Every week, at least one player becomes my fascination of whether he’s worthy of a fantasy football start or bench. The decision can be a mental wrestling match, but for the purpose of brevity, only one player can be chosen as the fantasy football gamble of the week.
The best fantasy football gamble for Week 12
Tracking my predictions: 4-7-0
Win: Player produces ≥ 75% of projected fantasy points
Loss: Player produces >75% of projected fantasy points
Tie: Player is ejected or leaves with an injury
Not gonna lie, that one felt good … last week, my selection of New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman was a right on the mark. But, alas, he left the game with a sprained knee and will miss up to six weeks. It’s a bummer, since he was beginning to get on track after a slow start following a late-summer ankle injury.
My projection of 5-56-1 against the Philadelphia Eagles was 101.2 percent accurate as the second-year tight end finished with five grabs, 58 yards, and an 18-yard touchdown.
RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Some may look at Williams as being too widely utilized and useful to be considered a gamble. While I concede there is some truth to those sentiments, and I debated whether that alone was enough reason to turn in a different direction, the true gamble here to me is about how many times he touches the ball and not so much what he does with them.
In the two games prior to going on bye in Week 11, Denver fed their rookie talent an average of 14 utilizations. More specifically, Williams operated as follows in the last six games:
Week 5 at PIT (27-19 loss): 8-61-0 rushing, 3-25-0 on 3 targets
Week 6 vs. LV (34-24 loss): 11-53-0 rushing, 3-15-0 on 3 targets
Week 7 at CLE (17-14 loss): 4-20-0 rushing, 6-32-1 on 7 targets
Week 8 vs. WAS (17-10 win): 9-35-0 rushing, 2-13-0 on 4 targets
Week 9 at DAL (30-16 win): 17-111-0 rushing, 0-0-0 on 0 targets
Week 10 vs. PHI (30-13 loss): 8-48-0 rushing, 2-1-0 on 3 targets
The best outing came during a convincing win over Dallas, and the other win in that window saw Williams utilized 13 times against a tough defensive front. The workload over that time frame averages to 9.5 carries, 54.7 yards, 3.3 targets, 2.7 receptions, and 14.3 yards. None of the 57 attempts, one of 16 grabs went into the end zone, and the rookie averaged 10.6 PPR points over that period of time.
Not terrible, not great, but far from explosive and not in line with Williams’ talent level. The main reason? Melvin Gordon. He has a touchdown in four straight and five overall in that span. The veteran was utilized more than Williams in four of those six games.
Coming out of the bye, will Gordon see fewer touches vs. his former employer? Probably not. But, this matchup is good enough to make the case for both backs having fantasy relevance. It wouldn’t be a total shock if the Broncos started to limit Gordon’s touches for losing two fumbles in the three games prior to going on break. The one in Week 10 was costly.
The latter point is probably somewhat wishful thinking on my part. I fully expect Denver to give Gordon every chance to stick it to the Chargers. However, I have little confidence he can touch the ball 12-15 times without fumbling as he isn’t known for putting the ball on the ground, so it’s likely going to be in his head.
This one, though, is mostly predicated on how the Broncos will choose to attack. Their goal should be keeping LA’s offense on the sidelines as much as humanly possible, and the best way to do that is by slowing the pace of the game through pounding the rock. Denver is stout enough in the secondary to likely prevent this from getting out of hand, although preventing Austin Ekeler from going hog wild is a totally different scenario. Denver ranks poorly of late vs. PPR RBs and has given up the most yards per game on the ground since Week 6.
Williams has been quite efficient, but his lack of scoring prowess has been his primary downfall in fantasy. The Chargers have granted 13 rushing scores on the year to the position, plus one through the air, and five times in the past four games a back has found the end zone, coming at the sixth-highest frequency.
On the season, LA has surrendered 13.9 percent more fantasy points per game than average, and seven backs have at least 16.9 points in PPR scoring. Three backfields found double-digit point-per-reception success with two rushers In Week 5, Cleveland backs went for 25.9 and 24.0 points apiece between Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, respectively. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard managed 40.7 points combined. In both instances, the backup, or 1b, runner actually scored the most points. Now, that’s not to suggest it’s a rule or anything of the sort, but it’s another encouraging piece to the puzzle.
So the biggest question here is just how many touches can we expect for Williams? He has his most carries in all but one game in which Denver won, and they have some upside for an upset here coming off the bye, which allowed time to install wrinkles in the new offense. A safe number for combined touches for Williams is 12. A ceiling is something near 18-20.
Let’s shoot for 15 and presume he catches three or fewer passes as has been the case in all but one game this year. This brings us to 12 carries. His average of 5.0 yards per tote, in conjunction with the 4.7 YPC the Bolts have yielded, brings about something in the neighborhood of 60-65 yards being a reasonable figure. Eighteen yards is a fair number through the air based on his and LA’s metrics, which brings us to 78-83 offensive yards.
Add in a touchdown and we have a 17.3-point ceiling in PPR scoring based on little more than what each party has already accomplished. That doesn’t factor in injury issues along the front seven for the Chargers, nor does it account for the benefit of Denver having a bye week to prepare.
My projection: 70 rushing yards, 3 receptions, 31 receiving yards, 1 offensive TD (19.1 PPR fantasy points)