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Fantasy Playbook: The All-Bad-Team Fantasy Squad

It never feels good to plug in a player on a struggling team, but some players—from Mike Evans to Preston Williams—can outshine their situations. Which are worth relying on?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It certainly wasn’t the headliner for the Week 9 Sunday slate, but I have to admit to a morbid curiosity―or maybe genuine excitement―for the Jets-Dolphins tilt. It’s not often that you see history unfold, and New York–Miami was perhaps the worst matchup in NFL history. The Dolphins’ 26-18 victory did not disappoint, at least when viewed through a fantasy lens: The game, which featured two squads boasting sub-negative-100 point differentials, served as an excellent reminder that even when a pair of terrible teams meet on the gridiron, there’s still fantasy points to mine.

In fantasy football, it often pays to target players on explosive, high-scoring offenses; the more yards and points a team collects, the bigger the fantasy-points pie to divvy up. That’s why it rarely feels great to plug some dude from a team like the Dolphins or Jets—or Redskins, Titans, Broncos, etc.—into your fantasy lineup. But sometimes, you just don’t have a choice, and as these six players showed on Sunday, bad teams can swing fantasy matchups, too. In honor of the historically crummy Jets-Dolphins tilt, here’s the All-Bad-Team Fantasy Squad from Week 9―along with which players you can trust going forward.

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins

Just when you start to think the magic is about to run out for Fitzpatrick, he comes out and has a game like the one he had on Sunday. The 36-year-old veteran is certainly prone to turning the ball over in bunches (like we saw in last week’s loss to the Steelers, when he tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble to finish with just 11.3 fantasy points), but played mostly mistake-free ball in the Dolphins’ win, completing 24-of-36 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks to tally 23.7 fantasy points and cement his spot as a QB1 this week. It’s best not to expect much consistency from Fitz, but he’s played his way into the streamable quarterback conversation depending on who the Dolphins are playing. I’d probably avoid him next week at the Colts and in Week 11 vs. the Bills, but the Dolphins have a pretty juicy schedule for fantasy quarterbacks down the stretch, drawing matchups with the Browns, Eagles, Jets, Giants, and Bengals from Week 12 through 16. Fitzpatrick could be a sneaky streaming play for the fantasy playoffs for teams with QB injuries or unfavorable matchups at the position.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Chargers

Fresh off firing offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the previously listless Chargers seemed to find some much-needed juice this week against the Packers—especially the embattled Gordon. L.A. totaled 442 yards of offense and averaged 6.5 yards per play, with Gordon leading the way on the ground with 20 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. With another three catches for 29 yards through the air, Gordon posted a season-high 25.9 fantasy points.

I’m not quite ready to declare the fifth-year pro “back”—he did benefit from advantageous field position on his first score (following an 8-yard Packers punt) and some luck (a defensive offside nullified an. L.A. field goal attempt and gave the Chargers a new set of downs)—but he looked more explosive in this game than he had in any of the previous four, and his volume was where it needs to be to consider him a weekly flex option. He out-carried Austin Ekeler 20 to 12 and saw an equal number of targets in the passing game (four), indicating the Chargers have no plans to move away from Gordon.

RB: Derrick Henry, Titans

Henry trudged along as the only dependable fantasy option in the Titans offense, posting a 13-carry, 63-yard, one-touchdown line to go with three catches for 36 yards and a score through the air. His 24.9 PPR points puts him in the top five among running backs with Sunday in the books, and should have him moving up the list from his overall RB12 spot coming into the week. I mostly avoided Henry in drafts this August, fearing inconsistency, negative game scripts, and a messy quarterback situation in Tennessee. But Henry’s been a shockingly steady fantasy performer this season, falling short of double-digits just twice. He’s got a scintillating matchup with the Chiefs defense next week and should remain a high-floor, low-ceiling fantasy option after the team’s Week 11 bye.

