News & Analysis

Scott Barrett’s daily fantasy focus: Top plays, strategy, and advice for Week 12

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Cameron Brate #84 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after catching a touchdown pass from Jameis Winston #3 during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

This article is long, so I’ll spare you a lengthy intro. Here’s everything you should need to know in order to dominate your Week 12 DFS tournaments and cash games.

Note: All numbers in parentheses refer to a player’s salary rank on each site.

Injuries, news, & notes to know

Josh McCown will start again on Sunday. In his only other start this year (Week 10), he threw for just 135 yards (zero touchdowns, two interceptions) in a tougher matchup against Buffalo. Quincy Enunwa was his most-targeted receiver (eight), followed by Elijah McGuire (six). Robby Anderson sat out that game and is supposed to return this week, but purely in a limited capacity. Enunwa is a tough play in shadow coverage against Stephon Gilmore (our No. 4-graded cornerback) this week, while McGuire is a fine salary saver (DK: RB34, FD: RB35). New England’s defense is maybe a better play, and I’ll mostly be avoiding everyone else on the Jets’ side.

Josh Allen is expected to start this week for Buffalo. He averages just 138.7 passing yards per game (and 0.33 passing touchdowns), and his return hurts every player on the offense.

Ryan Tannehill is expected to start this week, and like with Allen, this appears to hurt Miami’s skill-position players. In the five games Tannehill was active, Miami ranked 31st in plays per game (52.0) and 32nd in passing plays per game (29.2). Since then they’ve ranked 14th (63.0) and 13th (38.0), respectively. Average passing yardage per game also increased by 14.9% (192.2 to 223.2) with Brock Osweiler under center. Danny Amendola (DK: WR24, FD: WR33) and DeVante Parker (DK: WR33, FD: WR29) are questionable but expected to play. Though volume might be lower than in reason weeks, target volume should at least be more highly concentrated among the wide receivers, after season-ending injuries to Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson.

Joe Flacco is out and Alex Collins is questionable for Sunday’s game. More on Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards later.

O.J. Howard is out and Cameron Brate is one of the top plays of the slate. More on him at the end of this article.

Melvin Gordon is legitimately questionable. Over the past two seasons, when on the injury report (six games total), Gordon averages just 17.0 touches and 13.6 fantasy points per game. In all other (19) games, he averages 22.4 touches and 23.0 fantasy points per game. As 12.0-point favorites, a lighter workload than typical (at the very least) seems like a wise decision. If Gordon is announced as an early inactive, Austin Ekeler (DK: RB29, FD: RB24) becomes a near must-play. Ekeler is our second-highest-graded running back this year. He saw bell-cow usage (95% of the snaps) in Gordon’s last missed game (Week 7) and would get an ideal matchup with good gamescript up against an Arizona defense that is giving up the second-most rushing yards and the third-most rushing touchdowns to enemy running backs.

A.J. Green is a game-time decision for Sunday’s game. There isn’t much of a price discount on Green, so I won’t be too excited to play him if he’s active. Tyler Boyd has disappointed in two games without Green and gets a tough matchup this week (Cleveland is giving up the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers).

Doug Baldwin is a game-time decision against the Panthers. If he’s out, Tyler Lockett (DK: WR17, FD: WR15) would get a bump up my rankings. He averaged 6.5 targets and 17.6 fantasy points per game across the two games Baldwin missed earlier in the year. In all other games, he’s averaged 4.5 targets and 13.1 fantasy points per game.

Ronald Jones is legitimately questionable for Sunday’s game against the 49ers. If he’s out, Peyton Barber (DK: RB25, FD: RB18) gets a slight boost. He averages 60% of the team’s snaps when Jones has sat out and 48% when Jones has been active. Despite poor gamescript (four losses), Barber averages 15.3 carries and 1.5 targets per game over his last four games. In a neutral matchup, with Jameis Winston becoming chalky, he makes some sense on DraftKings.

Charles Clay is doubtful. If he’s out, Jason Croom should be expected to see a larger role than typical. In Week 10, without Clay, Croom saw a season-high 60% of the team’s snaps as well as a season-high four targets. He’s still not someone to get excited about.

