With the playoffs ahead, let's examine some things that could help fantasy owners down the stretch as well as some long-term outlooks for young players.
- Notable players that have run hot and cold since Week 7.
- Potential stretch-run surprises.
- Rookies you believe in long-term.
- Successful rookies that haven't sold you on their long-term outlook.
- Breakout candidates among vets with 2-4 years of experience but haven't earned a starting gig.
- Playoff advice and/or scenarios our panel face with their teams this year.
Hot and cold
Matt Waldman: Since Week 7, the following players at each position have been hot fantasy commodities relative to their overall season-long ranking (in parenthesis). From the group below, pick three players most likely to stay hot and three most likely to cool off.
- Colin Kaepernick: No.8 QB (No.28)
- Russell Wilson No.9 QB (No.18)
- Rob Kelley: No.11 RB (No.29)
- Tim Hightower No.13 RB (No.35)
- Jonathan Stewart No.15 RB (No.26)
- Latavius Murray No.8 RB (No.15)
- Rishard Matthews No.4 WR (No.15)
- Tyreek Hill No.5 WR (No.31)
- Taylor Gabriel No.11 WR (No.45)
- Marqise Lee No.17 WR (No.46)
- Vance McDonald No.9 TE (No.15)
- Vernon Davis No.11 TE (No.19)
- Antonio Gates No.8 TE (No.17)
Name and explain your picks.
Stephen Holloway: Kaepernick remains hot. He is seemingly the only weapon that the 49ers have.
John Mamula: I'm also in on Kaepernick. He is averaging 62.1 rushing yards/per game. For some frame of reference, Todd Gurley is averaging 58.2 rushing yards/per game this season. That rushing floor makes it difficult to keep Kaepernick on your bench.
Will Grant: Count me in. Kaepernick is playing for next season, and the 49ers have nothing to lose at this point. I like his chances moving forward the rest of the season. Especially this week against the Bears.
Mark Wimer: Me, too. Kaepernick is healthy and clicking in the 49ers offense now and the 49ers' horridly awful terribly bad defense keeps him chasing leads throughout December.
Andrew Garda: Is this going to be unanimous? He has a great schedule the rest of the way and as said above, a lousy defense which will have him throwing a ton. I also like the way he's playing in general. He finally seems like he could be the guy we saw under Harbaugh. He has a lot to gain by keeping it up as well.
Alex Miglio: Nope. I can't go there.
Andrew Garda: C'mon Alex, the water is warm.
Alex Miglio: Can't do it. Kaepernick has been good in the fantasy realm, but let's be real—he hasn't faced many good defenses in recent weeks. After another cream puff in the Bears, Kaepernick faces off against the Jets, Rams, and Seahawks to close out the season. I don't love his closeout slate.
Matt Waldman: Who is remains hot?
Andrew Garda: Give me Russell Wilson. He's healthy, and while he struggled against the Tampa Bay defense, I expect him to bounce back especially at home. In fact, the whole Seahawks team is a much different animal on the road than at home and I think that impacted his play as well. Three of his last four fantasy-season games are at home and I expect him to have very good games during them.
Will Grant: No doubt, this week was a disaster for Wilson and the Seahawks. But like Andrew, I think that he's still a top-5 option for fantasy QBs.
Tyreek Hill also stays hot. Hill has taken over as the No.2 receiving option in KC and is pushing for more touches, both catching and running the ball. If you saw the running TD he had last week, you'd see this kid is special. They are going to get him the ball as much as possible.
Mark Wimer: The absence of Jeremy Maclin allows Hill to emerge and there's no looking back now as he's been too awesome to ignore.
Andrew Garda: The risk with Hill is his targets. They are a bit inconsistent. Still, in two of the last three games he's seen double-digit targets and responded with nice production. The game against Denver, where he was the focal point of the offense, tells me we'll see him a lot over the close of the season.
Stephen Holloway: I'll take Rishard Matthews. Matthews and Mariota have great chemistry. Matthews has averaged almost 9 targets per game over the last four and scored 4 touchdowns in that same period.
