Week 16 Fantasy Sleeper Starts To Potentially Replace Lamar Jackson, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans & More
Getty Images. Pictured: Chargers RB Justin Jackson, Ravens QB Tyler Huntley and Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (left to right)
Week 16 and the fantasy playoff semifinals are here — whether you’re ready or not. We’ve got a slew of injuries and COVID-19 cases across the league and there are very few fantasy rosters that have remained untouched by the chaos.
Here are some of the fantasy-relevant players ESPN’s Field Yates put together who aren’t or might not be playing in Week 16, just to name a few: Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Dalvin Cook, Austin Ekeler, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Lamar Jackson, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Darren Waller and D’Andre Swift.
In addition to the names mentioned by Yates, Saints quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian are on the COVID-19/reserve list, Buccaneers star running back Leonard Fournette is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson is done for the year due to a thumb injury and Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth might not play after entering the concussion protocol.
Below are players at each position that could have “sleeper” value in the fantasy football semifinals in light of the numerous potential absences across the NFL.
Sleeper QB Starts To Replace Lamar Jackson, Taysom Hill
Tyler Huntley, Ravens at Bengals
Huntley is a low-end QB1 if Jackson sits for this game.
He had a stellar Week 15 starting in place of Jackson, who was sidelined with a bone-bruised ankle, and finished as the QB1. The backup completed 28 of 40 attempts for 215 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and rushed 13 times for 73 yards and two rushing touchdowns against the Packers — good enough for 36 fantasy points. Jackson did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, making a Huntley appearance more likely.
Like Jackson, Huntley offers high rushing upside as a mobile signal-caller and would be an excellent streaming option for Week 16.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers at Chiefs
Roethlisberger was a dud in Week 15 against the Titans after a string of solid starts. He completed 16 of 25 attempts for 148 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions — good enough for 12 fantasy points and a QB19 finish. He gets another nice matchup this week against the Chiefs, who were just lit up by Justin Herbert and rank bottom three in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this season. Roethlisberger is a relatively safe QB2 play this week.
Ian Book, Saints vs. Dolphins
Book has yet to throw a pass in the NFL, but don’t be so quick to rule him out as a potential fantasy play. The 2021 fourth-round pick from Notre Dame is slated to get the start against the Dolphins with Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian landing on the COVID-19/reserve list this week after testing positive for the virus. The rookie played four seasons for the Fighting Irish and tallied a program-high 30 wins as a starter and 72 touchdown passes — the second-most in Notre Dame history. Like Hill, Book has significant allure as a mobile quarterback. He tallied 1,517 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in his time at Notre Dame and ran a 4.65-second 40-yard-dash at his pro day. He is worth an add in two-quarterback/superflex formats for managers needing to replace Hill or Jackson.
Sleeper RB Starts To Replace Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook, D’Andre Swift, Leonard Fournette
Justin Jackson, Chargers at Texans
Jackson is a locked-in starter if Ekeler sits.
He had a surprisingly nice day for fantasy in Thursday night’s overtime loss to the Chiefs. He saw 13 carries for 86 yards and caught a pass for 13 yards, while Ekeler — who was questionable entering this matchup — saw 12 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown and tacked on four catches for 23 yards; Joshua Kelley saw seven carries for 21 yards. Ekeler is now on the COVID-19/reserve list and it remains unclear as of writing this on Thursday whether he will be available come Sunday against the Texans. Jackson would likely be in line for 20+ carries if Ekeler sits, making him a high-end RB2 against Houston and its bottom-six defense against fantasy running backs.
Alexander Mattison, Vikings vs. Rams
Mattison is a top play this week against the Rams.
Cook landed on the COVID-19/reserve list on Thursday and has already been ruled out for Week 16. Mattison is next up on the Vikings’ depth chart and is a strong RB2 play with sky-high upside assuming the unvaccinated backup can stay healthy and off the COVID-19/reserve list himself.
Cook has missed three games this season due to injury (Weeks 3, 5 and 13); Mattison has finished no worse than RB9 and with no fewer than 20 points in half PPR in each of those contests.
Michael Carter, Jets vs. Jaguars
Carter fell off of many managers’ radars after a three-game hiatus on injured reserve. He was unremarkable in his return in Week 15 and tallied eight carries for 18 yards, finishing as RB61 and three fantasy points in half PPR. I expect him to bounce back this week against the Jaguars’ subpar run defense. Carter is a fine spot-starter as an RB3/flex in Week 16.
Rex Burkhead, Texans vs. Chargers
Burkhead probably won’t win you a championship, but he could keep you afloat if you’re shorthanded due to injuries or COVID-19.
Over the last five weeks, the veteran back is averaging 13 attempts per game. He faces the Chargers this week, who rank fifth-worst in fantasy points allowed to running backs this year. Burkhead is a usable warm body as a flex play this week due to the matchup and workload.
Craig Reynolds, Lions at Falcons
Reynolds came out of nowhere to save fantasy seasons.
