Sneaky Starts: Week 17

Dec 29, 2021
Sneaky Starts: Week 17

All but the luckiest fantasy owners at some point need to find the proverbial diamond in the rough—a waiver wire or bench player capable of putting up some points in a pinch. This weekly feature is dedicated to that part of fantasy football. It's not pretty, but it's part of the game.

Let’s take a look at the top Sneaky Starts for Week 17. There’s a lot going on this week, so I’m going to use the abbreviated format and do my best to keep it updated through Saturday evening (or even Sunday morning).


If he is able to get cleared from the reserve/COVID-19 list, Taysom Hill (vs. CAR, 6) would be a pretty solid start against the reeling Panthers. Hill has cleared 17.5 fantasy points in six of seven starts going back to last season.

Trey Lance (vs. HOU, 10) may get his chance to start since Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a torn UCL and a fractured bone in his throwing hand. Lance posted 157/2 while rushing for 41 yards in a half of play against Seattle in Week 4 and followed that up with a so-so fantasy day (192 yards and a pick to go with 89 rushing yards) against Arizona the following week. The Texans’ defense has actually been pretty frisky of late, but Lance’s rushing ability makes him an intriguing play this week.

Tua Tagovailoa (@ TEN, 12) faces a Titans defense that has had pass-funnel tendencies this season. Miami already struggles to run the ball so look for Tua and Co. to utilize Jaylen Waddle, DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki in the passing game.

Davis Mills (@ SF, 21) doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but he’s been able to post 18.1, 14.6 and 18.0 in his last three starts while tossing five touchdowns against just one interception.

Running Backs

Darrel Williams (@ CIN, 14) should draw a start with Clyde Edwards-Helaire likely sidelined with a shoulder/collarbone injury. In the five games that CEH has missed this season, Williams has averaged 18.6 touches for 94 total yards and 0.60 touchdowns per game. The Chiefs seem to have more trust in Derrick Gore, so they may utilize a committee with Williams as the lead back. Gore is startable as a desperation flex.

Jordan Howard (@ WAS, 6) was the “next man up” after Miles Sanders’ final touch in Week 16. Howard saw nine of the next 13 backfield touches but left early with a stinger. The team is “hopeful” that he’ll play. If he can’t, then Boston Scott would be the primary back with Kenneth Gainwell in a part-time role.

Dare Ogunbowale (@ NE, 18) took over for the injured James Robinson (torn Achilles) and figures to see the lion’s share of the team’s backfield touches against the Patriots. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but 80 total yards and a touchdown is well within reach.

Rex Burkhead (@ SF, 12) turned 24 touches into 149 total yards and two touchdowns last week. He has averaged 16.3 touches per game since the team’s Week 10 bye.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn (@ NYJ, 32) is an intriguing dart throw this week given a very favorable matchup and Vaughn’s production (seven carries for 70 yards and a touchdown) last week. If the Bucs jump out to a big lead, Vaughn could see 10+ touches as the Bucs try to protect Ronald Jones for the stretch run.

Elijah Mitchell (vs. HOU, 29) has a chance to return this week. I haven’t put him in the rankings yet, but if he’s cleared to play, I expect he’ll return to the lead-back role at a minimum, perhaps returning to the bell cow role he enjoyed prior to injury. Jeff Wilson has been fine, but with carry counts of 22, 27 and 27 in Mitchell’s last three starts, it’s pretty clear that Kyle Shanahan prefers Mitchell to Wilson.

Wide Receivers

Gabriel Davis (vs. ATL, 30) may be in line for heavy snaps with Emmanuel Sanders still dealing with his sore knee. Sanders was a DNP on Thursday and if he's out, Davis could be started with confidence. He may have hit the waiver wire after a big Week 15 since fantasy managers thought he would miss two games at a minimum.

K.J. Osborn (@ GB, 17) is startable again now that Adam Thielen has been placed on injured reserve. In the last four weeks, with Thielen either limited or out altogether, Osborn has posted 4-47-1, 3-83-1, 3-21 and 5-68-1, and has 26 targets in that span.

Josh Palmer (vs. DEN, 5) would be a good start again this week if Mike Williams remains out, but with the NFL’s new “return to play” rules, Williams has a good chance to return.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard (vs. MIN, 31) are both worth a look against a shaky Vikings secondary. MVS is sixth in the league in average air yards this season and posted 5-98-1 in his last outing. Meanwhile, Lazard has produced 6-75-1, 2-23 and 2-45-1 with 32 total yards rushing in three games since Randall Cobb’s injury.

Braxton Berrios (vs. TB, 23) should continue to see heavy usage as long as Jamison Crowder is sidelined. Elijah Moore may return this week, but Berrios’s snaps seem to depend more on Crowder’s availability. He saw six targets last week and played 82% of the snaps. He had 10 targets back in Week 14.

Kendrick Bourne (vs. JAX, 17) is averaging 3.5-63-0.63 on 4.5 targets in eight home games this season. He was limited last week after coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list but should be back to starter’s snaps this week against the Jaguars.

A.J. Green (@ DAL, 24) had a quiet Week 16, but he has seen 21 targets in his last three games and has cleared 64 yards receiving in three of his last five games.

Three more dart throws Zay Jones, Laquon Treadwell and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine.

Tight Ends

Gerald Everett (vs. DET, 27) has cleared 60 yards and/or found the end zone in five of his last seven games.

Pat Freiermuth (vs. CLE, 24) should be back from his concussion this week. He has scored six touchdowns in his last eight games.

Foster Moreau (@ IND, 29) is rarely leaving the field with Darren Waller sidelined. There are rumblings that Waller could return this week, but if not, Moreau will be startable again. He has 11 catches for 132 yards in the last two weeks.

Cole Kmet (vs. NYG, 12) still hasn’t found the end zone despite 539 yards receiving. Justin Fields might be back this week and Kmet has been one of his favorite targets.

Mo Alie-Cox (vs. LV, 25) ran 28 routes last week after Jack Doyle picked up an injury. Doyle hasn't practiced this week (as of Thursday), so MAC will be in line for heavy snaps if Doyle can't play this week.

Jared Cook (vs. DEN, 3) doesn’t have a good matchup, but with Donald Parham sidelined, he played 63% of the snaps, his most since Week 6. He has seen 17 targets in the last three weeks.

Josiah Deguara (vs. MIN, 14) may see a spike in snaps after Marcedes Lewis hit the reserve/COVID-19 list.

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