Fantasy Football Week 11 Sleepers at Every Position
The drive to the fantasy playoffs is underway.
In more fantasy leagues than not, there are three weeks left in the regular season. And for teams sitting at 6-4, 5-5 or 4-6, those weeks will be fraught with peril and stress and heartburn and other unpleasantness.
Because many of those teams cannot afford another loss.
Of course, avoiding a loss isn't an easy task. We have one more four-team bye, in Week 11. And regardless of whether fantasy owners like it, injuries continue to mount.
Never mind players whose statistical production hasn't come close to their draft slot in 2017.
All of those problems have the same solution. A panacea that will cure all that ails your fantasy squad. An elixir that knocks out that nasty cough and gets your season back on its feet.
An off-the-radar play set for a big Week 11. A sneaky start set to shine.
A "sleeper" just like these.
Before we delve into the Week 11 picks, let's take a look back at Week 10.
If a player I recommended finished inside weekly starter territory (the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, top 24 running backs and top 36 wide receivers), I'm calling that a win.
Detroit Lions Defense/Special Teams (413 yards allowed, 24 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 touchdown, D/ST4): The Cleveland Browns had a lot more success moving the ball than I expected (413 total yards). But a defensive score saved the day for the Lions in a 30-24 win. WIN
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (187 passing yards, 9 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, QB27): Sunday's game between the Buccaneers and New York Jets was a 15-10 fantasy wasteland. Tampa's offense is a hot mess, and it showed even in victory. LOSS
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (273 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, QB12): The Giants hit rock bottom in a 31-21 loss to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers, but Manning sneaked his way into the back of the top 12. WIN
Orleans Darkwa, RB, New York Giants (14 carries, 70 yards, 2 catches, 18 yards, 1 2PT Conv., RB16): It wasn't a great stat line, but 88 total yards and a two-point conversion run got the job done. WIN
Alfred Morris, RB, Dallas Cowboys (11 carries, 53 yards, RB48): It's possible that better days are ahead for Morris and the Dallas offense. But the Cowboys looked awful against the Atlanta Falcons in a 27-7 loss with left tackle Tyron Smith sidelined with a groin injury. LOSS
Damien Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins (9 rushes, 19 yards, 2 receptions, 20 yards, RB54): I had the right idea: A Dolphins back cracked the PPR top 10. Unfortunately, that back was Kenyan Drake, who peeled off a 66-yard score against the Carolina Panthers in a 45-10 win. LOSS
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets (4 catches, 85 yards, 1 touchdown, WR15): Anderson has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the Jets. He was the only one on his team who didn't stink up the joint last week in the loss to Tampa. WIN
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers (5 catches, 43 yards, WR43): Had Samuel not injured his ankle against the Dolphins, he would've finished what was the start of a good effort. But ifs and maybes won't get you into the fantasy playoffs. LOSS
Robert Woods, WR, Los Angeles Rams (8 receptions, 171 yards, 2 touchdowns, WR1): Sometimes everything comes together perfectly on a lineup call and you get to bask in the warming glow of a deluge of toasty fantasy points. WIN
Garrett Celek, TE, San Francisco 49ers (4 catches, 67 yards, 1 touchdown, TE3): The Giants have given up a touchdown catch to a tight end in every game this season. Too bad they get Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11. WIN
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions (2 catches, 39 yards, 1 touchdown, TE12): You know it's been a good week when even Ebron pays off. Either I need to buy lottery tickets, or it's the Apocalypse. It's probably that last one. WIN
New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams (339 yards allowed, 16 points allowed, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 KR TD, D/ST5): Watching Dion Lewis return a kickoff for a score Sunday night was the cherry on top of a delicious Week 10 sleeper sundae. WIN
WEEK 10 TOTAL: 8/12 (.667)
Week 10 tied for my best effort of the season, and the Woods call made it the first time this season that one of my recommendations finished as the top overall player at his position.
Now it's just a matter of keeping that momentum going as the stretch run for the fantasy playoffs kicks into high gear.
SEASON TOTAL: 58/120 (.483)
Sleeper of the Week
Jay Cutler, QB, Miami Dolphins (vs. TB)
This may be the first time in the history of ever someone mentioned "keeping up momentum" and followed that by writing something good about Jay Christopher Cutler.
The Miami Dolphins certainly don't have any steam. After getting blasted 45-21 by the Carolina Panthers last Monday night, the Dolphins have lost three games in a row—all in prime time.
However, Cutler told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald he's confident he and the Dolphins can bounce back.
