Recent news and/or performance has made us more optimistic about these particular players for fantasy purposes.
Tom Brady (NE) – So Tom Brady didn’t miss a beat coming off his four-game suspension. He made the Browns defense look like JV defense in Week 5, carving them up for 406 yards and 3 TDs on 28/40 passes, even while he sat out the final 6 minutes of the game. All three of his TDs went to his new toy Martellus Bennett, and he also connect with another new weapon WR Chris Hogan for 114 yards. He also got stud TE Rob Gronkowski for the first time this year after the team used him as only a blocker in his first two games back. Brady is back to being one of the elite QB options every week going forward.
Ben Roethlisberger (Pit) – As Graham Barfield noted in his “Stat Pack” Big Ben has been absolutely unbelievable at home since 2014, averaging 30 FP per game at Heinz Field. He had yet another spectacular home performance in Week 5 against the Jets, completing 34/47 passes for 380 yards and 4 TDs. He got the day started with a 73-yard TD strike to Sammie Coates, who has really added a vertical element to this offense. His O-line was extremely banged up heading into the game, but they gave him all day to pick apart the Jets. He’s averaged just 17.9 FPG on the road since 2014, but he should be able to come through against a bad Dolphins secondary.
Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:
- Brian Hoyer (Chi)
- Sam Bradford (Min)
Carlos Hyde (SF) – There is absolutely no doubt about it, the 49ers stink to high heaven. But at the least, Hyde continues to get the football, and he also continues to look pretty damn good when he does. In Week 5’s blowout loss to the Cardinals, Hyde did everything in his power to make it respectable for San Francisco. He posted 22/78/1 rushing and 6/36 receiving, the latter stat being the most encouraging for Hyde’s fantasy value moving forward. Hyde played over 80% of the 49ers’ snaps for the second consecutive week, and he’s had 20 or more carries in three of five games this year. While we can’t anticipate his involvement in the passing game will keep up, especially if the 49ers go to Colin Kaepernick (which is coming very soon, we deduce), we also have to keep in mind that the 49ers and coach Chip Kelly use the run game as their foundation. Considering how effective Hyde has been even with poor QB play, you just gotta keep using him.
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) – Elliott is simply allowing the Cowboys to play the way they want to play. In a win against the hapless Bengals in Week 5, Elliott was the foundation of the Cowboys’ efficient offense. He posted 15/134/2 rushing – including a 60-yard TD on which he was barely touched – while adding 3/37 receiving on 4 targets. He played 78.9% of Dallas’ offensive snaps, a season-high. Elliott has seemingly looked better and better with each passing week of the season, and while it helps that he plays behind a mauling offensive line, it’s got to be encouraging for fantasy players who spent an early pick on him. We think Dak Prescott’s presence helps Elliott, because Prescott is a running threat himself, but even if the Cowboys choose to go to Tony Romo in a few weeks, it likely won’t change much. The Cowboys play slowly and methodically, and that fits right into Elliott’s game. It’s how they played with DeMarco Murray two years ago. Elliott is a locked-in RB1, and you can make the argument he is the RB1.
Todd Gurley (LA) – This is a tenuous upgrade, especially since Benny Cunningham didn’t play on Sunday against Buffalo, but the fact that Gurley has 5 targets in back-to-back games is an encouraging sign. Against the Bills, he posted 23/72/1 rushing and 3/36 receiving on those 5 targets. Gurley’s touches haven’t often created a ton of yards, but he has at least 20 touches in each of the last four games. Gurley’s also played at least 80% of the offensive snaps in three straight games. We hope his increased target share isn’t simply because Cunningham has been out, because it’s clear Gurley can contribute as a pass catcher. Gurley has converted 8 of those 10 targets the last two weeks into 85 yards receiving. Two of his three highest-yardage receiving games in his career have come in the last two weeks. We’re not saying that all of a sudden he’s this great floor option because of his receiving, but the Rams need to get him the ball in space because he’s being mauled behind their poor offensive line. If you have Gurley, you simply have to suck it up and start him.
Doug Martin (RB, TB) – Yes, we’re upgrading a player who didn’t even play in the MNF slopfest. Martin has missed each of the last three games with a hamstring injury, but the Bucs have a Week 6 bye, and we’re anticipating he returns after that. And with Charles Sims on IR, Martin should be the focal point of the Bucs’ offense, especially with QB Jameis Winston struggling so badly. With Martin out, journeyman Jacquizz Rodgers handled a ridiculous 35 touches against Carolina, showing just how much coach Dirk Koetter trusts Winston right now. Though we’d be foolish to expect 30-plus touches for Martin when he comes back, he’s very clearly going to be involved.
Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman (Atl) - While the Falcons backfield inarguably looked like a mess to begin the year due to the perceived timeshare, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been nothing short of fantastic. After the two ripped Denver for a combined for 285 vs. Denver (Freeman: 23/88/1 rushing and 3/35 receiving; Coleman 6/32 rushing and 4/132/1 receiving), it is clear this workload split can still be fantasy relevant. Freeman is the clear lead-dog -- he has played 57% of snaps so far compared to Coleman’s 44% -- but there is more than enough production to go around here. OC Kyle Shanahan’s zone-based run blocking scheme is working like a charm and both backs are seeing three or more targets per-game. Even though the two are splitting work in a 55/45 manner, both are weekly top-15 RB2’s with upside. In fact, Freeman and Coleman have combined for 179 PPR points in Week 1-5. That's 63.7 more points than DeMarco Murray, who is the cumulative RB1 in PPR-leagues (115.3 points). While their next two of their next three matchups are difficult (at Seattle, vs. San Diego, vs. Green Bay), you have to keep riding this productive duo.
