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Fantasy Playbook: How the NFL’s QB Shakeup Affects the Fantasy Postseason

In Week 13, Drew Lock made his pro debut, Devlin Hodges remained the Steelers’ starter, and Andy Dalton and Gardner Minshew II returned to action. How will these relatively new faces change the fantasy playoffs?

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Just in time for the fantasy postseason, a handful of NFL teams used Week 13 to shake things up at quarterback, creating plenty of uncertainty—and, potentially, opportunity—for your fantasy squad. With the Broncos turning to rookie Drew Lock, the Steelers sticking with Devlin “Duck” Hodges, the Bengals going back to Andy Dalton, and the Jaguars likely finishing out the year under rookie Gardner Minshew II (we all hope, anyway), the late-season performances from these new (or recently returned) quarterbacks could dramatically affect their respective team’s offenses—and the outcomes of your upcoming fantasy postseason matchups.

Whether you’re looking to roll with one of these guys at your quarterback spot or hoping he’ll simply boost his team’s skill players, here’s how Lock, Hodges, Dalton, and Minshew can impact the fantasy postseason.

Drew Lock, Broncos: Lock came off the injured reserve to replace interim starter Brandon Allen this week, completing 18-of-28 passes for 134 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick in his debut as a pro. Lock’s play was decidedly hot and cold―he got off to a scorching start, finding second-year receiver Courtland Sutton for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns (including this beautiful one-handed grab), but cooled off as the game went on, passing for just 11 yards in the second half (yes, 11, total). Ultimately, though, the second-round rookie brought energy to a previously listless offense, threw the ball with plenty of zip, and helped lead the Broncos to a wild 23-20 win over the Chargers. Lock, who became the seventh starting quarterback for the Broncos since Week 9 of the 2017 season, benefited from a home-field atmosphere and a couple of very short fields gifted by his defense (his second touchdown came on a drive of 18 yards and a second-quarter field goal followed an 8-yard drive). But he impressed at times, especially considering he’s logged only a handful of practices this season after spending the first 12 weeks of the season on the I.R.

Lock’s performance on Sunday offered a crucial signal that Sutton should retain his fantasy value heading down the stretch run. Sutton, who came into this week as the overall WR20 in PPR formats, tied for the team high with five targets in Lock’s debut, reeling in four passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns to notch 23.4 PPR points. The second-year breakout star has proven to be mostly quarterback- and matchup-proof this season, tallying double-digit points in all but two of his 12 games. Lock looked to his go-to-guy early on in Sunday’s win, and he’s likely to remain the focal point of the passing game next week when Denver takes on the Texans.

Duck Hodges, Steelers: Hodges’s line in Pittsburgh’s 20-13 win over Cleveland doesn’t exactly jump off the page (he finished 14-of-21 for 212 yards, one touchdown, and one pick), but it was clear that the undrafted rookie out of small-school Samford gives the Steelers a big upgrade over Mason Rudolph in one key area: aggressiveness passing downfield. Right from the jump, Hodges showed a willingness to attack the Browns deep, completing three of four first-half passes of 20-plus yards for 89 yards and a touchdown. We’ve seen flashes of that type of downfield moxie in Hodges’s previous three appearances for Pittsburgh this year, and the 6-foot-1, 210-pound passer brings the potential to help unlock some of the team’s pass-catching weapons over the next few weeks.

James Washington is first in line to benefit from Hodges’s ascension to starter. After taking Washington on an apparently galvanizing duck-hunting trip last week, Hodges found his new best friend four times for 111 yards and a score. Washington has heated up over the past five weeks—he’s now posted 20 catches for 417 yards and three scores in that stretch, including a 79-yard touchdown he caught from Hodges in Week 12—and with Hodges under center, the explosive deep threat projects as a low-floor, high-ceiling flex option for the fantasy postseason. And don’t forget about JuJu Smith-Schuster: The star pass catcher sat out Sunday’s game with a knee injury but could return to the lineup as early as next week. He’s yet to demonstrate a strong chemistry with Hodges, but should benefit from what could be a more efficient, more explosive Steelers’ passing attack.

