rushing/receiving performance or a three-score effort from
someone like Jonathan Taylor or Davante Adams gives their fantasy
managers a distinct advantage in that week's matchup, but those
kinds of outbursts are relatively rare.
Thus, it makes sense to look at a few players that are most likely
considered complementary options on our fantasy rosters and discuss
if they are worth trusting as most leagues enter the first round
of the fantasy playoffs. Most NFL teams have at least one such
player, but I want to discuss six in particular before finishing
with some reader questions as we all attempt to survive and advance.
Davis is a wildly fascinating study as it relates to the psychology
of fantasy managers. By virtue of being a top 50-60 of many drafts
this summer, most of the fantasy community viewed him as a solid
RB2 option with RB1 upside that could be had on the cheap. An
RB2 capable of regularly reaching double-digit fantasy points
is generally a satisfactory pick at worst, yet it took fantasy
managers less than a month into the season to decide Davis was
a bust despite reaching that benchmark in each of his first five
games. The rise of Cordarrelle Patterson obviously had something
to do with him being labeled as a disappointment. Davis was dropped
in many leagues once his workload was reduced during the bye-week
Perhaps the biggest problem in the eyes of fantasy managers is
that they want the process of how a player gets his fantasy points
to be more appealing. (Taysom Hill is a prime example of this
phenomenon.) Davis is not necessarily an aesthetically pleasing
runner to watch, nor has he shown much upside all year. (Then
again, when in his career has he ever shown he has a lot of upside?)
Fantasy managers who were duped by Toby Gerhart years ago (elevating
a player's stock based mostly on the belief that he will have
a heavy workload mostly and the team lacks any other realistic
option) have seen this happen before. The Falcons began to find
their timing in the running game in Week 12 against the Jags,
which has allowed Atlanta to sustain more drives and, by extension,
run more plays. Unsurprisingly, Davis has watched his volume pick
up over the last three games even as Patterson continues to lead
the backfield. Despite facing the Bucs and Panthers over the last
two games, Davis has delivered his two best fantasy point totals
as a Falcon. Perhaps the best part of Davis' recent surge is that
his activity in the passing game has returned to pre-bye levels,
and he has responded by returning low-end RB2 production.
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs?
The worst is over, especially from a matchup perspective. Tampa
Bay (Week 13) and Carolina (Week 14) were arguably the two most
difficult run defenses left on Atlanta's schedule. Assuming managers
don't expect more than the 10-15 points he has provided in eight
of 13 outings, he should be a fine option for those managers who
need a flex option with a decent floor.
Wednesday's news (Dec. 15) that DeAndre Hopkins is likely to
miss the rest of the regular season makes Green easier to trust
than he was 24 hours earlier. No, Green was not wildly productive
with Hopkins sidelined earlier this season. Yes, Arizona has spread
the wealth in the passing game for most of the season. Yes, Green's
Week 14 eruption (7-102-0) had as much to do with the Rams' COVID-19
issues as anything. With that said, Arizona has moved away slightly
from spreading the wealth in the passing game in recent weeks
- injuries have played a role in that - and no longer enjoys the
cushion it once did for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Putting away
Detroit in Week 15 may not be a difficult task, but the Cardinals
will likely need to lean more on the passing game against the
Colts (Week 16) and Cowboys (Week 17) to win those games. They
haven't shown much interest in establishing Rondale Moore, while
Christian Kirk or Zach Ertz have been a bit too hit-or-miss lately.
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs? Trust is a strong
word, especially at receiver where there are typically starting-caliber
options left on the waiver wire even entering the fantasy playoffs.
However, trust in fantasy is largely about expectations. Can Green
attract seven-plus targets consistently with Green out of the
lineup? Definitely. That kind of volume alone puts him into the
WR3 conversation. Maybe Kirk or Ertz will be the biggest beneficiary
of Hopkins' absence, but it is conceivable that a big-bodied receiver
such as Green can and will break his six-game touchdown drought
with a pair of scores over the next 2-3 weeks. I was able to snag
him in two of the three leagues in which he was a free agent this
week. Whether I start him or not will depend on each team's health,
especially in light of the league's recent COVID outbreak.
Twitter could not go a day without talking about Davis last year.