Mark Wimer: I'll roll with Vance McDonald. He's clicking with Kaepernick and there is a dearth of wide receiving talent outside of him. McDonald will be a top-tier tight end in December.
Andrew Garda: I can't go there, John. Jordan Reed may not be out this weekend and if he is, might not be out long. Davis is likely to lose those touches he gained with Reed sidelined the last game and frankly, I trust DeSean Jackson to get more going forward if/while Reed is out.
Will Grant: I agree with you, Andrew. Davis' production was strong a couple weeks ago because Jordan Reed was out of the offense. Reed tore it up against Dallas, but Washington had to throw the ball a ton, trying to keep up with Dallas and Davis got more production than he typically will. With Reed back, Davis will only see reasonable production when Washington throws for 400 yards.
Will Grant: Jordan Reed will eat consistently in this offense, while Davis will be second-fiddle as long as Reed can be on the field.
Matt Waldman: For what it's worth, I believe Davis is a far more integral part of this offense than some of you think. The two-man games they play with Davis-Reed; Davis-Crowder; and Davis-Jackson in four-wide receiver sets, which is becoming a pretty frequent alignment, favors Davis as a consistent target. When they go run-heavy, he's a big-play, play-action guy.
Still, I can understand how that could turn out to be game-planning more than permanent. Who else on this list is going cold?
Mark Wimer: Wait...
Matt Waldman: Dude, didn't you have your three?
Mark Wimer: I have an honorable mention in Taylor Gabriel. After K.C. in Week 13, Matt Ryan gets L.A. week 14 (just allowed 49 points and five passing scores to Drew Brees last week); the 49ers' disastrous defense in Week 15; and the Panthers' derelict secondary in Week 16. That's a fantasy playoff schedule I can get behind!
Matt Waldman: Good pick. Gabriel is not only a big-play weapon, he's the second-best route runner on the team. I'm on board.
Alex Miglio: Not me. Gabriel has looked great, but he has also been the beneficiary of being a relative unknown in that Falcons offense. Gabriel has stolen Tevin Coleman's role only as a wide receiver. Meanwhile, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu will probably command more targets over the stretch run.
Matt Waldman: Perhaps, but Coleman's role is screen passes and dump-offs. Outside of the two screen TDs Gabriel had last week, he's earned significant points for the past 7 weeks on intermediate and deep routes. While possible that Gabriel loses targets to Coleman, I bet Sanu is more likely to lose them to the runner.
Who else are you down on, Alex?
Alex Miglio: Tim Hightower. He has been huge, but he hasn't been nearly as good as Mark Ingram II in the past several weeks. Hightower will continue to produce in PPR leagues, but I expect Ingram to continue leading the backfield and cutting into Hightower's fantasy productivity.
Stephen Holloway: Definitely Tim Hightower. Coach Payton comes to his senses and allows Mark Ingram II the opportunities he and the Saints deserve. Hightower supplies only breather opportunities for Ingram.
John Mamula: For sure, Stephen. "Angry Ingram" has returned.
Will Grant: Ingram had 160 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs last week. He won't completely push Hightower out of the picture, but if Ingram keeps performing at this level, Hightower's ceiling is going to be very low.
Andrew Garda: Rob Kelley isn't looking at a favorable schedule and aside from the huge walloping he put on Green Bay, he's been OK but not spectacular. It's nice that Jay Gruden realized he should run the ball, but with the exception of Week 16—which is, admittedly, a critical week—it looks like a struggle for Kelley's season finale.
John Mamula: With a tough upcoming schedule for Washington with road games at Arizona, at Philadelphia, followed by a home matchup vs Carolina, I'm also cooling off on Kelley.
Stephen Holloway: Gates has averaged only 7 targets per game and for the first time in forever, he did not catch a pass and did not even have a target. Father Time has shown up at Gates' door.
I'm also skeptical of Marqise Lee. The Jaguars offense is hit and miss and Lee could fall back in the target order if Hurns can return quickly.