WR: Mike Evans, Buccaneers

Evans kept his momentum going on Sunday, posting 12 catches on 16 targets for 180 yards and one touchdown in the Buccaneers’ overtime loss to the Seahawks. Evans has been one of the most maddeningly inconsistent superstars this season, putting his fantasy teams on a roller-coaster ride with ridiculous highs (like his 42.8 point outing last week against the Titans) and frustrating lows (like his nothing-burger in Week 5 against New Orleans). But despite his early-season ups and downs (and the downs can partly be attributed to flu-like symptoms in weeks 1 and 2), Evans has been unstoppable over the past three games and looks like he’s on track to finish the year as one of the best wideouts in fantasy.

You can’t trust anyone in Tampa Bay’s backfield, and the team has now lost four straight, but the Jameis Winston–led Buccaneers passing game remains a fantasy goldmine, particularly for Evans and rising star Chris Godwin (who caught seven passes for 61 yards for 13.9 fantasy points). This is stating the obvious, but Evans and Godwin (who came into the week as the WR4 and WR3 in PPR, respectively) should be in your starting lineup every week.

WR: Preston Williams, Dolphins

There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about right now when it comes to the Dolphins offense, but the emergence of rookie undrafted receiver Preston Williams has been a definite bright spot this season. Williams, who came into this week leading Miami in both catches and receiving yards, gave the Miami passing game a boost again, reeling in five passes for 72 yards and two scores (for 24.2 PPR points) in the team’s 28-16 win over the Jets. Williams is quietly a moderately high-floor PPR flex option, having posted just one game with fewer than 8.2 fantasy points (a 5.1-point dud in Week 6). The rookie has notched double-digit points in five of his other seven games and has emerged as a favorite target for both Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen. He did suffer a knee injury in the Dolphins’ win, so monitor the severity of that this week.

TE: Noah Fant, Broncos

I didn’t think I’d be saying this coming into Sunday, but backup quarterback Brandon Allen—a former Jags sixth-rounder who had never started a game in his three year career—served as a spark plug for a lethargic Broncos offense, boosting Denver to a 24-19 win over the reeling Browns. Allen’s efficient debut performance was a boon for rookie tight end Noah Fant, who posted a career-high 115 yards and a touchdown on three catches, putting him on pace to be the overall TE2 this week, pending Monday’s game. Fant’s top-tier athleticism was on display on a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter, but that highlight doesn’t exactly make Fant a trustworthy fantasy player going forward. The rookie took his lumps in the season’s first half, dropping far too many easy catches, and his 20.5 fantasy points on Sunday is just Fant’s second double-digit finish this season. Coming out of the bye, the Broncos will face much steeper competition in the Vikings and Bills—and Fant will return to his status as a desperation-only streamer at tight end, at least until he shows some week-to-week consistency.

OK, on to the rest of the happenings around the league.

Risers and Sliders

Riser: WR DK Metcalf, Seahawks

Metcalf has quickly blossomed as a go-to-guy in the Seahawks offense, and he feasted on an inexperienced Tampa Bay secondary on Sunday with a six-catch, 123-yard, one-touchdown line on nine targets—good for 27 fantasy points and an overall WR3 finish through Sunday. It was apparent again in this game that the big-bodied rookie has earned Russell Wilson’s trust; the MVP-contending signal-caller repeatedly looked to Metcalf as the game went down to the wire, with the former Ole Miss star collecting 106 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. Metcalf fell to the late second round ostensibly because of concerns over his lateral agility, but with turbobooster acceleration and incredible physicality at the catch point, the Seahawks have figured out how to make him a dangerous downfield threat. He’s posted double-digit fantasy points in four of his last five games.

Slider: QB Mitchell Trubisky, Bears

Trubisky’s tailspin into fantasy irrelevance continued on Sunday, with the third-year quarterback completing just 10 of 21 passes for 125 yards and zero touchdowns in the Bears’ 22-14 loss to the Eagles. With a meager 6.5-point fantasy day, Trubisky’s now posted single-digit outings in five of his seven starts this season. He’s off the fantasy radar for single-QB leagues and he’s even a dicey start in two-QB formats.

