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NFL Draft

Fantasy Football This or That: Who To Start In Week 17

  • The Draft Network
  • January 1, 2021
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By Zach Cohen

It feels like just yesterday we were preparing for our fantasy drafts. Alas, the days of deciding between Michael Thomas and Austin Ekeler are long gone. Most leagues ended in Week 16—and rightfully so–but for those still fighting for the ultimate victory, hopefully my final “This or That” column can provide some valuable insight. 

Before we dive into the column, it’s crucial that you’re aware of your players’ situations. For example, good players on playoff teams may see a reduction in playing time. Some games could also be impacted by weather, so take a few glimpses at The Weather Channel if you can. And most importantly, pat yourself on the back. You’re in the fantasy championship! You survived a crazy, unpredictable, tumultuous, frenetic season. 

If you’re a regular reader of this column, thanks for devouring my research... and enduring my poor attempts at humor. As I’ve preached all year long, fantasy football is supposed to be fun, so hopefully you found some of that throughout all of this. And if you haven’t yet, well, that’s why there’s a Week 17! So, for the last time until August, let’s break down some roster decisions that could boost you into fantasy glory:

Justin Herbert or Jalen Hurts

Justin Herbert (QB - LAC)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: QB7

Herbert has cooled a bit since his red-hot start to the season. He isn’t putting up 20-plus points each game anymore, and his volume of passes has dipped a bit. Nonetheless, he’s still a solid bet for roughly 17-19 points. He also has upside as a runner, which was a huge reason for his 28-point performance against the Raiders in Week 15. This week, Herbert faces a Kansas City defense that will likely rest some starters in preparation for the playoffs. There’s not much else to say other than the possibility of a potential Tyrod Taylor appearance. Although, I don’t expect Anthony Lynn to hold back with his job potentially on the line. In other words, expect a good, normal performance from Herbert. The only way I wouldn’t start him is if the Kansas City weather starts to look bad.

Jalen Hurts (QB - PHI)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: QB8

Wear your mittens if you plan on using Hurts in your starting lineup because there has been no hotter quarterback in fantasy. Since taking over for Carson Wentz, Hurts has put up QB1 numbers in each game. If it weren’t for two questionable interceptions last week, Hurts would have scored way more than 18.6 points. He also checks the two most important boxes you look for in a fantasy quarterback: Volume and carries. He’s averaged more than 35 throws in the last three weeks and has been super involved as a runner. His nine carries last week were the lowest as a starter, yet he still managed 69 yards on the ground. While Hurts had the benefit of playing Dallas and Arizona the last couple of weeks, he gets a tougher matchup against Washington. The Football Team has allowed more than 20 points since Week 10, and they held Russell Wilson to 12 points just two weeks ago. With the playoffs in sight, Washington will be fired up against Philadelphia. This could be Hurts’ toughest test as the Eagles’ starting quarterback.

Verdict: Herbert

Herbert and Hurts are promising young quarterbacks who can make a dent in the air and on the ground. I’m giving the nod to Herbert mainly because of the matchup. It’ll be easier to put up points against the Chiefs‘ reserves than it will be against Washington’s surprisingly dominant defense. 

Miles Sanders or D’Andre Swift

Miles Sanders (RB - PHI)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: RB14

If you have Miles Sanders on your team, I don’t blame you for having yanked most of your hair out. Typically drafted in the first two rounds, Sanders’ season has been a bit frustrating. Thank goodness for Hurts, because when he took over for Carson Wentz, it’s as if Sanders got a second lease on life. He’s always seen about 80% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps, but with Hurts, he’s seen more carries and more targets. His workload is about 14-17 carries and 3-5 targets. The biggest development, though, may be Sanders’ involvement in the Eagles’ passing game. Over the last three games, he’s seen 13 targets compared to Boston Scott’s two. While it’s been a nice bounce-back for Sanders, he still hasn’t done enough to shake off a slight touchdown dependency in recent weeks. It doesn’t help that of the 16 touchdowns Washington surrendered in the last two months, only four of them came on the ground. Like I said earlier, the Football Team’s defense will be playing as hard as ever. Based on his recent production, I’d say Sanders has a solid floor of 9-10 points, while a touchdown or an increased role as a receiver can bump that into the 18-20 range.

