Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer
The Lateral Writer
Fantasy playoffs are here. Hopefully, you made it out of last week alive and continued your season. I for one did not get the 33 points from the Baltimore Ravens DST to stay alive in one of my leagues, so my championship hopes now rest all on one league. However, I am the reigning champ in that league, so my hopes are pretty high.
For those of you who were not around for last week's Heat Check, this week's version is a little different than some of the previous editions. We are looking strictly at widely available dart-throws that performed well last week and judging if they are playable this week. This means only players rostered in less than 10% of leagues who performed as a fantasy starter last week are eligible for consideration. In the case of wide receivers, there were enough candidates this week that I capped it at top-24 rather than top-36.
Week 14 Heat Check: Dart Throw Edition
Sam Darnold (NYJ): The first stat the jumps to mind when looking at the game log: one rushing TD. Why does this jump out? In Week 4 and Week 13, Darnold scored a rushing TD and 22.3 points per game. That would be QB8 on a PPG basis for QBs with over 10 starts this season. In the other six weeks that Darnold was healthy enough to start, he scored an average of 8.47 points. This may be a coincidence, but to me, that highlights he cannot get it done with his arm, which is a problem when you are a QB. So I hopped over to Pro Football Reference and low and behold, Sam Darnold was dead last among qualifying QBs in adjusted yards per attempt. Yikes. Heat Check: Seattle is a great matchup for Darnold in Week 14, but his stats are a major red flag. Darnold does not manage to get the ball far, and he gets a similar number of passing attempts per game as Kirk Cousins, who throws it nearly twice as far per attempt. Do you want your playoff matchup reliant on a poor mans' Kirk Cousins? No.
Nick Mullens (SF): Just to hammer home the point above about Darnold, Mullens has 19 more passing attempts than Darnold despite starting two fewer games. Unfortunately for those hoping Mullens can be fantasy relevant, that is about the only positive for Mullens. Mullens has a 1:1 TD to INT ratio, and despite scoring 22.6 points against the Bills Monday night, he was largely saved by hitting Jordan Reed in the end zone towards the end of the game to post three TDs to outweigh his two interceptions. Take away that TD and he finishes at QB16 for the week with around 18.5 points. You would not be complaining about that scoreline, but you would not be interested in starting him going forward based on truly mediocre performance. Heat Check: Mullens capitalized on a good matchup against the Bills in Week 13, and in Week 14 he faces a Washington DST that just ended the Steelers undefeated run. He also adds nothing with his legs, which is how Washington gives up most of its points to QBs. I would rather start Darnold.
Ty Johnson (NYJ): Johnson was what we all hoped Gore would be against the Raiders on Sunday. The Raiders are a top-tier matchup for fantasy RBs and Johnson took full advantage en route to RB7 and 19.7 points. The Seahawks are a similar matchup, and as I already mentioned, Darnold is not likely to suddenly draw the Jets away from the run with his prolific passing. Finally, it was a good sign that Johnson not only saw a ton of volume, but he was the only one of him and RB Josh Adams to see any passing work. Heat Check: Get Johnson if you need him and monitor the Frank Gore situation. If Gore is still in the concussion protocol, Johnson is a FLEX play and a viable dart throw. If Gore is back in the Jets lineup, Johnson is unplayable.
Alfred Morris (NYG): Both New York Giants RBs finished as top-20 plays against the Seahawks on Sunday. However, it may shock some that Alfred Morris was the only one to finish as an RB1. This seems to be largely fool's gold, with Alfred Morris scoring two TDs to bouy an otherwise fine 39 yards on eight rushing attempts and one six-yard reception. Given that he had only scored one TD all season before this Sunday, it seems unlikely to expect both Giants RBs to be viable, especially since Gallman still went off for 135 yards on 16 rushing attempts. Heat Check: Gallman continues to be the lead back and that should not change in Week 14. Arizona is another favorable matchup, and maybe the Giants will trend towards using Morris more in the red zone. However, given that in Week 12 it was Gallman getting most of the red zone looks, you cannot point to a trend yet. I prefer Ty Johnson as a dart throw.
Jeremy McNichols (TEN): This one is a much shorter discussion.McNichols makes the list as a beneficiary of PPR scoring and a goal-line opportunity on the ground. Heat Check: TDs are nice, but you cannot play an RB who got only six opportunities in a game. On average, McNichols sees three attempts and a target, and Week 13 was the only time that it translated into a TD.
