Win the Wire
The best players to add to your fantasy rosters (based on Football Outsiders' advanced metrics).

Win the Wire: Week 16

San Francisco 49ers RB Jeff Wilson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Week 16 is the championship round of most fantasy leagues, and I hope the fact that you are reading this sentence means you are still alive. Since this is the final week for this season, I have eschewed my typical FAB recommendations. The players in the article are presented in order of my recommended priority, and you should aim to exhaust your budget to claim the players your team needs to take home a title.

Roster percentages are for ESPN/Yahoo.

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

58%/54%

At least based on rushing DVOA, Bell is not even close to the same player he was in his prime. From 2014 to 2017 with the Steelers, he was a consistent positional leader with least 7.9% rushing DVOA every season. But since his 2018 holdout, Bell has declined precipitously to -16.6% and -17.1% DVOA rates split between the Jets and Chiefs. And I suspect that has motivated his new team to offer Clyde Edwards-Helaire twice as many touches per game even though the latter player has underwhelmed in his rookie season (-13.3%). But fantasy is not the same as reality. With Edwards-Helaire poised to miss Week 16 and likely longer with a high ankle sprain, Bell will likely inherit one of the most enticing roles for fantasy, and he won't need to be efficient to turn that into production. After all, Edwards-Helaire has averaged 13.5 PPR points per game this season, 18th-most among the running backs that have played at least half of the season. And even that is a shortfall of expectations since he scored 2.27 fewer rushing touchdowns than his 6.27 opportunity-adjusted touchdowns would have predicted. The Falcons are a surprising fourth in DVOA against the run and have cut both run plays and yards per attempt by 13% this season. But as a volume threat as both a runner and receiver, Bell should have an RB2 baseline. And since the Chiefs are well-equipped to build a lead and make frequent red zone trips on the strength of Patrick Mahomes' arm, look for Bell to benefit from the Falcons' promoting of rushing scores by 40% per attempt.

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

22%/45%

If Pollard shared Bell's workload certainty, he would be the top waiver option this week. With Ezekiel Elliott sidelined with a calf injury, Pollard inherited a bell-cow role in Week 15. He played 90% of the Cowboys' offensive snaps, took 12 carries, and saw nine targets. And even beyond his 132 yards and two touchdowns in that spot start, Pollard has demonstrated efficiency. His 19.1% rushing DVOA is dramatically better than Elliott's -1.2% rate. In fact, it's better than Elliott's career-best rate of 16.5% from 2019. In future seasons, I fear that Pollard may not hold up to a heavy workload. At 209 pounds, he gives up 19 pounds to Elliott at the same height of 6-foot-0. But if Elliott misses another start in Week 16, then Pollard should handle that temporary workload just fine. I'd consider him a safe RB1 facing an Eagles team that boosts rushing touchdowns by 30% per attempt.

Jeff Wilson, RB, San Francisco 49ers

50%/56%

Normal running back starter Raheem Mostert has been in and out of the 49ers' lineup all season with various ailments. His latest is an ankle injury that he re-aggravated on Sunday and that could sideline him again in Week 16. Behind Mostert, the team has cycled through myriad options at the position, including Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, and JaMycal Hasty. And while Jeff Wilson may be the least exciting name on that list, his play justifies what seems likely to be a heavy workload on Saturday in Arizona. Wilson's 4.1 yards per attempt are a bit shy of the league average and not dramatically better than McKinnon at 3.9. But Wilson has been the team's preeminent power back and has seen his carries skew toward those on third-and-short and near the goal line with lower yardage expectations. To wit, Wilson has a 54.8% success rate that laps those of McKinnon (38.8%) and Coleman (34.6%). It even bests Mostert's 48.1% success rate even though Mostert is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The 49ers seem to recognize Wilson's avoidance of negative plays -- they handed him a 46% offensive snap share in Week 15 that nearly doubled those of McKinnon (17%) and Coleman (7%) combined. Look for Wilson to better even that this weekend and enjoy a temporary RB2 workload.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams

59%/64%

Henderson is in a similar situation to Bell. He should enjoy an expanded opportunity with the Rams lead back Cam Akers suffering a high-ankle sprain, but his Week 16 opponent isn't a friendly one for fantasy backs. That may surprise you to hear about the Seahawks that seemed like a sieve earlier this season. But they've settled into a solid unit against the run, and their relative strength there (No. 11 DVOA) versus the pass (No. 25) entices their opponents to cut their run plays by 20%, the most in football. Henderson was a top-20 fantasy back from Weeks 2 to 11 in total, but his 11.6 average PPR points makes him more of a true-talent flex option. He'll cap as a flex option this week in the difficult matchup.

