Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 6
Players emerge in fantasy football every year. Sometimes they're veterans. Sometimes they're second-year guys. Sometimes they're rookies. And sometimes they're quarterbacks.
And sometimes they're rookie quarterbacks who were inexplicably not on the field to start the season while Tom freaking Savage got playing time.
Deshaun Watson has taken the fantasy football world by storm with his athletic ability and his Brett Favre-like aggressiveness when throwing the ball down the field. And this week, things should keep on rolling for the Texans rookie phenom.
Start Deshaun Watson (vs. Cleveland): Regression will hit Watson at some point. On the year, he's got an 8.3% touchdown rate, when the league's average rate over the last few years has hovered the 4.5% mark. Watson's rate, in fact, has only been hit 11 times in NFL history among passers with 200 or more attempts.
So, yeah, don't expect him to keep this up.
But do expect him to post a nice fantasy performance in Week 6. He'll be at home against a Cleveland Browns defense that's now surrendered at least 13.5 standard fantasy points to every passer they've faced, and the list of quarterbacks they've gone up against Cleveland this year includes Joe Flacco, Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, and Josh McCown. The Browns have the second-worst pass defense, according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, too.
And just because the Texans are big 10-point favorites doesn't mean they'll just pound the rock, making Watson irrelevant. In order to get to that ultra-positive game flow, Watson will have to perform. And given the matchup, he should be able to.
Sit Jared Goff (at Jacksonville): The league-average secondary, according to our numbers, has a schedule-adjusted Defensive Passing NEP total of 16.01 this season. (This number for a league-average team isn't zero because it's harder to defend the pass than the rush.) The Jaguars have an Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP rate of -48.21, the best in the league. That means that, over the course of the season's five games (four for some teams), Jacksonville's secondary has prevented roughly 64 real points from being scored via the pass versus what an ordinary NFL defense in 2017 would have surrendered. That's almost 13 points -- again, these are real points -- per game.
That's silly. That's dominant. And that's translated to fantasy football.
Quarterbacks against the Jags have scored, on average, 5.5 fantasy points per game. Five point five! That's the equivalent of a passer throwing, like, a 40-yard touchdown to start the game and just walking off the field. Every single week.
There's no chance I'd be playing Goff on the road against this beastly secondary.
Start Kirk Cousins (vs. San Francisco): Getting off to a slow start is nothing out of the ordinary for Cousins. Over the last two years, during Weeks 1 and 2, Cousins ranked 31st, 25th, 28th, and 14th in weekly quarterback scoring. This year, he had a Week 1 performance in which he finished 20th, and a Week 2 one that he was 21st.
Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not. The important thing here is that Cousins has looked the part over his last two games, scoring 21-plus fantasy points in each contest, including one against a good Kansas City secondary. Now he gets to face San Francisco, a secondary that's sixth-worst in football, per our numbers, and one that's surrendered at least 13 fantasy points per game this year. The only negative with the matchup is the potential for ex-Washington coordinator Kyle Shanahan -- now the 49ers head coach -- to know how to scheme against Cousins, but that's more narrative-based than anything else.
Sit Ben Roethlisberger (at Kansas City): It would be the most Steeler and Roethlisberger thing ever to do what they did in Week 5 and follow it up with a victory on the road against the only undefeated team in the league. But, no, we shouldn't come close to counting on that.
Roethlisberger's home-road spits are well documented. Over the last half decade on the road, he's averaged about 1.25 fewer touchdown passes per game and over 40 fewer passing yards. Starting him in fantasy football when he's away from Heinz Field is always a risk.
And it's even more of one against Kansas City, who've surrendered a decent number of fantasy points to opposing passers, but they've also faced Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Cousins, and garbage time hero, Watson. Our numbers still peg the KC secondary as a pretty strong one, and with Big Ben on the road, it's tough to trust him this week.
Start Mark Ingram (vs. Detroit): An angle to the Adrian Peterson trade -- if you didn't hear, Adrian Peterson is now an Arizona Cardinal -- that hasn't been discussed is how the confidence of Ingram (or Alvin Kamara) fantasy owners has drastically changed. Even though AP wasn't seeing significant work, knowing that he's no longer in the backfield allows Ingram owners to feel better about throwing him in their lineup each week. Because there's less of a chance for Sean Payton shenanigans.
