Fantasy Football Booms and Busts: Sleepers deliver in Week 15

This weekly NFL wrap column is called Booms and Busts.

Perhaps Busts and Busts would be a better title this week. All sorts of big-name players went poof in Week 15, or weren’t available for fantasy use.

Ah, but it’s the holidays. It’s time for happiness, positivity, good cheer. So let’s shine a light on some of the lesser-known players you might have opted for in Week 15, your working-class heroes. A working-class hero is something to be.

Bills secondary options come through

Start with Gabriel Davis of Buffalo, America’s sleeper pick. The dots connected nicely — Carolina struggles with tertiary receivers, and Davis was stepping into a bigger role with Emmanuel Sanders unavailable. Josh Allen probably wouldn’t run much given his lower-body injuries.

Score a hit for America. Davis snagged a pair of touchdown passes, part of a 5-85 line off seven targets. He’s now spiked four times in three weeks. New England will challenge him in Week 16, but Davis is pushing for Circle of Trust privileges.

We can’t leave Buffalo without mentioning Devin Singletary, who took control of the team’s rushing game (22-86-1). Allen only ran the ball three times (though he did have one 26-yard scamper), and Matt Breida carried it once. Singletary’s previous carry high for the season was a modest 15.

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs the ball in the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Bills running back Devin Singletary tied his high for fantasy points in game (16.1) this season. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

If you had to desperation-start Cam Newton on the other side, we hope you didn’t watch the game. Newton’s a difficult scout on a snap-by-snap basis. But his willingness to run (71 yards, touchdown) bailed out what was a dreadful day through the air (4.1 YPA. 56.5 rating, 18-for-38 passing). We just want the numbers, right? Newton’s 24.34 points put him at the top of Sunday’s early quarterback board.

Lions provide more than an upset

Did you have the nerve to look at Detroit Lions this week, heavy underdogs against Arizona? The Jared Goff stack was the way to go, rampaging through the Cardinals and sparking a nothing-fluky-about-it 30-12 upset. Goff threw for three touchdowns, and most of his work went to players who had fantasy juice before kickoff.

Amon-Ra St. Brown continued his emergence as a legitimate No. 1 target (8-90-1), commanding double-digit targets for the third straight week. And Josh Reynolds (6-68-1) answered the bell for anyone looking deeper at the receiver position. Perhaps some desperate DeAndre Hopkins managers found salvation with the Honolulu Blue & Silver. (Or maybe you stayed in the Arizona huddle, where Christian Kirk posted a tasty 9-94-1.)

Craig Reynolds is a heck of a story in the Detroit backfield, too. Reynolds ran 26 times for 112 yards, and added a short reception. Once it was clear D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were unavailable, Reynolds picked up legitimate fantasy steam. For those who rocked any Reynolds (fire!) . . . we salute you.

Duke Johnson out of nowhere

Probably the biggest backfield stunner of the early Sunday wave was Miami’s Duke Johnson. Every card-carrying member of the fantasy industry has some ill-fated Johnson recommendations in his or her memory bank. “Free Duke Johnson” was a fantasy movement for a few years, and it seldom went anywhere.

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Johnson’s Week 15 projection seemingly took a hit when Myles Gaskin came off the reserve/COVID-19 list; Miami’s depth chart was back to the previous order. But it was Johnson who lugged the mail in Miami’s win over the Jets, collecting 107 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Gaskin had a late 30-yard run and finished with a respectable 10-54-0 line, but he was the counterpuncher; Johnson was Miami’s central offensive player. (We’ll also throw a nod to DeVante Parker, who justified the fantasy love, posting 68 yards and a touchdown.)

Titans backfield comes into view

The Steelers 19-13 victory over Tennessee followed a familiar Pittsburgh trope — the Steelers did nothing in the first half, then rallied furiously in the final period. But the Tennessee backfield at least sorted itself out, with D’Onta Foreman plowing out a 22-108-0 afternoon. Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols were also effective on a per-carry basis, but their work was secondary in nature — they combined for 15 rushes. Foreman stands at the front of this committee, though the 49ers are a formidable Week 16 opponent.

Half of the Week 15 slate is still in progress or yet to come — we won’t have things sorted out until Tuesday night in some leagues. Remember that we’ve pushed the waiver process back a day for Week 16. In the meantime, toast to your early-window heroes, and hopefully your later-start players can bail you out where you need it.

Speed Round

Davis Mills has been the second-best rookie quarterback this year, not that it means he's a long-term solution. But Mills is good enough to help make Brandin Cooks a difference-maker out the door, maybe even a league-winner.

• Maybe it’s not too late for Aaron Rodgers to enter this MVP discussion. The Ravens, injury-riddled as they are, found a way to keep Davante Adams, AJ Dillon, and Aaron Jones relatively under wraps on a per-snap basis (I realize they all enjoyed touchdown deodorant). That golden trio collected 29 touches for an ordinary 149 yards. And yet somehow Rodgers clicked for 8.6 YPA anyway, and never turned the ball over. Let’s appreciate this guy while he’s still around.

The Niners schemed Cordarrelle Patterson out of Sunday’s game, a likely preview of what we’ll see next year. I suspect Patterson’s ADP will still be tame next August despite his heroics, as managers are careful not to be the sucker who pays the freight on a career year. That established, I still think you should view this as an isolated year and steer away.

Jeff Wilson looked healthy for the first time all year. Mind you, Kyle Shanahan, George Kittle, and the Niners power running game can make a lot of backs look good. Elijah Mitchell still has the highest backfield upside here, of course.

Tua Tagovailoa desperately needs a field-stretcher, especially when you consider his below-average arm strength. Defenses are going to press his outside receivers and dare him to throw over the top. To be fair, we thought Will Fuller was going to be that deep man this year, and he never got a chance due to injury. But Tua's skill set does not stress a defense. Miami was lucky to survive the mediocre Jets.

Dak Prescott looks like someone who’s still playing through injury. The Cowboys were explosive on Thanksgiving and they also blew out the Falcons, but that’s been it for excitement the last two months. Dallas didn’t have to show much to beat the checked-out Giants on Sunday.

• Nobody wanted to see Teddy Bridgwater get hurt, but I can’t wait to see the Broncos with an above-average quarterback next year. This fridge is stocked. The Broncos have skill talent coming out of their ears, but no one for the pilot’s chair. Assuming they figure out that one big question, I will draft into this offense proactively.

• Tampa Bay will be thrilled if the Saints miss the playoffs, because New Orleans definitely has the Tampa Bay kryptonite. Injuries surely didn't help, but the Buccaneers never looked right Sunday. Tom Brady hates playing against the Saints. At least the Bucs are getting Antonio Brown back at the right time.

• One smart thing Kliff Kingsbury did Sunday was rest Kyler Murray once the Detroit game was clearly unwinnable. There was nothing left to gain; at that point, protect your one irreplaceable player.