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Fantasy Football Beyond the Box Scores Week 15: Rashee Rice, Rice Baby

Ted takes a look at under-the-radar fantasy football trends and stats from Week 15’s Sunday games.

If you are reading this, congrats on making it to the next round of at least one of your fantasy playoffs! (If you are reading this despite having been eliminated in all your leagues, maybe take a break … but I get it). I’m going to continue focusing on the trends from Sunday’s action that can help your team win this very week and keep on surviving. Let’s get started!

Note: All fantasy scores and rankings will be for Half-PPR formats. Data courtesy of PFR, Next Gen Stats, FantasyLife, and PFF (among other places). 

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
  • After back-to-back weeks with his route participation rate over 90%, I guess Kyle Pitts wasn’t one of the names Arthur Smith picked out of a hat for Week 15, as he ran a route on just 67% of Desmond Ridder’s dropbacks. He did post his third-highest target share of the season at 26%, but Pitts simply isn’t startable with this usage. Given that even if he played every single snap and scored 10 touchdowns next week I wouldn’t be able to confidently suggest starting him in Week 17, he’s very droppable in most leagues.
  • Chuba Hubbard is the only fantasy-relevant piece on the Panthers at this point. This offense is terrible, but he has at least 24 touches in each of the last three games and two solid matchups over the next two weeks. Keep rolling him out as an RB2.
  • Just like Pitts, Bijan Robinson saw his usage plummet after showing positive trends over recent weeks. I doubt many Robinson managers are even still alive to be reading this, as a negative outing from your RB1 and first or second-round pick is likely a death sentence in the fantasy playoffs. If you had your bye or the rest of your team managed to get it done without Robinson, I think you will have to plug your nose and start him again next week. Yes, this week was terrible, but he is still the RB12 in points per game over the last six weeks and has a great matchup with the Colts.
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns
  • In three games with Joe Flacco under center, David Njoku is averaging 71 yards and a touchdown on over nine targets a game. It’s a small sample size still slightly inflated by a blown coverage or two, but we can’t ignore those numbers. There’s only a small list of tight ends that should be starting ahead of him in Week 16 against the Texans (the fifth-best matchup for TEs).
  • Someone from the Bears’ backfield is going to have a big game next week against the Cardinals, who allow the most points per game to opposing running backs. It’s just tough to predict who that will be, as Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, and Roschon Johnson saw six, six, and five carries this week, respectively. If I had to guess, it will be Foreman. Johnson easily led the trio with a 52% snap share, but the rookie was used primarily as a receiving back, with 28 of his 37 snaps coming in the two-minute drill or on a passing down (as defined by FantasyLife). The Cardinals’ defense won’t keep Chicago behind the sticks as often, and Foreman outcarried Herbert 11 to three just last week (although they seemed to alternate drives to start this game).
  • The Browns’ backfield committee has one fewer head than the Bears’, but it is just as difficult to find value in. Jerome Ford consistently sees more volume in both the passing and run game, but Kareem Hunt dominates the red zone (21 carries to nine) and goal line (10 carries to three). They’re both flex plays at best despite decent matchups in Weeks 16 and 17.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers
  • Jayden Reed ran a route on just 41% of Jordan Love’s dropbacks … and still led the team in targets. He also scored his fifth touchdown in the last six weeks. That route participation rate is also partially (only partially, though) explainable by the fact that he missed essentially the entire fourth quarter with a toe injury. I still don’t love his usage, but it’s hard to deny the results. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s a flex option despite a tough fantasy matchup with the Panthers next week.
  • Chris Godwin’s wife called out Todd Bowles, and it’s paying off. Godwin has 11 targets in each of the last two games and caught 10 passes for 155 yards this week. With improved usage and an above-average matchup with the Jaguars next week, he’s back in the WR2 or WR3 conversation.
