Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in Week 16

Week 16 is loaded with high-leverage games that carry big significance for the NFL playoff picture.

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots duel for playoff seeding and an outside shot at a changing of the guard in the AFC East. The San Francisco 49ers try to squash the Los Angeles Rams' slim playoff hopes and put themselves back into the discussion for a first-round bye. Then the NFC North could be decided with the Minnesota Vikings hosting the Green Bay Packers.

But none of those games are on the main slate.

We do get some tasty games, including the battle for the NFC East between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, but most of the games with something on the line take place outside the confines of our default offering. That's going to make things a bit tough to diagnose.

Players still score fantasy points when their teams aren't going to the playoffs, so this isn't to say this slate is devoid of fun. It's just trickier to navigate when teams may not be putting out their best effort and could be planning ahead for 2020.

As such, we've got two big tasks on hand this week. First, we have to figure out which fantasy pieces stand out on teams with something on the line because they'll bring a little extra safety relative to the field. Second, we have to try to find gems in non-competing teams who can stand out in murkier situations.

We'll start with the big boppers at the top before we dabble in the muck. Which situations are primed to impact how we view Week 16's main NFL DFS slate? Let's check it out.

The Cowboys' Target Tree

If you had told me Sunday that the Cowboys would drop 44 points on the Rams, I would have let out a joyous yelp. That game had a massive total, and running backs on the early slate went nuts. If you had the Cowboys' passing game in the hole waiting to fire, you were feeling good.

Unless that exposure included Tavon Austin and Jason Witten, the shouting was decidedly less positive three hours later.

Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb combined for 22 receiving yards, fewer than all of Witten, Austin, and Blake Jarwin. Cooper's down day wasn't a major surprise with coverage from Jalen Ramsey, but seeing all three completely flop did not seem possible.

That's an issue for Week 16. The Cowboys are facing an Eagles secondary that has gotten torched repeatedly this year, and it's a game with a lot of marbles on the line. We want to invest here, assuming that Dak Prescott gets the all-clear while dealing with a shoulder injury. It's just hard to know the best route for doing so.

The Cowboys had their bye in Week 8 and have played seven games since then, which is a pretty solid sample. Here's the target distribution in that time with a "deep" target being at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Week 9 On Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Michael Gallup 19.9% 22.9% 11.5%
Amari Cooper 19.2% 29.2% 19.2%
Jason Witten 16.6% 4.2% 11.5%
Randall Cobb 14.8% 29.2% 11.5%
Ezekiel Elliott 10.7% 0.0% 19.2%

It's a bit of "too many cooks" syndrome. The Cowboys have a good number of talented skill-position players. That's great for Prescott; it's far less peachy for us.

This doesn't kill the ceiling for players in the offense. In this span, they've had 14 games by a non-quarterback with at least 15 half-PPR points, and all three of Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb have topped that number at least twice. It's just hard to predict who will go off in a given week when the targets are spread out.

That's enough of a concern to make all of the Cowboys' receivers risky for cash games, especially when you factor in Prescott's injury. It's a great matchup, and we should covet game environments like this one. But predictable volume is what you want in that format, and the receivers aren't giving you that.

Ezekiel Elliott is a different story.

Elliott had no targets in the first game after the bye, and his overall share is low because of that. But things have been trending up for him with at least four targets in each of the past four games.

That's huge for his fantasy appeal. On half-PPR sites like FanDuel, each target for a running back is worth twice as much of a carry. So instead of looking at total touches or opportunities, we can double their target total to get "adjusted opportunities" and get a better gauge of their workload. Elliott's has been hyper-steady of late.

Ezekiel Elliott's Weekly Adjusted Opportunities

Thanks to the spike in targets, Elliott has at least 29 adjusted opportunities in four straight games. He had 29 adjusted opportunities just 3 times in the first 10 games this year. It has helped Elliott average 20.9 FanDuel points per game in this stretch with a minimum of 14.6.

Because Elliott didn't have a major role in the passing game earlier in the year, a reversion to that is always possible. But he's playing really well and getting big volume on a high-quality offense. That makes Elliott a top-notch running back play at $8,700 and easily the safest way to get access to this team.

The receivers are fully viable for tournaments, even when you account for their low target shares. We just have to decide whom to favor.

A big part of this will come down to salaries. Cooper is $7,700 while Gallup is $6,500 and Cobb is $5,300. Those are clearly-defined tiers from a salary perspective. And it's a big part of the reason why Gallup should sit highest on our list.

