What more can you say about DeAndre Hopkins? He will end the 2017 fantasy football season as the overall WR1, and he capped off his tremendous season with one of the most incredible touchdown catches in recent memory in Houston’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hopkins was one of fantasy’s biggest disappointments in 2016 when he finished as the overall WR36, but he has rebounded in a big way in 2017. Assuming a clean bill of health for Deshaun Watson in 2018, Hopkins is as likely as anyone to finish next season as the overall WR1. Dynasty owners of Amari Cooper are hoping Hopkins’ resurgence is something that Cooper can replicate in 2018. Cooper was drafted as the WR10 in 2017 drafts, but the return on that investment has not been good. Cooper ranks as just the overall WR37 heading into the season finale. I do not think Cooper will improve upon that in a difficult Week 17 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.
If your league is playing in Week 17, there are some unique challenges to consider when setting your lineups. Many teams will have little or nothing to play for on Sunday. Philadelphia and Kansas City are locked into their playoff positions, and many others including New England, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and the Los Angeles Rams have clinched their divisions and are virtual locks to remain in their current seed in their conferences. Considering that 11 of the top 30 year-to-date fantasy wide receivers (10 excluding Antonio Brown, who is out with a calf injury) play for those six teams, owners may have to seek other alternatives in Week 17. Even wide receivers whose teams are out of playoff contention might be adversely affected by some different lineup manipulations. For example, the Broncos will likely turn to Paxton Lynch in Week 17, which should lower expectations for Demaryius Thomas. Weather may also play a factor, as another coastal storm is threating to bring snow to the East Coast over the weekend. This could further hinder several passing attacks. With so many things to consider heading into the season’s final week, let’s look at some of the important wide receiver matchups for Week 17.
KEELAN COLE, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT TENNESSEE TITANS
Many fantasy owners rushed to pick up Jacksonville Jaguars’ wide receiver Dede Westbrook towards the latter stages of the fantasy regular season. Westbrook has shown flashes over the past four weeks, as he has averaged 63.5 receiving yards and 7.85 fantasy points per game. Westbrook ranks as the WR19 overall during that stretch. But it is rookie teammate Keelan Cole who has truly burst onto the fantasy scene during the last month. Cole has averaged 113 receiving yards and has scored three touchdowns in his last four games. He has scored double-digit fantasy points in each one of those contests and is the overall WR2 over the last month. He has earned the trust of quarterback Blake Bortles in the absence of Marqise Lee. Cole has played just over 80 percent of snaps and has seen 22 targets over his last two games. This week Cole and the Jaguars face the Tennessee Titans. Jacksonville has stated that they do not plan on resting their players, which is good news for Cole. Cole’s matchup is an attractive one against a Tennessee defense that last week allowed two wide receivers to finish inside the top-22 despite also allowing 276 yards from scrimmage to fantasy MVP Todd Gurley. If the weather cooperates, then it is “wheels up.” I believe Keelan Cole is a potential WR1 in this matchup.
JAMISON CROWDER, WASHINGTON REDSKINS VS. NEW YORK GIANTS
Jamison Crowder was one of my favorite preseason targets, particularly in PPR formats. That did not work out very well due to a horrific start to the season that saw Crowder total an abysmal 12.3 fantasy points during his first six games. This included two games with negative points. A rare feat, indeed. But Crowder has produced at a clip more in line with his breakout 2016 campaign ever since. He has scored a touchdown and/or had at least 67 yards receiving in seven of his last eight games and has averaged 9.5 fantasy points per game since Week 8. Crowder will face a New York Giants’ secondary that was just torched by fellow slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald in New York’s Week 16 loss. Fitzgerald finished that game with nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. I expect Crowder to be Kirk Cousins’ primary weapon of choice in attacking the Giants on Sunday. I believe Jamison Crowder finishes his 2017 season on a high note and ends up as a top-20 fantasy wide receiver in Week 17.
TED GINN, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Full disclosure – I did not want to put Ted Ginn in this space because I really need him to score at least one touchdown on Sunday, and I know I just killed any chance of him scoring by mentioning that. The sacrifices I make for my readers … In all seriousness, Ginn has been a pleasant surprise for New Orleans this season. He has caught over 78 percent of his targets, which leads the NFL among wide receivers. Ginn currently ranks as the overall WR33 in fantasy. Ginn’s matchup will be interesting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ginn figures to be lined up most often against Tampa’s best cornerback Brent Grimes, as the Buccaneers do not tend to shadow wide receivers. However, I just can’t imagine Tampa leaving Ryan Smith (Pro Football Focus’ 101st ranked cornerback) on an island against Michael Thomas (PFF’s third-ranked wide receiver). If the Buccaneers choose to double-team Thomas, that will leave Ginn one-on-one with Grimes. Grimes is an above-average cornerback, but Ginn has proven he can still beat people deep. He proved that last week when he got behind Falcons’ star cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 45-yard touchdown. (Naturally, I benched him.) Ginn will be playing a full complement of snaps in a game New Orleans must win to earn a division title. He’ll also be the recipient of passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback in ideal weather conditions. Ted Ginn is not the safest bet for a double-digit performance, but he does have WR1 upside in this matchup.
