THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 17 2019
Devante Parker of the Miami Dolphins is the living embodiment of how weird fantasy football is-and by extension how unpredictable the NFL can be.
At the beginning of 2019, Parker was a massive disappointment in the NFL and a punchline in the fantasy community. After several swings at the annual exercise in futility that was figuring out which three weeks of a season Parker would go off, drafters just snickered, mumbled "yeah, this is the year for DeVante Parker" more than a little sarcastically-and then drafted someone else.
Well, a funny thing happened-over the second half of 2019, that's kinda what Parker did. Since Week 9, No wide receiver in the AFC has more fantasy points than Parker. He's topped 1,000 yards for the season, averaged over 16 yards a catch and hauled in nine touchdowns.
Parker helped win fantasy owners a championship last week, with a 5/111/1 line against the Cincinnati Bengals. He also helped others get to a Week 17 championship game.
And…he's dead. A dud waiting to happen-because as ESPN's Mike Clay detailed, Sunday Parker will be trapped in the ninth circle of fantasy hell known as being shadowed by Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots.
"Gilmore didn't shadow Parker when these teams faced off in Week 2, but Parker had yet to hit his stride in what has evolved into a breakout season," Clay said. "Parker was held without a catch on six targets in that game, but he figures to be shadowed by Gilmore in Week 17. Note that prior to 2019, Parker had been active for three of the four meetings between these teams since Gilmore signed with New England in 2017. Gilmore shadowed him in all three of those games, with Parker totaling 13 targets, six receptions, 60 yards and zero touchdowns on 101 routes. He failed to clear 40 yards in any of the three games. Downgrade Parker significantly against the defense allowing the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, including perimeter receivers, this season."
Hate to rain on anyone's title-game parade. Even Week 17 weirdos. But Parker is a no-go.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (Casey Hayward vs. Tyreek Hill)
If you've read this column this year (or ever), then you know I'm a bell-ringer for Hayward, who is one of the most underappreciated cornerbacks in the NFL. As teammate Adrian Phillips told Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County Register, that's been all the truer in a season where the Bolts have struggled to win games.
"It's getting to the point (where) quarterbacks don't even want to throw over there," Phillips said. "It's amazing to see. He's been balling. The only reason he hasn't been getting the recognition is because we haven't been winning, so if we were winning, people would be talking about him every day, and that's unfortunate for us."
Hayward's a shutdown corner, but not necessarily a shadow one. Putting him on Hill full-time would be a deviation for the Bolts. That said, both Hayward and Kevin King are talented corners capable of playing in the slot and on the boundary.
There's a reason the Chargers are the third-worst fantasy matchup for wideouts.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (Marshon Lattimore vs. D.J. Moore)
Last week in Tennessee, Lattimore faced one of the hottest wideouts in the league in rookie A.J. Brown of the Titans. Brown had topped 100 yards in three of his last four games, getting open with regularity over the top. Brown had a touchdown, but that was on an end-around-as a receiver he had just one catch.
Per Luke Johnson of the NOLA.com, Brown gave Lattimore props after the game. "In my opinion, that's probably one of the best cornerbacks in the league," Brown said. "… I respect him, and I learn from it. I love going against a guy like that. They show you what you are and where I want to be."
Moore's in the concussion protocol and may well miss his first career game. And even if he does play, he'll draw a shadow matchup with one of the best young corners in the NFL while simultaneously trying to catch overthrows and wormburners from rookie Will Grier.
Don't wait for Moore to be ruled out before ruling him out.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (Michael Thomas vs. James Bradberry)
Week 17 features a slate filled with inter-divisional games, which means a lot of familiarity between cornerbacks and wide receivers. Such is the case with the new single-season receptions king and the big-bodied corner for the Panthers.
Down the stretch last year, Bradberry more than held his own against Thomas-a 6/39/0 average stat line in two meetings over the last three weeks of the regular season. But earlier this season it was another story-Thomas torched Bradberry repeatedly on the way to a 10/101/1 Mike Thomas of a day.
It's not like there's any way you can sit Thomas. Not this year. Not in a game where the Saints still have at least some hope that the team can lock up a first-round bye and/or home field-advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
I just felt the need to share some good news.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Davante Adams vs. Darius Slay)
Detroit's Darius Slay may well be the team's best defensive player-and someone who was shopped at the trade deadline ahead of a contract year in 2020. As Jeff Risdon wrote at the Lions website, the 28-year old wants to remain in Detroit-but he's also realistic about his future with a Lions team that seems reluctant to hand him another big contract.
"I always expect to be here," he said, "because you sign a contract to be here, dah, dah, dah, dah. But you never know. Just like I said, you never know. Of course we want a new deal. Who don't want one? But (expletive), that's money. Who don't want money?"
Slay's an excellent cornerback. But he can't cover everyone-there's a reason that Detroit's second in PPR fantasy points allowed to receivers over the past month. That matchup is much too good to pass up for a wideout in Adams who is one of the most-targeted receivers in the league per game.
Green Bay needs this win. Aaron Rodgers needs Adams to make that happen. It's math.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (Robby Anderson vs. Tre'Davious White)
When this pair locked horns in Week 1, they didn't really lock horns-White wasn't really shadowing anyone and Anderson wasn't close to looking like the No. 1 receiver for the Jets. In that game, it was Jamison Crowder who exploded, while Anderson caught just four of nine targets and didn't hit 35 receiving yards.
A lot has changed between then and now. White has gone on to have the best season of his career-he's picked off half a dozen passes and been the best corner in the game not named Stephon Gilmore. Anderson has turned it on in the second half for the second year in a row, hitting double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring systems each of the past five games.
There are two substantial reasons for optimism regarding Anderson in Week 17. The first is two meetings with White in 2018 where the contract-year wideout caught eight passes for 134 yards and two scores. The second is that with the Bills locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, it's entirely possible that White will spend quite a bit of Sunday's game as a spectator.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (Odell Beckham vs. William Jackson)
I tend to be equal parts relieved and depressed at the end of every fantasy football season-relieved because it's the finish line of a lot of long nights and depressed because I'm pretty sure my better half likes me better when I'm working all the time.
Given that, it's only fitting that I close my final fantasy column of the year with Odell Beckham. His fantasy owners are relieved they won't have to watch any more and depressed about, well, everything else. And in fairness to Beckham, how much of this year's faceplant is on him remains a matter of considerable debate. Everything that could go wrong did.
If you were hoping against hope that Beckham would finish big, it's possible-in that teams who drafted Beckham early this season even making it this far is possible. But OBJ only had two catches for 39 yards in Cleveland's first meeting with a Bengals team that ranks outside the top-20 in fantasy points given up to wide receivers.
As a Browns fan, I'd love to see one last blowup. But it's not happening.