Week 15 thins the field of teams playing meaningful fantasy games even further as the playoffs claim more victims. In addition to more fantasy victims being claimed, more NFL teams are also removed from playing meaningful NFL games. This becomes important as teams that are out of it may rest an impact player who would otherwise play through a nagging injury. In addition to that but on the other side of the coin, teams with little to gain in terms of playoff positioning may not play their star players in hopes of getting them to the NFL playoffs healthy. Both of these prospects are crippling to a fantasy team as it removes the thing that fantasy owners crave the most from their players; consistency. As a closing comment, I’d like to reiterate the impact that weather can have on a fantasy matchup. Owners who started players from the Colts @ Bills game saw this first hand. Have a look at the weather forecast before your games and make adjustments accordingly. Your star receiver isn’t likely to fare well in high winds or driving snow.
Danny Trevathan continues his stellar play after his return from a calf injury with 10 total tackles and a pass defensed in a big win against the Bengals in week 14 on 83% usage. Zach Vigil saw heavy utilization again with 93% of Washington’s defensive snaps in a week 14 loss to the the surging Chargers. Vigil turned that usage into a very serviceable 9 total tackles (7 solo). The gamble on Bryce Hager was a poor one as Alec Ogletree did manage to suit up for the Rams in a pivotal game against the Eagles in week 14. Ogletree scored 9 total tackles and a pass defensed in that game on 95% usage. Interestingly enough, although I had listed Jalen Maybin-Reeves as a dynasty stash last week, the 4th round rookie scored very well against the Buccaneers with 6 total tackles, a half sack and a pass defensed. Not bad for only 30% usage.
Sean Lee DAL LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2
In the same vein as Danny Trevathan last week, Sean Lee’s hamstring injury suffered in week 10 caused many owners in shallow leagues to cut bait on him. Lee managed to return to the Cowboys’ lineup for their week 14 showdown with the reeling Giants. Lee was nothing short of spectacular as the former Nittany Lion piled up 18 total tackles (10 solo) and an interception on 82% usage. Those 18 total tackles were enough to lead the NFL for the week as well as tied BJ Goodson’s week 1 performance for the most total tackles in one game for the 2017 season thus far. Although Sean Lee is a stud linebacker when healthy, the matchups for the Cowboys aren’t the best for opposing LBs in weeks 15 and 16 with Dallas visiting the Raiders and hosting the Seahawks in those weeks respectively. Oakland has provided less than double digit fantasy scoring to the top scoring LB on opposing teams on average over their last five games. As such, I only have Lee as an LB2 despite the usage upside he possesses. The matchup is slightly better in week 16 but only by a few points. Neither matchup excites me that much but high usage LBs are a premium so if Lee is there, you could do worse.
Matt Milano BUF LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2 – LB3/Dynasty Stash
Ramon Humber has been a decent LB2 – LB3 when healthy for fantasy owners playing heavy snaps at the weakside linebacker position for the Bills. He logged 71 total tackles through nine games starting prior to week 14. In week 14, Humber gave way to 5th round rookie Matt Milano. Although Milano started, he did not dominate the snap counts as Humber had. The former Boston College Eagle took 72% of the snaps at weakside linebacker, giving the remaining 28% to Humber. Humber was held off of the stat sheet whereas Milano piled up 11 total tackles (10 solo). The Colts/Bills game was very run heavy due to the conditions which definitely boosted front seven production but given the history of production from that position, Milano is likely to be the best under-the-radar option in either dynasty or redraft leagues. The Dolphins visit Buffalo in week 15 and they have afforded an average of 12.3 fantasy points per game to opposing WLBs/secondary ILBs over their last three games.
