The Fantasy Hipsters are here to save you from being duped into starting these mainstream "must-starts" of Week 15. These players are sprinkled around the top of the consensus rankings for the week, but Matt Harmon and Matt Franciscovich (Franchise) have some underground knowledge to get you in the know and make you think twice before locking these players into your starting lineups. So make sure your ripped skinny jeans are cuffed, because you're about to tread some contrarian waters. Dude, is that coffee your're drinking even locally sourced? Folgers!? Are you kidding me? Ugh, whatever.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins
As a lover of fine literature and the tales a great storyteller, there's nothing I love more than a good narrative-based play coming through. Last week's installment in the DeSean Jackson revenge narrative played out to perfection, as the former Eagles receiver took an 80-yard catch to the house. Jackson knows he's better than everyone around him, as he showed up the competition by strutting into the end zone after reaching top speed on his score. Nothing wrong with that, if you ask me. When I can identify the best local IPA on the rotating tap at The Gulp, you better believe I let everyone know.
With that being said, this does not look like an explosive week upcoming for Jackson. So far this season, 51 percent of Jackson's targets come when he lines up at right wide receiver. All but one of his touchdowns this year came from that alignment. That's where the Panthers' best cornerback, rookie James Bradberry lines up. We talked about how good Bradberry was in this space three weeks ago.
Bradberry has the long frame to tie up a player like Jackson at the line of scrimmage. The beauty of Washington's offense, and why their quarterback continues to succeed, is that their wealth of weapons allows Kirk Cousins to pick and choose his spots.
One of the players Cousins could look to in Week 15 is Pierre Garcon. The veteran receiver has racked up 60 percent of his yards from the left wide receiver position this season, with 51 percent of his plays coming from that side of the field. That will put Garcon against Daryl Worley, the Panthers other rookie corner who mans the right side of the defense. He's not yet at Bradberry's level in coverage.
Yes, the matchup with the Panthers is a prime one for these receivers. But those of us who are woke know to follow the volume, which clearly indicates Garcon is the better fantasy asset. Garcon has 91 targets this season, with totals of 10, seven, four, nine and six the last five games. By comparison, Jackson has 78 on the year, with totals of seven, six, eight, four and four the last five games.
Another player who could excel against Carolina is Jordan Reed, as long as he's back up to full-speed after going out for just nine plays last week. The Panthers allow an 8.6 touchdown rate to tight ends this year, which trails only the Cleveland Browns. If Reed isn't up to the task, Vernon Davis could be another priority target.
Don't chase points, only the sheep chase points. Understand that Jackson isn't in the best spot this week among the Washington pass-catchers. You'll impress all your lame friends when you call the big Pierre Garcon game before it happens.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Look man, Jordan Howard has been one of the best fantasy hipster pickups this season. Even the Chicago Bears' coaching staff didn't think he'd go mainstream. Heck, they had him buried on the depth chart behind Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey to start the season. That didn't last long, LOLz. All this talk of a "committee backfield" and whatnot had fantasy owners confused on how the situation would play out. Turns out, Howard went mainstream AF on us and is a great example of why you can get away with waiting on running backs ... underground gems like Howard always emerge.
But now, this rook has grown too big for his britches if you ask me. I mean, who does he think he is? Six straight games with 99-plus scrimmage yards? THREE touchdowns two weeks ago!? Neil Young once said that "It's better to burn out than to fade away," a classic line that folks who are in the know can definitely relate to. And that's exactly what Howard is doing. He's using up all his (cold pressed) juice, man. It doesn't help that he plays on a team that ranks third from last in points per game, with 17. Even last week, in a game that the Bears never trailed by more than one score, Howard only received 13 carries. I mean, 13 gets a bad rap, but it's actually the best number around. Unless you're talking about volume upside with a fantasy running back. In that case, it's far from the best.
This week, you can bet the volume won't be there again. The Packers come to town, and maybe you've heard of their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Yeah, he's decent. He'll probably propel the Pack to a big lead early, leaving Bears signal caller Matt Barkley flailing around the pocket throwing dimes to wide receivers who are unable to actually receive. This time of year, 'tis better to give than to receive anyway. Some homeless guy told me that once. Then he gave me his cut-off gloves. Warm as hell, man.
