The Primer: Week 15 Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)


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Ladies and gentlemen, we made it! We made it to the first round of the fantasy playoffs, and this is where things get interesting. All of the off-season preparation, all of the hours of managing your roster during the season, and all of the good vibes you could possibly pour out over your roster have resulted in this moment.

You now get to chase after your fantasy football league’s championship trophy.

It’s been a wacky and wild season so far up to this point, and it seems like that may only ramp up as we move throughout the next few weeks. For those who have been able to fight and claw your way into the fantasy playoffs, congratulations! We’re here to guide you and your lineup decisions all the way through the championship, so don’t go anywhere! We have plenty of information below for you that is going to help you put the best possible lineup forward.

Best of luck, everyone! Let’s go win some championships!

– Kyle Yates

MATCHUP LINKS:

KC vs. LAC | LV vs. CLE | NE vs. IND | TEN vs. PIT | CAR vs. BUF | WAS vs. PHI | HOU vs. JAC | DAL vs. NYG | ARI vs. DET | NYJ vs. MIA | CIN vs. DEN | ATL vs. SF | SEA vs. LAR | GB vs. BAL | NO vs. TB | MIN vs. CHI

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Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Date/Time: Thursday December 16, 8:20pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Chiefs -3
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 52 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Chiefs 27.5, Chargers 24.5

Quarterbacks

Patrick Mahomes: We haven’t seen many ceiling games from Mahomes lately. In fact, there’s only been one since Week 7. Here are Mahomes’ last seven weekly fantasy finishes: QB22, QB17, QB22, QB1, QB26, QB19, QB11. Mahomes could have had a bigger day last week, but the Chiefs blew out the Raiders 48-9, and Mahomes threw his last pass with 12:48 left in the game. He completed 20 of 24 passes for 258 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, resulting in his highest single-game passer rating (139.2) of the season. The Chiefs visit the Chargers this week. Could we get a shootout between Mahomes and Justin Herbert? When these two teams last met in Week 3, Mahomes threw for 260 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he ran for 45 yards. Herbert threw four TD passes and no interceptions to fuel a 30-24 Chargers win in Kansas City. Mahomes is the QB5 this week.

Justin Herbert: Herbert turned in another masterful performance last week, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 win over the Giants despite being without his best receiver, Keenan Allen, who was on the COVID-19 list. (Allen is tentatively expected back this week.) Herbert ranks fourth in the league in passing yards (3,822) and third in TD passes (30). When Herbert last faced the Chiefs back in Week 3, he threw for 281 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. But the Kansas City defense hit the “on” switch once November arrived. Over their first seven games of 2021, the Chiefs gave up an average of 29.0 points. Over their last six games, the Chiefs have given up an average of 10.8 points. Their last three opponents have each scored exactly nine points. During this terrific six-game run for the K.C. defense, it’s held opposing QBs to 234.8 passing yards per game, with seven TD passes and eight interceptions. You’re still using Herbert, of course. He’s the QB3 in fantasy scoring this season, and he lands at QB3 in this week’s rankings.

Running Backs

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Edwards-Helaire ran 10 times for 37 yards and two touchdowns last week in the Chiefs’ blowout win over the Raiders. CEH has scored three touchdowns in three games since coming back from a sprained MCL, averaging 66.7 yards from scrimmage over that span. This week, he’ll be facing a run-funnel Chargers defense that has given up 1,829 rushing yards this season, more than any other team except the Texans. Edwards-Helaire ran 17 times for 100 yards when the Chiefs faced the Chargers in Week 3. Edwards-Helaire is sharing some of the workload with Darrel Williams, but CEH has averaged a healthy 14.7 touches per game since his return. He’s a mid-range RB2 in a juicy matchup.

Darrel Williams: While Clyde Edwards-Helaire was out with a knee injury in Weeks 6-10, Williams averaged 13.8 carries a game and had at least 11 carries in four of those five contests. In the three games since Edwards-Helaire returned, Williams has had 12 carries and seven catches. The lighter workload makes him a back-end RB3 for this week, though there are two reasons why he’s a reasonable flyer if you’re in a pinch at running back: (1) The Chiefs have a potent offense, even if it’s struggled at times this season, and (2) Williams has a soft matchup against a Chargers defense that’s giving up 23.9 fantasy points per game (0.5 PPR) to running backs.

