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The Cut List (Week 7) - Time to Let Go?

Even in the most bizarre of NFL seasons, the first six weeks of 2020 have provided us plenty of information with which to evaluate most players' rest-of-year outlooks. We've given our fringe starters the chance to show us something. We've held onto that tight end or wide receiver with breakout potential for more than a month, and he's never come off our bench. We've endured the nightmare that is rostering any Jets player not named Jamison Crowder with the belief that someone among that group of professional football players would eventually do something (sorry folks, we're just going to have to wait till the Trevor Lawrence era).

But now we're gearing up for the second-half playoff run, and we simply can't continue to waste roster spots on players who are never going to crack our starting lineups. It is time to start identifying the guys who have a future with our teams, and who to release in favor of giving someone else a shot.

I'm new to this weekly RotoBaller installment (hi, I'm Chris), but I'm going to try to follow the same formula as my predecessor. We'll highlight a few underperforming players who are rostered in 30% of leagues and discuss why it is time to part ways. I'll also include a player or two each week who you might be thinking about dropping, but who is worthy of your patience or confidence. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to use roster percentages from ESPN.com. Let's get going - it's The Cut List for Week 7.

 

Droppable Players

Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams

44.3% rostered

Malcolm Brown inexplicably leads Sean McVay's backfield in snap-count rate after six weeks, but he's been trending down from a performance standpoint ever since Week 1 and that is now beginning to seep into his playing time. Brown logged at least 54% of the offensive snaps in three of the Rams' first four games, but has come in at 38% and 45%, respectively, in the last two.

Don't let McVay's mystifying refusal to let Cam Akers see the field fool you into believing Brown is the guy you want on a muddled Rams RB depth chart. He's averaging under four yards per touch in his last five games and is now being out-snapped by Darrell Henderson Jr. If I'm stashing a Rams running back on my bench, I'd rather have the upside of Akers over the much larger sample of ineffectiveness from Brown.

Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars

71% rostered

Gardner Minshew hasn't been awful, but he's definitely a difficult guy to trust on a weekly basis. He's committed eight turnovers in five games since a spotless Week 1 outing, and those issues are tough to tolerate in fantasy matchups with a fringe starting/streaming option like Minshew. His completion rate has steadily decreased in each of his last four games, from 71.43% in Week 3 to a suspect 56.82% in Week 6, and he hasn't exactly been facing the toughest defensive matchups in that time frame.

His team is usually losing by multiple scores, which certainly aids his cause from a passing volume perspective. But that's the thing with the Jaguars; we have to account for the fact that they are mostly bad on both sides of the ball, and Minshew hasn't yet developed into the type of QB who can overcome that environment consistently.

Perhaps the most telling development in Jacksonville is this peculiar quote from D.J. Chark after a Week 6 drubbing at the hands of the Lions, courtesy of Jaguars.com:

(On what the Lions' defense was doing to make it difficult game for the Jaguars' wide receivers) "I mean, I felt like we were open. Yeah."

Could be nothing. Could be a number-one wideout getting frustrated with the play of his quarterback. Minshew will have his moments the rest of the way in 2020, but he's also going to frustrate you with inconsistency and turnovers. If you want an AFC South QB you're evidently not going to use every week based on his roster percentage, why not just go get Ryan Tannehill, who is inexplicably available in 33.8% of ESPN leagues?

Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins

29.9% rostered

Matt Breida comes in one-tenth of a percentage point below the 30% threshold, but at this point he's clearly an afterthought behind Myles Gaskin. Gaskin is averaging over 20 touches per game in his last four, while Breida's season-high is 10. The workload gap includes both rushing and receiving work; Breida has reeled off a couple of 20-plus-yard gains on receptions in the last three weeks, but he's simply not seeing enough opportunities in that aspect to believe it will materialize into something more. He's seen just six targets in his last three outings.

Breida has just five red-zone carries in Miami's first six games, and none inside the five-yard-line. Considering his scoring-position involvement hasn't changed with Jordan Howard (team-high eight carries inside the five) inactive for the Dolphins' last two games, we can't even count on a cheap touchdown every now and then.

I can understand if you have Gaskin as a weekly starter and you want to hold onto Breida in case of an injury. Otherwise there is just no viable way for him to carve out a reliable fantasy role in the foreseeable future, and I'm not interested in waiting for that to change.

 

Tough Calls

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

96.9% rostered

I can't believe I'm saying this, but unless I have an IR spot on my roster I am considering outright dropping Zach Ertz. What the Eagles have had to deal with in terms of injuries this year is no one's fault but the football gods, but it has adversely affected Ertz in a way I never would have predicted. And now he's hurt, too.

The Eagles have been without Jalen Reagor since Week 3, without DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert since Week 4, and Alshon Jeffery hasn't played at all. While conventional wisdom suggests this lack of pass-catching options would funnel an obscene amount of work Ertz's way, the counter to that is opposing defenses have been able to make him a focal point of their game plans. Ertz has been targeted 21 times in Philly's last three games, but he's only hauled in nine of those for a ghastly 48 yards. His first catch of the year was a touchdown, and he doesn't have one since.

After leaving in Week 6 with an ankle injury, Ertz is now expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Look, I know he's Zach Ertz. But one of the toughest things about managing a fantasy team is knowing when to acknowledge that a big-name player isn't producing like a big-name player. The way things have been going, you had to be thinking about benching him for a week at the very least anyway. Now with the injury, you might not have the roster depth to justify holding an inactive tight end who's been torpedoing your lineup on a weekly basis. Again, if you have an IR spot available, slot him in there and hope for a late-season resurgence. If not, you're placing an awful lot of faith in a situation that hasn't treated you well in 2020.

 

Hold For Now

N'Keal Harry, New England Patriots

33.1% rostered

I won't attempt to articulate how disgusted I am with the Patriots after their Week 6 loss to a Broncos team that didn't even get into the endzone, nor will I try to find some higher meaning in the fact that N'Keal Harry caught zero passes on two targets in a game in which the Patriots spent nearly the entire time trailing by at least a touchdown.

What I am willing to do is write off the last few weeks of the Patriots' season as... weird. The offense was clicking through three weeks before a string of COVID-related issues shut down their practice facilities, rescheduled their Week 4 game, took their starting quarterback off the field for that Week 4 game, and ultimately forced them into an emergency Week 5 bye. In a sport so reliant on unit cohesion, it's hard to expect a team to function effectively with all that going on. So let's turn the page and look at how things were going for Harry before it happened.

In Weeks 1-3, Cam Newton attempted 91 total passes. Harry was targeted 22 times in that span, good for a 24.2% target share. Per Lineups.com, only five players in the league are seeing a target share above 24% as of this writing: DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, Terry McLaurin, Keenan Allen, and Adam Thielen. I'm not saying Harry is destined to become a weekly WR1, but I'm willing to wait to see if that level of opportunity returns for him.

For good measure, guess who leads the Patriots in red-zone targets? Harry's eight targets inside the 20 are tied for the second-highest total in the league. Don't quit on him just yet. Give the well-coached Patriots a chance to get back into the swing of things now that their COVID troubles are (hopefully) behind them.

Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

65.9% rostered

I don't quite know that you're looking to jettison Robert Tonyan after one questionable performance, but I figured I'd talk you off the ledge just in case you're worried about that performance coinciding with the return of Davante Adams. After obliterating opposing fantasy teams with 13 catches for 173 yards and five touchdowns in Weeks 2-4, Tonyan posted a pedestrian three receptions for 25 yards on four targets in Week 6 with Adams back in the fold. To be honest, four targets is actually kind of a lot for anyone sharing a field with Adams; as we're all aware, Aaron Rodgers loves to force the ball into the hands of his favorite receiver (and he threw to him 10 times on Sunday).

To me, Tonyan's dud in Week 6 was less about Adams coming back and more about the Packers failing to respond to being punched in the mouth by the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay boasts one of the league's better pass defenses, and after jumping out to a surprisingly big second-quarter lead despite beginning the game down 10-0, they were able to force Rodgers to try to beat them through the air. He didn't. Rodgers posted what has got to be a bottom-10 performance in his entire career, completing 45.7% of his throws with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

I think I speak for everyone when I say I don't expect that to happen again this season, and also that I don't expect the Packers as a team to lose anymore games by four touchdowns. The Packers offense is absolutely surgical when they are able to dictate the pace of the game, which they normally are. And in the weeks they were able to do that before this forgettable rout, Tonyan was heavily featured and extremely effective. He should remain a fine low-end TE1 going forward.

 

Other Options To Consider



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Key Moves to Save the Season for Winless Fantasy Teams

No fantasy football manager ever goes into the season thinking he or she is staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start. Maybe we have a roster spot or two we can foresee giving us issues, but unless we possess the most defeatist of attitudes, we likely feel the team we drafted will give us a chance to win. Then the season starts, and any of a number of things go horribly awry.

One 2020-specific misfortune that may have befallen you is the maelstrom of early injuries that pulled the rug out from under so many promising fantasy rosters before they even really had a chance. Perhaps your early-round picks are playing less like stars and more like guys trying to earn a one-way ticket to the waiver wire. Maybe they're playing relatively well, but suffering from a lack of touchdowns (Amari Cooper) or questionable usage patterns (*sigh* Joe Mixon). Or, in the cruelest of fantasy plot twists, maybe your team has been very good for the first three games, but you keep running into buzzsaws in the form of the one or two teams in your league that actually outscore you in a given week.

At the end of the day, how you ended up here only matters to the extent that you can identify what needs to be done in order to rise from the ashes.

 

Important Reminders

Even if you're sitting at the bottom of the standings with an unsightly 0-3 record, please try to remember two things:

  1. It could be worse. You could be 0-2-1, and you could've just elected to punt from midfield with 19 seconds left in overtime against a team that won two games last year.
  2. It doesn't have to stay this way, so don't give up!

Because no two rosters are exactly the same, there is very little I can offer in the form of specific advice on how to climb out of the cellar. If you want some help pertaining to your team directly, you can always reach out to me on Twitter, @cjoreillyCLE.

But through the art of shrewd trades, smart navigation of the waiver wire, and looking ahead at teams' schedules beyond just the upcoming week, there are always moves you can make in order to give your team the boost it needs to get in the win column. Let us begin.

 

Trade for Deshaun Watson

Okay, I know I said this wouldn't be specific, but allow me this one exception. Deshaun Watson has gotten off to something of an un-Deshaun-Watson-like start in 2020, and a big part of that can be attributed to what has got to be the most difficult early-season schedule in the NFL. Watson has faced the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers so far; the two AFC North foes in that trio are among the league's top defenses, and the Chiefs are an incredibly tough team to play catch-up against, which is exactly where Watson found himself in Week 1. The person in your league who drafted Watson may be growing restless, and now is the time to take advantage of that.

Is having Bill O'Brien as his head coach and losing DeAndre Hopkins a detriment to Watson's fantasy outlook? Sure. But from where I stand, Watson has earned the right to be considered one of the league's best quarterbacks independent of his surroundings, and his schedule is about to get a lot less daunting. Watson's next three opponents are the Vikings, Jaguars, and Titans--all of whom have been there for the taking through the air.

Following a Week 7 bout with Green Bay, the Texans hit their bye in Week 8. Here are their remaining opponents from Week 9 on: at Jacksonville, at Cleveland, New England, at Detroit, Indianapolis, at Chicago, at Indianapolis, Cincinnati (Week 16, when most fantasy championships are played), Tennessee. Other than two matchups with the Colts and one home game against the Patriots, who do we need to be afraid of on that schedule? With a brutal first three opponents in his rear-view, Watson has been cleared for liftoff.

If you already have Watson, keep him and know that better days lie ahead. If you don't have him, reach out to the person in your league who does. They might be impatient enough to sell him off for less than what it would normally take to acquire him. Watson is the type of player whose "boom" games can single-handedly win you a week, and they're coming sooner than later.

 

Find the Right Trade Partner

Unless you are just the most woefully unlucky person in the universe, chances are you've got at least a few players on your roster who would command a nice haul on the trade market. At 0-3, now is the time to start seriously considering making some of those deals. Having two or three guys go off in a given week while the rest of your lineup turns in a collective dud isn't doing you any good, and you, unfortunately, don't have the luxury of waiting to see if those underperforming players can turn it around.

Again, since I don't know exactly who is on your roster, I can't tell you exactly which personnel moves to make. But I can try to steer you in the right direction so you approach the best trade partner(s) based on the construction of your roster and theirs.

Is QB one of your greatest strengths? Go see how the person in your league who drafted Tom Brady or Carson Wentz would feel about an upgrade at the position. It's hard to imagine things getting much worse for Wentz and the Eagles, but with all their injuries it doesn't appear things will get significantly better for them anytime soon, either. In Week 4 they face the 49ers, who just dismantled the Jets and Giants despite missing almost all of their most important players on both sides of the ball. If the Wentz manager in your league hasn't acquired a serviceable backup yet, they may be desperate for a trade.

Brady has two solid fantasy outings and one total letdown through the first three weeks, but he and the Tampa Bay offense have hardly been the juggernaut we were hoping to see, and now it looks like Chris Godwin will miss some time. No harm in sending out a feeler to gauge whether your league mate's patience is wearing thin there.

If you can spare some running back depth, reach out to the league mates who lost Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley. In my primary home league, the guys who drafted McCaffrey and Barkley now have pretty barren RB depth charts. Someone in that position should be agreeable to any reasonable trade offer that involves a running back going their way.

If you have McCaffrey, or Raheem Mostert, or George Kittle, or any other injured star slated to return at some point in 2020, strike up negotiations with the owners in your league who have the best rosters and records. They may already have visions of championship banners dancing in their heads, and consequently they may feel their lineup can survive until the injured star comes back. You'll obviously have to include a non-injured player in the deal, but you might be able to persuade someone into giving up some depth in return for a guy who can put them over the top in the second half of the season.

Regardless of who you engage in trade talks, do not let your league mates push you around. People will prey on your desperation and try to coerce you into making a panic deal. Don't give in. If you have a strength in your lineup that can fortify one of their weaknesses, then they need your player(s) to remain competitive just as much as you need theirs to turn your season around. Drive a hard bargain until you get the offer you want, or keep the player you're offering and look to improve your team elsewhere.

 

Scout Future Matchups

You admittedly need a little roster depth to do this, and at 0-3 you might not have very much of that. But looking ahead to future matchups can help you better prepare for any positions in your lineup where you might generally be streaming from week to week, especially defenses. Take note of teams that are exceptionally weak against a certain position group, and see what you can do about getting in on the players set to face them in upcoming weeks before your league mates turn their attention there as well.

For instance, everyone wants the defense facing the Jets right now. Not everyone is looking ahead to see who plays the Jets in Weeks 5, 6, or 7, however (Cardinals, Chargers, Bills). If you're finalizing your lineup on Sunday morning and you feel like you have a roster spot to spare, scoop up the Arizona defense to keep on your bench until their ultra-inviting matchup in Week 5. This is just an example; the Cardinals might already be on someone's roster, but you get the idea. Always keep an eye on next week's schedule late in the current week to see if there are any advantages you can get a head start on exploiting.

Conducting reconnaissance on future matchups can also help you out in trade negotiations. For example, Miles Sanders is about to hit a pretty brutal stretch of his schedule over the next three weeks with road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and a home bout with Baltimore. If Sanders is on your roster, you might be able to capitalize on his high-draft-pick pedigree and offload him to an RB-needy team in return for a player with less of an uphill sled in his immediate future. Again, just an example, but knowing the upcoming schedules of the players you and your league mates are putting on the table in trade negotiations can give you some hidden leverage.

 

Make Late-Week Waiver Adds

One sneaky way to give yourself as much roster flexibility as possible is to drop your kicker and/or defense after each week and replace them with actual players. There are two reasons I do this when I'm able.

The first is if I have multiple players on my roster who are listed as questionable to play for the upcoming week. As we all know, those are fluid situations and we're not guaranteed to receive any clarity on them until late in the week with the way NFL coaching staffs play everything so close to their vests. If I have an IR spot(s) on my roster, it can't be occupied by "questionable" players. It can be occupied by players who have officially been declared inactive for a given week, regardless of whether those players are on the real-life IR (at least in ESPN leagues, this is the case). As soon as one of my players is ruled out, I can then place him on my IR and go pick up a kicker or a defense without having to drop a running back, tight end, receiver, etc. By doing this, I'm leaving myself as many outs as I can at positions that aren't as easy to stream as kicker and defense.

The second reason goes hand in hand with the first. Let's say Player A, who is the starting running back on his NFL team, suffers a mild ankle sprain in Week 4. His status for Week 5 is cloudy, so I go to the waiver wire and pick up Player B, his backup, who is set to see an uptick in volume if Player A is out. I'm not sure how the situation will play out, so I drop my kicker to make room on my roster for Player B. Friday afternoon rolls around, Player A is declared active, rendering Player B a non-factor. I drop Player B and replace him with a kicker.

But what if I dropped another RB or WR to make room for Player B? Sure, his value probably wasn't especially high if I dropped him for a second-string running back, but now he is freely available to everyone else in my league. What if it was someone like Kansas City's Darrel Williams or Arizona's Chase Edmonds, both of whom are one teammate injury away from taking on a prominent role in his respective offense? A league mate with a roster spot to spare might pick him up once I release him, and now I'm stuck with an unusable Player B instead.

The moral of the story here is to wait as long as possible before making roster decisions that force you to drop players who could potentially be usable in fantasy lineups at some point. You're not missing out on anything by waiting until Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday morning to pick up a kicker. Give yourself until the weekend to wait out injury designations and other variables, and then you can choose who to drop based on a full week's worth of information. Every bit of roster flexibility you can squeeze out of a week matters when you are trying to claw your way back into the playoff mix.

 

Parting Words

At the risk of sounding like a head coach trying to save his job after a bad start, I want to drive home the point of refusing to throw in the towel. My best friend started out 0-4 in our most cherished home league last year, and his future couldn't have looked any bleaker. He traded for Lamar Jackson and Leonard Fournette, wound up going 7-2 the rest of the way, and nearly made the playoffs. It would've been pretty easy for him to surrender, but instead he got aggressive and tried to turn his season around. If you're sitting at 0-3 right now, that comeback story could be you in 2020. This whole year has been about trying to make the best out of a truly dreadful situation, so you might as well apply that philosophy to your fantasy football team and have some fun with it.



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2020 Fantasy Football Advice 2020 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy & Tips 2020 Fantasy Football Sleepers Editor Note Featured Football NFL Analysis RotoBaller - All Fantasy Sports Articles

WR Stat Sleepers: Fantasy Points Per Target

In 2019, Marvin Jones Jr. averaged 2.13 fantasy points per target in ESPN standard PPR scoring. "What is that supposed to mean to me?" you ask. Fair enough. That's an odd stat to throw out there without any context.

Instead, what if I phrased it as follows: In 2019, Marvin Jones Jr. averaged more fantasy points per target than guys like Courtland Sutton (1.78), Tyler Boyd (1.52), Keenan Allen (1.76), and... Michael Thomas (2.02). Now do I have your attention?

Jones finished the season as WR28 with 193.9 points in ESPN standard PPR scoring, well behind the above-mentioned quartet of WR2s or better. The difference, obviously, is that each of the other four wideouts was targeted well over 100 times, while Jones saw just 91 passes thrown his way on the year due to injury. Thomas in particular was targeted more than twice as many times as Jones in 2019.

 

Points Per Target Matter

Why are fantasy points per target important? Well, it is decidedly not because you should consider drafting Marvin Jones over Michael Thomas in 2020 fantasy leagues. They are important because in a realm where "volume is king," it pays to be able to identify players who make the most of their volume despite not seeing as much of it as their more highly regarded peers. Only 30 wide receivers saw 100 or more targets in 2019. Do the math.

How many players out of 30 can you realistically expect to roster in a 12-team league? Even if some of them are late-round grabs like Cole Beasley or Dede Westbrook, or young players making a splash like D.J. Chark and D.K. Metcalf, chances are you're going to have to fill out the bottom half of your lineup with receivers who aren't focal points in their team's offense. And when you're sifting through those tiers of players, you might as well seek out the most bang for your buck.

Below we'll discuss some wide receivers who excelled in fantasy points per target in 2019. For the purpose of simplifying our examination, I'm setting the threshold for "excelled" at 2.0 points per target. Of last year's top 12 wide receivers in ESPN PPR scoring, only six of them averaged at least 2.0 points per target (Thomas, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Kenny Golladay). The rest were more dependent on volume.

Being that this is a discussion on statistical sleepers, a player should have to come in above average in this metric in order to qualify. We'll take a look at how these hidden FPPT gems racked up their points, whether their production is repeatable in 2020, and what to look for in terms of improvement or regression.

 

Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions

(2.13 FPPT, 91 targets)

We may as well round out our introduction with a look into what allowed Marvin Jones to produce solid returns on fewer than 100 targets. As will often be the case, touchdowns played a crucial role. Jones scored nine receiving touchdowns in 2019, which landed him in a five-way tie for the third-most scores in the entire league. We naturally don't want to bank on a repeat of that, especially for a guy who's the number-two wideout on his own team. But...

What allowed Jones to pad his touchdown total in 2019 was a strong scoring-position role. While Kenny Golladay led the Lions (and the NFL) with 13 targets inside the 10-yard-line, Jones tied for the fifth-most such targets with nine. Five of them were converted into touchdowns, accounting for over half of his trips to the endzone. Since Jones came over to the Lions in 2016, he's seen at least 21.4% of the Lions' targets inside the 10 each year, and that includes a 2018 campaign in which he missed seven games. For what you're drafting Jones to be in 2020, a target share above 20% near the goal-line is nothing to sneeze at.

It's also worth noting Jones saw at least 100 targets in 2016-17, the two seasons he's spent in Detroit in which he played at least 15 games. He was on pace to eclipse the 100-target threshold in 2019 as well, but missed three games. Had he played all 16 at his pace, he'd have set a career-high. Jones is currently being drafted as WR38, at the end of the eighth round in 12-team leagues. While this seems borderline disrespectful given what we know he can do, never argue with a good deal. Jones is the perfect target for fantasy owners who spend the first three rounds loading up on running backs, and are looking to shore up wide receiver with value plays in the middle rounds.

 

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

(2.06 FPPT, 71 targets)

After discussing a player I consider to be one of the great safety valves of the middle rounds, let's now turn our attention to a player I'm worried about in Marquise Brown. Yes, I've seen Brown billed as "the next Tyreek Hill" and I understand why. He has blinding speed and showed us flashes of the potential to become one of the league's most devastating deep-ball threats. But consider this. Brown recorded 584 receiving yards as a rookie in 2019--which, by the way, if he were anyone else, would not exactly be cause for excitement. Of those 584 yards, 220 of them came on just four catches. Of those four catches, three of them occurred in the first two weeks of the season. Brown caught 46 total passes in 2019. This means that 37.7% of Brown's season total in receiving yards came on less than 10% of his receptions, and a large majority of that 37.7% can be accounted for in the first half of September.

Are you starting to see why I'm hesitant to anoint Brown as the heir to Hill's big-play throne? While Hill is indeed a 70-yard touchdown scamper waiting to happen, he's also one of the key focal points of an offense that loves to throw the ball. Hill enjoyed back-to-back seasons of over 100 targets in 2017-18 before coming up just shy with 89 last year as a result of only playing 12 games. Since Patrick Mahomes took over as the Chiefs quarterback in 2018, he has targeted Hill an average of eight times per game. Brown saw fewer than eight targets in every game he played last year except for two (and again, both of those happened in September).

Brown excelled in fantasy points per target largely as a result of those big plays early in the year, as well as the fact that he tacked another five touchdowns onto the two he scored in Week 1. When you're eyeing up Brown at his WR27 ADP in the sixth round, you have to consider the trade-offs. Is he capable of winning you a week all by himself? Sure. But in order for him to be trustworthy, he needs to emerge with a consistent role in Baltimore's offense during the weeks when he's not single-handedly dominating your fantasy matchup. If the Ravens remain among the run-heaviest teams in the NFL and Lamar Jackson endures the touchdown regression we all expect is coming, Brown's fantasy value will continue to hinge on his explosiveness and little else. That makes him a liability in fantasy lineups more often than a week-winner.

 

Darius Slayton, New York Giants

(2.05 FPPT, 84 targets)

It's difficult to escape the truth: a lofty touchdown total will inflate a player's FPPT more than anything else. Such is the case with Darius Slayton, who led the Giants with eight receiving touchdowns in 2019. Maybe he reaches that total again in his second year, and maybe he doesn't. There are enough positives in Slayton's metrics to suggest he may not need to frequent the endzone in order to be a valuable wide receiver in fantasy lineups.

For starters, Slayton really emerged as a go-to option for Daniel Jones in the second half of last season. Here are his splits from Weeks 3-9 compared to Weeks 10-17 of 2019:

  • Weeks 3-9 - 17 receptions, 31 targets, 273 yards, three touchdowns
  • Weeks 10-17 - 31 receptions, 53 targets, 467 yards, five touchdowns

In each sample, Slayton played exactly seven games. From Weeks 10-17, he only saw fewer than seven targets twice, and saw eight or more in four contests. He finished the year with 84 targets; his second-half pace would've gotten him over the 100-mark for the season had the volume ramped up earlier. I'm just one person, but this is a trend I look at as an indication that Slayton has earned the favor of his quarterback and offensive coaching staff. Why shouldn't we believe he's poised for similar work in 2020?

In addition to being heavily targeted in the back half of his rookie season, Slayton also made some noise as a downfield threat. Among receivers with at least 80 targets, Slayton ranked 11th with 11.5 yards-before-catch per reception, and tenth in average depth of target at 14.1 yards. Think about the other pass-catchers in the Giants offense. Golden Tate is a possession receiver. Evan Engram is a strong and imposing tight end, but he's going to do most of his work in the intermediate range. Regardless of how many targets Saquon Barkley sees, he's primarily going to line up in the backfield. This leaves Slayton and Sterling Shepard for the long game, and Slayton was better in that area as a rookie than Shepard has been during his career.

In summary, we have a second-year receiver who produced solid numbers down the stretch as a rookie and emerged as the team's preferred downfield target. Slayton has to share the field with enough serviceable-to-good pass-catchers that I'm at least a little concerned about his overall volume, but he came within striking distance of 100 targets in the same situation last year. Any touchdown regression or workload skepticism is already factored into his ninth-round, WR43 ADP. It's not easy to find players with a chance to be their team's WR1 that late in the draft. Consider me all-in on Slayton at this price.

 

Honorable Mention: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

(2.33 FPPT, 81 targets)

There are a couple of reasons I'm not crazy about Deebo Samuel in 2020. For one thing, he's recovering from foot surgery and it seems safe to say he won't be active to start the season. For another, the 49ers scare the hell out of me as a fantasy offense outside of George Kittle. These things having been said, it would be unfair to leave one of last year's premiere FPPT performers out of this discussion.

The amazing thing about Samuel's high FPPT average is that it was decidedly not the result of touchdowns. He only found the endzone three times through the air as a rookie, and even if we count his three rushing touchdowns, six total scores hardly seems like an inflated or unrepeatable number. Samuel simply found a way to turn semi-heavy aerial volume into chunk yardage on a consistent basis.

Samuel ranked 15th in the league with 8.3 yards-after-catch per target. Eighteen players averaged 8.0 yards or better in that category. Fifteen of them were running backs. One was tight end Noah Fant. Samuel and A.J. Brown were the only wide receivers. Samuel was also one of only four players to achieve the 8.0 YAC threshold on 80 or more targets; the rest did it in variously smaller samples.

Additionally, if you've read anything else I've written this preseason, you know I'm relatively high on Jimmy Garoppolo as a result of the 49ers' tendency to throw the ball in the red zone. Well, no 49ers pass-catcher saw more targets inside the 20 last season than Samuel's 17. In fact, only 13 players league-wide had more than 17 red-zone targets. Kittle did see one more target inside the 10 than Samuel's eight, but no other San Francisco player saw more than five. What we could be looking at in Samuel is the rare instance of a player coming in above average in FPPT without having to score a bunch of touchdowns to do it, and the potential of some very positive touchdown regression on the way.

Of course, as alluded to above, there are drawbacks with Samuel. No one is ever going to supersede Kittle in the volume pecking order, so you're going to have to take what you can get with anyone else in this offense. But if you knew right now that you could pencil Samuel in for more than five targets per game (he averaged 5.4 in 2019) with a similar role in scoring position, isn't that a gamble you'd feel comfortable taking in the eighth round on a guy who is most likely starting the season on your bench anyway? As we draw closer to Week 1 and get a clearer picture of Samuel's health status, his ADP figures to drop even below that if things don't look promising on his early-season availability.

 

Conclusion

Needless to say, there are other players out there who fit the bill of solid FPPT production. I had to narrow down my focus or else we would be here until Labor Day, so I highlighted two players I'm all-in on at their respective ADPs (Jones, Slayton), one player for whom I am cautiously optimistic (Samuel), and one guy with whom I don't think we're exercising enough caution (Brown).

There are others out there, and finding them is rather simple. If you see a wide receiver with a high fantasy point total and a low number of targets relative to the other players in his scoring range, he probably matches the criteria. I encourage all fantasy owners to seek these players out, as doing so will help you get a better understanding of why Player A put up the numbers he did. From there, you can render your own verdict as to whether he will sustain, improve upon, or regress from his production this upcoming season. That's the most fun part anyway.

As always, if you have any questions about FPPT sleepers or anything else remotely pertaining to fantasy football, you can direct them to me on Twitter, @cjoreillyCLE. Best of luck in your upcoming drafts!



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The Perfect Pair: Turning Mid-Round QBs Into QB1 Value

Since 2015, I've been in a fantasy football league with a guy whose sole mission on draft day is to select Tom Brady. And when I say it is his sole mission, I do not mean he takes four or five backs and receivers and then grabs Brady a round early just to make sure he gets his boy. No, I think the latest I've ever seen this guy draft Brady was the third round.

The main reason that sticks out in my mind is that it was in 2018 when he couldn't make the draft, and had a friend draft for him. That friend asked for permission to take Tyreek Hill instead, knowing Brady would be available for at least another round. His request was denied, and Hill went on to run away with the top WR ranking at the end of the season.

To each his own. If anything, a league mate operating this way is advantageous, especially if my draft slot is in close proximity to his. If he's drafting the preseason QB8 in the second or third round, that's one more top RB or WR that will be on the board when it's my turn to pick. Except the one thing I didn't factor into my assessment of his draft strategy is that the same unorthodox approach that compels him to take Brady before most of the league is even thinking about quarterback so early yields more wacky results later on.

 

Avoiding No Man's Land

In 2016, he and I were drafting right next to each other on the board at picks 11 (me) and 12 (him). I was eyeing Drew Brees somewhere near the seventh round, and the only person who could prevent me from getting him was Brady Guy. And so I foolishly selected a running back or receiver, assuming Brees would still be there on the quick turnaround for my next pick. I was woefully mistaken. Brady Guy drafted Brees right before me. As his backup...

At this point, I found myself in a place I call Quarterback No Man's Land. We've all been here a time or two, especially if we have a tendency to wait on QB at our draft. The last guy we truly wanted comes off the board before we can grab him, and then we're left with a decision: draft another QB we're not as high on just for the sake of shoring up the position or continue stockpiling at other positions and sort out QB later.

It's an unenviable crossroads at which to find ourselves, but fear not. You won't run into any German machine guns, razor wire, or mustard gas up here in Quarterback No Man's Land. You'll simply have to navigate through a minefield of quarterbacks you're not interested in. And if you do choose to continue waiting on QB after your targets are gone, what you might find yourself doing is pairing up two guys who can combine to return the value of a top-10 or top-12 option.

For those of you who wind up here in 2020, I'm here to help. In the passage below, we'll discuss a handful of quarterbacks being drafted outside the top 12 in an attempt to nail down the perfect pair--two guys who can join forces to create a season-long fantasy QB1.

 

Statistical Outliers and Positive Regression

One of the easiest ways to identify undervalued players (at any position) is to look at the full scope of their performance and see if there are any odd variances or outliers in their underlying numbers that suggest they should have been a better fantasy option the previous year.

One player that immediately jumps off the page at me when looking at 2019 in this regard is Philip Rivers. Rivers threw the second-most passes in a single season (591) of his entire career last year. He completed 66% of them, which was the fifth-highest mark of his 14-year career. His 4,615 passing yards were good for the fourth-best such mark in his time with the Chargers. Out of 32 qualified quarterbacks, Rivers' on-target throw rate of 76.7% was the 10th-highest, and his 15.4% bad throw percentage was the seventh-lowest.

None of this sounds like a guy who was a liability in fantasy lineups yet, does it? Well, where Rivers took a dive was in the touchdown department, with a career-low 3.9% touchdown rate on his throws. Rivers' career touchdown rate is 5.2%. With a 5.2% touchdown rate on 591 pass attempts, Rivers would have thrown 30 or 31 TD in 2019 instead of 23. Another seven or eight touchdowns would have landed him in the fringe QB1 tier.

Rivers compounded his lack of touchdowns by throwing 20 interceptions, but turnovers have always been part of his fantasy profile. Maybe his age and having to learn a new system keep him buried among unreliable QB options, but playing behind the Colts offensive line certainly isn't going to hurt his 2020 outlook, and it's not as though Indianapolis is devoid of skill-position talent. If your journey through QBNML leads you to Rivers, he's going to have his moments in 2020. He's being drafted as QB23, in the 14th round.

 

Exploiting Usage Trends

Naturally, a sizable chunk of what makes a QB desirable from a fantasy perspective is how his team uses him. A quarterback can be good in real life but not used properly for fantasy purposes. In some cases, it's best to steer clear of these instances on draft day. But not all of them.

I'm a card-carrying member of the "Don't Trust the 49ers in Fantasy (Unless We're Talking George Kittle, Of Course)" alliance, and there's a reasonable chance I wind up with zero shares of that entire offense in any draft this year. The one non-Kittle exception I'm willing to make for the right price is Jimmy Garoppolo, and he's precisely the type of guy I'll be looking for to rescue me if I get stuck in No Man's Land.

The glaring knock on Garoppolo as a fantasy QB is his sheer lack of opportunity, and that's completely fair for 80 out of the 100 yards on a football field. The 49ers attempted the fourth-fewest passes in the NFL in 2019, and only the Ravens ran the ball more often. Expecting a QB in that type of offense to consistently carry us in fantasy is a fool's errand. If we isolate Garoppolo's red-zone numbers, however, we find an intriguing trend.

