Just like last week, this slate is shaping up to be messy. There are two games threatened to be postponed because of COVID outbreaks (Bills-Titans and Broncos-Pats) and there is another slew of injuries to monitor. We also have two teams out on bye (Lions and Packers). As always, keep it locked on our projections for the most up-to-date start/sit calls.
These are Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett’s top starts and sits for shallow (10-teams) and deep (12- and 14-teams) leagues:
Start: Deshaun Watson vs. Jaguars
Watson has been a massive disappointment to those who were drafting him top-6 over the summer. He ranks 17th in FPG (19.1), and maybe worse yet, just 17th in rushing YPG (14.5). However, this would be a great get-right spot for Watson. Jacksonville gave up 300-yard games to Philip Rivers in Week 1 and Joe Burrow in Week 4. And across Weeks 2-3, Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined for 7 total touchdowns and just 8 incompletions. In total, the Jaguars rank bottom-6 in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt, pressure rate, and passer rating allowed. Though they may be just as vulnerable on the ground as through the air, given Houston’s inability to run the football (3.81 YPC, 59.0 rushing YPG), I suspect Watson is still the primary beneficiary. Start him with confidence as a mid-to-low-end QB1 this week.
Sit: Tom Brady @ Bears
Brady exploded for 369 yards and 5 touchdowns last week, in a statement game we all saw coming, but maybe not against the typically stout but depleted Los Angeles Chargers’ secondary. Still, this week’s matchup is even tougher, and maybe the single toughest matchup for any QB. Chicago ranks top-3 in FPG, passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt, and passer rating allowed to opposing QBs, after ranking top-7 in those same stats last year. With Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard out, and Mike Evans and Scotty Miller questionable, Brady is just a fringe-QB1 this week.
Start: Teddy Bridgewater at Falcons
Bridgewater is an amazing streaming play and borderline QB1 this week against this league-worst Falcons defense. Through the first month of action, Atlanta has allowed 31.8 fantasy points to Russell Wilson, 39.8 to Dak Prescott, they gave up 28.8 to the Nick Foles / Mitchell Trubisky combo in Week 3, and just got hammered by Aaron Rodgers for 29.6 points. Between all of the Falcons injuries and the Panthers porous defense, this game should shootout and feature plenty of points and passing on both sides of the ball. The over/under has continued to shift up all week and now sits at 54.5, the third-highest total of the week.
Start: Daniel Jones at Cowboys
It’s been a rough start for Jones and the Giants offense, but in fairness, no team has opened with a harder stretch of games. After facing the Steelers, Bears, 49ers, and Rams -- Daniel Jones finally has a good matchup. The Cowboys are allowing a league-high 0.65 fantasy points per pass attempt, which is slightly more than the Falcons abysmal secondary (0.64). We prefer Bridgewater to Jones in our projections, but not by a wide margin. If you’re down Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford and Bridgewater is gone, Jones is a fine consolation prize.
Sit: Joe Burrow at Ravens
Burrow has been a great floor play at quarterback in the opening month but it’ll be harder for him to find a ceiling in this tough road spot against Baltimore. The Ravens should be able to affect Burrow in the pocket as the Bengals offensive line has allowed pressure at the sixth-highest rate in the league. The Ravens have continued to be one of the most aggressive defenses in the league and are blitzing their opponents at the second-highest rate per PFF. That combination spells trouble for Burrow because he has, unsurprisingly for a rookie, struggled badly under pressure so far. Burrow’s passer rating is 102.8 when he has a clean pocket but drops to a lowly 59.3 when he’s pressured.
Start: Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Raiders
Edwards-Helaire has seen terrific usage this season, and growing usage in each game, playing on a season-high 73% of the team’s snaps last week. He now ranks 6th in carries per game (17.75), 9th in targets per game (4.75), and 5th in XFP per game (20.6). Though he ranks just 16th in FPG (15.8) that’s bound to regress – he’s gotten a little unlucky in the touchdown department, scoring only once for the 9th-highest-scoring team in the league, despite 7 opportunities inside the 5-yard-line (4th-most) and an 88% snap share in the red zone. Look for a big game this week – the Chiefs are 13.0-point favorites with the highest implied point total of the week (34.75) against a Raiders defense that is giving up the most FPG to opposing RBs (38.0), ranking 4th-worst in YPC allowed (5.34), 3rd-worst in rushing FPG allowed (21.9), and 4th-worst in receiving FPG allowed (16.2) to opposing RBs.
