Lineup Prep: Championship Round

Wed Jan 15 9:38am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer

Smith is a top red-zone target



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Well, the games last week weren’t nearly as exciting as the previous week. They weren’t nearly as close. Hopefully, the two games are better this weekend. It sure seems setup for a great week of football with some great matchups. As last week showed, it doesn’t always play out that way, but we can hope, right? 

Now for my random thoughts for the week. . . . . 

I wasn’t sure how the 49ers would react in their first big playoff game in several seasons, but they sure showed up in a big way. The stage did not seem too big for the young team, dominating the Vikings. I think this really bodes well for another victory this weekend, especially since they are at home. San Francisco continues to impress me on a weekly basis, playing great football on both sides of the ball. This team is a very complete team.

I am starting work on our Draft Guide for the 2020 season and already ran into at least one eye opening stat. So Matthew Stafford was on pace for about 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions before suffering his back injury. That is a monster season. Remember, he was an elite quarterback just a few seasons back, so don’t forget about him come draft day next year. I know his back injury is a concern going forward, but if he gets a clean bill of healthy, Stafford could be a good get for fantasy teams. I’m sure many will overlook him because of the injury and not finishing out the season. 

Derrick Henry is on some kind of run right now. He is absolutely carrying the offense. The opposition knows he is getting the ball, but still can’t stop him. His fantasy stock is going way up with this late season surge. You still would like to see him catch the ball more but as long as he keeps piling up the rushing yards and touchdowns, his fantasy value is solid. And with the Titans likely parting ways with Dion Lewis this offseason, maybe Henry gets a few more chances to catch the ball in 2020. That could give his fantasy value another boost. 

I think LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is going to be a heck of a pro. He just looks the part of a top NFL quarterback. I love his accuracy, especially on the deep ball. Plus, he is a great athlete that can make plays with his legs. He also has that swagger you want in a franchise quarterback. I really think his future is bright and the Bengals are going to get a real good one with their first overall pick. Burrow had quite the showing all year and especially in the National Championship game. 

The Packers don’t do it often, but I really think they need to make a splash this offseason to finally get a legit No. 2 option in the passing game opposite Davante Adams. The youngsters have not panned out, and Jimmy Graham is past his prime at tight end. They need to really get a legit option outside of Adams. This offense could really take a step forward with a dependable option outside of Adams. Let’s hope they get it done this offseason. 

My two favorite coaching hires from a fantasy perspective are Matt Rhule in Carolina and Mike Mike McCarthy in Dallas. I know McCarthy had his issues with Aaron Rodgers, but you can’t ignore the production that offense had for years with McCarthy at the helm. I think his hire is a positive for all the Cowboys offensive players going forward. And Rhule should be a good fit in Carolina and keep the Christian McCaffrey train going. He will find ways to get his playmakers involved in Carolina and re-energize that team. There was a reason so many teams were after Rhule to hire him as their head coach. I think he is the real deal. 

As always, don’t forget to check out my weekly rankings here: Championship Round Rankings

HOT PLAYS

Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs. Kelce wasn’t even 100 percent healthy last week, but that didn’t slow him one bit. He had a monster game, catching 10 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. He has double-digit receptions two of four games and two 100-yard games during that stretch. Kelce continues to be the top target in the passing game for the Chiefs and should get a ton of targets this weekend. The Titans really struggled to stop the tight end during the regular season, allowing the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends. 

Raheem Mostert, RB, 49ers. Mostert took a backseat to Tevin Coleman last week, seeing Coleman produce big numbers with a heavy workload. Mostert still had 12 carries for 58 yards, though, so he wasn’t awful. He even averaged the same yards per carry as Coleman. The issue was Coleman had about twice the work. Mostert still seems the safest back to use in San Francisco. He has been so consistent down the stretch, having touchdowns six straight games before last week. We think he get a heavy workload this week against the Packers, a team that allowed the eight most fantasy points to running backs during the regular season. 

Derrick Henry, RB, Titans. Henry is on some sort of hot streak. He has absolutely carried the Titans offense recently. He has 30-plus carries three straight games and 180-plus rushing yards all three of those games. He has been a monster for the Titans, seeming to get stronger late in the year. It should be more of the same for Henry this week against the Chiefs. Kansas City allowed the fifth most fantasy points to running backs during the fantasy season. 

COLD PLAYS  

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers. The 49ers won last week but did so offensively because of a strong ground attack. Garoppolo didn’t even throw for 150 yards in the game. The 49ers have been more run heavy down the stretch, though, giving Garoppolo fewer than 30 pass attempts three straight games. The game plan likely will be the same this week against the Packers. Green Bay allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks during the regular season. 