Riser: RB Jaylen Samuels, Steelers

With starter James Conner on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, the Steelers looked to backup running backs Trey Edmunds and Samuels to carry the load in the team’s 26-24 upset win over the Colts. Edmunds got the lion’s share of action in the ground game, carrying the ball a team-high 12 times for 73 yards, but Samuels made his mark in the passing attack, reeling in 13 catches—a new Steelers record for a running back—for 73 yards to notch 19.3 PPR points. Samuels is likely to head back to the bench if Conner can get back onto the field next week in the team’s matchup against the Rams, but the second-year pro proved Sunday that he’s a handcuff worth rostering. Conner has been perpetually nicked up basically all season, having left five separate games with injuries since Week 2.

Slider: WR Terry McLaurin, Redskins

McLaurin’s been the unquestioned go-to guy for the Redskins this year, but the electric rookie playmaker posted his third straight subpar fantasy outing on Sunday, catching just four passes for 39 yards in the 24-9 loss to Buffalo. With Case Keenum on the bench, McLaurin’s fantasy value has taken a massive hit.

Riser: WR Zach Pascal, Colts

With T.Y. Hilton sidelined to a calf injury, the injury-ravaged Colts receiving corps badly needed someone to step up on Sunday. Pascal answered the bell: The second-year pro reeled in five of six targets for 76 yards and a touchdown, notching 18.6 fantasy points on the day. With Hilton expected to miss three or four games, Pascal should be a start-worthy flex option over the next month, whether Jacoby Brissett or Brian Hoyer is under center (more on that in a bit).

Slider: RB Aaron Jones, Packers

The NFL’s touchdown leader coming into Sunday had a rare off-day, touching the ball just nine times (eight carries for 30 yards and one catch for negative-1 yard) and tallying 3.9 fantasy points. It was Jones’s worst outing of the season, and came in a game in which the entire Packers offense struggled to get into a rhythm.

Riser: RB Adrian Peterson, Redskins

The Redskins kept the training wheels on rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the team’s 24-9 loss to Buffalo (he attempted just 22 passes despite Washington’s trailing for much of the game), instead running the offense through Peterson. The veteran back carried the ball 18 times for 108 yards while tacking on a 22-yard reception, notching 14.0 points in what looked like an awful fantasy matchup. In the team’s last four games, Peterson has now carried the ball 23 times, 20 times, 14 times, and 18 times, respectively.

Slider: QB Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars

Minshew came into this week as a fantasy QB1 (12th in points at the position) and as one of the favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He comes out of it looking like he may lose the starting job in Jacksonville. The rookie sensation tossed two ugly picks and lost a pair of fumbles in the second half of the Jaguars’ 26-3 loss to the Texans, finishing with a disappointing 7.8 points on the day. With three rough outings in his last four games, the surprising sixth-rounder has fallen back to earth and Jacksonville may look to Nick Foles to finish out the season following the team’s Week 10 bye. Stay tuned.

Riser: RB Duke Johnson, Texans

Johnson took advantage of a slightly bigger role in the Texans’ win over the Jags, turning 12 touches (just his third game this year with 10-plus touches) into 81 yards and a touchdown to notch 19.1 PPR points. The fifth-year back has been a frustrating fantasy flex option this season, mostly playing second fiddle to bruising back Carlos Hyde (who notched 19 carries for 160 yards but lost a fumble at the goal line). But Johnson’s efficient play on Sunday―combined with the fact that he came into the week atop the running back leaderboard in the NFL in PFF’s elusive rating (ahead of big-name fantasy stars like Josh Jacobs, Alvin Kamara, and Chris Carson)―was another reminder that he deserves a bigger piece of the pie in Houston. Speaking of pie …

Cutting Up the Pie

Did we see a changing of the guard in Buffalo?

The venerable and ageless Frank Gore was the Bills’ unquestioned lead during the first half of the season, but in Sunday’s win over the Redskins, we saw the team turn to rookie Devin Singletary to lead the ground game. Singletary got the first two carries for Buffalo—the first time it hasn’t been Gore all year—then finished out the game playing 66 percent of the team’s snaps, carrying the ball 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 45 yards through the air. Gore (34 percent of snaps, 11 carries, 15 yards) was still involved, and got three goal-line rushes in the first half (all three were stuffed), but the Bills clearly handed the lead-back job to Singletary in this one.