Austin Ekeler: It would have been painful if Ekeler’s investors lost him just before the start of the fantasy playoffs when he’s having such a sublime season. Ekeler hurt his ankle in Week 14 – apparently, it was an aggravation of an earlier injury – but he’s been practicing on a limited basis. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has indicated that Ekeler will be a game-time decision on Thursday night. The RB2 in fantasy scoring this season, Ekeler has piled up 1,265 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. This week, the Chargers face the Chiefs, against whom Ekeler had 11-55-0 rushing and 6-52-1 receiving in Week 3. The Chiefs have given up the sixth-highest target total to running backs this season, so Ekeler will probably be busy as a pass-catcher in this one if he’s able to play. If Ekeler is out, we’ll probably see the RB workload divided between Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, but neither would be a viable fantasy option.

Wide Receivers

Tyreek Hill: Hill has gone three games without a touchdown – his longest TD drought of the season. He’s had only two 100-yard receiving games this season, none since Week 4. Yet Hill is still the WR5 in fantasy scoring, and he passed the 1,000-yard mark last week. The Chiefs face the Chargers this week, and Hill had 5-56-0 on seven targets when he last faced the Chargers in Week 3. Hill checks in at WR4.

Keenan Allen: After sitting out Week 14, Allen has been activated from the COVID-19 list and appears on track to play against the Chiefs on Thursday night. Even after missing a game, Allen still ranks sixth in the league in targets (124) and is tied for fifth in receptions (86). He’s had at least four catches in all 12 games he’s played this year. When Allen faced the Chiefs in Week 3, he caught 8 of 12 targets for 50 yards and a touchdown. Allen is a back-end WR1 this week.

Mike Williams: With Keenan Allen on the COVID-19 list in Week 14, Williams investors were hoping to get a smash game, but the results were just “meh”: 6-61-0 on six targets. In a game that Allen missed, you’d think Williams would account for more than a 19.3% target share. (Rookie WR Josh Palmer led the Chargers in targets Sunday with seven.) After being mired in a bad slump from Week 6 to Week 10, Williams has had 20-307-1 over his last four games. He had 7-122-2 against the Chiefs in Week 3, but the Kansas City defense appears to be a much tougher unit now than it was then. It should be noted, however, that the last time Williams faced the Chiefs on a Thursday night in the month of December, he had 7-76-2 receiving and 1-19-1 rushing in a 29-28 Chargers win in 2018. Williams is the WR24 this week.

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce: Strangely, Kelce has produced back-to-back stat lines of 3-27-0. That qualifies as a rare drought for the all-world tight end. He has a good chance to snap out of it this week. The Chargers have allowed 737 receiving yards to TEs, and Kelce had 7-104-0 against them in Week 3. Kelce is the TE2 this week behind only the red-hot George Kittle.

Jared Cook: Cook has scored a touchdown in two of his last three games, but he hasn’t topped 29 receiving yards in a game since Week 9. He’s also dealing with a minor quad injury, although he’s been practicing on a limited basis. Cook is the TE20 this week.

Las Vegas Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns

Date/Time: Saturday December 18, 4:30pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Raiders -1.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 38.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Raiders 20, Browns 18.5

Quarterbacks

Derek Carr: The touchdowns have dried up for Carr, who’s thrown only three TD passes in his last four games. And while Carr still ranks second in the league in passing yards (3,926), he’s had only one 300-yard passing day since the beginning of November – his 373-yard performance vs. the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The Raiders have gone 1-5 in their last six games, and negative game scripts aren’t doing anything to help the cause. The Raiders have been blown out by 19 or more points in three of their last five games, and Carr has averaged 246.3 passing yards in those blowouts. Carr offers a decent weekly floor because of the stable passing yardage, but there’s not much of a ceiling here. He’s a mid-range QB2 for Week 15.

