The Yays and Nays: Our Week 12 Fantasy Football Rankings, Projections and Top Plays
Fantasy Football Quick Hits
- Week 12 Yays: Taylor Heinicke (QB18), James Conner (RB9), Brandon Aiyuk (WR11), Keenan Allen (WR17)
- Week 12 Nays: Aaron Rodgers (QB24), Aaron Jones (RB22), Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR34)
- Key Data Point: Against slot receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Buffalo Bills win their pass coverage matchups at a rate of almost 15% higher than the league average.
Thanksgiving week means it’s time for bonus Thursday football, turkey and critical fantasy matchups with playoff implications.
And did we mention…bonus football with no bye weeks that wraps up on Monday night with a showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers!
Let’s revisit an approach we first took back in Week 6 when we pointed out six numbers that helped explain some of the early season fantasy football trends.
Here are six more that have helped define the fantasy season as we hit the home stretch, beginning with an update to the same statistic that we led off with in Week 6.
That’s how many receptions Austin Ekeler has through 11 weeks. The star running back of the Los Angeles Chargers had 31 catches through the first five weeks and he’s increased that pace with 38 receptions over his last five games. And his lead over all other running backs has ballooned from five to 15.
Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans only has 18 catches all season.
Here’s the list of players in the NFL with more catches than Ekeler: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson. That’s it.
Combine that with his touchdown prowess (11 in 10 games) and you’ve got all the makings of the RB1. He was in that spot entering Week 6 and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be there at the end of the season.
That’s how many teams are converting more than 30% of their attempts on third down with 10 or more yards to go. It’s also how many teams are converting more than 40% of those plays, because the Kansas City Chiefs (44.8%), San Francisco 49ers (43.5%) and Buffalo Bills (40.0%) are miles ahead of the rest of the other 29 teams.
The league average in third-and-10+ scenarios is just 19.3%. However, those three teams are excellent at staying on the field in the most challenging of scenarios, and therefore it’s no surprise that they are also three of the most fantasy-friendly offenses, led by the top two fantasy quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen) and a 49ers group of skill players that is unrivaled in the NFL. San Francisco currently employs an All-Pro at running back, wide receiver and tight end (more on those three in a moment).
If your fantasy team is full of good players on good offenses, you’re likely doing well.
And speaking of fantasy-friendly offenses…
That is the percentage at which the Miami Dolphins are converting their goal-to-go drives into touchdowns. Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins have been dynamite inside the 10-yard line. They rank third in yards per game and as a result, they put up 29.1 points per game when Tua starts and finishes. That scoring average would be second in the NFL over the course of the season.
That Miami leads the NFL in this category speaks volumes to the offense Mike McDaniel has installed in his first season in charge seeing as it’s usually an area dominated by the Titans (They’ve finished first in this category in the last three seasons). Of course, the Henry and Ryan Tannehill-led offense is second in the NFL at 91.7% so far, so they haven’t fallen far. But for now, it’s the Dolphins who are finding the end zone at the best rate.
That is Travis Kelce’s lead over the Baltimore Ravens’ Mark Andrews at the tight end position in PPR scoring. To put that in perspective, Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet has scored 87.8 fantasy points, most in the last few weeks with Justin Fields’ uptick in production. So yes, the gap between Kelce and TE2 would have more points than TE11 this season.
Now, Andrews has missed a game and is still clearly Lamar Jackson’s favorite target and therefore second in the tight-end hierarchy. But that’s also part of what makes Kelce great. He’s always available, having only missed two games since the beginning of 2014 (both were due to the Chiefs playing in a game at the end of the season that didn’t impact their playoff positioning) and when he’s on the field, he’s always producing at an elite level.
Even though he’s going to be 34 next season and people are going to say “he’s getting up there in age,” don’t make the mistake of passing Kelce up in the draft. He plays a position that only has five players averaging more than 12 PPR points per game and not only is Kelce averaging more than 22, but he’s also third among all position players in fantasy points behind only Ekeler and Stefon Diggs. He’s special.
That’s how many yards Deebo Samuel is averaging after the catch – first among all wide receivers. As a rookie, Deebo finished second among wideouts in yards after the catch. Since then, he’s led the position for three successive years and is on pace to do it again.
Meanwhile, among the 14 running backs with at least 27 receptions, Christian McCaffrey tops the position with 8.9 yards after the catch. There are 25 tight ends with at least 22 receptions. George Kittle is second in average yards after the catch. Jimmy Garoppolo’s whole job is to get the ball to his weapons and let them take care of the rest. And it all starts with Deebo.
That’s how many sacks the Dallas Cowboys have this season. After a 40-3 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings last week, most of the attention was on Tony Pollard and the offense, and rightly so. But for that team, it all starts with Micah Parsons and the defense.
The Cowboys finished last year as the top defense in fantasy on the strength of Trevon Diggs and a whole bunch of return touchdowns. This year, Dallas is second because it has gone up a level on defense. The team’s 42 sacks are already one more than it had all last season and it’s on pace for 71, which is 16 more than the league-leading total last season.
In fact, no team has reached the 60-sack mark since the Carolina Panthers in 2013 and only three teams have ever scaled the 70-sack threshold since sacks became a recorded statistic in 1982. The 1984 Chicago Bears hold the record with 72.
