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  • Ravens RB Alex Collins has developed into a must-start for fantasy football owners—even against the Steelers this week, he should be in starting lineups.
By Michael Beller
December 07, 2017

Four running backs have averaged at least 15.5 points per game over the last three weeks. Alvin Kamara, the top-scoring back in standard and PPR formats in Weeks 12 and 13 is obviously part of that group. There aren’t many three-week samples over the last four seasons in which Le’Veon Bell hasn’t averaged 15.5 points, so he’s in this group, too.

Jamaal Williams is one, having totaled 258 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the last two weeks. The other hasn’t reached quite those heights, but has scored at least 11.7 standard-league points in all of the least three games, and, unlike Williams, doesn’t have a returning teammate who could significantly eat into his playing time in Week 14.

Alex Collins needs to be in your starting lineup.

Collins has been a revelation for the Ravens this season, running for 705 yards and four touchdowns on 144 carries. He started asserting himself at the end of September, running for 82 yards on nine carries in consecutive games, forcing the coaching staff to acknowledge him as the best back on the team. Since then, he has averaged 14.9 totes per game, netting at least 15 carries five times. The Ravens lean on Collins as a featured part of their offense every time they take the field.

That tendency has increased in recent weeks. The Ravens have won three straight games, and four of their last five. In those five games, Collins has 340 yards and four touchdowns on 82 carries. He has also gotten involved in the passing game, catching 11 passes for 75 yards. Those aren’t huge numbers, to be sure, but he had zero targets in his first six games of the season. The fact that he’s now adding a little value through the air, even with Danny Woodhead back in the fold, shows just how crucial he is to the Ravens offense. He may never contribute much as a receiver, but that he stays on the field on obvious passing downs and for the occasional screen speaks volumes about how the offensive staff views him.

The one issue for Collins this week could be game script. His one bad game in the last five weeks came in the Ravens lone loss in that timeframe. He got just 13 carries in that game, running for 43 yards in a 23–20 loss to the Titans, that was more out of hand than the final score indicates. The Ravens scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of that game to cut their deficit to three, but were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick. Collins was essentially game-scripted out of the action for the entire second half. There’s a risk of that happening again in Pittsburgh, with the Ravens installed by oddsmakers as five-point underdogs.

That possibility could lead some fantasy owners to think twice about starting Collins. The fear is understandable, but it’s also too unlikely to force owners to ignore just how good, and how active, Collins has been for the better part of two months. He may have no better than a high-end RB2 ceiling, but that should still be enough to make him an guaranteed part of your lineup this week.

QUARTERBACKS

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Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs. Ravens)

In that same game, Roethlisberger’s fantasy owners may be concerned about what they perceive as a bad matchup. That, too, is overblown, for reasons I laid out in full in the Week 14 Target and Snap Report. First, the Ravens have great fantasy-points-against stats, but they’ve also played one of the weakest groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Second, Roethlisberger will be playing at Heinz Field, where he’s simply a different, better quarterback than he is on the road. The Ravens will be playing their first game without Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles last week, making slowing down Antonio Brown even more of an impossible task than it typically is. You can trust Roethlisberger in this bad-on-paper matchup.

Josh McCown, Jets (at Broncos)

At the beginning of the season, this would’ve seemed ludicrous. Start McCown against the Broncos pass defense? In Denver? Now, it seems ludicrous to go the other way. McCown is the seventh-ranked quarterback in standard-scoring leagues, and the 3-8 Broncos are falling apart. Even their once-vaunted pass defense is no longer a prohibitive unit. In their last three games, they’ve allowed Andy Dalton, Derek Carr and Jay Cutler to average 17.29 points per game, with all of them scoring at least 15.5 points. Those aren’t huge numbers, but check out those names again. We’re not exactly talking Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. Given McCown’s success and bankability this season, he’s a good play against a defense that is just league average in quarterback aFPA, no matter what it used to be.

Derek Carr, Raiders (at Chiefs)

Considering the circumstances, Carr had an encouraging game last week. Playing without Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, Carr threw for 287 yards, 7.97 yards per attempt and one touchdown in a 24-17 win over the Giants. No matter the matchup, playing that well without your top-two receivers is impressive. This week, Carr gets a matchup with a Chiefs defense that is ranked 32nd in quarterback a FPA. Back in Week 7, Carr shredded the Chiefs for 417 yards, 8.02 YPA and three touchdowns.

