With the fantasy football playoffs right around the corner, fantasy owners around the world are scouring the waiver wire in the hope that they can find that diamond in the rough. The problem is, by Week 11 the waiver wire has been picked cleaner than a Thanksgiving turkey!
The only real options for owners to consider this week are Packers RB Jamaal Williams, Redskins RB Samaje Perine, and/or Rex Burkhead. Each of these backs have their pluses and minuses, so let's go through them so you know what you're getting into.
Jamaal Williams and Devante Adams are the only healthy RBs on the Packers roster, with Aaron Jones essentially out for the rest of the season, and Ty Montgomery aggravating his rib injury in Week 10. The Packers offense is lost without Aaron Rodgers at QB, and defenses simply don't have to respect the pass with Brett Hundley under center. Williams will get touches, but he can't be counted on as anything more than a TD-dependent flex play.
Samaje Perine will take over as the Redskins early-down back with Rob Kelley hitting the injured reserve this week. While he will handle the early carries, he will come out for Chris Thompson on passing downs, making him a 2-down back. And you cannot ignore how completely ineffective Perine has been for much of the season (3.2 YPC). He's a low-ceiling RB that is more of a desperation play than anything.
Rex Burkhead is the next man up for the Patriots backfield with Mike Gillislee being a healthy scratch from Week 10. Burkhead put up 63 total yards and a touchdown in Week 10, which was decent in fantasy terms. The problem is, that may very well be his ceiling with Dion Lewis and James White also healthy and seeing snaps. Trusting a Patriots RB is like trusting a kid not to eat a chocolate you leave on the table; you WILL be disappointed 9 times out of 10.
Of the bunch, I would order them Burkhead, Williams, Perine. Also, make sure Danny Woodhead and Greg Olsen are owned in your league. Woodhead is eligible to come off the I.R. this week, but is sounding like he may not be ready until Week 12 at the latest; Olsen is due back Week 12.
Derek Carr – Raiders: Over the past month, Carr has thrown for 1,030 yards, 5 TDs, and 3 INTs, and is ranked 11th for fantasy QBs over that span. Imagine how much better he could be if Amari Cooper hadn't dropped 6 passes (2nd-most) this year, and Marshawn Lynch wasn't averaging just 40.4 YPG on the ground.
This week the 4-5 Raiders host the 7-2 Patriots in Mexico. The Patriots lead the league with 409.4 YPG on offense, but they are equally as bad on defense, giving up 408.3 YPG. They are 1st in offense, but dead last on defense. Any time a fantasy quarterback goes up against a defense giving up 24.2 fantasy PPG to QBs, he is a must-start that week.
Alex Smith – Chiefs: Alex Smith is the 5th-ranked fantasy QB this season, and he's taking on the 2nd worst fantasy defense against QBs this year, the New York Giants. The Chiefs are coming off a bye, which is another positive in their favor. Meanwhile, the Giants are 1-8 this year, and in a dogfight with the Browns and 49ers for the #1 pick in the 2018 draft.
The Giants are giving up 24.1 PPG to fantasy QBs this season, which is just .10 points behind the Patriots for worst in the NFL. Even with Albert Wilson likely to miss this week with his hamstring injury, Smith still has Tyreke Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt coming out of the backfield. The Giants have given up 30-plus fantasy points to opposing QBs in 6 straight games heading into Week 11.
Jay Ajayi – Eagles: The Eagles are coming off their bye, and headed to Dallas to take on a Cowboys team trying to find its identity without Ezekiel Elliot. The Eagles gave up a 4th-round pick for Ajayi at the trade deadline, making him someone they obviously want to get involved.
Eagles OC Frank Reich said Ajayi's "able to handle everything that we give him at this point. When I look at our game plan for this week, I look at it and there's probably not a play on there that I wouldn't feel comfortable putting his number on." LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement will still be involved, but I am going to play Ajayi as the Eagles starter going forward.
Melvin Gordon – Chargers: Gordon had failed to top 40 yards rushing in 2 of the past 3 games, and now he has to deal with people talking about undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler after he put up 119 total yards and 2 touchdowns in Week 10. Even with those two things working against him in fantasy circles, I am still throwing him in my starting lineup with confidence.
