Fantasy Football Week 14 Sleepers at Every Position

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 8, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 14 Sleepers at Every Position

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    At this point in the fantasy football season, with the playoffs either just around the corner or already underway in many leagues, sleepers are both less and more important than ever.

    Confusing, ain't it?

    On one hand, if your starting lineup has a number of holes in it, odds are the fantasy postseason isn't in your plans for 2018. If you're still playing this week, it's likely in the role of spoiler.

    Go get 'em. Misery loves company. Plus, you can get a head start on Christmas shopping.

    Yeah, it doesn't make me feel better either.

    However, injuries continue to occur, even to the best of teams. In the last week alone, we saw Pittsburgh Steelers tailback James Conner and Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders go down. The latter is out for the season with a torn Achilles.

    Playoff teams are springing leaks just when the margin for error evaporates.

    Luckily, there are some players out there who can help—whether it's a fill-in running back or wideout or a matchup play on defense or under center.


Accountability Time

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Before we check out the Week 14 sleepers, let's examine how Week 13's recommendations played out.

    Attaboys are welcome. Thrown vegetables, not so much.

    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.

    Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (125 passing yards, 75 rushing yards, one rushing TD): Jackson spent part of the win over Atlanta in the medical tent but still managed enough yardage on the ground to finish inside the top 10 in fantasy points. WIN

    Case Keenum, QB, Denver Broncos (151 passing yards, one TD, nine rushing yards): Keenum's paltry stat line against a miserable Bengals defense was a disappointment. Unfortunately, life is filled with such disappointments—or something. LOSS

    Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (282 passing yards, two TDs, one INT, 43 rushing yards): Mariota got off to a miserable start against the Jets, but falling behind forced the Titans to throw the ball more than they otherwise might. WIN

    Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions (eight carries, 32 yards, three catches, 26 yards): The Lions managed to stay in Sunday's game against the Rams most of the way. Had they spent more time playing catch-up, maybe Riddick's stats would have been better. LOSS

    Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins (three rushes, three yards, three receptions, 18 yards): Any hopes Thompson had of a solid stat line against the Eagles died a painful death the moment Mark Sanchez entered the game. LOSS

    Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins (three catches, 51 yards): Doctson's production and target share went way up with Colt McCoy at quarterback. Now? With Sanchez under center? Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. LOSS

    Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets (GOOSE EGG OF DOOM): There's a moral to this story. Said moral is, "do not, under any circumstances ever, trust any of the wide receivers for the New York Jets." Kearse not only had no catches, but he wasn't even targeted. LOSS

    David Moore, WR, Seattle Seahawks (DOUBLE GOOSE EGG of DOOM): Moore's doughnut against the San Francisco 49ers is the perfect capper to a truly miserable week of wide receiver calls. I will now hang my head in shame. LOSS

    Matt LaCosse, TE, Denver Broncos (TRIPLE GOOSE EGG OF DOOM): It's bad enough that most of my recommendations missed this week. Three goose eggs is such a miserable showing that I may have to fire myself. LOSS

    Green Bay Packers Defense/Special Teams (20 points allowed, 315 yards, two sacks): Green Bay's faceplant against the woeful Arizona Cardinals is the perfect capper to my worst week of sleeper picks of the year. What a mess. LOSS

    WEEK 7: 2-8 (.200)

    SEASON: 56-74 (.431)

    I don't even want to talk about it. Now I know how Doug Marrone felt Friday morning.

    Moving on.

Sleeper of the Week

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Detroit Lions Defense/Special Teams (at AZ)

    The Detroit Lions haven't had the best of seasons. At 4-8, the Lions are playing out the string in Matt Patricia's first year as head coach.

    Detroit's disappointing campaign extends to the realm of fantasy football. The Lions don't have a single player inside the top 15 fantasy producers at any position. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is the only player inside the top 20—and that's just barely.

    So why is a Detroit defense that ranks 26th in fantasy points at the position leading off this week's sleeper column?