Will Grant: Seriously. Between Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns, I don't see Lee getting a lot of looks. Plus garbage time points tend to go to the top receivers, and Jacksonville has a lot of garbage time.
Mark Wimer: I have zero trust in Jacksonville's offense right now, and Lee is part of that mess.
Andrew Garda: As Mark said, I have no faith in the consistency of Jacksonville's offense and as Will said, I think Hurns gets his stuff together and re-establishes himself as the Number 2 here.
Mark Wimer: Let me end with Jonathan Stewart. As reality sets in and Carolina's lost season is accepted in Charlotte, look for Stewart to be eased out of action in meaningless December games.
Matt Waldman: Well played. Let's go the opposite route. The following players at each position in the group below since Week 7 have cooled off relative to their overall season-long ranking (in parenthesis). Pick three most likely to heat up and three most likely to stay cold.
- Matt Ryan: No.7 QB (No.3)
- Matthew Stafford No.23 (No.12)
- Andrew Luck No.21 QB (No.8)
- Spencer Ware No.23 RB (No.14)
- Isaiah Crowell No.22 RB (No.16)
- Todd Gurley No.25 RB (No.20)
- Terrance West No.41 RB (No.25)
- Michael Crabtree No.35 WR (No.17)
- Amari Cooper No.26 WR (No.13)
- Larry Fitzgerald No.38 WR (No.12)
- Demaryius Thomas No.30 WR (No.20)
- Kelvin Benjamin No.36 WR (No.21)
- Coby Fleener No.17 TE (No.11)
- Martellus Bennett No.26 TE (No.6)
- Jason Witten No.13 TE (No.7)
Mark Wimer: Exactly!
Matt Waldman: Who else belongs on the frozen food aisle?
John Mamula: Jason Witten. The bulk of Witten's season production came during one game vs. Cleveland with 8 receptions on 10 targets for 134 yards and 1 TD.
Matt Waldman: Anyone else heating up that hasn't been mentioned?
Alex Miglio: Martellus Bennett benefits from Rob Gronkowski's presence in the lineup, and the latter has been hurt in recent weeks. Hopefully, Gronk can heal up soon and make Bennett great again.
Michael Crabtree has been victimized by a lack of scoring in recent weeks, but he is still getting plenty of volume. Look for his production to bounce back soon.
Stretch Run Surprises
Matt Waldman: It's rare to find a flawless fantasy playoff roster. With that in mind, share your five players from below that have the greatest potential to help a playoff roster. Totals for RBs are touches and combined yardage and touchdowns.
- QB Matt Barkley, 316 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.
- QB Trevor Siemian, 368 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.
- QB Jared Goff, 214 yards and 3 touchdowns last week.
- RB Derrick Henry, 8-60-1 last week.
- RB Chris Ivory, 33-169-1 since Week 11.
- RB James Starks, 24-115-2 since Week 10.
- RB Wendell Smallwood, 30-149 since Week 10.
- RB Rashad Jennings, 61-297-1 since Week 10.
- WR Marquess Wilson, 9-160 in Week 12
- WR Julian Edelman, 23-259-1 since Week 10
- WR Malcolm Mitchell, 10-153-3 since Week 10.
- WR Ted Ginn Jr, 12-205-2 since Week 10.
- WR DeSean Jackson, 8-169-2 since Week 10.
- WR DeVante Parker, 16-246-1 since Week 10.
- TE Jermaine Gresham, 11-105-2 since week 10.
- TE Dion Sims, 7-73-1 since Week 11.
- TE Lance Kendricks, 8-89-1 since Week 11.
- TE Clive Walford, 5-71-1 since Week11.
Who is looking good to you?
John Mamula: James Starks.
Stephen Holloway: Yep, Starks...
Mark Wimer: I agree with the other guys on Starks.
Will Grant: Me, too.
Matt Waldman: Alrighty then, what are your cases for Starks?
