This is the week. This is the week where I don’t have 100 percent exposure to David Johnson. His price has finally reached the point of limited return. At $9,700, he ties Antonio Brown as the most expensive player this season (Brown cost that much back in Week 6 against Miami and scored 6.5 points). In fact, Johnson’s price is the most of any running back since Le'Veon Bell clocked in at $9,700 in Week 16 of the 2014 season against the Chiefs (he scored 13.7 points).
Fade Johnson completely? No. But this is a week where maybe he’s not required in every single lineup. There’s a couple of things to consider in this matchup as well. First of all, the Dolphins are no slouch when it comes to defending running backs. They rank in the middle of the pack in total yards per game, and they’ve allowed only seven touchdowns to the position all year—only four teams have allowed fewer than seven. But it’s David Johnson so that doesn’t matter. (And the Dolphins aren’t great defensively; they’re just not terrible like his opponent last week.)
What might matter is the weather. It’s early in the week, but as of this writing, it looks like there’s a great chance of rain and a lot of wind. Again, that’s not terrible for runners. However, if you consider that the Cardinals’ entire offense has been less than stellar down the stretch, and you put them on the road traveling east against a decent defense in crappy conditions, the picture starts to look less than appealing. The man has been outstanding this year. And I won’t blame anyone for making room for his nearly unbearable salary (which may level off his ownership, if you care). But perhaps this is the week to cool your exposure. Because at some point, he’s going to score under 15 points (it’s happened only twice this year). I hope that’s not the case, as I desperately need him in season-long playoffs which kickoff for many of us in Week 14. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see him look human against the Dolphins, and sink a lot of tournament rosters who had to go cheap elsewhere to afford his services.
Brock Osweiler - $6,500
There aren’t many must-plays at the quarterback position this week. Usually, at least one guy has a darling matchup that endangers our GPP potential if we fade him. Week 14 has no such obvious guy, which pushes me to the cheap options.
Osweiler is terrible. Let me lead with that. Under no circumstances would I recommend him if A) he wasn’t so cheap, B) didn’t have such a favorable matchup, and C) there weren’t so many question marks this week. But here we are, so let’s make the most of it.
He enters Week 14 ranked QB24 in FanDuel scoring. He has thrown 14 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and hasn’t topped over 270 yards in any game this season. So why would I recommend him as a contrarian play? It starts with playing the Colts, who are allowing the third-most FandDuel points to quarterbacks, and permitted 17.36 points to Osweiler in their last meeting. In fact, despite his current ranking, Osweiler has four games with at least 17 FanDuel points. He needs 19.5 to hit that elusive tournament value—which is entirely possible in a division game that will determine who is alone atop the AFC South. The Texans may choose to run the ball as much as possible, and his ceiling is capped anyway, but with a couple of long connections to DeAndre Hopkins, and a short connection to a tight end (a position he loves), it’s not unthinkable that Osweiler turns in at least 18 points. His salary gives us room to buy a couple of expensive running backs—without sacrificing wide receivers—and automatically gives us roster uniqueness in tournaments. It’s not safe, but he’s a worth GPP considerations.
Bryce Petty - $6,100
If you skipped my Osweiler section and ended up here, allow me to apologize. It’s a rough week. Look, Petty was bad in relief last Monday night against the Colts, who we mentioned as being a great target for quarterbacks. But he played one half, took a number of risky deep shots, tossed two interceptions, and still managed to turn in 7.6 FanDuel points. For the rest of the season, he’ll be looking to win a starting job somewhere. If he doesn’t perform well against the 49ers—a cupcake draw—he’ll have problems in 2017.
The 49ers have allowed 26 passing touchdowns already this season, which ties them for the second most. Colin Kaepernick was just embarrassed last week after he got benched in Chicago. You can bet his team will be out for blood and they can smell it in the water against a Jets’ squad that has likely given up. Petty, however, hasn’t given up. I imagine he’s thrilled to have this opportunity and should have no trouble navigating the 49ers’ burnable secondary. Give him a full week of practice with the starters and design the playbook to match his skillset, and he should at least put the Jets in a position to compete. This all assumes the coaches in New York are interested in competing. I’m guessing that they want to win football games, and I’m going to assume that Petty can turn the 7.6 points he scored in one of football last week into at least 16 points this week. That’s a dangerous assumption. But his price is almost too good to pass on given his matchup, even if we have no evidence to stand on given that he’s played exactly 91 snaps in his entire NFL career. And let’s not underestimate his floor as a guy that can take off and run if necessary. I’ll log a few GPP lineups with his forgiving salary and hope my studs at other positions can cover if he flops.
