Week 17 Fantasy Football Projections: 6 Players Who Will Explode
It's here: the end of the road. As one of the fortunate few who has survived 16 weeks of Jamaal Charles' stable-as-Kanye's-love-life play, Maurice Jones-Drew's "Wait, he was a first-round pick?" season, or Matthew Stafford's "I have only one receiver, and I will use him, darn it" trek, I congratulate you.
But the fun's not over yet. Many fantasy leagues trek on into Week 17, undaunted by fun notions such as players resting for the playoffs or keeping people with injuries out. It's a cruel world out there for fantasy owners trying to navigate these tricky waters.
That's why we're 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.
This week, I have six players who you might not think of as must-starts but, if played in the right situation, are ready to go off.
It's championship time. Don't pull any punches now. Let's go.
QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Projected Stats: 221.91 passing yards, 1.56 passing TDs, 0.63 INTs, 25.59 rush yards, 0.12 rush TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 17.08 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 11 QB (No. 13 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: vs. St. Louis Rams
If it's Week 17 and you don't have one of the top nine quarterbacks, then congratulations. I'm not quite sure how you managed that, but more power to you.
The nine QBs starting in at least 60 percent of ESPN leagues are also the same nine QBs at the top of our projections this week: Rodgers, Brady, P. Manning, Brees, Newton, RGIII, Ryan, E. Manning and Tony Romo are our top nine QBs in that order. If you don't have one of them, good luck.
But let's play a nice little game and assume that for some reason, you were one of the unfortunate souls stuck with Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick or Matthew Stafford as your starting QB and somehow made it to the finals. Where do you turn from here?
To the rookie, that's where. Russell Wilson is being started in only 12.9 percent of ESPN leagues and owned in only 40.3 percent, but he's one of the best options outside the top guys and due for a big week.
Seattle may not throw the ball much—they pass on only 43.3 percent of their plays, one of the lowest in the league—but it doesn't matter if you're extraordinarily efficient.
Using numberFire's Net Expected Points formula, which measures how many points a team or player gains or loses on each individual play, we find that the Seahawks actually have one of the best passing attacks in the league. Every time a Seattle QB has dropped back to pass this season, he has gained his team an average of 0.33 points per play. Only the Patriots have a better average.
So it really doesn't matter if Wilson throws the ball a projected 26.9 times this week, a figure that places him 31st in projected attempts. Those throws have a high chance to be efficient, which leads to the rookie's projected 1.78 total TDs—10th in the NFL.
RB C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
Projected Stats: 17.39 rush attempts, 87.39 rush yards, 0.72 rush TDs, 2.49 receptions, 20.98 receiving yards, 0.19 receiving touchdowns
Standard League Fantasy Points: 15.96 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 3 RB (No. 18 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: vs. New York Jets
Well, that took long enough.
With Fred Jackson out for the season, the Buffalo coaching staff finally let C.J. run wild over the ordinarily tough Dolphins defense in Week 16. He had 22 rushing attempts, only the second time all season that he's topped 17 attempts—both games came against Miami.
I'd say 138 rushing yards and a 6.3-yards-per-carry average against what was the No. 7 most efficient defense should be enough to make him a top option in every single fantasy league this week. Don't you think so?
Chan Gailey should think so, especially considering that C.J. Spiller might just be the most efficient back in the entire league (yes, even including Adrian Peterson).
A fixture of our weekly MVP watch since, oh, just the beginning of the season, Spiller has added more value to his team than any other back in the league. At 0.11 NEP per rush gained this season, Spiller looks poised to end the season with the second-highest NEP per rush average since the 2000 season. Only Jamaal Charles's 0.18 NEP per rush in 2010 is better.
The Jets don't have the strongest run defense in the world, but it's not like Mark Sanchez is leading it either. At 27.37 points allowed under expectation to opposing running games this year, the Jets sit in 16th in the NFL. That should provide more than enough holes for Spiller to finish the season with yet another breakout game as Buffalo's lead back.
RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Stats: 16.71 rush attempts, 65.57 rush yards, 0.29 rush TDs, 3.55 receptions, 29.93 receiving yards, 0.09 receiving touchdowns
Standard League Fantasy Points: 11.38 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 12 RB (No. 49 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: at New York Giants
You can't kill the movie monster villain. He always comes back. And if you're facing him in the fantasy football finals this week, there's nowhere to run.
But it's not Michael Vick that I'm talking about, the usual fantasy playoffs killer (one way or another). It's his backfield partner, LeSean McCoy.
After weeks of Bryce Brown in the backfield, Andy Reid and the coaching staff quickly established just who's the lead back in Philadelphia once McCoy laced up his cleats again. The Eagles ran 18 running plays with backs in Week 16. 13 of them were by McCoy - a 72 percent ratio. He's a clear No. 1 option again.