Case Keenum: With Baker Mayfield landing on the COVID-19 list, Keenum is expected to get the start against the Raiders on Saturday. Among the other Browns on the COVID-19 list are Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, and Wyatt Teller, so Keenum will have a depleted supporting cast. In his only start of the season, Keenum threw for 199 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in a Week 7 win over the Broncos in which RB D’Ernest Johnson did most of the heavy lifting in a 17-14 Browns win. Keenum is a serviceable NFL backup, but he isn’t a viable fantasy option this week.

Running Backs

Josh Jacobs: After scant usage as a pass-catcher in his first two seasons, Jacobs has started to pile up receptions. A week after recording a career-high nine receptions against Washington, Jacobs had five catches for 46 yards in a Week 14 loss to Kansas City. The usage in the passing game has raised Jacobs’ weekly fantasy floor, and he needed it last week, as the Raiders were forced to abandon the run early in a 48-9 loss. Jacobs had nine carries for 24 yards and contributed to the bad result with a fumble-six on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Jacobs’ newfound versatility and dependable workload make him a high-end RB2 this week in a matchup against an above-average Browns run defense.

Nick Chubb: The COVID-19 chaos in Cleveland might boost Chubb’s Week 15 fantasy value. The Browns are going to be without QB Baker Mayfield, WR Jarvis Landry, and TE Austin Hooper, who all landed on the COVID-19 list this week. There’s also a good chance they’ll be without Kareem Hunt, who injured his ankle last weekend and hasn’t been able to practice. When Hunt was sidelined by a calf injury earlier this season, Chubb averaged 19.4 fantasy points (0.5 PPR) over a three-game stretch from Halloween to mid-November, with 52-328-3 rushing and 5-48-1 receiving. Chubb is a must-start this week against a Raiders run defense that’s giving up 21.8 fantasy points per game to running backs. He’s the RB2 in this week’s rankings behind only Jonathan Taylor.

Kareem Hunt: Hunt sprained his ankle during the Browns’ Week 14 game against the Ravens and hasn’t been practicing this week. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to face the Raiders on Saturday, and he’d be a much dicier play than usual even if he suited up.

Wide Receivers

Hunter Renfrow: Renfrow is on fire these days and has become a valuable fantasy football asset. Over his last three games, Renfrow has 30-353-1 on 33 targets, making him the WR4 in half-point PPR scoring over that stretch. Renfrow has claimed a massive 27.0% target share over the Raiders’ last three games. The Raiders face the Browns on Saturday, and Cleveland slot corner Troy Hill is expected to miss the game with a knee injury. This is yet another smash spot for Renfrow.

PRISTINE MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Each week, we’ll pick a matchup of the week, presented by Pristine Auction. For Week 15, Hunter Renfrow is our Pristine Matchup of the Week.

Donovan Peoples-Jones: With Jarvis Landry on the COVID-19 list, Peoples-Jones is the only usable Cleveland receiver in fantasy this week, but he would still be a risky fantasy play. Browns QB Baker Mayfield is also out, so People-Jones will be paired with backup Case Keenum. In 10 games, Peoples-Jones has 23-430-3 receiving and is averaging 18.7 yards per catch. DPJ has averaged 3.5 targets a game this season, and he’s likely to get a target bump this week with Landry and TE Austin Hooper both out. However, it’s dicey to elevate a receiver’s fantasy projection based on the absence of a teammate. The Chargers’ Mike Williams was regarded as a must-start last week because Keenen Allen was on the COVID-19 list, and Williams wound up with 6-61-0 on only six targets. Consider People-Jones a mid-range WR4.

Tight Ends

Darren Waller or Foster Moreau: Waller is dealing with an iliotibial band strain, which means there’s connective tissue rubbing against his knee. He still isn’t practicing, leaving his Week 15 status in doubt. With Waller out the last two weeks, Foster has had a golden opportunity to contribute, but he’s had only 4-47-0 on nine targets. Last week against the Chiefs, he caused an interception by bobbling what should have been a fairly routine catch. If Waller is out, Moreau will still only be a high-end TE3.

