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 offer up a holiday week special, including players that I’m giving thanks for in ’17 and players that have had issues giving their owners meaningful fantasy points.
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5 Players I’m Giving Thanks for this Season
Rookie Running Backs – I may have hitched my wagon to the wrong rookie running back (Joe Mixon), but it’s hard not to be impressed, and thankful, for a fresh infusion of dynamic backfield talent across the league, with Kareem Hunt (100-plus Yards from Scrimmage in his first seven NFL games) and Leonard Fournette (NFL record-tying streak of a TD in each of his first six NFL games) leading the way. In addition, New Orleans’ video game-like weapon Alvin Kamara has come on strongest down the stretch, leading all RBs in fantasy points over the past month. Throw in Christian McCaffrey, on pace for more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage, 90 catches and eight touchdowns, and impressive-while-they-lasted Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson, and the ’17 running back class is shaping up to carry a lot of sway in the early rounds of ’18 drafts.
Adam Thielen – In recent weeks, I’ve been identifying the biggest rollercoaster fantasy entities in the Funston Fives, the players that often produce either peak (10-plus fantasy points) or valley (under 5.0 fantasy points) results. That’s an apt description of Stefon Diggs, Thielen’s teammate, a player I have a lot of fantasy shares of. Unfortunately, I have fewer shares of Thielen, though I’m very thankful for those that I do have. Thielen has been a set-it and forget-it wideout, especially in PPR leagues – he and Jarvis Landry are the only players to have five catches in 10 different games this season. Thielen also has nine-plus fantasy points in six of 10 games, including three straight games with 15-plus points.
Russell Wilson – A player who has become known for stretch-run fireworks has gotten started a little earlier than usual this season. Since Week 3, Wilson has returned a top five fantasy week at QB in six of his eight games, with only one game landing outside the top 10. Wilson is at a career-high clip in passing yards per game (280.1) and his 37.6 rush yards per game is the second-best mark of his career. Seattle’s inability to run the ball has forced the team to put it all on Wilson’s shoulders on offense, which should continue to make him a gift that keeps on giving down the stretch.
Larry Fitzgerald – In a league where most players age like an open carton of milk, Fitzgerald is aging like a fine wine. He was a top 12 fantasy WR (FAN PPG) in the first seven games with Carson Palmer at QB, and in the past three weeks (with a combo of Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert behind center), he’s posted the 12th-most fantasy points at the WR position, averaging 91.3 yards per game. And the 34-year-old sure-fire future Hall of Famer recently agreed with the Cardinals to return in ’18, meaning we’ll be blessed with his consummate professional presence for at least one more season. Appreciate him for as long as you still can.
Travis Kelce/Zach Ertz – Finally, some tight ends giving Rob Gronkowski a threat to his positional throne. At 10.5 fantasy PPG, Kelce is actually pacing the TE position through Week 11, with Gronk (10.2) and Ertz (10) right behind. Kelce and Ertz are established weapons that will certainly sit in the upper tier at the TE position in next season’s draft rankings, and they’ll make it much less necessary for owners to feel the need to reach in the late first round or early second round for Gronk. And let’s face it, given his injury history, that is never a comfortable pick for a fantasy owner to make.
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5 “Cold Turkeys” – Their Foul (Fowl?) Play has forced us to quit them
Terrelle Pryor, WAS, WR – It’s hard to find a bigger non-injury disappointment in fantasy this season than Pryor, whose move to a more lucrative passing environment in Washington made him one of the buzziest fantasy commodities this summer. Coming off an impressive 77-catch, 1,007-yard season in the less idyllic surroundings of Cleveland, TP was the 13th WR taken on average in Yahoo drafts, just ahead of current top 10 wideouts like DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams. Pryor’s season was put out of its misery this week, as it was announced he will undergo season-ending ankle surgery. However, in his 378 snaps this season, he was only able to muster 20 catches, a single TD and 240 receiving yards (26.7 yards per game).
Mike Gillislee, NE, RB – A borderline top 20 RB selection in preseason drafts, Gillislee was pegged by many to assume the LeGarrette Blount role that netted 18 touchdowns in the Patriots’ offense in ’16. Those expectations looked spot on early in the season as Gillislee found the end zone four times in the first two weeks, including a hat trick of goal-line plunges in Week 1. But from Week 3 on, Gillislee has failed to find the end zone and is ranked outside the top 70 running backs in that time span in total fantasy points. In the two games since New England’s Week 9 bye, Gillislee hasn’t even been active.
