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THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS MIMIC THE NFL STRETCH-RUN
We're at a point of the NFL season where a lot of subtle shifts take place. Young players are physically or mentally wearing down. Most quarterbacks will see a slight deterioration in arm strength down the stretch due to their workload — and defenses know it. And speaking of defenses, they've seen enough tape on their upcoming opponents to have solid game plans to stop or limit an offense's staple plays.
December's editions of the Top 10 shared many of these developments. While leaning hard on Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes II is conjuring excellent fantasy production even when his wide receivers haven't been as consistent. The Lions, Bears, and Eagles have thwarted the upside of the Rams offense for the past three weeks.
As we get deeper into the stretch-run, young players earn playing time and significant production — especially when their teams are in the midst of a blowout. Kalen Ballage had a massive fantasy week that no one expected. Ballage read his creases well and had a nice cutback or two. HIs 75-yard run was a great example of his long speed after he cut downhill of a defensive back who was way too slow to the entrance of the crease.
As productive as he was, the Vikings were up 21-0 when Ballage earned his playing time in what turned into a 41-17 trouncing.
In that same game, Tyler Conklin earned early action in two-tight end sets and caught 2 passes for 53 years. However one of them was against a blown coverage along the right sideline. It was a good catch because of the safety nailing Conklin from over top but we saw nothing of Conklin's route running.
Darren Waller earned 40 yards up the sideline for the Raiders in his first extended action with the team. As is the case with Ballage and Conklin, there's no reason to count on them as much as monitor how they perform for the future.
Some of these types are worth consideration if truly desperate in Week 16.
Rookie Darrel Williams had a touchdown reception a few good runs against the Chargers on Thursday night. He's a powerful runner with quick feet and good decision-making who earned a roster spot despite the Chiefs beginning the season with Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, and Damien Williams. In hindsight, it's a good indication that the Chiefs valued Darrel's skills (and possibly wondered if there was more to Hunt's story).
Damien also had an excellent night as the recipient of the Chiefs' misdirection screen game. He's a speedy back and if Ware cannot get right by Week 16, look for the Williams duo to continue its production. If Ware returns, Darrel will be back on the bench.
Marcus Murphy, Keith Ford, and Zach Zenner all earned significant time as running backs in the Bills-Lions game. Murphy is a journeyman who began his career with the Saints. He's a solid kick return specialist who works best from the spread. Ford has excellent burst and he runs hard. He has the most upside long-term but Murphy is the more refined player despite lacking Ford's size. Zenner has proven capable when called upon.
If Keke Coutee remains limited, the Texans did a great job of adding DeAndre Carter to its roster. Carter is a great fit for Coutee's role and it showed this weekend with decent production from the former Eagle and Raven.
These are most of the exceptional situations involving young, lesser-known talents who surprised on Sunday. With one week left, most of you with teams that are still alive have a good handle on your lineups — even if you have difficult decisions ahead. This week, The Top 10 will be a grab bag of insights — some with long-term value, some with short-term value, and one or two offering little more than a passing thought.
Next week, The Top 10 will end its 2018 season with a list of lessons learned.
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