Fantasy Football Week 16 Sleepers at Every Position

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 22, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 16 Sleepers at Every Position

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    It all comes down to this.

    OK, for most people it all comes down to this.

    In the majority of fantasy football leagues, Week 16 is championship week. Just two teams remain, and when the dust settles at the end, one of those squads will be crowned champion.

    This is admittedly not the week that fantasy owners want to be rooting through the sleeper ranks for a starter. There's enough pressure in Week 16 without adding a hole in the lineup to the mix.

    But the fantasy gods can be cruel. We've already seen one starter at quarterback (Cam Newton) shut down this week. There are injuries at running back (Todd Gurley) and wide receiver (Tyler Boyd) that have sent plenty of fantasy squads in scramble mode in search of the player who can salvage their title dreams and save Christmas.

    Here are the leading candidates for the role of Santa Claus in Week 16.

    Ho, ho, ho and whatnot.

         

Accountability Time

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Before we dive into the Week 16 sleeper recommendations, let's look back at how Week 15's recommendations played out.

    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.

    Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (263 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 reception): Carr didn't have an especially good game against a terrible Bengals defense, but in a week where very few quarterbacks shined, he still found his way into QB1 territory. WIN

    Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (204 passing yards, 1 TD, 16 rushing yards, 1 TD): Allen's been quite the fantasy asset of late—including a top-five fantasy finish in Week 15. We may not have seen the last of him in this column. Just saying. WIN

    Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (131 passing yards, 1 TD, 95 rushing yards): Including Jackson here over and over may not be super original. But his ownership percentage remains relatively low despite his consistent fantasy production. WIN

    Doug Martin, RB, Oakland Raiders (9 carries, 39 rushing yards): I feel like there's a moral in here somewhere—something about not trusting a Raiders player ever in a must-win game. Oakland looked awful in the Queen City in Week 15. LOSS

    Ito Smith, RB, Atlanta Falcons (9 carries, 34 yards, 2 catches, 5 yards): Maybe this would have gone differently had Smith not gotten hurt, but watching Tevin Coleman have his best game of the season against the Cardinals still stung. LOSS

    DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Denver Broncos (7 catches, 46 yards): Hamilton was another sleeper who won without having an especially good game. It was not a week where the pass-wacky NFL lit it up in that regard. WIN

    Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers (5 receptions, 83 yards): The 49ers had one of Week 15's biggest upsets with their win over the Seattle Seahawks, and in that game, Pettis continued his recent streak of fantasy relevance. WIN

    Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers (2 rushes, 8 yards, 1 catch, 17 yards): As if this dud of a showing wasn't bad enough, with Cam Newton now done for the year, all Panthers not named Christian McCaffrey are fantasy coal in your stocking. LOSS

    Vernon Davis, TE, Washington Redskins (2 catches, 16 yards): My tight end recommendations this year have been more cursed than the Madden cover, the Hope Diamond and King Tut's tomb put together. Ugh and double-ugh. LOSS

    Detroit Lions Defense/Special Teams (312 yards allowed, 14 points allowed, 1 sack): The Lions didn't play a bad game defensively, but Detroit had squat for big plays. In fantasy football, that isn't going to get it done. LOSS

    WEEK 14: 5-5 (.500)

    SEASON: 65-85 (.433)

    Hitting on half of the sleeper calls isn't great, but it'll keep me off the naughty list—for now.

Sleeper of the Week

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens (at LAC)

    At this point, you may be wondering if you're hearing an echo or experiencing deja vu. Of late there haven't been many weeks where either Lamar Jackson of the Ravens or Baker Mayfield of the Browns hasn't made an appearance in this column.

    And by "many," I mean "any."

    However, while Mayfield's sleeper status has been revoked complements of an ownership percentage in the high 60s at Yahoo, Jackson's still available in more leagues than not.

    In championship week, you don't want cute. Or obscure. If you're streaming or forced to hit the waiver wire because the Panthers shut down Cam Newton, you want productive.

    That makes Jackson an easy call.

    As Ryan Mink reported for the team's website, Jackson knows he's in for the stiffest test of his young career, stating that the L.A. defense is the fastest he's seen on film all season long.