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, 49ers. Sanders got off to a great start with the 49ers once he joined the team, but has been pretty quiet most weeks. He has fewer than 30 yards there of four games. He was targeted just two times last week. Sanders is a hard player to trust for the 49ers right now. He also hast just three touchdowns compared to six for Kendrick Bourne, who is below him on the depth chart. The Packers also allow the eighth fewest fantasy points to receivers. 

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. Rodgers had a good game last week, going 16-of-27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He still didn’t have that huge game you have come to expect from him. Rodgers has been really mediocre most of the year. He has fewer than 17 fantasy points six of nine games. He goes on the road this week against the 49ers, a team that was first overall against the pass during the regular season. 

SLEEPERS  

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans. Tannehill has done very little in the playoffs with the Titans running often. But that game plan could change this weekend if the Chiefs get up on the Titans. Tannehill should get more chances to air it out. Remember, he had multiple touchdowns every start this season. He had 20-plus fantasy points eight of 10 starts. Tannehill is capable of the big game with the way he is playing. It would not be a surprise if he has one of those big games this week against the Chiefs. 

Kendrick Bourne, WR, 49ers. Bourne had three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown last week. He has six touchdowns this season and been a top red-zone target for the 49ers. Bourne is clearly a touchdown dependent player, failing to top 50 yards in any game this year. He gets some catches, though, having three or more receptions six times. He is worth a look for fantasy teams this week because of his ability to find the end zone. It could happen again against the Packers.  

Jonnu Smith, TE, Titans. Smith had just two catches last week but one of those was an acrobatic touchdown reception, showing his big-time athletic ability. Smith has touchdowns three of six games. He also has 60 or more yards two of those games. Smith can be a little boom or bust, but certainly seems setup for a good game in this one. Kansas City has struggled to stop tight ends this year, allowing the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends. 

High/Low Scoring Games

Each week we will take a look at some of the high and low scoring games for the coming week. In high scoring affairs, get your marginal players on those teams in your lineup to take advantage of the possible points barrage. And in the low scoring games, keep those marginal players on the bench and make sure to have your defenses involved in those contests.

High Scoring Games: Titans/Chiefs.

Low Scoring Games: None.

Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at jeff@rtsports.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.

Player Notes
Ryan Shazier Feb 16 2:30pm ET

There remains no timetable for a potential return for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) as he rehabs from spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier has not played for the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever play again. His contract from the 2019 season will not toll over to 2020, but the Steelers continue to support his comeback efforts. If Shazier's contract expires, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18. The 27-year-old was a force in the middle of the field for the Steelers in the four seasons before his injury. We wouldn't bet against Shazier making a comeback, but it might not be for the Steelers.

From RotoBaller

Ty Johnson Feb 15 11:10pm ET

Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson won't be a guarantee to make the team's roster going into training camp, in the opinion of The Athletic's Chris Burke. Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, ended his rookie season with 63 carries for 273 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns on the ground. The Lions notably didn't give him a very big workload when Kerryon Johnson was hurt last year either, and he'll have to compete with Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson and Wes Hills for depth behind Kerryon Johnson this summer. Even if he makes the roster out of camp, Johnson won't be guaranteed many touches as the second or third running back.

From RotoBaller

Jameis Winston Feb 15 11:00pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team remains undecided on whether to keep quarterback Jameis Winston or move on from the former first overall draft pick. Arians said they probably won't know what direction they are headed until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period from March 16-18. If Tampa uses a franchise tag on Winston, he'll be guaranteed around $27 million on a one-year deal. The fact that the Buccaneers are waiting to see which quarterbacks become available doesn't really inspire much confidence that they want to retain him. Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and set a franchise record with 33 touchdown passes, but he also tossed a league-high 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver, Winston will have his highest fantasy value as a strong QB1 if he remains in Tampa, but that won't be up to him.

From RotoBaller

Robby Anderson Feb 15 11:00pm ET

The New York Jets are highly unlikely to re-sign impending free-agent wide receiver Robby Anderson, according to league sources. Anderson is expected to receiver $13 to $15 million annually on a multi-year deal on the open market, but Gang Green would like to sign him for just $10 million annually. Because the 26-year-old will be one of the better receivers on the open market, his price will be driven up despite the fact that he had just 779 yards on 52 catches for five touchdowns. Anderson also has yet to produce a 1,000-yard season in four years in the NFL, but he will get paid, and it's unlikely to come from the Jets. The Temple alum could be a fantasy sleeper if he lands in the right situation next month.

