Nothing is ever easy in fantasy football, and that's what makes it fun. Whether the issue is injuries, poor matchups or underperformance it's rare that we can count on starting the same players week-in-and-week-out. Sometimes we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for options in good spots that given week for a desperation play.
Here we will look at five candidates each week, one or two from each of the four fantasy-relevant positions that make good spot starts in their upcoming games. With the fantasy playoffs at our doorstep, these players should hopefully be sitting on the end of your bench, but whether by newfound opportunity or a good matchup, they present sneaky value for the coming week or even into the fantasy postseason.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
Tyrod Taylor is already the QB12 overall on the season, so this isn't exactly a surprise starter. However, he's someone worth owning and starting for the duration of the fantasy playoffs.
Taylor starts his end of season schedule facing the Raiders this week. Oakland is tied with the Colts for the highest yards per play allowed (6.2) so far this year and give up the most yards per completion. Buffalo wants to use a conservative game plan, but playing in Oakland against a high-powered offense should force them out of their shell. Taylor is a pristine deep ball passer, and now has the Sammy Watkins cheat code back in the lineup. Watkins brings the icing on the cake to Taylor's deep ball and registered a whopping 23.4 air yards per target in his Week 12 return.
The added bonus of Taylor is his remaining rest of season schedule. After his duel with Oakland he gets the Steelers, Browns, Dolphins and Jets. All of those teams rank in the top-half of the NFL in yards per completion allowed to quarterbacks on the season. With Watkins back in the fold, Taylor looks like a league-winning quarterback play the rest of the way. The receiver did suffer a setback in practice this week, but even if he's on the field for a limited amount of snaps like he was in Week 12, it's a huge boost for Taylor.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Bengals defense has certainly taken a noticeable step back this year all around. One area where they've been particularly weak is at slowing down running backs, and not just on the ground. Opposing teams have targeted running backs 92 times against the Bengals this year, which only trails the Falcons' whopping 114 targets allowed.
With inconsistent play at wide receiver and along the offensive line, the Eagles continue to scale back their offense. Carson Wentz threw only one pass that traveled farther than 20 yards in the air on Monday night, which was intercepted by Packers safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Conversely, Darren Sproles' role continues to grow as an outlet receiver. Sproles has target totals of seven, nine, 10, one and seven over the last five games after averaging just 3.5 per game over his first six contests of the year. Whether Ryan Mathews plays or not, Sproles is in prime positon to absorb solid volume this week.
Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints
The Lions allow league-highs in completion rate (74 percent) and passer rating (106.4). Their pass defense has been picked apart all season, but especially in the short areas of the field and by quick passing games. Detroit gives up the third-highest passer rating (101.3) on passes where the quarterback had a time to throw of 2.50 seconds or less. That's not a good mark in their ledger to carry this week, as they'll face Drew Brees who gets the ball out of his hands with great quickness. Brees' time to throw of 2.38 seconds is the second-lowest among NFL starters this year.
Slot receiver Willie Snead is the top short-area passing option on the Saints this year. Snead's 7.1 air yards per target is the lowest among the Saints wide receivers and tight ends who have more than 20 targets on the year. If Brees is picking apart the Lions with quick-timing throws, his slot receiver could be his preferred target on the day. Snead has four or more catches in all but two games this season.
Marquess Wilson, WR, Chicago Bears
It's a little dangerous to dip into the Bears vs. 49ers waters this week, as these kind of games between bad teams usually end in either a 6-3 or 56-43 final score. Should it end in the latter, Marquess Wilson is likely the best play among the Bears pass-catchers. Wilson went out for 45 offensive plays in his second week back off the PUP. He led the team in targets (11) and owned the largest share (31 percent) of Matt Barkley's Week 12 high of 523.7 intended air yards.
Wilson hasn't established himself to this point in his NFL career, mostly due to injuries and stacked depth charts, but he is a legitimately talented player. If he pushes for the team-lead in targets for the second consecutive week, he's in prime position to exploit the 49ers secondary. The entire Bears offense should inherit a ton of opportunity this week, as San Francisco allows opposing offenses to run 70.4 plays per game, the most in the NFL. Their defense is known for their weakness on the ground, but the team also struggles defending the pass. The 49ers 8.2 touchdown rate allowed to wide receivers trails only the Packers this season.
Josh Hill, TE, New Orleans Saints
A pure high-ceiling, low-floor dart-throw; Josh Hill does make some sense if you're desperate for a streaming tight end. Hill has out-snapped free agent flop Coby Fleener 101 to 60 over the last two weeks. Fleener gets targets when he's on the field, but it's not as if his counterpart has strictly been a run-blocker this year. The split between run and pass plays participated in last week was not that stark:
Hill: 27 pass plays, 29 run plays
Fleener: 11 pass plays, 6 run plays
The Saints play the Lions this week who allow a league-high 9.6 touchdown rate to the positon. As Adam Rank calls it "the Doyle Rules." After Jack Doyle popped in a pair of touchdowns in Week 1, we knew almost all the tight ends would push for scores against them. That's a trend that's held up.
Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.