1) Isaiah McKenzie is a worthy championship week starter.
Just writing that sentence feels weird, but I truly believe that McKenzie should be in most if not all starting lineups this week. With Cole Beasley out for Week 16, McKenzie racked up a monster 11/125/1 line (29 percent target share) despite facing a very tough Patriots secondary. With Beasley also set to miss Week 17’s game against the lowly Atlanta Falcons, McKenzie’s ceiling is sky-high, but let’s dig a little deeper to examine why that is the case. Looking at McKenzie’s profile, he’s a small (5-foot-7) but ultra-quick (4.42 40-yard dash, 93rd percentile agility score) slot receiver who hasn’t produced much on a full-season basis in the NFL. However, it’s clear that he can play when given the chance, as he had another huge game (6/65/2) against a tough Miami secondary back in Week 16 of the 2020 season when Cole Beasley was absent. The Falcons are anything but a tough matchup this week, as they’ve allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts in 2021 and they allowed fellow slot receivers Chris Godwin and Amon Ra St. Brown to score 30.2 and 26 PPR points respectively in recent games. To summarize, we have a player with a history of elite production in his current situation who also has one of the best possible matchups this week, so I’m ranking McKenzie as a strong WR3 despite the fact that he’s ranked as a high-end WR5 by Fantasy Pros’ expert consensus.
2) Surprise, it’s Trey Lance time again (maybe).
The fantasy community as a whole expected Trey Lance to take over as the 49ers’ starting quarterback sometime around midseason this year, but to date, he’s started just one game (14.6 fantasy points against ARI in Week 5). That’s likely to change this week, as Jimmy Garappolo suffered bone and ligament damage to his throwing thumb last week. The rhetoric coming out of San Fransico’s camp is that Jimmy G could play, but that would be fairly shocking given the injury and it seems like more of a gameplan diversion tactic than anything else. Lance is an absolutely dynamic runner as he proved by rushing for over 1000 yards at North Dakota State and 89 yards in his only NFL start this season. It’s also worth noting that he passed for two touchdowns in second-half relief duty against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4. Against a very poor Texans defense in Week 17, Lance’s upside is off the charts. In my mind, a conservative passing projection is something like 180 yards and a 1:1 TD/INT (11 fantasy points) while a fair rushing projection is around 60 yards and 0.5 touchdowns (nine fantasy points). Essentially, Lance should be conservatively projected to score like a QB1 with major upside beyond that considering his skillset and the matchup. If you are worried about the risk in a championship game, don’t be, unless the alternative is a locked-in QB1 that is also on your roster.
3) Trust Rashaad Penny to help bring home a title.
Rashaad Penny went from fantasy darling after Week 14 to a source of anger after a poor Week 15, and now fantasy managers everywhere don’t know what to think after he had another excellent game in Week 16. Penny’s ability has never been in question (career 5.2 YPC), rather it’s the utilization that has fantasy championship teams debating whether or not to start him this week. If we look at the Week 15 disappointment closer, it was a negative script game in which Seattle lost 20-10 to the Rams. As a result, Penny played on just 42 percent of the snaps while managing just 11 touches, whereas DeeJay Dallas played on 58 percent of snaps while matching Penny in touches. Penny is not the preferred passing-down back, and that’s why he struggled in that game while smashing in Week 14 and Week 16 games where Seattle either led throughout or the game was extremely close. This week against Detroit, Seattle is not only a clear favorite, but the Lions also haven’t stopped the run all year long (4.4 YPC and seventh-most RB PPR points allowed), so I would start Penny as a confident RB2, even over perceived “safer” options.
4) Don’t forget about Elijah Moore.
Elijah Moore (Quad/Covid list) *should* be back for this week’s game to face the Buccaneers, but he’s still on waiver wires everywhere because nothing has been confirmed. Moore was lighting the world on fire before going on the shelf after Week 13, even with Zach Wilson throwing passes to him. In fact, the rookie stud averaged a ridiculous 20 PPR points per game across Weeks 9-13 before getting injured, so he was indisputably elite. It’s not every day that you can potentially add a legit WR2 free of charge, so it’s at least worth a look. Oh, and Moore is also a superb Draftkings play at just $5200 if he suits up this week.
5) Dare Ogunbowale is the perfect “emergency” running back play this week.
Ogunbowale is the next man up after James Robinson sadly tore his Achilles last week, and it’s clear that he’s going to carry the load. While playing 82 percent of the snaps last week, Ogunbowale racked up 19 touches, two catches, 72 total yards, and a touchdown en route to 15.2 PPR points against the Jets in a friendly matchup. Another friendly matchup awaits this week against a Patriots team that has funneled fantasy points to opposing running backs all year long, so a similar result is very attainable. Ogunbowale’s appeal is that he can play on all downs, so even though he’s an average talent at best, he’s going to touch the ball 15-20+ times while catching passes in a quality matchup, making him a borderline RB2/3. Fantasy managers in a pinch could do a lot worse, particularly with all of the injuries and underperformers at the running back position.
