Fantasy Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Week 16
Week 15 of the NFL season was filled with the kind of high drama that keeps us coming back to the league -- and to fantasy football -- year after year. The San Francisco 49ers lost in shocking, last-minute fashion to the lowly Atlanta Falcons, a defeat that could send the 49ers from the expected first seed in the NFC all the way down to the fifth seed. Drew Brees eclipsed Peyton Manning's all-time passing touchdown record -- and then scored another just for kicks. In the fantasy sphere, a huge week from Lamar Jackson inspired it's own trending hashtag on Twitter unrelated to his shattering of the single-season rushing yardage record for quarterbacks, while former fantasy studs like Dalvin Cook and Melvin Gordon likely cost you your shot at the fantasy championships.
Things may have gone poorly for your fantasy teams if you had to square off against players like Jackson or Kenyan Drake, but Week 15 was a great one for our bold predictions. The Baltimore D/ST did not finish as the top overall defense and did not shut out the New York Jets -- that honor went to the Minnesota D/ST, who scored 27 points -- but Baltimore did put up a pretty decent week overall. Allen Robinson (WR15) and Anthony Miller (WR5) stayed red hot and easily finished as top-24 wideouts. As I briefly noted above, Kenyan Drake went completely berserk, scoring as many rushing touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns last week as he did in any full season with the Miami Dolphins. And while A.J. Brown couldn't reprise his role as fantasy football's top wideout, he did finish near the top of the leaderboards with 21.4 fantasy points.
We'll look to continue our little hot streak right into the fantasy championships -- here are 4 Bold Predictions for Week 16.
It's Will Fuller Week
Will Fuller has made a name for himself as one of the league's top deep threats -- when he's available. Fuller has missed a substantial amount of time since entering the league, but there's no denying that he makes his presence felt when he is on the field. Fuller has already shown us his unique ability to take over a game in 2019 -- he finished as fantasy's top wideout back in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons -- and he'll put that ability on display again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their non-existent secondary in Week 16.
Before we dig in though, it's important to note that while Fuller did come up on the practice report as a limited participant this week, we shouldn't worry about his health barring any serious setbacks. A limited practice at the beginning of the week is actually a good sign, as it means he was still able to practice in some fashion as opposed to being held out entirely. And we should note that Fuller played 59 of the Houston Texans's 63 offensive snaps in Week 15, signaling that he's all-systems-go on game day.
Now that we've established that Fuller should in fact be on the field in Week 16, let's take a look at his matchup. The Bucs have allowed the third-most passing yards to opposing quarterbacks in the league (3,875) and are tied for having allowed the second-most points against (398). This is in part due to their complete inability to pressure the quarterback. Only two teams have a lower quarterback hurry rate than the Bucs (7.4%) this season -- the Texans themselves (7.0%) and the Miami Dolphins (6.8%). The Bucs also blitz at the second-highest rate in the league (44.1% of the time). In other words, the team is constantly sending additional defenders at opposing quarterbacks but is never effectively hurrying them.
This leaves their already weak secondary even more vulnerable to opposing receivers. The Bucs allow the most fantasy points in the league to opposing wideouts, and this week that means that Will Fuller will feast like fellow speedy wideouts Christian Kirk, Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf -- along with a very long list of receivers who finished near the top of the fantasy leaderboards when they faced the Bucs.
Part of what makes the Buccaneers' situation so fertile for fantasy points is, in fact, the Bucs' quarterback, Jameis Winston. Winston's extremely high passing volume -- he leads the league in pass attempts and passing yardage and has thrown the second-most touchdowns -- has kept the Bucs competitive in games, which drives up the score. This keeps opposing quarterbacks throwing the ball themselves and has resulted in the Buccaneers having the highest combined scores between themselves and their opponents in the league (814) by almost a full 100 points.
The Bucs have a bad secondary and a unique commitment to blitzing despite their inability to execute it, while Winston keeps opposing offenses from slowing the game down. This has resulted in the best spot for opposing wideouts imaginable. Fuller will capitalize on this matchup and finish as the week's top wide receiver in fantasy football.
O.J. Howard Will be a Top-6 Tight End
On the opposite side of the ball, basically everything I said about the Bucs' defense can also be applied to the Texans. The Texans' defense has similar difficulties getting to opposing quarterbacks despite blitzing at a relatively high rate, and Deshaun Watson in comeback mode is one of the scariest things imaginable to defenses facing him. This game is going to be a cornucopia of fantasy value for both teams -- it's just a pity that Mike Evans and Chris Godwin won't be able to enjoy it.
Virtually the entire Bucs receiving corp is sidelined with hamstring injuries right now, and that opens up a ton of opportunity for the rest of their pass-catchers -- even O.J. Howard, who has arguably been the most disappointing player in fantasy football this season. Howard has put together an aggressive campaign this season for why we shouldn't trust him this week. He's the TE27 in average fantasy points per game, has had just one game with double-digit fantasy points, and has consistently earned confusing and concerning remarks from his coaches all year.