D’Andre Swift (RB - DET)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: RB18

After missing a few games, Swift returned to his productive ways. It took him some time, but he eventually became the running back the Lions envisioned when they drafted him in April. Ironically, Swift sees about the same workload as Sanders. Both have also seen the fourth-most targets on their respective teams over the last three games. My main concern with Swift is how he performs if Matthew Stafford misses the game. Without Stafford, Swift only posted nine points against Tampa Bay. We really have no clue how Detroit is going to perform, but it helps that they get a vulnerable Vikings defense. When Mike Zimmer said this was the worst defense he’s ever had, he wasn’t kidding. Minnesota’s rush defense has been terrible this season, though allowing six rushing touchdowns to Alvin Kamara doesn’t help, either. They’ve also allowed the fifth-most rushing yards, which includes the most over the last three games. This matchup may be too good to bench Swift.

Verdict: Swift slightly

It’s closer than you think because both are used similarly, but Swift’s matchup makes him too good to pass up. While Sanders has a sturdier grip on his team’s backfield, I’d bet on Detroit running the ball more. Either way, both running backs are worthy of a start.

Kareem Hunt or Devin Singletary

Kareem Hunt (RB - CLE)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: RB34

Hunt hasn’t been the consistently productive player he was at the start of the season. That’s partly due to the return of Nick Chubb, who has been excellent over the last three games. Chubb’s return has taken a toll on Hunt’s workload, who hasn’t seen more than seven carries since Week 13. At least Hunt is still involved in the Browns’ passing offense. He’s seen 15 targets over the last three games, which is the most he’s seen in any three-game stretch this season. It also looks like this game will see some rain, which could lead to more rushing attempts. I wouldn’t worry about fumbles either because Hunt has yet to have one in 2020, and Cleveland has played in some bad weather. The downside to playing Hunt, aside from a timeshare with Chubb, is that they face Pittsburgh. Luckily, the Steelers may rest some key players (Mason Rudolph is starting over Ben Roethlisberger). While a touchdown isn’t a guarantee, I like Hunt’s chances of being involved in a must-win game for the Browns.

Devin Singletary (RB - BUF)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: RB36

Despite the presence of Zack Moss, Singletary still found a way to be relevant in the Bills’ offense. Singletary typically sees 4-5 fewer carries and 8-10% fewer snaps than Moss, though Singletary gets a couple more targets than the rookie. Unfortunately, Moss and Josh Allen are the prime benefactors in the red zone. If you start Singletary, you’d be banking on a touchdown—he’s scored two all year—or an impressive receiving performance. This is also likely going to be a snow game, so maybe Singletary gets an extra dump-off or two. It doesn’t help that Buffalo face’s a tough Miami defense that is fighting for a playoff spot. There may be some upside, but can you really trust a running back who’s only his team’s third option in the run game? There’s also a possibility Sean McDermott rests certain players, though I don’t expect Singletary to be one of them. 

Verdict: Hunt

Hunt and Singletary are both stuck in a committee. It’s nice that they’re more involved in the passing game than their counterparts are, though Hunt sees a bit more work. Hunt is also just a better player, and sometimes that’s all you need to know when making roster decisions. As with many players in today’s column, these guys could be impacted by decisions to rest players, so you must monitor their situations closely. And you may want to check the weather forecast, too.

Diontae Johnson JuJu Smith-Schuster

Diontae Johnson (WR - PIT)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: WR33

Johnson is normally a must-start off of his targets alone. The man’s a magnet, plain and simple. In his last eight games, he’s averaged a colossal 12 targets and 18 points. As productive as he’s been, there are two ways he could see a slight dip in points. Tomlin has already confirmed Rudolph as the starter. We can’t really use last season as an indicator for Johnson‘s success this week, though. You just may need to assume Johnson takes a step back without Roethlisberger at the helm. Of course, that’s assuming Johnson sees a full workload himself. I did have some reservations about the matchup Johnson could see, but it was announced on Thursday that Denzel Ward was put on the COVID-19/Reserve list and will miss Sunday’s game. Keep in mind that Pittsburgh is only fighting for seeding with Buffalo, so they have no huge reason to win unless they feel like kicking Cleveland out of the playoffs. Despite these factors that could hinder Johnson’s performance, he’s still way too involved in Pittsburgh’s offense to be on your bench.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR - PIT)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: WR32

If Johnson is the Steelers WR1, then Smith-Schuster is firmly entrenched as their WR2. If you have Smith-Schuster on your team then you’ve been riding quite the roller coaster the last few weeks. Starting in Week 10, Smith-Schuster has alternated between 20-point games and single-digit games. (He put up 24.6 points last week, so do what you want with that info). Like with Johnson, Smith-Schuster will have to deal with Mason Rudolph throwing him the ball. Smith-Schuster had a very forgettable season with Rudolph in 2019, and it doesn’t help that Rudolph has averaged fewer than 19 completions per game in his career. As more news comes out about who Pittsburgh is resting, it’s likely that Smith-Schuster also takes a breather. If he does play, he gets a solid matchup against Kevin Johnson, who’s allowed a catch rate higher than 60%. Smith-Schuster is still worth considering for your lineups, but I wouldn’t expect much in a game that the Steelers don’t seem to fully value. 

