Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 5
Well, that was a ridiculous weekend of football. Week 5 was a non-stop fireworks festival all the way up until Sunday Night Football.
It was a great week to play fantasy football -- As I'm sure you've already noticed that if you've glanced at the scoreboards in any of your leagues. 17 different wide receivers and running backs had over 20 fantasy points in half-point per reception leagues in Week 5. Six of those had over 30 points, and -- incredibly -- three of those had over 40 points.
Oftentimes if one of your opponents' players scores over 40 points, you can reliably say you lost that week. That was not the case in Week 5 -- there was a decent chance one or more of your own players popped off too.
But looking at scoreboards is one thing -- learning from the circumstances that produced those performances is another one entirely, and will help you win games outside of Week 5. The fantasy points you scored in Week 5 won't carry over to Week 6, and it's time to start prepping for next week.
Patrick Mahomes is mortal
With all of the through the roof scoring in Week 5, it's surprising that Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs were mostly absent from the festivities. Week 5 marked the first time in Mahomes' career that the Chiefs were held under 26 points, and that includes his Week 17 debut performance back in 2017. That can happen when your stud quarterback is visibly dealing with an ankle injury on the field.
Making his life even more difficult, Mahomes was also playing without two of his top wideouts. Tyreek Hill has been absent since he dislocated his clavicle back in Week 1, and Sammy Watkins left their Week 5 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts early on with a hamstring injury.
But let's give credit where it's due -- the Colts played tight defense in this one. They amassed an impressive eight quarterback hits on Mahomes on Sunday night as Mahomes struggled to effectively escape the pressure, resulting in four sacks -- tied for the second-most sacks he's taken in a single game in his career. The Colts defense was about as close to lights out as you can get against Mahomes.
And yet, Mahomes still managed to make UDFA rookie Byron Pringle relevant in this one. The rookie, who nearly scored in Week 4, popped off for over 100 yards and a touchdown in Week 5 -- only Julio Jones and Keenan Allen have hung up more receiving yards on the Colts defense this year, and those guys are indisputably elite. The jury is still out on Pringle, but for now, I'm willing to say that even without a fully functioning ankle Patrick Mahomes is unreal.
That being said, we do need to curb expectations for Mahomes somewhat. He has a relatively tough string of defenses coming up, including two of numberFire's top-rated pass defenses in the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers in two of their next four matchups. You're still going to be starting Mahomes everywhere you have him, but for as long as that ankle is limited and his top receiving options are out, Mahomes' ceiling probably isn't as high as we're accustomed to it being.
The Cardinals and the Bengals are bad football teams
It was easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. An elite offensive coach from the college game brings the air raid offense to the NFL with the first overall pick of the NFL draft -- Heisman award-winner Kyler Murray. It was supposed to be a revelation. It really hasn't been.
Maybe someone out there was excited for the Cincinnati Bengals this season. It's possible. But I don't think anyone thought that the Bengals would be 0-5 right now, regardless of how they felt about the team coming into the season. I was even cautiously optimistic about the team after a narrow Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that had Andy Dalton set a career-high in passing yardage.
Things hadn't panned out at all for either of these offenses heading into this weekend, but I still had some hope for their Week 5 tilt against each other. Two of the fastest-paced offenses in the league squaring off against each others' barely-there defenses should have resulted in an offensive shootout. But these teams struggled to get anything going, even against each other.
At this point, you really can't depend on either of these teams for much going forward -- except allowing fantasy points to opposing offenses. Kyler Murray is finding his feet -- he led the Cardinals in rushing yards in this one -- and the team's play-calling volume is keeping David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald afloat, but there's very little ceiling there. For the Bengals, Tyler Boyd is still a weekly WR2/3 until A.J. Green returns because of his volume, but Joe Mixon will continue struggling to produce on the worst offense in the league. And yes, the Bengals are the worst offense in the league -- the only teams with fewer points are either actively tanking, or are without their starting quarterback.
Miles Sanders is going to happen soon
Another week, another Jordan Howard touchdown. After scoring three times in Week 4, Howard punched in another score in Week 5. For those keeping track, that's five for Jordan Howard, and zero for Miles Sanders in 2019.
Sanders just hasn't been able to leapfrog Howard in his rookie season, but it's coming. Before I start ranting about Sanders, let's not ignore how effective Howard has been this year. He's averaging a solid 4.7 yards per carry and has averaged an impressive 47.17% Rushing Success Rate, the highest mark among Philadelphia Eagles running backs this season. Rushing Success Rate is a numberFire metric that measures how often a running back adds points to his team's expected points total, and Howard's 47.17% rate is quite good. You can read more about Rushing Success Rate in the terms glossary.
Given that context, it's easy to understand why Sanders has yet to establish himself as the workhorse we hoped he'd become. But I still think that time is coming.
