- Players flying under the radar this week who might be able to help you win your fantasy matchup.
Welcome to Week 15. Most leagues are holding their semifinals this week, so we’re obviously in crunch time. Unfortunately, there are several lingering injuries—James Conner, Melvin Gordon, Carson Wentz, LeSean McCoy, Odell Beckham and DeSean Jackson to name a few—that are throwing a wrench into the best-laid plans.
A great 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.
Last week, I discussed Josh Allen, Austin Ekeler, Spencer Ware, Sterling Shepard, Dante Pettis, Curtis Samuel, Evan Engram and Ian Thomas in this space. Let’s see if we can dig up a few more gems for Week 16.
Josh Allen, Bills (vs. Lions, 24th in QB aFPA)
Allen has gained 335 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the last three weeks, and this makes him a compelling streaming option against the Lions. Unfortunately, Detroit has allowed a league-low 64 rushing yards (total!) to quarterbacks this year. This includes games against mobile quarterbacks like Mitch Trubisky (18 yards allowed), Russell Wilson (15), Aaron Rodgers (10), Cam Newton (two) and Dak Prescott (two). In Allen’s seven full games, he has generated just 7.5 fantasy points per contest as a passer and an impressive 10.6 points as a runner, so if the Lions are able to contain his ability to get points in the ground, he could have a frustrating afternoon. The one thing working in his favor is that the Lions have been pretty leaky in their pass defense, allowing the third-most fantasy points per pass attempt. On the filp side, the Lions have been pretty decent against the position over the last three weeks, allowing an average of 226 passing yards and one touchdown per game to Chase Daniel, Jared Goff and Josh Rosen. Allen’s range of outcomes is vast, but for owners looking for upside at the position, he certainly brings it.
Nick Mullens, 49ers (vs. Seahawks, 17th in QB aFPA)
After a blistering debut against the hapless Raiders, Mullens survived two subpar outings against the Giants and the Bucs, and put together two nice starts against the Seahawks (414 yards, two touchdowns) and the Broncos (332 yards, two touchdowns). He doesn’t add anything as a runner, and he’s averaging 1.2 interceptions per game, but he catches the Seahawks at home on a short week and is capable of putting up another high-yardage game with multiple scores.
Damien Williams, Chiefs (vs. Chargers, 21st in RB aFPA)
With Spencer Ware doubtful, Williams figures to serve as the lead back for the Chiefs against the Chargers. Last week, he turned 12 touches into 30 yards and two touchdowns in a bad matchup against the Ravens. He’s a journeyman, but he boasts excellent speed (4.45 40-yard dash) and good burst, and should be able to post fantasy points even if the Chiefs fall behind thanks to his receiving skills and expected volume.
Kenneth Dixon, Ravens (vs. Buccaneers, 29th in RB aFPA)
Over the past two weeks, Dixon has gained 96 yards on 16 carries (6.0 yards per carry). Gus Edwards has averaged 4.03 YPC in the same span, so it wasn’t surprising that John Harbaugh said that he expects Dixon’s role “to grow going forward,” per beat writer Jeff Zriebec. He’s a much better receiver than Edwards, meaning the Baltimore offense gains some unpredictability when he’s in the game.
Dante Pettis, 49ers (vs. Seahawks, 21st in WR aFPA)
Pettis is one of the hottest receivers in football. He has 12 catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games, and the Seahawks had no answer for him in Week 13 (five catches, 129 yards, two touchdowns). He may draw more attention this time around, but Seattle will still have to account for George Kittle and Marquise Goodwin, as well, so it’s doubtful that they’ll double-team him.
Josh Reynolds, Rams (vs. Eagles, 25th in WR aFPA)
I expect the Rams offense will bounce back in a big way against a decimated Philadelphia secondary. Reynolds has seen an average of 6.3 targets in his last four games without Cooper Kupp in the lineup, and he can do a lot of damage with that kind of workload in a very favorable matchup.
Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie, Bills (at Lions, 30th in WR aFPA)
Foster is 14th in air yards in the league over the last two weeks. As long as he doesn’t draw shadow coverage from Darius Slay, he’ll be a good bet to produce against the Lions. McKenzie turned eight touches (including four carries) into 69 yards and a touchdown last week and is likely to have a big role again this week with both LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory dealing with injuries.
Chris Herndon, Jets (vs. Texans, 26th in TE aFPA)
Herndon has been fairly quiet in the last two weeks, but the Titans and Bills are ranked second and first, respectively, in tight end aFPA.. His matchup against the Texans this week is significantly better. In recent weeks, Houston has yielded lines of 4-65-1 (yards-catches-touchdowns) to Eric Ebron, 6-115-1 to Tennessee tight ends, and 7-71-1 to Jordan Reed. Working backwards, in his last several positive matchups (per aFPA), Herndon has posted 7-57, 4-62, 1-16-1, 4-42-1 and 2-56-1 on 4.6 targets per game.
Vernon Davis, Redskins (at Jaguars, 9th in TE aFPA)
Davis should benefit from the absence of Jordan Reed, who is dealing with a toe injury. He saw four targets in Week 14, and they all came from Josh Johnson, who is going to draw the start this week. Davis caught all four of those targets for 31 yards and has posted usable fantasy lines in four games this season: 2-70 in Week 3, 3-48-1 in Week 6, 5-62 in Week 9 and 2-73-1 in Week 12. Davis should set a season-high in snaps played this week with Reed on the sidelines.