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Welcome to Week 14 of the 2021 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discusses quarterbacks with recent upticks in production, RBs whose demise may be greatly exaggerated, bold playoff lineup calls worth consideration, and Fantasy Fill In the Blank.
For Real/Fool's Gold: QB Edition
Matt Waldman: The following players are top-12 fantasy producers in fantasy leagues for the past three weeks.
With the fantasy playoffs underway, most GMs are hoping they don't need to add a player off the waiver wire or resort to a player who has been their backup. Which one of these four do you believe is a "for-real" fantasy starter during the playoffs and which one do you think is fool's gold?
Jason Wood: It's an interesting query and speaks to how we tend to overvalue the earliest weeks and undervalue trends late in the season. Most of us still view Goff as toxic, yet as you pointed out, he's been better for you in the stretch push for the playoffs than quite a few quarterbacks drafted as must starts.
Of this quartet, Russell Wilson is the obvious choice. He's the only one with an ironclad pedigree whose earlier season struggles were harder to explain than his recent positive outcomes. We know Wilson is a Top 6 fantasy quarterback year in, year out. He's finally playing as he should have been all along.
I'll note the 49ers have the easiest remaining SOS for fantasy purposes, but even so, Garoppolo doesn't have the volume to merit the No. 1 slot in this comparison. Jared Goff is certainly the fool's gold. We know from his history he's not a good quarterback, and the Lions have the thinnest talent of this group.
Andy Hicks: Jason is a bit harsh in his assessment that Goff is not a good quarterback. He needs a supporting cast, yes, but look at who he is working with at Detroit? Somehow without his top-two running backs, his top tight end, and goodness know what he has at wide receiver, he has been fantasy useful. His schedule over the next three weeks is the most favorable of the guys listed. I would hope not to be starting Goff over the next three weeks, but given the choices, go with him.
I would rate Roethlisberger as the guy to avoid. Matchups against the Titans, reborn Chiefs defense, and the Browns are tough. The Steelers are likely to be out of playoff contention soon and while I think they let Roethlisberger play the season out, Tomlin would love to see his backups get a chance to press for 2022 playing time.
Jeff Haseley: I'm not sure if I trust any of these four quarterbacks in the playoffs. Wilson feels like the safest play and he has three straight games with multiple touchdown passes. Maybe he's coming out of his season-long slump? He's QB13 since Week 9 and he has home games against Chicago and Detroit in Weeks 15 and 16. Relying on Wilson seems like a tall order considering his struggles, however, maybe he's just now getting over his hand injury and is primed to show us the real Russell Wilson when we need him the most?
Chad Parsons: I trust Russell Wilson during the fantasy playoffs. His scattershot accuracy immediately following his return from finger surgery has improved by the week and his combination of profile and weapons are the most trustworthy of the group. On the flip side, Jared Goff is plain tough to trust in terms of lineup decisions. There have been productive weeks for the Lions' passing game, but it feels like a house of cards when pondering lineup decisions the following week for any sense of momentum or confidence.
Victoria Geary: Let's be honest here, none of these quarterbacks are particularly trustworthy for your fantasy playoff matchups. Wilson is the only guy on this list I would be comfortable using in a pinch, and that is because he’s Russell Wilson and can throw a 56-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett at any given moment.
He gets the Rams, Bears, and Lions for the upcoming fantasy playoff stretch, so we should feel comfortable expecting at least 18-20 fantasy point outings for the playoffs. Garoppolo is a close second with VERY enticing matchups in the Falcons, Titans, and Texans, but his inconsistency is what keeps me from fully trusting him to take me to the championship promised land. If you’ve potentially lost Jackson or Allen for the week though, Jimmy is the perfect waiver wire fill-in.
Goff is the most obvious from this list that can be deemed “fool’s gold.” Not only are his best pass-catchers in Swift and Hockenson banged up and potentially out this week, but Goff has given us enough evidence throughout the season of his horrendously terrible floor: as low as 5 fantasy points in a game. Sure, it feels good to root for an underdog, but don’t root for him in your fantasy lineup.
Waldman: Of course, it's in Russ We Trust, what is wrong with all of you?! I'm kidding, it's easy to doubt Wilson based on the noise surrounding Wilson's injury, Metcalf's recent meltdown, rumored locker room dysfunction, and disagreements about the philosophy of the offense.
That said, I know what I see on the field. He has the best collection of receiving talent and there's a relative unknown playmaker in rookie Dee Eskridge who I bet will continue opening up big plays for the ground game as well as sneak past opposing defenses for some huge plays down the stretch that opens the field for easier plays to established vets.