Garoppolo attempted the eighth-most passes in the league inside the red zone last year (73). Of the 17 quarterbacks who threw at least 60 red-zone passes, Garoppolo ranked third in completion rate behind only Jared Goff and Lamar Jackson. Only Tom Brady and Jameis Winston threw more passes inside the 10 than Garoppolo's 40. Of the 10 quarterbacks who attempted at least 35 passes inside the 10, Garoppolo ranked second in completion rate (62.5%) and threw the most touchdowns (16). (Lamar Jackson also threw 16 touchdowns inside the 10 on a ludicrous 28 attempts.)

For as much weight as we appropriately give San Francisco's offensive philosophy when evaluating Garoppolo's full fantasy outlook, we shouldn't just gloss over his role in scoring position. The 49ers trust him to chuck it when they get in close, and he proved in 2019 that he can capitalize on such opportunities. If you're going to roster a relatively touchdown-dependent quarterback, it might as well be a guy with a track record of fantasy-friendly usage near the endzone. Garoppolo is being drafted as QB19.

 

Gambling on Upside

Having discussed two quarterbacks who should be relatively dependable in fantasy lineups, let's now rattle off a few players who come into 2020 with varying levels of upside. We'll start with Daniel Jones, whose unsightly mark of 23 turnovers in 2019 is unlikely to repeat itself in his second year. Jones threw 12 interceptions last season, which is hardly a number to hold against a rookie. Where he really limited his fantasy ceiling was in fumbling 18 times and losing 11 of them. The last player to fumble 18 or more times in a season was David Carr in 2002. Considering how admirably Jones played in other aspects of the game as a rookie on a 4-12 team, ball security will undoubtedly be a major focal point going forward. It's also worth noting Jones was pressured on 29% of his drop-backs; only Case Keenum was pressured more among qualified quarterbacks. This certainly didn't help in terms of holding onto the ball. The Giants spent the fourth overall pick of the 2020 draft on Andrew Thomas, who figures to become Jones' new left tackle.

Jones doesn't have the most exciting down-range weaponry, but having the luxury of peppering Saquon Barkley with dump-offs helps to account for an average receiving corps. A healthy Evan Engram also goes a long way toward providing Jones with the supporting cast to take a leap forward in fantasy. He's QB15 at the moment.

Joe Burrow figures to be a popular flier in 2020 drafts. The first overall pick of the actual NFL draft inherits a Cincinnati roster ripe with skill-position talent and an offensive line that should presumably be better than it was last year now that Jonah Williams has recovered from shoulder surgery. Burrow's fantasy season could go any of a number of ways. He could thrive early while defenses work to figure him out, and then fade once they do. He could struggle early with the pace of the NFL game, and then round the corner in the second half once he hits that proverbial "slow the game down" moment. The best way to view Burrow is probably to accept that you're going to deal with at least equal parts bad and good in his rookie year. Pick your spots on when to start him and when to sit him, and hope to avoid the misfires. Burrow is going off the board as QB18.

If anyone has completely given up on Baker Mayfield after last year, I guess I can't blame them. But let's acknowledge the possibility that expectations were set unfairly high for Mayfield in his first full season as the Browns quarterback. If he had been viewed as a mid-level QB as opposed to a surefire fantasy starter going into last year, he might not have lost so many advocates in the fantasy community. There are aspects of a catastrophic 2019 that are on Mayfield and Mayfield alone, but let's not pretend he didn't suffer from questionable offensive line play and suspect play-calling. Mayfield was in a seven-way tie for the lowest average pocket time in 2019 at 2.3 seconds. The Browns brought in reinforcements at both tackle positions in Jack Conklin and rookie Jedrick Wills, and Pro Football Focus ranked Cleveland's as the most improved offensive line heading into 2020. Cleveland also fired headstrong Freddie Kitchens and brought in a first-time head coach with a long-standing reputation of getting results out of quarterbacks in Kevin Stefanski. Mayfield still has a ton of weapons around him, and I'm still willing to take this gamble for one more year if I'm in the market for a quarterback at his QB17 ADP.

 

The Perfect Pair

I wanted to highlight more than two players because even in No Man's Land, we can still wind up watching helplessly as our secondary and tertiary QB options are snagged before we can draft them. Yes, even in the latter stages of the draft, we have to give ourselves multiple outlets. The above-mentioned five are the players I will be looking for late if I don't get a top-12 option. But now, as promised, I want to narrow down the focus to the "perfect pair." While I'd be fine rolling with the floors of Rivers and Garoppolo in this scenario, my personal preference would be to pair one of them with a higher ceiling. Furthermore, I'm inviting volatility on myself if both of my quarterbacks are upside plays. So regardless of which quarterbacks you intend to escape with from No Man's Land, my advice is to identify a handful of guys you consider to be relatively safe. Grab one of them, and then feel free to air it out with the other.

If I get stuck in QBNML in 2020, I'm going to try to walk away with Garoppolo and Mayfield. Give me the guy running the offense of the defending NFC champion 49ers. I'm willing to accept the trade-offs in full-scale opportunity for the assurance that San Francisco will be a good real-life team with a competently-run offense. The Niners did, after all, score 31 or more points in eight games last season (nine if we include the NFC Championship Game). Head coach Kyle Shanahan routinely puts his team in position to succeed, and that's about as much of a safety net as I'm going to find if I'm still looking for a QB this late in the draft.

As for Mayfield, well, there's a reason I'm penciling him in here as an upside play. He could totally backfire on me with another season like the one he had in 2019. The difference is now I can draft him in the 12th round as opposed to the sixth or seventh. At that price, it's not costing me much to be wrong. Let's give him a second chance in a better coaching situation and with better protection up front.

Now that we have our guys, next we have to map out when to start each one in order to maximize what we get out of our duo. After all, we're aiming for combined top-12 QB production.

 

Who to Start and When

Week 1 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Arizona Cardinals

The Browns play at Baltimore in Week 1. No thanks. The Cardinals gave the 49ers a run for their money on the scoreboard in 2019, which lends itself to the possibility of a shootout to kick off the 2020 season. Garoppolo threw for 741 yards and eight touchdowns in two meetings versus Arizona, completing over 75% of his passes along the way.

Week 2 - Jimmy Garoppolo @ New York Jets

If Mayfield wasn't playing Thursday night in Week 2, I'd be inclined to pick him here. I'm not crazy about Garoppolo going across the country for a 1:00 start. For all their faults in 2019, the Jets were statistically the most difficult team to run on with a league-low 3.3 yards-per-carry average against. If I'm starting Garoppolo here, it's with the idea the 49ers will struggle to establish the run early on the road, thus giving him more chances to throw.

Week 3 - Baker Mayfield vs. Washington Football Team

Washington surprisingly had the third-highest pressure rate in the league last year at 28.5%, and adding Chase Young figures to make its pass rush even more formidable. Still, Washington might be the worst overall team in the league this season. If I can't trust Mayfield to put forth a respectable fantasy performance at home against Washington, I shouldn't have even drafted him.

Week 4 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Philadelphia Eagles

When in doubt, take the good quarterback on the good team at home against an opponent that has to travel 3,000 miles. Mayfield plays at Dallas this week, and I'm not sure I'll be ready to trust him on the road against good teams this early in the season.

Week 5 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Miami Dolphins

If Washington isn't the worst team in the NFL, it will probably be Miami. My only concern here is that the 49ers will get off to such a fast start that they won't need to throw after about the halfway point of the second quarter.

Week 6 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Los Angeles Rams

Garoppolo didn't play very well against the Rams in 2019, but there's always shootout potential when two quality division rivals meet up. Plus, Mayfield is going on the road to Pittsburgh, one of the league's better defenses and pass rushes from last season.

Week 7 - Baker Mayfield @ Cincinnati Bengals

The only reason I veered away from Mayfield in this matchup back in Week 2 was the short week. I try not to start questionable players in Thursday night games, especially that early in the season. That said, the Bengals didn't have the first overall pick in the 2020 draft for no reason. Cincinnati has its fair share of holes and gave up the most yards per completion of any pass defense in the league in 2019. If I'm right about Mayfield taking a step forward in 2020, right around now is when he'll be hitting his stride. Also, the 49ers play at New England this week.

Week 8 - Baker Mayfield vs. Las Vegas Raiders

Only Washington and Miami gave up touchdowns on a higher percentage of opponents' throws in 2019 than the Raiders. The artist formerly known as Oakland also permitted the second-highest yards-per-completion average in the league. Rounding it all out is the Raiders' 19.9% pressure rate, good for the sixth-lowest mark in the league. Garoppolo goes on the road to Seattle this week, so give me Mayfield at home against a very bad pass defense.

Week 9 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Green Bay Packers

The Browns are on a bye in Week 9, so we don't have much choice other than to start Garoppolo on Thursday night against Green Bay. For what it's worth, the 49ers absolutely had their way with the Packers in two meetings last year, one of which was an incredibly boring and lopsided NFC Championship Game. While most of the 49ers' success in those contests was the result of a completely disinterested Packers run defense, Garoppolo did pepper them for 253 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 pass attempts in the first matchup.

Week 10 - Jimmy Garoppolo @ New Orleans Saints

The Browns get the Texans at home this week, meaning both QBs have the recipe in place for a shootout. Still, the shootout of all shootouts took place in New Orleans last year when the 49ers outscored the Saints 48-46 in Week 14. Garoppolo threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns in that game, and completed just under 75% of his passes.

Week 11 - Baker Mayfield vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The 49ers are on bye this week, so unfortunately we have to settle for a middle-of-the-road matchup with Mayfield. The Eagles were neither a porous nor impenetrable pass defense in 2019, but their offense should be functional enough to keep this game close and force the Browns to throw.

Week 12 - Baker Mayfield @ Jacksonville Jaguars

By this point in the season, we're going to know full well whether any positive change has taken place in Cleveland. I'd like to think they'll be able to go on the road and handle the lowly Jaguars in Week 12. Gardner Minshew's propensity for gun-slinging adds an element of shootout intrigue. The 49ers play on the road against the Rams in Week 12, a contest in which I can see the 49ers relying heavily on their modus operandi of ball control via the ground game.

Week 13 - Baker Mayfield @ Tennessee Titans

The Titans had one of the least effective pass rushes in the league last year with a 21.1% pressure rate. A relative inability to get to the quarterback doesn't stack up very well against Cleveland's improved offensive line. Tennessee was, however, a solid run defense, which could make it tough for the Browns to get anything going on the ground. Garoppolo has to face the Bills at home in Week 13, and though I'm not crazy about Mayfield on the road with a potential fantasy playoff spot on the line, I'd rather take my chances against Tennessee than the vaunted Bills Defense.

Week 14 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Washington Football Team

The Browns play the Ravens at home. The 49ers play Washington at home. In the first round of the fantasy playoffs, this is a no-brainer.

Week 15 - Jimmy Garoppolo @ Dallas Cowboys

Since I never have any idea what to expect from the Cowboys defensively, this game has shootout potential plastered all over it. The 49ers answered the bell every time they were challenged on the scoreboard in 2019, and if there's anything we can definitively say about Dallas heading into 2020, it's that they should be one of the league's most prolific offenses. Give me Garoppolo against my Cowboys over Mayfield on the road against the Giants.

Week 16 - Jimmy Garoppolo @ Arizona Cardinals

Once again, we're looking at the possibility of a high-scoring affair with the 49ers facing a dynamic Cardinals offense on the road. And once again, let me remind you that Garoppolo torched Arizona for 741 yards and eight touchdowns in two meetings last season. With a fantasy championship at stake, I'm leaning Garoppolo over Mayfield, who gets the Jets on the road in Week 16.

Week 17 - Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Seattle Seahawks

If I play in a league that runs all the way through Week 17, I'm hoping the 49ers are fighting for home-field advantage here. Cleveland gets Pittsburgh's tough pass defense to end the season, and I really don't want to have to turn to the quarterback facing them in this situation. Hopefully, the 49ers still have something to play for in the final week, as the Seahawks were not a particularly formidable pass defense in 2019 except for limiting touchdowns effectively.

 

Closing Statements

Needless to say, it would be absurd for me to believe I can accurately project which quarterback to start for every week of the season when we haven't even gotten into the thick of training camps yet. There are plenty of variables at play. Defenses that were tough to play against last year may take a step backward in 2020 (New England) and vice versa. The run-heavy 49ers may pivot to a more aerial approach, in turn making Garoppolo more of a weekly starter than a matchup-dependent streamer. Mayfield may crash through the breakout barrier like many expected him to last year, which would thus render him a solid starting option as well.

All we can do at this point in the year is come up with a Plan A, while also acknowledging we are almost certain to have to adjust to what actually ends up happening on the football field. If we're staring down the barrel of a dual-QB streaming approach with Garoppolo and Mayfield, a good starting point would be to plan on avoiding Mayfield early against opponents like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, or in that early Thursday night game. We can pencil Garoppolo in for starts at home against divisional opponents like Arizona and Los Angeles, keeping in mind that a few of those NFC West games were high-scoring in 2019. And in some weeks, one of Mayfield or Garoppolo will be facing a clearly inferior opponent like Miami or Washington. From here, we just try to piece together each week the best we can based on whatever new information is presented to us.

At the very least, I hope I've helped you formulate a strategy for how to navigate through Quarterback No Man's Land. You don't have to believe in the same quarterbacks I do, but I hope my thought process in narrowing down my contingency targets provides you with the tools to identify your own guys. If you have any fantasy football questions, feel free to reach out on Twitter: @cjoreillyCLE



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RotoBaller Experts League No. 2 Draft Recap

Here at RotoBaller, there is no such thing as being in too many fantasy baseball leagues. Some of the writers here are lucky enough to participate in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, which pits writers, analysts, and experts from all across the baseball community against each other. One RotoBaller writer even started a relievers-only bullpen league--that's how obsessed we tend to get with fantasy baseball.

No matter how many different leagues we find ourselves in, we always embrace the challenge of getting in a league with our fellow writers. That's what 12 of us did in the second of two RotoBaller Experts Leagues. The league is run through Yahoo! The scoring is 5x5 rotisserie, with HR, R, SB, RBI, AVG as the offensive categories and W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP as the pitching categories. Our rosters are comprised of 30 players: one at each traditional infield position, a MI, CI, five OF, one UTIL, one SP, one RP, six additional pitching spots and nine bench spots.

What we'll do now is break down the draft, team by team, analyzing each participant's strategy and decision-making process as the draft moved along. Some of the writers have offered their own insight on their teams, and you'll hear directly from each of them when we get to their segments. Here is a link to the full draft results in order by round so you can see where every player was taken, but we'll also provide a list of each team's roster for on-page visual reference. Let's get to it.

 

Team 1 - Steve Janik

  1. Ronald Acuna Jr. - OF, ATL
  2. Jack Flaherty - SP, STL
  3. Rafael Devers - 3B, BOS
  4. Gleyber Torres - 2B/SS, NYY
  5. Lucas Giolito - SP, CWS
  6. Trevor Bauer - SP, CIN
  7. J.T. Realmuto - C, PHI
  8. Liam Hendriks - RP, OAK
  9. Joey Gallo - OF, TEX
  10. Carlos Santana - 1B, CLE
  11. Andrew Benintendi - OF, BOS
  12. Miguel Sano - 1B/3B, MIN
  13. Paul DeJong - SS, STL
  14. Didi Gregorius - SS, PHI
  15. Alex Colome - RP, CWS
  16. Andrew Heaney - SP, LAA
  17. Hunter Dozier - 1B/3B/OF, KC
  18. Mychal Givens - RP, BAL
  19. Miguel Andujar - UTIL, NYY
  20. Renato Nunez - 1B/3B, BAL
  21. Brian Anderson - 3B/OF, MIA
  22. Masahiro Tanaka - SP, NYY
  23. Niko Goodrum - 1B/2B/SS/OF, DET
  24. Josh Lindblom - RP, MIL
  25. Keone Kela - RP, PIT
  26. Freddy Peralta - SP/RP, MIL
  27. Tommy La Stella - 2B/3B, LAA
  28. Teoscar Hernandez - OF, TOR
  29. Mike Fiers - SP, OAK
  30. Dakota Hudson - SP, STL

In Steve's own words, here is how he evaluates his draft: "I consider Josh Lindblom to be my best value pick. I probably even reached for him because I doubt so few know how dominant he was in the KBO the last two years. I like him a lot returning to MLB. I'm least happy with where I drafted Carlos Santana. I told myself going into the draft that I wouldn't reach for a first baseman because there is a lot of value later at the position. For some reason, he looked like the best option at the time but I almost immediately regretted it."

On Steve's general strategy: "Not that I had a set strategy coming into the draft, but whatever I had was completely tossed out the window early. Being at the front/end of every round, if I had any interest in a guy, he was more than likely swiped away from me a few picks before, and in several cases the pick right before me (thanks Ellis). It happens in every draft but this might have been the most pivoting I've ever had to do."

In my own words: As a lifelong Indians fan, I would like to encourage Steve not to kick himself for too long over the Santana pick. Santana is always on base and in position to score runs, regardless of where he hits in Cleveland's lineup. For this year, it appears he may find himself in the cleanup spot for the Tribe--right behind Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and right in front of Franmil Reyes. A hitter with Santana's plate profile is going to yield excellent production in that situation.

Steve's team is going to be a serious problem for anyone else in our league who hopes to contend for the strikeout crown, as Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, and Trevor Bauer can rack up the K's as well as any trio of starters in our league.

 

Team 2 - Ellis Canady

  1. Christian Yelich - OF, MIL
  2. Mike Clevinger - SP, CLE
  3. Xander Bogaerts - SS, BOS
  4. Jose Altuve - 2B, HOU
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 3B, TOR
  6. Jose Abreu - 1B, CWS
  7. Mike Moustakas - 2B/3B, CIN
  8. Kenley Jansen - RP, LAD
  9. Yordan Alvarez - OF, HOU
  10. Roberto Osuna - RP, HOU
  11. Michael Brantley - OF, HOU
  12. Aroldis Chapman - RP, NYY
  13. Shohei Ohtani (Batter) - UTIL, LAA
  14. Khris Davis - UTIL, OAK
  15. Jake Odorizzi - SP, MIN
  16. Mike Minor - SP, TEX
  17. Aaron Civale - SP, CLE
  18. Dylan Carlson - OF, STL
  19. Mike Foltynewicz - SP, ATL
  20. Seth Lugo - RP, NYM
  21. Yadier Molina - C, STL
  22. Ender Inciarte - OF, ATL
  23. Anthony DeSclafani - SP, CIN
  24. Randal Grichuk - OF, TOR
  25. Jon Berti - 3B/SS/OF, MIA
  26. Austin Voth - SP, WSH
  27. Anibal Sanchez - SP, WSH
  28. Chris Bassitt - SP, OAK
  29. Robinson Cano - 2B, NYM
  30. Tommy Kahnle - RP, NYY

Ellis' second-round snag of Mike Clevinger announced quite loudly that ADP was not going to make a difference in how each of us approached our draft. I was 12th in the draft order, and Clevinger's ADP was in the 50s. I foolishly believed he would still be on the board when I made my third and fourth picks. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. Clevinger is a totally valid preseason candidate for the AL Cy Young in 2020 and should make a fine ace for Ellis' staff.

Ellis also drafted the closers from each of the three teams many believe will finish with the best records in this 60-game season: Aroldis Chapman, Roberto Osuna, and Kenley Jansen. Potentially threatening this otherwise lights-out bullpen is the fact that Chapman is already on the 10-day IL after testing positive for COVID-19 and Osuna has just begun ramping up his activity following a slow start to summer camp, the reasons for which are shrouded in mystery but evidently not injury-related. Neither of these developments would worry me much in a normal season, but with so many fewer opportunities to earn saves in 2020, missed games will add up pretty quickly. In any case, Ellis should be in a position to contend for our league lead in saves if Chapman and Osuna are able to resume their ninth-inning roles in short order.

Besides Clevinger, my favorite pick for Ellis's team is Mike Moustakas. He'll be surrounded by a solid lineup in a hitter's ballpark with the Reds, which should yield a ton of power and run production. Further down the draft board, Ellis swiped another Cleveland pitcher I was targeting in Aaron Civale. Ellis is looking at elite levels of offensive production from his top few position players, with a starting rotation anchored by Clevinger and rounded out by a solid stable of relatively high-floor hurlers.

 

Team 3 - Euan Leith

  1. Mike Trout - OF, LAA
  2. Walker Buehler - SP, LAD
  3. Ketel Marte - 2B/SS/OF, ARI
  4. Anthony Rendon - 3B, LAA
  5. Patrick Corbin - SP, WSH
  6. Jonathan Villar - 2B/SS, MIA
  7. Jose Berrios - SP, MIN
  8. D.J. LeMahieu - 1B/2B/3B, NYY
  9. Zac Gallen - SP, ARI
  10. Yasmani Grandal - C/1B, CWS
  11. Jesus Luzardo - RP/SP, OAK
  12. Max Kepler - OF, MIN
  13. Cavan Biggio - 2B/OF, TOR
  14. Madison Bumgarner - SP, ARI
  15. Lorenzo Cain - OF, MIL
  16. Edwin Encarnacion - 1B, CWS
  17. Zack Britton - RP, NYY
  18. Shin-Soo Choo - OF, TEX
  19. Adam Ottavino - RP, NYY
  20. Gavin Lux - 2B, LAD
  21. Will Smith - RP, ATL
  22. James Karinchak - RP, CLE
  23. Eric Hosmer - 1B, SD
  24. Corey Dickerson - OF, MIA
  25. Drew Pomeranz - SP/RP, SD
  26. Steven Matz - SP, NYM
  27. Jose Martinez - OF, TB
  28. Will Harris - RP, WSH
  29. Jose Urquidy - SP, HOU
  30. David Fletcher - 2B/SS/3B/OF, LAA

"I don't know if anyone in the draft picked off more of my targets than Euan. Like Steve with the first overall pick, I had a very difficult time gauging who was going to be around when I picked at the other end of the board. Waiting too long on Jose Berrios was my own fault, but watching Euan grab Zac Gallen and Jesus Luzardo before I could was brutal."

Euan also took the leap of faith on the idea that Mike Trout will not abstain from playing a significant portion of this truncated season. Trout has expressed reservations about potentially putting his family at risk, and though those talks have subsided somewhat, he is still due to welcome his first child in August. It seems reasonable to expect he'll miss roughly a week or so, at best, when that time comes. If it's just a week, then Euan will be handsomely rewarded by having taken the best baseball player alive with the third overall pick.

Euan's opportunistic approach to bullpen construction could wind up being the difference in where his team finishes in the standings. Whether he intentionally avoided drafting incumbent closers or simply kept getting sniped I am not sure, but he grabbed a solid stable of high-leverage relievers who could step into closer roles at some point in 2020. Zack Britton is expected to be Aroldis Chapman's stand-in if the latter is forced to miss any time to start the year, and would be a natural replacement if Chapman goes down at any other point as well. Adam Ottavino once served as a closer in the past with Colorado, and could wind up as a right-handed complement to Britton in a "closer platoon" if such a need should arise.

Cleveland's James Karinchak has some of the nastiest stuff of any relief pitcher in the league, and Brad Hand has had his fair share of ninth-inning struggles recently. Should those continue, don't be surprised if Karinchak is given save opportunities. Atlanta possesses a logjam of relievers with ninth-inning experience, but Will Smith could earn a few chances for saves under the right set of circumstances.

I'm a big fan of Euan's selection of Jose Urquidy in the 29th round. Urquidy is on the 10-day IL, and the Astros are playing that one pretty close to the vest in terms of disclosing exactly why. Euan might have to keep him on the injured list for a while to start the season, but Houston's reputation for molding pitchers into the best versions of themselves is universally renowned. With Gerrit Cole gone, a healthy Urquidy should have more chances in the back end of the Astros rotation in 2020, providing Euan with a potential breakout that he essentially got for free at the draft.

 

Team 4 - Elliott Baas

  1. Cody Bellinger - OF/1B, LAD
  2. Javier Baez - SS, CHC
  3. Shane Bieber - SP, CLE
  4. Austin Meadows - OF, TB
  5. Aaron Nola - SP, PHI
  6. Victor Robles - OF, WSH
  7. Giancarlo Stanton - OF, NYY
  8. Corey Kluber - SP, TEX
  9. Brad Hand - RP, CLE
  10. Eduardo Escobar - 2B/3B, ARI
  11. Matthew Boyd - SP, DET
  12. Brandon Workman - RP, BOS
  13. Archie Bradley - RP, ARI
  14. David Dahl - OF, COL
  15. Kyle Tucker - OF, HOU
  16. Luke Voit - 1B, NYY
  17. Luke Weaver - SP, ARI
  18. Scott Kingery - 2B/3B/SS/OF, PHI
  19. Howie Kendrick - 1B/2B/3B, WSH
  20. Caleb Smith - SP, MIA
  21. C.J. Cron - 1B, DET
  22. Tony Watson - RP, SF
  23. Kolten Wong - 2B, STL
  24. Dallas Keuchel - SP, CWS
  25. Ryan Braun - OF, MIL
  26. Jon Gray - SP, COL
  27. Miles Mikolas - SP, STL
  28. MacKenzie Gore - SP, SD
  29. Wilson Ramos - C, NYM
  30. Trevor Richards - SP/RP, TB

Back in winter and spring, Austin Meadows was my favorite outfield target heading into the 2020 fantasy season. Then America descended into madness and baseball went away for four months. Just as some semblance of normalcy started to return (at least to baseball), Meadows tested positive for COVID-19 and his status to begin the season is in doubt as a result. I wasn't completely out on him for obvious reasons, but one of the few strategies I was actually able to commit to in this draft was, "try not to take players who are already at risk of missing 15% of the season in the first few rounds." So instead of getting a guy I was prepared to place a dark-horse MVP bet on back in March, I'll have to watch as Meadows does damage for Elliott's team.

really wanted one of Shane Bieber or Mike Clevinger with my third pick. Elliott's selection of Bieber in the third round made it so I would not have either. Apparently no one got my pre-draft email instructing my league mates to leave all Indians players on the board for me.

My favorite part of Elliott's draft came in rounds 6-11. I'm curious to see if the absence of Anthony Rendon causes a shake-up in the Nationals' batting order, potentially providing Victor Robles a chance to hit in closer proximity to Juan Soto. Tossing Robles and Trea Turner into the top two lineup spots for Washington creates an immediate nightmare on the base paths for any opposing pitcher in the first inning, and would greatly improve Robles' run-scoring ceiling. If he remains at the bottom of the order, he's still a solid fantasy player with high stolen-base upside.

Corey Kluber in the eighth round could wind up being the biggest steal of the draft. Yes, he was showing some red flags early last year before a line drive off the wrist ended his season, but would you rather trust the five-year sample size from 2014-18 that includes two Cy Young awards, or the one month he struggled in 2019? That risk was appropriately factored into this eighth-round pick.

Giancarlo Stanton is one of 10 or 15 players I can see flirting with 25 home runs as long as he plays enough, which we all know has been the glaring weakness in his fantasy profile ever since coming over to the Yankees. A bounce-back season from Brad Hand gives Elliott the undisputed (for now) closer on a team that should win enough games to contend for a playoff spot. Matthew Boyd in the 11th was just another example of me losing out on a player I really hoped to get.

Extra credit to Elliott for his sneaky grab of Caleb Smith in the 20th round. It's easy to forget Smith looked like one of the better pitchers in the National League early last year before a hip issue sent him somewhat off the rails. If Smith returns in 2020 as the guy we saw in April and May of 2019, Elliott just found himself a borderline staff ace at a consignment shop.

 

Team 5 - Eric Samulski

  1. Gerrit Cole - SP, NYY
  2. Alex Bregman - 3B, HOU
  3. Freddie Freeman - 1B, ATL
  4. George Springer - OF, HOU
  5. Nelson Cruz - UTIL, MIN
  6. Eugenio Suarez - 3B, CIN
  7. Carlos Carrasco - SP/RP, CLE
  8. Frankie Montas - SP, OAK
  9. Michael Conforto - OF, NYM
  10. Taylor Rogers - RP, MIN
  11. Willson Contreras - C, CHC
  12. Elvis Andrus - SS, TEX
  13. Carlos Martinez - RP, STL
  14. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. - 2B/OF, TOR
  15. Danny Santana - 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF, TEX
  16. Ian Kennedy - RP, KC
  17. Garrett Richards - SP, SD
  18. Avisail Garcia - OF, MIL
  19. Jean Segura - SS, PHI
  20. Trent Grisham - OF, SD
  21. Ross Stripling - SP/RP, LAD
  22. Daniel Hudson - RP, WSH
  23. Austin Hays - OF, BAL
  24. Christian Walker - 1B, ARI
  25. Yoshi Tsutsugo - 3B/OF, TB
  26. Austin Adams - RP, SEA
  27. Jose Peraza - 2B/SS/OF, BOS
  28. Kyle Crick - RP, PIT
  29. Will Smith - C, LAD
  30. Matt Strahm - SP/RP, SD

In Eric's own words: "I think getting Christian Walker with the 284th pick was pretty great value. I know he has a groin injury, but he's already back to working out on the field. I didn't really need a first baseman, but he was too good to pass up on there. I was also really happy to get Taylor Rogers with the 116th pick. Either he's the closer for the team with the easiest schedule in baseball or he'll close some games, be in line to pick up wins some games, and help my ratios in all games. (Red Sox homer pick--Jose Peraza was announced as the starting second baseman, so I was happy to get him as the 317th pick with his speed and multi-position eligibility.) In terms of players, I'm not happy with where I drafted them, I think I blacked out when I took Michael Conforto as the 101st pick. I needed a higher-average bat and didn't love the value, but I had been sniped two picks before and was second-guessing my queue."

On Eric's general draft strategy: "My strategy was to get at least one ace early and then load up on bats. I got Gerrit Cole fifth overall and then went with five straight hitters and was feeling good, but arms were flying off the board. I wound up okay with Cole, Carlos Carrasco, and Frankie Montas as my top three, but I over-thought my pitching values after that and waited too long to snag multi-inning relievers I have been getting a lot of like Seth Lugo, Drew Pomeranz, and Yusmeiro Petit. This team wound up being unlike any of the others I've drafted, so I'm hoping to work the wire and find those multi-inning guys who pop."

I think I like Eric's draft better than he did, though I was surprised to see anybody take a pitcher in the top five overall. Eric was clearly able to adhere to his initial strategy early, and if he's worried about question marks in his pitching staff, he can take solace in the fact that all of his top five position players wake up in the morning and hit a base-clearing double before they've even had breakfast. I agree wholeheartedly with Eric's sentiments on the way this whole draft unfolded with pitching, but the complete abandonment of default rankings and ADP were also what made it so fun.

My favorite pick in Eric's draft is Eugenio Suarez--another Reds player who doesn't get the recognition he deserves because he plays for the Reds, and was consequently just sitting there in the sixth round. The dude has hit 83 home runs in the last two years with a .277/.362/.550 slash line, making him the perfect grab for upper-echelon power production without sacrificing in batting average.

 

Team 6 - Dave Swan

  1. Mookie Betts - OF, LAD
  2. Starling Marte - OF, ARI
  3. Stephen Strasburg - SP, WSH
  4. Tyler Glasnow - SP, TB
  5. Kris Bryant - 3B/OF, CHC
  6. Paul Goldschmidt - 1B, STL
  7. Josh Hader - RP, MIL
  8. Tommy Pham - OF, SD
  9. Marcus Semien - SS, OAK
  10. Jorge Polanco - SS, MIN
  11. Max Fried - SP, ATL
  12. Rich Hill - SP, MIN
  13. Eduardo Rodriguez - SP, BOS
  14. Adam Eaton - OF, WSH
  15. David Peralta - OF, ARI
  16. Salvador Perez - C, KC
  17. Ryan Pressly - RP, HOU
  18. Yuli Gurriel - 1B/3B, HOU
  19. Starlin Castro - 2B/3B, WSH
  20. Diego Castillo - RP/SP, TB
  21. Giovanny Gallegos - RP, STL
  22. Corbin Burnes - SP/RP, MIL
  23. Daniel Murphy - 1B, COL
  24. Corey Knebel - RP, MIL
  25. Jesse Winker - OF, CIN
  26. Yasiel Puig - OF, FA
  27. Nick Madrigal - 2B/SS, CWS
  28. Matt Barnes - RP, BOS
  29. Anthony Santander - OF, BAL
  30. Carson Kelly - C, ARI

If we were having this draft today, I feel safe saying Mookie Betts would decidedly not have fallen to Dave. Betts' astronomical extension with the Dodgers is probably going to extinguish whatever embers remained of the uncertainty regarding his status for the 2020 season, and he'll be back to being viewed as a top-three overall fantasy value.

Elsewhere on Dave's roster, Tyler Glasnow serves as another stark reminder that getting too caught up in ADP was a death sentence in this draft. I had hoped to grab Glasnow with my fifth pick, and his ADP indicated he'd be available. Dave shot my hopes clean out of the sky when he took him in the fourth. So anyway, Dave, if you're reading this--wanna make a trade?

It's been announced that Ryan Pressly will begin the season as Houston's closer while Roberto Osuna gets himself back into gear. Dave should be able to log a few saves early thanks to this development, and Pressly could easily earn himself more opportunities as the season progresses.

I waited too long for Nick Madrigal, and Dave made me pay for it when he took him in the 27th. Madrigal has a great chance to carve out a semi-regular (at least) role for himself at second base in the increasingly scary White Sox lineup. Though the incoming rookie is probably best suited to round out the batting order as opposed to hitting near the top of it, there are worse nine-holes than the one directly in front of defending batting champion Tim Anderson. Dave landed himself some cheap run-scoring and stolen-base potential here, as one of Madrigal's most intriguing traits is his speed.

An all-around solid draft with some intriguing bullpen arms sprinkled in as the later rounds progressed. But yeah, if Dave could please trade me Tyler Glasnow at his earliest convenience, it would be much appreciated.

