The Top Playoff Fantasy Football Targets
The name of the game in playoff-long NFL Fantasy formats is to make the best combination of per game projections while also weighing in how likely each player’s team is to reach the Super Bowl. The more games that a player participates in , the more valuable they will be in playoff Fantasy formats. Of course, there will be very good players who are on teams that participate in only one game and Fantasy-nothings who make it to the Super Bowl.
The idea here is to identify a few of the players who are not on the top two seeds in each conference that should outperform their peers, as well as looking at the odds-on Super Bowl favorites and making a few decisions about who to anchor our playoff hopes on.
Picking players from a sixth seed is generally tough for some obvious reasons. They have the most difficult matchups of active teams and generally, sixth-seeded teams are not very good. This Colts team bucks that trend and Luck and Hilton are generally the sorts of players that you would want to target from teams who are underdogs to advance. Luck started out the season with six straight games under seven yards per attempt and threw five interceptions over that span. However, since Week 10 of the NFL season, he’s been under eight yards per attempt only three times. There is a growing narrative that he should be included in the MVP conversation because of this run, which is a bit bogus, but it does reflect how well he’s played. Hilton has been the biggest beneficiary of this resurgence for Luck. Hilton has a 34 percent Market Share of the Colts’ Air Yards, the highest Average Depth of Target on the team and a 22 percent Market Share of the team’s total targets. Hilton is the sort of big-play, high-volume guy that can swing playoff Fantasy leagues if the Colts can beat Houston and you get two games out of him (even if they don’t make the Conference Championship).
Gordon is going to be pushed down on playoff Fantasy league draft boards for several reasons. He was injured to end the 2018 regular season. He did not play in Weeks 13, 14 or 15 and actually left the Chargers’ Week 17 game with an ankle injury. Reports seem to suggest that he will be fine to go on the road and play at Baltimore … which is another reason he will be not as popular as his Fantasy point totals suggest he should be. The Ravens’ defense is a good one, insofar as good defenses matter. However, when Gordon is healthy and when the Chargers need to win games, he has one of the five best workloads of any running back in the NFL. There is perhaps some small threat that Austin Ekeler or Justin Jackson takes away receiving work from Gordon as they did at times in the regular season, but that seems less likely given the stakes at play. MG3 as the fourth or fifth ranked RB in these pools does seem like a pretty obvious value, especially if the Chargers can win this game in Baltimore, which does seem quite possible given that the Ravens are not even a three-point favorite at home.
The tight end pool in playoff leagues is BAD. After Travis Kelce, who is so obviously one of the most valuable players in the playoff Fantasy format due to positional scarcity, the table basically drops off. The Eagles are not only 25/1 to win the Super Bowl (the lowest odds on the board), they are also the biggest road underdog of any team playing on Wild Card Weekend. Still, Ertz is probably my favorite gamble to take. After Kelce, your options are a version of Rob Gronkowski that scored only three times in 11 games (by far the worst rate of his career), Trey Burton, Eric Ebron and…. That is where the Fantasy contributors from the regular season stop. Even if Ertz only gets one game, at his target share of 26 percent, he might still end up the third- or fourth highest-scoring tight end of the playoffs based on how the position has gone in 2018.
The goal at quarterback is, of course, finding a QB who is going to play the maximum amount of games. There is probably some argument for Philip Rivers or Deshaun Watson as high-risk, high-reward picks because they both could theoretically play four games, as both Houston and the Chargers are good enough to make the Super Bowl. It is Mahomes that is the best overall Fantasy player in playoff leagues, though. The Chiefs are the favorites in the AFC, have scored 51 points against the favorite from the NFC, and went over 40 against the AFC’s second favorite. Mahomes had the most Fantasy points of any QB in NFL history, even more than Peyton Manning in his 2013 season, and was just the second quarterback ever to pass for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes. I am making Chiefs offensive pieces my top priority in all playoff Fantasy formats, and Mahomes provides a significant edge over every other QB in the field, both for his Fantasy point scoring prowess and odds of playing three games.
James White is Tom Brady’s foxhole guy. When the going gets tough and the games really matter, White is the man who shows up for the Patriots. White scored four touchdowns in last year’s playoff run for the Patriots (one in every game) and had 16 targets in the dramatic comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons. The safety valve in the New England offense is more valuable for Fantasy than ever because the Patriots no longer really have the element of the deep ball. The Patriots’ two most targeted players (White and Edelman) have Average Depths of Target of 3.3 and 7.7 yards down the field; this is a short-passing, timing-driven offense that no longer has Josh Gordon playing on the outside. If the Patriots have any hope of beating the other high-powered offense in their conference, it is likely that they will have to abandon hopes of establishing the run and progress the ball through the air, which should play right into White’s wheelhouse.
One of the weirder things about these NFL playoffs is how many stud wide receivers are absent. We are without Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs and JuJu Smith-Schuster. That creates some interesting decision-making after Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill who are the two clear top options. DeAndre Hopkins is the best Fantasy point per game player, but realistically, might only get one game. Woods, on the other hand, is the top volume option on the NFC favorite and I think should be the third-ranked playoff Fantasy Football wide receiver. Woods has a 23 percent target share of the Rams’ offense, the highest Weighted Opportunity Ranking on the team. Should the Rams get into a competitive, high-scoring game, the expectation should be that Woods will lead the team in passing game usage. The Hopkins vs. Woods debate should really be centered on how many games we project Hopkins to play, but Woods is almost locked in to at least two games, and that should give him the edge.