Andy Dalton, Bengals: Dalton’s return to the starting lineup brings the potential to derail Cincy from its track toward the first overall pick, but it could also make the team’s pass catchers relevant again down the stretch. Dalton completed 22-of-37 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals’ 22-6 win over the Jets. That’s hardly an outrageous line, but a couple of end zone drops (one by C.J. Uzomah and another by Tyler Eifert) hurt the Red Rifle’s chances for a bigger day. More importantly, it was clear he’s a massive upgrade over the in-over-his-head rookie Ryan Finley. Dalton funneled the ball to the team’s two top targets, with Tyler Boyd (10 targets, five catches, 59 yards, one touchdown) and Auden Tate (seven, four, 66, zero) getting most of the veteran quarterback’s attention.

Boyd, who was the WR16 through eight weeks―prior to Finley being named the starter following the team’s Week 9 bye―should be a low-end WR2 with Dalton back under center. Tate, meanwhile, is a bit more of a dart-throw-type flex option, but brings upside as a contested pass specialist and red zone threat. The Bengals face the Browns next week, will host a tough Patriots defense in Week 15, and then draw the porous Dolphins secondary in Week 16.

Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars: Minshew Mania is back … maybe. After a disastrous first half in which veteran Nick Foles turned the ball over three times, the Jaguars turned to their rookie passer in the second half of Sunday’s 28-11 blowout loss to the Buccaneers. Minshew inherited a 25-0 deficit, and while he couldn’t quite lead Jacksonville on a miracle comeback, the mustachioed former sixth-rounder injected some much-needed energy into the team’s passing game. Minshew pushed the ball downfield and got the chains moving, completing 16-of-27 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown, and one pick (a pass that bounced off Dede Westbrook’s hands and right to Tampa Bay’s Sean Murphy-Bunting) in relief.

After the game, head coach Doug Marrone declined to name a starter for next week’s tilt against the Chargers, so it’s not clear whether the team will roll with Minshew or give Foles another shot. But it was evident in this game (and really, over most of the past three weeks) that the rookie signal-caller gives Jacksonville’s offense a real boost that Foles cannot provide. Minshew elevates his pass catchers (Westbrook led the way with five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Leonard Fournette caught 9-of-11 targets for 53 yards) while bringing a more dynamic skill set to the table.

If Jacksonville turns back to Foles (and they may, considering he still carries a dead-cap charge of $33.9 million next season), it’d place a ceiling on the team’s passing game down the stretch, boosting running back Leonard Fournette (who has been overused in the passing game as a dump-off option under Foles) while leaving receivers like Westbrook and DJ Chark as high-variance rolls of the dice. But if Jacksonville turns back to Minshew, he’d bring the potential to unlock what’s been a stagnant, plodding offense and return it to something resembling the explosive group we saw for stretches earlier in the season. That’d bring more reliable floors and higher ceilings for both Westbrook and Chark―particularly in Weeks 15 and 16, when the Jaguars will face the soft pass defenses of the Raiders and Falcons. Here’s to hoping Minshew keeps his job.

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

Risers and Sliders

Riser: QB Jared Goff, Rams

The Rams finally got their offense back on track in a rout of the Cardinals on Sunday, exploding for 390 first-half yards—and a 20-0 lead—before coasting to a 34-7 win. Goff looked comfortable for the first time in what seems like forever, finishing 32-of-43 for 424 yards and two touchdowns to net 25 fantasy points―incredibly, his first game with a passing touchdown or double-digit fantasy points since Week 8. Goff’s awakening paid dividends for Robert Woods (13 catches, 172 yards), Tyler Higbee (seven catches, 107 yards, one touchdown) and Cooper Kupp (six catches, 65 yards, one TD) in this one, but the $134 million man will have a tough slate during the fantasy postseason. The Rams draw the streaking Seahawks next week before going on the road against Dallas and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16.

Slider: QB Kyler Murray, Cardinals

Murray salvaged what would’ve been an atrocious outing by grabbing a 15-yard fourth-quarter rushing score, but his 163-yard, one-interception passing line certainly doesn’t inspire confidence for his prospects during the impending fantasy postseason. The rookie looked out of sync in the blowout loss to the Rams, completing just 19-of-34 passes and taking six sacks while netting a relatively disappointing 13.3 fantasy points, breaking a three-game streak of 23-plus points. The QB6 coming into this week, Murray will drop down the ranks slightly―and he draws a streaking Steelers defense in Week 14.