 

Team 7 - Michael Florio

  1. Trea Turner - SS, WSH
  2. J.D. Martinez - OF, BOS
  3. Yu Darvish - SP, CHC
  4. Blake Snell - SP, TB
  5. Zack Greinke - SP, HOU
  6. Manny Machado - 3B/SS, SD
  7. Kirby Yates - RP, SD
  8. Marcell Ozuna - OF, ATL
  9. Josh Bell - 1B, PIT
  10. Franmil Reyes - OF, CLE
  11. Amed Rosario - SS, NYM
  12. Kenta Maeda - SP/RP, MIN
  13. Hansel Robles - RP, LAA
  14. Joe Musgrove - SP, PIT
  15. Justin Upton - OF, LAA
  16. Joe Jimenez - RP, DET
  17. Brandon Lowe - 1B/2B/OF, TB
  18. Yoenis Cespedes - OF, NYM
  19. Mark Canha - OF/1B, OAK
  20. Kwang Hyun Kim - RP, STL
  21. Yandy Diaz - 1B/3B, TB
  22. Wil Myers - 1B/OF, SD
  23. Joey Lucchesi - SP, SD
  24. Gio Urshela - 3B, NYY
  25. Austin Riley - 3B/OF, ATL
  26. Jorge Alfaro - C, MIA
  27. Pablo Lopez - SP, MIA
  28. Matt Shoemaker - SP, TOR
  29. Travis Shaw - 3B, TOR
  30. Carter Kieboom - SS, WSH

With all five of the truly elite outfielders off the board, Michael clearly elected to give himself an edge in steals by taking Trea Turner at seven. While there were still plenty of power bats available, Turner provides an exceptional blend of speed, batting average, and run-scoring ability. And of course, Michael was able to grab a top-tier power bat in the second round anyway, with J.D. Martinez.

Michael then wasted no time in building what should be a solid top of his rotation before grabbing arguably the best fantasy closer in baseball, Kirby Yates. Michael's 10th and 11th picks could help propel him to the top of our offensive leaderboard. Franmil Reyes came out of his shell after a rough first few weeks with the Indians following last year's trade deadline. Now he's settled into a fantasy-friendly environment that affords him the luxury of hitting directly behind Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Santana. Reyes' ability to put a charge into a ball makes him a sneaky threat to lead the league in RBI with that trio of hitters in front of him.

Amed Rosario, who Michael grabbed in the 11th, figures to hit leadoff for the best Mets lineup in recent memory. Rosario came on strong in 2019 after a tough first couple of years, offering value in batting average and stolen bases while also providing serviceable numbers in runs and RBI. He also chipped in 15 home runs for good measure. We'll dial back the power expectations for now, but the 11th round is great value for a leadoff hitter on a team that is going to score a ton in 2020.

Grabbing Austin Riley in the 25th round could turn out to be highway robbery for Michael. Josh Donaldson is no longer blocking Riley at third base, and then there is the implementation of the universal DH. In other words, Riley should have an easier route to regular playing time in 2020.

Joey Lucchesi is a player I eyed up for several rounds, and had I felt the need for more pitching, I'd have taken him earlier than Michael did. Lucchesi ranked 21st among all qualified starting pitchers in ground-ball rate last year, and he pitches in a home park that's difficult to hit home runs out of to begin with (Petco Park). He'll perform admirably on Michael's roster, which is all you really need out of a 23rd-round pick.

 

Team 8 - Marc Hulet

  1. Nolan Arenado - 3B, COL
  2. Fernando Tatis Jr. - SS, SD
  3. Charlie Blackmon - OF, COL
  4. Keston Hiura - 2B, MIL
  5. Luis Robert - OF, CWS
  6. Eloy Jimenez - OF, CWS
  7. Robbie Ray - SP, ARI
  8. James Paxton - SP, NYY
  9. Corey Seager - SS, LAD
  10. Julio Urias - RP/SP, LAD
  11. Lance McCullers Jr. - SP, HOU
  12. Hector Neris - RP, PHI
  13. Mitch Garver - C, MIN
  14. Sam Hilliard - OF, COL
  15. Sean Doolittle - RP, WSH
  16. Alex Verdugo - OF, BOS
  17. Ryan McMahon - 1B/2B/3B, COL
  18. Nate Pearson - SP, TOR
  19. Nick Solak - 2B/3B, TEX
  20. Yonny Chirinos - SP/RP, TB
  21. Rafael Dolis - RP, TOR
  22. Tyler Duffey - RP, MIN
  23. Kyle Lewis - OF, SEA
  24. Willy Adames - SS, TB
  25. Ian Happ - 2B/3B/OF, CHC
  26. Joey Votto - 1B, CIN
  27. Brett Gardner - OF, NYY
  28. Spencer Turnbull - SP, DET
  29. Chris Taylor - 2B/SS/OF, LAD
  30. Ryne Stanek - RP/SP, MIA

In Marc's words: "I was picking eighth, which is a fairly ugly spot in a snake draft. Eloy Jimenez could be a sixth-round steal. He got off to a bit of a slow start to his MLB career but he has shown the ability to hit for average and power. He's just scratching the surface of what he can do. Corey Seager in the eighth round was also a great value pick if he's fully healthy. A short season could really help someone like him. As the 'prospect guy,' I always try to use that knowledge to my advantage and I was very aggressive in seeking HR/SB potential with Luis Robert (fifth round) and Sam Hilliard (14th round). I'm least happy with where I drafted Hector Neris (12th round). I was mostly willing to punt the reliever category given the volatility of the position and I figure I can get some waiver wire value later on. But Neris is my top reliever and I'm not thrilled at that. I was eyeing up Roberto Osuna, who lasted until the late 10th round and I was poised to jump on him in the early 11th."

On Marc's general strategy: "With it being a short season, my focus was primarily on offense and I figured I could get some risky, high-ceiling arms later on. I was fairly successful nabbing Lance McCullers Jr., Julio Urias, and Nate Pearson. I narrowly missed out on Carlos Martinez as the run on pitching happened sooner than I expected. I think veterans Robbie Ray and James Paxton should have solid seasons."

Despite not drafting a pitcher until the seventh round, Marc wound up with a pitching staff he can work with. Lance McCullers Jr. gets forgotten about after missing all of last season, but by all accounts has looked impressive this summer. It's also worth mentioning he still wears the uniform of the Houston Pitching Factory. Nate Pearson is my favorite pick on Marc's roster, as the incoming Blue Jays rookie was someone I coveted in the back half of this draft. Pearson will likely be eased into a full workload whenever he gets the call-up in 2020, but the abbreviated season should allow Toronto to ride with him more heavily than they would over a traditional schedule. He has a chance to be the second-best starter in Toronto behind Hyun Jin Ryu.

Marc also stole Kyle Lewis, who I was looking for as an early-season bench stash with upside, in the 23rd round. Who knows what we'll get out of the Mariners from a fantasy perspective this season, but Lewis is a guy we should all be willing to take the chance on late.

 

Team 9 - Frank Ammirante

  1. Juan Soto - OF, WSH
  2. Max Scherzer - SP, WSH
  3. Clayton Kershaw - SP, LAD
  4. Luis Castillo - SP, CIN
  5. Bo Bichette - SS, TOR
  6. Aaron Judge - OF, NYY
  7. Matt Olson - 1B, OAK
  8. Gary Sanchez - C, NYY
  9. Ken Giles - RP, TOR
  10. Carlos Correa - SS, HOU
  11. Craig Kimbrel - RP, CHC
  12. Oscar Mercado - OF, CLE
  13. Mallex Smith - OF, SEA
  14. Rhys Hoskins - 1B, PHI
  15. Mark Melancon - RP, ATL
  16. Dylan Bundy - SP, LAA
  17. Rougned Odor - 2B, TEX
  18. Mitch Keller - SP, PIT
  19. Marcus Stroman - SP, NYM
  20. Josh James - RP, HOU
  21. Matt Carpenter - 3B, STL
  22. Nathan Eovaldi - SP/RP, BOS
  23. Alex Wood - SP, LAD
  24. Dylan Cease - SP, CWS
  25. Dansby Swanson - SS, ATL
  26. Reynaldo Lopez - SP, CWS
  27. Eric Thames - OF/1B, WSH
  28. Jay Bruce - OF/1B, PHI
  29. Johnny Cueto - SP, SF
  30. John Means - SP, BAL

Frank was very vocal throughout the draft about how much he loved his team, and for good reason. Luis Castillo is my long-shot NL Cy Young bet this year, and Frank drafted him after selecting two multiple-time winners of the award. He built himself an impenetrable starting rotation early, and then piled on with excellent offensive options over the course of his next several picks.

If Frank had consulted me, the resident Indians fan of this league, I'd have advised against drafting Oscar Mercado in the 12th. Mercado had a deceptively productive rookie season with some concerning underlying metrics, and was buoyed by batting second in a strong top of the order for the Tribe. He's more likely to hit ninth in 2020, which means he'll no longer be sandwiched in between the likes of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. Mercado should still provide value in steals, however, which appears to be what Frank drafted him for anyway.

Rhys Hoskins in the 14th seems like some kind of glitch. Did he just disappear from the rest of our queues for 14 rounds? I know he won't help much in batting average, but he's smack-dab in the middle of a potent Phillies lineup and we know he can put one over the fence in a hurry. Frank's first baseman tandem of Hoskins and Matt Olson could produce the most home runs of any such duo in our league.

Further down the draft board, Frank continued to reinforce his rotation with a blend of veterans and young upside plays. He also sniped Ken Giles from me three picks before it was my turn in the ninth round, creating a domino effect in my approach to relief pitchers from that point forward. The X-factor on Frank's roster could be Aaron Judge. As long as he's on the field, he provides Frank with a lethal one-two punch among outfielders when combined with Juan Soto. I don't believe in "grading" other people's drafts, but I'd be very happy if I ended up with this roster in any league.

 

Team 10 - Brian Entrekin

  1. Jacob deGrom - SP, NYM
  2. Jose Ramirez - 3B, CLE
  3. Adalberto Mondesi - SS, KC
  4. Charlie Morton - SP, TB
  5. Anthony Rizzo - 1B, CHC
  6. Yoan Moncada - 3B, CWS
  7. Tim Anderson - SS, CWS
  8. Jorge Soler - OF, KC
  9. Lance Lynn - SP, TEX
  10. Kyle Schwarber - OF, CHC
  11. Edwin Diaz - RP, NYM
  12. Andrew McCutchen - OF, PHI
  13. Zack Wheeler - SP, PHI
  14. Byron Buxton - OF, MIN
  15. Dustin May - RP/SP, LAD
  16. Aaron Hicks - OF, NYY
  17. Willie Calhoun - OF, TEX
  18. Shohei Ohtani (Pitcher) - SP, LAA
  19. Cesar Hernandez - 2B, CLE
  20. Brandon Kintzler - RP, MIA
  21. Wade Davis - RP, COL
  22. Tyler Rogers - RP, SF
  23. Blake Treinen - RP, LAD
  24. Matt Magill - RP, SEA
  25. Nick Burdi - RP, PIT
  26. Ryan Helsley - RP, PHI
  27. Kevin Ginkel - RP, ARI
  28. Domingo Santana - OF, CLE
  29. Yusmeiro Petit - RP, OAK
  30. Tom Murphy - C, SEA

I'm not sure if it was Brian's plan all along or if he just rolled with the punches, but his relatively zero-reliever strategy is one I admire. Brian grabbed Edwin Diaz in the 11th and then didn't draft another bullpen arm until the 20th--at which point he drafted eight in a row. Brian probably needs a lot of bullpen turnover in real-life baseball in order for his fantasy team to contend in saves, but his decision not to chase closers allowed him to strengthen many other facets of his roster. Then when the time came, he loaded up on relievers who can help his team without recording saves.

Once I passed on Jorge Soler in the eighth round, I knew I'd regret it. Brian grabbed him two picks later, so at least he spared me a slow death. Brian also nabbed Cesar Hernandez, who looks poised for Cleveland's leadoff spot. Hernandez's career track record of being a solid on-base guy should result in tons of run-scoring chances in that lineup.

Where Brian's team could truly do some damage on the leaderboard is in his starting rotation. After securing arguably the best pitcher alive in Jacob deGrom and adding Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn, Brian pounced on some value plays in Zack Wheeler (14th round) and Shohei Ohtani (18th round). There are questions surrounding whether Wheeler will actually pitch this year or not, but if everyone knew he was going to, there's obviously no way he'd still have been sitting there in the 14th round.

I think Ohtani's fantasy value is influenced by the fact that we're really just not sure how to approach a player who is great at both hitting and pitching. Stepping back onto the mound after Tommy John surgery is naturally a concern as well, but there's no denying Ohtani looked every bit the part of an ace in 2018. If things break right for Wheeler and Ohtani, Brian has one of the most stacked rotations in our league--and possibly the best.

 

Team 11 - Connelly Doan

  1. Justin Verlander - SP, HOU
  2. Trevor Story - SS, COL
  3. Pete Alonso - 1B, NYM
  4. Whit Merrifield - 2B/OF, KC
  5. Eddie Rosario - OF, MIN
  6. Sonny Gray - SP, CIN
  7. Ramon Laureano - OF, OAK
  8. Jeff McNeil - 2B/3B/OF, NYM
  9. Josh Donaldson - 3B, MIN
  10. Hyun Jin Ryu - SP, TOR
  11. Raisel Iglesias - RP, CIN
  12. Kyle Hendricks - SP, CHC
  13. Justin Turner - 3B, LAD
  14. Jose Leclerc - RP, TEX
  15. Shogo Akiyama - OF, CIN
  16. German Marquez - SP, COL
  17. Garrett Hampson - 2B/SS/OF, COL
  18. Kevin Newman - 2B/SS, PIT
  19. Ryan Yarbrough - RP/SP, TB
  20. Nick Senzel - OF, CIN
  21. Adrian Houser - RP/SP, MIL
  22. Omar Narvaez - C, MIL
  23. Griffin Canning - SP, LAA
  24. Nomar Mazara - OF, CWS
  25. Trevor May - RP, MIN
  26. A.J. Pollock - OF, LAD
  27. Hunter Harvey - RP, BAL
  28. Mauricio Dubon - 2B/SS, SF
  29. Kevin Gausman - SP/RP, SF
  30. Christian Vazquez - C, BOS

At two relatively critical junctures of the draft, Connelly snagged the primary player I was targeting one pick before I could get my guy: once in the 11th with Raisel Iglesias, and a second time in the 23rd with Griffin Canning. I already had the rug pulled out from under me in the ninth round when I missed out on Ken Giles, and Connelly spiked a handful of salt on my wounds two rounds later by snatching my second-most highly coveted reliever. Canning was more of a late-round lottery ticket for me, but he's going to have plenty of opportunities to pitch in an underwhelming Angels rotation and he's got good stuff.

After spending his second and third picks on two players who could combine for 40-plus home runs in this short season in Trevor Story and Pete Alonso, Connelly built himself a solid foundation in batting average with Whit Merrifield, Ramon Laureano, and Jeff McNeil. McNeil could easily win a batting title this year. He and Laureano should provide a ton of value in runs scored as well, given the strength of their respective lineups. With a little luck, Laureano and Merrifield could offer Connelly respectable stolen-base totals.

Nick Senzel in the 20th round could wind up being Connelly's best value pick if everything comes together for the second-year outfielder. Senzel dealt with injuries as a rookie and was never truly able to take off. In 2020, he remains a high-upside youngster with an improved lineup around him. There is still plenty of shine on Senzel's prospect profile, and he could be in line to provide Connelly with above-market value in steals and runs scored at least.

 

Team 12 - Chris O'Reilly

  1. Francisco Lindor - SS, CLE
  2. Bryce Harper - OF, PHI
  3. Chris Paddack - SP, SD
  4. Ozzie Albies - 2B, ATL
  5. Brandon Woodruff - SP, MIL
  6. Nick Castellanos - OF, CIN
  7. Mike Soroka - SP, ATL
  8. Max Muncy - 1B/2B/3B, LAD
  9. Dinelson Lamet - SP, SD
  10. Matt Chapman - 3B, OAK
  11. Nick Anderson - RP, TB
  12. Tommy Edman - 2B/3B/OF, STL
  13. Hunter Renfroe - OF, TB
  14. Bryan Reynolds - OF, PIT
  15. Sean Manaea - SP, OAK
  16. J.D. Davis - 3B/OF, NYM
  17. Sandy Alcantara - SP, MIA
  18. Spencer Howard - SP, PHI
  19. Emilio Pagan - RP, SD
  20. Luis Arraez - 2B/3B/OF, MIN
  21. Rowan Wick - RP, CHC
  22. Joc Pederson - OF/1B, LAD
  23. Aaron Bummer - RP, CWS
  24. Sean Murphy - C, OAK
  25. Amir Garrett - RP, CIN
  26. Mike Yastrzemski - OF, SF
  27. Justus Sheffield - SP, SEA
  28. Vince Velazquez - SP, PHI
  29. Francisco Mejia - C, SD
  30. Shed Long Jr. - 2B/OF, SEA

Let's start with what I don't like about my draft. I love Francisco Lindor more than I love most things, and I couldn't believe he fell all the way down to me in the first. I think he and Bryce Harper win their leagues' respective MVP awards in 2020. But I had just drafted those two to begin another league right before this one, and I wish I had a little more diversity in my top picks. I just couldn't talk myself out of either one, so I put my money where my mouth is. I'm also not crazy about Ozzie Albies in the fourth. That was sort of a panic pick as the clock was down to seven seconds. I figured I might as well grab a second baseman who hits in close proximity to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman.

As I mentioned several times throughout this piece, I was snake-bitten on several occasions in the pitching market. My plan going in was to land any two of Chris Paddack, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Tyler Glasnow, and Luis Castillo. Once I saw I was picking 12th, I had a feeling that was not going to happen. In Brandon Woodruff and Dinelson Lamet, I feel like I made up for missing out on my top targets by grabbing two high-strikeout guys. Those two and Paddack give me a strong case for the top of the strikeout leaderboard.

Relief pitching is where I ran into the most razor wire. I wanted one of Ken Giles or Raisel Iglesias, and I didn't get either. I was never going to place much emphasis on saves to begin with, but once I missed on those guys, I pivoted completely to a focus on high-leverage relievers who aren't currently closers. Nick Anderson is probably the best pitcher in a loaded Rays bullpen, but I won't be surprised to see multiple guys in that group being given save chances (even if he is listed as their closer).

Positional versatility, batting average, and runs were a focus as the draft wore on. I strayed a bit with selections like Hunter Renfroe and Matt Chapman, but their power bats are tough to pass up. Having Luis Arraez, Tommy Edman, J.D. Davis, and Bryan Reynolds should keep my overall average from bottoming out at any point, and all except Reynolds are eligible at multiple positions.

All in all, I am very happy with this team. I wish I had landed a few more of my top pitching targets, but that is the only way in which this draft ever felt like it got away from me.

That, as they say, is a wrap. Whose team do you like the best? Feel free to reach out to any of us on Twitter if you'd like to discuss our rosters, or just have questions on fantasy baseball in general: @cjoreillyCLE (Chris), @bdentrek (Brian), @RotoStevieJ (Steve), @marchulet (Marc), @SamskiNYC (Eric), @EuanOrYouOut (Euan), @MichaelFFlorio (Michael), @ElliottBaasBB (Elliott), @ConnellyDoan (Connelly), @FAmmiranteTFJ (Frank), @EllisCan2 (Ellis), @davithius (Dave).



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Five Questions About the 2020 NFL Season You Want Answered

Back in 2001, Denzel Washington treated us to one of the most legendary acting performances of all time with his portrayal of Alonzo Harris in Training Day. Among his countless memorable moments in that masterpiece of a crime drama are the times he repeatedly reminds bright-eyed rookie Jake Hoyt, "It's not what you know. It's what you can prove." Now, I'm not out gunning down my own confidential informants in order to escape a hit order from the Russian mob, but with a little bit of imaginative wordsmithing, we can apply this same sentiment to fantasy football. It's not what we "know" about an upcoming football season that determines whether we will win our fantasy leagues.

We "know" players like Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, and Michael Thomas will finish at or near the top of their respective positions in total scoring as long as they play all year, and that drafting any one of them should provide us with a nice weekly foundation. But guess what? At best, we get to roster two of those players on draft day, and it's more likely we wind up with just one. Like the idealistic Jake Hoyt, it's what we're willing to take a chance on proving that will make the difference in whether our fantasy teams wind up walking away with a duffel bag full of cash or wrapped up in a shower curtain in someone's bathtub. And with that comes the realization that we don't know very much about the 2020 NFL season (or any NFL season before it happens, for that matter), and we can prove even less.

As such, we're going to have to take some leaps of faith on draft day. These rolls of the dice are based on the idea that we'll wind up being proven right on some questions with yet-unknown answers. So after a strange introduction in which I found a way to tie a film about crooked narcotics detectives into a story about fantasy sports, let's get to the five questions we wish we could know the answers to before we draft. One note before we begin: There are plenty of off-field questions to be answered between now and Week 1. I'm not going to focus on those here. The five questions we'll discuss today are all specifically geared toward things that may or may not take place on the field in 2020.

 

1. Which rookie RB not named Clyde Edwards-Helaire will become "the guy" in his backfield?

If we combine Kansas City's dynamic offense and Andy Reid's long-standing track record of producing exceptional fantasy running backs, it seems safe to say Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the odds-on favorite to have the best season of any rookie RB. Beyond Edwards-Helaire, however, the 2020 draft was packed with mid-round running backs who don't have as clear a path to fantasy stardom in their debut seasons.

There is a Todd Gurley-sized hole in the Rams' backfield, making Cam Akers arguably the most enticing of the bunch. All he has to do in order to seize the starting job is fend off Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, neither of whom exactly has a death-grip on a featured role. The Rams also didn't have a 2020 draft pick until the middle of Round 2. Despite clear evidence that their offensive line is in need of at least one upgrade, they didn't trade up. They stuck it out until the 52nd pick and used that pick on Akers. There's certainly cause for optimism regarding Akers' 2020 role.

Nobody loves to run the ball more than the Ravens, which would theoretically make J.K. Dobbins an intriguing prospect here. Unfortunately for Dobbins, Mark Ingram is still standing in the way of a starting role, and Lamar Jackson isn't suddenly going to stop carrying the ball himself. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill are still on Baltimore's depth chart as well. This is a crowded backfield with a quarterback that steals an inordinate amount of rushing opportunities from his running backs, making it tough to say with any confidence that Dobbins is poised for clear workhorse duties at some point in 2020.

Jonathan Taylor is interesting here, as his fourth-round ADP seems to indicate that we're all supposed to have given up on Marlon Mack. Why that is after Mack posted his first 1,000-yard season in 2019, I don't know (especially since he'd probably be coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons if he didn't miss four games in 2018). Mack certainly leaves something to be desired in the receiving department, but he's been serviceable on the ground and relatively reliable from a health standpoint in his three-year career. He's also scored 17 rushing touchdowns in the last two years combined. The Colts did trade up to take Taylor at this year's draft, and there is more than enough reason to believe he's simply the better player. That said, Mack isn't a guy I'd be expecting to disappear without a trace from the Colts backfield in 2020. At least not to the extent that I'd draft Taylor four rounds ahead of Indy's incumbent starter, which is the ADP gap between the two at the moment.

D'Andre Swift (Lions) and Ke'Shawn Vaughn (Buccaneers) both walk into situations in which the returning starter has left the door open for a rookie to steal his job. Detroit's Kerryon Johnson has struggled to stay on the field, and has been prone to spells of ineffectiveness. There could be a frustrating timeshare on the horizon, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Swift run away with this backfield either. Ronald Jones II maintains a little more promise over Vaughn in Tampa Bay. Jones began to carve out what looked like the beginning stage of a PPR role in the latter half of 2019, and Tom Brady should look his way more often in that regard than the always-going-for-broke Jameis Winston did. The Buccaneers should also be able to run the ball more often (and more effectively) without a turnover-prone quarterback digging them into holes, so somebody in the Tampa Bay backfield is poised for better days.

Aside from the obvious point of, "because it makes my team better," why do we want to know the answer to this question now instead of later? I'm of the mind that you never want your fantasy roster to be too rookie-heavy at any position. If I'm just stockpiling rookie running backs and hoping one or two of them go off, I'm not leaving myself many outs if none of them do. There's also the likelihood the draft unfolds in such a way that we really only have a chance to grab one or two of these guys anyway. Naturally, it'd be nice to know the one we're getting is the guy who will ultimately be his team's leading rusher.

 

2. Will the Broncos' offense excel because of Drew Lock or in spite of him?

If Denver's offense excels because of Drew Lock, we're talking upside. If the Broncos' skill players have to find ways to produce in spite of him, however, we're dealing with floors. High floors are nice and all, but our fifth-round Courtland Sutton pick is going to look a lot better if he's smashing through the ceiling.

Lock went 4-1 as Denver's starter in 2019, completing 64.1% of his passes and tossing seven touchdowns to just three interceptions. There have been worse debuts. It's also difficult to say we know who any quarterback really is after a five-game sample size.

Had he played enough to qualify in 2019, Lock's 6.8 intended air yards per pass attempt would have ranked 29th in the league--just ahead of Joe Flacco and behind guys we all have pretty low opinions of as quarterbacks in Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. A check-down artist at QB is all well and good for the likes of Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon, but we're going to need Lock to sling it downfield as well from time to time in order to unlock the full potential of Denver's offensive weaponry.

Talking ourselves into or out of Lock's potential at QB is going to be one of the more fascinatingly maddening aspects of 2020 drafts. On one hand, how can we pass on the upside of players like Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant? On the other, what if we pick them only to have their quarterback keep them grounded all season long? For the record, this is one gamble I'm perfectly fine taking on draft day. If I leave any draft with both Sutton and Fant on my roster, I'll be happy--at least until Week 1.

 

3. Was 2019 a disappointing outlier for Le'Veon Bell or the beginning of a decline?

This question is less about Le'Veon Bell himself and more about his third-round ADP. If he were a round or two cheaper, I'd have an easier time selling myself on his 2020 outlook. Either way, though, we haven't seen the "real" Bell since 2017.

It's fair to chalk his underwhelming 2019 fantasy season up to a dreadful Jets offensive line. Bell's 3.2 yards-per-carry average in 2019 was his worst ever, and he didn't supplement it with touchdowns at all. The Jets bolstered their line this offseason, which could resuscitate at least some of Bell's fantasy value.

Let's imagine that the improved line does help Bell in a vacuum. Then what? Without a pretty massive step forward from a Jets passing attack armed with one of the least exciting WR groups in football and a promising but unproven quarterback in Sam Darnold, opposing defenses will be able to key in on Bell and force someone else to beat them. "But he catches passes!" Bell's pass-catching ability used to be what separated him from the rest of the league as an elite fantasy running back. In 2019, his receiving work was the only thing keeping him above water. If I wanted a running back who only provides value as a pass-catcher, I'd wait five rounds and scoop up James White.

At the moment, Bell is being drafted ahead of D.J. Moore, Allen Robinson, and Calvin Ridley. Moore looks destined to join the WR1 club after putting up a strong sophomore year in 2019, and even Robinson and Ridley could be viewed as having less volatile season-long fantasy profiles than Bell. Unless I'm going WR-WR with my first two picks or something along those lines, I'd need to know I was at least going to see shades of the old Bell in order to feel good about passing on those guys.

 

4. Can Carson Wentz and the Eagles' passing game catch a break?

Look, I'm a Cowboys fan. If the Eagles have to turn to practice squad players to fill out their WR depth chart again in 2020, I'm all for it. And maybe this time the Cowboys won't find a way to go 8-8 despite clearly possessing the most talent of anyone in the division. Anyway, before I get too off topic... Cowboys fan or not, I respect and root for Carson Wentz as an individual player. He only made it easier for me in 2019 as he found a way to eclipse 4,000 passing yards and toss 27 touchdowns despite having to rely on receivers like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward down the stretch.

We know Wentz has great safety nets at tight end in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert; Ertz essentially serves as Philly's WR1. But wouldn't we like for Wentz to actually have a WR1? I've been trying to avoid framing these questions around players' health, as I think it's unfair to hold injuries against guys playing a violent game at speeds conducive to enhanced violence. But when the injury troubles are as uncanny as what the Eagles went through at wideout last year, it's worth bringing up where it leaves their quarterback if they don't have better luck in 2020. (The offense as a whole already isn't off to a great start in this regard after losing guard Brandon Brooks for the season.)

Wentz is being drafted as QB12 at the moment, and I think we can all agree that Wentz the individual player would be regarded a little higher than that if not for the concerns around his receiving corps. So let's spend some time talking about what could go right for Wentz beyond simply having a healthy Alshon Jeffery and/or DeSean Jackson in 2020.

Miles Sanders caught 50 passes in 2019, which isn't chump change for a rookie. Just a shade north of 60% of Sanders' receptions came in the second half of the season, after he had fully run away with a featured backfield role. Sanders didn't just catch the ball and fall down, either. Among RBs with at least 50 receptions, Sanders ranked sixth in yards after catch with 8.4. With a full year of Sanders as his number-one running back, Wentz will have a terrific short-range outlet who can scamper for extra yardage.

Rookie wideout Jalen Reagor is Wentz's wild card. Why the Eagles--one of the league's most obviously WR-needy teams--never traded up to make sure CeeDee Lamb didn't wind up in the hands of the Cowboys is beyond me. Maybe, like me, they couldn't fathom a scenario in which one of the league's least WR-needy teams spent a first-round pick on the position (for the record, I'm certainly not upset). Or maybe Reagor was just their guy and they knew he'd be sitting there at pick 21.

In any case, Reagor should have a ton of room to operate no matter where the Eagles line him up. Assuming better health, Jackson will stretch the field and pull defenders with him. Jeffery is a big, strong target who commands the attention of opposing defensive backs. Goedert should have earned enough respect after last year that defenses can't just ignore him. And then there's Ertz, the guy no defense will ever allow itself to lose track of on pass plays.

Reagor and Sanders could carve out utility-knife roles in the passing game by way of defenses simply not having the manpower to commit to them after accounting for everyone else on the field. Both have the ability to create once the ball is in their hands, and they're going to have the space to do it. The acceleration of these youngsters and the health of his veterans will determine whether Wentz is simply a start-worthy QB or a top option in 2020.

 

5. Will any young tight end break out in 2020?

As someone who typically waits to draft a tight end in any standard fantasy format, I'm virtually guaranteed never to own one of the top few options. This year I might take a different approach. The running back herd thins in a hurry after about the middle of the third round, and wide receiver is as deep as it's ever been. If grabbing one of the top few TE options means I'm getting someone like Darren Waller near the end of the fifth round, I might be able to live with that. If that scenario doesn't fall in my lap, I'm happy to revert back to waiting awhile.

Seeing that Austin Hooper is being drafted as TE13 at the moment makes such an approach pretty easy to talk myself into. I understand his role in Atlanta won't automatically translate into similar usage in Cleveland, but still--getting Hooper that late strikes me as a tremendous value. Below Hooper on the draft board are a handful of intriguing youngsters who could vastly outperform their respective ADPs if things break right, and landing the right one could make 2020 a great year to go zero-TE in the first 10 or so rounds.

Jason Witten had the second-most red-zone targets of any Cowboys player in 2019, behind only Ezekiel Elliott. No Dallas pass-catcher saw more targets inside the 10 than Witten's six. Witten leaves behind a fantasy-friendly role in scoring position and 83 total targets for Blake Jarwin, a strong and towering receiving option for Dak Prescott anywhere on the field. What defense is going to have time to worry about Jarwin while they're chasing Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb all over the place and accounting for Elliott out of the backfield? Jarwin's ADP is so low that Fantasy Football Calculator doesn't even bother to list him at the moment.

T.J. Hockenson lit the waiver wire ablaze in Week 1 of 2019, then did next to nothing for the rest of the season. Still, it's tough to forget what he showed us in that impressive debut, a game in which he saw nine targets. Hockenson averaged just 4.5 targets in his other 11 games. Perhaps the Lions will seek to involve him more consistently in 2020, and his 13th-round ADP makes that a gamble worth taking.

Miami's Mike Gesicki saw 65% of his season total in targets from Week 9 on, a stretch in which he averaged 7.3 per game. He also scored all five of his touchdowns in this span. The volume didn't translate into super-reliable week-to-week consistency, but seeing that level of involvement for Gesicki down the stretch has to qualify as encouraging heading into his third season. He's being taken as TE16.

We already touched on the Broncos above, so I won't spend too much time on Noah Fant. While I'd like to see Drew Lock prove he's capable of slinging it downfield effectively, Fant's value won't be as negatively impacted as the Broncos' wideouts if their quarterback remains a relatively short-range passer. Defenses will still have to respect the threats of Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy in the long game, which will presumably open up the middle of the field for Fant. Fant struggled with inconsistent volume in 2019, as he only saw more than five targets in a game twice all year. Fant is just ahead of the aforementioned Hooper at TE12, making him the last starting tight end off the board in a 12-team league and a solid option to turn to if you wait.

There are others to be included here as well. With Delanie Walker gone, Jonnu Smith officially inherits the TE1 role for the Titans. The same goes for Ian Thomas of the Panthers, who no longer has Greg Olsen to contend with on the depth chart.

As was the case with our first question on rookie running backs, we're not going to be able to draft all of these players hoping for one to emerge as a stud. We're going to have to settle on one--maybe two if the draft board looks bleak at other positions in the final rounds. Again, it sure would be nice to know if the guy we waited until after the 10th round to draft would be the guy to put our lineup over the top. But that's what makes fantasy fun--the not knowing.

If you have any other fantasy football questions, feel free to direct them to me on Twitter, @cjoreillyCLE. I try to answer anyone who interacts with me there, but including a Training Day quote, meme, or GIF gets you top priority. Best of luck getting your draft boards ready as training camp nears, and most importantly--have fun!

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Fantasy Power Rankings for NFL Teams (#1-10)

We finish out our NFL team power rankings for fantasy purposes with the cream of the crop. If you didn't catch the first two parts of this series, check out teams 21-32 here and 11-20 here.

As any experienced fantasy football enthusiast knows, evaluating individual players is only part of the equation when it comes to building a roster. There are many instances in which the team a player plays for is just as important as his ability and talent. And in these cases, the determining factor is not always whether the team is good or bad in real life.

Teams that are good on the actual football field aren't always appealing from a fantasy standpoint. The criteria we use to gauge a team's fantasy appeal can certainly intersect with the qualities that make them a winning or losing team in real life, but there are also junctures where the two roads go their separate ways.

 

How to Evaluate Fantasy Relevance

A few questions we can ask ourselves when evaluating a team from a fantasy perspective include the following: What kind of offensive philosophy does their coaching staff employ? Run-heavy? Pass-happy? A balanced attack? Is their quarterback any good? And if he isn't, are the skill players around him good enough to overcome his play? (The same can be asked of good quarterbacks with underwhelming supporting casts.) Does their offensive line protect well enough to give plays a chance to develop, or is the quarterback constantly taking hits and running for his life? Does their defense keep them in games, or are they routinely forced to try to outscore their opponents? What does their schedule look like?