In that sample since the bye, not only does Gallup lead in overall targets, but he also leads in air yards, per Gallup has four 100-yard games this year, two of which have come since the bye, and he doesn't lower your ability to snag an expensive running back. Gallup's best suited for tournaments, but if you desperately wanted to use a Cowboys pass-catcher in cash games, he'd be the best outlet for doing so.

This is not to speak ill of Cooper. Sure, he's pricey, but not many receivers possess his yardage upside, meaning he has the ability to bust open a slate in a hurry. His profile just isn't that of a player we should covet for cash games, and the salary savings help us favor Gallup for tournaments.

Even at the reduced salary, Cobb's someone who will be hard to trust. With a rush-heavy script in Week 15, Cobb played just 41.4% of the snaps, his second time under 50% in the past four games. If they jump out to an early lead, he may not even be on the field whereas Gallup and Cooper almost assuredly will. That's bad for both his floor and his ceiling.

Still, we have three viable players we can stack with Prescott in Elliott, Gallup, and Cooper, which isn't too shabby, again assuming that Prescott's shoulder winds up being all right. All three also work as a bring-back option if you decide to stack the Eagles' side. That one might be a wee bit harder, though.

The Still-Depleted Eagles

Prescott's shoulder injury is definitely a bummer for the Cowboys. But they ain't got nothin' on the Eagles.

Not having Nelson Agholor and Lane Johnson at practice the first two days this week is in addition to all the guys who are already on injured reserve. Jordan Howard still hasn't been cleared for contact. It has been a rough year.

That does help narrow the target tree, which is a plus. But it also severely impacts the expected efficiency of Carson Wentz.

Wentz enters Week 16 ranked 20th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back out of 41 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. NEP is the expected points model numberFire uses to show the expected points added or subtracted on each play throughout the year, and Passing NEP accounts for expected points lost on events like sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. Wentz is currently behind guys we've dunked on this year like Jared Goff and Jameis Winston, and he's right ahead of the corpses of Tom Brady and Eli Manning. He has seen better days.

If Johnson misses again, it's hard to see that changing as the team averages 6.28 yards per pass attempt with Johnson off the field, according to the Quant Edge, compared to 7.06 with him on. Agholor is less consequential, but not having Johnson is a major blow, and it makes Wentz hard to justify at quarterback.

Even with that said, Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz are still fully viable even when you account for the decreased efficiency.

For Ertz, the expected volume here is massive. They've had roughly the same personnel in Weeks 12, 13, and 15, games that Alshon Jeffery missed after Greg Ward joined the team. Ertz has been a target monster in those games.

Past 3 Without Jeffery Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Zach Ertz 27.4% 23.5% 31.6%
Greg Ward 18.5% 5.9% 31.6%
Dallas Goedert 14.8% 23.5% 5.3%
Miles Sanders 11.9% 0.0% 15.8%

Ertz definitely isn't cheap at $6,900. However, he gets the volume of a wide receiver and fills your tight end slot, and we'll have the ability to afford him with DeAndre Washington a borderline lock at $5,600. You should try to target Ertz as often as you feel comfortable doing.

Sanders is less of a priority at $7,400, but we can still certainly throw him out there. His snap rate bounced back up to 71.4% last week, and he has averaged 24.8 adjusted opportunities per game since Howard's injury. Sanders grades out below Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara in this same range (more on them in a second), but we can definitely rotate him in, especially when stacking this game.

As for Ward, it's harder to get to him now that his salary is up to $5,700. With his lack of deep targets, he's getting usage similar to what you expect out of Cole Beasley. If Beasley were $4,900 -- as Ward was last week -- we'd be down to use him. It's just harder to get there when he's $5,700. Even in a game with lots on the line, it's absolutely fine if your player pool includes only Ertz and Sanders from this team.

Alvin Kamara's Struggles

The last time Alvin Kamara scored a touchdown, Marcus Mariota was the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback, Kyle Allen dropped 38 points in his first game in relief of Cam Newton, and Daniel Jones had started his career with a bang in a come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A whole lotta stuff has changed since then, including an ankle injury for Kamara that seems to have taken some of the juice out of his carries. But his salary is down to $7,200, and he's in a game the New Orleans Saints are motivated to win with a first-round bye still firmly on the table. Can we go to Kamara in a game where his scoreless game drought could hit double digits?

For Kamara, the question isn't about usage as that has still been there. Since returning from his ankle injury, Kamara has averaged 11.0 carries and 8.0 targets per game. That amounts to 27 adjusted opportunities per game, a number that you'll gleefully take at $7,200.

That usage has allowed Kamara to maintain a lofty floor. Even with no touchdowns his past nine games, he still has double-digit FanDuel points eight times, his lone dud coming in that wild shootout with the 49ers. He has been close to paying off on receptions and yardage alone, meaning that he'd be outstanding if he could just find the end zone even once.

