Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I give you some potential second-half breakout candidates, exploitable cornerbacks and players with rest-of-season schedules to flaunt or fear.
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5 Under-the-radar Players that could break out in the Second Half of the Season
Josh Doctson, WAS, WR – I’m not as high on Doctson as some, but there’s no denying his athleticism and his opportunity (playing a season-high 54 snaps in Week 7, with head coach Jay Gruden supporting that playing time bump by saying, “We drafted Josh to be the No. 1 guy”. Eventually QB Kirk Cousins is going to stop bingeing on just Chris Thompson and his tight ends in the passing game, and when he does, Doctson is well positioned to reap those benefits. And, certainly, it doesn’t hurt that Doctson will face the 10th-easiest rest-of-season schedule at the WR position.
Marlon Mack, IND, RB – Among RBs with at least 30 touches, Mack is tied for fourth with Kareem Hunt in fantasy points per touch (0.90). That makes the thought of an increased Mack workload in the second half of the season enticing. Last week, Mack outsnapped Frank Gore for the first time this season, picking up 66 yards from scrimmage on nine touches. Mack’s remaining schedule is a mixed bag in terms of strength of opponent versus the RB position, but Mack’s big-play ability and expected workload increase makes him a RB to watch (roster) in the season’s second half.
Tyler Kroft, CIN, TE – From a size standpoint, Kroft is almost an equal match to the Eifert Tower, Tyler Eifert, the man he’s replaced in the Bengals’ starting lineup. And while Kroft might not be Eifert’s athletic equal, he’s certainly no slouch in that department. In the past three games, Kroft has filled Eifert’s shoes admirably, averaging 43 yards, while combining for 14 catches and three touchdowns – he’s converted both of his targets from inside the 10-yard line into scores. Kroft has played 93% of Cincy’s snaps since Eifert went out after Week 2 with a back injury. And he’s leading the position in Catch% (.857 – 18-of-21) among all tight ends with at least 20 targets. Add in one of the top 10 easiest rest-of-season schedules at the tight end position, and Kroft has plausible TE1 upside down the stretch.
Dede Westbrook, JAX, WR – Alright, here’s a true Hail Mary suggestion. As a rookie that was likely to open the season no better than third on the Jaguars’ WR depth chart, Westbrook would have been a leap of faith player even if he hadn’t suffered a core muscle injury that landed him on IR and required surgery. But the good news is that Westbrook is back out on the practice field and in line to return to real action in Week 9. A dynamic inside/outside talent that made Jacksonville’s preseason games worth watching, Westbrook should be able to quickly find his way into the team’s offense. Opposing defenses now have to key on what has become a juggernaut Jacksonville running game, which should create opportunities for the passing game down the stretch, and there will be plenty of soft spots in the schedule to help the cause. Available in 98% of Yahoo leagues, Westbrook is an intriguing enough talent to stash on your bench upon his Week 9 return – it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he turned in the best fantasy numbers among Jags’ receivers over the final two months of the season.
C.J. Prosise, SEA, RB – I’ll finish off with another deep dive. Yes, Prosise is as soft as wet tissue paper, but if he can get right health-wise, he’s likely to find himself with a major role in the Seattle backfield against, on paper, one of the easiest rest-of-season schedules at the RB position. Current backfield frontrunners Eddie Lacy (3.0 YPC) and Thomas Rawls (2.5) have done next to nothing with their opportunities. A healthy Prosise could easily vulture a large portion of the carries from those two while also filling the passing-down role in exemplary fashion.
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5 Most Exploitable Cornerbacks
Vernon Hargreaves, TB – Last season, as a rookie, Hargreaves allowed the most receiving yards to targets in his coverage (1,065 yards, over 200 yards more than any other CB). This season, Hargreaves has allowed the fifth-most yards in coverage (404). His career Catch% Allowed is a bloated .701 (108 catches out of 154 targets). Not surprisingly, the Bucs relegated Hargreaves to slot duties the past week.
Jalen Mills, PHI – Like Hargreaves, Mills is another SEC corner struggling in year two. But Mills, who was selected 222 picks after Hargreaves in the ’16 draft, doesn’t carry quite the same burden of expectation. And that’s a good thing, because he’s certainly delivering more in line with the seventh rounder that he was than a first rounder. The Eagles’ corner has allowed the third-most PPR fantasy points to his coverage assignments, giving up 15 points per game (1-pt per catch, 1 pt. per 10 receiving yards, 6 pts. per receiving TD). Last season he allowed the 18th-most PPR fantasy points to his coverage assignments, but he yielded the second-most yards, behind only Hargreaves.
David Amerson, OAK – Amerson has allowed 21 catches on 28 targets in his coverage (75%), and those receptions have averaged a robust 17.6 yards. Amerson’s 156.3 QB Rating allowed in coverage targets is easily highest in the league, as is his rate of 2.93 PPR fantasy points per target. He was better last season, but he certainly wasn’t good (101.1 QB Rating allowed, 14th-most PPR fantasy points per target).
Jamar Taylor, CLE – Taylor is the only corner to be found among the top 12 CBs in PPR fantasy points allowed per target this season (2.31, fourth-most) and last season (1.91, 11th-most).