Personally, I like Hicks' routinely impassioned defense of Goff over the years. Still, I'm not loving the surrounding talent enough to take that risk. Garoppolo is a system quarterback and that system is designed to limit the demand for him to put the offense on his back. The injuries and matchups may be in place for Garoppolo to be in this situation but with Wilson healthy, I don't have to find out.
RB Whose Demise Is Greatly Exaggerated
Waldman: Watching James Conner this year has been a source of great satisfaction because his demise was greatly exaggerated.
Last year, he was PPR's No. 27 RB. with 935 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns. With four games left Conner has 964 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns.
Leonard Fournette is another example. He was the No. 35 PPR RB in 2020 with 600 yards from scrimmage and 6 scores. This year, he's the No. 3 PPR option with 1,199 yards from scrimmage and 10 scores. Christian McCaffrey is envious.
Give me a runner who has performed outside the top 25 PPR who has played at least 12 games (or should play at least 12 games) this year whom you think their demise could be greatly exaggerated.
Hicks: By this stage of the 2020 season, Conner and Fournette had missed a few games and were under the 12 game threshold. So with some liberty taken, I am narrowing my list to David Montgomery, Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley, Devin Singletary, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Rhamondre Stevenson, Sony Michel, and Ronald Jones II. Several of these players hardly qualify as having a demise, so let’s go with someone likely not to be drafted high next year in Jones.
He has taken a back seat to Leonard Fournette this year after being the number one back for most of the season in 2020. As a free agent, he will be on a prove-it deal next year at a new club and could be in a similar situation to that James Conner faced heading into 2021. There’s a lot to play out between now and training camp next year, but he will have only just turned 25 at the start of the 2022 season and has a good career ahead of him.
Geary: For what it’s worth, I will start with two runners whose demise worries me: Saquon Barkley and MilesSanders. They have been drafted in the first 3 rounds in each of the last two seasons, and have severely disappointed us again in 2021. Will we ever see the same dominant, healthy Barkley again? Will the Eagles’ coaching staff ever fully commit to Sanders as the true lead back? To me, the answer to those questions is no and for that reason, I won’t be gambling on them in 2022 redraft leagues.
The exaggerated demise of both David Montgomery and Hunt will likely push both of their 2022 ADPs quite significantly if recency bias plays a similar role as it did for this year’s drafts. The hope is that Montgomery will be in a better situation with a new coaching staff that can utilize the strengths he has put on display for us over the last two years. Hunt’s ADP will likely not be affected as much as Montgomery's, but he could be viewed more as an “injury-risk” player by fantasy managers, which bodes well for the rest of us who know he will always be involved in the Browns’ offense as the 1B to Nick Chubb.
Haseley: Hunt is close to your 12-game requirement, but I feel like he still has more to offer in 2022 and beyond. Hunt (26), has been hit with injuries this season that take time to fully heal. A calf strain and sprained ankle have derailed his season to a degree. He has played eight games so far and could potentially get to 11 if he returns in Week 15 as some suggest. In those eight games, he has five touchdowns, which isn't that far off from his career ratio of 44 touchdowns in 59 games (74%).
Hunt has a knack for scoring touchdowns and being an effective complementary running back. He is a capable back when called upon and can be fantasy-relevant even in a secondary role behind Nick Chubb. He has one more year in Cleveland and will then be an unrestricted free agent for the 2023 season. He has plenty to offer when healthy and should be a key piece to the Browns playoff push.
Parsons: Barkley and Sanders are my two 'I still believe' talents at the position. Barkley had a two-game stretch where he scored 51 PPR points earlier in the season and Week 14 has things looking up for the playoff run. Barkley needs a string of health more than anything. For Sanders, the 'change of scenery' moniker applies heavily here. While the career arc comps point to low odds for a future RB1 season, he looks the part and would find a 1A role in free agency or NFL trading if he left the Eagles.
Wood: I'm not sure Montgomery counts, as he's only played nine games so far, but he's the obvious choice. He's a top-20 back on a per-game basis, despite an absolute nightmare situation with terrible quarterbacking and a receiving corps bereft of difference makers outside of Mooney.
Montgomery will confidently project as a high-upside RB2 next year as long as the Bears hire an encouraging play-caller. If Montgomery doesn't qualify because of his games played, I'll throw a dart at Sony Michel.
Michel didn't usurp Darrell Henderson this year as many hoped, but with Henderson missing time recently, Michel re-established himself as a power back capable of anchoring a balanced offensive attack. If Cam Akers' Achilles proves impossible to overcome, we can't rule out Michel getting a significant role next season. To be clear, I don't think it's a high probability outcome, but it's also not one we should completely out rule.
Waldman: I appreciate the preemptive thought that Montgomery was potentially too obvious for the spirit of the question.
