An important aspect of fantasy football is getting ahead of the curve in player values. We've listed and highlighted some players who show a change in value and let you know what to do with them in Week 15's "Three Up, Three Down" article.
Rashaad Penny: There’s an old witticism that you’ve undoubtedly heard before: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” But this time really is different, right? After being drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft, Penny has had a hardcore sect of fans that look for any reason they can to pump him up. And right now, there’s plenty of reason to get excited. Week 14’s outing set a career-high in rushing yards for Penny. Through 33 career games, that game was only the second time Penny has scored multiple touchdowns. While that’s certainly exciting, the current situation in Seattle’s backfield provides fantasy managers with a bit of confidence. Over the years, Penny has struggled to remain healthy. When he wasn’t ailing, he typically split touches with Chris Carson. Despite being drafted in the first round four years ago, he’s only logged two career starts; both came this season. In Week 11’s start, he ripped two carries for 19 yards before tweaking his hamstring. Then on Sunday, he got the nod again and saw a team-high 57-percent of the snaps while rumbling for a whopping 8.6 yards per carry and two scores. “57-percent of the snaps” doesn’t sound like a lot, but Pete Carroll prefers a deployment of a few backs in his gameplan. Throughout 13 games and with six running backs, there are only five instances of a back seeing more than 55-percent of the carries in Seattle: Carson and Alex Collins each did it twice earlier in the year, and Penny just this past Sunday. Penny is compact, fast, and has a lot of potential that injuries have buried. With the Seahawks’ lead job up for grabs, Penny did more than enough to secure a steady workload going forward. Pete Carrol has always looked for ways to get Penny going, and with a clean bill of health and a wide-open backfield, Penny finally has his chance. A free agent after this season, Penny will look to prove that he can handle a starter’s workload over the rest of this season. There’s always concern about his ability to stay healthy, but there’s no other reason not to start him in round one of your fantasy playoffs.
Hunter Renfrow: It’s almost unbelievable to see that Renfrow has been the overall WR1 in PPR leagues over the last three weeks. It’s even crazier when you know that he only has one touchdown over that stretch! Darren Waller was knocked out of Week 12’s matchup, and Renfrow has turned into Mr. Reliable since. In the last three weeks, he’s totaled 33 targets, 30 receptions, 353 yards, and a touchdown. He’s catching over 90-percent of his targets and averaging nearly 12 yards per reception over that stretch. He’s hit 100-plus yards in three straight games. Waller will be back at some point, which can cap Renfrow’s newfound ceiling. Still, he’s done enough to earn a hefty target share going forward. Renfrow has the second-best catch rate of any wide receiver on the season, behind only Rondale Moore. And Renfrow is doing that on nearly twice the volume and a depth of target over four times further downfield. As long as Waller is inactive (currently listed as day-to-day), Renfrow remains a WR1 option in fantasy. Once Waller returns, Renfrow will still have weekly WR2 or flex value. Derek Carr recently said, “I think the first guy always misses and [Renfrow is] super hard to tackle, so you always want to get the ball in his hands. And to see him emerging as that guy, it doesn’t surprise me at all.” Those are some encouraging words from his quarterback, and Renfrow is getting hot at just the right time for fantasy managers. Start him with confidence in the upcoming weeks.
Russell Gage: Gage is slowly taking over as the lead receiver in Atlanta. Calvin Ridley is still on a break from football and Kyle Pitts hasn’t out-targeted Gage since Week 10. Over these last few weeks where Gage has unexpectedly stepped in as the team’s de facto lead receiver, he is the WR12 overall in PPR leagues. Gage is averaging a consistent 8.3 target and 76.3 yards per game. Unfortunately, he’s only found the end zone once in those four outings, but he’s the clear WR1 on the Falcons. There’s some risk in starting a receiver on a sputtering offense, but Gage has the 49ers and Lions up next on the schedule and could keep his hot streak going. A lot of Gage’s recent success can be attributed to defenses turning their focus to shutting down Pitts. By Week 7, Pitts looked like he would be a superstar. He had back-to-back weeks with eight-plus targets and totaled 282 yards. Since then, Pitts has failed to hit the eight-target mark in any of his next seven games as defenses keep him bracketed and unable to garner offensive looks. That extra attention to Pitts has allowed Gage to step in and be a reliable fantasy asset. Don’t expect to see Gage keep up his WR1 pace, but he can be trusted right now as a relatively safe WR3 with upside.