Raekwon McMillan MIA LB – 4-3 MLB Value: Dynasty Stash
McMillan was a highly touted second round pick out of Ohio State in this year’s draft for the Dolphins but unfortunately, his season ended before it began as the rookie tore his ACL in the first preseason game that Miami played in. Prior to his injury, McMillan was slated to be the middle linebacker for the Dolphins. Although it was assumed that Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons were to take a three down role, neither are known as the picture of health and Timmons is currently 31 years old. Alonso is signed long-term with no real outs in his contract but given the mess that Timmons and the Dolphins were involved with early in the season, Timmons may not be around next year. When Timmons no-showed the Dolphins’ week 2 game against the Chargers, he voided the guaranteed portion of his 2018 salary. That makes cutting him prior to the season beginning much easier in terms of a cap hit. McMillan has basically the maximum amount of time to get himself ready for 2018 and if his situation improves, he could be an easy bump into LB2 status.
Michael Wilhoite/DJ Alexander/Terence Garvin SEA LB – 4-3 MLB/WLB Value: LB2 – LB3
Both Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and KJ Wright (concussion) left the game against the Jaguars in week 14 with injuries. It’s unclear how serious either injury is and how it might affect their availability in week 15 against the Rams. Who replaced them was a mixed bag. DJ Alexander scored 3 solo tackles on only 19 snaps. Former 49er Michael Wilhoite scored 4 total tackles on 47 snaps and would be most likely to see a full complement of snaps in replacement of Wagner. Terence Garvin received 33 snaps and turned in 2 solo tackles and a forced fumble. The Rams are a great matchup for opposing linebackers with the top two opposing linebackers averaging a combined 25.7 fantasy points per game over their last three games. Wilhoite is far and away the better option if Wagner can’t go at middle linebacker. Based on snap count, Garvin and then Alexander would fall in behind as flex defender options for the truly needy.
Sneaky play of the week – Matt Judon/Terrell Suggs BAL LB
Terrell Suggs is absolutely on fire with 6.5 sacks in his last five games. But maybe an underrated option from the Ravens is Matt Judon who has 6 sacks and 49 total tackles (41 solo) this season. The Ravens are coming off of a soul-crushing loss to the divisional rival Steelers and need to bounce back in order to keep their playoffs hopes alive. The winless Browns host the Ravens in week 15. Judon is a decent tackler and is most likely to be unowned. Any Ravens pass rusher is going to carry some big play upside this week given the matchup but given the snap counts Suggs (76%) and Judon (71%) are your guys.
Sneaky play of the week – Shane Ray/Shaq Barrett DEN LB (Big Play League)
Simply put, the Broncos defense are coming off of a huge game where they shut out the Jets in week 14. In week 15, Denver faces the Colts, who are allowing the most sacks in the NFL at 3.9 sacks per game. If that weren’t enough, the Colts seem to be even worse at home allowing an average of 7 sacks over their last three home games. Von Miller is an automatic start in almost every league but his running mates Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett might warrant a spot start if you are hurting for an option this week.
Defensive linemen plays
Will Clarke scored only two solo tackles as the Lions managed to keep Matthew Stafford completely clean for the entire game for the first time this season. The return of Robert Ayers Jr. to the Bucs lineup saw Clarke’s usage drop to 40%. Eric Lee logged 2 solo tackles on Monday night against the Dolphins, taking a backseat to Lawrence Guy who logged 5 total tackles and a pass defensed. Defensive Linemen continue to be difficult to find late in the season.
Matt Ioannidis WAS DE – 3-4 DL Value: DL2 – DL3
2016 5th round pick Matt Ioannidis was the highest usage Redskin lineman in week 14 against the Chargers at 73%. He was also one of only two Redskins to log a sack on the 33 dropbacks that Philip Rivers had during the game. In week 15, the Redskins host the Cardinals who are second most in the NFL at allowing sacks, 3.4 sacks given up per game. Ioannidis is virtually unowned right now but might be able to pile together some stats given his high usage and injuries elsewhere on the Redskins defense.
Shelby Harris DEN DE – 3-4 DE Value: DL2 – DL3
With Derek Wolfe out for the year with a neck injury suffered in week 12 and Domato Peko out over that same timeframe with an MCL sprain, roleplayers have needed to step up into heavier usage roles for the Broncos defense. It seems to be working as the Broncos manages to shut out the Jets in week 14. Shelby Harris has been one of the Broncos to step up over the past few weeks with 9 total tackles and 2.5 sacks over his last three games where he’s averaged between 60-75% usage. As mentioned above, the Colts are the worst team in the NFL for pass protection with 4.2 sacks allowed per game and they host the Broncos on Thursday night football. Shelby is the happy middle for opportunity and situation that fantasy owners might be able to exploit.
