Injuries are always a part of football and, of course, fantasy football, but man, in the words of the great Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out here?"
Week 14 brought with it the receiver rapture as numerous high-level pass-catchers went down with what are essentially season-ending injuries.
Mike Evans luckily gave managers a deep-bomb touchdown before exiting with a hamstring injury. It doesn’t look like he’ll be back this year. Calvin Ridley was just starting to cook against Carolina (5 rec, 76 yds) before succumbing to an abdominal injury. He was placed on IR. Alshon Jeffery may have suffered a torn Achilles. Marvin Jones injured his ankle and was placed on IR. DJ Chark injured his ankle as well and was seen in a walking boot post-game. Breakout star DeVante Parker suffered a concussion and is looking dicey for this week.
This doesn’t include players like T.Y. Hilton and Adam Thielen; guys we haven’t seen play football since the Eisenhower administration.
So yeah, we’re going to have some weird looking rosters during the fantasy semis this week. But it also means a lot of you need some receiver advice right now.
I’ll try to help by using matchup data provided by Sports Info Solutions to uncover some under-the-radar plays while also pumping the brakes on some higher profile receivers.
Darius Slayton vs. MIA
A strong play this week but you already knew that. He was a first-half beast last week (5/154/2) and this week he takes on a Dolphins defense that over the last eight weeks has given up the second-most receiving yards to the left side — the side of the field where Slayton primarily lines up. The Dolphins have also given up the 4th-most fantasy points per game to opposing receivers.
Jarvis Landry vs. ARI
I know that the Browns offense seems broken but they’re playing Arizona and the Cardinals are the panacea for all ailing pass games. They allow a ton of yards everywhere but they’ve been particularly generous to the slot, where they’ve given up the 2nd-most yards in the league. Landry, of course, plays the majority of his snaps out of the said slot.
Diontae Johnson vs. BUF
Star corner Tre’Davious White is out there locking up the entire right side of the field and as a result, teams are avoiding him, instead choosing to test the left side. The Bills have given up the 6th-most yards to the left side which is where you’ll primarily find Diontae Johnson. I’ve been uber-impressed by the rookie out of Toledo and he’ll look to build upon his big WK14 performance when he collected 6 catches for 76 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns (one was a return TD).
John Brown vs. PIT
The Bills are on the road and the Steelers have been nasty defensively. Since WK7 Pittsburgh has allowed the 3rd-fewest yards to the left side of the field, the side of the field where Brown plays the majority of his snaps.
Robby Anderson vs. BAL
I would fade Anderson versus the Ravens on Thursday. The Marcus Peters trade as we know has helped take this defense to another level. But low-key Jimmy Smith has actually been the team’s best corner. Remember, he came back from injury in Week 9 and according to Sports Info Solutions, he’s allowed a 42.8% catch rate and just 23.6 yards per game in coverage. Smith lines up on the left side, the same side that Robby Anderson plays the bulk of his snaps.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. CLE
Over the last two months, the Browns have allowed the fewest receiving yards to the slot. Considering Fitz plays almost exclusively out of the slot, the matchup is not ideal. Plus, the 36-year-old receiver has cracked 60 receiving yards just once in his last seven games. Touchdown upside is nonexistent too, as Fitzgerald has just 1 TD in his last 10 games.
Justin Watson vs. DET
I realize that he sounds like one of those create-a-player characters in Madden but the second-year receiver out of Penn (not Penn State — Penn as in Ivy League school, University of Pennsylvania) has intriguing athletic traits. Standing 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Watson ran a 4.41 and posted a 40-inch vertical. Those are fantastic numbers for a man of his size. Watson was highly productive in college as well, setting the school record for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. With Mike Evans shelved and taking on a Lions defense that has given up the 9th-most fantasy points per game to receivers, Watson is a high-upside, low-floor play.
Chris Conley vs. OAK
The Raiders have allowed the most receiving yards on deep passes this year and Chris Conley can absolutely fly. He ran a blistering 4.35 40 at the combine and paired that with an otherworldly 45-inch vertical. Dede Westbrook is obviously the much safer play but he’s not much of a touchdown maker with only eight scores in 35 games played. If you’re chasing upside, Conley is your guy.
Allen Hurns vs. NYG
Both DeVante Parker and slot man Albert Wilson could miss this week’s game with concussions, opening up quite a few targets against a Giants secondary that has allowed the 6th-most fantasy points per game to the receiver position. It’s also a defense that has allowed the 3rd-most receiving yards to slot receivers over the last eight weeks. Hurns does play some outside receiver but more than half his snaps come on the inside as a slot man. It’s a fantastic matchup for Hurns and I love the fact that Fitzmagic is back there slinging it with reckless abandon. I could absolutely see Hurns being a difference-maker for fantasy managers brave enough to start him this week.
James Koh is a fantasy football analyst and an award-winning journalist. He’s probably wrong, but you never know. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh.