Start Johnny Manziel in fantasy playoffs? Owners should consider it
By BJ Rudell, Special to SI.com
Whether you’re competing in your league’s fantasy playoffs or playing in a daily fantasy league like this one, starting undervalued players at the right time often means the difference between victory and defeat. A few weeks ago, none of the following players had any short-term value, whether due to sustained injuries or depth chart deficiencies. Today, they could help you take first place.
QB Derek Anderson
With Cam Newton expected to miss Sunday's game, the veteran Anderson will step into a terrific fantasy matchup at home against the Buccaneers -- the same team Anderson played in Week 1, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns while completing over 70 percent of his pass attempts. His career TD-INT ratio of 57-55 is nothing to write home about, but Anderson is armed with two of the NFL’s near-elite positional players (WR Kelvin Benjamin and TE Greg Olsen), meaning he has enough weapons to look quite good against a relatively soft opponent. It's also easy to forget that Carolina is only a half-game behind Atlanta and New Orleans for the NFC South division lead. I’d much rather start a backup quarterback in a must-win game than in a meaningless contest dominated by reserve players. Anderson should net at least 200 yards and two touchdowns.
QB Johnny Manziel
While I never thought I’d recommend starting Manziel this season, three things have broken his way. First, the recent and previously unexpected return of WR Josh Gordon (from suspension) and TE Jordan Cameron (from concussion) give the Browns an entirely different passing attack than they had before Week 12. Second, Manziel is in no danger of getting pulled Let’s face it: Brian Hoyer's worst NFL performances couldn't have come at a better time for the highly touted rookie. Finally, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis stupidly referred to Manziel the other day as a "midget." Sure, he apologized, but if Manziel weren't motivated enough, an added incentive to make the opposing coach regrets his words can’t hurt. I think he gets at least 175 passing yards, 60-plus rushing yards and at least two scores.
RB Jonathan Stewart
Stewart reminded people last week that the Panthers should have named him their starter back in September. The 27-year-old steamrolled New Orleans for 155 yards and a touchdown. Even if the aging DeAngelo Williams plays, this is Stewart's job to lose. While Williams’ once incredible career yards-per-carry mark has dropped precipitously in recent years (5.4 to 4.3 to 4.2 to 3.5), Stewart looks as strong as ever. Expect 20-plus touches en route to an 80-plus yard, one-touchdown day.
WR Marquess Wilson
It’s official: the Saints are the NFL’s biggest underachievers, yielding the fourth-most passing yards while holding only two opponents to under 23 points. That makes Brandon Marshall fill-in Marquess Wilson perhaps the most underrated flex players in Week 15. After lighting it up at Washington State, Wilson barely played last year as a rookie and then suffered a fractured clavicle this preseason, sidelining him until Week 11. With only seven receptions for 53 yards in his professional career, he is the prototypical boom-bust receiver, with just as much potential to catch two balls for 11 yards as he is to grab eight balls for 120 yards and a score. If you’re desperate at the flex spot, Wilson is worth the risk.
WR Marlon Brown / WR Kamar Aiken
If Torrey Smith (sprained knee) can't go Sunday, Brown should get a boost in targets and yards. Remember, this is the same guy who tallied seven touchdowns last season playing opposite Smith. But battling him will be Aiken, who took over opposite Steve Smith last week, reeling in six of seven targets along with a score. One of these guys has bust-out potential written all over him. Aiken has the momentum; Brown has the history. Take your pick. And if you pick correctly, congratulations on claiming an edge at your flex spot.
TE Jordan Cameron
Few tight ends entered the year with more hype than Cameron. With WR Josh Gordon sidelined for anywhere from half a season to the whole year, many prognosticators expected Cameron to be Cleveland’s primary receiver, building off his breakout 2013 season (917 yards, seven scores). But he has yet to get on track, with only one touchdown and one game with over 47 yards. Meanwhile, a concussion that sidelined him for several weeks makes him a greater risk for a setback. But playing with a new and arguably better quarterback (Manziel), Cameron should return to TE1 status, with a good chance of reclaiming the magic he displayed last year.