Week 16 fantasy sleeper candidates and guys who could exceed expectations

Some guys are primed for big surprise performances in championship week. Tyler Loechner identifies some possible Week 16 breakouts.

| 6 months ago
(Elsa/Getty Images)

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Week 16 fantasy sleeper candidates and guys who could exceed expectations

It’s championship week in fantasy football, and if you’ve made it to the big dance, odds are your team is in pretty good shape. But there are always lineup decisions that need to be made.

Each week, I use our unique fantasy points per opportunity data to help identify some breakout candidates. An opportunity is defined as a rush attempt or a pass route run, so PPO is calculated by dividing total points scored by carries plus routes run. This stat can help you uncover which players are too reliant on volume, and which players could become fantasy studs if they get more opportunities.

We’ll look to use our unique PPO data to attempt to identify some players who will break out in Week 16.

Wide receivers

Doug Baldwin is a must-start this week against the Arizona Cardinals, who have given up the seventh-most PPO to opposing wideouts this season, despite the fact thy have one of the best corners in the league in Patrick Peterson. However, Peterson didn’t shadow Baldwin when these two teams met earlier in the year. Assuming Baldwin stays mostly in the slot (which is where he runs about 75 percent of his routes), he should mostly avoid Peterson again this week. Baldwin should spend most of the game working against Tyrann Mathieu, who has given up the seventh-most fantasy points per route run to opposing wideouts among all starting corners.

Everyone knows to start Odell Beckham Jr. on Thursday night against the Eagles, but his rookie teammate Sterling Shepard could be in for a big game as well. The Eagles have given up the third-most fantasy PPO to opposing wideouts this year. Shepard has a date with Philadelphia slot man Malcolm Jenkins, who has given up the third-most fantasy points per route run against him among all starting slot corners.

Tyrell Williams has been a disappointment in recent weeks, but fantasy players should go back to that well in Week 16, as Williams and the Chargers take on the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have given up the fourth-most PPO to opposing receivers on the year. Joe Haden grades 104th (out of 121) corners, and he has given up six touchdowns while in coverage this year, tied for second most among corners.

Running backs

I like Kenneth Dixon to put up strong numbers in Week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have given up the fourth-most PPO to enemy backs this year, and they have ceded the most PPO to running backs through the air — and Dixon has clearly established himself as Baltimore’s primary receiver out of the backfield. Dixon scored for the second straight week last year, but he did only play 25 percent of Baltimore’s snaps — his lowest rate since Week 7. I expect him to be back in the 35-50 percent range in Week 16, which is where he hovered from Weeks 9 to 14.

Jay Ajayi’s back-to-back 200-yard rushing games seem like they occurred seasons ago, but he does have a second date with one of the teams he roasted for 200-plus earlier in the earlier: the Buffalo Bills. Despite their defensive bluster, the Bills have given up the sixth-most PPO to opposing running backs this year. Since ripping off three straight 100-yard games (including the two 200-yard games), Ajayi hasn’t topped 80 yards. He has, however, touched the ball about 20 times per game, so volume hasn’t been an issue. The Bills will be more “focused” on stopping Ajayi this time around, but one would have presumed they would have been “focused” on slowing Le’Veon Bell in Week 14. Buffalo can focus all it wants on Ajayi, but the fact remains that they are flat out bad against the run.

I’m already on the record as someone who is wary of playing Todd Gurley in DFS this week — but that is largely due to his price. In season-long leagues, however, Gurley can be inserted in starting lineups this week. The matchup against the San Francisco 49ers truly is incredible. The 49ers rank last in PPO given up the opposing running backs, and it’s not even close. Here’s a graphic to help illustrate the point (49ers are in red, click to enlarge).


Tight ends

Jason Witten provides value at the tight end position this week as the Cowboys take on the Detroit Lions, who have given up the second-most PPO to tight ends on the year. After being held without a catch in Week 13, Witten has rebounded well (in terms of volume) in recent weeks. In fact, he ranks second among all tight ends with 16 targets and 14 receptions over the past two weeks. With all of this said, Witten is far, far more valuable in PPR formats. Despite catching 14 passes over the past two weeks, he has just 78 yards and no touchdowns to show for it.

