Fantasy Football: Playoff Stash Candidates
Whether you're in contention to make a run at the championship or are mortgaging against taking last place, now is the time to start planning for the playoffs. Fantasy football is all about being a step ahead of your competition, and it will be especially helpful to be ahead of your competition come playoff time.
As with my weekly stash-ahead article, I'm going to focus on players owned in less than 60 percent of leagues. These may not be what some consider to be league winners, but if you've been streaming quarterback, tight end, or defense all year, each of these players can fill in as solid spot starts during your playoff run.
I'm also going to exclude the top tier handcuffs as they should already be priority adds with how much of a bump they'd get if the starter suffers an injury. This includes the likes of Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, Latavius Murray, Ryquell Armstead, Reggie Bonnafon, and Wayne Gallman.
We're now four weeks away from the fantasy football playoffs so anything can happen between now and then, but early indications are these players could make a difference on your playoff roster.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
ESPN Ownership: 51%
Despite leading his team to an 8-0 start, Jimmy Garoppolo has not been as much of a fantasy stud as one might expect. However, last week against the Cardinals, Garoppolo showed how high his ceiling could be with his first 300-yard passing game of the season along with four passing touchdowns. Granted, it was against one of the worst defenses in football, but he finally proved that he's got the ability to carry his team.
A large factor of his success has been finding his apparent go-to number one receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. Though George Kittle will likely continue to be Jimmy G's primary target, Sanders adds a much needed level of depth to this passing attack. In just two games with the team, Sanders has 11 receptions for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While the matchups Garoppolo has in the playoffs aren't particularly favorable, he plays a set of competitive teams that will likely keep it close, which could force him to throw the ball even more. Garoppolo is also a candidate for some positive regression entering the second half of the year. With the way the San Francisco 49ers are rolling, rostering their leader could lead to fantasy success.
Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots
ESPN Ownership: 16%
JJ Zachariason identifies potential breakout running backs as those that aren't a true handcuff, are part of an ambiguous backfield, are a threat in the passing game, and play in a good offense. Rex Burkhead fits all of those descriptions to a tee.
It's widely known that the New England Patriots' running back situation can be one of the most confusing and frustrating in all of fantasy football. What else is widely known? That even though Burkhead isn't the direct backup to Sony Michel, Michel has struggled staying healthy in the past. Burkhead also has the second-most running back targets behind only James White.
Though they were stifled a bit in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens, this Patriots offense has the ability to turn it on in any given week. After missing three games to injury, the Patriots were quick to work Burkhead versus Baltimore, and in a game that they trailed from the start, Burkhead saw the second-most snaps behind White and notably ran a higher percentage of routes.
The second-half schedule for the Patriots gets increasingly difficult as they face a set of above-average quarterbacks. With a potential for more negative game scripts down the road for New England, Burkhead could see a big boost.
Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins
ESPN Ownership: 38%
As you may remember, Adrian Peterson was a healthy scratch earlier this year in Week 1 to pave the way for Derrius Guice to lead the backfield. Sadly, Guice wasn't able to do much with his first NFL start, as he compiled only 18 rushing yards on his 10 carries. Granted, this was all under a different head coach, but Bill Callahan has been one of the biggest stans for establishing the run.
Since taking over the team, Callahan has remained committed to the run game -- over the past three games, the Washington Redskins have run the ball just under 50 percent of the time. This dedication to the rushing attack surprisingly has paid off as the Redskins have eclipsed 100 rushing yards as a team in three of their past four games.
Fortunately, Guice's upcoming schedule bodes well for his potential upside down the stretch. Outside of a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington plays four teams that rank among the top 12 in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs. If he can once again seize the lead running back role in Washington, Guice could turn into a very valuable fantasy asset.
A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
ESPN Ownership: 21%
A.J. Brown has been a bit up and down so far this season, but his breakout could be right around the corner. Rookie wide receivers are historically known for playing poorly in the first half of seasons while adjusting to the NFL and subsequently. With Ryan Tannehill controlling the offense, the Tennessee Titans have seen more value compared to Marcus Mariota under center.