This year, the Davis hive has not been buzzing much. There are
obvious reasons for that, but Week 15 presents fantasy managers
with a bit of a dilemma. Emmanuel Sanders is unlikely to play
this weekend due to a sprained knee, which should bump Davis into
the starting lineup as the second perimeter receiver opposite
Stefon Diggs. The problem with Buffalo is that despite how pass-heavy
the offense has become, Diggs, Dawson Knox and Cole Beasley still
rank higher in the pecking order. Prior to last week's five-catch
effort (on eight targets), the most targets Davis saw in a game
in 2021 was five. Considering the second-year wideout's targets
are typically more of the downfield variety and Josh Allen averages
38 throws per game (not 54, as was the case against the Bucs),
it makes the former extremely volatile in fantasy.
What has become clear throughout their time together is that
Allen loves targeting Davis in the red zone. Not only does Davis
have four TDs on 24 receptions (and 37 targets) this year, but
the UCF product has scored on all three of his catches inside
the 10. The best part: he has been a solid WR3 option most of
the time when he has been allowed to be a full-time player. Davis
had a nice little run near the end of last year filling in for
an injured John Brown and also stepped in nicely for Sanders last
week (5-43-1) after the veteran left with a knee injury in the
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs? There is no denying
that Davis is a threat to score a touchdown any time he is on
the field. The problem is that he rarely sees enough volume to
pay off if he doesn't get that score. While he has shown plenty
of promise in his brief Bills' career, he has yet to top 18.7
fantasy points (Week 17 last season). His high-water mark in 2021
came last week (15.3). That kind of production is nothing to balk
at, but it becomes a bit more troubling when we consider the Bills
face the stingy pass defenses of the Panthers and Patriots in
the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. The combination of
low volume paired with needing a touchdown and multiple big plays
for Davis to "hit" in a given week is a bit more risk
than I want from a potential starter in the fantasy postseason.
There is not much to like when looking at Fields' raw production:
57.6 completion percentage, six passing TDs versus 10 interceptions,
three of nine starts with more than 200 yards passing, etc. But
as most of us know with athletic quarterbacks, efficiency is not
as important when mistakes can be overcome by above-average production
on the ground. In his three (mostly healthy) starts since his
nightmarish five-turnover outing against the Bucs in Week 7, Fields
has averaged 230 yards passing, 74 yards rushing and topped 20
fantasy points each time. That may not be the stuff of legend,
but a floor of 20 fantasy points is going to keep managers in
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs? Not loving that
"trust" word again, but none of Chicago's last three
opponents during the fantasy season (Vikings, Seahawks and Giants)
strikes much fear into a dual-threat option like Fields. While
the rookie's upside is limited to a degree because of the coaching
staff's inability to put Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson and Cole Kmet in positions to win consistently, it says something about
the No. 11 overall pick that he has posted 20-plus fantasy points
against the 49ers, Steelers and Packers. It may not always be
pretty (he gets caught staring down his receiver too often, for
example), but I would prefer starting Fields over players like
Carson Wentz, Taysom Hill and maybe even Dak Prescott (who is
not healthy right now) this week.
Say hello to the new Jarvis Landry. With back-to-back 12-target
games on his resume - due in part to a passing game that has averaged
40 throws per game during St. Brown's emergence (as opposed to
24 in the two games following the team's Week 9 bye) - we are
seeing a slot receiver getting the breakout most of us expected
this summer. It is not a coincidence this shift has occurred since
D'Andre Swift has been sidelined, but his absence has allowed
Detroit to find at least one receiver capable of getting open.
Swift seems unlikely to play again this week, and there is speculation
he may not return this season. Bringing him back would only add
more miles to his career odometer and lessens the odds of the
Lions getting the No. 1 overall pick in April.
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs? While Swift's absence
is not the only reason why St. Brown has taken off in recent weeks,
it is likely the primary one. Josh Reynolds' arrival may not have
sent a seismic shock throughout the league, but he is a respectable
vertical threat that defenses have to account for at the very
least. When a team like Detroit is in negative game script as
often as it is and loses its top two threats in the passing game
(Swift and T.J. Hockenson), it is only natural that the primary
slot receiver stays busy. Defenses holding two-score leads are
more than happy to give up small chunks of yardage between the
20s if it means they can knock five minutes off the clock. Barring
a complete collapse from Jared Goff in any of the next three games,
St. Brown's volume floor should hover around 10 targets. It also
helps the rookie's cause that Arizona (Week 15) and Atlanta (Week
16) occasionally have issues defending the slot.