With the way the Saints utilize their players, though, that's far from a given. If it's not Latavius Murray scooping up goal-line usage, it could be Taysom Hill. They've got options, and they're not afraid to use them.

Interestingly, though, Kamara hasn't necessarily been getting vultured at the goal line; they just haven't been running in close.

The Saints have run 14 plays inside the five-yard line since Kamara returned from his ankle injury. They've thrown on 10 of those and run just four times.

Of the four runs, Kamara has two compared to one for Murray and one for Drew Brees. Kamara doesn't have any of the 10 targets, but he is second on the team in red-zone targets since the bye.

Week 10 On Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Michael Thomas 32.4% 25.8% 27.0%
Alvin Kamara 21.9% 0.0% 18.9%
Jared Cook 15.1% 29.0% 13.5%
Ted Ginn 9.1% 25.8% 5.4%

You're far more likely to score on a target inside the five than just inside the 20, but Kamara's getting some scoring chances; he just hasn't cashed in yet.

This is a game that sets up well for heavy Kamara usage. The Titans are fourth against the rush but 16th against the pass, meaning the Saints should go with more of an air-heavy attack. The Titans have allowed the eighth-most receiving yards to running backs in the league. It's a spot where -- if not for the cold streak -- Kamara would be a no-brainer.

There are enough things going in Kamara's favor where we should still be inclined to turn his way, even if he has scorched us plenty this year. His floor has still been good, the Saints have motivation to play well, and the gameplan should favor him over Murray. As much as it hurts, he's a really good play at running back yet again.

The path of least resistance is clearly with Michael Thomas at $9,000, and Jared Cook is solid at $6,600, as well. You've got ways to use the Saints without dealing with Kamara. Still, Kamara brings a steady floor with the path to a big day, and he comes at just $7,200. That's going to be hard to pass up when dabbling in this game.

The Emergence of A.J. Brown

When Ryan Tannehill first took over as the Titans' quarterback, it was impossible to get jazzed about any of their pass-catchers. They were still a run-first team, and the targets were spread out, capping the impact of the team's new-found efficiency.

Fast forward to Week 16, and the Titans are still rush-heavy (they actually run more on early downs in the first half than they did with Mariota starting); however, A.J. Brown has pulled away from the pack, alleviating the other big concern in this passing offense.

For most of the season, Brown's snap rate has been in the 60% range as the team was rotating wide receivers. As the year has progressed, though, it has become more and more clear that Brown is immensely talented, and it has forced them to ditch the rotation. Brown's market share has risen with the snaps.

Outside of the game Corey Davis missed in Week 10, Brown's highest snap rates have come the past three weeks. In that span, Brown has become the clear focal point of the offense.

Past 3 Games Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
A.J. Brown 29.6% 33.3% 21.4%
Corey Davis 14.8% 16.7% 7.1%
Jonnu Smith 13.6% 5.6% 14.3%

This is a drastic shift from Brown's volume earlier in the year, and it means we have to ditch our prior assumptions of the Titans' offense.

Again, this is still a run-heavy offense, and he did have just four targets in one of those games. But this is a great spot for a player in that mold.

The Saints' offense has been hot lately and should be able to put points on the board. That means the Titans won't be able to just ground and pound this puppy to death, ensuring we should get more than five drop backs out of Tannehill.

We saw the upsides of that last week. The Titans fell behind, and Brown finished with 13 overall targets with three being deep. That's the upside if the Saints get a lead in this game, which is fully in the range of outcomes.

Brown has a tough matchup on his hands against Marshon Lattimore, and we should consider that. It's also possible the Titans get a lead and shun the forward pass once again. That's likely enough to push Brown out of cash-game consideration. The tournament appeal is pretty meaty, though, at $7,200.

Derrick Henry's hamstring has held him to less than 60% of the snaps in consecutive weeks, but his salary has stayed lofty at $8,800, the same as Saquon Barkley and higher than guys in similar molds like Chris Carson and Joe Mixon. He also has the potential to evaporate should game script not go in his favor. Because of that, our favorite route for getting exposure to the Titans should likely be via Brown, and we can absolutely consider pairing him with Tannehill at $7,800.

This is a game that is pretty easy to stack. Both quarterbacks are at least in play, we know with whom to pair them (Thomas and Kamara on the Saints' side and Brown on the Titans' side), and both offenses are operating efficiently entering the contest. Even with some concerns around Kamara and Brown, this all justifies having decent exposure to both sides of this game.

The Seahawks' Defense

The Seattle Seahawks are another team with something on the line this week. They could snag home-field advantage in the playoffs or wind up traveling in the wild card round still. The motivation here isn't a question.

