THE WIRE TAP: WEEK 12
November 22, 2016 | Scott Cedar
Crayons. Family. Hugs. Aunt Raleigh. Leaves.
That’s what my 3-year-old daughter is thankful for, according to the bottom of her hand turkey art project. Pretty solid list in my opinion.
As for me? I’m thankful that Allen Robinson is finally back to catching touchdowns—it won’t help anyone sunk by his awful 1st half, but it makes me feel a little better to see him back to 2015 form. I’m thankful for Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor, two of my favorite late-round quarterbacks who have turned it around bigly after slow starts. I’m thankful for Melvin Gordon, my biggest leap of faith this preseason, who’s now the #4 running back in all the land. I’m thankful for Eric Ebron, having a breakout season that no one seems to be noticing—I can’t wait to draft him late again next year. And I’m thankful for Christine Michael. It ended too soon, as we knew it would, but what a glorious month that was. Some birds just aren’t meant to be caged.
You know what I’m not thankful for? The playoff push stress that always interferes with an otherwise perfect Thanksgiving holiday. With just 2 weeks left before most leagues head to the playoffs, it’s make or break time. As always, the focus is on players owned in under 40% of Yahoo or ESPN leagues, presented roughly in order of preference.
PAY THE IRON PRICE
(Pry these players from your leaguemates’ cold, dead hands. Figuratively.)
No one new this week among the under 40% club.… we’re getting to that point in the year.
Check Your Wire (Players owned in<75% of leagues): Thomas Rawls looked good in his return, but more importantly, will have the backfield largely to himself with C.J. Prosise (shoulder) and Christine Michael (*sigh*) out of the picture… The Titans are a good passing offense and Rishard Matthews is their number one receiver. Strange times. Matthews got 13 (!) targets with Tennessee in comeback mode against Indy, catching 9 for 122 yards, his 3rd straight game with double digit fantasy output (standard)… Well I was way wrong on Tim Hightower. I’d also argue Sean Payton is way wrong on Mark Ingram, who deserves to be restored to lead back duties, but this is our new reality: Hightower leads Ingram 94 to 80 in snaps and 55 to 41 in opportunities (carries+targets) since Ingram’s Week 7 benching.
PRETTY-AY, PRETT-AY, PRETT-AY GOOD
(Should be owned in 10- and 12-team leagues, whether by you or someone else.)
Colin Kaepernick (18% Yahoo, 17% ESPN)
I wrote about him last week because I write about him every week now. He’s averaging 19.95 points per game and hasn’t had a bad week yet. I get it… ideally, you’d have a quarterback who’s good at football, but if you haven’t found one at this point in the year then it’s time for Plan B. Kaep’s getting it done every single week.
Mike Gillislee (25% Yahoo, 26% ESPN)
You had bye week issues. Injuries. LeSean McCoy was back to full health. I get it.
BUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU WHY DID YOU DROP MIKE GILLISLEE? In addition to being very good, Gillislee sits one injury away from one of the biggest workloads in the league. McCoy left Sunday’s game with a thumb injury, opening the door for Gillislee to run 14 times for 72 yards. McCoy will apparently be able to play next week, but with the byes almost entirely behind us, high-end handcuffs should be occupying your bench above depth guys you don’t plan to start. The McCoy owner should absolutely own Gillislee, but if he’s asleep at the switch, you can pick him up anyway and wait for another McCoy injury. (And admit it, you’re secretly elated when your buddy’s star running back goes down and you hold the handcuff.)
Wendell Smallwood (3% Yahoo, 2% ESPN)
Mathews. Sproles. Smallwood. Mathews. Mathews. Mathews. Sproles. Sproles. Mathews.
That’s who had led the Eagles in rushing each week heading into Sunday’s game against Seattle. Definitely not up there with death and taxes in terms of certainty.
But we may finally have some clarity, at least in the short term. Mathews (MCL) and Sproles (ribs) both left Sunday’s game with injuries and did not return. Mathews is “day-to-day” and Sproles “should be able to play,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if the early week optimism ends with one or both missing time. That would leave Smallwood in a good spot, and he’d be a pretty intriguing option. He ran 13 times for 48 yards on Sunday—not bad against the Seattle defense (allowing just 3.5 YPC, 2nd best in the league)—and added 4 catches for 31 yards. Smallwood now has 205 yards on 44 carries this year (4.7 YPC) and has held his own in each of the 3 games he saw significant volume. The upcoming schedule isn’t particularly appealing, but with Wentz coming back to Earth and the Eagles’ receiving corps among the worst in the league, the Eagles will need to keep turning to their running backs for offense. I also like the touchdown potential—Philadelphia has scored 5 rushing touchdowns to 1 passing touchdown in its last 3 games.
