- Last season, Tyreek Hill and Cam Meredith lead owners to fantasy glory with big fantasy playoff weeks. Who will follow in their footsteps this year?
From Week 14 to Week 16 of the 2016 season, Tyreek Hill and Cameron Meredith were the WR4 and WR6, respectively, in standard-scoring fantasy football leagues. Hill did most of his damage on the ground, racking up 165 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards and four total touchdowns during the fantasy playoffs. Meredith went a more traditional route, catching 24 passes for 311 yards and two scores over the three biggest weeks of the fantasy season.
Hill scored at least 12.8 standard league points in all three playoff weeks last year, while Meredith gave his owners no fewer than 10.4 points in any contest. Hill found the end zone at least once each week, and Meredith either scored a touchdown or topped 100 yards in all three games. They both came up huge in Week 16, fantasy football championship week. For Hill, that meant 95 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. For Meredith, it was a nine-catch, 135-yard, one touchdown showing against the Redskins. There’s a good chance that the champion in your league last year had Hill or Meredith, or maybe even both, on their roster.
Hill and Meredith may have been unlikely heroes, but they didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Hill started to turn things on for the Chiefs in Week 7, when he totaled 61 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. From that point through the end of the fantasy regular season, he had a touchdown or 100 scrimmage yards in three more games. Meredith always delivered when given a chance, putting up consecutive 100-yard games in Weeks 5 and 6, his only games before the fantasy playoffs with double-digit targets. He emerged again in Week 13, the week before the start of the fantasy postseason in most leagues, catching three of four targets for 67 yards. The hints that Hill and Meredith could be playoff stars were there for anyone willing to look.
There will be unlikely fantasy playoff heroes this season, just like there are every year. It was this time last season when Hill and Meredith were giving off those qualities. Who might follow in their footsteps this season? The Week 13 Target and Snap Report identifies candidates at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
Case Keenum, Vikings
Keenum provided a steady hand for the first six weeks of his tenure as Minnesota’s quarterback, helping lead the team to a 4–2 record in that time. He has stepped it up a notch over the Vikings’ last four games, totaling 1,154 yards, 8.24 yards per attempt and nine touchdowns against three interceptions. He’s third in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks in that time, trailing only Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger. Keenum has effectively put to bed any potential quarterback controversy that started brewing in Minnesota when the team activated Teddy Bridgewater from IR. Keenum is the right quarterback to take the likely NFC North champions into the playoffs. He may also be the one to do the same for your fantasy team.
Keenum wasn’t exactly an unknown commodity heading into this year. There’s a reason he was undrafted out of the University of Houston after leaving as the NCAA’s all-time leader in yards, touchdowns and completions. There’s also a reason why he didn’t take his first NFL snap until two years after he left college and why he never forced his way into a starting gig until last season, when he was keeping the seat warm for Jared Goff in Los Angeles.
Still, if Keenum proved anything during his time at Houston, it was that he could be accurate behind a good line with strong weapons. That’s exactly what he has in Minnesota, and it is bringing out his best.
Pro Football Focus tracks how well quarterbacks perform in clean pockets. Keenum’s quarterback rating of 108.2 when not under pressure ranks seventh in the league. The only quarterbacks who have been better throwing from a clean pocket are Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins and Goff. Just behind Keenum are Matt Ryan, Wilson and Matthew Stafford. That’s not a bad place to be.
What’s more, fantasy owners should feel comfortable betting on the Vikings’ line creating plenty of clean pockets for Keenum. PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency measures how often a line allows hurries, hits and sacks, with greater weight given to sacks, on a per-dropback basis. The Vikings rank 12th in the measure. That gives Keenum the time he needs to let Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs do their thing down the field. When it all comes together, it results in one of the most surprisingly effective pass offenses of the 2017 season.
Keenum and the Vikings get the Panthers, Bengals and Packers during the fantasy playoffs. Those defenses rank 14th, 22nd and 30th against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA). He’s likely to go into the fantasy playoffs playing his best football of the season and he doesn’t have one bad matchup ahead of him. Keenum isn’t just a streamer anymore. He could be one of the primary reasons his fantasy owners end this season as champions.
