Welcome back to my Fantasy Football Weekly Loves & Hates.
In this series, we identify the best and worst value plays at each skill position for fantasy football purposes. We take into account matchups, game scripts, advanced statistics, and any other relevant news. This won’t be your spot for trying to rank the top players at each position or suggesting deep waiver wire digs every week. Rather, whether you are playing DFS or season-long formats, your start/bench/cut decisions can be informed based on the players that stand out the most at each position—the ones that could go off (loves) and the ones that could disappoint and lose you a matchup (hates).
We will review the previous week’s picks and grade our performance before giving out picks for the upcoming week. I firmly believe that the most important part of the process of winning is to evaluate your winning and losing decisions. We’ll do exactly that in our evaluations of the previous week’s picks.
Week 14 Review
My Week 14 loves and hates can be viewed here. Here are self-evaluations of those picks, with grades for me in parentheses.
My love of the week at quarterback was an attempt at some ceiling off the waiver wire in rookie Zach Wilson. Facing a secondary that has struggled mightily against big plays through the air, Wilson was able to connect on only 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards. He also factored in 33 yards on the ground but all that was for very little fantasy value despite 0 turnovers since he did not record a touchdown. Without Corey Davis and Elijah Moore around to catch passes, the Jets never found the end zone and Wilson finished as the QB24 of Week 14. Wilson couldn’t quite clear the expectations we needed him to as a streamer.
Meanwhile, my hate pick of the week was a more well-versed name in fantasy football lineups; the former MVP Matt Ryan has been nowhere near his fantasy relevance from the beginning of the year when he was racking up multi-touchdown games aplenty. Facing a mismatch of a Carolina Panthers defense against his feeble offensive line, I felt it was safe to leave him off all starting lineups. Indeed, while he completed a decent 67.9% of his passes in a tight game, it was only for 190 yards and he threw for only one touchdown to the returning tight end Hayden Hurst. Ryan finished as the QB23 of Week 14.
Running Back (A+)
Coming into Week 14, Saquon Barkley’s name was one that had been bugging fantasy managers since draft night. Despite being drafted as a top ten running back, he has yet again dealt with injuries and a lack of consistent production when on the field. He was the RB39 in PPR scoring and many were questioning whether they can really start him in a must-win game for fantasy seasons. I made the call for you: Barkley was going to be an easy start with the opportunity and matchup in line for him. Indeed, he put up his best fantasy performance since Week 4, despite playing only 55% of the snaps in a blowout. Barkley notched 16 carries for 64 yards and 3 receptions for 31 yards, including a garbage time touchdown. He was the PPR RB11 of Week 14 and nearly made Lauren look like a psychic with her Bold Prediction of the Week.
— NFL (@NFL) December 12, 2021
On the other hand, my running back hate of the week was a word of precaution in playing the fantasy superstar Joe Mixon. In many leagues, you had to start Mixon if you had no sure-fire depth at running back. However, his floor was evident and in weekly formats, he was a very easy situation to avoid given that he was projected to be one of the best fantasy performers at the running back position. Instead, everything I feared about his situation came to the forefront. His 60% offensive snap share was his lowest in a fully healthy game this season. His 18 carries was just below his season-average and resulted in a mundane 58 yards. His two targets only resulted in two receptions for 10 yards. Finally, his streak of touchdown-scoring finally came to a close as anticipated and he finished outside the top 30 PPR running backs in Week 14.
Wide Receiver (B-)
The last couple of weeks have been a little rough picking wide receivers, but this week, we seem to have somewhat righted the ship. My love of the week was Brandon Aiyuk, another name who has frustrated fantasy managers often this season. Those who drafted Aiyuk had high hopes that he would be an integral part of the 49ers offense that run a solid offense established by the run. Instead, he was seldom used, taking a back seat in pass-catching to Deebo Samuel and, when healthy, George Kittle.
#FTTB red zone targets since Week 8 ⬇️
🌉 George Kittle: 4
🌉 Jauan Jennings: 3
🌉 Brandon Aiyuk: 3
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 11, 2021
Against the Seahawks in Week 14, I was expecting his usage to be more prominent, with the trends suggesting that it would be silly to not get that kind of player involved in that matchup. With Kittle’s alpha energy being the #1 threat on offense against Seattle’s poor pass defense, Aiyuk drew a season-high 11 targets, caught 6 passes for 62 yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown to make him the PPR WR12 of Week 14, fully justifying the move for fantasy managers who gave him a shot to start to win them a key game.