Terrance West (Bal) – When the starting QB comes out and basically says he hates the direction of the offense one week, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when said coach his fired the next week after another disappointing performance. QB Joe Flacco wants to throw it vertically, which just wasn’t happening in Marc Trestman’s offense, including in Week 5 when Flacco averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. The Ravens promoted QBs coach Marty Mornhinweg, who worked as the OC for seven years under Andy Reid (2006-12) in Philly before taking the same position with the Jets from 2013-14. Mornhinweg will be asked with getting the ball going downfield and to also stick with the running game. West averaged 8.6 yards per carry in Week 5 against the Redskins, but he finished with just 11 carries for 95 yards. West has certainly emerged as the top back here for now, with Kenneth Dixon playing just a small role in his first NFL game.
Jordan Howard (Chi) – RB Ka’Deem Carey (hamstring) returned to the lineup in Week 5, but this backfield was still clearly owned by Howard – he played 95% of the snaps compared to 3%. And not only is he playing a lot, he’s also playing well with 16/118 rushing and 3/45/1 receiving against the Colts, ripping off a 57-yard run and scoring on a 21-yard pass. Among RBs with 50+ carries, he’s leading the league with 5.8 yards per carry thanks to back-to-back 100-yard performances in his first two starts. He’s getting it done as a rookie and is getting the vast majority of work, so he’s locked in as a RB1 for the foreseeable future.
Le’Veon Bell (Pit) – Bell struggled to get the running game going against one of the best defensive lines in Week 5, but Sammie Coates huge game helped to get him going as a receiver. After the Jets got torched by Coates for a 73-yard TD pass, they made sure to play a little deeper to prevent more big plays, which made them susceptible to Bell in the passing game. He finished with 20/66 rushing and 9/88 receiving on 11 targets, so he now has an amazing 332 total yards in just two games. As if Bell wasn’t a scary enough threat, he could be even more dangerous with checkdowns if Coates is going to scare opposing defense to play their safeties deep.
Theo Riddick (Det) – The Lions RB situation has called for Riddick to be the main back pretty much ever since Ameer Abdullah went down with his foot injury in Week 2. They didn’t seem comfortable with giving Zach Zenner too much work as the lead back, playing Riddick on 66% of the snaps. He finished with 11/49 rushing and he beat the Eagles through the air by catching all 6 of his targets for 33 yards and 2 TDs. Rookie RB Dwayne Washington is likely to be back this week off his ankle/foot injury, and he could eventually start to cut into Riddick’s snaps as the early-down back. Still, Riddick is going to play plenty of snaps each week no matter what, so he’s an RB2 in PPR formats unless Washington breaks out.
Giovani Bernard (Cin) – It doesn’t look like Jeremy Hill will miss Week 6 with shoulder and chest injuries, but Bernard might temporarily be the team’s best option in the backfield until Hill is back at 100%. Gio finished with 9/50 rushing (5.6 YPC), and he caught all 6 of his targets for 46 yards against the Cowboys in Week 5. Bernard is doing well in the passing game lately with Andy Dalton struggling to find another weapon outside of A.J. Green. The Bengals could find themselves trailing again this week going the Patriots on the road, so Bernard could be the most active runner and a very active receiver this week.
LeSean McCoy (Buf) – McCoy was headed in for a TD on his 53-yard run early in the game, but his FB Jerome Felton actually got in his way and caused him to get taken down at the 5-yard line. Of course, Mike Gillislee came in to give a winded McCoy a breather and scored on the next play to vulture the TD from McCoy. Still, McCoy had a great day for fantasy with 18/150 rushing and 2/8 receiving against a good Rams defense. The Bills have been much better overall the last three weeks, and it’s not surprising that McCoy has been a big part of that turnaround, which has also coincided with Anthony Lynn taking over this offense. McCoy is averaging 20.8 touches per game and 5.3 yards per carry, which clearly makes him an elite RB1 option every week. The Bills are favored by a TD this week going against a bad 49ers run defense without ILB NaVorro Bowman, so we’d expect McCoy to be quite active once again.
Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:
- Bilal Powell (NYJ)
- Jalen Richard (Oak)
- James White (NE)
Amari Cooper (Oak) – This breakout game for Cooper was so obviously coming, as we had been saying for weeks. Of course, that wasn’t a bold prediction – early this season, Cooper’s had some bad drops, but QB Derek Carr also had missed several big throws that could have resulted in TDs for Cooper. Well, everything kind of came together against the Chargers in Week 5, and the funny thing is things could have been much better. Against a decimated San Diego secondary, Cooper posted 6/138/1 receiving, while also hauling in a 2-point conversion. However, it took 12 targets to do so – Cooper narrowly missed 2 more TDs by not getting himself fully inbounds, and then committed an illegal touching penalty on another when he was forced out of bounds before coming back in to catch the ball. Nonetheless, we’re sure Cooper’s owners will take the 27.8 FP in a PPR league, and realizing that any panicking about the still-productive Michael Crabtree was foolish. This team throws it plenty enough to feed two very productive fantasy WRs.
Tyrell Williams (SD) – While Williams isn’t the Chargers’ #1 WR in terms of snap share (that is still, amazingly, Dontrelle Inman), he’s their #1 WR in how they use him. Often San Diego’s X receiver, Williams is perhaps their most dangerous receiver when the Chargers use 12 or even 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs). Against the Raiders in Week 5, Williams posted 5/117/1 receiving on 6 targets. He did this while playing just 66.7% of the offensive snaps, his lowest share of the season since Keenan Allen went down. We will have to continue to monitor those snaps, because it’s evident the Chargers will use both of their TEs heavily – Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates. Williams, though, is the Chargers’ most gifted and biggest WR, and that counts for something given how many points the defense will continue to give up, and with a Hall of Famer like Philip Rivers calling the signals. He’s a weekly WR3 with a ceiling of carrying a week for you.