Will Grant: Ivory is probably the best option of the running backs above. But it's Jacksonville he's playing for. Starks makes the most sense given what the others have pointed out. With Lacy out, I think Starks is the man on a team that needs to win every game to make the playoffs, and they are playing in a very weak division.
Andrew Garda: In recapping the Packers games, I've watched Starks for a long time. While yes, he will get most of the carries, he's a very mediocre back and we've seen that since he returned. He lacks the speed, vision and strength Lacy has and while he'll get carries, I wouldn't expect him to do much of anything on a consistent basis.
Matt Waldman: While I agree that Starks knows the offense best, running plays are not that difficult to learn if you're an experienced back. People may be three-times-bitten, six-times-shy about Michael, but the guy can run the football and he looked solid against the Eagles in limited time. It doesn't mean I'm touting Michael, but it's hard for me to get excited about Starks among the options on this list.
Andrew Garda: I can get excited about Derrick Henry. The Titans have a plan to use Henry often in the last four minutes of either half, particularly if they have the lead. As the season continues to progress, though, Henry will see more carries as time goes on.
Danny Tuccitto: Although Henry is more of a flier, Tennessee has the seventh-easiest remaining schedule per run defense DVOA. If DeMarco Murray gets hurt, Henry's poised for a big finish.
Stephen Holloway: Henry is an excellent lottery ticket as the Titans excel in the smashmouth attack. If Murray got hurt, what a game changer Henry could be. I'll also go with Marquess Wilson. He has been such a tease for so long, but looked dominant last week and could be heavily featured for a few more weeks and possibly even after Jeffery returns.
Matt Waldman: That's what happens when you draft a 20-year-old who only left for the NFL because he couldn't play nice with Mike Leach...
John Mamula: I don't care what happened, I'm just glad he's available. He had 11 targets last week. He will continue to see targets over the next few weeks. Alshon Jeffrey isn't back from suspension until Week 15.
I also like Julian Edelman. Edelman has been consistent with Brady in the lineup. Gronkowski is out, Edelman is a WR1 in PPR leagues moving forward.
Stephen Holloway: When Gronkowski is injured, Edelman is a target hog. He and Brady both excel in the short passing attack, so in PPR leagues Edelman will be pure gold.
Mark Wimer: I like what I've seen from Malcolm Mitchell and his 14.7 yards-per-reception average is more attractive to me than Edelman's 9.6. I think Mitchell could have a couple of 'Boom' games in him during the final 1/4 of the season, and that's what I look for in a WR3/flex receiver. I'd pick up Mitchell over Edelman, personally (I doubt Edelman is on many waiver wires anyway).
Danny Tuccitto: Not me. Edelman's line is 23-259-1 since Week 10. Although New England has the fifth-toughest remaining schedule per pass DVOA, but their easiest game (vs. the Jets) coincides with fantasy championship week. Furthermore, the Patriots' pass offense—including Edelman's target volume—is one of the most opponent-proof in the league, so I tend to discount what the matchup stats say.
Will Grant: I'm not as bullish on Mitchell as Mark, but Mitchell has pulled in enough production over the last couple weeks to make me believe that he's the No.2 WR behind Edelman now and he's in front of Danny Amendola. I like him and will be picking him up via waivers this week if I can.
Andrew Garda: We saw Mitchell get a lot of red zone work last week. While I expect Edelman and Bennett to see more action, Mitchell is proving himself to be a reliable receiver for Brady and he's hot. I think the Pats quarterback will keep riding that hot hand.
Matt Waldman: As an aside, I'd be worried about Martellus Bennett and that high ankle sprain. He couldn't even block effectively last week. It has been a problem for several weeks.
Andrew Garda: How about Matt Barkley? If you're in need of a quarterback, you have to look at scheduling because you aren't likely to get a perfect starter. I like the matchups with San Fran, an inconsistent Lions defense, and a Packers defense which has struggled up until last week. Barkley looked OK despite lacking most of the Bears usual weapons, and in a pinch should keep you afloat.
Matt Waldman: I'm buying. Anyone else?
