The end of the fantasy football season is near. Do you feel the pressure? While every win technically counts the same, this is the time of year where the consequences of victories and defeats are immediately known. Some managers are still dealing with the bye week blues, trying to fill in the gaps for any Chargers, Chiefs, Cardinals or Vikings players on their roster. Let us help you with that. Here are some players flying under the radar who are sneaky starts in Week 12.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
It’s been a pretty forgettable season thus far for a player who was taken as a trendy top-five quarterback in fantasy drafts. However, this is the game Mayfield owners have been waiting for all season. The Browns had a brutal early schedule, but this is the week to have circled on the calendar for a fantasy turnaround. Cleveland hosts a Dolphins team that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in eight of their 10 games this season and 23 scores total. Miami ranks in the bottom five in the NFL against fantasy QBs, allowing an average of 21.4 fantasy points per game. Mayfield is starting to play better too. He has six total touchdowns in his last three games and is averaging 18.83 fantasy points in that time frame. He’s a legitimate Top 10 QB this week.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
The schedule-makers have been doing the Jets a huge favor lately. And that concludes the list of things that have gone well for the Jets this season. This is the fourth game out of six consecutive favorable matchups for Darnold. He’s taken advantage in two of the first three with back-to-back performances above the 21-point threshold. Darnold returns home—where he’s performed better so far in his career—to face the Raiders, coming off a four-touchdown game in Washington. Oakland’s secondary has played better of late, intercepting Philip Rivers three times in Week 10 and keeping rookie Ryan FInley in check last weekend, but they’ve been dreadful for most of the season and on the road in particular. Oakland has allowed an average of 26.6 fantasy points per game to QBs in its four road games. Only Kirk Cousins failed to pass for at least three touchdowns. Darnold is a borderline QB1 this week and should have another strong game.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Hopefully you haven’t given up on Murray after the last two weeks. Sure, he’s not going to be anywhere near RB1 territory when Alvin Kamara is healthy, but he’s getting enough touches to be a viable flex play in a great matchup with Carolina. Everyone except for Brian Hill has run all over the Panthers this season. Carolina is allowing a whopping 26.1 fantasy points per game to RBs this season, third-worst in the NFL. They’ve allowed nine rushing touchdowns in the four games since their bye. Murray got 12 touches in a much tougher matchup with the Buccaneers last week. Another dozen against the Panthers should result in a double-digit fantasy point total.
Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins
This is a classic case of attacking the matchup. The Redskins take on a Lions team that ranks dead last in the NFL against fantasy RBs this season. Detroit is allowing an average of 32.0 points per game to the position in PPR formats this season. They’ve allowed multiple touchdowns to RBs in three of the past seven games. While I won’t go as far as saying the Redskins will win, I do think this is a close game at least through three quarters. If that’s the case, the snap count for Peterson should return to his normal majority and some of the extra snaps Wendell Smallwood received in the blowout loss to the Jets should go to Guice. Both are just flex plays, but the production per touch should be there. We already saw how explosive Guice can be on his 45-yard TD catch last week. The coaching staff should be even more confident in him this week.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
There are a lot of question marks in the Colts backfield in the wake of Marlon Mack going down with a multi-week hand injury. Jonathan Williams was (and rightfully so) a popular waiver wire pick-up this week after rushing for 116 yards on 13 carries against the Jaguars, but there’s also a chance Jordan Wilkins returns from his ankle injury and takes over as the de facto starter. Regardless of who the “starter” actually is, they’ll only be a two-down back. That’s because the one defined role we do know about is Hines’s. Hines will be in on third down and passing downs, serving as either a check-down option or an outside weapon for Jacoby Brissett. If you believe Deshaun Watson at home is going to light up Indianapolis’s defense coming in on a short week, then Hines should be in your lineup. If the Colts get down early and have to resort to a pass-heavy offense, Hines is going to be on the field a lot. There’s also no guarantee he won’t get some rushing work as well. He did convert a red zone carry for a seven-yard touchdown last week.
James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers will likely have a very limited cache of wide receivers when they travel to Cincinnati this weekend. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson both left Pittsburgh’s last game with concussions, and we later found out that Smith-Schuster also suffered a knee injury. There’s a strong chance that neither play, leaving Washington as the clear No. 1 WR option for Mason Rudolph in a decent matchup. The Bengals’ pass defense is better than public perception gives them credit for, but it’s average at best. Washington didn’t catch a pass in his first meeting with Cincinnati in Week 4, but is averaging 5.6 targets per game in the five games he’s played since then. He didn’t do much last week against the Browns, but had back-to-back double-digit fantasy games prior to that. He should see enough volume to be worthy of a spot in your lineup this week.
