Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 5
We're a quarter of the way through the fantasy football season, and the 35-year-old Steve Smith, on a brand new team, is the third-best fantasy wideout. Ahmad Bradshaw and Darren Sproles are top-five running back options. Joe Flacco and Eli Manning rank in the top 10 at their position. And Larry Donnell, coming off a three-touchdown game, is one of the best tight ends in fantasy football.
This is fantasy football in 2014.
The truth is, a handful of our early-season stars will regress and finish right where we thought they would. But it would be foolish to ignore the small subset of games that have already occurred, assuming our preseason projections are fact. Steve Smith, whether you like it or not, took on the role we all thought Torrey Smith would have in Gary Kubiak's offense. Larry Donnell is Eli Manning's favorite red zone target. Ahmad Bradshaw is just as good as he was as a Giant. And Joe Flacco...nevermind.
With all of this in mind, let's take a look at who you should start and sit in Week 5.
Start Eli Manning - Peyton's little brother started the season the same way he finished 2013, but has looked solid over the last three weeks, improving his Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total in each game. Now, after four NFL weeks, Eli is a somewhat respectable 20th-ranked quarterback in the NFL according to our numbers.
The Giants get the Falcons this week in New York, and the game should be a fairly high-scoring affair. Atlanta's secondary has been porous dating back to last season, giving the Giants' passer a nice plus matchup in Week 5. If he's on your waiver wire - which he is in about half of leagues - Manning is a perfect streaming option with a favorable schedule upcoming as well.
Sit Kirk Cousins - Whether you're a believer in Kirk Cousins' game or not (I'm not), you really shouldn't trust him in Week 5 against a Seahawks team that's coming off a bye.
His numbers aren't as bad as you'd think given his horrible Thursday night performance, but against Richard Sherman and company, given the stream-worthy options out there this week, there's no reason to throw him in your fantasy lineup outside of a two-quarterback league. We have him ranked 25th at the position in Week 5.
Start Ben Roethlisberger - I mentioned Roethlisberger as a decent start last week versus one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, and he certainly didn't disappoint, finishing the contest with over 20 fantasy points. So far on the year, Big Ben and the Steelers have put together a top-10 offense according to our Net Expected Points metric, proving that the team's 2-2 record has mostly to do with the defense. That's why he's a good play again this week versus Jacksonville, who have surrendered the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks so far this year, including 11 passing touchdowns in just four games.
Sit Tony Romo - Romo was great in Week 4 against the Saints, but it was also his best fantasy performance since his infamous game against the Broncos almost exactly a year ago. Since then and including last week, Romo's played in 13 games and has thrown for three touchdowns in just three of them. He's consistently posting points, but he's rarely giving you true high-end QB1 performances.
Dallas is one of three teams in the NFL with a pass-to-run ratio lower than 1.0, and they're facing Houston, a team also part of that three-squad sample. I'm expecting a lot of ground work in this contest, especially considering Houston's pass defense ranks second in the league according to our metrics on a per play basis versus their run defense that ranks 23rd. That limits Romo's upside.
Start Rashad Jennings - Though the Falcons aren't the absolute worst team against the run this year per our numbers, they're definitely close to it. And in terms of fantasy points against, no team has surrendered more tallies to opposing backs than Atlanta.
Enter Rashad Jennings, who's not only seeing a ton of volume, but he's been incredibly effective with it as well. Among the nine backs with 60 or more carries through four weeks, Jennings is tops in Rushing NEP, and has a Success Rate - the percentage of plays that contribute positively towards a player's NEP - that's close to 50%. That's top-notch for a high-volume back.
At home in New York, this game is the perfect recipe for a monster contest from Jennings. He should continue to make his fantasy owners smile.
Sit Donald Brown - On the opposite side of the spectrum, Donald Brown's disappointed over the last two weeks given his massive opportunity, which includes a Week 4 contest against Jacksonville that saw him carry the ball 10 times for 19 rushing yards.
Four out of every five carries from Brown is resulting in a negative NEP play, and considering he's facing one of the toughest rush defenses in the league this week, he's a definite sit. At this point, he could even be considered droppable.
Though his plodding style is tough to get excited about against most defenses, he's still a solid play against soft ones, as we saw last week against Atlanta. In Week 5, Asiata gets the worst rush defense in the entire NFL in Green Bay, and given the injury to Teddy Bridgewater, he should be in store for a nice game.
Sit Stevan Ridley - After two straight weeks of good volume, Stevan Ridley saw just five total touches in the Patriots' devastating loss in Week 4. With the Bengals up next, it's obviously tough to put him in your lineup this week.
