News & Analysis

Jeff Ratcliffe's fantasy football focus: Facts, predictions, and tips for Week 5

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs celebrates after catching the game winning catch against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Fantasy Focus is a weekly column that breaks down everything you need to know to set your fantasy football lineups. Make your start and sit decisions with fantasy facts, injury information, matchups stats, predictions for the week and more.

Fantasy football is a series of intense sprints crammed into a marathon. We fly through each week at breakneck speed, and it’s easy to lose sight of the finish line. Of course, we all know the end goal: to win. But getting to that goal isn’t easy, and many times we make that task even more difficult along the way.

It’s often hard to see for the forest for the trees in fantasy football. We get these one-week chunks of information, and recency bias takes over. Just last week, I heard from a number of folks that they planned to drop Corey Davis and Tarik Cohen. Both were coming off disappointing Week 3 performances, and, of course, frustration levels were high. But dropping either player didn’t work out very well because both went off last week.

You may have heard people in fantasy say “process over results.” The above example is a great case for trusting your process. If you drafted a player like Cohen or Davis, trust in why you drafted them. Sure, there are going to be down weeks along the way but overreacting to one bad game isn’t the path to fantasy success.

Fantasy facts

End-zone targets are extremely important. When a receiver is targeted in the end zone he has the best chance of scoring. So simply put: the more you’re targeted in the end zone, the more touchdowns you’re likely to score. Among receivers with at least 30 targets this season, only two have not been targeted in the end zone: Golden Tate and Adam Thielen. In fact, 157 players have seen at least one end-zone target this season. This lack of work puts a serious cap on both player’s fantasy upside. But wait, didn’t Tate score twice last week? He did indeed. But all three of his scores this year have been catch-and-run touchdowns which are notoriously difficult to sustain over the long haul. Tate is a prime candidate for touchdown regression going forward.

Speaking of end-zone targets, A.J. Green saw three of them last week, converting one for a score. Green is now tied with Marvin Jones for the league lead with nine end-zone targets on the season. He also leads the league with four touchdowns on end-zone targets. Andy Dalton racked up five end-zone throws last week and is currently second in the league with 15 on the season. Dalton enters the week tied for eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring and will continue to be a fringe QB1 if he keeps chucking the ball to the end zone.

Deshaun Watson still leads the NFL in end-zone throws after tossing four more balls to the end zone in Week 4. He’s looked to the end zone 17 times this season and converted five of them for scores. It looks like Watson will have favorite end-zone target Will Fuller this week after a hamstring injury forced him from last week’s contest. But the Texans also have an emerging talent in rookie Keke Coutee, who racked up 14 targets last week. Coutee gives the Texans the stability out of the slot that they’ve lacked in recent seasons. While his workload last week is intriguing, he’s still best considered a WR4/5.

Just like end-zone targets and throws, it’s important to be aware of how often your running backs are touching the ball in goal-line situations. Carlos Hyde led all RBs with three goal-line carries last week, scoring on one of them. That brings him up to a league-leading nine for the season. That number is certainly encouraging, and Hyde needs to be considered a borderline RB1 for now. However, it’s tough to overlook Nick Chubb’s Week 4 performance. The rookie accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of topping 100 yards on the ground on just three carries. By comparison, Hyde had 22 carries. So Hyde is still the clear lead back, but the clock is ticking. It’s only a matter of time before Chubb takes over.

Calvin Ridley’s hot streak continued in Week 4 with another two touchdowns. Ridley leads the league in touchdown receptions with six and is the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver in non-PPR, but don’t get too carried away with him. The rookie ran just 67% of the Falcons’ routes compared to 84% for Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. In other words, Atlanta still views him as their No. 3, which means we should consider him anything more than a high-ceiling WR3 in fantasy.

