By Neil Dutton, Player Profiler
Special to Yahoo Sports
With the fantasy football playoffs upon us, crucial start/sit decision will determine thousands of championships. With that in mind, here are bold predictions for six players who you should be starting throughout the fantasy football league playoffs.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson’s passing numbers over his three games as a starter are pedestrian, evidenced by a 5.4 Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AY/A) — close to league-bottom passing efficiency. As the most explosively mobile quarterback since Michael Vick, Jackson’s upside is derived from his sublime rushing ability. Jackson already ranks No. 2 among quarterbacks with 83 rushing attempts and leads all QBs with 21 red zone carries (1.8 per game). He has rushed for more than 70 yards and scored a rushing touchdown in each of his last two games.
Jackson is staring at two outstanding matchups over the next two weeks. The Chiefs and Bengals are among the most generous towards fantasy QBs this season. Each have allowed four quarterback rushing touchdowns(!) this season.
Jackson’s fantasy championship-week matchup against the Chargers in Week 16 is slightly more worrying, given they’ve allowed the No. 4 fewest fantasy points per game to QBs. However, Jackson’s rushing equity offers a higher fantasy points scoring floor than most pocket passers, and his splash play potential delivers match-up winning upside.
Lamar Jackson is a top-10 quarterback each of the final four weeks of the NFL Regular Season.
Jaylen Samuels was thrust into a starting role due to an injury to star running back James Conner, and possesses an outstanding advanced stats and metrics player profile. Samuels is a superior athlete to Conner, evidenced by his 105.9 (81st percentile) Speed Score, which is the most predictive workout metric indicating future NFL running back success. Furthermore, as an H-back at NC State, Samuels translated his athletic gifts into on-field production, particularly in the passing game, where he commanded a robust 20.2-pecent target share.
As long as Conner remains sidelined, fade Mike Tomlin’s “running back-by-committee” coach-speak and roll with the most athletic and versatile back on Pittsburgh’s roster. Spoiler alert: It’s not Stevan Ridley — it’s Jaylen Samuels.
Jaylen Samuels permanently steals James Conner’s passing down role.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon’s knee injury elevated Austin Ekeler to a starting role for the first time in his NFL career. Like Samuels, Ekeler has been underutilized, evidenced by a mere 34.8% Opportunity Share and 13.3% Dominator Rating this season. No running back deserves an opportunity spike more than Ekeler, whose 6.7 yards per touch ranks No. 3 among qualified running backs. While Ekeler did lose some work to Justin Jackson last week, (and coach Anthony Lynn implied Ekeler is wearing down) Ekeler out-touched Jackson 18-9, including eight targets. Having excelled when called upon for 28-consecutive weeks, Ekeler should still see the bulk of the work — especially in the passing game — as long as Gordon is inactive.
The Chargers have two incredible upcoming match-ups: the flaccid Bengals rush defense in week 14 and a surefire high-scorer with the Chiefs defense in week 15. Cincinnati and Kansas City currently rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs this season. Watch Ekeler usher numerous fantasy teams to the title game before Gordon returns, and if the Chargers clinch a playoff spot prior to week 16, Gordon would likely sit out through the remainder of the season.
Austin Ekeler crushes the dreams of Justin Jackson-enthusiasts and posts fantasy RB1 numbers in the final weeks of the NFL Regular Season.
Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Godwin is finally getting the opportunities his talents have demanded over the last few weeks, thanks in no small part to DeSean Jackson’s injury absence. Godwin is ridiculously efficient, and he has converted 19 of his last 20 targets over the last four games thanks to a “my ball” mentality that has seen him convert 62.5% of his contested catches this season, which ranks No. 5 among qualified NFL wide receivers. Godwin’s efficient playmaking is naturally driving up his usage, evidenced by 51 routes run over the last two games.
The Buccaneers face the Saints in Week 14, the most generous defense towards wide receivers in the entire NFL this season. Tampa Bay then faces Baltimore and Dallas, two of the NFL’s most suffocating pass defenses later this season. Fortunately, the Buccaneers lead all teams in total air yards, and Godwin’s target share trajectory should adequately nullify the diminished efficiency. With the NFL’s highest paid decoy, Mike Evans, occupying Jimmy Smith and Byron Jones, Godwin is in store for a fantastic fantasy finish.
Chris Godwin outscores Mike Evans throughout the fantasy football playoffs.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
Courtland Sutton had tons of promise — and that’s before Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his Achilles’ tendon during practice. Based on age-adjusted college dominance and size-adjusted athleticism, Sutton and D.J. Moore were the class of the 2018 wide receiver group. Sutton is arguably more athletic, evidenced by a 10.27 (90th percentile) Catch Radius and the best Agility Score ever recorded by a 6’3″ football player in the PlayerProfiler.com database. By the numbers, Sutton is a more athletic Alshon Jeffery with a more impressive college resume. What’s not to like?
With both Sanders and starting tight end Jeff Heuerman going down in consecutive weeks, Sutton strides into the Broncos’ target void as one of the NFL’s few prototypical alpha X-receivers. Facing the 49ers, Browns, and Raiders over the next three weeks, Sutton will be a must-start throughout the fantasy playoffs.
Courtland Sutton will be a fantasy WR1 over the next three weeks.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
David Njoku’s form in his second season has given some cause for hope for believers in the coming of the great tight end renaissance. Njoku’s projected opportunity and advanced metrics talent profile suggests he is ready to ascend to the elite NFL TE echelon. Njoku has played on at least 75-percent of the Browns’ snaps, ran at least 20 routes, and commanded a 17.5% Target Share (No. 8 among qualified NFL tight ends) in nine of his 11 games this season. Beyond usage, Njoku and Rob Gronkowski are the only NFL tight ends with size-adjusted athleticism comparable to Travis Kelce.
The Browns schedule is incredibly appealing over the next three weeks, with games against the Panthers, Broncos and Bengals. The Panthers and Bengals are both in the top four in points allowed to tight ends (No. 3 and No. 4). The Broncos are No. 13, but have historically been a defense to target with the tight end in fantasy. Njoku can finish his sophomore season with a bang, and he can deliver you a title in the process.
David Njoku doubles the fantasy output of Rob Gronkowski over the final weeks of the NFL Regular Season.