One thing to keep in mind with Ridley, too, is that game flow can really impact his performance. He has 14 fewer carries (3.5 per game) when the team is trailing, and in losses (two of them), Ridley has a total of 13 carries. In games that aren't favorable for the Patriots (which, to be truthful, could be more often than not moving forward), Ridley could be worthless for fantasy purposes.
Start Justin Forsett - No running back in the NFL has been as efficient as Justin Forsett according to our metrics, which is obviously a positive sign for him moving forward. He's now seen double-digit carries in three of his four contests, and is eighth in the league in running back targets.
He has a nice, high weekly floor in PPR formats, and this week he'll face the Colts, who have the sixth-worst rush defense in the NFL in terms of Net Expected Points.
This matchup would be tough a season ago, but the Panthers defense hasn't been playing close to expectation over the last two weeks, making for a favorable matchup. In fact, against Pittsburgh in Week 3 and Baltimore in Week 4, the Panthers have allowed five wide receiver touchdowns and close to 100 PPR fantasy points to the position. And while the Ravens and Steelers have solid-enough wide receiving options, we all know that Jeffery is just as talented.
Sit Sammy Watkins - The good news for Sammy Watkins is that he leads the Bills in targets, and the guy in second, Robert Woods, has the second-worst catch rate in the NFL among pass-catchers with 10 or more receptions.
The bad news is that the Bills face the Lions this week, who have the fifth-ranked passing and fifth-ranked overall defense this year. Oh, and did I mention that Kyle Orton is starting for Buffalo now?
If you have another option, go with it. Watkins could struggle in Week 5.
Start Brandin Cooks - Another rookie wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, has a nice matchup in Week 5 at home against the league's worst secondary. The "at home" part is important, as we all know Drew Brees is a much different quarterback in New Orleans, averaging a passing touchdown and a half more in the Superdome versus on the road over the last few years.
Though they haven't gotten off to the hottest of starts, Brees and company shouldn't have any issues this weekend against the Bucs. That's good for Brandin Cooks, who's played more snaps than any other Saints receiver this year.
Sit DeSean Jackson - The Seahawks may not be as dominant defensively as they were last year, but that still doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence in their opponents.
DeSean Jackson has had just one meaningful game this year, and was mostly worthless in last week's Thursday night contest against the Giants. There's a possibility that he's the odd man out against Richard Sherman and company, making him a tough wideout to start this week. It's just that simple.
Start Louis Murphy - I'm going to go out on a limb with this pick, mostly because the column is lacking super deep sleepers.
In last week's win against Pittsburgh, Louis Murphy saw a team-high 11 targets as Mike Evans went down with an injury. This week against New Orleans, with Mike Evans still sidelined, Murphy has a chance to beat one of 2014's worst secondaries, as his teammate, Vincent Jackson, sees a lot of Keenan Lewis coverage.
We saw Terrance Williams do some work against New Orleans last week, and the matchup seems exploitable. If you're in a deep league or a really tough situation, you could do worse than Murphy. Honestly.
He posted 10 catches for 85 yards and a score against the Buccaneers last week, and gets to face a Jacksonville secondary that's allowed the second-most points to tight ends this year, including four touchdowns. Expect Roethlisberger to get Heath involved, giving him a nice return.
Sit Eric Ebron - In a solid matchup without teammate Joseph Fauria and an injured Calvin Johnson last week, Eric Ebron saw just four targets, catching three of them. Even if Fauria doesn't go in Week 5, it'd be tough to trust Ebron given the lower volume of targets he saw last week and the fact that the Bills have defended the tight end position well over their last two contests. Rookie tight ends struggle, and they're tough to trust each week.
Start Garrett Graham - If you need an even deeper tight end this week, Garrett Graham isn't a terrible option. He hasn't performed all that well this year despite being in a tight-end friendly offense, but his Week 5 opponent, Dallas, has allowed a tight end touchdown each week, giving up by far the most fantasy points to the position.
Graham's averaged four catches over the last two weeks, but in Week 5, that number could rise.
Start the Detroit Lions - As mentioned with the Sammy Watkins note above, Kyle Orton is getting the start for the Bills this weekend. Not only would that make any defense worthy of a start, but the Lions especially, as they've already been playing like a top-five unit this year. If they're on the waiver wire, snag them. If you own them, consider yourself lucky.
Sit the Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings defense has been fun to watch, and it's a top-10 unit according to our metrics so far. But even though they're playing on Thursday night, which favors lower-scoring contests, it'd be nuts to start them against Aaron Rodgers after his Week 4 performance.
Other Defenses to Start: New Orleans, Philadelphia
Other Players to Sit: Arizona, Washington