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Fantasy football 2023 Week 16 sleepers: Three RB matchups to target

If you're reading this, congratulations. You're one step closer to winning Squid Game. Wait, no. That's not it. You're one step closer to a fantasy championship. Same difference. Both are cutthroat win-at-all-costs competitions. They usually end with one person earning valuable rewards. And some end with humiliating physical challenges for the losers.

At least in fantasy leagues, you end the season with the same number of contestants as when you started. We hope.

Alas, this week is important. The game before the game. You can't win a title if you don't win this week. Of course, it wouldn't be a fantasy week if we weren't navigating through frustrating injuries to key players. It means you might need to take a big swing in places you might not have expected. The sleepers column will not leave you wanting in this fateful hour.

Here are some names. We hope to see you on the other side.


Baker Mayfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TB

By this point in the season, we’ve figured out who Baker Mayfield is. Even if you’re not starting him every week (and you’re not), we’ve been able to trust him enough to get Tampa Bay’s playmakers involved. But every so often, a matchup comes along that gives us the confidence to plug him into our lineups. Week 15 against Green Bay was one of them. Week 16 against Jacksonville is another. 

Heading into last weekend, the Jags had allowed seven 300-yard passing performances. In Jacksonville's previous three games, opposing quarterbacks have averaged 323 passing yards with six total touchdown passes. Despite the Jags' ability to get pressure up front, they’ve been consistently beaten on the back end. Whether it’s Mike Evans, Chris Godwin or anyone else, look for Mayfield to get the ball to his pass-catchers. He’s a lock in all two-QB formats and has low-end QB1 vibes in most other formats. 

Joe Flacco
Cleveland Browns CLE

If you picked up and stashed Flacco, this is why you did it. The Bears matchup in Week 15 was going to be tough. Flacco scored fewer than 17 points. The Jets matchup in Week 17 is going to be tough. New York entered Week 15 allowing the third-fewest points per game to QBs. But Houston … that’s the sweet spot. 

The Texans have been one of the more generous defenses against fantasy quarterbacks. Houston has surrendered five 300-yard passing games -- three of them since Week 10. With C.J. Stroud (concussion) possibly back this week, it could put more pressure on the Browns to be more aggressive offensively. Between Flacco averaging 313 passing yards and an offense that is struggling to run the ball, high-passing volume is in play. Flacco is a high-end QB2 this week. 

EDITOR'S UPDATE: C.J. Stroud (concussion) has been ruled out of Sunday's game.

Running backs

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers GB

In a normal season, Aaron Jones wouldn’t remotely be considered a sleeper. This has not been a normal season for Aaron Jones. He’s missed six games with injuries. When he’s been healthy, he’s been generally ineffective. Week 15 was one of his better games this year, as it was just the second time he topped 60 scrimmage yards. Though we’re still waiting for his first touchdown since Week 9. 

Maybe it will happen this week? No team has allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Carolina Panthers. They’ve been one of our favorite targets for fantasy running backs this season. Eight running backs have had a top-12 weekly finish against the Panthers -- seven of them finished in the top 10. A healthy Jones is going to dominate Green Bay’s backfield touches. That potential volume combined with a choice matchup puts Jones in the realm of RB2s in Week 16. 

D'Onta Foreman
Chicago Bears CHI

Who Chicago’s lead running back will be in any given week has been a bit of a moving target this year. Foreman, Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson have been in the mix every week. Yet every week, it feels like a different player is leading the team in snaps. Foreman had a forgettable game last Sunday against Cleveland. But the game script could work in his favor this week against the Cardinals. 

Run-heavy game scripts have generally favored Foreman. That should be the case this weekend. Arizona ranks 31st against the run and has allowed 110 or more rushing yards in 12 games this year. Teams are running often and effectively. The Cardinals have faced the third-most rushing attempts while allowing a whopping 4.5 yards per carry. All three Bears backs should see touches, but look for Foreman to do a lot of the heavy lifting against a lackluster defense.

Deep sleeper ...

Tyjae Spears
Tennessee Titans TEN

Spears has had occasional fantasy relevance this season. Part of the problem is being stuck behind Derrick Henry. That guarantees that Spears isn't going to get the preponderance of the carries. The other part of the problem is being stuck in an offense that has trouble scoring (27th in the league). It's hard to be a big fantasy producer when your team isn't putting a lot of points on the board. 

That doesn't mean Spears isn't on the field. His snap share is nearly identical to Henry's. And while he doesn't get the same number of rushing attempts, he's the pass-catching back of choice in Tennessee. That could be crucial this week against Seattle. The ‘Hawks give up a lot of fantasy points to running backs. While a lot of it comes via a porous run defense, Seattle's ability to score could flip the game script. If the Titans find themselves playing from behind, Spears could see a lot of work with the team in catch-up mode. Spears comes with risk but has flex upside in deeper leagues. 

