Market Watch: Wide Receivers to Target or Unload for the Stretch Run

As the fantasy playoffs approach, it’s time to take stock of your roster and think about what trades will position you for the playoff run. We’ve already talked about quarterbacks (here) and running backs (here), so let’s look at a few wide receivers you might want to pick up or unload prior to your fantasy playoffs. As with the other positions, I’ve included each player’s week 14, 15, 16 and 17 matchups after his name.

Wide Receivers to Target

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Calvin Johnson (@ GB, @ ARI, ATL, CHI): This one’s more about talent than matchups. So far this season, Megatron has been your prototypical boom or bust receiver – he went off against the Rams, Titans and Eagles but was fairly quiet in his other four games. Right now, he’s hovering around the 20th wide receiver for the year in terms of production. That’s a far cry from what we all expected coming into the season. No one knows this better than the guy who drafted Johnson in your league. He’s probably sick of seeing Megatron underperform and might be willing to sell him cheap just to get some sort of return. If you can get him for less than a first round talent, now’s the time to make that deal. Matthew Stafford seems to finally be returning to last season’s form, which is what Megatron needs to get back on pace. Plus, the Lions may be playing for the last NFC wildcard birth in December, which should light a fire under all the fantasy options on this team.

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Miles Austin (@ CIN, PIT, NO, @ WAS): Miles hasn’t had many of the monster games you’ve come to expect from him this year, but he’s been shockingly consistent – he’s netted double digit fantasy points in most formats in all but two weeks. For the fantasy playoffs, it’s always nice to have someone you can plug in and count on for at least 10 points. Teams facing the Cowboys have felt the need to shift coverage to Dez Bryant, meaning Miles frequently faces inferior matchups that he can exploit. He draws the Saints and Redskins in weeks 16 and 17 (the two most generous defenses to opposing fantasy wide receivers), so I expect big things from him in the games that will determine your league’s champion.

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Mike Wallace (SD, @ DAL, CIN, CLE): Despite all the preseason hype for Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace has stepped right back into his role as the top fantasy receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Add in the fact that Brown’s ankle injury could be of the nagging variety that slows him down for a couple weeks, and Wallace’s position at the top of the Steelers’ depth chart is even more secure. Wallace’s fantasy playoff performance should be buoyed by a couple nice home matchups against teams like the Chargers, Bengals and Browns down the stretch, but the biggest factor weighing in his favor in my mind is the fact that each and every game between now and the end of the season will matter to the Steelers and Wallace. The Steelers look like they’ll be slugging it out with teams like the Colts and Bengals for a wildcard birth in December or trying to overtake the Ravens for the division title. Meanwhile Wallace, who is playing under the franchise tag, is in a contract year and will want to put on a show for potential suitors outside of Pittsburgh. A motivated Steelers and motivated Wallace could make for a huge fantasy playoffs for the top receiver in Pittsburgh.

Wide Receivers to Unload

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Larry Fitzgerald (@ SEA, DET, CHI, @ SF): It’s been a rough year for Larry Fitzgerald and his fantasy owners. Thanks in no small part to the Cardinal’s quarterback issues, Fitz, the second wide receiver drafted in most fantasy leagues, has barely cracked the top 20 in wide receiver fantasy production this season. There’s no reason to think it’ll get any better in the fantasy playoffs. Look at his matchups – the Seahawks and 49ers are both in the top four in giving up the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and the Bears will cover Fitz with shutdown cornerback Charles Tillman, who’s in the discussion for the NFL’s defensive MVP. The only decent matchup is against the Lions, but that won’t be enough to save Fitzgerald’s fantasy playoffs. I know it feels like you’re selling low, but it’s time to get what you can for Fitz and move on.

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Stevie Johnson (STL, SEA, @ MIA, NYJ): There’s no two ways about it, Stevie Johnson’s injured and it will continue to impact his play through the fantasy playoffs. Stevie’s been gutting it out and playing on Sunday’s, but he doesn’t look like the receiver we’ve seen in recent years. I’m sure he’ll get healthy eventually, but it’ll probably take an offseason to do it and you don’t have that kind of time. Even if he was healthy, his matchups down the stretch are pretty rough. In week 14 he’ll go against Courtland Finnegan of the Rams – a good, physical corner who can take advantage of nagging injuries. After that he faces off against the Seahawks’ stout corners and he finishes the season against the Jets who, even without Darrelle Revis, are one of the better defenses against fantasy wide receivers.

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James Jones (DET, @ CHI, TENN, @ MIN): James Jones is currently tied with A.J. Green for the league lead in receiving touchdowns. I like James Jones, but he’s no A.J. Green. More importantly, he’s not one of the Packers three best receivers once Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings get back on the field. Of course, the Packers’ top receiving options could continue to struggle with injuries, but it looks like one or both of them will be back on the field for the fantasy playoffs. If you hang on to Jones you could easily find yourself holding a team’s fourth option at wide receiver for the fantasy playoffs. He’s a top 10 fantasy wide receiver at this point, so get what you can for him before the news about Jordy and Jennings returning destroys his value.

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