    Well, as it usually is with defenses, this play is all about the matchup.

    The Arizona Cardinals are coming off easily their best win of the season—a 20-17 upset of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

    But one win does not fix all that ails the Arizona offense—and make no mistake, it is ailing.

    Last Sunday's win marked just the second time this season that Arizona has topped 300 yards of total offense in a game. Through 13 weeks, the Cardinals are dead last in the NFL in total offense (239.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (14.6 points per game).

    The Greatest Show on Turf, they ain't.

    The Redbirds have also allowed 32 sacks this season (15th in the league) and have turned the ball over 22 times—sixth-most in the NFL.

    If all those tasty numbers don't do it for you, here's one that should seal the deal.

    No team in the NFC has surrendered more fantasy points to defenses this year.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (at KC)

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    There are a few great mysteries this time of year. Why do people continue to insist that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie when it obviously is? What the heck is in fruitcake, and why would anyone eat it?

    And why is Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson still available in more fantasy leagues than not?

    It's not like Jackson isn't producing for fantasy owners just as he has for the surging Ravens. In fact, over the last two weeks, Jackson's combo attack of passing and (especially) running has propelled the rookie to top-five fantasy numbers among quarterbacks.

    Admittedly, Jackson hasn't been flawless. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said he'd like to see Jackson take better care of the football.

    "I'd like to see us protect the football a little bit better than we have in the last few weeks," Harbaugh told reporters. "That'll be really critical in this game, I think, the turnovers, both ways. Those are some things to work on, too."

    But over the last three games, Jackson has piled up 265 yards on the ground. There are any number of running backs who will be in starting lineups this week that haven't had that kind of success running the ball.

    As if Jackson's recent success isn't reason enough to roll the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner out this week, there's the matter of matchup. There are a great many things the Chiefs do well in 2018, but playing defense isn't one of them. Kansas City ranks dead last in the NFL in pass defense and third in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.

    In a must-win week, there are two young quarterbacks available in a high percentage of fantasy leagues that are viable streamers.

    Jackson is one of them.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns (vs. CAR)

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Baker Mayfield has probably appeared in this column more than any player in the NFL. Given those multiple appearances (with varying degrees of success), some may question the viability of his "sleeper" status.

    However, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft remains available in about 40 percent of the fantasy football leagues at Yahoo, so after consulting with the sleeper eligibility commission (or the voices in my head, depending on how you look at it), it was ruled that he's OK.

    That's good news for QB streamers in those leagues where he's available.

    Mayfield admittedly struggled last week against the Houston Texans, throwing three first-half interceptions. But Browns head coach Gregg Williams indicated in a press conference that Mayfield has already turned the page and moved on to Week 14:

    "With those mistakes, he accepts responsibility and gets on to the next play. I've been around those kinds of people, too, and not just at the quarterback position but a lot of times at the cornerback position.

    "You have to get on to the next play. Those are what really good players do, and [Mayfield] has that in him. Today he brought a smile to me as he's getting everybody fired up out there today on lots of different competition type things, and so no worries at all."

    From Week 9 to Week 12, Mayfield parlayed a string of favorable matchups into a top-10 ranking among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. He gets another one Sunday, facing a floundering Carolina Panthers team that now ranks sixth in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in 2018.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Detroit Lions (at AZ)

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    For most of his first season in Detroit, running back LeGarrette Blount has been an afterthought. However, thanks to injuries in the backfield, that has changed of late.

    With rookie Kerryon Johnson out with a knee injury, Blount has been tasked with the early-down work for the Lions over the past couple of games, piling up 35 carries for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    Speaking with the media, Blount attributed that success at least in part to being able to get into a rhythm:

    "As a running back, I think every running back in this league is going to want the rock over the course of a game. You want to get lathered up, you want to see how they're playing and how they're fitting the runs and how they're playing against certain runs. Whenever you get a chance, an opportunity to get a few in a row, and see how it's going, it helps a lot."

    Johnson still hasn't made it back onto the practice field, and every missed one makes it that much more likely that he'll again be sidelined when the Lions travel to face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.

    That would open the door for another heavy workload for Blount (who has at least 16 carries in each of the last two games) against an Arizona team that leads the NFC in fantasy points given up to running backs.

    If you missed out on the hot waiver adds in the backfield this week, Blount is a decent consolation prize.

Jeff Wilson, RB, San Francisco 49ers (vs. DEN)

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    At this late juncture in the fantasy football season, sleeper running backs capable of big days are slightly less rare than unicorns.

    However, injuries or other circumstances can create a window of opportunity for a tailback.

    That's what's happening in San Francisco with undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson. As Matt Breida became the latest Niners back felled by injuries, lead duties last week fell to Wilson, who starred at North Texas.

    Well, as much as anyone can star at North Texas.

    Wilson made the most of his chance last week against the Seattle Seahawks, gaining 61 yards on 15 carries, adding 73 more on eight catches and earning the respect of head coach Kyle Shanahan:

    "Jeff played very well. He earned that last week how he played, but it got stronger, especially with what happened with Breida in pregame warmups. We were going to give Jeff a lot anyways, but we knew Breida struggled in pregame. Then it got worse as the game went. Jeff also got hurt in the game too. He had to leave and go to the locker room for a little bit. But, it was good to see him. We all know he played well, but it was good to see him bounce back and play through some stuff that was bothering him also."

    With Breida already ruled out for Week 14, it will fall to Wilson once again to carry the mail for the 49ers against the Denver Broncos.

    While Denver is only a middling matchup for running backs from a fantasy perspective, based on opportunity alone, Wilson is easily the best running back option who remains available in almost 50 percent of leagues at Yahoo.

Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns (vs. CAR)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Antonio Callaway did something last week against the Houston Texans that's really quite rare in the NFL.

    Somehow, the rookie speedster from Florida managed to not score despite two long touchdown catches—twice in three plays. The first was negated by a holding penalty, and Callaway fumbled the second as he neared the end zone.

    It's been that kind of year for Callaway—flashes of considerable talent marred by drops, mental errors and inconsistency. However, Browns head coach Gregg Williams didn't pile on the young pass-catcher after his Week 13 gaffe.

    "He did really good, and he'll learn from that ball-security play too, but he's explosive, and I can't coach that," Williams told reporters. "He did some really good things to give him some opportunities to make plays, and he read the thing right. He and Baker were on the same page on a few of those shots. We've just got to protect the ball."

    The thing is, mistakes or not, the Browns are going to keep giving Callaway chances to make plays. That he was able to make those catches speaks to his ability to get open over the top. He and Baker Mayfield are getting on the same page more and more each week.

    Throw in a matchup with a reeling Panthers team in Week 14 that has allowed the sixth-most PPR fantasy points to receivers this year, and if you don't mind some risk, the upside is there with Callaway.

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. NO)

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    If there's a common thread among most of this week's sleepers, it's that the door to a larger role has been opened by a late-season injury.

    That's the case with Chris Godwin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who has seen his target share increase with DeSean Jackson sidelined by a thumb injury.

    Godwin made the most of that opportunity in Week 13, reeling in five of his six targets for 101 yards and making a case that he should enter 2019 as Tampa's No. 2 receiver.

    Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter told the media he wasn't at all shocked by Godwin's big game against the Carolina Panthers.

    "First of all, it's not surprising," Koetter said. "I've been saying since day one, we have four starting wide receivers. They've all had their moments where they've played very well this year. Not surprising at all."

    If that's the case, Koetter should be that much less surprised if Godwin puts on an encore against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

    The Saints have had all sorts of problems covering wide receivers in 2018. It's not just that New Orleans gives up more PPR fantasy points to wideouts than any team in the NFL. The Saints are No. 1 by a margin of six fantasy points per game.

