Fantasy News & Analysis

Erickson: Week 12 fantasy football rankings overview

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) hands the ball off to Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s preview of the Week 12 NFL slate, I'm highlighting key insights for all the remaining games this weekend. My analysis on the first set of games is featured in PFF’s huge NFL Week 12 Preview

I'll identify sleepers, busts, DFS picks and waiver-wire options with consideration for injuries and other fantasy-relevant news and notes. It’s a behind the curtains look into my Week 12 fantasy rankings.

Carolina Panthers @ Minnesota Vikings

It’s a revenge game for Teddy Bridgewater, who I expect to suit up after being extremely close to playing last week. Teddy B should be firmly in lineups because of the Minnesota Vikings’ severe lack of pass rush. 

They rank 32nd in pressure rate this season (21.9%), and Bridgewater has thrown all 13 of his touchdowns from a clean pocket. The Vikings have also allowed 19 passing touchdowns from a clean pocket, which ranks second-most in the NFL. 

Mike Davis is likely to resume his role as the pseudo RB1 for the Panthers based on his 73% snap share and unparalleled workload in Week 11. The Vikings’ defense has allowed the eighth-most receptions and 5.1 yards per carry to opposing running backs the past four weeks.

It’s also wheel’s up for all the Carolina WRs, so have confidence in starting them all. D.J. Moore is a low-end WR1 in my rankings this week in this absolute eruption spot. 

Over the past two weeks, he leads the team in targets (16), receiving yards (223) and PFF receiving grade (81.8).

The Panthers’ wideout has the most end-zone targets (eight) in the league without having any of them caught. Because we know Moore is skilled — 74.9 PFF receiving grade, same as Chase Claypool — this isn’t a scenario like A.J. Green where regression isn’t coming because the player isn’t playing well.

Positive touchdown regression is coming for Moore, and the Minnesota Vikings are the perfect spot for him to erupt. Minnesota has faced the sixth-most end-zone targets to WRs this season.

Adam Thielen’s availability is up in the air for Sunday’s contest after he was placed on the Covid/reserve list earlier this week. If he can’t go, that would make Justin Jefferson set up to dominate the Panthers, who rank 28th in explosive pass play percentage allowed (24%) over the past four weeks. 

Jefferson ranks second in the NFL (22) in catches of 15 yards or more. Thielen’s absence would also create an opportunity for the tight ends to get more involved in the offense. The Panthers have allowed the second-most fantasy points to tight ends over the past four weeks.

Irv Smith Jr. is still the preferred option over Kyle Rudolph because he runs more routes and spends less time blocking than the established veteran. Smith already has three games this year with double-digit fantasy points. 

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts

Philip Rivers has been low-key balling out over his past five games. He has surpassed 20 fantasy points in four of those outings, with his one blemish being a predictably bad game versus the Baltimore Ravens

In Week 12, Rivers draws a rematch with the Tennessee Titans, who he threw all over (308 passing yards) when the teams faced off in Week 10. 

This bodes well for Michael Pittman Jr., who has posted back-to-back productive fantasy outings with one against the Titans: eight targets, seven catches and 101 receiving yards. The Titans have faced the second-most WR targets over the past four weeks, so I fully expect his three targets to increase from last week. 

Jonathan Taylor had his way with the Green Bay Packers’ run defense in Week 11 when the team finally started to feed him the rock. He rushed 12 times for 64 yards (5.3 yards per attempt) in the second half alone after rushing seven times for 18 yards in the first half. 

He and Nyheim Hines split snaps 50/50 to start the game, but Taylor out-snapped Hines 22 to 13 in the second half.

JT has hardly become the clear-cut RB1 in this offense, but in plus-matchups he still is worth starting should the team decide to feed him. The Titans present that exact scenario, as they have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks and the fourth-most running plays of 10-plus yards.

The rookie has also seemingly played much better at home in the dome. He has averaged 15.4 fantasy points per game at home versus 10.0 on the road this season. 

I was concerned about Derrick Henry without Roger Saffold in the lineup, but the sheer volume and some extra minutes in overtime vaulted the NFL’s reigning rushing champion to fantasy stardom in Week 11. It helped that the Ravens were without top defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell

That won’t be the case with the Indianapolis Colts, who have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs and have PFF’s eight-graded run defense. In Week 10, Henry finished as the RB22 on the week. 

However, he will fly up my running back rankings should the Colts be without DeForest Buckner, PFF’s fifth-highest graded interior defensive linemen. He was placed on the Covid/reserve list this week.