If you don’t believe me about Ridley, let Chris Godwin be a lesson. The second-year man got off to a strong start as well with three scores in the first three games. But it was clear based on his usage that Godwin was the No. 4 in Tampa. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries each ran more routes than Godwin in Weeks 2 and 3. More routes typically translates to more targets over the long haul and we finally saw regression set in last week. Here are the Bucs wide receiver targets: Evans 9, Jackson 8, Humphries 7, Godwin 2. And here are the routes run: Evans 91 percent, Humphries 79 percent, Jackson 65 percent, Godwin 47 percent. This isn’t a knock on Godwin as a player. He’s a good receiver. But his usage makes him tough to trust as a fantasy option.

Only two players in the NFL have more than 50% of their teams' touches so far this NFL season: Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey. Opposing defenses know he’s going to get the ball, and yet they’ve still be unable to stop him. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry with a massive 3.7 yards after contact per attempt. Elliott is reportedly dealing with knee and ankle injuries, but his heavy volume will continue. With that sort of workload, it’s going to tough for him to not finish as an elite fantasy running back.

Corey Davis tied for the league high in targets with 15 of them in Week 4. More importantly, he’s seen the second-largest target share in the league so far this season. Here are the target share leaders through the first four weeks of the NFL season: DeAndre Hopkins 33%, Davis 33%, Julio Jones 32%, Adam Thielen 31%, Jarvis Landry 30%, Antonio Brown 30%, Odell Beckham 30%. Davis’ presence at the top this list isn’t a fluke. Expect the heavy volume to continue going forward.

Injuries

It’s a bit of a mess at wide receiver for the Packers right now. Randall Cobb looks unlikely to play after missing another practice on Thursday. Geronimo Allison is in the concussion protocol and has yet to get limited work in this week. That’s typically an indicator that the player will not suit up on Sunday. And the icing on the cake: Davante Adams suffered an injury in practice on Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday. There’s a good chance Green Bay could be without their top-3 wideouts this week, which means we could see a lot of rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J'Mon Moore, and Equanimeous St. Brown.

The Seattle backfield has been a conundrum for much of the season. Just when we though Chris Carson had taken over, he was sidelined and Mike Davis got the lead back duties. Davis racked up 25 touches for over 100 total yards and a score. Carson is still banged up,but managed to get limited work in on Thursday. If he’s unable to go this week, expect another heavy workload for Davis.

The fantasy frustrations with Alex Collins could be amplified this weekend. Collins was downgraded to DNP on Thursday after getting a limited practice in on Wednesday. That typically doesn’t bode well for a player suiting up, though the team has suggested that he’ll play. If Collins isn’t able to suit up, Javorius Allen will move up into RB2 consideration.

Speaking of fantasy frustrations, Dalvin Cook is coming off an ugly fantasy week and things look like they could get worse before they get better. The Vikings back may have suffered a setback with his hamstring injury and is considered questionable to play this week. As we’ve already seen this season, we can’t simply trust Latavius Murray as a plug-and-play fantasy option. If you own Cook, you’re simply going to have to ride this out. For those who don’t own Cook, this is a good time to try and buy him on the cheap.

The Falcons will get Devonta Freeman back this week. The veteran back hasn’t played since Week 1, and we’ve seen Atlanta turn to a committee of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith in his stead. Look for the Falcons to deploy their usual committee this week with Freeman in the lead and Coleman in the No. 2 role. Freeman should be considered an RB2 with upside, and Coleman moves back to a flex option.

Joe Mixon should also return this week and could be in store for a heavy workload with Giovani Bernard banged up. Bernard is on the wrong side of questionable after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Mixon should be considered a back-end RB1 in a very favorable matchup against the Dolphins this week.

More injury notes: Marshawn Lynch has been limited in practice with abdominal injury, but he should be good to go this week. He’s a strong play after topping 100 yards on the ground last week. … Sammy Watkins injured his hamstring Monday night, but he looks like he’ll suit up for this week’s showdown against the Jags. However, Watkins at less than 100% in that matchup isn’t a recipe for fantasy success. … It initially looked pretty iffy for Will Fuller this week, but the Texans wideout looks to be on track to play despite his hamstring injury. … Greg Olsen got a limited practice in on Thursday. The veteran won’t play this week, but he could return as soon as next week. Add him if he’s available. … The Jets added Quincey Enunwa to the injury report on Thursday, which is rarely a good sign. A Friday DNP would put Enunwa’s Week 5 status in doubt. … Adrian Peterson was back in practice on Thursday and should be good to go this weekend.