That's going to make the aforementioned Chris Carson one of the better running back plays on the slate at $8,200. He's facing the league's 20th-ranked rush defense, and the Arizona Cardinals operate at a quick pace to inflate play volume. Carson's sweet.

The questions moreso revolve around the passing offense. The Seahawks have the highest implied total on the slate, and the Cardinals are worse against the pass than they are the rush. We should want to go here.

It's just hard to have faith if the script here goes the way bookmakers think it will with the Seahawks being 10-point favorites. The Seahawks throw just 45% of the time when ahead by more than one score, according to Sharp Football Stats, ranking 21st in football. If they get a lead, Russell Wilson may not attempt a pass the rest of the game.

This is what happened when the two teams played back in Week 4. The Seahawks led, 20-3, at the end of the first half, and Wilson recorded just 12 drop backs after halftime. The team scored one solitary touchdown those closing two quarters, and Wilson finished with 14.30 FanDuel points. This time, they're at home, meaning a duplication of that is fully viable.

If we want to use Wilson and other pieces in the passing game, we need Kyler Murray and company to put up some points. Thankfully, that's not a totally ridiculous proposition.

The Seahawks enter Week 16 ranked 14th against the pass and 13th overall defensively, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. That's for the full season. Now, they're banged up and had to play Week 15 without all of Jadeveon Clowney, Mychal Kendricks, Ezekiel Ansah, and Shaquill Griffin. They still dominated Kyle Allen, but Murray has the talent edge there.

It's possible some of those guys are back this week as Griffin and Kendricks got in limited practices on Wednesday, but this defense is simply in the middle of the pack and isn't at full health. There's a scenario in which the Cardinals put up at least some points, in which case Wilson and the pass-catchers are in play.

Given the spread and the gap in motivation for the two teams, our baseline assumption should be that the Seahawks coast to victory. That means Carson is the only guy in consideration for cash games. Wilson, though, makes sense for tournaments, and there are clear, easy routes for stacking.

With Josh Gordon now suspended indefinitely, a couple extra targets per game are now up for grabs. The team had a three-week stretch from Week 7 through Week 9 in which they didn't have either Will Dissly or Gordon, which will be the case on Sunday. Almost all of the targets went to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

Weeks 7 to 9 Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Tyler Lockett 31.0% 42.3% 44.4%
DK Metcalf 23.0% 23.1% 27.8%
Jacob Hollister 14.0% 7.7% 11.1%

One of those games for Lockett was an 18-target outing, something he has not come close to duplicating this year. We should not expect him to get 31.0% of the targets on Sunday. But it is reasonable to expect him to see a large chunk of the pie.

Lockett's back up to $7,600, which is right beneath Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. He's coming off a nine-target game in which he had four deep targets, his most since he sustained his injury in Week 10. If you think this game stays close, then Lockett is elite for tournaments and the top stacking partner with Wilson.

Metcalf is only $6,300, and as you can see above, he got high-leverage targets, as well, in the gap before Gordon joined the team. At that salary, your need for a back-and-forth affair is a bit lesser. Because of that, Metcalf is firmly on the table even outside of game stacks as he doesn't need to do as much to pay off. He's just not as appealing as Lockett for game stacks because Lockett's potential in a tight game is higher.

Jacob Hollister was third on the team in targets in this stretch, but that actually occurred before his role expanded. With his snap rate above 60% in the past six games, Hollister has 19.9% of the team's targets. He would also benefit from Gordon being off the field.

Luke Willson could be back this week, but Hollister has played well enough to justify keeping his role, and Willson was active in Weeks 9 and 10 when Hollister's snap rate was above 75%. Add in the drool-worthy matchup with the Cardinals, and Hollister -- like Metcalf -- is a standalone option even when we acknowledge that the Seahawks may not have to throw all that much.

When you do decide to use Lockett and Wilson, you'll want to run it back with players on the Cardinals under the assumption they'll score points. Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake make doing so pretty easy.

Kirk is down to $5,900 despite having 26.1% of the team's targets since returning from his injury in Week 8. The salary is likely down because Kirk has been held to less than 50 yards in three of his past four games, but he had 85 in the other and put up 138 in the game before that stretch. It's hard to find guys with that upside in this range often, and it makes Kirk highly desirable both as a standalone play and in game stacks.

Drake's appeal should be obvious given his monster outing last week. If we're stacking the game, it means we expect it to be close throughout, which would allow the Cardinals to keep using Drake in the running game. Even if they fall behind, though, Drake has 14.8% of the targets since joining the team, which is a meaty number. We should prefer Kirk because he's cheaper and fits the more likely game script, but Drake is a clear-cut game-stacking option.