    Back in Week 1, Godwin posted a 3/41/1 stat line against the Saints as the No. 3 wideout. The No. 2 (Jackson) blew up for 5/146/2—on a day where Mike Evans also went well over 100 receiving yards with a touchdown.

Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills (vs. NYJ)

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    It's been a tumultuous week for the wide receivers of the Buffalo Bills. The roster underwent a seismic shakeup earlier in the week when veterans Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes were shown the door. That left second-year pro Zay Jones as the leader of an unproven cadre of pass-catchers.

    Per Kyle Silagyi of the team's website, Jones—who struggled mightily with drops and inconsistency as a rookie—is confident he can step into the role of the Bills' top wideout:

    "We aren't a group of guys that's played, I haven't played four or five years. I'm still a young player as well. We are building an identity. I think that we're a hardworking group, a competitive group, we're hungry. Rob Foster brings things to the table, Isaiah [McKenzie] brings things to the table, dynamic players. Our focus is just to keep working hard and expand on what we do well."

    Jones looked the part of a No. 1 receiver last week, catching four of nine targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns.

    By no means is Jones a finished product, and his low catch rate relative to target share (he had just 27 receptions on 74 targets as a rookie) remains a cause for genuine concern.

    But first-year quarterback Josh Allen seems to be developing a rapport with Jones, and for better or worse he's Buffalo's No. 1 heading into this week's AFC East matchup with a Jets team that ranks fifth in PPR fantasy points surrendered to receivers in 2018.

Chris Herndon, TE, New York Jets (at BUF)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Overall, Chris Herndon's 28 receptions for 345 yards and three scores aren't numbers that inspire cartwheels from fantasy owners.

    However, in a season where the tight end position has been a huge mess, those stats rank the rookie 15th in PPR fantasy points for the year. There are those who think the youngster has been pretty good in his first season.

    Like, say, Herndon himself.

    "I feel like I'm just trying to do everything they ask me to do and do it as well as I can," Herndon said, via Randy Lange of the team's website. "I don't really look at the stats. I just see it as me having my number called and doing my best to make the plays."

    Herndon's right—he's had his moments. From Week 6 to Week 8, Herndon piled up seven receptions for 114 yards, scoring a touchdown in three straight contests. Over that span he checked in seventh among tight ends in fantasy points.

    Those three weeks had something else in common—something (or more appropriately someone) who will return in Week 14 against the Bills.

    Herndon's hot streak came with rookie Sam Darnold, who he seems to have developed a rapport with, at quarterback.

    Darnold will be back under center Sunday at Buffalo—and Herndon could be back to fantasy relevance.

Arizona Cardinals Defense/Special Teams (vs. DET)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Sunday's matchup in Glendale between a pair of teams that have gone a combined 7-17 this season won't be getting any national TV time. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman won't be in town. And there's not a lot to be had for fantasy owners on the offensive side of the ball outside of Cardinals running back David Johnson.

    But on defense, both teams in this matchup between the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals have fantasy appeal for folks who prefer to stream a new defense each week.

    The Arizona offense has been a hot mess in 2018, but the defense has quietly been decent—especially through the air. For the year, Arizona ranks fifth in pass defense and third in the league with 38 sacks.

    This isn't to say the Redbirds haven't had some struggles defensively—the team ranks just 17th overall and outside the top 20 in scoring defense. But the team has had its moments.

    The Cards should have a few more against Detroit. The Lions are a disappointing 23rd in the league in total offense this season at 340 yards per game. They hold the same rank in scoring offense, posting 21.2 points per game.

    The Lions do rank inside the top 10 in a few offensive categories, though. The 36 sacks the team has allowed in 2018 is tied for 10th in the NFL. Detroit's 18 giveaways are tied for ninth. The team is eighth in fantasy points allowed to team defenses as well.

    Hey, I never said the categories were ones the Lions would want to be in the top 10 in.


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