Wide receiver matchups

The Steelers have been one of the top fantasy matchups for wide receivers this season, and that means very good things if you have any piece of the Falcons’ wide receiver corps. Calvin Ridley has been getting all of the fantasy attention in Atlanta, but it’s hard to overlook Julio Jones’ league-leading 502 receiving yards. Jones is just one of seven receivers to see over 30% of his team’s targets this season and he gets a tasty matchup this week. He’ll see primary coverage from Coty Sensabaugh, who is one of just seven corners projected to star this week who has allowed more than 0.5 fantasy points per route covered.

Emmanuel Sanders disappointed on Monday night with just 45 yards on five catches despite having a favorable matchup against the Chiefs. But don’t let that dissuade you from firing him up with confidence this week. Sanders draws a tasty matchup out of the slow against Jets CB Buster Skrine. Through the first four weeks of the season, Skrine has allowed 76% of his targets to be caught.

We can’t expect long touchdowns from Golden Tate every week, but he’s a strong option against the Packers with primary coverage projected for come from rookie Jaire Alexander. The first-rounder is coming off a solid Week 4 performance, but he’s been one of the more heavily targeted corners in the league with 22 targets through the first month of the season. Expect a healthy workload for Tate.

Dede Westbrook emerged for the Jaguars last week with nine catches on 11 targets for 130 yards. He’s in play as a flex option with a favorable matchup against the Chiefs on tap. As the slot receiver, Westbrook will draw primary coverage from Kendall Fuller, who is allowing a 68% catch rate so far this season.

The Los Angeles Rams offense is humming and Brandin Cooks is a big part of the success. He’s averaging a massive 17.4 yards per catch and currently sits 11th among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. Look for Cooks to continue his productive ways this week against the Seahawks, who are no longer the Legion of Boom. Cooks will draw primary coverage from rookie Tre Flowers, who has struggled in coverage this season and currently grades out a lowly 99th among corners. But it isn’t just Cooks who will benefit from this matchup. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are also upgrades this week.

Through the first four games, no corner has been targeted more than Ronald Darby. The Eagles defensive back has seen a massive 38 balls thrown into his coverage, with 25 of them being caught. That’s great news if you own Stefon Diggs. Better yet, when Diggs isn’t lined up against Darby, he’ll see Jalen Mills, who has allowed 74% of his targets to be caught this season.

Michael Thomas was held to just four catches in Week 4, but don’t be concerned if you own him in fantasy. Thomas is a good bet to bounce back with a favorable matchup on tap against the Redskins. Yes, Josh Norman is in that secondary, but he’s unlikely to shadow Thomas. That means Thomas will see his share of Quinton Dunbar, who has allowed a touchdown in each of his last two games.

On the other side of that matchup, Jamison Crowder is a sneaky deep play. We’ve seen P.J. Williams struggle mightily this season with 14 receptions allowed on 15 targets. He’s also already surrendered three touchdowns in his coverage. Crowder isn’t an option in regular-sized leagues, but those looking for upside in deeper formats may want to dial him up.

It’s never fun when you see your receivers going up against the Jaguars. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins get downgrades in this matchup. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye haven’t graded out at an elite level so far this season, but neither player has allowed a touchdown in their coverage through the first four games. If there’s any solace for Hill owners, it’s that he’ll face Tyler Patmon when he’s lined up in the slot. So there should be enough meat on the bone to consider Hill a fringe WR1. However, Watkins owners aren’t as lucky. He’s a fade this week.

John Brown has gotten off to a hot start to the season, but he’ll face a tough task in coverage this week. Brown will draw plenty of Denzel Ward. The rookie first-rounder has been up and down so far, but he’s done a good job of limiting opposing wideouts with just 9.9 yards per reception allowed. Brown is still best viewed as a boom-or-bust WR3.

