Week 15 Defensive Trends and Fantasy Football Sleepers

Igor Derysh


Andre Ellington fantasy football
Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) runs up field as Indianapolis Colts free safety Darius Butler (20) defends during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports


Kirk Cousins (Started in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues): Robert Griffin is out, Kirk Cousins is in. Cousins hasn’t played much this season, appearing in just two games in mop up duty and throwing two interceptions on 25 attempts. Last season, however, he was impressive in three appearances, completing 33 of his 48 pass attempts for 466 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 101.6 passer rating. In his lone start last season, Cousins completed 26 of 37 pass attempts for 329 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception against the Browns.

He’ll face off against a Falcons defense that has been especially kind to opposing quarterbacks. The team has given up a passing touchdown in each game and two or more passing touchdowns in 10 of 13. They haven’t kept a single quarterback to fewer than 14.12 fantasy points (and that was Matt Flynn) and have given up 18+ fantasy points to guys like EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, and Sam Bradford, as well as the usual suspects like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton.

EJ Manuel (Started in 3 percent of Yahoo leagues): The Jaguars may be on a winning streak but it certainly hasn’t been on the strength of their passing defense. Outside of one solid game against Case Keenum, the Jags allowed 22 fantasy points to Matt Schaub and Case Keenum last week, 23.3 fantasy points to Brandon Weeden, 24.45 fantasy points to Carson Palmer, 23.86 points to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and 27.96 points to Colin Kaepernick in their last six weeks. They have allowed 18+ fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in eight of their 13 games.

Manuel is certainly coming off his worst game of the season after throwing four interceptions against the Bucs on Sunday but Tampa’s defense has been strong against the pass, picking off 10 passes over their last three games. Tampa has had two or more picks against Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, and Drew Brees as well. Prior to that game, Manuel had put up back-to-back 18+ fantasy point performances against the Falcons and the Jets, both of whom rank better against the pass than Jacksonville.

Running Backs:

Chris Ogbonnaya (Started in 5 percent of Yahoo leagues): Willis McGahee isn’t likely to play on Sunday as he recovers from a concussion so Ogbonnaya figures to be the man against a lackluster Chicago defense. Last week, they allowed 198 rushing yards and a touchdown to the Cowboys. The previous week, they allowed 246 rushing yards to the Vikings, 211 of them to Adrian Peterson. The week before that, they allowed 258 rushing yards to the Rams. Before that it was 174 rushing yards to the Ravens. Before that, it was 199 rushing yards to the Packers. Before that it was 209 rushing yards to the Redskins. You get the point.

Ogbonnaya isn’t going to get anyone excited but it’s the first time this season he figures to be a “real starter” with McGahee out and the kid is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the season and as been targeted 5.8 targets a week in the passing game over his last six weeks.

Andre Ellington (Started in 16 percent of Yahoo leagues): I like Ellington a lot but it’s tough to start him since Bruce Arians insists on using Rashard Mendenhall a ton. Ellington has proven that he can make a lot happen without a lot of touches, though, and the Titans could allow him to do just that. Ellington is averaging a phenomenal 5.8 yards per carry on the season and has 308 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as well as 10 receptions for 74 yards over his last five games. Take away the Jacksonville game in which he got hurt and you have a guy with 369 total yards and two touchdowns in his last four full games, despite averaging a very consistent 11-14 touches per game.

Meanwhile, the Titans were scorched by the Broncos’ run game last week, allowing 109 total yards and a touchdown to Knowshon Moreno and 87 total yards and a touchdown to Montee Ball. Over the course of their first 13 games, they’ve also allowed double-digit standard league points to Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Bilal Powell, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, Zac Stacy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Donald Brown (twice), Rashad Jennings, and Marcel Reece. So that covers just about every running back in the league and doesn’t even include PPR points.

Wide Receiver:

Stevie Johnson (Started in 21 percent of Yahoo leagues): Just as EJ Manuel is a solid bet against a terrible Jacksonville defense, so too is his top weapon. It’s been a slow season for Johnson but he has caught at least five passes in five of his last six games.

He’ll face a Jaguars defense that has allowed some monster games of late. Last week, they gave up 154 yards to Andre Johnson (and fantasy relevant performances to both DeAndre Hopkins and Keshawn Martin). The previous week it was 261 yards and two touchdowns to Josh Gordon. Against Arizona it was 193 yards and a touchdown to Michael Floyd (and another 61 yards and a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald). No other Bills receiver has been targeted consistently so Johnson’s a good bet for Week 15.

Brandon LaFell (Started in 13 percent of Yahoo leagues): The Jets secondary has been terrible this season but Antonio Cromartie hasn’t been completely awful. He’s blown some big plays but, for the most part, he forces the opposing quarterbacks to attack struggling rookie Dee Milliner and lousy nickelback Kyle Wilson, allowing for Rod Streater’s 130 yards and a touchdown last week, Brian Hartline’s 127 yards and a touchdown the previous week, Jacoby Jones’ 103 yards and a touchdown the week before that, etc. Steve Smith will do just fine but Brandon LaFell figures to see plenty of action as well.

LaFell has struggled of late but that’s come at the hands of tough defenses. He’s faced the Saints, Bucs, and Dolphins over the last three weeks, all of whom have superior secondaries. Prior to that though, he was being targeted 8-9 times per game and has still managed to score two touchdowns over his last four games. He’ll likely be touchdown dependent in standard leagues but he’s a strong PPR sleeper.

Tight End:

Delanie Walker (Started in 13 percent of Yahoo leagues): Walker didn’t play last week and missed most of Week 13 after suffering a concussion. Prior to that game, he had been averaging nine targets and 66 yards over his previous three games, scoring touchdowns in two of them. He’s clearly a better option when Ryan Fitzpatrick is behind center.

He’ll face an Arizona defense that does everything well, except stop tight ends. They have given up six touchdowns to opposing tight ends in their last five games and have allowed double-digit standard league fantasy points to Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, Danny Noble, Zach Miller, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, and Jared Cook. They have also allowed two touchdowns to opposing tight ends four times this season.

Jacob Tamme (Started in 1 percent of Yahoo leagues): Wes Welker will miss Thursday’s game with a concussion which means good things for Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Someone else is going to have to pick up some of Welker’s 8.5 targets per game, though, and Tamme is a better bet than number four receiver Andre Caldwell. Caldwell replaces Decker on the outside in the rare instances that he does play. Last week when Welker went down, the Broncos went with a two tight end base against the Titans which allowed Tamme to catch four passes on five targets for 47 yards. He figures to see a lot more snaps this week and we all know Manning trusts him as much as anyone.

Check out more favorable defensive matchups and sleepers in this week’s Defensive Matchup Exploitation.

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