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.
At this point, most leagues are in the middle of their playoffs and teams should be at full strength, relatively speaking. Injuries to three quarterbacks—Carson Wentz, Josh McCown and Marcus Mariota—will have more than a few owners scouring the waiver wire for streaming options.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top Sneaky Starts for Week 15 (positional aFPA is in parenthesis):
Blake Bortles, Jaguars (vs. Texans, 30th)
Bortles has accounted for two touchdowns in each of his last three games—four passing, two rushing—and he has a fantastic matchup with the Texans, who are 30th in quarterback aFPA. Bortles’s recent willingness to run the ball (145 rushing yards in his last six games) has raised his floor.
Nick Foles, Eagles (at Giants, 26th)
Foles was a rising star back in 2013 when he threw 27 touchdowns against two interceptions playing for Andy Reid and the Eagles. Now he’s a system play in the hopes that he can step in for Carson Wentz and keep a potent Philadelphia offense humming. He should have a productive week against the Giants, who have yielded an average of 287 yards and 2.0 touchdowns to Dak Prescott, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins over the last three weeks.
C.J. Anderson, Broncos (at Colts, 28th)
After a midseason swoon in carries, Anderson has toted the ball 37 times and caught six passes in his last two games. His heavy workload two weeks ago was supposedly due to Devontae Booker’s illness (flu), but then Anderson netted 24 touches last week against the Jets. He has a great matchup with the Colts on Thursday and should be able to do a lot of damage on 15 to 20 touches if he continues to serve as Denver’s lead back.
Dede Westbrook, Jaguars (vs. Texans, 29th)
Westbrook has seen 33 targets in his four games this season, including eight last week, of which he hauled in five for 81 yards and a score. Since he runs most of his routes outside, he should see a lot of Houston’s struggling corners, Kevin Johnson and Johnathan Joseph.
Randall Cobb, Packers (at Panthers, 18th)
Cobb (and the entire Green Bay offense) will benefit from the return of Aaron Rodgers. Carolina has yielded the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game, so Green Bay will likely have to use the short passing game as an extension of the running game. This should benefit Cobb. He’ll mainly match up with Captain Munnerlyn, who has been struggling in the slot.
O.J. Howard & Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (vs. Falcons, 4th)
Brate caught two touchdowns in Week 13 against the Packers, but was only targeted once last week against the Lions. His snaps have been declining since Week 11, and he played a season-low 35% of the snaps in Week 14. Meanwhile, Howard set a season-high in snap rate (79%) against the Lions, catching four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. It’s the third time he has cleared 52 receiving yards in the last four games. It’s a little dicey to trust either player, but at least one should have a good game given Jameis Winston’s propensity to throw to his tight ends. The duo has accounted for 29% of Winston’s passing yards and 64% of his touchdowns. I prefer Howard due to his recent snap counts and increased usage.