Mark Wimer: Barkley surprised us last week with his solid game, and the turnstile San Francisco 'defense' that has more holes than a block of swiss cheese has allowed 26 passing scores in 11 games, is next.
Detroit has allowed 22 passing scores this year and so has Green Bay. San Francisco and Detroit have seven interceptions this year, Green Bay has eight. None of these pass defenses are particularly scary, friends.
Barkley could be a help to someone stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Blake Bortles. And as I like Barkley, I am also with John Mamula on Marquess Wilson, who seems simpatico with the Bears' starter for the final five weeks of this season. Someone has to catch passes from Barkley, and it looks like he'll lean on Wilson.
Will Grant: I much prefer Trevor Siemian. Denver is fighting their way back, and their offense is starting to pick up. Siemian is going to be the focal point of their offense, and I like the tools that he has around him a lot more than I do the other QB options here. He might not have 350 and 3 TDs every week, but I like his output the rest of the way and I'd be comfortable with him on my roster.
Danny Tuccitto: Let's look at these two together. Barkley had 368 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. Chicago has the easiest remaining schedule (per pass defense DVOA), but 152 of Barkley's 316 yards and 2 of his 3 touchdowns last week came in the fourth quarter, which started with Chicago down 24-7. With Detroit, Green Bay, and Washington all vying for playoff spots, there's a good chance Barkley will have a few more garbage time opportunities. The problem is that he'll be playing the latter two at home. And we all know how unfriendly the Windy City is for passing in late December.
I'll go with Siemian, who has the eighth-easiest schedule, better talent on the other end of his passes, and has at least showed some ability to put up numbers throughout a game; not just in garbage time.
Since we're talking about passing, let's think PPR and talk about Rashad Jennings. The Giants' remaining schedule ranks 10th-toughest according to run defense DVOA, but fourth-easiest according to pass defense DVOA on running back targets. That said, even in non-PPR, the run defense schedule concerns me less than it would for other players due to Jennings' high-floor with respect to touches.
Will Grant: Jennings is playing well, and the Giants are in the playoff hunt as well. He's doing well enough to have the Giants bring Vereen back from injury very slowly. Right now, he's healthy enough to return to practice but the Giants are going to go with Jennings for now. The one fear here is that Vereen might cut into Jenning's production right when you want him the most.
John Mamula: With at least 17 touches/per game over the past 3 weeks, Jennings is earning consistent work. As it gets colder, the Giants are leaning on Jennings. I also like DeVante Parker. He's beginning to displace Jarvis Landry as the go-to receiver in Miami. Big-play potential.
Stephen Holloway: Parker is finally coming along, as is Tannehill. He also lost a touchdown on an official review.
Andrew Garda: Speaking of big-play threats, I'm on the DeSean Jackson train for the stretch. I don't think Reed goes this week and while Vernon Davis will see more action, we started to see the old Jackson against Dallas. I think that continues and we see more production from him, especially if Reed is out as I expect. As Washington tries to stretch the field a little, Jackson becomes the beneficiary.
I also like Lance Kendricks. He's getting more targets and he has a nice schedule coming up for his position.
Danny Tuccitto: Los Angeles has the ninth-easiest remaining schedule according to pass defense DVOA and the 10th-easiest specifically in the context of tight end targets. In addition to his efficiency-friendly schedule, Kendricks has the target volume to make the most of the opportunity: He's had at least 7 targets in 5 of his last 6 games.
Will Grant: As free agent TEs go at this time of year, Kendricks is a pretty fair option. With Jared Goff now under center, he's going to need a safety valve given the breathtaking lack of receiving options that the Rams have. Kendricks should see a few looks every week, and he should be a good option the rest of the season.
Mark Wimer: I'll opt for Jermaine Gresham as my choice at tight end among this list. The wide receiver situation in Arizona is getting dire outside of Larry Fitzgerald. I think Palmer (and coach Arians) is losing faith in J.J. Nelson and Michael Floyd. Coach Arians indicated after the game that they had tried to rectify Floyd's dropsies throughout the season, to no avail.