Mike Wallace (Bal) – When the starting QB comes out and basically says he hates the direction of the offense one week, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when said coach his fired the next week after another disappointing performance. QB Joe Flacco wants to throw it vertically, which just wasn’t happening in Marc Trestman’s offense, including in Week 5 when Flacco averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. The Ravens promoted QBs coach Marty Mornhinweg, who worked as the OC for seven years under Andy Reid (2006-12) in Philly before taking the same position with the Jets from 2013-14. Mornhinweg will be asked with getting the ball going downfield to the likes of Wallace and Breshad Perriman going forward, and Wallace actually had a solid Week 5 with 7/63 receiving on 11 targets.
Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:
- Sammie Coates (Pit)
- Chris Hogan (NE)
- Jeremy Kerley (SF)
- Cameron Meredith (Chi)
- Brandon LaFell (Cin)
- Davante Adams (GB)
- Terrance Williams (Dal)
Rob Gronkowski (NE) – It turns out that Gronk just needed his quarterback inserted into the lineup for him to get going. With Tom Brady back from his suspension, Gronk finished with 5/109 receiving on 7 targets against the Browns in Week 5, as he played on 81% of the snaps – HC Bill Belichick pulled the starters late. The only downside to the performance was watching Martellus Bennett suck out 3 TDs from Brady. Still, Gronk looked healthy on his hamstring after running routes on just 13 snaps last week, and he even said after the game that he feels like he’s getting back to his old form.
Greg Olsen (TE, Car) – Olsen is just insane. With backup QB Derek Anderson in Week 5 against the Bucs, he posted 9/181 receiving on 12 targets. It was a career-high in yardage for Olsen, who has now posted two 100-yard receiving games this year already, and has not fallen below 12.4 FP in a PPR, which is outstanding consistency from the TE position. It’s not totally outrageous to consider Olsen the #1 TE in all of fantasy football right now given his durability and consistent performance this year, and it helps to know that he can put up major numbers with either Cam Newton or the backup Anderson.
Martellus Bennett (NE) – Reports from the Boston Herald last week indicated that Tom Brady and Marty B didn’t have a great connection during training camp and the preseason. Well, it looks like those reports don’t matter much after Bennett’s 3-TD performance in Week 5 against the Browns. He finished with 6/67/3 receiving on 8 targets, scoring from 5, 7, and 37 yards away. He even tweaked his ankle early in the game but still played on 69% of the snaps, even with the starters resting late in the game. The Patriots are going to play to their strengths with plenty of 2-TE sets going forward, so Bennett will be heavily involved in the offense most week. He’s likely to be a volatile fantasy asset playing with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in the middle of the field but he certainly has the potential for some big weeks.
Zach Miller (Chi) – QB Brian Hoyer has certainly given this Bears passing game some life – Alshon Jeffery might disagree – and Miller might be the biggest beneficiary since he took over. He finished with 7/73 receiving on 8 targets against the Colts in Week 5, as he now has at least 12+ FP in the last three games with Hoyer. He didn’t score a TD this week, but he still has 3 scores with Hoyer. Miller is locked in as a TE1 for as long as Hoyer is the quarterback, and the Bears don’t appear headed back to Jay Cutler any time soon.
Upgrades from the Waiver Wire:
- Hunter Henry (SD)
- Charles Clay (Buf)
Recent news and/or performance has made us less optimistic about these particular players for fantasy purposes.
Jameis Winston (QB, TB) – Winston was horrific in Week 5’s win over the Panthers. He managed 18/30 passing for 219 yards with a TD, and he didn’t throw a pick, though he came very close to losing a fumble. The numbers actually look better than he played – Winston often missed wide-open receivers by sailing the ball, including a potential long gain to Mike Evans, and another to Adam Humphries. On the year, Winston has now completed just 58.5% of his passes for a very low 6.4 YPA. And doesn’t it say everything about how coach Dirk Koetter feels about Winston’s play right now that, despite both Doug Martin and Charles Sims missing action in Week 5, Winston threw his fewest total passes of the season? Meanwhile, journeyman Jacquizz Rodgers got 35 touches out of the backfield. Winston needs to do a lot of work over the Week 6 bye. Meanwhile, you can just drop him for fantasy.
Eli Manning (NYG) – Eli has now been the performer of two of the most disappointing fantasy days of the entire season thus far. It started in Week 2, when he managed just 18 FP against the woeful Saint defense, though at least in that game he threw for 368 yards and got some bad touchdown luck. By both score and performance, Sunday night was far worse. Eli managed just 18/35 passing for 199 yards and a TD against the Packers, tallying 12.0 FP in our standard scoring system. Eli was awful – he missed a sure long TD to TE streamer Will Tye when he overthrew him (Tye would still be running), and he also missed a beautiful corner route run by Odell Beckham. At the least, he got OBJ off the touchdown schneid late with a short score, but everything else was concerning. The Packers were down both top CB Sam Shields and second-year CB Damarious Randall, and Eli couldn’t do anything of note. Aside from a generally inefficient day for Beckham, Sterling Shepard posted just 2/14 receiving, and Victor Cruz was held catchless. The Giants’ brutal offensive line had something to do with it, but Eli once again underwhelmed with arguably the league’s best set of WRs at his disposal. That’s a huge concern for a Giant team that was looking to take advantage of a weak division. Now, the entire rest of the division arguably looks better than the Giants do.
Matt Forte (NYJ) – The Jets overused Forte in the first two weeks of the season, and they’ve corrected the last three weeks by giving Bilal Powell a role as the passing back. Forte has exactly 2 catches per game the last three weeks, while Powell has exactly 6 catches per game in that same time. Forte finished with 12/53 receiving and 2/7 receiving against the Steelers in Week 5, as Forte saw 64% of the snaps to Powell’s 47%. Forte has obviously been an excellent receiver in the past, which has really boosted his fantasy value in the past since he’s never been a prolific TD producer. If he’s going to miss out on some opportunities in the passing game to Powell, Forte is going to be more of an RB2 the rest of the way.