Yes, we have reached that point with last year's waiver-wire
darling. A player can sometimes overcome the lack of talent surrounding
him with volume. Such is rarely the case when the supporting cast
AND coaching/personnel usage is in question. Jacksonville is not
helping its cause by struggling to maintain drives (55 and 51
plays run over the last two games), which is part of the reason
why the 23-year-old has single-digit touches in those outings.
However, some of not being able to maintain drives is a team not
giving the ball to its best players. Even if the Jaguars are struggling
to run enough plays to score 20-plus points, a team that has lost
D.J. Chark, Jamal Agnew and Dan Arnold (and cannot seem to get
Marvin Jones enough targets to be consistently productive) should
not struggle to get someone like Robinson the ball at least 15-18
times per game.
Can we trust him during the fantasy playoffs? Frustrated Robinson
managers may not be taking much for granted these days, but news
of HC Urban Meyer's firing late Wednesday night provides hope
for those poor souls. Nothing should be taken for granted, but
interim HC Darrell Bevell should be able to stick with Robinson
in upcoming matchups against the Texans (Week 15) and Jets (Week
16) after showing an undying devotion to the running game in his
previous stops in Seattle and Detroit. Not only are Houston and
New York mostly inept on offense, but the run defenses for both
squads are also among the worst in the league. Perhaps an even
more comforting thought for Robinson's supporters is that the
worst point total any lead back has posted versus the Jets is
Rex Burkhead's 8.4 in Week 12. The second-worst mark for a lead
back since the bye? Matt Breida's 18 points in Week 10. As for
the Texans, Austin Walter's 9.8 fantasy points in Week 12 is the
lowest lead-back mark against them since Week 5. Houston also
just gave up 137 yards and two touchdowns to Rashaad Penny, so
a two-week surge is more than possible for Robinson.
The goal of fantasy columns should always be to help readers
make good lineup decisions. While I will never claim to get 'em
all right, I can assure you the ones I get wrong are not due to
a lack of thought or consideration. With the fantasy playoffs
beginning this week and running through Week 17 in most leagues,
I thought I would devote the rest of my time this week to answer
lineup questions (assume PPR scoring unless otherwise specified):
Out of Henderson and Jones, who is the safer start
in the playoffs? Patterson is a dual designation in my yahoo league.
I also have an open bench spot and both Ekeler's back-ups are
available ... which one is the better pick?
(0.5 PPR with bonus for 40+ yd run/reception & 40+ yd TD.
I also have 1 RB/WR flex spot & 1 WR/TE flex spot.)
I get the distinct sense that Jones is at about 80-90 percent
and Green Bay likes the idea of saving him for the postseason.
It is a good option to have, especially when the Packers have
stated they like making defenses tackle A.J. Dillon (and his 240-plus
pound frame) late in games. I donít think Henderson will
lose much work to Michel - whether I think he should or not is
meaningless here - primarily because there have been enough reasons
to make a change in the backfield distribution before now and
it has yet to occur. A respectable two-game run by Michel against
the Jags and Cardinals does not seem like enough to turn the tide.
If Henderson is cleared, I would expect a 55:45 carry split at
worse for Henderson, who would also handle most of the work on
passing downs. Jones has been one of the most efficient backs
in the league since becoming a full-time starter in 2019, but
how can fantasy owners trust him to be a solid RB1 (or even RB2,
in this particular situation) if he hasn't topped 12 touches in
his last four games? Especially in the first week of the fantasy
playoffs with Jones facing the Ravens and Henderson up against
the Seahawks, I would trust Henderson if he plays. I would go
with Gibson over both of them, especially if J.D. McKissic (concussion)
still isn't ready.
Backing up stud running backs during this time of year is highly
encouraged most of the time, but it would take a VERY deep league
for me to back up Ekeler. While my preferred option would be Justin Jackson if I had to go that route, I say that with little confidence.
A mostly healthy Lamar Jackson has accounted for exactly one
touchdown in nine of 12 games this season. Think about that for
a second. In 75 percent of his games this year, he has essentially
been the equal of Justin Fields recently. Now, if we introduce
last week's ankle injury into the equation, I think it is more
than fair to trim at least half of his usual rushing production
(64 yards) from his projection. Furthermore, the Packers (Baltimore's
Week 15 opponent) have done a fine job limiting the production
of dual-threat quarterbacks for most of the year and have a sneaky
good defense to boot.
