With another week of NFL action behind us, and more new data points to analyze and consider, I’m here to help you with some of your toughest Week 5 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 5:
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Patriots) – New England has quietly been a team to stream quarterbacks against for two seasons now. I say quietly because they allowed just the 24th-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last season, but also had by far the softest quarterback schedule in the league. Since 2016, quarterbacks facing New England are averaging 4.2 fantasy points per game over their expectation. This season, New England is giving up a lot-less-quiet league-worst 31.5 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and also rank worst in opposing passer rating (116.6). In a game that should be a high-scoring shootout, Winston is an easy top-five quarterback play for me this week.
Adam Humphries, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Patriots) – Humphries is a strong desperation flex play (in PPR leagues) for teams suffering through bye weeks and injuries. Despite a brutal matchup against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last week, Humphries totals 17 targets and 138 yards over the past two weeks. He draws a superb matchup against a New England defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to wide receiving running routes from the slot (where Humphries runs 76 percent of his routes). The narrative that New England sells out to stop an opposing team’s top offensive weapon (in this case Mike Evans) is more true than false, and though Winston tends to lock onto Evans regardless of defensive matchups, this should still open up more targets to Humphries. Despite the slow start, DeSean Jackson is a “start” for me this week as well, as I outlined here.
Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants (vs. Chargers) – Another wide receiver in a similar vein to Humphries is Shepard, who ranks 24th in targets (27) and 14th among wide receivers in fantasy points (53). Odell Beckham Jr. draws a brutal matchup against the forever underrated Casey Hayward, who from 2015-2016, by my metrics, was the second-best shadow cornerback in the NFL. Hayward was targeted seven times in coverage last week against the Eagles, allowing just 17 total yards. Brandon Marshall has played terribly, with Eli Manning averaging a passer rating of 53.7 when targeting him (as opposed to 118.2 when targeting Shepard). The Chargers, meanwhile, are allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers running routes from the slot, where Shepard runs 85.8 percent of his routes.
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders (vs. Ravens) – With Michael Crabtree banged up, and Amari Cooper grossly underperforming, Cook is a strong start this week. Cook has seen five, six, six, and eight targets to start the year. The Ravens are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, despite facing off against Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (vs. Chiefs) — Kansas City’s defense has been weird. Philip Rivers scored just 3.5 fantasy points against them, and Tom Brady scored just 10.7. Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, both put up over 20 fantasy points in their games against them. I’m still skeptical regarding Watson’s real-NFL potential, as he ranks 27th of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF grade. Though, even if Watson is who we think he is, he should be held afloat by a solid rushing floor. He currently leads all quarterbacks in rushing yardage, and is averaging 30.3 pass attempts and 5.7 rushing attempts per game over his three starts. Since 1945, there have been 66 instances of a quarterback averaging at least five rushing attempts and 25 pass attempts per game in a single season. Collectively, these quarterbacks averaged 18.5 fantasy points per game (which would have ranked 10th-best at the position last season). Just as a rule of thumb, and though they were in fairly soft matchups, I’m not willing to bench a guy who has scored 75 fantasy points over his prior two games.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (@ Lions) – I had heavy DFS exposure to McCaffrey last week, but that was a foolish move on my part. The aforementioned narrative that New England sells out to stop an opposing team’s most fearsome offensive weapon was especially true last week, as McCaffrey totaled just 49 yards. McCaffrey will have a softer matchup this week, against a Detroit Lions defense allowing the seventh-most receiving yards but only 18th-most rushing yards to opposing running backs this year. Last season, they allowed the 10th-most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, but fourth-fewest rushing fantasy points per game. With Darius Slay likely shadowing Kelvin Benjamin, and Greg Olsen still out, I suspect McCaffrey sees heavy target volume this week.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (@ Eagles) – I’ve received a lot of questions regarding running backs who could see a larger role due to an injured starter. Elijah McGuire? No thanks. Latavius Murray? Yuck, but you’re starting him if desperate. One lower-tier running back I feel fairly confident about (in PPR leagues) is Ellington. Ellington has served a highly valuable role for fantasy over the past two weeks, drawing 10 carries and 21 targets over this stretch. Among all players, he ranks second in targets and fifth in expected fantasy points over this stretch. Outside of a 53-yard touchdown run to Kareem Hunt, Philadelphia is allowing 2.0 more receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs than rushing fantasy points per game. With Vegas pegging Arizona as 6.5-point underdogs on the road, I think Carson Palmer goes pass-heavy once again, keeping Ellington heavily involved.
John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals (@ Eagles) – Despite playing in a more-limited role while dealing with injuries, Brown ranks 17th among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game. Barring any injury-related setbacks, Brown looks poised for a big Week 5 against a Philadelphia defense allowing the most fantasy points to wide receivers running routes outside, but the 10th-fewest to wide receivers running routes out of the slot. He should run the plurality of his routes against Philadelphia cornerback Jalen Mills. Mills was our worst-graded cornerback last season, and teams appear aware of it. Mills has been targeted 46 times thus far, which is nine more than the next closest cornerback.
Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, WRs, Miami Dolphins (vs. Titans) – Despite Miami’s abysmal start to the season (six total points over their prior two games), I’m very excited about Landry and Parker’s prospects this week. Both receivers rank top-10 in expected fantasy points per game, and draw especially soft matchups. Miami is facing a Tennessee defense allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets (@ Browns) – Seferian-Jenkins is a very solid start this week, after seeing 10 targets in his first two games back from suspension. The Browns are also allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends this season, after allowing the second-most last season as well. So far, they’ve surrendered a combined 64 PPR fantasy points to such intimidating names as Tyler Kroft, Jesse James, and Ben Watson.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (vs. Ravens) – The start/sit questions I received regarding Cooper were all over the place. Yes, you’re starting him over Will Fuller. No, you’re not starting him over DeVante Parker. As gross as it feels, and even with EJ Manuel starting, if Michael Crabtree sits out, you’re starting Cooper this week against the Ravens as if he were a low-end WR2. If Crabtree plays, I’d bump him down to the low-end WR3 range, however. Cooper has played atrociously, leading the league in drop rate, ranking bottom-five in WR Rating, and ranking last at the position in PFF grade. Still, volume has mostly been there, as he ranks 23rd among wide receivers in expected fantasy points. Cooper is about as borderline of a call as it gets.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Buffalo) — I still believe in Mixon’s talent, and usage should mostly be there, but this week’s matchup worries me. Cincinnati’s offensive line has been atrocious in the running game (averaging a league-low 1.31 yards before contact per attempt), while Buffalo’s defense ranks second-best in the same metric (allowing just 1.44 yards before contact per attempt). 35 carries and seven targets over the past two weeks rank 12th- and 20th-best at the position, respectively, but I’m not sure he can overcome his offensive line this week. I wasn’t sure which designation to lock him into, but as it stands, I have Mixon as a mid-range RB2 this week.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns (vs. Jets) – Crowell is averaging just 33.5 rushing yards per game this year, and just 43.5 rushing yards per game over his past 16 games. Though he has the unwavering confidence of his head coach, I’m less convinced. This week’s matchup looks attractive against the Jets, but Crowell had an equally attractive matchup against the Colts two weeks ago, where he totaled just 54 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches. Still, the Jets are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, and Vegas projects positive (or at least neutral) gamescript (a rarity for the Browns) as Cleveland is favored by a point at home. In spite of everything, he’s a low-end RB2 for me this week in standard leagues. I’d start him this week if I’m weak at the position, and then possibly never again.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings (@ Bears) — McKinnon had ample opportunity to reach fantasy relevance last season, running alongside plodder and current free agent Matt Asiata (career 3.5 yards per carry). Still, he averaged just 9.8 PPR fantasy points per game all season. While I’m confident Latavius Murray isn’t far superior to Asiata, he does still feel like a strong mid-range RB2 this week, while McKinnon is only in-play for the very desperate in PPR leagues. His touchdown-upside is minimal, and he will be entirely gameflow dependent going forward (Vegas projects a win for Minnesota this week, capping his upside this week as the team’s third-down back).
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (@ Dolphins) – Without any rushing production last year, Mariota would have fallen from 10th to 24th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. While dealing with a hamstring injury, it’s unlikely we see much rushing production from Mariota this week (assuming he plays). That said, it’s still a very soft matchup against a Miami defense that ranks second-worst in PFF pass-coverage grade. As it stands, I have Mariota as a mid-range QB2 this week, and lean closer to benching him this week.
Seattle and Tampa Bay backfields – Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers were two of my most-mentioned players this week – as was Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy. I hate giving this answer, but it’s an honest one; I literally have no idea who gets the majority of the work on either team, and it could just be a frustrating RBBC situation for both teams. My decision on each backfield will likely come late in the week after scouring news reports from beat writers guessing on who sees the majority of the work. If you have the luxury, I’d also consider benching all of these names and waiting a week until further clarity.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Cardinals) – If strong at the wide receiver position, Jeffery is an easy bench against Patrick Peterson. Peterson will shadow Jeffery for at least the 85 percent of the routes he runs outside. Peterson leads all cornerbacks in fantasy points per route in coverage over the past three seasons, and has surrendered just 56 yards on 13 targets through four games this year.
Mike Gillislee, RB, New England Patriots (@ Buccaneers) – Tampa Bay’s defense ranks third-worst in pass-coverage grade, but 10th-best in run-defense grade. New England’s defense isn’t doing Gillislee any favors either, as offenses continue to rack up points against them at will. Gillislee always has multiple-touchdown upside, but this matchup doesn’t look like one where he’ll have much garbage time to really rack up points. Due to his basement-level floor, I’d bench him this week unless desperate.
Wayne Gallman, RB, New York Giants (vs. Chargers) – The matchup bodes well for the Giants’ running backs, up against Chargers defense that teams are passing the ball just 49.9 percent of the time against (fewest). Still, the Giants are the league’s most pass-heavy team (69.9 percent), and likely won’t stray too far from that philosophy this week. Though Gallman looked far more effective than Paul Perkins in Week 4, with both Perkins and Orleans Darkwa practicing, the most likely scenario is Gallman is stuck in a frustrating timeshare for at least another few weeks.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders (vs. Ravens) – Lynch is looking like a bust, totaling just 38 yards over his prior two games. It’s possible the team leans heavier on Lynch with Carr out, and the matchup doesn’t look as tough as it appears. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (our No. 19 defensive tackle in PFF run grade last year) is still not practicing for the Ravens, and Baltimore is looking more like a “reverse funnel” defense this year than the stout run defense they were just a season ago. This season, Baltimore ranks best in opposing passer rating, but are allowing the fifth-most rushing fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. All of this being said, it feels near-impossible to start Lynch after the last two weeks, and his greatest fantasy asset (goal-line work) is capped with EJ Manuel starting.