Fantasy Football Week 12 Sleepers at Every Position

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystNovember 24, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 12 Sleepers at Every Position

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    This is a very special week in fantasy football.

    For starters, it's Thanksgiving week. By the time you read this, three of Week 12's games will already be in the books. Unfortunately, for some that will mean trying to figure out how to dig out of a deep scoring hole.

    It never fails that anyone I start on Thanksgiving falls flat. I should post all my starters on Twitter as a PSA on who to avoid.

    That hole looks all the darker and deeper when you consider that for some people, the fantasy postseason has already essentially started. Take another loss, and it's all over but the crying—there won't be any postseason berth.

    But wait! It gets better! Fresh off the highest-scoring Monday night game in NFL history, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams are the last two teams to take a bye—leaving gaping holes in more than a few starting lineups.

    But all is not lost. There are players out there on the waiver wire or buried on benches in every league that have the potential to ride to the rescue in Week 12—to save the proverbial day and keep seasons afloat.

    Players just like these.


Accountability Time

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Before we move on to the Week 12 sleeper recommendations, here's a gander at how Week 11's picks fared.

    Hopefully there's a thing or two to be thankful for in here. If not, I'll drown my sorrows in leftover pie.

    Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (208 passing yards, five rushing yards, one TD): Prescott didn't have a terrible game. Or even a bad one. But Sunday's game with the Atlanta Falcons wound up being a lot lower-scoring than most (including me) expected. LOSS

    Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (231 passing yards, two TDs): There have been weeks this season where this relatively modest stat line would have been good enough to crack the top 12. Sadly, this was not one of those weeks. LOSS

    Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (85 passing yards, 17 rushing yards, one INT): My first two QB recommendations were near-misses. This one was a disaster. The week's not getting off to a great start. Pass the pie. LOSS

    Peyton Barber, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (18 carries, 106 yards, two catches, four yards, one TD): The quarterbacks may have been a mess, but Barber certainly wasn't—he finished among the top 10 RBs in some scoring systems. WIN

    Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions (one carry, zero yards, five catches, 30 yards): I figured the Lions would be in catch-up mode for much of the game against Carolina. Instead, the jerks actually won the dang thing. That's just rude. More pie, please. LOSS

    Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears (two catches, 25 yards, one TD): Miller wasn't as involved in the passing game Sunday night as I hoped he'd be, but he found the end zone in the win over the Vikings. That got him inside WR3 territory. WIN

    DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers (seven catches, 157 yards, one TD): Moore is a hard guy to trust on a weekly basis given how wildly his target numbers have varied, but he's got the highest ceiling of any WR on the roster in Charlotte. WIN

    Tre'Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints (10 receptions, 157 yards, one TD): Not to toot my own horn or anything, but two of my wide receiver sleepers in Week 11 were top-five fantasy options for the week. Toot freaking toot. WIN

    Jeff Heuerman, TE, Denver Broncos (four catches, 20 yards): Another tight end call, another miss. Look at it this way—I'm telling you which tight ends you absolutely should under no condition start in a given week. You're welcome. LOSS

    Arizona Cardinals Defense/Special Teams (325 yards allowed, 23 points allowed, four sacks): Somehow, the Cardinals managed to do what most thought impossible—play worse than the Raiders. In related news, the Arizona defense is dead to me. LOSS

    WEEK 7: 4-6 (.400)

    SEASON: 48-62 (.436)

    I cooled off a bit relative to the last few weeks, but three of the four players I hit on were not just decent but outstanding. Smith and Moore in particular posted the kind of stat line that wins you weeks as a fill-in.

Sleeper of the Week

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (at CIN)

    There are those who might argue that Baker Mayfield's eligibility for this column is suspect. And in one regard, they have a point. There isn't a player in the NFL who has made more appearances in this article this season than the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

    But given that Mayfield's ownership percentage is hovering at about 50 percent at Yahoo, he's not exactly a fantasy star. For every league in which Mayfield is owned, there's one in which he isn't—and the percentage of teams that start Mayfield is that much lower.

