Jay Ajayi presents fantasy football upside in Week 15


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In case it slipped your mind, NFL football fans have the opportunity to vote on top performers at the running back and quarterback position following every week of action.

The candidates at quarterback last week were Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott. At running back, LeSean McCoy, Jordan Howard and Kenyan Drake were all featured following big games. You can check out the Week 14 winners here and return to cast your vote every week.

Now, let's take a look ahead at some quarterbacks and running backs that could be up for the nomination after Week 15 and might help lead your fantasy squad to a playoff win.

Air Analysis:

Drew Brees vs Jets

Recent performance: If you break down Drew Brees' fantasy finishes this season, they don't jump off the page the way that say, Russell Wilson's or Carson Wentz's might. But for the season, Brees has done enough to rank as the QB9 overall, thanks to what is probably the safest floor at his position among all quarterbacks this year. He doesn't have a single game with fewer than 11 fantasy points, but he's finished in the top 10 just four times out of the 13 games he's played. He's been a bit more productive over the last month due to an uptick in pass attempts per game. Brees is averaging 35.5 attempts per game in Weeks 11-14 compared to 26.6 in Week 8-10. Much of that has to do with the Saints attempting to come from behind, or losing two of their last four games during a tough stretch of matchups against playoff teams. That naturally leads to a more pass-heavy script compared to when, say, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara dominated the Bills on the ground back in Week 10 and Brees had just 184 pass yards. Despite Brees' fantasy production not meeting expectations of seasons past, his level of play is still among the best quarterbacks in all of football. He leads the NFL with a 71.7 percent completion rate and has a passer rating of 100-plus in four straight contests. In short, he's still good at football.

Surrounding talent: Brees has a talented arsenal of skill-position players that help to drive his consistently safe fantasy floor. Michael Thomas, a second-year receiver, is just five receptions shy of 90 on the season and would join Odell Beckham Jr. as the only other player in NFL history with 90-plus catches in each of their first two NFL campaigns. Thomas has been heating up lately, with at least 90 receiving yards in three of his last six games, including two 100-plus yard contests and a touchdown in two straight. His 992 yards this season rank him sixth among all wideouts. Ted Ginn is a fine but inconsistent deep threat and has accounted for 21.85 percent of Brees' pass yards (532) since Week 6. And of course, there's rookie phenom Alvin Kamara. As a receiver out of the backfield, Kamara has accounted for 20.21 percent of Brees' pass yards (492) since Week 6. New Orleans missed Kamara last week when he went out with a head injury. The Saints average 2.2 more yards per play when the rookie is on the field (7.6) than when he's not (5.4). He's shaping up for a return from a concussion for Sunday's game against the Jets, which would be a boon to Brees' outlook.

Matchup: You probably didn't need me to go on about how great Brees has played this season despite not putting up huge fantasy totals, or that he's surrounded by great playmakers. This call all comes down to the matchup against the Jets. First of all, it's a home game for the Saints so they get home field advantage. The Jets have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game (18.85) to quarterbacks this season and over the last four weeks, New York is dead last in FPPG allowed with a 22.82 average against. That number comes on the heels of six total touchdowns and zero picks in the four-week span. In addition, the Jets have zero takeaways in their last three games. Brees should be able to pick apart the Jets secondary at home and finish as a top 10-ranked passer for Week 15.

Cam Newton vs Packers

Recent performance: Cam Newton isn't getting the job done for his fantasy owners through the air this season. He's averaged just 1.5 pass completions in his last six games and has thrown for fewer than 190 yards in five of those games. Obviously, Newton has the ability to gain yards as a runner like no other quarterback in the league; He's totaled 50 or more rush yards in six of his last eight games and is averaging 8.5 rush attempts per game in that span. So maybe he's not the best "Air" candidate, but this is a fantasy preview, so we're sticking with that narrative. Thanks to his rushing ability, Cam has posted fantasy totals of 17 or more points in four of his last five games and even reached his 2017 ceiling, 35.66 points, back in Week 10.

Surrounding talent: Cam's number one receiver since the team traded away Kelvin Benjamin ahead of Week 9 has been Devin Funchess. The third-year receiver has done well with his new opportunity. Funchess has compiled 24 catches on 39 targets for 405 yards and four touchdowns since Week 9. In Weeks 1-8, Funchess had totaled 33 receptions on 55 targets for 357 yards and three touchdowns. He's received no fewer than six targets in a game since Week 9 and has been a consistent double-digit fantasy wideout during that time. I'd mention Greg Olsen, who is working his way back from a foot injury and played 92 percent of Carolina's snaps last week, but he saw just one target and didn't haul it in. Rookie back Christian McCaffrey's 94 targets ranks him second on the team. So if we're being honest, Newton doesn't have a ton of help, but he continues to produce because of his rushing cheat code.