Corey Davis is having the least talked about fourth-year breakout season. The former top-five pick is averaging 14 PPR fantasy points per game — his only blemish this season was a goose egg back in Week 9. If that game is removed, Davis’ average rises to 16 fantasy points per game — equivalent to A.J. Brown’s output this season.

Jonnu Smith has been living off touchdowns in recent weeks, and the bubble is going to pop sooner rather than later. He has three touchdowns in the past three games despite a combined 67 yards from scrimmage.

To make matters worse, backup Anthony Firkser is being used more as a receiving tight end. Smith only ran two more routes than Firkser (21 versus 19) in Week 11 but spent his other 22 snaps blocking. Firsker blocked on just seven of his 26 snaps. 

We also saw the emergence of a third TE in the offense last Sunday in Geoff Swaim. He played 67% of the team’s snaps and more snaps inside the 10-yard line than Smith or Firsker. 

A three-headed tight end committee is the last thing fantasy managers need to deal with especially in arguably the most difficult matchup for tight ends. The Colts have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to the tight end position this season. 

Cleveland Browns @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Mike Glennon will be the Jacksonville JaguarsQB1 come Sunday. This passing game has been unreliable since Gardner Minshew was hurt, so adding Glennon to the mix isn’t going to affect how I view the Jags’ pass-catchers.

D.J. Chark Jr. averaged eight targets per game with Jake Luton under center but finished outside the top-36 WRs in two of his three games. Thirty-three percent of Chark’s targets were of the 20-plus variety, so at least fantasy managers could pray D.J. could come down with a deep ball.

With Glennon under center, this likelihood diminishes greatly. The last time we saw Glennon was in 2017 with the Chicago Bears, and his deep ball rate was at 7%. That would rank him near the bottom of the league in 2020. Luton’s deep ball rate (13.6%) was almost double that.

Glennon’s most popular targets were running back Tarik Cohen (16%) and tight end Zach Miller (15%). The Jags’ tight ends are a no-go, so that leaves James Robinson as the player who might see a boost in fantasy production from the QB switch. If the offense as a whole improves and scoring opportunities come more often, that will also help Robinson.

In DFS, Tyler Eifert could be a solid punt play because Glennon showed an affinity to target the tight end position and the Browns have allowed the most fantasy points to TEs over the past four weeks. 

The Browns’ passing game has taken a back seat over the past four weeks. They have called run plays at the league’s highest rate (55%), which is even higher than their league-leading run rate through the beginning of the season (47%). 

Nov 15, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) breaks a tackle from Houston Texans linebacker Tyrell Adams (50) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland will no doubt continue to lean on the run game, but they might pull back on ground attack ever so slightly versus Jacksonville. Over the past four weeks, the Jags rank 26th in yards per pass attempt (7.6) and have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. 

The uptick in passing will get Jarvis Landry back into starting lineups as a WR3 and moves Austin Hooper firmly into the TE1 conversation. The Jags rank 28th in yards per target (8.7) and 32nd in touchdown percentage to tight ends this season. 

Baker Mayfield missed a wide-open Hooper in the end zone last week. This matchup makes Mayfield a viable quarterback streamer because Jacksonville will be without its best cornerback Sidney Jones and best pass-rusher Josh Allen

New Orleans Saints @ Denver Broncos

Alvin Kamara finished with zero catches for the first time in his career in Taysom Hill’s first start as the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback. This is the perfect example of a mobile quarterback limiting a running back’s upside — instead of checking the ball down, the QB just runs instead.

Kamara obviously can't be sat, but the days of him seeing six-plus targets weekly are probably over as long as Hill remains under center. The Saints’ running back will have to make up for the loss of receiving work on the ground, which he should be able to do versus an exploitable Denver Broncos run defense. 

Over the past four weeks, they have allowed the second-most fantasy points and second-most rushing yards (4.5 yards per attempt) to the running back position. 

Let’s also keep in mind that Hill isn’t “anti” throw the ball to running backs. Latavius Murray had two catches for 36 yards and saw his highest carry total (12) since Week 4. Murray offers interesting low-end RB3 appeal in a good matchup for fantasy teams desperate for running backs. 

Michael Thomas got back on track last week with his first 100-yard game of the season on 12 targets. Fantasy managers should continue to trust Thomas as a borderline WR1 against Denver, which is dealing with injuries in the secondary. Cornerback Bryce Callahan has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per route covered this season but is dealing with a foot injury. 

