Between the Lines: Week 5 Snap Count Analysis

In fantasy football, one way to gain an edge over opponents is digging into weekly snap counts. While a quick scan of box scores can tell us who actually performed and produced, snap count data can give us an indicator of guys who are seeing the field on a consistent -- or inconsistent -- basis.

After all, opportunity is the creator of fantasy points.

First, a player needs to get meaningful snaps. Then, they need meaningful opportunities. And lastly, they must actually convert that opportunity into fantasy production. This weekly article addresses the first and most critical portion of the opportunity funnel: playing time.

Today, we will look at five big takeaways from Week 5. For a look at all of last week's snap count data, numberFire has you covered.

1. Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a precarious situation with their quarterbacks right now. Ben Roethlisberger is, as you all know, out for the season, and Mason Rudolph could easily miss at least this week after suffering a brutal blow to the head. If he does miss the Steelers' Week 6 contest against the Los Angeles Chargers (and I'd say it's likely as Pittsburgh has a Week 7 bye), then the team's wideouts will get a downgrade, including Diontae Johnson.

While you may not be looking to start Johnson this week, you should be happy about his potential going forward. Johnson played 92% of the Steelers' snaps this week in a tough 26-23 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Not only was it a huge jump over his 63% clip in Week 4, it tied JuJu Smith-Schuster for the team lead at any skill position.

With the increased play came an increase in targets. Even if they amounted to little (he caught five passes for 27 yards), his eight targets led the team and solidified him as the clear number-two wideout in the Steel City as James Washington saw his snap share plummet to 55%, his lowest number since Week 1.

Johnson is still available in 80.4% of ESPN leagues as of this morning. If he's still available, he should be picked up and held for some exploitable matchups later in the season, including the Miami Dolphins after the team's Week 8 bye and the New York Jets in Week 16, fantasy championship week.

2. Todd Gurley, RB, LA Rams

This is just to say, you should not write your studs off when you see a backup vulture a couple of touchdowns early in the season, as many did with Todd Gurley after Malcolm Brown got the goal line work in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

Four weeks later, and it's hard to even find mentions of Brown anymore. Gurley has seen his snap share steadily increase, and if a Week 5 jump from 76% to 93% is any indication, then Brown could continue to be an afterthought.

Since that fairly split backfield in Week 1, Brown has seen his touches quickly fall. After 11 carries in Week 1, he saw just 15 combined over the next four games. In Week 5's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he saw just one carry for three yards and saw no targets from Jared Goff. Gurley, on the other hand, has continued to see steady work on the ground and increasing work in the passing game (he has 10 receptions on 16 targets over the past two games).

While he may not be getting CMC-like touches this year (and, to be fair, nobody is even close to McCaffrey's 136 touches), and Gurley a far cry from what he was in 2018, Gurley could easily still finish the season as a top-level fantasy producer.

3. Byron Pringle, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Byron Pringle's time in the spotlight may end up being short-lived, but it's worth pointing out any Kansas City Chiefs receiver who sees a significant amount of playing time. After garnering no higher than a 5% snap share though Week 4, Pringle took advantage of a Sammy Watkins injury and was on the field for 78% of the team's snaps in a 19-13 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The jump in playing time sans Watkins was surprising in its own right, but even more surprising was that Pringle was second to only Travis Kelce with nine targets, and his 103 receiving yards led the team in on off night for the KC offense. Whether or not that leads to a potato chip commercial remains to be seen, but it was a surprising performance from a player who had just two career catches heading into the game.

Unfortunately for Pringle, his pop could stop this week. Tyreek Hill practiced in a limited fashion leading up to the game against the Colts and could play this week, though Andy Reid still wants to "make sure everything's stable" with the speedy wideout.

If Hill misses another week and Watkins can't return from his hamstring injury, however, then Pringle is in a great spot against a Houston Texans defense that is allowing the sixth-most PPR points per game to opposing wideouts. He's a speculative add, but he's one who could pay off in the short-term.

4. Demaryius Thomas, WR, New York Jets

Suggesting that people play or even pick up any New York Jet other than Le'Veon Bell might be a little crazy. The Jets -- not the Miami Dolphins -- rank as the worst offense in the league, according to numberFire's metrics. While the team's 39 points is 50% more than the Dolphins' 26 on the season, their 179.5 total yards and 113.5 passing yards per game rank last in the league by a large margin. Finding movement in these doldrums seems an impossible task.

Yet, there are winds blowing in the Jets' fantasy realm. Sam Darnold practiced last week, and he is expected to return against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. If he does, then the team's stagnant play will get an immediate boost, and with it, the fantasy potential of its skill players rises, too.

One player who could stand to benefit is Demaryius Thomas. Thomas has been all over the place throughout the last year. He moved from the Denver Broncos to the Texans midway through 2018, found his way onto the New England Patriots in the offseason, and was then traded to the Jets. Thomas was injured in his first game with the Jets and had been out until Week 5.

Though the team got walloped 31-6 by the Philadelphia Eagles, Thomas saw some positives. He was on the field for 78% of the team's snaps, which led all Jets wideouts, besting Robby Anderson, who, until Sunday, had seen no lower than a 96% snap share. Thomas' nine targets tied Bell for the team lead, and his 47 yards paced the club.

That he produced that way with Luke Falk at the helm is a positive sign going into a week where he could be catching passes from Darnold. While you may not trust Thomas this week, the Jets have some great matchups coming up, including a game against Washington and two against the woeful Dolphins. Available in 97.3% of ESPN leagues, DT is worth a look in deeper leagues.

5. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

After a big Week 4 in which he caught three passes for 94 yards and a pair of scores, Tennessee Titans rookie receiver A.J. Brown certainly looked to be a hot commodity on the waiver wire. While he saw his ESPN ownership jump 9.5 percentage points, that bumped his ownership to just 15.7% on that site, far from a vote of confidence.

On the surface, his Week 4 outing against the Buffalo Bills did little to help those numbers spike. He caught just two passes from Marcus Mariota for a total of just 27 yards in a 14-7 loss against numberFire's 10th-best team against the pass. There were encouraging signs for his success moving forward, however.

Coming into Week 5, Brown had played no more than 50% of the team's snaps in any given week and was generally hovering in the low 40% range. In Week 5, that jumped to 65%, the clear number-two behind Corey Davis. Tajae Sharpe was the loser with Brown's ascent, seeing his snap share drop to just 32%, easily his lowest of the season.

While that might not help you this week against a Denver Broncos defense that has allowed the fourth-fewest standard and second-fewest PPR points per game to wideouts, it should give you confidence to use Brown in upcoming exploitable matchups, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8 and the Chiefs in Week 10.