"There's a lot of football left," he said. "The pieces are in that locker room. I truly believe that. I have been around a lot of good teams, there [are] a lot of good guys in there, a lot of talent."
The thing is, from a fantasy perspective, Cutler hasn't been that bad. Over the last two weeks he has passed for 524 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception—numbers that place him eighth among fantasy quarterbacks.
In Sunday's Hurricane Irma makeup contest, Cutler and the Dolphins will host a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.
Granted, that same Tampa defense just held the New York Jets to 10 points, but given how the Buccaneers have played this season, the odds they'll put together two solid defensive efforts in a row aren't good.
And that should set the stage for Cutler to keep his mini-hot streak going—regardless of whether the Dolphins win.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (at CLE)
If the Cutler recommendation didn't toss us off the deep end, this one surely will.
The notion of starting Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles in a potential must-win fantasy matchup probably inspires reactions that fall somewhere between nervous laughter and explosive diarrhea.
After all, we're talking about a player who last week, per Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, became the first quarterback in the 21st century to throw two interceptions in the last two minutes of a game while his team trailed and still somehow win.
However, over his past three starts (dating back to Week 7), Bortles has had three outings in a row with at least 250 passing yards and a touchdown. He threw for 330 yards against the Colts back in Week 7 and attempted a season-high 51 passes last week against the Chargers.
He's probably going to keep throwing the ball, too. Jacksonville's opponents are cheating their safeties and stacking the box in an effort to shut down running back Leonard Fournette—essentially daring Bortles to beat them through the air.
This week the Jaguars will face a Cleveland Browns team that's played the run well. They rank fourth in the league in that regard and have allowed just 86.4 yards per game.
However, Cleveland's a middle-of-the-pack pass defense (No. 17) that's been kind to the quarterback position—10th in fantasy points given up to signal-callers.
This isn't to say fantasy owners should do cartwheels as they're plugging Bortles into the starting lineup.
But outlandish though it may sound, he's a legitimate streaming option in Week 11.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (vs. KC)
Yes, this is a repeat. And Eli Manning is a high-profile NFL player.
But with the Giants mired in the midst of their worst season in 25-plus years, Manning is only owned in 26 percent of fantasy leagues at NFL.com, per Matt Franciscovich.
That alone is enough to merit the two-time Super Bowl MVP's "sleeper" status.
Frankly, while Manning got me a "win" in Week 10, his performance (just like that of his team) was a disappointment against the San Francisco 49ers. He should have been a relatively safe bet to crack the top 10 QBs. Instead, he barely skulked his way into the back end of QB1 territory in 12-team fantasy leagues.
Fantasy owners need to look past that disappointment.
Don't get me wrong: The Giants are headed for a spanking at the hands of the 6-3 Kansas City Chiefs.
That same Chiefs team, however, ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense, having allowed 259.2 yards per game. Only seven teams have surrendered more fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Kansas City's a good football team. Good enough to handle a Giants squad that punched right through rock bottom last week in Santa Clara, California. But New York isn't an especially good defensive team.
And that could mean garbage-time fantasy production galore for the Giants, who will be playing catch up in the second half.
Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots (at OAK)
Fantasy football is a game replete with unwritten rules. Maybe not a many as baseball, but still—replete.
One of those unwritten rules is that trusting any tailback for the New England Patriots is asking for trouble. Their values can fluctuate wildly from week to week—or even quarter to quarter.
And yet here I am, recommending Rex Burkhead in Week 11.
Over New England's past couple of games, Burkhead has risen up the crowded depth chart in the Pats backfield. In Week 8, he had 11 touches for 83 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers. He went one better (OK, two better) last week in Denver, with 13 touches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Burkhead sounded very much a Patriot when he spoke to Zack Cox of NESN.com about his role.
"Whatever way the coaches see me fit and whatever role they want to put me in that gives our team the best chance to win, I'm more than happy to do that," Burkhead said. "So whenever your number is called or wherever they feel like I should be, I'm happy to do it."
There's still risk with Burkhead. He played just 36 snaps against the Broncos, per Pro Football Reference. There's no guarantee he'll see that many snaps Sunday in Mexico City, especially with Dion Lewis and James White also factors at running back.
But for now, Burkhead is the favored son, and the Raiders have been a top-five fantasy matchup for his position.
Unwritten rules were made to be broken.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins (vs. TB)
The Miami Dolphins have struggled in a big way offensively in 2017. They rank 31st in total offense and 30th in rushing offense. Through their first eight games, the Dolphins scored a grand total of zero touchdowns on the ground.
