Congratulations to Matt Asiata, Jordan Todman and Edwin Baker – you're the three finalists for this year's “Out-of-Nowhere Fantasy Playoffs Star!”
Todman was likely claimed on waivers last week since we knew Maurice Jones-Drew was doubtful to play, but Asiata might still be available since neither Adrian Peterson nor Toby Gerhart was officially ruled out until Sunday morning. Baker really did come out of nowhere to lead the Browns in rushing, and he's almost certainly available in every league.
Do any of these three have staying power, at least through next week? Obviously, it depends on if the players ahead of them return, but assuming all three are starters again, Todman is likely the only one fantasy owners would consider using in Week 16. Baker, who did the least of the three, faces the Jets' top-ranked run defense, and Asiata, who didn't run well despite scoring three times, goes up against the Bengals' stout D. Todman gets Tennessee, who entered last week allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to RBs.
Even if none of the three actually lead fantasy teams to championships, you have to admire that they kept one of fantasy's greatest traditions alive.
Let's look at some risers and fallers at each offensive position after Week 15.
Notable Riser: Ryan Tannehill set his season high in fantasy points (30.4) for the third-straight game. The Pats are struggling in the secondary, but Tannehill's performance was still impressive. With a favorable matchup against Buffalo next week, fantasy owners should feel comfortable using him in all formats. You're not going to play him over studs like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, but it's better to go with a hot hand than a mediocre “stud,” like Andrew Luck, who managed just 20.1 fantasy points despite two early scores, or even Colin Kaepernick, who had one of his best games (24 fantasy points), but, like Luck, has been more mediocre than good lately.
Some fantasy owners will be tempted to start Kirk Cousins against Dallas after his 27.4-point performance against Atlanta. The matchup is great, but despite Cousins' big day, he still turned it over three times. Almost every “fast starter” this year (Case Keenum, Jason Campbell, etc.) has come back to Earth quickly, with the exception of Josh McCown, so tread carefully with Cousins if you're playing for your championship.
Notable Faller: Russell Wilson turned in his second-straight mediocre performance (17.24 fantasy points), and with a tough matchup on the horizon against Arizona, he's suddenly a bit of a worry. Wilson and the Seahawks continued to stall out in the red zone against the Giants, and even though they're usually better at home, it's not unusual for Wilson to go through these swings.
Carson Palmer also had his second-straight subpar performance (15.14), and he certainly can't be trusted against Seattle. The same goes for Matt Ryan (10.3) against San Francisco.
Notable Riser: Donald Brown's neck injury opened the door for Trent Richardson to handle the bulk of the Colts' carries. He just had his best game of the season, catching a short TD and piling up yards in garbage time. He still averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry, but if Brown is out next week, Richardson is suddenly a flex option against Kansas City. Chances are, his owners have no interest in starting him, though.
Rashad Jennings showed he was no worse for the wear after his concussion on Thanksgiving, plunging in a couple one-yard TDs and racking up 23 carries for 91 yards against Kansas City. It was an odd game for the Raiders, who fell behind early (largely because of one-man wrecking crew Jamaal Charles) and opted to feed Jennings instead of going into pass mode. He didn't run particularly well, but owners can chalk that up to the matchup. His heavy workload makes him an ideal RB2.
Notable Faller: Montee Ball's 4.8-point performance should serve as a reminder that you shouldn't “rely” on garbage-time chances when choosing a fantasy back. Ball had been playing well in general leading up to last Thursday's game, but the fact he received just three carries tells us a lot about his role. If the Broncos are winning, then Ball is fine; if they're losing, then he's mostly an afterthought. That makes him a dangerous play in the fantasy championship.
Fantasy owners might also be calling into question Shane Vereen's role. Just a week after looking like a must-start, Vereen had just five touches for 21 yards. However, it should be noted that he was targeted seven times, so it's not as if he was the odd man out. LeGarrette Blount actually led the Pats in carries (11), so clearly they adjusted their game plan specifically for this game. Expect Vereen to bounce back.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who not only ceded carries between the 20s to Giovani Bernard but also goal-line chances, is another back with usage issues. He's not even a flex if he's not getting red-zone touches, and right now, it's impossible to predict what his role will be next week. At least Bernard is finally a “safe” RB2.
Notable Riser: Greg Jennings is finally coming on for the Vikings, catching 11 passes for 163 yards and a score against Philadelphia. If you look a little deeper at his numbers, Jennings appears to be more than a one-week wonder. He had 10 targets the week before and nine in the game before that. Matt Cassel is locked in on Jennings, which is similar to what happened with Dwayne Bowe when Cassel was in Kansas City. Jennings has value next week.
Andre Caldwell (10 targets) proved, at the very least, that he'll be involved in the Broncos' offense while Wes Welker (concussion) is hurt. Staying out West, Doug Baldwin (13.4 fantasy points) has proved he'll continue to be a big part of Seattle's offense, putting up double-digit points for the third time in the past four games. Both will likely be hot waiver pickups this week.
Notable Faller: Victor Cruz's head and knee injuries will likely make him questionable (or out) for next week's game, which is a shame because it was a favorable matchup against Detroit. Fantasy owners are probably not in the mood to trust any Giants' players right now, but Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle will be WR3s with the extra targets created by Cruz's absence. Make sure to monitor that situation and make the appropriate roster moves.
An injury also limited Arizona's Michael Floyd against Tennessee. He caught just two of five targets for the second-straight week. Floyd has faced tough matchups against the Rams and Titans, but his sore ankle clearly isn't helping. He's barely on the WR3 radar this week against Seattle.
Notable Riser: Tim Wright had seen a big dropoff in targets over the past five weeks, but he caught seven of nine looks for 82 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. Wright had a similar game in Week 12 against the Lions, catching seven of eight targets for 75 yards, then followed it up with a two-catch, 17-yard performance against Carolina. Despite two-straight games with a score, Wright is a risky play next week against St. Louis, who are even better against TEs than San Francisco.
Notable Faller: Antonio Gates turned in his fourth-straight dud last Thursday, catching two of three targets for 23 yards. Fantasy owners can't count on him at all right now.
They might feel the same way about Jordan Cameron, who caught just three passes for 23 yards. The difference is Cameron is still getting targets, averaging 7.8 per game over the past five weeks. He's still a starter.