The fantasy playoffs are a time when an owner’s hard work can go up in flames if they make just one wrong decision.
While the obvious players like Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles or Jimmy Graham are likely to continue putting up astronomical numbers this week, it’s the guys no one knew would have a breakout year prior to the season that might be the biggest stars when it counts.
There are always players to be cautious with, but below are a few of the unknown fantasy studs that have emerged as of late and can deliver a playoff win for their fantasy owners.
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
By now, nearly everyone who plays fantasy football or even casually watches the NFL knows what Nick Foles has done for the Eagles this season. After being Michael Vick’s backup to start the season, Foles emerged in Week 9 against Oakland and has started ever since.
Since that point, Foles has put up 19 or more points every week and has been just as reliable for fantasy owners as he has been for the Eagles.
He knows he has to keep pushing:
QB Nick Foles: The most important thing is to stay steady and be hungry every week. #FlyEaglesFly
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 12, 2013
Last week, in what appeared to be a blizzard going through Philadelphia, Foles still threw for 179 yards, a touchdown and rushed for another 23 yards and a touchdown to finish with 19 points—his lowest total of the season.
But with a much easier matchup this week against a porous Minnesota Vikings pass defense, the numbers Foles puts up could be near the 30-point mark.
The Vikings are 30th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (282) and have given up a league-worst 29 touchdowns through the air. On average, the Vikings allow opposing quarterbacks to score 21 points per game in NFL.com leagues.
For fantasy owners that have Foles, this is another week to roll with him in the playoffs. The only matchup that could possibly be better would be the Dallas Cowboys.
Prediction: 29 fantasy points
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots
Okay, people might have known about Shane Vereen getting on the field before the season started, but no one thought he would be the most dependable back in the Patriots’ backfield.
Though Vereen has only started in five games this season, he has put up over 10 points in three of those contests and had two games with 15 or more points in standard scoring leagues. Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount continue to get carries, but Vereen has certainly emerged as the best option at running back.
Going up against Miami is one thing, as it is the 23rd-worst team against the rush, but Vereen‘s presence in the passing game is what makes him so valuable. In the Patriots’ last game, Vereen finished with 153 yards receiving and a touchdown on the ground.
Without Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season, Tom Brady will be looking Vereen‘s way even more now. After seeing 17 targets in Week 14, Vereen could be looking at a heavier dose of carries as well as targets against the Dolphins.
Prediction: 22 fantasy points
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Where were you the first time the name Keenan Allen was uttered? It certainly wasn’t on draft day or possibly even within the first four weeks of the season.
But when Allen got going, no one could stop him.
Though Allen might be widely known by fantasy owners at this point, his production was certainly a surprise midway through the season. Now, Allen is sandwiched between Wes Welker and Victor Cruz in terms of fantasy points.
Should Allen win Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Should Allen win Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Yes, he’s been the best offensive player in the 2013 class.
He at least deserves to be in the conversation.
No, others such as Eddie Lacy are more deserving.
In his last six games, Allen has registered over 100 yards three times and also has three touchdowns during that stretch.
His run of success has sparked rookie-of-the-year conversations, and Eric Galko of Sporting News breaks down why Allen is a “viable” candidate for the award.
If the rookie receiver can touch pay dirt against the Broncos, which he did twice last week against the New York Giants, he should have no problem putting up another good week for owners.
With a matchup against the Denver Broncos pass’ defense, which ranks 29th in the NFL—no one saw that coming before the start of the regular season either—Allen should be capable of putting up another double-digit-point week.
Prediction: 18 fantasy points
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins
Fantasy points for tight ends can sometimes be slim, but when they have breakout weeks, owners tend to notice. For Charles Clay, his breakout week came in Week 2 and continued through Week 5.
Then he simmered for a little while.
Now, Clay has registered eight or more points in three out of his last four weeks and finished with 15 or more points in two of those. To top that off, Clay has already received a total of 20 targets over the last two games—pretty high numbers for a tight end not named Jimmy Graham.
Given that owners might have picked him up off the waiver wire midway through the season, Clay has been a huge pickup. While his numbers haven’t been great every game, the third-year player has been the fifth-best tight end in fantasy this season, ahead of players like Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
Against the Steelers, Clay put together a nearly unstoppable performance, finishing with 97 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches and 10 targets.
This week, going against a Patriots team that gives up an average of nearly nine fantasy points per game to tight ends, Clay looks like a great start.
Prediction: 14 fantasy points
Fantasy stats courtesy of NFL.com/fantasyfootball.