Fantasy Football Start, Sit, Stream, or Fade: Week 5
2020 has been a year of chaos and discombobulation -- whatever the norm was, it's long been thrown out the window. However, despite all the pandemonium, the one thing that's bound to be a constant is the need to make fantasy football lineup decisions.
Imagine spending months searching for a vacation destination, finally finding one, and having absolutely no plan for when you arrive -- that would be all of us after weeks and months of researching for drafts and then not having a plan of action for when the season actually arrives.
If you had a good draft, you should have some tough lineup decisions to make on a weekly basis. If you don't have any tough lineup decisions, there's a good chance that your bench is thinner than LeBron James' hairline. The goal of this piece is to assist with some of those decisions.
Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another league.
With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week, and will, hopefully, be able to sway you in one direction or another.
We'll break down players into four categories:
Start: These players are good starts in any format unless you have one of the elites.
Stream: These will be players with either good matchups or higher-than-usual projected volume that can be streaming options in many formats.
Fade: This category will be reserved for higher-end fantasy studs who find themselves in a bad spot on that given week. Fade these players in DFS or if you have a loaded roster, but don't get too cute.
Sit: This category will feature players that should ride the pine unless you truly have no better options.
Without further ado, let's get to it!
(When I reference fantasy points allowed, it is Yahoo settings for quarterbacks and half-PPR for the other positions.)
Deshaun Watson (vs. Jacksonville) - Through four weeks, Watson's highest finish in fantasy has been QB12 -- his only finish better than QB15. That should change this week. The Houston Texans are taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars, and aside from the fact that it's a titillating matchup, the team should be invigorated after the firing of general manager/head coach/offensive coordinator/play-caller Bill O'Brien. It was clear to everyone but O'Brien himself that what he was doing wasn't working, and a different approach -- any approach -- should be for the better. Now, onto the matchup. To date, the Jags rank dead last in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. They've faced the fourth-fewest passing plays per game, and yet, they've already surrendered two top-eight quarterback finishes, and they have yet to face a passer with Watson's dual-threat abilities. Fire Watson up as a QB1 in Week 5.
Teddy Bridgewater (at Atlanta) - We finally saw a ceiling game from Bridgewater in Week 4. After not exceeding 17.4 fantasy points in either of his first three contests, Teddy dropped 27.2 on the Arizona Cardinals, thanks to a season-high 32 rushing yards and a score. Now, Bridgewater gets the incredible draw that is the Atlanta Falcons. To date, Atlanta has surrendered the most fantasy points to the position... by an average of 5.2 per game. They've allowed performances of 31.8, 39.8, and 29.6 fantasy points to Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Aaron Rodgers, respectively -- they also gave up 30.8 fantasy points to Chicago Bears quarterbacks in Week 3. Teddy is a low-end QB1 for this tasty treat.
Kirk Cousins (at Seattle) - Cousins has two games with more than 20 fantasy points this season, and he's managed just 1.5 and 14.9 fantasy points in the other two. This should be a week where he can post a solid day in fantasy. The Seattle Seahawks have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks to date -- each passer they've faced has recorded at least 21.3 fantasy points, and two have managed at least 29.5. Seattle is also a full-fledged pass-funnel defense -- they rank fifth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and third-worst in the passing version of that metric. Given Seattle's ability to seemingly score at will this season, it should come as no surprise that they've faced the most pass attempts in the league. This game has the highest projected total on the slate, and the Minnesota Vikings are 7.0-point 'dogs -- that should lead to plenty of attempts for Kirk.
Justin Herbert (at New Orleans) - Herbert's averaging 310.3 passing yards through three contests and has scored multiple touchdowns in two of those games. He'll get a tasty matchup in Week 5, as he takes on the New Orleans Saints. Through four weeks, the Saints have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing passers, and they have yet to hold any signal-caller to fewer than 21.3 fantasy points in a game. Herbert is a solid streamer on Monday Night Football.
Matt Ryan (vs. Carolina) - The Carolina Panthers have been the ultimate run-funnel defense in 2020. Through Week 4, Carolina has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and second-most to opposing running backs. It's not as if teams aren't throwing on Carolina -- they've faced the 12th-most pass attempts to date. Somehow, the Panthers rank as a top-12 unit in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Ryan has recorded exactly 12.4 fantasy points in back-to-back games and could underwhelm again in Week 5.
Tom Brady (at Chicago) - The Chicago Bears are one of the toughest matchups a quarterback could draw for fantasy purposes. Over their last 30 games, only one quarterback (Patrick Mahomes, Week 16 last year) managed to score more than 20 fantasy points against them. This season, Chicago has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Brady's also dealing with injuries to his skill-position players. Chris Godwin, Justin Watson, and O.J. Howard are all out, while Mike Evans and Scotty Miller are both banged-up. I'd sit Brady this week.