Jeremy Hill (Cin) – Hill had a chest injury heading into Week 5 against the Cowboys, and he left with a shoulder injury as well. He seems to have avoided serious injury, but he was knocked out after just 15 snaps, as he posted only 4/12 rushing before he left for good. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, he’s expected to practice on Wednesday, so he should be ready to go against the Patriots. Still, it’s tough to be too excited about him after two shaky appearances, and this Bengals offensive is sputtering once it gets down inside the 30-yard line, so he’s not even guaranteed opportunities at the goal line.
Michael Floyd (Ari) – With the major caveat that Drew Stanton is terrible and held down just about the entire Cardinal offense in Week 5, we can still downgrade Floyd for his goose egg against the 49ers in Week 5. On 3 targets, Floyd was held without a catch. At just 33.8% of the offensive snaps, it was a season-low for Floyd, and the second consecutive game in which he was behind Jaron Brown for the #3 WR snaps (John Brown is back in the full snap share saddle). After the game, Cardinal coach Bruce Arians told reporters he thinks Floyd is “trying to make too many things,” essentially confirming that the coaching staff has lost trust in Floyd. That’s not to say he can’t earn it back, but for right now, he’s simply not a fantasy option, even if Carson Palmer is back. He may not be fully droppable, but he’s sure as hell benchable.
Phillip Dorsett (Ind) - If you were holding out hope that Dorsett’s usage would tick up with Donte Moncrief (shoulder) out of the lineup, Week 5 was your last gasp of life. Without Moncrief in Week 3-5, Phillip Dorsett has 10 total targets (4, 3, and 3). Dorsett has been on the field for over 87% of the Colts’ snaps during that timespan, but he has been utterly invisible. Unlike similar-framed T.Y. Hilton, Dorsett has zero physicality or nuance to his game and cannot routinely create separation through burst and explosion like Hilton. Against Chicago’s weak corners, Dorsett dropped a pitiful 2/26 line at home in a game where Andrew Luck threw the ball nearly 40 times. Dorsett is completely safe to drop for the waiver wire flavor of the week.
Golden Tate (Det) – OC Jim Bob Cooter talked up Tate heading into Week 5, and he clearly tried to get him going against the Eagles but it didn’t work. He finished with 3/39 receiving on 5 targets and added 3/6 rushing, as he needed a 27-yard catch on the final drive to even come close to fantasy value. Tate has now failed to reach 42+ receiving yards in any game this year, so if you are in a smaller league with better options you can look to upgrade over him.
Alshon Jeffery (Chi) – Jeffery has been a slight disappointment in the early going, as he’s yet to really gets on track and to find the end zone. He finished with 5/77 receiving on 6 targets in a beautiful matchup against the Colts in Week 6, with Cameron Meredith (12), Eddie Royal (9), and Zach Miller (8) seeing more targets than him He’s been dealing with a knee injury that’s limited him in practices, but he appears to be moving just fine. He simply just doesn’t seem to have a connection with Brian Hoyer right now, who is actually playing well and spreading the ball around. Jeffery has to be considered a low-end WR2 right now for as long as Hoyer is the quarterback, and the Bears don’t appear headed back to Jay Cutler any time soon.
Dennis Pitta (Bal) – When the starting QB comes out and basically says he hates the direction of the offense one week, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when said coach his fired the next week after another disappointing performance. QB Joe Flacco wants to throw it vertically, which just wasn’t happening in Marc Trestman’s offense, including in Week 5 when Flacco averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. The Ravens promoted QBs coach Marty Mornhinweg, who worked as the OC for seven years under Andy Reid (2006-12) in Philly before taking the same position with the Jets from 2013-14. Mornhinweg will be asked with getting the ball going downfield to the likes of Wallace and Breshad Perriman going forward, but Pitta could remain active in the middle of the field going forward, especially if Steve Smith misses time with his ankle injury. Pitta finished with 7/59 receiving on 8 targets in Week 5 against the Redskins, while playing just 76% of the snaps. Meanwhile, Crockett Gillmore saw 69% and scored a TD, so things are trending in the wrong direction for Pitta right now.
These players have been in the news in one way or another, but we think their fantasy stock remains largely unchanged.
Andrew Luck (Ind) - It is pretty amazing what Luck is doing in spite of his offensive line and one of the league’s worst general managers in Ryan Grigson. After ripping the Bears for 322 yards (72% completion rate), Luck is affirmatively playing excellent despite the barriers placed in front of him. The Colts are allowing 4 sacks per game (by far the most in the league). Despite being without Donte Moncrief (shoulder) and getting zero contribution from Phillip Dorsett, Luck has thrown for over 320 yards in three of his first five games and is currently enjoying a career-best 1.4 interception rate. With the Texans, Titans, and Chiefs up next on the schedule, Luck will continue to push the Colts to relevancy.
Derek Carr (Oak) – Carr hasn’t played great football this year, though he’s certainly been very good at times, and excellent in the red zone. But the thing we like about him is his “amnesia” trait that reminds us of some of the elite QBs in the NFL. Carr doesn’t seem to have a bad quarter or bad half, or even bad game overall, parlay into a downward spiral. He got off to a bad start against the Chargers in Week 5, but rebounded to have yet another quality day for fantasy. Carr finished 25/40 for 317 yards with 2 TDs and a pick. Against a Charger front that had rookie DE Joey Bosa making his first career start, Carr looked a little skittish in the pocket and made some bad throws, but had second-half TDs to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to post big numbers (getting Cooper off his weird TD drought was phenomenal). Carr’s on-field play may still have some elements of shakiness in it, but the fact of the matter is that he has enough weapons, a good enough line, and a solid set of backs in the passing game. It makes it hard to view Carr as anything but a weekly starter in fantasy leagues.
