Daily Fantasy Football: Sannes' Situations to Monitor in Week 12

Christian McCaffrey may be back at the top of the DFS running-back heap thanks to competent quarterback play from Cam Newton. Which other situations are worth monitoring for the main slate?

At least early on, Week 12's main slate feels like a throwback.

In the heydays of Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Todd Gurley, we'd drop whatever salary necessary to jam in elite running backs on FanDuel. They had great workloads that made the sacrifices at other positions well worth it.

We haven't had that this year. In fact, before Jonathan Taylor in Week 10, no running back had made a perfect FanDuel lineup with a salary higher than $8,000. Taylor has achieved that twice now, and we shouldn't be shocked if someone -- or multiple people -- do it again this week.

Not only do we have quality choices in the upper tier at running back, but some big passing offenses are off the main slate. That leads to lower salary allocation to passing games, allowing us to splurge if we see fit.

It's very possible we will this week.

As such, let's start things off today by running through the overview of those upper-echelon running backs. Then, we'll dive into other situations impacting how we view the Week 12 main slate.

The Savory Studs

We've got six running backs here with salaries of $8,000 or higher, they're all healthy, and they all have a case for inclusion in our lineups. So, how do we rank 'em?

The keys to consider, as always, are workload and game environment. By workload, we need to blend their ground-game volume with what they do through the air. On FanDuel, a target is worth twice as much as a carry, a gap we can bridge by doubling their target totals (a number I'll refer to as "adjusted opportunities").

The table below shows that metric for these top six backs in their most relevant samples. For Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon, I lopped off the games where their snaps were limited due to injury. For Jonathan Taylor, I omitted the first five games where his snap rate was between 45% and 55%; it has been above 80% each of the past 2 weeks and has been north of 60% in each of the past 6.

The other numbers listed are their red-zone opportunity share (percentage of team carries or targets in the red zone) plus the team's spread and the game's total.

Player Salary Rush Targets Adj. Opp. Yards RZ Share Spread Total
Jonathan Taylor $9,800 20.0 3.7 27.3 153.3 68.4% +3 51.5
Christian McCaffrey $9,700 17.0 8.3 33.5 151.0 47.4% -1.5 42
Najee Harris $8,800 18.8 6.2 31.2 102.2 36.4% +4.5 45
Austin Ekeler $8,400 12.3 5.8 23.9 97.8 35.7% -2.5 47.5
Dalvin Cook $8,100 21.7 3.7 29.1 118.3 45.9% +3 48
Joe Mixon $8,000 18.9 2.8 24.4 102.0 36.2% -4.5 45

None of the game environments are a cross-off, which helps. The key question is how much you ding Taylor for his matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Part of that revolves around the status of Vita Vea, the Bucs' run-stuffing mass in the middle. Vea missed Monday night's game but seems to have a legitimate chance to play on Sunday. Assuming he does, the Bucs are every bit as difficult of a spot as they're billed.

The matchup isn't a deterrent for McCaffrey against the Miami Dolphins, and he's the one guy whose yardage upside can equal Taylor's. The Carolina Panthers' offense also got boosted in Cam Newton's return, which helps everybody on the team.

As a result, I'm fine turning to McCaffrey here over Taylor despite the appeal of Taylor's game and his absurd run. Other factors heavily favor McCaffrey, so although I still want Taylor in my player pool, I'll be higher on McCaffrey.

If you don't quite want to break the bank there, then Cook is a good consolation prize. Cook has had 100-plus yards from scrimmage in all but 1 of his full games, and he has topped 140 twice. He also has a better red-zone role than everybody near the top except for Taylor and McCaffrey. Put him in one of the better games on the slate, and Cook is the top option in this second tier.

The overall resumes for Mixon, Najee Harris, and Austin Ekeler are pretty similar. That allows us to increase the emphasis on matchup and environment, which would seem to favor Harris. The Cincinnati Bengals have struggled to stop opposing backs via the passing game all year, increasing Harris' upside there. Mixon could have been the choice, but with Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt both likely to return this week, Harris holds the edge.

Even with these rankings, there's nothing wrong with any of these guys; they're all fun options for DFS. The odds that two of them blow up are pretty high, meaning our roster construction this week will -- and likely should -- look a lot different than it has thus far.

AJ Dillon's Outlook

Given that the Green Bay Packers' bye is next week, and Aaron Jones' injury was labeled as being one to two weeks, there's a good chance he sits again this week.

If he does, we should go right back to A.J. Dillon.

Dillon didn't pay off in Week 11. But he did rack up 97 yards from scrimmage on 11 carries and 6 targets while playing 74.1% of the snaps. Despite that usage, his salary went down to $6,900. That number should be higher. This is one we don't want to overthink; you just use him if you can.

