Running Backs and Wide Receivers to Buy for the Fantasy Football Playoffs
As the season goes on, we are beginning to know what the playoff picture in our fantasy football league is shaping up like. If you drafted well (and made the right moves since then), you are buying to improve your chances for playoff success.
In order for the trades to work out best for everyone, extra detail needs to be focused on the Week 14 through Week 16 schedule of all players.
When drafting, the goal is get the best player available through instead of worrying about every player's complete schedule. Now is the time to refind your squad.
We need to prepare correctly, so let's examine potential buy candidates as the playoffs approach.
Eric Decker, New York Jets
Eric Decker's sustained success this season comes as no surprise. Sliding into the second receiver spot alongside Brandon Marshall has given Decker easier matchups all year long and helped him amass 557 yards and 7 touchdowns on 42 catches in his 8 games played.
While Decker does not have quite the overall numbers of Marshall, he actually is the more efficient receiver based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics. Although Marshall (58.49) edges Decker (57.23) in Reception NEP (17th in the league compared to 20th), Decker has a big edge in per-target numbers.
Decker (0.88) -- of 100 receivers with at least 25 targets -- is 7th in Reception NEP per target compared to Marshall (0.61), who ranks all the way down at 70th (out of 100!).
While the Jets face three teams ranked between 10th and 20th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP the rest of the way, Marshall will see the tougher matchups in all of these games. The Titans, Cowboys, and Patriots all have allowed points to receivers in every game, and Decker was the Jets' leading receiver in their first game against the Patriots. Buy him with his schedule if his owner fears that his production could still drop.
Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
While Hurns is second to fiddle to Jacksonville's main Allen, Allen Robinson, he is proving a worthy sidekick much like the aforementioned Decker. Hurns has a touchdown in each of his last 7 games, and he has posted 41 catches for 697 yards and 7 touchdowns in 9 games; these numbers are even more impressive than Decker's.
Partly due to receiving less attention than Robinson, Hurns (69.43) is outpacing Robinson (66.34) in Reception NEP, making them 6th and 7th in the metric respectively. Yes, Jacksonville has two top-seven receivers by Reception NEP.
Additionally, Hurns has the third best Reception NEP per target (1.02) of the 100 receivers with at least 25 targets.
While Robinson will see the tougher matchups in all games, Hurns will see the softer matchups against three teams ranked in the bottom-13 for Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. Buy Hurns as he is a good receiver with very soft playoff matchups garnering less defensive attention than Robinson.
Stevie Johnson, San Diego Chargers
With Keenan Allen lost for the season, the pass-heavy Chargers have plenty of targets available for other receivers to take. Danny Woodhead, and Johnson are the two biggest benefactors to this. While we've covered Woodhead before, let's turn our focus now to Johnson.
So far, Johnson has 31 catches for 351 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year; he produced 7 catches for 68 yards in the first game without Allen, showing that the volume will be there for him. Johnson's 33.71 Reception NEP ranks 47th, and his 45th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.72) is on pace with Allen.
While the Chargers play the Chiefs in Week 14, the Chargers' weak defense along with matchups against the Dolphins and Raiders in the following weeks should make for higher scoring affairs during fantasy playoffs. The Chargers have a good offense, and Johnson has a chance to become one of the focal points of it. Owners may not value him highly, but he can make a difference as the season concludes.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans' ascension among the top receivers has not gone according to plan this year. While he has 40 receptions for 662 yards and 1 touchdown, he has been held in check for 3 of his 8 games (he was an active inactive for the 4th).
He has now posted back-to-back weeks of 8 catches for over 125 yards and looks to be gaining steam as the year winds down. He has the 23rd ranked Reception NEP (53.72), but his season-long inefficiency shows in his 67th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.62).
Evans represents a true boom-or-bust option as he has not been a consistent performer this year. Matchups with the Saints in Week 14 and Bears in Week 16 should boost his value, and if he maintains his recent production, then he may warrant the weekly start designation against the Rams in Week 15. Buy him if you can, as you always start players against the Saints.
Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs
When Jamaal Charles tore his ACL, there was trepidation that his production was completely irreplaceable. Enter Charcandrick West, who has 87 carries for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns to go along with 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown since Week 4.
While his production is not at Charles level, he is still doing a fine job. Among the 58 backs with at least 40 carries, West has the 16th ranked Rushing NEP (1.49) and the 19th ranked Rushing NEP per play (0.017). Of 57 backs with at least 15 targets, West's 11.94 Reception NEP ranks him 21st, and his efficiency is better based on his 11th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.50).
West's toughest playoff matchup is in Week 15 against the Ravens' 13th ranked Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP defense. Sandwiched around that games are dates with bottom-five teams in the category: San Diego and Cleveland. While his price may be high after his performance against Denver, he should maintain his success throughout the year against easier opponents.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Gore's success this year has not felt pretty, but has it ever? He still has 599 yards on 148 carries for 4.05 yards per carry to go along with 20 catches for 135 yards. Prior to his increased usage the past two weeks, Gore's heaviest usage came when Matt Hasselbeck started in place of Andrew Luck.
With Hasselbeck in, Gore's high usage should continue as the season wears on. Although he has the 38th best Rushing NEP (-6.05), it falls right between Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. His efficiency is slightly higher and still in line with these two backs, sitting 33rd in Rushing NEP per play (-0.041).
Gore's lack of touchdowns are hurting his production and metrics, but his workload is increasing, which bodes well for his rest of season output. He only faces one team in the top-10 for Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP, and that is his Week 14 matchup with the Jaguars. Gore's easy schedule during the playoffs makes him a good buy low candidate.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Earlier in the week, we profiled the success of McCoy's backup, Karlos Williams. With Williams' success, and McCoy's injury plagued production this year, it feels like McCoy is becoming a forgotten man. McCoy has played well though, as he showed against the Jets, and for the year he has 528 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 113 carries.
His 3.64 Rushing NEP ranks 12th among backs with at least 40 carries, and his efficiency (0.032) ranks him 13th in Rushing NEP per play. McCoy remains an asset in the passing game as well, as he has 18 receptions for 177 yards and a touchdown. While his efficiency is down in the passing game (39th Reception NEP and 42nd Reception NEP per target), his volume in this area will contribute more to his success than pure efficiency.
McCoy has a favorable playoff schedule with only one tough contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. His other matchups come against the Redskins and Cowboys, and with his usage in both the passing and running game, McCoy presents a good option to buy as owners might be annoyed with his production to date.
If you have put yourself in position to make the playoffs, any of these buy options present ways to improve your chances for playoff success.
While some of these players already have success this year, others have not yet hit their strides. By no means, should you toss out a big name option for a guy like Stevie Johnson, but getting him at a cheap price can make him a valuable pickup.
Swing the right move, and you can find yourself on the path to a championship season.