Matthew Stafford (Det) – We’re not going to see Stafford attempt just 25 passes in a game very often this season – he did it just once last season. Even with his puny output in the passing game, he still posted 180 yards and 3 TDs on 19/25 passing against the Eagles in Week 5. The Lions did actually jump out to a big lead, but their offense disappeared after halftime. Marvin Jones and Theo Riddick are balling for him every week, but Golden Tate has disappeared in the early part of the year and Eric Ebron (ankle/knee) can’t seem to stay healthy. Still, it’s pretty safe to plug Stafford into your lineup almost every week as we saw this week with just 25 attempts.
Andy Dalton (Cin) – The Bengals haven’t been right on offense all season long, as they’ve really struggled to find the end zone in the early going. They struggled once in Week 5 against the Cowboys, as he needed some garbage-time production to come through for his fantasy owners. He completed 29/41 passes for 269 yards and 2 TDs, and he added 6/34 rushing to boost his value. Dalton simply doesn’t have much help at receiver right now outside of A.J. Green, and he really needs to get TE Tyler Eifert back into the fold this week off his back/ankle issues. He’s probably best to avoid this week going against the Patriots on the road, but he does have some beatable matchups after that (vs. Cle, vs. Was, at NYG).
Tyrod Taylor (Buf) – Taylor is running a pretty basic passing game at this point with the worst receiving corps in the game, so they aren’t going to throw it a whole lot if they don’t have to. The Bills jumped out to an early lead against the Rams in Week 5, so Taylor completed just 12/23 passes for 124 yards and added 5/28 rushing, with his TD passes going to the likes Justin Hunter and Marquise Goodwin. The Bills are favored by a TD this week going against a bad 49ers run defense without ILB NaVorro Bowman, so we would expect the Bills to be throwing it much once again.
Melvin Gordon (SD) – It’s the same situation with Gordon as it has been since Danny Woodhead went down. In Week 5’s loss to the Raiders, Gordon’s snap share of 90.2% was actually his highest of the season (Dexter McCluster played just 2 snaps). And the final numbers for Gordon don’t look too bad – he carried 16 times for 69 yards and added an 18-yard TD reception. Of course, he also had a critical fumble late in the game that contributed to yet another San Diego meltdown loss, and he continues to be overly dependent on TDs for his fantasy value. But it’s also clear that the Chargers simply don’t trust anyone else in this backfield, and if someone does come along, there’s plenty of reason for Gordon to lose snaps. He’s still averaging just 3.4 YPC, and his fumbles have been awful. Keep rolling with him until there’s a good reason not to, but the red flags are there.
Duke Johnson (Cle) – It looked like Duke was going to be set up for success playing from behind against the Patriots in Week 5, but this QB situation in Cleveland continues to be a mess almost every week. Duke finished with just 4/1 rushing and 2/21 receiving on 3 targets, as Cody Kessler left early with an injury and Charlie Whitehurst relieved him. Heck, even Terrelle Pryor had to play some snaps at QB after Clipboard Jesus needed to come out. It looks like Kessler will be able to play against the Titans in Week 6, but the Browns could actually be competitive in this matchup, which could limit Duke’s chances.
LeGarrette Blount (NE) – We thought Blount was head for a huge fantasy day after scoring just 4 minutes into Week 5. However, the Browns ended up stuffing him on three other goal-line attempts, and he did little else outside of his TD with just 18/37/1 rushing. It looks like Blount could be headed back to being a low-end RB2 with Tom Brady back in the fold and attempting 40 passes in 54 minutes of action. The Patriots attempted the fewest passes per game (28.5) during Brady’s absence, which we figured would change with Brady running his surgical, up-tempo offense. Still, the Patriots will be playing with leads most weeks, so Blount will get his chances at burning clock late in games.
Jerick McKinnon (Min) – We loved what we saw from McKinnon on Monday Night Football in Week 4, as he looked dynamic and explosive with the ball in his hands. He went back to looking pedestrian in Week 5 against a good Texans defensive front, finishing with 20/36 rushing and 1/10 receiving on 5 targets. He nearly saved his fantasy fortunes but was taken down at the 1-yard line, which was promptly cleaned up by the TD vulture Matt Asiata. It looks like this running game is going to be a week-to-week proposition behind a still shaky run-blocking O-line, so McKinnon will be more of a flex option coming out of their Week 6 bye unless they get an appealing matchup.
Mike Evans (WR, TB) – Even with Jameis Winston’s play being subpar, it’s good to know that Evans is still a top option at the WR position. He managed 6/89/1 receiving against the Panthers in Week 5, though he saw 12 targets, and still continues to struggle with dropped passes. Nonetheless, he burned CB Daryl Worley for a 26-yard TD, which was Winston’s best throw of the night, and with 4 TDs this year he already has more than he had all of 2015 (see what we mean about TDs being mostly luck?). Evans is heavily targeted in this offense with Vincent Jackson looking cooked, and even if Winston’s pass attempts continue to fall, a large portion of them will continue to go to Evans (12 of 30 in this one). He’s an every-week starter.
DeSean Jackson (Was) – DeSean is the perfect “holding steady” guy – whether he has a big game or a disappointing game, chances are it’s the same type of game from him. In Week 5 against Baltimore, in excessively windy conditions, he posted 3/35 receiving on 7 targets. Unfortunately, he was just a little bit away from a big game – Kirk Cousins overthrew him on a potential long TD. Cousins’ generally mediocre play this year has limited Jackson, whether it’s been making an inaccurate throw down the field, as in Week 5, or in flat out not seeing him run open, as has been the case on multiple other occasions this season. The wind may have been a factor in this one, but it hasn’t been at other instances this season when Cousins missed DJax. If you start DJax, you know what you’re getting into. Usually, the upside outweighs the downside.