He hasn't been efficient in the least this season, as his -0.15 NEP per rush average screams loud and clear. A 100-yard rushing game is about as rare as a bad Philly cheesesteak; McCoy has had only three on the season.
But the boys in blue from New York(/Jersey) have been giving a few early Christmas presents to opposing backs as well. The G-Men have given up -9.52 NEP per rush on the season, or -0.63 NEP per game. Because of the relative inefficiency of running the ball, that figure makes the Giants the eighth-least efficient run defense in the league.
WR Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
Projected Stats: 5.29 receptions, 78.49 receiving yards, 0.52 receiving touchdowns
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.93 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 13 WR (No. 52 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Demaryius Thomas has taken the headlines in the Broncos receiving corps, and rightfully so. When numberFire measured the Net Expected Points that receivers have gained on all balls thrown their way (including all targets and drops), Thomas has gained the Broncos 75.65 NEP on the season. That's fourth among all NFL receivers, behind Megatron, Andre Johnson and Roddy White.
But see, here's the thing. The Broncos not only have the fourth-most efficient receiver, but they also have the fifth. His name is Eric Decker; you may have heard of him after his combined 37 FP over the past two weeks.
Decker may not get Thomas' targets from Peyton Manning; Decker has been thrown to 115 times on the season as compared to Thomas' 133. Decker also may not have the long catches; his 11 receptions of 20+ yards are fewer than half of Thomas' total.
What throws Decker does get, however, he makes count. Decker's 68.4 percent catch rate is one of the highest among all receivers (and 15 percent better than his mark with Our Lord and Savior Tebow last season). That has allowed him to become Manning's preferred red zone target and rank third in the NFL with 11 receiving touchdowns.
Don't put it past him to grab one (or more) against Kansas City as well. The Chiefs have given up a touchdown per game over what's expected to opposing passing offenses this season. They're numberFire's No. 26 defense in terms of efficiency.
WR Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers
Projected Stats: 4.28 receptions, 74.67 receiving yards, 0.51 receiving touchdowns
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.51 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 15 WR (No. 58 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Oakland Raiders
Danario Alexander had only six targets against the Jets on Sunday. It was the second straight week he hasn't led the Chargers in targets after leading them for five straight weeks. He finished with only three receptions and 69 yards on the game.
Excuse me while I ignore that the sky is supposed to be falling.
Those six targets represented 27 percent of Philip Rivers' total throws, showing that just a week after Alexander's no-catch day, he still trusts his No. 1 wideout. And included in those three receptions was a touchdown, giving Alexander his fifth double-digit-fantasy-point outing in the last seven weeks.
Rivers' 22 pass attempts on Sunday may worry some, but I'm not one of them. The Chargers have thrown the ball on 57.4 percent of their offensive plays this season, so expect the Chargers' passing game to return closer to the norm this weekend. And that should mean more targets for Alexander, who never had fewer than eight in a game between Week 10 and Week 14.
Making the pot even sweeter is that delicious nectar found in the Black Hole defense. The Raiders hold the next-to-least efficient secondary in the entire NFL this season (the Jaguars are the worst) at 115.34 points above expectation, which should allow Alexander plenty of room to operate.
TE Owen Daniels, Houston Texans
Projected Stats: 3.68 receptions, 45.06 receiving yards, 0.42 receiving touchdowns
Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.99 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 7 TE (No. 106 overall)
Week 17 Opponent: at Indianapolis Colts
Jimmy Graham? Rob Gronkowski? Jason Witten? Boring. When I want a tight end who's going to explode, I want a guy started in only 60 percent of ESPN leagues, a guy who hasn't had a double-digit FP outing since Week 9, a guy who had four catches for 40 yards last time he played this team.
Give me Owen Daniels. Now.
Although Daniels hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 12, it's not as if he hasn't had the chances to do so.
Daniels' 99 targets on the season ranks second on the Texans, 32 targets ahead of third-place Kevin Walter. Daniels has finished second on the team behind Andre Johnson in each of the past two weeks, both times with seven targets.
Daniels hasn't been the best at converting those looks, however. At a catch rate of 59 percent, he sits near the bottom of all NFL tight ends at catching the throws his QB gives him.
But against the Colts, it may not matter. Although they have gotten better recently, the Indianapolis secondary sits as the dead-last opponent-adjusted unit in the entire league.
Indy's 131.74 NEP given up over expectation this season means that Daniels will certainly have a good chance to break that touchdownless streak this week. He's projected for 0.42 TDs, tied for the second-highest total among all tight ends.
For full rankings, refer to numberFire's Full Projection List for Week 17. You can follow numberFire on Twitter @numberFire. The author takes no responsibility for any Eric Decker buffets at Papa John's that may change the order of our projections.