- The fantasy football playoffs are here. What better time to find a Sneaky Start? Here are some of this week's best candidates.
All but the luckiest fantasy owners at some point need to find the proverbial diamond in the rough—a waiver wire or bench player capable of putting up some points in a pinch. This weekly feature is dedicated to that part of fantasy football. It's not pretty, but it's part of the game.
A good way to identify a potential spot start is to leverage 4for4’s signature strength-of-schedule metric, adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA). Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. So if a defense has seen a murderer’s row of running backs, it will be reflected in the defense’s aFPA. As a ranker, I use this metric weekly when putting together our award-winning projections.
In many leagues, Week 14 marks the beginning of the fantasy playoffs. With the byes behind us, teams should be near full strength, relatively speaking. However, there are several key injuries—Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, Amari Cooper, Doug Martin, Joe Mixon, Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz, to name a few—along with a one-game suspension for Rob Gronkowksi for a dirty, boneheaded play that may have owners scrambling to fill holes in their lineups.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top Sneaky Starts for Week 14.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (at Texans)
Garoppolo acquitted himself well against the Bears, completing 26-of-37 (70.3%) passes for 293 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown and was intercepted once, but that’s not a bad showing in a tough matchup on the road. Now he’ll face the Texans in Houston, and should find the going easier. The Texans’ pass defense hasn’t been bad the last two weeks, but in Weeks 10 and 11, Houston yielded 612 yards and six touchdowns to Blaine Gabbert and Jared Goff.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals (vs. Bears)
Joe Mixon looks unlikely to play in Week 14 due to a concussion and a possible shoulder injury, though his status should be monitored. If he’s out, Bernard should see the lion’s (Bengal’s?) share of the touches against the Bears. Last week, he turned 15 touches into 96 yards while playing 69% of the snaps due to Mixon’s injury. Since 2015, Bernard has averaged 0.95 fantasy points per touch in PPR formats, and I’d expect him to see 17 to 22 touches in this one.
Andre Ellington, Texans (vs. 49ers)
Ellington played 58% of the snaps last week while Lamar Miller played 80%, so clearly the Texans are using Ellington more as a receiver than just as Miller’s backup. He ran 35 routes in Week 13. To put this in perspective, Larry Fitzgerald leads the league with 39.8 pass routes per game, per Player Profiler. Given all the injuries they have in their receiving corps, Ellington could see plenty of work as a slot receiver which gives him sneaky value against the 49ers, especially in PPR formats.
Marquise Goodwin, 49ers (vs. Texans)
Last week, Goodwin caught all eight of his targets from Jimmy Garoppolo for 99 yards. In the three previous weeks, Goodwin averaged 76 yards per game and found the end zone once, against the Giants. He has a great matchup against cornerback Kevin Johnson and the Texans defense, which is 28th in wide receiver aFPA.
Martavis Bryant, Steelers (vs. Ravens)
JuJu Smith-Schuster has been suspended for this week’s game, so Bryant should play 75% of the snaps, if not more, just as he did against the Packers, the last game Smith-Schuster missed due to injury. Bryant caught four passes for 40 yards and a score in that game, filling the WR2 role in Pittsburgh. It’s not a great matchup against the Ravens, but Baltimore is still reeling from the loss of cornerback Jimmy Smith. Bryant’s matchup against Brandon Carr quite as foreboding.
Stephen Anderson, Texans (vs. 49ers)
The Texans are seriously hurting at receiver. Will Fuller is still out with a rib injury (though he may return this week), Bruce Ellington and C.J. Fiedorowicz just went on injured reserve, and Braxton Miller is dealing with a concussion. Anderson is a great athlete for a tight end, and often looks more like a receiver. After all of the injuries, he saw 12 targets last week against the Titans, catching five of them for 79 yards and a score. He should see at least 6 to 8 targets this week against the 49ers, a defense that is mediocre against tight ends.