With the fantasy football playoffs a couple weeks away, the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are on bye – but that should almost be insignificant since those teams have little relevance. Many superstars seem to have promising matchups in Week 11, just don’t overlook the lesser-known talent who may outperform them. When a scenario arises that looks promising yet may seem unpopular, be like Garth Brooks and go “Against the Grain” because “nothing’ ventured, nothing’ gained.”
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta (at Seattle)
In a down year for his standards, Ryan can finish as a QB1 this week on the road for several reasons. A starter since early 2011, cornerback Richard Sherman is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, meaning the Seahawks in all likelihood will have trouble guarding wide receiver Julio Jones on Monday night. Seattle’s defensive line is also hobbled with several injuries from last Thursday’s game at Arizona. If the front four cannot provide consistent pressure, Ryan will be able to exploit a good yet depleted secondary. Seattle’s offense looks lost at times in part due to a shaky O-line that cannot run block and occasionally provides adequate pass protection. The Cardinals never seemed like serious contenders to win last week but backup quarterback Drew Stanton, despite completing 51.1 percent of his passes, threw for 273 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while the ageless Larry Fitzgerald caught 10 receptions for 113 yards. Ryan, a 10-year veteran, has improved the past four games with seven touchdowns, two interceptions and an average 103.4 passer rating. The previous time Ryan played at Seattle was Week 6 last season. He had 335 yards passing, three touchdowns and one interception. In that same game involving Sherman, Jones caught seven receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has a brilliant defensive mind but the numbers predict Ryan to succeed with his receivers and other pass-catching weapons out of the backfield.
Orleans Darkwa, RB, New York Giants (vs. Kansas City)
The Chiefs, coming off a bye, have the fourth-worst rushing defense at 131.1 yards per game, 4.8 yards per carry, and have allowed nine touchdowns in as many games. In other words, start Darkwa the fourth-year pro who’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry. After getting just three carries in each of his first two games, Darkwa has been a virtual must-start option on one of the NFL’s worst teams. In the past five games he has averaged 72.4 yards on 13.6 carries. Sounds kind of ho-hum, right? Think of it this way: Those numbers came against some of the league’s top-ranked rushing defenses such as Denver, Philadelphia and Seattle. When facing below-average units like San Francisco and the Los Angele Rams and Chargers, Darkwa averages 6.0 yards per carry. Eli Manning has nobody to throw to besides receiver Sterling Shepard and rookie tight end Evan Engram. The Giants score 16.7 points per game. Darkwa provides a bright spot during his team’s dark present and future.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami (vs. Tampa Bay)
Despite sharing snaps with Damien Williams, Drake – especially in half- or full-point per reception leagues – is a more productive runner who can be started the rest of the season. In the first game after Jay Ajayi was traded to Philadelphia, Drake rushed for 69 yards on nine carries (7.7 average) and added six receptions for 35 yards against Oakland. In comparison, Williams rushed for 14 yards on seven carries against Oakland but scored a touchdown through the air on six receptions for 47 yards. On Monday night against Carolina, Drake scored a rushing touchdown and gained 82 yards in a blowout loss. The Raiders have the 12th-worst rushing defense at 116.6 yards per game; Tampa Bay averages 109.9 yards. Williams might provide similar production receiving but Drake is a more trustworthy start based on his ground game.
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta (at Seattle)
Ranked in the upper 30s to low 40s in both non-PPR and PPR, Sanu is the type of sneaky start who can help win you a weekly matchup and league title. Jones is one of the best receivers in the game regardless of what his stats say. With Sherman out for the season, Seattle might double cover Jones and leave Sanu one on one against someone like Jeremy Lane, Justin Coleman, Neiko Thorpe, rookie Shaquill Griffin or free-agent cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was signed Monday. Sanu scored touchdowns the previous two weeks against the Jets and Panthers and has a good shot of finding pay dirt again. The Seahawks rushing defense held Adrian Peterson to 29 yards on 21 carries (1.9 average) last week, and if his long run of nine yards is omitted, that’s 20 yards on 20 carries. Seattle’s main goal is to always stop the run. Assuming the Seahawks can contain Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on the ground, Sanu should play a pivotal role in the game plan as a compliment to Jones.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Baltimore (at Green Bay)
Here are some reasons to start Maclin: Joe Flacco throws 32.3 passes a game. The Green Bay passing defense is ranked No. 20 at 242.6 yards per game and its offense averages less than 17.0 points in four games since Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. Maclin caught eight-of-nine targets for 98 yards in Week 9 against Tennessee, which was his highest total since Week 12 of 2015. According to Rotoworld, Maclin “made a living off slants while serving as Flacco’s safety net for much of the afternoon. Volume was certainly Maclin’s friend as the Ravens attempted a season-high 55 passes in the loss.” Maclin has battled shoulder issues throughout the year but was able to heal during a bye week coming into the Green Bay matchup. Flacco should continue to target Maclin often. The passing defense for the Titans and Packers are almost identical in yards per game. Green Bay allows fewer touchdowns than Tennessee, but both squads are scored on more than once per game, and the Packers’ 7.8 yards per reception is 1.4 yards more than the Titans.
Other Players to Like
Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota (vs. Los Angeles Rams)
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore (at Green Bay)
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota (vs. Los Angeles Rams)
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona (at Houston)
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia (at Dallas)
Golden Tate, WR, Detroit (at Chicago)
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Arizona (at Houston)
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville (at Cleveland)