The Primer: Week 5 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Line: ATL by 2.5
Teddy Bridgewater: Through four weeks, Bridgewater has done a good job avoiding disaster, as he’s unwilling to throw the ball into tight coverage. He’s thrown the ball into one-yard windows just 8.5 percent of the time, which is the lowest mark in the league. We figured he’d be a solid QB2 in 2QB/Superflex considering there was no competition for the starting job, but he’s done exceptional considering the lack of offseason while learning a new offense with new receivers. His matchups to this point haven’t been easy, either. He played the Raiders (13th-fewest points to quarterbacks), Bucs (4th-fewest), Chargers (shockingly 5th-most), and Cardinals (19th-fewest). Now he gets the gift that keeps on giving: The Falcons defense. Through four weeks, they’ve allowed 32.5 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, while no other team in the league has allowed more than 26.8 points, and keep in mind the Seahawks have seen 200 pass attempts through four games. Quarterbacks are averaging 41.8 pass attempts per game against the Falcons, so the volume is solid, but the 72.5 percent completion-rate, 8.47 yards per attempt, and 7.8 percent touchdown-rate are all bottom of the barrel. They’ve allowed 0.64 fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing), which is the highest in the league. Their pass-rush has also rapidly declined, as they haven’t pressured a quarterback more than 24.5 percent since Week 1. Bridgewater should be a top choice for streamers, as he should post top-12 numbers this week.
Matt Ryan: There are a lot of question marks surrounding Ryan’s weaponry for this game. My guess would be that he’ll be without Julio Jones, who re-aggravated his hamstring injury that he’s been dealing with. He hasn’t had Jones for one and a half of his last two games that have netted just 23.8 fantasy points combined. As odd as it sounds, the Panthers have allowed just 6.34 yards per attempt this year, which ranks as the third-lowest mark in the league. They’ve also faced the 11th-most pass attempts in the league, so it’s not like teams haven’t tried to throw against them. It’s clear that Phil Snow’s scheme is doing better than we thought it would given the talent he had to operate with. But here’s the thing… they’ve allowed a 71.7 percent completion-rate, which ranks as the fifth-highest in football, so my belief is that teams haven’t pushed the ball downfield, and instead relied upon dumpoffs to running backs. This makes little sense when you look at the fact that the Panthers have just a 2.0 percent sack-rate, which is the lowest in the league. It’s not just missing out on sacks, as they’ve struggled to generate pressure in general. In fact, they’re the worst in the league at generating pressure. Ryan isn’t as attractive without Jones in the lineup, but he should still be able to deliver low-end QB1/high-end QB2 numbers with the time he’ll be given against the Panthers pass rush.
Mike Davis: The only running backs who’ve seen at least 10 targets and averaged 3.0-plus yards per route run are Alvin Kamara, James Robinson, and Davis. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Davis is seeing a stacked box on 33.3 percent of his carries, which is the most in the NFL among running backs who’ve totaled at least 30 carries. Despite allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to the running back position, the Falcons have allowed just 3.60 yards per carry through four weeks, which ranks as the seventh-lowest mark in the league. Fortunately for Davis, he doesn’t rely on the ground for production, and where he does most of his work is where the Falcons struggle most. They’ve allowed 77.7 PPR points through the air alone to running backs, which is the most in the league. The 1.94 PPR points per target meshes well with Davis’ 23 targets over the last three weeks. It certainly won’t help the Falcons if they’re missing both of their starting safeties, which seems likely after Damontae Kazee ruptured his Achilles last week, while both Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are considered questionable. Davis should continue to dominate touches while Christian McCaffrey is out (Reggie Bonnafon, too) and should be started as a borderline RB1 this week.
Todd Gurley and Brian Hill: As we talked about last week, it’s going to be difficult to move Gurley out of the RB2 range due to the high-scoring offense he plays in. While the Falcons weren’t high-scoring last week, Gurley found the end zone twice and now has four touchdowns through four games. He’s still failed to top 80 yards on the ground and has just three targets over the last three weeks, so it’s touchdown-or-bust for him most weeks. Opponents have taken advantage of their running backs in the passing game against the Panthers, as they’ve racked up a massive 29.7 percent target share, which ranks as the highest in the league, so it’s a shame that Gurley isn’t being used there. The Panthers are one of just four teams who’ve allowed more fantasy points per game to the running back position than to the wide receiver position. To this point, running backs have outscored receivers by 5.57 points per game, which is the largest gap in the NFL. Heck, running backs playing against the Panthers have outscored the quarterbacks by a league-leading 21.73 fantasy points per game. We watched Kenyan Drake struggle against the Panthers last week, but that was an outlier, as they’d allowed three top-three running back performances in the first three weeks. They have allowed 33 rushing touchdowns over their last 20 games, including seven of them through four games in their new defensive scheme. The Falcons are projected for 28.0 points, so there’s a good chance Gurley makes it into the end zone once again. Start him as a solid RB2 this week who would really suffer if the Falcons fell behind.
