Joyner: Finding hidden gems in Week 17
Finding sit candidates is not hard for any fantasy coach having to put together a starting lineup for Week 17 because so many teams are either resting players or limiting their playing time. What these coaches need are start and sleeper candidates, so this week we'll focus exclusively on those.
Santonio Holmes, Steelers: Despite limited play and poor production in four of his past five games, Holmes is still owned in 95.8 percent of ESPN leagues, so he is a question mark for just about every fantasy coach still playing this week. Holmes was dominant against the weak Rams secondary last week, and the banged-up Ravens secondary should not present that much more of a challenge. Both of Baltimore's starting cornerbacks are out, so Holmes will be facing second- and third-string players. Holmes' upside is tremendous because of this, and he should be awarded a starting slot because of it.
Bernard Berrian / Muhsin Muhammad, Bears: The Saints' secondary has been doing quite poorly in coverage all season long, and the loss of Mike McKenzie will only worsen this situation. Berrian is due to face Jason Craft, and Muhammad is due to face Jason David, both of whom rate as D-level on my charts. That makes both Berrian and Muhammad eight-point candidates in a yardage league, and Muhammad should be a candidate for 12-15 points in a point-per-reception league.
Reggie Brown, Eagles: Brown has been coming alive of late, with 30 total points in his past three games. He's due to face Terrence McGee, who is fairly good in coverage (rated C-plus), but McGee is not playing nearly as well as Jabari Greer. Philadelphia is likely to avoid the Kevin Curtis/Greer matchup because of this, and Brown should be the beneficiary of that.
Steve Smith, Panthers: Smith is coming off an excellent game against the Cowboys, but this week a lot of coaches might think about sitting him against what would seem to be a tough Tampa Bay secondary. The Buccaneers are allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game this year, so Smith's upside would seem to be limited.
Smith's lineup matchup says otherwise. Phillip Buchanon has been struggling more as the season has progressed, and I have serious doubts about his ability to slow down Smith. The Bucs' solid safety corps may stop Smith from hitting the big play, but a high volume of short receptions should give Smith an excellent chance at posting 8-10 points.
Bryant Johnson, Cardinals There are multiple reasons to think Johnson has a lot of upside this week. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are both nursing injuries, so Johnson could see more playing time. The Rams' secondary is very bad, and their best cornerback, Fakhir Brown, is listed as questionable to play. A Rams-Cardinals game is also a good candidate for a shootout. Add all of these factors together and the odds of a solid fantasy performance from Johnson are quite good.
Nate Burleson, Seahawks: With the very high production of the Seattle passing games the past few weeks, I found it very surprising that Burleson is owned in only 29.3 percent of ESPN leagues. He has 37 points in the past four games and has put the ball in the end zone in three of them.
If that wasn't enough to put him on your short list, Burleson is also due to face the Atlanta secondary. Beyond DeAngelo Hall, the Falcons' secondary really doesn't have anyone consistent enough to consider avoiding. The only concern is that the Seahawks may be resting some players, but Burleson won't be the top name on that list. The reward is more than worth the risk in his case.
Reggie Williams, Jaguars: Williams qualifies as a sleeper because despite scoring a touchdown in five of the past six games, he is owned in only 44.2 percent of ESPN leagues. The Houston secondary has been blasted with injuries this year, and other than Fred Bennett, none of the Texans' current cornerbacks ranks higher than a C in my charts. Limited playing time may be a concern, but Williams' touchdown upside makes him a good play.
Nate Washington, Steelers: If you don't happen to have Holmes on your team and want to take advantage of the Ravens' injured secondary, Washington is someone to consider picking up. He is owned in only 12.6 percent of ESPN leagues, and all three of his catches the past two weeks have been for touchdowns.
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider.