Week 14 Sleepers and Busts: Do the Vance Dance
We have reached the fantasy football playoffs in most formats and, as always, exploiting matchups is the name of the game. My Week 14 sleepers and busts column is designed to highlight matchups that cause me to rank a player significantly higher or lower than the Expert Consensus Rankings compiled on FantasyPros. If I like the player’s matchup, he is a sleeper. If I do not, he is a bust. Keep in mind that in most cases, these are players that are fringe starters in 12-team leagues. You can always check out my Week 14 rankings or comment below or on Twitter with any specific questions regarding your lineup decisions. I will update the rankings on Sunday before kickoff.
Week 14 Sleepers and Busts
Ryan Tannehill (My rank: QB8; ECR: QB12)
I discussed Ryan Tannehill briefly in my Week 14 rankings, but some things bear repeating. Tannehill is the QB6 since taking over as Tennessee’s starter back in Week 7. He leads the NFL with 9.1 yards per pass attempt and has thrown multiple touchdowns in five of six starts. Tannehill has also contributed via the run. Tannehill has three rushing scores in his last four games and has averaged 30 rushing yards during that stretch. He should continue to thrive when Tennessee travels to Oakland. The Raiders have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. They have ceded 8.21 yards per pass attempt this year, which is the fourth-highest in the NFL. Starting Ryan Tannehill in a playoff matchup may make some nervous, but based on the matchup and the way he is playing, it is the right move.
Jared Goff (My rank: QB12; ECR: QB16)
I listed Jared Goff in this same space last week. I felt smart when Goff eclipsed the 300-yard mark in the second quarter. Of course, I recommended starting him over Deshaun Watson, proving that even when I’m right, I’m kind of wrong. Having said that, Goff did his part last week and I expect him to have another strong game against Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks generate pressure on just 10 percent of dropbacks, which is the fourth-lowest number in the league. Jared Goff has struggled under pressure this season. Per Pro Football Focus, Goff ranks 11th out of 29 quarterbacks in completion percentage when kept clean, but just 27th under pressure. If the Rams’ offensive line can keep Goff upright, he should be able to put together another big game. He finished as the QB12 in their last meeting, which is where I have him ranked this week.
Matt Ryan (My rank: QB20; ECR: QB10)
Since returning from an ankle injury four weeks ago, Matt Ryan has yet to provide a top-12 weekly finish. And it is not for a lack of trying. Ryan has attempted 162 passes in those four games. Ryan has yet to clear 6.0 yards per attempt in four of his last five games. I do not expect things to get much better against Carolina. The Panthers are in freefall but have remained competent versus the pass. During their current four-game losing streak, only one quarterback has finished inside the top-12 against them. On the season, Carolina is a top-10 defense in points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, and have allowed just 14 touchdown throws while intercepting 12 passes. I think Ryan will be fairly competent, but expecting a ceiling game is likely to lead in disappointment.
Sleeper Running Backs
Sony Michel (My rank: RB22 in PPR; ECR: RB29)
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not think Sony Michel is more valuable in PPR leagues than he is in standard. But in standard leagues, the consensus and I both agree that Michel is an RB2 this week. However, they have him a notch below in PPR leagues. I believe he will do enough damage on the ground to be considered an RB2 even in PPR formats. The Kansas City Chiefs allow the second-most rushing yards to opposing running backs and the third-highest yards per rush. The Patriots passing offense has been lackluster of late, and they would be wise to exploit Kansas City’s biggest weakness on defense. Michel could be in line for 20-plus carries, making a viable starter in all formats. Any numbers he adds in the passing game (which admittedly does not figure to be much) would be a bonus.
Derrius Guice (My rank: RB23 in PPR; ECR: RB27)
Derrius Guice had his first breakthrough performance in the NFL last week. He carried the ball just 10 times but parlayed that into 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Guice should earn a larger piece of the pie this week against the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns to enemy backs this season. If Washington wishes to keep this game close, they would be wise to ride Guice as much as possible. Owners may be worried about the potential negative game script, but I do not consider Guice a one-trick pony in the mold of Sony Michel. While Guice is not known as a pass-catching specialist, he can contribute in the passing game. Guice’s first NFL touchdown came on a screen pass that he turned into a 45-yard score back in Week 11. I think that Guice can provide solid numbers in Week 14.
Bust Running Back
Kareem Hunt (My rank: RB30 in PPR; ECR: RB24)
Kareem Hunt has been an RB1 in PPR formats since returning from his eight-game suspension. He has finished inside the top 15 three times and his worst finish has been as the RB27. However, this does not strike me as the type of game Hunt will reach those levels in. The Browns are favored by a touchdown over the lowly Bengals. Cincinnati gives up plenty of fantasy points to opposing running backs, but most of that damage is done on the ground. The Bengals rank in the bottom-eight in the league in total rushing yards allowed, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns allowed, but just 22nd in receptions allowed to opposing backs. That is where Hunt has made his mark, as 67.1 percent of his fantasy points have come in the passing game. This figures to be a Nick Chubb game, leaving Hunt as a dicey Flex option.
