Across the league, options have opened up at two positions where mid season breakouts are hard two find: quarterback and tight end. Geno Smith and Blaine Gabbert have emerged as new options behind center, while Cardinals rookie Ricky Seals-Jones has burst onto the scene at tight end. As we head into the fantasy football playoffs, advanced stats, metrics, and analytics player profiles suggest these players will sustain success in the closing stages of the NFL season.
Geno Smith, QB, Giants
After spending the past two and a half seasons on the bench for the Jets and the Giants, Geno Smith finds himself once again in the role of a starting quarterback. The tape on Smith is unflattering, seeing as he has attempted just 16 passes since the start of the 2016 season. One thing Smith will always have going for him is his great athleticism as a quarterback, proven by his 4.59 second (95th percentile) 40 yard dash and his 120.6 (87th percentile) Burst Score.
Smith isn’t walking into a great situation with the Giants, as their injury depleted offense is currently producing a -7.23 (No. 29) Supporting Cast Efficiency. Eli Manning was producing 13.6 (No. 28) Fantasy points per game before his benching, so it is possible that a more athletic and fresh Smith could be a top 20 fantasy quarterback in the closing weeks of the season. This makes him worth taking a look at for quarterback needy teams in larger leagues.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Cardinals
Bruce Arians is maintaining his reputation as a quarterback whisperer with the new life he has given to Blaine Gabbert. Like Smith, Gabbert was a guy whose days as a starter were thought to have been behind him. However, his performance over the past few weeks has likely earned him the Cardinals starting job for the rest of the season at the very least.
Gabbert has thrown 5 touchdown passes in his two starts and is averaging just under 250 passing yards per game. He has cracked the top 15 quarterbacks in both weeks, including a game against the fearsome defense of his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gabbert has always had the physical tools to be a good starter in the NFL, and was a top 10 pick in the 2011 draft for a reason. He’s placed above the 80th percentile in nearly every quarterback workout metric, including a robust 105.2 (88th-percentile) SPARQ-x Score. It may have taken seven seasons and three teams, but it looks as if Gabbert may have finally found himself a situation where he can live up to his potential.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins backfield just got a lot simpler. With Damien Williams ailing from a shoulder injury, and expected to miss 2-3 weeks, Kenyan Drake stands alone at the top of the pile in the Dolphins running back rotation.
Drake’s productivity has increased in a big way over the past few weeks. He has finished as a top 20 fantasy running back in three of the past four weeks, after failing to crack the top 50 at any given week in the first half of the season. Drake is clearly a player on the rise, and his measly 21.1-percent Opportunity Share is only bound to go up with Williams out in the coming weeks. With the Dolphins offense struggling to do anything right, expect them to lean on Drake more than ever.
Trent Taylor, WR, 49ers
With Jimmy Garoppolo’s recent ascension to the starter in San Francisco, the entire 49ers offensive supporting cast gets a boost to their stock. One guy who has an intriguing level of potential is rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor. Taylor has one major skill that stands out from the rest of his metrics: agility. Taylor impresses with a 10.75 (94th-percentile) Agility Score, by far his most impressive metric.
His quickness combined with his stocky build (5-8 181 lbs) make Taylor an ideal target in the short passing game. Kyle Shanahan has proved in the past that he can make great use out of short quick receivers in the slot, with Andrew Hawkins’s 2014 season on the Cleveland Browns being the prime example. With a fresh new face behind center, it will be very intriguing to watch Taylor grow over the final weeks of the 2017 season.
Seth Roberts, WR, Raiders
Last season, Seth Roberts secured five touchdown receptions through the first twelve weeks, compared to just a single score in week one this year. Much of this can be contributed to a low Target Share, which has dropped from 13.1-percent in 2016 to 11.7-percent this season. The Oakland Raiders suffered a huge blow to their passing game this week after Michael Crabtree received a one game suspension for his scuffle against Aqib Talib.
The next man up for the Raiders is slot receiver Seth Roberts, who has a chance to save what has been a down year for him. Roberts has a chance for a great weak against what has been a struggling New York Giants defense. Pick him up and reap the benefits this week.
Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Cardinals
It’s rare to see an undrafted rookie burst onto the scene late in the season quite like Ricky Seals-Jones has over the past couple weeks. Seals-Jones entered the Cardinals week 11 contest against the Texans with zero career receptions, and promptly dominated with a 3 receptions for 54 yards and a pair of scores. He followed that up with another great game against a tough Jacksonville defense with 4 receptions for 72 yards and a score.
Ricky Seals-Jones carries great size like most tight ends at 6-5 243 lbs. What makes Seals-Jones special is his excellent speed as highlighted by his 4.69 (71st-percentile) 40 yard dash and his 101.2 (64th-percentile) Speed Score. With 3 touchdowns on just seven career receptions, Seals-Jones is currently posting an extremely efficient +96.1 Production Premium and +100.7-percent Target Premium. Strike while the iron is hot with this rookie.