In our Week 17 fantasy football start ’em and sit ’em, we let the data give you perspectives on select players that vary from the expert consensus.

Just like that, we’re into Week 17 – fantasy football 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 final season-long look at three key lessons we’ve learned this year that we’ll need to apply heading into next year.

Highly drafted rookie running backs and wide receivers are great fantasy assets

Detroit Lions rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs is fifth among all running backs in PPR fantasy points per game. Miami Dolphins speedster De’Von Achane is sixth. Meanwhile, if we took out a Week 7 performance in which the Atlanta Falcons were fined for their inaccurate injury reporting and a funky Week 15 game, Bijan Robinson would be ninth.

Robinson and Gibbs were the top two running backs taken. Achane was sixth, taken shortly after the Tennessee Titans selected Tyjae Spears – a sleeper headed into the next season.

There are 34 wide receivers that are averaging at least 12.5 PPR points per game and have played at least nine games this season. Six of them are rookies, including Baltimore Ravens youngster Zay Flowers. Puka Nacua – making a late push for offensive rookie of the year for the Los Angeles Rams – is the only one who wasn’t a top-70 pick.

The 2024 NFL Draft is shaping up to feature a historic rookie wide receiver class, with as many as eight or even nine wide receivers with a real chance at being drafted in the first round. Drafting a rookie wide receiver or two could make all the difference for your team, especially in the second half of the fantasy season after they have some time to get fully integrated into their offense.

Draft Mike Evans

Mike Evans has over 1,000 receiving yards in every season of his career. He averages over nine receiving touchdowns per season. Over the last eight seasons, Evans’ worst season-long finish is WR17. Evans’ average draft position (ADP) this year was 76. He was, on average, the 32nd wide receiver coming off the draft board.

He is WR6.

In the last year of his contract, there’s a real chance Mike Evans won’t be on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season. Whichever team he ends up with, you best believe Evans is going to be among the wide receivers most likely to top 1,000 receiving yards. He’s never not done it.

Find the offense you believe in, and apply a stacking strategy during your draft

We’ve been writing about “stacking” as a viable drafting strategy in this piece dating back to 2021 when we were highlighting Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. This year, that strategy – with the right team – could be the difference between your team playing and not.

Here are six teams that could have produced extremely successful stacks for you this season.

  • The Buffalo Bills have Josh Allen (QB1), James Cook (RB11) and Stefon Diggs (WR8).
  • The Philadelphia Eagles have Jalen Hurts (QB2), De’Andre Swift (RB14), A.J Brown (WR4) and DeVonta Smith (WR13).
  • The Dallas Cowboys, even with a very disappointing Tony Pollard (RB13) season compared to expectations entering the season, have Dak Prescott (QB3), Pollard, CeeDee Lamb (WR2) and Jake Ferguson (TE9).
  • The San Francisco 49ers have Brock Purdy (QB5), Christian McCaffrey (RB1), Deebo Samuel (WR14), Brandon Aiyuk (WR15) and George Kittle (TE4).
  • The Detroit Lions have Jared Goff (QB8), Jahmry Gibbs (RB6), David Montgomery (RB16), Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR3) and Sam LaPorta (TE3).
  • The Miami Dolphins have Tua Tagovailoa (QB13), Raheem Mostert (RB2) and Tyreek Hill (WR1).

The Yays: Week 17 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.

Jacoby Brissett, QB (WSH) vs. SF (ECR: 28, Our Rank: 8, Projected Points: 17.43)

Brissett has been inserted into the lineup for a benched Sam Howell in each of the last two games. Over two second halves, Brissett has led a total of six drives. Five of them have ended in Washington Commanders touchdowns.

After nearly leading two consecutive multi-touchdown comebacks, Brissett has been given the starting assignment this week against the 49ers. One of the key aspects of Brissett’s comebacks is that he’s entered the last two games facing a heavy deficit. As a 13-point underdog this week, chances are Brissett and the Commanders will be throwing the ball a lot again this week.

With so many QBs injured across the league, Brissett is a more-than-viable quarterback option this week. He’s a top-10 play, ahead of players like the Houston Texans’ C.J. Stroud, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, and Sunday night quarterbacks Jordan Love for the Green Bay Packers and Nick Mullens for the Minnesota Vikings.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB (KC) vs. CIN (ECR: 31, Our Rank: 4, PP: 20.00)

It’s been a rocky career for the Kansas City Chiefs first-round running back from 2020. He’s seen his playing time diminish over the last couple of seasons to a seventh-round rookie running back (Isiah Pacheco) and a journeyman running back (Jerrick McKinnon).

