Gronk is done for, so what to do? Is Osweiler killing Hopkins' fantasy value? What should our expectations for Brady be moving forward? Ladarius Green is looking to be peaking at the right time. All this and more player assessment to help you navigate your fantasy playoffs. Rant on!
Week-13 of the NFL regular season will wrap up tonight, with the Monday night match-up of Colts @ Jets This means the majority of fantasy leagues will embark on their playoff rounds beginning next week, with the remainder of leagues opting to commence their playoff match-ups on week-15 of the NFL's regular season.
Point being, the window is closing on championship contending GMs to tweak their rosters since most leagues close the waiver wire for the playoff rounds. In light of this, I will forgo the usual game-by-game breakdown provided in previous Rants, in favor of focusing on individual player performances, including but not limited to some off the radar types who could prove useful as either streamers or viable depth for your bench.
Since the preseason we have stressed the importance of maintaining roster depth at the WR and RB positions, and the importance of so doing in order to proactively guard against unanticipated injuries to key starters. Fantasy owners of A.J. Green, Rob Gronkowksi, Eric Decker, and Andrew Luck can relate. I will also throw in some dynasty tidbits for your reading pleasure. So without further ado...
Tom Brady (NE) - We might as well address the elephant in the room right out of the gate. Brady is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL ever to play the game, and he's a fantasy game changer capable of winning weekly match-ups on his own. That is, when Rob Gronkowski is on the field. Which he is not (more on him below). Brady is still a weekly starter for your fantasy playoffs but you'll have to accept more of his high floor (e.g., 250 yards and a score or two) rather than his high ceiling.
Blake Bortles (JAX) – Oh sure, you have to watch him with only one eye open, through the cracks of your finger from the hand covering the open eye. However, he’s posted at least one passing TD in all twelve regular season games and has eight multiple TD games in that same span. Hey, if Colin Kaepernick is being bandied about as a viable play, then Bortles needs to be in the conversation as well.
Sam Bradford (MIN) - Ugh. Unlike Brady, Bradford posting 250 yards and a score on this touchdown starved Viking team is his upside. We can make excuses all day for Bradford's middling play - "If only he had a better o-line", "if only he had a better running game" etc. I have my own, "if only he were a better quarter back." He's not. Great players rise above issues and injuries that, quite frankly, every NFL team experiences throughout a season. Calling Teddy Bridgewater. Mr. Bridgewater, please pick-up the red courtesy phone.
Dak Prescott (DAL) - His dynasty stock is apparent. As for your playoffs, his wide floor/ceiling variance make him a boom/bust and, therefore, not a player I'd like to rely on in one loss elimination playoff formats. Fantasy GMs tend to focus on a player's ceiling too much, ignoring that a high floor is the factor that positively correlates to a player's week-to-week reliability. A much needed trait in the playoff rounds. Built-in risk on your lineup is fine. Just know that if you are depending on Prescott to lead you to a championship, you need to be stacked with talent at the RB and WR positions. Put another way, he’s not a quarterback that can carry your team to a win if the remainder of your roster underperforms, much like a Brees or Brady is able.
Brock Osweiler (HOU) - Double ugh. Man did the Texans overpay for this cat. Clearly a byproduct of absolute dearth of legit QB1 talent at the position. Desperation makes for strange bedfellows. I digress...You will not start Osweiler in your playoffs no matter how dreamy the match-up may present itself to be. Sell him dynasty formats as a throw-in in a multi-player deal. That may be the only way to maximize your return on investment.
Jared Goff (STL) - With the Rams giving Head Coach Jeff Fisher a contract extension, Goff's dynasty value is really capped and if you are lucky enough to get an offer for him during the off-season you should strongly consider accepting it. The fact is, Goff was a first round selection in a draft class that was very week at the position by a team with an even weaker offensive line, lack of skill at the receiver position and a coach with a middling record who overly depends on the run game and defense to win games (ask the Vikings how easy that is).
