News & Analysis

Jahnke: Divisional Round Fantasy Football Rankings

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs for a touchdown during the Tennessee Titans game against the Baltimore Ravens in Nashville on January 10, 2021. Titans Ravens 111

Each week, PFF's fantasy football analysts post our rankings in PPR, non- PPR and 0.5 PPR formats for the league's offensive skill positions. Jon Macri and I then add our IDP rankings, making the PFF rankings pages the go-to resource for all your fantasy football decisions.

According to FantasyPros, my rankings finished as the second-most accurate among 150 analysts in the 2020 season. They came in second-best at running back and top-10 at wide receiver and tight end. Last year, my rankings finished third-highest and nabbed the top spot at running back.

Of course, our rankings are in a constant state of flux, with changes being made due to injury reports and personnel/usage updates, among other factors. But regardless of any changes that may occur between now and Saturday, here are eight borderline fantasy starters whose rankings I feel confident about heading into the divisional round of the playoffs. These rankings are based on PPR scoring settings within their positions as of Wednesday morning.

BIG-GAME POTENTIAL

1. QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Half of the teams in the playoffs have been top-10 at preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks. Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are among the quarterbacks with more favorable matchups, and both have averaged more fantasy points per game than the other two starters. Jackson may have the lower salary at $7,600, but he should put up the best performance of the week.

Jackson scored the most fantasy points over the final quarter of the season (113.7) and his average fantasy points per dropback of 1.10 was by far the highest. He should be able to take advantage of a Bills defense that has allowed seven rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks — tied for third-most. They are in the top half of the league in yards allowed to quarterbacks on the ground despite being in the bottom half in rushing attempts by quarterbacks against them. The game script will likely lead to Jackson keeping the ball in his hands late in the game, where Mahomes might be handing off late. This adds up to Jackson putting up better numbers for the week.

4. RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

Akers is an obvious player to like this week thanks to his usage, his opponent and the state of running backs remaining in the playoffs.

Akers is averaging 22.8 carries per game over the last five weeks. That rate isn’t sustainable in the long run, but the Rams will need him with their quarterback injuries. He had some trouble in two of those games against the Cardinals, but he’s been effective otherwise. 

The Packers have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs this season. The matchup isn’t as good as that sounds — much of the damage done against Green Bay was by receiving backs, and Akers has only one game with more than two catches. The Packers allowed 11 touchdowns to running backs on the ground in the first half of the season, compared to three in the second half. Still, this is a better matchup than other RBs have this week. A number of the remaining teams are utilizing committees, and others have banged-up RBs. This leaves Akers with one of the highest floors for the week and the opportunity to have a high ceiling as well.

4. WR Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brown’s target share has been very inconsistent throughout his time with the Buccaneers, but he’s consistently finding the end zone recently. He has scored five times in the last four games while the Buccaneers pass offense has been near-unstoppable.

The Saints pass defense has been relatively average on the season. Fourteen different wide receivers have amassed at least 80 receiving yards in a game against them. Giving up this type of yardage in the regular season is a bad sign against playoff teams. All three Tampa Bay wide receivers should be able to take advantage.

Also in Brown's favor is the fact that New Orleans consistently uses Marshon Lattimore to shadow Mike Evans. Evans has been anywhere from average to invisible in past matchups when this has happened. This should allow Brown to take advantage of other matchups.

3. TE Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns

Hooper is peaking with the Browns at just the right time. He has averaged 9.3 targets per game over the last four weeks compared to 4.4 the rest of the season. He’s caught four touchdowns in the last six games compared to one in his first eight.

On top of that, he is playing the second-worst defense remaining in the playoffs against tight ends. The only defense that has allowed more fantasy points to tight ends than the Chiefs is the Browns. Most other tight ends in the playoffs have more difficult matchups and haven’t been as involved in their offenses as much recently. This moves Hooper near the top of the tight end rankings.

BUST POTENTIAL

Jan 3, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter at Bills Stadium. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
4. QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Allen should have a good game, but the matchup isn't as promising as some of the other QBs. The Baltimore Ravens have done a great job at limiting quarterbacks this season. The only quarterback to throw for three or more touchdowns against them was Patrick Mahomes at his best in Week 3. Only one quarterback has reached 300 yards against them since Week 5, and the last two they've faced managed a combined 213 yards.

Allen is still preferable to half of the quarterbacks playing this weekend, but he still ranks a little lower than usual due to the matchup.

10. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs running back situation should be largely avoided. Signs point to Edwards-Helaire returning to the lineup after missing the last two games of the regular season with a high-ankle sprain. Even if Edwards-Helaire was 100% healthy, his upside would be limited. He has scored a touchdown in just four of 13 games this season and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry since the start of November. He's only put up 42 rushing yards per game in that time.

Edwards-Helaire probably won’t be 100%, which could lead to a reduced role compared to other recent games. The Browns allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season, which also hurts his upside.

If CEH can’t play, the remaining running backs would still be risky. Le’Veon Bell seemed like he would be the early-down back at the start of Week 16, but a knee injury limited his role over the rest of the game and could still bother him in the divisional round. Darrel Williams role as the third-down back is secure, but he may or may not get some early-down work. Darwin Thompson scored two touchdowns and gained 110 offensive yards in the meaningless Week 17 game, so even he could mix into the backfield. The combination of the matchup and unpredictability of the backfield makes it a unit to avoid.

7. WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Thomas put up a pretty good game against a strong Bears defense in the Super Wild Card round with five catches on seven targets and his first touchdown of the season. This week's matchup against the Buccaneers is favorable for the Saints pass game. There are two reasons Thomas shouldn’t be considered among the elite fantasy receivers of the week: his target share and the fact that Tampa Bay has generally funneled receiving production to lesser WRs. 

Thomas averaged 7.9 targets per game during the games he’s played, which was the lowest rate of his career. The Saints seem happy to spread the ball around, allowing other receivers to get involved. Both Deonte Harris and Jared Cook tied the team lead in targets last week. In recent weeks the Buccaneers have been able to shut down top receivers while players like Cam Sims and Russell Gage have produced. Thomas should put up respectable numbers, but they won’t be the best among wide receivers this week and might not be the best numbers on his team. 

4. TE Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

Tonyan has been a touchdown-scoring machine this season but hasn’t done much more than that recently. He has scored a touchdown in six of his last seven games. The problem is that he’s had 18 yards or fewer receiving yards in each of his last three. He hasn’t seen more than five targets in a game since Week 8.

Tonyan's low target share makes him risky, and the matchup is even more of a problem. The Rams have allowed 11.6 fantasy points per game to tight ends — the ninth-lowest mark in the league — and have improved as the season has progressed. They’ve held tight ends scoreless in 13 of 17 games on the year and haven’t allowed more than 61 yards to a team’s tight end group in their last 10 games. Tonyan still ranks relatively high due to the limited TE options, but if he doesn’t score a touchdown you’re left with very little production based on recent history. 

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