Using Dillon absolutely does not bar us from turning to the Packers' passing game in the same lineup, either. That's especially true with Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling handling such a massive share of the team's high-leverage targets in the games they've played with Aaron Rodgers. Here's that breakdown with a "deep" target being at least 16 yards downfield.

With Rodgers Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Davante Adams 33.8% 33.3% 32.1%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling 17.8% 41.7% 14.3%

Valdes-Scantling's salary still being $5,600 doesn't erase his volatility concerns, but he showed last week he can hit the high end of his range of outcomes. That means even if Jones does return, we can still get exposure to this team in what sets up as a fun game.

The Rams Without Robert Woods

Things are more in flux on the other side. We've got just one game for the Los Angeles Rams since Robert Woods' season-ending injury, and that happened right after Odell Beckham joined the team.

They've had a bye in the interim, meaning we have no idea what to expect here. Well, except for a whole lotta Cooper Kupp.

If we cobble together a couple samples, the Rams have played four games since DeSean Jackson's role dried up. Kupp had exactly 13 targets in 3 of those 4 games.

Past 4 Games Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
Cooper Kupp 29.3% 26.3% 26.1%
Van Jefferson 16.5% 42.1% 19.6%
Tyler Higbee 15.9% 10.5% 15.2%

That's likely a fair baseline expectation for Kupp. It's also likely fair to view Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee in a similar light.

In the first three games of this sample, Woods had 20.5% of the team's targets. In Beckham's debut, he and Ben Skowronek combined for eight. When we shift targets Beckham's direction, that doesn't necessarily mean we're taking away from Jefferson and Higbee. In fact, their shares could go up if Beckham's acclimation to the offense isn't ultra-speedy.

That's what makes Jefferson an appealing way to get access to this game at $5,400. He gets deep volume, has developed a rapport with Matthew Stafford, and is unlikely to be a popular target. Even with a low floor, Jefferson still does enough to be worthy of a spot on our tournament rosters.

Keeping Tabs on the 49ers' Backfield

Because this puppy is going up on Wednesday instead of the typical Friday, we don't know yet if Elijah Mitchell will be back at practice this week. So, let's chat about the San Francisco 49ers' backfield both with and without Mitchell.

If Mitchell sits again, we can likely feel decent about Jeff Wilson. Wilson came up short for DFS last week, but he did have a solid 19 carries and 2 targets with 45.5% of the team's red-zone opportunities. With his salary at $5,800 against a poor rush defense, that's totally acceptable.

The one difference would be if JaMycal Hasty were to return. Hasty has yet to practice since his injury, but he wasn't placed on injured reserve, implying they thought he'd be back by this week. Wilson's a capable pass-catcher, but that's typically Hasty's role. It would at least lower Wilson's appeal some.

The other implication of Mitchell's sitting would likely be continued backfield involvement for Deebo Samuel. And, honestly, it should. Samuel has 3.50 rushing yards above expectation per carry this year, according to Next-Gen Stats -- most of any player with at least 10 carries. Those plays are working, so why stop if you don't have your best back healthy?

It's worth noting that -- despite Samuel's two targets Sunday -- this rushing usage didn't alter Samuel's passing-game role much. He still ran a route on 22 of 24 drop backs, and he had the team's only downfield target of the game. Only 2 of his 22 routes came lined up in the backfield.

As such, we can still trust the larger sample and look at the three games since George Kittle returned. In those games, Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk have both had healthy target shares.

Past 3 Games Overall Targets Deep Targets RZ Targets
George Kittle 24.4% 25.0% 23.1%
Brandon Aiyuk 24.4% 37.5% 15.4%
Deebo Samuel 20.5% 25.0% 0.0%

That usage makes Kittle one of the top tight ends on the slate at $6,700.

As for Aiyuk, I'd still favor Samuel for a couple of reasons. First, the rushing points count, too, and he has averaged 4.3 rushes for 38.3 yards in this time with 2 touchdowns. Second, Samuel did out-target Aiyuk in each of the first two games, and his production as a receiver indicates that should likely continue. The 49ers have shown they want the ball in Samuel's hands, and that should influence how we view the two. Both are in play, but I'd give the edge to Samuel.

If Mitchell plays, it depends on your level of comfort with his health. If he jumps back into his old role, and Hasty is out, he'd be a quality option in a great game at $6,800. That's just not a given coming off a key injury.

I'd be inclined to trust that if they're using Mitchell, he's healthy enough for a full go. It does come with risk, though.

The fun thing about all of these guys is that we can easily make it a mini-stack and pair them with either Dalvin Cook or Justin Jefferson. We talked about Cook earlier, but with Jefferson, thanks to 2 big games, he's up to 24.8% of the Minnesota Vikings' overall targets with 39.3% of the deep looks. It's a game with a tight spread and a high total where we know where the ball is going, and that's all you can really ask for.