Marcus Mariota (TEN) – The Titans had a bye week so Mariota will be fresh going into his week-14 match-up versus the Broncos in Tennessee. I know what you’re thinking “Broncos! Scary!” Perhaps, on the outside. But inside and over the middle the Broncos defense is soft. Expect a lot of Mariota-to-Delanie Walker in this match-up. He’s a viable play if you have been streaming QBs up to this point or are a disgruntled Cam Newton Owner.
Adrian Peterson (MIN) - He's a name. Nothing more than that at this point in his illustrious career. If you added him to the end of your roster on the news that he may return in time for the final two weeks of your fantasy playoffs fine. But you’re not using him unless some dire emergency arises. Put another way...if you make it all the way to the semifinal or championship game without AP, then why bother starting him at all. Oh, and for those of you drafted AP in round-1 of your fantasy drafts this season, please, don't do that again. If there is a dynasty owner offering up a third rounder for him, take and run.
David Johnson (ARI) - Stud. Plug-n-Play. Let everyone else fawn over LeVeon Bell while you sneak in and scoop DJ. He's a beast across fantasy formats with a huge market share in the Cardinals offense. 'Nuff said.
Jay Ajayi (MIA) - Since his breakout consecutive weeks of 200+ yards rushing, Ajayi has underwhelmed from a fantasy perspective. You can thank a difficult strength of schedule and oft injured o-line for that. Ajayi remains a flex play in standard scoring formats only, and a dynasty hold as the team's back.
Todd Gurley (STL) - Any idea when the last time Gurley rushed for more than 85 yards? Hint: 2015. Bench him for your playoffs. Obviously, he's not the reason you made it this far. He's a hold in dynasty leagues but with Fisher's contract extension and the rest of the Rams glaring needs on offense, if there's a GM in your league looking to pay full value for Gurley, take it.
Wendell Smallwood (PHI) – Please resist all temptation to activate Smallwood during your playoff rounds. The risk/reward just isn’t worth it. Even when starter Ryan Mathews is out (which he often is) Smallwood is not worth a flex spot no matter how much he is hyped up between weekly match-ups. He posted 19 yards on 8 carries, and was targeted just three times for zero gain in his week-13 match-up versus the Bengals. You don’t want that more than likely floor in your lineup for the playoffs. He’s not built for high volume of carries, and when the Eagles find themselves in negative game flow (which is also often) Smallwood’s market share in the passing game is insignificant. In dynasty formats you should hold Smallwood until OTAs and mini-camp when talk about Smallwood as lead back/breakout candidate resurface then sell him for 2017 picks.
Thomas Rawls (SEA) – I have a joke for you: Christine Michael walks into a bar…get it? That’s the joke…[sigh]. Never mind. In all seriousness, if you remained a patient Rawls owner or were smart enough to claim him off waivers weeks ago while the other owners in your league were clamoring over James Starks – kudos to you. Rawls blasted the Pussy Cats…er, Panthers defense to the tune of 106 yards and two scores on only 15 carries. Rawls brings a much needed component of reliability to the Seahawks backfield. Roll with him.
Stefon Diggs (MIN) - A must start WR2 in PPR formats with high upside. But as previously mentioned, this is a touchdown starved team. Consequently, Diggs is a TD dependent WR3 in standard scoring formats. Most WR2/3 types make for nice sell options in dynasty formats during the offseason. But Diggs is an exceptional talent, maintains a large market share of the Vikings passing offense, and is seemingly quarterback proof. That makes Diggs a hold in dynasty leagues.
DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) - Yes. Osweiler is killing Hopkins' fantasy value. However, fantasy GMs need to also recognize that Hopkins is not a WR1 in the same vein as A.J. Green, Julio Jones, or Antonio Brown who all possess sublime route running skills and an ability to separate from press coverage. Hopkins is not that guy. Never was. Hopkins is a fantastic jump ball receiver who is more than willing to rely on his physical play to out-muscle his coverage for the ball. As such, he needs a quarterback with enough arm strength to get him the deep ball, and the confidence to throw it up in close coverage and trust that Hopkins will come down with it. Osweiler has neither of those traits.