Rashard Higgins (CLE): Higgins was the top WR for the Browns in this week's shoutout in Nashville. This was largely due to a season-high nine targets, one less than fellow WR Jarvis Landry. However, the Titans are a great matchup, and next week against the Baltimore Ravens should be significantly tougher. The good news is that despite the threat from fellow WR KhaDarel Hodge the past couple of weeks, last week's performance seems to have been enough to get Cleveland talking about a contract extension. That is enough to convince me that Higgins will be the WR2 for the remainder of the season. Heat Check: If Higgins can see six targets again, then even against the Ravens he could be fantasy relevant. However, the WR2 in Cleveland sees only about 4.5 targets per game. Higgins may be a safer floor than Gabriel Davis this week, but also probably has a lower ceiling, especially with Jarvis Landry dominating the red zone targets.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (CLE): One of three top-24 Browns WRs from Week 13, Peoples-Jones benefited largely from a single play. His second-quarter TD for 75 yards accounted for 14.5 of his 17.2 points in PPR formats. He is the Browns WR3 with KhaDarel Hodge out, but with Hodge day-to-day and possible to return in Week 14, Peoples-Jones could fall to WR4. Heat Check: Maybe in a regular-season game you could risk it, but you cannot play a WR whose ceiling is three targets in the fantasy playoffs.
Gunner Olszewski (NE): Olszewski ran back a punt for a 70-yard TD, and caught his lone target for a 38-yard TD. It was his third target of the entire season. Heat Check: I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't recommend Gunner for Week 14.
James Washington (PIT): Per Matthew Terelle at FantasyPros:
Washington pulled down a 50-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter. Despite the big game, the veteran receiver remains fifth in line for targets in a crowded pass-catching corps in Pittsburgh.
Heat Check: You and I both know you are not starting a team's fifth option in a regular-season game, let alone a playoff game. At this point, even an injury to one of Pittsburgh's elite WR trio would be unlikely to make James Washington fantasy-relevant.
Gabriel Davis (BUF): I wrote about Davis here last week, and while my suggestion of targeting Jets WR Denzel Mims instead was the wrong move (who could have seen the measly three targets coming??), the logic on Davis held up. He only sees a few targets in a given game and is TD dependent to be viable as a fantasy starter. At least it helps that he is the third most targeted player in the red zone for Buffalo. Heat Check: In Week 13 Davis got the TD he needs to be fantasy relevant. Week 14 against the Steelers could see him produce a similar line of three catches on four targets for 70 (ish) yards. If you feel lucky and think he will get a TD, start him up. If you do not, then look elsewhere for a WR.
Dan Arnold (ARI): This was essentially Arnold's first week of fantasy relevance in 2020. It was also only the second time he made it into the end zone in 2020, a feat he accomplished twice on Sunday. Ultimately, the Rams are weaker against the TE position than they are everywhere else, so maybe we should not have been so surprised to see Arnold lead all Arizona Cardinals in fantasy points in Week 13. Heat Check: Arnold is the 37th most targeted TE in the league, which is not great. Neither is a matchup against the Giants DST, who are significantly tougher than the Rams against TEs. You cannot trust him, even though he is the starter in Arizona.
Cole Kmet (CHI): There has been a lot of talk lately about the Bears rookie TE, and those who missed on him in dynasty leagues are probably kicking themselves after this week's breakout TE7 performance. Jimmy Graham has fallen to the wayside, with seven targets in the past three games compared to 13 targets for Kmet in that period. More importantly, on Sunday Kmet saw seven targets to Graham's one. Given that Chicago targets the TE about seven times per game, that number is not insignificant. Heat Check: Kmet seems ascendant on a team that targets the TE plenty. Houston is a great matchup for Week 14, so go grab the Notre Dame product off of waivers if you need a TE this week.
Dawson Knox (BUF): Knox is similar to Arizona TE Dan Arnold where TDs played a large role in his first fantasy-relevant week of the season, the numbers for him are better than they are for Arnold. Like Arizona, Buffalo throws the ball to the TE sparingly, but in the red zone, the TE is used with a higher frequency for the Bills than the Cardinals. In 12 games, Dan Arnold has caught four of his nine red zone targets for two TDs. In eight games, Dawson Knox has caught five of his seven red zone targets for two TDs. Add that to Buffalo TE Tyler Kroft's five for five and two TDs inside the 20, and it is clear that Buffalo values the TE when looking for the end zone. Heat Check: It is a mixed bag for Knox. On the one hand, the red zone targets are clearly there for the TEs in Buffalo, Tyler Kroft has been a healthy scratch lately, and at TE in particular a TD can make the difference between a starter and a bench guy. Unfortunately, the targets, in general, are a little low (three to four per game), and Pittsburgh is an awful matchup in Week 14. Knox is a dart throw you can grab if cannot snag Kmet, but he is definitely TD or bust at best.
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