Wide receivers

Gabe Davis
Buffalo Bills BUF

What has two thumbs and is crazy enough to suggest rolling with Davis in a massive fantasy playoff week? *Points at self* … THIS GUY! Davis has been the epitome of boom-or-bust. He has as many games with zero fantasy points as he does with 20. Davis is the quintessential “better in best ball" player. But this week, he could have some potential in more traditional fantasy leagues. 

That's because he's playing the Chargers. The same Chargers that gave up four touchdown passes to Aidan O'Connell and a pair of scores to Tre Tucker. After the coaching shakeup, I expect to see a more spirited performance from the Bolts, but that won't paper over real defensive deficiencies. The Bills have been good about overcorrecting when Davis has been absent from the offense for too long. He should see a number of targets this week in a very favorable matchup. He's a high-end WR3 in most leagues. 

Deep sleeper ...

Parker Washington
Jacksonville Jaguars JAX

Jacksonville's passing game has been pretty predictable this year. They've had success in good matchups and have struggled in bad matchups. This week, the Jags visit the pass funnel defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If past is prologue, Trevor Lawrence (or maybe C.J. Beathard?) and his pass-catchers could have a good day. 

Washington’s role hasn’t been complex: Get him the ball in space and see what he can do. The results have been marginal. But since the Jags lost Christian Kirk to injury, Washington has become a bigger part of the offense. And the added opportunities could lead to increased production against Tampa Bay. Only the Chargers have allowed more yards after the catch than the Bucs this season. If the Jaguars can pop a couple of tunnel screens, Washington is at least an intriguing DFS play. 

Tight ends

Darren Waller
New York Giants NYG

After a five-game absence (that felt much longer), Waller returned to snag four passes for 40 yards in a limited outing. In Week 15, Waller took part in less than 50 percent of Big Blue’s routes. But he was targeted on 22 percent of the ones he ran. In Weeks 2-7, when Waller was reasonably healthy, he was almost always on the field for passing plays. That 86 percent route participation might be hard to achieve in Week 16, but it’s likely to grow. 

The added volume of snaps with a heavy targets-per-route-run ratio reminds me why I was so bullish on Waller at the start of the year. Next up is an Eagles defense that still has issues in its secondary. With Waller immediately regaining his place among New York’s top targets, there should be plenty of opportunity. Waller is a high-end TE2 in Week 16.

Hunter Henry
New England Patriots NE

Oatmeal is fine. It’ll get you through the day. But it’s boring. If you’re going out to brunch, you’re not ordering it. Hunter Henry has been oatmeal this year. And Hunter Henry will be oatmeal again this week … but with apples and brown sugar! 

In New England’s anemic passing game, Henry has been second only to DeVante Parker in targets since Week 13. This week, he should see that target share against the Broncos. No team has been worse against tight ends this season. Throw in that Henry leads the team in end-zone targets and he should be viewed as a low-end TE1 this week. 

Deep sleeper ...

Jimmy Graham
New Orleans Saints NO

Graham rightfully has no business being in a fantasy football column in 2023. He’s 37 years old and barely getting on the field for an offense that can’t find its way. In some regards, it feels like chasing the points, since he’s scored a touchdown in three straight games. Maybe it is. But it also feels like chasing the usage. 

Graham’s snaps have increased every game. Ten snaps in Week 15 aren’t going to make you forget Taysom Hill. But they have been snaps with a purpose. Over the past three weeks, Graham has seven targets on 20 snaps. That’s better than one target for every three routes. When he’s on the field, they’re throwing to him. Even better, they’re using him exclusively in the red zone. As bizarre as the Saints’ offense has been this year, is it really surprising that they’d employ the football equivalent of a designated hitter? Graham seems like a safer play in DFS lineups than your season-long playoff lineups. But for the hardy (foolhardy?), he’s a deep-league TE2 with touchdown upside. 


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Pittsburgh's offense is bad. Firing Matt Canada has done little to improve the Steelers' fortunes. They’ve scored fewer than 20 points in five straight games and have had fewer than 270 yards of total offense in back-to-back games. 

This week, the Bengals visit the Steel City. When these two teams met in Week 12, Pittsburgh threw up 421 yards of offense, but put just 16 points on the board. It hasn’t mattered whether Kenny Pickett or Mitchell Trubisky has been under center, the offense has been ungood. This week, Mason Rudolph will get his shot. Cincy’s defense hasn’t exactly been lights out lately, but when facing an offense that can’t get out of its own way, the Bengals are still an underrated start this week. 

Yes, the Panthers did get a surprise win in Week 15. The Panthers also scored just nine points and were helped greatly by a Falcons offense that didn’t want to help itself. That’s not exactly a rousing endorsement of Bryce Young and his teammates. Carolina continues to be one of the most moribund offenses in the league and worth picking on if you stream defenses. 

The Panthers aren’t exceedingly bad in any one area. But they are consistently below average in many different aspects. They give up more sacks than most teams. They turn the ball over more than a lot of squads. And they don’t score points. Even Joe Barry’s much-maligned Packers defense should find a way to post a decent fantasy total in Week 16.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for and a man who still hasn't started wrapping the Christmas presents he bought. Send him your tales of laziness or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.

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