Sanders started the season off slow and still hasn't found the end zone, but he's getting up to speed quickly. His 37.04% Rushing Success Rate ranks second on the team for the season, but over the last three weeks he has posted a stellar 45.45% mark -- a vast improvement from the dismal 23.81% rate he had in the first two weeks. Sanders has just six fewer carries than Howard over the last three weeks and has been making his presence felt in other areas of the field. He's second in the league in kick return yardage with 208 and yards per kick return with 25.9, and he has genuinely been shining in the passing game.
Sanders has had at least four targets in three of his last four games. But it's not just that he's earning targets that foreshadows his future upside -- it's the kind of targets he's getting. Sanders had the most air yards (84) among all running backs in Week 3, and racked up another 24 air yards in Week 5 -- a top-five mark at the position. Only Tarik Cohen, David Johnson and James White have more air yards than Sanders on the season -- that's quite a group to be paired with, especially for fantasy football purposes.
The Eagles are making a point to get Sanders involved wherever they can. They recognize that he's a playmaker with the ball in his hands and are actively scheming to get him touches, despite the formidable roadblock Jordan Howard has become.
D.J. Chark is a total baller
There were some truly ridiculous wide receiver performances in Week 5. Amari Cooper became one of just eight players since 1970 to have at least 3 games of 200 or more receiving yards, Will Fuller had a 200-yard game of his own while adding 3 touchdowns, Michael Thomas schooled a Tampa Bay Bucs defense that had been surprisingly stout to start the year, and Chris Godwin popped off yet again. But perhaps no Week 5 performance made as much of a statement as D.J. Chark's 164-yard, 2-touchdown game.
Chark was a total afterthought heading into 2019. He struggled to produce anything at all in his 2018 rookie season, ignored by Cody Kessler or completely missed by Blake Bortles. He garnered just 32 targets in 11 games last year, averaging a lackluster 5.4 yards per target.
Chark has already eclipsed those 32 targets in just 5 games in 2019, and is currently the WR5 in half-point per reception leagues. He's had at least 8 targets in three of his last four games, including a career-high 11 targets this week against the Carolina Panthers, who until this week had been one of the strongest defenses against opposing wide receivers in the league. He's balling out.
Initially considered to be a boom-or-bust type of deep threat, Chark has proven himself to be so much more than that in 2019, winning all over the field while maintaining an elite 14.5 average depth of target. Take a look at his route maps over on the NFL's Next Gen Stats site if you don't believe me. He's not just a vertical threat -- he's a top dog wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Many heralded Dede Westbrook as the Jags' top wideout heading into the year, but Chark has relatively easily ascended to the top spot through five weeks. After a disastrous Week 3 performance, Westbrook has seen his snap shares drop from over 80% in each of the first three weeks to under 70% in the previous two. Chark is stealing Westbrook's lunch -- each receiver has 37 targets on the season, but Chark (485) has more than twice as many receiving yards as Westbrook (227) on those looks and 5 scores to Westbrook's one.
It's also worth noting that Chark's breakout hasn't solely been tied to Gardner Minshew's surprising performance. Nick Foles only played for two drives this season, but he and Chark connected for 2 receptions on as many targets for 42 yards and a touchdown. We're talking about a very small sample size here, but Chark at least looks like he'll keep balling out whether or not the Jags decide to go with Minshew or Foles when Foles returns.
Ito Smith is coming for Devonta Freeman's job
If you're only looking at his fantasy points, Freeman's performance hasn't been too concerning this season. After a slow start, he's had at least double-digit fantasy points in each of his last three games. His 26 targets are a top 10 mark at the running back position. That's good, right?
Sure. If you're trying to offload Freeman in your fantasy leagues, that's probably your sales pitch. But like a used car, that surface sheen doesn't hold up once you peek under the hood.
There were reasons to be concerned about Freeman heading into the season. Now 27, he was coming off of two consecutive seasons in which he struggled with injuries, including three separate lower body injuries. He was never a superstar athlete, testing at or below the 50th-percentile in most testing drills at his combine performance, and the repeated lower body injuries threatened to sap his strength further. He certainly hasn't looked like the back that led the league in rushing just a few years ago, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in 2019.
According to the same Rushing Success Rate metric we used early to highlight Miles Sanders, Freeman is among the worst backs in the league at adding value to his team's expected points total. His 22.41% mark gets even worse when you compare it to his teammate Ito Smith's top-notch 50% rate. Smith has as many rushes for a first down (11) as Freeman despite having significantly fewer carries. And the Falcons are starting to notice this for themselves. They switched to Smith in the red zone in Week 4 against the Titans for the score, which illustrates a trend that's been developing all year -- Ito Smith is the red zone back on this offense. He has just one fewer carry inside the 20 than Freeman despite missing most of their Week 3 game and being limited in Week 4, and has 3 attempts inside the 5-yard line to Freeman's 1 attempt.
Smith was simply the more effective back in Week 5. On 11 carries, Freeman had just 1 such successful rush. And while Freeman did make noise in the passing game, Smith joined in on the fun as well, catching all 6 of his targets for 45 yards. The Falcons are ramping up Smith's usage, and it's only a matter of time before that saps even more value from Devonta Freeman in fantasy. Don't be surprised if this turns into a near-even committee as soon as next week.