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10 Thoughts: Week 16 Edition

A league-winning wide receiver back in action, surging running backs, analyzing how quarterbacks score fantasy points, and much more.

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Fantasy Football - Antonio Brown

1) Antonio Brown is about to go nuclear.
Regardless of what you may think of Antonio Brown off of the field, he’s primed to be a league-winning fantasy receiver with the fantasy football playoffs in full swing. After missing nine weeks due to a combination of an ankle injury and a suspension for faking a vaccination card, Brown returns to find himself the clear alpha in Tampa Bay’s passing game with both Mike Evans (hamstring strain) and Chris Godwin (torn ACL) out for Week 16. If you can remember, Brown averaged an elite 19.1 PPR points per game early this year despite running far fewer routes than Evans and Godwin in every game. To that point, among all NFL receivers with 30+ targets this season, Brown ranks second in yards per route run (2.82) behind only Cooper Kupp. We’re about to find out what happens when you combine that ridiculous efficiency with bankable volume, and the results should prove to be spectacular — I’m viewing Brown like a high-end WR2 right away.

2) Duke Johnson injected much-needed life into the Miami running game, and he’s not going away.
To the dismay of many Myles Gaskin fantasy football managers, Duke Johnson surprisingly operated as the lead back for the Dolphins in Week 15, totaling a monster 22/107/2 rushing line to go along with a 20-yard reception. Johnson also played on 58 percent of the snaps while leading Miami running backs in routes run (nine) in a legitimately impressive performance that also passed the eye test. Johnson posted a 76.7 PFF rushing grade in Week 15; for comparison, Myles Gaskin has done that just once all season long (min. 10 carries) while averaging a brutal 3.5 yards per carry. The word around town is that coaches weren’t happy with Gaskin’s conditioning level post-Covid, and the team immediately signed Johnson to the active roster following the game, an indication that they believe in what they saw. There’s always uncertainty reading between the lines, but Johnson seems to have earned the right to be the No. 1 back considering Gaskin’s lack of production as a rusher all season long. The fact that Johnson is a proven pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield also bodes well for his chances of seeing a lucrative three-down role, so if you’re desperate for running back production down the stretch he should provide RB3 value with upside for a little more.

3) Craig Reynolds has been a true revelation.
Nobody knew who Craig Reynolds was before he burst onto the scene in Week 14, but he’s changed that faster than anyone thought possible. Reynolds, an undrafted back out of Kutztown college in Pennsylvania, has compiled a combined 37/195/0 rushing line (5.3 YPC) to go along with three catches for 21 yards since getting his shot two weeks ago. It’s not like those numbers have come in cakewalk matchups either, as he’s shredded the Broncos (16th in rushing yards allowed) and the Cardinals (13th most rushing yards allowed) in consecutive games. The eye test is actually even better than the numbers, believe it or not, as Reynolds’ one-cut style and blend of suddenness, straight-line speed, and power at 5-foot-11 215 pounds has been a handful for defenders. To quantify the eye test (oxymoron, I know), Reynolds has a higher PFF grade than any other qualified NFL running back since Week 14 (88.4), and the next closest back, Javonte Williams, isn’t all that close at 83.1. Simply put, Reynolds has come out of nowhere and dominated at the NFL level. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around how he didn’t get a shot earlier, but he’s here now, and he needs to be viewed as a low-end RB2 immediately with two unimposing matchups in Atlanta and Seattle left on the schedule.

4) Ronald Jones is an RB2 in wake of Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury.
Jones has been one of the more polarizing fantasy football assets in the NFL among the community in recent years, but it’s time to throw biases out the window and assess the situation he finds himself in. With Leonard Fournette looking at a possible 2-3 week absence, Jones will slot in as the primary early-down option behind an elite offensive line on a team that projects to run more with their receiving core decimated. There’s no denying that Rojo struggles to catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s actually been a very efficient rusher when given opportunities. Last season, Jones averaged an elite 5.1 yards per carry and he’s not far behind this year at 4.7 due to the aforementioned offensive line play and his unique blend of speed and power. If you’re not convinced (I know RB2 feels like a strong valuation) note that Jones finished as the weekly RB14, RB4, and RB4 again last season in the three games where Fournette was either out or limited to less than 10 carries. There is risk because Bruce Arians loves to bench Jones over small mistakes, but the reward outweighs it, as he’s the only capable early-down runner on the roster.

5) Devin Singletary is separating from the pack.
The Buffalo Bills running back position had been unpredictable and far from profitable fantasy-wise dating back to 2020, until Week 14 happened. Starting in Week 14, the Bills made Zack Moss inactive and decided to make Devin Singletary a true lead back. In Week 14 Singletary piled up 89 total yards and six catches on just 10 touches while playing 82 percent of the snaps. In Week 15, he saw his snap share skyrocket up to 93 percent as he compiled 96 all-purpose yards, 23 touches, and a touchdown against the Panthers. To recap, Singletary is averaging 92.5 scrimmage yards, 3.5 catches, and 15.8 PPR points per game since the team committed to him as their RB1. Looking at his remaining schedule, he gets the Patriots (13th most PPR points allowed to RB’s) and the Falcons (eighth-most PPR points allowed to RB’s), so there’s a lot going his way as the fantasy football playoffs unfold. Perhaps the most underrated running back asset in all of fantasy football right now, Singletary warrants borderline RB2/3 valuation going forward.