Latavius Murray, Vikings
The highest-scoring running back over the last three weeks who doesn’t play for the Saints? Murray. It took him a while to get going after Dalvin Cook tore his ACL, but he has been a balancing presence for the Vikings’ offense over the last month. He has touchdowns in three straight games, picking up 247 yards on 52 carries in that span.
Murray is always going to have to deal with Jerick McKinnon. Even as he has emerged as a reliable fantasy option, he hasn’t played more than 55% of the snaps in any game. In fact, McKinnon out-snapped Murray in every game before the Vikings’ Thanksgiving Day win in Detroit, when the latter played 40 snaps to the former’s 33. Even with that handicap, Murray’s volume is unquestioned.
Cook tore his ACL in Week 4. Murray has had at least 12 carries in all seven of Minnesota’s games since then. He has had at least 15 carries in all but the first game of that stretch, when he admitted he was still getting over offseason ankle surgery. All told, Murray has averaged 16.6 carries per game since Cook went on IR. McKinnon may play more snaps, but Murray is a virtual lock to touch the ball 15 to 20 times per game while handling all of the goal-line touches. He’s one of maybe nine or 10 active backs who can say that.
The Vikings schedule isn’t quite as friendly to Murray as it is to Keenum. The Panthers are ranked second in running back aFPA. The Packers, however, are 18th, while the Bengals are 24th. The Vikings will be favored against the Bengals at home in Week 15 and likely at Green Bay in Week 16. Those could be game scripts in which Murray handles a major workload. If that’s the case, he’s going to pay off for owners who splurged on him after Cook’s injury.
Samaje Perine, Redskins
Like Murray, Perine is in the spotlight because of an injury. Unlike Murray, he hasn’t had more than a month to earn the trust of fantasy owners. That only makes his possible upcoming heroics all the more unlikely.
Perine, the rookie out of Oklahoma, has posted consecutive 100-yard games after taking over for the injured Rob Kelley. He got started by running for 117 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s 34-31 loss to New Orleans in Week 11. After a slow start on Thanksgiving, he ended up with 100 yards on 24 carries and three catches for 30 yards in the team’s 20-10 win over the Giants. There’s good reason to believe this is the start of something special.
Perine isn’t quite a workhorse, but with Chris Thompson out as well, he’s going to handle nearly all the touches out of Washington’s backfield. He played 70% of the team’s snaps in its first game without Thompson, getting 27 of the 32 running back touches. The other five went to Byron Marshall, who doesn’t appear to be a serious threat to take away a statistically significant portion of the workload. Marshall got just four carries, and it was Perine, who wasn’t necessarily considered a great receiver, who led the team’s backs in targets with four. That he caught three of them for 30 yards should give Jay Gruden confidence in his ability to handle that role the rest of the season.
The Redskins play the Chargers, Cardinals and Broncos, which rank 30th, 13th and 19th in running back aFPA. None is a bad matchup, and, barring an injury to Kirk Cousins, the Redskins will be favored in home games against the Cardinals and Broncos. Perine is set for fantasy playoff glory.
Davante Adams, Packers
This would have been anything but a surprise with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. It’s a completely different story with Brett Hundley at the helm. Adams, however, is the one Packer who has found some consistency with his new quarterback. And now that Hundley has a game under his belt where he looked the part of a dangerous NFL QB, there’s more reason to look at Adams as not just a different maker for his fantasy owners, but possibly the difference maker they need in the playoffs.
Hundley has started five games since Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. The Packers suffered through dreadful offensive performances in four of them before racking up 28 points and 307 total yards in their loss to the Steelers in Week 12. In those bad games, Adams was still delivering for his fantasy owners. We’ll give him a pass in Hundley’s first start, simply because it was Hundley’s first start. In the three contests between that and the Steelers game, Adams had seven catches for 53 yards, five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, and eight catches for 126 yards. As the entire offense was crumbling around him, Adams put up 10.97 points per game in standard leagues, and 17.63 points per game in PPR formats. If he hit those averages all season, he’d rank fifth among receivers in standard and third in PPR. And that’s not even counting the five catches, 54 yards and the touchdown he had with Hundley under center in the game in which Rodgers got hurt.
