Fantasy Football Week 13 Sleepers at Every Position
Fantasy weeks don't get any bigger than this—at least in the regular season.
In the majority of fantasy football leagues, Week 13 is the last week of the regular season. And that means that for quite a few fantasy owners, this week is a playoff game.
Win, and it's on to the playoffs.
Lose, and the season's over.
The last thing any fantasy owner wants in a must-win week is to have a hole in the lineup. But injuries happen. It's a cold, hard world that doesn't care about your fantasy team. Plenty of folks are scrambling to find a running back play this week, or combing through the scrap-heap for a wide receiver.
Don't get me started on the tight ends.
Well, I'm here to help (No, really. I can be helpful. Stop laughing), with some under-the-radar fantasy plays for lucky Week 13.
Before we take a look at the Week 13 sleepers, here's a look at how Week 11's recommendations panned out.
In order to go forward, we must first look back. Or some other wise-sounding pablum.
For the record, sleepers count as wins if they finish inside weekly starter territory in a 12-team, points-per-reception fantasy league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one defense and the always popular flex play—a fairly standard setup.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (258 passing yards, -4 rushing yards, 4 TD): Mayfield's run of juicy matchups ended with last week's win over the Bengals, but man, was it fun while it lasted. WIN
Nick Mullens, QB, San Francisco 49ers (221 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT): San Francisco's Cinderfella quarterback made his first start away from Levi's Stadium—and turned back into a pumpkin. Yes, I know that's not how the story goes. I'm trying to be clever. LOSS
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (312 passing yards, 24 rushing yards, 2 TD): It's been something of a carousel, but whoever has started under center for the Buccaneers this season has produced for fantasy owners. WIN
Gus Edwards, RB, Baltimore Ravens (23 carries, 118 yards): After posting a second-straight 100-yard rushing effort, Edwards appears to have overtaken the top spot at RB in Baltimore—and most assuredly lost sleeper status. WIN
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (5 rushes, 35 yards, 10 catches, 68 yards, 1 TD): Melvin Gordon came into this game banged up and left it even more so—and that opened the door for a top-10 outing from Ekeler. WIN
Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans (2 catches, 14 yards): It figures that the week I recommend Coutee would be the week that Demaryius Thomas breaks out and has a big game for the Texans. I think it was intentional on his part. Trying to make me look bad. LOSS
Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers (DNP): Frankly, I should get a mulligan here—Goodwin left Tampa before last week's game to attend to a family matter and still hasn't re-joined the team. But a zero is a zero, so I'll take the L. LOSS
Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (4 catches, 41 yards): Generally speaking, when a team doesn't even hit 150 yards of total offense, said team isn't going to produce much in the way of fantasy production. LOSS
Cameron Brate, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD): Alert the news media and make your final preparations. The fact that a tight end I recommended actually had a decent game has to be a portent of the Apocalypse. WIN
New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams: (338 yards allowed, 13 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 INT): I would have liked more in the way of big plays, but the Pats did enough to sneak inside the top-12 defenses for the week. WIN
WEEK 7: 6-4 (.600)
SEASON: 54-66 (.450)
I went oh-fer on the wide receiver calls, but I was able to tie my high-water mark for any single week and get to 45 percent correct for the season.
I'll take it.
Sleeper of the Week
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (at ATL)
Now, it's possible that this recommendation could blow up in all of our faces. Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens was a limited participant in practice this week—the first time he's practiced since hurting his hip a few weeks ago.
However, given how well Lamar Jackson has played in getting the Ravens back into playoff contention, it's hard to imagine head coach John Harbaugh making a switch.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Granted, Jackson hasn't been perfect by any means. He threw a pair of interceptions against the Oakland Raiders last week, and he remains a work in progress as a passer.
However, Jackson's jaw-dropping athleticism has impressed more than a few people in recent weeks, including his teammates.
"It's amazing how athletic he is, and how good of a quarterback he is," tight end Mark Andrews said, via ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "He is able to do so much that makes defenses stay up late at night."
Jackson's made quite the impression on fantasy owners as well. In the two weeks since he took the reins for the Ravens, Jackson has thrown for 328 yards, run for another 190 and posted the sixth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks—ahead of the likes of Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
However, despite those numbers and a matchup with an Atlanta Falcons team that ranks third in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks this year, Jackson's owned in less than half of the fantasy leagues at Yahoo.
What's up with that?
Case Keenum, QB, Denver Broncos (at CIN)
After the Denver Broncos pitched and lurched to a 3-6 start, many fans and pundits questioned the wisdom of the two-year, $36 million contract the team gave to veteran quarterback Case Keenum.
And by "questioned," I mean "blasted with both barrels."
However, after wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos are back on the fringe of playoff contention. Per Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, Keenum admitted he's rather enjoyed serving a helping of crow to the naysayers.
"I really don't think anybody else's opinion matters but what's going on in our locker room," said Keenum. "I have a lot of respect for what you guys (in the media) do, but there's a lot of things that go on outside this building that for us, we don't pay attention to. We get after it and we work, and we trust each other. We trust each other's opinion and we trust the coaches' opinions. That's what matters to us. But it feels good to prove people wrong every once in a while."