And then there is a pretty tricky one: If the team in question frequently distributes the ball around to multiple players, is that a detriment or an advantage in fantasy? In other words, some teams are appealing because they have multiple players to turn to, if they're adept enough offensively to sustain multiple fantasy contributors. Others can be unappealing for the exact same reason, such as a team that regularly utilizes multiple running backs because the head coach doesn't trust any of them enough to give one a full workload.

I'm certain there are other questions fantasy writers would choose to ask, but these are a solid foundation and most of them are pretty easily answered. With these criteria in mind, and with all of the NFL's major offseason events having concluded, I've compiled a ranking board for all 32 teams in terms of how fantasy-relevant they figure to be in 2020. We'll discuss each team's strengths (if they have any) and flaws, some in more detail than others, with the ultimate goal of providing ourselves a starting point for our spring and summer draft preparation.

Note: All stats used in this article are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.

 

10. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles will return 80% of a starting offensive line that PFF ranked number one in the league after the 2019 season. That number could be 100% if current free agent Jason Peters re-signs with Philly. Keeping Carson Wentz upright is about 75% of the battle in making this a fantasy-friendly offense, as the Eagles quarterback proved he can take care of the other 25% by himself when he threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns despite not having a single wide receiver catch more than 43 passes in 2019.

Jalen Reagor might not be the savior at wideout the fan base was hoping for in a draft teeming with upside at the position, but he certainly can't hurt. Give Wentz a collection of pass-catchers with four functional limbs, and he'll find a way to get something out of them.

Other than the obvious advantage of nabbing Zach Ertz in fantasy, the most exciting aspect of the Eagles roster as we head into 2020 is running back Miles Sanders. It took Sanders awhile to fend off Jordan Howard as a rookie, but he did it nonetheless, and now Howard is gone anyway. Boston Scott is not going to take a meaningful portion of work away from Sanders, making the latter a strong late-first or early-second-round pick in 2020 drafts. A little better luck in the WR health department makes the Eagles a prolific fantasy offense this year.

 

9. Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook makes the Vikings an interesting fantasy offense all by himself. Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than it appears he will ever get credit for at this point. Adam Thielen, when healthy, goes into just about any weekly matchup with WR1 upside. Combine all three players into one fantasy football triumvirate and Minnesota's shuttle is all-systems-go. Adding even more intrigue to the recipe is rookie wideout Justin Jefferson, who could be in line for a healthy target share right away in the absence of Stefon Diggs.

A few things stand out when forecasting Minnesota's range of fantasy outcomes, however. The first is that the Vikings were one of the league's best scoring defenses in 2019, tying with the Steelers for the fifth-fewest points allowed per game. There's been turnover on that side of the ball this offseason, particularly in the secondary, but I don't think we're anticipating a massive step back for this defensive unit overall.

In other words, the Vikings aren't likely to be facing many big-time deficits on the scoreboard, which plays right into our second factor: Minnesota's offensive line did a much better job in run blocking than pass protection in 2019. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Vikings attempted the third-fewest passes and the fourth-most rushes in the NFL last year. We're looking at a defense that is going to give the Vikings a chance to play with the lead more often than not, and an offensive line whose collective strength is protecting the run--which is exactly what most teams want to do when they are ahead on the scoreboard. So my worry (if you can call it that) with Minnesota's offense comes down to a distribution of wealth.

We know Thielen's ceiling in any given week. We know Cousins is likely to establish a lucrative rapport with Jefferson. But we're also going to have to deal with our fair share of ups and downs in the passing game, because this offense can run almost disproportionately through Cook when the Vikings have their way. On that note, the only reason I'd even entertain the idea of passing on Cook with the third overall pick in PPR drafts is that he has yet to play all 16 games in a season.

 

8. Arizona Cardinals

I considered putting the Cardinals a few spots higher, but I think top-10 suffices at getting my point across, which is that this offense's fantasy upside is as scintillating as the Phoenix sun. Since 2000, only four rookie quarterbacks have attempted at least 500 passes and 50 rushes in their debut seasons: Kyler Murray, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck. Murray is the only one of the four to have completed more than 60% of his passes (64.4%), he posted the lowest interception percentage (2.21%), and he led all four in yards per rush attempt at 5.85. If these can be viewed as cherry-picked numbers, fine, but they also serve to highlight the fact that Murray was given a lot of responsibility on an otherwise bad team in his rookie year, and he largely answered the bell.

What we really love here is the marriage between Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Not all head coaches possess the creativity or aggressiveness to get the best out of an undersized speedster like Murray. Kingsbury does, and that's a huge part of why Murray was given such a high-volume workload as a rookie. It's the perfect union.

In year two, Murray welcomes DeAndre Hopkins--who has to be the single most impactful offensive acquisition of the offseason--into his WR corps. With Hopkins and Christian Kirk operating as downfield threats and sure-handed Larry Fitzgerald scurrying around in the intermediate range of defensive backfields, there's reason to believe the Cardinals can sustain three fantasy-relevant wideouts in PPR formats.

We haven't even mentioned Kenyan Drake yet! After three and a half years in Miami, Drake mercifully escaped the Dolphins' fantasy dungeon and morphed into the player we were all hoping he'd turn out to be in the second half of 2019. He carried the ball 123 times in eight games with Arizona, which surpassed his previous career-high in any full season with Miami and found himself involved in the Cardinals' passing game as well. Again: Kingsbury finds a way to put his players in positions to succeed. Drake is back to being an exciting candidate on draft day, with legitimate top-five RB upside in his range of outcomes.

 

7. Seattle Seahawks

I have two major questions about the Seahawks in 2020. The first: Can Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf coexist as high-end fantasy receivers? I believe the answer is yes, but it's worth looking at the overlap between Metcalf's rookie surge and Lockett's mystifying disappearance in 2019. In Weeks 8-17, Metcalf recorded 38 catches on 60 targets for 511 yards and five touchdowns. He eclipsed 70 receiving yards and/or scored at least one touchdown in seven of these final nine games.

Lockett and Metcalf served as a dynamic duo during the first two weeks (Weeks 8-9) of the latter's breakout, but it was mostly downhill for Lockett from there. From Weeks 10-17, Lockett caught just 23 of 38 targets for 290 yards and two touchdowns. In six of his final seven games, Lockett failed to record more than 51 receiving yards. Lockett finished the season with 1,052 yards and eight touchdowns on 82 catches, meaning a little over 70% of his season-long production basically came in the first half of the year. I think we all expect both wideouts to level off and display more consistency in 2020, but this is certainly a trend worth taking into consideration on draft day.

The second burning question hanging over Seattle is its offensive line, which would be even less celebrated than it already is if its quarterback was pretty much anyone other than Russell Wilson. There's been a fair amount of turnover for the Seahawks up front this offseason, and only time will tell how quickly the new pieces can mesh together. The great equalizer is Wilson, who could probably throw for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns with meteors landing on the field around him.

Running back Chris Carson is coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 1,151 rushing yards, and nobody behind him on the Seahawks depth chart is especially intimidating as a potential vulture. Factoring in career highs in receptions (37) and targets (47) from a year ago, Carson should be fine as an unexciting, volume-dependent workhorse who can land safely in RB2 range with a handful of touchdowns. Seattle is one of only a few teams I think we can reasonably pencil in for a top-five QB, a top-15 running back, and two top-30 wide receivers. That's not a bad security blanket on draft day.

 

6. Baltimore Ravens

Last year's highest-scoring NFL offense led by last year's highest-scoring fantasy quarterback heads into this year ranked outside the top five in terms of fantasy relevance? On my list, yes. And here's why. The Ravens attempted 596 rushes in 2019, 98 more than last year's second most run-heavy team. Lamar Jackson accounted for 176 of those, or just under 30%. From where I stand, that's not a good thing when I'm looking at Mark Ingram in the early rounds, or at J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards later on in the draft.

We love that Baltimore can reasonably expect to spend most of its time playing from ahead again in 2020, thus resulting in a heavy dose of ground-and-pound. What we don't love is that the Ravens' quarterback is one of the most dangerous open-field ball carriers in NFL history, and that he's going to vulture away opportunities from teammates he doesn't even share a position with. Even though the Ravens run the ball effectively, I think the presence of too many viable options does more harm than good to each individual RB's fantasy value, especially when you factor Jackson into the mix.

The Ravens also attempted the fewest passes in the league last year, yet led the NFL with an 8.4% touchdown rate through the air--nearly two full percentage points higher than second-place Tennessee's mark of 6.5%. With the exception of tight end Mark Andrews, no Baltimore pass-catcher was targeted more than 71 times or caught more than 46 passes. What it all boils down to is this: The Ravens' fantasy value in 2019 stemmed from their ability to reel off huge plays and touchdowns, which helped to cancel out the overall lack of volume through the air for their pass-catchers. It also resulted, however, in an extremely dangerous game of chance from week to week, as someone like Marquise Brown was just as capable of giving you a 25-point fantasy outing as he was of disappearing completely. I don't like my fantasy hopes resting on the possibility of a 40-yard touchdown, and there's no wideout in Baltimore that can be safely described as having a high floor.

 

5. Atlanta Falcons

If you've been keeping score, you'll notice we've only discussed one NFC South team thus far. You didn't count wrong. There are three NFC South teams among my top five fantasy-relevant squads, and we start with the Falcons. I think we need to give Todd Gurley a pass for averaging the second-worst yards-per-carry average of his career behind an atrocious 2019 Rams offensive line. That said, Atlanta's line wasn't a bastion of excellence in 2019 either, and is an unknown quantity heading into 2020. In any case, Gurley has no meaningful competition for backfield touches in his new home. He's going to see volume, and despite a years-long examination of his health, it's worth noting he's missed just four games since the start of 2016. And he's only 25 years old!

Atlanta's passing game speaks for itself, though it's unfortunate that tight end Austin Hooper left immediately after posting a career year. Newcomer Hayden Hurst will fill that vacancy, and presumably see the lion's share of the 97 targets that go with it. But everyone knows the real show in town is Atlanta's receiving tandem of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Jones put up 1,394 receiving yards in 2019, which was somehow his lowest such total in six years. He's earned the right to be a guy you hold onto for too long, as opposed to one you sell off too early. Ridley has been a fine Robin to Jones' Batman in his first two years, and should be in line for well over 100 targets in 2020 after seeing 93 of them in 13 games last year. The Falcons could theoretically produce the overall WR1 (Jones), a high-end WR2 (Ridley), a low-end RB1 (Gurley), a top-five quarterback (Matt Ryan), and a mid-tier, start-worthy tight end (Hurst). That's some upside I want serious shares of on draft day.

 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers were the most exciting--albeit not the most efficient--passing attack in the NFL last year. And now they have a quarterback who isn't going to throw 30 passes to the other team. Tom Brady's new weapons include Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, both of whom ranked top-15 in yards per catch last year. Do you think he's not excited to have those guys on his side after years of settling for check-downs to James White? Brady's old pal Rob Gronkowski has also made his well-documented return from retirement, giving the ageless wonder another behemoth of a target to go along with Evans. Gronkowski's days as the overall TE1 are likely behind him for good, but Tampa's passing game at large figures to be as lethal as ever.

All that said, perhaps it's running back Ronald Jones who benefits the most from having Brady as his quarterback. Whether all of Jameis Winston's turnovers were his fault or not, the end result of them was the other team having the ball all the time and/or being in position to score points. Neither consequence is conducive to the Buccaneers being able to establish the run consistently. With Brady at the helm, the Bucs will find scoring 35 points to be a luxury as opposed to a necessity, which will be a boon to Jones' volume. The icing on the cake here includes an offensive line that was solid in 2019 and got better this offseason, as well as the aggressive offensive coaching style of Bruce Arians.

 

3. New Orleans Saints

I struggled with whether to rank the Saints ahead of Atlanta and Tampa Bay or behind them, as I believe quantity is on the Falcons' and Bucs' side in terms of skill position players who can finish (at least) inside the top 15 or 20 at their respective positions. I ultimately settled on the Saints as my number-three fantasy team due simply to the near certainty that we know what we're going to get from them. Michael Thomas's 149 receptions in 2019 were the most in a single season in NFL history, and no player had caught 140 passes since 2002. He also caught 125 passes in 2018, which ranks sixth all-time, and has caught at least 92 in each of his four NFL seasons. I'd have an easier time betting against a sunrise than I would betting against Thomas finishing 2020 as a WR1.

Alvin Kamara was bound to run into some scoring regression after racking up 19 total touchdowns in 2018, but I don't think anyone imagined he'd only find the endzone six times in 2019. Now he should be on the receiving end of some positive regression in the touchdown department, and he's still one of the safest PPR running backs out there. Since Kamara came into the league in 2017, only Christian McCaffrey has more receptions among running backs. Among the players in the top five, only Kamara and McCaffrey have attempted more than 250 rushes in the same span. In other words, volume is going to continue to work in Kamara's favor and he's also primed to score a few more touchdowns.

New Orleans offers us two players with low-end RB1/WR1 floors; a safe, mid-range QB1 in Drew Brees; an intriguing flex option with upside for more in newcomer Emmanuel Sanders; and a tight end who should at least be start-worthy most weeks in Jared Cook. Oh, and their offensive line is one of the league's best. When the worst-case scenario is this favorable, sometimes you don't need to spend much time evaluating the ceiling.

 

2. Kansas City Chiefs

In Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have the best real-life quarterback in the NFL. In Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have the most productive tight end in the NFL since 2016. In Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have the premier long-range receiving threat in the NFL. You can pretty safely pencil Mahomes and Kelce in for top-three fantasy finishes at their respective positions, and we've already seen Hill's big-play ability result in an overall WR1 season. The only real detriment to rostering Hill in 2019 was that he missed four games.

What prevents the Chiefs from claiming the number-one spot in my relevance rankings is the drop-off in dependability after those three. There are going to be weeks when the likes of Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and Demarcus Robinson go off for 100 yards and a touchdown. But those weeks are likely to include three or four receptions with one of them just happening to spring for a big play, and you're unlikely to know when they're coming. This is a WR group with a very low collective PPR floor after Hill.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the real X-factor in this offense for obvious reasons. After being taken as the final first-round pick of the 2020 draft, Edwards-Helaire could easily go on to be this year's Kareem Hunt out of the Kansas City backfield. But Damien Williams is still lurking on the depth chart, and we saw Andy Reid employ a relatively frustrating committee approach to his RB group in 2019. While that approach was largely influenced by injuries and the lack of a genuine go-to guy, I don't know that Williams is going to disappear completely right out of the gate. After all, the Chiefs did just win a Super Bowl without a singular workhorse back. If I have to choose between only two outcomes, I'm more comfortable betting on Edwards-Helaire to have a strong second half of 2020 than I am counting on him to be an immediate sensation.

 

1. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys will probably find a way to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs this season (as a Cowboys fan, so I'm allowed to say things like this), but this team has everything you could possibly ask for in a fantasy football package. There is no more clear-cut case of a running back having an absolute stranglehold on his team's rushing workload than Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott led all NFL players in red-zone rushing attempts in 2019, and trailed only Christian McCaffrey in total touches. With bell-cow RBs becoming increasingly more difficult to come by from one year to the next, you're doing yourself a favor by spending a high draft pick on one of the few players with no threat of winding up in anything closely resembling a timeshare.

You could be forgiven for not knowing Michael Gallup had over 1,100 receiving yards in 2019. For all the attention Amari Cooper deservedly receives, Gallup is a fantastic complement in this passing attack. Gallup actually averaged more targets per game than Cooper in 2019, and both saw over 100 for the season. The two can safely coexist as solid fantasy options on a weekly basis. Elsewhere on the field, the departures of Randall Cobb and Jason Witten vacated 166 targets. Not all of those are going to CeeDee Lamb, but it's well within reason to suggest he could flirt with 100 of them as a rookie. Dallas didn't spend a first-round draft pick on one of its least-needed positions just to have the kid run around out there. He's going to be involved. This is the rare instance in which I'm not overly concerned about too many cooks in the kitchen; there will be enough to go around for all three of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb.

Dak Prescott's weaponry provides him with the chance to steal the overall QB1 finish from Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson in 2020. With one of the league's best offensive lines, all these guys are going to have the room they need to make plays. And the defense might just be mediocre enough to force Dallas into a handful of situations in which it has to unleash the full capacity of its offensive firepower throughout the course of what looks like a pretty daunting schedule. This is a team with bulletproof floors at QB and RB, as well as the ability to sustain three start-worthy wide receivers in any given week. The upside beyond that is astronomical, at least on the fantasy football field.

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Fantasy Power Rankings for NFL Teams (#11-20)

You may have already caught the first part of this series, looking at the bottom tier of NFL teams as far as fantasy relevance. Now we move on to the middle tier.

As any experienced fantasy football enthusiast knows, evaluating individual players is only part of the equation when it comes to building a roster. There are many instances in which the team a player plays for is just as important as his ability and talent. And in these cases, the determining factor is not always whether the team is good or bad in real life.

Teams that are good on the actual football field aren't always appealing from a fantasy standpoint. The criteria we use to gauge a team's fantasy appeal can certainly intersect with the qualities that make them a winning or losing team in real life, but there are also junctures where the two roads go their separate ways.

 

How to Evaluate Fantasy Relevance

A few questions we can ask ourselves when evaluating a team from a fantasy perspective include the following: What kind of offensive philosophy does their coaching staff employ? Run-heavy? Pass-happy? A balanced attack? Is their quarterback any good? And if he isn't, are the skill players around him good enough to overcome his play? (The same can be asked of good quarterbacks with underwhelming supporting casts.) Does their offensive line protect well enough to give plays a chance to develop, or is the quarterback constantly taking hits and running for his life? Does their defense keep them in games, or are they routinely forced to try to outscore their opponents? What does their schedule look like?

And then there is a pretty tricky one: If the team in question frequently distributes the ball around to multiple players, is that a detriment or an advantage in fantasy? In other words, some teams are appealing because they have multiple players to turn to, if they're adept enough offensively to sustain multiple fantasy contributors. Others can be unappealing for the exact same reason, such as a team that regularly utilizes multiple running backs because the head coach doesn't trust any of them enough to give one a full workload.

I'm certain there are other questions fantasy writers would choose to ask, but these are a solid foundation and most of them are pretty easily answered. With these criteria in mind, and with all of the NFL's major offseason events having concluded, I've compiled a ranking board for all 32 teams in terms of how fantasy-relevant they figure to be in 2020. We'll discuss each team's strengths (if they have any) and flaws, some in more detail than others, with the ultimate goal of providing ourselves a starting point for our spring and summer draft preparation.

Note: All stats used in this article are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.

 

20. Buffalo Bills

I have a difficult time getting a read on the Bills as a fantasy unit. On one hand, we should be excited about the possibility of Devin Singletary's explosiveness leading to a breakout RB campaign with a full season's worth of touches. Josh Allen, whose legs have always provided him with an edge in fantasy lineups, finally has a top-20 real-life wide receiver to throw to in Stefon Diggs. And with one of the league's best defenses, Buffalo should be able to dictate its own offensive tempo more often than not.

On the other hand, you could argue Allen's legs are the only reason he has an edge in fantasy lineups, as he has seldom shown consistency through the air. Without following the leader and jumping onto one extreme end of the spectrum or the other regarding Allen's ability at QB, it's fair to say he's a downgrade for Diggs from Kirk Cousins.

While the Bills' defense may provide the offense the luxury of controlling the ball, it also minimizes the need for the offense to score a ton of points. The Bills scored 24 points or fewer in six of their 10 wins last season, and in 12 of 16 games overall. They only broke the 30-point threshold twice all year, and both instances came against the hapless Dolphins. When you think about how this team has to win games, it's tough to get overly enthused about its fantasy upside. But for where you should be able to get Singletary (low-end RB2), Diggs (low-end WR2), and Allen (mid-tier QB1) on draft day, you don't have to worry about the Bills' offense totally decimating your fantasy lineup either.

 

19. Denver Broncos

The Broncos are my 2020 All-Upside Team. The only difficult part about buying Denver's offense on draft day will be deciding whether or not to trust quarterback Drew Lock. Concerns over Lock are valid, but he's one of maybe five quarterbacks in the entire league who could have Denver's arsenal of weapons and not be viewed as a safe bet to get the most out of them in fantasy. Some risks are more worth taking than others.

We've already discussed a handful of wideouts who excelled in 2019 regardless of who their quarterback was, and Courtland Sutton belongs on that list. When you're able to turn Lock, Joe Flacco, and Brandon Allen into a 72-catch, 1,112-yard season at wide receiver, you're doing something right. Sutton did experience a dip in production once Emmanuel Sanders was traded during the season. Per the RotoViz Game Splits App, here are Sutton's per-game averages both with and without Sanders in Denver in 2019:

  • With Sanders (seven games) - 5.14 receptions, 7.86 targets, 80.57 yards, 0.43 touchdowns
  • Without Sanders (nine games) - four receptions, 7.89 targets, 60.89 yards, 0.33 touchdowns

The Sanders trade did not impact Sutton's volume one way or the other, suggesting the latter is a favored target regardless of who he's sharing the field with. It's also worth noting the Broncos underwent two quarterback changes in the nine-game stretch without Sanders, which can result in inconsistent production from wide receivers. The addition of Jerry Jeudy re-equips Sutton with the tag-team partner he lost when Sanders left.

This has all been a long-winded way of explaining why I'm still all-in on Sutton and I'm not particularly worried about his QB or the potential for Jeudy to put a dent in his target share (though Jeudy is a captivating fantasy prospect in his own right). The Broncos also added Melvin Gordon to a backfield that already included an effective Phillip Lindsay. I'll entertain the question of whether there is enough to go around in this particular offense to produce an RB1, but Gordon and Lindsay are two solid backs on a team that will certainly use them both behind an above-average offensive line. Factor in the potential for tight end Noah Fant to take a step forward in his second year, and the Broncos could pretty easily exceed this ranking as long as their quarterback doesn't drag them down.

 

18. Tennessee Titans

You could make the argument that the Titans should be ranked higher due simply to Derrick Henry existing and A.J. Brown being arguably the most exciting year-two fantasy prospect in the NFL. But where else can we look on Tennessee's roster for start-worthy fantasy output on a weekly basis? And are we certain Ryan Tannehill is going to have the same success at quarterback?

Tannehill ranked third among qualified QBs in completion rate in 2019, and second in touchdown rate on attempted passes. He also finished third in intended air yards per pass attempt, a metric that gauges how far a player's average throw travels in the air whether it is completed or not. Only Matt Ryan's pass-catchers dropped a lower percentage of passes thrown their way in 2019 than Tannehill's. The farther a ball travels in the air from the line of scrimmage, the less likely it is to successfully reach its intended destination. Yet Tannehill's propensity for throwing downfield did not impede his completion rate, his receivers rarely let him down on catchable passes, and a significantly above-average percentage of his throws resulted in touchdowns.

I'm all-in on the idea that Tennessee has been able to extract from Tannehill what Miami was not, but you can't exactly just throw his 88-game sample size with the Dolphins out the window. At a minimum, I think we can look for gravity to take hold of his touchdown rate in 2020. If he regresses in any other facet, this offense goes back to being a pretty vanilla and one-dimensional fantasy unit.

 

17. Carolina Panthers

Any time a team undergoes the type of coaching turnover the Panthers have since last season ended, I have my concerns. Yes, I'm aware Carolina's new offensive coordinator is Joe Brady, the man behind the curtain of LSU's unstoppable 2019 offense. Yes, I'm aware head coach Matt Rhule's most recent job was at a Big 12 school, where the only way to survive is by putting up video-game-on-rookie-mode point totals. But that was then, and that was college. This is now, and this is the NFL. We can't just automatically assume they're poised for a seamless transition to the next level, especially when we know they're staring down the barrel of a potentially constricted preseason and training camp format.

What we'd like to be able to assume is that they'll continue to make Christian McCaffrey the focal point of the offense, which should keep last year's fantasy MVP as the consensus first overall pick in most 2020 redraft leagues. D.J. Moore also thrived as a high-end WR2 for the Panthers last year, and that was with Kyle Allen throwing him passes. At the very least, Teddy Bridgewater is not a downgrade from Allen. Adding some allure to Carolina's fantasy outlook is that its defense was downright awful in 2019, and it shares a division with three of the most dangerous offenses in the league. In other words, there's room for some serious shootout potential here.

I could've ranked the Panthers slightly higher than this based on McCaffrey and Moore alone, but I'm not ecstatic about their quarterback situation, I don't know who else to trust besides their top two offensive options (Robby Anderson? Curtis Samuel?), and I think we need to allow for some bumps in the road with the new coaching staff. With all those factors in mind, the top 20 seems like a reasonable spot for the overall team, even if someone like McCaffrey could finish number-one at his position.

 

16. Cleveland Browns

Like the Broncos and Bengals below them on this list, the Browns are a team with the skill position talent to achieve fantasy greatness in 2020 if they can put it all together. As we learned from 2019, potential does not always translate into reality. Looking ahead, some fantasy owners will have concerns over Nick Chubb's status as an RB1, with Kareem Hunt having chewed into his workload upon returning from suspension last year. While such concerns are not without merit, we are getting carried away if we allow Hunt's presence to scare us out of selecting Chubb on draft day. The two running backs played eight games together in 2019. Here are Chubb's per-game averages with and without Hunt, courtesy of the RotoViz Game Splits App:

  • With Hunt - 18 rush attempts, 86.38 rushing yards, 1.38 receptions, 2.25 targets, 14.62 receiving yards
  • Without Hunt - 19.12 rush attempts, 100.25 rushing yards, 3.12 receptions, four targets, 20.12 receiving yards

Hunt took the passing-game work away from Chubb, but Chubb wasn't seeing a ton of it in the first place. Chubb still saw upwards of 20 touches per game even with Hunt in the fold. Chubb also toted the ball 50 times inside the red zone compared to Hunt's four. In fact, Hunt didn't have much of a red-zone role at all, seeing just two targets inside the 20 and none inside the 10. Chubb isn't going anywhere. The rest of the offense will go as far as Baker Mayfield takes it, and it's fair to say Mayfield will take it as far as his offensive line allows him to. Cleveland's O-Line is regarded as one of the league's most improved heading into 2020, so we could be singing a much different tune about this team in six months. The addition of Austin Hooper to Mayfield's pass-catching options naturally makes this an even more intriguing fantasy unit. And are we sure we're ready to move on from Odell Beckham Jr.?

 

15. Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson alone is reason enough to rank the Texans much higher than 15th on this list, but this is the punishment Houston gets for trading away DeAndre Hopkins. For his career, Watson has completed 804 of 1,204 pass attempts for 9,716 yards and 71 touchdowns. Hopkins has caught 263 of those (32.7%) on 384 targets (31.9%) for 3,336 yards (34.3%) and 25 touchdowns (35.2%). In other words, a little over one-third of Watson's career production has come from throwing the ball to one player, and that player is now gone. As much as we love Watson, that counts for something.

Brandin Cooks is exciting as a field-stretching speedster, as is Will Fuller when the latter is actually on the field. Fuller has never played all 16 games in his four-year career, and has missed 20 of a possible 48 since the beginning of 2017. The last and only time the Texans produced a top-12 fantasy running back under Bill O'Brien was in his first year as Houston's head coach, 2014 (Arian Foster). Even if we believe in a David Johnson resurrection in 2020, we should hardly be counting on O'Brien to squeeze an RB1-caliber campaign out of him. Watson "raises all ships," as they say, but you don't get to trade a top-five wide receiver in the NFL and still be regarded as a top-five source of fantasy production.

 

14. Green Bay Packers

The Packers were one of the top stories of the NFL draft for all the wrong reasons. Following a 2019 season in which Davante Adams, who missed four games, was the only Green Bay pass-catcher to amass more than 500 receiving yards, the Packers used their first-round pick on Aaron Rodgers' heir apparent rather than give their 36-year-old quarterback another weapon to chuck it to as his career winds down and the team's championship window dwindles with it.

As though in an attempt to add insult to injury, Green Bay spent its second pick on a running back despite Aaron Jones proving more than capable of carrying the team on the ground. Defensively, the Packers were one of 10 teams to hold opponents under 20 points per game in 2019. Add all of this up, and I see a Packers coaching staff that no longer wants to ask Rodgers to put up MVP-caliber numbers in order for the team to be good in real life.

Rodgers is coming off back-to-back full seasons with fewer than 30 touchdown passes for the first time in his career, and should be viewed as more of a low-end, high-floor QB1 than the surefire week-winner we had grown accustomed to in years past. Jones' 2019 fantasy production was largely the result of a statistically improbable scoring rate, as he found the endzone 19 times on 285 total touches. For reference, Christian McCaffrey scored the same number of touchdowns on 405 touches. It'd be wise to factor regression into Jones' fantasy profile, which renders Adams the safest bet to be an elite starting option in Green Bay's offense. The vast majority of aerial opportunities will continue to be funneled through Adams, keeping him firmly entrenched as a top-five fantasy wide receiver.

 

13. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders might be an unpopular pick to come in just ahead of the Watson-led Texans and the Rodgers-led Packers, but give me a chance to defend myself here. If anyone is going to dethrone Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle atop Tight End Mountain in 2020, Darren Waller has to be the odds-on favorite. Waller trailed only Kelce among tight ends in receptions and receiving yards last season. Josh Jacobs finished sixth among running backs in rushing yards despite missing three games. Jacobs was also one of only five running backs to average 4.8 yards or better on 200 or more carries, and he managed that behind a middling offensive line. Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs represent an intriguing pair of young wide receivers, and Tyrell Williams had a handful of serviceable fantasy outings in 2019.

In two seasons with Jon Gruden as his head coach, Derek Carr has finished fifth or better in completion rate. What Carr has lacked in over-the-top fantasy explosions, he's accounted for by being efficient and giving his supporting cast a chance to produce. The Raiders have also been among the worst defenses in the league in terms of points allowed to their opponents over the last two seasons. With a 2020 defense that can best be described as an improving work in progress, the Raiders can reasonably expect to find themselves in their fair share of shootouts, especially considering their schedule.

In addition to playing the high-scoring Chiefs twice, the Raiders will play the entire NFC South. Matchups against the high-octane offenses of Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans could easily serve up big-time fantasy production if the Raiders are forced to try to keep up on the scoreboard. I'm probably higher on the Raiders than most, but they do have the pieces in place to become a solid fantasy offense in 2020. And they have moved to Vegas, after all--why not take a gamble?

 

12. Los Angeles Rams

The closer we get to the top of the fantasy ladder, the more this becomes an exercise in splitting hairs. We're running out of things to nitpick regarding the teams we have yet to discuss. In the interest of dwelling on flaws first, here's what I don't like about the Rams. Their offensive line was a huge problem in 2019, and that hasn't been adequately addressed this offseason. I trust Jared Goff the least of the remaining quarterbacks, whether we are talking real life or fantasy. As for the backfield, you'd like to believe rookie Cam Akers will eventually run away with the lead role. But he wouldn't be the first running back to see frustrating usage rates as a rookie. I'm not completely confident he provides consistent start-worthy fantasy value right out of the gate.

What we do like about the Rams is the presence of two sure-handed wide receivers who are great at picking up yards after the catch in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Among wideouts with at least 100 targets in 2019, Kupp and Woods had the fourth- and seventh-lowest drop rates, respectively. We know they're going to see volume, and we know they're going to capitalize on it. Not to be ignored is the fact that tight end Tyler Higbee edged out the rest of the Rams' pass-catchers in red-zone usage with a 28.4% target share inside the 20. Todd Gurley attempted 51 rushes inside the 20 in 2019, the third-most of any running back in the league.

I can see the Rams being hesitant to trust any of their current running backs with that level of responsibility, at least early on, so look for Higbee to plant himself in TE1 territory with a touchdown-friendly role in close. Overall, a creative offensive philosophy keeps the Rams attractive as a fantasy unit. How high they fly will depend on a bounce-back season from Goff and a massive leap forward from their offensive line.

 

11. Indianapolis Colts

We've talked about a handful of teams that could drastically exceed expectations if things break right. The Colts, on the other hand, are one of my high-floor fantasy units. You give me Philip Rivers, a healthy T.Y. Hilton, a solid rushing attack led by Marlon Mack and presumably Jonathan Taylor, and one of the best offensive lines in the league, and I'll show you an offense that is going to be reliable across the board as a fantasy unit in 2020. The glaring variable in that equation is Hilton, who missed six games last season and posted the lowest yards-per-catch average of his eight-year career. In the games Hilton did suit up, he was naturally held back by underwhelming QB play. Maybe he's not Andrew Luck, but can we at least agree Rivers is a step up from Jacoby Brissett? As long as Hilton is on the field, Rivers will give him a chance to produce.

Throw in the large frame of rookie Michael Pittman and the blazing speed of Parris Campbell, and it's not hard to imagine the Colts becoming a dangerous aerial attack. And let's not forget Rivers' affinity for throwing to his tight ends, making Jack Doyle an interesting, low-hype option on draft day. If there's any reason to be concerned about the Colts from a fantasy standpoint, it's that their crowded backfield could result in Mack and Taylor vulturing opportunities from each other, and Nyheim Hines sneaking onto the field for passing-game work. For this reason, I don't see myself investing early-round draft picks on either Mack or Taylor, but I love Taylor's upside and at least we know Mack has a tolerable volume-based floor.

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Fantasy Power Rankings for NFL Teams (#21-32)

As any experienced fantasy football enthusiast knows, evaluating individual players is only part of the equation when it comes to building a roster. There are many instances in which the team a player plays for is just as important as his ability and talent. And in these cases, the determining factor is not always whether the team is good or bad in real life.

Teams that are good on the actual football field aren't always appealing from a fantasy standpoint. The San Francisco 49ers went 13-3 and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last year. Among their skill position players, only George Kittle finished inside the top 25 at his position in ESPN standard fantasy scoring. Jimmy Garoppolo finished as QB14, rendering him a streaming option at best in standard-sized one-QB leagues.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2019. Jameis Winston and Chris Godwin both finished top-five at their respective positions in ESPN standard fantasy scoring. Mike Evans finished 15th among wide receivers due to an injury that cost him the final three games of the season, but ranked fifth in fantasy points per game. Even running back Ronald Jones finished 25th at his position, making him a reasonable RB3 or flex option in some weeks. The point being: The criteria we use to gauge a team's fantasy appeal can certainly intersect with the qualities that make them a winning or losing team in real life, but there are also junctures where the two roads go their separate ways.

