Week 14 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Most Underrated Players by Offensive Position
It's the time of year that causes more headaches than Valentine's Day and Election Day combined: the fantasy football playoffs. All the experimenting is over. I don't want to hear any more stories of "Well, I thought Pierre Thomas might actually get carries this week!"
It's go time. You can't mess this up. And that's why I'm here to help.
I'm the editor of numberFire.com, a sports analytics website that crunches out some of the most accurate fantasy projections on the web. Our projections beat the projections given in your fantasy league's lineup page 93 percent of the time, all through the help of a little math.
Here in Week 14, our numbers can help you clinch a fantasy playoff victory through some key players that may be right on the edge between your starting lineup and your bench. These guys aren't stone-cold locks, but they're certainly worth a second look if you're right on the edge and need an extra push.
Want to find out who they are? Read on, my friend.
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Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
Projected Stats: 308.52 pass yards, 2.44 pass TDs, 0.59 INTs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 20.92 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 1 QB (No. 1 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: at Oakland Raiders
Everybody already knows who Manning is, of course, but that doesn't mean he's not one of the best value plays this week. If you're one of the lucky souls with Peyton Manning on your bench, put him in the lineup. I mean, right now. I don't care if you have Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Michael Vick circa Madden 2004. Because this week, the elder Manning has one of the best matchups you'll see.
One of numberFire's favorite metrics to determine efficiency on the field is the idea of Net Expected Points (NEP). The idea behind NEP is simple: On a given play, how many expected points does a team gain or lose as compared to the average play in the same situation? Add all of the individual plays up, and you have their NEP score.
So far this year, the Raiders have given up 124.49 NEP through the air, or to put it simply, about 10 extra points per game just from their opponent's passing. That's easily the worst figure in the league, even worse than the Saints secondary (110.64 NEP given up). Opposing quarterbacks have destroyed Oakland, and Manning (with 125.74 NEP gained on his own) is better than most QBs.
Andy Dalton - Cincinnati Bengals
Projected Stats: 260.64 pass yards, 1.57 pass TDs, 0.78 INTs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 18.11 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 9 QB (No. 9 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: vs. Dallas Cowboys
The top quarterbacks are set in stone at this point; numberFire's top eight this week just happen to be the same as the eight most-started QBs in ESPN fantasy leagues. But if you're looking for the best of the rest, look no further than the Red Rocket.
The key for Cincinnati is the play-calling; the Bengals throw the ball more than a Big 12 offense down 20 points. Sixty-one percent of their plays in Week 13 were either throws or Andy Dalton rushes, and that proportion sits at 60 percent for the entire season.
Although Mohamed Sanu may now be out for the season, Andrew Hawkins and his 63.3 percent catch rate remains more than serviceable as the No. 2 receiver. Not that he'll be relied on too heavily, as Dalton has two other targets in A.J. Green (60.3 percent catch rate) and Jermaine Gresham (71.0 percent catch rate) who convert more pass-catching opportunities than the average receiver.
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Vick Ballard - Indianapolis Colts
Projected Stats: 62.55 rushing yards, 0.32 rush TDs, 19.16 receiving yards, 0.07 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.28 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 15 RB (No. 56 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: vs. Tennessee Titans
So maybe this seems a bit familiar—I had Ballard in this exact same spot last week. But when he finished with 12 FP and he has another advantageous matchup against the Titans, why go away from what works?
Ballard solidified his spot as the lead back in Indianapolis last week, carrying the ball nine times to Donald Brown's six and grossly outproducing him on the ground. Ballard gained the Colts 4.01 expected points when he touched the ball, while Brown lost Indianapolis 1.98 NEP.
Facing off against the Titans' No. 26 opponent-adjusted defense according to numberFire's analytics, Ballard should not have many problems finding holes to run through... as long as he gets the ball. The one hold up this week would be the Colts' preference for the pass; 60.7 percent of their offensive plays have been pass attempts.
Knowshon Moreno - Denver Broncos
Projected Stats: 47.21 rushing yards, 0.42 rush TDs, 28.32 receiving yards, 0.07 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.16 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 16 RB (No. 57 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: at Oakland Raiders
Maybe he hasn't put up the big fantasy point numbers in his first two starts; outings of 10 FP in Week 12 and 7 FP in Week 13 aren't going to remind anybody of Terrell Davis. But you know what number does catch my eye? It's 20: the number of carries Moreno has put up over each of the past two games.
Week 13 against Tampa Bay, 74 percent of all running back carries were by Moreno; supposed competition Ronnie Hillman only finished with five carries. Week 12 was even kinder to the starting back; Moreno finished with 87 percent of the total RB carries while Hillman only had three.
