7 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 16
Sleeper is an ambiguous term. I'm defining anyone on less than half of Yahoo! rosters as a sleeper in the interest of providing clarity. Typically, I'll aim to feature players on fewer than 40 percent of rosters. However, this provides me some wiggle room.
Don't worry, deep-league gamers, this piece is intended to help folks in leagues of all sizes. With that in mind, I'm following my predecessor's lead, including honorable mentions. If the featured players are already rostered in your league, the honorable mentions should provide you with players to consider filling in for an injured starter or player on bye on your roster -- or for whatever other reason you're diving into the free-agent pool for a sleeper.
While it should go without saying, the featured players at each position are my favorite sleepers for the given week. The honorable mentions are listed in descending order of the percentage of rosters they're on.
Justin Fields (26%) - Has Fields been flawless in his rookie season? No, he hasn't. Still, he's playing better football lately, recording his three highest passing yardage totals (291, 224, and 285) in his last three starts that weren't cut short by injury. In addition, he's added 144 yards on the ground.
Fields' wheels are the driving force behind highlighting him as the top streamer at quarterback. Nonetheless, his passing should get a boost against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle has the 10th-worst pass defense in our power rankings. Further, they'll have to contend with the unique rushing element Fields adds while operating on a short week after playing on Tuesday night.
Therefore, Fields is my favorite streamer among a largely lackluster group at quarterback in Week 16. We project Fields as QB15 for this week.
Bruce Arians says it's Ronald Jones' time now to do what Leonard Fournette did late last year when Jones got hurt. Arians says it's Jones's job right now.
— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) December 20, 2021
Lead backs are few and far between on the waiver wire at this point in the season, saying nothing of lead backs in a great team setting. As a result, Jones is the top waiver option, especially for running back-needy gamers. However, even teams deep at running back should prioritize adding Jones in case he absorbs Fournette's every-down role despite his passing-game limitations.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn each ran 14 routes last week. Even if Jones merely shares receiving duties with Vaughn, his standing as the top ball-carrier would make him a top-20 running back this week.
Sources: The #Bucs are signing RB Le’Veon Bell, pending physical.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 21, 2021
Jones was highly sharp relieving Fournette last week, rushing for 63 yards on eight carries. Moreover, Pro Football Focus credited him with three missed tackles forced as a runner and 4.00 yards after contact per attempt, as well as two carries for 10-plus yards.
Jones is positioned for more success in a more prominent role this week against the Carolina Panthers. According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs are first in adjusted line yards. Meanwhile, according to Pro Football Reference, the Panthers allow the 10th-most rushing yards (1,390) to running backs. Finally, FanDuel sportsbook lists the Bucs as 11-point favorites, likely creating a good game script for Jones carrying the ball a lot.
As a result, our projection algorithm projects Jones as the RB19 in Week 16.
C Corey Linsley, OLB Joey Bosa and RB Austin Ekeler are being placed on the COVID-19 list, per source. #Chargers dealing with a situation. More names expected later today.
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) December 20, 2021
However, that hasn't come to fruition yet. Nevertheless, even if Ekeler avoids the reserve/COVID-19 list, he could share backfield duties if the ankle injury that limited him in Week 15 remains a problem. Last week, Jackson carried the ball 13 times for 86 yards versus 12 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown for Ekeler. Further, according to Pro Football Focus, Jackson ran 22 routes compared to only 14 for Ekeler.
Obviously, Jackson's value would skyrocket if Ekeler was forced to miss this week's game against the Houston Texans. Regardless, he's a viable emergency streamer in a plus matchup on the 9.5-point favored Los Angeles Chargers. The Texans are the seventh-worst run defense in our power rankings and cede the sixth-most FanDuel points per game to running backs, per Pro Football Reference.
So, if the Chargers pummel the Texans, they might exercise caution with Ekeler's touches and utilize Jackson similarly to last week in a great matchup.
Russell Gage (50%) - Gage has stunningly emerged as a target hog and top option in the passing game for the Atlanta Falcons. Since Week 9, he's commanded a robust 26.2 percent target share, leading the team in targets (55), receptions (41), and receiving yards (461) while tying for first in touchdown receptions (2) and netting the second-most air yards (457).
Additionally, according to Pro Football Focus, out of 49 receivers targeted at least 30 times during that time frame, Gage has been eighth in yards per route run (2.23 Y/RR). Unfortunately, Gage did have a zero-catch game during the cited seven-game stretch. Still, he's caught four or more passes in the other six games, eclipsing 60 receiving yards in five.
The matchup is ideal for another rock-solid or better showing from Gage this week. The Detroit Lions are ranked as the seventh-worst pass defense in our power rankings despite a strong showing against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Furthermore, A.J. Green (4 receptions for 64 yards) and Christian Kirk (9 receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown) each fared well against Detroit's secondary. Thus, Gage should have little trouble providing fantasy gamers with a WR3-caliber finish this week.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (30%) - St. Brown has been rounding into form lately. In his last three games, he has target totals of 12, 12, and 11, hauling in 26 receptions for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding 2 rushes for 7 yards for good measure. In addition, he's a great bet to retain top-option honors in the Lions' passing attack with T.J. Hockenson out for the rest of the year and D'Andre Swift's status in question.
Unfortunately, St. Brown's value might tank if Jared Goff can't clear the NFL's COVID-19 protocol. He tested positive but is vaccinated and reportedly dealing with only minor symptoms. So, he could test off of the reserve/COVID-19 list for this week's game.
Couple St. Brown's excellent play lately with the Falcons ranking as the second-worst pass defense in our power rankings, and the rookie is worth a speculative pick up as we monitor Goff's situation approaching the weekend. Sadly, I suggest pivoting to the honorable mentions later in the week if it looks like Goff will be out, as I can't trust Tim Boyle to lead a functioning offense.
Gabriel Davis (19%) - Davis excelled last week with Emmanuel Sanders on the shelf for the Buffalo Bills. Now, even if Sanders returns this week from his injury, Davis should continue to play in three-receiver sets with Cole Beasley on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Cole Beasley did in fact test positive. He’s out 10 days. https://t.co/A682LKYEZk
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 21, 2021
In Week 15, Davis was tied for first in routes (35), leading the team in targets (7), receptions (5), receiving yards (85), and touchdowns (2). The second-year receiver has reached paydirt in three straight games, hauling in multiple receptions in six straight and eight of his last nine.
He has also been efficient this year, ranking 27th out of 72 receivers targeted at least 40 times with 1.81 yards per route run. Now, the volume is at his fingertips to help fantasy teams.
Yes, the matchup is challenging against the New England Patriots' stingy pass defense. Still, I trust Buffalo's pass-happy, up-tempo offense to lift Davis to a useful fantasy line.
Cole Kmet (25%) - Kmet rebounded from a subpar showing in Week 14 to haul in 6 of 9 targets for 71 receiving yards in Week 15. It was the second eye-catching performance in the last three games Fields played from start to finish, reeling in 6 receptions for 87 yards on 8 targets in Week 9, as well.
Kmet has been targeted 52 times (second on the Chicago Bears) on Fields' 270 passes this year, ranking third in air yards (466), and second in receptions (32) and receiving yards (330). This year, he is tied for eighth in routes (395).
As a result, Kmet checks all the boxes for what you can hope for streaming at tight end, owning a prominent role in his team's passing attack and ranking well relative to his peers in routes.