Oakland Raiders – The Raiders have been one of the biggest disappointments in reality and fantasy. A projected playoff team by many, the Raiders have floundered to a 4-6 record through Week 11, and the team’s top picks (ADP) at QB (Derek Carr), RB (Marshawn Lynch) and WR (Amari Cooper) have well underperformed their preseason draft costs. Carr is the No. 23 QB in fantasy points to this point, with a TD-to-INT ratio of 9:8 over his past seven games, and his mark of 243.6 passing yards per game is his lowest since his rookie campaign. Beast Mode has been better of late, averaging 70 YFS and scoring two touchdowns in his past two games. But early-season kid gloves, negative game scripts and an early exit for shoving a ref in Week 7 have contributed to his standing at No. 35 in fantasy points at RB (he was the 15th RB taken on average in preseason drafts). Finally, Cooper has been a fantasy ownership nightmare, delivering 33 receiving yards or fewer in six of 10 games. A whopping 45 percent of his fantasy point total (33 of 73.4) came in one monster effort (11 catches, 210 yards, 2 TDs) against KC in Week 7. He’s currently slumming it as the No. 34 WR in fantasy points to date.
Hunter Henry, LAC, TE – After scoring a TD in eight of his final 11 games as a rookie and finishing No. 11 at the position in fantasy points despite missing three games, I had high hopes for Henry entering his sophomore campaign. Last season, Henry was almost even with veteran Antonio Gates in snaps per game (right at 36 per game), but this season Henry has moved out to an 11-snap per game advantage (41 to 30). Unfortunately, despite the extra work, Henry’s production has gone backwards. He has returned 2.5 fantasy points or fewer in half (five of 10) of his games. Moreover, the end zone trips have also dried up, as he’s failed to find painted grass in five straight games.
Joe Mixon, CIN, RB – A firm believer that there wasn’t a better all-around running back talent in this year’s draft class than Mixon, I invested accordingly across my fantasy leagues, repeatedly spending my third round draft capital for the services of the former Sooner. Unfortunately, instead of Mixon, I got Meh-xon, a player averaging just 57.7 YPG, 2.9 YPC and delivering as the No. 26 RB in fantasy points to this point. Of course, the offensive line deserves a big chunk of the blame for Mixon’s struggles, and I deserve all of the blame for drafting him with the knowledge that his offensive line was not good.
5 Under-the-Radar Players that Could Feast in Week 12
Tyrod Taylor, BUF, QB – One week after being benched, T-Mobile is back behind center for the Bills (he has a 5-INT debut by backup Nate Peterman to thank for his return to the starting lineup). Furthermore, the timing of his return is excellent, as Taylor will face a Chiefs’ defense that has allowed the sixth-most passing yards to the opposing QB position (263.9). In standard-scoring Yahoo leagues, Taylor has returned top 10 fantasy QB lines in four of his past five games. Available in 60 percent of Yahoo leagues entering the week, Taylor has plug-n-play QB1 potential.
J.D. McKissic, SEA, RB – McKissic handled a season-high 12 touches (and 50 snaps, 34 more than any other SEA running back) in Week 11, picking up a modest 53 yards against Atlanta on Monday night. With Mike Davis (groin) and C.J. Prosise (ankle) injured, and Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls consistently ineffective, McKissic has a good chance to at least repeat his dozen touches this week, which in turn should result in positive fantasy results against a San Francisco defense allowing more fantasy PPG to RBs than any other team.
Devontae Booker, DEN, RB – I don’t ascribe to the opinion that Booker is a better all-around running back than C.J. Anderson, but he’s got a leg up on him in the passing game where he’s hauled in 18 receptions since Week 6, 12th-most at the RB position. Booker also handled 14 carries last week, suggesting that he has at least played his way into a full-blown platoon with Anderson as the team heads to Oakland this week. Moreover the Raiders, with 517 receiving yards and four touchdown catches allowed, have given up the second-most fantasy receiving points to the RB position, a matchup that lends itself well to Booker’s talents – he has definite flex appeal this week, especially in PPR leagues.