Ingram's matchup this week against Detroit isn't the easiest one in the world, as the Lions have allowed a Success Rate (the percentage of positive expected point runs) to opposing rushers of just 28.30%, which is the ninth-best in the league. By most metrics, they've had a top-10 rush defense this year.
But matchups are only a piece to the puzzle, especially for running backs. When starting a running back in fantasy football, you want the potential for volume, a positive game script, and a lot of scoring. That's precisely what Ingram offers this week. Ingram is now only sharing the backfield with Kamara (volume), the Saints are five-point home favorites (positive game script), and there's a high 50.5-point over-under in the contest this weekend (lots of scoring). All that makes Ingram a good play this week.
Sit LeGarrette Blount (at Carolina): Only Leonard Fournette has more rushing yards than Blount over the last two weeks, but in each of these two games, Blount's played fewer than 40% of Philadelphia's snaps. Positive game scripts have been his best friend, as the Eagles have easily beaten their last two opponents. All the while, Blount's carried the ball 21 times in the second half of these two games versus just 9 in the first half. He's accumulated over 76% of his yards in the second half, too. In other words, he's playing the role he's played throughout his career: the closer.
The Eagles, though, are on the road this week and are underdogs to the Panthers. And Carolina has an above-average rush defense, per our metrics. That could mean a much lower ceiling for Blount this week.
Start Elijah McGuire (vs. New England): Assuming Bilal Powell is out with a strained calf, McGuire makes for a great play against the Patriots, especially in PPR formats. New England's allowed the second-most points to opposing running backs this season, and they've also surrendered the seventh-most receptions to the position. McGuire should benefit, at the very least, on that side of things -- in college, he had well above-average receiving market share numbers, and he was looked at entering the NFL as a receiving back.
But with an injured backfield (keep tabs on Matt Forte this week), McGuire should see a lot of snaps, allowing for more early-down work, as well. Against this New England defense, that should translate to fantasy points.
Sit Latavius Murray (vs. Green Bay): In the Vikings' first game without Dalvin Cook this past week, Murray played only 31% of the team's snaps while teammate Jerick McKinnon stole the show with a 67% rate. Naturally, McKinnon out-touched Murray 16-12 on the ground while seeing 4 more targets.
After the Cook injury, the consensus thought was that Murray would be the early-down guy with McKinnon seeing the bulk of the passing-down work. That may still end up happening despite McKinnon outplaying him in Week 5, but even if it does, this isn't the week to test the theory. The Packers are in town, and they're also favorites. If the script is a negative one for Minnesota, that means McKinnon will be on the field more, not Murray. And that's what makes Murray a scary start this week.
Start Shane Vereen (deeper play, at Denver): The entire Giants' passing attack is hurt, leaving very few reliable options for quarterback Eli Manning. But Vereen is there and active, and he could end up seeing a ton of catches in Sunday's game against Denver.
New York has a dreadful 14-point implied team total, and they're 12-point underdogs. Chances are, they're going to lose, and they're not going to score a ton of points.
Of course, Vereen's fantasy value doesn't come in the form of scoring touchdowns. He's a PPR running back. And in the lone game that the Giants were smoked this year -- Week 1 against Dallas, which was without Odell Beckham -- Vereen was targeted 10 times (garbage time was real that day), and he was able to haul in 9 of them for 51 yards for a 14.1-point day.
I'm not expecting the world from Vereen this week. He really doesn't have much of a ceiling. But as a bye week filler in a PPR format, you could do worse given the lack of healthy weapons for the Giants.
Other running backs to start: Rob Kelley (vs. San Francisco), Jerick McKinnon (vs. Green Bay), Tevin Coleman (vs. Miami)
Other running backs to sit: Wayne Gallman (at Denver), Isaiah Crowell (at Houston)
Start Golden Tate (at New Orleans): Tate's tallied just 160 receiving yards over his last four games, but the volume has generally been there, as he's averaging 7 targets per contest. The Lions are facing a probably-underrated Saints secondary this week, but New Orleans has been throwing Kenny Vaccaro in the slot with Sterling Moore sidelined, and he's been dreadful, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Of all slot corners, he's allowed the third-highest passer rating while giving up 9 catches on 13 targets and a touchdown. In a potential negative game script for the Lions, Tate could eat.