D.J. Moore: I’m continuing to recommend buying Moore’s stock while it’s down. He’s being used in a different role than he was last year and it’s only a matter of time before that pays off. We’ll compare him to Robby Anderson below, but the one that’s typically tied to success is the percentage of their team’s air yards. Moore has 42.7 percent of the Panthers air yards while Anderson is at 35.4 percent. Both are very high, but it’s Moore who hasn’t scored yet. Now onto their Week 5 matchup, this could be the week we see Moore go nuts. When the Falcons allow a completion, it goes for plenty of yards per reception (15.2). That mark ranks as the third-highest in football, so it’s no wonder they’ve allowed a league-leading 21 pass plays to go for 20-plus yards. Moore plays most of his snaps at LWR, which means he’ll see Isaiah Oliver most of the time, a cornerback who’s struggled mightily since coming into the league, and it’s only gotten worse in 2020 as he’s allowed 19-of-28 passing for 277 yards and three touchdowns in his coverage. Moore should remain in lineups as a high-end WR2 this week who could have the game you’ve been waiting for.
Robby Anderson: He now ranks No. 3 in yards per route run coming into Week 5, behind only Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams. He leads the Panthers in targets (34), receptions (28), yards (377), and touchdowns (1). I talked about it last week, that we should no longer see a massive gap between him and Moore, though this matchup may favor Moore’s role more than Anderson’s. Anderson’s average depth of target is just 9.6 yards down the field, while Moore’s is 12.4 yards down the field. The Falcons have been prone to allowing the big play and it’s Moore who’s being targeted further down the field. With that being said, they are taking shots down the field with Anderson, as he has six targets of 20-plus yards, which ranks 14th among receivers. His primary matchup will be against Kendall Sheffield, who’s playing for A.J. Terrell, who’s currently on the COVID list. The Falcons secondary as a whole is a mess and it shows in the numbers, as they’re allowing a collective 9.79 yards per target to wide receivers. Anderson should be in lineups as a borderline WR2 at this point.
Curtis Samuel: Raise your hand if you remember 2019 where Samuel was the guy everyone kept waiting for positive regression. I remember because he continually saw tons of the teams air yards and did nothing with them. He accounted for 30.6 percent of their air yards last year, but last year is no more. He’s getting just 11.4 percent this year, which is more in line with where it should be considering his ineffectiveness. Even though the matchup against the Falcons is good, there are plus matchups all over the place, so there’s little reason to expect a surge in Samuel’s production, though Reggie Bonnafon‘s absence likely raises his touch floor. He’s just someone you play in a pinch hoping for a big play in a great matchup, as the Falcons have allowed a league-high 21 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
Julio Jones: After re-aggravating his hamstring injury on Monday night football, Jones should not be expected to be on the field this week. In fact, they may give him two weeks off. I’ll come back and update if he’s expected to play. *Update* Jones did not practice all week but is listed as questionable. I’d err on the side of caution and plan to be without him.
Calvin Ridley: He leads the league in deep targets (13) through four weeks, so it makes sense when you seen him lead the league in air yards (667). What’s crazy is that he has 27 percent more air yards than any other player. Oddly enough, the Panthers have allowed just 7.19 yards per target to wide receivers. That ranks as the second-best mark in the league. How is that possible with a cornerback group of Donte Jackson, Rasul Douglas, Troy Pride, and Corn Elder? With Julio Jones out of the lineup (most likely), Ridley is in line for a lot of targets. The two receivers who’ve received double-digit targets against the Panthers this year have totaled 13/132/1 (Mike Evans) and 7/104/1 (Keenan Allen). Some will point to DeAndre Hopkins‘ struggles last week, but he was clearly playing through an injury and hadn’t practiced all week. In games where Calvin Ridley has seen eight or more targets, here are the results. Start him as a WR1 and expect big results.
Russell Gage: It was not great to see Gage net just three targets last week in a game where Julio Jones didn’t play half of it and Calvin Ridley netted just five targets. That won’t be the case in Week 5 against the Panthers, who’ve allowed a 71.7 percent completion-rate, so we should expect a lot of high-percentage passes to Gage. It’s been Corn Elder covering the slot for them to this point, a cornerback who’s seen just 12 targets in coverage over the course of his career, netting eight receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Teams have continually checked-down to their running backs in the passing game against the Panthers (league-high 29.7 percent of the time), but the Falcons don’t use their running backs in the pass-game (14.97 percent target share). Gage should be considered a solid floor WR4 this week, and we know better than to expect much upside from him by now, as he’s topped 76 yards just once.
Ian Thomas: The Panthers tight ends have now combined for 59 yards… on the season. Yes, Thomas scored a touchdown last week, but don’t pretend like you’re considering him, especially with all the plus matchups the Panthers have on offense this week. If we see a trend develop with him, we’ll revisit, but his 109 routes, which actually rank 14th among tight ends, have netted just nine targets.
Hayden Hurst: He now ranks fifth among tight ends in routes run through the first quarter of the season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been targeted as much as we’d hoped. His 22 targets rank as the 10th-most among tight ends, and he has totaled at least five targets in 3-of-4 games, so it’s not all bad. Running backs and tight ends have accounted for 69 targets against the Panthers, while wide receivers have seen 73 of them. That’s the second-smallest gap in the league, so knowing the Falcons don’t use their running backs in the passing game very much, we could see a lot of targets funneled Hurst’s way this week. Both Darren Waller and Hunter Henry saw at least seven targets and finished with double-digit PPR points against them, highlighting a decent floor. Hurst should be trusted as a low-end TE1 this week with some upside.
Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: KC by 12.0
Derek Carr: He has played about as good as you could’ve hoped, or as good as he’s capable of through four weeks, yet he’s still the No. 20 quarterback in fantasy leagues. Again, that’s despite him averaging a healthy 7.6 yards per attempt while throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions. His ceiling is simply capped with his lack of mobility and lack of playmakers on offense. The Chiefs defense is so much better than people give them credit for, as they’ve allowed just a 59.2 percent completion-rate (second-lowest), 6.55 yards per attempt (fifth-lowest), a 3.08 percent touchdown-rate (fourth-lowest), and have racked-up an 8.5 percent sack-rate (fifth-best). Over the last two games, they’ve allowed just 35-of-65 passing for 287 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. The only thing they’ve really allowed to quarterbacks is production on the ground, which is something we know Carr doesn’t get. He played against this Chiefs team twice last year and failed to finish with more than 9.72 fantasy points in either game. He’s not a recommended streamer.
Patrick Mahomes: It wasn’t the best performance by Mahomes on Monday night, but he still managed to get above 20 fantasy points thanks to the forward shuffle pass. He’s now crossed that 20-point barrier in each of his first four games, a streak that might be tough to continue against the Raiders, who’ve allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks one-quarter through the season. Josh Allen was the first quarterback who finished better than QB15 against them, though there are reasons for that. The biggest reason is because they can’t stop the run. They’ve allowed running backs a league-high 37.6 PPR points per game against them, which has meant quarterbacks haven’t had to do a whole lot. Drew Brees was the only one who threw the ball more than 34 times, and even though he was without Michael Thomas, he still threw for 312 yards. This has more to do with how the Chiefs choose to score their touchdowns this week, as other teams have opted to rush for eight touchdowns against the Raiders while throwing for just five touchdowns. Through four games, the Chiefs have thrown 11 touchdowns while rushing for one. It was two different stories against the Raiders last year, as Mahomes threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns in Week 2, but then threw for just 175 yards and one touchdown in Week 13. Look you’re starting Mahomes in season-long leagues every week, but as for DFS, Mahomes is a better tournament play than a cash one, because the Chiefs could decide to get Edwards-Helaire going in the red zone, which would cap upside, and that’s something you need a guarantee on when paying up at quarterback.
Josh Jacobs: After destroying fantasy opponents in Week 1 with his three-touchdown game against the Panthers, Jacobs hasn’t done much for his fantasy managers. Over the last three weeks, he’s the No. 29 running back, right in-between Leonard Fournette and Mark Ingram. It’s not due to a lack of touches, as his 58 carries are the second-most in football over that time. He’s also caught at least three passes in every game, so it’s purely an efficiency issue, and that’s likely going to be the case until the Raiders can show threats elsewhere on the field. Fortunately, he has one of the better matchups he could ask for in Week 5 against the Chiefs. This was a team he played twice last year, where he racked up 99 yards on 12 carries in the first matchup, and then 104 yards on 17 carries in the second one. He didn’t score or catch a pass in those games, but we already know he was limited in his pass-game usage last year. The Chiefs haven’t held a team below 4.03 yards per carry in any game this year, and in fact, three teams have averaged at least 5.35 yards per carry. So, why have they allowed just the 16th-most fantasy points to opponents? They’ve only allowed one running back touchdown through four games. This is where Jacobs can do well despite the “perceived” tough matchup on paper. The Chiefs allowed a running back touchdown every 30.5 touches last year, while that number is down at one every 119.0 touches this year. Touchdowns are very unpredictable, but the Chiefs are not the team that will defy the average. I’m starting Jacobs confidently as an RB1 this week who should get back on track, even if it is in some garbage time. Knowing he’s caught at least three passes in each game, he can even be considered in cash games this week.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: It has been a solid start to his career, as he currently sits as the RB12 in fantasy, though not as big as it maybe should be. He’s received a massive 78.3 percent of the Chiefs running back opportunities through four games, which is numbers we don’t see for more than a handful of running backs. To know he sits at RB12 despite scoring one touchdown is a good thing, as the touchdowns will even out (Chiefs have scored 11 passing, just one rushing). The great news is that he’s now seen 17 targets over the last three games, which ranks as the fifth-most among running backs in that span. A massive 28.4 percent of targets against the Raiders have gone to the running back position, which is the second-highest mark in the league. It’s not just that, either. The Raiders have now allowed a rushing touchdown every 12.1 carries against them, which is more often than any other team in the league. It’s rare to see it, but this matchup is all green. They’ve allowed 5.35 yards per carry (4th-most), 7.11 yards per target (7th-most), and a touchdown every 14.4 touches. This could be the moment Edwards-Helaire rises to superstardom and finishes as the RB1 on the week, though the Chiefs could always just throw five touchdowns if they want. They are projected for 34.3 points, after all. He’s cash-game worthy and one of my favorites.
Henry Ruggs: We have no idea whether or not Ruggs will play in this game, as he’s been held out of practice for most of the last two weeks with hamstring and knee injuries. Even if he plays, you likely don’t want to risk it his first week back. The Chiefs are the only team in the league (make sure after Monday night) who have not allowed wide receivers at least 110.6 PPR points through the air through four games. They’ve allowed just 100.6 of them through four games. The 6.30 yards per target they’ve allowed is ridiculously low, as no other team in the league has allowed less than 7.19 yards per target to receivers. This is nothing new, as the Chiefs allowed the fewest yards to wide receivers last year, too. Over their last 20 games, they’ve allowed just 2,422 yards to them, or 121.1 per game. That’s rough. Even if Ruggs plays, he can’t be considered anything more than a boom-or-bust WR5. *Update* Ruggs is expected to play in this game after getting in a full practice on Thursday and Friday.