 

How to Evaluate Fantasy Relevance

A few questions we can ask ourselves when evaluating a team from a fantasy perspective include the following: What kind of offensive philosophy does their coaching staff employ? Run-heavy? Pass-happy? A balanced attack? Is their quarterback any good? And if he isn't, are the skill players around him good enough to overcome his play? (The same can be asked of good quarterbacks with underwhelming supporting casts.)

Does their offensive line protect well enough to give plays a chance to develop, or is the quarterback constantly taking hits and running for his life? Does their defense keep them in games, or are they routinely forced to try to outscore their opponents? What does their schedule look like?

And then there is a pretty tricky one: If the team in question frequently distributes the ball around to multiple players, is that a detriment or an advantage in fantasy? In other words, some teams are appealing because they have multiple players to turn to, if they're adept enough offensively to sustain multiple fantasy contributors. Others can be unappealing for the exact same reason, such as a team that regularly utilizes multiple running backs because the head coach doesn't trust any of them enough to give one a full workload.

I'm certain there are other questions fantasy writers would choose to ask, but these are a solid foundation and most of them are pretty easily answered. With these criteria in mind, and with all of the NFL's major offseason events having concluded, I've compiled a ranking board for all 32 teams in terms of how fantasy-relevant they figure to be in 2020. We'll discuss each team's strengths (if they have any) and flaws, some in more detail than others, with the ultimate goal of providing ourselves a starting point for our spring and summer draft preparation. Without further delay, let's start with the bottom of the pack.

Note: All stats used in this article are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.

 

32. Washington Redskins

For the other 31 teams in the league, you could probably bump each one up or down a few spots from where I have them based on your own personal preference. For the Washington Redskins, I think we can all universally agree this is the least exciting team in the NFL from a fantasy perspective (or any perspective, really). Terry McLaurin is their best skill position player, and the thing about wide receivers is they can't throw the ball to themselves. We'll allow for the possibility of a year-two improvement from quarterback Dwayne Haskins, but the bar for said improvement is pretty low after his performance as a rookie.

The shine on running back Derrius Guice's potential is wearing off in a hurry, as he's played just five games in two years. Here's hoping the aging Adrian Peterson continues to defy the laws of time as they pertain to NFL running backs, or that rookie Antonio Gibson finds a way to carve out a fantasy-relevant role for himself in year one, I guess. If I don't nab McLaurin as a mid-round WR3 or flex option on draft day, I won't be rostering any of Washington's players.

 

31. New York Jets

I remain a Sam Darnold believer, but until he proves me right it's going to be tough to put any faith in the Jets as a fantasy offense. Le'Veon Bell has fallen from grace as a backfield stud, and Darnold lacks any truly dangerous receiving options unless Denzel Mims goes off as a rookie (count me among those not diving headlong into the Breshad Perriman camp after a handful of good outings at the end of last year in Tampa Bay).

Perhaps tight end Chris Herndon can start to make amends with all the fantasy owners who patiently stashed him on their benches last year waiting for a day that never came, but he's a late-round flier. You like that the Jets prioritized upgrading the offensive line this offseason; that coupled with the expectation that Darnold won't get mono in 2020 are about the extent to which you could argue this unit has improved since last year from a fantasy standpoint.

 

30. Chicago Bears

When one of your key training camp storylines is whether Mitch Trubisky can fend off Nick Foles to keep the starting QB job, you have some problems on offense. Whoever wins that battle won't be leading a team with a ton of weapons, either. Allen Robinson is the most exciting fantasy player in Chicago by way of putting up solid numbers despite poor QB play in 2019, and he may have to do that again to stay in the WR2 conversation in 2020.

Running back David Montgomery is interesting as a year-two-leap candidate, especially considering Chicago's defense is respectable enough to keep the Bears in games and minimize the need for airing the ball out a ton. Still, I don't feel great about Montgomery as anything more than a low-end flex option on draft day.

 

29. Miami Dolphins

A lot of where the Dolphins fall in as a fantasy unit in 2020 depends on how long the team keeps Tua Tagovailoa on the sideline to protect him from a needless injury in what is sure not to be a winning season. Assuming Ryan Fitzpatrick is the primary starting QB in Miami this year, he proved last season that you don't need to avoid the Dolphins like a plague in fantasy.

DeVante Parker finally had his coming-out party, albeit a couple years after many fantasy owners had given up on him. Preston Williams was carving out a sneaky PPR role for himself before a torn ACL ended his season in November. He could become a factor again in 2020 if he's able to get back on the field in a timely manner. Even tight end Mike Gesicki began to show signs of future promise in the second half of last season.

As far as the run game is concerned, new acquisitions Jordan Howard and Matt Breida are going to have a hard time getting anything going consistently behind Miami's offensive line, which was the worst in football last year by any measure. The Dolphins also allowed the most points per opposing offensive possession in the league in 2019.

These aren't flaws you can completely fix in one offseason, so expect Fitzpatrick to be forced to launch the ball around again this year, which should keep his pass-catching options functional as fantasy assets. Again, these positives are contingent on Fitzpatrick playing all or most of the season, as I worry Tagovailoa would spend half his time just trying not to get leveled with such poor protection in front of him.

 

28. New England Patriots

It might be surprising to see the Patriots ranked this low on any list, but what else am I supposed to think after watching this offense last year? Julian Edelman was New England's only consistently reliable fantasy player in 2019, and his value has always been directly tied to a years-long connection with Tom Brady.

I won't rule out the possibility that Jarrett Stidham develops chemistry with Edelman, but when an offense is a relative non-factor in fantasy with Brady at the helm, you can't fault me for having low expectations for the same unit with a completely unknown quantity at quarterback one year later.

I expect New England's on-field formula to rely heavily on its defense, which was one of the best in the league last year, while asking Stidham and the offense to play mistake-free football. That is not conducive to an abundance of fantasy output. I don't have to stretch my imagination very far to envision Edelman and James White coming in below their customary levels of production.

I see minimal upside and unexciting floors when I look at the rest of the Patriots roster from a fantasy perspective. Maybe a later-round gamble on N'Keal Harry pays off, but I won't be paying too much attention to the Patriots in the early stages of any 2020 draft. Disclaimer: I reserve the right to alter my outlook if New England shocks the world and signs Cam Newton.

 

27. Los Angeles Chargers

Say what you will about Philip Rivers. The Chargers were a pretty reliable source of fantasy production during the 14 years he was their starting quarterback. Now he's gone, and his replacement will either be the unexciting Tyrod Taylor or the potentially under-prepared rookie Justin Herbert.

Melvin Gordon is also no longer around, giving whoever plays quarterback one less weapon to turn to. We should feel fine about Austin Ekeler from both a talent and opportunity standpoint, but even he might come at too high a draft-day cost if his first-round RB ranking lasts through the summer.

Hunter Henry has yet to play a full season in four years, washing away some of his allure as a mid-tier fantasy tight end. No player's value takes a greater hit in this new-look offense than Keenan Allen, who I'd be comfortable drafting as a flex option, but will be avoiding at his customary low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 standing.

 

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

By not exercising his 2021 option, the Jaguars have essentially declared this will be Leonard Fournette's last year with the team. If they don't trade him, there isn't much incentive for the Jaguars not to pile a ton of extra mileage onto Fournette's body. Fournette trailed only Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott in total touches in 2019, which should give us plenty of insight into the workload he's staring at as a lame duck running back in 2020.

I have heard it said that the acquisition of pass-catcher extraordinaire Chris Thompson and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (Thompson's old head coach) will adversely impact Fournette's fantasy value. To that, I say Thompson has missed at least five games in each of his last three seasons. A healthy Thompson will undoubtedly cut into Fournette's volume some, but from where I stand this is hardly a situation in which we should worry about Fournette dropping off the map as a fantasy asset.

My main concern about the rest of the offense is how little opportunity will be left over after Fournette gets his shares. D.J. Chark leads an exciting young receiving corps that will welcome rookie Laviska Shenault into its ranks, but the former fizzled out down the stretch in 2019. Assuming Chark remains the number-one receiver, I worry that Shenault, Dede Westbrook, and Chris Conley will consistently cut into each other's chances further down the depth chart.

Factor in the entertaining-yet-imperfect Gardner Minshew at quarterback behind a suspect offensive line, and I can see the Jags being a headache for fantasy owners beyond their top two threats. And if I'm wrong about Fournette's workload, this whole team could be a flat-out migraine.

 

25. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals represent one of the widest ranges of potential outcomes as a fantasy offense in 2020. Joe Burrow wasn't the first overall pick in this year's draft for no reason; if he picks up in the NFL where he left off in college this is going to be an incredibly fun team to watch. Offensive tackle Jonah Williams, Cincinnati's first pick in the 2019 draft who missed all of the 2019 season due to injury, is in line to return and strengthen what was a disastrous offensive line last year.

His presence can only help Burrow, and an improved offensive front undoubtedly benefits Joe Mixon, who averaged a lowly 1.8 yards before first contact per rush attempt in 2019. Factor in the assumption that A.J. Green will actually play this year, joining Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins to form a dangerous triumvirate of wideouts for Burrow to chuck it to, and the Bengals have all the makings of 2020's most pleasant fantasy football surprise.

Viewed in a different light, that optimism hinges a lot on whether three players who've never played an NFL game (Williams, Burrow, Higgins) can make an immediate impact. We also have to entertain the idea that Green is no longer the game-changing receiver he used to be. And a preseason that is bound to have some COVID-19 wrenches thrown in its spokes in terms of preparation and training will naturally hurt the Bengals more than it'll hurt teams with more well-established infrastructures. I'm in on all of the Bengals' skill players at the right price on draft day, but I'd advise caution on getting too excited over the best-case scenario here.

 

24. New York Giants

The Giants are the first team on this list for whom I feel compelled to bring up schedule strength. The Steelers, 49ers, and Bears all ranked top-six in points allowed per opposing offensive possession in 2019, and the Giants will face all three to begin 2020.

Pittsburgh and San Francisco were also the league's two best teams in terms of creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers forced turnovers at the highest rate of any defense in the league and the 49ers ranked sixth. Other matchups worth pointing out on the Giants' schedule include Week 4 at the Rams, Week 8 at home against the Buccaneers (2019's best run defense), and Week 16 at the Ravens.

What this all tells me is I could be in for some choppy waters right out of the gate if I spend the second overall pick on Saquon Barkley, and there are some pretty poorly-timed bad draws sprinkled throughout the rest of his schedule. Daniel Jones was also extremely prone to turning the ball over last season, so taking on a couple of ball-hawking defenses to begin the year doesn't paint the prettiest picture for New York's offense as a whole early on.

Evan Engram is the real deal and I'd be thrilled to have him if I knew he'd play the whole year, but he's missed 13 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons and I'm not crazy about having to draft a backup plan for a mid-round TE. The Giants' WR group doesn't have me jumping for joy, though I suppose I could live with the floors of Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. I ultimately don't see very high ceilings from anyone other than Barkley or a healthy Engram, and you need at least some upside to crack my top 20.

 

23. Pittsburgh Steelers

By simply standing on the field in full pads, a healthy Ben Roethlisberger automatically elevates the Steelers' offense above whatever you call last year. That said, I view this offense much differently after how lost it looked without him in 2019. I know what you're thinking: Are we really going to hold 2019 against the Steelers when they lost a future HOF quarterback and replaced him with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges?

My counterpoint is that I think we all universally agreed Pittsburgh was a strong offensive team for the last few years leading up to 2019. If that were definitively the case, shouldn't the Steelers have been able to at least look respectable without Roethlisberger? Several teams found ways to tread water as fantasy banks last year without their Week 1 starters at quarterback (Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Broncos, for example), and the Steelers were not one of them.

As far as I'm concerned, JuJu Smith-Schuster still needs to prove he can succeed as a fantasy player independent of the situation around him and/or without Antonio Brown on the field to draw defenders away from him. The weekly game of Will James Conner Be Active On Sunday? just isn't worth the trouble for me.

I'm perfectly fine missing out on a bounce-back season from Conner unless I can grab him at a serious discount on draft day. I'm intrigued as to whether Diontae Johnson can take a step forward with a real quarterback throwing him the ball, and he should be a fine mid-to-late round gamble as long as his stock stays where it is through the summer.

 

22. Detroit Lions

Much like with Roethlisberger and the Steelers, Matthew Stafford can significantly improve the Lions both in real life and fantasy just by being active. The difference is Detroit's best skill player found ways to produce without his number-one quarterback in 2019. Stafford missed eight games last year, exactly half the season. Here are Kenny Golladay's 2019 numbers extrapolated over a 16-game sample both with and without Stafford on the field, courtesy of the RotoViz Game Splits App:

  • With Stafford - 70 receptions, 124 targets, 1,280 yards, 14 touchdowns
  • Without Stafford - 60 receptions, 108 targets, 1,100 yards, eight touchdowns

We would naturally prefer Golladay's with-Stafford line, but his without-Stafford line isn't exactly killing our fantasy roster. Marvin Jones' numbers don't hold up nearly as well, as he averaged 1.25 fewer receptions and nearly 20 fewer receiving yards per game without Stafford, but his volume (7.12 targets per game with Stafford, seven targets per game without) remained steady all year. These types of splits aren't the end-all, be-all of deciding between a couple of players at the draft, but they're worth taking into account. Injuries happen, and it's nice to know you can still count on your players if they lose a key teammate.

As for the rest of Detroit's offense, I'd need to have a notarized letter of intent from head coach Matt Patricia stating that D'Andre Swift will be the primary running back before I drafted him as a fantasy starter. There is too much potential for a maddening timeshare between Swift and Kerryon Johnson early in the year, even if we can all agree that Johnson has been unimpressive and hampered by injuries during his first two seasons. Maybe T.J. Hockenson comes back from wherever it is he disappeared to after Week 1 of 2019, giving him late-round-flier appeal.

 

21. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers can be a polarizing team when evaluating their fantasy appeal. They have arguably the best tight end in the NFL and if you believe Deebo Samuel is poised to establish himself as a top-flight wide receiver, this ranking is borderline sacrilege. Moreover, you might be of the mind that San Francisco's multi-pronged rushing attack is more beneficial than harmful to its stable of running backs.

But here's where I stand on the defending NFC champions. In 2019, San Francisco attempted the second-most rushes in the league and the fourth-fewest passes. Of the 49ers' 478 pass attempts last season, 107, or 22.3%, went to George Kittle, who missed two games. Samuel ranked second on the team with 81 targets and played in all but one game. No running back saw more than 30 targets. Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida all attempted at least 123 rushes. Breida is gone, which admittedly frees up a ton of work for Coleman and Mostert to share.

But here's what we can glean from these numbers: the 49ers are a low-tempo offense who rarely throw the ball, and when they do, a large majority of those opportunities go to one guy. A minimal fraction of those opportunities go to running backs, which takes Coleman and Mostert off the board as PPR threats. So if you draft either Coleman or Mostert, you're essentially hoping that this remains a near-even backfield split (which is admittedly more palatable in San Francisco than it would be in most places), or that you have grabbed the guy who is going to take over as the workhorse.

Either way, you have a chance of being totally burned by this situation in any given week. Samuel's intrigue stems from the idea that he's set to inherit all or most of the 5.3 targets per game left behind by Emmanuel Sanders. But with Kittle not going anywhere and the 49ers having spent a first-round draft pick on wideout Brandon Aiyuk, is that something you're willing to bet a WR2 roster slot on?

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Roto Strategy - Is Punting Steals a Good Idea?

In fantasy baseball, there are two scoring categories that are somewhat exclusive to a certain type of player: stolen bases and saves. Saves are obvious; only closers can earn them. As such, fantasy owners must decide how important that category is to the overall construction of their roster. If we value the stat, we'll draft closers relatively early. If we're content to take a hit in saves in favor of loading up on multi-category hitters and starting pitchers, we'll grab some closers late and display aggressiveness on the waiver wire throughout the year. A much shorter description of the latter strategy is "punting saves."

In some ways, this same philosophy can be applied to stolen bases. Sure, there are far more position players who can steal bases than there are pitchers who can earn saves. Moreover, at least a few of the better base-path thieves in the league are valuable in multiple categories (Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna, for example). But there are also a handful of high-steal guys who are offensive liabilities outside of swiping bags (Adalberto Mondesi, Mallex Smith). Selecting players who are likely to hurt us in several offensive scoring categories just because they can greatly help us in steals requires us to pass up on more well-rounded hitters at certain junctures of the draft. On the flip side, this isn't 1986. There are only so many truly elite base-stealers in the league, which begs the question: Is punting steals a good idea?

In the following passages, we'll discuss the merits and drawbacks of punting steals. There are a variety of factors to take into account, and there is no across-the-board right or wrong answer. Our decisions on whether or not to go this route will come down to a series of questions. *Note: All ADP information used in this article is courtesy of NFBC.

 

How Much Do I Value Steals?

Let's start with why locking up stolen bases is a perfectly reasonable draft strategy if that's how you operate. I mentioned 1986 as a year when players were seemingly swiping bags at will, but the truth is we can greatly narrow the timeline if we want evidence that true-blue base-stealers are a dying breed.

The last time more than 10 players stole 30 bases in a single season was 2014. Since then, we've had seven in 2015; 10 in 2016; six in 2017; 10 in 2018; eight in 2019. Contrast that against the five years immediately preceding 2014, when MLB averaged just over 17 players per season with 30 or more steals, and it's clear that the list of guys we can rely on to provide us elite value in this category is steadily dwindling over time.

With that in mind, we simply need to ask ourselves how important the category actually is to us. Much like with saves and closers, knowing how we value the category will help us determine a plan of action. From there, we can ask more specific questions about individual players.

 

What Else Can I Expect From This Player?

Our next question focuses exclusively on players for whom steals are the primary draw. The above-mentioned Smith and Mondesi ranked first and second, respectively, in stolen bases last season. Mondesi's on-base percentage was .291, and Smith's was an even .300. Neither offers any power to offset their relative inability to consistently reach base, or to supplement their stolen base tallies.

Smith plays for one of the worst teams in the league in Seattle, so counting on his high steal total to automatically translate into a ton of runs isn't necessarily a safe bet. Mondesi does have some power hitting behind him in the Royals lineup in Jorge Soler, but it's tough to truly capitalize on that with a sub-.300 OBP. In drafting either one of these players, we're essentially banking on them to steal such an exorbitant number of bases that their shortcomings elsewhere don't tank our lineups.

Mondesi in particular should have red flags book-ending his name on the draft board, as his current ADP is 34.91. Even if he steals 60 bases, that's a high price to pay for a guy who has yet to prove he can give us anything else. At least we can wait awhile on Smith, who isn't being drafted until the 12th round in 12-team leagues. I'm punting on steals 100 times out of 100 if the example in question is Mondesi.

Third on the stolen-base leaderboard in 2019 was Jonathan Villar, who can provide us with value in more than one category. Villar clubbed 24 home runs and scored 111 runs last season for the lowly Orioles. Because he put up those numbers in Baltimore, I'm not overly concerned that a new home with the equally hapless Marlins will put a significant dent in his overall offensive production. (It is worth noting, however, that it's much more difficult to hit baseballs out of Marlins Park than out of Camden Yards.)

Still, Villar posted a .279/.339/.453 slash line last season, which is a far cry from what Smith or Mondesi can say. He's going slightly later than Mondesi at ADP 37.09. If I absolutely must choose between one of them at this point in the draft, I'll take slightly fewer steals in exchange for a more well-rounded offensive player in Villar. But even then I'm passing up on great value elsewhere, which brings us to our next question.

 

What Sacrifices Am I Making by Drafting This Player?

Part of the dilemma here is that, again, the list of exceptional base-stealers in 2020 is much shorter than it was in past generations of the sport. When only a half-dozen or so guys eclipse the 30-steal threshold, there's certainly an argument to be made for giving ourselves an overwhelming advantage by grabbing one of them. But especially early in the draft, we're inevitably going to have to sacrifice in other spots if we do so.

Coming back to our Villar/Mondesi example, some of the other players who could theoretically be available to us at that ADP are Peter Alonso, Ozzie Albies, Jose Altuve, Austin Meadows, and Javier Baez. All of these guys are multi-dimensional fantasy players with tons of upside and high floors, though none are likely to challenge for the stolen base crown.

Unless we're drafting at the very beginning or end of a round, we can likely only have one of the players in this range. Would we prefer for that one player to help us in some combination of runs, RBI, batting average, and homers? Or are we comfortable with the high steal total and drop-off in other categories? The earlier in the draft, the greater the sacrifice.

If we take a Villar or a Mondesi in the fourth round, then we need to acknowledge what we're giving up elsewhere on our roster and approach the rest of our draft accordingly. This is easier said than done, as there is only so much we can control about the draft in the first place.

 

What Other Players Can Help Me in Stolen Bases?

Most of this discussion has been centralized on guys who excel in steals and not much else. But even if we don't land any of them, we're not entirely out of the running (pun strongly intended) in the category. We can still incorporate steals into our draft strategy without honing in on relatively one-dimensional players. So let us now turn our attention to the players who can steal bases, but for whom steals don't tell the whole story.

First off, if we have a late first-round pick and we select Trea Turner, great. He hits for average, has some decent power, and his place at the top of the Nationals lineup easily puts 100 runs scored within his range of outcomes. If we have a top-five pick and we can snag Yelich or Acuna, even better. Steals are, like, the fourth thing you think of when you think of Yelich or Acuna.

Beyond the very top of the stolen-base leaderboard, however, there are multitudes of players who can contribute steals to our line while also helping us out in other categories. This is where the roads of punting saves and punting steals go their separate ways: We eventually have to roster a couple of closers to have any chance in saves, but we don't necessarily need a Mondesi or a Smith to lead our league in steals.

I consulted FanGraphs in an attempt to find some evidence for my case, and as always, they did not disappoint. Since the start of 2017, there have been 76 instances in which a player met or exceeded the following thresholds in a single season: 12 stolen bases, 15 home runs, 75 runs scored. That's a three-year average of just over 25 guys providing us some pretty well-rounded fantasy production, with steals being the most difficult to come by.

There are repeat offenders on this list (which admittedly skews the total somewhat), as well as a couple of early-round superstars we can't exactly wait on at the draft, but there are plenty of diamonds in the rough as well. Among some of the less-heralded names to have achieved this feat in 2019 are Amed Rosario (ADP 129.87), Adam Eaton (ADP 209.05), Danny Santana (ADP 136.64), Shin-Soo Choo (ADP 250.40), Ramon Laureano (ADP 78.27), Tim Anderson (ADP 102.51), and Kevin Pillar (largely going undrafted in standard-sized leagues). Andrew Benintendi also accomplished this twice in 2017-18 before a relatively down 2019; he's a fine bet to reappear on the list in 2020.

We can even narrow the sample to isolate players who aren't going to drag down our batting average too much. In that case, there have still been 52 instances in which a player posted the above thresholds while also hitting at least .265. The point is, we can find players with the ability to contribute stolen bases without tanking our lineup in other categories, and we don't have to sell out for them in the early rounds.

If we are lucky enough to grab Turner, Yelich, Acuna, or even Francisco Lindor in the first round, then adding just a few of these guys later on puts us in pretty good position to contend for the league lead in steals. If we miss on those players, fear not. There will still be plenty of opportunities for us to pad our stolen base total as the draft progresses, even if we don't land an elite thief. And with a well-rounded offense, a middling finish in steals won't crush our championship aspirations.

 

Conclusion

This strategy can essentially be defined as punting steals without actually punting steals. We're acknowledging that we probably won't end up with one of the top stolen-base threats on the draft board, but we're not ignoring the category altogether.

When it's all said and done, we all have to make our own decisions on how to draft. This is just my personal process. I find that asking myself these questions about what I want my roster to look like helps me prepare. It might not work for everyone, but if you can take at least a few pointers away from this then I'm happy to have (hopefully) helped you get ready for your own draft. If you have any questions about anything pertaining to fantasy baseball, feel free to direct them to me on Twitter: @cjoreillyCLE. Thank you for reading, good luck, and most importantly--have fun!

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When and How Do You Target Sleepers on Draft Day?

A popular buzzword this time of year is "sleeper." Every fantasy baseball writer, podcaster, and radio analyst wants you to know why their sleeper is the one you should be targeting on draft day. Conversely, your league mates hope you've never even heard of their sleeper. As I prepared to write this article, I found myself asking this question: If we are all identifying our sleepers individually, don't we need to decide who they actually are in order to determine when and how to target them in the draft?

I worry that we get too caught up in the idea that a sleeper has to be some relatively unknown player no one is talking about and I wonder if that's an oversimplification. If we adhere too strictly to the thought that a guy has to be flying under everyone's radar, we're inadvertently allowing the fantasy community at large to decide who does and does not qualify as a sleeper. In doing so, we're consequently also allowing the community to subliminally dictate our draft strategy. If we're not in charge of choosing who can be considered a sleeper, we're also not entirely in charge of figuring out the appropriate time to draft one. What we should be doing is deciding for ourselves how we feel about each and every player on the draft board.

I propose doing away with the groupthink that has ruled a player has to fall outside a certain ADP range or level of popularity in order to be categorized as a sleeper. Instead, I offer this definition: A sleeper is a player for whom you individually have significantly higher expectations than the consensus does. If you personally feel that any given player is capable of producing well above his average draft spot or preseason ranking, he is one of your sleepers. With this philosophy in mind, join me as I walk you through the process of targeting players you've identified as your own personal sleepers.

 

How Early is Too Early?

A few notes before we begin: Fantasy leagues come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. This discussion will be based on a 12-team redraft league with rotisserie scoring, a snake draft, and 25-man rosters populated by players from both the AL and NL. Also, any ADP references, draft slot scenarios, or players I mention are simply examples. None of this is meant to be interpreted as exactly what to expect at your draft, as all drafts are going to feature their own unique developments along the way. Finally, all ADP information is courtesy of NFBC.

Because I'm framing this discussion around the idea that virtually any player can qualify as a sleeper, I'm technically of the mind that there is no such time as "too early" to target one. We know that our likelihood of landing any one of the players we're aiming at depends largely on our draft spot, as well as what the rest of our league mates do. That said, the first few rounds of a fantasy draft in any sport are not exactly the time to go rogue. I'm fine with diverging from the pack a little early on, but we should avoid excessive reaches.

So the first thing we want to do is come up with our own customized rankings. Even if we don't have the time or the inclination to sift through upwards of 400 players, we should definitely give ourselves a baseline to follow for at least the first 150 or so. Then we can compare our personal rankings to those of whatever site we're using, and also measure them against ADP information. In doing this, we'll be able to pinpoint players we think are ranked too highly, even in the first couple rounds.

For example, are we worried Juan Soto could take a step back without Anthony Rendon hitting in front of him? Are we concerned about the mileage on guys like Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer? Particularly if we're drafting from a late first-round slot, these are important determinations to make. If we're not totally sold on the players in the consensus 10-15 range, maybe we'd prefer Jose Ramirez and Freddie Freeman slightly further down the draft board with our first two picks.

Though they don't fit the conventional definition of "sleepers," we're already taking the first steps toward bucking tradition. We believe Ramirez and Freeman are capable of outperforming a handful of consensus late first-rounders, and we're not afraid to go and get them. After all, they're most certainly not going to be there in Round 3.

 

The (Un)Importance of ADP

ADP is useful information to have, but it's not important for the reasons everyone seems to think it is. Fantasy owners with an unwillingness to think outside the box view ADP as a guideline of, "This is when I should draft this player." If your league mates operate that way, let them. In the meantime, we'll be using ADP as a guideline on when everyone else thinks they should draft a player. In turn, we can use that to exploit variances in our own rankings.

To put this idea into practice, consider the following scenario. Eloy Jimenez is currently the 18th outfield-eligible player coming off the board with an ADP of 57.71. But let's say we believe he'll finish top-10 among outfielders, and we rank him accordingly. If everyone else also viewed Jimenez as a top-10 outfielder, he'd have an ADP closer to that of Starling Marte (29.68). Instead, he's being drafted nearly 30 picks later, which allows us to attack the middle ground.

Even though we believe Jimenez to be a top-10 positional value, we know we don't have to pay a top-10 positional price. At the same time, we also know about how early we do need to strike in order to make sure he doesn't wind up on someone else's team. An ADP of 57.71 indicates Jimenez is routinely coming off the board near the end of the fifth round; if we're truly committed to him as "our guy," we can steal him in the late fourth.

During the preparation process and the draft itself, we should always be measuring our custom rankings against ADP and site rankings to seek out these advantages.

Before we continue, I have to emphasize that this part of the process is not bulletproof. Many of us play in super-competitive leagues, and not every single one of our league mates is going to blindly follow site rankings or ADP. We're inevitably going to encounter situations where one of our league mates employs a similar line of thinking as us, and we might end up missing out on a couple of our sleepers as a result. The important thing is to trust what we're doing and not let the occasional tough break derail us. More often than not, taking the time to prepare in this manner is going to work out in our favor.

 

Reaching for Players: Reckless vs. Calculated

I mentioned above that we don't want to "excessively reach" for sleepers in the first couple rounds, but let's discuss that thought as it pertains to the middle of the draft. As the draft progresses, we can afford to take more risks with our selections because we're not passing up on nearly as much certainty in the middle rounds. But when we're weighing these risks, we need to ask ourselves whether they are reckless or calculated.

Sometimes when we evaluate a player's upside, we get so excited over his best-case scenario that we forget to appropriately consider his floor. Let's say we're super-high on Mallex Smith as a sleeper for 2020. Sure, Smith could steal 50 bases and score 100 runs, but what if he never gets on base to begin with? What if the Mariners never get enough going on offense to put Smith in a position to be a productive fantasy player? Smith becomes (or remains) pretty one-dimensional if things don't break right for him in 2020, which makes him a tough guy to justify reaching for at any point in a fantasy draft.

Unless, of course, we find ourselves greatly in need of some stolen bases, in which case we may feel compelled to take a chance on him. Smith's ADP is 150.81, which places him at about the middle of the 12th round. Maybe we get to the 10th and realize we're strapped for steals, so we nab him up early. Now we're virtually guaranteed 40-plus stolen bases as long as he stays healthy all year, but there's a good chance that's all we're getting.

This is a reckless reach, for one key reason: We allowed our roster's perceived shortcomings in one specific category to drive us to reach for a player with a low floor in many others. The odds of our reach for Smith translating into anything more than a lofty steal total aren't very good. We could theoretically have taken someone much safer like Michael Brantley with that pick. One or two reckless reaches aren't going to torpedo our season, but we want to keep these to a minimum.

As we're going through our custom rankings and labeling guys as sleepers, we should notate whether or not reaching for them would be considered calculated or reckless. In doing so, we'll realize it's probably better to just leave one-dimensional or low-floor players where they are in the rankings and scoop them up at the appropriate ADP if the opportunity presents itself.

A quick example of a calculated reach would be a player like Franmil Reyes (ADP 153.63). Reyes is not going to help us much in a category like batting average, and if he steals a base straight-up in 2020 the opposing catcher should have to take a lap mid-game. But say we went heavy on pitching early in our draft and missed out on a lot of the big bats. Reyes' power is such that he could provide us with first-round homer and RBI stats at a 12th-round price, and the Indians' lineup should be productive enough around him to give him a chance to contribute in runs scored as well.

Grabbing Reyes in the late 10th or early 11th, a couple of dozen picks before his ADP, is a calculated reach. If everything comes together for Reyes, his power ceiling is astronomical. And if he doesn't get there, he's still a solid bet to give us a palatable power floor, which is more than we can say for a lot of other players in this range.

 

Attacking the Final Rounds

In a 25-man-roster league, our rosters should be pretty well-set after Round 18 or so. We shouldn't ignore the need to supplement our starting lineup with bench depth, but the final seven-ish rounds are also where we can afford to get creative and take some serious gambles.

Austin Riley (ADP 286.32) is being taken, on average, in the 23rd round. He's currently set to split time with Johan Camargo at third base in 2020, but who has the higher upside here? If Riley permanently establishes himself as the player we saw during the first month of his 2019 debut, he could be one of the absolute steals of this year's draft. We shouldn't be afraid to grab a guy like Riley several rounds earlier than his ADP in an effort to capitalize on his ceiling. He's not crushing us by occupying a bench spot early in the year, and he could wind up helping us win a championship in the long run.

As we navigate the final rounds of our draft, we should take a balanced approach. Take a run at a young player with upside, then follow that up with a less volatile pick like, say, Masahiro Tanaka (ADP 225.48) or Brian Anderson (ADP 241.17). Then, our bench will be a nice blend of low-risk and high-reward players.

 

Final Thoughts

By now, I hope you have an idea how you plan to craft your sleeper strategy for 2020 drafts. Before we part, a few final thoughts.

  • I can't stress enough how important it is to come up with your own rankings. Just this week, I did so myself for one of my leagues and discovered that the site's default rankings had Gerrit Cole as the 60th-ranked player on the draft board. While this is an extreme example for which I admittedly have no explanation, the draft comes at you fast once it starts. The last thing you want is for a player you're targeting to slip your mind because you don't see him on the draft board at the juncture where you'd like to take him.
  • Prospects are great sleepers when drafted appropriately, but avoid stacking your roster with too many. Many of them won't see regular playing time early in the season, which means they'll be occupying your bench for awhile. If your bench is cluttered with guys who aren't playing every day, it limits your overall roster flexibility. Plus, it's more difficult for us to convince ourselves to drop prospects because all anyone talks about is how good they're eventually going to be.
  • Remember: Your sleepers are your sleepers. As long as you're taking a disciplined approach to drafting them, who cares what anyone else thinks of your picks? Get the guys you want within the confines of what can be considered responsible drafting, and more often than not you're going to leave your draft feeling pretty good about your team.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope it helps. If you have any fantasy baseball questions, feel free to direct them to me on Twitter: @cjoreillyCLE. Happy draft season, and good luck!

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Fantasy Football Starts and Sits: Divisional Round Matchups Analysis

Welcome to our Divisional Round matchups analysis and start/sit column for fantasy football. We'll be covering all of the games from the Saturday and Sunday slates, helping you make the best decisions for your playoff lineups and DFS contests this weekend. Be sure to check back regularly because this article will be updated as news comes in regarding injuries and other relevant information.

Chris O'Reilly will start off by covering the Divisional Round games that begin at 4:35 PM ET on Saturday, and Spencer Aguiar will take you home with his analysis of the games taking place on Sunday starting at 1:05 PM ET.