Damarious Randall, GB – Last season, Randall tied for the most touchdowns allowed in coverage (8) and had the fourth-highest Yards Per Coverage Snap Allowed (2.01). This season, he’s currently tied for the league lead in INTs (3), but he’s still been plenty generous to his coverage assignments, allowing the sixth-most PPR fantasy points per snap.
5 Players with Second-half Schedules to Fear
T.Y. Hilton, IND, WR – Even if Andrew Luck does make it back this season, it might not be enough to help Hilton overcome a murderer’s row of pass defenses during the stretch run. Hilton, who is owned in 99% of Yahoo leagues despite having turned in 3.0 fantasy points or less in three of his past four games, will go up against three of the five stingiest fantasy defenses versus opposing wideouts from Weeks 13-16. That’s not an end-game schedule that inspires confidence. And with matchups with Cincinnati, Houston and Pittsburgh over the next three weeks (second-toughest schedule at the WR position), a near-term rebound doesn’t look promising, either.
Marshawn Lynch, OAK, RB – Lynch’s return to the NFL has been mostly a bust to this point, finishing three of his seven games with 2.6 fantasy points or less and ranking 45th at the RB position among all RBs that have at least four games under their belt. After running onto the field from the sidelines in Week 7 to involve himself in a skirmish, Lynch will have to sit out this week’s game at Buffalo, part of his rest-of-season schedule that ranks third-toughest at the RB position. If either backup Jalen Richard or DeAndre Washington is able to shine against the Bills in Lynch’s absence, that could make Beast Mode’s second half even more tenuous.
Alshon Jeffery, PHI, WR – Jeffery owners should hope that the Philly wideout takes full advantage of a rare soft matchup this week against San Francisco. From Weeks 9-15, he’ll face five defenses (out of six) that rank among the 14 stingiest in fantasy to opposing WRs, with four of those matchups coming on the road. Jeffery is outside the top 30 at the WR position in fantasy points, despite having faced what has been the eighth-easiest fantasy WR schedule to this point. It’s only going to get tougher for Jeffery going forward.
Carlos Hyde, SF, RB – Hyde’s rest-of-season schedule is as much a threat to his fantasy value as backup Matt Breida infringing on his workload. Hyde’s ROS slate nets out in fantasy as the fourth toughest at the RB position. The rocky road starts this week with a date against a Philly defense that has allowed only one back to top 38 rushing yards this season.
Aaron Jones, GB, RB – Jones is the only positive in the Packers’ offense right now with Aaron Rodgers sidelined. Unfortunately, the Packers’ schedule is one of the toughest across the board among NFL offenses, casting a pall over not only receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, but also Jones. The rookie has been a revelation as the No. 6 RB in fantasy points over the past four weeks. But his fantasy playoff schedule (Weeks 14-16) features two of the three stingiest defenses vs. opposing RBs (Minnesota, Carolina) and a Browns’ defense that has yielded less than 3.0 yards per carry to the position. And if Brett Hundley can’t make the opposition take him seriously in the passing game, Jones’ success could dry up even sooner than the final month of the season.
5 Players with Second-half Schedules to Flaunt
Christian McCaffrey, CAR, RB – On paper, the Panthers’ rest-of-season schedule sets up very nicely for most of its skill position players, but it could be especially nice for Run-CMC and his hybrid skill-set. McCaffrey, on pace to secure 100 catches, has four remaining games against teams that rank among the top 10 most generous to RBs in fantasy receiving production in PPR formats (1-pt per catch, 1 pt. per 10 receiving yards, 6 pts. per receiving TD). Moreover, he has only one game left against a defense (Minnesota) that lands outside the top 16 most generous in fantasy receiving production to RBs. Barring injury, McCaffrey has a good shot at becoming the first rookie RB, and only the second offensive rookie ever (joining Anquan Boldin), to reach the century mark in catches.
Lamar Miller, HOU, RB – This is a call out to Miller and backup D’Onta Foreman, as the Texans have the second-easiest RB schedule the rest of the way. Miller has been taking care of business as the No. 13 fantasy RB to this point, and he’ll remain a borderline RB1 option going forward. But Foreman, who is averaging double-digit touches over his past five games, is not a bad player to nab off the waiver wire this week. After a tough matchup in Seattle on Sunday, Foreman is going to enjoy several weeks of flex appeal.
Jarvis Landry, MIA, WR – Landry, who has touchdowns in three straight games, has the seventh-easiest ROS schedule at the WR position. If Matt Moore sticks behind center even after Jay Cutler gets the green light to return from cracked ribs, the history card supports the Moore-Landry connection, as Landry was the No. 15 overall fantasy receiver in the final month of ’16, averaging 79 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns in the four games he played with Moore.
Hunter Henry, LAC, TE – Henry, who has the kind of talent to overcome even the toughest of matchups, is No. 5 at the tight end position in fantasy points over the past month as he’s put an early-season platoon with Antonio Gates in the rear-view mirror. Now positioned as the team’s stand-alone No. 1 TE, Hunter will get to face the second-easiest rest-of-season schedule at the tight end position.
Sterling Shepard, NYG, WR – Not only is Shepard going to come off a bye in Week 9 to a role as the clear go-to wideout in the Giants offense, he’ll face only two defenses in his next eight games that don’t rank among the 12 most generous in the league in terms of receiving yards allowed to the WR position – Philly, KC, Arizona, San Francisco and Oakland will be especially inviting matchups for Shepard owners during that stretch.
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