Hunter Renfrow: He stepped in and played like we’d hoped last week, finishing with five catches for 57 yards on eight targets. It wasn’t anything sexy, but you know better than to expect big things out of Renfrow by now. If Ruggs is able to return, it would really help open things up underneath for Renfrow against the Chiefs, whose biggest issues are in the slot, though you may not know it by Julian Edelman‘s performance last week. Antonio Hamilton is the one who should see Renfrow most of the day, a former undrafted free agent who’s on his third team in three years. He’s only seen 32 targets in coverage throughout his career, allowing 23 receptions for 325 yards and one touchdown on them. Still, it’s rough to know that the Chiefs have allowed just 121.1 yards per game to wide receivers over their last 20 games, which is the lowest mark in the NFL. Renfrow saw eight targets in their matchup last year where he turned them into just four catches for 30 yards. That was just his second NFL game, so we can’t say that it’s something to latch onto, but we do know the matchup isn’t quite as good as it was last week. He’s more of a floor play than a ceiling one this week, as the Raiders are lacking options in the passing game. There are likely better options out there.
Tyreek Hill: He’s only seen six targets in three of the four games they’ve played this year, but that hasn’t mattered. Hill has failed to cross the 100-yard barrier in any one game but has scored a touchdown in every game, thrusting him up to the No. 7 wide receiver on the season. He’ll now go into a matchup with the Raiders who’ve allowed a rather-high 13.8 yards per reception to wide receivers through four weeks. Hill has been playing the majority of his snaps in the slot, which is where Lamarcus Joyner has typically played, though he did have to leave the game against the Bills for a bit with a rib injury. He returned, so he might be okay, but sometimes that pain gets worse once the adrenaline wears off, so that’s something to monitor. Joyner ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash back in 2014, so he lacks the speed to keep up with Hill. In the matchup against the Chiefs last year, Joyner allowed 7-of-7 passing for 47 yards in a game that Hill didn’t play. There was also an 80-yard touchdown that he allowed that was called back due to a phantom holding penalty. Joyner has allowed a high 76.0 percent completion-rate in his coverage this year, though he’s kept the play in front of him while allowing just 9.5 yards per reception. If he were to miss the game, Amik Robertson would have to fill in, a fourth-round rookie who’s already allowed a touchdown on just three targets in coverage. Start Hill as you normally would. His targets and touchdown-heavy ways are not ideal for a cash game, but he’s certainly in play for tournaments.
Sammy Watkins: Call me crazy but I think Watkins has looked good this year. He’s now seen seven-plus targets in 3-of-4 games, and that’s impressive considering the matchups he’s had over the last three weeks. He’s played against the Chargers (Casey Hayward), Ravens (Marcus Peters), and Patriots (Stephon Gilmore). There will be better days for him. The Raiders have Trayvon Mullen playing the LCB position, which is where Watkins plays most of his snaps. He’s been hit-or-miss in coverage over his short one-plus year career, though he’s the best cornerback on the Raiders. He’s allowed just a 58.6 percent catch-rate and 11.8 yards per reception in his coverage, which is pretty solid for a perimeter corner. In two games against the Chiefs last year, he allowed just 4-of-10 passing for 40 scoreless yards. Watkins isn’t in a smash spot here, as there are other matchups for the Chiefs to exploit this week. Consider him a WR4/5-type option.
Mecole Hardman: Can we finally expect Hardman to be a big part of the offense? In short: No. He’s played just 72 snaps over the last two weeks, and 17 of them have been on special teams. He’s just not versatile enough for the Chiefs to consistently play him on the perimeter, so he’ll continue to be a mix-and-match player who offers one-play splash potential, but you can’t completely trust a player who’s playing about half the snaps. He’s only topped 48 yards once in his last 10 games, so you’re looking for a touchdown. The Raiders have allowed just three receiver touchdowns on the season, so you’re playing with fire if you’re starting Hardman as anything more than a hail mary WR5.
Darren Waller: There were major overreactions to the Raiders moving away from Waller this season, but no one could expect the barrage of injuries that have led to Waller collecting 40 targets through the first four weeks, which is seven more than any other tight end, and puts him on pace for 160 targets on the season. Now on to play the Chiefs, a team that’s done a good job limiting tight end production through four games. They’ll likely have Tyrann Mathieu covering him, which used to be a good thing for tight ends, though he’s stepped it up over the last two years. In that time, he’s seen 108 targets, allowing 70 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns while intercepting four passes. That amounts to a passer rating of just 68.0 in that time. Still, Waller did play them twice last year, finishing with 7/100/0 on nine targets and 6/63/0 on seven targets. In a game they’ll certainly be forced to throw a bit more, Waller should see eight-plus targets once again and be a top-five play at the position.