The Panthers With Cam

We talked before about how Cam Newton's return keeps McCaffrey at the top of the running-back list this week. Let's outline how it impacts the rest of this game.

Newton has played decently well thus far. In his first start, Newton averaged 0.15 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. NEP is numberFire's expected points metric, and Passing NEP includes deductions for expected points lost on negative plays such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. The league average is 0.11, so Newton was rock solid. Sam Darnold was at -0.06 at the time of his injury.

The team was pretty run-heavy, which typically slows the game down. Thirteen of their 22 early-down first-half plays were runs, though 5 of those were by Newton. They're going to be run-heavy but not to the point where we need to cross their games off the schedule for DFS.

They also might throw just enough to keep Newton and D.J. Moore in play alongside McCaffrey. Newton scored 26.16 FanDuel points last week, so he can still generate upside. As for Moore, he'll need to feast on six to eight targets, but with his salary dipping to $6,700, there has been some accounting for his situation. Neither Newton nor Moore is a priority in a game with a low total, but neither is off the map, either.

When you decide to rock with a Panther, you can easily pair them with either Jaylen Waddle or Mike Gesicki. We saw once again last week that Tua Tagovailoa can keep them relevant in the right matchups, and this one isn't terrible for pass-catchers. Despite having the lowest total on the slate, there's still enough in this game where you can at least justify exposure to both sides.

More Elijah

Week 12 is going to be a big one for the New York Jets' rookie class. The key piece within it is primed to make his return.

We're not sweating whether we should use Zach Wilson in DFS this weekend.

We just wanna know if he can keep Elijah Moore cooking.

This is relevant because the Jets finally took the reins off of Moore in Week 11. He ran a route on 80.5% of the team's drop backs after being mired in a rotation pretty much all year up to that point.

Moore rewarded them for the faith with 141 yards on 11 targets. So, with a matchup against the Houston Texans on deck, we'd clearly at least want to give him a sniff at $6,400. Doing so, though, requires us to dig in to see whether Wilson can duplicate the competency of Joe Flacco and Mike White.

That's a complicated discussion. As you know, Wilson struggled in his opening stint. He averaged -0.18 Passing NEP per drop back, the worst mark in the league among 37 qualified quarterbacks. It was real gross.

But that was also against a brutal string of opponents. Half of Wilson's first six starts were against top-five pass defenses by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. Another was against the eight-ranked pass defense. This will be just the second time Wilson has faced a pass defense ranked lower than 13th.

That doesn't explain all of Wilson's struggles. It does, though, mean he's likely not as bad as he looked in that first stretch.

And again, we don't need Wilson to be great; we just need him to be good enough to support viable pass-catchers in DFS. It's easy to forget, but he's already shown he can do that.

In those first six starts, Corey Davis managed to top 24 FanDuel points once, he had 19 in another, and Jamison Crowder had 15 in a third game. All of those performances came in the games against top-10 pass defenses. In other words, as long as Moore gets enough volume, Wilson's fine enough to support some upside.

That volume part is still to be seen. We haven't yet seen Wilson start with both Davis and Crowder active while Moore has been in a full-time role. It does seem as though Moore has earned a bigger piece of the pie, but Wilson's the guy who will ultimately decide whether that's true.

That's why Moore -- despite the matchup and big outings -- isn't a cash-game play. We've got other relevant players in his range who grade out better for that format. We can, though, give him a sniff in tournaments and hope that Wilson steps up against a softer defense.

The same line of thought could also allow us to target Davis as a tournament pivot at $6,100. We saw those two work well together earlier on as Davis had seven-plus targets in all but one of Wilson's full games. He topped 90 yards twice, a mark he also hit in his first game back from injury with White at quarterback. It's fair to prefer the more exciting Moore, but from a game theory perspective, Davis is pretty nice.

Gronk Back

To me, the top quarterback on the slate is Tom Brady. It's the league's fifth-ranked passing offense against the 27th-ranked pass defense, and this game has the highest total on the slate. It's the perfect recipe for a quarterback in DFS.

Now, we have a third potential stacking partner with him.

Rob Gronkowski made his return on Monday and racked up 71 yards on 8 targets. If there were concerns about his effectiveness off the injury, he put those to bed.

This gives us a four-game sample on the Bucs with a fully active Gronk, two of which featured Antonio Brown. Here's the target distribution in those four.

With GronkOverall TargetsDeep TargetsRZ Targets
Mike Evans20.1%31.0%20.0%
Chris Godwin17.9%16.7%17.1%
Rob Gronkowski15.6%16.7%17.1%

Those shares are smaller than you'd like, but they'll likely bump up if Brown sits again. It's also important to keep in mind how pass-heavy they are. Godwin's at 8.0 targets per game in that span, and Evans' 31.0% deep target share amounts to 3.3 per game. We'll happily take all of that.