Plus, the Packers have been surprisingly stingy against running backs lately. In their last two games, Green Bay has allowed just 74 rush yards per game to opposing runners with nary a rushing touchdown scored against them. And the Packers have held their last three opponents to 13 points or fewer. None of that is good for Howard's outlook this week. Just sayin'.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
Malcolm Mitchell is the best wide receiver on the Patriots roster. There, it has been said. The rookie wideout has four touchdowns over his last four games. The team promoted him to the role of a full-time player with Rob Gronkowski out for the regular season. Mitchell played 82 percent of the snaps the last two weeks, which is second-most among wide receivers.
Your dad might think it's still the hard-working, gritty Julian Edelman, but he doesn't get it. This is just like O.A.R. That band used to make flames music. They were an up-and-coming band with a fresh unique style, crashing across the Maryland/Washington D.C. area. Now, they're filling up "adult contemporary" playlists on Spotify talking about how they're going to shatter and turn a car around.
Against the Ravens, who were bleeding production to interior receivers heading into this game, Edelman averaged just 2.1 yards of separation on his targets, per Next Gen Stats. Malcolm Mitchell bested him with a 2.7 separation average, and even Chris Hogan posted a 3.0 mark. Mitchell has a beefy nine red-zone targets the last four weeks, whereas Edelman has just four. It's clear who Tom Brady, the quarterback who in Week 14 showed he still knows what's up, trusts in scoring positon.
The Patriots play the Broncos this week, who just flummoxed a red-hot Marcus Mariota by allowing him six completions on 20 pass attempts. Denver has allowed a league-low 1,402 yards and seven touchdowns to wide receivers this season. If Edelman couldn't find any separation against Baltimore's cornerbacks, he's not finding any room against the Broncos. Bill Belichick is woke, he'll just run it up the gut with LeGarrette Blount on a defense that allows the fifth-most yards to running backs on the year.
We'll give Edelman this, he's got a great hair and beard combination. He almost looks as good as us. But he won't be looking at the end zone this week unless he's watching Blount and Mitchell celebrate there.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Jimmy Graham ranks as the fourth highest-scoring tight end in fantasy this season, which should raise a red flag. Look man, Graham has had his good games and his bad ones, but by no means has he been consistent. He had just one catch last week in a game that Russell Wilson attempted 39 passes. That means Graham caught 2.56 percent of Wilson's attempts. As a fantasy owner, you want to see a higher number.
To put it lightly, Wilson has been playing recently like a farm-to-table bison. Not catching my drift? This just in: Russell Wilson has been spotted aimlessly roaming Wisconsin pastures following five-interception game in Green Bay. See what I'm getting at? Wilson has thrown just three touchdown passes in his last four games to go along with eight picks. He's clearly cooled off with the weather, which is completely correct and logical analysis, apologies if it's over your head.
Furthermore, the Seahawks opponent, the vaunted Los Angeles Rams, have been one of the best teams at limiting tight ends over the last month. In fact, the Rams defense has allowed just 46.5 yards per game to the position over the last four games with zero touchdowns. And when Graham faced the Rams back in Week 2, he had just three receptions for 42 yards. Sure, go ahead and start him if you want to conform. But don't say we didn't warn you.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Eli Manning averages the fourth-fewest air yards on his completions this season with 5.89. The only quarterbacks who average less than that are Joe Flacco, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. Some quarterbacks with a higher air-yards average on their completions: Jared Goff, Brian Hoyer, Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler. Since Manning ranks 37th in this metric, I could waste your time with giving you plenty of other names, but since I'm running out of Wi-Fi time at this organic tea shop where I'm writing from, I'll keep it brief.
Most everyone knows that Manning isn't playing well this year, but you can write it in pen that some fantasy "experts" (give me a break with that fake term) are going to rank him inside their top 15 this week. They'll see that matchup with the Lions and think they're being sneaky. I'll give it to them, Detroit does give up a 101.3 passer rating and a crazy league-high 72.9 completion rate.
Here's the problem that those who don't look beyond the basic numbers will miss: The Lions defense is rarely on the field. Offenses have run just 779 plays against Detroit this year, which is the second-fewest among NFL defenses. The Lions identified that their defense isn't good, and they've worked to fix that by mimicking Dallas' "defense by offensive keep-away" strategy. The only difference is they use a short-passing game rather than a bruising running game. Over the last three games the Lions rank second in time of possession with a 33:12 average.
It was with this exact strategy that the Lions were able to keep what everyone believed was going to be a shootout in New Orleans from happening and foiled Drew Brees two weeks ago. The Saints ran 69.5 plays per game on average heading into Week 13. The Lions held them to just 57 plays run in the Superdome when they squared off. The loss of a full 12 plays is killer for an offense.