More than a few fantasy football managers put Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage into their Week 12 starting lineup.
Why not? When Mohammed Sanu was the third wide receiver in Atlanta, he piqued some fantasy interest from time to time.
Austin Hooper stole some of Sanu’s appeal this season and might have helped Atlanta decide to trade their trusty third wheel. But Hooper was missing from this week’s lineup.
Atlanta’s running game, a liability this season at full strength, was without Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith. Where would their offense cone from?
For less than 2-percent of PPR fantasy teams, Gage handed over 15.6 points of fantasy offense and helped some teams win their head-to-head matchups.
He took the overall WR-17 slot, ahead of Julio Jones (25) as well as Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay, and a slew of other higher-ranked options.
Exactly what we’re looking for
That is exactly the type of unexpected performance many fantasy football playoff teams need in the coming weeks if they are to win their championship.
You might think the rosters of good teams are set since they made it to the postseason. But late-season injuries, changing roles, or simple player fatigue alter the strength of many rosters late in the season.
Playoff teams are not immune to these things, even if they made their way through the season in good shape. My best teams leaned on Chris Carson so far, but the last couple of weeks have me wondering if he will be a weak link in my playoff games.
More than a few teams are looking for this season’s Damien Williams. Williams outscored everyone- including Pat Mahomes- over the Week 14-16 stretch last season after starting as a dud in Miami.
Maybe that sets a precedent for Kenyan Drake to be the championship savior in 2019? Coming off a bye week, he should be fully acclimated and in command of the Cardinals’ backfield in December.
My concern about Carson’s waning numbers is based on last season’s Todd Gurley disaster. Gurley was the overall #2 fantasy points producer most of the season, just behind Mahomes.
But he averaged only 8.8 points per game in Weeks 14-15 before taking a seat for the Week 16 Championship. The reason many 2018 fantasy football champions remember CJ Anderson so fondly is the 22 PPR fantasy points he put up as a championship week fill-in.
Who might the bulldozer plowing the path to a championship be in 2019?
Odds are it will be someone having a pretty good season to now. Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, or Alvin Kamara might step ahead of Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook for a few weeks.
Le’Veon Bell, currently the RB-11 despite a decidedly nondescript season, has the potential to explode at any moment. In fact, three times in his career, Bell was the top fantasy football points winner over the traditional playoff weeks.
IN 2016, Bell racked up 98.6 points over Weeks 14-16. In 2014 and 2009, he scored over 30 points per game over that stretch. With the Jets’ offense coming around and weather affecting the Meadowlands, could Bell be a championship-winning December weapon?
What about the fill-ins?
Russell Gage helped win some games with his second-level performance in Week 2. Last season, I was fortunate to have CJ Anderson filling in for Gurley.
Patrick Mahomes and Alvin Kamara helped, too. But it was my weaker receiving unit that came through and won me the championship.
Sterling Shepard and Nelson Agholor came up with 40 points. I needed every one of Duke Johnson’s 12.6 points from the flex to fend off my opponent.
That is where games are won and lost. The WR-2, RB-2, and flex positions can cover a lot of ills in the power positions.
That’s why this article offers some ideas of where those unexpected double-digit point performances might come from. Some are more surprising than others. They are listed in reverse by shock value.
#10- Latavius Murray shouldn’t be too big a surprise since we all assumed he would be this season’s Mark Ingram in New Orleans. But that is not how things turned out. In fact, Murray was dropped by most teams who drafted him and picked up as a mere handcuff by Alvin Kamara owners.
When Kamara got hurt, that looked like a brilliant strategy. Now that Kamara is back, it looks like New Orleans will revert to their original plan to limit his usage, giving Murray about 40-percent of the touches. That is plenty to make Ingram a potential playoff savior.
#9- Michael Gallup didn’t do very well as the top dog in Dallas. When Amari Cooper joined the team, he was almost forgotten. But recently, Gallup has played a bigger role. In bad weather in New England this weekend, Gallup was one of the few players who seemed interested in being there.