John Brown re-injured his troublesome hamstring last week. I think the surge of Jermaine Gresham is for real, and he may be an outstanding fantasy asset in TE-required leagues going forwards. Similar to the Barkley/Wilson situation, someone has to catch Palmer's passes in the final quarter of the season.
Matt Waldman: Name a rookie that didn't have a strong season that you believe in his development long-term
Stephen Holloway: Derrick Henry has not had a lot of opportunities, but he is coming around late in the season. He should continue to grow into the NFL. He has been much better as a receiver than expected with 9 catches on 11 targets and almost 10 ypc.
John Mamula: Josh Doctson was never able to get right after his Achilles' tendon injury during the offseason. Doctson came off PUP and played just 31 offensive snaps during the first two Redskins games. When healthy, Doctson has the talent to be the go-to receiver on this team. It may take 1-2 years, but his future is still bright in Washington. If he has a healthy offseason and training camp, he will be a value next season.
Will Grant: Jared Goff is the obvious answer here. The Rams brought him along slowly, and their season was in the trash before he even saw the field. He'll get an education the rest of the way, but with little expectations. However, if the Rams can get him an option or two who can catch the ball next season, his future looks pretty solid.
Mark Wimer: This is an interesting incidence of synchronicity as I am listening to "Roll the Bones" by Rush as I read this question and write my response. As many draftniks will attest, rookie production at the NFL level is highly variable, and some players that later become excellent are disasters as rookies (Brett Favre, anybody?). Some rookies that play well later become disasters (Robert Griffin III).
"Why does it happen? Because it happens. Roll the Bones."
Matt Waldman: Which guy are you in I Love You, Man?
Mark Wimer: What???
Matt Waldman: Another time...
Mark Wimer: Anyways, there is more to it than simple luck. One guy I'll point to this year is Vic Beasley Jr, who has vastly improved as a pass rusher at this level in part due to Atlanta bringing in Dwight Freeney, who has served as a veteran mentor to Beasley (20 tackles, seven assists, four sacks, two forced fumbles in all of 2015; 24 tackles, six assists, 9.5 sacks , and four forced fumbles this year so far). Going from four sacks to likely double-digit sacks by year's end is a great deal of improvement in one year.
A guy I like to bust out in 2017 is Austin Hooper (yes, I am being a homer talking about Falcons in this topic). He's learned from Jacob Tamme, and though his impact has been modest this year (22 targets for 17/257/2 receiving) he's positioned to move up the food chain from word go next year, and he'll benefit from the game 'slowing down' in year two of his career.
Andrew Luck: I don't know what it is about Minnesota and slow starting receivers, but Laquon Treadwell has a much better skillset than we've seen in the brief moments we've seen him. He's supposedly nursing a foot injury and the offense is such a mess nobody looks good anyway. Treadwell has great hands and an aggressive mentality, so down the road, I think whoever is under center is going to look for him a lot in the coming years.
Matt Waldman: Give me a rookie that had a strong year that you aren't sold on his long-term production.
John Mamula: There are not a lot of rookies that had a strong year, other than Ezekiel Elliott, who is in a class by himself. Will Fuller V comes to mind here. He started the season hot with two consecutive 100+ yard performances. Then cooled off for the majority of the season. Fuller seems like the type of boom/bust player that will frustrate fantasy players for years to come. Similar to Ted Ginn Jr Jr in Carolina.
Andrew Garda: As mentioned above, there aren't a lot of rookies performing well outside of Elliott. I disagree with Fuller and feel a lot of his issues are injury related and in part because of Brock Osweiler. I am concerned about Corey Coleman, though that is more about the quarterback than about him.
I do worry about Michael Thomas in New Orleans. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead IV are both good players and who knows how much longer Drew Brees stays there. Is there going to be enough love for all three receivers with or without Brees?