From RotoBaller

Rashaad Penny Feb 15 11:00pm ET

Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee), whose 2019 season ended in early December when he suffered a torn ACL, said he got back on an exercise bike earlier this week. The 24-year-old second-year back is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but he still might be a question mark to be ready for Week 1 in 2020. The former first-round pick could be a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list if he's not ready, which would keep him out the first six weeks. In 10 games for Seattle last year, Penny had 65 carries for 370 yards and three scores. If he can stay healthy for a full season, Penny has the skills to be relevant in all point-per-reception leagues. Monitor his progress this spring and through the summer.

From RotoBaller

A.J. Bouye Feb 15 10:50pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye could be released this offseason to clear $11.4 million in salary cap space. Bouye has two interceptions the last two years, while Tre Herndon, who started opposite of Bouye when Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams, had three interceptions last season and will make $660,000 in 2020. Jacksonville could look to the draft in April to try and address their need for a new cornerback. Once one of the top secondaries in the NFL just several seasons ago, it has now become a weakness for the Jags.

From RotoBaller

Leonard Fournette Feb 15 10:40pm ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars must decide this offseason if they will pick up running back Leonard Fournette's $10.1 million fifth-year option for 2021. It's an interesting decision because they are limited for salary cap space, so they could decline the option and wait to see how he performs in 2020 before considering a contract extension. The 25-year-old had 265 carries for a career-high 1,152 yards, but he rushed for only three touchdowns in 15 games. It's Fournette's second 1,000-yard season in his three seasons. Despite the lack of TDs in 2019, he should be seen as an RB1 in a run-first offense next season. He has yet to play in a full season, though, so he's a bit risky as an RB1.

From RotoBaller

Nick Foles Feb 15 10:40pm ET

The Jacksonville Jaguars need to continue searching for a franchise quarterback. Rookie Gardner Minshew showed flashes in 2019, but he'll need to prove he's more than just a game manager in a larger sample size. The team could also seek to find a trade partner for Nick Foles, who flopped as a big free-agent acquisition in 2019. Because of the presence of Minshew on the roster, Foles likely doesn't have much of a future in Jacksonville, and his lack of mobility limits his production with Jacksonville's offensive line a work in progress. Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener and played in just four games while being benched after he returned from injury. Even if he wins the starting job heading into next season, he'll be a midrange QB2, at best.

From RotoBaller

Kwon Alexander Feb 14 5:40pm ET

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander (biceps), who had surgery on his pectoral muscle last season, was also dealing with a biceps injury and is undergoing surgery on Friday, according to sources. Alexander should be fully recovered in time for the 2020 season. The 25-year-old played in just eight games in 2019 in his first season with San Fran because of his pectoral injury. In those eight contests, Alexander had 34 tackles (22 solo), half a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. He's played in just 14 games the last two seasons and will need to stay on the field if he wants to remain with the 49ers past the 2020 season.

From RotoBaller

Paul Richardson Feb 14 5:30pm ET

The Washington Redskins released wide receiver Paul Richardson and cornerback Josh Norman on Friday. Richardson, 27, was due to make $6.5 million this year, but he caught just 48 passes in 17 games in his two seasons and made almost $17 million in that span. Norman, 32, played just 53 percent of the defensive snaps last season and fell down the depth chart late in the year for his poor play. He was scheduled to make $12 million in 2020. Norman didn't make one Pro Bowl in his four seasons in D.C. and had seven interceptions. Richardson could latch on elsewhere as a deep threat and bounce back, but he will need to stay healthy.

From RotoBaller

Kenyan Drake Feb 14 5:20pm ET

The Arizona Cardinals want to retain running back Kenyan Drake, who will be a free agent in March, and placing the franchise tag on him is a possibility if they don't sign him to a long-term deal. Drake took over the starting gig from the injured David Johnson after the trade from Miami, and Johnson would likely play second fiddle to Drake in the backfield if the Cardinals don't trade him. In eight games last year, Drake ran the ball 123 times for 643 yards (5.2 yards per carry) with a career-high eight touchdowns. He fits the Cardinals much better from a fantasy perspective than he did in Miami, despite Arizona's shaky offensive line. If Johnson is on another team come next season, Drake will have RB1 upside.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Peterson Feb 14 11:10am ET

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that the team has had initial contract-extension talks with cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is heading into the final year of his contract. Peterson, a fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been one of the best cover corners in his nine seasons in the NFL. He missed the first six games of last season due to suspension and finished 2019 with 53 total tackles (46 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions. He had a falling out with Arizona recently, but he has gone back on trade demands and is willing to remain in the desert.

