Our weekly rankings are in the process of being updated, and will once again provide you with a dependable resource to make those difficult lineup decisions. Here is a look at some additional players that I believe could help you during this critical week, if you are inclined to utilize sleepers in your starting lineups.
Alex Smith vs. Redskins
During Kansas City’s three game losing streak, the degeneration of their defense has forced the Chiefs to rely more extensively upon Smith to spearhead the team’s aerial attack. As a result, he has launched an average of 42 passes during that span, which is seven more per contest than he tossed in the team’s first nine contests. That has enabled him to produce 272 YPG, and seven TDs in the last three games, while also rushing for at least 46 yards in two of those contests. While he certainly possesses limitations, this week he is an acceptable alternative for owners who are disenchanted with their other options. He should produce numbers that are consistent with his recent surge against Washington’s 27th ranked pass defense, as the Redskins are allowing 265 YPG, and have permitted 23 TDs.
Joe Flacco vs. Vikings
Continuing with that theme of highly susceptible pass defenses, we move now to Flacco’s dream matchup with Minnesota. Only two teams are currently allowing more yardage than the Vikings, who surrender 287 YPG. They have also yielded a league worst 26 TDs through the air, as their chronically challenged secondary has routinely permitted opposing signal callers to generate multiple TD performances, and favorable yardage totals. Plus, this unit somehow permitted Matt Flynn to appear almost serviceable, which is virtually impossible to accomplish. While the thought of utilizing Flacco in deeper leagues might initially cause hesitation, his 15 TDs perfectly match the season totals of Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and RG3. He has also surpassed 250 yards in seven different contests this season, and should increase that number this week.
Shane Vereen vs. Browns
He was involved in over 50% of the snaps in Week 13, as the latest round of punishment that was leveled toward Stevan Ridley kept Vereen intricately involved within New England's strategic approach. He ultimately generated 75 yards on 15 touches, and scored his first TD of the season. He has now collected 21 receptions in three games since his return, which has been supplemented by 76 yards on the ground. At first glance, the Cleveland defense appears sturdy due to their ranking of fourth in total defense. But New England should encounter little difficulty navigating through the same unit that yields 25 PPG, and just allowed 314 yards to Jacksonville’s 32nd ranked offense. While it remains exceedingly difficult to forecast specifically how many opportunities each Patriot will receive on a weekly basis, it is safe to believe that Vereen will remain highly utilized.
Montee Ball vs. Titans
His two TD performance in Week 11 stirred up an additional layer of interest in Ball’s viability for owners. However, the ongoing caveat involving his potential usage is both the continuing and rightful existence of Knowshon Moreno above him on Denver’s depth chart. While Ball’s deployment in all starting lineups would be nearly universal if Moreno would be sidelined for an extended period, that did not provide motivation to secure Ball as anything beyond a handcuff. But his 13 carries in Kansas City have altered the equation, as did the 117 yards that he produced with the expanded workload. This week, the Broncos will host a Titan rush defense that allows 114 YPG. While Peyton Manning will certainly continue to throw, the imposing nature of Tennessee’s seventh ranked pass defense will make attacking their comparatively vulnerable run defenders very enticing. That increases Ball’s potential to become highly involved this week.
Antone Smith at Packers
He briefly made his presence known in Week 11, by rambling for 88 yards on just two carries against Tampa Bay. But last Sunday’s scoring burst provided more evidence that he possesses the potential to explode for big plays. The primary hurdle toward him achieving that once gain is playing time, as he had been allotted just five touches all season prior to his Week 13 output. However, the Falcons have little to play for, and already know what Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers are capable of. That makes him an intriguing deep sleeper candidate when Atlanta travels to Green Bay, as the 27th ranked Packer defense has been torched for 1,008 total yards in their past two contests.
Michael Crabtree vs. Seahawks
If you are among those who secured Crabtree, in hopes that you could eventually elevate him into your starting lineup, this is your official nudge toward doing so. However, even though his initial game action of the season was encouraging, it is important to remember that you are not using the same Michael Crabtree that shredded opposing pass defenders for over 1,100 yards during the 2012 regular season, then followed it up with 285 yards and three TDs in the postseason. But even though you will have a version of #15 that is less than 100%, he should produce enough yardage to warrant using him. He seized two of his four targets in Week 13, while amassing 68 yards. 60 of which occurred on a third quarter catch and run that should have instilled confidence in his owners. While the suddenly shorthanded Seattle secondary is still more formidable than the Rams unit that he exploited on that particular big gain, Crabtree should combine with Colin Kaepernick to reward his patient owners.
Ace Sanders vs. Texans
Even though the rookie would qualify primarily as a deep sleeper this week, his recent contributions to the Jaguars should not be dismissed. After managing a grand total of just 20 receiving yards between Weeks 5-10, the 5’7” Sanders has now surpassed 60 in three straight contests, That includes the 67 that he generated in Week 13, which led Jacksonville in that category. He also paced the Jaguars with eight receptions, as Sanders took advantage of a season best 11 targets. He also manufactured 61 yards against Houston in Week 12, and those same Texans must now travel to Jacksonville. Sanders should generate favorable numbers once again, which makes him worthy of consideration for owners who are in need of an alternative WR3.
Andre Holmes at Jets
The third-year WR had managed a grand total of two career receptions during previous stints with the Vikings, Patriots and Cowboys, and did not register his first catch with Oakland until Week 11. But the 6’4”, 240 pound Holmes was the recipient of a team high 11 targets during the Thanksgiving Day encounter in Dallas, and responded by establishing new career highs in receptions (seven) and yardage (136). He also led Oakland in both categories, while delivering the most prolific performance by an Oakland receiver this season. That process could easily occur again this week, as Holmes will be the beneficiary of an enticing matchup against the increasingly charitable Jet secondary, which has now surrendered 22 TDs. Gang Green’s top ranked run defense should neutralize Oakland’s ground attack, which will eventually force to Raiders to utilize their passing game with greater frequently than they would prefer. However, that should present Holmes with sufficient opportunities to accumulate numbers, even if Denarius Moore returns from his shoulder issue. Using him will present some risk, but he can provide owners with a viable WR3 option if injuries or daunting matchups have created a massive concern.
Jared Cook at Cardinals
I was among the large collection of analysts that forecast a successful season for Cook. It originally appeared that the former Titan had joined an offensive system that would take full advantage of his extreme athleticism, and exploit matchup advantages would be inherent with the 6’5”, 255 pound TE. But after Cook collected seven receptions for 141 yards and two TDs in Week 1, his production was largely nonexistent for nine consecutive games. However, he has garnered seven catches for 129 yards in his last two contests. Plus, he should benefit from a matchup with an Arizona defense that has been formidable overall, but has allowed an NFL worst 13 TDs to TEs this season. That includes the two scores that the overly charitable Cardinals surrendered to Zach Ertz last Sunday, as their season long issue continued. Cook should be able to exploit them again.
Ladarius Green vs. Giants
The second-year TE makes a second consecutive appearance in this column after generating another noteworthy performance in Week 13. 16 of his 26 targets this season have occurred in the Chargers’ past three contests, including the season high six that he collected last Sunday. As a result of his increased opportunities, Green has averaged 69 YPG during that span, and has scored in two straight games. Even though Antonio Gates remains a critical element with San Diego’s offense (if healthy), Green's played 61 snaps to Gates'62 in Week 13, and has established himself as a torturous matchup for opponents. Which is why he does not need to capture a high number of passes in order to be effective. The Giant pass defense has permitted just under nine PPG to opposing TEs this season, and Green should pierce this unit sufficiently to deliver favorable output once again.