Since Tannehill became the starter, Brown is tied for the team lead in targets with 22 and is second on the team with 173 receiving yards. On the season, Brown ranks 20th among receivers with at least 30 targets in terms of Reception Net Expected Points per Target at 0.85.
Finally, you're not going to find a more advantageous schedule for receivers than what Tennessee will face in the fantasy playoffs. Each of the teams that the Titans play rank in the top 10 of most points allowed to the wide receiver position. A potential breakout married with positive matchups could spark lightning in a bottle for Brown as a fantasy receiver option.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
ESPN Ownership: 42%
It hasn't been in my nature to suggest players on the Miami Dolphins this year, but in the fantasy football world, we have to adjust and take what we're given. In this case, it's an opportunity for DeVante Parker to finally live up to his career hype. The first three games of the season pointed towards the same old Parker showing up this year, but he's been showing up as of late.
Over the past four games, Parker is averaging 8.5 targets, 5 receptions, and 60 yards per game. He also has a touchdown in two of those games. This contributes to the 11.5 fantasy points per game Parker is averaging over that stretch, which is good enough for 22nd among receivers.
With Preston Williams missing the remainder of the season, Parker can step in as Ryan Fitzpatrick's number one target. If this is the case, it could prove exceptionally valuable since the Dolphins play a set of teams in the playoffs that can be exposed in the passing game.
Darren Fells, TE, Houston Texans
ESPN Ownership: 28%
All Darren Fells does is score touchdowns. Because of this, he is quickly turning into the 2019 version of 2017 Jimmy Graham, who scored 10 touchdowns on only 57 receptions. But we can't rely on just touchdowns because of how fickle and unpredictable they are.
Fells' opportunity has soared over the last five games compared to the Houston Texans' first four games. In the first month of the season, Fells was averaging just over 60 percent of the team's snaps, but that has risen to over an 80 percent snap rate in the past five contests.
His snaps aren't the only thing that have jumped up, though. He has 18 total targets since Week 6, good for third-most on the team. Keep in mind that these targets are extremely valuable coming from MVP candidate Deshaun Watson.
Fells, as with nearly any streaming tight end option, is a bit boom or bust. But with a pair of two-touchdown games this season, his ceiling is higher than most. He could be the key to a championship win as the Texans play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16, who allow the second-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
ESPN Ownership: 29%
Carson Wentz loves to target his tight ends, and that has paid off handsomely for Dallas Goedert over the past several games. Though the passing attack for the Philadelphia Eagles has still been led by Zach Ertz, Goedert has managed to play his way into a valuable role on the team.
Since Week 4, Goedert is ranked ninth in fantasy points among tight ends. Though Ertz has struggled at times throughout that stretch, the Eagles are one of the few teams that can support production for multiple tight ends. This is a result of using 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers) at a 40 percent rate (per Sharp Football Stats), the highest of any team in the league.
With DeSean Jackson out the remainder of the year, these trends are likely to continue. Not to mention, if something were to happen to Ertz, Goedert would become a top-five option at the position.
Kansas City Chiefs, D/ST
ESPN Ownership: 51%
Over the past couple years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been seen as more of an offensive juggernaut than a defensive powerhouse. But now may be the time to start buying into the Kansas City D/ST as a valuable asset for your fantasy team in a playoff run. With the return of Chris Jones, this defense has the makings of a game-changing unit.
In Kansas City's three games prior to Week 10, they allowed an average of 295 total yards of offense per game to opposing teams, sixth in the NFL. In that same set of games, the Chiefs averaged five sacks per game, the best rate in the league.
Though you may be scared off by a matchup against the New England Patriots in Week 14 (who I talked up earlier in this article), you may be surprised to know that the Patriots are 13th in points allowed to opposing defenses. A large part of this is due to their defense doing a good chunk of scoring for them (which doesn't count against D/ST scoring), putting less pressure on the offense.
In the final two weeks of the playoffs, however, the Chiefs get to play the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears, whose offenses shouldn't intimidate anyone. For starters, the Bears have only posted over 300 yards of total offense once this year and continue to roll out an under-performing Mitchell Trubisky. Meanwhile, the Broncos are now starting Brandon Allen, who just played his first NFL start a couple weeks ago.