Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 5
I'm a big fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I watch every game, and I've fallen in love with the current team. To see their season end against one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball in a one-game playoff last night sucked. It just sucked.
But the beautiful thing with sports is that there's always something else to latch on to and root for. My Penguins, for instance, start their season tonight (yes, hockey exists, America). The Steelers are moderately competitive, and should be interesting to watch, too. And, hey, only six months until the Pirates get things going again.
Sports never stop. You, as a fan, are never done.
The same could be said with fantasy football. You may be 1-3 and wanting to punch holes through a Gatorade container, but there's still plenty of time. You're not done. And the first step in righting the ship is making sound start-sit decisions. Let this column help you.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Derek Carr (vs. Denver): After four games, Derek Carr is the 14th best quarterback in fantasy football. And that's with not even finishing the first game of the year against Cincinnati.
The fact is, though, that the three games where Carr saw significant snaps were against teams with not-great secondaries, at least when it comes to stopping opposing passers in fantasy football.
The Raiders get the Broncos this week, a team that's forced three of the four quarterbacks they've faced to score fewer than 10 fantasy points. According to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, no pass defense has been better than Denver's this season. Carr is not worth a start, especially with the number of quarterbacks in good spots this week.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Arizona): I don't understand why Stafford gets the love that he does in fantasy football. According to ESPN.com's fantasy leagues, roughly 20 percent of leagues see Matthew Stafford rostered as a starting quarterback. Meanwhile, he just faced the Seahawks in Seattle (a clear "don't start me" last week), and through four games, he's yet to have a weekly ranking better than 16th at the quarterback position.
The Lions will face the Cardinals in Detroit this weekend -- Arizona is third against the pass according to our metrics, and the sixth best team against quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points against. No thanks.
Quarterbacks to Start Instead
Sam Bradford (vs. New Orleans): Bradford showed some signs of life last week against a banged up Redskins' secondary, finishing as the second best quarterback option on the week. In Week 5, the Eagles host the Saints, putting Bradford in another desirable spot.
New Orleans comes in ranking 30th against the pass this year, and they've surrendered top-three performances to Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. Their other two contests saw them give up over 18 points to the erratic Jameis Winston, and another 14.34 to backup Brandon Weeden.
Quarterbacks finding success against the Saints isn't uncommon. The last time a starting quarterback didn't score at least 10 fantasy points against New Orleans was Week 3 of last year, while every signal-caller since has thrown for at least one touchdown against the Saints. Don't assume Bradford repeats his Week 4 performance, but he's certainly in a good position.
Jay Cutler (at Kansas City): The king of DGAFing squares up against the Chiefs this weekend in a game where the Bears are huge underdogs. That's not something you tend to look for in a starting fantasy signal-caller, but the good news is that Cutler, over the last five years, has been better as a touchdown-plus underdog than when out of the split.
That's not really the reason you want to play him this week though. Kansas City, while favorites, have surrendered the most fantasy points to quarterbacks so far this season, giving up at least 18 points per contest. According to our numbers, even when you adjust for strength of opponent, the Chiefs have the 24th best secondary in the league. If you're looking for a quarterback streamer, Cutler could be your man.
Running Backs to Sit
Shane Vereen (vs. San Francisco): Are we done with Shane Vereen? We probably should be, at least in games where the Giants have a good shot to be ahead.
Over the last two weeks -- two wins from the Giants -- Vereen has touched the ball a total of 11 times, seeing just three targets out of the backfield. That's not all that surprising considering the platoon they have at the running back position, and the fact that Vereen is the team's pass-catching back. When they're leading, which has been often recently, they'll be less inclined to use him.
Frank Gore (at Houston): A quick glance at this week's matchup for Gore doesn't show anything overly difficult. The Texans rank 16th against the run, and Devonta Freeman ran all over them last weekend.
But Frank Gore, even with a good bit of volume, has been really bad this year. According to NEP, Gore has just a 38.8% Success Rate, when anything below 40% from a running back is generally unacceptable. His Rushing NEP per rush of -0.09 is 13th worst of the 42 running backs with 30 or more carries this year, and that's with a quarterback -- or, at least mostly with a quarterback -- who keeps defenses honest.