Sit Amari Cooper (vs. Los Angeles): It's true that I think Cooper is a "buy" candidate in fantasy football right now, but that doesn't mean he should be slotted in your starting lineup this week. Not only are there question marks around Derek Carr's health, but Cooper's seen around 17% of the team's targets over the last few weeks while totaling just 23 yards. The matchups haven't been a cakewalk, but this week's matchup isn't one, either -- according to PFF, Trevor Williams, who will see Cooper the most throughout the game, has the 14th-lowest passer rating against this season. We have to see Cooper look like a competent fantasy wideout before using him.
Start DeSean Jackson (at Arizona): Number-two wide receivers have had a field day against Arizona this year as Patrick Peterson has put the clamps on opposing top receivers. And that's because secondary receivers face Justin Bethel, who's now allowed the fifth-most receiving yards in the league, per PFF. Last week, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith did work against the Cards' secondary, ranking in the top-20 in weekly PPR scoring at the wide receiver position. In Week 3, Brice Butler outscored Dez Bryant. In Week 1, Kenny Golladay was a top-five wideout in fantasy. It shouldn't shock anyone if D-Jax has a big week.
He's just not seeing volume. And even with head coach Sean McVay's comments about getting him more involved, how can we trust Watkins against the top secondary in the league this week?
Start Devin Funchess (vs. Philadelphia): The Eagles have faced the highest drop-back-to-run ratio against this season, and that's allowed wide receivers to do work against them. They've allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the position, and, according to Pro Football Focus, their top outside corners rank in the top-14 in yards allowed this season.
Meanwhile, Funchess continues to be a very useful fantasy asset post-Greg Olsen injury. He's seen 27 targets over the last three weeks for 181 yards and 3 scores, and over this time, he's captured more than 31% of Carolina's red zone targets. He makes for a great play again this week.
Other wide receivers to start: Rishard Matthews (vs. Indianapolis), Adam Thielen (vs. Green Bay)
Other wide receivers to sit: Jeremy Maclin (vs. Chicago), Any wide receivers from the Giants (at Denver)
Start Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs. New England): ASJ has yet to play fewer than 76% of New York's snaps since he returned from suspension, and in the three games he's played, he's been targeted on more than 21% of the Jets' passes. Those are great peripheral numbers for a tight end. On top of this baseline, he's facing a New England D that's struggled all over this season, and he should be in a negative game flow situation. That means more passing and more volume. He's got a nice floor this week, and, naturally, he'll have the ceiling if he can find the end zone for the second consecutive week.
Sit Jared Cook (vs. Los Angeles): For as disappointing as the Chargers' defense has been this year, they've done really well against the tight end position. Evan Engram didn't even catch a pass against them last week, and back in Week 3, Travis Kelce had just one yard when facing them. This could be completely random, because it's not as though the matchups should be this scary, but it's enough to move me off of Cook this week given Cook isn't a plug-and-play tight end.
Start Zach Miller (at Baltimore): Miller led Chicago pass-catchers in Week 5 with seven targets, and now he'll be going to Baltimore in what should be a negative game script (more passes) against a defense that's allowed the fifth-most points to the tight end position this year. Yes, a lot of that is skewed by Marcedes Lewis' bonkers game in London, but the team really hasn't faced tough tight end competition this year. From strictly a matchup standpoint, it would make sense for Miller to be targeted in this one -- the Ravens have two able cornerbacks which could force the ball to the middle of the field more. And Mitchell Trubisky favored Miller in his debut start this past week. That's why Miller is a relatively decent streaming option in this one.
Start the Atlanta Falcons (vs. Miami): Playing a defense against Miami is pretty obvious at this point. The Dolphins have by far the worst offense in the league by almost any way you look at it, and they'll be on the road in Atlanta for Week 6's game. The Falcons are huge 11.5-point favorites, and if things go their way, we could end up seeing a lot of tosses from King DGAF himself, Jay Cutler. That'll lead to plenty of sack and turnover potential this week.
Sit the Pittsburgh Steelers (at Kansas City): The Steelers' defense actually ranks as the eighth-best unit in the league, according to our numbers, but they're definitely not worth a start this week. They'll be on the road against an offense that's turned the ball over once this year. No thanks.