David Njoku: With Austin Hooper on the COVID-19 list and Harrison Bryant dealing with a high-ankle sprain, Njoku and Miller Forristall are the only healthy tight ends on the Cleveland roster. WR Jarvis Landry is also on the COVID-19 list, so Njoku could be in for a substantial target bump. He’s the TE15 this week.

New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts

Date/Time: Sunday December 18, 8:20pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Colts -2.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 45 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Colts 23.75, Patriots 21.25

Quarterbacks

Mac Jones: As good as Jones has been – he’s now the overwhelming favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award – he hasn’t been impactful for fantasy purposes. Naturally, we’re giving him a mulligan for Week 14, when he attempted only three passes in the Patriots’ 14-10 win over the Bills on a windy Monday night in Buffalo. But even if you leave out that game, Jones has averaged 14.8 fantasy points per game. Jones has thrown multiple TD passes in 5 of 13 starts and has had two 300-yard passing days. He’s the QB26 this week.

Carson Wentz: The Patriots are a skull-and-crossbones matchup for opposing quarterbacks, and the sailor manning the crow’s nest on the S.S. Wentz just spotted the Jolly Roger on the horizon. New England’s pass defense ranks second in opponent passer rating and third in DVOA. The Patriots have allowed 15 TD passes in 13 games and have recorded 19 interceptions. They’re allowing 195.5 passing yards per game and just 6.4 yards per pass attempt. Wentz has been up and down this season. He’s the QB15 in fantasy points per game, but he’s had a wide range of weekly outcomes. He’s a low-end QB2 this week and not a consideration in DFS.

Running Backs

Damien Harris: Harris injured his hamstring late in New England’s Week 13 win over Buffalo. The Patriots had a Week 14 bye, giving Harris extra recovery time, and he’s been a limited participant in this week’s practices. Harris was already splitting early-down work with Rhamondre Stevenson before the injury, and Brandon Bolden has been getting most of the snaps on obvious passing downs. Harris’s carry totals in his last three games: 10, 11, 10. Harris has eight TD runs in his last eight games, including a season-long 64-yarder in that Week 13 win over the Bills. Assuming Harris plays, his fantasy success figures to be even more TD-dependent than usual, since the hamstring might mean fewer carries for Harris and more for Stevenson. Harris is just a low-end RB3 this week.

Rhamondre Stevenson: With Damien Harris dealing with a hamstring injury, Stevenson could get a heavier workload than usual this week against the Colts. Stevenson had a season-high 24 carries in the Patriots’ most recent game, a Week 13 win over the Bills, but that was largely due to high winds – the Patriots attempted only three passes in that game. Still, Stevenson has averaged 16.4 touches a game since the start of November, and the Patriots might need to lean heavily on their rookie running back this week if Harris can’t handle his usual load. The Colts have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs, and the Indianapolis run defense ranks fifth in DVOA, but this is still a good spot for Stevenson, who’s a mid-range RB2 this week.

Jonathan Taylor: The Patriots aren’t the easiest matchup for running backs, but Taylor is basically matchup-proof. The Bills were thought to have a top run defense, and Taylor trampled Buffalo for 185 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Week 11. Taylor then ran for 85 yards and a touchdown the following week against a very good Buccaneers run defense. Taylor leads the NFL with 1,348 rushing yards, and he’s more than 300 yards ahead of his closest pursuer, Joe Mixon. Taylor also has a league-high 18 touchdowns. He’s the RB1 this week.

Wide Receivers

Kendrick Bourne: Bourne has been remarkably efficient this season, catching 79.2% of his targets and averaging 11.8 yards per target. Counting on such freakish efficiency is unwise, which is why Bourne is ranked WR42 this week despite being the WR28 in fantasy scoring on the year.