Travis Kelce: The Chiefs simply have so many options available that Mahomes needs to make decisions on which matchup to attack. It’s weird that we feel like three catches for 70 yards is a letdown from a tight end, but from Kelce, it kind of is. Moving forward into Week 5, you’re unlikely to be disappointed again. In two matchups against this Raiders defense last year, we saw Kelce post 7/107/1 in the first matchup, and then 5/90/0 in the second matchup despite Mahomes throwing for just 175 yards in that contest. The Raiders have yet to allow a tight end post more than 16 yards against them this year, but when you look at the competition, you know why. All in all, they’ve only been targeted 19 times through four games. It’s the same scheme as the defense last year that allowed the fourth-most yards per target to tight ends, which included 10 tight end touchdowns (ranked second in the NFL). You should not be worried about Kelce; start him as your TE1.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets
Line: ARI by 6.5
Kyler Murray: Despite not taking many risks (has thrown into one-yard windows on just 9.0 percent of his throws, which ranks as the third-lowest in the NFL), Murray has thrown five interceptions through four games. The worst part of it is that he’s averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: His rushing totals are covering up some serious inefficiencies in the passing game. For fantasy managers, you don’t really care how he gets the points, but understand that his current 16-game pace of 1,060 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns is not going to keep up. He needs to start being more efficient through the air. The Jets are a team that presents an opportunity for him to do just that, as they’ve allowed a healthy 72.1 percent completion-rate while allowing 7.67 yards per attempt against the combination of Josh Allen, Jimmy Garoppolo/Nick Mullens, Philip Rivers, and Brett Rypien. The unfortunate part is that only Allen has finished as a top-20 quarterback against them due to lack of competition in the games. Since that Week 1 game against Allen, no team has thrown the ball more than 31 times against them. They have allowed six rushing touchdowns (5 running back, 1 quarterback) through four games, which bodes well for Murray’s rushing prospects, though the 2.46 yards per carry they’ve allowed to quarterbacks is one of the lowest marks in the league. The fact that the Jets have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks doesn’t tell the whole story, as they are a team that can be thrown on, but the question is: Will the Cardinals take advantage? Knowing their run-game is really struggling, I think they have to, so plug Murray in as a stable QB1 this week. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco: All it took was 84 rushing yards and a touchdown to make Darnold fantasy relevant, eh? That won’t happen again, and now, you have to worry about his throwing ability after suffering a sprained AC joint in last Thursday night’s game. This is a matchup that’s a positive for quarterbacks, as it was only a matter of time before the Cardinals lack of pressure caught up with them. They pressured Teddy Bridgewater just 12.5 percent of the time last week, and they paid the consequences because of that. It was the second-lowest percentage of any team in the league this season. They’ve now allowed three of four quarterbacks to throw for at least 259 yards and two touchdowns against them. The only exception to that was Dwayne Haskins. Unfortunately, we have to put Darnold in similar territory. In fact, it might not even be Darnold under center this week if that shoulder doesn’t feel right, as this team has nothing to play for. It doesn’t matter if it’s Darnold or Joe Flacco; you aren’t streaming a Jets quarterback. *Update* Darnold has already been ruled out for this game, so it’ll be Flacco under center. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: Based on where he’s been contacted at/near the line of scrimmage and how many stacked boxes he’s seen, Drake has averaged 0.58 fewer yards per carry than he should’ve, according to NFL’s NextGenStats. Play-calling has certainly been an issue, but so has his play. It’s to the point where you wonder if that injury that had him in a walking boot during training camp is lingering, as he’s just not the same running back as he was last year when he averaged 0.22 more yards per carry than he was expected. He’s also received 72 percent of the team’s running back touches, so the process was good, but the play has not been. Whatever the case, this timeshare could start to move back towards a 50/50 split, though I’m still expecting Drake to lead the team in touches. The Jets have allowed a healthy 4.57 yards per carry on the season, though removing one run from Raheem Mostert knocks them down to 3.77 yards per carry on the year. The reason fantasy running backs have so much appeal against them is due to volume, as they’ve faced 31.0 running back touches per week, which is volume that even with less-than-stellar efficiency offers results. They’ve now allowed seven different running backs to finish as the RB31 or better, though just one of them finished higher than the RB16. Drake is still the recommended play, but the expectations need to be lowered into low-end RB2/high-end RB3 territory. Edmonds is receiving most of the work through the air, though teams haven’t felt it necessary to target running backs a whole lot against the Jets, as just two running backs have recorded more than three receptions. Edmonds is gaining steam but should be considered a mediocre flex option who comes with risk. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Le’Veon Bell: It seems like we should be expecting Bell back on the field this week after his three-week stint on the injured reserve which should’ve been more than enough time to heal his hamstring injury. He returns to a plus matchup against the Cardinals, who’ve already allowed four top-24 running back performances, while allowing another two running backs to finish as the RB28 and RB29. The 2.24 yards per target the Cardinals have allowed to running backs ranks as the highest mark in the NFL and is a large part of the reason they’ve allowed the third-most points through the air to running backs. With the lack of receiving options for the Jets, you must assume that he’s getting five-plus targets in this game. It’s not just through the air, either, as they’ve allowed 691 total yards to running backs through four weeks, which ranks as the fourth-most in the league. The lone concern here is Adam Gase, who is certainly a coach who’s held grudges before. He said that he should’ve never let Bell out there when he had his hamstring injury coming into Week 1, so there could be some animosity between the two. Still, it’s hard to see a scenario where he doesn’t see 15-plus touches. With the lack of guaranteed running backs who get into that range, Bell should be started as a low-end RB2 this week. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