Locking in DeAndre Washington

As mentioned before, DeAndre Washington is going to be a focal point on the slate despite being on a team that is almost definitely not going to the playoffs. That's because we got some impactful injury news early in the week.

Early-week injury news is great. It'd just be preferable if the reasoning weren't such a bummer.

With Josh Jacobs out in Week 14, Washington's role was superb. He played 63.5% of the snaps -- more than Jacobs has played in all but three games this year -- and had 14 carries and 7 targets. Jacobs' max target load this year is five. You could argue that Washington's role in that game was better than Jacobs' default role this year.

What makes that even more reassuring is how that game went down. Although the game was tied at halftime, the Oakland Raiders eventually fell behind and lost, 42-21. While trying to dig out of a hole in the fourth quarter, Washington had three carries and two targets compared to Jalen Richard's one carry and two targets.

If the Raiders fall behind, Washington is still likely to stay on the field. That's more than we could have said about Jacobs post-injury.

It's not often you can find a player who is $5,600, will get passing-down work, and is likely to be on the field regardless of the game script. We're getting that with Washington here. He's a lock to be the most popular player on the entire slate, but it's for good reason, and we should suck it up and run him out there aggressively in both cash games and tournaments.

A Slight Role Change for Devonta Freeman

Even in an Atlanta Falcons win in Week 15, Devonta Freeman didn't do anything. He was scoreless and had 55 yards from scrimmage. You can't get more nondescript than that.

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that a slight role change for Freeman has flown a bit under the radar. That role change makes Freeman interesting at $6,200 even in a game that the Falcons don't need to win.

On Sunday, Freeman played 79.1% of the snaps. That's actually his third-highest snap rate of the year and only his fourth time topping a 70% snap rate. That may not seem like a lot, but it's hard to score fantasy points from the sideline.

This is a continuation of a slightly expanded role that Freeman has experienced since returning from his injury. He has played at least 66.7% of the snaps in all three games and has gotten more usage in those snaps (again, "adjusted opportunities" is carries plus two-times the player's target total).

Freeman in 2019 Carries Per Game Targets Per Game Adj. Opp. Per Game
Before Injury 11.9 4.9 21.7
Since Returning 15.3 4.0 23.3

Although Freeman is still far from a bellcow, he has been getting more work, and his salary is still down at $6,200. That's key for this week.

The Falcons are seven-point home favorites against the league's 30th-ranked rush defense. First-round pick Chris Lindstrom played every snap in Week 15 for the first time this year after being activated from injured reserve prior to Week 14. Things are looking good for the Falcons, which amplifies the importance of this role change for Freeman.

Atlanta's not going to the playoffs, which means there's inherently a bit extra risk in investing here, especially in a running back who has struggled all season long. We can't get overconfident in Freeman this week, and he should grade out below Washington among the cheaper backs. But it's hard not to get at least a bit excited, especially with Washington guaranteeing that Freeman doesn't carry much popularity.

If Freeman doesn't fit your fancy, you can still go here via Julio Jones after his 20-target game, Austin Hooper has six targets in both games since returning, and Russell Gage should get volume at just $5,100. Freeman's not the only route for targeting this dead-in-the-water Jacksonville Jaguars defense, but he is a cheap and relatively attractive one.

Joe Mixon's Role Change

Joe Mixon isn't as cheap as Freeman, but he has also experienced a role change of late. He also carries that role change into an elite matchup, Mixon's being against the Miami Dolphins.

Coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' bye, Mixon had a 76.0% snap rate. It was his first time all year playing more than 63.0% of the snaps, a mark he has topped four of the past six games. Like Freeman, this has come with a spike in his usage.

Mixon in 2019 Carries Per Game Targets Per Game Adj. Opp. Per Game
Before Bye 12.6 3.1 18.9
Since Bye 21.7 2.8 27.3

Freeman's shift has been subtle; Mixon's very much has not.

What makes this even more attractive is that it has come along with increased efficiency. Left tackle Cordy Glenn made his debut in Week 12, and Mixon's metrics have improved significantly. "Success Rate" is the percentage of carries that increase the team's expected points for the drive.

Mixon in 2019 Yards Per Carry Rushing NEP Per Carry Success Rate
With Cordy Glenn 4.76 0.06 44.7%
Without Cordy Glenn 3.57 -0.03 39.7%

So, with Mixon, you get increased usage and increased efficiency in a game where he'll face the league's 25th-ranked rush defense. That's a good formula for a cash-game play, and he's clearly desirable for tournaments, as well. Just be sure to check out Friday's injury report after Mixon was limited on Thursday.