Jordan Matthews (Phi) – Matthews’ Week 5 performance against the Lions was a little disappointing, because he had a very positive matchup against slot CB Quandre Diggs, who is an undersized player. Matthews was fine, going 4/65 receiving on 4 targets. In all, the Eagles just didn’t run a ton of plays – just 57. They fell behind big early, and though they came back with a roar, they didn’t get the volume offensively you may have liked to see. Matthews is QB Carson Wentz’s best perimeter target, but it’d be a lot better if he was a great #2 option than a decent #1. He’s a good receiver, but maybe not a great one. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he’s never going to be a dominant player. For fantasy, he’s a WR3 with a WR2 ceiling, especially with Wentz playing exceptionally well (we do not feel as if Wentz is a fluke, by any stretch).
Larry Fitzgerald (Ari) – Fill-in QB Drew Stanton stinks, but at least he doesn’t stink badly enough for Fitz to provide no value in Week 5. Against the hapless 49ers, Fitz posted 6/81/2 receiving on 8 targets. He accounted for 28.6% of Stanton’s attempted throws, but also 54.5% of his completions, 65.3% of his passing yardage, and 100% of Stanton’s TDs on the day. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ other WRs combined for just 1 catch. Arizona needs Carson Palmer back from his concussion very soon, and fantasy players may need him back even more than the Cardinals do. That considered, it’s good to know that Fitz can come through in a big way even with Stanton.
Will Fuller/DeAndre Hopkins (Hou) - Playing in Minnesota in Week 5, we knew that Fuller and Hopkins’ fantasy floors were essentially zapped. The Vikings fantastic unit has been unbeatable to-date, so we can’t really hold the Texans’ down passing game (Will Fuller: 1/4; DeAndre Hopkins: 5/56/1) against them. Every team that has faced Minnesota so far has been held to a 55.5% completion rate and a 4:7 TD-to-INT ratio. With the hapless Colts defense at home next up on the docket, both Fuller and Hopkins will be restored to their normal high-end WR2 roles. Note that Hopkins has out-targeted Fuller in just 3-of-5 games so far.
Travis Benjamin (SD) – The Chargers lost again, in yet another inexplicable fashion, in Week 5 against Oakland, but Benjamin got back in the good graces of fantasy players with a big day. He posted 7/117 receiving on a team-high 12 targets. He’s had several big games, but also has disappointed in some plus matchups. That’s in large part due to his still-small snap share – in Week 5, he played just 60.8% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps, which was his fourth consecutive week as the Chargers’ #3 receiver in snap share. It was also his overall lowest snap share of the entire season, as the Chargers got back Antonio Gates and used formations with 2 TEs frequently, as well as formations with 2 RBs. That will make Benjamin a high-ceiling player, but a player who will fluctuate based of matchup, and whom QB Philip Rivers chooses to exploit on any given week.
Demaryius Thomas (Den) – Once again in Week 5, DT was out-targeted by Emmanuel Sanders, but also managed to have an overall more efficient day for fantasy. On 7 targets, the Broncos’ star WR posted 5/49/1 receiving against the Falcons in rookie QB Paxton Lynch’s first start. Lynch overall struggled against one of the NFL’s bottom defenses, but DT managed to make the day for fantasy fans with a patented DT screen, turning one into a 3-yard TD late in the game. The irony is that DT is likely playing better football this year than he did last year, but the Bronco offense as a whole is going through growing pains with its young QBs. But DT is still on pace for 83 catches, 1219 yards, and 10 TDs, which would more than make his early 3rd-rd ADP worthwhile. He’s a weekly starter – he may be a WR2, but he’s still a weekly starter.
Emmanuel Sanders (Den) – Sanders has heavily out-targeted Demaryius Thomas this year, but the two players have been remarkably close in overall production. After posting 7/80 receiving on 9 targets in Week 5 against the Falcons in rookie QB Paxton Lynch’s first start (narrowly missing a TD), Sanders is now on pace for 102/1194/10 receiving, while DT is on pace for 83/1219/10. We’re wondering if Sanders’ massive target lead (currently 49 to 34) will hold up, because DT has done more with his average target than Sanders has. But for now, it’s absolutely worth continuing to roll with both guys in WR2 tier, as they’ve now produced consistent numbers each with an inconsistent QB. Sanders is simply a good player who knows how to get open.
Tavon Austin (LA) – Austin is frustrating, but a game like Week 5 is why he’s still worth having on fantasy rosters. He was all over the field in a loss to the Bills, posting 7/59 receiving on 10 targets, while also adding value as a runner with 3/26. He also nearly scored a TD, but was barely stopped prior to getting into the end zone. Austin’s lack of efficiency as a receiver given how low his YPC is borders on completely outrageous (23 catches on 46 targets, but just 9.5 YPC), but he’s one of the NFL’s target leaders at the WR position. The sheer usage for him makes him a solid bench player, though you’re always going to be biting your nails in the event you have to actually throw him into your lineup on a Sunday.
Marvin Jones (Det) – QB Matthew Stafford attempted just 25 passes and threw for only 180 yards, but Jones still managed to come through for fantasy, which is a great sign for viability going forward. He made a nifty move on an Eagles DB in the back of the end zone to free himself up for a TD, as he finished with 4/37/1 receiving overall in Week 5. Stafford attempted 25 or fewer passes just once last season, as this is usually a high-volume passing game. Jones still ideally needs Eric Ebron (ankle/knee) or Golden Tate to step up beside him and take some pressure off, but he’s still locked into a WR2 spot right now.
