The 2021 fantasy football season is winding down at an alarming rate. For most of you, the playoffs have already begun. If you’ve earned your spot to this point, you’ve probably done some good work. You probably made some good decisions on draft night and you probably had to make some tough lineup calls that you got right. It’s not easy getting to this point but it’s even harder to get the job done and finish your league on top. That’s why we’re here—to find those gems that could be the difference between you just being happy to be here in the playoff picture and winning your championship.
These are the 2021 fantasy football league-winners; players at each skill position that I have identified to be valuable on fantasy rosters between Weeks 15 and 17. If you see one of these names available in your league, consider picking them up before they rack up key points in the fantasy playoffs. And if you own any of these names, read my notes on when you could be intelligent starts. As usual, if you still have lineup dilemmas ahead of any of your remaining fantasy football matchups, I answer such questions on Twitter (@AhaanRungta).
2021 Fantasy Football Playoff League-Winners
Quarterback: Justin Fields (CHI)
Opponents: MIN, SEA, NYG
If you are streaming at quarterback instead of committing to a high-draft-capital big name, you want upside. You want to own a dude that can drop you 25 points via opportunity in the red zone against soft matchups. That’s exactly what rookie Justin Fields gives you in the remaining weeks of the fantasy season. While Fields has been far from consistent or even near the best rookie at his position this season, his fantasy value could be an immense statement of his athletic talent on the ground and through the air.
His next matchup is on Monday Night Football in Week 15, when he draws a Minnesota Vikings defense that gives up the fourth-most fantasy points per game and the ninth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks this season. The inconsistent Minnesota roster has seen plenty of game narratives but one common thread has been close games, as they seem to be involved in a nail-biter every week, whether it be blowing a lead or coming back from a deficit themselves.
Enter Justin Fields: a mobile quarterback who can move the chains on the ground and rack up multiple touchdowns with his arm, regardless of what the game script reads for the iffy Chicago Bears. Fields also leads all NFL quarterbacks this season in average depth of target, a dangerous thing for Minnesota’s secondary, who have given up the sixth-highest explosive pass play rate in the NFL in 2021.
— NFL (@NFL) November 9, 2021
To finish out the fantasy season, Fields then faces two defenses that are essentially expected to allow Fields to be as great as he can possibly be as a rookie.
In Week 16, it’s the messy situation in Seattle. The Seahawks rank #28 in the NFL in pass DVOA as a defense, have given up the most passing yards among all NFL defenses to quarterbacks, and rank #20 in the NFL in pass rush win rate as a team, providing little threat to Fields’ weakness to make quick decisions and stay away from turnovers.
In Week 17, it’s the good ol’ reliable porous Giants defense that ranks #27 in the NFL in rush DVOA as a defense, #30 in pass rush win rate as a team, and have given up the eighth-most passing touchdowns to quarterbacks.
If you are hurting at quarterback and Justin Fields (currently rostered in 78% of Fantrax leagues) is available, passing up on his ability to carry you in the playoffs is simply asking to fumble a possible championship away. Go get him.
Running Back: Rashaad Penny (SEA)
Opponents: LAR, CHI, DET
If you hadn’t already taken advantage of the media hype surrounding Rashaad Penny in Week 14, now is the time to make sure Penny is not available in your league. Regardless of format, running backs with this upside need to be considered as starts every week.
In Week 14, set a season-high in snap share with 57% of the offensive snaps. In those, he carried the ball 16 times for an astronomical 137 yards with 2 touchdowns. Granted, it was against the Houston Texans that have no interest in defending a run game. Still, Penny’s opportunity was noteworthy as no other player on the Seahawks logged more than 7 carries, which was accomplished by Alex Collins, who is now on the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
Pete Carroll on @710ESPNSeattle on Rashaad Penny: "Reminded us what it's like to have a home run hitter'' in the backfield.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) December 13, 2021
It has now been two straight weeks that Penny has led the Seahawks backfield across the board and Pete Carroll’s words of praise for the 25-year-old back should not go unnoticed. In Chris Carson’s absence for the remainder of the 2021 season, Penny’s athletic profile is certainly flashy enough to carry the fantasy-relevant touches for the Seattle run game. Per PlayerProfiler, Penny’s 40-yard dash and speed score both rank in the upper 12th percentile of NFL running backs.