Wilson's recent play would suggest he is the best answer to this
question, but he has been unable to solve the Rams in each of
his last five starts against them. We have to go back to Week
5 of the 2019 season to find the last time Wilson threw for at
least 200 yards AND accounted for more than two touchdowns versus
Los Angeles. While a case can be made that he has faced three
different defensive coordinators in those five games, the primary
reasons (Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey) that Wilson struggles
against the Rams remain on their roster.
This brings us to Tagovailoa. Miami's utter inability to establish
a rushing attack in most of its games - and all three of its backs
being on the COVID list as of Dec. 15 - suggests Week 15 had better
be Tua Time. Because he lacks the rushing upside of Jackson and
Wilson, what we are hoping for from Tagovailoa is three TD passes.
The last quarterback to reach that number against the Jets (Miami's
Week 15 opponent) was Carson Wentz in Week 9. That is the bad
news. The good news is that New York has faced Tyrod Taylor, Gardner Minshew and Taysom Hill since it last saw Tua (273 passing yards
and two touchdowns in Week 11). Unlike the first meeting, Tagovailoa
should have his main passing-game weapons available this weekend.
Given the lack of options at running back this week and advantages
Miami should have in the passing game, I like Tua over Jackson
Conner was hurt on the final play of the Cardinals' Week 14 loss
to the Rams and began the practice week with a DNP, so we should
assume he will be questionable at best for Week 15. If the next
game was against just about anyone else other than the Lions,
I suspect the team would try their best to get Conner ready. Especially
with Chase Edmonds expected back this week, there should be no
reason to push Conner. While I do not expect him to be ruled out
against Detroit, it also would not surprise me if he sits. Even
if he plays, I expect him to be limited.
While Freeman has been productive enough since Week 5 to justify
a starting spot in fantasy most weeks, a fair amount of that production
has come as a result of the threat Lamar Jackson presents with
his legs. There is a decent chance Jackson will not be around
to provide that threat in Week 15. Even if he is, Green Bay's
defense has been stingy enough against running backs to believe
Freeman will not go off.
Michel has a huge upside this week against a Seattle defense
that has been almost as bad against running backs as the Jets.
However, two things are working against him here:
1) An inordinate amount of the fantasy points the Seahawks have
allowed to running backs have come in the passing game. The Rams'
running backs rank last in the league in receptions and receiving
2) Darrell Henderson should be back this week. As I alluded to
earlier, Michel has earned more work, but was it enough to sway
HC Sean McVay's mind and make this a split backfield? Unlikely.
This leaves us with Williams. After trying to utilize its plethora
of talented receivers for the first half of the season, Denver
has leaned much more heavily on its backfield since Week 7. Only
twice since that loss to Cleveland have the Broncos attempted
more than 28 passes (both double-digit losses). In its four wins
over that stretch, Denver has averaged 26 pass attempts. By contrast,
Broncos' running backs have averaged 27 touches in the losses
and 35 in the wins.
Like the Seahawks above, an inordinate amount of running back
production against the Bengals (Denver's Week 15 opponent) has
been through the air. With Melvin Gordon back to take half of
the backfield work and the Broncos not likely to air it out against
what has been a good run defense, I would expect Williams to have
his worst statistical performance in nearly a month.
Does it mean I would bench him for an injured Conner, an aging
running back without his dual-threat quarterback or a runner likely
on the wrong end of a committee? No.
Let's take Pollard (foot) out of the conversation right away.
One week is not enough for a player to heal significantly from
a torn plantar fascia. While it is possible he could play in Week
15, it is hard to understand why he would. The Cowboys shouldn't
need him against the Giants and hold a three-game division lead
over the Football Team. Pollard may be better off not playing
again during the regular season, but such a decision seems unlikely
given how the Cowboys have let Ezekiel Elliott play through a
knee injury that is clearly bothering him.
Dillon has been the Packers' workhorse for more than a month,
but I'm not sure that makes him a must-start. First and foremost,
Aaron Jones could be restored to lead-back duty at any point.