Jakobi Meyers: He piles up receptions (59 and counting), but Meyers offers few splash plays and has scored just one touchdown in his career. He’s averaging 10.5 yards per catch and has topped 50 receiving yards only once in his last eight games. He’s on the WR4/WR5 border for this week and not a recommended play even in full-point PPR leagues.

Michael Pittman: As good as Pittman has been this season, he isn’t a comfortable fantasy play this week in a tough matchup against the Patriots. Bill Belichick and his defensive assistants are famous for scheming up ways to make an opponent’s top weapon a nonfactor. Perhaps Colts RB Jonathan Taylor will be Belichick’s schematic target this week, but we’ve seen that it’s pretty hard to cancel out Taylor. It might be more feasible for New England to focus on stopping Pittman, who’s commanded a 24.2% target share this season and has been the Colts’ only consistent playmaker in the passing game. It’s also somewhat unnerving that Pittman has gone four games without a touchdown and hasn’t turned in a 100-yard game since Week 7. He’s just a high-end WR3 this week and a fade in DFS contests.

Tight Ends

Hunter Henry: Henry has been heavily touchdown-dependent in 2021, with seven TDs on 35 receptions. He’s averaging 30.3 receiving yards per game. Henry is a mid-range TE2 this week against a Colts defense that’s occasionally had trouble covering tight ends.

Jack Doyle: A classic example of a catch-and-fall-down tight end, Doyle is averaging 10.8 yards per catch. His career-high was 10.9 YPC last season, and he’s averaged 9.3 YPC for his career. Doyle has scored three touchdowns in his last six games, but as the TE24 on the season, he doesn’t offer much upside. Pass.

Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Date/Time: Sunday December 19, 1:00pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Titans -1.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 41.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Titans 21.5, Steelers 20

Quarterbacks

Ryan Tannehill: With A.J. Brown out with a chest injury the last two weeks, Tannehill has averaged 142 passing yards and has thrown just one TD pass over that span. Julio Jones was back from a hamstring injury last week, but he didn’t look anything like the Julio Jones who used to shred defensive backfields during his days with the Falcons. Tannehill had a 5-yard TD run against the Jaguars last week, and he’s scored six rushing touchdowns on the year. But Tannehill has thrown multiple TD passes in only two games this season, and he’s going to be without his best pass-catcher again this week with Brown remaining on IR. Tannehill is the QB19 against the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger: Roethlisberger had a rough first month of the season, but he’s turned things around. Since Week 5, he’s averaged 254.1 passing yards per game, with 15 TD passes and three interceptions over that span. Those aren’t eye-popping fantasy numbers, but if indeed this is Roethlisberger’s last ride, at least he isn’t going out with a whimper. Big Ben nearly pulled off an amazing comeback against the Vikings last week. The Steelers trailed 23-0 at halftime, but they were within eight points on the final snap of regulation. Roethlisberger delivered a perfect end-zone throw to TE Pat Freiermuth, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith was able to jar the ball loose for an incompletion. Roethlisberger is the QB18 this week against a so-so Titans pass defense.

Running Backs

D’Onta Foreman: Foreman ran for 109 yards against the Patriots in Week 13, but the Titans’ backfield was a two-man show that week, with Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard sharing work. Jeremy McNichols returned from a concussion in Week 14, and the Titans’ backfield turned into a three-man weave. McNichols led the Tennessee RBs with 27 snaps, Hilliard had 24, and Foreman had 23. Foreman was the only one to put up worthwhile fantasy numbers, with 13-47-1 rushing and 2-15-0 receiving. Foreman might not have the same burst he had before tearing his Achilles tendon in 2017, but he’s looked smooth and powerful, and he’s even displayed some pass-catching chops. Foreman is a high-end RB3 this week against a Pittsburgh run defense that was carved up by Dalvin Cook and the Vikings last week.

Jeremy McNichols: Returning from a concussion that had kept him out of action since Week 10, McNichols led the Tennessee running backs in snaps last week against the Jaguars but finished with only 8-16-0 rushing and no receptions on one target. McNichols served as the Titans’ primary pass-catching back earlier in the season, and now he’s the likeliest candidate to line up behind QB Ryan Tannehill on obvious passing downs. There may not be a great deal of fantasy value to that role, however. McNichols lands at RB47 in this week’s rankings.