Salvon Ahmed, RB, Miami Dolphins

23%/34%

Of the five running backs that lead this article, Ahmed seems the least assured of a Week 16 starting role. Myles Gaskin has missed the last two weeks on the COVID reserve list. Even if he had the illness as opposed to sitting because of proximity, Gaskin may be ready to return in Week 16. But Ahmed has been an excellent fantasy option when he has started. He has taken 22, 17, and 24 touches in those three weeks. And even with both Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington available in Week 15, Ahmed played 60% of the Dolphins' offensive snaps and took a 54.8% carry share that was 16th-highest at the position. For me, a chance that Gaskin will miss one more week justifies a high waiver priority for Ahmed. That recent evidence suggests Ahmed would take a workhorse role, and he would likely turn that into excellent production facing a Raiders team that is the best matchup for fantasy backs in football. Las Vegas has the No. 32 run defense DVOA and they boost run plays by 6%, yards per attempt by 16%, and touchdowns per attempt by 71%.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

32%/39%

Hurts slammed the door on a possible Carson Wentz return to the lineup with 338 passing yards, 63 rushing yards, and four total touchdowns in the game of the week on the road in Arizona. Statistically, it's no contest. Hurts bests Wentz 7.3 versus 6.0 yards per pass attempt and with a 5-to-1 versus a 16-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That job security is critical when a loss will knock you out of the fantasy playoffs. Now I feel confident in starting Hurts to take advantage of what looks like elite rushing production for the position -- he has averaged 14.5 carries, 84.5 rushing yards, and 0.5 rushing touchdowns in his two starts, and I think he has the size to continue to run in touchdowns near the goal line.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

76%/77%

Bruce Arians has not made it as easy on fantasy players as Brian Flores has in recent weeks. First, he made Fournette a healthy inactive in Week 14 and let LeSean McCoy and Ke'Shawn Vaughn complement his starter Ronald Jones. But then when Jones had to miss Sunday's game on the COVID reserve list, he made Fournette the starter and gave him a 66% offensive snap share and 14 of the team's 16 running back carries. I think there may be a bit of method in that madness since Fournette has a similar skill set to Jones and has been less efficient this year with 3.9 versus 5.0 yards per attempt, 1.7 versus 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, and a 48.2% versus 54.4% success rate. But Fournette's latter number remains decent. It's 52nd of the 82 backs with 50 or more carries. And it bests the rates of McCoy (40.0%) and Vaughn (45.5%) -- albeit on small carry volumes of 10 and 11 -- and even edges those of James Robinson (47.9%), Jonathan Taylor (47.8%), Todd Gurley (44.5%), and Melvin Gordon (44.5%), who are perceived to be performing well this season. The only problem is Jones could return this week and send Fournette back to the sidelines. I expect that will happen, but Jones faces risks from both COVID and a fractured pinky finger that had him questionable for Week 14 even early in the week last week. As such, I would try to keep Fournette on your fantasy benches until Jones' situation becomes clear later this week. If he does start on Sunday, Fournette should thrive facing a Lions defense that is 26th in run defense DVOA and that increases run plays by 10%, yards per attempt by 7%, and touchdowns per attempt by 52%.

Antonio Brown, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

74%/64%

Despite his personal history, Brown does not share his teammate Fournette's short-term fantasy ceiling. After peaking in the 70% range of offensive snap shares with his new team, Brown has fallen off to just 49% and 47% the last two weeks, well behind the rates of Mike Evans (81%) and Chris Godwin (88%). But players in deeper and PPR formats should take note that, despite his lesser role, Brown has continued to see a decent target volume. Since he joined the Bucs in Week 9, he has an 18.0% target share that is tied for 44th among wide receivers and ahead of Godwin at 17.1%. That should lend Brown flex consideration in his better matchups, and the Lions are one of those with the No. 30 pass defense DVOA.