I think both Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates can be trusted in fantasy this week. The Cleveland Browns rank last in PPO given up to the tight end position this year. The Browns have given up a league-leading 12 touchdowns to tight ends this year. The league average is just under five.

Charles Clay is a deep sleeper who could pay dividends this week. His Week 16 opponent, the Miami Dolphins, have given up the ninth-most PPO to tight ends this year. Clay has scored in two straight weeks, and in that span, he has caught 10 of 12 targets for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He leads all tight ends in fantasy points over the past two games. He should be able to keep it going against the Dolphins, who have given up some big games to tight ends this year, including lines of 5-114-1 to New England, 6-76-1 to Tennessee, 7-86-2 to San Diego, 6-79-1 to San Francisco, and 12-129-2 to Baltimore. Oh, and it’s a “Revenge Game,” of course.

Below is a chart showing the top 20 players at each position in terms of fantasy PPO scored so far this season (minimum 25 percent snaps).

2016 Season PPO Leaders (min. 25% snaps)
WR   RB   TE
Player Tm. PPO Player Tm. PPO Player Tm. PPO
Tyreek Hill KC 0.5 Mike Gillislee BUF 0.59 Rob Gronkowski NE 0.42
Taylor Gabriel ATL 0.49 Ryan Mathews PHI 0.57 Erik Swoope IND 0.41
Julio Jones ATL 0.39 Damien Williams MIA 0.57 Hunter Henry SD 0.39
A.J. Green CIN 0.36 Tevin Coleman ATL 0.53 Anthony Fasano TEN 0.33
Aldrick Robinson ATL 0.36 LeSean McCoy BUF 0.52 Levine Toilolo ATL 0.32
Antonio Brown PIT 0.35 LeGarrette Blount NE 0.52 Delanie Walker TEN 0.3
Mike Evans TB 0.35 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 0.48 Martellus Bennett NE 0.3
Odell Beckham Jr. NYG 0.34 Rob Kelley WAS 0.48 Jordan Reed WAS 0.29
Rishard Matthews TEN 0.33 Derrick Henry TEN 0.47 Tyler Eifert CIN 0.29
Jordy Nelson GB 0.3 Latavius Murray OAK 0.45 C.J. Fiedorowicz HST 0.28
T.Y. Hilton IND 0.3 Devonta Freeman ATL 0.44 Vance McDonald SF 0.28
Brandin Cooks NO 0.3 Tim Hightower NO 0.43 Cameron Brate TB 0.27
Cole Beasley DAL 0.3 Jamize Olawale OAK 0.43 MarQueis Gray MIA 0.27
Kendall Wright TEN 0.3 John Kuhn NO 0.43 Greg Olsen CAR 0.26
Dez Bryant DAL 0.29 Mark Ingram NO 0.42 Jimmy Graham SEA 0.26
Michael A. Thomas NO 0.28 Jeremy Hill CIN 0.42 Vernon Davis WAS 0.26
J.J. Nelson ARZ 0.28 Terrance West BLT 0.42 Travis Kelce KC 0.25
Davante Adams GB 0.27 David A. Johnson ARZ 0.4 Jack Doyle IND 0.24
Michael Crabtree OAK 0.27 DeMarco Murray TEN 0.4 Zach Miller CHI 0.24
Jamison Crowder WAS 0.27 Isaiah Crowell CLV 0.39 Dwayne Allen IND 0.24
Jarvis Landry MIA 0.27 Jalen Richard OAK 0.39 Austin Hooper ATL 0.24
Sammie Coates PIT 0.27 Robert Turbin IND 0.39 Mychal Rivera OAK 0.24
Danny Amendola NE 0.27
Brandon Coleman NO 0.27

Tyler Loechner is a lead writer at PFF Fantasy. He has played fantasy football since 1999 and has been a part of the PFF Fantasy staff since 2010. Tyler was also previously a fantasy football featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

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