Jordy Nelson is questionable, while Martavis Bryant and Brandon LaFell are out for Sunday’s game. I don’t like playing receivers when hurt, but the lack of depth at the position keeps Nelson in consideration, and maybe also rookie Marcell Ateman. That said, I’d rather turn to Jared Cook (DK: TE5, FD: TE7), who has been Oakland’s top receiver in terms of both usage and production. The Ravens also have a tendency to funnel volume and production toward the tight end, while being much tougher against wide receivers. 26% of Baltimore’s receiving fantasy points allowed has gone to tight ends, which ranks second-most among all defenses.

Devin Funchess is doubtful and Torrey Smith is questionable for Sunday’s game. With Funchess likely out, D.J. Moore (DK: WR25, FD: WR21) is probably going to be one of the chalkiest plays of the slate. He had his coming-out party last week, totaling seven receptions, 157 yards, and a touchdown (on eight targets), but efficiency has been good all year. He now ranks second of 103 qualifying wide receivers in yards per opportunity. With more volume coming this week and in a good matchup, Moore is clearly underpriced on both sites. Moore runs 63% of his routes from the outside, while Seattle is giving up the eighth-most fantasy points per game to outside wide receivers.

Chad Williams is out this week for Arizona, which should keep targets as highly concentrated as they’ve been since Byron Leftwich took over as OC. Over this span, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, David Johnson, and Ricky Seals-Jones have all seen between 15 and 24 targets, while all other receivers combine for just 16 targets.

Pierre Garcon has been ruled out, which muddies an already complicated situation in San Francisco. Since Nick Mullens’ first start, the pecking order for targets has gone George Kittle (22.9%), Marquise Goodwin (14.8%), Kendrick Bourne (13.1%), and then Dante Pettis (9.8%). Against Tampa Bay, you want to play tight ends (they rank sixth-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends) and slot wide receivers (they’re giving up the most fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers and now starting slot cornerback M.J. Stewart is out). We know Kittle (DK: TE2, FD: TE2) is the tight end, and he’s obviously the best play of these names (averaging 17.4 fantasy points per game over his last four), but I’m not sure who the slot wide receiver is. It was Trent Taylor, who is dealing with injury, but he hasn’t played more than 20 snaps in a game since Week 5. In their last game it was Pettis (DK: WR59, FD: WR63) who saw six targets and ran 23 of 26 routes from the slot (no other wide receiver had more than six slot routes), but Pettis played just 18 snaps over the previous two weeks. Pettis is one of my favorite sleepers on this slate, but Goodwin (DK: WR13, FD: WR49) is certainly intriguing as well (especially on FanDuel), and not all of these plays are going to hit.

DeSean Jackson, Tyrell Williams, Tom Brady, Sony Michel, and David Njoku are all questionable but expected to play.

Quarterbacks to like

Jameis Winston (DK: QB5, FD: QB8)

Tampa Bay totals 3,610 passing yards through 10 games this year, or the most by any team through their first 10 games all-time. If Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick were one quarterback, they’d combine to rank second all-time in fantasy points per game (27.1), with only Patrick Mahomes (28.2) ranking above them. There is the risk Winston might get benched at some point this week, though I think it’s low immediately after yet another change, and especially so in this matchup. San Francisco ranks seventh-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. On top of that, they’ve given up the sixth-most passing touchdowns this year (21) but have recorded only two interceptions (second-fewest). Interceptions have been Tampa Bay’s only problem at quarterback this year, with a league-high 23 (seven more than next-closest). In a game Vegas thinks will be close (spread within 3.0) and with the second-highest implied point total of the week (28.5), it’s worth hopping on this roller-coaster ride once again.

Lamar Jackson (DK: QB8, FD: QB11)

In this article I tried to explain how an extremely mobile quarterback is basically a cheat code for fantasy football. And quarterbacks don’t get much more mobile than Jackson. Last week, Jackson broke the Super Bowl-era record for most rushing attempts by a quarterback in a single game, with 27. In college, he set a record for career rushing yards per game with 108.7. In last week’s game, without the fortune of scoring a touchdown, he still scored 19.9 DraftKings fantasy points. He has another great matchup this week, against an Oakland defense that ranks worst in the league in pressures generated per dropback (0.22) and third-worst in opposing passer rating (108.6). Additionally, they rank last in fantasy points allowed per dropback with 0.76. For perspective, Patrick Mahomes is averaging 0.73 fantasy points per dropback, which is the highest number we’ve seen from a quarterback this past decade. Vegas seems confident as well, spotting Baltimore with their highest implied point total of the season (26.25).

