Championship week is here, and hopefully your playoff fantasy squads didn't pull a Dez Bryant and make an early exit. Even if they did, there's still time to become a daily fantasy degenerate in 2013. Either way, you have probably run into some tough calls involving one of the following four players, so let's get to it.
Note before you get started: For a definition of Net Expected Points (NEP), check out our glossary.
Doug Baldwin (1.05 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 1st of 82 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
When searching for a plug-and-play WR3 in fantasy, you are generally choosing from a pool of wideouts that are not receiving an ideal number of targets, which is probably the reason they were on your waiver wire or bench in the first place. Since these players are receiving less volume than most other fantasy starters, efficiency becomes paramount - you want a guy who can essentially do more with less.
Enter Doug Baldwin, who paces all NFL wideouts with 50 targets or more in Reception NEP per Target. That's right, Baldwin has added the most points to his team's expected total on a per-target basis of any wide receiver in the league. In fact, over his past six games, Baldwin has been a double-digit standard fantasy point commodity, averaging 10.7 per game. This is important, as he has only been getting a modest six targets per game over his past six contests.
However, Baldwin does lead all Seahawks in targets over that span, giving him what I call "target upside". What that means is, a go-to-guy on any team is the most likely player to outperform his season target average if the game flow dictates more passing. We can't predict game flow with much degree of accuracy, but if a team is forced to pass more, we want the guy who is most likely to see an uptick in volume.
Another important factor for WR3s is touchdown potential. Because of the aforementioned lower volume, getting those six fantasy points in one play becomes even more important. Remember, one touchdown is the same as sixty yards, or the same as six receptions in PPR. Because of lower target numbers, it's less likely for WR3s to reach those yardage or reception outputs. Fortunately, Baldwin's career red zone touchdown rate sits at an impressive 39 percent. For comparison, the NFL average is 24 percent.
Baldwin's environment is also conducive to efficient production. He is a part of the NFL's fourth-most efficient passing game, as the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks average 0.23 NEP/Pass. It's worth noting that Baldwin has outplayed fellow wideout Golden Tate, who ranks only 37th in Reception NEP per Target despite playing in the same offense.
It is common knowledge that the Seahawks take it to another level at home, and Baldwin seems to be no different. Check out his career home/road splits:
I bring attention to these splits because Baldwin's last two games are at home. In Week 16, he will face the Cardinals, whose slot coverage seems to have taken a hit after losing the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. Last week, Kendall Wright torched them for a 12-reception, 150-yard stat line. Even their normally stingy cornerback Patrick Peterson had trouble in the slot, where he gave up six completions for 96 yards on seven targets to Wright. Baldwin lines up in the slot 69.4 percent of the time.
I would plug Baldwin in in a pinch if I was in need of a WR3 during championship week. I also think he is an excellent value in daily fantasy.
Delanie Walker (32.87 Target NEP, Ranked 8th of 24 Qualifying Tight Ends)
Similar to WR3s, most tight ends do not receive many targets outside of the elites. Therefore, a tight end who does see targets becomes almost automatically valuable.
Since Ryan Fitzpatrick took over as the Titans quarterback in Week 10, the least amount of times he has targeted Delanie Walker in a game is eight, if you remove a game where Walker left early due to a concussion. Walker has averaged 9.5 targets per game over that span.
Walker has been effective with his looks from Fitzpatrick, averaging 6.75 receptions for 63 yards over his last four full games. He has found the end zone in three of those four as well. Judging by recent trends, Walker seems to be the rare tight end who actually has a decent floor, even if he doesn't score.
Tight ends are very sensitive to matchups, more so than any other position. Walker delivered an 8-catch, 53-yard, one-touchdown stat line in dream matchup last week versus the Cardinals' defense, who rank 32nd in strength-of-schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to Tight Ends. Now, he gets to face the Jaguars, who rank 29th. The Jags are also 29th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP Per Pass, so Fitzpatrick and Walker should have no problem delivering in fantasy crunch-time this Sunday.
I would start Walker confidently as a mid-tier TE1 this week, and he is another guy I love in daily fantasy, especially at his price.
T.Y.Hilton (0.62 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 56th of 82 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Despite allowing him to be more of a focal point in the Colts' offense, T.Y.Hilton's fantasy prospects may have actually taken a hit with Reggie Wayne's season-ending injury.