6) Michael Carter’s Week 16 utilization spike went under the radar.
Carter had an excellent game in Week 16, rushing for 118 yards against the Jaguars, but it amounted to just 14.4 PPR points because he didn’t do a ton as a receiver and couldn’t find the end zone. More importantly, his underlying metrics spiked across the board, as he set a season-high in snap rate (74 percent) and ran 75 percent of the team running back routes. That second point is particularly important because the Jets match up with a Buccaneers defense in Week 17 that tends to bleed receiving points to running backs. Tampa Bay ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed, but they’ve allowed the fifth-most receptions and 13th-most receiving yards to opposing running backs. Look for Carter’s snap count to potentially rise into the 80 percent-plus range this week while Tevin Coleman takes a backseat.
7) Josh Palmer is still a quality Week 17 play even with Jaylen Guyton active.
It’s understandable to be hesitant about starting Palmer in a tough matchup against the Broncos with fellow outside receiver Jaylen Guyton off the Covid list, but Guyton doesn’t impact him as much as one might think. Palmer, not Guyton, is the one-for-one replacement for Mike Williams as a big athletic wide receiver who can win at different levels of the field. Guyton by contrast is strictly a deep ball/clearout specialist. The numbers tell the story, as Palmer is averaging 1.4 targets per route run compared to just 1.1 for Guyton (h/t to Ben Gretch and his Stealing Signals statistics on Rotoviz), and Palmer’s TPRR is negatively skewed overall because most of his routes were run when he was in an ancillary role earlier on when everyone was healthy. In the two games Palmer has played with either Keenan Allen or Mike Williams out this season he’s averaged 16.5 PPR points per game, so even against a tough Denver secondary, he demands consideration as a high-end WR4, especially in deeper formats and large field DFS tournaments.
8) Don’t be afraid of less sexy running back plays this week.
Specifically, I’m referring to Darrel Williams and Boston Scott, each of whom projects to lead their team’s backfield this week due to injuries suffered by their teammates. Williams plays on all three downs and Andy Reid trusts him, hence his 17.8 PPR PPG average in Weeks 6-10 while Clyde Edwards-Helaire was sidelined earlier this season — Williams can be trusted as a low-end RB2 this week. Boston Scott is small and not particularly fast, but Nick Sirianni trusts him and he’s averaging 4.5 YPC this season to go along with five games of 9.9-18 PPR points this season despite never operating as the lead back. Scott should be considered a solid RB2 this week if Jordan Howard (questionable) joins Miles Sanders (out) on the inactive list, and he has low-end RB3 utility even if Howard plays due to his pass-catching role.
9) Contextualize matchup rankings instead of digesting them blindly.
I’ve seen quite a few people lamenting passing game assets facing the Texans and the Jets as of late, so I felt a need to address this phenomenon. If you look and see that these teams are a “below average matchup” for players at those positions, that simply doesn’t tell the full story. The reason that those teams have allowed a respectable amount of fantasy points to those positions is volume. Both teams have been losing all year long, and subsequently, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in pass attempts faced. Now, that matters because you can’t project volume to be there in spades, but at the same time, game scripts are unpredictable, and only in outlier situations should we really feel confident that pass volume is going to plummet in a blowout. Unless your fantasy player is on a very good team that is a 10+ point favorite, facing a team like that shouldn’t be the reason you bench them and/or fade them in DFS, etc. There are other examples, but if you find yourself questioning a matchup ranking that doesn’t quite make sense, try to dig deeper and you may realize that there’s nothing to be scared of after all.
10) Take some time to reflect on your fantasy season, and take notes.
Week 17 marks fantasy football championship week in almost all leagues, so whether you win, lose, or didn’t make it that far, everyone can reflect on the season that was next week. Personally, I learned many years ago to write down as many things about my season as possible right after it ends. When the wounds are fresh, it’s easy to remember the mistakes you made, but when draft season approaches seven months later, you might repeat them again if you don’t make note of them. For instance, after having my running back depth predictably decimated many years ago, I wrote down “fill the end of bench with only running backs,” and that adjustment has saved me many times since. You can also make note of things you did well to ensure that you replicate them again next season. Whatever is on your mind, just make sure that you take it with you so that you can be the best fantasy manager you can be going forward. It sounds ridiculous, but I promise that you’ll thank yourself later.