Sneaky Week 15 Fantasy Football Starts: Terry McLaurin, Ian Thomas, More

Players flying under the radar this week who might be able to help you win your fantasy matchup.
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You’ve made it another week. Congratulations! The path to a fantasy championship has just started and the journey is full of difficult decisions. After the superstars are locked in, it can be tough to figure out who else should finish out your lineup. Name value means nothing at this point in the season. Production is all that matters. So who are some under-the-radar names that can help you win this week? Here are our Week 13 sneaky starts.

QUARTERBACKS

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

This one may not be so sneaky after a huge four-touchdown performance last week, but he makes this list because he’s far more than a solid play if you don’t have a true superstar quarterback. He’s a Top 6 play this week and should be starting over big names like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Drew Brees and plenty of others. Garoppolo was mentioned in this week’s fantasy stock watch because he is the No. 7 overall fantasy quarterback with an average of 21.3 points per game since Week 9. He’s scored at least 18 fantasy points (the average threshold for QB1 territory) in four of his last six games, which included a trio of three-touchdown games. The Falcons give up the seventh-most fantasy points to QBs this season, allowing nearly 70% of opposing QBs to reach that 18-point mark. Start Garoppolo with confidence this week.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

Like Garoppolo, it’s the confidence in which you should be starting Tannehill that landed him on this list. Remember all the big names above I said should sit in favor of the 49ers’ starting quarterback? They all apply here are well plus one more name, Garoppolo himself. Tannehill is a Top 5 quarterback play this week against a poor Houston secondary that gives up the third-most fantasy points to the QB position this season. I’ve gushed about Tannehill for weeks in various waiver wire and sneaky starts columns, but facts are facts. There is only one quarterback averaging more fantasy points per game than Tannehill (22.6) since he took over as the Titans’ starter in Week 7. That player is MVP-in-waiting Lamar Jackson. Using the 18-point threshold test from above, Tannehill has failed to meet that mark only once as a starter and has scored 23 points or more three times. Everything is lining up for another big Tannehill performance in Week 15. Don’t miss the bus because of name value.

RUNNING BACKS

Patrick Laird, Miami Dolphins

As weird as it sounds, I’m oddly comfortable starting Laird in a flex spot this week with a trip to the fantasy championship on the line. If you’d told me that in September I would’ve said, “who’s Patrick Laird?” The Dolphins increased the undrafted rookie’s role in recent weeks after everything from a Kenyan Drake trade to a Mark Walton suspension to a Kalen Ballage injury left him atop the depth chart. He scored 16.8 fantasy points in PPR formats on 14 touches two weeks ago and 12.6 points on 19 touches last week. He’s facing a Giants team that ranks just below league average when it comes to defending fantasy running backs, but that’s not the biggest reason he’s a solid play in Week 15. The Dolphins will likely be without two of their top three wide receivers this week, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson, who both left last week’s game with concussions. Laird plays a big role in Miami’s passing game and should get even more looks with Ryan Fitzpatrick having limited options. Laird is a Top 30 RB in half- and full-PPR formats this week.

Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles

Continuing with the theme of running backs having success because their quarterback has no healthy receivers to throw to, Scott had his coming out party on Monday Night Football in a comeback victory for the Eagles over the Giants. Starter Miles Sanders left the game because he was cramping and later returned, but Scott played a huge role in both the ground and receiving game. He finished with 10 carries for 59 yards and a score plus six catches for 69 yards. Given that Jordan Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact, Philadelphia just lost Alshon Jeffery for the season and that Scott balled out just a few days ago, it’s hard to imagine him not having a significant role against the Redskins this week. While predicting another rushing touchdown is asking for a lot, Scott could be used primarily as a receiver. The Eagles’ only healthy wide receiver right now is Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is banged up, but has a good chance to play this week and Nelson Agholor’s status is up in the air. It’s a risky play for fantasy managers, but having a major role against a bad Redskins team could lead to another double-digit performance for the 5-foot-6 running back.

Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A high-scoring Buccaneers team with an injured quarterback facing off against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL… sounds like a recipe for success for Tampa Bay running backs. Don’t get me wrong, Jameis Winston is still going to sling the ball all around the field but maybe not quite as often late in the game as we’ve been accustomed to seeing, partly because of the hand injury and partly because they shouldn’t be mounting any sort of comeback against a David Blough-led Lions offense. Head coach Bruce Arians said the biggest obstacle they’ve faced recently when it comes to establishing the run is falling behind early. That won’t be the case here. Ronald Jones still has the bigger upside of the two Tampa Bay backs, but Barber has outcarried him 50-44 over the last five weeks. He’s gotten his fair share of goal line work too, so he could be in line to score the 20th RB touchdown against the Lions this season. Getting 10-15 carries against a Detroit team allowing more than four yards per carry to running backs this season is enough to put Barber into flex consideration.

Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins

He looked a lot like the Chris Thompson of old last week, which is encouraging for fantasy managers in deep PPR leagues that just need a high-floor option to get by this week. After being eased back into the offense in Week 13, Thompson caught seven passes for 43 yards against the Packers last week. In the meantime, Washington put Derrius Guice on IR which will open up more opportunities for Thompson to be on the field. The Eagles haven’t blown anyone out in awhile, but they at least have a chance to get up early on the Redskins and forced them into a pass-happy offense. We now know Dwayne Haskins isn’t afraid to use Thompson as a safety blanket and the Eagles allow slightly more receiving yards per game to running backs than league average. Thompson is an RB3 this week in any format that gives points per reception.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins

Scary Terry is a pretty big name to be on this list but many have understandably anchored him to their bench since Dwayne Haskins took over as Washington’s starting quarterback. His target volume has been all over the place, ranging from 4 to 12 over the last six weeks, and his reception totals leave plenty to be desired. However, he’s still been in WR4 territory in the four games since the Redskins’ bye and now has a glorious matchup against the Eagles on tap this week. Philadelphia just got crushed by Darius Slayton a few days ago and by DeVante Parker in Week 13. They didn’t exactly shut down the Seahawks and Patriots before that, either. McLaurin is averaging 10.2 fantasy points per game in PPR formats over the last month and that’s his absolute floor in this matchup. Expect him to be a WR3 this week with the upside to have a monster game against the porous Eagles secondary.

Breshad Perriman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Perriman is in line to see the biggest boost of anyone in the Tampa Bay passing game with Mike Evans out for the remainder of the season. Looking at his last two games, Perriman had three catches for 70 yards and a score on five targets last week and five catches for 87 yards on six targets in Week 13. Both of those games are with Evans on the field. With the star receiver injured, a half-dozen targets should be Perriman’s new floor. Why is that significant? Because in Perriman’s four games this season with five or more targets he is averaging 11.7 fantasy points per game. He’s had three such games since Week 9 and is averaging 14.6 points in those contests. Tampa Bay takes on the Lions this week, a team that ranks in the bottom 10 in the NFL at defending fantasy wide receivers this season. Justin Watson and Scottie Miller may take reps away from each other this week if Miller returns, so the Buccaneers receiver you want is Perriman.

Allen Hurns, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are running out of healthy bodies to throw to with DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson both suffering concussions last week, so someone needs to step up for Ryan Fitzpatrick. This week it should be Hurns, who has displayed a fairly high floor lately even with Parker and Wilson on the field. Hurns is averaging 6.3 targets, four catches and 9.9 PPR fantasy points per game over the last four weeks. He’ll now likely be the clear-cut No. 1 option this week against a Giants team that ranks as the worst team in the NFL against WR1s. Fitzpatrick hasn’t thrown fewer than 33 passes in a game since re-taking the starting QB role from Josh Rosen in Week 7, plus Miami can’t run the ball at all, so the Dolphins aren’t going to shy away from the passing game even with all the injuries. Hurns should be able to take advantage and produce for fantasy managers that need a solid, high-floor option in a WR3 spot this week.

Chris Conley, Jacksonville Jaguars

Playing Conley this week is about three key factors: Betting on target volume, betting on a great matchup against Oakland and D.J. Chark’s injury. Last week was a disaster for Conley, who saw just three targets and caught one pass for seven yards. However, he saw exactly seven targets in his three previous games with Gardner Minshew as the starting quarterback (and 22 in three games with Nick Foles as the starter). He should return to that seven-target mark this week at least. Chark was in a walking boot on Monday and was called “week-to-week or day-to-day" by head coach Doug Marrone, so there will likely be even more targets available for Conley this week. The Raiders are a below average team against fantasy wide receivers and just got destroyed by A.J. Brown and the Titans and by Robby Anderson and Co. three weeks ago. Conley is a risky play, but he presents a lot of upside as a WR4.

TIGHT ENDS

Ian Thomas, Carolina Panthers

If Greg Olsen misses Week 15, Thomas becomes a really intriguing play as a Top 15 tight end. He admirably filled in for Olsen at times last season and did so again last week against the Falcons with a 5/57/1 performance. He had a whopping 10 targets from Kyle Allen, so there’s no worry about a lack of chemistry or desire to get him involved there. The Seahawks are the second-worst team in the NFL when it comes to defending fantasy tight ends this season, allowing 16.3 points per game to the position. In three weeks since coming out of their bye, the Seahawks have allowed the Eagles, Vikings and Rams tight ends to catch a combined 33 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. There’s no reason Thomas can’t continue that trend this week at home.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns

It didn’t work last week but I’m going right back to the well this week. Vance McDonald’s poor game aside, the Cardinals are still the best possible matchup for a tight end this season. They’re allowing an average of 18.7 fantasy points per game to the position, nearly 2.5 points per game more than the second-worst team (Seattle, as mentioned above). Njoku wasn’t much of a factor last week in his first game since being injured in Week 2, but it was important that he was out there and didn’t get re-injured. It’s expected that he’ll be leaned on a little more heavily this week. He’s a physical mismatch against almost every defense, but especially this one. I’ll remind you that players like T.J. Hockenson, Ross Dwelley, Tyler Higbee and O.J. Howard all had big games against this Arizona defense. If you don’t have a reliable tight end option, there’s no one with more upside outside of the Top 8 tight ends than Njoku this week.