Riser: WR DeVante Parker, Dolphins

Parker’s long-awaited breakout season continued on Sunday, with the Dolphins playmaker notching seven catches for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s 37-31 win over the Eagles (to net 34.9 PPR points). The fifth-year pro further established himself as the clear go-to guy for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, reeling in multiple tough catches in traffic. Parker has quietly been a low-end WR2 in the dismal Dolphins offense this year (he came into the week as the overall WR23 in PPR scoring) and has emerged as one of the most consistent pass catchers in the league, with 55-plus receiving yards in 10 out of his 12 games. It may finally be safe to say that Parker has arrived.

Slider: RB Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers

Coming into this week, Jones was entrenching himself as the Buccaneers’ workhorse back, posting double-digit PPR points in three out of his previous four games. But the second-year pro took a big step back on Sunday, ceding snaps (particularly in the red zone) to Peyton Barber, who logged a team-high 17 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns (to finish with 18.4 PPR points). Jones finished with just six carries for 8 yards and a woeful 0.8 PPR points. It will be a roll of the dice to go with either running back in the Buccaneers’ matchup with the Colts next week.

Riser: RB Derrius Guice, Redskins

Guice made mincemeat of the Panthers defense Sunday, totaling 129 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, good for 27.7 PPR points―second best at the position pending Monday Night Football. The second-year pro has been trending in the right direction over the past few weeks, and while he’s still splitting reps with veteran Adrian Peterson (who carried it 13 times for 99 yards and a score in the game), Guice should be an attractive flex option for playoff-bound fantasy squads with running-back-friendly matchups against the Packers next week and the Giants in Week 16.

Slider: QB Daniel Jones, Giants

Turnovers continued to be a major issue for Jones on Sunday, with the rookie quarterback coughing up another three picks in the Giants’ 31-13 loss to the Packers. With just 8.2 fantasy points (thanks to 20-of-37 passing for 240 yards and one touchdown in addition to the interceptions) Jones posted his second-worst fantasy outing as a starter and dipped below double-digits for the first time since Week 6. The rookie has promising matchups over the next three weeks, drawing the Eagles, Dolphins, and Redskins, but comes with Jameis Winston–like boom-or-bust potential week in and week out because of his penchant to give the ball to the other team.

Riser: RB Miles Sanders, Eagles

Sanders has dominated touches in the Eagles’ backfield since Jordan Howard went down with a stinger prior to Week 11, but it hasn’t translated to a big fantasy performance until Sunday. After posting just 6.7 and 11.6 PPR points the past two weeks, respectively, Sanders netted 21.5 in the Eagles’ loss to the Dolphins, carrying the ball 17 times for 83 yards while adding five catches for 22 yards and a score. Sanders’s fantasy value will take a big hit if Howard is able to return to the lineup next week, but if the veteran back misses more time, Sanders showed Sunday that he’s got RB1 upside in juicy matchups against the Giants and Redskins over the next two weeks.

Slider: RB Aaron Jones, Packers

Jones has been a roller-coaster ride for fantasy squads this season, capable of posting exhilarating highs―like his 49.2-point outburst in Week 5―and frustrating lows, like on Sunday, when he netted 7.1 PPR points on an 11-carry, 18-yard line. It’s going to take some real cajones for fantasy managers to bench the third-year standout in the Packers’ juicy matchup with the Redskins next week (and I still wouldn’t), but it’s hard to ignore that Jones has come up far short of expectations in three out of his last four games (he scored 3.9 PPR points in Week 9 and 3.8 PPR points in Week 12).

Cutting Up the Pie

49ers Shake Things Up at Running Back

With Matt Breida inactive due to an ankle injury, the 49ers leaned not on starter Tevin Coleman, but instead backup speedster Raheem Mostert against the Ravens. The fifth-year journeyman (who’s had stints with the Bears, Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins) carried the ball a career-high 19 times for 146 yards and one touchdown, adding two catches for 8 yards to finish with 23.4 PPR points. He out-touched Coleman 21 to six in the 20-17 loss, showing off explosive burst and some elusiveness in the open field—both attributes Coleman has lacked over the last five games. Breida will likely return next week for the 49ers’ matchup against the Saints, but don’t be surprised if Mostert earned himself a bigger role in Kyle Shanahan’s smashmouth ground game.