Keenum isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard during this mini-streak, though. Over his last two games, Keenum is averaging just 201 passing yards and a touchdown per game.
But the 30-year-old is avoiding turnovers (a big problem for him earlier in the season), and this week Keenum and the Broncos should be able to open things up more against a Cincinnati Bengals team that's both 31st in the NFL in pass defense and first in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (vs. NYJ)
Marcus Mariota needs a hug.
On Monday night in Houston, Mariota had one of the best games of his career—he missed on just one of his 23 passes, topped 300 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes.
His reward for that performance? A 14-point loss that dropped the Titans below .500.
Mariota's been hit-or-miss this season, and while speaking to Jim Wyatt of the team's website, he said the key to better consistency is to make quick reads and spread the rock around.
"We just have to do a good job of spreading the ball around and just making sure the defense, can't settle on a certain guy, and allowing those guys to make plays," Mariota said. "Really the main thing is just spreading the ball around and making sure we are distributing evenly.
"I think you have to find ways to get every guy the ball, whether it is Dion (Lewis), whether it is Corey, whether it is Derrick (Henry), whether it is Jonnu (Smith). It is not focusing on one specific guy. One week it might be Corey, the next week it might be Tajae (Sharpe). It just depends week to week."
The Titans may have lost in Week 12, but Mariota did just what he was talking about and looked good doing it en route to the No. 11 fantasy performance at quarterback.
If he plays at a similar level this week against a Jets team that has struggled on the road this year, he'll crack the top 10.
Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions (vs. LAR)
We tried the Theo Riddick route not too long ago in this column, and it didn't pan out. But I'm going back to the well, and there are a few reasons to think this time will be different.
The first doesn't make me feel any better, but it's one of fantasy's harsh realities. The later into the season you get, the shallower the pool of sleeper talent gets in the backfield. Players are not just rostered who were afterthoughts a month ago—they're weekly starters.
See Adams, Josh. And Edwards, Gus.
The second is that injuries in the backfield haven't spared the Lions. As Jacob Camenker reported for the Sporting News, lead back Kerryon Johnson missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury. It's looking unlikely he'll be able to play this week when the Lions host the Rams.
That means LeGarrette Blount will handle the early-down work, with Riddick assuming his normal role on passing downs.
Third, there's the matter of the matchup—and that's where things get really good.
The number of people who think the Lions won't fall behind the Rams equals exactly zero. Matthew Stafford's grandma bet the Rams minus-10 in this one.
Grandma Stafford's a shark, she is.
If the Lions spend a significant portion of this game trailing, Blount is going to cede snaps to Riddick, who could be set for a bushel of garbage-time catches out of the backfield.
All hail garbage time!
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins (at PHI)
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson certainly didn't enter the 2018 season as a sleeper. Before his 2017 season was cut short by injury, the scatback spent the first half of the year as a top-12 fantasy option in point-per-reception formats.
In 2018, Thompson was going to stay healthy and serve as a high-end flex option. Maybe even an RB2.
That wasn't what happened, though. Four uninspiring and injury-marred games into this season, Thompson hurt his ribs. He hasn't played since Week 8 after hurting them again. And now he's on the waiver wire in more than half the fantasy football leagues at Yahoo.
However, there just might be a light at the end of that tunnel—and an opportunity for the many fantasy owners in a lurch in the backfield.
Per Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post, Thompson has finally returned to practice and looks on track to play in Monday's pivotal NFC East matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Granted, the Eagles aren't a great matchup for running backs—Philly ranks 11th in the NFL in run defense and 21st in PPR fantasy points given up to running backs this season.
But Thompson isn't a classical running back by any stretch. He's not looking for yardage off-tackle. And an Eagles defense that's been ravaged by injuries at linebacker and in the secondary could be vulnerable to a back catching the ball out in the flat and/or on wheel routes.
Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins (at PHI)
If you watched the Washington Redskins get throttled by the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving in a game where Washington's offense struggled mightily, the notion of trusting any Redskins player in a must-win game probably doesn't fill you with holiday cheer.
However, if you look past the surface and dig a little deeper, there's a player on the Redskins who just might be able to help you out.
Of Colt McCoy's 38 pass attempts in the loss to Dallas, 10 were directed at wide receiver Josh Doctson. That was both a team-high for the game and a season-high for the former first-round pick, who converted those targets into six catches for 66 yards.
Both the receptions and yardage were season-highs for Doctson, who has quietly been on a nice little run of late. In three of his last four games, Doctson has managed at least 12 PPR fantasy points and ranks 27th among wide receivers—a high-end WR3 in 12-team leagues.
If those numbers don't pique your interest, how about adding this to the mix? On Monday night, the Redskins travel to face their NFC East rivals in Philly in a game with huge postseason implications for both teams.
There are many things the Eagles do well. Defending the pass is not one of them.