Start: Mike Davis vs. Falcons
If Christian McCaffrey were starting this week, he’d be my highest-ranked player of the week. Of course, Mike Davis isn’t Christian McCaffrey, but he is seeing McCaffrey-level usage, and as such needs to be ranked as a low-end RB1 at worst. Over the last two weeks without McCaffrey, Davis is averaging 22.7 FP, 23.3 XFP, 3.0 opportunities inside the 10-yard-line, 14.5 carries, and 7.5 targets per game. Those numbers rank 5th-, 2nd-, 2nd-, 17th-, and 3rd-best among RBs over this span. That last stat might be most important. Atlanta has been stout against the run, ranking 8th-best in YPC allowed (3.60), but they’ve given up the most receiving FPG to opposing running backs (19.4) and rank 10th-worst in total FPG allowed (29.6). This isn’t a new trend either -- they’ve ranked bottom-5 in receiving FPG allowed to RBs in 5 of Dan Quinn’s 6 seasons as HC.
Sit: Myles Gaskin at 49ers
Gaskin is seeing shockingly good usage, playing on at least 60% of the team’s snaps in every game and averaging 12.25 carries and 5.0 targets per game. That’d be high-end RB2 volume by weighted opportunity, but factoring in Jordan Howard’s role as the goal-line vulture it’s probably closer to low-end-RB2 / high-end RB3 volume. Gaskin is also generally disadvantaged by gamescript, which will again be a concern this week, as 9.0 underdogs. And, on top of that, the matchup is brutal – the 49ers are giving up the 3rd-fewest FPG to opposing RBs (17.2). He’s just a high-end RB3 this week.
Start: Ronald Jones at Bears
Coming off of one of the best games of his career, Jones is a must-start RB2 this week. With both Leonard Fournette (ankle) and LeSean McCoy (ankle) out of the lineup on TNF, Jones will once again handle the bulk of the work as the Bucs’ lead back. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn will be the only back around to threaten Jones for snaps. With all of these injuries, everything is breaking right for Jones to see another 18-22 touches and 60-65% of the RB snaps. The Bears defense has been much easier to run on than throw against this year, too, ranking fifth-best in FootballOutsiders’ pass defense DVOA metrics but just 16th against the run.
Start: Antonio Gibson vs. Rams
Currently the RB21 in fantasy points per game, Gibson drafters can’t be disappointed with where he’s at right now. He’s produced exactly how you expected -- as a low-end RB2 / FLEX play -- and now he has a chance to take another step forward with Washington’s quarterback change. Switching from Dwayne Haskins to Kyle Allen could be very beneficial for Gibson. Last year as Carolina’s starter, Allen threw to his running backs 27% of the time, which was the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. By comparison, Haskins has targeted his RBs on just 20% of his throws in his career. Washington drafted Gibson to be a major factor in their passing game and we finally saw that last week. Gibson’s first three receptions against Baltimore came split out as a wide receiver and he exploded for 65 yards on two screens and a shallow crosser. Gibson’s matchup on the ground is solid this week, too. The Rams are allowing the sixth-most expected points per carry and rank fifth-worst in FootballOutsiders run defense DVOA metrics.
Sit: Darrell Henderson Jr. at Washington
After last week’s debacle and Cam Akers’ return, no Rams running back is really in play for Week 5 start/sit decisions unless you’re truly desperate. Out of seemingly nowhere, Malcolm Brown dominated the Rams snaps (61%) over Henderson (39%) in Week 4. It’d be great if HC Sean McVay committed to just one runner, but with Akers back in practice this week, that isn’t likely any time soon. This backfield could be a full-blown three-man committee once again in Week 5. All three backs are bench stashes but it’s looking more likely that this running game will frustrate all year long.
Start: Adam Thielen @ Seahawks
According to our newest tool (Schedule-Adjusted Fantasy Points per Game Allowed), Thielen’s schedule to date: Week 1 (11th-toughest possible matchup), Week 2 (3rd-toughest), Week 3 (12th-easiest), Week 4 (11th-toughest, but likely tougher considering he was shadowed by Bradley Roby). His output in those games: 31.0, 6.1, 12.3, and 26.2 fantasy points.
This week? His matchup couldn’t be better. Seattle is giving up a league-high 28.8 schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to WRs, with the next-closest team giving up nearly half that. What does that stat mean? Collectively ATL/NE/DAL/MIA WRs averaged 64.6 fantasy points per game against Seattle, but in all other games they averaged just 35.8. All Minnesota WRs will see a boost, including Justin Jefferson, but Thielen – who ranks 3rd among all WRs in target market share (33%) and 1st in air yardage market share (50%) – will by far be the biggest beneficiary.
Start: Allen Robinson vs. Buccaneers
Robinson has seen at least 9 targets in each of his last 7 games, and (coinciding with the benching of Mitchell Trubisky) has reached 100 yards and scored a touchdown in back-to-back games. Those numbers are especially impressive when considering those games came against two teams ranking top-three in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game allowed to opposing WRs. In a perfectly neutral matchup this week, look for another big game from Robinson. Start him with confidence as a low-end WR1.
