Players on your bench who will earn your trust come fantasy playoff time

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/31073/" data-ylk="slk:Keke Coutee">Keke Coutee</a> might be stashed on benches due to injury, but he could pay dividends down the fantasy stretch. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
Keke Coutee might be stashed on benches due to injury, but he could pay dividends down the fantasy stretch. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

By Eric McClungPlayer Profiler
Special to Yahoo Sports

Surprise! There are only six weeks remaining on the fantasy football schedule. For most leagues, it’s really just a pair of two separate three-week seasons. Weeks 11-13 set the table for the standard fantasy playoffs during weeks 14-16. Trade deadlines have come and gone but owners are still looking for ways to improve their rosters.

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Deciding which players to hold on benches is just as important as determining which players to target off the waiver wire to replace them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of situations to make sure you stay invested as we head into crunch time of the 2018 fantasy football campaign.

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A Stable of Broncos

It’s possible that the Week 10 bye saw owners in your league move on from underwhelming members of the Denver Broncos such as Courtland Sutton and Royce Freeman, who’s been out since Week 8 with a high ankle sprain. Both players are still owned in a majority of Yahoo! leagues, but just barely. And while the Broncos play four of their next six games on the road, the opposition features a number of fantasy-friendly defenses. Denver’s remaining schedule ranks No. 10 in opposing defense efficiency, per Sharp Football Stats.

Leveraging Denver’s friendly fantasy playoff schedule starts under center. Case Keenum is the most underrated quarterback in fantasy football. Keenum currently ranks No. 6 in deep ball attempts and his 18 Money Throws also shockingly rank No. 6 among NFL quarterbacks. It sounds weird, but fantasy gamers streaming quarterbacks most weeks should consider riding Keenum to a league championship.

Don’t forget about Courtland Sutton. His collegiate resumes, physical measurables, and workout metrics look strikingly similar to Alshon Jeffery on PlayerProfiler.com. After Sutton posted a career-high 78 yards in Week 8, Demaryius Thomas was traded to the Houston Texans. Naturally, the excitement for Sutton hit a fever pitch. Unfortunately, he only saw five targets despite a 10 percent increase in snaps from the week before. Over the next two weeks, Denver draws the Chargers and the Steelers — two pass defenses that have been better than average against fantasy wide receivers — but get the Bengals, 49ers, Browns, and Raiders the rest of the way. That stretch could put Sutton on the map as a weekly fantasy starter.

The aforementioned teams at the end of Denver’s schedule also have issues against the run. This means that Freeman also needs to remain rostered. Even though the third-round pick from Oregon has found himself on the thin side of a platoon with undrafted free agent rookie Phillip Lindsay, Freeman averaged double-digit carries over the first seven games. Now with three weeks off, Freeman is expected to return. He may not capture the starting job, but can do some flex-worthy damage. Despite weighing in at 229 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, Freeman put up very good numbers in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle en route to an 11.06 (83rd-percentile) Agility Score, which is surprisingly quicker than Lindsay’s score.

Royce Freeman Advanced Stats &amp; Metrics Prospect Profile via PlayerProfiler.com
Royce Freeman Advanced Stats & Metrics Prospect Profile via PlayerProfiler.com

Tight end is so thin that Jeff Heuerman’s 20 percent ownership across Yahoo seems too low. Heuerman is coming off a career game in which he recorded 11 targets, 10 receptions, 83 yards, and a touchdown. Heuerman only has 41 targets on the season, but has seen 13 of those come in the red zone. Six of those were in the end zone.

Youth Will Be Served

Josh Reynolds is the most added wide receiver across the Yahoo universe, and it makes perfect sense. At Texas A&M, Reynolds posted a 39.7-percent 80th percentile College Dominator Rating and demonstrated impressive athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine, best-illustrated by his 10.23 (87th-percentile) Catch Radius. Just because he was buried on a very talented depth chart doesn’t mean Reynolds lacks ability. Before his Week 12 bye, Reynolds gets Kansas City at home in a game with a massive over/under. Unlike his previous starts, the Rams know Cooper Kupp isn’t coming back this year. While Reynolds underwhelmed in Kupp’s first game out, he bounced right back by scoring two touchdowns on only three catches in Week 8.

A 34-year-old Brandon Marshall is the next up in terms of wide receiver additions this week, but rookie Keke Coutee’s advanced stats and metrics suggest he is a superior playmaker. Over his first five games, Deshaun Watson averaged more than 38 pass attempts per game but suffered a chest injury in Week 5. In the four games since, Watson has been limited to 23 attempts per game, although only one opponent scored more than 20 points against Houston during that time.

While Houston added Demaryius Thomas, Coutee is unlikely to see much disruption to his role as he owns a slot snap share that’s well above 60-percent on PlayerProfiler. Coutee has only played in four games (weeks 4 through 7) while dealing with a reoccurring hamstring issue. Assuming he remains healthy, Coutee can be a favor going forward. Five of Houston’s next six opponents are in the top half of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, highlighted by the Jets and Browns (both top-five).

Handcuff SZN

Spencer Ware and Malcolm Brown are the obvious handcuffs that Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley owners should be squeezing onto their rosters, especially if they are trending toward securing a playoff spot. And now that Le’Veon Bell won’t be coming back, those with James Conner on their roster should take a look at Jaylen Samuels, who’s very intriguing on Yahoo where he also has tight end eligibility. During the three years they played together at NC State, Samuels caught more passes and had a higher yards per carry average than Nyheim Hines. Veteran Stevan Ridley will play a part in a scenario where Conner is unable to suit up, but Samuels’ all-around skill set is more likely than not to win out.

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