Through 11 weeks this season, Philadelphia's injury-ravaged secondary has given up the second-most PPR fantasy points to wide receivers—over 43 per game.
If Doctson gets a similar target share against the Eagles, he's going to turn in his biggest stat line of the season.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets (at TEN)
This recommendation comes with a bit of a caveat. If rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is back under center for the New York Jets on Sunday, then wide receiver Jermaine Kearse becomes a riskier fantasy play.
Even so, I'm making the call.
In last week's loss to the New England Patriots, Kearse had easily his best game of the season—six receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets.
As Gary Phillips reported for Jets Wire, Kearse said he thinks the New York offense has been more up-tempo of late since veteran quarterback Josh McCown took over for an injured Darnold.
"(McCown) sees things a lot quicker," Kearse told reporters. "Just the mental aspect, he's a lot further, just with his experience, being in the league, just being able to see things a lot quicker. The tempo kind of picked up a little bit (in practice)."
By no means is Kearse a slam-dunk in Week 13. The seventh-year veteran has hauled in less than half of his 65 targets this year and is averaging less than 10 yards a catch.
But in two of the three games this year in which Kearse has been targeted 10 or more times, he's posted 18 or more PPR fantasy points—including a game with Darnold under center.
Throw in a matchup with a Tennessee Titans team allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, and as gambles go, you could do worse than Kearse.
Now I'm rhyming. Oh yeah.
David Moore, WR, Seattle Seahawks (vs. SF)
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver David Moore is available in three out of every four fantasy football leagues at Yahoo. There's good reason for that, as Moore has all of 22 catches for a Seahawks passing attack that won't be confused with the NFC West rivals down the coast in L.A. anytime soon.
However, Moore has the makings of a sneaky-good fantasy start in Week 13.
For starters, there's the fact that five of Moore's 22 receptions this year have gone for touchdowns. Only Tyler Lockett has more scores for the team.
If you were wondering, Doug Baldwin has one. Sigh.
Then there's the matter of Moore's 103-yard effort last week against the Carolina Panthers—an effort that surprised just about everyone but Baldwin, apparently.
"He's a savage," Baldwin said, via ESPN's Brady Henderson. "He does that every day in practice, in games when he gets his opportunities. He's a baller."
Finally, there's the matter of matchup. This week the Seahawks play host to the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners haven't been a great fantasy matchup for wideouts in 2018, but they haven't been awful, either—15th in PPR fantasy points allowed to the position.
Admittedly, Moore has a low floor. He's not going to catch eight passes and have a solid PPR day through quantity. He makes his hay over the top and in the red zone.
But in three of his last four games, Moore has been targeted at least five times, and in two of those games, it was seven or Moore.
Get it? Moore?
HA! I kill me!
Matt LaCosse, TE, Denver Broncos (at CIN)
The tight end position in fantasy football has been a waking nightmare in 2018. One sentence sums up how incredibly weird it's been this season.
Jared Cook and Eric Ebron have both been really good.
The season-ending rib injury suffered by Jeff Heuerman of the Denver Broncos robbed streamers at tight end of yet another option last week. But they may not have to look far for a replacement.
With Heuerman on the shelf last week, third-year pro Matt LaCosse had easily the best game of his career, hauling in three passes for 34 yards and his first NFL touchdown.
Those numbers are admittedly not knee-buckling. And to say that LaCosse is not an accomplished blocker is being kind—he's not going to be on the field full-time.
But Case Keenum has shown a propensity for targeting his tight ends this season, and the 6'6", 255-pound LaCosse demonstrated a nice aptitude for getting open in space last week against Pittsburgh.
Bedsides, this recommendation actually has less to do with LaCosse and more to do with who he and the Broncos face in Week 13. Sunday in the Queen City, Denver will meet a terrible Cincinnati Bengals defense that leads the AFC in PPR fantasy points allowed to tight ends in 2018.
Green Bay Packers Defense/Special Teams (vs. AZ)
This isn't the first time the Green Bay Packers have made an appearance as a sleeper defense in this column.
Just as it was before, this time has little to do with a defense that has been asleep most of the year. The Packers rank a respectable 12th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense. Green Bay's 36 sacks rank third in the NFL. But the Packers have managed just 12 takeaways in 11 games and haven't scored a defensive or return touchdown all year.
As a result, they rank outside the top 20 fantasy defenses in 2018 in NFL.com default fantasy scoring.
But again, this isn't about the Pack. This is about the team it hosts at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
At the risk of sounding mean, the Arizona Cardinals have been hot garbage offensively this season. The Redbirds are dead last in the NFL in offense, at 232.5 yards per game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have averaged just under that per half.
Arizona's also 32nd in the league in scoring, averaging 14.2 points per game.
There are six teams averaging more than that every two quarters.
Last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Redbirds scored 10 points and amassed 149 yards of total offense. Only once in 11 games have the Cardinals hit the 300-yard mark offensively.
Care to guess which team in the NFC is surrendering the most fantasy points to opposing team defenses this season?
If you guessed the Cardinals, you get a cookie.
Not really. I ate them all.