It’s time for fantasy football sleepers, Week 17 edition. With injuries and COVID-19 lists ravaging lineups, many managers are looking for a deep, high-upside sleeper to plug in. Last week’s unconventional PFN predictions included the completely overlooked Zach Wilson (QB4 through Sunday’s games) and the competent streamer C.J. Uzomah (8.6 fantasy points). Who are my favorite deep fantasy football sleepers in Week 17?
Fantasy Football Week 17 Sleepers | QB and RB
As always, I’m not talking about players you’re planning to start. There are always bargains to be found on waivers. Here are my favorite QB and RB sleepers for Week 17.
Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
When do you take a leap on a back-end QB2 in the biggest week of your fantasy season? My research has shown players do marginally better after a loss, as well as when playing at home. Factor in a matchup against a beatable Jaguars defense, and you have the makings of a blowout victory for the Patriots next Sunday.
As with any run-friendly offense, we have to wonder if Damien Harris will rush for another 3 touchdowns. But we shouldn’t overlook how good Mac Jones has been, albeit sporadically. He had only one game with 17+ fantasy points in his first nine NFL contests. But he’s enjoyed three 17+ point efforts in his last six games. Two of his most recent “down” games were against the fearsome Bills defense. So we have to consider the probability that Jones will get back on track in a favorable, must-win home matchup. I’d bet on him racking up 18+ points.
Jordan Howard, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Ever since the Eagles signed Jordan Howard, I’ve been wary of starting him in fantasy. Despite reviving his career after several seasons of mediocrity and sub-mediocrity, he has remained a TD-dependent RB. After finding the end zone 3 times in his first two games (Weeks 8 and 9), his lack of usage in the passing game through Week 15 (zero receptions on zero targets) kept his floor at around an RB4/5. That’s too low for most managers, especially nearing and during the fantasy playoffs.
Yet, Howard caught his first 2 passes of the season in the second half this past Sunday, shortly after Miles Sanders exited with a fractured hand. With Sanders out for Week 17 and Philadelphia facing a reeling Washington team, Howard should lead in touches while playing alongside Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. The latter two are intriguing, but 13 of Howard’s previous 15 touchdowns have occurred from inside the 4-yard line. Anytime the Eagles get near the end zone, Howard will be a big threat to score.
Fantasy Football Week 17 Sleepers | WR and TE
A free-agent WR could net you 12+ points. The same goes for a tight end with an above-average likelihood of scoring. Who are my favorite WR and TE sleepers for Week 17?
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Buffalo Bills
It’s easy to forget about Emmanuel Sanders. I’d given up on the 34-year-old back in August. His per-game numbers had inched steadily downward in recent years. Playing for his fourth team in as many seasons, he joined a relatively stacked receiving corps and a seemingly functional two-person backfield. In other words, Sanders seemed more like a hit-or-miss WR4/5 than a weekly starter.
But he soon proved me wrong, racking up four 13+ point performances in his first six games. However, he has exceeded 8.5 points once since then and has oscillated between 3.0 and 4.3 fantasy points these past five games. In other words, why would anyone start him, especially when the previously unheralded Isaiah McKenzie appears to be a much better option?
I’m not giving up on Sanders because I don’t think Buffalo’s giving up on him. They have a Super Bowl to win, and Sanders still has a role to play. His snap count remains high (82% in Week 16).
With Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis expected to remain on the COVID-19 list in Week 17, Sanders will slot in as no worse than the No. 3 receiver against the vulnerable Atlanta defense. If you need a desperate, WR2-upside option, consider Sanders in a game where Buffalo should score 30+ points.
John Bates, TE, Washington Football Team
I started pushing John Bates a couple of weeks ago. It began on PFN’s fantasy podcast as the team’s once-promising season sat at 6-6 before they lost three straight, turning their season irreversibly southward. The collapse of Terry McLaurin, the absence of above-average QB play, and injuries and inconsistencies with their vaunted backfield have doomed this team to yet another “back to the drawing board” offseason.
It’s during these times when franchises try to see what they have in their young talent. Should they be part of the team’s game plan the following season?
That’s where Bates comes in. The 2021 fourth-round draft pick has caught at least one pass in every game since Week 8. And with Logan Thomas out for the year, Bates has been asked to step up. Interestingly, fellow TE Ricky Seals-Jones played on 100% of the team’s offensive snaps in Weeks 6-8. But since then, he’s failed to exceed 46% in all but one game. Meanwhile, Bates has exceeded 57% in each contest since Week 10.
This past weekend, Bates hit a 75% snap share while corralling 2 of 3 targets for 45 yards and a score — the first of his career. While Seals-Jones looms, Bates is the higher-upside option as Washington wraps up another season. If you don’t have a top-10 TE lined up in Week 17, I’d strongly recommend investing in Bates, whose profile should only grow.