Word out of Cleveland suggests Antonio Callaway’s role could be somewhat reduced going forward. The speedy rookie has seen 19 targets over the last two weeks but has caught just seven of them for a disappointing 74 yards. To make matters worse, Callaway gets a brutal matchup this week against the Ravens. He’s a good bet to see plenty of Marlon Humphrey, who held Antonio Brown in check last week. He’s also surrendering just 8.2 yards per catch. Callaway could be in for a long day.

Amari Cooper has struggled against Casey Hayward. In their last three meetings, Cooper has just three catches on Hayward, with the Chargers using Hayward to shadow in all three matchups. We expect another shadow situation for Cooper, which means you might want to fade him in fantasy lineups this week.

The Eagles finally got Alshon Jeffery back last week and he hit the ground running with a touchdown and a 100-yard performance. Those numbers certainly bode well for Jeffery going forward, but it’s a good idea to downgrade expectations for him this week. Jeffery is a good bet to see a shadow from Xavier Rhodes.

After a slow start to the season Corey Davis, exploded in the Titans’ overtime win over Philadelphia. We certainly expect more big performances out of the second-year man this season. But he’s draws a tough matchup this week. Against the Packers last week, the Bills used Tre’Davious White to shadow Davante Adams on the outside only. Expect the same treatment for Davis, which means he should see White on roughly 70% of his routes.

Matchup stats to know

A lot of fantasy players have their eyes on Christian McCaffrey’s matchup this week and for good reason. Alvin Kamara absolutely shredded the Giants defense last week, and McCaffrey is a very similar player. However, we shouldn’t overlook the other side of that matchup for Saquon Barkley. Even though the fantasy numbers don’t show it, the Panthers have struggled against the run this season, allowing the fourth-highest yards per carry to running backs at 5.4.

Matt Breida is banged up, but he’s very intriguing if he’s able to suit up on Sunday. Breida faces a Cardinals defense that has surrendered a massive seven rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs through the first four weeks of the season. Breida is worth RB2 consideration if he manages to play.

The Packers appear to be staying the course with their backfield committee, but Aaron Jones is still worth a long look this week. He gets a tasty matchup against a Lions team that allows a whopping 6.1 yards per carry to running backs. Jones has home-run-hitting ability and could rip off a long run (or three) this week.

Be careful with Adrian Peterson this week. Revenge game narratives aside, this Saints defense has been very good against the run in 2018. New Orleans allows just 3.0 yards per carry and has held each of the four backfields they’ve faced to under 100 yards. Peterson is best viewed as a back-end RB2 this week.

Entering this week, only two defense allow under 3.0 yards per carry to running backs: Chicago and Philadelphia. The Bears are on bye this week, but that stat is bad news for the Vikings run game. It’s a good idea to avoid this backfield altogether, especially with Dalvin Cook banged up.

It’s been a rough start to the season for LeSean McCoy fantasy owners. The Bills back has missed time due to injury and has just 29 touches so far this year. Things aren’t likely to get better for McCoy this week. He faces a Titans defense that has yet to allow a rushing score to a running back this season.

Tight ends have absolutely crushed the Steelers this season with three scores and an average of 105 receiving yards per game over the last three weeks. While Austin Hooper is far from consistent, he’s shown major upside at numerous points in his professional career. He’s a prime streamer option this week.

Speaking of that contest, there should be a passing explosion in the Steelers/Falcons game this week with both defenses in the top five fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Pittsburgh is surrendering 324 yards and three scores per game through the air, so fire up Matt Ryan if you have him. Ben Roethlisberger is arguably this week’s top quarterback play at home against a Falcons defense that has allowed three passing scores in over 300 passing yards in each of their last three games.

Alex Smith doesn’t offer major upside, but he’s in play as a streamer option this week against the Saints defense that has allowed a massive 9.6 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks. Only the Buccaneers have allowed more fantasy points to the position this season.

There’s a lot to like about Baker Mayfield for fantasy purposes, but it’s tough to get behind him as a fantasy option this week. He faces a Ravens defense that has been an absolutely brutal matchup for quarterbacks so far this season. Baltimore has held signal-callers to a league-low 5.3 yards per attempt and has surrendered just one passing score over the last two weeks.

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