J.D. McKissic, RB, Washington Football Team

78%/70%

Antonio Gibson seems likely to return from his toe injury in Week 16, and Gibson is the back best equipped to benefit from the Panthers' No. 19 DVOA run defense that boosts rushing yards and touchdowns by 7% apiece. But after Alex Smith took over at quarterback, McKissic found PPR value even alongside Gibson. The former back's 22.3% target share since Week 9 is by far the highest at the position. And in the event Gibson cannot play, McKissic would threaten RB1 status. He has complemented his receiving work with 11 and 13 carries the last two weeks with Gibson sidelined.

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos

74%/73%

Fant exited the Broncos' Week 14 game with a non-COVID-related illness after just eight snaps. And as makes sense so late in the season, some fantasy players dropped him. Well, if you need a tight end in your fantasy championship, make a point to pick him up. Fant demonstrated that that illness was a short-term concern with eight catches, 68 yards, and a touchdown on a 69% snap share in Week 15. And if you exclude his prior week, Fant has an 18.4% target share this season that is fifth-highest at the position. He is a clear top-10 tight end option this week against the Chargers.

Logan Thomas, TE, Washington Football Team

53%/63%

Thomas does not have a season of evidence to justify his own TE1 status, but he sure found the right time to see a workload spike. Even while Washington has been forced to switch between quarterbacks Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins, Thomas has produced a 24.8% target share the last three weeks that is third-highest at the position behind just Darren Waller (32.2%) and Travis Kelce (28.6%). The greater trends should keep Thomas behind the second tier of fantasy tight ends such as Mark Andrews, Hockenson, and Fant, at least for one more week. But at so thin a position, Thomas is a worthwhile gamble over popular but inconsistent players such as Rob Gronkowski, Jonnu Smith, and Evan Engram.

Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots

15%/19%

Michel is a one-dimensional rusher. Even as the primary Patriots starter in 2018 and 2019, he bettered his 2020 high of two targets just three times. And with Cam Newton as his current quarterback, even Michel's former goal-line role is greatly diminished. Still, Michel was a capable Damien Harris substitute on Sunday, playing Harris' typical 42% of offensive snaps and taking 10 of the team's 13 running back carries. If Harris cannot return from his ankle injury in Week 16, Michel should be a flex option in standard formats. But beware a possible pass-favoring game script. The Patriots are set to take on a Bills team that could build a lead and shift some of Michel's workload to receiving backs James White and J.J. Taylor.

Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans

31%/41%

Coutee missed out on a monster fantasy day by about 3 feet when his bid to tie the Texans-Colts game at 27-27 ended in a fumble at the 1-yard line. Still, Coutee provided a lot for fantasy players to like. He scored a touchdown in his second consecutive game, and he has cleared a 75% snap share in all three of his efforts since Will Fuller's suspension with an 18.6% target share that is top-40 at the position. I expect that decent production to continue in Week 16 when the Texans host a Bengals defense that is 29th in pass defense DVOA and boosts passing touchdowns by 11% per attempt.

Chad Hansen, WR, Houston Texans

4%/2%

On one hand, Hansen seems less of a fixture in the Texans' current lineup since he seems to yo-yo between the practice squad and NFL roster every week. But on the other, he has led the Texans with at least 80% snap shares each of the last three weeks, and his 16.7% target share in that time is top-50 at the position and not far behind Coutee's rate. The Texans are a heavy relier on three-receiver sets, so all three of Hansen, Coutee, and Brandin Cooks are appealing fantasy options in that Bengals matchup. They boost touchdown rate to every type of receiver.

Cole Beasley, WR, Buffalo Bills

72%/70%

Beasley has alternated between games with 10 or more targets and games with four or fewer targets for much of the season, and I have been trying to crack his matchups code for weeks. Finally, I think I might have it. For the season, Beasley has an 18.0% target share (31st among WRs) in the eight games John Brown has played and a 23.3% target share (20th) in the six games Brown has missed. That realization may have come too late since Brown was activated from injured reserve last week and started to practice. But that timing allows the Bills another week to sit Brown if they choose, and their practically locked-in status as a non-bye division winner could motivate a slow reintroduction. Either way, Beasley has a decent defensive matchup this week. The Patriots are the No. 1 booster of slot receiver touchdown rate. But note that their game is on Monday night, so you may not have alternatives if you want to start or bench Beasley based on Brown's availability.