STEFON DIGGS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS VS. CHICAGO BEARS
Stefon Diggs managed his first weekly WR1 performance since Week 3 in last week’s division-clinching victory in Green Bay and remains a top-20 fantasy wide receiver on the year. I expect him to have trouble maintaining that standing when Minnesota wraps up their regular season against the Chicago Bears. Minnesota is one of the teams that may choose to rest players at different points throughout their game. Even if Minnesota were to somehow lose, several other dominoes would have to fall for the Vikings to fall out of the number-two seed in the NFC. If Diggs were to receive his typical workload, he will likely match up against Chicago Bears’ cornerback Kyle Fuller. Fuller is one of the hottest cornerbacks in the entire league. He has been given the highest game grade of all Bears’ players by Pro Football Focus in three of Chicago’s last four games and was graded the highest cornerback in the entire NFL in Week 16. There are too many factors going against Stefon Diggs to consider him a must-start in this matchup. I believe he will finish as a low-end WR3 in Week 17.
DEZ BRYANT, DALLAS COWBOYS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Dez Bryant has failed to live up to lofty expectations this season. He has averaged just 54.07 total yards and 7.67 fantasy points per game in 2017. Perhaps even more disappointing is that his numbers did not improve in the absence of star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who served a six-game suspension beginning in Week 10. During the six games Elliott was out, Bryant averaged 54.67 total yards and 7.47 fantasy points per game, numbers nearly identical to his totals with Elliott in the lineup. Quarterback Dak Prescott has seemingly regressed in his second season, and his rapport with Bryant is just not on par with some of the elite quarterback-wide receiver tandems throughout the league. Prescott even went out of his way to call Bryant out for a Week 16 drop, an action that is not likely to go unnoticed by Bryant himself. Bryant will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 as the Cowboys close out their season. It’s likely that Philadelphia rests their starters, but I still would not bet on a huge game from Bryant. He just does not see the volume most upper-echelon receivers do, and I do not expect that to change with Elliott back in the fold. Elliott is also only 120 rushing yards away from hitting the 1,000-yard plateau, and I expect Dallas to give him every opportunity to reach that mark. I expect another pedestrian effort from Bryant in Week 17. I would consider using him as a Flex, but I would not expect a top-20 scoring week.
MIKE WALLACE, BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Mike Wallace has really come up big down the stretch for the Baltimore Ravens as they seek a Wild Card spot in the AFC. Wallace has totaled 337 receiving yards in his last four games, ranking seventh in the NFL over that span. However, he has not scored during that stretch, which is why he ranks as just the overall WR14 in fantasy in that timeframe. Wallace has seen a bigger piece of the pie recently due in part to the knee injury to Jeremy Maclin. Maclin is going to try to suit up for Baltimore as they are playing for their playoff lives in Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals, though his return is far from certain. Even if Maclin sits out once again, I do not love the matchup for Wallace. For all of Cincinnati’s deficiencies, they may have found something in cornerback William Jackson III. Since taking over as a starter in Week 13. Jackson III has permitted only eight receiving yards on his watch. This is also a game that Baltimore should theoretically dominate, as the Bengals are already planning for life after Marvin Lewis. I do not expect Baltimore to have to do a ton of work in the passing game. I would only use Mike Wallace as a potential Flex play in Week 17.
AMARI COOPER, OAKLAND RAIDERS AT LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The entire Oakland Raiders’ passing offense is a mess and has let fantasy owners down this season. Derek Carr, last season’s QB10, is just the QB19 thus far in 2017. Among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 400 passes this season, Carr’s 6.7 yards per attempt leads only Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Deshone Kizer. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both finished 2016 as fantasy WR1’s. Neither is even a WR2 this season. Cooper, in particular, has been a major disappointment in 2017. Cooper’s 565 receiving yards in 2017 represents less than half of his 2016 output. He did manage to finish as the weekly WR6 in Week 16 based on the strength of a 63-yard touchdown where he badly burned Jalen Mills. But Cooper did little else, catching two more passes for just three yards. Despite the big play last week, I cannot justify inserting Amari Cooper into lineups unless you are behind in a two-week matchup and need to swing for the fences. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and cut your losses. There’s always next year.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
CHRIS GODWIN, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Chris Godwin has played at least 60 percent of the snaps in just two games this season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But in those two games, he has shown tremendous potential. Godwin has totaled 166 receiving yards on 16 targets in those two games, setting career-highs in yardage in each one. Godwin could continue to see more action once again in Week 17 if DeSean Jackson remains sidelined with an ankle injury. With nothing to play for, Tampa Bay would probably be best served to let Jackson fully heal and give Godwin some more run in their season finale. Godwin will not have a particularly easy matchup against the New Orleans Saints and cornerback Ken Crawley, but he could see more opportunities with rookie standout cornerback Marshon Lattimore locked in on Buccaneers’ wide receiver Mike Evans. If Jameis Winston stays away from Lattimore, Godwin is likely to be the primary beneficiary. If Jackson plays, Godwin becomes nothing more than a touchdown-dependent flier. However, if Jackson sits, I believe Chris Godwin has the chance to be a WR2 for the second consecutive week.