    There's a reason why Mayfield has been something of a regular here of late. A reason why in the four weeks before Cleveland's Week 11 bye, Mayfield ranked sixth among all fantasy quarterbacks.

    Partly it was Mayfield's not inconsiderable talents, but mostly it's been a string of matchups against porous defenses.

    That string keeps right on rolling after the bye week. The Cincinnati Bengals have the worst defense in the NFL and—in terms of yards allowed per game—one of the worst defenses in NFL history. In three of the last four games the Bengals have surrendered over 500 yards of total offense, and the team is averaging almost 450 yards given up per game.

    Cincy also leads the league in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this season.

    If you're a Jared Goff or Patrick Mahomes owner in need of a spot starter, Mayfield is your guy.

Nick Mullens, QB, San Francisco 49ers (at TB)

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Odds are, unless you play in a fantasy football league that requires two starters at quarterback or has a "superflex" spot where signal-callers are eligible, Nick Mullens of the San Francisco 49ers isn't going to be in starting lineups this week.

    As a matter of fact, Mullens is rostered in less than one in 10 fantasy leagues at Yahoo.

    This is the deepest of deep sleeper calls—an undrafted free agent who is only starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because the wheels came flying off the Niners' season.

    To say Mullens opened some eyes with his stellar NFL debut against the Raiders a few weeks ago is an understatement. As Matt Maiocco reported for NBC Sports Bay Area, Niners general manager John Lynch has taken to using Mullens' unlikely ascension as a teaching tool for his kids, for crepe's sake.

    "I've told a lot of these players, Nick is a great example of working, such that, when your opportunity presents itself, you're ready and good things come from that," Lynch said. "I talked to my own kids about that. Nick Mullens is a great story because of the way he goes about his work each and every day."

    Of course, fantasy points don't get awarded for inspiration—they get awarded for production. And after torching the Raiders for 262 yards and three scores in Week 9, Mullens was down significantly the following week against the Giants. This will also be Mullens' first start away from Levi's Stadium.

    But only two teams in the NFL have given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks this year than Tampa, which sets the stage for a rebound and another teachable moment for the Lynch kids.

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. SF)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    It's been a wild year at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 2018 season started out with Ryan Fitzpatrick lighting up the scoreboard and capturing the hearts of fantasy owners. Then Fitz came crashing back to earth and Jameis Winston was reinserted as Tampa's starter. Then Winston struggled, and back in went Fitzpatrick—but there was no repeat of "Fitzmagic" this time.

    Now, ahead of Sunday's home tilt with the San Francisco 49ers, it's Winston who has been re-reinserted as the starter at quarterback.

    From an NFL perspective, football's most important position has been chaos for the Bucs in 2018. But as Heath Cummings pointed out at CBS Sports, for fantasy owners it's been straight gravy.

    "It hasn't mattered who has started for the Buccaneers this year; combined Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have been a top-three quarterback in fantasy. I wouldn't expect that will change against the 49ers," Cummings wrote, adding: "Winston is a top-five quarterback for me this week. ... You should add him and start him with confidence."

    Top-five may be a touch on the optimistic side, but top-12 isn't even a little bit given the production we've seen from Tampa's quarterbacks in 2018 and a middle-of-the-pack fantasy matchup with San Francisco.

    Besides, on Thanksgiving week, how can you possibly turn down anything that involves gravy?

Gus Edwards, RB, Baltimore Ravens (vs. OAK)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The star of Baltimore's win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week was Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. But Jackson wasn't the only young player who surprised with how well he fared in the first extensive action of his NFL career.

    The thing is, as Clifton Brown reported for the team's website, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wasn't as surprised as the rest of us that Gus Edwards piled up 115 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown against the Bengals:

    "It's not like all of a sudden guys just show up and they play well. Players say that sometimes, 'Just give me a chance!' You get a chance every day in practice. Go out there and dominate. Gus has been doing that. He's been doing it in practice, he's been doing it in special teams and he's been doing it in the few carries he's had in games. It has been a goal to get him more carries in games before this. It wasn't like this happened in the last week or two. It's been probably two months that he's been doing it."

