In a 2017 football season marked by devastating injuries to some of the game's biggest stars, especially game-changing offensive players, Sunday added another name and perhaps the most crushing blow to the list. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown went down in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with a partially torn calf muscle.
As a result, Brown will not return for the remainder of the regular season. First, it serves as a massive blow for the Steelers. While Brown might be able to return for the playoffs, he could be less than his usual self and that cuts deep into this offense and will make things significantly tougher against the Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. Of course, it also serves as a devastating blow for fantasy owners.
Brown, a consensus top-three selection in fantasy drafts, certainly earned a heavy percentage of fantasy MVP votes through the first 14 weeks of the season. Now fantasy owners who made it to the championship, many with the help of Brown, must try and find alternatives to plug in.
While we won't be able to find anyone who can come close to replacing Brown's production, here we hope to provide you five options who could be available to plug into your lineup and hope they can deliver for you in the fantasy championship.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 16 Opponent: Houston Texans
Ownership Percentage: 76 percent (ESPN), 58.2 percent (NFL.com)
The highest-owned player on this list in both ESPN and NFL.com leagues, Smith-Schuster still makes the list as our top option with his availability sitting at 25 percent in ESPN and over 40 percent on NFL.com fantasy leagues. In the absence of Brown, we go directly to the receiver who should slide in as Pittsburgh's No.1 wide receiver and quickly establish himself as Ben Roethlisberger's go-to weapon.
Smith-Schuster, who often found himself in the slot with Brown on the outside, will now shift outside. In his new role, the 21-year-old should take advantage of his big play ability that led to his 16.3 average yards per catch on 43 receptions with five touchdowns. Given the amount of deep shots this offense takes and the opportunities created to allow wide receivers make big plays after the catch, it fits into what Smith-Schuster does well.
In Week 16, Smith-Schuster faces a Texans' secondary that just allowed Keelan Cole to eviscerate them for 186 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Jaydon Mickens hauled in two touchdowns against this secondary. Needless to say, Houston's secondary isn't exactly reliable and Blake Bortles wiped them out with one deep bomb after another. After some big runs to set up the play action passes, Smith-Schuster should be open for big play opportunities in Week 16.
Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
Week 16 Opponent: Tennessee Titans
Ownership Percentage: 67 percent (ESPN), 51.3 percent (NFL.com)
Woods' fantasy ownership percentage is lower given the time he missed before Week 15 with a shoulder injury. Now that he is back on the field and in his role as Jared Goff's favorite target, fantasy owners in need of wide receiver help should rush to pick him up. While he might not be available in expert leagues with ownership percentages under 68 percent across ESPN and NFL.com, he should be available in a fair number of leagues.
In his first game back since Nov. 19, Woods saw seven targets. It's a quality volume of looks and made even better considering Los Angeles held a three-touchdown lead early and a third of Goff's throws went in Wood's direction. It's the type of workload that saw him see 10-plus targets in his prior two games before the injury and started vaulting him into the medium-end WR2 conversation in fantasy.
Tennessee's secondary ranks dead last in Football Outsiders' DVOA against opposing teams' No. 2 wide receivers. The Titans will focus some attention on Sammy Watkins, who remains one of the game's upper-echelon receivers, opening the door for Woods to take advantage of this matchup. If he's available in your leagues, immediately pick him up and start him in your championship lineups.
Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens
Week 16 Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
Ownership Percentage: 34.4 percent (ESPN), 43.1 percent (NFL.com)
We all remember the days where Wallace could swing a fantasy matchup as one of the game's fastest receivers and best deep threats. Even with those days behind us, Wallace shows flashes every week that remind us of that ability.
We've seen it even more recently with 277 receiving yards on 14 receptions in his last three games. He is seeing a steady stream of targets along the way with 23 over that span and Wallace's deep threat remains his greatest weapon and is demonstrated by his 19.79 yards per catch over the last three weeks.
He finds himself in the face of a great opportunity in Week 16. The Colts' defense enters Week 16 with the most plays of 20-plus yards allowed to opposing receivers (61) this season. Furthermore, the Colts' secondary lost multiple starting cornerbacks throughout the season and is now down to free agents they have signed off the street and practice squads. While Wallace's best days might be behind him, he can still stretch a defense and is worth gambling on if you need a FLEX or WR3 option this week in your fantasy championship.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 16 Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
Ownership Percentage: 30.8 percent (ESPN), 6.5 percent (NFL.com)
Westbrook didn't quite deliver the fantasy performance we hoped for last week, but a defensive pass interference in the end zone swung his line. The DPI also showed he is being used all over the field and now with wide receiver Marqise Lee out for Week 16, Westbrook's role and snaps could rise even more.
Of concern for Westbrook in Week 15 is his career-worst two targets drawn. Ultimately, we chalk it up to a game where Jacksonville took over early and the big lead allowed them to run the ball more and try some new things offensively. Instead, we lean towards the 33 targets he drew in his first four NFL games.
San Francisco's secondary is improving and the defense as a whole is starting to cut down on the passing yards, with the seventh-fewest passing yards per game allowed in the last month. But with six-plus targets, some looks in the red zone and his overall skill set, Westbrook should be owned in significantly more leagues this week and should be started in deep leagues.
Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
Week 16 Opponent: New York Jets
Ownership Percentage: 21.2 percent (ESPN), 37.1 percent (NFL.com)
Even with Keenan Allen expected to suit up in Week 16, Williams becomes a deep league target for reasons similar to Wallace. Williams is a big play threat who Philip Rivers loves to target on throws 20-plus yards down the field and give his receiver opportunities to make some big plays happen.
New York's secondary allowed the second-most 20-plus yard receptions (53) and 12th-most plays of 40-plus yards through 14 games this season. While his volume might not be impacted too much by the absence of tight end Hunter Henry, the matchup plays significantly in Williams favor and puts him on the fantasy radar this week.