Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy football: Risers and fallers heading into the fantasy playoffs

2T7FF1X San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs a route during a NFL football game, Sunday, November 12, 2023 in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

Zack Moss isn’t producing: Moss has struggled since Jonathan Taylor has been out and shouldn’t be considered a locked-in starter.

Evan Engram is hitting his stride: The Jaguars tight end had a career day in Week 14 and should continue to feature heavily.

• Delightfully Deebo Samuel: Samuel is roaring up rankings after an incredible three-week stretch.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

FALLER: WR Amari Cooper, Cleveland Browns

After three straight weeks of scoring less than 8.0 fantasy points, Amari Cooper rebounded with a better showing in the 31-27 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14. The veteran caught seven of his 14 targets for 77 yards but lost a fumble in the second quarter that led to a Jaguars touchdown. It was Cooper’s best fantasy performance since Week 10, as he finished with 11.70 fantasy points, but how does it leave us feeling moving forward?

Not great. But some of that discontent is justly directed elsewhere. The Browns' schedule over the next few weeks is pretty unforgiving. They take on the resurgent Chicago Bears defense, the Houston Texans and the stout New York Jets defense. That’s not an easy run. In fact, it’s the ninth-toughest schedule for wide receivers, according to PFF’s strength of schedule metric.

There’s also quarterback Joe Flacco. The longtime NFL signal-caller has stepped in nicely for the Browns as the starter for the last two weeks, but it’s difficult to envision that keeping up, especially with that slate of defenses coming up. The result is Cooper falling down the rankings.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings

RISER: RB James Cook, Buffalo Bills

Since Ken Dorsey's departure, the run game has looked like a more pertinent part of the offense, and so has James Cook. There has been a clear emphasis on getting the ball into the hands of the dynamic running back.

Since Week 11, Cook has averaged 20.1 fantasy points per game and rushed for 174 yards. What’s been crucial to his uptick in fantasy scoring has been how he’s been used in the passing game. In the last three games, Cook has 14 receptions for 169 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

Touchdowns, in general, have been missing from Cook’s game — he has just one rushing touchdown on the season, all the way back in Week 4 — and that’s capped his ceiling, but if Cook can be a big part of the Bills passing game and score receiving touchdowns, then he could be a big player for fantasy managers in the playoffs.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings

FALLER: TE Jonnu Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Between Week 2 and Week 9, Jonnu Smith averaged a healthy 10.65 fantasy points per game. He was a constant figure in a struggling Falcons offense, earning a red-zone carry and more consistent targets than fellow tight end Kyle Pitts. It was weird, unexpected and a nightmare for every Pitts owner.

Smith was boosted by a few top-five scoring weeks at the tight end position, but he was startable across most formats if you were streaming tight ends.

Smith's contributions have been non-existent since the Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He’s averaged 2.7 fantasy points per game and has played over 50% of the offensive snaps just once, in Week 14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In contrast, Pitts has averaged 8.5 fantasy points per contest and played over 60% of the offensive snaps in three of four games. It’s easy to see the two ships passing in the night.

Pitts’ solid Week 14 performance — a 14.70-point effort — has been the culmination of Smith slowly losing his footing to the talented tight end. Smith is now the TE30 in PFF’s Week 15 rankings and isn’t worth a start in any format.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings

RISER: TE Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars

Evan Engram is naturally rising as we head into the fantasy football playoffs, courtesy of a career day against the Cleveland Browns in the Week 14 loss.

The 29-year-old tight end scored 32.5 fantasy points and caught 11-of-12 targets for 95 yards and two touchdowns as the Jaguars tried to force their way back into the game. Now, after going all season without a receiving touchdown, Engram has scored three in his last two games.

His influence in the offense over the next few weeks shouldn’t dissipate either, even if the Jaguars have the third-toughest remaining schedule for tight ends, with games against the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The fact that Engram did what he did against the Browns — arguably the best defense in the entire NFL — is a hugely positive sign.

With Christian Kirk on IR and Calvin Ridley’s production on a rollercoaster, Engram has the opportunity to be the leading target earner for the Jaguars down the stretch. In the last two weeks alone, he’s earned 21 targets and caught 20 of them while averaging 27.85 fantasy points per contest.

Considering the state of the tight end landscape, Engram can likely be considered a top-five lock for the rest of the season.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings

FALLER: RB Zack Moss, Indianapolis Colts

Despite starting just seven games, Zack Moss is still 12th in rushing yards in 2023. For the first half of the season, Moss was a week-to-week starter with Jonathan Taylor on the sideline. Even over the first month with Taylor back in the lineup, Moss averaged 18.25 fantasy points per game and was a top-10 running back in scoring. But as the weeks progressed and Taylor got healthier, his role in the offense dwindled.

However, with Taylor ruled out for a few weeks after the 27-20 win against the Buccaneers in Week 12, Moss had the chance to step back in as the starter and do more damage for fantasy managers. But it hasn’t materialized. In the last two weeks, Moss has averaged 2.4 yards per carry and 8.65 fantasy points per game. The volume is impressive, but Moss just hasn’t been able to produce like he did earlier in the season.

With Taylor on the brink of returning and Moss failing to capitalize on his opportunity, Taylor likely gets near-exclusivity with the workload. Moss likely gets one more crack as the starter against the Steelers in Week 15, but he’s not someone you can trust heading into the fantasy playoffs.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings

RISER: WR Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers

Deebo Samuel has always been a tantalizing fantasy prospect. He was the WR3 in PPR leagues in 2021, taking the league by storm with his hybrid workload, acting as a wideback and earning carries and receptions. He fell short of expectations in 2022 due to injuries and, in part, to the 49ers trading for Christian McCaffrey. But he’s bounced back in 2023 and is currently the WR16 and rising fast.

In the last three weeks, Samuel has flashed all his potential, catching 18 passes for 344 yards and three receiving touchdowns. On top of that, he’s added rushing touchdowns in three straight games. Samuel is averaging 30.7 fantasy points per game in his last three games. He’s playing on a different level.

Predictably, so much of what Samuel does comes after the catch, and there might not be a better YAC receiver in the league. He leads the NFL in yards after the catch per reception with 10.1 yards, and only four receivers have more yards after the catch this season.

Samuel might not have the lofty catch numbers of the game's elite receivers — he’s 44th in receptions among all wide receivers — but his ability to create with the ball in his hands makes him a top-10 fantasy receiver the rest of the way, especially in the 49ers offense.

Click here for PFF's Week 15 fantasy football rankings



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