Ty Johnson leads Lions backfield, but J.D. McKissic finds paydirt.

Tra Carson emerged as the surprising lead back to replace Kerryon Johnson in the Lions backfield last week, but after a hamstring injury prompted the Lions to place Carson on injured reserve, Detroit used a committee approach at the position in the loss to the Raiders on Sunday. Rookie Ty Johnson led the team in carries, rushing nine times for 29 yards while adding three catches for 7 yards (6.6 PPR points), but McKissic (who got the start) was the guy to have in your roster this week—he chipped in four carries for 32 yards and three catches for 40 yards and a score (16.2 PPR points). Neither Johnson nor McKissic got the type of volume that makes them reliable fantasy options, and until we get more clarity on the muddled Lions backfield, both players make for risky choices as flex options.

The Injury Report

QB Jacoby Brissett, Colts: Brissett injured his knee in the second quarter and didn’t return. Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said after the game that the initial diagnosis indicates a possible MCL injury for the team’s starter, who was replaced by Brian Hoyer. Hoyer completed 17 of 26 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns but threw a pick-six and lost a fumble in the game. If the veteran journeyman starts next week for the Colts, he will, at the very least, draw a soft opponent in the Jets. Still, with Indy playing on its de facto third-string quarterback at this point, it’s a downgrade for the entire offensive group.

WR Adam Thielen, Vikings: Thielen reaggravated a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the Vikings’ 26-23 loss to the Chiefs and didn’t return. Considering that injury kept Thielen out of last week’s game, the talented wideout has what seems to be a good chance to miss time going forward. In his stead, Laquon Treadwell stepped up, catching three of five targets for 58 yards.

WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Jackson left the Eagles win over the Bears in the early going after reaggravating the abdominal injury that has sidelined him since Week 2. Head coach Doug Pederson said after the game that pulling Jackson was precautionary and that the team would have more testing on Monday.

WR Preston Williams, Dolphins: Williams was knocked out of the fourth quarter with a knee injury and was carted to the locker room. The rookie playmaker will have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.

Smash the Add Button

Here’s a few must-add players to target on this week’s waiver wire.

WR Zach Pascal, Colts (rostered in 20 percent of Yahoo leagues): With T.Y. Hilton set to miss the next few games to a calf injury, Pascal has emerged as the de facto no. 1 in Indy. The offense could take a big step down going from Brissett to Hoyer, but Pascal should get the target volume to make him a viable fantasy play.

WR Parris Campbell, Colts (3 percent): Starting in his first game in a month, the explosive rookie drew five targets, catching all five for 53 yards while adding three rushes for 27 yards. The Colts seemed to make a concerted effort to get him involved, and with Hilton on the shelf, Campbell’s role could grow.

RB Derrius Guice, Redskins (32 percent): Guice returned to practice this week after tearing his meniscus in Week 1. The second-year pro could get back onto the field after the team’s Week 10 bye, meaning now’s the time to stash him if you have room on your bench. It’s not clear how the Redskins will break up their backfield workload, but with Bill Callahan at the helm, you know they’ll be running the ball a lot.

WR N’Keal Harry, Patriots (18 percent): Harry was inactive Sunday for the Patriots after being activated from the injured reserve this week, but the rookie has a chance to work his way into the New England passing game after the team’s Week 10 bye. He’s another speculative stash.

The Watch List

Here’s a player to add to your waiver wire watch list. Be ready to pounce.

WR Andy Isabella, Cardinals (1 percent): Isabella isn’t getting the target volume to be a fantasy factor quite yet, but we saw on Thursday night what his elite downfield speed can bring to the Cardinals’ passing game, taking a fourth-quarter pass 88 yards for the score. The second-rounder played just 13 snaps, though, and should remain on the wire until he earns a bigger role.