Our Traps & Trends guy Matt Wilson is back to assess the injury-dominated playoff fantasy aftermath of Week 14. Matt perused the NFL box scores and analyzed 10 players that either surprised or disappointed fantasy owners. Among the players on Matt’s radar this week: one stud running back that he says it’s okay to bench, one aging running back that’s making an inspiring comeback and a committee running back from New York that deserves a spot in your starting lineup.
1. WILL DEVONTA FREEMAN CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE THROUGHOUT THE REMAINDER OF THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS?
The Damage: During his team’s Week 14 blowout road loss at the hands of the undefeated Carolina Panthers, Freeman compiled a 12-40-0 rushing line and a 3-22-0 receiving line on five targets. The second-year pro has failed to score in three straight outings, and Freeman has amassed 65 or fewer combo yards in two of his last three games. Is this the level of fantasy production that we’ll see from Freeman during the rest of 2015?
The Diagnosis: TREND
It’s time to revoke Freeman’s must-start card. The struggling Atlanta Falcons offense hasn’t scored more than 21 points in a game since Week 5, and it’s dragging down Freeman’s fantasy value. Given Atlanta’s shortage of effective playmakers behind Julio Jones, Freeman’s lack of involvement in the passing game against the Panthers is inexcusable. The Falcons next matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15) is tougher than it looks. The Jaguars defense has been surprisingly solid versus the run in recent weeks. Atlanta will get a second shot at the Carolina Panthers (Week 16), which obviously is a tough matchup. If you’re loaded at running back, don’t be afraid to sit Freeman for the remainder of the fantasy playoffs.
2. CAN YOU TRUST ADRIAN PETERSON FOR THE REST OF THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS?
The Damage: Questioning the fantasy value of the great Adrian Peterson usually draws laughter from some fantasy owners and thinly veiled insults about your fantasy football acumen from others, but AP owners are a nervous bunch right now and understandably so. Two weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks defense limited him to an 8-18-0 rushing line and a 4-6-0 receiving line. This past Thursday night, Peterson racked up a much better 23-69-1 rushing line and a 1-17-0 receiving line against the Arizona Cardinals. While the numbers look decent, keep in mind that most of his yardage came in the first half of that game. The Cardinals sold out to make him a non-factor during the second half. Can Peterson carry your fantasy team to a championship or should you consider sitting him?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Don’t over-coach your lineup. Even though he hasn’t racked up stud numbers in recent weeks, of course you’re not going to sit Peterson. During his two-game slump, his offensive line has struggled. Opposing defenders also have brazenly stacked the box, because they don’t respect the disappointing Teddy Bridgewater. Keep in mind, however, that Seattle and Arizona are two of the NFL’s better defenses. During the next two weeks, Peterson should rack up plenty of fantasy points in consecutive soft home matchups against the Chicago Bears (Week 15) and the New York Giants (Week 16).
3. DID THE OTHER FANTASY OWNERS LAUGH WHEN YOU INSERTED TIM HIGHTOWER INTO YOUR STARTING LINEUP? THEY’RE NOT LAUGHING NOW.
The Diagnosis: Even if you’re not a fan of the New Orleans Saints, you should respect Tim Hightower’s long journey back to the NFL. He went down with a major knee injury in 2011 that required numerous surgeries before a lingering infection finally disappeared in 2013. Following more than one year of tryouts with different teams, Hightower finally landed a gig with New Orleans. He was released once and re-signed before the team added him to its 2015 roster.
With Mark Ingram (shoulder) and Khiry Robinson (broken leg) on the shelf for the rest of 2015, and with C.J. Spiller apparently enjoying a long stay in Saints head coach Sean Payton’s doghouse, Hightower made his first start since 2011 this past weekend. He racked up 85 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on 28 carries, and chipped in one catch for 10 yards. Was it a fluke performance against an inconsistent Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense? Is Hightower for real? Can he help you during your playoff run?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Even though he still looked a bit rusty, Hightower was effective. Seventeen of his touches came in the second half, as Hightower helped the Saints kill the clock. He has fresh legs and should receive a ton of work as a three-down back for the rest of 2015. Don’t worry about C.J. Spiller; he amassed nine combo yards on six combo touches. Despite the injuries to Ingram and Robinson, the Saints still don’t trust Spiller. Hightower’s next two matchups are at home against the Detroit Lions (Week 15) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 16) are both favorable.
4. IS THERE A SECOND JETS RUNNING BACK THAT YOU CAN SAFELY START IN LEAGUES WITH POINT-PER-RECEPTION SCORING?
The Damage: Jets passing-down/change-of-pace back Bilal Powell has been quietly productive recently. In Week 13, he compiled a 6-17-0 rushing line and an 8-91-1 receiving line on 13 targets. Powell followed that up this past Sunday with a 3-36-0 rushing line and a 5-46-1 receiving line on five targets. Overall, he has racked up at least 82 combo yards in three of the Jets’ last four outings. Is he safe to use as a flex option in leagues with point-per-reception scoring for the rest of the fantasy playoffs?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Powell looks like a safe start as a flex in smaller PPR leagues or a fantasy RB2 in larger PPR leagues. During the opening weeks of the season, New York used Powell only when either the Chris Ivory-led ground game was ineffective or when the offense was operating in come-from-behind mode. Powell owners had to guess whether an upcoming matchup was a “Bilal Powell game.” However, the Jets have gone out of their way to get the ball into his hands regardless of the score. Powell has caught at least five passes in three of his last four games. Looking ahead, the Jets will need Powell’s services as a passing-down back against the Dallas Cowboys (Week 15) and the New England Patriots (Week 16).
5. IS ISAIAH CROWELL AN OPTION FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE FANTASY PLAYOFFS?
The Damage: Facing a downtrodden San Francisco 49ers defense that usually plays poorly on the road, Isaiah Crowell racked up a shocking 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, which were all single-game season highs across the board. Has the second-year pro turned the corner or was this outing a major fluke?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
Even if you’re desperate for running back depth, don’t waste your blind bidding money on Crowell. His outing was a major fluke. Coming into the 49ers game, the Cleveland Browns had averaged a dismal 3.4 yards per carry as a team, and Crowell had averaged 3.4 yards per carry. The 145 yards was the second-year pro’s highest total since he racked up 72 yards in Week 2. Crowell’s two visits to the end zone were his first scores also since Week 2. The Browns’ next two opponents, the Seattle Seahawks (Week 15) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 16) are both tough against the run.