Superflex Special

Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots (at Texans)

Garoppolo didn’t throw any touchdowns in his first start with the 49ers, but he did nearly everything else right. He completed better than 70% of his passes for 293 yards and 7.92 YPA, producing four drives that got inside the 10-yard line. In other words, he was a couple of passes away from a huge game against a Bears defense that is ranked eighth in quarterback aFPA. This week, he’ll face a Houston defense that is 30th in quarterback aFPA. Garoppolo is an easy QB2 this week, and he carries low-end QB1 upside.

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Sit

Marcus Mariota, Titans (at Cardinals)

Quick, guess the last time Mariota threw for more than one touchdown in a game. If you said, “Two days after the Astros World Series parade,” congratulations, you’re right. Mariota hasn’t thrown two touchdowns in a game since the Titans Week 9 win over the Ravens on November 5. In the four games since then, he has thrown for 904 yards (226 per game), 7.23 YPA, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. In what should have been a cushy matchup with the Texans at home last week, he got just 150 yards, 6.52 YPA and one score, though he did salvage his line with a rushing touchdown. Still, there’s little reason to believe in Mariota as more than a mid-tier QB2 this week.

Kirk Cousins, Redskins (at Chargers)

Cousins made the Week 14 Target and Snap Report, as well, though on the opposite side of Ben Roethlisberger. What Cousins has achieved this season is borderline incredible, given the struggles of his wide receivers, the injuries on the offensive line, and the loss of Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson. That is all finally starting to catch up with the Washington offense. It’s also a terrible formula to bring into a game against the Chargers and their top-flight pass rush, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. It may not be Cousins’s fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that he belongs on your bench this week.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys (at Giants)

Yes, Prescott threw two touchdowns last week, and the Cowboys got their first win without Ezekiel Elliott. He also completed just 50% of his passes for 102 yards and 4.64 YPA. That’s not exactly the confidence-boosting start the scoreboard suggests in a 38-14 win. The Giants may be 26th in quarterback aFPA, but the quarterback and his passing game need to prove themselves capable of taking advantage of the matchup. The Elliott-less Cowboys have yet to do that in four games without the star running back. I don’t want to bet on that changing in the fifth.

RUNNING BACKS

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Giovani Bernard, Bengals (vs. Bears)

This obviously assumes that Joe Mixon will miss Sunday’s game. Given the restrictions of the league’s concussion protocol, that seems like a safe bet. Bernard ran the ball well in Mixon’s absence last week, picking up 77 yards on 13 carries. The Bears have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, but Bernard, as we know, is a significant threat as a receiver, too. He’d handle the vast majority of the touches out of Cincinnati’s backfield, and could be in line for a workhorse share. The Bengals are six-point favorites and playing at home, with an implied total of 22 points. All of that works in Bernard’s favor, as well. He’d be an easy start for all of his owners if Mixon is out.

Derrick Henry, Titans (at Cardinals)

DeMarco Murray got back on the positive side of the ledger last week, running for 66 yards on 11 carries, but it was Henry who dropped the hammer on the Texans with a 75-yard touchdown run to ice the game. He hadn’t done much before that point, but it put in stark relief, yet again, how much more explosive he is than his veteran teammate. In the two games before the win over the Texans, Murray and 19 yards on 20 carries. The Titans have not shown a willingness to lean on Henry over Murray, but he’s at least earning half of the work out of the backfield. That makes him a worthy flex play in all formats.

Jerick McKinnon, Vikings (at Panthers)

The Saints last week showed how effective an offense that commits to its pass-catching backs can be against the Panthers. Now, to be fair, the Saints are in a unique position to roll out such a strategy. They have the best one-two running back punch in NFL history that just so happens to be perfect for the moment in which it plays. Still, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for 11 catches for 103 yards in the Saints 31-21 win over the Panthers in Week 13. McKinnon, meanwhile, is at his best when he’s getting plenty of opportunity to do damage as a receiver. If the Vikings can take anything from the Saints win last week and use it, it’s that.

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Sit

Mike Davis, Seahawks (at Jaguars)

There’s a lot of excitement in the fantasy community about Davis being the answer to the Seahawks backfield woes, and that’s understandable. He ran for 64 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 37 yards last week, unequivocally one of the best games we’ve seen from a Seahawks back this season. This offense, however, will always run through Russell Wilson. Even as Davis ran for 64 yards, Wilson picked up 31 yards on the ground on six rushes. As great as the Jaguars are against the pass, the only way the Seahawks will go into Jacksonville and come out with a win is on the strength of Wilson’s right arm. Too much in this game can go wrong for Davis, from both offensive-design and game-script standpoints. For my money, he’s outside the top 30 at the position this week.