Managers do have to be cautious playing Penny against a tough rushing defense in the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. If you have depth at running back, stay away from Penny’s concerning floor. However, stash the man and give him a shot with everything on the line as an RB2 with RB1-potential against the Bears and Lions, both of whom rank in the bottom 11 of NFL defenses per rush DVOA and bottom 13 of fantasy defenses against running backs. Penny is now rostered in 86% of Fantrax leagues but that number is going to rise even more after his role becomes further fine-tuned. Don’t be late to the party—get Penny on those rosters before he goes crazy during championship-winning hours.
Running Back: Corey Clement (DAL)
Opponents: NYG, WAS, ARI
Speaking of true stashes, brainstorming free agent pickups hasn’t been more crucial than it is now. With injuries and COVID-19 slapping the NFL all over the face, you don’t have a minute to waste using roster spots on players that pose “okay” potential; you want upside ready on your bench so that if a player has to step in a starting role on your team, you are hopeful for a real boom performance. That’s exactly what Corey Clement can do in the remaining days of the 2021 season.
All season long, the Cowboys have been dealing with a platoon situation between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. While Elliott gets fantasy prevalence due to talent and contract, Pollard has been electric in his own right and has aided Elliott into being one of the few fantasy first-round talents to not deal with prolonged injury issues this season. Since Week 1, Elliott has not had a single game with at least 80% of the offensive snap share and since Week 8, he hasn’t surpassed 70%.
Now, Pollard is dealing with a rather alarming injury that was initially tagged as a partially torn plantar fascia. After missing Week 14 due to injury-nursing, he is in line to return in Week 15 but is likely a fantasy trap for deep league managers who are considering giving him a start. The Cowboys could very well play it cautious with Pollard and still run into the danger of him missing time in Weeks 16 or 17.
The only other Cowboys backup to Ezekiel Elliott is Corey Clement, who has scored 3 of his 7 career #NFL regular season TDs against the Giants.
The Cowboys face the Giants Week 15. Since Week 6 of last season, Elliott has taken at least 80% of the DAL offensive snaps just ONCE. https://t.co/0NkA4liOvc
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 9, 2021
Enter Corey Clement, one of the more underrated handcuffs remaining. Regardless of Pollard’s true health situation, it is clear that the new backup in Clement will be at least in part active due to Dallas’ lack of inclination to play Elliott as a pure workhorse back. In Week 15 with Pollard out, Clement participated in 36% of the offensive snaps and got 13 carries, his most since Week 3 of 2018. He produced 44 yards and was just about as active in the red zone as Elliott was.
|Red zone rushing||Red zone receiving|
|Ezekiel Elliott||1 carry, 5 yards, 0 touchdowns||0 catches (3 targets), 0 touchdowns|
|Corey Clement||2 carries, 3 yards, 0 touchdowns||1 catch (1 target), 2 yards, 0 touchdowns|
Table. Dallas Cowboys running backs in the red zone, Week 14 vs. Washington Football Team.
With a couple of favorable defensive matchups on the cusp of Dallas’ schedule as well, Clement’s 5% roster rate in Fantrax leagues is simply too low for someone that could be fantasy-relevant with one snap of a finger.
Wide Receiver: Jamison Crowder (NYJ)
Opponents: MIA, JAX, TB
There’s no shame in scrambling at wide receiver. Health can affect any position and if you’re in the fantasy playoffs, you clearly did some things right this season. Don’t fumble it now by passing up on reliable receivers, especially if you are playing in PPR formats. The veteran wide receiver Jamison Crowder has dealt with injury issues recently, keeping him off the field and therefore away from the center of fantasy football discussions. But it’s not about what he did for you earlier this year—it’s what he can do now.
Currently, it’s not Crowder that is having issues with availability, it’s his teammates. Rookie running back Michael Carter and veteran running back Tevin Coleman are making comebacks in Week 15 but their usages are reportedly suspect. Standout rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore ranked as the overall PPR WR3 from Weeks 7 to 13 but he is now sidelined with an injury and COVID-19 protocols and could legitimately not come back for the remainder of the fantasy season.
The Jets are likely going to be playing from behind in all three games going forward and someone has to catch passes from 2-time Pepsi Rookie of the Month Zach Wilson. Set to face three mediocre fantasy defenses against wide receivers, despite putting out some impressive cornerback names like Xavien Howard (Miami) and Jamel Dean (Tampa Bay), how about slot machine Jamison Crowder to work the air game for the Jets?
Weeks 15-16 last season: #FantasyFootball PPR WR7.
Weeks 15-16 this season: Facing MIA, JAX (both below-average fantasy defenses vs. WR on the season).