On the other hand, my hate of the week was the veteran standout Odell Beckham Jr. In what I expected to be a tight Monday Night Football divisional matchup, I thought Cooper Kupp would assert his dominance early. I was right. I thought Van Jefferson would draw some softer matchups and be prominent in the pass game. I was right. Unfortunately, I also thought the run game would be very effective against Arizona’s mediocre defense by rush DVOA and I expect a bit of red zone involvement from tight end Tyler Higbee, who was ruled out due to the COVID-19 protocol. While Sony Michel did get 20 carries for an effective 79 yards on the ground, including 5 in the red zone, the touchdown touches went to pass-catchers and Beckham kicked off the Rams’ scoring with a touchdown and a now-iconic celebration.
Third TD in as many games for OBJ 🔥
— ESPN (@espn) December 14, 2021
Beckham finished as the PPR WR11 and has once again proved that he wasn’t the problem in Cleveland when they failed to get him fantasy-relevant production on a regular basis. In his three games since the bye, Beckham has recorded 13 receptions on 22 targets for 186 yards and a touchdown in each game, but he has now tested positive for COVID-19 and his status is one to keep an eye out if you own any Los Angeles Rams on your fantasy team.
Tight End (A+)
Austin Hooper had such an easy path to being my tight end love of the week that it almost seemed too good to be true. Luckily, it wasn’t. With Hooper being the only pass-catching tight end remaining on the roster and Baker Mayfield being a tight end hog on targets, it was clear that Hooper would see some looks. Indeed, for the first time all season, he saw 100% of Cleveland’s offensive snaps, drew 7 targets (tied for a season-high), made 5 receptions (season-high), and produced 30 yards and a touchdown. That made him the PPR TE5 of Week 14. Unfortunately, Hooper has since tested positive for COVID-19 as well and is on a list of many Browns to monitor as we reach the home stretch of the NFL regular season.
Browns now have placed eight players on the Reserve/COVID19 list: Jarvis Landry, OT Jedrick Wills, TE Austin Hooper, G Wyatt Teller, DE Takkarist McKinley, G Drew Forbes, WR JoJo Natson and TE Ross Travis.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 14, 2021
My tight end hate of the week was someone who I loved just a couple of weeks ago—to success, the 22-year-old athletically-gifted Cole Kmet. This week, I had to stay away from him and that strategy also saw success. With Justin Fields back at quarterback, pass-catchers for Chicago were always going to be tricky to read despite their talent in that department.
On Sunday Night Football, the receiving game for the Bears was paced by Damiere Byrd and Jakeem Grant, who each exploded for huge touchdown receptions. Aside from those massive plays, running back David Montgomery‘s 6 receptions was by far the highest by a Bear. Wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson combined for only 3 receptions and Kmet was the PPR TE28 of Week 14.
It is worth noting that the Bears putting up 30 points shouldn’t distract you from the fact that they are still not trust-worthy as an offense, as much of that scoring was aided by a pair of explosive yards-after-catch touchdowns as well as a Grant punt return touchdown. None of their pass-catchers are easy starts with Fields at quarterback in 2021 and managers of Mooney, Robinson, and Kmet should make their lineup decisions on a case-by-case basis for the rest of this season.
Week 15 Loves and Hates
It is officially the fantasy football playoffs for nearly all of you, likely facing elimination. The time cannot be more urgent to make sure you make the right lineup calls. Have any of these names on your team? Or see one of these love picks on the waiver wire? Hurry, take advantage of these picks before your opponent does.
Love: Kirk Cousins (MIN)
Historically, there have been several seasons where the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears is an elite defensive unit that can make plays and change games. That isn’t the case in any sense this season with the injuries and regression they’ve suffered in that department. They rank bottom 11 in the NFL in pass DVOA and rush DVOA as a defense and they don’t provide a ton of pressure to the quarterback as they rank #23 in the NFL in pass rush win rate as a team.
