- With Aaron Jones out, Packers RB Jamaal Williams becomes an every-down player in Green Bay. If Aaron Rodgers starts on Sunday, get him in lineups. If not, then hold back.
Championship week is upon is in all right-thinking fantasy leagues, which know that you ignore Week 17 in the fantasy world, unless you want the owners with Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes to be without their best players in the most important game of the season. Players who have been on rosters for most or all of the season will likely do most of the heavy lifting in Week 16, but there are still players available who can make a title-winning difference. We look at such player, while allowing one of our two writers to do a little peacocking, to kick off our Week 16 waiver wire column.
Michael Beller: John, you know as well as anyone it was a lost season in Green Bay, whereas down in my neck of the woods, a division champion is being feted this week. The Bears locked up that division title in Week 15 with a 24–17 win over the Packers. From a fantasy perspective, the Bears’ first trip to the postseason in eight years was not the most interesting development. Rather, it's the team that will be watching the playoffs at home that gave us something to think about in fantasy leagues.
Aaron Jones suffered a sprained MCL early in the game, effectively ending his season. MCL sprains typically cost a player a couple of weeks, and even if this were mild and Jones were able to return, the Packers would be silly to rush him out there for a meaningless game or two. That means Jamaal Williams should take command of the Green Bay backfield—just in time for championship week in most leagues. It goes without saying that he's the top waiver claim to make this week. My question for you is are you automatically starting him if you're lucky enough to snag him off the waiver wire?
John Paulsen: Congratulations to the Bears for winning their first division title since 2010. Since you brought it up, the Bears-Packers rivalry hasn’t really been much of a rivalry in my 10-year-old son’s lifetime, and it got to the point where we just felt sorry for the Bears and their fans instead of actively disliking the team or rooting against them. With the Rams fading a bit, the NFC playoffs will be interesting, though my money is on the Saints, especially if they manage to win home-field advantage.
Anyway, Williams had good numbers yesterday—16 touches for 97 yards and a touchdown—and I’m sure there are plenty of Jones owners out there who are wondering what could have happened had he not suffered that knee injury. The Packers face the Jets in Week 16, who are coming off a game where they yielded 47 yards rushing to the Texans, and 26 of those yards came from Deshaun Watson. Still, Williams should be able to produce as a receiver if things don’t go well as a runner, but I’m hesitant because I’m not sure how Green Bay plans to approach this game now that they’re officially out of the playoff hunt. Aaron Rodgers will probably play, but he’s still on the injury report with that knee injury and it’s conceivable that the team would shut him down for the year. So, to answer your question, Williams won’t be an automatic start for me heading into Week 16—I’ll have to see what the Packers do this week and go from there. But, in all likelihood, I’ll have Williams ranked as a fantasy RB2.
Beller: That’s where I’m at, too. All bets are off if Rodgers doesn’t play, but even then I think Williams would rate as a low-end RB2. If Rodgers does start, Williams likely moves into my top 20, and he’d have legitimate RB1 upside.
With that, let’s get to the rest of our look at the Week 16 waiver wire.
Kalen Ballage, Dolphins
Frank Gore sustained an ankle injury early in the Dolphins’ 41-17 loss to the Vikings and did not return. It was Ballage, and not Kenyan Drake, who led the Miami backfield with Gore out, running for 123 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Most of his damage came on his 75-yard touchdown scamper, but that big-play ability was part of what made him a prime day-three target in this year’s draft. Plus, that still leaves 48 yards on Ballage’s 11 other carries. Given the way the Dolphins have deployed Drake all season, it’s safe to assume that Ballage will be the team’s primary ball-carrier if Gore is out in Week 16.
Elijah McGuire, Jets
McGuire turned in another useful game in Week 15, running for 42 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and catching three of four targets for 29 yards in the Jets’ 29–22 loss to the Texans. McGuire figures to lead the Jets’ backfield for the rest of the season with Isaiah Crowell on IR, and it was encouraging to see him out-touch Trenton Cannon, 21–10. The Jets host the Packers in Week 16, and McGuire should find himself on the low-end RB2 and flex radars in that game.
Keith Ford, Bills
LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory were inactive on Sunday, and Marcus Murphy left the 14–13 win over the Lions with a dislocated elbow. That left Ford as the only healthy running back on the roster, and opens the door to him starting for the rest of the season. Ford, an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M, ran for 46 yards on 14 carries in the win over the Lions, which doubled as the first game of his career. The Bills visit New England next week, which is likely to result in negative game script for their running backs, but the Patriots sure haven’t looked like a dominant team this season, especially recently. If Ford has the backfield to himself, he’ll be in McGuire’s neighborhood of the rankings, showing up on the low-end RB2 and flex radars.