If Denver's trust in Moreno wasn't enough already (and I think it might be going into the future), facing off against the Oakland defense should allow Moreno plenty of holes.
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Danario Alexander - San Diego Chargers
Projected Stats: 4.39 receptions, 66.29 receiving yards, 0.33 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.54 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 23 WR (No. 77 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Chargers have lost four straight games, dropping them squarely out of the hearts and minds of everybody. And that includes fantasy owners: When's the last time Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews or Antonio Gates were relevant? But you may not realize there is in fact one name out there for the Chargers, and he could be your saving grace this week.
Danario Alexander has now led the Chargers in targets for four straight weeks, a feat that no other Chargers player had previously done more than twice in a row. Over that span, he has recorded at least five receptions in every game, averaged over 14 FP per game and never had an outing with less than seven fantasy points. And with a 65 percent catch rate, he's not likely to stop converting his looks any time soon.
Last week, Alexander was started in only 7.8 percent of ESPN leagues and owned in about a quarter of them. By comparison, Randy Moss was started in 7.3 percent of leagues and owned in over 37 percent. Sometimes, I really don't get fantasy owners. It brings a tear to my eye.
Josh Gordon - Cleveland Browns
Projected Stats: 3.46 receptions, 62.21 receiving yards, 0.38 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.42 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 24 WR (No. 79 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Gordon is being touted as one of the best fantasy waiver pickups for this week. But if you listened to me last week, you'd already be ahead of the game. Don't worry, though, there's still time to catch up, and Gordon might even be a solid flex play this week if you're lucky enough to snag him.
Brandon Weeden likes to spread the ball around—Benjamin Watson has had two recent games with eight targets and Trent Richardson had the same in Week 11—but Gordon remains the only constant in the Cleveland passing game.
In each of the past three games since Cleveland's bye, Gordon has led all wide receivers with exactly seven targets. Every one of those instances accounted for over 20 percent of Weeden's throws as well, indicating that the rookie QB is constantly looking Gordon's way.
Especially against the Kansas City Chiefs, Gordon should have his fair share of opportunities. KC ranks as numberFire's No. 8 least-efficient defensive unit, and they have given up over 85 points more than expectation to opposing passing games so far this season.
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Heath Miller - Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Stats: 4.01 receptions, 52.31 receiving yards, 0.44 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.83 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 5 TE (No. 93 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: vs. San Diego Chargers
Just how good has Heath Miller been? In our rankings of the most productive tight ends this season, Tony Gonzalez currently ranks at No. 1, with Rob Gronkowski at No. 2 (only below Old Man Gonzalez due to injury). Know who's at No. 3? It's not Jimmy Graham, there's no Antonio Gates here, and shame for thinking it's Jason Witten.
Say hello to the reemergence of Heath Miller as a must-start fantasy tight end.
Miller has gained the Steelers 43.89 NEP over expectation so far this season even after drops and attempted targets are taken into account. That's good for 0.85 NEP per catch, meaning that every time Heath Miller touches the ball, the Steelers can be expected to score almost a full point more than they had previously.
That's why, although the Chargers hold numberFire's No. 9 opponent-adjusted defense, Miller still remains a must-start. He's currently being started in less ESPN leagues than Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Brandon Pettigrew, Jermichael Finley and Jermaine Gresham, but we like Miller much more than each of those guys this week.
Brent Celek - Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Stats: 3.92 receptions, 46.22 receiving yards, 0.33 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.51 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 10 TE (No. 120 overall)
Week 14 Opponent: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Considering the boom-or-bust nature of most tight ends outside of the top six or seven, it's often hard to predict breakout players from the rest of the pack. But if there's one guy you may not have expected that we think can break out, it's Celek.
Nick Foles has already been named the starter for the rest of the season in Philadelphia, and judging from the past couple of weeks, that can only help Celek owners.
This past week, Celek led all Eagles players with eight targets, or 24 percent of Foles' throws. The week before, Celek finished third on the team in targets with 14 percent of throws. And in Foles' first full game, Celek tied for second with eight targets, or 17 percent of Foles throws.
Assuming that trend continues against Tampa Bay, Celek has a great chance of getting into the endzone. The Buccaneers are slightly less than effective this season, coming in as numberFire's No. 20 opponent-adjusted defense.
For full rankings, refer to numberFire's Full Projection List for Week 14. You can follow numberFire on Twitter @numberFire. The author takes no responsibility for any Norv Turner spiteful Alexander benchings that may change the order of our projections.