Over the last six weeks, Kirk Cousins has been the man when the end zone is near, attempting 38 red zone passes in that span, the third-most among all NFL quarterbacks. That’s what you want out of a streamer quarterback—high upside to throw multiple touchdowns in what could be a nail-biting game, which has described most Vikings games this season. Even with Dalvin Cook back in the lineup as an elite talent on the ground, it is safe to trust Cousins to utilize his talented pass-catching core, led by the elite wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Hate: Tua Tagovailoa (MIA)
The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, partly due to the strong turnover-averse play of second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. That doesn’t always translate to fantasy production, though, and if you’re not spending high draft capital at the quarterback position, you want to stream higher upside than Tagovailoa has in Week 15 when he faces the New York Jets. Of course, the Jets don’t do much defending on the ground or through the air as they rank near the bottom of the barrel in pass DVOA and rush DVOA as a defense. One thing they aren’t terrible at though—chasing the quarterback. They rank #15 in the NFL in pass rush win rate and around middle-of-the-pack in hurry rate and sacks. That doesn’t bode well for the Dolphins offensive line, who are straight-up embarrassing. As a team, Miami has posted a team pass block win rate that ranks dead-last (#32) in the NFL.
Dolphins placing WR Jaylen Waddle on Reserve/COVID.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 16, 2021
Sure, Tagovailoa is a quarterback that can take advantage of a porous rushing defense but without his favorite target Jaylen Waddle around, the Miami pass game has a dangerous floor this week, one that fantasy managers should not have to contend with in a playoff game. This isn’t the time to hope red zone conversions are Tua touchdowns; get someone that can throw you a few in the paint like Kirk Cousins.
Love: James Conner (ARI)
This is a public service announcement. I don’t want you losing a playoff fantasy football matchup because of one mainstream decision that really isn’t that difficult to get right.
In Week 15, the Cardinals could be getting back the other piece to their backfield in Chase Edmonds, who was limiting Conner’s consistent fantasy relevance when the two were both healthy at the beginning of the season. Edmonds was close to returning in Week 14 and if activated this weekend, he could immediately see a normal workload. I don’t care—James Conner starts in your lineup regardless.
Chase Edmonds was healthy Weeks 1-8.#RedSea RBs in that span ⬇️
⦿ Off. snap share — Conner: 42.3%, Edmonds: 59.9%
⦿ Red zone touches — Con: 21, Edm: 16
⦿ Red zone TDs — Con: 8, Edm: 1
Next matchup: DET. Conner is an RB1 regardless of Edmonds' status.pic.twitter.com/paLERxKakX
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 14, 2021
Detroit, as a football team, isn’t used to doing too many things right but defending the rush has never been close to competitive this season. They rank #29 in rush DVOA as a defense and #31 in fantasy defense against running backs. They will likely allow red zone opportunities in bunches against the championship-contending Arizona Cardinals. That means more opportunities for the man that has been a certified monster in his red-zone role, James Conner.
The statistics above tell the full story; regardless of the game script, we will see enough favorable opportunities for the Arizona offense for head coach Kliff Kingsbury to put Conner in the field when fantasy points are on the line. Conner should convert and be at least an RB2-tier player if Edmonds is in and an RB1-tier asset otherwise.
Hate: Jets backfield (NYJ)
The word icky was invented for situations like this. Rookie stud running back Michael Carter is set to be activated and ready to go in this Week 15 matchup I addressed above against the Miami Dolphins. The script for this game is fairly unpredictable; will the hot Dolphins be playing with a healthy lead all day or will the Jets keep Tua Tagovailoa in check as predicted and keep things close? The issue is you don’t want to have to guess to make fantasy football decisions. Against the Dolphins, who rank #7 as a fantasy defense against running backs this season, it’s tough to see upside with any running back in a mediocre offense. It’s even worse to root for someone who could be involved in a true committee.
There’s no way to judge how the work will be split between Carter, Ty Johnson, and any other co-stars in the backfield. Easy solution: stay away from them all and don’t start any Jets running backs that you own in an elimination game for your season.
Love: Marquez Valdes-Scantling (GB)
The Ravens have been beaten up all year long on both ends of the field and most recently, they have lost multiple members of the secondary due to injury or the COVID-19 list. That isn’t going to do them any favors to the fact that they already rank #26 in the NFL in pass DVOA as a defense and have given up the ninth-most receiving yards to wide receivers and second-highest explosive pass play rate among all defenses.
Over the past 2 games, Marquez Valdes-Scantling versus Davante Adams.
