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We have arrived at the final week of the fantasy season, which means NFL teams are heading in many directions. Those that are still jockeying for playoff position or a seat at the table, are going to play things straight. It is the teams that have been eliminated that often make week 16 so hard to predict. A lot of players with minor injuries will hit IR this week so their teams can use the roster spot for scouting purposes and so forth. In some instances, this will provide fantasy managers with unexpected options. Play the guys you can count on but take a good long look at matchups and streaming options for any spots in question.
Joe Walker has probably not made enough of an impression on the Cardinals coaching staff to be considered a long term starter. With five tackles, two assists and a forced fumble in week 15, however, he has put together three consecutive games with solid production. His snap total slipped a bit against Cleveland when he saw 83% of the action, but Chris Carson and the Seahawks are an excellent matchup this week.
Takkarist McKinley was placed on IR this week with the shoulder injury he suffered in week 15. Adrian Clayborn took over as a three-down end when McKinley was lost early in Sunday’s game and will get the start this week against Jacksonville. The Jaguars have allowed an average of three sacks per game since week nine.
The Patriots offensive struggles have been well documented but they are still a strong matchup for opposing corners. In what projects to be a low scoring defensive struggle, Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace should put up solid numbers.
With 28 combined tackles, 6 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, Vernon Butler has been a quality contributor in tackle required leagues since taking over the starting job in week five. He has certainly played well enough to be a factor in 2020, but keep in mind that Gerald McCoy is signed through 2020 and Kwan Short through 2022. Butler is under contract for next year as well with a fifth-year option pending. Dynasty managers that have been relying on Butler, may want to look at long term options with this being the final week for roster moves in many leagues. \
As for this week’s matchup with the Colts, Indianapolis has allowed one sack to an interior lineman since week eight and has allowed two tackles and three assists to all players at those positions over the last two games.
The Bears had been reluctant to place Danny Trevathan on IR with the hope they might get him back for a possible playoff run. Now that the team has been eliminated, he will likely land on IR shortly. Nick Kwiatkoski had another solid outing as the team’s lead man, going 4-1-1 with a pass breakup against the Packers, and has now become a quality start regardless of opponent.
Kevin Pierre-Lewis managed five solo tackles on 80% of the snaps against Green Bay. Coverage is probably his biggest asset, so his role could expand this week versus the Chiefs. His upside is rather limited but Pierre-Lewis should put up decent tackle totals in this one.
Akiem Hicks was back on the field in week 15 and was near his normal workload. He did not get to Aaron Rodgers for a sack but managed a solid four tackles on 61% of the snaps in the loss. His matchup with the Chiefs is not great, but Hicks is a big talent for a player that may be available this late.
With one victory and just two games remaining, Cincinnati is a near-lock to land the first pick in this spring’s draft, and they are all but certain to take a quarterback with that pick. That means the hole at middle linebacker would not be addressed until at least round two, and the team is going to need offensive linemen to protect their first-round investment. That situation and the solid play of Germaine Pratt down the stretch could mean a big opportunity for the linebacker.
I have been on the Pratt bandwagon for a while now. His playing time has slowly but steadily increased over the last several games and he has at least six solo stops in three of the last four games, out producing Nick Vigil in all four of them. Pratt was 7-2-0 on 75% of the snaps versus New England; both of which are season highs. The Dolphins are not a team that runs well but they are at least persistent at trying too. Pratt is certainly a high upside futures prospect and is a decent starting option for week 16.
Rumor has it the Browns are planning to let Joe Schobert walk in free agency this offseason. They have thus far made no effort to negotiate an extension with their Pro Bowl linebacker, fueling those expectations. While they are running out of time to get a contract done, there is the option of using a tag on Schobert. On the other hand, if we remember back to the preseason, rookie Sione Takitaki played well at the position, which could make the proposition of a big contract for Schobert, hard for the team to swallow. The bottom line here is, if you are a dynasty manager, Takitaki could be a great stash.