Sleeper Wide Receivers
Terry McLaurin (My rank: WR28 in Standard; ECR: WR38)
Terry McLaurin has not cleared 100 receiving yards or scored a touchdown since way back in Week 6. Last week he bottomed out with just eight receiving yards. That performance, though disappointing, was somewhat expected. Carolina is tough against the pass and James Bradberry is a very good cornerback. McLaurin should breathe a bit easier in Week 14. He will likely square off a bit against Kevin King, who has been up and down. King allows a robust 2.08 yards per route covered, eighth-highest in the league among full-time corners. I do expect Washington to run the ball quite a bit, but when they do throw it, McLaurin should be heavily targeted. The consensus considers McLaurin more of a Flex play, but I think he can be trusted as a WR3 and he makes for a nice Week 14 sleeper at wideout.
Brandin Cooks (My rank: WR39 in PPR; ECR: WR50)
Brandin Cooks has struggled in two games since returning from another concussion. He has just 56 scoreless receiving yards and has been a non-factor in fantasy. Last week’s 24-yard effort was particularly disappointing considering Jared Goff threw for over 400 yards. I expect Cooks to be able to get back into the good graces of fantasy owners this week. Cooks should see Tre Flowers in coverage on a majority of snaps. Of the 84 cornerbacks who have seen at least half of their team’s defensive snaps, Flowers ranks just 72nd in Pro Football Focus’ coverage metric. On the other side of the field will be Shaquill Griffin, who ranks fifth. I’m guessing Sean McVay knows this. I do not expect Robert Woods to come anywhere near the 19 targets he saw last week. Cooks should have plenty of chances to beat Flowers and make a big play in this game.
Bust Wide Receivers
Robby Anderson (My rank: WR41 in PPR; ECR: WR31)
Robby Anderson has put solid performances in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Last week he had season-highs in targets and receptions. I do not think he will be as involved this week when the Jets host the Miami Dolphins. New York is favored in this game, which is a rare occurrence. If they get out in front, that may limit Anderson’s workload. He also has the most difficult individual matchup, as he will likely be up against Nik Needham. Needham has been the best of a bad lot in the Miami secondary. If Adam Gase is smart (admittedly a big “if”), he will go after Ken Webster and Jomal Wiltz. That means plenty of Jamison Crowder and Demaryius Thomas as opposed to Robby Anderson. I do not mind Anderson as a Flex play but would not consider him a must-start in this matchup.
A.J. Brown (My rank: WR52 in PPR; ECR: WR38)
Most seem to think A.J. Brown is the Titans receiver to consider starting this week, while I see it being more of a Corey Davis game. I understand why that is not a popular opinion. Davis has double-digit fantasy points in one of his last seven games and Brown finally saw more snaps than Davis last week. But I expect Oakland to put Daryl Worley on Brown. Worley is Oakland’s best cornerback and has allowed a completion rate of just 52.5 percent. If Worley does cover Brown, that would leave Davis to contend with Trayvon Mullen. Mullen has allowed a league-high 2.45 yards per route covered. Adam Humphries is also likely to win his matchup against turnstile slot corner Lamarcus Joyner. I think Brown is a Week 14 bust and would not be surprised if Davis and/or Humphries outscored him this week.
Sleeper Tight Ends
Vance McDonald (My rank: TE8 in PPR; ECR: TE12)
I thought I was too high on Tyler Higbee last week. I had him ranked 14th among tight ends, which was way higher than the consensus. Perhaps I was putting too much stock in the matchup rather than the player. Then Higbee outscored every single tight end last week by halftime and I realized I was not high enough. Arizona simply cannot cover tight ends. So even though Vance McDonald has not had more than 40 yards in a game this year, I am starting him with confidence this week. I do not even know if I am high enough on McDonald given the circumstances. Tight end is a weekly crapshoot most of the time anyway unless you have an elite option. If you are going to stream a tight end and hope for a random breakout week, this is the matchup in which to do so.
Austin Hooper (My rank: TE11 in PPR; ECR: TE14)
I suspect that the consensus will bump Austin Hooper up come Sunday. I guess that some are still skeptical as to whether or not he will play. In that sense, Hooper may not be a true Week 14 sleeper. But as of now, the consensus would hesitate to start him in 12-team leagues, whereas I would not. If Hooper is active, he must be started. The matchup is not ideal, as Carolina allows the eighth-fewest fantasy points to the tight end position. But Hooper has been too valuable to Atlanta’s offense this season to expect them to ease him back in. I would expect him to be heavily involved in the game plan, as he is their primary weapon underneath in the passing game. As long as he is active on Sunday, I have no qualms about playing Hooper this week.
Bust Tight End
Dallas Goedert (My rank: TE14 in PPR; ECR: TE8)
I feel like each week I list Dallas Goedert as a potential bust, and each week he proves me wrong. Goedert has finished inside the top 12 in three consecutive weeks. But the New York Giants have struggled so badly at cornerback that I would expect the Eagles to take advantage of those mismatches rather than force-feed Goedert. Zach Ertz is among the leaders in terms of snaps, targets, and receiving yards out of the slot among tight ends. I think this could be a game where Ertz exceeds expectations and Goedert disappoints a bit. The Giants have been pretty stout against tight ends this year. They allow the third-fewest receiving yards and fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. This is not a matchup that seems to suit Goedert’s role and skill set. I would not go out of my way to start him in this game.
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