This week's list of performers is intended to make you reconsider your trust in their ability to maintain starter production. While there are a couple of easy picks here, it is fairly ambitious by design.
Hopefully, every single selection is incorrect and your fantasy squad rides them to a title. If not, don't say I didn't warn you.
10. John Brown
Still clinging to fantasy WR2 production season-long in standard leagues, Brown's production has dropped to 49th at his position since Week 7. His production could experience a rebound if Joe Flacco returns, especially with Oakland as the next opponent on the schedule. And if Flacco returns, his connection with Brown lead to strong fantasy production against Atlanta, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay.
The reason Brown makes this list is Lamar Jackson — who earned 27 carries in a scaled-back passing attack against the Bengals. Accounting for the fact that Jackson had the flu last week and it limited his practice reps in the passing game, a healthy Jackson moving forward will still have a significant decrease in passing than with Flacco under center.
Jackson threw the ball well in his debut and he's a vastly underrated pocket player with better accuracy (when accounting for receiver drops) than his senior-year production suggests but his legs are a game changer that makes defending the Ravens ground game infinitely more difficult. When Tyrod Taylor was at the helm of the Bills' option-based attack a few years ago, Buffalo had one of the most productive running games in the NFL because opposing defenses find it a challenge to remain gap-sound in every situation when one of those offensive options is a dominant athlete who can wreck "good defense" on paper.
If Jackson has another strong day against the Raiders and the coaching staff assesses there's a greater competitive advantage with a Jackson-led game plan over the Flacco offense, Brown's relevance becomes a lot less trustworthy. Jackson has an excellent deep arm but the vertical passing game is a lower-percentage proposition — especially with a rookie quarterback earning his first significant time with starting receivers.
The possibility of Jackson retaining the starting job through December renders Brown a boom-bust option with a great schedule in an offense that may not afford him enough opportunities for relevancy.
Since Week 7, Baker Mayfield has been delivering low-end QB1 production. John Dorsey and Jimmy Haslam tiring of the Hue Jackson-Todd Haley "Mean Girls" dysfunction led to Freddie Kitchens taking over the offense and unknotting the things that led to hesitant quarterback play.
However, we should also take into account that since Week 7, Mayfield faced Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Atlanta — three of those defenses are among the worst secondaries in the NFL. Cleveland faces, Cincinnati (twice), Houston, Carolina, and Denver in the remaining weeks of the fantasy season and the pressure he'll face will be a significant test to Cleveland's weak tackles. And with rookie Nick Chubb and the inconsistent Duke Johnson Jr helping out with blitz pickup, there's a strong likelihood that Mayfield will not be throwing in rhythm as often as he has.
Mayfield can buy time but not nearly as well in the NFL as he did in the Big 12. These defenses are good at closing off the edges of a pocket and forcing tight-window throws, which is where Mayfield struggles most as a young quarterback. Jarvis Landry aside, Mayfield is also working with a cast of receivers who are inconsistent pass-catchers and unproven route runners when forced to make in-game adjustments with their quarterback.
Your best chances with having a Cleveland Brown player on your fantasy roster in December will be Chubb and Johnson as runners and in the short passing game — and both have larger boom-bust elements to their prospects than their recent fantasy standings suggest.
8. Kenyan Drake
Yours truly wanted to trust Drake despite Frank Gore cutting into his volume but Drake has been little more than a flex play in most formats since Week 7. Damon Harrison's acquisition improved the Lions run defenses and the Texans and Jets can pose challenges for a ground game. However, the bigger issue is that Miami is easily removed from heavy run scripts because of its defense.
Although the Bills in Week 13 could be favorable for Drake, it's a good run unit that has only allowed on 100-yard rusher this year (Marlon Mack) and the rest of the teams on Miami's schedule have potent offenses and/or tough run defenses — Indianapolis, New England, Minnesota, and Jacksonville.
Drake is a fine breakaway threat but the combination of Frank Gore's play, Miami's defense, and the schedule ahead are too much to trust Drake unless absolutely desperate.
7. Alex Collins
I was so wrong about Collins this year. I thought he'd easily be one of the most trustworthy and consistent backs in 2018. However, his lack of ball security derailed his lock on a feature role and opened a committee. Now we're looking at UDFA Gus Edwards as a viable fantasy option.
Collins is still earning touches but the Ravens like Edwards' no-nonsense style of getting downhill, which meshes well with Lamar Jackson's usage as an option-based triggerman in the Ravens' game plan last weekend. Collins' creativity is excellent for a zone-based attack but when he's not playing to his optimum level, that creativity can degenerate into hesitant play. Add Collins' fumbles to the equation, and the door for Edwards to take this job is wide open — especially with the slate of bad defenses on the schedule.
And if Edwards falters, Kenneth Dixon has been cleared to practice and has the skills to compete for playing time at Collins' expense. It may be difficult to drop Collins when the Ravens have a juicy schedule but it's best to do so if you're loaded at running back and have needs elsewhere.
6. Corey Davis
Tennesse earns a pair of favorable opponents in Weeks 15-16 (Washington and New York Giants) that make Davis's prospects enticing. It also has the Texans, Jets, and Jaguars standing in the way of that fantasy manna and after Marcus Mariota aggravated the nerve issue in his elbow, a strong possibility that Blaine Gabbert will be under center for at least a week.
When Gabbert has played, Davis has been mediocre at best — 15 catches, 181 yards, and 0 touchdowns during those 4 games. Do you like the idea of 4 catches and 40-50 yards a week? Then hurry now and get Davis into your lineups.
Even if Mariota returns, the Colts — who rarely blitz otherwise — disrupted Mariota with blitzes and we could see similar from Titans opponents if its superior defensive fronts can't earn pressure on its own. As much as there is to love about Davis' prospects in the coming years, his circumstances will test the patience of fantasy players this month.
4-5. Calvin Ridley and Matt Ryan
He's a fine big-play option but a thigh issue and his penchant for dropping the football are two issues that could continue down the stretch against the likes of aggressive defenses like New Orleans, Baltimore, Green Bay, Arizona, and Carolina. An excellent route runner, it's not the coverage that Ridley will face that's the concern.
The real concern is the Falcons' tackles, Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan. Atlanta's edge protectors have a difficult time stopping pressure and it forces the offense to incorporate a lot of play-action boots and designed rolls.
While Ryan has been a competent thrower on the move, Sarkisian has upped the volume and variety of these designed plays and set an offseason expectation for Ryan to up his "off-structure" game. It hasn't been a rousing success because Ryan is not a wise pressure player — as favorable as his production under pressure appears.
In the same way that Nick Foles got away with a lot of bad decisions during his career-best year in Philadelphia, Ryan has made several bad decisions this year that he's gotten away with and his interception total could easily be three times as high as it is — he easily should have had four interceptions against Dallas last week.
Cleveland and Dallas disrupted Ryan for the past two weeks and the Falcons defense is prone to eliminating a viable ground game from Atlanta's arsenal, which allows opponents to attack the pocket with impunity. New Orleans, Baltimore, Green Bay, Arizona, and Carolina all have either the type of offense or defense to make life difficult for Atlanta's passing game.
Ryan has been the No.3 fantasy quarterback this year but for the past five weeks, he's been No.8 and No.11 during the past two. It could have easily been much lower if his opponents capitalized on his erratic decision making.
It might be worth adding an option like Lamar Jackson or relying on your backup if Ryan's hidden badness manifests statistically next weekend. Even when he's bad, he'll throw enough to earn high-end committee production but if you are fortunate enough to have another viable starter, it's reasonable to question Ryan's December outlook.
3. Kirk Cousins
The 20th-ranked fantasy quarterback since Week 7, Kirk Cousins' No.10 ranking for the year belies how he's been performing during the past 4 weeks. Miami and Detroit should offer rewards for Cousins' production in Weeks 15-16, it's difficult to trust the path there. New England offers some scheme-based wrinkles that could foil Cousins and Seattle and Green Bay have young talents on the perimeter who could make life more difficult for Cousins receivers than it may appear on paper.
The Packers have not allowed a 300-yard passer since Cousins did it in Week 2 and that was before Jaire Alexander stormed into the lineup a few weeks ago. Seattle has been trolling those who dismissed its offense an despite giving up an average of two touchdowns per game during the past month, let's consider that the Seahawks have faced the (health) Lions, Chargers, Rams, and Packers. And once the Patriots regrouped from the debacle against Jacksonville, only Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes II II, and Mitchell Trubisky have generated 300 yards through the air against them.
The Vikings have good offensive players but its scheme isn't particularly troublesome. When Cousins isn't at the top of his game, the scheme doesn't compensate for him. He'll be tough to count on this month.
2. Marlon Mack
Enjoy Mack's game against the Dolphins this weekend because it could be the last good week he has this year until Week 16's tilt with the Giants. December's path to the G-Men includes a difficult slate that includes Jacksonville, Houston, and Dallas. As good as the offensive line has been for the ground game, it's been even better a protecting Andrew Luck.
Although Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins only account for a fraction of the Colts' rushing attack individually, together they've earned one-third of the carries since Week 7 and each has earned big plays. Wilkins had a 53-yard run in Week 10 against Jacksonville — nearly twice Mack's 12-carry output — and followed up with a 30-yard game with a touchdown against Tennessee last week. Hines nearly scored last week, which would have prevented Mack from earning the touchdown he had.
The combination of the Colts' schedule, the talents on the running back depth chart, and the multiple nature of the offensive scheme are worrisome factors for Mack down the stretch.
1. Todd Gurley
When Gurley got rolled up during the first quarter as he exited the sideline on Monday night, he didn't look right for the rest of the game. The Rams kept him in the game as a decoy and peppered him with a few passes in the second half to keep up with appearances but it was clear that Gurley hobbled for most of the game.
While Malcolm Brown is a good runner and receiver, the type of matchups the Rams earn when Gurley is in the lineup made it more important to keep Gurley on the field as a decoy than limiting its matchup advantages with Brown. This was a one-game thing because Gurley hid the injury well enough that the Chiefs had to account for him.
If Gurley isn't right in future weeks, teams will know it and adjust. Although Sean McVay says Gurley will be fine going forward, consider the above information about how vital Gurley's presence has been to create winning matchups that don't show up in rushing totals. The Lions and Bears are quality run defenses that will test Gurley's health during the next two weeks. And if Gurley struggles both weeks, the Eagles are good enough to stop all but healthy-great runners like Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and the Saints backs.
While Gurley remains a must-start in most formats, the injury and the possibility that McVay is trying to downplay it for the sake of this offense could render Gurley less trustworthy during weeks that fantasy players are expecting the most from him.