If you have any additional lineup questions, follow us on Twitter @Teeoffsports and @cjoreillyCLE and feel free to ask away! Without further ado, let's get started.

 

Matchups Analysis - Saturday Divisional Round

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers (4:35 PM ET)

Matchups We Love:

George Kittle (TE, SF)

Only seven teams allowed more receptions to tight ends during the regular season than Minnesota, but nobody gave up fewer touchdowns to the position (one). George Kittle is obviously in the realm of tight end where touchdowns aren't necessary, but it'd be nice for insurance purposes if he was facing a soft matchup in that regard. In any case, he is the most reliable tight end on the Saturday slate. If you're constructing Saturday-only lineups, it's hard not to go all-in on Kittle and make concessions where you must at other positions. If you're building lineups for the whole weekend, you can't go wrong with Travis Kelce, either.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Dalvin Cook (RB, MIN)

The 49ers aren't the type of defense you get excited to see in fantasy, but the one area in which they've been there for the taking at various points throughout the season is on the ground. The Vikings leaned heavily on Dalvin Cook while also employing a relentless pass rush to beat the Saints on the road last week, and a similar formula is likely to be needed in San Francisco this time around. Cook totaled 130 yards on 31 total touches, scoring two short rushing touchdowns for his trouble. That kind of volume is going to pay off more often than not, and Cook should be in line for another heavy workload. For DFS players trying to choose between Cook and Derrick Henry (for Saturday-only contests) in an attempt to spread your budget around, consider that game flow has the potential to get out of hand in the Baltimore/Tennessee matchup if the Ravens jump out to an early lead. Cook has the marginally better chance of playing in a closely contested game.

Stefon Diggs (WR, MIN)

Both of Minnesota's top wideouts are on the injury report, but neither appears to be in jeopardy of actually missing Saturday's game. Stefon Diggs has been dealing with an illness early in the week, while Adam Thielen needed stitches to patch up a cut on his ankle. As for their potential value in this matchup, again, we have to come back to what the Vikings did offensively in the Wild Card round. Kirk Cousins attempted just 31 passes in a textbook road playoff victory; are we expecting Minnesota to pivot to an aerial onslaught this week against one of the league's top pass defenses? As far as Diggs in particular is concerned, his two-catch, three-target outing against the Saints shouldn't be casually dismissed. In the five games Thielen missed this season, Diggs averaged five receptions for 86 yards, and was targeted 7.2 times per game. In the 10 games they played together, Diggs hauled in under four catches per game for an average of 69.5 yards on fewer than six targets per outing. These aren't inviting splits by any means, and Thielen was clearly the preferred option in New Orleans last weekend. I'm exercising caution with Diggs, regardless of format.

***UPDATE: Stefon Diggs has cleared the Vikings injury report, and is expected to play on Saturday.

Adam Thielen (WR, MIN)

The 49ers gave up 20-plus PPR points to a wide receiver in each of their final four regular season games (Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Robert Woods, D.K. Metcalf). Two of them, Thomas and Jones, are clearly their team's top option at the position. Of the other two, you could make the argument that Metcalf has supplanted Tyler Lockett in Seattle, and Woods only looks like such a second fiddle to Cooper Kupp due to a lack of touchdowns. What I'm trying to say here is that the primary receiving option in a team's offense has had remarkable success against the 49ers over the last month. After last week, Thielen sure appears to be that guy in Minnesota again. There are a variety of factors keeping Thielen off the love list this week, not the least of which is San Francisco's extra week to prepare. Toss in the fact that the 49ers are still an exceptional pass defense at the end of the day, and sprinkle in Thielen's minor injury concern (which could reasonably be expected to cause pain, considering the location on his ankle), and I am keeping my hopes high and my expectations reasonable.

***UPDATE: Adam Thielen remains questionable as of Friday afternoon, giving him roughly 24 hours to be fully cleared for Saturday's game.

Olabisi Johnson (WR, MIN)

Olabisi Johnson has not been a factor in Minnesota's passing game at all this season, regardless of who's been on the field. If this were the regular season, I'd be hesitant to even discuss him here. But in the condensed player pool available in the playoffs, there is always the chance a darkhorse hero saves the day. If that hero is Johnson against the 49ers, I'll be surprised to say the least.

Alexander Mattison (RB, MIN)

In a game in which the Vikings clearly opted to pound the ball on the ground last week, Alexander Mattison saw just six total touches (five carries, one catch). Whatever reservations we might've had regarding Dalvin Cook's health coming into the playoffs, those concerns are officially in the rear view. Thus, so is the hope that any secondary running back in Minnesota is in line for fantasy-friendly work. If Mattison isn't going to see at least double-digit touches, he's naturally going to need a huge play or a touchdown to be worth rostering in any format.

Kirk Cousins (QB, MIN)

It's okay to respect the mettle of Kirk Cousins while also acknowledging the Vikings could be in trouble if they have to take to the air to beat the 49ers this week. San Francisco allowed the fewest passing yards per game during the regular season while pressuring the quarterback at the league's second-highest rate. The Niners also ranked sixth in defensive turnover rate. We've already touched on the likelihood that the Vikings showed us how they plan to navigate a brutal NFC playoff field on the road: by running the ball and playing suffocating defense. Cousins will surely be called upon to make plays at pivotal junctures of the game, but unless this game turns upside down, I'm not envisioning a ton of opportunity through the air.

Kyle Rudolph / Irv Smith Jr. (TE, MIN)

For all of their defensive strengths, the 49ers are vulnerable in the red zone. They've allowed 60% of opponents' possessions inside the 20 to end in touchdowns, which ranks 10th-highest in the league. The red zone is naturally the most likely field position for a tight end to score, so there is touchdown potential for Minnesota's. Kyle Rudolph is clearly the go-to guy, and his seven targets in last week's game trailed only Adam Thielen's nine. Rudolph's game-winning touchdown bailed him out from what would've been a rough fantasy outing, but volume certainly worked in his favor. Irv Smith is an extremely risky, touchdown-dependent flier for DFS players who've maxed out their budget at other positions.

Raheem Mostert (RB, SF)

Raheem Mostert has laid to rest whatever concerns we had over who to trust in San Francisco's backfield. He scored at least one touchdown in each of his last six games, a span in which he never recorded fewer than 53 yards from scrimmage. He saw double-digit touches in each of his final five. As for the matchup, a spirited effort from the Vikings held Alvin Kamara to just 55 yards on 15 touches last week, though Kamara did get into the endzone. Regarding Mostert's potential to score, consider that six of his eight rushing touchdowns in the regular season came inside the red zone. The Vikings were the second-toughest red zone defense in the league during the regular season. Mostert's fantasy value this week will stem from his volume in the number-one RB role.

Tevin Coleman / Matt Breida (RB, SF)

What Raheem Mostert giveth to fantasy owners, he taketh from Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. Coleman hasn't seen double-digit touches in a game since November. The same goes for Breida, but he also missed nearly a month due to injury. Neither Coleman nor Breida have any relevant pass-catching role to offset their lack of involvement in the running game, making both of them risky plays in any format this week.

Deebo Samuel / Emmanuel Sanders (WR, SF)

A low-volume pass offense has capped the ceiling of any San Francisco pass-catcher not named George Kittle. Perhaps more importantly for anyone trying to choose between Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders this week, it has limited the potential for more than one wide receiver to go off as well. Neither Samuel nor Sanders have seen consistently exorbitant target shares on a week-to-week basis since the latter joined the 49ers, and they've mostly taken turns being the go-to guy in any given game. If you're of the mind this game is won largely in the trenches and you're willing to buy into the ruckus Minnesota's defensive line created in the pocket last week, you might want to temper expectations on Samuel and Sanders.

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, SF)

Jimmy Garoppolo has risen to the occasion when he's had to take to the air, but I have to wonder if that's the kind of game script we're looking at in the Divisional round. Both of the teams in this matchup rank inside the top eight for fewest points allowed per opposing possession, limiting the potential for a shootout. Both also rank top-four in rush attempts, which speaks for itself. The 49ers have won shootouts and they've won slug-fests, but their primary avenue to the best record in the NFC was a reliance on defense and the running game. Super Bowl contenders don't normally choose to abandon what has worked for them in the playoffs, so unless the Vikings force San Francisco's hand into a high-scoring air raid, I'd prefer not to bank on Garoppolo's high-floor efficiency when I need high upside.

 

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens (8:15 PM ET)

Matchups We Love:

Lamar Jackson (QB, BAL)

We all know how many ways Lamar Jackson can beat a defense by now. He'll torch you through the air with a couple of deep balls. He'll scramble out of a collapsed pocket and pick up 15 yards. He'll burn you for another 15 on a designed run. And then before you know it, he's got his team lined up inside the red zone, where the Titans were the second-easiest team to score on in the league during the regular season. Jackson has attempted 26 rushes inside the 20-yard line, and five of his seven rushing touchdowns have come from in close. He's not too shabby at throwing the ball in the red zone either; only Russell Wilson had more passing touchdowns inside the 20 than Jackson's 24.

Derrick Henry (RB, TEN)

The two biggest underdogs of the Wild Card round (Minnesota, Tennessee) emerged victorious on the road thanks largely to their star running backs. You already know I'm expecting the Vikings to continue living and dying by the run, and the same goes for the Titans this week. Maybe expecting another 182-yard showing from Derrick Henry is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but against a Ravens team that gave up 4.42 yards per attempt to running backs in the regular season, the Tennessee bulldozer should be in line for another productive day.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Ravens Wide Receivers (All WR, BAL)

If it weren't for Jackson, the most fascinating thing about the Ravens offense would be the fact that they don't have a single reliable wide receiver in spite of having the league's most dynamic and unstoppable quarterback. The here-one-day, gone-the-next nature of the Ravens WR corps makes anyone in this group difficult to trust. What's worth pointing out here is that Tennessee gave up the sixth-most air yards on completed passes during the regular season. Baltimore pass-catchers averaged the eighth-highest yards-before-catch per reception. There's certainly potential here for a Ravens wideout to burn the Titans secondary, and if I like anyone to do it, give me Marquise Brown.

Mark Andrews / Hayden Hurst / Nick Boyle (TE, BAL)

Mark Andrews is on the Ravens' injury report, though it would be surprising if he's not out there on Saturday night. If you want to save a little bit of cash at tight end with Andrews over Kittle or Kelce, see the Titans' red zone woes discussed above in the Jackson segment. Andrews leads the Ravens in red zone targets, and seven of his 10 touchdowns have come in such field position. Only the Cardinals and Browns gave up more touchdowns to tight ends than the Titans. Andrews leads the team everywhere else on the field in volume as well, making him a fine option if you want to go this route instead of paying up for the top guys. Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle are extremely touchdown-dependent fliers, but by now you get the point: it's possible against the Titans.

***UPDATE: Mark Andrews remains questionable for Saturday's game as of Friday afternoon.

Mark Ingram (RB, BAL)

Mark Ingram's status for Saturday night is at least a little bit cloudy after a limited practice session on Thursday, but it appears likely he'll play. Assuming he does get the green light, the matchup doesn't jump off the page at you. The Titans held opposing backs to four yards per carry during the regular season and they kept the Patriots ground game in check last weekend. Ingram also doesn't have a role in the Ravens' passing attack, which keeps his floor down despite the fact that Tennessee was one of three teams to give up 100 receptions to his position during the regular season. If you're rostering him in any format, hope for a full workload and a touchdown against the Titans' porous red zone defense.

***UPDATE: Mark Ingram is expected to play on Saturday night.

Gus Edwards / Justice Hill (RB, BAL)

If Ingram doesn't receive a full workload, then we should expect something of a split between Gus Edwards and Justice Hill behind him. It still won't yield anything in the form of PPR work, as the Ravens simply don't throw the ball to their running backs. Even if Edwards and Hill are on the field enough to cut into Ingram's volume, trying to distribute enough opportunity around to make three running backs fantasy-relevant is a tall order. The best-case scenario here is that Ingram is declared a full go prior to kickoff.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, TEN)

You'll see more of this below when we discuss Ryan Tannehill's favorite receiver, but the Ravens' ability to shut down big plays through the air makes the Titans' passing attack a risky roll of the dice this week. Tannehill ranked fourth in the NFL in air yards per completed pass (7.4), and second in yards after catch per completion (6.2). The Ravens ranked inside the top 10 in terms of fewest air yards on completed passes and yards after catch. If Baltimore takes the lead early, Tannehill could wind up being a solid play based on opportunity. But if the Titans are able to keep this game close, I expect them to minimize their risk by relying heavily on their comic book superhero of a running back.

A.J. Brown (WR, TEN)

Lost amid A.J. Brown's breakout second half is that he's still pretty dependent on big plays, as opposed to being a high-floor PPR guy. During the regular season, Brown ranked 14th among all NFL players in yards before catch per reception, and fifth in yards after catch per reception. These metrics were enough to catapult him into WR1 territory, but he ranked 63rd in receptions with 52. He only caught more than four passes in a game three times all season. In the Wild Card round, he was a non-factor thanks to New England's relentless secondary. The Ravens present a similarly tough matchup, as they gave up the seventh-fewest yards after catch and the sixth-fewest air yards on completions during the regular season.

Corey Davis / Tajae Sharpe (WR, TEN)

Shootout potential keeps the fantasy candle of just about any player in this game flickering, but we have to acknowledge the disparity in risk from one tier to the next. Brown might carry a wide range of outcomes, but at least he's proven capable of making good on the positive end of that spectrum. Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe don't even have volume to lean on in this matchup. If you're inclined to get creative with a few of your lineups, Davis and Sharpe are the types of players who could help win you some money with a touchdown or two. But there's just as good a chance of them sinking your ship altogether.

Jonnu Smith (TE, TEN)

Considering the talent available at tight end, I'm not sure we need to be scrolling so far down the player pool that we find ourselves mulling the pros and cons of Jonnu Smith. If it helps make your decision easier, consider that the Ravens allowed the fewest receptions and the third-fewest yards to tight ends during the regular season.

 

Matchups Analysis - Sunday NFL Divisional Round

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs (3:05 PM ET)

Matchups We Love:

Patrick Mahomes (QB, KC)

The Kansas City Chiefs have payback on their minds after not only falling just short of making the Super Bowl last season but also from slipping up to the Texans at home in Week 6 this year by a score of 31-24. I was not impressed by how the Texans' secondary defended Josh Allen during the Wild Card round and even more issues are ahead against a Chiefs unit that has had an extra week to prepare. This week in the NFL might turn into the haves and the have nots, and we know Patrick Mahomes is part of the elite company.

Tyreek Hill (WR, KC)

The last thing you want to do is be susceptible to explosive passes when you play Mahomes and company, and the Texans fit that narrative. With a ranking of 22nd in the NFL in combustible throws allowed on the year, Tyreek Hill has a chance to get free deep often.

Travis Kelce (TE, KC)

The Texans have been trustworthy in defending TEs, giving up the 19th-most points to the position on the year, but Travis Kelce is a different animal to defend for defenses. Kelce's sore knee needs to be monitored as we get closer, but I don't view it to be anything other than precautionary at this point. I prefer the All-Pro option over George Kittle given the matchup, so unless you are looking to paydown for someone like Mark Andrews, consider Kelce in play as a possibility.

***UPDATE: Travis Kelce's knee injury has rendered him questionable for Sunday as we head into the weekend, though it does not appear to endanger his chances of playing.

Matchups We Hate:

LeSean McCoy (RB, KC)

It is difficult to be overly bullish on a running back that didn't record a touch in Week 17 and was inactive the week prior. Kansas City is better by most metrics when Damien Williams is in the game, and it seems likely to me that we see the Chiefs go that route.

Other Matchups:

Deshaun Watson (QB, HOU)

I worry a little that we see DeShaun Watson struggle against an extremely underrated Kansas City secondary. Perhaps it won't be entirely his fault, but head coach Bill O' Brien is a significant liability with his lack of aggression. The return of WR Will Fuller would help the offense become more dynamic, but can we really trust O'Brien not to lay an egg on the road?

Damien Williams (RB, KC)

From an analytics perspective, Damien Williams seems to be the RB you want to own against the Texans. Houston's stout front four has been challenging to run on at times this season, and Williams' pass-catching nature should be used often in their attempt to open up the field.

Carlos Hyde / Duke Johnson (RB, HOU)

If Houston wants any chance to win this game on Sunday, they must find a way to get their run game moving. Kansas City has allowed the fourth-worst success rate to opposing backs in 2019, and a combination of both Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson should be employed for the ultimate shake-and-bake combination. Unfortunately, we are still looking at Bill O' Brien in charge, so there is a chance that Hyde receives the bulk some of the work, making Johnson painfully underutilized.

Sammy WatkinsMecole Hardman / Demarcus Robinson (WR, KC)

There's enough vulnerability on the Texans' defense that Tyreek Hill isn't the only option available. I think Demarcus Robinson plays too infrequently to trust what he will bring to the table, but Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins do have a chance to find success. I prefer Hardman because we haven't seen Watkins do much since Week 1, but both options are on the table.

DeAndre Hopkins / Will Fuller (WR, HOU)

I'm not sure how much further you would want to branch out than DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller when discussing this WR core. Fuller would add a dynamic element that could help Houston find victory, but it is a tall task if you are looking for multiple players finding success against a stout KC secondary.

***UPDATE: Will Fuller is officially questionable heading into the weekend.

Darren Fells / Jordan Akins (TE, HOU)

It is worth monitoring if Jordan Akins can make a return for the Texans on Sunday. Fells played a season-high 96% of the snaps during the Wild Card round and could be a cheap option to consider at the position if Akins misses his second straight game.

***UPDATE: Jordan Akins is officially listed as questionable for Sunday.

 

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (6:40 PM ET)

Matchups We Love:

Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB)

I like Aaron Rodgers more than I probably should. In general, Green Bay is one of the most overrated teams left in the playoffs, but the same can be said about the Seattle Seahawks, who rank outside the top-20 in both defensive rushing and passing efficiency. There's a lot of ways this contest can go on Sunday, but I think we get Rodgers' best effort.

Davante Adams (WR, GB)

With 42 targets over his previous three games, Davante Adams is beginning to produce as most expected him to in 2019. I worry slightly that rookie head coach Matt LaFleur will stumble under the bright lights, but Adams and Aaron Rodgers could be in store for a big day if the Packers don't tighten up their play-calling.

Matchups We Hate:

Other Matchups:

Russell Wilson (QB, SEA)

The blueprint to beating Green Bay has been laid out all season. Establish the run against them and control the tempo. The Packers rank dead last in the NFL in stopping opposing RBs on the year, which could limit Russell Wilson's upside if the Seahawks decide to become run-heavy - a route they have taken on more occasions than we can count.

Marshawn Lynch / Travis Homer (RB, SEA)

It was a pitiful game for Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch against the Philadelphia Eagles, who combined to produce 17 rushes for 19 yards. That level of return will need to rise exponentially if the Seahawks want to escape Green Bay victorious, but the tandem couldn't have a better matchup on their hands. The Packers have allowed an NFL worst 54% of attempts to grade out successfully, placing both on the table as choices to consider.

Aaron Jones / Jamaal Williams (RB, GB)

It is going to be necessary for the Packers to establish the run if they want to open up the rest of their offense, but I think the team would be better served if they took an aggressive approach that tried to put the Seahawks in a situation where they were forced to play from behind. That would allow them to then control the tempo on their watch when they decide to revert back to a run-heavy nature, but I'm not sure I trust head coach Matt LaFleur to go that route. Seattle has allowed 15% of rushing attempts to grade out as explosive - the third-worst mark in the NFL.

Allen Lazard / Geronimo Allison / Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR, GB)

As a pure dart throw, Allen Lazard is your best bet since he has built the most consistent repertoire with Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks, but the unit hasn't shown much consistency outside of Davante Adams. Geronimo Allison misses a lot of snap because of personnel setups, and Valdes-Scantling hasn't done much all year. I'm fine inserting Lazard in as a cheap filler, but I can't get myself behind anyone else.

Tyler Lockett / D.K. Metcalf (WR, SEA)

While Green Bay has done well opposing WRs this year, they have been susceptive to deep passes. As I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of ways this game can go from a game flow standpoint, but both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are in play as options.

Jimmy Graham (TE, GB)

Jimmy Graham's season has been far from consistent, as each of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard and Jake Kumerow are each plenty involved on a week-to-week basis. The fact that Graham is not all the way washed up might help against a Seahawks Defense that has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game, but his days of being an elite producer are over.

Jacob Hollister (TE, SEA)

Jacob Hollister has been held to 34 yards or less in four his past five contests. The TE has slotted into being the third option for the passing offense, and that is where he will remain on Sunday against a Packers Defense that has been below average in defending the position.

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Redskins Defense Embarrassed By Cowboys

The Washington Redskins Defense was not entirely without redeemable qualities throughout the 2019 season, but this unit did not end the year showing many signs of encouragement. Washington gave up a combined 88 points in its final two contests, including 47 to Dallas in Week 17. With ownership of the second overall pick in next year's draft, the Redskins have an opportunity to change the course of their franchise and select a game-changing player on defense if they're so inclined. Outside of that, suffice it to say this team is heading into the offseason with large quantities of questions on both sides of the ball. We're going to have to wait to see how the next few months unfold before making any bold calls on the Redskins defense for 2020.

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Kelvin Harmon Ends 2019 On A Low Note

Washington Redskins wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was targeted five times in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys. He caught three of them for 33 yards. Even with Terry McLaurin out, Harmon couldn't get going as a primary receiving threat for Case Keenum. Harmon's second half of the season was encouraging; he racked up nearly 80% of his total receiving yards in the final seven games. But even with injuries befalling Washington's WR corps, Harmon largely served a complementary role amid a group of underwhelming skill players. How he factors into the offense going forward to next season remains to be seen, but the Redskins have more pressing questions on that side of the ball.

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Chris Thompson Wraps Up Disappointing Season

Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson saw a total of four touches in Sunday's season finale, putting the finishing touches on another disappointing fantasy campaign. After beginning the season with a relatively productive pass-catching role, Thompson never meshed his way back into the Redskins offense upon his return from injury in the first week of December. He finished the year with just 15 receptions in his final five games, and was only targeted more than four times in one of those. With Thompson set to hit free agency, it will be interesting to see if he signs with a team more inclined to utilize a back with his pass-catching skill set. Prominent offensive role or not, it's hard to have much fantasy success in Washington with the way this team has operated over the last two seasons. Perhaps a change of scenery in 2020 helps reestablish Thompson as a PPR option in fantasy leagues.

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Adrian Peterson Goes For 78 Yards To End Season

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson went for 78 yards on 13 carries against the Cowboys to end the 2019 season. The best way to recap his second year with the Redskins would be to say that he did the best he could with what he had. Peterson served as Washington's featured back for most of the year, with oft-injured youngster Derrius Guice struggling to stay on the field. For the most part, he produced at around the clip you'd hope for from a 34-year old running back with the football equivalent of 150,000 miles on his engine. On a better team, the level of opportunity Peterson saw on a weekly basis may have yielded a mid-range RB2 fantasy season. It's clear that Peterson still has enough left in the tank to be a serviceable contributor in the NFL, and the Redskins possess a team option on him for 2020. With Guice missing nearly all of his first two NFL seasons due to injury, it wouldn't be astounding to see the Redskins keep Peterson around to help out in the backfield, assuming he wants to continue playing.

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Steven Sims Jr. Finishes Strong

Washington Redskins wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. capped off a promising end to the season with five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday. It was Sims' third consecutive game with at least five catches and a touchdown, a nice high note on which to head into the offseason. How the Redskins ultimately decide to frame their future, particularly because they own the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, remains to be seen. One thing would seem to be self-evident enough that it can't be ignored, however, which is that this team desperately needs a competent passing attack. If Sims' end-of-season surge was an indication of what he's capable of when he sees the appropriate amount of opportunity and playing time, the Redskins should be looking to give him a more prominent role going forward. If so, he isn't the worst guy to keep an eye on as a late-round flier in 2020 fantasy drafts.

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Case Keenum Has Pedestrian Finale

Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum completed 18 of 37 passes for 206 yards against the Cowboys on Sunday, with a touchdown and a pick to round out his line. The final week of 2019 was just about business as usual for Keenum, as he never quite excelled in an admittedly poor Redskins offense. Time will tell what's next for the veteran journeyman, as he is set to become a free agent. Neither he nor Dwayne Haskins played consistently well enough to guarantee themselves a starting role next year, but Haskins at least has youth on his side in a rebuilding organization. If Keenum winds up leaving Washington and joining a team with a more attractive collection of skill players, his future value would get a lift. Then again, it'd be surprising to see him win a starting job in Week 1 no matter what team he's with.

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Fantasy Football Starts and Sits: Matchups Analysis for Week 17

Welcome to our Week 17 matchup analysis and start/sit column for fantasy football. We'll be covering every single contest from the Sunday slate in one convenient location, helping you make the best decisions for your fantasy lineups. Be sure to check back regularly because this article will be updated as news comes in regarding injuries and other important information.

Chris O'Reilly will start off by covering the first set of games that begin at 1:00 PM ET on Sunday, and Spencer Aguiar will take you home with his analysis of the late afternoon and evening games.

If you have any additional lineup questions, follow us on Twitter @Teeoffsports and @cjoreillyCLE and feel free to ask away! Without further ado, let's get started.

 

Matchups Analysis - 1:00 PM ET Games

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

Matchups We Love:

Alvin Kamara (RB, NO)

The 1:00 slate is mostly composed of meaningless games, with the Saints being one of the few teams with anything to play for. A first-round bye awaits New Orleans if it wins in Week 17 and San Francisco loses to Seattle (very possible) or Green Bay loses to Detroit (not quite as likely). In any case, the Saints do have some incentive to keep their starters on the field for more than a couple of series' in this one. Their opponent is a Panthers team that, in retrospect, appears to have thrown in the towel on the 2019 season nearly two months ago. Carolina is by far the softest fantasy matchup for running backs, having allowed the most rushing yards and nine more touchdowns to the position than any other team. The leading rusher on each of the Panthers' last four opponents has gone for at least 84 yards and at least one touchdown. The Saints are unlikely to run Alvin Kamara into the ground right before the playoffs start, but he should be in line for more than enough chances to take advantage of this matchup.

Latavius Murray (RB, NO)

Particularly in standard leagues, I like Latavius Murray for all of the same reasons as Kamara, though with less willingness to bank on a boom-day. We already know weekly starters like Chris Carson and Mark Ingram will not play in Week 17, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn of a few more as the week progresses. Murray could be in line for a healthy enough touch count on Sunday to warrant flex consideration, and a touchdown is always within the realm of possibility against a Panthers team that has surrendered 25 of them to running backs.

Michael Thomas (WR, NO)

I'm not sure what you can say about Michael Thomas that hasn't already been said. His Twitter handle literally states that you can't guard him. And he's right. I'm concerned about whether Thomas actually sees enough chances to return WR1 value in Week 17, but the kid has gone for at least 100 yards in eight of his last nine games, while catching at least 10 passes and/or scoring a touchdown in six of those last nine. Even if you're afraid he spends the second half on the sidelines, how can you possibly justify sitting the best wide receiver in football with a championship on the line?

Christian McCaffrey (RB, CAR)

Christian McCaffrey racked up 133 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns the last time these teams met, and if we expect nothing else from the Panthers this week, I'd at least bank on their best player to fight until the bitter end. I worry about the fact that the Saints are an all-around solid run defense, as well as the possibility that Carolina won't exactly be motivated to risk the health of McCaffrey in a meaningless game by giving him the ball 30 times. But there is no ignoring that the Panthers RB has outplayed virtually every matchup he's faced this season, and with the championship at stake, you have to believe in him.

Matchups We Hate:

Will Grier (QB, CAR)

The Saints are the fifth-best team in terms of pressuring the quarterback, and after what we saw from Will Grier in last week's shellacking at the hands of the Colts in which he threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions, I'm not sure what more we need to convince us to look elsewhere for our Week 17 QB.

Other Matchups:

Drew Brees (QB, NO)

It's not that I have anything against Drew Brees this week, it's that I worry the Saints will have this game in hand by halftime. As we mentioned above, the Panthers look like one of the most disinterested teams in football, and I'm not sure the chance to deprive a division rival of a first-round bye qualifies as bulletin-board spoiler motivation. I don't anticipate Carolina scoring many points against the Saints Defense--especially with Will Grier at QB--which means Brees probably only remains a threat to throw the ball a ton if the Saints aren't scoring much either. If you're playing your championship round in Week 17, you can't suddenly bail on the quarterback who got you here. Just bear in mind that there are factors working against him from an opportunity standpoint, and hope he drops a few early scores to pad his stat line.

Tre'Quan Smith/Ted Ginn Jr. (WR, NO)

I can see enough passes being thrown in the direction of Tre'Quan Smith and Ted Ginn to warrant dice-roll consideration this week, assuming the Saints jump out to an early lead and they don't force-feed Thomas the ball 20 times. Even so, that's a difficult prospect for me to get behind unless I'm truly scrambling at wide receiver. The Saints threw the ball 38 times last week in a high-scoring, comeback win on the road. Exactly three of those passes went to Smith and Ginn. You may be forced to take some risks in Week 17 with weekly starters seeing reduced workloads (or sitting altogether), but there should be higher-floor options out there than Smith or Ginn.

Jared Cook (TE, NO)

It hasn't always been pretty from a PPR standpoint, but thanks to a surge in touchdowns over the last month and change, Jared Cook has likely been a big part of why your team is playing for a championship in Week 17. Cook has six scores in his last six games dating back to Week 11, with multiple visits to the endzone in two of those. One of his most lucrative fantasy outings of the season came in Week 12 when he caught six of eight targets for 99 yards and a touchdown against this same Panthers team. I'm fine trotting him out there for the season finale.

D.J. Moore (WR, CAR)

D.J. Moore exited Week 16's game against the Colts with a concussion, bringing his run as a weekly WR1 option to an abrupt halt and clouding his outlook for Week 17. It would not be at all surprising to see Moore in street clothes on the sidelines for this game against the Saints, as the Panthers have no incentive to risk further injury to their best receiver. And even if he does clear concussion protocol by the weekend, let's remember it will be Will Grier throwing him the ball. The Saints have profiled as a friendly matchup for wideouts more often than not, but I'd have to be confident in at least one of Moore's health or his quarterback in order to consider him a safe bet for this week, and I can't pretend to feel good about either.

***UPDATE: D.J. Moore is officially inactive for Week 17.

Curtis Samuel (WR, CAR)

I'll like Curtis Samuel better if Moore doesn't play, on account of the fact that volume stands to work in his favor if nothing else. The same quarterback concerns apply to Samuel, however, as I'm not convinced opportunity alone is enough to keep him above water if Grier is the guy tasked with getting him the ball. The Saints have allowed the 10th-most receptions, the seventh-most yards, and the sixth-most touchdowns (four-way tie) to wide receivers. Keep Samuel on your radar as a potential fill-in for Moore or any other weekly starter who may be inactive this week, but continue to explore other options.

Greg Olsen (TE, CAR)

You're probably noticing a theme by now: with only last week's abysmal performance to go by, Will Grier puts a dent in the fantasy value of his receivers and tight ends. In Greg Olsen's return from a two-game injury absence in Week 16, he caught just two of five targets for 33 yards. There's a silver lining in that the Saints are statistically the seventh-easiest team to score on in the red zone, and that Olsen has the second-highest target share among Panthers pass-catchers inside the 10-yard line. In order to bank on these two factors combining to yield positive results, we'd also have to be confident that the Panthers can sustain drives deep into enemy territory. Consider Olsen a fringe starter with touchdown-dependent upside.

 

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

Matchups We Love:

None

Matchups We Hate:

Sam Darnold (QB, NYJ)

The same idea applies to defensive units as to skill players, which we'll discuss shortly regarding the Bills, but I don't want to hang my championship hopes on, "I'm starting Sam Darnold in Week 17 because Buffalo's defensive starters might not play the whole game." The Bills are the second-worst fantasy defense for a quarterback to face, and even in this odd, preseason-style week in which you can't be sure how much playing time certain guys are going to get, I'd much prefer a quarterback with more upside inherent in his own fantasy profile than Darnold.

Robby Anderson/Jamison Crowder (WR, NYJ)

The Bills are a brutal matchup for wide receivers, and the Jets' top pair isn't exactly immune to bad fantasy outings. Wideouts are averaging just over 11 yards per catch and 12 catches per game against Buffalo, with five total touchdowns on the season. With so many injured wide receivers and some other guys looking at limited workloads in Week 17, the argument can be made for starting Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder on a volume-dependent basis. That's about the extent to which I'd feel comfortable with either.

Other Matchups:

Josh Allen/Matt Barkley (QB, BUF)

With the Bills having locked up the five-seed in the AFC, their skill players will all be dicey plays in Week 17. Buffalo will trot them out early to keep them in their weekly game rhythm, but there's no incentive to leave anyone exposed to a potential injury in an otherwise inconsequential game. Unless we get solid confirmation that Josh Allen will play the entire game no matter what, it's best to look elsewhere for championship week. And by that, I do not mean to Matt Barkley, who might not play until the second half.

Devin Singletary / Frank Gore / T.J. Yeldon (RB, BUF)

Get ready for this to be the theme of any playoff-bound team who can't go any higher or lower in the standings, but I wouldn't be super enthused about starting any skill player on such squads. Devin Singletary has taken over the Bills backfield in recent weeks, but we should prepare for the possibility that T.J. Yeldon and Frank Gore are featured more heavily as Buffalo tries to keep its explosive rookie fresh for the Wild Card round. The Jets are holding opposing running backs to just barely over three yards per carry, so there's already not a ton of upside here. Factor in the potential for limited touch counts across the board, and the Bills backfield could collectively be in for an underwhelming day. Let's keep our ears to the ground for updates on what we can expect in terms of playing time for these guys, but we need to tread carefully if we've been relying on Singletary in the fantasy playoffs.

John Brown / Cole Beasley / Robert Foster / Isaiah McKenzie (WR, BUF)

Buffalo's WR corps is the one area in which I might be willing to gamble on some solid first-half production if I don't have any better options to turn to at the position. The Jets have allowed the eighth-most catches to wide receivers and are tied for the fourth-most touchdowns surrendered. We could see the Bills come out aggressive early in an attempt to put this game away and rest their starters, which would bode well for John Brown. Brown has dropped out of the weekly must-start conversation after an uncanny string of tough matchups, but he did score a 53-yard touchdown on his only catch last week and went for 99 yards on seven catches the week prior. Cole Beasley's target counts in recent weeks have lent credence to the idea of a PPR floor, as he's seen at least six passes thrown his way in his last five games. In this span, he's gone for at least 76 yards and/or scored a touchdown four times. Brown is the more likely of the two to bring back high-end value on just a couple of catches, while Beasley probably needs the volume. If you're of the mind that Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie stay on the field for all four quarters, the Jets' tough run defense could force the Bills to take to the air, potentially providing them with increased opportunity.