DeAndre Hopkins: It was clear that Hopkins was not himself last week, as he was targeted at/near the line of scrimmage on nearly all his targets. He did seemingly make it through that game setback free, so he should be out there this week closer to 100 percent. The Jets secondary is one that can certainly be beat, as they’ve allowed a 71.4 percent completion-rate and 9.47 yards per target to wide receivers. They’ve allowed just three touchdowns to this point, keeping their overall numbers down, but that has more to do with teams punching it in via the run, something the Cardinals have struggled with. The cornerback he was slated to see was Blessuan Austin, who had to leave last week’s game with a calf injury. His replacement was rookie Lamar Jackson (no, not the quarterback), an undrafted free agent who hadn’t played any snaps the first three weeks. The combination of Austin and Jackson have allowed 12-of-18 passing for 151 yards in their coverage, so again, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about here. If Hopkins is close to full health and gets double-digit targets, he should finish as a top-three wide receiver this week. I’ll come back and update his practice participation later in the week. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Christian Kirk: Has he been cast in the wrong role of this offense? 46 percent of his targets have been 20-plus yards down the field. He was a 4.46-second guy coming into the league, so not someone who’s got blazing speed. He’s now seen 14 targets in three games, which isn’t a lot, but it’s enough to at least consider him in great matchups. The matchup against Pierre Desir should be considered one of the best matchups a wide receiver can have. Through four games with the Colts, he’s allowed 12-of-14 passing for 177 yards and four touchdowns in his coverage. The touchdowns are more than anyone else in the league. Even with his three interceptions, he’s surrendered a 118.8 QB Rating when targeted in coverage. Looking over his numbers the last four years, he’s allowed at least 13.1 yards per receptions in each of them, so he’s someone who’s continually looking for the interception and might bite on a double-move. Kirk is far from a lock, but the matchup is a good one. He should be considered a big-play hopeful WR4/5 option in a great matchup. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Jamison Crowder: He’s only played two games so far, but Crowder has racked up a lot of yards after the catch. His 8.3 yards after the catch ranks fifth among receivers with at least 10 receptions, though based on his separation, we should expect that number to be closer to 4.4 yards after the catch. With Le’Veon Bell coming back, it’ll surely eat into his target share as well. The Cardinals have second-year cornerback Byron Murphy covering the slot this year, which has gone better than it did on the perimeter. To this point, he’s allowed 9-of-14 passing for 131 scoreless yards, so it’s not a must-avoid matchup or anything. There have been two receivers who’ve totaled more than seven targets against the Cardinals (Terry McLaurin, Robby Anderson), and both have finished as top-24 receivers. The issue, of course, is that neither of them are slot-heavy receivers like Crowder and play a different role. As a whole, the Cardinals have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. This was a matchup to target in the slot last year, but that hasn’t been the case so far this year. Still, when you have a receiver who’s seen 23 targets in two games, you have to at least consider him a low-end WR3 with a decent floor, especially in PPR formats, though the move to Flacco could be more detrimental than anything. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Dan Arnold: Despite injuries to both Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins that had them playing at less than 100 percent at times (Kirk missed a full game), and despite Larry Fitzgerald not being involved, Arnold has still seen just 12 targets through four games. The tight end is simply not utilized in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, even though it would probably help Murray’s efficiency if they did start involving them. The Jets have allowed the seventh-most points per target to tight ends this year, but if you’re not getting targets, it doesn’t matter. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Chris Herndon: If you were to say Herndon has totaled 19 targets through four games before the season started, I would’ve said “he’ll probably be a streamer from time to time.” I would’ve been wrong. He’s now seen 21 targets in Adam Gase’s offense, and they’ve led to 77 scoreless yards. That amounts to just 3.8 yards per target. Yikes. The Cardinals have done a much better job against tight ends this year, allowing just 187 yards and two touchdowns on 34 targets. That amounts to just 1.52 PPR points per target, which is the 10th-lowest mark in the league. No tight end has totaled more than 53 yards through four weeks, so it’s no longer a must-attack matchup. Feel free to let someone else play Herndon. *Update* After a Jets player tested positive for COVID on Friday, this game’s status is up in the air right now. Make sure you pay attention to updates.
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: PIT by 7.0
Carson Wentz: According to NextGenStats, Wentz is completing 5.6 percent fewer passes than he should be, and anyone who watches the Eagles can tell you that. He’s constantly missing throws he typically makes and is aiming the ball rather than simply throwing it. The offensive line woes are part of the issue, but he’s the biggest problem right now. The Steelers have generated a sack on 12.3 percent of opposing dropbacks, which is almost two full percentage points higher than the closest team, so the offensive line troubles are going to rear their ugly head. While under pressure, Wentz has just a 28.0 QB Rating, which is worse than everyone not named Kyler Murray. The Steelers opponents have also averaged just 61.0 plays per game, so they haven’t been given a lot of chances, either. It’s odd to see the Steelers allow two touchdown passes to each of Daniel Jones, Jeff Driskel, and Deshaun Watson, as there were just five quarterbacks who hit that mark over their last 14 games last year. Still, they’ve now held 15 of the last 16 quarterbacks they’ve played to fewer than 7.6 yards per attempt, which is quite ridiculous. We know the floor is disastrous here, and the ceiling is non-existent, so find another streamer this week.
Ben Roethlisberger: Was the bye week a good thing for the Steelers this early in the season? Maybe not, but the positive is that it gave time for Diontae Johnson to heal up and clear the concussion protocol. This may sound crazy to some, but Roethlisberger’s QB Rating through three starts in 105.2, which is higher than 104.1, his previous career-high. Small sample size, I know, but still impressive considering the surgery he was coming back from. He’s the No. 12 quarterback in points per game and has not finished worse than the QB17. The Eagles are not a great matchup for quarterbacks, as they’ve allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to the position through four weeks. The competition hasn’t been very good though, as they haven’t played one top-12 quarterback (points per game) during the first quarter of the season. They haven’t been a must-avoid matchup either, as they’ve allowed near the league average in completion percentage (68.0 percent), yards per attempt (7.45), and touchdown percentage (4.76 percent). On top of that, they’re likely down a starting cornerback (Avonte Maddox) and linebacker (T.J. Edwards), which won’t help matters. We know Roethlisberger has played better at home over the course of his career and is coming off a bye week. It’s not a smash spot for Roethlisberger but knowing the Eagles will slow James Conner and the rushing attack down, it should be similar to what we’ve seen from Roethlisberger to this point, which is high-end QB2 numbers.
Miles Sanders: Despite missing Week 1, Sanders goes into Week 5 running the sixth-most routes among running backs. He’s also seeing eight-man defensive fronts just 2.0 percent of the time, which is the lowest among running backs who’ve carries the ball at least 25 times. That’s all fine and dandy, but the Steelers run defense is no joke. They have allowed a minuscule 2.33 yards per carry in their three games, which is the lowest mark in the NFL. They’re also fresh off their bye week, while the Eagles played late Sunday night in a hard-fought game against the 49ers. It helps that Sanders wasn’t worn down in that game with his 15 touches, but it’s also worrisome that his performance has declined each week. Knowing the offensive line has had already had issues and that Lane Johnson is going to try and play through a reoccurring injury, the situation doesn’t seem ideal for Sanders’ success in this matchup. The hope would be increased usage in the passing game, as we did see Saquon Barkley catch six passes for 60 yards against them, and we did see Melvin Gordon sneak in a receiving touchdown. Sanders has seen 19 targets through three games, so he should offer a low-end RB2 floor, even though the ceiling isn’t much higher. The Steelers haven’t allowed an RB1 performance since way back in 2018.
James Conner: If you’ve watched the Steelers games, you know Conner hasn’t been electric or anything, but rather running through big holes created by the offensive line. Still, it’s impressive to see him averaged 6.3 yards per carry over the last two weeks, while totaling more than 100 yards on the ground in each game. That’s extremely unlikely to happen against the Eagles. Over their last 20 games, the Eagles have allowed just two running backs to top 92 yards on the ground. Even lowering the bar a bit more, just four running backs have rushed for more than 66 yards. Fortunately, Conner is involved in the passing game and we’ve already seen three running backs total at least 40 yards through the air against the Eagles. Conner is a big home favorite, which typically bodes well for running back production, especially when your team is projected to score 26.0 points. I don’t think he’s a tournament-winner this week considering no running back has finished as a top-three option against them since the start of last year, and just five running backs have totaled more than 20 PPR points, but he should be a staple in your redraft lineups as a solid RB2 most weeks, and this game is no exception.
Alshon Jeffery: It’s tough to say we should assume Jeffery plays this game, but after practicing in a limited fashion throughout the last two weeks, he must be close. Once he comes back, you must assume that he’s near full health, though effectiveness coming off foot surgery, even if it was back in December. The matchup he’d return to is far from ideal, though the Steelers secondary has had some hiccups over the first few weeks. There were just eight wide receivers who finished as top-24 receivers against the Steelers through 16 games last year, but they allowed two such receivers through their first three games this year, as both Darius Slayton and Randall Cobb topped 19 PPR points in their matchup. We also saw Will Fuller, Sterling Shepard, and Jerry Jeudy hit double-digit PPR points, so it hasn’t been a must-avoid matchup. Still, you’re preferably getting through at least one full game with Jeffery considering his health issues. It’s not like Carson Wentz is on top of his game, either. Jeffery should be treated as a risk/reward WR5 in his first game back. *Update* Jeffery has been ruled OUT for this game. DeSean Jackson: He didn’t practice at all last week, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be out there when the Eagles travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers in Week 5. In fact, with a soon-to-be 34-year-old receiver who relies on quickness should be considered even more unlikely to play than usual. We also can’t pretend that Jackson was a great fantasy asset before his injury, as he’d totaled 10 receptions for 121 scoreless yards on 20 targets from a struggling Carson Wentz. The Steelers allowed the seventh-fewest passes of 20-plus yards last year (43) but have allowed 13 such plays through just three games in 2020. Jackson’s average depth of target is 16.8 yards down the field, which ranks as the fifth-most in the league, and that’s a problem against this Steelers pass-rush which has averaged a league-high 50.1 percent of the time, while Wentz has been the second-worst quarterback in the league when under pressure. Even if Jackson plays this week, he’s nothing more than a risky WR4/5-type option. *Update* He’s been ruled OUT for this game.
Greg Ward: He’s now seen at least seven targets in three of four games this year, which is more than enough to be considered for fantasy purposes, though the pending returns of Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson would certainly cloud his path to those targets. Still, with Dallas Goedert out of the lineup, Ward played 48-of-62 snaps last week, as they’re running more 11 personnel. His slot role/snaps should be safe until Goedert and Jalen Reagor return. The Steelers biggest weakness has been the slot over the last two years, as three of the six biggest performances they’ve allowed in their last 20 games have gone to slot-heavy receivers. On the season, Mike Hilton has allowed 10-of-15 passing for 132 yards and a touchdown. Going back to last year, he allowed a 94.1 QB Rating in his slot coverage, which is a much larger number than Joe Haden and Steven Nelson have allowed on the perimeter. With so many question marks surrounding the health of the Eagles receivers, it’s possible that Ward is the one with the safest floor, though he’s still going to lose targets if Jeffery and/or Jackson return. Stay tuned for updates on their status before deciding on Ward, who should be considered a mediocre WR4 option with a limited ceiling.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: It’s been a decent start to the season for Smith-Schuster, though it wasn’t quite the way I would’ve expected it. He’s only seen 19 targets through three games, which puts him on just a 101-target pace. While that number should go up, it’s clear that he has competition on the roster as the top receiver to Roethlisberger. The Eagles have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to receivers, though 20.5 points have come on the ground. If you removed the rushing totals, they would’ve allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points. From an efficiency standpoint, they’ve allowed the sixth-fewest points per target. He’s going to see a mix of Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre’Von LeBlanc in coverage, two slot cornerbacks who’ve been pretty good over the course of their careers, though 2020 hasn’t been as kind. They’ve combined to allow 21-of-26 passing for 240 yards and one touchdown through three games, which isn’t what would be described as a tough matchup. Don’t forget we saw fellow big-bodied slot receiver Tyler Boyd rack up 10 receptions for 125 yards against them just two weeks ago. Smith-Schuster’s target numbers need to come up for him to be a consistent WR2, but for now, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and keep him in the middling WR2 territory.