Matt Waldman: These are all compelling players with potential reasons for disappointment. While I love Thomas and I think he's more Michael Crabtree than Marques Colston, the length of Brees' career is a compelling question worth mulling. What leads me to feel good about Thomas regardless of Brees' potential retirement in the next 1-3 years, is Thomas' reputation for sticking to his new quarterbacks like a suckerfish to a shark until they are on the same page. Cardale Jones made this point on draft day about Thomas and Thomas lived up to that story to the letter.
The Ginn-Fuller comps are pretty good. Fuller has to learn how to use the correct hand position based on the location of the target. This is either a knowledge problem that is improvable (think Quincy Enunwa) or he's having difficulty tracking the ball (Jake Reed, Sammie Coates Jr, Ginn) and that's a tougher fix.
I'm not completely sold on Wendell Smallwood as the future of this Eagles ground game. I don't see a great creator when the holes aren't immediately there. Perhaps this comes with greater familiarity with the scheme, but I didn't see it at West Virginia, either.
Matt Waldman: Give me a player with 2-4 years of experience in the league that hasn't been a 16-game starter for his team that you still believe has a starter future.
Mark Wimer: The Packers don't hang on to their backup quarterbacks for nothing. He's being groomed for the future...whenever that happens.
Andrew Garda: I think Chicago's Kevin White has the capacity to be that guy if he can stay healthy. The quarterback situation in Chicago is, shall we say, volatile but White has the talent to succeed. If the team moves on from Alshon Jeffery, White could be huge.
Will Grant: Devante Parker has shown some positive movement these last couple weeks and is an interesting option in the new Miami offense. He got a slow start this season and may stumble a bit the rest of the way. However, he is a good candidate for that 'Year 3 breakout' that fantasy players are always looking for.
John Mamula: Martavis Bryant has been dominant when he has been on the field. Last season in 11 games, Bryant had 50 receptions for 765 yards and 6 TDs. In 2014, he had 8 TDs in only 10 games. If he can overcome his drug problem, he has the talent and the offensive system around him to shine in Pittsburgh next season.
Matt Waldman: Bryant is a creative answer and just fits within this scenario.
Stephen Holloway: Breshad Perriman is on the low end of that experience level and he still has an opportunity to fulfill his 1st round draft position. Steve Smith (37) should be in his final season and Mike Wallace (31) although playing well this year is not that young. As Andrew mentioned, Kevin White has played only four games over his two NFL seasons and still has a lot of potential, despite two tough injuries.
Matt Waldman: I like all of these players to some degree. Perriman has flashed this season. If he can become a good route runner, he'll be a terrific option with that speed because he'll actually begin to play to it. I still like Paul Richardson Jr. Jermaine Kearse won't be there forever and despite a small number of targets, Russell Wilson looks to him with greater frequency on third down and he's delivering.
Matt Waldman: Give our readers 2-3 pieces of advice for this time of year. If you already answered this question from a previous roundtable panel, tell us about a difficult decision you're facing with a current playoff contender and the options you're considering.
Danny Tuccitto: My biggest piece of advice is the old saying, "Dance with the one that brung ya." There are skill position players on your team that led you to the playoffs. I'm not just talking about no-brainer studs here; even RB2, WR3, FLEX, or TE counts. Do not bench these players. The reasons are twofold.
First, the dirty little statistical secret in fantasy analytics is that team matchups don't matter as much as you think. So say Jamison Crowder has been a catalyst for your late-season surge. Don't bench him in Week 14 just because DVOA says Philadelphia is the No. 2 pass defense and your bench has Steve Smith going against No. 27 New England.
Second, as Sigmund Bloom frequently points out, we "play" fantasy football, so it should mostly be about fun, positive emotions, etc. unless serious money— or professional bragging rights—is on the line. If you're second-guessing yourself or don't feel entirely comfortable when making a particular lineup change, just don't do it. If starting Smith over Crowder in Week 14 propels you to a win, the joy will last about a week. If it's the reason you lost, the misery will last an offseason.
Another piece of advice is that, although team matchups don't matter as much as you think, the weather matters a lot, but only in five specific ways as far as analytics can tell. Compelling research by Brian Burke has shown the following:
- Win percentage for dome teams drops considerably when playing on the road in temperatures at or below 40 degrees.