Cooper disappeared, looking like the ghost he occasionally was in Oakland. This is a bit of a hunch, but Prescott might shuffle the order of things in Dallas with Gallup and Randall Cobb seeing more targets at the expense of Cooper. One big play per game can win a championship for someone.
#8- Rashaad Penny and the Seahawks might have let the cat out of the bag already on this call. Penny out-touched and outplayed Chris Carson, who didn’t help his cause by fumbling the ball twice against Philadelphia.
Pete Carroll’s team is practically a lock for the real-life playoffs and have some tough games ahead. Spelling Carson for Penny for good chunks of the next few weeks will preserve Carson and make Penny a potential fantasy football savior.
#7- Devin Singletary has yielded to Frank Gore more than some expected. Singletary has too many fumbles to trust some important carries to him ahead of the trusted veteran.
But there has been a discernible increase in Singletary’s impact. He has over 100 yards in each of his last two games. Now that Gore has achieved his goal of reaching third overall in career rushing yards, perhaps Singletary will finally take over the backfield.
#6- Jack Doyle is a relatively slow-footed, aging tight end. He also goes into the rest of the season without Eric Ebron to share targets with. Mo Allie Cox is not likely to command the same volume as Ebron.
Doyle has the chance to turn his average week into a stretch of top TE performances, just in time for the fantasy football playoffs.
#5- Ryan Tannehill shouldn’t be much of a surprise anymore, even if his own head coach didn’t think he could lead his team. Tannehill not only has the Titans winning football games, but he also looks completely comfortable.
He is on-target, hitting his receivers in stride and running for the extra yards that can make him a fantasy football savior. Remember, Greg Bortles was once the leading quarterback over a fantasy football period (in 2015).
#4- Younghoe Koo is a great story. After kicking himself out of the league with a dismal performance, he latched onto the IFL. He figured something out there because he practically never missed.
Koo replaced Matt Bryant coming out of the bye week and is hitting practically everything here, too. Bryant was always a top kicker. That was as much a result of opportunity as skill. Now that opportunity belongs to Koo, and he could kick you into the championship.
#3- Darius Slayton is developing into more than a young deep threat paid to distract safeties. He is catching passes all over the field as the Giants, and especially fellow rookie Daniel Jones, get more comfortable with his play.
Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate are supposed to be the top dogs in New York, but Slayton is on the field more than either of them for a reason. He has a decent floor and with a pair of two-touchdown games, he could be a fantasy football playoff savior.
#2- Benny Snell had to be wondering as much as we were what was up when Kerreth Whyte took a few early handoffs against the Bengals. But it turned out Whyte was just the opening act for the Benny Snell show.
With Chris Connor’s shoulder diminishing his play, Snell is the best runner in the Steelers’ lineup. It is obvious he has Mike Tomlin’s favor, which could be enough to make him a fantasy football savior.
#1- Jeff Wilson Jr only put up 27 rushing yards this past week, so it is easy to overlook what he did in the big picture. What he did was he started the game with Tevin Coleman and ran for 27 yards on just two carries before leaving with the flu.
Wilson also saw a passing target in his very limited appearance. Raheem Mostert got 6 carries (45 yards and a touchdown) mostly in garbage time. San Francisco is getting tired of Matt Breida’s glass feet. Wilson will get another chance to win the RB2 job in a run-first offense and save someone’s fantasy football championship.
Alright, so maybe some of this sounds far-fetched. Of course, you’d be safer hoping Odell Beckham and Baker Mayfield finally found their connection. Injuries and weather will play a role. But you will find one or two of these guys filling the back end of my playoff bench, just in case.
Week 12 Panic Mode
As playoff-bound managers tinker with their rosters, it is easy to overreact to every bad game and surprise in the later weeks.
Tom Brady and Dak Prescott are taking a lot of heat for failing to provide any offense in a heavy rainstorm Sunday. But balls were blown around the field all night in slippery, cold, and generally miserable conditions.
