The Andy Dalton and Thomas Rawls injuries loomed large in fantasy leagues in Week 14. If you were able to survive those injuries and move on to the fantasy semifinals, you’re going to need to make a move or two on the wire this week to, at the very least, give yourself some flexibility when you’re setting your lineup. Luckily, there are a few targets at quarterback and running back, even though they may not live up to the expectations you’ve had all year for Dalton and Rawls. We start at running back, where last week's injury to another fantasy mainstay, Mark Ingram, has opened the door for an old friend to enter the fray in the fantasy playoffs.
Tim Hightower, RB, Saints
Hightower took command of the New Orleans backfield against the Bucs in Week 14, running 28 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. The efficiency may not have been great, but we can overlook that for the time being. What’s important is that he’s clearly the team’s workhorse. C.J. Spiller had three carries and three targets, continuing to hold an essentially non-existent role in the offense. Hightower doesn’t have nearly the ceiling Mark Ingram did, but he does have Ingram’s lucrative spot in the Saints’ plans. That means he should be as close as realistically possible to 100% owned in all fantasy formats. The Saints' next two games are against the Lions and Jaguars. Both of those teams have been tough against the run this year. Todd Gurley ran all over the Lions last week, but they’ve still surrendered just 4.2 yards per carry and are in the top half of the league in rush defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The Saints, however, will be favored and are a different beast at home. They also clearly aren’t shy about riding Hightower. He’ll be in the RB2 mix for the fantasy semifinals. Go get him now, perhaps if for no other reason than to block your league-mates who are still contending for a playoff championship from getting him on their teams.
Denard Robinson, RB, Jaguars
T.J. Yeldon left Jacksonville’s eventual blowout win over Indianapolis with a sprained knee, opening the door for the team’s leading rusher a season ago to step back into the spotlight. Robinson took advantage of that opportunity, picking up 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Remember, Robinson burst on the fantasy scene in the middle of last season, running for 389 yards and four touchdowns over a four-game stretch before eventually slowing down and then suffering a season-ending injury in early December. What we saw from Robinson in Week 14 was not a mirage. He can be an impactful fantasy running back when he gets the chance. The question going forward is whether or not he’ll have that chance. Yeldon was actually a bit more effective than Robinson on a per-carry basis before his injury, picking up 62 yards on 11 totes. The injury didn’t appear serious, and with the Jaguars still in the AFC South race, they’ll likely do what they can to get him back on the field next week. If he isn’t able to go, Robinson would be a must-start play against the Falcons. We won’t know their respective fates for a few days, but for now any owner still alive in the playoffs should have a claim in for Robinson. Like Hightower, even if you don’t plan on using him, you might as well block the other people in your league from getting him on their roster to use him against you.
Ted Ginn, WR, Panthers
One way to make sure Ginn doesn’t contribute any ghastly drops? Give him just three chances to do so. Not only did Ginn hold onto every ball that hit his hands last week, he did about as much damage as possible with those opportunities. Ginn caught two of his three targets for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Panthers’ 38-0 evisceration of the Falcons last week. Ginn now has 200 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games, and appears to be the No. 2 option in the Carolina passing game behind Greg Olsen. Cam Newton has been getting it done with his motley crew of receivers all season, but Ginn may be emerging in front of Devin Funchess, Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown and the rest of what the Panthers have to offer at the position. The Panthers visit the Giants and their awful secondary next week. The Giants are on pace to surrender the most passing yards in NFL history, which isn’t exactly the sort of defense you want to bring into a matchup with the guy who just might be the 2015 MVP. Ginn should also be able to take advantage.
DuJuan Harris & Fred Jackson, RB, Seahawks
Thomas Rawls’s broken ankle likely ended more than a few fantasy seasons in Week 14. Rawls was well on his way to another big game, running for 44 yards on six carries before suffering the season-ending injury. Harris and Jackson split the workload for the remainder of Seattle’s 35–6 drubbing of Baltimore, and that should remain the case for the rest of the season. That may not really matter in fantasy terms. Chances are that neither player is worth a start over the next two weeks in any but the deepest of leagues. Harris, a fifth-year player out of Troy, ran for 42 yards on 18 carries in Rawls’s stead. Before Sunday, he had a total of 270 rushing yards in his career. Meanwhile, the veteran Jackson got just 15 yards on seven carries against the Ravens. He’ll likely be in a secondary role behind Harris, and is well beyond his fantasy usefulness. He has had a supporting role all season in Seattle, gaining 104 yards on 31 carries. You may want to put in a claim for both of these players, especially if you’re in a deep league. The Seahawks do get a cushy matchup with the Browns this week, but it’s hard to have much confidence in either of the leftovers. Neither of them is Rawls.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
Rawls's injury impacts receivers as well, as the Seahawks will likely lean even more heavily on Russell Wilson and the passing game than they have over the last five weeks. That passing game has produced so much fantasy goodness in that timeframe that Russell Wilson is entering the MVP discussion at this late stage of the season. He’s not going to win the award, but he’s at least in the picture, and that has delighted his fantasy owners. Doug Baldwin has been the dominant presence on the other side of those Wilson passes, but Lockett has had a few big games in the stretch, as well. He reeled in six of his seven targets for 104 yards and a pair of scores in the win over the Ravens in Week 14, and now has 20 catches for 280 yards and four scores in his last four games. That translates to 13 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. He’s worth a shot for receiver-needy owners in Week 15.
Zach Miller, TE, Bears
Miller stepped up in Chicago’s first game without Martellus Bennet, catching five of his six targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. He now has five touchdowns over his last six games, and should be one of the top-three targets for Jay Cutler going forward, alongside Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. A few classes of tight ends has emerged, and Miller should be in the one that places him on the TE1/2 borderline. The Bears visit Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the next two weeks, both of which could be good matchups for Miller. The Buccaneers entered Week 14 ranked 20th in DVOA against tight ends, while the Vikings checked in at 25th. Miller should get himself about seven targets per game, and that sort of volume makes him an intriguing tight end for the rest of the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Jets
How Fitzpatrick is still available in more than 50% of leagues is beyond me. He headed into Week 14 sitting in 12th at the position in total points, and then proceeded to throw for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Titans. Fitzpatrick isn’t just a high-value fantasy backup or starter in two-quarterback leagues. He’s a viable starting option in all formats, and that will continue in Week 15. The Jets visit the Cowboys on Saturday night, a game in which they will be favored, even though they’re on the road. After last week, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have now put up at least 10 fantasy points in eight of the 12 games they’ve played together this season. Fitzpatrick is on the other end of all that production. This trio should keep rolling against the Cowboys in the fantasy semifinals.
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
Smith was a bit of a letdown against the Chargers, throwing for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while also picking up 40 yards on the ground. That had a lot to do with the conditions, however, with a downpour in Kansas City making it hard on both offenses. Smith gets another great matchup next week, taking on a Ravens team that just made Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett look like the second coming of Jerry Rice and John Taylor. Those of you who need help at quarterback—for example, those of you who are Andy Dalton owners—would be wise to go after Fitzpatrick first, but if you miss out on him or he’s already owned, Smith is a great fallback option.
Photos: Rob Foldy/Getty Images (Hightower), Grant Halverson/Getty Images (Ginn), Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images (Miller)