Adams has been Hundley’s favorite receiver by a wide margin. In the backup’s five starts, Adams has 42 targets, good for 8.4 per game. Jordy Nelson ranks second on the Hundley-led Packers with 26 targets, while Randall Cobb is third with 23. Adams’s 42 targets represent a 28.4% target share. Nine receivers this season have a target share of 28% or more and most of them are the usual suspects: Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Adam Thielen, Julio Jones, Keenan Allen and Michael Thomas. On top of that, Adams leads the NFL with 19 red-zone targets, a whopping 42.2% of Green Bay’s total red-zone targets. In terms of red-zone target share, Bryant is second at 37%.
The Packers visit the Browns and Panthers in Weeks 14 and 15, then return home Week 16 for a matchup with the Vikings. That last one will be tough, though Adams did put up that 5-54-1 line referenced earlier, the one in which Rodgers broke his collarbone, in the Packers first meeting with the Vikings. He’ll do a lot of heavy lifting to get his fantasy owners to that point, though. The Panthers rank 26th in wide receiver aFPA. The Browns rank ninth, but are 28th in quarterback aFPA. The reason for the disparity is that they’re so bad against tight ends. The Packers, of course, don’t have a major pass-catching threat at tight end, though, and Hundley will still be a good bet to succeed in that matchup. Things looked bleak for Adams six weeks ago, but he is back on track to be a playoff hero.
Robby Anderson, Jets
If any player in the column fits the mold Tyreek Hill was in last year, it’s Anderson. Both players had roles in their offenses all season. Both started out as complementary players, taking on more responsibility as the season progressed. Both started to break out as the fantasy playoffs approached. The question for Anderson is can he follow through on the pattern entirely, finishing his season by helping his fantasy owners hoist a championship trophy?
Anderson has found the end zone in five straight games. He hasn’t been entirely touchdown-dependent, though, giving his owners at least 85 yards in three of those contests. He has a total of 23 catches for 418 yards and six touchdowns in the five games, good for 15.56 standard-league points per game, and 20.16 points per game in PPR formats. It would be silly to expect these Antonio Brown-level numbers from Anderson to continue, but he may still be a hero for his fantasy owners.
The story for Anderson is different than it is for Adams. Where Adams gets it done by pairing a monster target share with efficiency, Anderson capitalizes on his big-play ability. That, too, makes him akin to 2016 Hill. You may not guess it, but Josh McCown has been one of the best deep passers in the league this season. He’s 19-for-40 for 623 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air, according to Pro Football Focus. Isolating for deep balls, he’s tied for seventh in completions, 10th in yards, first in touchdowns and sixth in accuracy rate (completions plus drops divided by attempts). Add it up, and McCown has a quarterback rating of 112.5 on deep passes, which is sixth-best in the league.
You can probably guess who’s on the opposite end of most of those passes. Anderson has 22 deep targets this season, more than all but five receivers. He has hauled in 11 of those targets, which gives him the third-most deep-ball receptions in the league, trailing only Brandin Cooks and Hopkins. His 382 yards on deep passes are good for second behind Cooks (490). The coup de grace, though? All seven of his touchdowns have come on deep passes. The only other receiver with five touchdowns on deep balls is Marvin Jones. No one else has more than three. Anderson can rightly claim status as one of the most dangerous deep-ball receivers in the game.
The one downside for Anderson and his owners is the Jets' schedule. They travel to Denver in Week 14 and New Orleans in Week 15, then return home for a game with the streaking Chargers in Week 16. Those three defenses rank third, fifth and 15th, respectively, in wide receiver aFPA. The Broncos and Chargers have also been elite at limiting big plays, with the latter allowing the third-fewest completions for 20 or more yards. Still, Anderson has earned the trust of his fantasy owners. Don’t let a tough schedule scare you away from one of this season’s likeliest unlikely fantasy playoff heroes.