- Pass efficiency drops considerably in wind speeds at or above 15 miles per hour.
- Teams run the ball more often in wind speeds at or above 15 miles per hour.
- Accuracy on long field goals (i.e., 45 yards or more) drops considerably when kicking in temperatures at or below 30 degrees.
- From any given distance, teams attempt fewer field goals in wind speeds at or above 15 miles per hour.
My final piece of advice relates to my first one but only applies to those playing in leagues where rosters are locked when the regular season ends: During the last week of the regular season, sacrifice marginal, low-ceiling players at the skill positions in favor of kickers and defenses. Let's face it, your WR6 (or QB3 or RB5, etc.) is never going to see your starting lineup in the playoffs, especially if you're following, "dance with the one that brung ya."
But maybe you have Dustin Hopkins or Josh Lambo and notice that their Week 16 games are in Cleveland and Chicago, respectively. Don't hesitate to drop a low-ceiling skill position player at the end of your bench for a better option. Or maybe you have Arizona's defense or Carolina's defense and notice that, in Week 15, the former hosts New Orleans (No. 4 offense DVOA) or the latter visits Washington (No. 6 offense DVOA).
Don't hesitate to drop a low-ceiling skill position player at the end of your bench for, say, the Giants, who currently rank 12th in fantasy points and are hosting Detroit (i.e., a potential "dome at cold" plus "wins above 15 miles per hour" weather matchup).
Stephen Holloway: In dynasty leagues, determine if your team is likely not going to make the playoffs. If that is the case, seek trade partners to try to convert players that you are not sold on long-term for younger players with potential or next year rookie draft picks.
Some decent redraft teams that have had a difficult season due to having multiple injuries and are challenged sometimes make bad bench decisions trying to change their outcomes. If your roster remains solid, be patient and trust yourself.
John Mamula: For most season long leagues, you are not able to carry over free agent budget (FAB) dollars into the playoffs. If this is the final week that you can use your FAB dollars, make sure to utilize them by rounding out your team for the playoffs. Make sure you don't have any dead weight on your roster or anyone that you don't want to start if you are in a pinch.
Double-check your backups at key positions. Check out the matchups during the next 3-4 weeks for your defenses and kickers. I prefer to carry a 2nd defense or tight end rather than a 5th RB or WR that I will probably never use.
Will Grant: The waiver wire is your friend. You need to pay close attention it. There will be virtually nothing available on the waiver wire each week unless suddenly there is. A guy like Goff will suddenly get an opportunity to shine the rest of the way and become a solid fantasy option the rest of the way. Even if you don't need a QB, nabbing him prevents one of your opponents from getting him.
If your league requires a PK or DEF, be completely OK with picking up a new one each week via the WW. Unless you have a top defense like Arizona or Baltimore, you should consider these positions completely expendable the rest of the way, and focus on the current weekly match-up to decide which team to start.
The other guys in your league may laugh at you constantly dropping and adding defenses and kickers every week, but the extra few points each week can make a difference. By now most teams know who their strongest players are, and you won't see many blowouts anymore. So every extra point will help, and swapping out a PK or DEF can mean the difference.
Mark Wimer: Injuries happen. Have a plan/viable backups on your bench before you have to rush to the waiver wire in an emergency and one of your competitors bids up the options you want just to sap your available free agent funds.
Look out for extreme weather especially in venues noted for swirling winds (Soldier Field in Chicago; MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for example). Try to have a backup option from a domed stadium or a warm-weather home field. It's not always a guarantee, but you are at least giving yourself a higher probability of your backup playing in decent conditions.
Andrew Garda: As said above, don't ignore the waiver wire in the closing days, and equally important - don't ignore trade offers either if that is still an option for your league. No team is perfect, and you have to keep making adjustments.
Don't get cute, though. Make sure you stay with the guys who have played well for you and don't decide to take silly risks. Every point counts.