Dontrell Hilliard: After rushing for 131 yards against the Patriots in Week 13, Hilliard had only 6-13-0 rushing and no catches on two targets in last weekend’s 20-0 win over the Jaguars. Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman shared backfield snaps against the Patriots two weeks ago, but Jeremy Nichols returned from a concussion and joined the fray last week against the Jaguars. Foreman is probably the Titans’ best early-down back, and McNichols is probably their best passing down back, which leaves Hilliard in a squeeze. He’s the RB49 this week against the Steelers and not an appealing fantasy option.

Najee Harris: The rookie had the first multiple-touchdown game of his career last week, with a TD run and a TD catch in a 36-28 loss to the Vikings. Harris finished with 20-94-1 rushing and 3-10-1 receiving against the Vikings. It was the seventh time this season he’s had 20 or more carries in a game. Harris now has nine touchdowns for the season, and he’s averaging 97.7 yards from scrimmage per game. This week, Harris faces a Titans defense that’s giving up 90.9 rushing yards per game, the second-fewest in the league behind only the Ravens. Still, Harris is a rock-solid fantasy option, checking in at RB8.

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones: With A.J. Brown out with a chest injury last week and Jones returning from a hamstring injury, it seemed as if Julio might enjoy a target smorgasbord. That didn’t happen. Julio was targeted six times and finished with a disappointing 4-33-0 stat line. Brown is still on IR, so Julio’s investors might be tempted to roll him out again this week for a matchup against the Steelers. He’ll likely get a lot of face time with Steelers CB Cameron Sutton, whom PFF grades 111th out of 120 graded cornerbacks. It’s a tempting matchup, but Julio hasn’t looked himself all season. He’s only a high-end WR4 in this week’s rankings, and he’s not an appealing option at $5,400 on DraftKings.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: Now the Titans’ No. 2 receiver, Westbrook-Ikhine has played more than 50 snaps in each of his last three games and has 12-163-1 over that stretch. But 107 of those yards came against the Texans in Week 11, and Westbrook-Ikhine has had just five catches for 56 yards in the two games since. He lands at WR67 in this week’s rankings and isn’t a very attractive fantasy option.

Dionte Johnson: Johnson has been a busy man this season, with 130 targets in 12 games. He’s seen double-digit targets 10 times, and he ranks third in the league in targets behind only Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill. For the season, Johnson has 81 catches for 990 yards and six touchdowns, making him the WR9 in fantasy scoring. He’s the WR5 this week against a Titans defense that’s given up 2,569 receiving yards to wide receivers – the highest total in the league. At $7,500 on DraftKings, Johnson can be a solid foundational piece for cash-game lineups.

Chase Claypool: The second-year receiver took a public-relations hit with his dubious behavior during the Steelers Thursday-night loss to the Vikings last week. Claypool drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting early in the game. Then, with under a minute left and the Steelers driving into Vikings territory down by eight points, Claypool stopped to pose after making a short catch for a first down, wasting precious seconds. (He also threw a tantrum after Ben Roethlisberger spiked the ball to kill the clock, apparently because a teammate had tried to snatch the ball away from him to hasten the proceedings.) The childish antics obscured one of the better performances Claypool has had this season. He finished with 8-93-0 on nine targets, and Claypool has produced 82 or more receiving yards in three of his last four starts. He’s a mid-range WR3 this week against the Titans.

Tight Ends

Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth had a 15-yard TD catch late in the fourth quarter last Thursday night as the Steelers mounted a furious comeback against the Vikings. The rookie tight end probably should have had a second TD catch a few minutes later on the final play of regulation, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith knocked the ball loose after Ben Roethlisberger had put it right in Freiermuth’s breadbasket. We won’t hold it against Freiermuth, who’s scored six touchdowns in his last seven games and is among the players giving us hope for the future of the TE position in fantasy. Freiermuth is a low-end TE1 against the Titans.