Colts Give Jordan Wilkins the Lead-Back Role

Jonathan Williams assumed a workhorse role in relief of Marlon Mack over the past two weeks (tallying 43 touches in those two games), but faded into the background for the Colts on Sunday, surrendering second-half snaps and touches to both Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines (both doubling Williams’s 14 snaps with 30 apiece). Wilkins finished with 11 carries for 47 yards in Indianapolis’s 31-17 loss to the Titans, with Hines chipping in with four rushes for 22 yards and a touchdown and Williams logging eight carries for 14 yards, all of which came in the first half. With Mack due back this week, though, Wilkins will likely go back to a backup role and Williams will fall completely off the fantasy radar. Hines should retain his passing-down role.

The Injury Report

Here are the injuries to monitor for this week.

TE Greg Olsen, Panthers: Olsen suffered a concussion in the second half of the Panthers’ 29-21 loss to the Redskins and was quickly declared out. The veteran tight end will go into the concussion protocol this week, and, if he can’t be cleared for next week’s matchup with the Falcons, look for backup Ian Thomas (who caught four passes for 24 yards in relief) to take on a bigger role.

RB Kalen Ballage, Dolphins: Ballage was carted off the field in the first half with a leg injury and did not return. The second-year pro was replaced by Patrick Laird, who carried the ball 10 times for five yards and a score while adding four catches for 43 yards in the team’s 37-31 win over the Eagles.

RB Darrel Williams, Chiefs: Williams suffered a noncontact injury to what the team called his hamstring (though it looked like perhaps his knee was injured as well), and did not return to the game. With Damien Williams already out with a rib injury, LeSean McCoy (5 carries, 10 yards, one touchdown) and Darwin Thompson (11 carries, 44 yards, one touchdown) picked up the slack in the Kansas City backfield.

Smash the Add Button

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

RB Raheem Mostert, 49ers (rostered in 13 percent of Yahoo leagues): Mostert ran ahead of Tevin Coleman in the team’s loss to the Ravens and looked more explosive, ripping off multiple big gains en route to 146 yards and a score. If Matt Breida can’t return for the 49ers this week against the Saints, Mostert will become an RB2/Flex option for the first week of the fantasy playoffs.

RB Patrick Laird, Dolphins (1 percent): With Ballage’s season potentially in jeopardy, Laird is in line to become the suddenly-plucky Dolphins lead back. Miami hasn’t been able to get much going on the ground of late, but Laird is a sure-handed pass catcher who could be a flex starter next week in PPR leagues. He’s scored double-digit PPR points in two of the last three weeks.

TE Ian Thomas, Panthers (zero percent): If Greg Olsen is forced to miss next week’s game at Atlanta, Thomas could step up into a featured role in the team’s passing game. Thomas came on strong late last season in relief of an injured Olsen (he caught 25 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns from Week 12 through Week 16) and reeled in four passes for 24 yards on Sunday.

RB Darwin Thompson, Chiefs (5 percent): Thompson logged 11 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown in garbage time mop-up duties for the Chiefs on Sunday, but with the statuses of Darrel Williams (hamstring) and Damien Williams (ribs) both up in the air next week, the explosive rookie could find himself in a much bigger role for Kansas City when it faces the Patriots. He’s worth picking up just to see how injuries sort out for the Chiefs this week.

TE Tyler Higbee, Rams (11 percent): With Gerald Everett on the sidelines due to a knee injury, Higbee stepped up for the Rams, reeling in seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 34-7 win over the Cardinals. Los Angeles won’t get to play Arizona’s tight end–funnel pass defense next week, but Higbee is trending in the right direction at a very shallow position. He’s a streamer candidate against the Seahawks in Week 14.

RB Jordan Wilkins, Colts (3 percent): Wilkins leapfrogged Jonathan Williams as the Colts’ early-down back on Sunday and looked solid, carrying the ball 11 times for 47 yards. Marlon Mack is eyeing a Week 14 return, which would seriously dampen Wilkins’s value, but that’s no sure thing. For now, Wilkins is a speculative add before things are more clear in the Indy backfield.