Cameras caught one pass just right to see it get lifted by the wind and redirected almost 45 degrees, even as the announcers opined the quarterback has to make that pass. It was a fluky situation. No fantasy football intel can be gathered from that game except maybe to watch for rainy and windy weather in Dallas.
Likewise, Cincinnati almost won a game. Pittsburgh was missing its starting quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. They replaced their second passer with the third-string quarterback in the second half. The Bengals still couldn’t come up with more than 13 points to win the game.
Bo Scarborough gained 98 yards. He also fumbled away two points, didn’t find the end zone, and didn’t bring in his only pass target. 98 yards is okay, but it doesn’t mean much coming against Washington, and it didn’t mean much to fantasy (RB-28).
I want to believe Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr are going to connect for touchdowns every week from here on out. But I need to see it happen against someone other than a Miami team who put both its starting safeties on IR last week and doesn’t have any of its Week 1 defensive backfield starters on their roster.
Green Bay doesn’t play well in California, but they ran into an absolute buzz saw in San Francisco. The Packers offense will rebound quickly with a game against the Giants on tap.
Devlin Hodges will not be a waiver target this week.
Likewise, excellent Week 12 performances are not a guarantee of playoff week success. But there were quite a few that made us excited.
Leonard Fournette is having one of the quietest top-5 fantasy football performances in history. This week, he tripled his touchdown total for the year and rocketed to RB-1 spot with 97 yards and a pair of scores.
Fournette (36.90 PPR points) added 9 catches (62 yards) to his stat line this week. He trails only Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Alvin Kamara in catches from the backfield this season.
Fournette is also sixth in rushing yards. If his two touchdowns this week are the start of a statistical correction, he is within striking distance of the overall RB-3 ranking.
McCaffrey (34.30) was the RB-2 with 133 total yards and 2 touchdowns. Derrick Henry (28.50) racked up 175 total yards to finish third, but he got the last laugh on Fournette in the Titans big win over Jacksonville.
Fournette’s performance wasn’t quite enough to take the overall number one scoring post. That went to Chris Godwin (37.40), who grabbed 7 passes for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns in Tampa Bay.
Jarvis Landry (36.80) enjoyed beating his former Miami team with 10 catches, 148 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Carolina’s DJ Moore topped 30 PPR points with his 6/124/2 line.
Week 12’s top two quarterback scores went to Ryan Tannehill (32.36) and Sam Darnold (28.2). If you predicted that would ever happen, much less in 2019, I will meet you in Vegas.
Zach Ertz (27.10) had a monster game in Philadelphia with 12 catches for 91 yards and a score. Washington’s DST scored 21 points behind a return TD and 4 turnovers in their second win of the season.
Injuries of note
There were quite a few injuries in Week 12. Few are serious. However, if you have been rolling the flex dice with receivers like Jakeem Grant (ankle), Albert Wilson (ribs), or Paul Richardson (hamstring), you need to check for updates during the week.
Hunter Renfrow broke a rib and punctured a lung against the Jets. He is expected to miss at least a week. Golden Tate is in the concussion protocol.
Eric Ebron played Sunday but was placed on injured reserve Monday to have surgical procedures done on each ankle.
No one gasped when Dwayne Haskins left the locker room with a “banged up” wrist in a sling. But if he is out for Week 13, the Redskins offensive outlook could improve with Case Keenum or even Colt McCoy under center.
Not related to injury, but Andy Dalton will be back under center for the Bengals in Week 13.
Carson Wentz will have more x-rays and tests on his right hand after injuring it against Seattle. Initial x-rays were negative, but it was bothering him significantly after the game.
Fantasy football managers will be anxious for updates on many other players, too. Running back Devonta Freeman is expected to practice this week and has not yet been ruled out for Thursday night’s game.
James Connor is week-to-week with his shoulder but does not appear to be making much progress.