Brandon Marshall (NYJ) – WR Eric Decker didn’t come close to playing in Week 5 through his shoulder injury, which meant that Marshall was once again extremely active. He finished with 8/114/1 receiving on 15 targets against the Steelers, seeing a whopping 39.5% of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s attempts. Marshall scored on a 15-yard pass, and he could’ve had an even better day if not for some drops. Marshall will likely draw the attention of top CB Patrick Peterson this week, which is never the easiest matchup, but it’s clear that Fitz is going to force feed him every week.
Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker (Mia) – QB Ryan Tannehill had an absolutely dreadful performance playing behind a makeshift offensive line without both Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil. The Dolphins ran only 44 offensive snaps and Tannehill attempted just 18 passes. Landry caught all 3 of his targets for just 28 yards, which is the fewest targets he’s seen in a game since Week 8 of 2014. Parker made the most out of his 3 targets, posting 2/70 receiving propelled by a 50-yard catch in the second half. HC Adam Gase defended his QB after the game – he was hit on 9 of his 18 passes – but passing game is a little scary right now with a shaken QB playing behind a terrible O-line.
Randall Cobb (GB) – Cobb has been in a major funk to start the season, but he came out of it in a big way in Week 5 against the Giants. He finished with 9/108 receiving on 11 targets, snapping his streak of failing to hit 60+ yards in the first three games. He did take a big hit on the game-clinching play, but he was cleared of a concussion. Cobb is certainly a little shakier option than ever before working with Aaron Rodgers, but he showed he’s still capable of being a WR3 with some upside in PPR formats.
Antonio Brown (Pit) – WR Sammie Coates and RB Le’Veon Bell put up the eye-popping numbers this week, but it was just another day at the office for Brown in Week 5. He posted 9/78/1 receiving on 11 targets going against a shaky Jets secondary, scoring on a 5-yard pass. Coates has really opened up the entire field for this Steelers offense, as he has a 40+ yard catch in every game, and it’s not like Brown needs much help to put up numbers. Coates is making teams pay for giving safety attention to Brown, which should start to help AB, not that he needs much help.
Jordy Nelson (GB) – Nelson kept his TD a game streak going into Week 5, although he didn’t do it in the prettiest fashion. He finished with just a 30.8% catch rate, posting 4/38/1 receiving on 13 targets against the Giants, scoring on a 2-yard pass. He dropped a few passes but most of his targets from Aaron Rodgers weren’t close enough for him to haul in. This Packers offense is still a work in progress this season, but at least Nelson has clearly established himself as the top red-zone target for Rodgers with 5 TDs in just four games.
Gary Barnidge (Cle) – Barnidge has once again become a consistent fantasy producer, and if his QB situation could get a little more stable at some point, he could develop into a fantasy asset. He finished with 5/76 receiving on 8 targets against the Patriots in Week 5, even with Cody Kessler leaving early with an injury and Charlie Whitehurst relieving him. Heck, even Terrelle Pryor had to play some snaps at QB after Clipboard Jesus needed to come out. It looks like Kessler will play through a rib issue in Week 6 against the Titans, but Barnidge could really use Josh McCown back in the near future. Even with McCown out, Barnidge has posted 5+ catches and 57+ yards in each of his last three games.
Keep an eye on these players and situations. It may be too early to make a call one way or the other on them, but they are situations worth watching.
Aaron Rodgers (GB) – The Packers offense still looks like a major work progress through five weeks of the season, as he’s completed less than 60% of his passes in three of his four games. He completed just 23/45 passes (51.1%) for 259 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs against the Giants in Week 5. Rodgers is now averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt in the early going, which is even worse than 6.7 average from 2015. He finally surpassed 250+ yards in a game, so his typical production hasn’t been there, but his fantasy production has been boosted by 9 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs in four games. Five of his TD passes have gone to his favorite red-zone target Jordy Nelson, and he finally got Randall Cobb going for the first time this year, so at least he has a little bit of hope going forward.
Ryan Mathews (Phi) – For most of Week 5 against Detroit, Mathews was great. In looking healthy after an ankle injury severely limited him in Week 3 prior to Philly’s bye, Mathews played 41% of the snaps against the Lions and managed 11/42 rushing and 5/33/1 receiving on 5 targets. But Mathews’ overall good day took a terrible turn when he fumbled on his final carry, which allowed the Lions to get down the field for a game-winning field goal. Mathews took ownership of the fumble after the game, but unfortunately he has experience dealing with them. Darren Sproles has led the Eagles’ backfield in snaps in every game this year, while Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood each played just 1 snap a piece. We can’t imagine Mathews’ fumble will land him in the dog house, but he also will continue to play behind Sproles, who looks very good.
C.J. Anderson (Den) – After two excellent weeks to start the year, CJA has hit a brick wall in terms of production. Against the Falcons’ poor defense in Week 5, he managed just 11/41 rushing and 3/21 receiving. Additionally, his snap share of 51.4% was his lowest of the season, while rookie Devontae Booker’s 41.4% was his highest. In fact, Booker’s posted an ascending snap share from week to week every game this year. Booker posted 6/23 rushing and 4/36 receiving, to his own credit. That said, the Broncos were playing with a rookie QB in Paxton Lynch, and with a replacement RT in Ty Sambrailo, who was so awful against Vic Beasley that he got benched during the game. Bronco beat writers have also noted all week how much the club has missed injured TE Virgil Green’s blocking in the run game. The usage for CJA is absolutely a concern, since he was looking like a locked-in RB1 early in the year, but we do need to see if there’s improvement when Green and RT Donald Stephenson get back.
Jonathan Stewart (RB, Car) – Stewart missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury in Week 5, and for the fourth straight week, another Panther RB had a big fantasy day. In Weeks 2, 3 and 4, it was Fozzy Whittaker, and in Week 5, it was Cameron Artis-Payne scoring 2 TDs. The question, of course, is if either of those two backs will be actively taking touches from Stewart when he finally does return. It’s very hard to feel good about Stewart’s upside with the backs behind him finding ways to produce.