Tyler Boyd (5% Yahoo, 5% ESPN)
Brandon LaFell (11% Yahoo, 11% ESPN)
This was the biggest injury week since the RB apocalypse of Week 2, and A.J. Green’s hamstring tear was undoubtedly the biggest. He was carted off the field and is expected to miss multiple weeks, and with the Bengals all but eliminated from contention, might be done for the year.
When a star goes down, the best replacement for your fake team is often not the guy taking his place on the real team. I think that’s the case here, but Green was 3rd in targets, 3rd in receptions, and 4th in yards coming into the week, so someone has to step into his volume (not to mention pass-catching back Gio Bernard tore his ACL on Sunday and is out for the year).
At this point, we know what LaFell is. He had 1 good year playing with one of the best quarterbacks of our generation. Outside of that, his best years have been in the 45 catch, 650 yard range. LaFell has been running ahead of Boyd all year, but has also seen his involvement reduced in recent games. He had just 4 targets in his prior 2 games before leading Bengals receivers with 9 after Green’s exit (catching 4 for 32 yards).
Meanwhile, Boyd had 11 targets in the Bengals prior 2 games, and put up his best game of the year after Green left, catching 6 of 8 targets for 54 yards and a touchdown. I didn’t love Boyd coming out of college (he’s an old rookie, and I’m an ageist), but he tore it up in college and ended his career as Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. Better than that Larry Fitzgerald fellow.
Andy Dalton’s been secretly pretty good this year (8.1 adjusted yards/attempt, 6th in the league), giving some hope. He’s been much better throwing to LaFell (10.2 AY/A, just behind Green’s 10.6 AY/A) than Boyd (6.0 AY/A) according to RotoViz’s AY/A app. It’s a close call for me; everything points to LaFell, but I’d probably gamble on Boyd’s upside first.
Sammy Watkins (42% Yahoo, 33% ESPN)
Ted Ginn (20% Yahoo, 9% ESPN)
Ginn has averaged 6.6 targets per game over his last 5, and hasn’t dipped below 40 yards in that stretch. That’s a really good floor for a guy with upside—he finally got his 1st, long overdue touchdown last Thursday on a really tough catch. Ginn was never going to repeat last year’s 10 touchdowns, but remains a big play threat playing with one of the premiere big play quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Devin Funchess continues to be awful (catching just 41% of his targets), while Corey/Philly Brown is just a warm body.
Rex Burkhead (0% Yahoo, 0% ESPN)
Giovanni Bernard went down with the quietest ACL injury of all time. No writhing in pain, no carting off the field, and he played the next snap. I didn’t even see it reported until late Sunday night.
Jeremy Hill obviously stands to benefit the most, and he should get the vast majority of work going forward. This includes passing down work; his 27 catches for 215 yards in his rookie year suggests he’s at least capable, if not adept. With that said, you can speculate on 3rd stringer Rex Burkhead, a smallish, quick back who’s played sparingly over the past 4 years. Burkhead has a really unique athletic profile: terrible 40 yard dash (4.73 seconds), but performed extremely well in the agility/explosiveness testing. I doubt he gets much rushing work, but could get some of the receiving work spelling Hill, and his elusiveness makes him a worthwhile add.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (14% Yahoo, 35% ESPN)
Fiedorowicz’s 10 targets, 6 catches, and 82 yards were all team highs for the Texans in their Monday night loss to the Raiders. This isn’t an aberration; CJF now has at least 7 targets in 5 of his last 6 games. Fiedorowicz is averaging 8 points per game since becoming a focal point of the offense in Week 4, and he seems to be the only target $72 million dollar man Brock Osweiler can consistently hit.
Will Tye (2% Yahoo, 2% ESPN)
It took the Giants awhile to remember who their best tight end was, but they finally moved Larry Donnell to the inactives in favor of Will “The Strong Weapon” Tye. The nickname needs some work, but over the G-Men’s last 3 games, Tye has 20 targets and has played at least 72% of the offensive snaps. The production has been modest (just 5.3 points per game), but he has a slate of favorable or neutral games coming up over the next month, starting this week against Cleveland (allowing the most points to opposing tight ends).
Adrian Peterson (32% Yahoo, 29% ESPN)
I’d be negligent if I didn’t pass along that Adrian Peterson could return by mid-to-late December, but it’s not a shot I’m taking. Even if he can make it back in time to help your team: 1) you’d need balls of iron to start him in your playoff matchup his first week back; and 2) the Vikings have had a historically, epically, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad running game, averaging an anemic 2.7 YPC on the year. Before you “but he’s Adrian Peterson” me, Peterson was averaging just 1.6 YPC before he got hurt, and that was 3 left tackles ago.
Check Your Wire (Players owned in <75% of leagues): Even during his midseason swoon the targets were there for Sterling Shepard. He now has double-digit games in 3 straight (and 1 more on the season than Odell Beckham Jr.), and hasn’t fallen below 6 targets in a game since Week 1… I’m just as surprised as you are, but Cole Beasley should be owned in all leagues. He’s up to WR24 on the year after a 5 catch, 59 yard, 1 TD performance, and has shown good upside (4 double-digit games) with excellent floor (just 1 game below 5 points)… T.J. Yeldon left in the 1st half with an ankle injury and did not return. Chris Ivory got his heaviest workload of the year (23 touches), and while he wasn’t efficient, I’ll take that volume next week against Buffalo… I don’t know why DeVante Parker is owned in so many leagues after averaging 2.9 points per game between Week 4 and Week 9, but I guess patience (inattention? Ineptitude?) is a virtue. He went off for 8 catches, 79 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and now has 18 targets in his last 2. Still a scary floor with Ryan Tannehill, but what if this is Parker figuring things out in his 1st full season?
DEEPER LEAGUE PLAYS
(In no particular order.)
I talked about Marquise Lee last week. Another strong game for him on Sunday, catching 4 of 8 targets for 52 yards and a score. Lee is now just 23 yards behind Allen Robinson for the team lead… on 39 fewer targets. He’d be easier to add if he were playing full time (just 67% of the snaps against Detroit) and if his quarterback wasn’t Blake Bortles (who has now thrown multiple interceptions off a teammate’s foot).
Tyreek Hill had his 2nd nice game in a row in Jeremy Maclin’s absence. I wasn’t too enthused last week, and remain reluctant. Hill has played only 65% of KC’s snaps the past two weeks, and his targets predictably dropped from 13 last week to just 5 this week. At this point in the season there are probably better uses of a bench spot in 10- and 12-team leagues, but Hill is addable as a Hail Mary play in deeper leagues.
With the Titans’ offense rolling, early-season bust Tajae Sharpe has had a bit of a resurgence. Or a surrgence, I guess. In any event, he has at least 58 yards in 4 of his last 5 games, and scored in 2 straight. That’s the floor+ceiling combo we all love. The only fly in the ointment is a Week 13 bye followed by Week 14 game against Denver.
You got the full Jared Cook experience Sunday night: good (6 catches, 105 yards and a touchdown), bad (missed another easy touchdown when he couldn’t decide which way to turn), and ugly (a late fumble dashing any hope of a Packer comeback). Still, his 11 targets led the team, and this passing game needs a spark anywhere it can find one.
Adam Thielen has touchdowns in 2 straight and is averaging 7.5 points per game since the Vikings’ bye. It’s coming on low volume in a below-average passing offense, but dude’s got talent. Stefon Diggs was limited on Monday; Thielen would be a nice play if Diggs misses time.
Kenneth Dixon was rumored to be getting an increased role coming off a good game against Cleveland, but it didn’t quite happen on Sunday. He had 6 carries and 1 target, slightly less than starter Terrance West’s 8 carries and 2 targets. Meanwhile, the Ravens continue to throw (3rd most attempts in the NFL) despite having one of the most anemic passing offenses (4th worst net yards/attempt).
Alex Collins hasn’t played much this year (11 touches), hasn’t done much in his limited work (47 yards), and was a healthy scratch on Sunday. But C.J. Prosise is hurt, and if history is any indicator then Thomas Rawls will be soon, making Collins worth a pickup.
With the bye weeks just about wrapped up, hopefully you can do better than Lance Kendricks. But if you can’t, Kendricks bounced back from last week’s dud with another high usage day, getting 7 targets.
Denard Robinson got a few attempts with T.J. Yeldon leaving the game early. Robinson never lasts long, but flashed late in the season a couple years ago and could put up a decent game or two if Yeldon misses time. The Jaguars’ offense is a mess, but Robinson has the ability to break a big play amidst the ruins.
I’ve mentioned David Johnson’s workload and Andre Ellington’s handcuff value here before, but since Sigmund Bloom sent this reminder I’ll do the same.
Any questions, hit me up on Twitter, @scedar015. Be sure to check out Chris Manni’s Streaming Spotlight and Adam Cook’s Field of Streams for weekly quarterback, tight end, and defense pickups.