Week 14: Player Upgrades
Hello and welcome to player upgrades. Throughout the year we'll be focusing on which players should receive starts based on matchups, injuries, etc. plus those rising weekly and long-term rankings.
Your opponent has a clear-cut starting QB in Drew Brees, but maybe you're saddled with Andy Dalton and Big Ben? You locked up AP with the number one pick, but forgot to take another back until round seven? Player upgrades will help you decide whom to start each week and forecast the closing stretch ahead...
QB Josh McCown, CHI – With Jay Cutler expected to miss this week's game against the Cowboys, McCown remains a legitimate starter given his back-to-back 350+-yard passing games. He has yet to throw for more than two touchdowns in a game, but he has only one interception on the year and one of the best wideout tandems in the league at his disposal. Should Cutler continue to miss games, McCown is also a decent long-term option with remaining games against the Eagles and Packers along with a tilt in Cleveland – good for the third-weakest schedule of any quarterback on the circuit.
QB Alex Smith, KC – Over the past few weeks, Smith has transformed from a borderline starter to one fantasy owners can play and expect production. The Chiefs have slowly transferred more responsibility onto Smith and the passing game and the quarterback has shown he can be more than a game manager. Seven of Smith's 16 touchdowns have come over the past three games and he's thrown for over 290 yards in each of the last two weeks. A quick peek at our strength of schedule rankings show that Smith faces the fourth-easiest slate of remaining games including this week against the Redskins. That should seal the deal for anyone debating the merits of Smith as a fantasy starter going forward.
RB CJ Spiller, BUF – To say Spiller has been a disappointment this season is a monstrous understatement, but he can salvage his down year in December as the Bills play the Dolphins, Jaguars and Patriots who rank seventh, eighth and 12th respectively in most fantasy points allowed to running backs. Spiller did rack up a season-high 149 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons in Week 13, displaying his game-breaking abilities on a 77-yard run. Fantasy owners will need to beware of Fred Jackson who has split carries with Spiller all season, but the latter's efforts – and the former's inefficiency – in Toronto should merit his increased involvement in the coming weeks.
RB Ben Tate, HOU – Against New England, Tate rushed for over 100 yards for the first time since 2011 and found the end zone three times. A week after rushing for just one yard on seven attempts, Tate was handed the ball 22 times, quashing any concerns that Dennis Johnson might wrest the starting job away from him. Tate is still the workhorse with Arian Foster out and he faces the fourth-most favorable schedule remaining for any running back so he's a must-play in most formats.
WR Michael Crabtree, SF – Crabtree played 42 out of a possible 67 snaps in his return this week – a strong number given the length of his absence. He caught two passes on four targets including a beautiful 60-yard reception where he blew by Rams CB Trumaine Johnson, displaying plenty of athleticism and little rust. Colin Kaepernick's favorite target appears to be back without missing a beat, but monitor the situation and give it another week to make sure Crabtree receives a similar number of snaps and a few more targets against a tough Seahawks secondary.
WR Doug Baldwin, SEA – Baldwin has quietly strung together four straight games in which he's had at least 63 yards receiving. He has three touchdowns and 25 targets in that time as well, making him a sneaky flex play. Russell Wilson seems to have developed a bit of a rapport with him as they've hooked up on several longer passing plays over the past few weeks, including a beautiful 55-yard catch on Monday night against the Saints. In fact, Baldwin is averaging a robust 16.3 yards per catch as he emerges as a prominent WR in Seattle.
TE Heath Miller, PIT – Miller has seen 25 targets over the past three weeks and posted a season-high in receiving yards with 86 on eight receptions last Thursday against the Ravens. While others have lit up the scoreboard with touchdowns (see: Ertz, Zach), Miller draws a favorable matchup against Miami this week. The Dolphins have given up the fifth-most points to tight ends, making Miller a must-play in what has been a weak year at tight end. From a long-term viewpoint, the Steelers do have the seventh-easiest schedule remaining for tight ends so Miller could be used a few more times down the stretch.