***UPDATE: The Bills are resting key starters including Devin Singletary, Cole Beasley, John Brown.

Dawson Knox (TE, BUF)

Dawson Knox hasn't seen more than four targets in a game since the second week of November, and has caught exactly one pass in each of his last three outings. Only four teams have allowed tight ends to catch fewer passes than the Jets. Maybe Kroft plays the whole game and benefits from some of the more productive Bills starters taking a half day, but I'd have to be in a serious bind to consider him as my starting tight end for championship week.

Le'Veon Bell (RB, NYJ)

Le'Veon Bell has curiously seen two of his three 20-plus-carry games in the last two weeks, with the Jets season all over but the shouting. With that evidence at hand, I have no choice but to believe load management is not a top priority regarding Bell unless this game devolves into a blowout. Teams have had considerably more success running against Buffalo than passing, so volume could yield a decent outing from Bell in Week 17. It is worth noting, however, that Rex Burkhead's one-yard touchdown last week was the first rushing score the Bills had given up since November. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on anything in the form of touchdown upside from Bell.

Bilal Powell / Ty Montgomery (RB, NYJ)

Neither Bilal Powell nor Ty Montgomery have seen anything closely resembling a fantasy-relevant workload in any game in which Bell has been healthy, placing them on the outskirts of the Week 17 fantasy conversation.

 

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Matchups We Love:

Travis Kelce (TE, KC)

Los Angeles is one of seven teams that hasn't allowed tight ends to catch 60 total passes this season, but that's about where my concerns for Travis Kelce begin and end in Week 17. Kelce is as matchup-proof a player as there is in the league, based on the sheer level of opportunity he sees on a weekly basis. He's seen at least nine targets in each of his last five games. He also ranks second in the NFL in targets inside the 10-yard line, so he's always a threat to score.

Matchups We Hate:

Keenan Allen / Mike Williams (WR, LAC)

Part of me wants to believe this game turns into a good old-fashioned AFC West shootout, especially considering it could be Philip Rivers' last game with the Chargers. But it's hard to ignore what the Chiefs have been doing defensively of late, particularly against wide receivers. No team has allowed fewer receptions to wideouts than Kansas City, and only the Patriots have allowed fewer yards. The Chiefs haven't permitted a passing touchdown since the first quarter of a Week 14 game against the Patriots, and neither of their last two opponents have found the endzone at all. Keenan Allen has been rising to the occasion for most of this season as a PPR threat thanks to a consistently healthy target share, but his ceiling could be capped here. It's worth noting volume helped him to an eight-catch, 71-yard outing the first time these teams met, but there's naturally no guarantee of a repeat this time around. The target share of Mike Williams fluctuates enough to cast doubt on his ability to provide you with a dependable PPR floor, so if you're looking to him as a flex option, hope he springs a couple of his customary big gains or gets into the endzone.

Other Matchups:

Patrick Mahomes (QB, KC)

What Patrick Mahomes hasn't given you in the form of MVP-caliber fantasy numbers this year, he's mostly accounted for in terms of playing his position responsibly and efficiently. Mahomes has thrown just four interceptions, and his 66% completion rate is right on par with last year's number. On Sunday he'll face a Chargers Defense allowing a league-high 71.1% completion percentage, setting him up to continue picking apart his opposition. In terms of upside, the Chargers are an admirable pass defense when they want to be. They're holding opponents to the third-lowest yards-per-completion average and the fourth-lowest yards-per-game average through the air, and rank inside the top 12 in creating pressure on the quarterback. I wouldn't be sweating Mahomes as my quarterback with a championship at stake, it's just that we've seen enough from the Chiefs to know we can't automatically bank on an absolute explosion from this offense.

Tyreek Hill (WR, KC)

Tyreek Hill continues to be a safe bet to give you five catches for 50-plus yards, providing him something of a safety net in PPR formats. Unlike last season, he's not springing for huge plays or getting into the endzone at a league-winning clip. He scored twice in Week 15, but those were his only touchdowns in his last five games. He also hasn't gone for 100 yards since early November. The Chargers have allowed the ninth-fewest receptions and fourth-fewest yards to receivers. It feels weird to say this, but we're actually looking at Hill as a high-floor option instead of the unlimited-upside guy he was last year. Of course, with him, that upside is never more than one play away.

Other Chiefs Wide Receivers (WR, KC)

If you've read this column on a weekly basis, you know my evaluation of all Chiefs WRs not named Tyreek Hill is as follows. In any given game, one or more of Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, or Mecole Hardman could net you a start-worthy performance on something like two or three receptions. And also in any given week, you're likely looking at only two or three receptions. These guys are too dependent on touchdowns and big plays, and are all lacking in the opportunity necessary for a safe PPR floor.

Damien Williams / LeSean McCoy / Darwin Thompson (RB, KC)

Damien Williams headed the backfield effort for the Chiefs last week in his first game back from a month-long injury absence, racking up 19 touches and a receiving touchdown. You know by now that I consider this committee to be an unpredictable disaster waiting to happen, but Williams was effective enough with his volume to suggest he shouldn't suddenly take a back seat to his teammates in Week 17. Neither Darwin Thompson nor LeSean McCoy have done anything of consequence in any capacity of late, so if I'm forced to trust a Kansas City running back this week, it's Williams. The Chargers profile as a middling matchup for running backs, so set reasonable expectations for Williams as a volume-dependent flex option.

Philip Rivers (QB, LAC)

Could this be the last ride of Philip Rivers in a Chargers uniform? If so, he could've had a less difficult opponent. The Chiefs have held all of their last four opponents to 210 or fewer passing yards, and six of their last seven below 215. Only two of the QBs they've faced in this span have thrown for multiple touchdowns, and the Chiefs haven't allowed any touchdowns of any kind for two straight games now. Rivers' fantasy profile already has a tendency to tilt toward one extreme or the other in a given week thanks to an abundance of turnovers, and against a defense that appears to be hitting its stride just in time for the playoffs, I'm trying to find a different QB for Week 17.

Melvin Gordon (RB, LAC)

In addition to putting the clamps down on opposing passing attacks, the Chiefs have become much tougher to run on than they were earlier in the season. The last four teams they've faced are averaging 92.25 rushing yards per game against them, and only Brandon Jacobs has racked up more than 57 yards individually in this stretch. Melvin Gordon managed to score two touchdowns against the Raiders last week despite accumulating 15 yards on nine carries, and he remains heavily involved in the Chargers passing game. Hope for a score or two and some more PPR work if Gordon is your guy for Week 17, because he could be looking at another tough day establishing much on the ground in terms of chunk yardage.

Austin Ekeler (RB, LAC)

Like Gordon, Austin Ekeler's role as a pass-catcher is enough to bank on relatively dependable PPR production from week to week even if he doesn't absolutely go off or score any touchdowns. Unlike Gordon, he doesn't see the rushing attempts necessary to give him a chance at a sturdy floor. The good news is he's averaging over five catches and 78 yards with two receiving touchdowns in his last five games. One of those games was an eight-catch outing against this same Chiefs Defense. Again, the fact that it happened once doesn't mean Ekeler is a shoe-in to produce those same lofty numbers this Sunday, but you just have to trust his combination of pass-catching volume and season-long track record of making good on it.

Hunter Henry (TE, LAC)

Hunter Henry found his way back onto the volume map in Week 16 after three straight games of a regrettably reduced offensive role, hauling in five of seven passes thrown his way for 45 yards. The Chiefs, for all their defensive strengths, have been a PPR-friendly adversary for tight ends this season. Only the Cowboys and Bears have permitted more receptions to the position, and Kansas City ranks fourth in yards allowed as well. Considering how well the Chiefs have played against the other skill positions of late, the window could be open for Henry to see a ton of work on Sunday.

 

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Matchups We Love:

Nick Chubb (RB, CLE)

We're about to find out a lot about the resolve inside the Browns locker room, as jobs could very likely be on the line in Week 17 (if certain decisions on certain fates haven't already been made, that is). If Cleveland wants to end this season on a high note, it couldn't have a better opportunity than a matchup with the team that officially owns next year's top draft pick. In terms of individual matchups, the Bengals are allowing running backs to average 4.65 yards per carry. Nick Chubb has individually exceed that average by nearly half a yard, and he shredded this Bengals unit for 106 yards on 15 carries just three weeks ago. Lock the NFL's leading rusher in to bring you home.

Joe Mixon (RB, CIN)

If the Browns have indeed quit on themselves, you don't need to look much further for evidence than in their numbers against the run in recent weeks. Their last four opponents have accumulated 772 combined rushing yards, and Joe Mixon was responsible for 146 of those by himself in Week 14. Cleveland has also given up seven rushing touchdowns in this span. Lock Mixon in for one last go-round.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Jarvis Landry / Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, CLE)

Both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are on the Browns' injury report, so keep a close eye on them heading into the weekend. Landry has been a regular on their injury report for awhile now with a hip issue, but it hasn't held him out of any games. Cincinnati is a more favorable matchup for WRs than it appears on paper, as it's been some time since the Bengals faced a quality pass offense (including the Browns three weeks ago). Landry has factored in as a WR2 for most of the season based largely on volume, and should be in line for similar production on Sunday. Beckham has had arguably the most frustrating fantasy season of any NFL player, but volume has worked in his favor enough to warrant flex consideration.

Kareem Hunt (RB, CLE)

Kareem Hunt will have to do his damage via efficiency as opposed to volume, but he's seen enough passing-game work to give him a fighting chance. Hunt is averaging just south of six targets per game with an 85% catch rate. Considering how easy the Bengals are to run against straight-up, teams haven't been compelled to hit their backs in the short-range passing game all that often, but the Browns clearly like utilizing Hunt in this manner. There are enough players looking at limited work or off days in Week 17 that you can do worse than giving Hunt a start at the flex spot.

Baker Mayfield (QB, CLE)

I'm not willing to go all-in on Baker Mayfield considering all the evidence at hand, but he should be in line to finish this circus of a season on a good note. The Bengals are the worst defense in the league in terms of creating turnovers, they allow the second-most yards per completed pass, and are bottom-10 in pressure rate. I expect a big enough day out of Nick Chubb to minimize what Cleveland is required to do through the air, but Mayfield has value as a fill-in option for fantasy owners who will be without the services of Lamar Jackson.

Demetrius Harris / Ricky Seals-Jones / David Njoku (TE, CLE)

Ricky Seals-Jones is listed as questionable and David Njoku hasn't played in either of Cleveland's last two games. Combine this with the possibility of Odell Beckham being inactive, and Demetrius Harris could be looking at increased chances. Even if the cards fall that way, Harris is an extremely risky play at tight end. His season-high in targets is four, and he's only reached that threshold twice. I don't know that a couple of sidelined teammates are enough to outweigh an entire season's worth of evidence that Harris simply isn't a guy in this offense. And if any or all of the above-mentioned players suit up, specifically either of the tight ends, I'd be avoiding this position altogether for the Browns.

Tyler Boyd (WR, CIN)

The Browns aren't the softest matchup out there for wide receivers, and Tyler Boyd has pulled enough disappearing acts in a season that has otherwise included some truly remarkable fantasy performances on the league's worst team, that you can't go into this one fully expecting the Bengals' number-one wideout to automatically give your lineup what it needs. This is another trust-the-volume scenario, as Boyd has seen 47 targets in his last five games.

Alex Erickson / John Ross III (WR, CIN)

Alex Erickson and John Ross have both enjoyed serviceable fantasy outings of late, but the consistency to count on either one has been mostly absent. Ross saw 13 targets last week in his third game back from an injury absence that cost him half the season. In the previous two, he saw six targets combined. Erickson's target shares have fluctuated back and forth between PPR-friendly and almost entirely useless in his last five games: eight, two, seven, five, nine. His catch rate in this span is just 51.6%, and he hasn't scored a touchdown all year. I'd be hesitant to fully commit to either guy in Week 17.

Tyler Eifert (TE, CIN)

The Browns are a friendly fantasy defense strictly in terms of points allowed to tight ends, but there's more to the story if we look at how those points have been accumulated. Cleveland is in a four-way tie for the second-most touchdowns surrendered to the position with nine. But they're allowing a pedestrian 4.4 catches and 51.6 yards, which doesn't allow for an extremely high floor. If Tyler Eifert were more of a volume play, I'd be willing to look at the touchdown potential as a bonus. But last week's 38-35 thriller that lasted through the entire duration of overtime was the first time since October that Eifert saw more than five targets in a game. I don't want my Week 17 tight end's hopes riding almost entirely on a touchdown.

Andy Dalton (QB, CIN)

If you were somehow in a position where you had to consider Andy Dalton as a fantasy option, hopefully you took that gamble last week when he scored a million points. The Browns are a relatively tough cookie to crack through the air, and they're adept enough at forcing turnovers that Dalton is a prime candidate to fall victim a couple of times. With championships on the line, we don't need to be taking these kinds of unnecessary risks.

 

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Matchups We Love:

Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB)

Despite not passing the juggernaut eye test at really any point this season, there is a scenario in which the Packers can grab home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win on Sunday. If it doesn't play out quite that way, a win still guarantees them a first-round bye. You can bet that Aaron Rodgers will not take this opportunity lightly, and even if Green Bay's playoff fate does come down to a matchup with the lowly Lions, the Packers are likely to try to leave little doubt on the scoreboard. Detroit has given up the second-most passing yards and the fourth-most passing touchdowns while sporting the lowest interception rate. Rodgers should be more of a surefire QB1 in Week 17 than the fringe starter he's been for much of this season.

Davante Adams (WR, GB)

Naturally, if a team is as dreadful as the Lions are against the pass, you can probably trust wide receivers facing them. Only five teams have given up more touchdowns to wideouts, and only one has given up more yards. Davante Adams' target share is that of a high school kid in some town nobody ever heard of where he's by far the best player on the team and the offense can afford to look his way on what seems like every play of the game. There is no reason to worry about his potential for a big day in this contest.

Kenny Golladay (WR, DET)

Kenny Golladay isn't completely matchup-proof, and you're never going to feel great about his current quarterback situation, but the Lions' WR1 has earned the benefit of the doubt. Plus, I'm not sure what choice his team has other than to throw him the ball 10-plus times in this game. Green Bay is allowing just south of 16 yards per reception to wide receivers, which yielded a 24.2 yards-per-catch average for Golladay the first time these teams squared up. For the season, he's averaging 18 yards per grab, and he leads the league with 13 targets inside the 10-yard line, adding inviting touchdown potential to his field-stretching ability. He's got you this far. Don't quit on him now.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Aaron Jones (RB, GB)

The Lions are giving up 153 yards from scrimmage to running backs per game, but let's break down how they've arrived at that number. On the ground, RBs have had to work for their production, averaging just over four yards per tote. On pass plays, however, the Lions are giving up an impressively bad 10.46 yards per catch to the position. I'd love Aaron Jones this week if I knew going into it that he'd see enough passing-game work to capitalize on Detroit's woes in that department, but his opportunities for PPR output have become sporadic at best. If the bulk of his touches come on rushing attempts, hope he shows off some of the efficiency he's been displaying of late and keeps up his ridiculous touchdown pace.

Jamaal Williams (RB, GB)

Jamaal Williams did not participate in practice on Thursday, potentially opening up a window for Jones to have this backfield to himself. Unfortunately for the PPR production discussed above, Williams hasn't actually been cutting into Jones' chances there. Neither Williams nor Jones have seen a high-floor level of targets over the last two weeks. Combine Williams' diminished role in the offense with his late-week injury concern, and there aren't a ton of reasons to be enthusiastic about his potential for Week 17.

***UPDATE: Jamaal Williams is listed as doubtful heading into the weekend, and there is little chance he'll suit up on Sunday.

Other Packers Wide Receivers (WR, GB)

Allen Lazard saw nine targets on Monday night, but now he's on the Packers' injury report. He's the only WR on this team not named Davante Adams who I'd remotely trust in my fantasy lineup with a premium matchup on the docket. And even Lazard had gone four straight games prior to last week with three or fewer targets. There's room for upside here out of someone other than Adams, but unfortunately none of Green Bay's other receivers have established a safe floor.

***UPDATE: Allen Lazard no longer carries an injury designation as we head into the weekend.

Jimmy Graham (TE, GB)

Jimmy Graham has seen 13 targets in his last five games. In the same span, he has seven catches for 88 yards. He's not a viable fantasy option for Week 17.

David Blough (QB, DET)

David Blough is completing 56.6% of his throws with more interceptions than touchdowns. I can't think of any reason to consider him a starting option in the season finale with a championship on the line.

Kerryon Johnson / Bo Scarbrough (RB, DET)

Don't look now, but it's been a few weeks since the Packers looked like a "you absolutely have to start your RBs against this team" defense. They've given up just three rushing touchdowns in their last five games, and have held their opponents under 100 yards rushing per game in this span. Combine this now-difficult matchup with the fact that neither Kerryon Johnson nor Bo Scarbrough can be enthusiastically trusted to see high-end volume, and I'm nervous about the Detroit backfield in this game.

Danny Amendola (WR, DET)

Danny Amendola is a little too dependent on volume for my liking in this matchup. While Green Bay has routinely been beaten on big plays by wide receivers, it's pretty rare that a wideout catches the ball against them to begin with. The Packers' 10 catches per game allowed to the position is tied for the third-lowest in the league. We know Golladay is a safe bet to get the Lions halfway there, but can we confidently predict Amendola gets the other half--which is probably the minimum of what he'd need to give you a solid PPR day without breaking a huge play or scoring a touchdown of his own?

Logan Thomas / Jesse James (TE, DET)

In their last three games, Jesse James has five catches for 66 yards and Logan Thomas has four for 38. In other words, this TE duo is as far from being safe for fantasy purposes as their real life team is from the playoffs.

 

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

Matchups We Love:

Sony Michel (RB, NE)

Sony Michel has racked up 185 yards on 40 carries in his last two games combined, finally demonstrating some level of efficiency worth counting on. The Dolphins have faced more rushing attempts from running backs than any other team in the league, which is due just as much to the fact that they're usually losing as it is to how poorly they defend the run. I've alluded to a relative lack of faith in New England's offense when it goes up against genuine resistance, but I'm not banking on much of that here. The Patriots should be able to assert their will both on the field and the scoreboard, and I trust that Michel sees enough volume to give you flex-level fantasy production.

Tom Brady (QB, NE)

The Dolphins are an elite defense in terms of giving up heaps upon heaps of fantasy points to quarterbacks. Even if you're starting to come around to the idea that Tom Brady and the Patriots aren't all that lethal a pass offense anymore, a disciplined veteran quarterback who isn't going to give the ball away is more than up to the task of putting the Dolphins out to pasture. My only real concern here is that the Patriots might be up by enough at halftime that Brady doesn't have a ton of chances to rack up numbers. Either way, he can be viewed as a high-floor option.

Julian Edelman (WR, NE)

I'm not all that concerned about Julian Edelman's sudden drop-off in opportunity, and I'm confident that he's capable of producing even without double-digit targets against the Dolphins. Miami has given up the fourth-most yards to WRs and five more touchdowns than any other team has allowed to the position. Much like with Brady, my only qualm with Edelman in Week 17 is that there's a reasonable chance he isn't needed much in the second half.

Matchups We Hate:

Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB, MIA)

Ryan Fitzpatrick has played the role of "quarterback who's a half-decent streaming option because his team hangs him out to dry on the scoreboard every week" well enough to deserve some recognition, but Week 17 does not offer up a chance for him to finish strong. New England has recorded more than twice as many interceptions as it has allowed passing touchdowns, and unless you had someone else managing your fantasy team all season long and have just emerged from a hut in the Mojave Desert to take over for Week 17, you know by now how dreadful an all-around matchup the Patriots are for quarterbacks. What's more, the Patriots do have to win this game in order to stave off the Chiefs for a first-round bye.

Devante Parker (WR, MIA)

DeVante Parker is one of my favorite stories from the 2019 fantasy season. He finally showed off the ability he was always believed to have, and all it took was teaming up with a quarterback who is the football equivalent of a journeyman utility infielder. Unfortunately if you've ridden his breakout season to Week 17, you're likely to need some luck if you want him to help you bring the league trophy home. The Patriots have held WRs to the second-fewest receptions, and are permitting just 11.9 yards per catch with four total touchdowns on the year. Trust Parker's volume to give him a chance at not completely ruining your week, but a boom-day would qualify as an outlier.

Other Dolphins Wide Receivers (WR, MIA)

For the same reasons as discussed above, it's going to be difficult to trust any Miami receiver to go off on Sunday. Albert Wilson has been seeing enough opportunities to offer a chance at half-decent PPR work, but all floors and ceilings are limited in this matchup.

Mike Gesicki (TE, MIA)

It's unfortunate that Mike Gesicki's recent surge in opportunity and production will now be tested against the Patriots with championships at stake, because it's tough to view him as a lock-and-load TE1 in this matchup. We've long since passed the point where you are likely to have an obviously safer option, but the Patriots are holding TEs under four catches and just over 43 yards per game. Like the above-mentioned Parker, bank on volume to keep the bottom from totally dropping out from under Gesicki.

Patrick Laird (RB, MIA)

As you can see, I'm exercising extreme caution with all fantasy options who wear the uniform of the Miami Dolphins this week. Patrick Laird is no exemption; the Patriots are holding opposing backs to 4.69 yards per touch and have allowed the position to score just twice all season. Are those the odds you want your flex player going up against?

Other Matchups:

Rex Burkhead (RB, NE)

Rex Burkhead is about to do that thing where a relatively unheralded New England player absolutely takes over a playoff game, isn't he? Burkhead's opportunities haven't been exponentially increasing, but there's been a noticeable uptick over the last three weeks and he's been producing well enough to earn more. Particularly in this game, I can envision a scenario in which the Patriots take their foot off the gas in the second half and Burkhead winds up seeing double-digit touches. It's a dicey prospect to hang your lineup's hopes on, but it's well within the realm of possibility and the Dolphins are anything but tough sledding for running backs.

James White (RB, NE)

Teams have sparingly targeted running backs in the passing game against the Dolphins, but such plays have resulted in an 83.75% catch rate. James White's target counts, while not exorbitant, have kept him afloat as an RB2 in PPR formats. Without touchdowns or big plays, that's likely his ceiling this week unless the Patriots chuck it to him 10-plus times.

Other Patriots Wide Receivers (WR, NE)

The matchup is such that any New England pass-catcher could go off and it wouldn't surprise you all that much, but there's nothing to latch onto from an opportunity standpoint. I'm not confident enough in any one Patriots wideout other than Edelman to justify starting him in fantasy this week.

 

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

***UPDATE: The Vikings are indeed expected to rest all of their regular players, and Dalvin Cook has officially been ruled out for Week 17.

Matchups We Love:

Allen Robinson (WR, CHI)

If you're of the mind that the Vikings largely mail this one in from the opening kickoff, allow me to interest you in Allen Robinson. Minnesota is already a pretty favorable matchup for wide receivers, but if they take their starters out? Oh boy. Robinson is a target vacuum who has hovered around in fringe WR1 territory all year long. I don't see any reason to jump off this bandwagon now.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Kirk Cousins / Sean Mannion (QB, MIN)

The Vikings have nothing to play for, which means Kirk Cousins is unlikely to play the entire game. The matchup isn't all that enticing to begin with, so it's not like you'd be doing yourself any favors betting on a huge first half.

***UPDATE: The Vikings are expected to rest their key starters this week.

Stefon Diggs / Adam Thielen / Olabisi Johnson (WR, MIN)

Like Cousins, it'd be surprising to see Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen out there for all four quarters. The Bears are among the league's most unkind WR matchups for fantasy purposes, so once again it's going to be tough to justify hoping for week-winning production in limited playing time. As for Olabisi Johnson, he could be in line for increased opportunity if the Vikings do play it as safe as they should with their top guys. But against a tough pass defense with Sean Mannion throwing him the ball, there should be safer options on the board.

***UPDATE: The Vikings are expected to rest their key starters this week.

Dalvin Cook / Mike Boone / Ameer Abdullah / Alexander Mattison (RB, MIN)

Dalvin Cook's status for Week 17 is uncertain due to injury, and at this point the Vikings would be better served to keep him inactive anyway. They have nothing to lose or gain by risking further injury prior to the first round of the playoffs. If he's sidelined again, the only running back in this crop I'd be excited about is Alexander Mattison, who is coincidentally also questionable. Mike Boone rumbled for two touchdowns in Week 15, but then Ameer Abdullah was given the chance to cut into his overall workload last week. This has the potential to be a mess even if we get clear word on the statuses of Cook and Mattison well in advance of Sunday, and the Bears aren't a pushover of a run defense regardless.

***UPDATE: The Vikings are expected to rest their key starters this week.

David Montgomery (RB, CHI)

I am finished giving David Montgomery the benefit of the doubt. His last two opponents--Kansas City and Green Bay--have largely been favorable matchups for RBs. So Montgomery rewarded any faith you might've placed in the circumstances by racking up a combined 96 yards on 27 carries. He is in that rare realm of running back who can't be trusted even though he clearly dominates the touches in his backfield. Start him as a flex if you must in a game that could easily get out of hand in the Bears' favor, but at this point the only way I'd be confident in Montgomery's potential is if his opponent somehow exercised a loophole where they didn't have to play anybody on defense.

Tarik Cohen (RB, CHI)

Only seven teams have allowed fewer receptions to running backs than Minnesota. Again, the theme here is that the Vikings may rest most of their starters at some point in this game, which could turn this game upside down. But where is the predictability in that? If I'm looking in Tarik Cohen's direction for Week 17, I'm focusing on the fact that he's seen 39 targets in his last six games. Volume could work in his favor to the tune of a PPR flex outing if everything breaks right.

Anthony Miller (WR, CHI)

Anthony Miller pulled quite the disappearing act last week against Kansas City, but the Chiefs are a much better defense against wide receivers than the Vikings. He was averaging over 10 targets a game in his last four prior to seeing just two in Week 16, so I wouldn't be running for the hills if Miller was on my flex radar for this contest.

Mitch Trubisky (QB, CHI)

Mitch Trubisky has completed 54% of his passes for one touchdown and two picks in his last two games, quickly reminding us that he's not a trustworthy fantasy option after two much more impressive outings prior to that. The Vikings, at their best, are not a soft fantasy matchup for quarterbacks. At the risk of getting repetitive, yes, there is a good chance Trubisky is facing backups for a large portion of this game, but that's the kind of thing you risk a DFS lineup on--not your league championship trophy. In case you can't tell, I just don't trust this game at all from a fantasy standpoint. There are too many variables on Minnesota's side of things and it's not as though the Bears are some prolific offense primed to pick apart a vulnerable opponent. Allen Robinson has been the one reliable weekly starter on this team, and I'm fine continuing into the most important game of the season believing just that.

 

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Matchups We Love:

Matt Ryan (QB, ATL)

Matt Ryan is one of the few quarterbacks not to lay waste to the Buccaneers this season, but he'll get one last chance to end the year. A lot of whether I continue to "love" his outlook for this week will depend on Julio Jones' availability, but assuming the Falcons number-one WR is good to go, what is there not to like? Tampa Bay has given up the fourth-most passing yards per game, with a middling pressure rate and 29 passing touchdowns allowed. Ryan has gone over 300 yards in three of his last four games, with seven passing touchdowns in the same span. I can live with myself if he's my quarterback in Week 17.

Julio Jones (WR, ATL)

Again, Julio Jones needs to be given the green light to play after dealing with an injury this week. No team has given up more receptions or yards to wide receivers than the Buccaneers, and only two teams have given up more touchdowns. Oh, and this is Julio Jones we're talking about.

***UPDATE: Julio Jones has cleared Atlanta's injury report. He will play on Sunday.

Austin Hooper (TE, ATL)

Austin Hooper reemerged as a high-end starting option in Week 16, going for seven catches and 82 yards on nine targets. The Bucs are allowing five catches and just decimal points under 60 yards per game to tight ends, bringing another double-digit PPR outing well within Hooper's range of outcomes.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Russell Gage (WR, ATL)

Russell Gage has seen 35 targets in his last five games, which lends itself to the possibility of a decent PPR outing against a secondary as bad as Tampa Bay's. The one thing I'd caution fantasy owners on here is that as inviting a matchup as the Bucs are for wideouts, part of why we've targeted them all year is that the Bucs have also been capable of scoring 35 points on any given Sunday. We saw how understandably different this team looks offensively without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin last week, so I'm not entirely sold on the idea of a no-holds-barred shootout to end the season. Consider Gage a volume-dependent fantasy option with a fringe flex floor and matchup-driven upside.

Devonta Freeman (RB, ATL)

I'll keep Devonta Freeman off the hate list based solely on volume, but he's likely to need another nine-catch PPR outing like last week's in order to pull his weight in the final game of the season. The Buccaneers haven't allowed a team, let alone one individual player, to achieve more than 68 rushing yards since Week 11. That's tough sledding whether the running back in question sees 15-plus chances or not. It should also be noted that Freeman's last four games before going off in Week 16 were anything but PPR-friendly. In that four-game stretch, he racked up just 49 receiving yards on 13 catches. Keep him in your lineup as a volume-dependent flex or low-end RB2, with the potential for a score to raise his ceiling.

Chris Godwin (WR, TB)

Chris Godwin is an obvious must-start if he's healthy, but it'd be surprising to see him out there on Sunday with nothing at stake for the Buccaneers. He didn't participate in practice on Thursday, casting doubt on what is already a grim forecast regarding his status.

***UPDATE: Chris Godwin has officially been declared inactive for Week 17.

Breshad Perriman / Justin Watson (WR, TB)

The Falcons are a middle-of-the-pack matchup for wideouts, but Tampa Bay's live-and-die-through-the-air offensive philosophy lifts the floors and ceilings of its wide receivers. Breshad Perriman in particular is evidence that it doesn't matter a ton which wide receivers are actually out there, as he's gone for 15 catches, 285 yards, and four touchdowns in the two and a half games since Mike Evans' season ended in Week 14. He's also seen 24 targets in this span, so proceed with Perriman as a starting option in all formats. Justin Watson has recorded five receptions and a touchdown in two of his last three games, but it's worth noting those two outings book-end a two-catch, 17-yard outing in Week 15. He's not what you would call a safe fantasy option, but again, his team isn't going to suddenly become a run-first offense in the last game of the season. There should be opportunity and upside available for Watson if you're truly scrambling for a flex.

Jameis Winston (QB, TB)

Jameis Winston needs no introduction. He is who he is. He's going to throw the ball 45 times, a few of those are going to end up in the hands of someone on the other team, and more often than not a couple others are going to result in Tampa Bay touchdowns. The Falcons are a pretty interesting matchup in that they've allowed the second-most opposing offensive possessions to result in scores, while also allowing the second-most plays per offensive possession. Only the Bengals force turnovers at a lower rate. If Winston still had his top dogs at wide receiver, he'd be among the loves this week. And even without them, I won't be at all shocked if he winds up finishing as a top QB option.

O.J. Howard (TE, TB)

As part of what can only be considered some kind of cruel, cosmic joke at this point, even injuries to the Buccaneers' two most important offensive players have not been enough to bestow fantasy relevance upon O.J. Howard. He has averaged four receptions for 56.5 yards in his last four, which isn't ghastly, but how he's managed to remain a fringe starter at best in a pass-only offense without its top two options is as mystifying as anything that's transpired in the NFL this year. Consider him exactly that--a fringe starter at a position where you might not have a safer option.


Peyton Barber / Ronald Jones II (RB, TB)

Ronald Jones went for 109 yards and a touchdown on 17 touches last week, so naturally Peyton Barber will be the guy out of Tampa Bay's backfield to end the season. Sarcasm aside, the Falcons aren't begging to be exploited as a fantasy matchup for running backs. They're holding RBs to just 4.08 yards per carry and have given up just eight rushing touchdowns. There's also not a ton of PPR appeal here, whether in the matchup at hand or in the profiles of Jones and Barber. In any case, common sense and recent (meaning literally only last week) history tell us to believe in Jones as a volume-based, low-end flex play with minimal and touchdown-dependent upside. Barber comes in as an extremely risky option who has totaled just 30 yards on his last 15 carries.

 

Matchups Analysis - 4:00 PM ET Games

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

Matchups We Love:

Carson Wentz (QB, PHI)

With their backs up against the wall, Carson Wentz has saved some of his best football for the last few weeks of the year. Wentz has thrown for 305 yards per game over his past four contests and has featured a completion percentage of 69.3%. The Giants enter the week ranked inside the bottom-five in points given up to the position - making Wentz a QB1 option on the day.

Dallas Goedert (TE, PHI)

It is worth keeping a close eye on Zach Ertz's health as Week 17 approaches. I assume we see him suit up in a game where the Eagles must-win, but the biggest beneficiary might be Dallas Goedert. Carson Wentz is running out of passing options, which is evident by his 24 targets over the past three weeks, and the injury to Ertz should open up plenty more.

Matchups We Hate:

Jordan Howard (RB, PHI)

See post on Miles Sanders.

Kaden Smith (TE, NYG)

Kaden Smith's six catches, 35 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16 might have been good enough to win a lot of fantasy owners their league. However, if you are looking for an encore performance, you might want to look elsewhere. The Eagles have given up under 10 points a game to TEs in PPR leagues - ranking them third-best in the NFL.

Other Matchups:

Daniel Jones (QB, NYG)

There was no such thing as ring rust for Daniel Jones last Sunday. The rookie threw a season-high five touchdowns against the Washington Redskins, adding 352 yards through the air. Unfortunately, things won't be as easy for him in Week 17, as the Eagles are in a spot where they control their own destiny to win the NFC East. While I do realize you are going to want to roll Jones out after his stellar performance, I still have a difficult time viewing him as a QB1 against an Eagles secondary that has ranked seventh in the NFL in success rate against the pass since Week 11.

Saquon Barkley (RB, NYG)

If you were lucky enough to make the playoffs, Saquon Barkley has handsomely rewarded you with two consecutive PPR showings of 30-plus points. However, a showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles won't be as generous, as their defense has only allowed 40% of rushing plays to grade successfully since Week 10 - the best percentage in the NFL. You aren't benching Barkley if you own him, but I would lower his ceiling ever so slightly.