Per PFF’s expected fantasy points model, Thomas leads all WRs over the past two weeks in negative point differential — that’s usually a tell-tale sign that positive regression is approaching. 

Todd Gurley II was listed as a “sit” last week because I hated the matchup against the New Orleans Saints, who own PFF’s second-highest graded run defense this season (78.9). Running backs that face them fall into touchdown-or-bust territory, and it tends to usually be bust. The Saints have allowed just three rushing touchdowns to RBs this season — the lowest in the league. 

In games that Gordon has not scored, he has averaged an RB42 weekly finish. 

Gordon’s role as a pass-catcher has also dwindled in the last three weeks. He has just three targets and one catch over that time. Without receiving usage it's going to be difficult for Gordon to provide fantasy value while he continues to operate in a 50/50 committee split with Phillip Lindsay

Jerry Jeudy ranks fourth among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points scored under expectation (-10.6) over the past two weeks. The last time he underperformed versus expectations during two weeks — Weeks 7 and 8 — he exploded in Week 9 to the tune of 125 receiving yards and seven receptions. Even with the Saints’ defense recently improving, they have allowed the fourth-most receptions, third-most targets and fifth-most receiving yards to WRs. 

Rookie K.J. Hamler had logged back to back weeks with 10 targets and a 75% snap share, but those numbers came crashing down in Week 11 as the team shifted its personnel grouping to two-tight end sets.  

Denver ran 12 personnel on almost half of its offensive plays (48%) — considerably higher than the rate at which it used that grouping the first 10 weeks of the season (18%). 

This was probably due in part to the team looking to protect quarterback Drew Lock, who played after being on the injury report all week. I would presume that this trend continues versus the Saints, who rank second in the NFL in pressure rate (41%). 

More two tight-end sets bode well for Noah Fant, who led the team in routes run in Week 11. 

Fant scored his only two touchdowns of the season and has averaged 2.04 yards per route run, the fourth-highest mark among tight ends from 12 personnel.

San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams

Deebo Samuel is expected to make his return to the lineup in Week 12 and could be in line for a heavy workload if Brandon Aiyuk does not come off the Covid/reserve list. The matchup versus the Rams’ strong defensive backs does not concern me based on the way the team uses Samuel.

When these teams last played, Samuel had his best game of the season with 18 fantasy points. That’s because the majority of his targets were behind the line of scrimmage (-5.0 ADOT) and that allowed him to do damage as a YAC wide receiver.

Over 50% of Samuel’s targets have come from the slot, and the Los Angeles Rams rank dead last in yards after the catch per reception allowed to slot WRs (6.0). 

The 49ers’ second-year WR leads the NFL in YAC/reception (13.3) — almost five yards higher than the second-ranked player (Jalen Guyton, 8.4). 

Oct 11, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson Jr. (27) carries the ball as Washington Football Team safety Kamren Curl (31) defends in the first quarter at FedExField. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams’ backfield has become a dreaded three-man committee between Darrell Henderson Jr., Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown. But Henderson still led the backfield in snaps, routes run, targets and carries in Week 11, so I’d be willing to go back to him versus the 49ers, who have allowed third-most fantasy points per game to RBs over the past four weeks.

Henderson leads the Rams in carries inside the 10-yard line the past five weeks. He also rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries the last time these teams faced off. That’s the most rushing yardage the 49ers have allowed to running backs this season. Just keep in mind that he is nothing more than an RB3 without stud tackle Andrew Whitworth blocking along the OL.

The Rams averaged just -0.3 rushing yards before contact last week without Whitworth. The 49ers rank seventh in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed before contact (1.2). 

Of the Rams wide receivers, Cooper Kupp is ranked the highest because of his plus-matchup out of the slot. The 49ers have been without nickel cornerback K'Waun Williams for several weeks. Without him, they rank 27th in explosive pass play percentage (22.2%) allowed and 30th in touchdown percentage allowed (11.1%) to slot WRs.

Richard Sherman is expected to make his return to the lineup, which should hinder Robert Woods’ prospects operating on the outside. Woods was able to haul in his lone end-zone target last week, but he still trails Josh Reynolds in that category this season. He has also seen just four targets all year of 20 yards or more. Reynolds has seen 13, which is more than Woods and Kupp  combined. 

The 49ers have allowed the fifth-highest completion percentage (50%) and the second-most receiving touchdowns on deep-ball passes this season. That includes a 40-yard touchdown to Reynolds backs in Week 6. 

