With your fantasy playoffs either underway already or gearing up for a Week 15 start, FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson offers up a list of eight players who can help your team swim or sink. This is the newest edition of a popular Monday morning column that we call “Traps & Trends.”
1. Is it safe to hunt for a fantasy championship with a certain running back by the last name of Hunt in your starting lineup?
The Dude: Kareem Hunt
The Damage: Following a disappointing stretch of five games in which he failed to score or amassed fewer than 77 total yards, Hunt erupted at home against an Oakland Raiders offense that actually had been solid versus the run in recent weeks. Toting the rock 25 times, which was his second-highest workload of the season, Hunt racked up 116 yards (first 100-yard game since Week 5) and one touchdown (first score since Week 3). He also chipped in three receptions for 22 yards. By the way, Charcandrick West vultured three touches, including a 13-yard touchdown scamper. Has Hunt finally busted out of his production slump? Is he a safe fantasy start for the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TREND
If Hunt was parked on your bench this past Sunday – it’s understandable if he was – get the Kansas City Chiefs’ top runner back in your starting lineup. It didn’t surprise me to see him go off against the Raiders. Two weeks ago, the Chiefs, with offensive coordinator Matt Nagy calling the plays, finally started passing the ball downfield and seriously challenging defenses like they did earlier in the season, which finally opened things up for Hunt. He had been running against stacked fronts. Hunt looks like a nice start at home in Week 15 versus a Los Angeles Chargers defense that has allowed the third-most rushing yards to tailbacks. Arrowhead Stadium is the venue for Hunt in Week 16 against a Miami Dolphins defense that doesn’t travel well. Miami has coughed up the fifth-most rushing yards to ball carriers.
2. Is there a new lead dog in the Detroit Lions backfield?
The Damage: In case the only Detroit Lions fantasy football news that you’ve been following lately is the status of Matthew Stafford’s banged-up throwing hand, I’ll bring you up to speed on the Lions backfield. Ameer Abdullah has been sidelined for the last two weeks due to a neck injury. Theo Riddick has started in his place both times, operating with undrafted rookie free-agent Tion Green in a committee.
During a lopsided road loss to the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago, Riddick compiled a 9-21-1 rushing line and a 5-41-0 receiving line on five targets while Green amassed an 11-51-1 rushing line and wasn’t targeted in the passing game. This past Sunday, during a narrow road victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Riddick racked up a 10-29-2 rushing line – the two rushing scores has really earned him a lot of attention – and a 6-64-0 receiving line on 10 targets while Green managed just 5-15-0 rushing and wasn’t targeted in the passing game. Will Riddick, who faces very little competition for touches from Green, handle the starting duties in the Detroit backfield for the rest of the season?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
Right now, I honestly don’t know. This situation will play out during the week. Here’s a tidbit that maybe you missed: Abdullah’s injury had healed up to the point that he was trending toward suiting up for the Buccaneers game, but, according to media reports, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to make Abdullah inactive had more to do with disappointing play than his creaky neck. By the way, Riddick, in just two weeks, scored one less touchdown than Abdullah has all season. I suspect Abdullah will return and handle the bulk of the early-down work since the smallish Riddick, listed at 5-foot-9, 201 pounds, isn’t durable enough for a workhorse role. However, it looks like he has played himself into a solid change-of-pace/red-zone role with flex value in PPR leagues. Riddick’s next two matchups are at home versus a Chicago Bears defense (Week 15) that had ranked 11th in fantasy points allowed to running backs and on the road against a Cincinnati Bengals defense (Week 16) that ranked only 21st in fantasy points ceded to tailbacks.
3. Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be that slumping Dallas Cowboys quarterback who can’t carry an offense without your buddy Zeke?
The Dude: Dak Prescott
The Damage: Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension has been tough sledding for Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense. Without the stud ball carrier’s presence in the backfield, the Cowboys’ Prescott-led play-action passing attack had been understandably sputtering. Alfred Morris is a good solid back, but he doesn’t absolutely scare defenses like Elliott does. From Week 10 (that’s when Elliott’s six-game league suspension started) through Week 13, Prescott, playing very poorly, averaged 150.5 passing yards per contest and tossed two touchdown passes (both in Week 13). This past Sunday, however, the Dallas gunslinger delivered an early Christmas present to his owners, passing for a career-high 332 yards and three touchdowns against a dropping New York Giants defense. Is it safe to trust Prescott in starting lineups again?
The Diagnosis: TREND
It took a while for it to happen, but Prescott, his offensive teammates and the Cowboys coaching staff apparently have adjusted to life without Elliott in the starting lineup. By the way, Zeke has one more game to go on his suspension. Prescott succeeded against the Giants by spreading his passes around a lot more instead of trying to focus solely on Dez Bryant, who isn’t capable of carrying an offense by himself anymore. In the New York game, Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Rod Smith were targeted at least five times, respectively. I’ll admit that Smith’s 81-yard touchdown jaunt (he caught a short slant pass and scampered the rest of the way) was fluky, but that shouldn’t make you think any less of Prescott. I like his Week 15 road matchup against an Oakland Raiders defense that has struggled against the pass. In Week 16, Prescott returns to Dallas to battle a Richard Sherman-less Seattle Seahawks defense that surrendered a 268-2-0 passing line to Blake Bortles (Jaguars) this past Sunday.
4. Can a 30-year-old early-down thumper who goes by the nickname JStew help your playoff team?
The Dude: Jonathan Stewart
The Damage: Up until recently, the only Carolina Panthers running back worth mentioning was Christian McCaffrey. However, the 30-year-old Stewart reminded us that he’s still fantasy force by gashing an elite but road weary Minnesota Vikings defense for 103 yards and three touchdowns on the ground This past Sunday. With the Panther more determined than ever to pound the rock because of their wading-pool shallow receiver corps, Stewart, averaging 14.8 carries per outing, has quietly amassed at least 100 rushing yards or scored at least once in four straight games, and he found the end zone five times in the last three weeks. Will Stewart remain a reliable fantasy asset throughout the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Granted, seeing Stewart rack up five touchdowns in the last three weeks is surprising because Cam Newton usually vultures goal-line scores. Stewart notched two of them this past Sunday. Since Newton has been dealing with a shoulder injury, the team apparently has opted to save some wear and tear on “Superman” and let Stewart punch them in from point-blank range. Even though Stewart rarely catches passes (that’s McCaffrey’s job), the early-down plodder has two very favorable home matchups during the fantasy playoffs, which is why he deserves flex consideration. In Week 15, Stewart will square off against a Green Bay Packers defense that had yielded the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs. The following week, he’ll clash with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that has coughed up the seventh-most fantasy points and the fourth-most rushing scores to ball carriers.