Russell Gage, WR, Atlanta Falcons

21%/24%

If you're interested in a slot receiver with less complicated a usage scenario, consider Gage. Julio Jones has been in and out of the Falcons lineup this season, but he doesn't seem to be the same lever for Gage's target share that he is for Calvin Ridley's -- Gage has an 18.8% share with Jones and a 15.8% share without him, and Ridley has a 21.0% share with Jones and a 30.5% share without him. My guess is that Gage's inconsistencies stemmed from knee and head injuries back in October. Prior to the Falcons' Week 10 bye, Gage had a 15.2% target share that was 46th at the position. Since, he has ballooned to a 22.3% share that is 28th, and he seems likely to continue that trend in Kansas City this week with the Falcons likely to fall behind and needing to pass to catch up.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

55%/52%

Coming off his serious ankle injury, Ertz has finally appeared healthy the last two weeks and has 72% and 75% offensive snap shares to show for it. That latter rate trailed that of his tight end teammate Dallas Goedert (88%), but it was more than every Eagles wide receiver in Week 15 and reminds us that he and Goedert were both TE1s in the same offense in 2019. It may be too late for Ertz to extend his Eagles career, but it's not too late for fantasy players. Ertz has an 18.5% target share in his healthy games this season, and that is sixth-highest at his position. He may not be as safe a choice as Noah Fant or even Logan Thomas. But facing a Cowboys defense that is next to last in DVOA against tight ends (38.1%), Ertz is at least close to a return to TE1 status just in time for the fantasy championships.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

55%/73%

Brees started his return to action with six incompletions, a sack, and an interception, and it looked like he may not be fully healthy from his broken ribs. But after that rocky start, Brees settled into a decent fantasy day with 15 completions, 234 yards, and three touchdowns. Brees has been the butt of many arm-strength jokes, but he has remained a viable matchup option at quarterback this season with an 18.5-point fantasy point average that is 13th-best at his position and by averaging 4.4 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2017. Those splits support Brees as a matchup option in Week 16, when he'll be at home and facing a Vikings defense that boosts passing yards and touchdowns by 7% and 22% per attempt.

 


Players on More Than 80% of Rosters to Add

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts (97%/98%)
David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears (97%/97%)
Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals (97%/97%)
Mike Davis, RB, Carolina Panthers (95%/91%)
D'Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions (94%/94%)
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (94%/91%)
Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team (93%/92%)
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (91%/94%)
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (91%/92%)
Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (91%/90%)
Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans (89%/88%)
David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans (86%/89%)
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers (85%/88%)
Wayne Gallman, RB, New York Giants (82%/82%)
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (80%/89%)
J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (79%/89%)
Robert Tonyan, TE, Green Bay Packers (79%/86%)
Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (77%/80%)
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans (75%/82%)
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans (74%/88%)
Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens (67%/81%)


Players on More Than 20% of Rosters You Can Drop

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (98%/99%)
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (96%/88%)
Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons (93%/93%)
Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers (92%/93%)
Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams (90%/93%)
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (85%/82%)
Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers (61%/52%)
Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (59%/64%)
Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots (53%/67%)
Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders (52%/46%)
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (49%/36%)
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans (44%/32%)
Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys (43%/42%)
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (41%/42%)
Devontae Booker, RB, Las Vegas Raiders (39%/25%)
Travis Fulgham, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (35%/27%)
Michael Pittman, WR, Indianapolis Colts (34%/49%)
Henry Ruggs, WR, Las Vegas Raiders (32%/29%)
Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens (31%/37%)
Alexander Mattison, RB, Minnesota Vikings (27%/24%)
Odell Beckham, WR, Cleveland Browns (27%/23%)
Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers (26%/32%)
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins (26%/21%)
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (25%/24%)
Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos (22%/15%)
Joshua Kelley, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (21%/14%)
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (20%/23%)
Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (16%/21%)
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Green Bay Packers (11%/23%)

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