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Fantasy Football: Top smash plays, upgrades and fades for Week 17

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones (27) scores a touchdown in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Week 16 of the NFL season is here, and so is the weekly look at the top smash, upgrade and fade plays for fantasy football. I'll integrate NFL totals, spreads, implied points and proprietary PFF matchup data each week, looking for players who score highly or poorly across all metrics.

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We will also look at the projected DFS rostership for additional context for building tournament lineups.

KEY:

  • SOS: PFF's Fantasy Strength of Schedule (SoS) metric provides a league-wide, season-long view of opponent matchups for each fantasy position.
  • OL Pass Block Advantage (OL PBA): offensive-line pass blocking matchup; derived from the OL/DL Matchup tool (pass blocking advantage — the higher the percentage, the better the matchup for the offensive line, and vice versa).
  • OL Run Block Advantage (OL RBA): offensive-line pass blocking matchup; derived from the OL/DL Matchup tool (run blocking advantage — the higher the percentage, the better the matchup for the offensive line, and vice versa).
  • WR/CB Matchup Advantage (WR/CB MU): wide receiver versus cornerback matchup; derived from the WR/CB Matchup tool (matchup advantage grade — the higher the grade, the better the matchup for the receiver, and vice versa).
  • TE Matchup Advantage (TE MU): tight end versus linebackers and safeties; derived from the TE Matchup tool (matchup advantage — the higher the percentage, the better the matchup for the tight end, and vice versa).
  • Projected PPR Points (PPR Proj)

QUARTERBACKS

For quarterbacks, we are looking for big point totals and implied points. The spread doesn't matter as much for pass-heavy teams, but we are looking for trailing scripts that could cause run-heavy offenses to throw more than usual.

Smashes
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points QB SOS OL PBA PPR
Tom Brady @NYJ 45.5 -13.0 29.25 10.0 53 24.2

Brady ranks outside my top two tiers due to receiver injuries and the Buccaneers' willingness to run the ball when ahead last week. However, the matchup against the Jets is pure, and for the season Tampa drops back to pass 10% more than the NFL average when leading by 4 or more points. New York has allowed 22.2 points per game since Week 8.

  • Scoring Environment: fourth-highest game total and No. 1 implied points
  • Matchup: top-rated QB SOS and best OL PBA

Upgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points QB SOS OL PBA PPR
Josh Allen ATL 44.0 -14.5 29.25 6.2 34 24.3
Matthew Stafford @BLT 46.5 -3.5 25.00 6.5 1 19.1
Trey Lance HST 44.0 -12.5 28.25 7.5 20 18.4

Allen's designed rushing attempts surged back over 35% in Week 16 after working through a foot sprain the week before. Buffalo is a significant favorite, but Allen's legs and the Bills' commitment to throwing even when ahead (fifth-most) position the superstar quarterback to capitalize on a juicy rushing and passing matchup against the Falcons.

Keep an eye on the weather for this matchup — currently, it looks like some snow is possible, but the wind shouldn't be a factor.

Allen currently projects for 20% rostership on DraftKings. The Bills' willingness to continue passing when ahead means a bring-back isn't a must in Week 17, and it allows the opportunity to roster Allen and differentiate from the field.

Stafford and the Rams face a Ravens defense that allows the most points to fantasy quarterbacks since Week 8 (24.3) and the second-fewest to running backs. The Bengals and Joe Burrow lit up the decimated Baltimore secondary that runs the fourth-most man coverage in the NFL in Week 16.

Cincinnati's offense is rooted in the same principles as the Rams — using 11 personnel, the second-most in the NFL (77%). Los Angeles leads the NFL in 11 personnel looks at 83%.

Stafford's rostership on DraftKings currently projects under 5% in what should be one of the more competitive games on the slate.

Honorable Mention:

Lance could be in line for a start if Jimmy Garoppolo can't play (thumb) on Sunday against the Texans. The rookie quarterback accounted for 44% of San Francisco's designed rushing attempts in Week 5, and Houston provides the second-best RB SOS (9.9).

