In our Week 16 fantasy football start ’em and sit ’em, we let the data give you perspectives on select players that vary from the expert consensus.
With most leagues now entrenched in the fantasy playoffs, let’s revisit our big-number analysis for a final time in 2023.
Here are five numbers that have defined the fantasy football season, beginning with one final update on the player whose scored more fantasy points than any other this year.
That’s how many times a running back has led their position in both rushing yards and receiving yards in a single season since 1932.
All the way back in 1934, Chicago Bears running back Beattie Feathers led his position in rushing yards (1,004) and receiving yards (174 – on only six receptions). Much more recently, out-of-nowhere superstar Arian Foster in his second season with the Houston Texans (2010) led all running backs with 1,616 rushing yards and 604 receiving yards.
This year’s top fantasy running back and overall No. 1 player is on track to accomplish this feat for just the third time ever. San Francisco 49ers star Christian McCaffrey has 1,292 rushing yards and 509 receiving yards. Regardless of whether McCaffrey will be able to hold off Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (469) and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (446) for the lead in receiving yards, McCaffrey is firmly on track to win his first rushing title as the only running back who has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards this season.
Combined with his league-leading 20 touchdowns (tied with Raheem Mostert), McCaffrey has been outstanding all season, and if you have McCaffrey on your roster, you’re likely still playing this week.
That’s how many touchdowns tight end Sam LaPorta scored last week for the Detroit Lions in their win over the Denver Broncos.
Before the game, LaPorta was already having among the most impressive rookie seasons by a tight end ever. After the game? LaPorta moved into rarified air. His three touchdowns took his season-long total to nine, and only Mike Ditka (1961) and Rob Gronkowski (2010) have achieved double-digit touchdown totals in their rookie seasons. LaPorta also has an outside chance at a 1,000-yard receiving season, needing to average 81 yards per game over his team’s last three games to become only the second tight end to ever hit that benchmark (Kyle Pitts).
He enters Week 16 as the TE3 in PPR scoring formats. For the first time in a decade, there’s a strong chance that entering next season, someone other than Travis Kelce will be viewed as the top fantasy tight end.
That’s how many teams have started a backup quarterback this season.
No need for us to belabor this point after we highlighted what was happening back in Week 13. So instead, we’ll just say this: There are eight divisions in the NFL. The eight current division leaders are the 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. Not one of those teams have started a backup QB this season.
That’s how many scrimmage yards James Cook is averaging this season.
After his electric 221-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Cowboys last week, Cook is now third on the season in the NFL in scrimmage yards. If you believe in this recent Buffalo Bills turnaround, the No. 1 reason is Josh Allen is the quarterback. The second reason might be the Bills’ discovery of an effective run game.
Cook is averaging 92.4 rushing yards per game over the last five weeks. Now entrenched in the cold-weather portion of the NFL calendar, as the kids say, that’ll play.
That’s how many targets Keenan Allen is averaging per game.
Over the last six seasons, only Michael Thomas in 2019 has reached that threshold, and in case you’ve forgotten (no one could blame you; Thomas has only played 20 games since the start of the 2020 season), Thomas set the all-time single-season receptions record in 2019.
And Allen has turned all that volume into extreme production. He is on track to become only the fifth player since 2010 to average at least 8.3 receptions per game. Unfortunately, he is injured and won’t be suiting up this week for the Los Angeles Chargers. But for those of you still alive in your leagues, there’s a good bet one of the teams still playing has Allen.
The Yays: Week 16 Fantasy Plays Projected Higher Than Expert Consensus
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week (we pulled these numbers from Wednesday). Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Jake Browning, QB (CIN) vs. PIT (ECR: 19, Our Rank: 11, Projected Points: 17.90)
Browning has now started the last four games for the Cincinnati Bengals. His passing yards per game across those four starts? 295. The league leader in passing yards per game among qualified quarterbacks is Tua Tagovailoa. He averages 280.1 passing yards per game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers on the other hand, are 20th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Even worse than that? They have allowed six passing touchdowns the last two weeks. Horrifyingly (for Steelers fans), those touchdowns came while facing Gardner Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts last week, and two weeks ago, it was, of all people, Bailey Zappe who torched the Steelers in the New England Patriots’ upset win.
Only Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy are projected to finish the week with more passing yards than Browning. For the second time in three weeks, Browning is a Yay. He’s a legit QB2 option with QB1 upside.
Aaron Jones, RB (GB) vs. CAR (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 6, PP: 17.77)
With Jones coming back from injury, head coach Matt LaFleur suggested that Jones would have a limited role in the offense, providing a spark while only playing a handful of plays. Instead, he had eight rushes on the Green Bay Packers’ first drive of the game and finished with 17 touches.
Four of those were receptions, which marks the fourth straight healthy game for Jones that he’s recorded four catches.
Now that he’s knocked off some of the cobwebs, our model expects Jones to get even more than 17 touches this week. Against the woeful Carolina Panthers, that’s a recipe for success. Jones is a top-10 play for the model this week.