Miles Sanders (RB, PHI)

Not too many players have done more to increase their 2020 draft stock than Miles Sanders has done in recent weeks. The likely return of Jordan Howard does dampen Sanders' upside a bit, but his work through the air should be enough to reward owners with RB2 numbers on the day. As for Jordan Howard, not only will there be some rust after missing the previous six games, but the Giants have been exponentially better against backs than wide receivers in 2019. It is probably wise to avoid starting Howard during the last week of your season.

Greg Ward Jr. (WR, PHI)

The virtual decay of the Eagles' wideouts has left Greg Ward as the last man standing. With 11 catches, 132 yards and one touchdown over his previous two contests, Ward carries WR3/flex potential against a Giants Defense that is ranked inside the bottom-five in points surrendered to the position.

Golden Tate / Sterling Shepard / Darius Slayton (WR, NYG)

The return of Daniel Jones helped both Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard to combust in Week 16. With that being said, a matchup against the Eagles' stingy secondary won't be as easy of a task, and there doesn't seem to be enough volume to go around for all three members of the team. I'd rank Tate as a WR3/flex, Shepard slightly below that and Slayton as nothing more than a bench option. Shepard has the highest ceiling, but his usage on the outside carries a lot more volatility than Tate's secured role as the teams' slot wideout.

Kaden Smith (TE, NYG)

Kaden Smith's six catches, 35 yards and two touchdowns in Week 16 might have been good enough to win a lot of fantasy owners their league. However, if you are looking for an encore performance, you might want to look elsewhere. The Eagles have given up under 10 points a game to TEs in PPR leagues - ranking them third-best in the NFL.

Zach Ertz (TE, PHI)

A broken rib is not fun for anyone, especially a football player that needs to move around and be able to take hits. I'm not too worried about Zach Ertz's availability since the Eagles can't afford to lose this contest, but there is a slight downgrade that needs to be had when it comes to his overall ranking. There are only a handful of TEs I would consider over Ertz in Week 17, but you will need to keep a close eye on what the team is saying as the week goes on.

***UPDATE: Zach Ertz has officially been ruled out for Week 17.

 

Tennesse Titans at Houston Texans

Matchups We Love:

None

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Deshaun Watson (QB, HOU)

This is one of those dreaded spots of playing into Week 17 in your fantasy league. It obviously is disastrous when you own a player such as Lamar Jackson and he gets ruled out before the contest, but at least you know going into things that you won't have him come Sunday. The situation around Deshaun Watson this week isn't quite as crystal clear. Head coach Bill O'Brien has been adamant that he will be playing his starters and treating this as a must-win game, but if the Kansas City Chiefs win early in the morning, the Texans no longer have anything worth playing and will be locked into the fourth spot. I do worry that Watson may get a condensed workload if there does end up being no added bonus for winning, so you should proceed with caution.

***UPDATE: Watson is expected to backup A.J. McCarron this week and rest for the playoffs.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, TEN)

Win and you are in. That is the spot the Tennessee Titans find themselves in on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill has been a fantasy savior down the stretch of the season for owners and should be treated as a QB1 once again.

Derrick Henry (RB, TEN)

All reports have Derrick Henry returning to his usual workhorse role on Sunday after missing last week's contest because of a hamstring injury. It is worth noting that the Texans have been solid against the run since Week 10, ranking 10th in success rate against rushes, but the inability to defend anyone through the air should open up the potential for Henry to find the endzone in short-yardage situations. Assuming Henry plays, Dion Lewis can be dropped back to the waiver wire.

Carlos Hyde / Duke Johnson (RB, HOU)

I hate trying to anticipate how the Texans are going to treat the game on Sunday. It feels like it could be a potential mess for fantasy purposes if Bill O'Brien decides to give his players limited roles, but the matchup against the Titans is an encouraging one if it truly is all systems go. Carlos Hyde dismantled the Titans in Week 15, rushing for 104 yards and a score, and I would consider him a worthy flex option on the day. As for Duke Johnson, four total touches were all he was able to accumulate when these two teams met two weeks ago, but there is an opening for him to find success. The Titans have allowed 97 receptions to backs - the third-highest total in the league, and there is a possibility for Johnson to be given a larger share of the offense in the final week.

Kenny Stills / Deandre Carter / Keke Coutee (WR, HOU)

With Will Fuller doubtful for Week 17, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter and Keke Coutee could all see more action on the day. Consider Stills a volatile flex option and Carter and Coutee more as deep fliers.

***UPDATE: Will Fuller has officially been declared inactive for Week 17.

DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU)

DeAndre Hopkins receives just a slight demotion from the love column because of the uncertainty around his playing time. Still, though, you are playing Hopkins and hoping for the best.

***UPDATE: Hopkins is expected to see limited snaps, if any, along with other starters so they can rest for the playoffs.

A.J. Brown (WR, TEN)

Though A.J. Brown's volume remains inconsistent, the rookie has evolved into the leading receiver on the team and will look to cap off a strong close to the regular season. Brown torched the Texans for eight catches, 114 yards and a score in Week 15 and will be counted on to try and keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday. Consider him a WR2 with upside.

Corey Davis / Tajae Sharpe / Adam Humphries (WR, TEN)

The Titans have some wide receiver issues going into Week 17. Corey Davis is still in the concussion protocol, and an ankle injury has kept Adam Humphries sidelined for the last three weeks. Tajae Sharpe made the most of his opportunity last weekend, catching five passes for 69 yards and two scores and could be thrust back into a prominent role if Davis and Humphries are unable to go.

Jonnu Smith (TE, TEN)

If you are looking for some streaming potential, look no further than Jonnu Smith. The third-year pass-catcher has provided three straight weeks of double-digit PPR production and could be in store for an enhanced role if WRs Corey Davis and Adam Humphries are unable to go on Sunday.

Jordan Akins / Darren Fells (TE, HOU)

Both men share a respectable amount of snaps weekly, but it has been difficult to find any consistency for either. Consider Darren Fells a touchdown-dependant TE2, as where Jordan Akins is best left on your waiver wire.

 

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys

Matchups We Love:

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, DAL)

Ignore Ezekiel Elliott's 13-carry effort last weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles. Elliott was still able to produce nearly 16 PPR points on the day because of his usage through the air, but the upside is there in Week 17 for the bruising back to be the top option at his position against a Redskins Defense that ranks in the bottom-10 in both success rate and points given up.

Matchups We Hate:

None

Other Matchups:

Case Keenum (QB, WSH)

Case Keenum being under center for Washington gives all his playmakers a slight boost. Sadly, that doesn't necessarily amount to much safety for the 31-year-old gunslinger. Keenum has had his moments this season of finding success, but I find it difficult to trust him on the road against a Cowboys squad that is in a must-win situation.

Dak Prescott (QB, DAL)

Dak Prescott's shoulder injury will limit his availability during practice this week, but there is no concern when it comes to him suiting up. On paper, the matchup is a good one against a Redskins secondary that ranks in the bottom half in success rate and explosive plays allowed, but aside from Ezekiel Elliott, it is tough to trust any Cowboys player right now. You are going to see Prescott's ranking all over the map depending on who you ask, but I lean towards him being more of a backend QB1 than a potential top-five player that some are touting him to be in Week 17.

Adrian Peterson (RB, WSH)

Washington is featuring Adrian Peterson quite a bit with Derrius Guice out, giving him at least 17 touches in three straight contests. The increased workload has resulted in touchdowns in each of those games, although it must be mentioned that Peterson's productivity has taken a massive hit with his heightened workload. Dallas has been susceptible both through the air and on the ground, but a negative game script could point against the veteran back if the team falls behind early.

Chris Thompson (RB, WSH)

Chris Thompson probably isn't someone who will win you your matchup in Week 17, but deep-league participants could do a lot worse if they have been struggling to find a second back for their squad. The Redskins will most likely be playing from behind, which gives Thompson a higher floor in PPR leagues.

Amari Cooper (WR, DAL)

Amari Cooper's rollercoaster 2019 campaign continued in Week 16, catching just four of his 12 targets for 24 yards. The poor showing marks the fourth time in the last six games that he has been held to single-digit PPR points, but a showdown against the Washington Redskins might be what he needs to get back on track. The Cowboys might be trending in the wrong direction, but Cooper is too good to bench against a mediocre secondary.

Michael Gallup / Randall Cobb (WR, DAL)

As erratic as Amari Cooper has been, Michael Gallup has contributed similar irregularity, but without the same upside. In Week 16, Gallup put together a productive game of five catches on 11 targets for 98 yards and could be in store for another busy contest on Sunday. As for Randall Cobb, there just isn't enough upside present to warrant fantasy consideration in most settings.

Terry McLaurin / Kelvin Harmon / Steven Sims Jr. (WR, WSH)

Terry McLaurin was not present during team stretches on Thursday because of a concussion he suffered late against the New York Giants. The rookie will look to get back on the field to close his first-year campaign off strong but should be considered 50/50 at this moment to be active. Kelvin Harmon has seen the majority of the snaps alongside McLaurin in recent weeks and would get a boost if his fellow rookie is ruled inactive, but it has been Steven Sims Jr. that has been Washington's second-best wideout since Week 15. If you are looking to take a gamble at your flex spot, you could do a lot worse than Sims.

***UPDATE: Terry McLaurin has officially been ruled out for Week 17.

Jason Witten (TE, DAL)

Jason Witten has been touchdown-dependent this year, only reaching double-digit points in two games where he failed to score a touchdown. There is still enough volume available to consider him as a low-end TE1, but his ceiling is definitely capped.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

Matchups We Love:

None

Matchups We Hate:

Devlin Hodges (QB, PIT)

Devlin Hodges totaled just 84 yards on 17 attempts in Week 16, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Steelers need to win and have the Titans lose if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, but head coach Mike Tomlin's idea for finding success will come from a rugged defense and hard-nosed running style. Hodges just doesn't have a long enough leash available to reach any sort of a ceiling. He should be avoided in all leagues if possible.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT)

JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of my favorite buy-low options in dynasty leagues, but 2019 can be chalked up as a lost cause for the explosive wideout. Smith-Schuster was only able to catch a quarter of his targets in his first game after missing a month and wasn't on the same page with either Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges. There are brighter times ahead, but I'd avoid starting him outside the deepest of leagues.

All Ravens Wideouts (WR, BAL)

As I will mention below for Robert Griffin, I am not selling off the idea of him being able to produce respectable numbers. My bigger issue comes down to the fact that I am not sure how serious the team is going to take the game with nothing on the line. Wide receiver Marquise Brown probably won't get a full allotment of snaps, Miles Boykin hasn't been steady enough this year to trust and Willie Snead and Seth Roberts will have undefined roles for the contest. Someone might emerge from the group, but good luck figuring who.

Mark Andrews (TE BAL)

I can't imagine we see Mark Andrews actually suit up for the game, but he hasn't been officially ruled out at the time of writing this. This is a spot where he won't get many snaps regardless, so you should look elsewhere for an alternative choice.

Other Matchups:

Robert Griffin (QB, BAL)

I'm not necessarily clamoring at the idea of starting Robert Griffin, but I am also not entirely dismissing it. A matchup against the Steelers isn't the ideal spot for the former Heisman Trophy winner to showcase his talent, but this is as good of an opportunity as he is going to get to show franchises that he still has a little left in the tank. I'm not sure if he accomplishes that exact feat, but you could do worse for your second QB in two-QB leagues.

James Conner / Benny Snell Jr. / Jaylen Samuels (RB, PIT)

If you have managed to stay alive in a league where you drafted James Conner, congratulations on your stellar managerial skills. Conner has been in-and-out of the lineup throughout the season and looks to be on the wrong side of questionable for Sunday. The prudent move is to pick up Benny Snell Jr. if he was dropped to your waiver wire, but there is far less upside to be had in full PPR settings. Jaylen Samuels would also see an increased role if Conner is indeed unable to go on Sunday, but his change-of-pace nature makes him extremely difficult to trust when the Steelers are trying to limit Devlin Hodges' pass attempts.

***UPDATE: James Conner has officially been ruled out for Week 17.

Gus Edwards / Justice Hill (RB, BAL)

With Mark Ingram ruled out for Week 17, Justice Hill finally gets a chance to be what every fantasy expert predicted during the preseason. Hill showed flashes of his explosive nature in Week 16, rushing three times for 19 yards while adding a touchdown, three receptions and 32 yards through the air. Gus Edwards and Hill should split the load on Sunday, in what is a meaningless game for the Ravens, but the increased usage rates do place both men inside the RB3 range.

James Washington / Diontae Johnson (WR, PIT)

While James Washington dropped to fourth on the team in routes run in Week 16, he was still able to receive eight targets on the day. Head coach Mike Tomlin is going to try to get into the playoffs on the ground, making both Washington and Diontae Johnson nothing more than dart throws for owners that need a shot in the dark.

Hayden Hurst / Nick Boyle (TE BAL)

I wouldn't be surprised to see Robert Griffin use his TEs often in Week 17. Nick Boyle is a better blocker of the two, while Hurst could see an increased usage through the air. I'd prefer Hurst of the two because I think he has a better pass-catching acumen and wouldn't be shocked if he puts up backend TE1 numbers if Andrews gets ruled out.

Vance McDonald (TE PIT)

Targets usually haven't been the issue for Vance McDonald. The TE was thrown to six times in Week 16 but continued his miserable stretch of football by only catching three of his looks for nine yards. The Steelers have lost all their big-play ability, so you shouldn't count on McDonald miraculously finding his groove now.

 

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars

Matchups We Love:

Marlon Mack (RB, IND)

Marlon Mack became just the fifth player in Colts history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season at age 23 or younger after tallying 95 yards on 16 attempts in Week 16. Jacksonville has given up the most points to back this season, which includes the second-most yards per carry. Start Mack as an RB1.

Leonard Fournette (RB, JAX)

A career-best 76 receptions have negated the face that Leonard Fournette has only scored three total touchdowns in 2019. It remains to be seen if the former LSU back will be able to add to that total in Week 17, but with the way the Colts are willing to blitz and attack while on defense, Fournette should be in store for a handful of dump-offs that could go for big yardage.

Matchups We Hate:

Nyheim Hines (RB, IND)

Two return touchdowns bolstered Nyheim Hines' fantasy total in Week 16. Unfortunately for him, the game script could point in the wrong direction on Sunday, as the Colts are likely to take a methodical ground-and-pound approach against a weak Jaguars front four.

Other Matchups:

Jacoby Brissett (QB, IND)

While the Jacksonville Jaguars Defense has evaporated in recent weeks, Jacoby Brissett hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire himself. Brissett threw for under 200 yards for the fourth time in his previous six games and has failed to eclipse a 52.9% completion rate in his past three games. Even if the matchup looks good on paper, it is nearly impossible to justify Brissett as a top-15 option on the board.

Gardner Minshew (QB, JAX)

The Indianapolis Colts feature one of the most aggressive defenses in terms of blitzes and pressure, which could prove to be an issue for Gardner Minshew. The rookie adds enough with his legs that QB2 numbers should still be accessible, but his ceiling is capped if he continues to have trouble with his progressions.

T.Y. Hilton (WR, IND)

There is a chance that we won't see T.Y. Hilton suit up this week with the Indianapolis Colts out of contention. I'd lean towards him playing and trying to close his 2019 on a positive note, but he makes for a boom-or-bust selection, even against a vulnerable Jaguars secondary. I lean towards him ending the year strongly, but there is some risk involved.

Marcus Johnson / Zach Pascal (WR, IND)

I don't have much interest in starting either Marcus Johnson or Zach Pascal if T.Y. Hilton plays on Sunday. The Colts are built to run the football, and trusting secondary options isn't an ideal gameplan to try and take home your title. Give each a boost if Hilton can't go, but count me out if Hilton is active.

D.J. Chark Jr. (WR, JAX)

DJ Chark's two catches for 18 yards showed that he wasn't fully healthy when he took the field in Week 16. With that idea in mind, Chark becomes a risky proposition in Week 17 if he attempts to gut out another performance. I'm not sure why the Jaguars would risk the health of one of their best offensive playmakers in a game that doesn't matter, but it seems as if he is trending towards being on the field Sunday.

Dede Westbrook / Chris Conley / Keelan Cole (WR, JAX)

It has been a disappointing season for Dede Westbrook, who probably lost a lot of his appeal and upside once Nick Foles got injured during the first game of the year. We have seen flashes from Westbrook even with Gardner Minshew under center, but injuries have helped to ravage a portion of the year. The Jaguars have lost their ability to create dynamic throws, ranking just 28th in explosive passing plays since Week 10, which limits the upside for any pass-catcher on the team. If DJ Chark plays, Keelan Cole can be demoted back to the waiver wire. But even Westbrook and Conley are shaping up to be less than stellar options on the day.

Jack Doyle (TE, IND)

The removal of Eric Ebron from the offense hasn't done much for Jack Doyle in terms of consistency. Well, maybe that isn't factually correct since Doyle has netted exactly two catches in three straight contests, but the point remains that the potential and upside that some fantasy managers thought they had after he recorded six catches, 73 yards and a score during Week 13 appears to be gone. There is some streaming potential for TE desperate managers against a vulnerable Jaguars defense, but Doyle's floor makes him a risky bet.

 

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos

Matchups We Love:

None

Matchups We Hate:

Derek Carr (QB, OAK)

The Oakland Raiders needed nine things to break their way in Weeks 16 and 17 if they wanted to make the playoffs and were able to have five of those situations occur last Sunday. It is still a longshot that Derek Carr and company will find their way into the postseason, but if they want any chance of making it, they will need to go into Denver and hold serve. Denver's stout pass defense and home-field advantage should keep Carr at bay, making the QB better left on your bench.

Royce Freeman (RB, DEN)

Ignore Royce Freeman's short touchdown in Week 16. The second-year back has only eclipsed 10 total touches once in his past seven games and has taken a backseat to Phillip Lindsay.

Tyrell Williams (WR, OAK)

Tyrell Williams provided one of his best games in recent weeks last Sunday, bringing in four receptions for 82 yards. Unfortunately for Williams, big plays will be hard to come by against a stout Broncos secondary that has allowed the seventh-fewest explosive passes in the NFL.

Other Matchups:

Drew Lock (QB, DEN)

Drew Lock tied Ken Karcher for the second-most passing touchdowns (6) through his first four games with the Broncos, trailing only Jay Cutler (8). The Raiders are still technically alive for the playoffs, but it shouldn't hurt Lock's overall prognosis. Oakland has allowed the second-most points-per-drive this season, making Lock a streamable QB2.

Deandre Washington / Josh Jacobs (RB, OAK)

The matchup isn't great against the Denver Broncos, but DeAndre Washington has inherited Josh Jacobs' role if the rookie is unable to be active on Sunday, which is good enough to place him as an RB2 from sheer volume alone. A career-high 25 touches in Week 16 saw Washington deliver 106 scrimmage yards, and if you have both men on your team, you should be able to play the wait-and-see approach.

***UPDATE: Josh Jacobs is doubtful to play on Sunday. Prepare accordingly, especially if you roster DeAndre Washington.

Phillip Lindsay (RB, DEN)

Phillip Lindsay ran for 109 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries during Sunday's 27-17 win against the Lions. If we exclude his poor Week 15 showing of just seven touches, Lindsay has seen at least 14 touches in every game since Week 11, which includes exceeding 20+ touches twice, The Raiders have been solid against the run in 2019, but there is enough volume to warrant RB2 consideration.

Courtland Sutton (WR, DEN)

Courtland Sutton's breakout campaign has fizzled in recent weeks, but the young wideout has still caught at least four passes in six of his past seven games. The Raiders currently rank 27th in success rate, providing Sutton an opportunity to end his season with a bang.

Daesean Hamilton / Tim Patrick  (WR, DEN)

I expected more out of DaeSean Hamilton this season, but it took until Week 16 to finally score double-digit points. There is always a chance that he will continue to build off of his performance against the Detroit Lions, but I wouldn't risk it with my fantasy title on the line. A similar sentiment could also be said about Tim Patrick, who has been solid in recent weeks but has failed to provide a real boom performance. There are safer and better options that can be found.

Hunter Renfrow (WR, OAK)

I wouldn't call Hunter Renfrow's explosion in Week 16 an outlier performance, but I do believe it will be difficult to duplicate on Sunday. Renfrow has a chance to be a nice sleeper candidate in 2020, but try to avoid chasing another duplicate performance against the Broncos.

Darren Waller (TE, OAK)

I've discussed this narrative many times during the article, but Darren Waller is a different player when Hunter Renfrow is on and off the field. We saw Renfrow return in Week 16, which plummetted Waller down to just four receptions for 37 yards. Waller's target share drops nearly in half when Renfrow is on the field, so you might want to temper expectations somewhat.

Noah Fant (TE, DEN)

It has been a mixed bag from Noah Fant week-to-week. The Raiders have given up the ninth-most points to the position this year, so there is a case to be made that we see Fant bounce back during the final game of his rookie year.

 

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams

Matchups We Love:

Kenyan Drake (RB, ARI)

After providing totals of 46 carries, 303 yards and six touchdowns during his past two games, Kenyan Drake has earned his spot on your starting roster in Week 17.

Matchups We Hate:

David Johnson (RB, ARI)

Assuming you are still alive to win your championship in Week 17, this probably doesn't need to be said. However, I will say it anyway. DO NOT PLAY DAVID JOHNSON THIS WEEK! Johnson's fantasy nightmare will finally come to an end on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see what will happen next for him during the offseason.

Gerald Everett (TE, LAR)

See post on Tyler Higbee

Other Matchups:

Jared Goff (QB, LAR)

I'd tread lightly when it comes to Jared Goff in Week 17. Head coach Sean McVay has already stated that a handful of the starters will not participate in the contest since the team has nothing to play for, and it has even been mentioned that Goff could forfeit some work to Blake Bortles and John Wolford. The uncertainty makes this an issue, even if the matchup should present an all in spot.

Kyler Murray / Brett Hundley (QB, ARI)

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that the team will "be smart" when determining if Murray can/should play in their regular-season finale but also noted that "if Murray is healthy enough to suit up Sunday against the Rams, he will." Early indications would point towards the rookie being active on Sunday after getting in a limited practice on Wednesday, so I feel safe in saying that Murray should be considered a mid-to-back end QB1 against a Rams squad that won't be playing all their starters.

Todd Gurley / Malcolm Brown (RB, LAR)

Hopefully this situation gets some clarity before Sunday, but I would not be shocked if we see Todd Gurley either ruled out or given barely any workload in Week 17. The Rams have nothing to play for on Sunday and have limited his touches throughout the year. I'd add Malcolm Brown to my roster just incase news comes out before the games that Gurley will indeed be sitting, but Brown still makes for an intriguing dart throw in deeper leagues because of the uncertain nature of Gurley's touches.

Christian Kirk / Larry Fitzgerald (WR, ARI)

Keep a close eye on Kyler Murray's status as we approach Sunday. If Brett Hundley ends up being the QB that takes the snaps for the Cardinals, both Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald would need to be downgraded in all rankings. Both are flex options in what could be Fitzgerald's last game, but there is risk involved if Murray isn't the QB under center.

Brandin Cooks / Cooper Kupp / Robert Woods / Josh Reynolds (WR, LAR)

I've mentioned this a zillion times while discussing the players on the Rams, but there is a potential headache looming with who head coach Sean McVay will actually play on Sunday. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are too good to remove from your roster if you don't hear anything before the game, and even Brandin Cooks is interesting if you think he is capable of ending his season pointing in the right direction. Keep a close eye on what McVay says as the game approaches and be ready to adjust on the fly if you are forced to make a move.

Tyler Higbee (TE, LAR)

The safest option on the Rams might be Tyler Higbee. The breakout TE took his opportunity while Gerald Everett was out of the lineup and ran with it, contributing massive performances in each of his last four games while serving as the teams' top tight end. Everett returned to the roster in Week 16 but was forced to take a backseat to Higbee. There's no reason to think Los Angeles will rush Everett into a bigger role for the final game of the season, so fire Higbee up as a starter in all formats.

 

Matchups Analysis - Sunday Night Football, 8:20 PM ET

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

Matchups We Love:

George Kittle (TE, SF)

This doesn't need much explaining. If you are still playing in Week 17 and have Kittle on your roster, you already know what to do. But just in case you need any extra reassurance, the Seahawks have given up the third-most points to the position this year.

Matchups We Hate:

Matt Breida (RB, SF)

Perhaps Matt Breida returns to his early-season role on Sunday, but he can't be trusted anywhere near your lineup after being demoted to special teams duty in Week 16.

Marshawn Lynch / Robert Turbin (RB, SEA)

With your fantasy title on the line, do you really want to risk starting either Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin with all the question marks that surround them? Lynch might be given more of a workload than I am projecting, but I still think it is preposterous to risk your season on someone who might not be in game shape.

Other Matchups:

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, SF)

Las Vegas has this game projected to score enough points (47) that I am willing to give Jimmy Garopplo slightly more leverage than usual. If you are in a two-QB setting, I think you are looking at one of the better QB2s, but I'd prefer to leave him on the bench in standard settings.

Russell Wilson (QB, SEA)

With the entire backfield injured heading into the final week of the season, head coach Pete Carroll may decide to let Russell Wilson attempt to carry the team on his back during the final game of the regular season. Both teams have a ton to play for, which means we know Wilson will be attempting to provide his best Houdini impersonation, but it has been an erratic ride for fantasy owners of his since Week 9. I am okay with the idea of treating him as a QB1, but there is some risk involved.

Raheem Mostert (RB, SF)

Make that five straight games that Raheem Mostert has found the endzone and posted a double-digit PPR output after rushing 11 times for 53 yards and a score against the Los Angeles Rams last Saturday. Mostert is enjoying his role atop the depth chart at running back for the 49ers and will look to keep his streak going in a crucial Week 17 showdown against the Seattle Seahawks. Consider Mostert an RB2/flex.

Tevin Coleman (RB, SF)

Tevin Coleman has fallen behind Raheem Mostert in the 49ers' backfield, recording only 17 rushing attempts over the past four games. That makes him an impossible start, although I wouldn't completely discredit his likelihood of garnering a few more touches on the day.

Travis Homer (RB, SEA)

How the mighty have fallen for the Seattle Seahawks. With a stable of young and explosive backs like Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise, the team has been relegated to Travis Homer being the last man standing with all the injuries they have endured. The biggest thing going for Homer is that he is the only back in football shape, so if you want to view him as a backend RB2, I wouldn't argue against it. Still, though, there is a risk that we see Homer fall flat on his face in the same manner that Mike Boone did on Monday night for the Minnesota Vikings.

Tyler Lockett (WR, SEA)

There haven't been too many players more volatile than Tyler Lockett in 2019, but with the division and potential number one seed on the line against the San Francisco 49ers, Lockett is going to show up, right? I lean towards yes given the fact that the 49ers have struggled against WRs as of late and because Russell Wilson is going to have to be more aggressive through the air with his RB core hurt. I have Lockett as a backend WR2, but there is some risk involved.

D.K. Metcalf (WR, SEA)

D.K. Metcalf has struggled down the stretch of the season, hauling in just two passes during his last two games, but there are reasons to be encouraged entering Week 17. Metcalf contributed six catches for 70 yards the first time these two teams met, and he should see an enhanced amount of targets with the Seahawks struggling to find healthy backs. Metcalf has WR3/flex appeal on the day.

Emmanuel Sanders / Kendrick Bourne / Deebo Samuel (WR, SF)

The 49ers' passing game has faltered a bit as of late, leaving little consistency from Emmanuel Sanders, Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel. Despite the irregular nature, you should view Sanders as a potential flex, while Deebo Samuel will need to be monitored to see if he can overcome a shoulder injury that has limited him in practice. If he plays, there is some boom-or-bust flex appeal, but it makes things slightly more difficult since this is the final game of the week. I don't think it hurts to pick up Kendrick Bourne as an insurance policy so you aren't left stranded last minute.

Jacob Hollister (TE, SEA)

We are still waiting for targets to turn into scoring chances for Jacob Hollister. The tight end has received 43 pass attempts in his last seven games but doesn't have a score to show for it during his past five contests. Aggressiveness and opportunity should be present with Russell Wilson being asked to lead Seattle with virtually no running game, so there is streaming appeal available.

More Start/Sit Advice




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Chris Thompson Not A Safe Week 17 Play

Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson has not been operating in the pass-catching role that once made him a valuable fantasy play in PPR formats, and now he's run out of time for the 2019 season. Thompson has seen just 17 targets in four games since returning from injury in the first week of December, and the only potential boon to his value in Week 17 is that Case Keenum will finish out the season at quarterback. Thompson was utilized more often early in the season when Keenum ran the offense. In any case, it would be a blind roll of the dice to expect a one-game turnaround in the final week of the season. Thompson simply hasn't shown you what you need to trust him, and should not be considered a safe flex play.

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Adrian Peterson A Volume-Based Fantasy Play

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson will look to close out the 2019 season on a high note against the Cowboys in Week 17. The veteran has scored a touchdown in four straight games, and has routinely seen a touch count well into double digits when he's been the lead running back for the Redskins. The Cowboys represent a relatively difficult matchup for running backs, holding the position to 4.1 yards per carry on the season. Peterson's value stems from having the lion's share of his team's rushing workload, and he should once again be in line for enough of it to warrant flex consideration with a touchdown-driven ceiling.

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Steven Sims Jr. Could See Increased Role

Washington Redskins wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. has stepped up in a big way over the last two weeks, racking up 11 catches for 109 yards and three touchdowns. In Week 17 he will have a slight upgrade at quarterback in Case Keenum, and he might wind up as Washington's top receiving option if Terry McLaurin is held out due to a concussion. Sims has already been enjoying an uptick in opportunity after seeing 28 total targets in his last three outings; the door opens wider if McLaurin can't go. Sims can be viewed as a mid-range PPR flex with a reasonable floor in the event he does get the nod as the number-one, but should be treated as a low-end flex with upside if McLaurin is active.

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Case Keenum Not A Safe Option In Finale

Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum may be able to lift the fantasy profiles of a couple of his pass-catchers on Sunday, but he's far from a shoe-in to help fantasy owners in the same way. No one really knows which Cowboys team is going to show up in any given week, but they do have to win this game in order to keep what is left of their playoff hopes alive. As such, Keenum should have to put up with a spirited effort from a Cowboys Defense that has given up the 11th-fewest points per game to opposing offenses. In Keenum's back-and-forth journey from starter to injured to healthy backup this season, there's been very little fantasy success to hang your hat on. This is not a safe road to travel in championship week.

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Terry McLaurin Has Solid PPR Day

Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin was targeted nine times in Sunday's game against the Giants. He caught seven of them for 86 yards, but was held out of the endzone in a game that otherwise featured a ton of scoring. McLaurin remains the primary receiving option in this offense, and that is not influenced by whether Case Keenum or Dwayne Haskins is at quarterback. The rookie will look to close out a strong first season in the NFL against a reeling Cowboys team in Week 17.

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Steven Sims Jr. Scores Twice In Overtime Shootout

Washington Redskins wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. hauled in six of a team-high 10 targets in Sunday's loss to the Giants. Two of Sims' six receptions went for touchdowns, and he caught one from each of the two quarterbacks the Redskins utilized on Sunday. Sims is becoming difficult to ignore after catching 11 of 21 targets with three touchdowns in his last two games, but this surge probably came too late for anyone to reap the benefits in fantasy lineups. Teams who have locked up playoff position may choose to play it safe with their stars in Week 17, making Sims a potentially interesting guy to take a flier on in leagues that observe the full 17-game season.

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Adrian Peterson Bailed Out By Late Touchdown

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson turned in his least-lucrative fantasy outing in several weeks on Sunday, accumulating just 36 rushing yards on 15 carries. Luckily, Peterson found the end zone in the fourth quarter to keep from totally torpedoing the championship hopes of his fantasy owners. Week 16 marked Peterson's fourth straight game with a score, and he's managed to find a way to bring back flex value every time he's seen at least 13 carries this season. He'll look to finish strong against the Cowboys next week.

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Case Keenum Plays Well In Relief Effort

Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum was called on to fill in for the injured Dwayne Haskins in Sunday's overtime shootout against the Giants. The veteran completed 16 of 22 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, adding a game-tying rushing touchdown in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter for good measure. Keenum's status as the QB for Week 17 will hinge on the severity of Haskins' ankle injury, as well as whether the Redskins feel compelled to take any chances with the rookie's health in a meaningless season finale. If Keenum holds onto the starting job to close out the year, it won't significantly alter the outlook for Redskins' pass-catchers.

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Redskins Defense Risky With A Chance Of Turnovers

The Washington Redskins Defense has proven effective in forcing turnovers, and on Sunday they'll face a Giants offense that has committed turnovers on a league-high 19.5% of offensive possessions. Giants QB Daniel Jones in particular is responsible for an alarming number of these giveaways, and he's back under center this week. The Redskins are also tied with Pittsburgh for the best QB pressure rate in the league. There's a formula here for plenty of collapsed pockets, rushed throws, and all the positive outcomes that often follow such defensive efforts. The Redskins aren't a 3-11 team by accident, and their defense has at times been to blame. But against another 3-11 team with a mistake-prone rookie quarterback, Washington's defense is an enticing upside play for Week 16.

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Terry McLaurin With Heaps Of Upside For Week 16

Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin will square up against a Giants secondary that has been regularly dismantled by his position. New York has allowed the fourth-most receiving yards and the third-most receiving touchdowns to wideouts. McLaurin's fantasy profile regrettably comes with a wide array of potential outcomes based on the offense he's stuck in, but he's far and away the primary option in the Redskins passing game. The rookie has hauled in nine of 12 targets for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks, perhaps signaling that a dependable connection with fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins is emerging. For fantasy owners reeling in the wake of a slew of injuries to wide receivers, McLaurin is worth consideration as a flex play with a ceiling much higher than that.

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Chris Thompson Not Worth The Risk

Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson has been back on the field for three weeks, with no discernible rhyme or reason to his usage rate in this span. He was targeted eight times in a Week 14 loss to the Packers, but that game is sandwiched in between two performances in which he might as well have been a healthy scratch. Even without Derrius Guice in the fold for the last game and a half, Thompson hasn't attempted a rush in either of his last two outings. Even that wouldn't be so detrimental if the Redskins involved him more in the passing game, but that hasn't been there either. Fantasy owners can't bank on a guy who's been an active non-participant in a bad offense, especially with championship trophies on the line.