Perhaps more importantly this week, the Ravens have been very
stingy against running backs since Jonathan Taylor stung them
for 31.9 points in Week 5. Part of the reason for that stinginess
is Baltimore is usually very stingy against the position. The
other part of that is the Ravens' secondary is so beat up at this
point that opponents have little reason to grind out games against
Baltimore. This week projects much more to be another Aaron Rodgers
and Davante Adams explosion game.
As discussed in the previous question, Cincinnati is not a great
matchup for Javonte Williams or Gordon. However, both the Broncos
and the Bengals have established they prefer to set a physical
tone on offense. During Denver's 4-2 run since Week 7, Gordon
has handled at least 18 touches three times in five games and
fewer than 13 touches only once. That is enough to give him a
solid floor most weeks. It is also enough reason to start him
over Dillon and Pollard.
This is a great question that has multiple layers.
Let us begin by looking at Hill's weekly finishes in his six
NFL starts at quarterback (in order): QB11, QB14, QB7, QB9, QB7,
The overwhelming majority of NFL fans and fantasy managers believe
Hill is more of a sideshow that must have some incriminating evidence
on HC Sean Payton to get a huge extension, much less keep a job
in the NFL. Nevertheless, he has accounted for exactly two touchdowns
in all six starts and passed for at least 232 yards in four of
them. Last season (with Michael Thomas to draw some of the attention
away from the running game), Hill averaged 52.3 yards rushing.
In two starts this year (and with nothing outside of Alvin Kamara
to threaten defenses), that number is 87.
At first glance, Tampa Bay (the Saints' Week 15 opponent) appears
to be the most formidable opponent Hill has faced. That may be
true, as Hill's starts have come against the Falcons (twice in
2020), Eagles (2020), a Broncos team that started a receiver at
quarterback (2020), Cowboys (2021) and Jets (2021). However, there
are at least two reasons why the Bucs may not be the defense that
stops the Hill train.
1) Payton is among the best game-planners and play-callers in
the league and has been for some time. He has also fared exceedingly
well against Tampa Bay DC Todd Bowles' defenses. This season,
the combination of Trevor Siemian and Jameis Winston gouged Tampa
Bay for 24.8 fantasy points in a Week 8 victory with a supporting
cast not unlike the one the Saints have now. Drew Brees and Hill
combined for 38 fantasy points in a Week 9 rout last year. Teddy Bridgewater and Brees each had eruption games against Tampa Bay
2) For all of their success against rushing attacks again this
season, mobile quarterbacks have enjoyed a lot of success against
the Bucs. Even if we forget about Josh Allen's 39.2-point effort
last week because he is "elite" and Hill is not, Jacoby Brissett (19 fantasy points) and Jalen Hurts (25) did more than
enough to justify being in fantasy lineups.
Garoppolo's matchup against the Falcons is a good one on paper
as Atlanta ranks as the second-best matchup for quarterbacks.
However, Tom Brady (in three of his last four starts against them)
is the only quarterback to throw for 300 yards versus the Falcons
since Drew Lock did so in Week 9 of last season. Thanks in large
part to George Kittle, Garoppolo has played some inspired ball
of late, throwing for at least two TDs in five of his last six
outings. That's the good news.
The bad news is that HC Kyle Shanahan will not hesitate to take
the air out of the ball in any game, especially those in which
San Francisco is winning. The 49ers should win at home against
Atlanta this weekend, which is not a good thing for Jimmy G. In
San Francisco's seven victories this season, Garoppolo has averaged
27.3 pass attempts and 1.3 passing TDs. He has scored all three
of his rushing touchdowns in those games to boost his bottom line.
If that is not enough, Atlanta could take another logical approach
to crush Garoppolo's upside. A.J.
Terrell - the No. 4 ranked cornerback in my Dirty
Dozen article earlier this month - has enough size at 6-1
to shadow Kittle. With Deebo
Samuel acting more like a change-of-pace running back these
days, it would force Garoppolo to lean more heavily on Brandon
Aiyuk. While that connection has heated up lately, it is not
on the same level as Garoppolo-Kittle. Shadowing Kittle with Aiyuk
would also encourage Shanahan to lean even more heavily on the
There is no question Hill comes with risk this week, but he also
possesses the most upside. Garoppolo is the safer play, but he
is also less important to his offense. I would bet on Payton and
his track record against the Bucs and lean ever so slightly to
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.