C.J. Anderson, Broncos (vs. Jets)

Anderson was back in control of the Broncos backfield last week, running 15 times for 67 yards and catching four passes for 43 yards. His best game in about two months has him back on the fantasy radar, but he still shouldn’t be showing up as anything more than a blip. The Jets are seventh in running back aFPA, impressively shutting down LeSean McCoy (12 carries, 25 yards), Leonard Fournette (24 carries, 86 yards) and pre-Eagles Jay Ajayi (23 carries, 51 yards). All three of those teams have something in common: their passing games don’t scare defenses. The Jets weren’t shy to load the box against any of them, and that will be the case in Denver this weekend, as well. Anderson is not a good bet going up against a stacked front, especially with the overall struggles Denver’s offense is enduring.

Peyton Barber, Buccaneers (vs. Lions)

It’s unlikely for players without a history of concussions to miss more than one week because of the injury, so, for now, fantasy owners should plan on Doug Martin returning this week. If that’s the case, it’s going to be awfully hard to trust Barber. Yes, Martin struggled mightily before the injury, running for 376 yards on 119 carries, which comes out to 3.16 yards per carry. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Buccaneers just handing the reins to Barber with a healthy Martin as an option. More likely, the two would split backfield duties, effectively killing both players fantasy value. If Martin is ruled out, however, Barber will be a worthy play.

All Eagles Backs (at Rams)

Here’s a backfield that knows all about losing fantasy value because of a diffused workload. If I could just start Eagles RBs as a player, and get all the stats generated by Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement, I’d do so in a heartbeat. Such a player would likely be an easy RB2. Unfortunately, we can’t do that in fantasy leagues, and pinning down which one will have the best game is too much of a moving target. What makes the situation even more precarious is that splitting the work among the three has worked so well for the Eagles in real life, and, big surprise, they don’t care about our fantasy teams. Ajayi could very well be a fantasy star next season if the Eagles say goodbye to Blount, but that’s a story for next summer. For now, all three Eagles backs need to be benched.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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Sammy Watkins, Rams (vs. Eagles)

The Rams have played two games without Robert Woods. In those two games, Watkins has seven catches on 13 targets for 120 yards, with a touchdown in both of them. The good times may be coming to an end with Woods’s return likely around the corner, but they should continue to roll this week. Eagles-Rams has an over/under of 48.5 points, the second-highest total on the board in Week 14. If those offenses can be close to as efficient on Sunday as they’ve been for most of the season, this game will play into the 50s. There’s almost no bad way to get invested in a game like that.

Marquise Goodwin, 49ers (at Texans)

Here’s another player taking full advantage of an opportunity created unfortunately by injury. In the 49ers four games since Pierre Garcon went on IR, Goodwin has had 68, 83, 78 and 99 yards. There’s not a bad game in the bunch, and the first three of those games with C.J. Beathard under center. In Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start, Goodwin caught all eight of his targets to get to within one yard of the century mark. Goodwin has had at least six targets in three of the games since becoming the top receiver in San Francisco, so there’s no reason to doubt his volume this week. He draws a Houston defense ranked 28th in wide receiver aFPA, and 30th in quarterback aFPA. 

Nelson Agholor, Eagles (at Rams)

What’s good for the Rams receiver is good for the Eagles receiver, right? Agholor put up a huge game in Seattle last week, catching seven passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. The Rams defense has been filthy against the pass this season, ranking fifth in wide receiver aFPA, and third in quarterback aFPA. Agholor has been touchdown-dependent this season, but he has found the end zone in seven of the Eagles 12 games. If you believe this game will play up to or beyond its 48.5 over/under, than you should have confidence in the passing attacks on both sides.

T.Y. Hilton, Colts (at Bills)

Hilton had been a boom or bust player in every game this season through the Colts first 11 games, scoring more than 17 points in standard leagues three times, and fewer than six points nine times. It was oddly comforting to see him have his first solid game last week, a three-catch, 51-yard, one-touchdown effort in a 30-10 loss to the Jaguars. Hilton has too high of a ceiling to bench in anything but a terrible matchup, and the Bills defense does not qualify. We know that the potential for a dud is always live with Hilton, owing mostly to the Colts offense, but the possible payoff is too great to ignore.