After accounting for position and salary, Mike Evans seems to be the best target. Leading in both overall targets and in the high-leverage categories is a massively valuable role, and his $7,500 salary undersells his upside. Gronkowski would be second due to the $6,500 salary and position, and the Colts have struggled to stop even middling tight ends this year. Godwin is third, but even that's worthy of consideration both in game stacks and as a standalone option.

In the lineups where you don't want to run it back with Taylor, you've got an obvious alternative with Michael Pittman Jr. Even if we look at just the games that T.Y. Hilton has played, Pittman has 40.0% of the team's deep targets with 33.3% in the red zone. It's tough to beat that at $6,600.

The Patriots' Three-Man Committee

With the number of enticing backs this week, we should look to cross off those that we can in lesser situations.

Say hello to the New England Patriots.

In their win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots gave all three of Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Brandon Bolden between 27% and 41% of the snaps. Nobody had more than 12 carries or 2 targets in a game they led from start to finish.

There aren't many two-back committees that can give us predictable upside for DFS. We've got three here. Even with talent and efficiency aplenty, we can allocate our roster slots elsewhere.

Sneaky Fast Pace for Giants Versus Eagles

With basically every game on this slate having a tight spread and a middling total, we need to find things that help separate games from the pack. One of those options could be the pace with a faster game inflating play volume for both sides.

That's what raises some eyebrows around the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

Those teams rank 3rd and 11th, respectively, in Football Outsiders' situation-neutral pace metric. It's projected to be the fastest game on the main slate, based on pace numbers by numberFire's Brandon Gdula. That's a nice little boost to both sides.

It's worth noting this has been true even since the Eagles leaned fully into being a run-heavy offense. In 4 games since making the pivot, the Eagles have averaged 66.0 plays per game while their opponents have been at 63.0. This has helped their games average a total of 53.3 points per game.

That gives us the green light to target both sides. We just have to decide the right route for doing so.

To me, the three standouts are Dallas Goedert, Saquon Barkley, and Kadarius Toney.

Goedert has been the co-target hog with DeVonta Smith since the Zach Ertz trade, averaging 6.5 targets per game in his 4 full games. Smith is at 6.0 per game in that span, carries a higher salary ($6,400 versus Goedert's $5,900), and doesn't fill tight end. Smith is talented enough to still be a consideration, but Goedert is the priority.

Barkley and Toney get volume that meshes well with the Eagles' defense, which sells out to stop the deep ball. Barkley didn't have a huge role in Week 11, but that's to be expected against the Bucs' rush defense. He did, though, get six targets, giving him six or more in three straight full games. Barkley had 126 yards from scrimmage in one of those. He's a tier below guys like Dalvin Cook, but Barkley is worth exposure at $7,500.

Toney is simply a salary-saver, but he is one with a path to upside. He had 12 targets last week, most of which were underneath, which is where the Eagles try to funnel volume. That may cap Toney's upside, but we did see the Eagles get burned by speed with Tyreek Hill earlier in the year. Given the Giants' clear desire to have the ball in Toney's hands, he works for value at $5,600.

The one other guy you could potentially talk yourself into here is Miles Sanders, and you don't have to tell yourself an outlandish tale to do so. Sanders was in a committee in Week 11, but it was his first game off an injury, and the team has since lost Jordan Howard to injury. Plus, even with the committee, Sanders still set a season-high with 16 rushes.

If Sanders becomes the lead back, he'll likely be set up for 20 carries and a couple targets for what has become a decently efficient offense. Against the league's 31st-ranked rush defense, that's enticing. It's not the safest play with minimal targets and Jalen Hurts waiting to steal goal-line work, but Sanders is defensible at $6,100.

Targets Available for the Jaguars

In 6 games after D.J. Chark's injury, Jamal Agnew averaged 6.5 targets per game. Even if it took away volume from guys we in fantasy land like, that's objectively cool as hell for a former defensive back. Agnew's season is over due to a hip issue, but good on him for earning a legit role.

Now our job is to figure out what this team will do without Agnew. Most importantly, can we go back to Marvin Jones at $5,900?

Although Laviska Shenault is the buzzier name, he doesn't have the yardage upside we need for DFS. Jones has an easier path to that with three-plus deep targets in six games this year. He just hasn't always been converting that into yardage with more than 80 yards in only 1 game this year.

Now, though, Jones' overall target share should increase at least a smidge, and the deep volume should still be there. That's what you look for in a guy with Jones' salary.

In a lot of matchups, we wouldn't care because the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense is so disjointed. But they're facing the Atlanta Falcons, and Trevor Lawrence can sling it a bit. Jones belongs in the same bucket as Van Jefferson, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Kadarius Toney as volatile value plays with clear enough paths to upside for us to utilize them this week.