Wood: Of course, brother.
Waldman: I'm going to take a half-court shot with Giovani Bernard. He was the main red-zone back in every practice session during Buccaneers training camp and by far the most productive as a runner and receiver. If the Buccaneers don't re-sign Fournette, Ronald Jones II' cannot replace Fournette in the receiving game. Bernard can and he'll likely come cheap enough to re-sign. If this happens, he still has the skills to deliver Dion Lewis/James White PPR RB1 value in 2022.
Bold Playoff Lineup Calls
Waldman: Yes, you generally want to stick with your best players. Blah, blah, blah. Still, there are scenarios where you need the guts to deviate from the game plan.
- Give us one top-25 starter at RB or WR that you'd consider benching this week.
- Give us one RB or WR outside the top 35 that you'd consider starting this week.
VERY IMPORTANT: You cannot use a player outside the top 35 who was considered a starter or co-starter to begin the year but is outside that ranking mostly due to injury. For example, CEH, Kareem Hunt, Miles Sanders, A.J. Brown, Courtland Sutton, and Corey Davis are not allowed.
Wood: I'll give you two. D.J. Moore is currently WR17 but faces the Bills this week, which are the stingiest defense against fantasy receivers this year. A difficult matchup combined with a revolving door of inept quarterbacking makes Moore a high-risk boom or bust pick. Michael Pittman's situation is better because Carson Wentz has been playing at a Top 10 level for most of the year, but the Colts face a Patriots defense which is particularly good at eliminating the opposing offense's best weapons. The Patriots are the third-toughest defense against fantasy receivers, to boot.
Brandon Aiyuk is the obvious choice for the second part of your query. He ranks WR35 right now but that's because he was deeply embedded in the coach's dog house early in the year. He's been highly effective of late, and with Deebo Samuel becoming a hybrid playmaker who runs the ball as often as he's targeted, Aiyuk stands to see a lot of action against a Falcons defense that is among the most giving to opposing fantasy receivers.
Haseley: Jason shared two good examples in Moore and Pitman. Not only is Moore dealing with a hamstring strain, but the Panthers and their quarterback situation are barely treading water and will be facing a tough Bills defense. As for Pittman, I agree with the difficult matchup against New England and believe benching him is a wise decision.
A running back that I would consider benching despite the favorable matchup against Houston is James Robinson. Since suffering a heel/ankle injury, Robinson has 28 yards rushing in two games, with one reception. He is hardly pulling his weight and he's in danger of busting when you need him most. Can you trust him? The heel injury may be giving him more troubles than he's admitting. The soft matchup against Houston is the troubling part.
You hate to give up a super-matchup like this, but can you trust Robinson to rebound? Can you trust Jacksonville to do something, anything on offense? At this point, no, not even against Houston. If you have a remotely better option, consider taking it.
As for a player outside of the top 35, I would consider Lions' rookie wide receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown who has 30 receptions over the last five games including back-to-back 12-target games. You could do worse from your flex spot. Detroit has averaged 40 pass attempts in each of their last two games and this week's matchup at home, against Arizona, should yield more of the same.
Geary: Marquise Brown hasn’t had over 55 receiving yards in a game since Week 9. He was having an incredible breakout season with Lamar Jackson until the Baltimore offense fell off the rails a few weeks back. If you look at the Green Bay defense, you might automatically think this week could be a bounce-back spot for Brown to get right, but he had a perfectly good shot at that in Week 13 against the Steelers putrid secondary and only managed 55 yards total. Couple his recent struggles with the fact that his starting quarterback is dealing with an ankle injury and may not even suit up for the first week of the fantasy playoffs, I would be looking to pivot from Brown in my lineups this week and in the future.
I would be happy to start any of St. Brown, Russell Gage, and Aiyuk this week. Many of our FBG staff have hit on these players already, but they are each having a fantastic late-season surge. It may feel a bit gross in terms of seeing them in your starting lineups during this important playoff stretch, but they all have three key things in common: they are playing a significant amount of snaps, they've had a fantastic target share recently, and are producing for fantasy - and that’s all that matters. In his last four games, St. Brown has played an average of 89% of snaps, garnered 32 targets, and is the overall PPR WR18.
Gage is the WR13 in that same time span, averaging 15.1 points per game. And we are all ecstatic to finally see Aiyuk make it out of the dog house, averaging 15.3 points and eight targets per game over his last four (and has three very juicy matchups with Atlanta, Tennessee, and Houston ahead).
Hicks: I have to agree with Jeff on the Robinson call. How does this team care what happens over the next four weeks? Urban Meyer has been a catastrophic failure, the other coaches were humiliated in front of the team and the players can see a dumpster fire raging all around them. Sure there is personal pride, but essentially all the guys are playing for their 2022 jobs.