Randall Cobb, Dallas Cowboys
“But he’s playing the Patriots!” Yes, I know. That’s what makes him a sneaky start instead of an automatic one. I’m not running away from Cobb this week. I don’t care that I have to stare at the red “1st” in the matchup column. While playing New England isn’t ideal, Cobb has a better matchup than either Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup—the Patriots have been closer to league average in yards allowed to slot receivers compared to outside receivers. Plus, the schedule has a significant role in the success of New England’s defense thus far. Who’s the best wide receiver they’ve played this season? JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 1? Golden Tate in Week 6? Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 8? Smith-Schuster scored 13.8 fantasy points. Tate scored 22.2 fantasy points. Beckham scored 10.2 fantasy points. The best No. 2 option they’ve faced? Jarvis Landry in Week 8 or maybe Cole Beasley in Week 4? The point is, the Cowboys have three legit weapons in Cooper, Gallup and Cobb. Let’s see how the secondary holds up in this test. Cobb is coming off two straight games with at least 21.5 fantasy points and has 16 catches in three games since Dallas’ bye week. Don’t be afraid to use him in a flex or WR3 spot if you have bye week issues.
Josh Gordon, Seattle Seahawks
Tyler Lockett’s status for Sunday is still up in the air. He left Week 10’s game with a leg injury that caused him to spend a couple nights in the hospital. Head coach Pete Carroll is optimistic Lockett will play, but him having even a limited role could mean big things for Gordon. In his first game with Seattle, Gordon caught both of his targets for 27 yards. He’s had a bye week since then, which should help him get a little more acclimated to the playbook and in rhythm with quarterback Russell Wilson. The Eagles’ secondary has really struggled this season. The much-maligned unit is allowing the seventh-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers, so there should be plenty of production to go around for D.K. Metcalf and Gordon even if Lockett plays.
Robby Anderson, New York Jets
Anderson is the boom-or-bust play of the week. He finally found the end zone again in Week 11, scoring only his second touchdown of the season and his first since Week 6. The six-yard score was his only catch of the game and he only had three targets, but two of those were in the red zone on two different drives. If Anderson becomes more involved in the red zone offense, he may finally have some of those boom performances we saw in 2018. The Raiders are allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season and, as discussed in the Sam Darnold section, have really struggled on the road this season. If there was ever an opportunity for Anderson to have a huge game, this is it.
Jacob Hollister, Seattle Seahawks
Maybe the bye week cooled off all the buzz around Hollister, but it’s shocking to see him owned in so few leagues. While he’s creeped over the 50% mark on Yahoo, he’s only owned in 15% of ESPN leagues. Is this week’s matchup with the Eagles scaring everyone off? It shouldn’t. Sure, Philadelphia has only given up the 24th-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season. But do you know who’s given up the least amount of fantasy points to tight ends? The 49ers. You know, the team Hollister put up 8/62/1 against before the bye. Hollister has 16 targets, 12 catches and three touchdowns over his last two games. Russell Wilson is showing more confidence in him as Will Dissly’s replacement. Given how few elite players there are at the position—and with players like Travis Kelce and Hunter Henry on bye—there’s no reason Hollister shouldn’t be starting in every 12-team league this week.
Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Goedert continues to be productive, even when Zach Ertz has big games. He’s averaged 5.6 targets per game since Week 6 and is heavily involved in the Eagles’ red zone offense. Goedert also has touchdowns in three of his last four games. He ranks as the No. 12 overall tight end in fantasy points per game since Week 6 with 11.3. He should play a significant role against a Seahawks team allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season. He’s a borderline TE1 this week.
More Advice From SI Fantasy
—Dr. Roto’s Week 12 Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em to help with your toughest lineup decisions
—Frankie Taddeo’s top streaming options for the final week of byes
—Jaime Eisner’s stock watch tells you who’s trending up and down as the playoffs approach
—Jaime Eisner’s waiver wire pickups: Randall Cobb, Jonathan Williams, Jacob Hollister and more
—Frankie Taddeo’s droppables, with some big-name players you shouldn’t feel bad about cutting
—Bill Enright’s injury report takes a look at who is out how long
—Mark Deming’s target and snap report dives into the data to make some fantasy conclusions