At $4,800, Lance's rostership will likely skyrocket if confirmed as the starter. However, we could see this come down to a game-time call in the late window of games, creating a low rostership situation similar to Tyler Huntley two weeks ago.

Fades/Downgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points QB SOS OL PBA PPR
Lamar Jackson LA 46.5 3.5 21.50 1.1 -58 1.8
Kirk Cousins @GB 46.5 6.5 20.00 0.0 -36 13.5

Jackson got in a limited practice session on Wednesday but appeared noticeably cautious in his movements. As a result, we may not see the typical Jackson we are used to, and the Rams defense presents a tough matchup.

Cousins draws the toughest QB SOS on the slate, and the Packers will get Jaire Alexander back. The Vikings signal-caller could need to throw often against Green Bay in a potential shootout, so think of this as a downgrade rather than a fade. Cousins is a high-end QB2 for Week 17.

RUNNING BACKS

We are looking for high-scoring games with big implied point totals. In addition, we want close or leading game scripts for backs who do most of their damage on the ground. For passing-down backs, shootout and trailing game scripts can help.

Smashes
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points RB SOS OL RBA PPR Proj
Ronald Jones @NYJ 45.5 -13.0 29.25 10.0 83.0 17.2
Elijah Mitchell HST 44.0 -12.5 28.25 9.9 81.0 13.7
Devin Singletary ATL 44.0 -14.5 29.25 8.3 24.0 15.4

Jones led the Buccaneers backfield with 63% of the rushing attempts in Week 16. He should be in line for a heavy workload against the Jets, who allow a league-leading 32.2 points to backs since Week 8. New York trails by four or more points the second-most (62%) and allow the most regulation rushing attempts per game (29.7). Tampa Bay is heavily favored, and last week they leaned into the running game in a similar script.

Currently, Jones ($6,300) projects at 10% rostership on DraftKings, which is far too low given his upside is a plus-100 yard day with multiple touchdowns in this matchup. The Antonio Brown chalk should protect this outlook from inflating too much.

Mitchell practiced in a limited fashion on Wednesday and is trending in the right direction. The 49ers are the third-most run-oriented team in the NFL, and they draw a whopper of a matchup against the Texans, who allow the second-most regulation rushing attempts per game (28.9).

If Mitchell plays, expect him to be near 100% given how long the Niners have kept him out. His current rostership projection of 8% and $6,000 salary are too low.

Singletary has emerged from a chaotic Buffalo backfield as a near-every-down back over the last three weeks. The veteran back has quietly put together three consecutive top-15 finishes.

Week Snaps Rush Att Routes Targets TPRR SDD Snaps i5 Att LDD Snaps 2MIN Snaps PPR Rank
14 81% 29% 57% 13% 17% 80% 0% 100% 100% 14
15 93% 79% 71% 3% 4% 100% 0% 85% 100% 7
16 68% 44% 65% 15% 18% 63% 67% 88% 0% 10
YTD 57% 42% 49% 9% 14% 37% 31% 50% 67% 26

The third-year back is handling the majority of SDD, LDD and two-minute work. Allen will continue to eat up rushing attempts, and the Bills are a pass-heavy attack, but Singletary's utilization is now strong enough to withstand those challenges. At $5,400 on DraftKings, his price tag has not caught up with his utilization.

The Falcons have allowed the seventh-most points per game to running backs since Week 8 (26), and the veteran back provides another potentially low-rostered back (7%) to consider in DraftKings tournaments.

PFF’s Fantasy Football Rankings include ranks from our experts, projections and our Strength of Schedule metric.
Upgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points RB SOS OL RBA PPR Proj
David Montgomery NYG 37.0 -6.0 21.50 6.8 37.0 13.0
Damien Harris JAX 41.5 -15.5 28.50 9.2 86.0 13.2
Rhamondre Stevenson JAX 41.5 -15.5 28.50 9.2 86.0 7.7

Montgomery hasn't smashed a box score yet, but only a handful of backs dominate early-down and passing-down situations, and Montgomery is one of them.