Gordon is going to lose his job to an undrafted rookie from Western State because of one good game? On top of that, the Chargers are hosting a Bills defense that gives up the 2nd-most fantasy points to RBs (21.9 PPG). While it is hard to trust the Chargers anymore, I am going to view Gordon as a bounce-back candidate this week.
Sterling Shepard – Giants: The Giants are a mess this season, with their defense not stopping much and their offense ravaged by injuries. The only bright spots this year have to be Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard.
Shepard has managed to rack up 38 catches, 475 yards, and a touchdown this year, despite missing Weeks 6 & 7with an ankle injury. In Week 10 Shepard saw 13 targets, and caught 11 of them for 142 yards against the 49ers. Hopefully he can keep up that momentum this week against a Chiefs defense giving up 28.9 PPG (worst in the NFL) to fantasy WRs this season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Steelers: JuJu Smith-Schuster may not have officially passed Martavis Bryant on the Steelers depth chart, but he is their No. 2 WR for all practical purposes after reeling in 14 catches, 329 yards, and 3 touchdowns over the past 3 games. In that same span, Bryant was suspended for one game, and managed just 4 catches for 45 empty yards in the other 2 games.
The Titans give up the 9th-most fantasy points to fantasy WRs this season at 22.8 PPG, and just gave up 210 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns to A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell in Week 10. The rookie out of USC is quickly becoming the No. 2 WR the Steelers hoped he'd be when they drafted him in the 2nd round.
Jared Cook – Raiders: Cook is quietly clinging to low-end TE1 value this season with a 39/499/1 line through 9 games. Cook has even put up 100-plus receiving yards in 2 of his last 3 games, something that not many TEs do in the NFL these days.
As with Carr, I am high on Cook this weekend because of the defense he faces – the Patriots. Even though the Patriots are better against TEs (8.0 PPG allowed, 13th-most in the NFL) than they are against RBs (20.0 PPG, 4th-worst) and WRs (25.9 PPG, 3rd-worst), they are still giving up enough points to justify playing Cook.
San Diego Chargers defense: The Chargers defense isn't one you will see very often in fantasy recommendations. But I am going with them this week after the Bills announced they were benching QB Tyrod Taylor in favor of 5th-round rookie Nathan Peterman.
The Bills are a running team behind LeSean McCoy, but you can't run the ball every play. Kelvin Benjamin is still learning the offense, and Jordan Matthews had logged more than 3 catches in a game just once this season. For better or worse, Taylor was ranked as the 16th-best fantasy QB this season. Now they have a new WR in Benjamin, an always-hurt WR in Matthews, and a rookie QB throwing to them both.
Case Keenum – Vikings: Keenum has some major problems facing him this week, both on defense as well as on his own sideline. First, the Vikings are taking on the Rams and their 5th-ranked defense against fantasy QBs this season. And second, the Vikings coaching staff is looking for a reason… ANY REASON… to throw Teddy Bridgewater back into the game at QB.
With his job security coming down to a play-by-play situation, and facing one of the toughest defenses in the NFL this season, Keenum has very little chance of making it out of Week 11 as the Vikings starting quarterback. Personally, I'd cut bait with Keenum and find me a QB with a favorable fantasy schedule, like Blake Bortles or Jay Cutler.
Marcus Mariota – Titans: I was high on Mariota heading into the fantasy draft this year, and he has simply not lived up to my expectations one iota. In 8 games this season, Mariota is averaging just 222.9 YPG passing, and has thrown 7 TDs to 6 INTs. Sure, he's been without Corey Davis in 4 of those games, and Eric Decker has been nothing short of a bust. But there are far worse QBs in the league who are doing much more, with much less on offense.
The Titans are a running team, and Mariota is looking more and more like a game manager. On top of that, the Steelers are the 3rd-best team against fantasy QBs this season, giving up just 14.4 PPG to them. With the Steelers giving up very little, and the Titans asking even less of Mariota, he doesn't make for a good fantasy play to finish out the season.