Rookie Sheldrick Redwine made his third consecutive start in week 15, putting up respectable numbers yet again. What is possibly the most interesting note about Redwine getting into the lineup, if that he has played mostly at free safety in the last two games, allowing Damarious Randall to move up closer to the line in a strong safety role. Randall finished with seven tackles and an assist against Arizona and has an outstanding matchup this week versus Baltimore.
Kareem Jackson has been suspended for the final two games of the season for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. He was charged with DUI in September. Will Parks should get the call to finish out the season
Jahlani Tavai did not put up particularly strong numbers, going 2-3 with an interception against Tampa Bay, but he did play a season-high 93% of the snaps. With Jarrad Davis on IR, Devon Kennard battling a hamstring injury and Christian Jones dealing with a bad shoulder, Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are likely to see near every-down action this week in what is a good matchup with Denver.
Zach Cunningham has quietly been the fantasy game’s best linebacker since week nine. In six games he has 53 tackles, 20 assists, and a sack, including double-digit solo tackles in three of the last four weeks. He is a good player but unfortunately, Cunningham is not much of a big-play threat. The point here being, dynasty managers may want to consider trading him before next season while his big tackle numbers are fresh on the minds of fellow managers.
Cunningham may not have a lot of competition for tackles this week with Bernardrick McKinney currently in concussion protocol.
With the emergence of Khari Willis at strong safety, former starter Clayton Geathers has been phased out of the Colts defense altogether. Geathers has a long injury history but has been a quality player when healthy during his career. He has been healthy this year so his fall down the Colts depth chart is not a health issue. There should be plenty of suitors for his services when Geathers hits free agency in the offseason.
Just in case anyone missed it, Donald Payne had another great game in week 15. This time he set a new personal best with 11 solo tackles, adding a pair of assists and a pass breakup. At this point, it would be hard to imagine him not having a starting job with the team in 2020, but nothing is certain in the NFL.
Josh Allen left Sunday’s game with what looked like a serious shoulder injury. He returned to finish the game but we need to keep an eye on his status as the week progresses.
Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Okafor landed on IR this week with a chest injury and Frank Clark is still banged up. The Chiefs may have picked up some reinforcements by claiming Terrell Suggs of waivers from the Cardinals. Upon being released, Suggs said the only team he would play with going forward was the Ravens, so we are still waiting to see if he will report to Kansas City. Since they are a contender, it would be a surprise if he were to refuse.
Los Angeles Chargers
It took a couple of games for Derwin James to knock the rust off, but he was back to normal in week 15, totaling six tackles and three assists against the Vikings. The Raiders are not a particularly strong matchup for safeties, but James is a must-start kind of player regardless of matchup.
After leading the team’s linebackers in snaps and tackles in each of his previous three games, Drue Tranquill’s playing time dropped to 55% in week 15, second to Thomas Davis at 83%. Exactly what that means for the future of Tranquill is hard to tell. What we do know is that Davis will be 37 in March and is under contract through 2020 should the team elect to keep him. We also know that Denzel Perryman is no more than a base down player, so the door is wide open for someone. Tranquill remains the favorite at this point.
New England Patriots
No New England defenders have put up more than four solo tackles on a consistent basis this season, leaving IDP managers to depend heavily on big-play production from them. A matchup with the Bills this week could be a trend breaker though. The Bills have an offense with the ability to play smash-mouth and move the ball while providing limited big-play opportunity to opponents. Call it a gut feeling, but I really like Jamie Collins in this one.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints got an early Christmas present when Janoris Jenkins was waived-injured by the Giants last week. His ankle injury is not considered serious and Jenkins could be on the field as soon as this week against the Titans. Eli Apple has struggled at times over the course of the season, so Jenkins will likely take over the starting job in short order. Both Jenkins and New Orleans corners, in general, have a solid history of quality production, so this is a great landing spot for the veteran in fantasy terms.
New Orleans was without Vonn Bell on Monday night as he continues to deal with a sore knee. As of Wednesday, he had not yet taken part in practice. Chauncy Gardner-Johnson played well in relief against the Colts, but he too has been out of practice so far this week with a concussion. The Saint signed D.J. Swearinger Sr on Wednesday which could be a bad sign for the availability of both Bell or Gardner-Johnson for this week.