Other: Andrew Luck (DK: QB2, FD: QB2) and Cam Newton (DK: QB3, FD: QB1) are bets on talent. Luck has thrown for three or more touchdowns in seven consecutive games. That has only been done three other times in the history of the NFL. Still, I don’t think Indianapolis needs to go pass-heavy as 7.5-point favorites up against a Miami run-funnel defense. Miami has seen 36% of their yardage allowed come via the pass (fourth-most), ranks seventh-worst in yards allowed per carry (4.86), but ranks 12th-best in opposing passer rating (89.6). It’s not a play I’m really on, but he’ll be highly owned. … Newton has seen a falloff in rushing attempts in recent weeks (four total attempts in his last two games), which is concerning but could be an anomaly. He’s also still been dominant as a passer and to a degree we’ve only ever seen once before from him (his 2015 MVP season). He's thrown for at least two touchdowns in nine consecutive games, while averaging 253.6 passing yards per game over this span. Newton has historically struggled against Seattle and they’ve been a slightly tougher matchup than average this year, but he’s still in play in a game Vegas thinks will be close (spread within 3.0). … Baker Mayfield (DK: QB13, FD: QB9) is a sneaky play off of his near-perfect Week 10 and then the bye, but only if you think Cincinnati can put up enough points to force Cleveland to lean more pass-heavy. Otherwise, the matchup seems ideal. Cincinnati is giving up the most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (28.5). … Nick Mullens (DK: QB14, FD: QB24) is a risky play, but needs to be mentioned after shredding Oakland two games ago. Tampa Bay is the only defense worse than the Raiders, and they’re not just bad, they’re on pace to be the worst pass defense this past decade.

Running backs to like

Leonard Fournette (DK: RB8, FD: RB4)

Since returning from injury, Fournette leads all slate-eligible players in expected fantasy points per game (23.9). That’s despite the fact that Jacksonville held a lead on only 31% of their plays over this span. Even so, Fournette averages 26.0 carries and 3.5 targets per game, while drawing all six of the team’s opportunities inside the 10-yard line. Production has been strong as well, averaging 125.0 yards and 25.0 fantasy points per game. With better projected gamescript this week (favored by 3.0 points against Buffalo), he’s a top DFS option on DraftKings, with a salary that hasn’t yet caught up to his volume or production.

David Johnson (DK: RB6, FD: RB5)

Since Byron Leftwich has taken over as offensive coordinator, Johnson ranks eighth among running backs in fantasy points per game (22.6) and third in opportunities per game (25.7). We know he’s one of the best receiving running backs in the league, and he’s finally seeing the volume that supports that notion (5.0 targets per game with Leftwich). That’s important this week, as the Chargers are giving up the third-most receiving fantasy points per game (13.2) to enemy running backs.

Nick Chubb (DK: RB9, FD: RB7)

After two straight games with a snap share below 50%, Chubb played on 79% of the snaps in Week 10 before the bye. In four straight games he’s seen at least 18 carries, while also drawing nine targets. More impressively, he’s seen six of the team’s nine opportunities inside the 10-yard line over this span. While these numbers are good, they aren’t great (14.6 expected fantasy points per game), and his snap share numbers imply gamescript-dependence. Still, he’s playing out of his mind – he’s our highest-graded running back this year – and does seem to be the team’s preferred option near the end zone. He has a near-ideal matchup this week, up against a Bengals defense that is surrendering a league-high 2.94 points allowed per drive. They’ve seen 33% of their total yardage come via the run (tied for fifth-most), they rank third-worst in yards allowed per carry (5.11) and are giving up the third-most fantasy points per game to enemy running backs (29.5).

Matt Breida (DK: RB11, FD: RB13)

Despite playing hurt almost all season, Breida leads all 100-carry running backs in yards per carry (5.6). Week 10 was Breida’s first full game off the injury report since Week 3. He saw 17 carries and four targets, with two opportunities inside the 10-yard line, while all other San Francisco running backs combined for just 10, two, and zero, respectively. This was good for 17.1 expected fantasy points and a 70% market share. Coming off a much-needed bye week, I like his chances at another big game this week, up against the Buccaneers, who are giving up the most touchdowns (17) and the seventh-most fantasy points per game (27.4) to opposing running backs.