There wasn't much good news in Miami's Monday mauling at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, but there was one bright spot. That dry spell is over, courtesy of Kenyan Drake's 66-yard rumble in the third quarter.
Drake told Mark Inabinett of AL.com before that game he's confident he can defy expectations and serve as an every-down running back.
"I feel like I am that regardless," Drake said. "So the perception of other people is me doing it. So it's just going out there and playing the game I know how to play. People can say what they want to say; I'm just going to play my best football."
The Dolphins aren't asking Drake to serve as a work horse, and they probably aren't going to anytime soon. But for the second straight game Drake was more effective than Damien Williams on a per-touch basis—especially on the ground. In those two contests Drake has carried the ball 16 times for 151 yards—an average of 9.4 yards per carry. Williams also had 16 carries but put up 33 yards at 2.1 yards per carry.
Drake's performance should earn him a larger share of the workload, starting Sunday against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the seventh-most PPR fantasy points to running backs.
Jamaal Williams, RB, Green Bay Packers (vs. BAL)
The last things the Packers needed as they clung to their rapidly fading playoff hopes were injuries to the run game, which they were leaning on with quarterback Aaron Rodgers out with a broken collarbone.
Guess what happened?
Per Green Bay's Twitter feed, rookie Aaron Jones suffered a knee injury in last week's 23-16 win over the Chicago Bears that will sideline him for several weeks. Ty Montgomery aggravated the rib injury he suffered earlier this season, leaving his status for this week's home tilt with the Baltimore Ravens in doubt.
Enter first-year tailback Jamaal Williams.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reported, early in camp it appeared it Williams would challenge Montgomery for carries. But once the games began to count, Williams struggled while Jones thrived.
Still, Williams told Demovsky his relegation to the bench did nothing to alter his approach each week.
"Every week, I still go in and prepare like I am going to be the starting running back," he said. "You need to know all the runs and all the plays, because you never know when your time's going to come."
That preparation showed against the Bears. While Williams' 20 carries for 67 yards didn't constitute a jaw-dropping stat line, he made plays when he needed to.
Even if Montgomery suits up Sunday, he'll be limited, which should mean a heavy workload for Williams against a Ravens run defense that's surrendering 125.9 yards a game on the ground.
Dontrelle Inman, WR, Chicago Bears (vs. DET)
The Chicago Bears don't possess what one would consider a high-octane passing attack. The team averages 169.8 yards per game through the air.
No team in the NFC averages less.
That it took Dontrelle Inman all of one game to establish himself as the Bears' No. 1 receiver tells you all you need to know about their receiving corps.
Inman, who joined the Bears after a recent trade with the Los Angeles Chargers, had six catches for 88 yards a week ago against the Green Bay Packers—the second-most yardage in a single game accrued by a Bears wideout this season.
Inman had a costly drop, but outside that, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky told ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson he was pleased with his new target.
"He made great catches all game, so that was just one of those [the drop] that we have to make," Trubisky said. "We're going to go back to work this week, and I have a lot of confidence in him. He made great plays for us, and he's coming along really quickly. It's tough to get here on short notice and learn a playbook, so hats off to him for doing that."
The Detroit Lions haven't been a great matchup for fantasy receivers this season, but they haven't been a terrible one either—14th in PPR fantasy points given up to the position.
Trubisky's 297 passing yards last week were a career best, and with his improvement and Inman's emergence, the latter's a decent spot start at home in Week 11.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (at CLE)
Boy, I'm just wailing away on the NFL's most fearsome passing attacks, huh?
Most of the chatter surrounding the wide receivers in Jacksonville this week has centered on the NFL debut of rookie Dede Westbrook.
But fantasy owners who are digging through the detritus at the position for a sneaky starter should be focusing on fourth-year veteran Marqise Lee.
His incredibly dumb late penalty aside, Lee had a good game in last week's wild 20-17 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, as he made six catches for 55 yards and a score. It marked the third straight game in which Lee had either found the end zone or topped 70 receiving yards. He's also caught at least four passes in each of those games and, per Alex Gelhar of NFL.com, Lee has been targeted at least 10 times in three of the last four games.
Over those three contests, Lee ranks 14th in PPR fantasy points at his position.
This recommendation isn't just a matter of Lee's being hot, either. The Cleveland Browns don't appear to be a great fantasy matchup for the position, ranking 24th in fantasy points allowed to WRs. But as CBSSports.com pointed out, the Browns have given up at least one touchdown to a wide receiver in seven of the past nine games. Last week, the Lions' pass-catchers torched the Cleveland secondary for 249 yards and three scores.
Lee's a sneaky-good player with a sneaky-good matchup.