That number is in play for the Cowboys this season and it begins on Thanksgiving against the New York Giants.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 12 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using our AI-powered model. Refer back to our fantasy football rankings for any questionable waiver wire or lineup decisions.
Week 12 Yays
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. Our rankings here may not match those on our rankings page, which is updated throughout the week. (We pulled these numbers from Wednesday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
QB Taylor Heinicke, WAS vs. ATL (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 18, Projected Points: 15.09)
Don’t look now, but the Washington Commanders are 4-1 since Heinicke took over and very much in the playoff picture. And for those who are streaming quarterbacks, you could do worse than starting the quarterback playing the Atlanta Falcons each week.
Now, to be sure, the Commanders’ offensive approach centers around running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. each week. But Heinicke has multiple touchdowns in three of the five games he’s started, the Falcons have allowed the third-most points and only three teams allow more passing yards per game than Atlanta.
Just as critical for the Commanders, their defense has been playing lights out against the run, ranking sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Against an Atlanta team that wants to run the ball down your throat, stopping the run will give Washington more opportunities on offense.
Heinicke is set to benefit and looks to be a solid QB2 this week. He’s in the same tier as Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders and slightly better than the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson.
RB James Conner, ARI vs. LAC (ECR: 16, Our Rank: 9, PP: 17.45)
Since coming back from injury, Conner has scored three rushing touchdowns in his last three games. The Los Angeles Chargers, meanwhile, just allowed the Chiefs to have their first 100-yard rusher in over a year and allowed multiple scores on the ground in the three games before that.
Conner also has multiple receptions in every game but one this season, ensuring that he has a solid floor even without a touchdown.
The Chargers allow a league-high 5.46 yards per carry. This is essentially a must-win game for the Arizona Cardinals to keep any glint of playoff hopes alive, so look for them to attack the Chargers’ main weakness and keep Justin Herbert off the field.
Conner is an elite RB1 option this week, better than Rhamondre Stevenson of the New England Patriots and a host of others.
WR Brandon Aiyuk, SF vs. NO (ECR: 24, Our Rank: 11, PP: 14.68)
It’s not any of the three All-Pros that are leading the 49ers in receiving yards. It’s not even Samuel or Kittle who are leading the pass catchers in fantasy points. It’s Aiyuk.
Aiyuk, the often-forgotten man in the 49ers attack, has 350 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his last five games. What’s most critical for his future fantasy prospects is that his production isn’t a fluke. His burn percentage of 75.8 is second among the 61 wide receivers who have run at least 200 routes and his big-play percentage is sixth.
Since the beginning of Week 6, Aiyuk is WR6 with 18.4 fantasy points per game. Our models are expecting more of the same. He’s a must start this week for all fantasy managers lucky enough to have him.
WR Keenan Allen, LAC vs. ARI (ECR: 23, Our Rank: 17, PP: 13.70)
This one is simple. We’re including Allen in this space to remind fantasy managers to not overthink things. Most of the time, you should be playing your best players. And Allen is just that.
He’s the Chargers’ best receiver, was targeted eight times in his return and will only see more moving forward. He should be in your lineup.
Week 12 Nays
QB Aaron Rodgers, GB vs. PHI (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 24, PP: 14.33)
Unlike Allen, Aaron Rodgers is no longer one of your best players, which is still hard to believe. But Rodgers doesn’t have a 300-yard game this season and nowhere are the signs of his fantasy decline more relevant than on the road.
In five road games this season, Rodgers has only thrown seven touchdown passes against six interceptions. That’s more picks than in any single full season Rodgers has had since 2016. And oh yeah, he’s not going on the road to face a weak pass defense this week. The Green Bay Packers are playing in Philadelphia on Sunday night against an Eagles defense that allows the fewest yards per play, the lowest passer rating for opposing quarterbacks and has recorded the most interceptions.
Some fantasy managers are still starting him because he’s a big name. But we’re living in a world in which Geno Smith is a top-10 quarterback, Matt Ryan and Daniel Jones are better options this week, and Rodgers is a risky start for SuperFlex leagues.
And in single-quarterback leagues, look elsewhere.
RB Aaron Jones, GB vs. PHI (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 22, PP: 13.38)
It’s not just Rodgers the model is down on – it’s the entire Green Bay offense. With Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ ability to hog time of possession and the Packers’ penchant for being the NFL’s preeminent slow-playing team, Green Bay is projected to have the fewest offensive plays of any team this week.
With limited plays and uncertainty about the distribution of snaps between Jones and AJ Dillon, trusting anyone on the Packers is a tough ask. Jones’ best chance of vaulting ahead of this projection is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but the Eagles have only allowed 33 combined receiving yards to running backs over the last three weeks.
Jones is much closer to the RB2 tier this week.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET vs. BUF (ECR: 7, Our Rank: 34, PP: 11.63)
Amari Cooper just finished a week lighting up the Bills pass defense, so you might be wondering why St. Brown isn’t in a position to do the same. Allow us to explain…
While strong overall, Buffalo’s weakness in the passing game is against outside wide receivers like Cooper. Against slot receivers like St. Brown, the Bills win their matchups at a rate of almost 15% higher than the league average.
Combine that with Jamaal Williams and the Detroit Lions tight ends and running backs accounting for 80% of the team’s touchdowns this season, and Amon-Ra, in a bad matchup and unlikely to score a touchdown, is merely a WR2 this week.