    "All 11 to the ball at all times," Jackson said. "They're flying around, making plays, making turnovers. A good defense."

    Of course, Jackson isn't exactly running in mud himself.

    Since taking the reins under center for the Ravens in Week 11, Jackson has piled up a jaw-dropping 427 rushing yards in five games. Those rushing yards have equated to excellent fantasy production—despite pedestrian passing stats, only Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs has more fantasy points among quarterbacks than Jackson.

    Saturday's matchup with the Bolts isn't ideal, but when top-five upside's sitting on the wire, you don't quibble over such things.

    You pull the proverbial trigger.

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (at NE)

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Picking up and starting Lamar Jackson is about as good a Plan B as most fantasy owners could hope for in Week 16. But in about one of every two leagues, that's not an option.

    Those fantasy owners will have to dig a little deeper.

    However, there's a quarterback available in almost three quarters of the leagues at Yahoo who has a good chance at a solid Week 16 stat line.

    That quarterback is Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

    Stop laughing.

    Like Jackson, Allen remains very much a work in progress throwing the football. But like Jackson, Allen has also been shredding opponents running the football—351 yards and three scores over the last month. He's done enough that the rookie has caught Bill Belichick's eye.

    "He's big, he's fast, he's got a strong arm, he's accurate. He can stand in the pocket and throw. He can get out. There's some designed runs. There's some quarterback scrambles or some scrambles that are runs or he scrambles and extends plays and throws it. He's a hard guy to defend," Belichick said, per CBS Boston. "I mean, he had almost three quarters of their total offense against the Jets. It's a lot."

    Now, Belichick's a master at taking away what a team does best. He's going to make it hard for Allen to run all over the place Sunday—likely with a spy or three.

    But we're still talking about fantasy's highest-scoring quarterback over the last month facing a team that has given up the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2018.

    Those numbers (and the possibility of garbage-time points) are worth gambling on.

Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets (vs. GBP)

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    Might as well go all-in on rookie quarterbacks in Week 16.

    After all, it's not like there's anything important on the line this week, right?

    The order in which these first-year signal-callers is listed is also the order in which they should be pursued. Jackson's a better option than Allen, who has to travel to Gillette Stadium. And Allen's a better option than Sam Darnold, whose Jets will host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

    Just as most rookie quarterbacks do, Darnold's had his ups and downs this year. But to his credit, his last start was one of his best. In last week's loss to the Houston Texans, Darnold completed over 63 percent of his passes for 253 yards and two scores with no picks. His passer rating of 100.0 was his third-highest of the season and best since Week 6.

    Both Darnold and wide receiver Robby Anderson (foreshadowing) have been playing better of late. Per ESPN's Rich Cimini, Darnold said he and Anderson are developing a rapport.

    "If I'm able to extend the play or do anything of that nature," Darnold said, "I think he's done a really good job finding open windows. ... He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and I am, too."

    There's also the matter of Darnold recently filling in as a mall Santa for The Simms and Lefkoe Show here at Bleacher Report.

    I'm not sure what that has to do with fantasy football. But it was pretty cool.

    Besides, a little Christmas karma can't hurt.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins (vs. JAX)

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    For most of this season, Miami Dolphins tailback Kalen Ballage has been an afterthought—buried on the running back depth chart for the Dolphins.

    However, the only constant in the NFL is change, and with veteran Frank Gore now out for the season with an injured foot, the rookie from Arizona State has gone from afterthought to the lead running back for a Miami team still clinging to playoff hopes.

    Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Ballage piled up 123 rushing yards on just 12 carries—including a 75-yard touchdown. As Cameron Wolfe reported for ESPN, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has every confidence that Ballage can back that big game up.

    "Kalen has been huge for us. His progression throughout OTAs, throughout training camp, buying in and getting in the playbook and learning what to do, now you're starting to see that [now that] he's getting some opportunities in the backfield on offense," Tannehill said. "He has the size to run tough and get the tough yards, but then he also has the breakaway speed to be able to finish those long runs. He's kind of a rare combo in that regard of size and speed."