He goes by Jamison Crowder. 👀🍿pic.twitter.com/tgyczK49ub
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 19, 2021
Crowder’s 69.9% rate of snaps played in the slot ranks #14 in the NFL for a team that ranks #2 in the NFL this season in pass play percentage. The volume is clearly going to be there and for Crowder to be a serious threat to start in your lineup, all he needs is to continue getting scoring opportunities. How about 12 red zone targets on the season to lead the team? That’s certainly an impressive profile for someone who is still rostered in only 74% of Fantrax leagues. Go get that FLEX spot taken care of via the former Duke Blue Devil.
Wide Receiver: Andy Isabella (ARI)
Opponents: DET, IND, DAL
This is a deep dig—one that shouldn’t be a first resort unless you are in a deep league. What ever happened to 2019 second-rounder Andy Isabella? After scoring an 88-yard touchdown in his rookie season, he was an inconsistent commodity for the Arizona Cardinals but sprinkled in a 2-touchdown game in Week 3 of his sophomore season and ever since then—he’s been a non-factor in the fantasy game. In 2021, he has played offensive snaps in only one game and he did not draw a target in that contest.
So why do I care about him in the fantasy playoffs? A potential role shift with DeAndre Hopkins done for the season. While Antoine Wesley is currently advertised to be the wide receiver that’ll see legitimate action with Hopkins out, he still has to contend with a volume share with A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and a little bit of Rondale Moore.
Where Isabella stands out is his ability to rattle off the huge play. In Week 15 and 17, the Cardinals offense will face the Lions and Cowboys, respectively, both of whom rank among the NFL’s worst five defenses in terms of allowing explosive pass plays.
Kyler Murray ranks #7 among #NFL starting QBs in aDOT. His 19 passes of 30+ air yards ranks #3.
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 15, 2021
Isabella can’t replace Hopkins but very few can. He won’t even be a PPR glitch since he won’t get that many targets. But in big-roster leagues where you need a pure-upside play, there isn’t any harm in using a free roster spot on someone who could have a role in Week 15. Isabella is rostered in 4% of Fantrax leagues. Get ahead of the game and take a shot on picking him up for the bench to see if head coach Kliff Kingsbury has interest in getting him involved.
Tight End: Hunter Henry (NE)
Opponents: BUF, JAX
I warned you about Hunter Henry in Week 15 via the week’s loves & hates column and my bold prediction. If he was available in your league, whoever saw the Henry praise and started him at tight end is already in good position to win their fantasy football matchup this week by picking up a multi-touchdown performance at an otherwise tumultuous position in fantasy football.
Spoiler alert at my #FantasyFootball TE Love of the Week? Yes please. 👀💪
Notable Week 15 FanDuel prices at the moment 👇
♦️ Hunter Henry antime TD: +210
♦️ Hunter Henry 2+ TDs: +1900
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 16, 2021
The message is simple—if the Patriots ever get in the red zone, Henry is their top choice to throw the ball to. The Bills are beaten up on defense and have already suffered a huge loss of Tre’Davious White for the season, meaning the Patriots will absolutely find themselves in the red zone, probably more often than they did in a weather-inflicted Week 13.
To finish out the season, the Jaguars rank #31 in the NFL in pass DVOA as a defense and around middle-of-the-pack against tight ends this season. Henry devours red-zone targets and touchdown potential wins you fantasy games. He is rostered in 79% of Fantrax leagues at the moment and that number is simply too low headed into championship hours of the 2021 season.
Tight End: Cameron Brate (TB)
Opponents: NO, CAR, NYJ
On the season, no tight end has more red-zone targets (17) than Cameron Brate. That’s right, not Mark Andrews, not Travis Kelce, not any other top fantasy tight ends. Of course, Brate isn’t converting these targets into elite fantasy production so far. He has 9 receptions on those targets for 2 touchdowns and is the PPR TE34 on the season. But with Antonio Brown out with a suspension and fellow tight end O.J. Howard essentially fantasy-irrelevant, there’s absolutely no reason Brate should be ignored if available in your league.
Streaming at tight end is simply a matter of picking out upside and hoping for the best, but Brate definitely has that against matchups like the Panthers and Jets (both subpar against tight ends) and he will be playing at least one of those without Brown in the Buccaneers pass-catching lineup. Brate is rostered in 10% of Fantrax leagues at the moment; if you are undecided at tight end due to injuries or lack of roster depth at the position in Week 15, I’d give him the nod.
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