6) Russell Gage has evolved into a dependable WR3.
I’ll be the first to say that I was never a believer in Russell Gage. In fact, I even thought he was a bad football player up until recently, but I’ve since changed my stance on that. In his last four games, Gage has gone for 6/62/1, 11/130/0, 4/64/0, and 8/91/1 while becoming the clear No. 1 receiving option for the Atlanta Falcons. It’s easy to say that somebody has to produce, but Gage has looked great on tape, even adding contested catches to his bag as of late. Dating back to Week 12, Gage’s 30 percent target share is tied for ninth-highest in the NFL, his 29 receptions rank fifth, and his 348 receiving yards rank seventh. It’s hard to understate how impressive Gage’s role is right now, and it’s time to set aside prior biases and recognize that this is a WR3 combining average efficiency (at the very least) with elite volume.

7) Tyler Johnson is in a position to thrive.
Tyler Johnson hasn’t done much this season as the No. 3/4 receiver for the Buccaneers, but that’s about to change. Johnson has proven that he’s not capable of succeeding consistently as an outside receiver at the NFL level, but Chris Godwin’s injury changes everything. With Godwin (ACL) out for the season, Johnson is highly likely to be the primary slot receiver going forward, and the Tampa Bay slot receiver role is as good as it gets. The team not only ranks first in the NFL in pass rate, but Tom Brady has targeted the slot relentlessly throughout his entire career, so it was no surprise to see Johnson lead the team in targets (7) last week despite not playing a full game. Situation aside, Johnson was a solid prospect coming out of Minnesota, and his production there was off the charts. A 4.70-second 40-yard dash resulted in him falling into the fifth round, but as we’ve seen many times, NFL receivers don’t need straight-line speed to win in the slot the same way that they do on the outside. All of this is to say that I’m taking a comfortably above-market stance on Johnson as a solid WR4 with WR3 upside the rest of the way.

8) Justin Jackson should be a priority add in all formats.
Amidst the flurry of news this week, one player seems to have gone under the radar, and his name is Justin Jackson. Last week Jackson racked up 99 all-purpose yards and a touchdown on just 54 percent of snaps and 14 touches while Austin Ekeler (ankle) mixed in. Ekeler was recently placed on the Covid list, however, and there’s a very decent chance that he’s out for Week 16. In that event, Jackson would take over as the clear No. 1 back in the very explosive Chargers offense. It’s potentially a superb spot for him to be in no matter what, but because he matches up with the Texans in Week 16, it really doesn’t get much better. Houston is allowing a whopping 4.86 yards per carry (second-most in the NFL) to opposing running backs, and Jackson should have plenty of chances to carry the ball when the Bolts inevitably build a sizeable lead. If you missed out on the more popular early week pickups, Jackson is the definition of a gem in the rough.

9) Look at two specific factors when targeting under-the-radar fantasy quarterbacks.
It’s always ideal to have a clear-cut stud QB1 on your roster, but waiting on a quarterback is always a viable option in drafts, and even if you do draft one early, injuries can strike at any time. If you end up struggling to produce fantasy points from the QB position at some point, look to stream or consistently start quarterbacks who A) can pile up rushing yards and/or B) have elite weapons. Non-superstar QB’s need to have one of those factors in their favor to produce fantasy points, if not both. Essentially, quarterbacks with average overall talent need to compensate for that with rushing points, or they need their stud teammates to make plays that others wouldn’t. As we’ve seen recently, Tyler Huntley (both), Justin Fields (rushing production), and Jimmy Garappolo (elite weapons) have all had varying degrees of success and top twelve weeks based on those factors. As an example, as soon as it became clear over the weekend that Tyler Huntley would likely be the guy for Baltimore, I added and started him in two playoff matchups (over Derek Carr and Tua Tagovailoa) because he’s mobile and he throws to talented pass catchers. It clearly worked out well, and I don’t say that to brag, it’s just a great example of how you can and should trust relatively unknown quarterbacks who have the two most important factors in their favor. Of course, this also applies to drafting quarterbacks prior to the season if you decide to wait on the position. 

10) There is still hope for Brandon Aiyuk.
There’s no denying it — Brandon Aiyuk’s season has been a roller coaster. The former Arizona State superstar started the season in a reduced role, got out of the doghouse, and recently thrived for a period of time before plateauing amidst inconsistent results. However, putting the past aside, Aiyuk has a couple of things going his way at the most important time. First, with Elijah Mitchell (knee) still out at least one more week, Deebo Samuel has transitioned to lining up primarily in the backfield, making Aiyuk the offense’s top true receiver. Additionally, Aiyuk’s schedule couldn’t be much better, as he faces off against the Titans (best possible WR matchup) and the Texans (15th best matchup despite facing low pass volume). Look for Aiyuk to finish the season strong as a WR3 with major big-play upside and paths to very high target shares.

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