Looking at this closely, the player that jumps out to me is Gage. Expected to take over following the departure of Julio Jones, Gage was barely seen before the Falcons bye. Once Calvin Ridley left the side for personal reasons, Gage stepped in and is now one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL. He ranks as a WR1 over the last four weeks and sixth overall in receptions. Somehow he still is being undervalued in the week 15 rankings despite his recent form. Depending on my other options Gage should start.
Parsons: Robinson is playing through multiple injuries, plus the shadow of a horrific Jacksonville offense down the stretch. He has 15 touches over the past two games combined and Houston is sneaky decent on defense. There are more than a handful of running backs I would start over Robinson while being lower in the consensus rankings and projections for Week 15.
Rashaad Penny. Yes, this is a bridge already attempted to cross which has left us floating down the river. However, Penny is easily the most talented back in Seattle and is healthy - for now. Ride the upside train while there is coal in the engine and he has more impact potential from the flex-zone of the rankings for Week 15 than almost everyone around him for lineup decisions. Penny could go down on his opening touch against the Rams, but we see a similar fate with a lineup-centric option on a weekly basis. One of my favorite quotes in fantasy is 'a player is injury prone until they are not'. Penny, at present, is not.
Waldman: Braxton Berrios in PPR formats is a bold play and I may be rolling with him ahead of a player like Moore or Brown. Berrios might be the one Jets option with the most rapport with Zach Wilson who is still healthy. He's solid after the catch, he makes contested plays over the middle, and because he's working over the middle, he doesn't draw a ton of single coverage. He's also facing low-ranked passing defenses for the next three weeks in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers: Miami (4th-worst) and Jacksonville (7th) and Tampa Bay (9th).
FF Fill in The Blank
Waldman: Pick one of the following statements, put a player in the blank.
- "I'm adding _______ to my roster just in case I need the depth for the playoff run."
- "I had a feeling about __________ having a monster year, but didn't trust myself to pull the trigger."
- "Although I rarely operate on definitive statements with fantasy football, I will never draft __________."
- "I hate _____ but if he joined my favorite team, I would love him."
Explain your answers.
Wood: I'm adding Khalil Herbert back to my roster just in case I need the depth for the playoff run. David Montgomery was my second most rostered player this year (behind T.J. Hockenson), and yet somehow I'm positioned for playoff runs in quite a few leagues. One of the reasons I stayed alive in those leagues was because I picked up Khalil Herbert instead of Damien Williams after Montgomery got hurt. Herbert was a fantasy RB1 in those weeks, and one could argue looked better in the featured role than Montgomery has since he returned. However, as the bye weeks and injuries unfolded, it was difficult to keep Herbert on most rosters. But now that it's playoff time, I'm grabbing Herbert back everywhere I can.
Parsons: "I'm adding Corey Clement to my roster just in case I need the depth for the playoff run."
Ezekiel Elliott is gutting out a decent snap share and workload while clearly not healthy. I do not trust Tony Pollard to maintain a workload for the coming weeks. A final wrinkle for Dallas, I wonder if Dallas is locked into the division title with no chance for the bye week that we see Elliott rested in, say, Week 17, and Clement sees a clarified start. Clement is a must-roster player for playoff teams as both running backs around him are hobbled and Clement's fresh legs looked good in Week 14 with quality usage.
Geary: "I hate Tom Brady but if he joined my favorite team, I would love him." Isn’t this the most obvious answer for a Bills fan? I have to preface this statement with the fact that I really don’t hate Brady anymore now that he’s out of the AFC East. In fact, I am able to respect him a lot more nowadays. But goodness, I still wanted the Bills to beat him so badly last week. He is playing out of his mind for a 44-year-old man and has been so fun to watch. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll add another MVP trophy to his colossal collection.
Hicks: Hate is such a strong word, but DK Metcalf currently tops my annoying player list. That said if he plays on my favorite team, I suddenly overlook his childish and immature antics and hope he matures into the elite receiver he should be week after week.
Haseley: I'm adding J.J. Taylor to my roster just in case I need the depth for the playoff run." - The Patriots have a wealth of options at running back, and all it takes is one injury, a key fumble, positive COVID test, or a game plan that involves a shifty back like James White, for Taylor to become fantasy-relevant.
Waldman: I'm adding D'Ernest Johnson to my rosters in case I need the depth for my playoff runs. In fact, I've asked for him in return as a bit player in package deals for dynasty leagues. I liked what I saw from him this year and if the COVID-19 runs through the Browns' organization, I want as many shots at their ground game as I can get.