Week Snaps Rush Att Routes Targets TPRR SDD Snaps i5 Att LDD Snaps 2MIN Snaps PPR Rank
14 84% 67% 74% 22% 22% 0% 100% 86% 90% 16
15 71% 75% 50% 17% 25% 75% 0% 77% 55% 17
16 78% 68% 67% 26% 30% 80% 100% 62% 100% 7

The Bears are 6-point favorites, and they run the ball the eighth-most when leading by four or more points (51%). The Giants allow the seventh-most regulation rushing attempts per game (29.2) since Week 8. New York utilizes zone coverage on 70% of snaps (11th), and Montgomery's TPRR surges to 20% against zone looks.

Montgomery ($6,500) currently projects for 17% rostership on DraftKings.

Harris and Stevenson could easily cancel each other out this weekend, but the matchup against the Jaguars is one of the best on the slate. The Patriots run the ball above the NFL average in all game scripts and are the fifth-heaviest run team overall, providing a chance for both players to come through for fantasy managers.

Stevenson carries the better price tag ($5,300) and lower rostership projection (4%) for DFS purposes.

Fades/Downgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points RB SOS OL RBA PPR Proj
Rex Burkhead @SF 44.0 12.5 15.75 4.3 -16.0 11.5
Devonta Freeman LA 46.5 3.5 21.50 0.0 1.0 7.3

Burkhead exploded in Week 16 but draws a tough matchup against the 49ers, and David Johnson (COVID-19) could return to create a three-way committee.

Freeman faces the toughest RB SOS on the schedule and has lost his grip on an every-down role.

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WIDE RECEIVERS

We are looking for situations similar to our quarterbacks, plus advantageous WR/CB matchups for our wide receivers.

Smashes
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points WR SOS WR/CB MU PPR Proj
Cooper Kupp @BLT 46.5 -3.5 25.00 6.1 96.2 23.1
Davante Adams MIN 46.5 -6.5 26.50 8.2 94.1 20.6
Antonio Brown @NYJ 45.5 -13.0 29.25 10.0 98.1 20.8

Kupp and the Rams get the Ravens secondary that allows the second-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers since Week 8. The Bengals top three receivers carved up this unit for 404 yards and three touchdowns.

The Rams' leading receiver currently projects at 15% rostership on DraftKings at $9,500.

Adams is in a great spot against the Vikings in a game that matters for both teams. The Packers are want to retain the top seed in the NFC, and Minnesota is out if they lose. The Vikings are giving up the most points per game to fantasy receivers since Week 8 (44.7), and Adams is the funnel for the Packers' passing attack.

Week Routes TPRR Targets ADOT Air Yards EZ Tgts 3rd/4th Down Targets PA Targets PPR Rank
14 98% 33% 37% 7.9 38% 50% 36% 23% 1
15 97% 20% 23% 4.9 12% 20% 33% 43% 15
16 100% 38% 38% 7.2 53% 40% 38% 8% 2
YTD 88% 30% 31% 9.8 36% 21% 32% 22% 2

Brown dominated the Buccaneers passing attack in every way possible in Week 16 and is in line for another heavy workload against the Jets. Mike Evans returned to practice on Thursday (COVID-19 and hamstring) but probably won't be 100% even if he suits up.

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The veteran receiver figures to be the chalkiest play on the slate at 34% rostership with a sizzling $6,100 salary.

Upgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points WR SOS WR/CB MU PPR Proj
Amon-Ra St. Brown @SEA 42.5 7.0 17.75 7.3 87.7 13.7
Odell Beckham Jr. @BLT 46.5 -3.5 25.00 6.1 50.3 13.2

St. Brown is one of only 24 receivers to eclipse 30% of targets in four or more games in 2021. Over the last four outings, he has WR6, WR26, WR6 and WR6 finishes.