Cooper Kupp, LAR, WR – Kupp leads all rookie receivers with 6.1 targets per game, and that number could grow this week as the Rams will be without leading wideout Robert Woods (shoulder) as they host the New Orleans Saints, who could be without shutdown rookie corner Marshon Lattimore (ankle). The situation – extra looks with Woods out, New Orleans’ secondary potentially at less than full strength, Over/Under line in this game opening at a Week 12 high of 54 points – is ripe for Kupp to deliver one of his best fantasy days of his young NFL career. He can make a case for WR3 deployment this week.
Tyler Kroft, CIN, TE – Kroft, sixth in fantasy points a tight end since Week 4, has done a decent impersonation of Tyler Eifert, the man he’s replacing, scoring a touchdown on each of his four catches in the red zone (three from inside the 10-yard line). The towering red zone threat will face a Cleveland defense that has allowed the second-most touchdowns to the TE position (8), including scores by Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron and Marcedes Lewis in their past three games. You can craft an argument for Kroft as a top 12 tight end play this week.
5 Prominent Players that Could Go Hungry in Week 12
Drew Brees, NO, QB – Brees travels to Los Angeles to face a Rams’ secondary that has been extremely stingy at home. L.A. has allowed the fewest TD passes per game in home contests (0.8) and fourth-fewest passing yards per game (169.8). Brees is already in the midst of his lowest scoring season (in terms of fantasy PPG) since his first year in New Orleans (’06) because of improvements on defense and the team’s ability to run the ball. And he typically does his best work at home, averaging 39 fewer yards in road games than home games this season (297.8 to 258.8) and the discrepancy between his dome games (296.7) and his outdoor games (250.8) this season is even wider. Not many have a luxury backup worthy of playing ahead of Brees this week, but those who do should strongly consider it.
Jordan Howard, CHI, RB – Howard has been mostly excellent for the Bears, with four 100-yard rushing efforts in his past eight games., but he’s had a few rough spots along the way, finishing three games outside the top 30 running backs in fantasy points. Could this week be another pitfall situation for Howard? It certainly doesn’t set up well going against a Philly team putting up league-high 32 points per game. The Bears average 17.4 points per game, so a negative game script is likely to have a negative impact on Howard, who has little role in the passing game (combined four catches for 28 receiving yards in his past six games). Even if Chicago can manage to keep this game close, creating an environment for Howard to accumulate carries, the Eagles boast one of the best run defenses in the league, allowing just 485 rushing yards to the RB position, 200 yards fewer than the next best defense (Carolina, 685 yards to RBs).
Lamar Miller, HOU, RB – Miller has been steady this season, with no worse than 6.3 fantasy points in any game this season. But his ceiling is a bit limited, as well, with seven games clocking in under 10 fantasy points. This week could be problematic for Miller going against a Baltimore defense that looks like it is starting to get its groove back, pitching shutouts in two of its past three games. The Ravens have allowed just six touchdowns to opposing running backs, tied for fifth-fewest in the league. Furthermore, if Houston can’t keep pace with the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday, Miller could have trouble paying the bills in the passing game as Baltimore has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points (384 receiving yards, 0 TD) to RBs in the passing game.
Davante Adams, GB, WR – Adams has been the only receiver for Green Bay that has managed to survive and thrive with Brett Hundley under center for the Packers, catching both of Hundley’s touchdown passes while averaging a respectable 67 yards in the past five games with (mostly) Hundley behind center. But keeping the good times rolling this week at Pittsburgh is going to be extremely difficult. The Steelers allow just 190 passing yards per game, third-best in the league. Moreover, the team ranks second in sacks behind Jacksonville, which could exacerbate the Packers’ passing issues, as Hundley has been sacked nine times in the past two games.
Jimmy Graham, SEA, TE – Top Jimmy has been one of the hottest tight ends in fantasy, with seven touchdowns in his past six games. But in his previous meeting with San Francisco in Week 2, Graham could muster just one catch for one yard. Limiting tight end production is about the only thing the 49ers’ defense has done well this season, as just one tight end (Jason Witten, 54 yards, TD) has reached double figures in fantasy points against it. And Witten (along with Vernon Davis, 65 yards) are the only two tight ends to top 50 receiving yards versus San Francisco. That’s impressive when you consider the team has faced tight end stalwarts like Greg Olsen, Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Graham, Jordan Reed, Davis and Graham. Don’t be surprised if Graham comes up a bit short this week.
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