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed the eighth-fewest rushing yards to running backs over the past four weeks, which subjects Clyde Edwards-Helaire to mid-range RB2 status. His usage last week was extremely encouraging (51% snaps, 14 carries, 2 targets), but keep in mind the team is still using Darrell Williams on third down. He out-snapped CEH in Week 11 on third down and ultimately finished with one more target than the rookie. 

The team also is still getting Le’Veon Bell in the mix (26%, 7 carries, 1 target), which further hurts CEH’s bottom-line.

If Tampa Bay is chasing points in this game, the fantasy points are sure to come from the trio of Buccaneers wide receivers. Since Antonio Brown joined the team, he and Mike Evans each have seen 26 targets, with Chris Godwin third at 22 targets. 

Last week Brown led the way with 13 targets — that’s why he is my highest-ranked Bucs’ wideout in this game. The team is moving him around the formation and he saw a season-high three targets from the slot in Week 11.

He also leads the TB in deep targets (five) since joining the team. Kansas City has been attacked all season by the deep ball — no team has faced a higher deep pass attempt percentage (14.8%) than the Chiefs this season.

Tom Brady is 0-for-11 on deep throws to WRs since Week 9, so I would expect some positive regression coming for some of his downfield throws. I have Evans right behind Brown because he also sees a decent amount of vertical looks. 

Chris Godwin comes in last and is a borderline “sit” for me, as the Chiefs have allowed the second-fewest completions and only two touchdowns to the slot this season.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers

It's never exciting to play somebody like David Montgomery, but the matchup is too good to pass up this week. Green Bay has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the running back position over the past four weeks.

The second-year running back is the undisputed bell cow in his backfield, but be aware that his pass-game usage might dip with Mitchell Trubisky under center. Montgomery saw only five targets in two and a half games with Trubisky to start the season. 

I understand that Jaire Alexander might force fantasy managers to shy away from Allen Robinson, but that didn’t stop him last year from going over 100 yards in both games versus Green Bay. 

Robinson’s target share was also over 30% with Trubisky at the helm earlier this year and fell to 24% with Nick Foles as the team’s signal-caller. His yards per route run (2.10) was also better with Trubisky than with Foles (1.91). 

Green Bay has only allowed three touchdowns all season to the tight end position, making Jimmy Graham an extremely thin plan. In single-game DFS format, it’s probably better to save salary and go after rookie tight end Cole Kmet, who played ahead of Graham in the team’s last game. 

This isn’t the spot to go after the likes of Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling with the Bears allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to WRs over the past four weeks. But a player fantasy managers can turn to is “Big Bob” Robert Tonyan, who finds himself in a plus-matchup.

Chicago has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to the tight end position over the past four weeks and has faced the fifth-most targets inside the 10-yard line to TEs. All six of Tonyan’s TDs this season have come on targets inside the 10-yard line. 

Jamaal Williams is also an interesting DFS target because he played more in the red zone than Jones in Week 11. Jones was out-snapped six to one when the team was inside the 20. 

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles

I listed Carson Wentz as a sit this week, but that doesn’t mean his pass-catchers can’t deliver. Even with an improved pass-rush, Seattle has allowed seventh-most receiving yards and fourth-most receptions to WRs, warranting both Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham as low-end WR3s this week. 

The rookie is tied for the team-lead in targets (19) over the past three games, so his breakout game is looming. He also leads the team in end-zone targets — he is the Eagles’ wide receiver to bet on to score in this spot. 

October 4, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders (26) during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Miles Sanders might have trouble getting going on the ground in this spot versus PFF’s No. 4-ranked run defense, but he should be able to satisfy fantasy managers as a receiver. Seattle has allowed the fourth-most receptions to running backs this season.

Chris Carson looks full-go to return to the lineup this week. The way the team treated Carlos Hyde upon his return from injury — 69% snaps, 14 carries, three targets — makes me think it will put Carson back into a workhorse role. 

As of Thursday, he is still practicing in a limited capacity, but unless we hear anything about a setback or limited role, start him with confidence as a high-end RB2 this week. Per PFF’s OL/DL matchup chart, the Seahawks have the fourth-best advantage in the trenches when rushing this week. 

There’s a chance Seattle tries to be more balanced on offense in light of Russell Wilson’s recent struggles. In the Seahawks' last game, they ran the ball on 39% of their plays — that was the team's highest run rate since Week 4 when Carson rushed for a season-high 80 yards. 

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