It seems to happen every year; you draft a great fantasy team in August that’s set to dominate the Week 15-17 playoff stretch — only to get to the end and realize that the bad defenses are actually good and the guys you expected to be saving your season are supplanted by guys you ‘ve never heard of. Welcome to the playoffs. Week 15 was a wilder one than usual — or maybe it just felt that way with the hits coming over an additional day of action on Saturday.
If you survived slump games from stars like Nick Chubb, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Mark Andrews and DeAndre Hopkins or if you trusted emerging fantasy assets like Zonova Knight, Chris Olave, Drake London or Isiah Pacheco, good on you. It begs the question as we head towards Week 16 though, who should you trust? It makes sense not to be overly rigid, as in “Start your studs no matter what,” but it’s also necessary to take calculated risks and not peg your season on one outlier performance.
Let’s take a look at a few names that might cause tough fantasy decisions for playoff managers in Weeks 16 and 17.
Veterans getting hot
Jerick McKinnon, RB Kansas City Chiefs
I feel like Kansas City always has a running back the fantasy community is rooting for and that guy never quite gets the chance to be awesome. Instead, we get something like McKinnon’s late-season greatness. The hardest thing for me to do as a fantasy player is to get over what I want to happen and accept what is happening with a team or player. Isiah Pacheco got more carries than McKinnon in Week 15, and they were equal with one carry a piece in the red zone. McKinnon’s role in the passing game, however, is just a massive boon to his fantasy output. Last week against the Texans might have been the best spot to count on the Chiefs’ backfield, but next week against the Seahawks is second-best. Use both McKinnon and Pacheco as needed.
Zay Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are a frustrating team to write about. Many experts were all-in on the coaching and personnel changes to start the season, but the team was promptly disappointed. The defense has given some sparks of hope, but the offense has been woefully inconsistent. When they’re good, they’re great for fantasy, and I’m sure everyone here can recount weeks when Christian Kirk or Jones won their matchup for them. Kirk is leading in fantasy points for the season, but over the last three games, Zay Jones has four touchdowns to Kirk’s zero. Kirk is still getting about eight targets per game and is averaging about 80 receiving yards over that span, but Jones is crushing the end zone.
I’m hopeful that I don’t have to rely on either Jags receiver this Thursday vs. the Jets, as New York’s pass defense is legit (they have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers) and it’s probably going to be a lower-scoring game.
Latavius Murray/Marlon Mack, RBs, Denver Broncos
If there was a hall of fame category for coming up big off the bench, Murray would be the guy to get in. When it’s his turn, he takes advantage. He rushed 24 times for 130 yards and a score, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the win over Arizona. He also caught one pass for 12 yards. Mack was involved, with four catches on four targets and one rushing touchdown on five carries. Mack averaged an even better 7.4 YPC against the soft Cardinals defense.
Nevertheless, I dislike timeshare backs, and I really dislike them on low-scoring teams. The Broncos take on the LA Rams in Week 16, which isn’t a terrible matchup at this point but also isn’t a situation that screams “Attack!” If forced, Murray is startable, but I’m leaving Mack on the bench.
Russell Gage, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When a low-end receiver is out, you don’t expect his replacement to become the star of the offense, but that’s just what Gage did with Julio Jones missing Week 15. Gage led the Bucs in targets with 12, hauling in eight of them, including two touchdown grabs. Chris Godwin caught all eight of his targets and a touchdown, while Mike Evans struggled to catch just five of 10 targets vs. the Bengals.
This represents Gage’s best fantasy game of the season, and one that is unlikely to be repeated even if Jones misses Week 16. I think it’s much more likely for Evans to get back on track vs. the generous Cardinals defense. Chalk this one up as a fluke.
Tyler Allgeier, RB, Atlanta Falcons
If I’ve learned one thing over the past two seasons, it’s that Cordarrelle Patterson doesn’t go away. He and Allgeier both scored in the loss to the Saints, but Allgeier caught fantasy managers’ attention with his 139 rushing yards and 8.2 YPC vs. the Saints. He had three more carries than Patterson while Patterson had two more targets. The good news for Allgeier is that the Falcons will continue to run the ball like crazy, but with Desmond Ridder in the mix now, there is potential for goal-line opportunities to be split three ways.