Matt Jones (Was) – Against a very good Raven run defense in Week 5, Jones managed just 14/31 rushing and 2/25 receiving, while playing 56.1% of the offensive snaps. However, it’s worth noting that Jones lost a fumble and ended up on the bench, ceding carries to Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley after the gaffe, though Jones did eventually reenter the game. Jones is simply an up-and-down back who needs a good matchup to really come through, and he also needs to hold onto the damn ball. It was a bad matchup against Baltimore, so it’s not shocking he didn’t do much.
Lamar Miller (Hou) - We will keep wearing this out in this space until it gets old: Touchdowns are coming for Miller. After being predictably slowed by Minnesota’s buzz saw (8/20 rushing; 1/4 receiving), Lamar Miller will return home to a Week 6 draw against a Colts team that has been gashed for 39/220 (5.64 YPC) in the last two weeks against the Jaguars and Bears. Once more, Of the 18 running backs seeing 60-plus percent of their team’s red-zone carries, Lamar Miller (87.5%) and Jordan Howard (60%) are the only backs yet to score a red-zone TD. We’ll find out what type of fantasy asset Miller is in this perfect home spot vs. Indianapolis in Week 6. For now, we have to give him one more week.
Eddie Lacy (GB) – Lacy has had a rough start to his fantasy season, but he’s actually run really hard and impressed on his carries. He posted 11/81 rushing and 1/3 receiving in Week 5 against the Giants. He’s averaging an impressive 5.5 yards per carry, which is behind only Jordan Howard (5.8) and Isaiah Crowell (5.5) among RBs with 50+ carries. The problem is that Lacy hasn’t scored yet and he has just 3 catches through four games. He’s also dealing with an ankle injury that knocked him out in the third quarter. Lacy could walk on his bad ankle after the game, and he’s hopeful to play in Week 6, so hopefully his run of bad fantasy luck will come to an end.
Isaiah Crowell (Cle) – We warned Crow’s fantasy owners about his potential downside in the future, which is why we featured him in our “Trade” and “Trending Topics” article last week. Crow had been succeeding the first four weeks of the season even with the game flow severely going against him, and it doesn’t figure to get any better with the Browns set to be trailing most weeks. Crow finished with just 13/22 rushing and 1/18 receiving on 3 targets against the Patriots in Week 5, marking the first time he’s failed to hit 75+ total yards in a game this season. At least the Browns should be a little more competitive this week going against the Titans, and HC Hue Jackson does seem hell bent on giving Crowell his allotment of carries every week.
Dez Bryant (Dal) – Dez missed his second consecutive game with a leg injury in Week 5, the second consecutive game the Cowboys won without him. At the least, it appears the Cowboys are being smart with Dez’s injury, after handling a foot injury irresponsibly last year. But it’s also concerning that the run game is clearly Dallas’ focus, and QB Dak Prescott continues to play controlled football that isn’t really stretching the field. Prescott is playing well enough to put Dez into lineups when he’s back (both Terrance Williams and Brice Butler have had runs of relevance), but there’s certainly an issue of volume here when he reenters the lineup.
Terrelle Pryor (Cle) – During the CBS broadcast in Week 5, the announcers mentioned that Pryor is the one player the Browns won’t even discuss trading at this point, which speaks volumes about what the organization thinks about him. Now if his QB situation could get a little more stable at some point, he could develop into a consistent fantasy asset. He finished with 5/48 receiving on 6 targets against the Patriots, playing with both Cody Kessler and Charlie Whitehurst. He even had to take a few snaps at QB when both went out of the lineup. Kessler is expected to play through his rib injury in Week 6 against the Titans, but Pryor could really use Josh McCown back in the near future.
Julian Edelman (NE) – It didn’t look like QB Tom Brady missed much of a beat sitting out during his four-game suspension. However, it did look like he was slightly off with Edelman in his first game back, as the slot WR finished with 5/35 receiving on a team-high 10 targets against the Browns in Week 5. He also drew the toughest assignment quite a bit, with Joe Haden on him. The Brady-Edelman combo needs a little more time to iron their timing out, but he has a potential bigger problem with the Patriots set to use 2-TE sets heavily with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. We don’t know if we can just lock Edelman in for 8 catches a game anymore with Gronk and Bennett set to be pretty active in the middle of the field with Brady.
Antonio Gates (SD) – Gates returned from a hamstring injury in Week 5 against the Raiders, and immediately returned fantasy value if you needed to use him, by posting 4/30/1 receiving on 5 targets. There were reports prior to the game that Gates was going to play a limited snap share, which turned out to be true, as he handled just 35.3% of the snaps to 82.4% for rookie Hunter Henry, who also scored (#3 TE Sean McGrath tied Gates in snaps). Gates played in the red zone, however, where QB Philip Rivers implicitly trusts him. The big question for Gates going forward is how much the Chargers trust Henry, who generally has been great this year. Henry isn’t likely to go away, so will the Chargers continue to use heavy 2-TE sets? And if so, which player will be “ahead” when Gates is fully reintegrated? He’s worth holding onto, but TEs who play sub-50% snap shares aren’t likely to continue returning positive fantasy value.
Kyle Rudolph (Min) – Even with WR Stefon Diggs (groin) out of the lineup, Rudolph managed just 4 of Sam Bradford’s 30 attempts (13.3% target share) in Week 5. Rudolph finished with just 2/15 receiving against a Texans defense that has shut down opposing TEs in the early going. We still think that Rudolph is a big part of this passing game going forward, especially down by the end zone, but we are a little worried with the potential emergence Cordarrelle Patterson, who could take away a couple targets a game in a passing offense with limited volume.