Championship Week: Our Fantasy Football Rankings, Projections, and Yays and Nays for Week 17
Just like that, we’re into Week 17 – championship week for many fantasy managers still following along.
But there are also many others who are already thinking about what they’ll do differently next year. So let’s take one last look back and park some thoughts into our heads.
Here are three key statements for all fantasy managers to remember heading into next season.
Draft Travis Kelce
We already mentioned this back in Week 12 when we highlighted that Kelce’s lead over TE2 was 89.2 PPR points. At that time, we explained:
“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.”
Well, despite 35.9 points from T.J. Hockenson last week, Kelce’s lead over TE2 has expanded since Week 12. The gap between Kelce and Hockenson is roughly equivalent to the gap between Hockenson and Hayden Hurst at TE19.
Here’s what it boils down to… The tight end position is extremely rough and mostly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. But that doesn’t apply to Kelce, who not only laps his competition, but has scored more points than Stefon Diggs (currently WR3).
Kelce provides elite wide receiver production with tight-end eligibility. The star pass catcher of the Kansas City Chiefs is the most valuable fantasy football asset and until he shows signs of a decline, don’t be afraid to draft him in the first round.
Draft an Elite Quarterback
Let’s move to a similar conundrum that faces fantasy managers every draft season. Is it worth spending a significant portion of your budget or a high draft pick on a quarterback? Or is it worth waiting until the end and trying to find cheap production?
Of course, the answer is that finding high-end production for pennies on the dollar is the best way to be successful. But not all dart throws pay off. By average draft position (ADP), Tua Tagovailoa (127), Justin Fields (142) and Trevor Lawrence (150) were going off the board as QB16, 17 and 18. Meanwhile, Trey Lance was drafted as QB13 before this season.
Tua, Fields and Lawrence have been wildly successful, with Fields and Lawrence all the way up to QB5 and QB6, respectively. If you drafted them, you have reaped the rewards of their elite production down the stretch – that is, if you hung on to them. Through the first five weeks (a long time to hold on to someone in fantasy football), Lawrence was QB15, Tua was QB20 and Fields was QB24.
That’s enough time to talk about the dart throws. Because the argument here is that the elite quarterbacks are worth it! Do you know who the top six quarterbacks were through the first five weeks of the season? Six of the top seven QBs by ADP.
Right now, the top four fantasy quarterbacks are Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow. No surprise, those four also make up the field in a quite interesting MVP conversation. It’s not just the elite production that makes them worth it, but the consistency as well. Those four have all been among the top five scoring quarterbacks in fantasy since Week 6.
That’s right. They’ve been so consistently excellent that they’ve all remained top-five quarterbacks even through bye weeks and the occasional off week. The gap between Burrow (QB4) and Fields (QB5) is the same as the gap between Fields and Derek Carr (QB15).
From Fields through Daniel Jones (QB10), the rest of the quarterbacks that comprise the top 10 have averaged 18.65 points per game. The top four have averaged 25.45 points per game. That means that with one of the elite quarterbacks, you’re walking into every matchup against a fantasy manager without one of Mahomes, Allen, Hurts or Burrow with a 6.8-point head start.
Bet on Talent at Running Back
Do you know what Ezekiel Elliott and Damien Harris have in common? Both finished last season as a top-15 running back – in Zeke’s case, he finished as RB7 – and both entered this season as the starting running backs for the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, respectively.
Do you know what else they had in common entering this season? More talented backups. Both were being drafted before their counterparts – Tony Pollard and Rhamondre Stevenson – and now those fantasy managers are watching with regret as Pollard (RB6) and Stevenson (RB8) have exploded onto the scene.
This happens every year. There are already a couple of backfield situations shaping up to look like this next year. The incumbent starters for the Chicago Bears (David Montgomery) and Buffalo Bills (Devin Singletary) are both in the final year of their contracts, and even if the teams re-sign them and/or look elsewhere, both have extremely talented backups – Khalil Herbert and James Cook – waiting for a bigger opportunity. Among the other candidates to keep an eye on for next year: Tyler Allgeier (ATL) and Rachaad White (TB).
And if you’re wondering what talented means, essentially, we mean draft the players that can make would-be tacklers miss. Case in point:
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 17 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 17 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 Thursday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
QB Aaron Rodgers, GB vs. MIN (ECR: 11, Our Rank: 8, Projected Points: 17.04)
The Minnesota Vikings’ win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 kickstarted a campaign in which they’ve clinched the NFC North and at worst, the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs.
On the very first offensive play of the season, Rodgers threw a perfect deep ball to rookie receiver Christian Watson, who dropped the sure-fire touchdown pass. And that very first play began a tailspin, most unlike what we’ve seen from the Packers since Matt LaFleur took over as a head coach.
Rodgers finished as QB32 in Week 1, literally the worst output of any of the 32 starting QBs. But now he faces a Vikings team that allows a league-worst 281.5 passing yards per game. The Packers need to win to stay alive in the playoff race and you just know Rodgers is desperate to enact some revenge.
Rodgers is an easy top-10 quarterback for the model this week.
RB D’Andre Swift (ECR: 22, Our Rank: 10, PP: 14.53) and RB Jamaal Williams (ECR: 31, Our Rank: 18, PP: 11.67), DET vs. CHI
Williams hasn’t scored a touchdown in three weeks. Despite that, he’s still the NFL leader in rushing touchdowns (14), just ahead of elite running backs like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler, and yes, even Jalen Hurts.
