Aaron Jones is going to be severely overlooked this week. The most common roster construction will be to pay down at one or both running back spots so as to jam in the high-priced stud wide receivers. Accordingly, playing Jones in tandem with another high-priced running back will force you into a completely different roster build from the field.
The Rams possess a stout run defense that is allowing just 3.9 rushing yards per attempt (fourth-best). Not a single player has surpassed 100 rushing yards against the unit this season. In fact, Ezekiel Elliott is the only running back to hit the Rams for multiple touchdowns — and that was all the way back in Week 1.
However, it is important to note that a difficult matchup lowers a player’s median projection more than their ceiling. We saw this last week with Nick Chubb, who steamrolled the Steelers for 145 yards and a touchdown despite a tough matchup. Chubb was bottled up for most of the game until he took a screen pass 40 yards to the house.
That is the model we are chasing with Jones, who is a game-breaking player every time he touches the football. Jones racked up four runs of 30-plus yards (second-most) and four catches of 20-plus yards (third) this season. He also averaged a healthy 5.5 rushing yards per attempt (third).
Additionally, the assumption that Jones remains in a committee with Jamaal Williamsand/or A.J. Dillon will depress his ownership even further. Would it be crazy for the Packers to unleash Jones as a full-time bell-cow now that the playoffs are here? That is precisely what they did last season — check out Jones’ snap rates:
2019 regular season: 61%
2019 playoffs: 75%
2020 regular season: 60%
2020 playoffs: ???
If the Packers give Jones a 75% snap rate in a game where they are favored by 6.5 points, he could easily be the highest-scoring running back on this slate. Perhaps the Packers are saving Jones for their Super Bowl run. He is a free agent this offseason, so now is the time to free Aaron Jones at long last.
One of my favorite plug-and-play matchups in fantasy football is tight end against the Kansas City Chiefs. Check out the following receiving lines the Chiefs have surrendered to opposing tight ends since Week 11:
Donald Parham: 3-37-1
Hayden Hurst: 5-47-1
Mike Gesicki: 5-65-2
Noah Fant: 4-57
Rob Gronkowski: 6-106
Darren Waller: 7-88-1
Kansas City has allowed the following production to tight ends this season:
954 yards (fifth-most)
9 touchdowns (seventh)
20% of receptions for 15-plus yards (fifth)
8.4 yards per attempt (sixth)
Meanwhile, the Chiefs' defense is one of the best at limiting opposing wide receivers' production. The unit has surrendered the fewest completions and the second-fewest receiving yards among all NFL defenses. Let everyone else jam Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins into their lineups while we play the player with the best matchup in Austin Hooper.
Hooper is the Browns' primary receiving tight end. In last week’s wild-card victory over the Steelers, Hooper ran a route on 79% of Baker Mayfield’s dropbacks while tallying a team-high 11 targets and a 7-46-1 receiving line.
Austin Hooper is a plug-and-play at a bargain $3,800 price.
Clicking on Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s name when building lineups feels gross, which is precisely what makes him a phenomenal tournament play on this four-game slate. MVS is the epitome of a boom-or-bust player. He catches a long touchdown to become a differentiating piece in a winning lineup, or he donuts and craters your roster. There is no in-between.
MVS is a rollercoaster — he scored the following DraftKings points in his past 10 games:
Week 17: 17.1
Week 16: 0
Week 15: 0
Week 14: 20.5
Week 13: -0.4
Week 12: 0
Week 11: 7.5
Week 10: 27.9
Week 9: 19.3
Week 8: 3.3
Like Jones, the matchup against the Rams is quite difficult. Los Angeles' defense has conceded only two passing touchdowns beyond 20-plus yards downfield all season — one of which came last week when D.K. Metcalf got behind the secondary.
The deep ball is Valdes-Scantling’s specialty; he hauled in at least one catch for 20-plus yards in every game that he scored double-digit fantasy points.
Davante Adams will have his hands full with Jalen Ramsey on Saturday. Though Adams is likely to win his fair share of routes, there is a higher than usual chance that Aaron Rodgersspreads the football around to attack other favorable matchups.
The combination of Aaron Jones plus MVS makes a ton of sense in rosters that fade Adams.
Targeting ancillary pass catchers in high-powered offenses is one of the best ways to get cheap exposure to tournament-winning scores on a shortened slate. I am particularly intrigued by Emmanuel Sanders and Deonte Harris at their cheap $4,500 and $3,500 prices, respectively.
Despite busting last week with a 2-31 receiving line, Sanders ran a route on 80% of Drew Brees’ dropbacks and maintains an every-down role within the Saints' offense.
Harris led the Saints with a 7-83 receiving line last week, but he ran only 14 routes and caught all seven of his targets. That level of production is unsustainable, but there is a chance Harris sees a route increase this week.
Tampa Bay’s defense has a strong reputation, but the team's secondary gives up a ton of receiving production. Check out these receiving lines from the Buccaneers' recent games:
Cam Sims: 7-104
Russell Gage: 9-91-1
Calvin Ridley: 10-163-1
Russell Gage: 5-68-1
Tyreek Hill: 13-269-3
Cooper Kupp: 11-145-0
Robert Woods: 12-130-1
D.J. Moore: 4-96-1
The Bucs' defense is a pass funnel. Their run defense is extremely elite, which tilts opposing offenses to the air as a path of least resistance. In the regular season, Tampa Bay faced the NFL’s fewest rush attempts and the fourth-most pass attempts.
Michael Thomas is the clear alpha on the Saints, but he is expensive at $6,700 for a player who saw only seven targets last week. Assuming the Saints run another spread-out passing attack, I would rather pay down for a cheaper option like Sanders or Harris, who are more likely to hit at a cheap salary on limited volume.
Additionally, the Bucs' biggest defensive weakness is in the slot with Sean Murphy-Bunting, who gave up the following slot production this season:
459 yards (sixth-most)
4 touchdowns (second)
126.9 passer rating (fifth-worst)
Sanders had a 32% slot rate during the regular season and a team-high 45% slot rate in the wild-card round. Harris had a 43% slot rate last week.
I would recommend mixing and matching Sanders or Harris across your rosters with the understanding that there is guesswork involved here. Harris hit last week, but it could just as easily be Sanders in the divisional round. Salary is at a premium this week with studs galore all over the slate, which makes the secondary Saints' pass-catchers ideal cheap options.