Beckham is the second-most targeted Rams player against man coverage with a 26% TPRR, and Baltimore runs man coverage the fourth-most in the NFL at 38%. The Ravens have allowed a mouth-watering 41 points per game (second-most) to wide receivers since Week 8.

The veteran receiver currently projects under 5% rostership on DraftKings with a $5,700 salary.

Fades/Downgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points WR SOS WR/CB MU PPR Proj
Diontae Johnson CLV 41.0 3.5 18.75 2.8 48.8 13.9
Terry McLaurin PHI 45.0 3.5 20.75 1.8 58.1 15.3
Russell Gage @BUF 44.0 14.5 14.75 2.0 33.4 11.3
Marvin Jones Jr. @NE 41.5 15.5 13.00 4.1 50.4 10.4

Johnson gets a downgrade thanks to his matchup, but his utilization keeps him in the WR2 range against the Browns in Week 17.

McLaurin has been boom-bust all season but mostly a bust since Week 10 with WR33, WR9, WR43, WR57, WR100, WR53 and WR66 finishes. There is no need to force McLaurin into lineups in a difficult matchup against the Eagles.

Gage has three top-15 finishes in his last five games, but the Bills represent a tough matchup for Gage and the struggling Falcons' attack. As a result, he moves down the ranks for this Week 17 matchup.

You probably don't need me to tell you to fade Jones against the Patriots' defense, but he is on the list just in case.

TIGHT ENDS

We are looking for situations similar to our quarterbacks, plus good linebacker and safety matchups for tight ends.

Smashes
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points TE SOS TE MU PPR Proj
George Kittle HST 44.0 -12.5 28.25 9.9 37.0 12.8
Rob Gronkowski @NYJ 45.5 -13.0 29.25 10.0 68.0 12.3

Kittle disappointed fantasy managers with a TE30 finish in Week 16 after six top-eight performances in the previous seven contests. In Week 17, he draws a near-perfect matchup against the Texans.

Gronkowski continues to see elite route participation, but the targets have fallen off over the last two games.

Week Routes TPRR Targets ADOT Air Yards EZ Tgts 3rd/4th Down Targets PA Targets PPR Rank
14 82% 22% 20% 11.9 31% 33% 7% 33% 8
15 85% 20% 20% 11.4 28% 0% 33% 22% 27
16 80% 8% 7% 15.0 11% 25% 9% 0% 33

Week 17 isn't the time to lose faith in the veteran tight end. He should be a focal point of the passing attack along with Antonio Brown.

PFF’s TE Matchup Chart is a fantasy football tool you can use to help set the best lineups. You can toggle between the Matchup Advantage column or advanced stats like targets, catch rate and yards per route run.
Upgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points TE SOS TE MU PPR Proj
Travis Kelce @CIN 51.0 -5.0 28.00 5.2 48.0 15.9

Kelce was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday and lands in a potential shootout game against the Bengals. Cincinnati has given up the most points per game to tight ends (20.0) since Week 8, and Mark Andrews thrashed them for 26.5 fantasy points in Week 16.

Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski all project under 10% rostership this weekend, but it could be a weekend where getting this spot right is necessary for DFS given the elite matchups for multiple big names.

Fades/Downgrades
Player Opponent Total Spread Implied Points TE SOS TE MU PPR Proj
Kyle Pitts @BUF 44.0 14.5 14.75 1.9 33.0 13.5
Mike Gesicki @TEN 39.5 3.5 18.00 1.9 19.0 9.4

Thanks to his elite utilization, Pitts will get his opportunities, but the matchup against the Bills — who only allow 6.9 points per game to tight ends since Week 8. He is still a mid-range TE2, but temper expectations.

Gesicki has only one top-seven finish since Week 7 despite continuing to see plenty of playing time and a rash of injuries to other Miami receiving options. Tennessee allows only nine points per game tight ends since Week 8.

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