  • Reports came out early on Sunday that Aaron Jones would be limited in his return from injury. At first, those reports seemed off, as he carried the ball on nine of the Packers’ first 12 offense plays, but he finished with just 13 total carries (and four targets). Hopefully, he is no longer limited next week … just in time for A.J. Dillon to return. Still, an excellent matchup with Carolina makes Jones a very viable starter in Week 16 — just monitor his workload to decide if you want to start him in a tougher matchup with the Vikings for the fantasy finals.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins
  • Two weeks ago, I predicted that De’Von Achane would have a costly bust in the fantasy playoffs against either Dallas or Buffalo. I guess I was a week off in my prediction, as the electric rookie totaled just 62 yards on 12 touches against the Jets. On the other hand, he was limited throughout the week with a toe injury, and at least he was involved throughout this game, not just in garbage time, as six of his touches came in the first quarter. Especially since the Cowboys’ defense looks a lot less scary now that James Cook ran all over them, you can definitely still start Achane — just be aware that his sky-high upside comes with plenty of risk.
  • When Trevor Siemian took over for Zach Wilson very late in the second quarter, Garrett Wilson did not have a single target. He finished with four in the official box score, plus two more wiped out by penalties. Especially given how truly terrible the Commanders’ secondary is, the sophomore WR is definitely a starting option if Siemian gets the start again next week. And, honestly, I’d start him even if Zach clears the concussion protocol in time to get the nod — the Commanders’ defense is just that bad.
  • I’m not rushing to start Jaylen Waddle after his biggest game of the season. For one, his production was obviously helped by the absence of Tyreek Hill, who will likely be back next week. For another, the Bills may have just provided a template for Mike McDaniel to use against the Cowboys’ defense: Run, run, and run again. Josh Allen attempted just 15 passes against Dallas; with how effective Miami’s run game is, Tua Tagovailoa may only need 14. Waddle is by no means a must-bench — he showed this week that he still has the explosiveness to have a good fantasy week on a single play — but he’s not a must-start, either.
New York Giants @ New Orleans Saints
  • Despite playing a severely limited set of snaps, Darren Waller finished second on the Giants in targets and tied for the team lead in receptions. With good matchups in each of the next two weeks, he is solidly back in the TE1 conversation, assuming we get reports that his usage will increase in his second week back.
  • With Chris Olave absent, Rashid Shaheed led all Saints in route participation rate … at 77%, less than he saw in plenty of weeks with Olave and Michael Thomas healthy. With Derek Carr spreading it around after Alvin Kamara takes his designated five-plus targets, no pass-catcher outside of Olave is more than a dart throw flex from this offense.
  • Coming into this week, I pointed out that Saquon Barkley had zero games (out of three attempts) above eight Half-PPR points in below-average matchups all season. That trend didn’t change, as he managed just 4.7 points as the Saints brought the Tommy DeVito hype train to a screeching halt. With the Eagles ranking as the absolute worst matchup for running backs, I’d recommend doing your best not to start Barkley in any fantasy semifinal matchups.
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans
  • With one carry on four snaps in a fairly tight game, Dameon Pierce is droppable. Conversely, Devin Singletary’s 31 opportunities on a 75% snap share mean he is still very much a starting option despite a tough matchup with the Browns next week.
  • You know things are bad for Derrick Henry when his scoring is much better in PPR formats than Standard — not that it was any good even in full PPR. The King sounds resigned to his reign in Tennessee coming to an end … but I expect one more vintage performance against a Seahawks defense that allows the fifth-most points to opposing running backs.
  • Noah Brown obviously had a huge day, so I’m going to highlight the Texans’ WR2 slot, which could be very productive once C.J. Stroud comes back next week. In terms of routes, rookie Xavier Hutchinson was actually the Texans’ WR1, running one more route than both Brown and Dalton Schultz. However, he didn’t catch any of his three targets, while veteran Robert Woods caught three of his five. I lean towards Hutchinson, but both are in the flex conversation.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
  • It took almost the entire season, but the Chiefs have finally fully unleashed Rashee Rice. He had over a 70% route participation rate for the first time in Week 13 at 82% and followed it up with an even better 93% this week. Especially against the Raiders’ zone defense that he absolutely carved up in Week 12, he’s a must-start in Week 16.