However, with McKinnon on IR and Pacheco in concussion protocol, our model is projecting Edwards-Helaire to be on the field for over 80% of Kansas City’s snaps. That volume looks particularly fruitful against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has been woeful against running backs lately. They have allowed at least 70 scrimmage yards and a touchdown to six of the last seven starting running backs they’ve faced.

For fantasy managers with Edwards-Helaire, this is a week to start him with confidence. He is a top-five running back.

Demario Douglas, WR (NE) vs. BUF (ECR: 40, Our Rank: 23, PP: 13.28)

In five of the last six games Douglas has played, he has at least seven targets. In every one of those games, Douglas has recorded at least five receptions.

New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe has played well over the last couple weeks, throwing for at least 240 yards and multiple passing touchdowns in two of the last three weeks.

Heading to upstate New York to face the Buffalo Bills, Douglas has turned into the undisputed top receiving option for the Pats. Our model likes his chances of ending with five or more receptions again this week. If you need to play Douglas in a flex spot, you should feel good about his chances of producing a double-digit output.

Gerald Everett, TE (LAC) vs. DEN (ECR: 13, Our Rank: 6, PP: 12.62)

Justin Herbert going down for the Los Angeles Chargers hasn’t been good for many, but for Gerald Everett’s fantasy managers, Everett has become Easton Stick’s security blanket. In the three games that Stick has played this season, Everett has been the recipient of eight targets in every game. He did not reach that mark once before Stick took over.

Meanwhile, his opponent this week, the Denver Broncos, have allowed five touchdowns to tight ends over the last three weeks. Not only does our model expect Everett to continue to see increased opportunities, but he is among the most likely tight ends to score a touchdown this week.

The Nays: Week 17 Fantasy Plays Projected Lower Than Expert Consensus

Matthew Stafford, QB (LAR) vs. NYG (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 23, PP: 14.38)

The Rams are among the most dangerous teams entering the home stretch of the regular season, and a major reason for that is the elite play they’re getting from the quarterback position. On the surface, a game against the New York Giants sounds like an automatic play.

But dig beneath the surface, and you’ll find a surprisingly competent Giants pass defense. The defense has only allowed more than 256 passing yards twice since Week 5. More than that, the Giants defense is particularly good at suppressing pass attempts. Considering down, distance, and scoreboard context, teams have run the ball at an 8% clip higher than league average against the Giants. And with Kyren Williams and the Rams having an effective running game, Stafford’s projected passing attempts are lower than normal.

Stafford is 18th in projected pass attempts and 21st in projected passing yards. Without providing any rushing ability, Stafford falls into the tier of risky QB2s, alongside Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

D’Andre Swift, RB (PHI) vs. ARI (ECR: 8, Our Rank: 29, PP: 11.41)

For such a good player, owning Swift has been frustrating for two main reasons. Those same two reasons are why he finds himself as a Nay.

Swift has five rushing touchdowns this season. Hurts has 15 rushing touchdowns this season. The most valuable rushing opportunity is a rush from the one-yard line. Swift doesn’t get those opportunities. You know what other opportunities he doesn’t get? Any targets in the passing game. Swift has five receptions in his last five games. And in three of those games, he has at most one target.

Swift falls firmly behind the wide receivers and tight ends in the Philadelphia Eagles offensive hierarchy. Facing Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals this week, Swift is a risky flex play.

Amari Cooper, WR (CLE) vs. NYJ (ECR: 18, Our Rank: 34, PP: 12.20)

It just feels gross having Cooper on our Nay list this week after his historic production last week. His 265 receiving yards set a Cleveland Browns single-game receiving record and his 51.5 PPR points is the high watermark by any player this season.

But circumstances couldn’t be any more different for Cooper this week. Instead of playing in a dome, he’s playing tonight, outdoors in New Jersey. More importantly, he’s facing maybe the NFL’s top cornerback duo, highlighted by a matchup with New York Jets’ star Sauce Gardner.

And to complicate matters even further, Cooper is dealing with a nagging ankle injury that has him listed as questionable to play tonight. Having an injury against this defense isn’t a good recipe for success. The model has him listed outside the top 30 wide receivers for Championship week.

Good luck to all this week and Happy New Year!

Don’t forget to check out our complete fantasy football rankings and start/sit comparison tool, as well as our NFL predictions and statistical leaderboard. Happy exploring. And follow along on Instagram and X.