Early waiver wire targets and biggest risers/fallers in fantasy football following NFL Week 15

Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back Craig Reynolds (46) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There are still four games left on the 2021 NFL Week 15 slate, but many fantasy football managers will now be turning their gaze to Week 16 in their attempt to take home the championship.

It’s important not to overreact to individual stat lines. For example, some players scored two touchdowns this week yet probably won’t do that again this season, while other players saw the field for most of their team's snaps but couldn't quite make it to the end zone.

Remember: chase the usage, not the box score.

Here are some early waiver wire targets, as well as the biggest risers and fallers from NFL Week 15. For a more detailed 32-team view of the week, including snap counts, check out the Complete Week 15 Fantasy Football Recap.

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Waiver Wire Targets

RB Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fournette suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter and was very quickly ruled out for the rest of the game. Ronald Jones took over as the early-down back, while Ke’Shawn Vaughn served as the third-down back. This will likely be how the Buccaneers use their backs if Fournette misses any time.

Jones is a quality waiver wire option, and he should dominate carries. He can go straight into fantasy starting lineups for both Week 16 and 17. Tampa Bay plays the Panthers and Jets over the last two weeks, which should be favorable games scripts even with all of the injuries.

RB Craig Reynolds, Detroit Lions: The Lions were once again without running backs D’Andre Swift (shoulder) and Jamaal Williams (COVID-19), leaving Reynolds as the lead back for the second straight week. The game script fell in the Lions' favor this week, which gave Reynolds plenty of work on the ground, and he gained 112 yards on 26 carries.

There is no guarantee that Swift or Williams will be back next week. And with how well Reynolds is playing, they should be in no rush.

Detroit Lions Snaps Routes Run Targets Carries
Craig Reynolds 42 12 1 26
Godwin Igwebuike 12 8 2 2
Jermar Jefferson 6 1 0 5
Total 65 28 25 34

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions: The Lions' rookie wide receiver has been on fire in recent weeks — his 26 receptions since the start of Week 13 is third-most among all players in that span. He’s achieved this with a combination of a 30% target share and solid play.

St. Brown hauled in eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals in Week 15. He not only is a waiver wire target but can go straight into starting lineups — Detroit has one of the most favorable schedules for wide receivers over the last two weeks, with games against the Falcons and Seahawks.

WR Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills: Emmanuel Sanders suffered a knee injury a week ago and was ruled out of this game on Friday. Davis took over as the every-snap starter, as expected.

The second-year receiver led the Bills receivers in yards, totaling 85 and two touchdowns on five receptions. So, he’s worth a waiver wire target in case Sanders misses another game. This also helped his chances of winning a starting job in Buffalo in 2022, as two of the Bills' three starters are 32 years of age or older.

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Biggest Risers

RB Duke Johnson Jr., Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins seemed to be in trouble at running back in the middle of the week, but they had both Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed return from the COVID-19 list on Friday. Miami still opted to make Johnson the lead back on rushing plays, and he put together the most impressive game by a Miami back on the ground this season. He gained 107 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding 10 tackles. This is a backfield to avoid the rest of the season.

Phillip Lindsay remained on the COVID-19 list, but he could be back next week. Malcolm Brown is still on injured reserve, but he practiced all week and could also return for Week 16. Miami could have any three of these five backs active in a difficult matchup against the Saints.

This is still a positive for Johnson. His career seemed to be winding down after failing to find a team that he could stick with early in the season. Now, he should have a chance to make a roster in 2022.

Miami Dolphins Snaps Routes Run Targets Carries
Duke Johnson Jr. 41 9 1 22
Myles Gaskin 26 11 0 10
Total 71 31 26 38

RB Jeff Wilson Jr., San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco has consistently used one running back on first and second down and a different back on third down. Typically, it’s been Elijah Mitchell on early downs and Wilson when Mitchell is out, as was the case on Sunday. On third downs, it’s been JaMycal Hasty or Kyle Juszczyk.

Wilson played on both early downs as well as third downs in Week 15. He ran 21 times for 110 yards and a touchdown while catching two passes. This removes any fantasy value Hasty had and means Wilson will likely continue to play more once Mitchell is healthy again.

WR Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons: The fourth-year receiver has been the focal point of the Falcons' passing game in recent weeks. This was his fourth straight game with at least 60 receiving yards, as he ended up with eight catches for 91 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.  It was also his second time with double-digit targets in the past three weeks. Atlanta has one of the easiest schedules remaining for wide receivers.

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Biggest Fallers

RB Devonta Freeman, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens running back had consistently been handling double-digit carries and a clear majority of offensive snaps. This week, we saw a backfield similar to early in the season, where two backs would be very close to one another in carries and routes run.

Freeman had the lead in routes run but took fewer carries and was less effective on his runs. He gained 22 yards on six carries and caught one pass for two yards. The Ravens have two difficult opponents remaining on the schedule, so Freeman might not have the opportunity to reach double-digit carries again this fantasy season.

WR Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers: Claypool played at least 80% of offensive snaps back in October and November. However, his playing time has started to decline to around 60% each of the past three weeks.

The second-year pass-catcher recently made headlines for celebrating while the clock was running late last week, as well as for suggesting the Steelers need to have more fun at practice. This may have also contributed to his dip in playing time.

Claypool didn’t catch either of his targets yesterday and played on only three of 16 snaps in the fourth quarter. James Washington played when Claypool was off the field. At this point, it would be hard to trust him unless head coach Mike Tomlin suggests he will go back to 80%-plus of snaps.

Pittsburgh Steelers Snaps Routes Run Targets Carries
Diontae Johnson 48 28 5 1
Ray-Ray McCloud III 33 22 2 0
Chase Claypool 31 17 2 1
James Washington 17 11 5 0
Total 49 28 24 17

WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys wide receivers have dealt with injuries or COVID issues all season. This was the second straight game Dallas had all three receivers healthy for the entire game.

Dallas’ strategy around Lamb has reverted to how it was in 2020, as he was a clear third in offensive snaps for the second straight game. Lamb had played significantly on the outside for most of the season, but he’s also shifted to playing almost exclusively in the slot. This is all similar to what Dallas did at wide receiver last season. He was a clear leader in targets but only gained 50 yards. He is still a must-start wide receiver each week, but this will limit his upside.


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