With another week of NFL action behind us, and more new data points to analyze and consider, I’m here to help you with your toughest Week 4 start/sit decisions.
If you’re ever stuck between a few players, please feel free to reach out to me on twitter (@ScottBarrettDFB) early in the week, and I’ll try to do my best to fit them into that week’s column. Here were some of your most frequently mentioned players for Week 4:
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (vs. Los Angeles) – After just two weeks, the entire fantasy community was panicking on Prescott’s 2017 potential. This was a bit of an overreaction, of course, after facing the two teams who allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last year (the Broncos and the Giants). Prescott rebounded nicely in Week 3, throwing for two touchdowns and adding a score on the ground. The Rams defense is far more imposing than what we saw last Thursday night, but Prescott has finished as a fantasy QB1 in 13 of his past 17 games, and has a high enough floor that he doesn’t need to be benched in poor matchups.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (@ New England) – Kelvin Benjamin did not practice on Wednesday (knee) and Greg Olsen remains sidelined for the rest of the year. McCaffrey, last week, led the team in targets with 11, catching nine for 101 yards, as well as adding 16 yards rushing on the ground. The Patriots are allowing the third-most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs this season, after allowing the fourth-most last year. McCaffrey makes for an easy start this week.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (vs. Tennessee) – Watson is a hot name this week after throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns while adding 41 rushing yards on the ground against the Patriots. Still, I’d temper expectations on that just a bit, as the New England defense is far less imposing than they’ve been made out to be. Watson gets another soft matchup this week against a Tennessee defense allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, after allowing the seventh-most last season. Keep in mind, this is a team that faced both the Texans and the Jaguars twice last season. After leading the league in pressures per dropback last year, Tennessee’s defense ranks just 23rd-best this year. Though defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a promising history against rookie passers, Watson still feels like a safe bet for quarterback streamers. His league-leading 124 rushing yards should also keep his floor high as well.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets (vs. Jacksonville) – As an ardent ASJ-truther nearing on three years now, of course I’m in on him this week. Seferian-Jenkins tied for the team lead in targets last week with six, and now gets a sneaky-strong matchup against the Jaguars. The Jaguars have two near-elite outside cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye who have held all wide receivers faced under 60 yards receiving. This creates a funnel underneath to slot wide receivers (Robby Anderson and Jeremy Kerley have been splitting time there) and to tight ends. Through three weeks, Jacksonville has allowed 17.6 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Seferian-Jenkins makes for a great Tyler Eifert replacement or backup with upside if needed.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (vs. Cincinnati) – Johnson has run 85 routes through three weeks — the same number as Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief, and has seen as many targets as Michael Crabtree and Chris Hogan (17). Johnson doubles as a pass-catching running back and occasional slot wide receiver, which bodes well for him in this matchup. Cincinnati has allowed the seventh-most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, and saw the highest percentage of their wide receiver fantasy points allowed funneled to slot wide receivers (46 percent). He’s a fine desperation flex-play this week.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins (@ Kansas City) – As I wrote about earlier in the week, I’m incredibly skeptical Thompson becomes an every-week starter or continues to perform at the rate he has been. That said, he draws another attractive matchup this week. The Redskins are 6.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs on the road, and will likely need to be passing early and often in a game they’re expected to trail throughout. Samaje Perine totaled just 49 yards on 19 carries last week, and Thompson should again see a slightly bigger role if Rob Kelley is out.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins (@ Kansas City) – This is about as close of a call as it gets with Crowder. I think part of the reason Thompson has averaged 2.3 targets per game more than in his 2016 season is due to Crowder’s slow start dealing with a nagging hip injury. Crowder has averaged just 8.1 fantasy points per game to start the season, but is also far-and-away Washington’s highest-graded wide receiver this year, ranking 20th overall. He draws an especially soft matchup this week in the slot against Kansas City’s Phillip Gaines. Gaines is our worst-graded cornerback this season, after ranking fifth-worst last year and surrendering the eighth-most fantasy points per route in coverage. I’m not starting him over more-proven commodities, however, and if he disappoints this week, he should ride the bench until after his next big game.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Indianapolis) – Week 4 is shaping up similarly to Seattle’s Week 2 victory over San Francisco, when Carson totaled 93 yards on 20 carries. Carson totaled just 34 yards on 11 carries in a Week 3 loss to Tennessee, but did add a touchdown through the air. The Seahawks are favored by 13.0-points at home this week, which implies favorable conditions for the run, and Carson gets an additional boost with C.J. Prosise sidelined with an ankle injury.