Fantasy football gamers searching for that last puzzle piece need look no further than the final edition of this season’s Underworld waiver wire. Two sophomore wide receivers making the next-level leap – Curtis Samuel and Zay Jones – look to keep their recent strings of success alive. Meanwhile, James Conner’s injured leg opened the door for Jaylen Samuels to show off his receiving chops. Samuel and Jones can be plugged into lineups this week as WR3 / flex options. With Conner’s leg injury forcing him to miss time, Samuels enters the RB2 conversation but holds little standalone value based on advanced stats, metrics, and analytics profiles.
Swiss Army Jaylen Samuels
Jaylen Samuels is the perfect add for the season-long fantasy gamer who has it all. Mike Tomlin recently characterized Pittsburgh’s running game as a running back by committee in the wake of workhorse James Conner‘s ankle injury, and Samuels has not garnered more than eight touches in an NFL game. Regardless, Samuels’ athleticism and collegiate production, coupled with Conner’s injury and the extreme fantasy point scoring potential of Pittsburgh’s top-5 offense, make Samuels a must-add in all fantasy football leagues.
He’s struggled to produce on the ground with 12 carries for 31 rush yards (2.6 yards per carry), and didn’t take on the lead back role in college, either. But Samuels’ real value lies in the passing game. He’s caught 7-of-9 targets for 54 yards and two touchdowns this season, including three catches for 30 yards and a score in Week 13. In limited action, his 1.31 Fantasy Points Per Opportunity rank No. 12 and offer a peek at his efficiency and potential.
Furthermore, the fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina State boasts a college target share in the 97th-percentile (20.2-percent). In each of his final three seasons at NC State, Samuels caught at least 55 passes and had more than 560 receiving yards. During that span he recorded 18 receiving TDs.
Curtis Samuel Sophomore Rising
Curtis Samuel’s recent spike in target share, snaps, production and red zone usage signal a player rising to relevance for the fantasy playoffs. His blazing 4.31 speed, which ranks in the 100th-percentile, doesn’t hurt either.
He notched season highs in targets (11), catches (six) and receiving yards (88) in Week 13 while playing 88.5-percent of the snaps. His previous best snap share was 49.2-percent. His 33 routes run also each set a high mark. Samuel has a red zone target in each of his past three games and a touchdown in two of his past three games. Cam Newton sports a 106.7 QB rating when targeting Samuel. Further boosting Samuel’s outlook is the loss of tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen suffered a foot injury and is done for the season, meaning his 13.3-percent target share is up for grabs.
Samuel’s Week 13 performance came with Devin Funchess back on the field after he missed Week 12 with a back injury. With Carolina easing him back in, Funchess (1-10-1) saw three targets while playing 47.5-percent of the snaps. In the four games prior to Week 12, Funchess failed to reach 10 PPR points. He has two top-20 fantasy showings at his position this season. Newton’s QB rating when targeting Funchess is 89.3, which ranks No. 72.
Samuel looks comfortable in the offense and is making the most out of his increased playing time. It’s a sign that the second-year pro from Ohio State has arrived. His six TDs rank No. 10 and are two more than Funchess’ four. Samuel’s +31.5 Production Premium ranks No. 5 and means he outperforms his peers in similar situations. He averages 0.78 fantasy points per pass route, ranking No. 2 in the league. In terms of schedule, Samuel couldn’t have asked for better matchups during the fantasy football playoffs. In Weeks 14-16 the Panthers face three teams which rank among the worst in the NFL for passing defense. Cleveland ranks No. 29, New Orleans No. 30 and Atlanta No. 27.
Zay Jones Walking Dead
Zay Jones always looked the part of No. 1 receiver. After a mediocre start to his NFL career, he’s beginning to play up to that standard. His athletic build and high workout metrics scores check all the boxes of a prototypical NFL X receiver. Jones runs a 4.45 40-yard dash, boasts a Catch Radius in the 93rd-percentile and brings explosiveness in the form of a 128.6 Burst Score. At 6-2, 201-pounds the sophomore second-rounder out of East Carolina owns a 38.7-percent red zone target share, which ranks No. 2.
The Bills, winners of two of their past three games, are heating up down the stretch behind an improved passing game. The recent play of Jones and quarterback Josh Allen both factor into Buffalo improving to 4-8. Jones’ 19.2-percent target share leads the team, and his 35.3-percent Dominator Rating (No. 5) makes him the clear top dog. Now he’s posting the numbers to back that up. Over his past three games – he missed Week 11 – Jones turned 21 targets into 12 catches for 160 yards (13.3 YPR) and three TDs.
Allen decided to grab his rookie season by the horns, helping the Bills offense turn a corner. He posted fantasy scores of QB2 (26.7) and QB4 (26.3) in his past two games and found rapport with Jones in Week 13. Jones caught 4-of-9 targets from Allen for 67 yards and two TDs, good for a top-five fantasy finish at his position.
Jones emerges as a viable weekly threat, albeit a boom-or-bust one, with an improved passing attack. He gets a great matchup to open the fantasy playoffs against the Jets, who allow opponents’ receivers to average 40.9 fantasy points per game, fifth-most in the league.