The Yays and Nays: Our Fantasy Football Rankings, Projections and Top Plays for Week 16
With most leagues now entrenched in the fantasy playoffs, let’s revisit our big-numbers concept for a final time in 2022.
Here are five data points that have defined the fantasy football season, beginning with one final update on this year’s RB1.
That’s how many receptions Austin Ekeler has through 15 weeks for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Only four running backs have ever reached 100 receptions in a season – Christian McCaffrey has done it twice – and Ekeler is on pace to shatter that number. But more than that, Ekeler also leads all running backs in receiving yards (635) and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (five). Justin Herbert has looked his way a lot this season.
Just with his production through the air, Ekeler has scored more PPR points than Garrett Wilson (WR18). Of course, he also has 692 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He’s been the most consistent running back all season and is on pace to finish in the top five among running backs for the third time in four years.
That’s how many receiving yards Justin Jefferson has this season. Two weeks ago, we wrote that it was Tyreek Hill who had a chance to break Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of 1,964 receiving yards. But after two monster weeks and 346 receiving yards, it’s Jefferson who is currently on pace to break Megatron’s record by six yards.
Naturally, when you’re good on the field, you’re also good in fantasy. Jefferson has as many 30-point games (six) as he does games with fewer than 20 (!) points. And with these back-to-back scintillating performances, Jefferson has overtaken Hill as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy and has an excellent case of being considered the game’s top wideout.
That’s the turnover margin for the Philadelphia Eagles. There is a myriad of reasons why the Eagles are a 13-1 this season, but this might be the single best indicator. Jalen Hurts, who is squarely in the MVP conversation with Patrick Mahomes, has only turned the ball over seven times all season. Combined with a defense that is second in the NFL in takeaways and you start to get a sense of why the Eagles have been so dominant.
Hurts, who also has 13 rushing touchdowns, is QB1 by a hair over Mahomes this season. However, Hurts is now dealing with a sprained shoulder, so the Eagles are turning to backup QB Gardner Minshew as they stand just one win away from locking up the NFC’s top seed. And as a bonus, he’ll likely be getting Dallas Goedert back. As long as Minshew relies on his defense and doesn’t turn the ball over, the Eagles will have a chance to clinch against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
Speaking of Mahomes…
That’s how many passing yards Patrick Mahomes has this season. He’s within reach of Peyton Manning’s NFL record of 5,477 passing yards for the Denver Broncos in 2013. If Mahomes were to hit his current average of 321.1 yards per game, he would finish the season with 5,459 passing yards.
For the final two weeks of fantasy playoffs, Mahomes gets to face the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at home. In the confines of Arrowhead Stadium, Mahomes is 10-1 in the month of December. And in his career, he averages 304.8 passing yards and 2.4 passing touchdowns per game in wins.
Only seven QBs have reached 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns in the history of the league. Mahomes has a good chance to make it eight. All fantasy teams with Mahomes in the lineup have an advantage over their opponent.
That’s how many yards Nick Chubb is averaging per rush. He’s on pace to average fewer than 5.0 yards per carry for the first time in his career. Before the Cleveland Browns’ bye in Week 9, Chubb only had three games in which he averaged fewer than 5.0 yards a pop. However, he’s currently gone five straight games without averaging at least that number – the longest streak of his career.
Through Week 8, Chubb was RB3. But since Week 9, he’s only RB27. The Browns have faced the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the last three weeks and Chubb hasn’t reached double-digit fantasy points in any of them. If you’re still alive in your fantasy league, it might be time to consider moving Chubb to your bench.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 16 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 16 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 Tom Brady, TB vs. ARI (ECR: 13, Our Rank: 5, Projected Points: 18.63)
Brady was on our Nay list last week and if it wasn’t for a garbage-time touchdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers down 17, he would have finished as QB18. This was in spite of the fact that he was second in our projections in passing attempts. Well, he’s first this week.
The reason for Brady’s massive week-to-week rise? It has nothing to do with him and everything to do with his opponent for this week. See, the Arizona Cardinals stink. They are dead last in the NFL in points allowed and only one team has allowed more passing touchdowns than the Cardinals.
Brady only has one weekly finish as a top-five quarterback – and only three as a top-10 quarterback. However, passing against the Cardinals is a quarterback’s safe haven. Six quarterbacks have produced a top-five fantasy week against them and our model likes Brady’s chances of making it seven, even though he’s had a brutal season.
Our model has placed Brady in the same tier as Joe Burrow this week and prefers Brady to quarterbacks like Justin Fields, Tua Tagovailoa and Geno Smith.
RB D’Andre Swift, DET vs. CAR (ECR: 25, Our Rank: 15, PP: 13.62)
While dealing with injuries and with Jamaal Williams having a breakout season, Swift remarkably went seven straight games without receiving more than 10 touches. But he’s gotten healthier, the Detroit Lions have started playing better football and Swift is averaging more than 13 touches over his last three games.
Now, the Lions look to continue their improbable charge to a playoff spot against a Carolina Panthers team that just surrendered 45 rushing attempts in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he had enough carries to qualify, Swift would rank second among all running backs in yards per carry (5.5).