Derek Carr (at Kansas City) - The Kansas City Chiefs used to be a matchup we'd chase at most positions to get fantasy production, if not for projected volume alone. However, that's not the case this season. Through four weeks, Kansas City ranks first in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. This is the same defense that held Lamar Jackson to 97 passing yards and a career-low 14.2 fantasy points. In his last three games, Carr has averaged 19.8 fantasy points per contest, but don't chase that production in Week 5.
Todd Gurley (vs. Carolina) - Remember how I mentioned in the Matt Ryan blurb that the Panthers were a run-funnel defense? Well, Gurley's the one who stands to benefit from that. After surrendering a ridiculous 30 touchdowns to the running back position last season, the Panthers are on pace to allow 32 total scores this season. And scoring touchdowns just so happens to be Gurley's wheelhouse. Gurley has scored multiple touchdowns in a third of his games since 2018 and has scored at least once in 75.8% of those contests. Fire him up this week.
Antonio Gibson (vs. LAR) - This might not look like the friendliest matchup on paper, but it's actually one to target in Week 5. Through four games, the Los Angeles Rams rank as the worst team in the league in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Facing the New York Giants has suppressed the amount of fantasy production they've allowed to the position, but Gibson's a hell of a lot better than whatever the Giants are throwing out there at running back. Gibson's had an uneven snap share this season, ranging anywhere from 26% to 65%, but he is coming off a game in which he totaled 17 touches, 126 yards, and a score against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense. Among the 53 backs with at least 18 carries this season, Peyton Barber (-0.06) and J.D. McKissic (-0.02) both rank bottom-14 in Rushing NEP per carry, while Gibson (0.14) finds himself inside the top-12. McKissic has out-targeted Gibson 17 to 12, but if that continues, it's simply coaching malpractice. McKissic's Reception NEP per target mark of -0.03 ranks third-worst among all backs with at least 12 targets, while Gibson's mark of 0.38 is far, far better. If Washington was smart (a big if), they'd continue to ramp up Gibson's touches.
Ronald Jones (at Chicago) - With Leonard Fournette out last week, Jones recorded a whopping 26 touches and turned them into 128 total yards while seeing a career-best 64% snap share. That was against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that ranks 11th-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play -- the Bears are 5th-worst in that regard. Chicago's run-funnel defense has allowed four different backs to score, and four runners have totaled at least 79 yards against them this season.
Duke Johnson (vs. Jacksonville) - Last year, among the 46 backs with at least 30 targets, Johnson ranked third in Reception NEP per reception and fifth in Reception Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of receptions that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense). Of course, his head coach was Bill O'Brien, so Johnson was criminally underutilized. Now, O'Brien has been fired, and the interim coaching staff might not feel the need to justify the former head coach/general manager/play-caller's awful David Johnson for DeAndre Hopkins trade. That could mean more touches for Duke, who received eight totes last week on 38% of the snaps. The Jacksonville Jaguars have surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs this season, and 41.5% of that production has come through the air. Duke could be an underrated streamer in Week 5.
Joe Mixon (at Baltimore) - I listed Mixon as a fade in this spot last week, and he ended up outscoring every other back by 11.5 points in half-PPR formats. Welp. However, I'm nothing if not relentless -- I'm going right back there this week. The Baltimore Ravens rank second in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and 57.6% of the fantasy points they've allowed to running backs this season have come via receptions. Mixon didn't top four targets or 10.6 fantasy points in any of his first three games, and if the Cincinnati Bengals go back to underutilizing him in the passing game, he could post another dud.
Myles Gaskin (at San Francisco) - Gaskin has seen a snap share of 63% or higher in each game this season, and he's received at least 13 touches in each contest. Nevertheless, this is a matchup where you want to completely ignore that usage and keep Gaskin on your bench. Despite all their injuries, the San Francisco 49ers rank sixth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they've surrendered the fewest fantasy points to the position this season. This is a defense that limited Miles Sanders to just 8.5 half-PPR points in Week 4.
David Montgomery (vs. Tampa Bay) - Montgomery played a career-best 85% of the snaps in Week 4, but I still don't trust him as a fantasy option -- particularly in this matchup. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the best team in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play this season, and 57.9% of the fantasy scoring they have allowed to backs have come via the air. Meanwhile, Montgomery has exceeded three receptions just once in his career.
Justin Jefferson (at Seattle) - At this point, this section might as well be named, "whatever receiver is facing the Seahawks." 11 receivers have totaled at least 65 yards against Seattle, 8 have managed 86-plus, 7 have posted 107 or more, and 4 have dropped at least 130. Keep in mind -- this has all occurred in just four games. Jefferson has recorded 175 and 103 yards in his last two games, and he could see a ton of volume in the game with the highest total on the slate and the Vikings as 7.0-point underdogs.
