Week 14 of the NFL season will forever live on in the memories (or the nightmares) of fantasy managers because of the monster performances from Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Amari Cooper and George Kittle, and because of the laundry list of studs that completely disappointed in the playoffs – when they were needed the most. FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson sifts through the fantasy aftermath and has found a tight end that can help your fantasy playoff team. Matt also has put struggling Phillip Lindsay, Leonard Fournette and James White under the microscope. Will they help or hurt your playoff team? Check out the newest edition of “Traps & Trends” to find out.
We’re just 14 weeks into the NFL regular season, but…
1. Should we expect a season-ending drop in fantasy value for the tailback that racked up the second-most rushing yards and the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL from Week 7 through Week 13?
The Dude: Phillip Lindsay
The Damage: Taking over as the full-time starter when Royce Freeman went down with a knee injury and keeping the No. 1 gig when returned, Lindsay, from Week 7 through Week 13, racked up the second-most rushing yards (591) and topped the league in rushing touchdowns (seven). There had been some worries that the absence of Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles’) and the Denver Broncos’ lack of proven receiver talent would open the door for opposing defenses to focus on containing Lindsay at all costs. This past Sunday, Lindsay produced one of his worst outings of the season. While the rookie scored his sixth rushing touchdown in the last four weeks, Lindsay rushed for only 30 yards on 14 carries and caught four passes for 21 yards on seven targets. Are the gloom and doom predictions about Lindsay’s fantasy value true? Is it time to park Lindsay on your bench for the remainder of the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
When an offense loses a high-profile playmaker, it usually impacts the entire unit. While I think there’s some truth to the worry about defenses focusing more on Lindsay with Sanders (and Demaryius Thomas) gone – we saw it in the 49ers contest – I wouldn’t give up on Lindsay. Don’t panic. Granted, game script was a factor in the San Francisco outing. Denver fell behind 20-0 at one point and had to throw more and run less, but the Broncos passing attack clearly isn’t going to scare anyone with struggling rookie Courtland Sutton, rookie fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton and undrafted second-year pro Tim Patrick (he did rack up 7-85-0 versus the 49ers) leading the way.
In Week 15, Lindsay has a safe home matchup versus a Cleveland Browns defense that has coughed up the sixth-most rushing yards and the second-most rushing scores to tailbacks. The following week, Lindsay draws a road matchup against an Oakland Raiders defense that has allowed the second-most rushing yards and the 12th-most rushing touchdowns to the running back position. Even though da’ Raiders have been putting up a fight at home in recent weeks, I wouldn’t let that stop me from starting Lindsay. He’s the engine that powers the Broncos offense for now.
2. Can fantasy managers trust Cam Newton’s newest weapon?
The Dude: Ian Thomas
The Damage: The rookie fourth-round selection out of Indiana failed to impress during his first stint (Week 2 through Week 5) as the Carolina Panthers’ replacement for Greg Olsen (foot surgery), amassing just eight catches for 68 scoreless yards on 68 targets. When Olsen returned (Week 6 through Week 13), Thomas notched one catch for 15 yards while operating in a little-used backup role. When Olsen was lost for the season in Week 13, Thomas stepped up with a modest five receptions for 46 yards on five targets during Carolina’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He followed that up with a career-best breakout performance – nine catches for 77 yards on 11 targets – in the Panthers’ losing effort versus the Cleveland Browns. Is the next man up at tight end in Carolina a possible next man up for the tight end spot on your playoff team?
The Diagnosis: TREND
The answer is a resounding “yes.” Thomas’ dismal early-season showing easily explains why some folks initially wrote him off as a streaming option, but it looks like Thomas’ game has improved by leaps and bounds. His outing in the Browns game is especially impressive when you consider that Thomas produced nice numbers even though receiving-back extraordinaire Christian McCaffrey, who also catches passes underneath, was targeted seven times. Since Cam Newton apparently is having some problems with his surgically repaired throwing shoulder, Thomas’ outlook as safety valve option looks promising. His Week 15 matchup against a New Orleans Saints defense that had been stingy to tight ends before allowing two touchdowns to Cameron Brate this past Sunday isn’t the best. In Week 16, Thomas will clash with an Atlanta Falcons defense that was ranked 13th in tight end fantasy points allowed heading into the Week 15 games.
3. That “other” running back in the Thursday night Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans clash that didn’t rack up the super-impressive fantasy performance and totally cratered despite coming off three strong performances. You know the guy. Can he still help propel your fantasy team to a championship?
The Dude: Leonard Fournette
The Damage: From Week 10 through Week 12, Fournette was on a roll. He averaged 27 touches, 119 combo yards and 1.67 touchdowns per game. Following Fournette’s one-game league suspension (Week 13) for fighting with Shaq Lawson of the Buffalo Bills, he had looked like a solid play last Thursday night even though the Tennessee Titans defense that has allowed the seventh-most rushing yards and the sixth-most rushing touchdowns to enemy tailbacks during the last month. However, while Derrick Henry was running wild against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fournette was running into brick walls versus the Titans. He carried 14 times for just 36 yards and reeled in two of three targets for only five yards. Of course Fournette’s Jaguars fell way behind and had to start throwing heavily, which meant fewer carries for him. For fantasy managers that are still alive in the playoffs despite Fournette’s dud outing, is it time to bench him?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Don’t give up on Fournette. As noted, game script turned negative for him in the Titans game. Some also have forgotten that Jacksonville was coming off a huge home victory over the Indianapolis Colts, and I think the entire Jaguars team had a letdown against Tennessee. This week, Jacksonville returns home to face a Washington defense that hemorrhaged 197 yards from scrimmage to Saquon Barkley. In Week 16, Fournette will battle a Miami Dolphins defense that has yielded the fourth-most rushing yards to tailbacks.