  • Ezekiel Elliott was disappointing, especially when you consider that backup Kevin Harris scored an 18-yard touchdown. But Elliott still saw over five targets for the third straight week, while Harris didn’t touch the ball until late in the third quarter. Assuming Rhamondre Stevenson is still out, Zeke is a very strong start against the Broncos next week.
  • If you happened upon one of the surprisingly many breakout tight ends from the waiver wire this year, you might be tempted to bench Travis Kelce. I get the feeling, but I’m here to warn against it. While the results lately have been just okay, he is still the TE1 in fantasy points per game for the season. If you have him and someone like Sam LaPorta, it’s one of the rare cases where flexing a tight end might be the optimal choice: Those two both rank among the top 27 players overall in targets this season.
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
  • With Marquise Brown exiting early thanks to a heel injury, rookie Michael Wilson operated as the Cardinals’ top receiver against the 49ers. He didn’t catch any of his three targets, but is still worth adding. Even if Hollywood is back for Week 17, he will be a solid flex option in the fantasy finals with a golden matchup against the Eagles.
  • Every week, I rack my brain for an interesting fantasy take about the 49ers’ offense, and every week, I fail to find one. The core pieces are must-starts. Make sure you’re stashing Jordan Mason, not Elijah Mitchell, as the latter is dealing with a knee injury. That’s about it.
  • Kyler Murray has had back-to-back weeks well outside the QB1 range. However, he has at least six rushing attempts in all but one of his games this season, providing an elite fantasy floor. Expect him to finish the season strong in better matchups with the Bears and Eagles.
Washington Commanders @ Los Angeles Rams
  • In games where he plays a full set of snaps, Cooper Kupp is averaging 12.5 fantasy points on 8.4 targets. It’s worth noting that a lot of his production this week came on an absolute breakdown by the Commanders’ secondary, but seven catches for 50+ yards without that play is still an okay day. He’s arguably a must-start despite a tough matchup with the Saints in Week 16.
  • Well, it took the whole season, but my preseason prediction that Jacoby Brissett would take Sam Howell’s job finally came true. In Brissett’s brief game time, he targeted Terry McLaurin on four of his 13 attempts (counting plays ruled out for penalties and including multiple deep shots), good for a 31% target share — McLaurin has just one game all season with a target share that high. Unfortunately for Terry’s targets, it looks as though Howell hasn’t actually lost his job yet. If Howell struggles again in Week 16 (likely given a tough matchup with the Jets) and Brissett gets the nod in Week 17, move Scary Terry up your rankings.
  • If Kupp is still a target hog and a must-start, what about Puka Nacua? The rookie’s ceiling is undoubtedly lowered by the presence of Kupp, but I wouldn’t bench him either. He has seven or more targets in every single one of his 14 games this season; no other player has more than 12 such games.
Dallas Cowboys @ Buffalo Bills
  • Last week, I argued that Dalton Kincaid’s role wasn’t in danger due to Dawson Knox’s return. This week, it’s not so clear. Kincaid played his lowest snap share of the season at 49%, far lower than Knox’s 62%. It is worth noticing that this was an odd week for the Bills’ offense (Josh Allen completed just seven passes while they ran for over 260 yards), but this is still very concerning. Even in a good upcoming matchup with the Chargers, I don’t think you can trust Kincaid in your lineup.
  • For the season, Tony Pollard has 207 carries to Rico Dowdle’s 78 (73%). But when you exclude garbage time (shout out to SumerSports for this awesome feature), he has 137 to Dowdle’s 36 (79%). Tough matchups with Miami and Detroit mean he isn’t a must-start in Weeks 16 and 17, but as a bell-cow on one of the league’s best offenses, he’s close.
  • Again, don’t take too much from a game where Josh Allen had seven completions, but Khalil Shakir now has back-to-back games under a 70% route participation rate since Dawson Knox’s return. You simply can’t trust him even in the deepest of leagues at this point.
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