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 players that, after a long hiatus, are looking at making a November return as well as some potential December playoff heroes.

 

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Playoff Heroes – 5 players with Spotty Production to this Point that could Post Decembers to Remember

Matt Ryan, ATL, QB – With 254 yards and two touchdown passes (without an INT) in Week 8 at the Jets, last season’s MVP finished the week as a top 10 QB for just the first time this season. It should be heartening to see him finally take advantage of a soft matchup, as he’ll see plenty more of those going forward, including a cherry fantasy playoff stretch (Weeks 14-16) that includes two games against the Saints and one game against the Bucs.

C.J. Anderson, DEN, RB – Ranked top 13 in Snaps and Snap% at the RB position, Anderson is still the clear backfield lead in Denver despite overblown talk that backups Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker are threatening to force a full-blown platoon.  Fact is, Anderson has been solid when given the opportunity to tote the rock, ranking behind only LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Hunt at the RB position in Yards After Contact/Attempt. The biggest problem for Anderson has been game flow, as scoreboard deficits the past three games have led to an average of just 11.3 carries for Anderson in those contests. The good news for C.J. owners is that in Weeks 14-16, Denver will face three teams (Jets, Indy, Washington) that have combined for an 8-15 record, with each team ranking among the top 15 most generous defenses to opposing running backs. A healthy Anderson should have ample opportunity for success down the stretch.

DeVante Parker, MIA, WR – Parker posted the 16th–most fantasy points at the WR position in Weeks 2-4 (his first three games of the season) before suffering a first-quarter ankle injury in Week 5. He’s set to return to action this week and, if his health holds, he’s in line to bookend his season with another strong run – his schedule in the playoff slate of Weeks 14-16 features two teams (NE, KC) that rank among the four most generous to the WR position this season and a third team (BUF) that is heading the wrong direction against wideouts (12th-most fantasy PPG to the position over the past five weeks).

Sterling Shepard, NYG, WR – Shepard will come out of the bye in a go-to role at wideout for the Giants, and few receivers will face an easier rest-of-season schedule. Shepard’s playoff schedule is particularly soft, with games against Dallas (sixth-most fantasy PPG), Philly (14th-most) and Arizona (third-most).

Jack Doyle, IND, TE – Doyle is coming off an October 29th to remember, hanging 12 catches, 121 yards and a TD on the Cincy defense, easily his best outing of the season. But he’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride to this point, with four games under five fantasy points, and two games of 11-plus fantasy points. Doyle’s playoff slate is set up for him to go out on a high note as he faces the defenses of Buffalo, Denver and Baltimore, all three among the 10 most generous units to the TE position.

 


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Fun with Numbers – 5 Interesting Stats

New York State of Defense – No team has allowed more players (excluding QBs) to reach 10-plus fantasy points (standard scoring) this season than the Jets, who give up a double-figure fantasy scorer an average of 2.25 times per game. Right behind the Jets are the NY Giants, at 2.14 per game. San Francisco (2.13) and Green Bay (2.0) are the only other teams allowing an average of two players per game

One and Done – On the flip side (of the noted 10-plus fantasy points metric), the Jacksonville defense has allowed just six non-QB skill position players to reach 10-plus fantasy points, a league-best average of 0.86 per game, and only one WR (Antonio Brown) has made it to the 10-point plateau against the Jags. Minnesota (0.88) is the only other team allowing fewer than one double-digit fantasy scorer per game. Carolina and Pittsburgh (each at 1.0) are the remaining two teams clocking in at one 10-plus scorer per game or less. The Panthers have allowed a league-low one RB (Alvin Kamara) to score 10-plus points.

In a Pinch – Chargers wideout Keenan Allen has been the king of third downs this season. He has 17 third-down receptions that have led to first downs, tops in the league (four ahead of Minnesota’s Adam Thielen). Another LA receiver, Cooper Kupp, clocks in as the rookie leader with 10 receptions. Carolina QB Cam Newton leads the NFL in third down rush attempts that resulted in a first down (11), with Baltimore RB Buck Allen clocking in right behind him (10).

No Josh-ingJets QB Josh McCown has been one of the biggest surprises of the fantasy season, currently ranked top 12 in fantasy points per game at the QB position. Big plays have helped fuel McCown’s aerial fire, as his six completions of 25-plus yards is second-best in the league behind Tom Brady (7).  McCown is completing a career-high 70.5% of his passes, and his Adjusted Comp% (a ProFootballFocus metric that accounts for drops, throw aways, batted passes and hits in the act of throwing) jumps to 79.5%, third-best in the league.

Sticky Fingers – San Francisco’s Pierre Garcon has a combined 119 catches since ’16, and has just one drop to show for it. He is one of just three receivers that have played at least 50% of his teams’ snaps that doesn’t have a drop this season (Antonio Brown and Doug Baldwin are the others).  On the other side of the Bay, Oakland’s receivers pale in comparison to Garcon (in that span), with Amari Cooper’s 13 drops and 117 receptions, and Michael Crabtree’s 15 drops and 122 receptions.