More Changeover in the Dolphins' Backfield

Just when you thought it was safe to trust a Dolphins running back, Myles Gaskin came roaring in to remind us that nothing is sacred with this team. Our hopes of relevancy were proven fruitless yet again.

A week after playing 81.9% of the snaps, Patrick Laird split work right down the middle with Gaskin. Laird still got 12 carries and 5 targets, which isn't bad, but Gaskin had some big runs and reportedly has earned additional looks going forward. This backfield is dust.

If you desperately want to stack a Dolphins player with Mixon or Tyler Boyd, then DeVante Parker is your guy. His salary is back down to $6,900 even though he played last week and caught a pair of tuddies. In five full games since Preston Williams' injury, Parker has 24.7% of the Dolphins' overall targets and 50.0% of the deep targets. He's the lone skill-position guy worthy of exposure here this weekend unless you want to take a run at Mike Gesicki as a value tight end.

Will Grier's Debut

The past couple of weeks, it has become abundantly clear that Kyle Allen is not the future of the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, we'll get our first taste of whether Will Grier's fate is any different.

Grier will get a two-game audition to see if he can nail down a spot to compete for the team's starting job next year, and it begins with a game indoors against the Indianapolis Colts. This forces us to reexamine the Panthers' offense from a DFS perspective.

The biggest thing is whether Grier will represent a deviation in efficiency for the team. Allen finished his tenure as starter ranked 32nd in Passing NEP per drop back out of 41 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. He earned the benching. But he also had better marks than guys like Andy Dalton, Daniel Jones, and Dwayne Haskins, so things could have been worse than they were.

The team stuck with Allen despite massive struggles for months, and that matters. It means they thought Allen was the better option even when his on-field play was wretched. That's an indictment of Grier's outlook.

That's one of the differences between Grier and Drew Lock when Lock debuted earlier this year. Lock was on injured reserve, meaning the team couldn't have turned to him all that much earlier than they did. Grier has been the backup from Week 3 on and sat.

Other differences include that Grier went 100th overall in the draft while Lock was taken 42nd. Despite being a year younger, Lock had at least 10 pass attempts in 47 games in college before coming out compared to just 27 such games for Grier. Although Grier had better efficiency in college, Lock was the better prospect coming out, meaning the odds he represented an upgrade when he became the starter were higher than the odds of Grier being an upgrade here.

It also tosses some question into the equation about how usages will shift. Allen's 8.4-yard average depth of target (aDOT) ranked 16th out of 41 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts, per, meaning he was a bit above the median there. If Grier were to throw deep less often than Allen, it would impact the viability of DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel.

Of course, the reverse could also be true. Allen was hideous on his deep passes, so even though he was chucking it deep, he wasn't connecting with those guys. If Grier can hit them more often, it would constitute an upgrade. That makes it tough to figure out how to handle those guys.

The good thing about them is that Moore is $6,600 and Samuel is $6,000. They're playing on turf, where their speed should play up more, and they're not in a difficult matchup. Even with the very real possibility that Grier could be a downgrade from Allen, we can still justify taking stabs at them in tournaments.

The one person whose value shouldn't change much is Christian McCaffrey. Even with the playoffs a distant afterthought, McCaffrey has still played almost every snap the past three games as the team has clearly committed to getting him the record for most yards from scrimmage in a season (he needs 388 over the final two weeks to break Chris Johnson's record). He's expensive at $10,800, and Grier may lower the team's expected touchdown total. But McCaffrey's been paying off without touchdowns all year long, so he's still a high-quality play once again this week.

A Gradual Return for T.Y. Hilton

If you were expecting T.Y. Hilton to play his usual role in his Week 15 return, you were sorely disappointed. He played just 51.8% of the snaps, and the Colts' offense remained wholly stagnant.

This week, we should expect things to get a bit better.

That's good for Hilton as he still saw nine targets in his limited action Monday night. It's even better for the Colts' offense.

The Colts have been a different team when they've had Hilton on the field this year. Here are their splits with and without Hilton, according to The Quant Edge's injury tool.

Colts in 2019 Pass Rate Pass Success Rate Rush Success Rate
With Hilton 53.1% 51.4% 55.7%
Without Hilton 51.1% 44.8% 45.6%

The Colts are more willing to throw when Hilton's out there, and they just operate more effectively, too. Everybody wins in this scenario.

Ideally, this would allow us to use Marlon Mack against the league's worst rush defense. But Mack hasn't played more than half the snaps since Week 9 and already had a limited role due to his lack of targets. The backfield here is, unfortunately, off limits.