-MVS – 25.3%
-Adams – 22.7%
Air Yards Share
-MVS – 47%
-Adams – 21.8%
-MVS – 0.708
-Adams – 0.493
-MVS – 0.536
-Adams – 1.46
MVS = WR3 with upside like Van Jefferson pic.twitter.com/uB8C9jCxSM
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) December 9, 2021
Enter: Aaron Rodgers and his deep connections with superstar Davante Adams and your favorite FLEX candidate of Week 15, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who leads all NFL pass-catchers in average depth of target (18.6 yards). Valdes-Scantling has been involved recently, seeing 24 targets in his last 3 games, including 4 red-zone targets in that span. With Baltimore as a matchup, it doesn’t take much to complete one of those passes in the end zone and make the most of your last starting lineup spot in Week 15.
Hate: Brandon Aiyuk (SF)
I’m a mean one. The week after reaping the benefits of Brandon Aiyuk stocks and telling the universe to start him, I’m going against my hype from a few days ago. That’s because I want to chase narratives, matchups, and trends, and therefore wins—not past points. I’m a simple man. I see A.J. Terrell go toe-to-toe with an NFL wide receiver, I stay cautious on that player. That’s what Aiyuk will likely have to put up with for the majority of this Week 15 contest. This season, Terrell has allowed only a 50.8% completion rate and 60.8 quarterback when targeted and he simply isn’t likely to allow a touchdown.
Narrative-wise, the 49ers have very little motivation to spam air yards to their fantasy-inconsistent wideout Aiyuk, regardless of the talent that he does possess. The Falcons rank #23 in the NFL in rush DVOA as a defense and rank below-average as a fantasy defense against running backs. The 49ers’ identity is obvious by now: they run the football in volume and find success with it, even if they use wide receivers like Deebo Samuel to do so. George Kittle should be enough to lead the air game for San Francisco in Week 15, making Aiyuk a risky touchdown-dependent play. The wide receiver position is deep, don’t be stuck in Draft Night. Make the right call and get someone with boom potential like Valdes-Scantling or another streamer ahead of this pivotal weekend.
Love: Hunter Henry (NE)
Over the last two weeks, Mac Jones has thrown three passes in the NFL. In Week 13, the Patriots offense made history by running the ball on 94% of their plays, the highest run rate in a game in the millennium. In Week 14, they had a bye. That Monday Night Football game made the Patriots the second-most-heavy rushing offense in the NFL but it was in absurd weather, which the Patriots won’t have to contend with in Indianapolis in Week 15. With the Colts likely sitting on the Patriots’ effective run game, expect New England to catch their opponents sleeping again by flinging it with their rookie quarterback.
This season, the Colts rank #5 in the NFL in rush DVOA but #17 in the NFL in pass DVOA as a defense and have given up 26 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks, the second-most among all teams. The receiving first option for the Patriots in the red zone this year? Tight end Hunter Henry, who leads New England in red-zone targets (14) and receiving touchdowns (7). Expect the Jones-Henry connection to be in full effect in Week 15 as the Patriots look to find the end zone a couple of times as underdogs on the road.
I’m feeling so good about the upside of a Hunter Henry start on your fantasy team that I am using my Fantrax staff Bold Prediction of the Week on him, looking for his second multi-touchdown game of the season.
Hate: Dalton Schultz (DAL)
This one has trap written all over it. Dalton Schultz ranks as the #6 PPR tight end in fantasy football this season. However, a lot of that production came between Weeks 3 and 6, right before the Cowboys’ Week 7 bye. With the target share a bit down recently for Schultz, the 25-year-old tight end is fairly dependent on finding the end zone to be fantasy-relevant at his position. That’s not going to come easy for a dude that has only 3 red-zone targets since Week 8, good for #27 among all NFL tight ends.
Additionally, the narrative in Week 15 isn’t going to help Schultz’s case to be an end zone magnet. On the season, the Giants are around middle-of-the-pack defensively by yards and fantasy points allowed against tight ends. However, since Week 5, they have only allowed one touchdown to a tight end (Jared Cook, Week 14). Instead, the Giants have continued to be porous as a defense against wide receivers; only three teams in the NFL this season have allowed more receiving touchdowns to wide receivers than the Giants and only seven teams have allowed more fantasy points per game.
With Schultz taking a back seat in the air game to stud wide receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, there isn’t any reason he should be a target hog or a dependent touchdown man in Week 15. This makes Schultz a risky fantasy football start in your playoff matchup, especially if the game script (weather or potential for a blowout) also comes in the way of a conducive day for Dak Prescott to be pass-heavy.
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