It may be the fantasy playoffs, but player stocks continue to rise and fall this late in the year, and with them go the respective prospects of their fantasy owners. We’ve seen yet another turnaround in the Green Bay backfield, injury-driven opportunity in New Orleans and a pair of underreported surges in Arizona and Seattle.
Meanwhile, a couple of former WR1s are being bullied out of that class, and one of this season’s breakout stars is slowing down at precisely the wrong time for the owners he carried to this point of the season.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
It doesn't take a genius to see Lacy trending upward heading into Week 15. After a shocking in-game demotion against the Lions, Lacy was back in his familiar role for the Packers last week. He carried the ball 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown and also caught one pass for 24 yards, giving his owners 20.8 points in standard-scoring leagues.
James Starks had a significant role in the offense, though he had less than half the carries Lacy did. Starks isn’t going away anytime soon, but Lacy has clearly answered the wake-up call and is back to being the man in the Green Bay backfield. He said after Sunday’s game that benching him was the best thing Mike McCarthy could have done. His fantasy owners should respond by keeping him locked into their lineups.
Charcandrick West, RB, Chiefs
West hasn’t had a ton of work in his two games back from a hamstring injury, but he looked good against the Chargers in limited duty last Sunday, picking up 54 yards on just 10 carries in the Chiefs’ sloppy 10–3 win. West was likely already ticketed for more work this coming week, but that is now essentially guaranteed with Spencer Ware nursing bruised ribs. The backup to the backup ran the ball well in Week 13, too, gaining 52 yards on eight carries.
Unfortunately, his injury will likely keep him out of the Chiefs’ game with the Ravens this week. Even if he is able to suit up, there’s no way he’ll be at 100%. With West now a full four weeks removed from his hamstring injury, he should be back to full strength. That fact, combined with Ware’s injury, makes West a high-end RB2 for Week 15.
Tim Hightower, RB, Saints
Hightower got his first start in place of the injured Mark Ingram last week, and the results, at least from a fantasy perspective, were quite good. Hightower ran for 85 yards and a touchdown in the Saints’ 24–17 win over the Buccaneers, finishing the day with 15.5 points in standard-scoring leagues.
His fantasy owners couldn’t care less that it took him 28 carries to get there. In fact, they have to be encouraged that he dominated the touches out of the backfield so thoroughly. C.J. Spiller got just three totes and three targets and remains nothing more than a figment of Mickey Loomis’ imagination in the Saints’ offense. The fantasy community can safely bet on Hightower remaining the team’s workhorse for the rest of the season. He should slot as an RB2 with the Saints taking on the Lions on Monday night.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Floyd’s second-half surge has flown somewhat under the radar, but he has been one of the best fantasy receivers since the middle of October. Going back to Week 6, Floyd has 32 catches for 548 yards and six touchdowns over a seven-game stretch. That translates to 12.97 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, which would put Floyd seventh among receivers on a per-game basis if it were for the full season, ahead of A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, Eric Decker and hero Doug Baldwin.
Thanks to Carson Palmer, Arizona’s passing game is typically good for a pair of fantasy-worthy receivers every game. In fact, two of Floyd, Fitzgerald and John Brown have scored at least 10 fantasy points in the same game eight times this year. That makes all three winning plays every single week. Keep getting Floyd in your lineups for the rest of the season.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
The aforementioned Baldwin is getting all the attention in Seattle, and rightfully so. After all, he’s on a touchdown run that we haven’t seen from a wide receiver in 11 years, going back to Drew Bennett with the Titans in 2004. Lockett, however, has been a worthy running mate. Over the last four games, Lockett has 20 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns. He has at least nine points in standard-scoring leagues in three of those games and has averaged a robust 13 points per game. Oh yeah, he also placed his name next to Gale Sayers’s in the NFL record books.