    This week's matchup with a Jacksonville Jaguars team allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs is hardly ideal. But like Derrick Henry of the Titans, the 6'2", 238-pound Ballage is a hard-charging, downhill runner.

    And we just saw Henry embarrass the Jags to the tune of 238 yards on the ground.

Elijah McGuire, RB, New York Jets (vs. GBP)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    It's not often fantasy teams with a glaring hole at tailback get far enough in the playoffs to have to worry about finding a spot-starter in Week 16.

    But maybe you were able to patch the hole left by Kareem Hunt's release with first Spencer Ware and then Damien Williams—you lucky dog.

    Or maybe the hole at running back is newer. Or the hole isn't even there (yet) and you're just looking for some insurance in case it's the fantasy apocalypse and Todd Gurley sits out Week 16.

    It's even less often that a tailback with top-15 upside in championship week is available in half of the fantasy leagues at Yahoo. It's a regular Christmas miracle.

    That said, back plays for the Jets may just be the second sign of that apocalypse I mentioned.

    At first glance, Elijah McGuire hasn't done a lot over the past couple weeks to inspire confidence that he can lead fantasy squads to the promised land. In the last two games, McGuire has carried the ball 35 times for just 102 yards—a per-carry average of 2.9 yards.

    That's…not good.

    However, McGuire's found the end zone in both of those games, caught three passes in each and ranks 13th in PPR fantasy points among running backs over that span.

    The Green Bay run defense has been iffy in 2018, allowing over 137 yards a game and 4.5 yards a carry. The Packers have also given up 14 touchdowns on the ground.

    A 20-touch tailback with a good matchup?

    That's almost as good as a Daisy Red Ryder Range Model 1938 Air Rifle.

    And it beats the heck out of a pink bunny suit.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets (vs. GBP)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    There are quite a few Jets players among this week's sleepers. That's unnerving.

    Hold me.

    Joking aside (really, I was kidding…don't touch me), at this late juncture in the season, picking players on teams that don't already appear to be thinking about golf and a trip to Aruba can be important. And if last week's close loss to the Houston Texans was any indication, Gang Green hasn't packed it in.

    Jets wideout Robby Anderson certainly hasn't. In fact, he's been putting up the sorts of numbers lately that fantasy owners hoped they were getting when they drafted Anderson as a WR3/4 over the summer.

    Over his last three games, Anderson has piled up 15 receptions for 220 yards and two scores. In each of the last two contests, Anderson has caught at least four passes, topped 70 receiving yards and found the end zone.

    As Brad Evans wrote for Yahoo Sports, in Week 16 Anderson will carry that hot streak into a matchup with a Green Bay Packers team that has struggled mightily against wide receivers of late.

    "Since Week 8 no secondary has surrendered more fantasy points to the wide receiver position than the Packers," Evans wrote. "Over that seven-game stretch, they've given up 100 receptions, 1,307 receiving yards and nine touchdowns to WRs."

    Since I've already written that I believe in Sam Darnold this week (at least somewhat), it makes sense that I'd have some faith in his No. 1 receiver as well.

    Here's hoping the pair doesn't Grinch up Week 16.

Robert Foster, WR, Buffalo Bills (at NEP)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    In the single most important week of the fantasy football season, half of the sleepers in this article hail from either the New York Jets of the Buffalo Bills.

    That may be the single-most terrifying thing I have ever written.

    The thing is, if you ignore the logo on his helmet and just focus on Robert Foster's stats of late, a compelling argument can be made that he should be owned in a lot more than the one-in-four leagues at Yahoo he's presently rostered in.

    In each of his last two games, Foster has gone over the 100-yard mark. His 11 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown rank Foster 11th in PPR fantasy points over that span.

    Per Chris Brown of the Bills website, Foster credits veteran tailback LeSean McCoy for setting him straight after the rookie got off to a slow start this season.

    "Shady came up to me and said, 'Look, this ain't college no more. You haven't done anything since you've been here,'" Foster recalled. "That's big props to Shady for doing that. I always felt like I worked hard. Shady was the first one in the Bills organization to check me here. That's why I give him props. There are a lot of people who spoke to me, but not one-on-one in an angry manner. He wanted the best out of me."

