- A few injuries at the running back position have created some interesting decisions going into the fantasy football playoffs.
The fantasy playoffs begin in Week 14 for about 90% of owners and, after Sunday, it’s possible another elite RB1 will be on the sidelines at the most important time of the fantasy season. We kick off our look at the Week 14 waiver wire with a discussion about backfields in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, both of which could be missing their heavy hitters in the backfield when they next take the field.
Michael Beller: John, we've been talking about handcuffing your top backs for a few weeks now, and Week 13 showed us why that's so important at this point of the season. Melvin Gordon missed the Chargers' 33-30 win over the Steelers because of a knee injury, opening the door for both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Ekeler has been widely owned all season, so we can't really fault Gordon owners who didn't also have him. Jackson, however, was there for the taking last week, and now there will be some competition for him on the waiver wire after he ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
James Conner, meanwhile, left the game late with an ankle injury, and has already been ruled out for Week 14. I sure hope our readers who have been leaning on Conner handcuffed Jaylen Samuels to him. The rookie out of N.C. State handled five touches in the loss to the Chargers, scoring a touchdown two plays after Conner sustained his injury.
Who are you placing a higher priority on this week? Jackson or Samuels?
John Paulsen: There are reports that Melvin Gordon could be back as soon as this week, but it would be pretty reckless for a team with Super Bowl aspirations to rush back their star player for an extremely winnable home game against the Bengals. Assuming Gordon sits another week, I think we’ll see a two-man committee with Ekeler and Jackson. Ekeler isn’t going away, but Jackson should see 12 to 15 touches in a game that the Chargers are likely to control the whole way.
Jackson would seem to be set for a larger Week 14 workload in a good matchup, but Samuels is going to handle the bulk of the work out of Pittsburgh's backfield. Both are worth adding, but it's Samuels who gets the nod here. And don't sleep on Jeff Wilson, who will likely see a big workload with Matt Breida already ruled out for Week 14 because of an ankle injury.
Beller: Yeah, I’m going to get to Wilson in the body of the column, but you’re totally right that he could easily have the highest ceiling of these three. With Conner out, though, Samuels is my preferred add of the three.
With that, let’s get to the rest of our look at the wire heading into Week 14. As always, all players have ownership rates of 40% or less on at least two of Yahoo, ESPN and CBS.
Jeff Wilson Jr., 49ers
Like Jackson and Samuels, Wilson is one of the few players who’s widely available across the fantasy landscape and could make a meaningful impact during the playoffs. Matt Breida has emerged as a key piece of the 49ers’ future, but the team is heading toward a top-five pick and the back has been dinged up all season. In other words, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them take it easy on him the rest of the year, starting this week, for which he has already been ruled out because of his ankle injury. If that ends up being the case, it appears Wilson would be in control of the backfield. He got 23 touches in Week 13, totaling 134 yards from scrimmage. That alone makes him worth claiming, even with his role for the rest of the season being an unknown.
Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts
Hines racked up nine targets in the Colts’ 6-0 loss to the Jaguars in Week 13, catching all of them for 50 yards. It marked his fourth game this season with at least seven targets, and his first since early October. With Marlon Mack able to play despite spending most of the week in concussion protocol, it was encouraging to see Hines retain a meaningful role in the offense. He’s really only an option in full PPR leagues, but can be on the flex radar in such formats during the fantasy playoffs.
Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
Penny broke away for a 20-yard touchdown after a long kick return by Tyler Lockett, helping pour it on in the Seahawks’ 43-16 win over the 49ers. Penny has shown more than enough flashes to get the fantasy community excited this year, but workload remains a concern. Chris Carson was in command of Seattle’s backfield on Sunday, running the ball 13 times for 69 yards, and catching three of four targets for 39 yards. Penny, meanwhile, got seven carries, totaling 65 yards and the touchdown. Carson did suffer a finger injury in the game, but the team isn’t too concerned about it affecting his availability. If you claim Penny, which I do endorse in deeper leagues, you have to keep your expectations in check. Carson has been great this year, running for 704 yards and four touchdowns on 157 carries, and hauling in 13 passes for 127 yards. Penny isn’t going to unseat him at any point over the next few weeks. He can, however, mix in enough and make the most of those opportunities to show up for fantasy owners in deeper leagues.
Damien Williams, Chiefs
Spencer Ware was clearly the lead back in the Chiefs’ first game after releasing Kareem Hunt, getting 14 carries and one target. He turned those 15 touches into 52 yards and a touchdown in Kansas City’s 40-33 win over Oakland. Williams, however, had a role just large enough to make him intriguing for the rest of the season. He rushed five times for 38 yards and caught both of his targets for seven yards. Not to belabor the obvious, but seven opportunities per game isn’t going to make Williams worth starting. The point, though, is that he got enough looks in a high-powered offense to be worth stashing for the rest of the year. Chances are good that anyone who grabs him this week will not start him at any point of the fantasy playoffs. There remains enough potential payoff that he should be on the end of a bench in most competitive leagues. His role could easily grow, and if Ware were to go down, Williams would become the starter.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots
Burkhead played his first game since September on Sunday, and the Patriots were not shy about getting him right into the fray. He had seven carries for 20 yards and caught both of his targets for 21 yards in their 24-10 win over the Vikings. Burkhead was second on the team in carries, getting one more rush than James White, and he was instantly effective as a receiver. The problem here is the crowded state of the Patriots’ backfield. Sony Michel handled 17 carries on Sunday, White piled up nine targets—catching seven of them for 92 yards—and James Develin scored two short-yardage touchdowns. If Burkhead were guaranteed to get 15 touches per game, he’d be an easy fantasy starter the rest of the season. That’s not the case, which will make him a risky play in Week 14. The upside, however, makes him an easy player to target on the waiver wire.