Kenny Golladay: The Giants said that they were going to make a commitment to get Golladay more involved, and they have tried. Unfortunately, though, it’s translated into pretty futile fantasy output. It's up for debate whether these struggles are due to quarterback play, injuries, or Golladay’s skills. Golladay is struggling to haul in targets this year, sporting the ninth-lowest catch rate among all receivers. He’s being utilized downfield but has yet to build a strong connection with Daniel Jones or Mike Glennon. His average target depth comes the 20th-deepest of any wide receiver, but he ranks 55th in yards per route run. Clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere here, and it’s making Golladay unstartable in fantasy. He’s the WR84 in points per game on the season and the WR78 over the last three weeks since his increase in target share. Offseason dreams of long balls from Jones and acrobatic catches from Golladay are quickly becoming distant memories. Going forward, Golladay is purely a desperation play. There are almost no reasons to keep him rostered in redraft leagues.
Ezekiel Elliott: Due to Tony Pollard’s torn plantar fascia and subsequent inactive status heading into Sunday’s game, Elliott was poised for his first big game in a while. Heading into Week 14, Elliott had been outperformed by Pollard in four straight games. Analysts were starting to insinuate that the seasons of wear and tear finally caught up to Elliott. Years younger and hungry for extra touches, Pollard looked explosive and spry in his limited usage. With Pollard out and the starting gig Elliott's for regaining, Elliott mustered up a measly 12 carries and 45 yards. It was the fifth straight game he was kept to under 4.0 yards per carry. Worst yet, Corey Clement siphoned away 36-percent of the snaps and had more carries than the long-time Cowboy. Dallas committed $90M to Elliott a few years back, but it’s becoming evident that he isn’t the ball-carrier he was when he signed the deal. Elliott can still set the pace on short-yardage runs and excels as a pass-blocker, but his days as an elite fantasy asset are diminishing quickly. He’s seeing a career-low in yardage per game this year. His eight touchdowns keep his overall fantasy output afloat as he’s still the RB7, but those are becoming increasingly difficult to rely on as the coaching staff is giving other backs a share of the backfield. You’re still starting Elliott every week, but confidence is dwindling, and he is almost assured to disappoint in the fantasy playoffs.
Dontrell Hilliard: Realistically, this Titans’ backfield still has a ton of question marks. With reports from this weekend saying that Derrick Henry could come back before the NFL playoffs, this could end up getting even messier. Week 14 was the first time all season that Hilliard, D’Onta Foreman, and Jeremy McNichols were all active in the same game. We can deduce from that outing that touches and snaps will be spread thinly. The most-tenured of the trio, McNichols, led the team with 38-percent of the snaps but only had eight touches. Hilliard came in next with 34-percent and six just touches. And then Foreman came in with a team-low 32-percent but set the pace as the team’s leading rusher. Foreman saw 13 carries which he bludgeoned forward for 47 hard-fought yards and a touchdown. He also saw the only two receptions to running backs all day, which he turned into another 15 yards. Hilliard got some extra work late in the game after the Titans had secured a sizable lead, but this is quite obviously Foreman’s backfield. With McNichols back and healthy, he will play his role as the pass-blocking back. That leaves Hilliard with the scraps and makes him droppable in almost all formats. While he could have another boom game as he did against the Patriots, his bottomless floor makes him an unreliable starter in the fantasy playoffs.