DeMarco Murray - $7,900
This is really just me hoping the crowd forgets about Murray after his bye week and that they see the Broncos as a defense to avoid. This is going to be a great test for the Titans’ offense, particularly for Marcus Mariota, who is facing the hardest secondary he’s ever seen in his professional career. Call it a hunch, but I doubt the coaches—who need a win to stay in the hunt—are going to ask him to throw it 45 times. So it makes sense to assume that Murray is going to have a busy day. The Broncos come into Week 14 allowing over 100 yards rushing per game—the fourth most of all teams, in fact. And even if they’ve held running backs out of the end zone, they’ve not faced many workhorse type backs outside of Melvin Gordon III.
And then there’s the matter of the Broncos’ quarterback situation. If Paxton Lynch is announced the starter again, it stands to reason that the Titans will control this game and have the benefit of clock-killing in the fourth quarter. But even if that doesn’t happen, Murray is a huge part of every game script given his abilities as a pass-catcher. This is an interesting week where we have Johnson, Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon III, and Murray all available to us on the main slate. Choosing the right elite running back will be huge. Murray is the only one with a sub-$8,000 salary and has fresh legs coming off of a bye week. Might as well take advantage of it.
Todd Gurley - $6,900
I’m going to list three reasons why Gurley should be on your roster this week and then we’re going to move on.
Reason No. 1: Both Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones are dealing with injuries. As of this writing (Thursday) neither have practiced. Sanu is looking doubtful and it’s clear that Jones is going to be limited—maybe even significantly so. That puts a lot of pressure on an offense that doesn’t have a ton of depth, which means the Rams, believe it or not, may actually win this game. They should at least compete. Which means they are going to run the ball a ton.
Reason No. 2: The Falcons defense is awful. They’ve now allowed 15 total touchdowns to running backs this season to go along with the fifth most total yards per game. Gurley should be able to tear into this front just like he did to several teams last year. And his salary gives us a lot of room to work with.
Reason No 3: Jared Goff is not awful. He may have struggled last week against the Patriots, but he has shown flashes that he might just turn into an NFL starter at some point. He at least proved he can deliver fantasy points against bad defenses (17.5 points against the Saints, on the road, in Week 12). So the Rams should be able to move the ball, which keeps the box a little less crowded for Gurley.
Ryan Mathews - $4,600
Remember last week when we all piled on Johnson because he had such a sweet matchup against one of the league’s worst run defenses? Welcome back Ryan Mathews. He gets that same defense at home in a game that the Eagles will likely try to control the time of possession, as well as workout exactly what it is that’s wrong with their offense (it’s the quarterback). One way or the other, we have to be a little concerned that Mathews won’t automatically just regain the lead-back role, but the Eagles sucked at running the ball in his absence, and not all of it is because they fell behind so often and so early. That’s certainly part of it, but Mathews is their best all-around running back and he has a great matchup against Washington, who have allowed the second most rushing touchdowns and the fourth most FanDuel points to the position this season. Did I mention he is near site minimum?
Here’s the thing: ownership among running backs is going to be rather flat this week with so many studs available (as mentioned above). So cutting against the grain isn’t all that difficult and maybe not even all that important. But Mathews will be under five percent owned and he has a great chance of exceeding tournament value. As always, most players listed in the space come with a lot of risk, meaning don’t dump these guys in 100 percent of lineups. Just consider them as you build unique rosters in cheap tournaments.
Rex Burkhead - $4,500
If not for Mathews, Burkhead, who is coming off of a 64-yard game against a tough defensive front, would be your punt play of the week. He’s somehow worked his way into a stable role in the absence of Giovani Bernard. That role, of course, could completely disappear if the Bengals slow-play this game against the Browns and Jeremy Hill reaps all the touchdowns. That possibility is what has kept Burkhead’s salary the site minimum. We need to consider the fact that the Browns have one of the worst defenses in the league and hemorrhage fantasy points to running backs. There may be enough to go around for both Hill and Burkhead, which means we could start both of them. I don’t particularly feel comfortable with that strategy, or even comfortable with plugging Burkhead into one of my two precious running back slots, but if he manages another 60 or so yards and happens to plunge in a touchdown, he could swing some tournaments.