As mentioned, Hilton did get nine targets in the return, and two of them were deep. That's not a terrible role; he just didn't produce in it. That pushes him out of cash-game consideration.

For tournaments, Hilton is at least interesting. Nobody will likely use him even though the Colts have the third-highest total on the slate. It's not a major loss if he winds up not being in your player pool, but if you're filling out a good number of lineups, Hilton is very worthy of consideration.

DJ Chark's Short Layoff

After missing last week's game, it looks like DJ Chark will be back already in Week 16 for the Jaguars after logging limited practices both Wednesday and Thursday. That's an upgrade for this offense and gives a boost to the appeal in the Falcons' passing game.

Chark has been Gardner Minshew's favorite target when he has been healthy this year, and it's for good reason. Minshew's efficiency has been impressive when throwing to Chark and highly underwhelming with Dede Westbrook.

Minshew in 2019 Targets Passing NEP Per Attempt
Targeting DJ Chark 80 0.52
Targeting Dede Westbrook 71 0.03
Targeting Leonard Fournette 69 -0.15
Targeting Chris Conley 60 0.47

Minshew's a better player when Chark is on the field. That boosts Minshew's expected efficiency, increasing the odds this thing stays close. That's why Chark playing would be an upgrade for Julio Jones and Austin Hooper. We could also potentially consider Chark himself if he gets in a full practice on Friday.

We've got eight games this year when Minshew has started with Westbrook and Chark at full health. In those eight games, Chark's volume has been solid.

Minshew With Westbrook and Chark Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Dede Westbrook 23.6% 25.0% 19.4%
DJ Chark 22.1% 35.0% 19.4%
Leonard Fournette 18.4% 0.0% 22.6%
Chris Conley 12.7% 25.0% 3.2%

Chark has more deep volume than Westbrook, and his efficiency blows Westbrook's out of the water. Chark's likely a no-go if he's still limited in Friday's practice, but if he's a full participant, we can consider him and up our interest in the Falcons' pass-catchers.

Back to Danny Dimes

It was a fun two weeks having Eli Manning back in our collective consciousness. It looks like it'll be short-lived, though, with Daniel Jones taking first-team reps in practice again. Weirdly, a return to Jones looks like a downgrade for the New York Giants.

Our sample on Manning this year is up to 152 drop backs, which is a decent number. He out-performed the numbers Jones has put up as starter.

In 2019 Passing NEP Per Drop Back aDOT
Eli Manning 0.06 8.2
Daniel Jones -0.10 7.5

Not only has a Manning drop back been worth 0.16 expected points more than one by Jones, but his aDOT is 0.7 yards higher. It makes sense that the Giants would want to get Jones more run at the end of the year, but reinstalling him as the starter does require us to bump guys like Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard down.

The other negative of this game is the pace. Washington ranks dead last in situation-neutral pace, according to Football Outsiders, meaning they limit the volume of opposing teams. That also lowers touch projections for the skill guys here.

It's a great matchup for Barkley against the league's 24th-ranked rush defense, and Washington is also just 25th against the pass. We can definitely use players in this offense with Jones starting. It just knocks Barkley below guys like Elliott, Carson, and Mixon in the upper salary tier and prevents the pass-catchers from being priorities despite their low salaries.

Good JuJu for the Steelers

This time last week, it seemed like JuJu Smith-Schuster would make his return for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then he tweaked his knee in practice and sat yet again.

Smith-Schuster, though, should finally be back out there for Week 16. He got in a full practice on Thursday, meaning this Steelers' offense will likely be the healthiest it has been since Ben Roethlisberger got hurt. In this system, though, it might not matter.

The Steelers seem to realize that their current quarterback play won't cut it. They're 29th in situation-neutral pace, which honestly isn't a bad strategy. If you want to limit the sample on poor quarterback play, you slow things down. They're not doing something dumb; it's just not something that's conducive to high fantasy output.

That hurts Smith-Schuster's appeal, even against the league's 24th-ranked pass defense. The Jets are getting Jamal Adams back this week, which further lowers the odds that the Steelers will light it up through the air.

The unappealing nature of the offense also pushes James Conner off the map at $7,400. Conner should see an increase from last week's 57.6% snap rate, but his odds of a blow-up game are low in such a blurgh-ish offense. Despite the matchup, it's not a bad idea to just ignore this Steelers offense entirely.

The Chargers' Touch Distribution

We talked about DeAndre Washington earlier and how desirable he is this week. But the Raiders are seven-point underdogs in that game. This means the other side of that one should be enticing, and the Chargers check in with the sixth-highest implied total on the slate.