 

5 Best Offensive Lines

Dallas Cowboys – Maybe not the dominant force of the past couple years due to the retirement of OT Doug Free and free agency loss of quality backup OG Ronald Geary, but this unit is still the class of the NFL, with OG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick and OT Tyron Smith leading the way. The nine sacks allowed are second-fewest in the NFL, and they have the fourth-lowest percentage of runs that gained zero or negative yards.

Pittsburgh Steelers – You could argue that Pittsburgh was a more effective overall unit than Dallas last season, and it has been much of the same in ’17, with Football Outsiders giving Pittsburgh a top 10 ranking in run blocking and the top spot in pass blocking. OG David DeCastro is arguably the best at his position in the NFL and C Maurkice Pouncey has made AP first- or second-team All-Pro four times.

Tennessee Titans – Led on the O-line by nasty LT Taylor Lewan, the Titans finished third in Yards Per Carry last season (4.6), and they rank sixth (4.4) this season. They also have allowed the fewest QB pressures this season, and fourth-fewest last season (according to ProFootballFocus). In addition to Lewan, C Ben Jones and G Josh Kline have earned high marks for their trench work this season.

New Orleans Saints – Football Outsiders grades out the Saints as the top run blocking unit this season (lowest percentage of zero or negative yard runs) and the No. 2 pass blocking unit (fewest sacks allowed). However, from a pure talent standpoint, the Saints don’t measure up to the units above them (and some that didn’t make this list), and a big part of their success has to be attributed to the offensive schemes of head coach Sean Payton and the master-level decision-making of QB Drew Brees.

Los Angeles Rams – In LT Andrew Whitworth and C John Sullivan, the Rams might have made the two most important offseason acquisitions in the league. The Rams were squarely in the discussion for the worst offensive line in the NFl last season. With Whitworth and Sullivan, the unit has been transformed, and no doubt, head coach Sean McVay’s influence hasn’t hurt either. No player has benefitted more from LA’s makeover than RB Todd Gurley, who has more than doubled his fantasy output from last season (from 9.8 fantasy PPG to 20.0).

Honorable mentions: Philadelphia (only unit with all five players graded out among the top 15 at their position according to ProFootballFocus); Oakland; Baltimore, New England, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Atlanta

5 Potential November Returns to Prepare for

Greg Olsen, CAR, TE – Still available in roughly half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, Olsen is about to test out his surgically-repaired foot with the hope of returning after Carolina’s Week 11 bye.  Coming off three straight 1,000-yard seasons, Olsen’s upper class TE1 talent should not be up for debate. And with Kelvin Benjamin dealt to Buffalo at the trade deadline, Olsen could be looking at a clear go-to role in the passing game. Unless you are in a very shallow league, it’s time to start clearing roster space for Carolina’s He-Man.

Danny Woodhead, BAL, RB – The thought of Woodhead being paired with an offense (Baltimore) and quarterback (Joe Flacco) that accentuate the receiving skills of its running backs about as well as anyone made Woodhead a popular RB2 draft pick in PPR formats. And that selection was being validated in his first regular-season drive with the Ravens, as he collected three passes for 33 yards before suffering a hamstring injury that has kept him on the sidelines ever since. He recently returned to the practice field, though, and he’s eligible to come off the IR in Week 11. Buck Allen has been a top 20 fantasy RB and has caught 32 passes in eight games while filling in for Woodhead. It’s unlikely that Woodhead would handle much more than around half of the 12 carries per game that Allen has been getting, but Woodhead’s skills in the passing game are elite at the RB position, and he’s likely to string together a bunch of games in which he’s pulling in 5-7 catches (if not more) down the stretch. He’s an immediate add in PPR formats, and a case can be made for all formats, really.

Corey Coleman, CLE, WR – After posting a 5/53/TD line in Week 1, the Browns’ No. 15 overall pick in the ’16 draft busted his hand in the season’s second week. Coleman is eligible to return to practice in Week 10 and can see game action as early as Week 12 against Cincinnati. Coleman is available in the vast majority of fantasy leagues right now. Given the bleak passing environment in Cleveland, rostering him right now isn’t necessary (unless you are in a very deep league). However, Coleman is an explosive talent that might be able to help you in a couple soft matchups down the stretch.

Dede Westbrook, JAX, WR – I wrote about Westbrook in last week’s Funston Fives, as he’s set to return this week from a core muscle injury that has kept him out since late August. Westbrook, a Heisman candidate at Oklahoma, has excellent hands and after-the-catch skills. He’s a worthy bench stash as the odds are pretty good that he’ll give incumbent starters Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee a run for their money.

Josh Gordon, CLE, WR – Full disclosure, I had David Johnson ticketed for a spot in this topic group but the latest word out of Arizona is that he’s very unlikely to return from his wrist injury this season. That being the case, that leaves Gordon to as the only other realistic candidate to fill a spot here.  Substance abuse issues have kept Gordon out of action since ’14, but he has a reinstatement hearing scheduled with the NFL this week. Despite being out of the game for so long, Gordon has stayed in remarkably good shape, and he’s still only 26 years old. He’s a special talent who led the NFL in receiving yards at age 22. He might be a long shot to return to action this month, but he’s too talented to ignore. Stay tuned!

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