So make with the sneaking.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys (vs. PHI)
Terrance Williams was a trendy waiver-wire and sleeper pick last week after he exploded for nine catches for 141 yards two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs.
He was asleep in Week 10, all right—Williams caught one pass for nine yards against the Atlanta Falcons.
That's Williams in a nutshell. Throughout his five years in the NFL, he has interspersed the occasional big game with a whole lot of not much. He's not second fiddle in the Cowboys passing game. He might not be third fiddle.
Still, head coach Jason Garrett told ESPN.com's Todd Archer that Williams has long been a player who maximizes the opportunities gets.
"If you look back at Terrance's career with us, he's been a guy that whenever he's been given opportunities, he typically comes through," Garrett said. "He makes plays."
It's a speculative call, but that opportunity will be there in Sunday night's big matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
With running back Ezekiel Elliott suspended and the NFL's No. 1 run defense in town, the Cowboys aren't going to be able to move the ball on the ground. And you can bet the rent money that a Philly pass defense that should have top cornerback Ronald Darby back from an ankle injury will key on Dez Bryant.
Don't bet the rent money. That's incredibly irresponsible.
That means single coverage against the likes of Jalen Mills for Williams.
And there's your opportunity.
Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills (at LAC)
The Buffalo Bills appear to be panicking. After a pair of ugly losses dropped the Bills to 5-4, the team is benching Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman.
This is, in this writer's opinion, an ungood idea. Taylor's being used as a scapegoat for issues that are not close to being entirely his fault. The reality is that head coach Sean McDermott never really wanted Taylor as his starter.
The Bills are going to squander a promising start and miss the playoffs—again.
But there's a silver lining in all of this for fantasy owners. A young quarterback needs a safety valve. A dependable veteran target underneath he can check down to.
And that's where Charles Clay comes in.
The seventh-year tight end did little in last week's 47-10 trouncing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, catching just two passes for 13 yards. But Clay was on the field for a healthy percentage of the team's offensive snaps in his first game action since Week 5 (60.4, per Pro Football Reference), and that percentage will only increase.
Over the first four weeks of the 2017 season, Clay was fourth in fantasy points among all tight ends. Asking for that sort of production with Peterman under center isn't realistic.
But the top 10 isn't out of the question in a matchup with the L.A. Chargers.
Tyler Kroft, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (at DEN)
If you started Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft last week, you're probably staring at this and wondering if I've been using correction fluid in an enclosed space.
You're probably also wondering what correction fluid is.
Despite playing every offensive snap for the Bengals in Week 10's 24-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans, per Pro Football Reference, and seeing six targets, Kroft had all of one reception for four yards.
That is not a stat line that will please fantasy owners at all.
However, sometimes you just need to have a short memory. This is one of those times.
Last week's disappearing act aside, Kroft's been solid while filling in for the injured Tyler Eifert (back surgery). He was only just passed by Brandon LaFell (31 catches, 303 yards) for second on the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (291) last week. Kroft still ranks second on the team behind A.J. Green in touchdown grabs with three.
Also, for all the run Denver's "No Fly Zone" defense gets (or got—it's struggled of late), the team hasn't had a ton of success in defending tight ends in 2017. According to Matt Franciscovich of NFL.com, the Broncos have allowed the most receiving yards in the NFL to tight ends (746). They also lead the AFC in fantasy points given up to the position.
Add it all up, and Kroft could be a crafty call in Week 11.
Arizona Cardinals Defense/Special Teams (at HOU)
The Arizona Cardinals entered 2017 with one of the more sought-after team defenses in fantasy football. They were fourth in fantasy points a season ago and had an average draft position at My Fantasy League of sixth at the position.
They have served as a cautionary tale for why spending considerable draft capital on fantasy defenses is unwise. Through 10 weeks, they rank 16th in fantasy points—a standing that has landed them on the waiver wire in more than a few leagues.
This is the week to give the Redbirds a second chance, though. Or fourth. Maybe fifth. Another.
The reason is the same one as always where defenses are concerned: It's all about the matchup, baby.
This week's game in Houston with the Texans will be a clinic in bad quarterback play. A battle for the ages between Tom "Macho Man" Savage and Blaine "Real American" Gabbert.
Arizona and Houston both rank inside the top 10 in the NFL in sacks allowed. The Texans are fourth with 31. They're tied for third in giveaways with 17. And most importantly, the Texans are surrendering the fourth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses.
This game will be an ugly affair decided by which team commits more mistakes. Both defenses will feast.
And fantasy owners who start either one will wind up with fat bellies as a result.