With an average of 4.0 receptions per game over his last four, Swift has been receiving volume more commensurate with his talent. Our model thinks he’s squarely in the RB2 conversation this week, just above players like Kenneth Walker.
WR Mike Evans, TB vs. ARI (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 9, PP: 16.82)
The model likes Brady, so it stands to reason that the model likes Evans too. For all the (warranted) disappointment in Evans’ fantasy performance this season, it’s worth taking a step back to look at the totality of his season and realize that he’s on pace to record 1,000 receiving yards for an NFL-record eighth-straight season to begin his career.
However, Evans and Brady have been unable to connect on a touchdown pass since Week 3. But Evans has been averaging over 9.0 targets per game since Week 7 and as we alluded to in the Brady section, he now faces a team that has allowed the second-most passing touchdowns.
Evans is averaging 4.9 receptions and 63.8 yards per game. His floor already makes him a solid WR2, but a good chance to finally get in the end zone this week has propelled him into the WR1 territory.
WR D.J. Moore, CAR vs. DET (ECR: 24, Our Rank: 13, PP: 14.14)
There are two ways to view this next stat. In seven games with four or more receptions, Moore is averaging 16.5 PPR points per game. You can either choose to be thrilled at the production when Moore gets even a decent amount of volume, or you can be appalled that he has fewer than four receptions in half of his games.
Our model is choosing the former, especially against a Lions defense that has allowed three receivers to notch at least six receptions and 100 yards in its last five games. QB play be damned, Moore is a legit WR2 this week.
Week 16 Nays
QB Trevor Lawrence, JAX vs. NYJ (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 20, PP: 14.15)
If Brady is the epitome of a player playing poorly but getting a boost in the rankings because of his opponent, Lawrence is the opposite. He has been excellent for the Jacksonville Jaguars of late with three top-five performances in his last four weeks. Only Hurts and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills have scored more points since Week 12.
This ranking from our model is essentially the ultimate respect to the New York Jets defense. Want to pass deep on them? The Jets have the second-lowest QB rating allowed on passes of 21 or more air yards. Yards per play? Third. Yards per pass play? Fourth. Passing touchdowns allowed? Tied for second. EVE against the pass? Third.
The Jets have not allowed more than one passing touchdown in a game since Week 3 and that includes two games against Allen and matchups against Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff (all top-12 fantasy quarterbacks). Facing both the Jets defense and the heavy elements expected tonight in New Jersey makes Lawrence a risky QB play.
He’s still ahead of quarterbacks like Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis (replacing Ryan Tannehill as the Titans quarterback), Baker Mayfield and counterpart Zach Wilson, but chances are you can find a better option this week.
RB Aaron Jones, GB vs. MIA (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 21, PP: 12.91)
Let’s start with the good: Jones finished last week as RB11. On the season, he’s now RB9. And he leads the Green Bay Packers in receptions (52).
Now the bad: After dominating touches out of the backfield throughout the season, Jones has relinquished that stranglehold. AJ Dillon has 46 touches and four touchdowns in the last three games and has outscored Jones in PPR points over that time frame, including two top-10 performances.
Before Dillon left Monday’s victory over the Los Angeles Rams, he was on pace to potentially finish the week as the top-scoring fantasy running back. Jones is still a solid RB2 as Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, but he’s no longer a set-and-forget RB1 like he was at the beginning of the year.
WR Mike Williams, LAC vs. IND (ECR: 15, Our Rank: 36, PP: 10.29)
It should be impossible for a wide receiver facing the Indianapolis Colts to be a Nay after last week’s debacle in which they blew a 33-0 lead and allowed two different Vikings receivers to record at least 10 catches, 100 yards and a touchdown.
With that in mind, would it surprise you to know that the Colts have been extremely solid against wideouts this season? Before last week, only two receivers had reached 80 yards against Indy since Week 4. A defense that in its last three weeks had allowed only 180 receiving yards combined to AJ Brown, Diontae Johnson and CeeDee Lamb.
This Colts defense is excellent at funneling targets to tight ends and running backs. Williams, who is also likely to see quite a bit of Stefon Gilmore in this matchup, is talented enough to blow this projection out of the water. But as the third weapon in the Chargers offense, our model thinks he’s going to struggle to produce WR3 numbers.
WR Terry McLaurin, WSH vs. SF (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 32, PP: 11.60)
Taylor Heinicke and his favorite target travel out west to face a daunting task this week. Coming off a loss against Daniel Jones and the New York Giants and fighting for their playoff lives, the San Francisco 49ers await the Commanders. And, well, playing against the 49ers defense just isn’t a good proposition.
The 49ers surrender the fewest yards and points per game, as well as plays of 10+ yards. Part of the secret is ball control, which is where this game might be decided. With Brock Purdy at the helm, this 49ers team has averaged over 35 minutes of possession per game. That has boosted them all the way up to second in average time of possession behind only… this Washington team.
If Washington can control the ball for large stretches, then McLaurin might have a chance to beat this projection. But the model is siding with the 49ers defense in this one. McLaurin is a risky Flex play in Week 16.
Happy Holidays and good luck in the fantasy playoffs!