The first round of the playoffs is in the books! To those that lost, keep you head up. Making the playoffs in a season like this is an accomplishment in itself! For those that pulled off a win, it’s time to get back to work. We have some important lessons to go over before your semifinal matchups. Let’s dive in!
Lesson one: Brandon Aiyuk is here to stay
There’s no doubt that the San Francisco 49ers’ season has not gone according to plan. They have sustained the most injuries in the league and are playing in the most competitive division in football. One bright spot, however, has been their first round draft pick Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk has been a staple in the 49ers offense this season. After a slow start to the season, he exploded onto the scene in week 3 with 21.1 points in PPR. To be fair, he followed that performance with a mediocre two game stretch, but since week 6 he has either a touchdown or 100 yards in every game he has played. That kind of production is hard to ignore.
His situation looks even better when you start looking closer. Over the last five weeks Aiyuk has received 56 targets (11.2 targets per game), which is fifth most in the entire league. Fellow receiver Deebo Samuel could be out the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. This leaves the door open for Aiyuk to continue receiving a huge target share in the 49er’s offense.
Aiyuk got the ball on screens, crossing routes, slants, and end-arounds every game. These are high-percentage plays that give Aiyuk a safe floor in PPR week to week. Aiyuk’s talent means he always has a chance to rip off a big gain on these kinds of plays, which makes him capable of putting up 20 points in any given game. His next two games are against the Cowboys and the Cardinals, both of which are bottom twelve defenses against wide receivers.
Lesson learned: Aiyuk is a talented receiver in an offense that plays to his strengths. He sees lots of high percentage targets per game and has two great matchups against poor defenses in both the semifinals and the finals. If you have Aiyuk, you need to find a way to get him in your lineup.
Lesson two: TY Hilton is alive and well
T.Y Hilton was once a great WR2 and a borderline WR1 for many fantasy teams. Unfortunately Hilton has been wholly underwhelming for a long time now. His touchdown in week 12 was his first since week 6 of last season. Hilton played 14 games without recording a touchdown. His highest yardage total in those games was 72 yards. Yikes.
However, the last three weeks we have seen a rebirth. Hilton has recorded 81, 110, and 86 yards in the last three weeks with four touchdowns in those three games. So what changed?
It’s hard to say. Hilton has always dealt with nagging injuries, and missed a game due to a groin injury this year. It’s possible he’s been struggling with minor soft-tissue injuries that aren’t enough to sideline him, but enough to hobble him in games. He’s also dealt with a few different quarterbacks since Andrew Luck’s retirement. It’s definitely possible that it just took some time for Hilton and Rivers to get on the same page this season.
Whatever the reason, Hilton is back to producing and looks good doing it. He has 5, 11, and 7 targets in the last three weeks, signifying an increased role in the Colts’ offense. He also has a dream matchup against the Houston Texans this week, who he has been fantastic against historically.
Two weeks ago, Hilton went off against the Texans, posting 25 points in full PPR. The Texans defense is missing their best safety and has been absolutely horrible the last few weeks. It’s also a divisional game with serious playoff implications for the Colts.
Lesson learned: Hilton is back and finally on the same page as Rivers. Their chemistry the past few weeks has led to boom performances, and the matchup this week is too good to pass up. Hilton is an ideal flex and a viable WR2 this week in your lineup.
Lesson three: Lynn Bowden Jr. may have a role in your playoff run
Who is Lynn Bowden Jr, you may ask? Good question. Bowden was a third round pick by the Raiders before being traded to the Dolphins after training camp. While that’s not a great start to his career, the move made sense. The Raiders wanted to use him more as a running back like he was at Kentucky. However, with Josh Jacobs on the roster, Bowden was superfluous.
He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in his first season. It seems, however, that the rash of injuries to Dolphins receivers may have allowed Bowden to carve out a role in the offense. He has two targets all season up through week 12. In week 13, he saw four targets and caught all of them for 41 yards. Last week. he saw a whopping nine targets, catching seven of them for 82 yards. His usage is certainly trending in the right direction.
Both Devante Parker and Jakeem Grant left last week’s game early due to injury, and both practiced today. That may make some believe that Bowden’s time on the field is mostly finished. However, there were promising signs last week that this might not be the case.
Rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa looked the Bowden early and often in the game, even with Parker and Grant on the field. It’s also known that Tua and Parker do not have the greatest connection, as Parker has struggled with the rookie but thrived with Ryan Fitzpatrick in at QB. Therefore, his return shouldn’t scare people away from Bowden, as Tua is poised to start for the Dolphins again in week 15.
Also promising is the way in which Bowden was used in the Dolphins’ offense. Like Aiyuk, Bowden was the recipient of many high-percentage passes that got him the ball on the move and in open space. This should provide a passable floor in PPR formats.
Lesson learned: Lynn Bowden Jr. is definitely the riskiest player on this list. However, if you’re in a tough spot Bowden provides a somewhat promising play. You can also play him in either a running back or receiver spot, giving you flexibility in the most important matchup of the year.
That’s it for this week! Check back next week for takeaways from week 15!