Lockett became the only player other than Sayers to have five receiving touchdowns, a punt return touchdown and kick return touchdown in his rookie season. That’s pretty much some of the best company a football player could hope to keep. Seattle’s next two games are against Cleveland and St. Louis. We haven’t heard the last from Lockett this season.
Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
All Reed ever needed to do to place himself in the non-Gronkowski tier of tight ends was stay healthy. He finally did that this season, and the results speak for themselves. In 11 games, Reed has 67 receptions for 694 yards and seven touchdowns, ranking as the No. 5 tight end in standard-scoring leagues. Reed was already one of the best fantasy tight ends before his 120-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Bears last week.
What sends his stock upward, however, is DeSean Jackson’s knee injury. If Jackson is out for a week or two, which appears likely at this point, Reed should get even more volume than he usually does in the Washington offense. A player like Reed with a floor of nine targets is a beautiful thing in fantasy leagues.
The Bengals got some great news earlier this week when they learned Andy Dalton wouldn’t need surgery to repair his fractured right thumb. That is very good for the team and their chances to win the Super Bowl, but it won't help fantasy owners in the least. The best-case scenario has Dalton returning at some point in the real-life playoffs, meaning that A.J. McCarron will be under center for the remainder of the fantasy postseason. That’s bad news for A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert (who’s coming off a concussion), Marvin Jones, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Hill and Bernard could be in for a bit more work without Dalton, but the overall ceiling of the offense comes down, and that’s not good for anyone involved, including the running backs. They’re least affected by the injury, but I’d rather bet on a strong offensive environment than a slight uptick in workload. Hill needs the passing game to carry him to the red zone. He’s not going to start busting 50-yard touchdowns simply because he gets more carries.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
Freeman hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown since Week 7, and has been held out of the end zone altogether in his last three games. The last time he surpassed 100 yards on the ground, the Mets and Royals had yet to begin the World Series. Twenty running backs have rushed for at least 100 yards in a game since the last time Freeman did so, including Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Karlos Williams, Alfred Morris, Isaiah Crowell and Freeman’s backup, Tevin Coleman.
Atlanta’s offense, like the team as a whole, has completely fallen apart, and Freeman isn’t a singular talent like Julio Jones. Despite everything crashing down around him, Jones is still getting it done for his fantasy owners, leading the league with 1,426 receiving yards. Forget about rushing for 100 yards in a single game. The last time Freeman did it over a two-game stretch was in Weeks 8 and 9, when he had 88 yards against the Buccaneers and 12 against the 49ers. He remains an RB1, but he’s now closer to the low end of that spectrum.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Fitzgerald is in the midst of a renaissance season in which he could very well get to the Super Bowl for the second time in his career. Having said that, expectations for him this season were as low as they’ve ever been, and he exceeded them long ago. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a 32-year-old is slowing down over the second half of the season, especially when he has a couple of capable teammates at the same position.
Over his first eight games, Fitzgerald caught 55 passes for 706 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 14.08 fantasy points per game. In the five since, he has 41 grabs for 382 yards and zero scores, which comes out to 7.64 points per game. Meanwhile, Michael Floyd, as detailed above, has come on strong, and John Brown continues to do work stretching the field for Carson Palmer. I’d still be starting Fitzgerald with confidence anywhere I owned him, but I’d be thinking of him more as a WR2 than a WR1.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
We’ve talked about Matthew Stafford as a player whose season-long numbers are inflated because of two good games. What about his buddy Megatron? The same could be said for the one-time fantasy stud who just isn’t a WR1 any longer. Back on Thanksgiving, Johnson had eight receptions for 93 yards and three touchdowns. In his 12 other games this year, he has 63 catches for 888 yards and four scores. That translates to 9.4 points per game, which would place him 27th among receivers for the season, sandwiched between Ted Ginn and Travis Benjamin. That’s not a good thing for a guy who was still supposed to play like a low-end WR1 this season.
Photos: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images (Lacy), Christian Petersen/Getty Images (Floyd, Fitzgerald), Andy Lyons/Getty Images (Bengals)