Staff Playbook: Sleepers for the Playoffs

Sleeper Cells? Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs) and the QB List Staff tell you which unheralded players could decide fantasy championships.

Welcome to the QB List Staff Playbook Series. Every week throughout both the season, we will conduct a staff survey, asking multiple fantasy analysts to share their insights on some of fantasy football’s most pressing questions. Essentially, we’re sharing our “playbook” with you, revealing the hard choices and strategic moves we would make to stay ahead of the competition.

This week, the QB List Staff was asked which unheralded players could help decide fantasy championships the next few weeks:


Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): James Washington, WR (PIT)

Reasoning: Many had high hopes for James Washington during the summer, targeting him as a sleeper late in drafts that could serve as a downfield weapon for a Pittsburgh offense missing Antonio Brown and featuring JuJu Smith-Schuster more on underneath and intermediate routes. Once Ben Roethlisberger went down after Week 1 and Washington couldn’t re-establish a rapport with former college teammate Mason Rudolph, the young receiver was largely a forgotten man cast back to the waiver pool. Part of this was a different offensive scheme. Oklahoma State’s offense has become more pro-style, but that doesn’t mean it’s the equivalent of what the Pittsburgh Steelers run. Additionally, both players had to work through growing pains as they were adjusting to being thrust into starting at the pro level. Plus, Rudolph was unable to play in Week 6 due to injury, forcing Washington to play with his third quarterback in just the first six weeks.

Rudolph returned after the bye, and things perked up in Week 9 when Washington caught all four of his targets for 69 yards. He built on that performance by catching six of his seven targets for 90 yards and a touchdown in Week 10. They strengthened their chemistry the next two weeks, culminating in a 3-98-1 Week 12 performance for Washington in which Rudolph once again got hurt and was replaced by Devlin Hodges. Hodges continued to target Washington deep in Week 13, with the former OSU playmaker securing all four of his targets for 111 yards and another touchdown.

Washington has three TDs this season, and all have come in the last four weeks. He’s becoming a featured part of this offense with Smith-Schuster ailing, and he has already become hunting buddies with Hodges off the field. With a firmly established rapport with Rudolph and Hodges in place, and the trust of both downfield, Washington could produce WR2 numbers through the fantasy playoffs. Two of his next three opponents (Arizona and the New York Jets) are bottom-12 in passing defense DVOA. The Cardinals lead the NFL in receptions allowed over 20 yards with 60 and have given up a league-leading 31 touchdowns to receivers. The Buffalo matchup in Week 15 is daunting, but Washington can win you your playoff matchup on one play, and he’s getting the targets to do it.



Dan Adams (@dadams0323): Patrick Laird, RB (MIA)

Reasoning: Patrick Laird only started seeing offensive snaps in Week 10, but his snap count has been trending up since then and he was on the field for 60% of Miami’s offensive snaps last week. With Kalen Ballage headed to IR, Laird’s only competition for snaps is an underwhelming Myles Gaskin, so that upward trend for Laird’s snap count should continue. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s a reliable option in the passing game which should give him a solid floor. Laird will be on the field enough to punch in short touchdowns like he did against Philadelphia in the clip below, and while he probably cannot put up a week-winning score on his own, it is tough to find a safer running back play than him on waivers this late in the season. The Dolphins have one of the easiest schedules for the fantasy playoffs, and Laird should be able to take advantage of his increased role in those matchups to propel fantasy teams to a championship.



Brandon Miller (@BrandonMillerFB): Ryan Tannehill, QB (TEN)

Reasoning: Ryan Tannehill may now be even more available heading into the fantasy playoffs after cooling off in Week 13, which is good news for any teams nervous about their QB situation in any of the next few weeks. It’s no secret the Titans want to establish the run and hammer defenses to the ground with a healthy dose of Derrick Henry. While that ultimately caps Tannehill’s passing volume, he’s been efficient with his opportunities (multiple passing TDs in five of his last six games), has downfield playmakers like A.J. Brown and Corey Davis to throw to, and has chipped in some production on the ground (three rushing TDs in his last four games).

If you’re not excited about your current option at QB, scoop up Tannehill for a stretch run that includes three lackluster defenses vs QBs, starting this week at Oakland (29th) and finishes at home against the Texans (26th) and Saints (23rd).



Rich Holman (@nextdoorFFguru): Anthony Miller, WR (CHI)

Reasoning: Anthony Miller was a darling sleeper during draft season, who appeared to just be another player destined to become waiver wire fodder. Miller saw just eight targets over his first four games while accumulating 28 total yards. Weeks 5 and 7 saw Miller have a little blip on the fantasy radar as he saw 16 targets, including nine coming out of their Week 6 bye. Unfortunately, he went back to mediocrity seeing just six targets from Weeks 8-10.

It only took 11 weeks, but Miller has finally had a consistent workload over the last three weeks. Over the last three weeks, Miller has a 26% target share and has hauled in 21 receptions for 271 yards. The Bears have some tough matchups against the Cowboys, Packers, and Chiefs during the fantasy playoffs, but those matchups should lead to negative game scripts, which should mean good things for Anthony Miller owners. Miller is currently rostered in just 11.8% of ESPN leagues but could provide a nice boost down the stretch.



Kevin Taylor (@ktbeast918): Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB (MIA) 

Reasoning: Talk about stellar matchups in the fantasy football playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins get the Jets, Giants, and Bengals in the three-week playoff stretch. They are all outside of the top-20 in pass-defense DVOA, and the Giants and Bengals are 30th and 31st respectively. It also helps that the Dolphins can not effectively run the ball. They are averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per attempt on the season.

Since Fitzpatrick has retaken the starting job in Week 7, he has attempted between 33 and 45 passes in every game (the most over that time). Since week seven, Fitzpatrick has quietly been the overall QB3 and the QB7 in terms of points per game. It is never comfortable relying on a Dolphins player, but Fitzpatrick can be a difference-maker for a QB-needy team.


Have a question? Want to know more? Click the Twitter handle of any writer above to reach out directly. We’re always happy to help out and talk football!

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

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