LeSean McCoy is out of concussion protocol and should be active Sunday. Jordan Howard is questionable for next week, as is Chris Thompson (turf toe).
Chase Edmunds is expected back for Arizona, potentially muddling the Kenyan Drake rebirth.
Wide receiver Julio Jones left the game with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable for Week 13, even though he returned to last week’s game.
Tyreek Hill has a chance to return in Week 13, with coach Andy Reid saying he is “optimistic” about Hill facing the Raiders.
Juju Smith-Schuster (knee), Alshon Jeffrey (ankle), Nelson Agholor (knee), Mohamed Sanu (ankle), and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) all have a chance to return. John Ross is also eligible to return from injured reserve, but the Bengals have not announced any intentions yet.
David Njoku can return to the Browns for their rematch against the Steelers this week. Evan Engram (foot), Delanie Walker (ankle), and Luke Wilson are listed as questionable.
There are no more bye weeks. But be sure to check your schedules rosters before Thursday as the full three-game set will be played for thanksgiving.
As you might guess after the opening half of this article, Rashaad Penny is a priority waiver add this week. Pete Carroll was quoted on Monday as saying “there is no reason not to put Penny back out there next week,” which doesn’t bode well for Chris Carson.
Penny is unlikely to take over the role, but a timeshare could be forthcoming that will make the pair a crapshoot.
Jonathan Williams was the most-discussed waiver add last week. When Indianapolis made Jordan Wilkins active, a lot of folks were scared off by the potential three-way committee (including Nyheim Hines).
Williams second consecutive 100-yard game benefitted a lot of benches. If he is still available, grab him to cover Marlon Mack’s recovery.
Benny Snell Jr won the lead rusher role in the absence of James Connor. Connor doesn’t sound optimistic about playing in Week 13. Even if he does, it is not unreasonable to expect a lesser role as his shoulder continues to be a problem.
Alex Mattison should be rostered by every Dalvin Cook owner as one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy football. If he’s not, sneak him onto your roster. Minnesota is practically a lock to make the playoffs. Mattison could find himself giving Cook enough rest in December to be worth a flex spot.
Darius Slayton and Cole Beasley remain criminally under-rostered in fantasy football. Each has a steady role and the trust of their quarterbacks. Slayton was the only receiver with a target distance of more than 5 yards and Beasley makes a habit of scoring touchdowns lately.
Russell Gage plays on Thursday night. I don’t usually like Thursday night games, but with Julio Jones hurting, Hooper probably missing, and Freeman no sure thing to return, Gage should find at least as many targets as he did last week.
Cleveland is doing a fine job of splitting touches among Nick Chubb, Byron Hunt, Odell Beckham, and Jarvis Landry. I’m not sure how many would be available for David Njoku, but he is a popular waiver pickup if he returns as expected this week.
If Ryan Griffin is still not owned, he is becoming a favorite red-zone target for Sam Darnold. The other New York team could provide a steal, too. If Eric Engram (toe) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) remain out for Week 13, Kaden Smith could duplicate his TE-4 performance from Week 12.
Darnold, Mayfield, and Carr are my top-three quarterback streamers, along with the Jets, Lions, and Packers defenses.
And … that’s that
By now, playoff rosters should include your studs, legitimate handcuffs, and an emergency fill-in for each position. You don’t want to have a last-minute scratch leave you short in a playoff game.
Of course, my roster is not set. That’s because I am scratching and clawing my way to the finish. I was officially eliminated from my big-money league, and I only clinched playoff spots in two of the nine other leagues.
There will be some heavy waiver magic involved to get most of my teams in. Sam Darnold is starting for five of my teams this week!
But that’s okay. There are sure to be some fantasy studs who fall to the curb during the run to the playoffs. Just like Gurley last season, someone will be left stunned by the loss of what seemed like automatic points.
That’s what we’ll look at next week- who are some fantasy studs to be wary of heading into Weeks 14-16.