Fantasy Football Overvalued/Undervalued: Week 16
After all the lickings I’ve taken this season, it’s tempting to fall in line with the crowd to avoid further embarrassment. Let’s instead try to beat the ECR one more time.
Last week’s column contained some solid calls (Matt Ryan, Larry Fitzgerald, and Courtland Sutton), but Deshaun Watson, Dalvin Cook, and Trey Burton punished my pessimism. While the sample sizes are now larger to dissect, managers also can’t take any chances on ill-timed injuries and slumps during a championship slate. With so many teams beaten down by attrition, Week 16 offers just as much uncertainty (if not more) than Week 1.
Here’s the final rundown of players I like more or less than the non-PPR ECR, taken as of Thursday night.
Undervalued: Matt Ryan (ATL at CAR) – ECR: QB10; My Rank: QB5
I don’t get it. Why does everyone hate Matt Ryan? How is this guy the QB10 with a favorable matchup?
Last week, I ranked him as QB9-the ECR had him at QB14 at the time of this article’s posting — to account for a suboptimal matchup at Arizona. He indeed played below his standards, producing his second-fewest passing yards (231) in a game this season. With the help of three touchdowns (one rushing), he was still the top scorer in a week where nearly every big name disappointed. Patrick Mahomes, the one passer ahead of him in fantasy points this season, is also the only one to post a top-10 output in Weeks 14 and 15. Ryan now gets a better opportunity in the Panthers, who rank 28th in DVOA against the pass and 25th in fantasy points allowed (18.9 per game) to quarterbacks. He went 23-of-28 for 272 yards for two passing touchdowns and two rushing scores against them in Week 2. Those fluky runs aren’t necessary to make Ryan a comfortable starting option again. I can only understand the consensus’ thinking if they’re concerned about the Falcons sitting Julio Jones, who injured his hip last Sunday. If he’s out, Ryan turns into a fringe starter, but not someone I’d feel compelled to bench for a streamer.
Overvalued: Baker Mayfield (CLE vs. CIN) – ECR: QB8; My Rank: QB12
When starting my rankings on Sunday night, I initially slotted Baker Mayfield outside my top 15. I wasn’t giving enough credit to a matchup that served the rookie well in Week 12 when he tossed four touchdowns against the Bengals. They have yielded 270.6 passing yards per game, and only the Falcons have permitted more fantasy points to quarterbacks. Perhaps I’m still not placing enough weight on the circumstances. Yet the No. 1 pick has tossed four touchdowns and picks apiece in three games since thrashing his AFC North foe. The Bengals, meanwhile, have allowed just one passing touchdown in each of their last three contests. They’re also terrible at stopping the run, so Nick Chubb could get a bigger rub in the rematch. Mayfield, 19th in points per game at the position (excluding Josh Johnson), has yet to graduate beyond streamer status. Then again, this position has become a maddening minefield to navigate. Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Darnold, Eli Manning, and Josh Johnson have all notched top-10 finishes in the last two weeks, so he could certainly meet the lofty expectations. I’d personally feel safer riding Ryan, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, or Dak Prescott into a championship bout, but maybe an underdog will feel more inclined to chase Mayfield’s upside.
Undervalued: Zach Zenner (DET vs. MIN) – ECR: RB44; My Rank: RB36
I had no idea I liked Zach Zenner this much. He’s a boring, touchdown-dependent flex option best reserved for deeper, non-PPR leagues. He has also reached the end zone in consecutive weeks with four handoffs inside the 10, a significant development since Detroit spent months stubbornly feeding LeGarrette Blount near the goal line instead of Kerryon Johnson. Speaking of Johnson, the Lions placed him on the injured reserve after the rookie missed four weeks with a knee injury. That clears the way for Zenner, whose snap count has ballooned from 4.2 percent to 26.7 and 45.6 in recent weeks. Some will point to the Vikings as a tough matchup, but they have fallen to 15th in DVOA against the run after allowing 370 rushing yards to the Seahawks and Dolphins in the last two games. Anyone starting Zenner ultimately needs him to fall into the end zone, but the floor isn’t necessarily basement low if he gets another dozen touches.