With D’Andre Swift (shoulder) and Jamaal Williams (illness) out, Reynolds tallied 13 touches for 99 scrimmage yards in Week 14 and 27 touches for 117 scrimmage yards in Week 15. His performances earned the former undrafted free agent a spot on the Lions’ 53-man roster and probably some playing time even if Swift and Williams are both healthy. Both have returned to practice, though Swift was limited for the second day in a row on Thursday. Reynolds could be an interesting flex play if Swift sits and a low-end RB2 if both sit.
Sleeper WR Starts To Replace Tyreek Hill, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Lions at Falcons
St. Brown has graduated from must-add to must-start territory — even if Tim Boyle is the starter.
The post-hype preseason sleeper shined once again in Sunday’s shocking upset over the Cardinals. He caught eight of 11 targets for 90 yards and found the end zone for the second time in three games while Josh Reynolds caught all six of his targets for 68 yards and a touchdown. St. Brown has been on fire of late, tallying at least 11 targets and 73 receiving yards in each of the last three weeks. He has a good chance to extend his hot streak with the Falcons on deck in Week 16. Atlanta’s defense ranks fourth-worst in the NFL against fantasy receivers, though St. Brown’s upside would be capped if Boyle starts with Jared Goff on the COVID-19/reserve list.
Tyler Johnson, Buccaneers at Panthers
Johnson could be the Buccaneers’ WR2 this week after the team was hammered with injuries in Week 15.
Last week, Tampa Bay lost 9-0 to New Orleans and lost Leonard Fournette for at least three games, Chris Godwin for the season and Mike Evans for an unknown period of time. Johnson saw a season-high seven targets and caught four passes for 41 yards in the game and will likely see a small bump in targets in light of the recent attrition. He will undoubtedly take a backseat to Antonio Brown, who is due to return after his false vaccination card incident. Johnson could be a deeper league flex play.
Russell Gage, Falcons vs. Lions
It wasn’t immediate, but Gage has slowly come on as the WR1 in the Falcons offense and a solid WR3 for fantasy with Calvin Ridley out.
Since Atlanta’s Week 6 bye, Gage is averaging 7.6 targets per game and is WR25 in half PPR on a per-game basis. He is coming off of his best game of the season in which he caught eight of 11 targets for 91 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers — good enough for 19 fantasy points and a WR7 finish in Week 15. You can start him with confidence as a WR3/flex option this week with the Lions on deck.
Gabriel Davis, Bills at Patriots
Davis was a popular waiver add last week and delivered big time for savvy managers in round one of the fantasy playoffs.
He caught five of seven targets for 85 yards and two touchdowns — his fourth in three weeks. Emmanuel Sanders was inactive for this game due to a knee injury, which could keep him sidelined in Week 16 alongside Cole Beasley, who is out on the COVID-19/reserve list. This isn’t an ideal matchup against the Patriots, though Davis did manage to find the end zone in the Bills’ last meeting with the Pats in a sloppy Monday night affair. He should be considered a potential flex option with the Bills shorthanded at receiver.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos at Raiders
It seems weird to talk about Sutton as a “sleeper” play but here we are.
The Year 4 wideout was WR21 in half PPR on a per-game basis through the first six weeks. Since Week 7, Sutton is WR108 and has not crested the double-digit fantasy point mark once. His decline seems to have coincided with the return of Jerry Jeudy, who missed Weeks 2 through 7 with a high-ankle sprain. All of that said, Sutton may actually see a bump in targets and production with Drew Lock taking over for an injured Teddy Bridgewater and could be started in the flex in deeper formats.
Laquon Treadwell, Jaguars at Jets
Treadwell delivered another solid fantasy performance in Week 15 against the Texans. He caught six of nine targets for 57 yards — his fourth consecutive game with at least four catches and 53 receiving yards. His upside is capped due to the Jaguars’ offensive struggles, but he is a relatively safe option for Week 16 with the Jets on deck.
Sleeper TE Starts To Replace Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson, Pat Freiermuth
Cole Kmet, Bears at Seahawks
Kmet had a nice day for fantasy against the Vikings on Monday and caught six of nine targets for 71 yards — good enough for 10 fantasy points and a TE8 finish. The Bears face Seattle this week, whose defense has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the tight end position this year. Kmet is a viable streaming option for managers scrambling for a replacement for Hockenson, who is out for the year, or Waller, Kelce or Freiermuth — who could all miss Week 16.
Noah Fant, Broncos at Raiders
Fant is coming off of his best game since Week 10. He caught five of six passes for 57 yards and finished inside the top 12 at his position for the sixth time this season. Albert Okwuegbunam was also involved and caught three of four targets for 58 yards. I don’t think the switch to Drew Lock will impact Fant, who played with Lock for multiple seasons. The Broncos face the Raiders this week, whose defense has allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this season. Fant should be a borderline TE1 this week.
James O’Shaughnessy, Jaguars at Jets
The tight end pickings on the waiver wire were extremely slim this week, but O’Shaughnessy stood out as a widely available option for those in desperate need of a streamer. He reeled in all four of his targets for 60 yards against the Texans — good enough for eight fantasy points in half PPR, which is basically all you can ask for out of a tight end these days. He gets the Jets next week, who have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends this year. You could do worse than O’Shaughnessy as a desperation start in Week 16.