Marlon Mack (DK: RB13, FD: RB10)

Over his last five games, Mack has seen expected fantasy point totals of 12.3, 15.7, 23.0 (Week 8), 10.1, and 13.0. In terms of expected fantasy point market share (among the Indianapolis running backs) that equates to 57%, 64%, 68%, 57%, and 54%. Basically, he’s just a mid-range RB2 based on volume and is still stuck in a committee. That said, Indianapolis ranks fifth-best in run-blocking grade, and Mack too has been very efficient, averaging 5.2 yards per carry since his return. Over his last four games he also averages 19.6 fantasy points per game, ranking 12th among running backs. As illustrated earlier, Miami is a run-funnel defense and I think Indianapolis leans heavy on the run game this week. Miami also ranks third-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.

Gus Edwards (DK: RB18, FD: RB26)

After last week’s game and with Alex Collins legitimately questionable, I’m fully expecting to see Edwards used as the team’s lead running back this Sunday. Last week, he out-snapped Collins 49 to 17, out-touched him 17 to seven, and out-produced him by 97 yards (115 yards to 18). Not just that, but he was tremendous, ranking as our highest-graded running back of the week, forcing eight missed tackles on just 17 carries. He also has good gamescript and a soft matchup working in his advantage, favored by 10.5-points at home against the Raiders. Oakland is giving up the most rushing yards per game (130.0) and rank second-worst in yards allowed per carry (5.12) to opposing running backs.

Josh Adams (DK: RB27, FD: RB19)

In a 48-7 beatdown last week, Adams played on 55% of the team’s snaps, drawing 70% of the team’s carries (seven of 10) and 75% of the targets out of the backfield (six of eight). I like him quite a bit more this week, in a much better matchup, as 6.0-point favorites against a Giants defense that has struggled against the run since trading away Damon Harrison (the best run-stopper in the NFL). Before the trade, the Giants were giving up only 3.87 yards per carry. Since then, they’re allowing 5.27 yards per carry.

Other (Expensive): On the expensive side, Saquon Barkley (DK: RB1, FD: RB1) and James Conner (DK: RB4, FD: RB6) are in play this week. Barkley is still No. 1 in my projections, despite a tougher than average matchup. Philadelphia hasn't given up a lot to running backs (partly because their secondary is so awful), but they do rank 11th-worst in yards allowed per carry (4.53) and are giving up the sixth-most receiving fantasy points per game to enemy running backs. This season, Barkley ranks first among all players in expected fantasy points per game (20.8) and second in expected fantasy point market share (35%). He’s used in all facets of the offense and couples elite volume with elite efficiency. … Conner gets a Denver defense ranking eighth-worst in yards allowed per carry (4.83) and eighth-worst in rushing fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. He ranks fourth in both snaps (569) and expected fantasy points per game (19.4). He’s a good to great play if you can afford him. … Christian McCaffrey (DK: RB3, FD: RB3) and James White (DK: RB5, FD: RB6) are both in play though I think not as strong as some of the other names we’ve mentioned.

Other (Cheap): While neither is a top play, Elijah McGuire (DK: RB34, FD: RB35) and LeSean McCoy (DK: RB20, FD: RB16) all make sense as salary savers. Working back from injury, in two games, McGuire has seen 13 of 37 carries and 11 of 20 targets. The matchup (New England is giving up the fifth-most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs) and projected gamescript (underdogs by 10.0-points) suits McGuire better than the other running backs on the team. … McCoy averages 16.2 expected fantasy points (10th-most) and 15.7 actual fantasy points per game (21st-most) over his last three games. That makes him a clear value based on recent usage and production, but the matchup, and Josh Allen’s return has me nervous.

Wide receivers to like

Odell Beckham Jr. (DK: WR1, FD: WR1)

Since Week 5, Beckham ranks second among all slate-eligible wide receivers in targets per game (9.8) and fantasy points per game (21.5). After seven straight games with double-digit targets, Beckham only saw four last week. Still, that was good enough for 74 yards and a score. I’m expecting double-digit targets and even better production this week against an Eagles defense that will be starting second- and third-string cornerbacks against the Giants. The Eagles will be without CBs Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, and Avonte Maddox, while Rasul Douglas is questionable with multiple injuries. No other cornerback on the roster has played in more than two games this year. Their depth chart now looks like this, and it’s gotten so bad they’ve had to play wide receivers at cornerback in practice. (The Eagles will also be without starters S Rodney McLeod and LB Jordan Hicks.) Even before the injuries started piling up, they already ranked as a top secondary to exploit. Coming into the week, they’re giving up the most fantasy points per game to outside wide receivers (31.4) and the third-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to WR1s.