Overvalued: Dion Lewis (TEN vs. WAS) – ECR: RB34; My Rank: RB41
Buried beneath Derrick Henry’s breakout, Dion Lewis has mustered 271 yards over his last six games while getting blockaded from the end zone. Like all fantasy players, the Titans took notice of Henry’s four-touchdown domination over the Jaguars. Lewis faded into the background with a season-low 32.9 snap percentage in Week 15. He handled 10 total touches while Henry saw 11 of his 34 touches inside the red zone. Since he’s the ECR’s RB10, everyone is clearly buying into Henry’s late surge. Yet they haven’t inflicted an accompanying penalty to Lewis, who has not performed as a top-30 running back since Week 9. He’d need to make an impact as a pass-catcher, and that’s less likely with Tennessee favored against a team allowing 30.4 receiving yards per game to running backs. Lewis is once again likely to get lost in the fold of a Henry-heavy game plan.
Undervalued: Demaryius Thomas (HOU at PHI) – ECR: WR35; My Rank: WR28
This is the area where no receiver is remotely close to a safe bet. So let’s roll with someone facing the Eagles, who have allowed an NFL-high 213 catches and the third-most fantasy points per game to the position. The game’s second-worst passing defense has coughed up 314 yards per contest through the air since their Week 9 bye. Although averaging 39.7 yards per game with the Texans due to Week 11’s goose egg, Demaryius Thomas has received at least five targets in each of the last four bouts. Unlike the guy highlighted below, the new addition is seeing the field regularly in place of Keke Coutee, who is day-to-day with a hamstring injury. Although not the most exciting play, Thomas’ gradually increasing target share could lead to a breakout against a feeble secondary if Coutee misses his fourth straight game.
Overvalued: Golden Tate (PHI vs. HOU) – ECR: WR40; My Rank: WR50
I didn’t want to keep picking on Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton, and I expect D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel to fall down the ECR as everyone processes the Panthers shutting down Cam Newton. So I’m instead digging deeper down the rankings for Golden Tate, who hasn’t dropped as far as he should. He assuaged some panic from a one-catch Week 7 by securing all five of Nick Foles‘ targets for 43 yards last Sunday night. The midseason acquisition is still not seeing the field nearly enough. He has logged snap percentages of 38.5 and 34.4 over the last two weeks. Nelson Agholor, meanwhile, participated in 63 of 64 plays in Week 15. It’s going to be awfully tough for Tate, who is averaging 38.7 receiving yards per game since joining the Eagles, to accomplish much more than last week’s passable line in so few reps. That’s awfully unappetizing in non-PPR formats, so why not instead take an upside flier on Kenny Stills, Zay Jones, or Michael Gallup?
Undervalued: Austin Hooper (ATL at CAR) – ECR: TE11; My Rank: TE9
Like his quarterback, Hooper has graced this column more than any of his contemporaries. Yet he has appeared on both ends of the spectrum. I was skeptical of him early, only willing to budge when a savory matchup beckoned. Slowly but surely, I came around on a player eighth in targets (80), fourth in catches (64), and ninth in fantasy points (81.7) among tight ends. At least I didn’t endorse him last week when he failed to draw a single target while playing through a lower leg injury against Arizona. Expect a better showing if he’s active with fewer limitations against the Panthers, who have granted the third-most fantasy points per game (10.1) to the position. In Week 2, Hooper became the first of nine tight ends to find pay dirt against them. He also produced 59 yards, which then marked his highest tally since a misleadingly strong 2017 opener. I’d rather gamble on his health than take a blind flier on Cameron Brate or Trey Burton scoring a touchdown.
Overvalued: Kyle Rudolph (MIN at DET) – ECR: TE15; My Rank: TE19 / Jimmy Graham (GB at NYJ) – ECR: TE16; My Rank: TE20
Name recognition has kept Kyle Rudolph and Jimmy Graham in the “I guess you can start them if you’re in a bind” tier of tight ends. Both were supposed to be big red-zone targets on a premier NFC North offense. They have instead scored two touchdowns apiece. Rudolph last crossed the pylons in Week 3, and Graham — playing through a broken thumb — has gone six games without an end-zone appearance. It’s not a dismissible matter of bad luck. Rudolph hasn’t caught a pass inside the red-zone since Week 3. Graham’s only reception inside the 10 occurred in Week 4.
Perhaps these struggling veterans are safer bets for a favorite who can live with three catches and 30 yards. Yet I’d rather take a flier on Gerald Everett or Blake Jarwin, both of whom have received seven targets in back-to-back weeks. But just remember, last week I threw in the towel on Burton, who snapped a five-game touchdown drought. None of us really know anything.