Jamaal Williams – Packers: I know I said Williams was one of the few RBs to look at on the waiver wire this week, but that doesn't mean I think he will end up as a productive fantasy player. Fantasy owners always run to the waiver wire to pick up the injury replacement, so Williams will be added in most competitive formats. But the Packers have a real problem at QB and offensive line, making it somewhat easy for a defense to game plan against them.
Brett Hundley is never going to be anything more than a clipboard holder in the NFL, and his play this season has proven that. With Hundley not moving the chains with his arm, the Packers are forced to lean on the run. Williams' first real action of the season came in Week 10, when he ran the ball 20 times for 67 yards. A solid game for sure, but it was against a Bears defense giving up 18.4 PPG to fantasy RBs this season.
Williams is someone to add if you're in desperate need of RB depth. But he isn't someone you want to play against the Ravens this week, or the Steelers next week. Maybe he can make some noise against the Bucs in Week 13, and again in Week 14 against the Browns. But Montgomery could be healthy (ish) by then, and be back in the starting role. Be aware, and beware.
Derrick Henry – Titans: Henry is one of the more frustrating fantasy RBs to own this season. He has had games in which he put up 92 and 131 rushing yards, scoring a touchdown in both. Then, he also has games when he finished with 7 and 9 rushing yards. With DeMarco Murray entrenched as the starter in Tennessee, Henry is relegated to a role that is either gameplan-specific or injury related.
Because of his uncertain role from week to week, it is hard to trust Henry, even in a flex role. With his carries ranging from a low of 4 in Week 5 to 19 in Week 6, and everything in between, I would much rather see a RB like Burkhead or Kenyon Drake in my flex spot.
Ted Ginn Jr. – Saints: Ted Ginn Jr. is still one of the fastest WRs in the NFL, but he is in an offense in which the running backs have been as good as any in the NFL, and where the quarterback spreads the targets out fairly well between his WRs, RBs, and TE.
Ginn is only averaging 3.2 catches per game this season, which doesn't leave much room for error in fantasy leagues. Couple that with his 53.7 yards-per-game average, and you can see where he is largely a TD-or-bust player. He has a chance to score against Washington with Josh Norman most likely shadowing Michael Thomas most of the game. But with Willie Snead pushing for more snaps, Brandon Colemen making a case to keep his No. 3 WR job, and Alvin Kamara beasting out of the backfield on passing downs, there are only so many targets to go around.
Kelvin Benjamin – Bills: Benjamin managed to stay on the field for 85 percent of the Bills snaps in his first game, but turned that time on the field into just 42 yards on 3 catches. The good news there is that 42 yards was 75 percent of all the passing yards (56) for the Bills in Week 10. The 56 yards is what got Taylor benched, but the Bills are clearly looking to get Benjamin involved quickly.
So why sit him? Because he has a rookie QB, in his first game as the starter, playing on the road. For all we know, Peterman could be the next Tom Brady. Then again, he could very easily by the next Ryan Leaf. Until we know where on that spectrum he falls, I wouldn't risk playing any of the Bills WRs.
Delanie Walker – Titans: Walker hasn't been bad, as far as fantasy TEs go, averaging 6.0 catches for 65.7 YPG over the past month. The anchor keeping his fantasy value on the TE1/2 bubble this season is the fact that he is the only TE among the top 30 fantasy TEs that hasn't scored this season. When Seth DeValve and George Kittle have scored, but you haven't, you can only imagine what is going on in his mind when the offensive gameplan is being drawn up.
The Steelers give up just 5.4 PPG to fantasy TEs this season, the 3rd-fewest in the NFL. They have allowed 2 touchdowns to TEs this season, so there is always hope, I suppose, for Walker and his owners. As for me, I won't be playing him in any leagues in which I own him.
Minnesota Vikings defense: I never thought I'd say it, but it is a good idea to put the Rams right up there with teams you want to avoid playing a fantasy defense against. Who would have ever thought we'd mention the Rams in the same breath as the Patriots?
Heading into Week 11, the Rams are ranked 3rd in the NFL with 388.9 YPG of total offense, but 1st in the league with 296 points scored this year. Even though the Vikings defense is owned in 75 percent of fantasy leagues out there, they are ranked just 24th for in most scoring formats this season. The 24th best fantasy defense taking on the highest scoring offense in the NFL? No thank you!