That's enough for us to be interested. It's just tough to decipher the best route for buying in.

The running backs should be in play given the spread, but there's nothing definitive about the workloads here. Melvin Gordon lost a pair of fumbles in Week 15 and found himself riding the pine for much of the second half. He wasn't losing touches to just Austin Ekeler; Justin Jackson was mixing in there, too.

Gordon's workload was on the rise prior to that, and if Anthony Lynn were to overlook the fumbles, we could consider going back to Gordon at $7,000. We just don't know if that'll happen.

If any work gets taken off of Gordon's plate, it would be huge for Ekeler at $6,800. The dude is crazy efficient and has topped 50 receiving yards in four straight games. But he also hasn't had double-digit carries since Week 9, and his target total has been above seven once. We'd need to be guaranteed a workload change in order to get jazzed, and that's not a luxury we have here.

Between the two backs, Ekeler's the more desirable because of the high-leverage nature of the looks he gets. Instead of dealing with that headache, though, we can potentially just go with Keenan Allen.

The Chargers have played six games since they fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Here's the target distribution in those games.

Past 6 Games Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Keenan Allen 25.7% 17.1% 25.0%
Hunter Henry 18.2% 19.5% 21.4%
Austin Ekeler 18.2% 7.3% 10.7%
Mike Williams 16.5% 43.9% 14.3%
Melvin Gordon 13.0% 0.0% 10.7%

You could justify any of these guys, and none of them are bad plays against a putrid defense. But Allen's floor is really attractive.

Allen has scored double-digit FanDuel points in five straight games, and he has done that without scoring a touchdown three times. If he were still in the upper-$7,000 range, you could nit-pick about his ceiling. At $6,700, it's a different discussion.

Roster construction may not take you to the mid-$6,000s in cash games, and we don't need to prioritize Allen in what shapes up as a slow-paced game. But if you wind up in this range -- in any contest type -- Allen stands out as being a tasty option.

An Improved Spot for Denver

The game with the second-lowest total on the slate is out in Denver between the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions. You should avoid overinvesting in this game with that being the case because game environment is key, especially for quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Still, it's hard not to have at least a bit of interest in Courtland Sutton at $7,100.

Drew Lock and the Broncos' offense flopped last week in Kansas City, and you can't blame the snow. Patrick Mahomes had awesome efficiency stats there, and the wind wasn't a factor. It was a legitimately bad game by the offense.

But it was still a road game against the league's fifth-ranked pass defense. That's a tough spot for a rookie in his third career start.

This week, the Broncos are back at home and facing the league's 26th-ranked pass defense. That's the softest matchup Lock has had since becoming starter, and he had great efficiency stats against the Chargers and Houston Texans. Even when you include the Chiefs game, Lock's 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back is above the league average for the season.

Lock himself is $7,300, putting him within striking distance of quarterbacks in far more intriguing games. We might want to aim a bit higher there. His pass-catchers, though, are at least on the table.

Sutton's the big one, even in a matchup with Darius Slay. His two-touchdown day in Lock's debut came against Casey Hayward, Pro Football Focus's fourth-highest-graded cornerback (Slay is 80th).

In Lock's three starts, Sutton has 23.7% of the overall targets, 5 of 15 deep targets, and 5 of 19 red-zone targets. Sutton should be fairly contrarian due to the overall grossness of the game, making him an intriguing tournament play.

The other potential option is Noah Fant at $5,900. Fant played just 45.8% of the snaps in Week 15, but he was banged up going in and got hurt again during the game. Fant got in limited practices on Wednesday and Thursday, putting him ahead of schedule from last week. Fant is a way to differentiate in tournaments, though that is his lone appeal for Week 16.

Kerryon Johnson's Return

On the other side of that game, the Lions have an implied total of just 15.5 points. We don't want to go here often. But we should at least discuss the return of Kerryon Johnson.

Johnson is slated to return from injured reserve on Sunday, the first week he has been eligible to do so. He's also only $4,500, which is noteworthy, if nothing else.

There are a couple of issues here. The first is that this is an offense we should not want to target with any player in a game that means nothing to them. The lack of meaning in the game also says it would make no sense for the Lions to pump Johnson out there for crazy usage off a knee injury.

The other issue is that we do have palatable backs on better offenses with more defined roles in DeAndre Washington and Devonta Freeman. You can spend down at running back without dumpster-diving on a bad offense.

Using Johnson carries an opportunity cost in that it saps you of a roster slot that could be used on another running back in a better situation. Johnson may do enough to pay off his salary, but the odds he does enough to carry an elite lineup are low. With all of this in mind, it's likely best to take a wait-and-see approach with Johnson for the time being.