Before Wayne went down, Hilton was the Colts' big-play receiver, with a 15.8 Average Depth of Target (aDOT, courtesy of Pro Football Focus). Since Wayne has been out, that number has plummeted to 10.0, not even two-thirds of what it was with Wayne in the lineup. This has capped his upside a bit despite him possessing excellent speed.
Hilton has played more of the slot position since Wayne went down, and has also been more of a focus of defensive coverage. As a result, he has largely been held in check outside of a monstrous three-touchdown game against the hapless Texans.
Hilton's low aDOT has turned him into more of a PPR asset than a player with huge standard-league upside. And despite drawing an additional target per game since Wayne has gone down, Hilton has only seen ten red zone targets all year, converting two for touchdowns.
This week, Hilton faces a Chiefs defense that still ranks second in the NFL in Defensive NEP/Pass despite hitting somewhat of a mid-season rough patch versus the Broncos and Chargers. Kansas City has been vulnerable to wide receivers, however, ranking 30th against them in adjusted fantasy points allowed. So should you throw caution to the wind and trust Hilton this week?
Probably not. The Colts will be traveling to Arrowhead this week, and check out Hilton's career splits at home (mostly indoors on turf) as compared to away (mostly outdoors on grass):
Hilton just has not been able to be the big-play guy on the road compared to at home. He only has one 100-yard game on grass in his career, and that came in a 59-24 blowout loss at the hands of the Patriots. He averages nearly five yards less per reception away from Indianapolis, and this combined with his recent low aDOT numbers and the Chiefs solid defense would give me pause about putting him in my lineup in non-PPR leagues during championship week. Obviously the talent is there, but he remains a middling WR3 for me in standard leagues.
Kirk Cousins (-0.45 Passing NEP, Ranked 45th of 47 Qualifying Quarterbacks)
Net Expected Points metrics have not been kind to Kirk Cousins so far in 2013, primarily due to a high number of turnovers. He highlights an important piece of wisdom in fantasy (and life): Know what you don't know.
With Cousins, we don't know a whole lot, because we still don't have much of an NFL body of work to go off of. He has two career starts and 118 career attempts.
For one, we have no idea how he will handle making a second consecutive start. Will defenses be able to adjust now that they have a week of his 2013 tape on film? Will Cousins have to handle new defensive schemes that he has not seen yet? Will he be able to perform well under the pressure of the home crowd, since both of his previous career starts were on the road? We simply don't know.
While there are a lot of unknowns, we can try to glean the little that we can from the limited sample size of data we have on Cousins.
What stands out to me is that Cousins hasn't taken good care of the ball so far in his young career. He has seven interceptions in only 118 attempts, and he had three turnovers last week despite facing a Falcons defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in Defensive NEP Per Play and Defensive NEP Per Pass.
On the positive side of things, Cousins has been able to move the ball thus far in his young career, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt. However, in terms of taking deep shots and pushing the ball downfield, he has been about the same as Robert Griffin III. Cousins average depth of aimed throw is 9.1 and Griffin's is 8.9, and both have gone deep 10 percent of the time.
So based on the information we know (and don't know), is Cousins a good play this Sunday against the Cowboys?
It looks like a very risky proposition. Although you can point to the Cowboys getting torched by backup quarterbacks in their last two games for 647 yards and eight touchdowns, keep in mind that Matt Flynn has three times as many starts, attempts and years of experience as Cousins. Josh McCown is an 11-year NFL veteran with 38 career starts and 1,333 career attempts. And he has Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who are a lot better than Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss.
Perhaps a better comparison to Cousins against the Cowboys defense is Raiders rookie quarterabck Matt McGloin, who had two starts and 79 career attempts coming in to his game against Dallas. The Cowboys held McGloin to 255 yards and no touchdowns, picking him off once.
The Cowboys defense can most certainly be exploited at every level, but we have to keep their recent struggles in context. The Chicago Bears are a powerful offense capable of lighting up any defense. And the Cowboys did play one great half of defensive football against the Packers, holding them to three points in the the first half last week. The Cowboys defense only became undone once their own offense fell victim to poor play calling and turnovers, which may or may not happen again this week.
We have Cousins ranked as the 19th-best quarterback for championship week, which I think is about right. He should be considered more in two-quarterback leagues due to his great matchup, but there may be too much uncertainty to plug him in as a QB1 over someone more tested.