Week 12 Sleepers

Nick Mensio identifies a dozen Week 12 sleepers and cheap FanDuel options, checking in on Steven Jackson, Isaiah Crowell, Cecil Shorts and others

It’s Week 12. That means we’re one week away from the start of the fantasy playoffs in a good amount of leagues. It also happens to mean byes are wrapping up this week, with just the Panthers and Steelers getting this Sunday off. With pretty much everyone in action, the “sleeper” season is coming to a close. I’m simply looking for value and under-the-radar plays. Vegas isn’t projecting any real shootouts aside from maybe Baltimore at New Orleans (over-under of 50) on Monday night. Below is a mix of re-draft and DFS options, with Payer X’s FanDuel salary in parentheses. As mentioned above, I’m looking for “cheap” and “value.” Let’s get to it.

QB Mark Sanchez vs. Titans ($7500): Sanchez is coming off a real clunker in Green Bay despite the looks of his final stat line. But the Eagles were playing on a short week and on the road at Lambeau. Sanchez saved his day statistically in garbage time. But we know one thing with coach Chip Kelly’s offense. There are yards to be had in it. The Titans field an above-average pass defense; they’re allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the ninth-fewest passing yards. This time, however, Tennessee is on a short week and on the road. This is easily the best supporting cast Sanchez has had in his career. It makes him good. Not vice-versa. Fire Sanchez up as a mid-range QB1 on Sunday.

QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Redskins ($7300): Kaepernick isn’t a play for the faint of heart. Big games have been few and far between for the third-year quarterback in an offense that seems to straitjacket Kaepernick more than it lets him loose. But Kaepernick deserves some of the blame. He’s had bad pocket awareness at times. His numbers are also down thanks to zero rushing scores after totaling nine touchdowns on the ground the previous two seasons. This is a week for Kaepernick to have one of those breakout games. The Redskins are giving up the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and got shredded by Russell Wilson on the ground for 122 yards and one touchdown in Week 5. Kaepernick is capable of doing the same. If you’re willing to take the plunge with Kaepernick on FanDuel, I’d be stack him with Michael Crabtree, who should run most of his routes against RCB David Amerson. Amerson has been one of the worst corners in the league the past month.

RB Shane Vereen vs. Lions ($6500): We, along with many others, have been cautioning not to put all those eggs into the Jonas Gray basket after his four-touchdown outburst against the Colts last week. Vereen is still a big part of the offense. And this profiles as a Vereen week. The Lions are nails against the run, but they do struggle against “space” backs like Vereen who can catch the ball. Detroit has allowed the ninth-most catches and fourth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs, yet have yielded the second-fewest rushing yards. The New England backfield is going to be a week-to-week guessing game, and it’s dangerous to bank on any of the Patriots running backs. But I feel more comfortable trotting Vereen out there as my RB2/FLEX over Gray.

RB Steven Jackson vs. Browns ($6400): Jackson has taken full control of the Atlanta backfield after it looked like a muddied four-man mess earlier in the year. Antone Smith broke his leg in Week 11 and is done for the season, while Jacquizz Rodgers has become a non-factor on offense. Devonta Freeman is Jackson’s breather back. SJ39 is averaging 18-plus touches per game the past three weeks as the clear lead dog. He’s also found pay dirt two of the past three games. Jackson is still just averaging a paltry 3.6 YPC, but should find running room Sunday. Cleveland is 30th in the league allowing 4.6 YPC, and it just lost top ILB Karlos Dansby to a sprained MCL. Only the Titans and Giants have given up more rushing yards. This is one of the few weeks I’d feel comfortable starting Jackson as an RB2/FLEX.

RB Trent Richardson vs. Jaguars ($5700): I feel so dirty listing Richardson. He’s one of the most ineffective backs in the league. But with Ahmad Bradshaw (leg/ankle) done for the season, this is T-Rich’s backfield. Richardson had been averaging 15.2 touches per game prior to Bradshaw’s injury, and we’d expect that number to creep closer to 20 down the stretch. 20 touches in this offense, and you’re bound to have a high floor. In a game the Colts should coast to a victory in, Richardson will likely receive plenty of clock-killing carries. He’s also the favorite for goal-line duties after splitting them with Bradshaw the first 11 weeks. Richardson is a mid-to-high RB2.

RB Isaiah Crowell at Falcons ($5500): The Browns have realized Crowell is their best runner. Ben Tate is no longer in Cleveland, leaving this as a two-man backfield between Crowell and Terrance West. Crowell will be first man up against the Falcons, but it’s anyone’s guess after that. We’re putting our chips on Crowell leading the charge, with West chipping in 8-10 carries. Crowell is the far better bet for a touchdown plunge and has averaged 14 touches per game the past two weeks. He now gets an Atlanta defense that has surrendered the most rushing touchdowns, second-most catches, and second-most fantasy points to running backs. Crowell is easily this week’s top bargain at running back on FanDuel.

