6 Fantasy Football Last Minute Start or Sit, Week 15
We've already been over a ton of players that are right on the cut line today, from our Thursday Start/Sits that included Mikel LeShoure, Antonio Brown, and Pierre Garcon (who is now even worse with RGIII ruled out) to our Best Value Plays article including Russell Wilson, Vick Ballard, Jonathan Dwyer, Danario Alexander, Lance Moore, and Marcedes Lewis to even a special look at whether the Detroit Lions defense is worth starting in your league.
But there's more. Because we're your secret weapon in helping you win your league, here's six more guys that could be the determining factor between winning and losing this week. If you want our full projections, make sure to check out our Week 15 Projections page. But for a closer look at the reasoning behind our numbers for these key players, read on.
Fantasy Football Best Starts/Must Sits Week 15
Knowshon Moreno - Denver Broncos
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 11.26 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 15 Ranked RB (No. 50 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 50.4%
Week 15 Opponent: at Baltimore Ravens
Verdict: Start Him
We said to start him last week, and what did he do? Oh, only a league-high 32 carries, 119 rushing yards, 48 yards receiving, and a touchdown. That's not too bad from a guy who was having carries poached by Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball as the Broncos' backup earlier on in the season.
In the opposite vein of Bryce Brown, we see no reason why Moreno's production would stop after his big day against the Raiders. Despite having Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos still run the ball a decent amount: 43 percent of their offensive plays, to be exact. Recently, that number has gone up even higher; Moreno has received at least 20 carries in each of his three starts and has touched the ball on at least 40 percent of Denver's offensive snaps in those games.
But perhaps more important is where that efficiency fits in to the overall Broncos offense, as they rank as numberFire's No. 5 most-efficient offensive unit, gaining 99.94 over expectation so far this season. That should mean plenty of scoring opportunities for the Man to Know(shon) - his 0.56 projected rushing touchdowns is the 11th most among all running backs this week.
It remains a solid argument that Oakland has nowhere near the defensive prowess of the Ravens, but then again, Ray Lewis's club isn't exactly the most fearsome unit in Baltimore these days, either. (That would be Stringer Bell and his crew.) The Ravens come into this game as numberFire's No. 11 opponent-adjusted defensive unit in terms of efficiency, and their 22.56 points under expectation allowed to opposing running games ranks a below-average 18th on the season.
Darren McFadden - Oakland Raiders
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 12.69 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 12 Ranked RB (No. 39 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 48.8%
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Verdict: Start Him
There's more than one AFC West running back worth starting this week... actually, there's three. There's that Moreno guy up there, there's Jamaal Charles as a consistent must-start, and then there's this guy. Mr. McFadden. The guy who has only topped 70 yards rushing in two of his nine games played. The guy who plays on numberFire's No. 22 opponent-adjusted offense. Yup, he's the one I want.
Think I'm being sarcastic? Well, 73 percent of the time that's probably a good guess, but here, I'm not. And one of the main reasons is the amount Raiders running backs touch the ball in that offense. Although Oakland has thrown the ball on only an astonishingly-low 34.3 percent of their offensive plays this year, running backs are heavily involved in the passing game. With 52 total targets on the season in eight games, McFadden is averaging the third-most targets per game on the Raiders, only behind Denarius Moore and Brandon Myers. This was certainly true last week; his four targets were fourth on the team and represented 13 percent of Palmer's total throws.
And while he has not been the most efficient player running the ball - his -0.26 NEP per rush is one of the worst averages in the league - he may not need to be against the Kansas City defense. The Chiefs are one of only four NFL teams to have allowed positive rushing NEP over the average NFL play this season, which is not an easy feat considering how much more efficient passing is over rushing. Kansas City's 2.61 points over expectation allowed is the fourth-worst mark in the NFL, behind only Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis. As long as McFadden gets his touches (and only Marcel Reece had four backup carries last week), then there should be enough holes to make the back fantasy-relevant.
Reggie Bush - Miami Dolphins
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.16 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 30 Ranked RB (No. 93 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 78.8%
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Verdict: Sit Him
Yes, the Jaguars defense has been bad, giving up 9.60 NEP over expectation to opposing rushing attacks, the second-highest amount in the NFL. But you know what's almost just as bad? Miami's rushing efficiency.
At -0.12 NEP per rush, the Miami Dolphins rank 26th in the NFL in per-play rushing efficiency; only the Raiders, Cardinals, Steelers, Eagles, Chargers, and Falcons are worse. And a good portion of that can be attributed to Reggie Bush. At -0.16 NEP per rush, only Mikel LeShoure, Trent Richardson, Ryan Mathews, and Michael Turner have been less efficient among backs with at least 10 carries per game this season.