Diontae Johnson: The good news is that he won’t wind up missing a game due to the concussion he suffered in Week 3. The bad news is that he’ll return to a matchup with Darius Slay in Week 5. Johnson had a massive 31.5 percent target share in the first two weeks, only to be knocked out of the Week 3 game early, and then go on bye in Week 4. I’d be tempted to tell you to go and buy him low, but you might be able to get him cheaper after this game. Slay is a top-tier cornerback and has lived up to his reputation with the Eagles to this point. He’s allowed a 68.1 percent catch-rate, but those top receivers he’s covered (Terry McLaurin, Robert Woods, A.J. Green) have averaged just 10.1 yards per reception and haven’t scored a touchdown. With the other starter (Avonte Maddox) out, the Steelers may decide to attack other plus-matchups around the field. Still, Johnson deserves consideration as a WR3 with how much he’s been targeted early-on with Roethlisberger, but his matchup is tough this week.
James Washington and Chase Claypool: Through three games, it’s been Washington who should be looked at as the more valuable option in fantasy leagues, and not because of production, but because of how often he’s on the field. He’s run 74 routes while Claypool has run 51 of them. Both pale in comparison to Smith-Schuster and Johnson, but it’s something to watch, especially when they’re involved in shootouts, or if one of the top two options miss time with injury. While Johnson draws Darius Slay in coverage and Smith-Schuster draws Nickell Robey-Coleman, that would leave Jalen Mills in coverage with Washington. Mills had transitioned to safety, but with the injury to Avonte Maddox, they were forced to move him back down to cornerback. He played well against the 49ers, allowing just 3-of-7 passing for 11 yards in that game, but we’ve seen enough of Mills to know he can be burned. Over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he allowed a 105.0 QB Rating in his coverage. Washington might not be the worst hail mary WR5 play considering the matchups the other receivers have, though you need to know you’re playing with fire.
Zach Ertz: “What in the world do we do with Ertz?” That was a message I received from a colleague this week. That’s not a knock at him because I didn’t have an immediate answer. You have to keep playing him considering the lack of overall stability at the tight end position, but you should also be reminded of what I wrote in this article last week. Ertz has averaged more fantasy points in the 36 games Jeffery has played since joining the Eagles than in the 13 games he hasn’t, and keep in mind that’s while seeing 1.6 fewer targets per game. In short, his efficiency goes way up. It’s clear that opponents have bracketed Ertz and treated him as the Eagles No. 1 receiver over the last few weeks, and it’s led to him collecting just 79 scoreless yards on 15 targets. There are some players like Logan Thomas or Chris Herndon who get volume but don’t produce, but we’ve seen Ertz perform for too long to expect this to continue. Unfortunately, the matchup with the Steelers isn’t a great one. They’ve allowed just 1.34 PPR points per target on the season to tight ends, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark in the league. It wasn’t that way last year, though, as they allowed 1.93 PPR points per target, which was the fifth-highest mark in the league. One thing that remains the same is the lack of targets to tight ends against them, as the position averaged just 5.8 targets per game against them last year, and have received 7.3 targets per game this year. We want to see Jeffery and/or Jackson back so Ertz isn’t treated like a No. 1 receiver. If those two return, Ertz should deliver a solid TE1-type day. Every tight end who saw at least six targets against the Steelers last year did finish as a top-13 tight end, so the floor should be there. Hang tight, Ertz managers; better days are ahead.
Eric Ebron: We’ve now seen Ebron’s role grow each week in a Steelers uniform, as he’s running more routes than expected in this offense. His 28.7 routes per game amount to the 14th-most among tight ends. His targets started out as a measly two in Week 1, to five in Week 2, and then maxing out at seven in Week 3, though the injury to Diontae Johnson certainly played a role in him getting there. The Eagles have now allowed a massive 2.79 PPR points per target to tight ends through four games, which makes the 2.39 PPR points per target the Cardinals allowed last year look small. They’ve allowed 26-of-30 targets to be completed for a massive 9.20 yards per target. Granted, George Kittle contributed to this more than most, but it’s clearly an area of weakness after the departure of Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles are now responsible for the two biggest performances by tight ends this year, as Kittle racked up 32.6 half-PPR points, while Tyler Higbee hit 25.9 half-PPR points in Week 2. The Eagles clearly have an issue slowing down tight ends right now, and considering they moved Jalen Mills back to cornerback, it means they’re relying on last year’s sixth-round pick Marcus Epps and rookie K’Von Wallace to fill in. With the ceiling they’re presenting, Ebron can be considered a high-end TE2 this week with a higher ceiling than most in that range.