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets (vs. Jacksonville) – It’s looking increasingly likely Matt Forte sits out in Week 4, while dealing with a toe injury. Over the final four weeks of last season, when Forte played on just 19 snaps, Powell saw immense usage, averaging 20.5 carries per game and 5.75 targets per game. Over this stretch, he totaled 94 fantasy points, outscoring all players except Le’Veon Bell and Aaron Rodgers. Jacksonville currently ranks fourth-worst in opposing yards per carry (4.8), and with Jacksonville’s tough secondary, Powell could be in line for a decent workload as a receiver as well.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears (@ Green Bay) – I’m not so sure why Cohen keeps popping up so frequently in start/sit questions. Cohen has scored at least 14 PPR points in every week thus far and averages 18.1 for the season. He is a much better play in PPR leagues (leading his team in targets), but did see 12 carries last week with Jordan Howard still banged up. Cohen also had a 73-yard touchdown run cut in half after officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Steelers’ 37-yard line. This week’s matchup bodes much better for Cohen than Howard, as the Bears are 7.0-point underdogs and will likely be trailing and passing heavily throughout.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (@ Cleveland) – We finally saw the usage we were waiting for from Mixon in Week 3, as he totaled 18 carries (11 more than next-closest) and three targets (one more than next-closest) against the Packers. Cleveland has been better on the ground this year, but allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. Mixon sits in my rankings as a mid-range RB2 this week.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Indianapolis) – Graham is another borderline start this week. He’s still dealing with a high ankle sprain, and ranks worst among tight ends in fantasy efficiency (expected fantasy points vs. actual fantasy points). Still, last week’s 7-72-0 line on 12 targets was somewhat encouraging, and the volume he’s seen thus far seems to imply a positive regression. Graham ranks fourth among tight ends in targets (with 20), and second among all players in end-zone targets (five). Seattle has the fourth-highest implied point total of the week, and Graham gets a significant boost with Doug Baldwin dealing with a groin injury. Baldwin was another frequently mentioned name, but he’s a must-start for me each week so long as he’s active.
Mike Gillislee, RB, New England Patriots (vs. Carolina) – Gillislee is a frustrating player to peg down. Just about the entirety of his fantasy value comes via goal-line carries, but LeGarrette Blount had proven that sometimes that’s enough. Blount averaged 0.80 touchdowns per game from 2014 until the end of his tenure with New England, but unfortunately, they always seem to come in unpredictable clusters. Blount did seem to fare much better in blowouts, however, and with New England favored by 9.0 points at home, it’s looking like we’ll see one this week. Gillislee will continue to be a maddening boom-or-bust player to own on a week-to-week basis, but just know he has multiple touchdown upside every week he’s on the field. I have him as a mid to low-range RB2 in my rankings this week, which is where he’ll likely stay for the majority of the season.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns (vs. Cincinnati) – As I said last week, if Crowell disappointed in Week 3 (he did), I’m not sure when you’d be starting him again. Crowell is averaging just 38 rushing yards per game, 2.9 yards per carry, and 2.0 targets per game. He’s an easy bench this week, and most weeks going forward.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins (@ Kansas City) – I’m still concerned with Crowder’s production to start the season, but I’m much more concerned with Pryor, who currently ranks as our seventh-worst-graded wide receiver overall. He also draws a tough matchup, running 41 percent of his routes on Marcus Peters‘ side of the field. I’d wait until after Pryor’s next big week, before starting him again.
Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints (vs. Miami in London) – Per Sean Payton, the Saints are “going to see how Snead handles this week of practice, then see how much they’ll use him Sunday.” Despite a fine matchup against the Dolphins, this is enough to keep him out of my lineups this week.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (@ New England) – As I mentioned above, Newton draws a sneaky-soft matchup against the Patriots this week, however, Newton clearly doesn’t look right – and hasn’t for some time. He’s our second-worst-graded quarterback this season (despite an easy schedule to start the year), and has a comparable passer rating to Brock Osweiler’s 2016 season over his last 16 games. To make matters worse, Kelvin Benjamin did not practice on Wednesday, and Newton will be without Greg Olsen for the remainder of the year. I can think of about 20 quarterbacks I’d rather be starting over Newton this week, despite the matchup.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (@ Denver) – Cooper has been dreadful to start the year, leading the league in drops with six (three more than next-closest). He also tends to draw the tougher cornerback matchups on a week-to-week basis, and this week, that would mean more of Aqib Talib – our third-highest-graded cornerback last year. I’ll be avoiding Cooper this week if I feel comfortable with my wide receiver depth.
Pierre Garcon, WR, San Francisco 49ers (@ Arizona) – Through three weeks, Patrick Peterson has allowed just 22 yards into his coverage, despite shadowing T.Y. Hilton and Dez Bryant in two of three games this year. Peterson also leads all cornerbacks in fantasy points allowed per route in coverage over the past three seasons. With Peterson shadowing Garcon this week, he’s now an easy fade.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (@ LA Chargers) – Like Garcon, Jeffery draws a very difficult cornerback matchup in shadow coverage against Casey Hayward. Over the past two seasons, Hayward ranks second-best in fantasy points allowed over expectation in shadow games. I’ll be avoiding him this week unless I can help it.