Once upon a time (read: last season) this would have been the end. We'd have written about Week 16 in terms of your fantasy football championship. We would have included exhortations like "this is for all the marbles" or "this is what you were playing for when you were studying all of those draft kits back in August." Instead, we're amidst the BIGGEST SEASON EVER. (I'm the first person to tell you that, right?) Instead, we'll save all those platitudes for next week when all of you undoubtedly win your matchups and find yourself on the doorstep of fantasy football greatness.
But to arrive on said doorstep, you've gotta win this week, which could mean navigating another week of COVID-19 reports. One other caveat: The names listed below are the best guess as of the writing of this column (Tuesday morning). Who knows what the week may bring? Keep up with the news and make your pivots accordingly as we get closer to the start of the new week.
Anyway, here are some sleepers.
It was one thing for Tyler Huntley to go bombs away during an in-game relief appearance two weeks ago when the Browns weren't prepared for him. It's another thing for the second-year pro to drop 35 fantasy points on the Packers defense in just his second-career start. This week, the Ravens have a huge matchup against the Bengals for the lead in the AFC North. For most of the season, Cincinnati has been a challenge for fantasy quarterbacks. Recently, however, the Bengals have softened. The Who Deys have allowed a top 12 quarterback in two of their last three games. Huntley's viability obviously depends on Lamar Jackson's availability. If Jackson can't go, Huntley has nice DFS vibes.
Jared Goff is an easy target for football fans -- fantasy and non-fantasy minded alike -- but the Lions quarterback has turned things around lately. He's had three touchdown passes and scored 19 or more fantasy points in two of his last three games. Goff was placed on the Lions' reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, but if he's able to test out of protocol in time, he will face one of his easier matchups against the Falcons. Over the course of the season, only Washington is allowing more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks (entering Tuesday). For anyone still alive in superflex or 2QB formats, Goff could have some appeal this week.
Reports of Austin Ekeler going on the COVID-19/reserve list have thrust Justin Jackson to the front of the Chargers' running back depth chart. Jackson had a good night last week, racking up 99 scrimmage yards on 14 touches against a much-improved Chiefs defense. Keep an eye on Ekeler's status during the week. If he's unavailable, Jackson will take aim at a Texans defense that has consistently been fodder for opposing running backs. He might not absorb all Ekeler's opportunities (Joshua Kelley saw seven carries last week) but he figures to take the lead in the Bolts' ground attack.
On the Monday edition of the NFL Fantasy Football Show, I said that I wasn't likely to draft Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2022. But it's still 2021, so let's shelve that thought until the new year. Even with our diminished expectations this year, seeing CEH average fewer than 12 fantasy points per game is disappointing. Nonetheless, this week's game against the Steelers could offer a bright spot. Since Week 10, no defense has allowed more rushing yards than Pittsburgh, while only the Jets have allowed as much rushing scores. The Steelers have also allowed a top 10 fantasy back in five consecutive games. Edwards-Helaire has one top 10 finish this season, so it's possible. It's worth seeing if he can double that number this week.
We meet again, Rex Burkhead. This isn't the first time #RexInTheFlex has appeared in this column, and it appears his time has come again. Running backs haven't had a lot of shine in the league's worst rushing offense. But Burkhead offers a safe, if unspectacular, floor this week against the Chargers. Los Angeles has been a soft target for fantasy running backs this year, in part because of a 28th-ranked run defense. Since Week 11, Burkhead has led Houston in carries by a wide margin. (Side note: Mark Ingram hasn't played for the Texans since Week 7 and still leads the team in total touches.) Burkhead's ceiling is limited but the opportunity is positive.
We end at the beginning with Marquez Callaway. After a few big preseason performances, Callaway had deep sleeper vibes. That didn't pan out for much of the year. But in last week's surprise win over Tampa Bay, Callaway saw a third of Taysom Hill's targets. Time being a flat circle and all means we're revisiting a lot of our early season takes. We return to this one in time to see the Saints face a Dolphins secondary that has been forgiving to wideouts this year. Don't let Miami's recent numbers fool you. Over the past four weeks, Miami has faced the Giants, Panthers, and Jets (twice). Not exactly a murderer's row of passing offenses. Yes, the same can be said of New Orleans right now, but it doesn't mean one wideout can't see a lot of opportunity. Right now, Callaway looks to be that guy.
As the 49ers' offense has roared to life in the latter part of the season, we've settled in with some consistent and familiar names. But now a new name has entered the chat – Jauan Jennings. Over the past two weeks, Jennings has seen his target share bump up to 18 percent. That's higher than Deebo Samuel, who has transitioned to a pass-catching running back for Kyle Shanahan. Up next for San Francisco is a critical matchup against the Titans. We've picked on Tennessee's secondary all season long. Jennings' ceiling might be lower but with potential touchdown upside, he could be a DFS value play in Week 16.
Let's keep it real, the only reason Evan Engram is on this list is because he's playing the Eagles. Every week, we've made it a point to pick a tight end facing Philly's defense, so there's little reason to quit now. But nothing about Engram's performance in 2021 suggests he's set to put up big numbers. THIS IS PURELY ABOUT THE MATCHUP. If you choose to walk this road, weary traveler, I will wish you good luck but I cannot assure you safe passage. Be wary, all ye who enter here.
It took nearly four months, but we've reached the Albert Okwuegbunam portion of the program. And yes, I did a copy-paste on that name. We've kicked the tires on Noah Fant repeatedly this season with mixed results as the Broncos passing game has continually sputtered. It might be time to take Albert O out for a spin. Since Week 9, he has a 13 percent target share – identical to Courtland Sutton. The difference is that Okwuegbunam has nine more catches, 143 more receiving yards and one more touchdown than Sutton. The Broncos run 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs) as often as nearly any team in the league. That should mean plenty of snaps against a Raiders defense that has allowed the fourth-most points per game to tight ends and gives Okwuegbunam deep sleeper potential.
There is an interesting conversation to be had about Kyle Pitts' rookie season. He's the TE5 (entering Tuesday) but he has just one touchdown reception and more than one-third of his total points came in two games. He can ease some of that frustration this week against the Lions. Dating back to Week 12, four different tight ends have had top 12 finishes against Detroit. Pitts hasn't lined up as a traditional tight end as much this year, but this could be a nice wrinkle to kickstart Atlanta's offense in a game they must win to stay in the playoff hunt.
I wouldn't leave you without a sleeper defense for the week. For that, we turn to the 49ers DST. After a slow start, DeMeco Ryans' defense has picked it up for fantasy managers. San Francisco has tallied nine fantasy points in three straight games. During that stretch, the Niners have logged 12 sacks while forcing six turnovers. On the flip side, the Titans have been a turnover machine in recent weeks. Tennessee has given the ball away nine times over the past month while allowing three different defenses – including the Texans -- to finish top 12 in the past five weeks.