    Baltimore's running back rotation is crowded and then some as Edwards joins Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Ty Montgomery on the active roster. With that many mouths to feed, the carry-share is going to be prone to fluctuation.

    But if Edwards gets a workload anything like last week's this Sunday at home against the Raiders, he should have another good game—Oakland has allowed the eighth-most PPR fantasy points per game to running backs this season.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. AZ)

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    Peter B Joneleit/Associated Press

    A month or so ago, Austin Ekeler of the Chargers wouldn't have qualified for this article. Even now, his ownership percentage at Yahoo is at the high end of what I'd say could reasonably be called sleeper-eligible.

    Give me a break, will ya? Finding running backs with a pulse this late in the season is one scene of Tom Cruise running short of Mission: Impossible. There were three early games this week, which thinned the pool of available talent that much more.

    And to be fair, Ekeler's production and ownership numbers have both been trending in the wrong direction over the past several weeks.

    After scoring three touchdowns (all on catches) over the first five weeks of the season, Ekeler hasn't found the end zone since. After averaging over 10 touches a game over the first seven games of the year, Ekeler has seen that number drop by over 50 percent over the last three contests.

    Over those three games, Ekeler has 122 total yards, and he's gone over 40 total yards in a game just once.

    However, that one game was last week against the Denver Broncos, raising a glimmer of hope that the Chargers realized they've been underusing their passing-down back of late. With the Chargers set to face an Arizona Cardinals team that ranks fourth in PPR fantasy points allowed to running backs, that glimmer makes Ekeler worth a dice roll if you need RB or flex help in Week 12.

Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans (vs. TEN)

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    After the Houston Texans made a trade-deadline deal that brought Demaryius Thomas to town, many fantasy owners assumed that meant the end of the road for the relevance of Keke Coutee.

    As Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend!

    In last week's win over the Washington Redskins, Coutee was targeted nine times, converting those targets into five receptions for 77 yards. Thomas, on the other hand, wasn't targeted.

    Now, that lopsided target share probably isn't going to hold. But it shows that Coutee most assuredly will not fade into fantasy oblivion. Better yet, as Aaron Wilson reported for the Houston Chronicle, Coutee said he made it through the Redskins game without his nagging hamstring injury acting up.

    "I feel good," Coutee said. "It felt good the whole game, so no worries. Knock on wood, I just have to stay on it. I don't want to have any more setbacks."

    That Coutee is healthy and still very much a part of the Houston offense should be especially appealing in Week 12. On Monday night the Texans will host a Titans team that has struggled to defend wide receivers in 2018. In fact, no team in the AFC has surrendered more fantasy points to the position this year than Tennessee.

    The Titans will no doubt focus their defensive attention on DeAndre Hopkins—which should in turn mean quite a bit of single coverage (and the chance for a long score) for Coutee.

Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers (at TB)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    UPDATE: Per Cam Inman of the Mercury News, Goodwin is doubtful for Sunday's game after leaving Tampa to attend to a personal matter.

    It's not believed to be for disciplinary reasons.

    It's been a quiet season for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. The 28-year-old has just 17 receptions for 339 yards, although he does have four touchdowns.

    If you take out Goodwin's one huge game, things get that much worse: 126 yards and half of Goodwin's scores came in one Week 6 contest against the Green Bay Packers—a contest in which C.J. Beathard was San Francisco's starting quarterback.

    However, there are a couple of reasons to suspect Goodwin could have sleeper potential this week in Tampa Bay.

    The first is Goodwin's last game. Two weeks ago against the New York Giants, he had four catches for 69 yards. The four catches tied that Week 6 explosion for his most in a game this year. The yardage total was Goodwin's second-highest of the season.

    It appears that Nick Mullens is figuring it out a bit where Goodwin is concerned.