His price, of course, is the biggest draw. You can build a pretty sweet lineup with a $4,500 running back. Obviously, he’s super risky. He fumbled late in last week’s game and there’s no telling how that might affect his future. However, the Browns are just bad enough that it could pay off. I like Mathews more, but Burkhead is on my radar.
Brandon Marshall - $7,200
Everyone is going to tout Robby Anderson as the “preseason hookup” for Petty, and maybe they’re right. Anderson was Petty’s favorite target as the two attempted to connect on three deep shots last Monday night (they did connect on one for a touchdown). But Marshall is the guy you want. Petty is going to lean on his veteran receiving option given the lack of a reliable tight end. This is not rocket science. This is playing to the strengths of your offense.
Or maybe this is me doubling down on my love for Petty this week by noting that he not only has as a deep threat BFF in Anderson, but he also has two monster wide-outs that provide rather large end zone targets for him (not to mention a couple of good pass-catching backs). Naturally, Marshall has the best hands of the group. He’s also the most expensive of the group. But I feel more comfortable with his floor and would even go as far as to say his ceiling is significantly higher. Either way, you know there’s a lot of risk involved with the Jets’ offense, so feel free to ignore me. But the matchup is fantastic and if Petty hooks up with a couple of touchdowns plus pads his stats with a few scrambles, we’ll be sitting pretty.
Kenny Britt - $6,900
The truth is, I like Gurley quite a bit this week. The Falcons’ run defense is terrible, as Spencer Ware proved again last week, and Gurley is due for a big game. But Britt is the safer call. Goff isn’t a great quarterback right now and he may never become one. But since he became the starter for the Rams, he has targeted Britt a team-high 23 times, converting 12 of them into 162 yards and two touchdowns (Britt came up just short of two touchdowns last week).
The Falcons’ secondary is giving up a 63 percent catch rate to wide receivers and come into Week 14 ranked ninth in FanDuel points allowed. Britt comes into Week 14 ranked 20th among receivers on the season, and 13th since Week 6. If his price were a bit cheaper I’d be more inclined to plug him into every lineup, and I imagine the crowd wouldn’t ignore him like I think they will this Sunday. Regardless, in a week where if you want to pay up for a pair of stud running backs, players in Britt’s price range are a must. That said, there are a few others I also like that fall in between $6,500 and $6,900, but Britt has the best matchup and should have relativity low ownership.
C.J. Fiedorowicz - $5,100
I don’t know how truly contrarian Fiedo is, but I do know that I need to stack Osweiler with someone. And given his propensity to lock onto tight ends, it makes sense to look at the guy that ranks 13th at the position on the season. The Colts are rather weak defensively just about everywhere. They’re especially vulnerable in the middle of the field where they’ve allowed the fourth most yards to tight ends and 74.7 percent completion percentage. The last time these teams met, Fiedorowicz caught all six of his targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Colts have been much better over the last there weeks, but I’m confident he’ll have a big game. I also like DeAndre Hopkins as a sneaky tournament play. Perhaps a Texans’ power stack is on the table?
Gary Barnidge - $4,500
I’m going to hedge this pick by stating that the weather could destroy all passing in Cleveland. Right now, projections are suggesting that we could see sustained winds upward of 20 miles per hour. That hurts the deep ball especially, but it’s not great for the short passing game either.
That said, the Bengals have given up the most yards and the third most touchdowns to tight ends on the season. Barnidge hasn’t done squat but this could be one of those wonderful “get right” games. I’m not sure if the reported return of Robert Griffin helps or hurts his prospects. Let’s just file it under the category of “welp, can’t hurt.” There aren’t a lot of plays this week south of $5k worth considering. Barnidge is a super risky pick himself, to be sure. But at least the matchup is right and you never know. This could be the one game the Browns win this season.
The Carolina Panthers ($4,400) have been vulnerable to the pass all season, and last week they gave up two huge runs in an embarrassing loss on the road. But things are bit different at home, especially facing the Chargers, whose offense is hit or miss. The Panthers are sacking opposing passers 6.9 percent of the time, which is the sixth highest rate in the league. In fact, their 35 sacks on the season is second to only the Broncos. The Chargers have done a fine job protecting the passer but still rank in the middle of the pack with 28 sacks permitted. I like the Panthers to not only win this game, but to also force Philip Rivers into making a few mistakes that turn into defensive scores.
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