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WR Vincent Jackson at Bears ($6500): Jackson isn’t a “sleeper” by any means, but he’s a big-time value play on FanDuel. The site’s WR34, Jackson offers legitimate top-18 upside. V-Jax hasn’t scored since Week 4 and has just one 100-yard game on the year. He’s coming off a 3-43 line on four targets against the Redskins. Jackson catches a ton of passes against right cornerbacks and out of the slot. On tap for Jackson? Bears struggling rookie RCB Kyle Fuller and SCB Demontre Hurst. Hurst may actually miss the game after hurting his knee at Thursday’s practice. But that would force an even weaker player into heavy snaps. Opposing quarterbacks have a 144.0 passer rating throwing at Fuller and Hurst the past four weeks. Look for the Bears to pat heavy attention to Mike Evans, while Jackson feasts on single-coverage.

WR Cecil Shorts at Colts ($6300): Allen Hurns has been talked about a bit as a potential Week 12 play, as he’s stepping into an every-down role in place of Allen Robinson (foot, I.R.). But I like Shorts’ matchup much better, if Hurns is indeed replacing Robinson. Robinson ran a ton of routes against opposing right cornerbacks. Vontae Davis mans that spot for the Colts. He’s not a shadow corner, either. That means Shorts will see plenty of LCB Greg Toler and SCB Darius Butler. Toler may not play due to a concussion, which would force special teamer Josh Gordy into nickel duties. Toler and Butler have been a couple of the worst cover corners in the league this season. Shorts is averaging 7.5 targets per game the past month and is expected to see a spike following Robinson’s season-ending injury. Look for Blake Bortles to be throwing the ball quite a bit in the second half.

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WR Kenny Stills vs. Ravens ($5900): Stills is a popular name this week following Brandin Cooks’ season-ending thumb injury. While I’m not super high on Stills for the remainder of the season, I do like his matchup Monday night. He runs most of his routes against left corners, and Ravens LCB Lardarius Webb has been whooped on a regular basis recently, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst cover corner the past four weeks. And since RCB Jimmy Smith’s foot injury, Webb has been sticking on the left side with Matt Elam covering the slot. Webb has surrendered a 14-225-1 line on 21 targets his last three outings. Expect 5-7 targets for Stills. He’s on the WR3 map.

WR Marquess Wilson vs. Bucs ($4500): Wilson is a deep sleeper. Making his season debut last week after breaking his collarbone in the preseason, Wilson played 58-of-78 snaps and caught 2-of-4 targets. He was a big part of the offense, jumping right into the mix as the No. 3 receiver. With the Bucs missing LCB Alterraun Verner (hamstring) lately and expected to be without him again this week, RCB Johnthan Banks has been doing more shadowing of opposing No. 1 receivers. I’d look for him to man up against Alshon Jeffery plenty on Sunday, with Brandon Marshall seeing a lot of Crezdon Butler and some mix of Isaiah Frey and Leonard Johnson. Whichever of those three isn’t covering Marshall will be on Wilson. All three are fringe-talent cornerbacks. Wilson was a summer riser who suffered an unfortunate injury. He’s a tall, lanky high-flier. Owners in serious need of a dart-throw wide receiver can look to Wilson. The Bucs have allowed the third-most touchdowns and fantasy points to opposing receivers.

TE Coby Fleener vs. Jaguars ($5400): Dwayne Allen (ankle) is on the shelf and not expected to play Sunday. Pass-catching RB Ahmad Bradshaw (leg) is also hurt and done for the year. That leaves Fleener in an every-down role against a Jaguars defense that is in the bottom-third of the league when it comes to stopping the tight end. Fleener is frustratingly bad at football sometimes, but he’s in such a great spot that it’s hard not to like him as a streaming option. He plays in an elite offense and is long-time buds with Andrew Luck. Fleener is a near-lock for eight-plus targets and an end-zone look or two as the Colts’ biggest pass-catching weapon. Fire him up as a mid-to-high TE1.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Bears ($5100): ASJ is playing every snap, but his target totals have been all over the board. He drew two looks in Week 9, eight in Week 10, and one in Week 11. He’s due for a handful against Chicago. On top of that, the Bears have far-and-away been the worst in the league at covering tight ends. They’ve given up eight touchdowns to the position the past four games. The Cover-2 defense tends to let the tight end run free down the seams. Hell, Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick each scored a touchdown against the Bears in Week 10. At tight end, we’re merely looking for someone that at least poses a threat to score. The position has been so weak once again in 2014. Seferian-Jenkins is a stab-in-the-dark TE2.