    Foster has stepped into the void that the Bills have at wide receiver and become the No. 1 the team so badly needs. According to Nick Wojton of Bills Wire, only five wideouts in all of the NFL have a higher grade at Pro Football Focus since Week 10 than Foster.

Tim Patrick, WR, Denver Broncos (at OAK)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It's been a disappointing season for the Denver Broncos, but there's at least a silver lining of sorts present in the form of a rookie class that has made a massive contribution.

    Fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb has racked up 12 sacks. Undrafted tailback Phillip Lindsay has become the first UDFA ever to make the Pro Bowl in his first season.

    And then there's Tim Patrick, who like Lindsay wasn't drafted. As a matter of fact, Patrick's gone from practice squad to released to re-signed to the starting lineup thanks to an injury to Emmanuel Sanders and the trade of Demaryius Thomas.

    Patrick's numbers for the season aren't especially eye-opening—16 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown. But the youngster has made an impression on Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.

    "He likes to be physical," Azzanni said, via Sean Keller of the Denver Post, of Patrick, who was originally signed to Denver's practice squad last October only to be released soon after and then re-signed again. "It's kind of a part of his game that makes him, him. He's a big guy and he plays big. I always say, 'We got big guys to play big. If we wanted little guys, we'd get little guys.' So he's come a long way in his release techniques and his route techniques. He had some inconsistencies catching the ball in college, but he's cleared that up."

    In his last two games, Patrick has piled up 18 targets, turning them into 12 catches for 150 yards. A similar target share against the Oakland Raiders should equate to a good stat line.

Gerald Everett, TE, Los Angeles Rams (at AZ)

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    It's double disclaimer time.

    Disclaimer No. 1: If you're picking up a tight end off the waiver wire this late in the season, you are probably you-know-what out of luck. There are two types of fantasy owners in 2018—the lucky sons of guns with one of the elite options, and the huge stack of people reaching for the liquor cabinet Sunday evening after their streaming tight end pick falls flat yet again.

    Disclaimer No. 2: I've spent most of this season in that second group, and my tight end recommendations in this column have missed more than they have hit.

    A lot more.

    What I'm saying is that this, like so many calls at the tight end position in 2018, is a dart throw.

    And if I'm going to throw a dart, I might as well pick one with a measure of upside.

    Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett isn't exactly a huge part of the team's (usually) high-octane offense. But in recent weeks he's seen quite a few more looks in the passing game. Everett's three biggest yardage games of the season have come in the last month, and in each of the last two games, the second-year pro has received a season-high seven targets.

    The Cardinals aren't a favorable fantasy matchup for tight ends this year, but I'm willing to roll the dice given Everett's target share recently.

    If he sees more than five looks Sunday, there's a good chance at least a couple will be in the red zone—and this call pays off with a touchdown.

Tennessee Titans Defense/Special Teams (vs. WAS)

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    There are two defenses that were at the top of everyone's streaming wish list in Week 16—the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.

    The notion that you shouldn't start a defense facing offensive players on your team is and always has been busted—you should start the players who you believe will score the most points—period.

    The Patriots do have an outstanding matchup at home this week against a Bills team giving up the most fantasy points to the position this year. But the Titans are actually an even better play.

    It's a matter of the trajectories of their respective opponents. Yes, the Washington Redskins eked out a win last week over the reeling Jaguars to get to 7-7. But the team didn't look especially good doing it—over the last month of the season, as the Redskins were ravaged by injuries at the quarterback position that led to Alex Smith giving way to Colt McCoy giving way to Mark Sanchez (no, really) giving way to Josh Johnson, the Redskins have skyrocketed to third in fantasy points allowed to defenses—26 spots higher than the Bills.

    The Titans have been just as hot as the Redskins are ice cold. Over the last two games, Tennessee has outscored the Jaguars and New York Giants 47-9. No defense in the NFL has posted more fantasy points over that span.

    That hot streak's going to keep right on rolling Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

    Merry Christmas, indeed.