Zach Zenner, Lions
The Lions have long been an afterthought this season, so we’ll forgive you if you haven’t noticed that Zenner has put together a couple of strong games with Kerryon Johnson inactive because of a knee injury. Zenner has 22 carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, wresting away from LeGarrette Blount the role as Detroit’s primary runner. Zenner ran the ball 10 times in Detroit’s 14–13 loss to Buffalo in Week 15, totaling 45 yards and a score. Blount, meanwhile, got nine yards on seven carries. The Lions host the Vikings in Week 16, a tough assignment for Zenner. Given that he adds nothing in the passing game, he’ll likely rank behind both McGuire and Ford in our Week 16 rankings, but he’ll still be a possible flex play in all formats.
Robby Anderson, Jets
Anderson showed up again for the Jets and his fantasy owners in Week 15, catching seven of 11 targets for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Jets’ 29-22 loss to the Texans. He has 11 grabs for 172 yards and two scores in his last two games, which coincides with Sam Darnold’s return to the field. Anderson has led the Jets in targets in both of those games, as well, a sure sign that he is Darnold’s go-to receiver. The Jets host the Packers in Week 16, and Darnold will be a recommended play in all fantasy formats.
Robert Foster, Bills
Foster, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama, has two straight games with at least 100 yards, and has hit the century mark in three of his last five contests. He has 17 catches for 438 yards and two scores in that timeframe, averaging 11.16 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues, 14.56 points per game in PPR formats. For sake of comparison, Stefon Diggs is putting up 11.2 points per game in standard leagues, while Alshon Jeffery is sitting at 14.29 points per game in PPR formats after his big performance in the Eagles’ 30-23 win over the Rams in Week 15. Foster was one of the best players on the field in the Bills’ 14-13 win over the Lions, catching four of five targets for 108 yards and a score. He can go right from the waiver wire to championship week starting lineups with the Bills in New England in Week 16.
DaeSean Hamilton, Broncos
Hamilton racked up 12 targets in the Broncos’ 17-16 loss to the Browns on Sunday, catching seven of them for 46 yards. Those aren’t huge numbers, but it’s impossible to ignore the volume Hamilton has received the last two weeks. He has 21 targets in his last two games and has pulled down 14 of them for 93 yards and a touchdown. What’s more, he got those 12 targets against Cleveland even with Coutland Sutton active, both literally and figuratively—the first-round pick got six targets, catching five of them for 42 yards. Hamitlon has the look of a WR4 going into Denver’s Week 16 matchup with the Raiders in Oakland.
Tim Patrick, Broncos
Patrick was second to Hamilton in targets for the Broncos on Sunday, catching five of eight looks from Case Keenum for a team-high 65 yards. He, too, has come on strong the last two weeks, hauling in 12 of 18 targets for 150 yards. Like Hamilton, Patrick will likely project as a WR4 in Week 16.
Ian Thomas, Panthers
Thomas flopped in Week 15, catching two of four targets for 14 yards. Still, he's the best tight end to stream this week, based on what he has done in sum since Greg Olsen went on IR. He got 11 targets in the Panthers’ 26-20 loss to the Browns in Week 14, catching nine of them for 77 yards. Two weeks ago, after Greg Olsen suffered what proved to be a season-ending foot injury, Thomas pulled down five receptions for 46 yards.
Marcus Mariota, Titans
Mariota and the Titans in Week 16 host a Washington team that in recent weeks has allowed big games to Eli Manning (197 yards, three touchdowns), Carson Wentz (306 yards, two touchdowns) and Dak Prescott (289 yards, two touchdowns, one rushing score). The Titans are 11.5-point favorites in the game as well, the sort of environment that typically helps out a quarterback from a fantasy perspective. Mariota is our top stream play at the position for Week 16.
Sam Darnold, Jets
If you can’t get your hands on Mariota but still need some help at quarterback for your championship game, consider Darnold. The Jets in Week 16 host a Packers defense ranked 21st against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, aFPA. Since returning from injury in Week 14, Darnold has 423 yards, 6.82 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and one interception, as well as 45 rushing yards on 10 carries, in two games.