So maybe that's a reason why we've been seeing progressively less Bush as the season has gone on. Although Daniel Thomas is still recovering from injury and isn't a full-fledged vulture, the Dolphins are still preferring other options than the former Top Man on USC's payroll. In Week 12, only 26 percent of Dolphins offensive plays were Bush rushing attempts. Week 13, that number jumped all the way up to... 27 percent. And Week 14, that number was at 25 percent. That's pretty consistent...ly bad. No amount of targets (and Bush is averaging less than four per game over his last three games) will make up for that.
Until Bush becomes a bigger part of that Miami offense once again, we would look elsewhere, even for a flex spot. Beanie Wells, Montell Owens, and David Wilson are all better choices this week.
Greg Jennings - Green Bay Packers
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.99 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 15 Ranked WR (No. 65 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 46.9%
Week 15 Opponent: at Chicago Bears
Verdict: Start Him
It's always a struggle with these Green Bay receivers. Simply put, you never know who's going to get the ball, or whether anyone's actually going to get it at all (as Aaron Rodgers' 24 pass attempt day in Week 14 so helpfully demonstrated). But if there's one receiver to place your bets on, then it may just be one that hasn't had a single day over six FP this entire season: Greg Jennings.
The injury bug is a fickle beast; earlier Jennings was the victim, and right now it's Jordy Nelson. But Nelson's loss could be Jennings' gain. So far this season, Jennings has played in only five games. But in those five games, he's averaged 6.8 targets per game, even including last week's four targets (which, by the way, were third on the team and represented 17 percent of all Rodgers throws). That targets per game figure is second on the Packers behind only Randall Cobb... who sits just a poke higher at 7.0 targets per game. It's a key reason why Jennings projects to have 6.73 receptions this week, the second-highest mark among all receivers.
Going against Chicago's No. 1 ranked pass defense should be a challenge - the Bears have given up 63.48 points under expectation to opposing passing games so far this season - they have not flashed as grand of colors in recent weeks. In their past four games, the Bears have given up double-digit FP days to four pass-catchers, including such big names as, well, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph, and Vernon Davis. OK, so maybe not such big names. And it didn't work that great in Week 2 either, when Aaron Rodgers completed 69 percent of his passes en route to a 23-10 Packers victory. Both Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver finished with eight FP in that game.
Josh Gordon - Cleveland Browns
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.70 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 36 Ranked WR (No. 98 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 26.3%
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins
Verdict: Sit Him
A newly-christened fantasy darling after ascending to the high-flying (no, actually) Browns' No. 1 receiving spot, Josh Gordon is now being started in over a quarter of ESPN leagues. And considering the amount of people who have already given up their seasons, that's a high number.
But don't be among the crowd: Josh Gordon's still not worth the risk.
So, my Josh Gordon Fan Club friend, how many times has Gordon led the Browns in targets over the past four weeks? No, it's not all four. It's not even three. It's exactly two: Benjamin Watson outpaced him in targets in Week 13, and both Watson and Trent Richardson had more than Gordon in Week 11. While Gordon did have the most among receivers in all four of those weeks, his overall target count was still not high. I want somebody on my side who has had over seven targets more than once since Week 7.
If you're not getting high target amounts, you better well be catching a vast majority of the balls that come your way. But Gordon currently isn't even managing that. His 55 percent catch rate ranks him in the bottom half of all NFL receivers, and although he has gotten better recently (14 of 19 in his past two games), we expect a regression to the mean coming soon. Maybe the most efficient defense Cleveland has faced in three weeks (Washington's at No. 20) will do the trick.
Vernon Davis - San Francisco 49ers
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.18 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 13 Ranked TE (No. 124 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 67.5%
Week 15 Opponent: at New England Patriots
Verdict: Sit Him
Well, I talked a little bit about Vernon Davis's big day against the Bears up there in the Greg Jennings section. So let me see, how exactly has he done since that day. Oh, exactly one fantasy point in three weeks? Well that's interesting. And he's currently the sixth-most started tight end in all ESPN leagues? Well these two things don't quite make sense, do they?
Make no mistake: Vernon Davis is a fantasy playoffs team killer. As I noted in my Best Final 3 Weeks Options article, Vernon Davis isn't only out of our Top Ten this week, he's out of our projected Top Ten for the rest of the season. Since that breakout Bears game, Colin Kaepernick has targeted Davis exactly six times in three games, a trend that our analytics picked up on in projecting Davis with only 3.08 receptions this week (and that may be generous).
The most common argument for starting Davis is, "Well, the Patriots give up a lot of fantasy points to tight ends!" But while that may be true, it's more a statistical anomaly than based on the efficiency of their play. A far cry from their 2011 "Can't buy a cornerback" play, the Patriots have been surprisingly average (in a good way) against the pass this year. Their 79.85 NEP above expectation to opposing quarterbacks ranks 19th among all NFL teams so far this season. That mark is also better than two of the teams that San Francisco has played in the last three weeks: Miami and New Orleans. And in those two games, Davis finished with a combined one catch for four yards on three targets.