Our “Traps & Trends” guy Matt Wilson has sifted through the box scores from a Week 15 that featured some surprising performances and, as usual, plenty of injuries. Among the players on his radar this week: three running backs with surprisingly more defined roles just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
1) HEY! AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE THE TALENTED-BUT-UNDERACHIEVING CHRISTINE MICHAEL WHO FLOPPED DURING STINTS WITH SEATTLE, DALLAS AND WASHINGTON?
The Damage: You probably know the story by now. Drafted by Seattle in the second round of the 2013 draft, Michael spent two years there until Seattle unceremoniously traded him to Dallas in early September 2015. Michael was with Dallas for eight games (active in five) before releasing him in November. The Texas A&M product spent about a month on the Washington practice squad before being sent packing. When Michael signed with Seattle about four days go, many reasonable assumed that they added him for depth reasons after losing Thomas Rawls (broken ankle) for the season. Michael obviously was familiar with their offense.
However, nobody expected him to take command of the Seattle backfield like he did this past Sunday during a resounding home win over Cleveland. Even though the third-year-pro was the fourth runner used in Seattle’s rotation, Michael topped all runners with 16 carries for 84 yards. No, he wasn’t targeted in the passing game. Can Michael get the job done for Seattle and fantasy owners until Marshawn Lynch (hernia surgery) returns?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
While he’s definitely worth a pickup, Michael would be a risky start at home in Week 16 against a St. Louis run defense that has been leaky lately. I’m skeptical about whether Michael can produce consistent numbers. His performance against Cleveland was far and away a career-best outing. It also doesn’t look like Seattle is interested in using him in the passing game. Michael has logged two career catches for 14 yards.
2) WHO IS THE RUNNING BACK TO START IN THE NEW YORK JETS’ BACKFIELD? HERE’S A HINT: IT’S NOT THE STRUGGLING CHRIS IVORY.
The Damage: Written off by many fantasy owners as a risky game-flow and point-per-reception league dependent flex option, Bilal Powell has been on a tear. Since Week 13, he has averaged 11.7 combo touches, 89.7 combo yards and one combo touchdown per game. Is Powell a much safer start now in points per reception leagues?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Earlier in the season, Powell’s usage was very game-flow dependent. If Ivory was productive, Powell didn’t see many touches. If Ivory struggled or was contained by a good run defense, Powell saw more action. Things have clearly changed. The Jets are going out of their way to get the slippery-quick Powell more involved, particularly in red-zone packages. New York’s Week 16 home matchup against New England clearly doesn’t look like an Ivory game, but Ryan Fitzpatrick should use Powell frequently as a safety value. By the way, if you’re an Ivory owner and your playoff team survived his Week 15 stinker of an outing, park him on your bench for the rest of 2015.
3) HAVE THE NEW YORK GIANTS FINALLY DECIDED WHO WILL OPERATE AS THEIR LEAD RUNNING BACK?
The Damage: After torturing fantasy owners with one of the most unpredictable and unproductive running back rotations in recent memory, it looks like the Giants finally have decided to establish a pecking order in its backfield. Operating as the clear lead runner, Rashad Jennings amassed 22 rushes for 81 yards and two receptions for 21 yards in Week 14 and then 16 rushes for 107 yards (with a touchdown) and a reception for 1-yard this past Sunday. Can you trust Jennings in starting lineups going forward?
The Diagnosis: TREND
It sure looks that way. Why did it take Giants coach Tom Coughlin three months to figure out what most already knew? Jennings is the best lead runner option among Shane Vereen, Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa. Looking ahead to Week 16, Jennings looks like a decent RB3-play against an injury-depleted Minnesota front seven.
4) HAS KIRK COUSINS FINALLY ARRIVED?
The Damage: A lot of folks have been talking up Kirk Cousins lately. In Week 14, Cousins compiled 300 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and four rushes for 13 yards and a touchdown. This week, he had 319 passing yards and four touchdowns, and added three rushes for 11 yards and a touchdown. In three of his last four games, Cousins has racked up at least 300 passing yards and one scoring pass, and one rushing touchdown. Cousins also has tossed just one interception during that stretch. Is it time to hop on the Cousins bandwagon?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
I want to believe, but I’m really a skeptic. My reasoning is simple: Cousins plays much better at home than he does in road contests. All his performances with multiple touchdown passes have come at FedEx Field. While Cousins sometimes boosts his road performances with a rushing score, you can’t count on that happening. Despite a plus road matchup in Week 16 against a porous Philadelphia secondary, consider Cousins a middling fantasy QB2 play.
5) HAS SAM BRADFORD FINALLY ARRIVED?
The Damage: You might have been sleeping or taking care of holiday plans when Arizona and Philadelphia were dueling on Sunday Night Football. With some help from playing in come-from-behind mode and junk time, Bradford racked up 361 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, which was his best fantasy performance in a Philadelphia uniform. Once again, Sam Bradford couldn’t carry the team to a win, but I don’t think he’s the main reason Philadelphia lost. Bradford also made some mistakes, but he was able to get the ball to Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, who is emerging as one of Bradford’s favorites. Has Bradford finally arrived? Is he a safe plug-and-play option in Week 16?
The Diagnosis: TREND
No, I don’t think the light has finally gone on for Bradford, but I do think he’s a safe plug-and-play option at home against a soft Washington secondary. Back in Week 4, Bradford passed for 370 yards and three scores against Washington at FedEx Field. Consider him a high-end fantasy QB2 play. Unless you’re desperate, playoff time isn’t the right time to be taking risks.