Verdict: Johnson

Assuming both play their normal amount of snaps, Johnson gets the easy start over Smith-Schuster. While Smith-Schuster sees more snaps due to his role in a slot, Johnson gets way more targets. Both could be slotted in your lineup, but as with most of the players in today’s column, make sure you know their status before their game.

Zach Pascal or Laviska Shenault

Zach Pascal (WR - IND)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: WR39

Pascal was mentioned in my waiver wire column on Monday, and for good reason. He scored three times in the last two games and gets to face a very vulnerable Jacksonville secondary. Not only have the Jaguars been the ninth-best matchup for wide receivers, but they’ve also allowed multiple passing touchdowns in all but two games this year—including at least one in each game. That bodes well for Pascal, who seems to rely on scoring to have value. My only concern is his lack of production throughout the season; he seems to be touchdown-dependent. Aside from the last two weeks, he’s only reached 10 points in three games this season. He’s also only seen six targets in the last two games, though that’s one less than Philip Rivers’ favorite receiver, T.Y. Hilton, has seen. There’s definitely upside with Pascal, but he has a low floor, too.

Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR - JAX)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: WR41

Shenault was also in my waiver wire column, where I said this: “Another returner from last week’s column, Shenault has been a steady member of an unsteady offense. He was tied for the most targets on the team Sunday, and nothing suggests he won’t be involved in their final game against the Colts. Indianapolis is in must-win mode, so expect them to be firing on all cylinders. In response, Jacksonville might be throwing a bit more, too. For a player who is averaging nearly 13 points over the last four games, I expect a solid showing out of Shenault again.” Even without a touchdown against Indianapolis, Shenault has shown to have a floor of about 9-10 points. It’s not a perfect matchup, but Indianapolis hasn’t had a lockdown secondary, either. As with every Jaguars game, expect them to throw the ball more due to a negative game script. We may see Shenault play a bit more than normal as Doug Marrone could field some less-experienced players in potentially his final game as Jacksonville’s head coach.

Verdict: Push

This comes down to your situation. If you need a safer option, then Shenault could be the guy. If you’re down big and are banking on breakout performances, Pascal could be the better play. Normally, I lean toward the safer options but since it is the final week of the season, take a look at your team and see which player fits best.

Evan Engram or Hayden Hurst

Evan Engram (TE - NYG)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: TE13

It would be an understatement to say Engram has had an inconsistent season. Luckily, he’s still seen more than 70% of the Giants’ snaps, which can sometimes balloon up to 90%. Having Daniel Jones back on the field has been a godsend as well. Engram saw 10 targets for seven receptions and 65 yards with Jones last week. The best part? He’s not reliant on a touchdown to be productive. We’ll see if Engram can keep it up in an interesting matchup against Dallas. They’ve been the sixth-toughest defense against tight ends this year, but their roster could look very different on Sunday. Multiple starters have been dealing with injuries all week, including Leighton Vander Esch, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods. As long as Jones is playing, I’d expect start-worthy numbers from Engram in a game with playoff implications for both teams.

Hayden Hurst (TE - ATL)

Jaime’s Week 17 Ranking: TE16

Hurst just hasn’t been good since his Week 10 bye, though two touchdowns in each of the last two games have brought him back to fantasy relevancy. Hurst gets a nice matchup this week, against Tampa Bay, who have one of the bottom-10 defenses against tight ends. He scored the last time these teams played, which was two weeks ago. Another bonus is Tampa Bay clinched their playoff berth already, so they might not send in the entire cavalry against Atlanta. The issue is Hurst’s lack of involvement in the offense. While he’s technically WR3 for the Falcons, he only averages 4-5 targets a game. There are better options available than Hurst, though I can see the intrigue if you must play him.

Verdict: Engram

I’ve been vocal about being wary of Engram this season, but he’s just more involved and more talented than Hurst. At least there’s a way to avoid this misery next season: Draft a top tight end early.

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