Calvin Ridley, WR (JAC) vs. TB (ECR: 19, Our Rank: 8, PP: 17.69)
Let’s start with the negatives. Ridley is averaging 36 receiving yards per game over the last three weeks. There are 15 players with at least 25 targets over the last three weeks. Ridley’s 13 receptions and 118 receiving yards are the fewest.
Now for the glass half-full version. Seven of Ridley’s targets have come in the red zone, and he’s twice been tackled at the one-yard line. Only three players are projected to receive more targets than Ridley this week, and our model is optimistic that he’ll be able to turn that recent uptick in red-zone opportunity into a touchdown.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baker Mayfield – coming off a game with a perfect passer rating – this game has sneaky shootout potential. Ridley is a top-10 play.
Dontayvion Wicks, WR (GB) vs. CAR (ECR: 51, Our Rank: 31, PP: 12.25)
No surprise considering the opponent, but the model likes the Green Bay offense this week. What is a surprise is that of all the rookies making an impact on the Packers (there are four of them!), the model likes Wicks’ chances, the latest of the four pass catchers drafted, the most.
The attention has rightfully been on Jayden Reed and the Packers rookie tight ends, but it’s Wicks that the model has ranked the highest of any Packers pass catchers this week. How? Well, Wicks ended last week with six receptions, 97 receiving yards, and four receptions of 15 or more yards, showcasing a big-play ability. And while it’s on a smaller sample size, his 73.5 burn percentage is the third best among all wide receivers.
Wicks was more than serviceable as a flex play last week. The model likes his chances of turning in a similar performance. With some late-season injuries, Wicks is a worthy fill-in if necessary for your semifinal matchup.
The Nays: Week 16 Fantasy Plays Projected Lower Than Expert Consensus
Jared Goff, QB (DET) vs. MIN (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 17, PP: 16.20)
In the first three games of the season, the Minnesota Vikings allowed an average of 27.3 points per game. They lost all three games. Then, the offense lost Justin Jefferson. And a little bit after that, they lost their quarterback, Kirk Cousins.
You know what else has coincided with this stretch of games mostly without Jefferson and Cousins? A defense that is playing elite football.
Goff, meanwhile, is coming off a sterling five-touchdown performance. But as we’ve mentioned before in this column, he’s a much different quarterback away from home. In seven road games this season, Goff has nine passing touchdowns. In seven home games, he has 17. On the road against a strong Vikings defense, Goff is merely a mid-tier QB2 this week.
Derrick Henry, RB (TEN) vs. SEA (ECR: 12, Our Rank: 23, PP: 12.60)
Derrick Henry against the Texans is as sure of a thing as we’ve had in fantasy football in years. Before last week, here were Henry’s last five games against the Texans (carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns): 23/126/1, 32/219/2, 34/250/2, 22/212/2, 32/211/3.
We’ll let you decide what’s more jarring: That he produced those numbers in five consecutive games against the Texans, or that last week, he had 16 carries that went for a total of nine yards. NINE YARDS. He barely averaged 0.5 yards per carry. On the bright side, he had four receptions, which tied a season high. Of course, those four receptions went for a combined one yard! Even if you’re bad at math, those numbers are so low that it isn’t hard to see that he ended the game with 20 touches and 10 yards.
It is impossible to be that inefficient (no player in NFL history had ever had 10 or fewer yards on so many touches in a single game). And we’re talking about a potential future Hall of Fame player. Facing the Seattle Seahawks this week, a team that just held Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift to 4.1 yards per carry and no touchdowns, the model is optimistic that Henry will have a much better outing than last week for the Tennessee Titans. But it won’t be enough to provide anything more than RB2 value, alongside other high-profile running backs like the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the Atlanta Falcons’ Bijan Robinson.
Garrett Wilson, WR (NYJ) vs. WAS (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 38, PP: 11.44)
The words “backup quarterback” will probably cause nightmares for Wilson for the rest of his career.
Wilson is on pace for a 1,000-yard season, which is a miracle considering whom he’s catching passes from. First Zach Wilson, then Tim Boyle, then Wilson again, and now, it’s Trevor Siemian’s turn to throw passes for the New York Jets. Unfortunately for Garrett Wilson’s fantasy managers, there comes a point when you’re at such a talent deficit at quarterback that even an extremely talented wide receiver gets punished, even if they’re playing against a defense as compromised as the Washington Commanders.
Wilson already has five games this season with three or fewer catches. And he’s only scored one touchdown since Week 3. If you’re still playing, it’s likely been without much of Garrett Wilson in your lineup. The model recommends sitting him once again.
Amari Cooper, WR (CLE) vs. HOU (ECR: 22, Our Rank: 36, PP: 11.58)
Remember that group of 15 receivers with at least 25 targets over the last three weeks in which Ridley was last with 13 receptions? Cooper is another of those players, and he’s second-to-last among that group, with 14 receptions.
In three of the last five games for the Cleveland Browns, Cooper has not surpassed 35 receiving yards. Now, Cooper is coming off one of the best games of his season, but he faces a much tougher test this week against a Texans defense that has only allowed four receiving touchdowns by a wide receiver over the last five weeks.
Cooper, just like Wilson, checks in as a risky flex play this week.
Merry Christmas to all!
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