Jeremiah Attaochu/Aaron Lynch SDC/SFO DE – 4-3 DE Value: Dynasty Stash
There was a time when Jeremiah Attaochu had the hype that Joey Bosa enjoyed last year. In 2015, the former Bulldog logged 55 total tackles and 6 sacks on 12 starts while trying to adjust to a 3-4 scheme that I don’t think fit him very well. Injuries (hamstring) and talent in fornt of him have led to lack of usage. He is a free agent after 2017 and could easily become part of a meaningful rotation in a 4-3 defense. There is a very similar narrative with Aaron Lynch even down to being a UFA in this upcoming offseason. Make no mistake, these are both scrap heap guys right now but depending on how deep your roster is and how players can be kept, these guys are an easy buy low/sell high for minimal investment.
Defensive back plays
Quandre Diggs continued his stellar fantasy production at strong side safety for the Lions. Against the Buccaneers in week 14, Diggs piled up 7 total tackles, a forced fumble and an interception to vault him into a DB1 discussion in bigger play leagues. Ricardo Allen scored 4 total tackles in a very exciting Thursday night game. Sneaky play Desmond King continued his red-hot play with 10 total tackles (7 solo), a pass defensed and a sack. Similar to Diggs, that performance had King in discussion for the top DB this week.
Mike Mitchell PIT S – 4-3 FS Value: DB2 – DB3
New England versus Pittsburgh has all of the makings of an AFC championship game previw in week 15. New England will enter with the number one passing offense with route running backs and a star tight end to run their offense through. Pittsburgh’s defense will likely continue to miss Ryan Shazier who is still out with a very scary spine injury suffered in week 13. Sean Davis is obviously a top tier play but is also very unlikely to be available in most leagues. Mike Mitchell has been in and out of the lineup with a wonky ankle but did manage to play every down against the Ravens despite missing week 13. He scored 5 solo tackles in that game. Look for the Steelers defensive backs to have to carry the load in terms of tackling as the interior of the Steelers defense in weakened. The Patriots are affording an average of 28 points to opposing safety tandems through week 13 in 2017 and 34 points to opposing safety tandems from weeks 8 through 13. Mitchell is a cheap pickup with high upside this week.
Clayton Fejedelem/George Iloka CIN S – 4-3 FS/SS Value: DB3
Filling in for the injured Shawn Williams (hamstring), 2016 7th round pick Clayton Fejedelem has excelled. In games where he has received at least 50% of the snaps over the last five weeks, he has produced no less than 6 total tackles. In week 14 against the Bears, Fejedelem received a season-high 57 snaps and turned in 11 total tackles. The Vikings host the Bengals in week 15 and should provide no shortage of tackle opportunity. The Bengals defense has injuries all over but make sure that Shawn Williams remains on the injury report before you roll out Fejedelem. For leagues where deeper leagues are not necessary, George Iloka is a solid option who is more likely to see a full complement of snaps regardless of who is available or not.
Sneaky play of the week – Ryan Smith/Robert McClain/Vernon Hargreaves TBB CB
Vernon Hargreaves has missed the last four games for Tampa Bay and 2016 4th round pick Ryan Smith has been the player that has been starting in his stead. Over those four games, Smith has only missed 8 snaps and has logged 26 total tackles, 1 pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His best fantasy output for tackles was an 8 solo tackles barbecuing his received in week 12 courtesy of the Falcons. Those very same Falcons visit the Buccaneers in week 15. Seems like an easy plug-and-play but the eight snaps that Smith missed in week 14 were to evaluate him for a concussion. He’s not a lock to play in week 15. Vernon Hargreaves has failed to practice yet in a bid to return from his hamstring injury but would be the option to turn to if he starts. Failing both previous options, former Falcon Robert McClain would slot in. Matt Ryan played a little loose with the ball in week 14, doing the same in week 15 might result in a big game from one of these guys.