But this week, the balls are going to come -- mostly because there's really nowhere else they can go. And Howard has quietly been simmering just below the boiling point for fantasy value the past few weeks. He has played at least 83% or more of the teams offensive snaps in each of their three games, and his 19 targets in that span of time are the ninth-most at the tight end position. His yardage totals of 61, 73 and 46 in those games haven't been half bad either.
Part of what's kept him off the fantasy radar the past few weeks -- other than his massively disappointing season as a whole -- has been his lack of touchdown production. That could very easily change this week against the Texans, who have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season. They've basically been a public relations firm specializing in disappointing tight ends this season, giving up big games to players like Eric Ebron, Noah Fant, and Jonnu Smith.
Someone has to step up on the Bucs offense after their whole receiver corp was wiped out, and Howard is the man to do it. He's been highly disappointing this year, but he'll hit the jackpot in Week 16 and finish as a top-six tight end for fantasy football.
Will Grier Will Finish as a Top-15 Fantasy Quarterback
I was pretty high on Will Grier in this year's NFL Draft, and I wasn't the only one, either. He was an extremely accurate passer as a West Virginia Mountaineer, completing 67% of his passes in his final year and averaging 10.7 adjusted yards per attempt while throwing 37 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The Carolina Panthers obviously liked what they saw in the young quarterback enough to draft him, but his fall to the third round was definitely concerning for his NFL outlook.
He was pretty disappointing from the get-go, grading out as Pro Football Focus's worst quarterback of the preseason. Perhaps even more concerning was just how stubborn the team was in sticking with Kyle Allen this season. Allen's 6.0 adjusted yards per attempt rank near the bottom of the league among qualified passers. He took 43 sacks -- second in the league -- despite playing two fewer games than most other quarterbacks, and his 15 interceptions are the fourth-most in 2019. The Panthers have been competitive at times in 2019, but most of that credit should go to the team's impressive skill position players, not to Allen.
That supporting cast is part of why I am optimistic for Grier this week, who is expected to start against Indianapolis. Christian McCaffrey is having one of the greatest fantasy seasons of all time despite playing with subpar quarterbacks this year, and D.J. Moore has proven himself to be one of the league's top wideouts playing with Allen. Curtis Samuel has made getting open deep look easy this year, though he unfortunately has had one of the worst catchable target rates in the league. Even Ian Thomas has flashed some chops whenever the ever-reliable Greg Olsen has missed time. The top of the Panthers' skill position depth chart is one of the most talented groups in the league, and those studs could help elevate Grier's play in his debut.
As for the Colts, they have quietly been a pretty forgiving defense to opposing quarterbacks. They've allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to enemy quarterbacks despite having played some pretty modest opposition, including Joe Flacco, Derek Carr, Nick Foles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mason Rudolph and Marcus Mariota. Bad quarterbacks have faired fine against the Colts, while good quarterbacks have been able to capitalize on the Colts' mediocre defense.
Will Grier's preseason performance and inability to send Kyle Allen to the bench before now are definitely red flags, but we should reserve full judgment until we've seen him play alongside some of the most talented individuals in the league. The Colts' defense isn't anything special and will give up a top-15 fantasy performance to Will Grier in his NFL debut.
James Conner Will be a Top-5 Running Back
James Conner hasn't had quite the year the fantasy community envisioned him having back in August and September when he was a near unanimous first-round pick in fantasy drafts. But despite losing Ben Roethlisberger and playing with two of the very worst quarterbacks in the league in Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, Conner has still found a way to get results -- when he's been healthy, that is.
Before last week, Conner had missed five of his previous six games with a shoulder injury and departed early in the other game when he aggravated his shoulder. But he finally returned in Week 15, and he should be ready to resume his old, dominant workload just in time for the fantasy championship.
There was speculation that the Pittsburgh Steelers would ease Conner back into the fold in his return against the Buffalo Bills, and if you just look at his total carries, you'd probably assume that's what happened. But actually, Conner's workload was quite promising. The Steelers were behind for most of this game, which resulted in Duck Hodges attempting 38 passes over the course of the game, while the team's running backs totaled just 14 rush attempts. But 8 of those 12 rush attempts were given to Conner, who converted them into a solid 42 yards on the ground, and more importantly, 5 of those 38 attempts went Conner's way.
This week, the Steelers -- who are somehow still very much alive for the playoffs -- get a much easier matchup against the Jets, who have all but thrown in the towel on the year. While the Jets have played well against the run this year, they've begun to falter in recent weeks. The Baltimore Ravens had no problem establishing the run against them last Thursday, while Patrick Laird managed to put up double-digit fantasy points against them in Week 14, and Joe Mixon scored 15 in Week 13. The Jets have nothing to play for, and with rumors once again circulating about the team trading off its big names, it would not be surprising if the players have lost some of their will to compete.
Conner still got the bulk of the running back workload despite coming off of his scary shoulder injury and hit the ground running in his return. He was easily the team's lead back in the rushing game and reclaimed the passing game work that's helped keep his fantasy floor high despite the Steelers' offensive struggles this season. He's inarguably the best running back on the team, and Mike Tomlin knows it. They'll make full usage of their best running back this week in a game that could decide the fate of the their playoff hopes. James Conner -- numberFire's RB8 for the week -- will leverage a strong workload against a defeated defense to finish as a top-five running back in Week 16.