Matchup: Newton gets a home game against the Packers this week, and the real storyline here is the potential return of Aaron Rodgers under center. But let's not forget that the Packers' defense is one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Green Bay has allowed 3,337 pass yards this season, a bottom-10 mark. And over the last month, no team has allowed more passing touchdowns (10) than the Packers, while they've given up the fourth-most FPPG to quarterbacks in that span.

Ground Analysis:

Jay Ajayi at Giants

Recent performance: Jay Ajay has not been the fantasy savior I thought he might be after he was traded to the Eagles. He's a part of a three, sometimes four-man rotation and just last week cleared the double-digit carry mark for the first time since coming to Philly. But I think that is a good sign going forward. For what it's worth, Ajayi's 307 rush yards since Week 9 accounts for 42 percent of the Eagles' backfield ground gains, the highest percentage among the committee. LeGarrette Blount's 39 percent share, or 229 yards, isn't far behind. It's interesting the team hasn't given Ajayi more run, since he's averaged over five yards per carry in all but one game as an Eagle. There's a lot to like about his outlook this week, despite the whole committee thing.

Surrounding talent: First, the most obvious. Nick Foles will be starting under center with Carson Wentz out for the season. This could mean the Eagles lean on their backfield depth and give more volume to the backs, like Ajayi. That's just a guess, but if they want to avoid mistakes from Foles, that's the way to do it. And while Blount is Ajayi's main competition for carries, Ajayi has out-attempted Blount in each of the Eagles last two games (nine to eight, 15 to seven). Blount has averaged 2.5 yards per carry the last two weeks, so we could be seeing a change of guard here. Corey Clement has had single-digit carries in each of the last four games and is merely a change-of-pace at this point.

Next Gen Stats: A dive into some of Ajayi's Next Gen Stats metrics uncovers some nuggets that may help his cause this week. Since becoming an Eagle, Ajayi's mark of 5.8 'yards gained after close' leads the league among NFL backs with at least 30 carries since Week 9. His efficiency also stands out as Ajayi ranks sixth-best in that same sample of backs since Week 9 with a 3.1 rating vs the NFL average of 4.1 (lower numbers are better). So he's running north-south and he's eluding defenders or gaining big chunks of yardage after they close within one yard. This is all positive given his matchup against the Giants.

Matchup: New York is allowing the second-most rush yards to opposing running backs, 112.6 and the most scrimmage yards per game, 161.9 to the position, as well. The Giants simply haven't been able to stop the run all year. And in terms of fantasy points, they're one of just six teams that are allowing an average of at least 20 FPPG to opposing backs, which includes 11 total touchdowns. It would make sense for the Eagles to lean more run-heavy in goal-line situations with Foles than they did with Wentz who, when Week 14 had wrapped, led the entire league in passing touchdowns, 33, on the season while his backfield had totaled just six rushing touchdowns. Fire up Ajayi in the flex and look out for a big game in a cake matchup.

Melvin Gordon at Chiefs

Recent performance: A volume monster over his last six games, Melvin Gordon has averaged 21 touches in that span. He's a bell-cow running on one of the hottest offenses in the league as the Chargers make a late-season playoff push. Gordon hasn't quite been the touchdown machine he was a season ago, as he's scored just three times since Week 8. He's still posting solid fantasy lines though, with at least 75 rush yards or a touchdown in five of his last six. Point is, Gordon's going to get his usual workload in this game against the Chiefs, who have been run on 323 times by running backs this season, the eighth-highest rush attempts against in the NFL.

Surrounding talent: With Philip Rivers finding a late-season groove in recent weeks with stud receiver Keenan Allen, big play guy Tyrell Williams and tight end Hunter Henry, the Chargers have won three of their last four contests by large margins, leading to more clock-salting rush attempts late in games. It helps that Los Angeles' defense has a league-leading 20 takeaways (Tied with Jaguars and Buccaneers) since Week 5. That means more time of possession and more opportunity for guys like Melvin Gordon.

Matchup: As mentioned above, the Chiefs have been run on quite a bit this season. That volume has led to 12 total touchdowns allowed to running backs by the Kansas City defense. That goes along with 103.4 rush yards per game allowed to the position (sixth-most) and 11 rush touchdowns against (fourth-most). So if all goes accordingly, Gordon is in line for a big workload, should have a scoring chance or two, and makes for a legit RB1 option for fantasy owners in Week 15.

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