As we proceed ever deeper into the NFL season, injuries and untimely bye weeks disrupt the coveted continuity of nearly every fantasy owners starting line up. This year, we have witnessed stud tight ends, quarterbacks and most recently, wide receivers suffer season-ending injuries. While the initial reaction of many owners may be to acquire the “next man up” to fill in for the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., the fact of the matter is that a replacement player, in reality, does not always translate to a newfound consistent scorer in fantasy. However, with that being said, this is a time for unknown fantasy gems to make their presence known, and we have already seen several players who were largely unowned last week becoming mainstays on the rosters of insightful owners.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (vs. New Orleans Saints)
Yes, ever since his breakout performance against the Arizona Cardinals in week 1, Stafford has yet to beat his projected points score number in every week since then. However, when you consider who Stafford has faced over the last few weeks (Opponents weeks 2-5: Giants, Falcons, Vikings, Panthers), it becomes clear that the fearless passer has struggled more as a result of oppressive defenses rather incompetency on his part. While some could argue that Stafford’s next opponent, the New Orleans Saints, have looked better defensively over the last couple weeks, a quick look at their last two opponents (Panthers with a then-struggling Cam Newtown, and the offensively inept Dolphins) and it becomes obvious that the Saints were most likely overachieving. Given that, I believe the New Orleans defense will look more like the 28th pass defense they were in the first four weeks of the season and will break under the aggressive passing capabilities of Stafford.
Javorius Allen, RB, Baltimore Ravens (vs. Chicago Bears)
While the running back situation in Baltimore has been a bit erratic in terms of discovering a true every-down back, one rusher has emerged as the most versatile and best choice both in reality and in fantasy. Although Alex Collins has looked fantastic as an explosive and violent rusher since coming off the practice squad, he has yet to score a touchdown or be featured prominently in the passing game. Until that happens, Allen will be relied upon on in the passing game and will emphatically breakthrough goal line defenses to score touchdowns. With Terrence West out for at least a couple of weeks, the Ravens will most likely use Collins as the third-down back while looking to Allen for everything else in an offense that is dependent upon dynamic running back play.
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Oakland Raiders)
Although number one wideout Keenan Allen has yet to have an electric and dominant performance in fantasy, a closer look at his presence in the Chargers offense shows us one of the more versatile receivers in the NFL. This season, Allen has been targeted less than 10 times only once and already has 401 receiving yards this season (4th amongst receivers). However, the caveat for relying on Allen has been his number of dropped passes (7) and lacks red zone targets (1), which has been the main reason for his lack of high-scoring fantasy weeks. While those numbers may be a bit alarming for fantasy owners, consider that Allen is reliable both in the slot and in the deep passing game (9.3 yards per target), which has allowed him to garner huge chunks of yardage while racking up enough receptions to be effective in PPR leagues. Against a poor Raiders secondary, I expect Allen to have a true breakout performance in terms of yardage and receptions.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
If there is one thing that drives fantasy owners completely insane it’s the ineffectiveness of a great player every week. While Walker certainly falls into that category, his lack of point production has not been due to a drop off as result of poor play on his part. In fact, he is third amongst tight ends in air yards(197) and is fifth amongst tight ends in target distance (9.4 yards per target). Combine that with his two drops on 31 targets, and it’s easy to see that Walker’s lack of point production has been due to finicky quarterback play, which is evident when you consider that he has zero red zone targets. Against an atrocious Colts defense that ranks 30th in pass defense, I expect Walker to not only get more looks overall but also more targets in the red zone where he truly shines in the Titans offense.