Sit: Diontae Johnson vs. Eagles
This breaks my heart, but Johnson – who ranks 3rd among all WRs in targets per route run (0.28) – is just a high-end WR3 this week. He’ll get Darius Slay in shadow coverage, who ranks top-10 in yards allowed per snap in coverage over the past two seasons, despite routinely shadowing the league’s best WRs.
Start: Marquise Brown vs. Bengals
Welcome to Hollywood week. Brown is a great buy-low candidate right now if any of your leaguemates are afraid of his somewhat slow start ahead of this potential eruption spot. This year, Brown has taken on a much larger role in the Ravens offense as he’s commanded 27% of Lamar Jackson’s targets and 43% of his air yards. Last year, Brown saw 19% of targets and 23% of air yards (when healthy). Brown is getting true WR1 volume this season and has a pristine matchup this week against this Bengals secondary that is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to receivers aligned out wide. That’s where Hollywood runs 81% of his routes.
Start: Justin Jefferson at Seahawks
Jefferson is an amazing WR3 play for Week 5. Seattle is getting absolutely hammered against opposing wide receivers, allowing a league-high 25.5 fantasy points per game to receivers aligned out wide and 35.6 FPG through the slot. The Vikings made Jefferson a slot receiver in Week 1-2, but have made the move and split him out wide on 88% of his snaps over the last two weeks. As 7-point road underdogs, the Vikings should have to throw a ton to keep up with Russell Wilson’s scoring.
Sit: Jarvis Landry vs. Colts
Frankly, Landry is looking more like a drop candidate than a sit. Through four games, Landry is on pace for just 76 targets -- which would be a career-low by far. The Browns are going extremely run-heavy, running the ball at the league’s third-highest rate when trailing (46%) and when leading (61%). This matchup is tough for Landry, too. The Colts play a suffocating zone coverage and are allowing the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to slot wideouts.
Sit: A.J. Green at Ravens
Green has been total dust in this Bengals offense so far, turning his 33 targets into just 119 yards. It’s not like Green and Joe Burrow just have bad chemistry, either. While Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are producing, Green seemingly just can’t get open against cornerbacks anymore. According to Next Gen Stats, Green’s 1.6 yards of separation per target ranks dead last among wide receivers. Hopefully, you weren’t drafting Green ahead of Boyd this summer. If you have Aaron Rodgers (bye) or Cam Newton (COVID list) and only have one roster space open, Green can be dumped for a streamer quarterback.
Start: Jonnu Smith @ Bills
Smith is running a route on just 61% of Ryan Tannehill’s dropbacks this year, which is far from ideal, but he is seeing good volume. Among TEs, he ranks 9th in targets per game (6.7), 2nd in XTD per game (0.7), and 4th in XFP per game (13.1) He’s also – as we’ve seen from him throughout his career – highly efficient on that volume, ranking behind only George Kittle and Travis Kelce in FPG (18.6). With WR Corey Davis on the COVID-19 IR, expect good volume again this week, along with good production in a dream matchup against the Bills. The Bills have given up the 5th-most FPG to opposing TEs (19.7), the 6th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs (+7.6), and the 5th-highest % of fantasy points allowed to TEs (29.6%).
Sit: Mike Gesicki @ 49ers
With outputs of 6.0, 27.0, 8.5, and 2.5 fantasy points through four weeks, Gesicki has been fairly boom-or-bust, with more busts than booms. Look for another “bust”-game this week against a San Francisco defense that has allowed just two tight ends to reach 8.5 fantasy points against them over the past two seasons.
Start: Eric Ebron vs. Eagles
Ebron is a popular streamer play this week and for good reason. The Eagles have some of the worst linebackers in the league and are getting shellacked by tight ends to the tune of 20.9 fantasy points per game as Logan Thomas (4/37/1), Tyler Higbee (5/54/3), and George Kittle (15/183/1) have all gone off against Philadelphia so far. Ebron was lightly used in his Steeler debut in Week 1, but ranked third on the team in targets (16% share) and second in air yards (19%) in Week 2-3. We’re extremely high on Ebron and have him at TE7 in our projections.
Sit: Mo Allie-Cox at Browns
Even though he looks like the Colts’ most explosive tight end by far, Allie-Cox isn’t seeing that type of usage. With Trey Burton back off of injured-reserve last week, Allie-Cox was actually third among the Colts TEs in routes run (8) behind Burton (19) and Jack Doyle (15). Allie-Cox is the TE7 in PPR over the last three weeks, but don’t let that production fool you. Unless his snaps increase and he clearly usurps Burton and Doyle, he’s going to be an incredibly volatile TE2.