Jamison Crowder (WAS) – Not many NFL offenses provide a slot receiver with enough market share to support fantasy relevant production on a weekly basis. Washing is one exception. Crowder gets it done for fantasy across scoring formats. Even against a formidable Cardinals defense in week-13, Crowder still managed a TD and 42 yards on eight pass targets. Word on the street is he may have suffered a hip injury (via Rotoworld) at some point in the game so keep an eye on practice reports. However, if Crowder is active for week-14 versus the Eagle he should also be active on your lineups, especially in PPR formats.
Tyrell Williams (SD) - A must own in dynasty formats, Williams is dealing with a labrum injury that may limit his market share on a Chargers team not in contention. Keep an eye on practice reports for updates. If reports indicate that his labrum issue has worsened or been aggravated (see: re-injured) then the shoulder joint may become destabilized. If that happens he should be benched outright for your 2016 playoffs. However, if there are no setbacks, then flex Williams for your PPR playoff rounds given his high upside. He is a definite hold or buy in dynasty formats as his role and development at the pro level continues to grow. He is a very gifted receiver with great speed.
Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) – We warned you in the preseason not to over value the Panthers number one wideout. Hopefully you listened. He will always be a highly inefficient receiver dependent on volume for his fantasy production. He jumped out of the gate strong with 200 yards and three scores in the first two weeks of the regular season. However, since then he has just two touchdowns in 10 games and never sniffed 100 yards in that same span. Cam still targets him often (more out of lack of alternative targets) so his high market share plus his lack of touchdowns makes him a viable flex play in PPR formats only. Dynasty GMS should wait until 2017 camp opens then sell Benjamin when his offseason hype is sure to peak.
Rob Gronkowski (NE) - Another back surgery for the big man, and the third season of his seven year career in which he has missed significant games. In 2014 and 2015 he managed to start 15 games but that doesn't include games he left early or played a limited role because he was hurt. In 2017 you need to absolutely resist all temptation to draft Gronk in the first or top of the second rounds. If he's there in the bottom of the second or anywhere in the third, fine, take him. But you have to be prepared to draft a viable high floor/low ceiling type (e.g. Jason Witten, Cameron Brate) in the latter rounds and resolve yourself to the fact that you will have to at all times carry two tight ends (a tactic of which I am not a fan, generally). Gronk is a sell in dynasty formats ONLY if you get full value in return. Obviously, Patriots TE2 Michael Bennent becomes a hot commodity here, but he’s been dealing with a reported ankle injury since the beginning of the season which many have related to his underwhelming box score for fantasy. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is the one who I believe will reap the benefits of Gronk’s absence.
Zach Ertz (PHI) - He's a freaking target hog and an absolute must-start across fantasy formats when Jordan Matthews is out, posting 9/79/1 on 15 targets in this week's contest. Of course, when your QB fires off 60 pass attempts that never hurts either. His floor is low which makes him unreliable, but this is a talent-starved position in fantasy leagues this season so if you're in a pinch roll with Ertz, especially if Matthews is out.
Vernon Davis (WAS) - No dynasty value here, but given Jordan Reed's shoulder separation Davis is a viable flex play in PPR formats. His 5/47 on six pass targets is is floor so long as Reed is sidelined.
Ladarius Green (PIT) - It took a full off-season and 13 regular season games for Green to prove his worth but it appears as though he's peaking at the right moment for fantasy owners. He posted an amazing 6/110/1 on a team leading 11 pass targets. I wouldn't count on Green to command that high a market share each week but you see his upside. Should be a great high floor play in PPR formats and solid flex option in standard formats. If Green finishes strong, I'm holding in dynasty in dynasty formats with one eye on a big trade deal at draft time if the return is there for him. Say...a mid-first and Jordan Howard in TE premium leagues.
Cameron Brate (TB) - I just love this kid. A perfect example of how a reliable high floor can beat out a boom/bust high ceiling (see: Austin Serferian-Jenkins). Brate just goes about his business, never "wows" you on any given week but always seems to produce enough and at a very valuable return on ADP. His week-13 bottom line of 6/86/1 is about his ceiling. But if you're smart and build your roster from the WR and RB positions out, then Brate will work for you. Roll with Brate through your PPR playoffs and he is a hold in dynasty formats as one of Winston's favorite targets.