LeGarrette Blount, Lions
The Lions were able to stick with the Rams for most of the afternoon in Week 13 before the top team in the NFC eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter. Still, the fact that it was close through the first three quarters kept Blount involved, and he ran for 61 yards on 16 carries in the 30-16 loss. Should Kerryon Johnson miss another game because of his knee injury, Blount would be on the flex radar with the Lions taking on the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 14. If Johnson returns, Blount would return to being no more than a depth back in fantasy leagues.
The necessary handcuffs: Malcom Brown, Rams; John Kelly, Rams; Giovani Bernard, Bengals; Chase Edmonds, Cardinals; Jamaal Williams, Packers; Carlos Hyde, Jaguars
To be a true handcuff at this point of the season, a back must be behind a clear workhorse, be under our 40% ownership rate threshold, and stand to inherit the lion’s share of the touches should the starter go down. If you are invested in Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon, David Johnson, Aaron Jones or Leonard Fournette, you must go get their handcuffs while you still can. Also, note that we added Kelly of the Rams to the mix this week. Malcolm Brown suffered a shoulder injury in Week 13, and if he is forced to miss time, Kelly would be Gurley’s primary backup. Remember, too, that Jaylen Samuels is a key handcuff, but that he warranted deeper discussion this week.
Antonio Callaway, Browns
Callaway caught three passes for 84 yards in the Browns’ 29-13 loss to the Texans in Week 13. More importantly, he’s a unique weapon in Cleveland’s offense as the lone true deep threat on the team. He’s not getting a huge target share, but he’s had at least five looks from Baker Mayfield in four of the last five weeks. Given what the Browns ask of him, that’s enough to make him worth a claim in most fantasy leagues. Callaway has a touchdown or at least 80 yards in three of his last five games.
Curtis Samuel, Panthers
Samuel had his best game of the season in Week 13, catching six of 11 targets for 88 yards. What’s more, Devin Funchess was active, getting three targets in the Panthers’ 24-17 loss to the Buccaneers. The Panthers have been finding ways to get Samuel worked in over the last few weeks, getting him five or more touches in three of their last four games. He has found the end zone in two of those contests, but Sunday’s performance marked his high watermark in terms of receiving yards this season. With the Panthers reeling, it’s a good bet they will turn to new weapons in the offense. Samuel should be among Cam Newton’s favorite targets for the rest of the season.
DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Parker got seven targets in the Dolphins’ 21-17 win over the Bills on Sunday, catching four of them for 43 yards and a touchdown. It has been another disappointing year for the fourth-year receiver out of Louisville, but he has had at least seven targets in three of his last five games. If that feels a bit flimsy as a case for grabbing someone off the waiver wire, it’s only because it is. Still, owners looking for help on the waiver wire going into Week 14 can’t expect to find a slam-dunk starter sitting there for the taking. On paper, Parker is the most dangerous receiver at Ryan Tannehill’s disposal, and the Dolphins have a neutral-at-worst matchup with the Patriots in Week 14.
Bruce Ellington, Lions
Ellington racked up 10 more targets on Sunday, catching seven of them for 35 yards in the Lions’ 30-16 loss to the Rams. In three games with Detroit, Ellington has 19 receptions for 115 yards on 26 targets. That’s not going to move the needle at all in standard leagues, but Ellington is clearly an asset in full PPR formats. His 10.17 points per game in PPR leagues since joining the Lions puts him on par with what John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Mohamed Sanu have done over the full season.
Zay Jones, Bills
Jones caught four passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the Bills’ 21-17 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday. Over his last three games, all of which were started by someone not named Nathan Peterman, Jones has 12 receptions for 160 yards and three scores on 21 targets, and that includes a goose egg against the Jaguars in Week 12. We’ll give him a pass for that, too, after the Jaguars’ defense showed it still has plenty of bite in shutting down the Colts completely in Week 13. Jones has enough appeal to be on the waiver wire radar in deeper leagues.
John Ross, Bengals
A.J. Green was carted off the field because of a foot injury in the Bengals’ 24-10 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, and there’s a good chance we don’t see him the rest of the season. Green just missed three games because of a foot injury, and the Bengals’ season has all but slipped away. With Andy Dalton on IR, there’s not much of a realistic chance that the team will put together a hot streak and get into the postseason, especially since it sits behind five teams for the final wild card spot. Assuming Green is out the rest of the year, Ross would have an expected target share that makes him attractive in deeper fantasy leagues.
C.J. Uzomah, Bengals
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Anyone hunting for tight end help at this point of this specific season isn’t going to come away with a player who’s all that attractive. Uzomah has 19 targets in his last two games, and has had at least four looks in six of his last seven. Add in the likelihood that A.J. Green is done for the year, and you get a relatively stable, fantasy-relevant target share for the fourth-year tight end out of Auburn.
Chris Herndon, Jets
The argument for Herndon is essentially the same as the one for Uzomah. He got six looks from Josh McCown in the Jets’ 26-22 loss to the Titans in Week 13, marking his fourth straight game with at least four targets. Herndon didn’t become a real part of the Jets offense until Week 6 against the Colts. In the seven games since then, including that one, he has averaged 3.29 catches, 4.71 targets, 42.57 yards and 0.43 touchdowns per game. That comes out to 6.83 points per game in standard leagues, and 10.12 points per game in PPR formats. You’re not going to be toasting to his name if you start him, but he’s not going to give you a complete dud, either.