Julian Edelman (DK: WR7, FD: WR7)

Since returning from suspension (Week 5), Edelman ranks fifth in targets (9.2) and sixth in fantasy points per game (16.6) among all wide receivers available on this slate. In each of these six games he’s also led New England’s receivers in expected fantasy points. That should be the case again this week, against a New York Jets defense that funnels action toward the slot (where Edelman runs 70% of his routes). New York ranks second-worst in fantasy points per game to slot wide receivers (21.4) but ninth-best to wide receivers running routes on the outside (18.3).

Adam Humphries (DK: WR37, FD: WR24)

Over the past four weeks, among all slate-eligible wide receivers, Humphries ranks second in fantasy points, or seventh in fantasy points per game (16.2). As good as that’s been, volume should be even better with Jameis Winston back under center. This season Humphries has been targeted on 18.9% of Winston’s attempts but only 10.6% of Fitzpatrick’s throws. In a slightly above-average matchup this week, I’d start Humphries as a mid-range WR4.

Other: It appears Keenan Allen (DK: WR6, FD: WR5) is again enjoying a second-half breakout, averaging 10.3 targets and 20.0 fantasy points per game since Week 9. I don’t think Los Angeles will need to pass much in this contest (and the Chargers rank 30th in passing plays per game since Week 5), but Allen should be able to make the most of his targets. Patrick Peterson won’t shadow when Allen is in the slot (52% of his routes), and Arizona is giving up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing slot wide receivers. … Emmanuel Sanders (DK: WR14, FD: WR10) has been disappointing in recent weeks but gets a strong matchup this week. He’s been running 58% of his routes from the slot since the Demaryius Thomas trade, while Pittsburgh has been a top slot funnel defense. They’re giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to slot wide receivers (17.9), but the seventh-fewest (17.6) to outside wide receivers. … Sterling Shepard (DK: WR16, FD: WR19) is a great play for all of the same reasons we like Beckham, just at a cheaper price-tag and with a lower ceiling. … After a slow start to the season, Larry Fitzgerald (DK: WR19, FD: WR15) now ranks top-20 in targets per game (7.8) and fantasy points per game (16.4) over the last five weeks of the season. Now, he gets a Chargers defense that is giving up the third-most fantasy points per game (18.6) to opposing slot wide receivers (where Fitzgerald runs 77% of his routes). … Mike Evans (DK: WR3, FD: WR4) makes sense because, if we like Jameis Winston (we do), we should also like the receiver on his team with the most upside. Richard Sherman doesn’t shadow, so he could avoid him as much as he wants. Over each team’s last five games, San Francisco ranks third-worst in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing WR1s. … Antonio Brown (DK: WR2, FD: WR1) is in play because he’s Antonio Brown and he’s always in play.

Tight end matchups to like

Outside of Jared Cook and George Kittle, who we discussed earlier in the article, I think you’re choosing between these two tight ends:

Zach Ertz (DK: TE1, FD: TE1)

Among all receivers on the slate, Ertz ranks sixth in expected (17.2) and fifth in actual fantasy points per game (18.7). That’s also 3.6 expected and 2.6 actual fantasy points per game more than the next-closest slate-eligible tight end (Eric Ebron). In terms of salary, he proves to be either a value or appropriately priced, as DraftKings’ ninth- and FanDuel’s sixth-highest-priced receiver this week. Basically, Ertz has been playing like a mid-range WR1 (or better) and is priced like a mid-range WR1 (or worse). If factoring in positional advantage – the tight end position has been murky and hard to trust – Ertz becomes an even stronger value. He should also draw lower ownership than normal after understandably busting in a worst-possible matchup against the Saints, who have ranked best in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends for two straight years now.

Cameron Brate (DK: TE12, FD: TE24)

For two consecutive seasons, Tampa Bay has ranked top-four in total fantasy points scored by tight ends. That hasn’t translated as strongly with the individual players, however, as O.J. Howard and Brate typically operated in a committee. Now, Howard is out and Brate is clearly one of the top values of the slate. Brate has run a route on only 38% of Tampa Bay’s dropbacks this year, while that number sits at 61% for Howard. I think at the very least Brate will slide into Howard’s role, but will probably see an even larger share of the snaps and routes. In addition to better volume with less competition, Brate also gets an efficiency boost with Jameis Winston back under center. Since entering the league, Winston ranks second-best in passer rating when targeting tight ends (118.4) and leads the NFL in percentage of touchdowns thrown to tight ends (40.3%).

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