    The larger reason for optimism with Goodwin is his matchup. To say Tampa's pass defense is bad implies that the team has a pass defense. The Buccaneers rank 28th in the NFL against the pass, allowing 282.3 yards per game. The Buccaneers have also given up the third-most PPR fantasy points to wideouts in 2018.

    There's risk here—but more than a little upside as well.

Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (at LAC)

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    If you've been paying attention to this column this season, you probably figured out a while back that matchups play a huge part in my recommendations. When searching for under-the-radar fantasy options, it's very important to target ones in the best position to succeed in a given week.

    However, occasionally you have to go against that grain and consider a player who appears to be paddling upstream. Such is the case in Week 12 with Christian Kirk of the Arizona Cardinals, who faces a Los Angeles Chargers defense that has been stingy with opposing wide receivers this season—26th in PPR fantasy points allowed.

    The matchup isn't ideal, but there's still some hope for Kirk this week. His target share has been steady of late—he's been thrown at six or more times in four of the last five games. He's also been consistent production-wise, making at least three catches for at least 40 yards in five of the last six contests, with three scores over that span.

    Over that same six-week stretch, Kirk ranks 34th in fantasy points per game among wide receivers—inside WR3 territory in 12-team leagues. He has also hit double digits in fantasy points four times.

    The Cardinals are likely to be playing from behind against a Chargers team that's angry about blowing a 12-point lead against the Broncos last week. Trailing means throwing. Trailing big means garbage time.

    Both portend a good game from Kirk in Week 12.

Cameron Brate, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. SF)

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The tight end position has been a nightmare for fantasy owners in 2018. For every player at the position who has performed to expectations (Travis Kelce is a bad man) or been a pleasant surprise (I'd hug George Kittle if he'd let me), there have been two who fell flat and/or got hurt.

    The injury bug claimed another victim in Week 11. Second-year pro O.J. Howard of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is done for the year after suffering ankle and foot injuries in last week's loss to the New York Giants.

    There's a silver lining to the Howard injury, although based on ownership percentage at Yahoo, almost half of fantasy owners aren't hip to it.

    With Howard on the shelf, Cameron Brate will once again serve as Tampa's unquestioned No. 1 tight end. It's a role in which the 27-year-old has shown he can make some hay. In 2017, Brate was fantasy's No. 10 tight end in formats that award a point for receptions. Over a six-week stretch last year (weeks 3-8), only Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles had more fantasy points among tight ends than Brate.

    The fact that Jameis Winston is back under center in Tampa only adds to Brate's appeal, as the two have long shown a rapport.

    Even in a sketchy fantasy matchup with the 49ers (who rank 22nd in fantasy points permitted to tight ends), Brate is easily the top streaming option at his position in Week 12.

New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams (at NYJ)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots are not known as a defensive powerhouse. The Patriots are 24th in the NFL in total defense, 25th in passing defense, 16th in run defense and 30th in sacks.

    Most importantly, the Patriots rank outside the top 15 team defenses in terms of fantasy points in most scoring systems. When last we saw the New England defense, it was getting embarrassed in Nashville by a Tennessee Titans offense that doesn't draw many comparisons to the Greatest Show on Turf or 2007 Patriots.

    So why are the Patriots one of this week's hottest pickups on fantasy waiver wires?

    J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.

    New England's defense may be bad, but the Jets offense is even worse. This is a team that was blown out at home two weeks ago…by the Buffalo Bills. The Jets rank 29th in the NFL in total offense, 29th in passing offense, 20th in rushing offense and 23rd in scoring. The Jets have only allowed 24 sacks, but their 22 giveaways on the season are tied for the most in the AFC.

    Only two NFL teams (the Bills and Arizona Cardinals) have been friendlier to team defenses in 2018 than Gang Green's gangrenous offense.

    Team defense is as much about matchups as it is about the defenses themselves. And among defenses that started the week on the waiver wire in a significant percentage of leagues, none have a better matchup than a Pats team that's no doubt seething after getting thumped by the Titans.