Next up are the Ravens, a team that is average defensively against the run. I’d start Allgeier over other timeshares like the Bucs, Dolphins or Bills but I’d consider someone like Dean Jackson vs. the Chargers in what should be a more lead-back role instead of Allgeier.
KJ Osborn, WR, Minnesota Vikings
I had written my Kirk Cousins playoff teams off after the first half of that Saturday Vikings game, but then they went and added another miraculous win to their crazy season resume. Osborne and Justin Jefferson both saw 16 targets and ended with nearly identical 30+ fantasy point days. Even Adam Thielen managed to score, although his 3-41-1 line pales in comparison to his teammates. Despite the Vikings solidifying their pseudo-dominance with this dramatic victory, Osborn is not a player I’m trusting my fantasy season to.
Next up are the Giants, who can be a sneakily frustrating defense. Jefferson, Cousins and Dalvin Cook are the only Minnesota guys I truly trust in my Week 16 roster.
Noah Brown, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of teams with two star receivers for Week 15, Brown and CeeDee Lamb tore up the Jaguars for a little while on Sunday. Brown caught six of nine targets for 49 yards and two scores, while Lamb hauled in all seven of his for 126 yards. Michael Gallup earned only two targets while Dallas tight ends combined for five. If you just looked at the box score, you’d appreciate that it was a relatively run-heavy game plan, with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard pretty evenly splitting 35 carries and seven targets in the loss.
Although Brown looks to have distanced himself ahead of Gallup in Week 15, the recent trend shows them to be much more similar (both have a similar number of targets and two touchdowns over the last three games, with Gallup’s 46.7 percent catch rate leading him to about two-thirds of Brown’s fantasy points in that span). With a tough tilt against division rival Philadelphia on tap for Week 16, Brown is someone I’d rather not have to start. Perhaps you have Diontae Johnson or DJ Moore on your bench — both look to be getting some mojo back and face much friendlier matchups than Brown in Week 16 (Raiders and Lions, respectively).
Hail-Mary plays for 2QB/SuperFlex leaguers
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have so much talent that their QB is automatically fantasy relevant. Purdy so far looks to be made in the San Francisco mold of safety-first, conservative, ball-control QB play. In his three recent games, Purdy has thrown two touchdowns in each, added one rushing touchdown and generally protected the ball with only one turnover in that span (Week 13). His passing yard numbers aren’t electrifying, but he has a knack for finding the open man and finally figured that out George Kittle can BE that man. It looks like he’ll struggle to have more than one skill player besides Christian McCaffrey achieve fantasy accolades per week, but if you’re someone starting Daniel Jones, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill or Andy Dalton in a 2QB league, Purdy is a definite upgrade.
Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
The attraction with Ridder is partially novelty and the bias we have towards new and exciting things, but also his rushing/scrambling ability. He ran six times for 38 yards in the narrow loss to New Orleans while throwing for 97 yards. He didn’t make any big mistakes, and his absurdly low 3.7 yards per completion average was still better than regular 2QB starters like Mac Jones (who had a much better matchup than Ridder in Week 15). It’s almost impossible for me to imagine a playoff team being this desperate at QB, so while it’s worth paying attention to what the rookie does down the stretch, it’s not worth starting him in Week 16.
Brett Rypien, Denver Broncos
He led the Broncos to their second-highest point total of the season, which honestly isn’t a high mark to pass as Denver is the lowest-scoring offense in the league. He completed an impressive 80.2 percent of his pass attempts while throwing one touchdown and one pick in the win over Arizona. This was a dream matchup for him, given that the Cardinals gave up the second-most overall fantasy points to opponents, and he still didn’t break the fantasy bank with only 7.7 fantasy points.
In his third year, Rypien looks destined for a career as a backup QB and should remain on fantasy benches as well.