Sit

Josh Doctson, Redskins (at Chargers)

There has been a lot of encouraging developments in Doctson’s second season in the league, but he’s not quite at the point where he should be locked into lineups. He has yet to show a significant yardage ceiling, and his target numbers are frustratingly low from week to week. He’ll likely see a lot of Casey Hayward, the top-rated cornerback by Pro Football Focus this season. This is a bad matchup for the Washington offense as a whole, and that trickles down to Doctson.

Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (vs. Jets)

Sanders’s last three games? Two catches for 15 yards, three catches for 12 yards, two catches for 11 yards. It’s basically impossible to feel good about him at this point. The Broncos offense is a trainwreck no matter who is under center. They’ve scored more than 20 points exactly once in their last 10 games, and they lost that one 51-23. The Jets are ranked 27th in wide receiver aFPA, but all the magic of a good matchup can’t help Sanders. He needs to be on your bench.

Jermaine Kearse, Jets (at Broncos)

On the other side of this game, we find one of the hottest receivers in the league. Jermaine Kerase is coming off consecutive 100-yard games, during which his exact damage has been 16 catches on 21 targets for 262 yards and a touchdown. So why is Kearse a sit, even with Josh McCown a worthy starter. Denver’s corners are still a handful. The Broncos rank second in wide receiver aFPA. McCown can get by without significant contributions from Kearse, and that helps insulate him against the Denver secondary. Kearse is going to have to regularly beat one of Aqib Talib or Chris Harris to show up for his fantasy owners, and that’s a lot to ask of any receiver.

TIGHT ENDS

Start

Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (vs. Lions)

Jameis Winston made his first start in a month last week, and it doubled as Brate’s first useful fantasy performance since the end of October. That shouldn’t come as much surprise, given Winston’s reliance on Brate in the red zone. Both of Brate’s receptions went for scores, but he got four more targets, his first game with six targets since Week 7. With Winston back under center, Brate once again carries high touchdown upside, especially among the low-end TE1 types against which fantasy owners should be judging him. The Lions, meanwhile, rank 31st in tight end aFPA.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jets (at Broncos)

Seferian-Jenkins is mired in a cold spell. He hasn’t scored since Week 7, and he has had fewer than 30 yards in five of his last six games. He’s on the low-end TE1 radar thanks in large part to his matchup. Quarterbacks typically attack the middle of the field against the Broncos because of their strength on the outside. That has led them to struggle against tight ends, where they’re 28th in aFPA. The Broncos have allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends, with low-end TE1 types like Jason Witten, Charles Clay, Tyler Kroft and Julius Thomas all finding the end zone against them.

David Njoku, Browns (vs. Packers)

Josh Gordon rightfully got all the attention last week, and that helped obscure the best game of Njoku’s rookie career. He caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdowns, taking advantage of a growing role in the Cleveland offense. At this point, the Browns would be wise to get Njoku as much run as possible to see what he can do and to get as much experience under his belt as possible before 2018. With Gordon and Corey Coleman on the field, there should be a lot room underneath and in the middle for Njoku to operate.

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Sit

Tyler Kroft, Bengals (vs. Bears)

Here we find the first of three streaming types that doesn’t make the grade this week. If you can get your hands on Kroft, chances are someone like Njoku or Seferian-Jenkins is also available in your league. Kroft isn’t a terrible play, but there’s no reason to believe in him this week like there was against the Broncos and Browns, when he projected as one of the best streamers, and came through for those who started him. Without a great matchup juicing his touchdown upside, Kroft is a bad bet.

Vernon Davis, Redskins (at Chargers)

What has happened to Davis? Three weeks ago, he looked like one of the most reliable tight ends out of the elite class, going for at least 60 yards in six of seven games. In the two games since then, he has two catches for 15 yards. The Chargers rank eighth in tight end aFPA, had have shut down the likes of Evan Engram (zero catches) and Jared Cook (two catches, 14 yards) this season. With everything crumbling in the Washington offense, it’s hard to feel good about Davis.

Charles Clay, Bills (vs. Colts)

Clay’s knee remains an issue, keeping him out of, or limited in, practice this week. He should be able to play on Sunday, but at what strength remains to be seen. He’ll also be playing with either a less-than-100% Tyrod Taylor, or Nathan Peterman. Either way, it’s an ugly setup for a touchdown-dependent tight end.

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