Swift hasn’t scored a touchdown in three weeks either. However, in all four games that Swift has scored a rushing touchdown, Williams has also reached the end zone.
And for fantasy managers of both, that’s good news. Because this week, the Detroit Lions play the Chicago Bears – the team that has surrendered, by far, the most rushing touchdowns this season – at home where Swift has scored four of his six touchdowns overall.
Both Swift and Williams found the end zone in a Lions win over the Bears in Week 8. Jared Goff has been playing well of late and the Lions should have success moving the ball. The model likes both players’ chances of scoring this week and because of that, Swift is a top-10 RB along with elite options like James Conner and Travis Etienne. Williams finds himself in the same tier as running backs like Alvin Kamara, Miles Sanders and Leonard Fournette.
WR Allen Lazard, GB vs. MIN (ECR: 31, Our Rank: 16, PP: 13.77)
The model likes Rodgers, so as we always say, it makes sense that it also likes his top wideout. Lazard has five receptions in three of his last five games and after getting 11 more targets last week, leads the Packers in targets – just ahead of Aaron Jones.
He has played 90.1% of the Packers’ offensive snaps this season, and that should be rewarding this week because…
He gets to play the Vikings defense! We already mentioned in the Rodgers section that no team allows more passing yards, but the Vikes are also coming off a game in which they allowed a random hodgepodge of Giants receivers to record 258 receiving yards.
This is likely to be one of the higher-scoring games of the week and Lazard ranks in the top 10 among wideouts with a 40.7% chance of scoring a touchdown. He’s a top-20 play with even more upside if this game becomes a shootout like so many of the other recent Kirk Cousins-led games.
WR TuTu Atwell, LAR vs. LAC (ECR: 59, Our Rank: 31, PP: 12.27)
To be clear, if you’re playing in a championship game this week, you likely have better options. This is a desperation play. But if that’s you, Atwell might be worth a shot in the dark. Why?
With all the injuries at receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, Atwell has quietly accumulated a read share baseline of around 40% – a number that hasn’t changed much with Baker taking over at quarterback. And more than that, he’s got big play potential. Atwell is averaging 18.6 yards per catch, which would rank second in the NFL if he had enough catches to qualify.
In the three games Atwell has started, he’s recorded nine receptions and over 100 receiving yards, which doesn’t even include the 62-yard touchdown he scored earlier this season. If you play Atwell in either a wide receiver or Flex spot, you’re hoping for one big play.
Week 17 Nays
QB Daniel Jones, NYG vs. IND (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 16, PP: 14.91)
Outside of one half against the Vikings, the Indianapolis Colts have been mostly solid against the pass all season and the defense is coming off an outing in which they held Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers to 235 passing yards and no touchdowns.
It was the second time in the last four weeks that the Colts had held a team without a passing touchdown and our model is responding. Only Tyler Huntley, Baker Mayfield and Andy Dalton are projected to have fewer touchdown passes than Jones.
Jones, who only has two passing touchdowns in the last three games for the New York Giants, is outside of our model’s top 15 for the week and is in the same tier as QBs like Brock Purdy, Mike White, Geno Smith, Russell Wilson and likely Teddy Bridgewater (Tua is in concussion protocol for the Miami Dolphins).
RB Joe Mixon, CIN vs. BUF (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 21, PP: 11.25)
Mixon’s biggest strength for most of his career has come from his volume. He hasn’t been a particularly efficient runner, only averaging 4.1 yards per carry in his career, but he’s more than made up for it by almost always getting a huge portion of backfield touches for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Last season, Mixon was third in the NFL in touches (334), but 11th in the NFL in scrimmage yards per game.
This season, Mixon is 11th in touches and over the last three weeks, Samaje Perine has accounted for 20 total touches and scored one touchdown to Mixon’s zero. Mixon finds himself in uncharted territory and because of the recent trend of his decreasing touches, he’s only projected for 14.9 touches in the Monday night matchup with Buffalo.
The Bills are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense and have only allowed two receiving touchdowns to running backs all season. According to our model, Mixon is a borderline RB2 this week.
WR A.J. Brown, PHI vs. NO (ECR: 8, Our Rank: 20, PP: 13.60)
Brown’s season-long production makes this a scary projection, but so does his recent production. He has at least 100 receiving yards in three of his last four games and has four receiving touchdowns during that span.
It’s the recent production of the New Orleans Saints, however, that our model is siding with this week. The Saints have not allowed a single player to record 75 or more receiving yards in any of their last eight games and only one wide receiver has scored a touchdown against them in their last four games.
With Gardner Minshew likely playing again for the Philadelphia Eagles, Brown is unlikely to receive anything remotely close to the 16 targets he saw in Week 15 when Hurts last played. You’re still starting him in your lineups this week, but expectations should be tempered.
WR DK Metcalf, SEA vs. NYJ (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 25, PP: 13.08)
Playing Sauce Gardner and the New York Jets? Find yourself on the Nay list. And no one is spared. Justin Jefferson was a Nay against the Jets in Week 13. He finished with 45 receiving yards. The following week, the Jets defense held Stefon Diggs to three receptions and 37 yards. How about last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ breakout receiver Christian Kirk? Three receptions for 22 yards.
This defense is incredible at shutting down elite wide receivers. Metcalf has recorded at least five receptions in eight straight games for the Seattle Seahawks, but it’ll be a challenge to reach that benchmark again this week. He’s outside our model’s top 20.