One of the toughest things a fantasy owner is forced to do is decide when a player is worth trusting even in the most important weeks, which for a whole lotta folks just happens to be this very week. It's Week 16, the fantasy championship round for many, and there are myriad players who either performed poorly the previous week, such as Stevan Ridley, Demaryius Thomas and all New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or flat-out missed the game but could return this weekend, such as Robert Griffin III, LeSean McCoy and Ahmad Bradshaw. Who do you trust when it matters most?
Questions constantly flow in on my Twitter account regarding this very topic, and my take is that many things must be considered when evaluating whether a previously reliable player is ripe for relevant statistics in the next game, or series of games. Look at the player's track record. Get informed about his health. Matchups play a significant role. Team and perhaps individual motivation can be critical, as well. And looking at the Week 16 edition of the fantasy rankings, perhaps the most important of the season since so much will be decided by Sunday night (and in Week 17, so many key players will not be playing), I see many players who fantasy owners have concerns about trusting.
Perhaps I trust too much, but nearly all the players I mentioned above, from the ones who disappointed us this past weekend to the ones who are trying to get healthy, fared rather well in my rankings. New England Patriots running back Ridley, for example, had trouble running with his usual aplomb and holding on to the football in a cold, rain-soaked Sunday night game against a standout San Francisco 49ers defense. Now he gets to face the wretched Jacksonville Jaguars, who have allowed the fourth most fantasy points to running backs, in a warm and likely dry place. Ridley nearly made my top 10 running backs, as I expect a bounce-back outing to double-digit fantasy points. Buccaneers Josh Freeman and Doug Martin, a pair of near top-10 overall fantasy options entering Week 15, combined for three fantasy points against the New Orleans Saints, but they're my No. 14 quarterback and No. 3 running back, respectively, against the St. Louis Rams. No concerns there, either.
Philadelphia Eagles running back McCoy, out the past four games with a concussion, is slated to return Sunday to face the Washington Redskins. My No. 14 ranking, easily the best of the group, shows I'm not particularly concerned about his health (he passed the concussion tests), his workload (Bryce Brown has been anything but solid of late) or his opponent. It's why I trusted Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts last week, and he topped 100 yards. Frankly, the most interesting ranking of the week is probably Griffin's. As of now it's looking like he will be able to start, despite missing only one week with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. If we find out at some point that Griffin cannot start, then I will rank fellow rookie Kirk Cousins at No. 19. It is, after all, the Eagles one of them will be facing. For now, I'm not skeptical on Griffin, but I thought No. 5 was a safe spot to rank him in case he doesn't run as much as we're used to.
In reality, trust probably isn't the correct word. We're playing in a statistical world and ultimately have little idea how the likes of Bill Belichick or Tom Coughlin feel about their running back rotations, or whether McCoy and Griffin are feeling good as new. It's somewhat of a risk to rely on any of these players to start with, no? How could Freeman and Martin struggle against perhaps the league's worst defense and without weather playing a role? It makes little sense. I tend to give players passes -- not the kind Tom Brady throws -- after one bad game or when recovering from an injury to a level their team feels is satisfactory, so call it trust or whatever, but that's why some big names didn't need to impress in Week 15 to look good to me for Week 16.
Quarterback: Nothing fancy here, as those in standard formats should not mess around. In fact, across the board, the staff top-10s were quite similar. I do like Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson one spot better than the average. Hey, at least we're not talking about Tim Tebow!
Running back: I was the highest on the Giants' David Wilson because I think he and Ahmad Bradshaw will share touches. It's not like Wilson played poorly last week. The Giants will bounce back. ... I was the only one to rank Curtis Brinkley ahead of Jackie Battle as we guess at the new San Diego Chargers hierarchy with Ryan Mathews out (again), but really, you shouldn't rely on any Chargers. ... And I didn't rank Beanie Wells, DeAngelo Williams or Darren McFadden as well as others, which I suppose could be considered a trust issue. I mean, how many times must we get burned? McFadden made my top 20, which seems like enough trust to me, and yes, he's different on a talent level and weak opponent. With Wells going against the Chicago Bears, though, I'll take the under on five fantasy points.
Wide receiver: Roddy White stays in my top 10. I can't be sure how his ailing knee feels, but if Week 15 was a closer game, he would have done more. We all agreed Julio Jones was the better play, though. ... I'm not sure what else T.Y. Hilton needs to do for more attention. He nearly made my top 20, as he has been in double digits for fantasy scoring four times in six weeks. Reggie Wayne has done it just twice. ... Clearly I'm alone on "Mike Williams island," but watch 60 points get scored in that Bucs-Rams game. ... Others I ranked better than the average were Victor Cruz, Miles Austin, Anquan Boldin and Denarius Moore.