New York Giants
With Janoris Jenkins gone, Sam Beal has stepped up big both on the field and in the box scores. In two games he has 14 tackles, 4 assists and a pass defended. While that makes him an interesting prospect for the future, this week’s matchup with Washington is one to avoid. The Redskins are trying to protect their rookie quarterback by emphasizing the run. Dwayne Haskins has not completed more than 19 passes in any game thus far.
New York Jets
With all their injuries in the secondary, the Jets have shifted corner Darryl Roberts to strong safety for the last couple of games. With Jamal Adams unable to practice at all on his bad ankle last week and not likely to play in week 16, Roberts is in line for a third start at the position. Considering he had seven tackles in each of the first two games, and a good matchup with the Steelers on tap, Roberts is a solid start this week, especially if you can play him as a corner in leagues that break out the defensive back positions.
The Raiders have gotten by this season with bubble gum and Duct Tape at their linebacker positions. It is a safe bet at least one of their early picks in the next draft will be used to address the position. Meanwhile, they continue to experiment with their current options. Will Compton Compton played every snap against the Jaguars and led the team in tackles at 5-4. Meanwhile, Tahir Whitehead saw a reduced workload of 60% and Nicholas Morrow 39% of the action. The Chargers are an above-average matchup for linebackers in general, but playing any Oakland linebacker is a serious risk.
The Cowboys may finally have rediscovered Ezekiel Elliot. That means a ton of tackle opportunity for Eagles defenders. Unfortunately, the only linebacker capable of taking advantage is Nathan Gerry, and the coaching staff will not keep him on the field full time. Thus the player most likely to benefit from the matchup is strong safety Malcolm Jenkins, who could be in for his most productive game of the season.
Just in case you have not yet given up on trying to figure out the Steelers inside linebackers, Mark Barron only played 24 of 65 snaps in week 15, while Vince Williams worked on 44, and Devin Bush 54.
Bobby Wagner was knocked out of the week 15 game late, with an ankle injury. Word out of Seattle suggests it is not serious and he might be able to play against Arizona. That said, with Cody Barton playing well as the next man up, Seattle could decide to play it safe with Wagner. Keep a close eye on this one and if Wagner is your guy, it might be a good idea to grab Barton as a handcuff.
Quandre Diggs also left the week 15 game but his ankle injury is likely to keep him out for at least this week. Delano Hill came off the bench when Diggs went down, but he too was banged up late in the game. We may see Bradley McDougald and rookie Marquise Blair as the starter versus Arizona.
San Francisco 49ers
Emmanuel Mosley gave us seven tackles and a pass breakup in week 15, but he is heading back to the bench this week versus the Rams. Both Richard Sherman (hamstring) and K’Waun Williams (concussion) returned to full practice on Saturday and are expected to go.
Despite joining the team mid-week, Tramaine Brock started and played every snap in his first game with the injury-riddled Titans. Brock is a solid player on the field but Logan Ryan remains the best corner option here. The Texans have been feast or famine as an opponent for corners, so a successful day for Ryan depends on which Houston team shows up
There are several teams hurting in the secondary, none more so than the Redskins. Quinton Dunbar sat out Sunday’s contest with a hamstring. During the game, Washington lost Jimmy Moreland to a foot injury, Fabian Moreau with a hamstring, and Aaron Colvin with an undisclosed ailment. That leaves Josh Norman, Jeremy Reaves, and Danny Johnson as the last three healthy corners. Johnson has been all but exiled by the coaching staff for the last several weeks, but they may be forced to play him against the Giants.
Johnson stepped in and went 9-1 with a pass defended in week 15. If he ends up starting opposite Norman, it is a safe bet he will be targeted often by whoever starts at quarterback for the Giants.
That is going to do it for the 2019 season. I will be back shortly after the draft when it is time to start all over again. In the meantime, best of luck to everyone this week.