Robby Anderson (at Atlanta) - As I mentioned above, Atlanta's pass defense is...shall we say...not very good. Atlanta ranks fourth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and don't let the fact that they've "only" allowed the 10th-most points to wideouts fool into thinking that this isn't a juicy matchup. In each of their first three games, Atlanta had allowed two wideouts to total at least 12.0 half-PPR points against them. The Green Bay Packers chose different avenues to attack them, but Anderson should have plenty of success against a secondary that allowed five different wideouts to top 90 receiving yards through the first three games. Robby has the highest target share on the Panthers, which should go a long way against this defense.
Darius Slayton (at Dallas) - No team has surrendered more touchdowns to the wide receiver position than the Dallas Cowboys, and scoring has been Slayton's bread and butter so far in his career. Dallas has allowed three different receivers to score multiple times against them this season, and four wideouts have posted at least 100 yards. Slayton has garnered 29 targets through four games (7.3 per game), and he could approach double-digit looks in a game with a 54.0 total and Dallas being favored by 9.5.
Marquise Brown (vs. Cincinnati) - The Cincinnati Bengals have given at least 72 yards and a score to a wideout in three consecutive games. Despite having little to show for it, Hollywood has garnered at least six targets in every game this season. The last four wideouts to receive at least six targets against the Bengals have each totaled 72 yards or more. Cincinnati's mark of 0.23 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play is tied for sixth-worst in the league, making this a matchup we definitely want to attack.
Terry McLaurin (vs. LAR) - There are a couple of things that factor into fading Scary Terry this week. First, there's to switch to Kyle Allen at quarterback. To date, McLaurin is seventh in the league in targets. Will that volume continue with Allen? Who knows? Among the 29 passers with at least 300 drop backs last year, Allen was tied for second-worst in Passing NEP per drop back. Also working against McLaurin is the matchup. The Rams are a run-funnel defense that ranks seventh-best in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play -- they've also allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. A dud could be coming McLaurin's way in Week 5.
Greg Ward (at Pittsburgh) - Ward is currently the Philadelphia Eagles' de-facto number one receiver, though that doesn't mean he should be in your lineup. The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't been their usual stingy defense so far this year, though Ward's matchup in the slot projects as one of the toughest individual matchups in Week 5. Ward struggled in a tough matchup against San Francisco last week, and the same should happen in Week 5.
Jerry Jeudy (at New England) - Jeudy currently has an expert consensus ranking of WR32, which seems a bit high for a matchup this tough. Bill Belichick is a mastermind at taking away the opposition's top weapon, and with Noah Fant likely out, that top weapon will be Jeudy. The rookie, who has yet to top 62 receiving yards this year, could struggle to produce in this one.
Hunter Henry (at New Orleans) - Through four games, the Saints have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. At least one tight end has scored in every game against New Orleans this season. Henry has yet to score this year, though he has garnered at least seven targets in three of the four contests. Henry is a high-end play at a position that's severely lacking in playable options.
Eric Ebron (vs. Philadelphia) - Over his last two games, Ebron has garnered 12 targets, including 2 inside the red zone. That's big since he'll be taking on an Eagles defense that has surrendered at least 11.7 half-PPR points to a tight end in three of their four games this season. Most recently, George Kittle caught all 15 of his targets for 183 yards and a score -- that came two weeks after Tyler Higbee scored three times against Philly. Ebron is a top-10 option this week.
Ian Thomas (at Atlanta) - Depending on how desperate you are and how thin your league is, Ian Thomas could be your best option at tight end in Week 5. Thomas has just 9 targets and 30 yards through four weeks (barf), but he takes on the Falcons, who don't seem to have any interest in covering tight ends in 2020. Before Robert Tonyan dropped 98 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Falcons in Week 4, Jimmy Graham's corpse totaled 60 yards and 2 scores against them in Week 3, Dalton Schultz managed 88 yards and a score in Week 2, and play-by-play announcer Greg Olsen posted 24 yards and a score against them in Week 1. You can do worse than throwing a dart at Thomas.
Austin Hooper (vs. Indianapolis) - Hooper was one of the hottest pickups at tight end after recording 34 yards and a score on a season-high 7 targets last week, but that doesn't make him a good start this week. Hooper will take on the Indianapolis Colts, who have surrendered 71 yards to tight ends this season...in total. Jimmy Graham was the best tight end the Colts have faced, so it's not like they've been going up against Travis Kelce or Kittle -- but then again, they're not going up against Kelce or Kittle this week. The fact is, Hooper is the third (or fourth) option in a passing game on the team with the lowest pass-to-run ratio in the league.
Mike Gesicki (at San Francisco) Whether you consider Gesicki to be a tight end or just a big slot receiver, this is not a good matchup for him. The San Francisco 49ers have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends this year, after surrendering the fourth-fewest last season. Gesicki, who has had three receptions or fewer in three of his four games this season, is about to join Evan Engram and Zach Ertz as tight ends to put up duds against the Niners in 2020.