From RotoBaller

David Johnson Feb 14 11:00am ET

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said that cutting running back David Johnson "is not an option." Keim also added that "you can't just have one back," and Kenyan Drake, who took over the starting role in the second half last year, is scheduled to be a free agent in March. Johnson ran the ball just 94 times for 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns in 13 games last season. He battled nagging injuries that slowed him down and caused him to lose the starting job to Drake. The 28-year-old looked like a shell of his former self, one that ran for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016. Even if DJ returns in 2020, it seems unlikely that he'll be a bell-cow back with all of his injury concerns.

From RotoBaller

Tyrod Taylor Feb 13 10:00pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said that quarterback Tyrod Taylor, last year's backup to Philip Rivers, could have an opportunity to win the starting job in 2020. "Tyrod Taylor is a heck of a quarterback," Lynn told AM 570 LA Sports. "We couldn't have a better backup right now, and now he has an opportunity to maybe step up into a starting role." Taking care of the football is a top priority for Lynn after Philip Rivers turned the ball over 23 times in 2019. In his last full season as a starter, Taylor turned the ball over just six times in 2017 while leading the Bills to the playoffs. Taylor can also add an element with his legs on the ground as a mobile quarterback. With the weapons around him if he's the starter, Taylor will have QB1 upside, but he'll be better off taken as a QB2 with upside in fantasy.

From RotoBaller

Diontae Johnson Feb 13 9:40pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (hernia) recently underwent sports hernia surgery. A third-round pick in 2019, Johnson caught 59 passes on 92 targets for 680 yards and five touchdowns in a full season in his rookie year with Pittsburgh. He saw more opportunities during the year with JuJu Smith-Schuster banged up, but he was also hurt by poor quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. If Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) returns healthy in 2020, Johnson could make quite the leap in his second season as the potential No. 2 receiver behind Smith-Schuster. He should be recovered in plenty of time to be ready for training camp this summer.

From RotoBaller

Philip Rivers Feb 13 3:50pm ET

The Los Angeles Chargers agreed to a one-year contract extension with head coach Anthony Lynn that puts him with the team through the 2021 season. The Chargers are entering a transition now that they have officially moved on from veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, and they're expected to let running back Melvin Gordon walk in free agency as well. Tyrod Taylor could be under center for the Bolts, at least to start the 2020 season, but the Chargers could also upgrade the position through free agency, the draft or a trade. Lynn, 51, led the Chargers to a disappointing 5-11 last-place finish in the AFC West. He's 26-22 in his three years with LA.

From RotoBaller

Ben Roethlisberger Feb 13 2:20pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said that "all signs are good to this point" with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow), who will have a medical checkup on Feb. 21. The team's medical staff has constantly been working with Big Ben, and Colbert said Roethlisberger could be better than he was a year ago. The 37-year-old (38 in March) played in just two games in 2019 before requiring right elbow surgery. It will be tough for him to be better than he was in 2018 (5,129 yards, 34 touchdowns), but Big Ben could still have QB1 upside in 2020. The smart play is to take him as a QB2 with some upside in fantasy drafts, though. A healthy Big Ben will be great news for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was a huge bust in 2019.

From RotoBaller

Anthony Firkser Feb 13 2:20pm ET

The Tennessee Titans agreed on a one-year contract extension with tight end Anthony Firkser on Thursday. Firkser was on track to become an exclusive-rights free agent in March. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The Harvard alum had two big touchdown catches in the playoffs and hauled in 14 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown in 15 games during the regular season. Firkser caught three passes for 45 yards and the two scores in the postseason. Tennessee might be moving on from veteran Delanie Walker this offseason, but even so, Firkser will likely back up Jonnu Smith in 2020, making him a fantasy afterthought.

From RotoBaller

Matthew Stafford Feb 13 12:20pm ET

Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn refuted a Wednesday night report that the team is in talks to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford. "100% False!!" Quinn wrote in a text message to the Free Press. Stafford is entering his 12th season in the NFL and threw for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions while setting a career-high passer rating in just eight games before suffering a back injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season. Detroit has the No. 3 pick in the draft, prompting speculation that they could move on from Stafford and select another QB. Stafford gives the Lions the best chance to win in 2020, and the team would incur a $32 million salary cap hit if they trade him.

From RotoBaller

Matthew Stafford Feb 13 10:23am ET

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford is the subject of trade rumors, but general manager Bob Quinn stated the rumors are '100 percent false.'

Fantasy Spin: Stafford was third in fantasy points per game at the position, but he missed half of the season. He'll be a midrange QB1 with some injury risk next season.

From TheHuddle