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We are just two weeks away from our fantasy playoffs and for some, this week could make or break your playoff hopes. On top of the Cardinals and Panthers off this week on a bye, there was a slew of injuries to deal with coming off of last week.
Here are five players that are considered “play at your own risk”. That does not mean managers must sit these players, but they should be surrounded by safe-floor, high-upside options if they are in starting lineups.
Deshaun Watson - QB Cleveland Browns
I may be alone on this hill, but it would be remiss if I did not express my concerns with immediately starting Deshaun Watson upon his return. He will undoubtedly dominate headlines, like he has most of this year, when he returns to play for first time in almost two full years.
Therein lies the rub. Watson is an electric quarterback, there is no doubt about that. However, he has yet to take a true NFL snap in the regular since 2020. He sat out the entirety of the 2021 season and served a suspension for the first twelve weeks of this season. That is a long time to be away from the game. On top of that, his suspension meant that he was not even allowed in the facility until October 10 and was able to practice with the team a mere two weeks ago.
We did see Watson in the preseason where he looked rusty and out of sorts. I expect a similar product, at least in the first half, in his debut this week.
Fading Watson this week is two-fold. The second part is looking at his matchup against his former team in the Houston Texans. If there is bad blood in an organization, this may be the perfect example of it. Remember, Watson wanted to be traded in 2021 and sat out before all of the allegations came to light. I have a feeling the defensive line will be all too happy to plant Watson on his butt as often as possible.
The Texans have been laughable against the run this season so it makes perfect sense for the Browns to rely on the powerhouse that is Nick Chubb. The passing game is another matter. The Texans are third-best against quarterbacks and have allowed the fewest completions this season. That can be attributed in large part to the lack of any need to pass against the Texans, so take that stat with a grain of salt. However, they have allowed the fifth-fewest passing touchdowns, fourth-fewest rushing yards, and zero rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks in 2022.
Week 13 will be tough for Watson. He may rely on his legs to scramble and get out of sticky situations, but that can only go so far in his first game back against a tough passing defense.
Donovan Peoples-Jones - WR Cleveland Browns
Since Watson is a risky start in Week 13, let's stick with the Browns at the wide receiver position. It should go without saying that since Watson will be rusty, his pass-catchers will suffer a bit as outlined above. The most vulnerable receiver to cautious of is Donovan Peoples-Jones who is the deep-threat option in the Browns' offense.
Peoples-Jones has been quietly getting the job done without much pomp and fanfare. While Amari Cooper has the heavy target volume with 93, Peoples-Jones has been far more efficient. Cooper has 57 receptions on his 93 targets while Peoples-Jones has 42 receptions on 65 targets for nearly 600 yards. He has had a 37-plus yards reception in four of his last five games on at least four targets. While I don't think that he is a permanent fade this season, Cooper and tight end David Njoku could end being the first and second reads in Week 13.
The Texans are overall eighth-best against wide receivers and have allowed the fewest touchdowns (5) and third-fewest receptions (114). They have allowed 1690 yards to wide receivers, which leaves the door open for big-play potential. Whether or not that big play will be to the veteran Cooper or to Peoples-Jones is up in the air with a quarterback who hasn't played since 2020.
Once Watson settles down under center, every fantasy-relevant player for the Browns will get an upgrade.
Alvin Kamara - RB New Orleans Saints
How the mighty have fallen. That phrase can sum up several big-name players this season including Alvin Kamara. He has scored double-digit fantasy points in five games so far, and one of those was just barely over the hump at 10.9 in half-PPR scoring. It seems that Kamara is either deflated, cannot connect with Andy Dalton, or both. He is RB16 on the season, but has been RB35 in Weeks 9 - 12. That is below players such as Rachaad White, Isiah Pacheco, D'Onta Foreman, and Brian Robinson.
There is a caveat to point out. The Saints are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the two teams have quite the history together. Since 2017, he has scored seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns, but only one of those came in 2021. A majority of his scoring was between 2017 and 2020.
It should also be noted that the Buccaneers are fourth-best against running backs over the 2022 season.
Kamara has the potential to go off at any moment, but he is no longer a safe-floor, reliable option. Rather, he is a boom or bust player who has been more bust since Week 8. He should be viewed as an RB2/3.
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Devin Duvernay/Demarcus Robinson - WRs Baltimore Ravens
It seems strange that both the WR1 and WR2 should be considered fades, but this is the Baltimore Ravens so here we are. They are 26th in the league in both passing and passing yards while being 6th in rush attempts and second in rushing yards. The volume just isn't there unless your name is Mark Andrews.
Baltimore has uncharacteristically struggled in recent weeks, especially in the red zone. Out of their 43 red zone attempts, only 22 have converted into touchdowns ranking them 24th in the league.
Devin Duvernay and Demarcus Robinson have a lot going against them in Week 13 aside from a lack of volume. J.K. Dobbins is expected to return, Gus Edwards is back on the field, and they face the staunch Denver Broncos. They have allowed just six touchdowns to wide receivers and only 18 red zone opportunities which is fourth-fewest in the league. The opportunity for the Ravens' wide receivers just isn't there both due to offensive scheme and a terrible Week 13 matchup.
Curtis Samuel - WR Washington Commanders
Well, it was fun while it lasted, but Curtis Samuel's days of being fantasy relevant are pretty much over. There are several factors that play into his downfall, most notably the rise of both Taylor Heinicke and Brian Robinson.
Yes, Samuel is a wide receiver, but he is one of those dual-threat players who is talented both in the receiving and run game. Heinicke has made it official that he only has eyes for Terry McLaurin and maybe Logan Thomas, leaving Samuel as third (and even fourth) fiddle. If he were purely a receiving option, this would have been doomsday several weeks back. But, because of his rushing ability, there was still a sliver of hope, albeit very, very slim.
Instead, Robinson and Antonio Gibson made sure he was securely in the background when it comes to the ground game.
The Commanders have a tough inter-divisional matchup against the New York Giants who are excellent against wide receivers as well as running backs. Samuel is safe to drop for more reliable options in regular leagues.