With Gore, you're banking for touchdowns. You need him to score. And with Andrew Luck's health in question, can you really rely on that?
Chris Johnson (at Detroit): Perhaps the biggest surprise in fantasy football so far has been CJRevivedK, who's now scored over 40 PPR fantasy points over his last two games. But with Andre Ellington likely to return this week against the Lions, there's no telling how the backfield split will work. That, and Detroit's still been decent against the rush this year, ranking eighth according to NEP.
Running Backs to Start Instead
Justin Forsett (vs. Cleveland): As I mentioned in my weekly 15 Transactions column last week, Justin Forsett's slow start could have just as much to do with schedule (aside from obvious regression) than anything else. The Ravens faced Denver in Week 1 (10th against the run according to our numbers) and Cincinnati in Week 3 (7th), where Forsett combined to score about 16 PPR points.
But in plus matchups this year, or matchups not against tough defenses, he's been fine. Week 2 saw him score 12 PPR points against Oakland, and he rushed for 150 yards in a huge game versus Pittsburgh last week.
Cleveland's in town in Week 5, and the Browns have the worst rush defense in football, per NEP. This has translated to fantasy, as Cleveland has allowed a running back to rank 13th or better in PPR leagues each week this year.
Duke Johnson (at Baltimore): Opposite of Forsett will be Duke Johnson for the Browns, who's now seen 17 targets over his last two games. This is the type of role the team envisioned he'd take on, and considering Cleveland's defense has been so poor, the Browns have been trailing quite a bit. As a result, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see them trot the pass-catching Johnson onto the field as opposed to the bruising Isaiah Crowell -- that, at least, is what Vegas is dictating, as the Ravens are decent favorites in the division clash. In PPR leagues, Johnson should be on your radar.
Chris Thompson (at Atlanta): Thompson's certainly a deeper play this week, but he's also a logical one. Like Johnson above, there's a good shot Thompson's team is trailing against the Falcons in Atlanta. Again, Vegas sees the Falcons as heavy favorites, which helps with this reasoning.
Thompson, the team's passing down back, could benefit. In fact, it's been common to see running backs find success through the air against Atlanta -- Darren Sproles was the eighth best PPR back in Week 1 with seven catches versus the Falcons, Shane Vereen ranked seventh in Week 2 with eight grabs, Lance Dunbar was 12th in Week 3 after catching 10 passes, and even Chris Polk and Arian Foster combined for six catches against Atlanta last Sunday.
If you're hurting at the running back position due to injury or a bye week, and are playing in a PPR league, I'd look at Thompson for some relief. A negative game script is probable, and that makes him a really attractive option.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Michael Crabtree (vs. Denver): Even with a injury during last Sunday's game -- he came back late -- Crabtree finished with 5 catches for 80 yards. He now has at least six targets in every game this year, including 16 back in Week 2.
So what's not to like? Well, I already mentioned this above, but the Raiders aren't exactly in a desirable spot against the Broncos this week. Regardless of the cornerback who's covering Crabtree, he could be in store for a weak performance. I'd be surprised if he's able to score double-digit PPR points.
Golden Tate (vs. Arizona): Golden Tate's been a huge disappointment so far this year, despite seeing moderate volume. Only 28 wide receivers have more targets than Tate in 2015, but the Lions' number-two pass-catcher has scored the 47th most PPR points at the position.
This week, Tate faces a Cardinals' defense that, as noted, ranks third against the pass. This season, albeit against weak-ish competition, only one wide receiver -- Tavon Austin -- has been able to crack the top 20 in weekly scoring versus Arizona.
Tate's floor isn't even that appealing, let alone a ceiling that's capped by a better wide receiver playing across from him.
Wide Receivers to Start Instead
Leonard Hankerson (vs. Washington): There's not a lot to be excited about when you look at the Washington secondary. And the team is trying to mask its weakness. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Redskins have blitzed just 18 times this season, when they brought the heat 22 times over the last two games last year. In other words, they're dropping more guys into coverage, and hoping the line can do the heavy lifting.
The problem is that, while they do rank 21st against the pass, which is better than last year, teams are still finding success throwing on them. Over the last two weeks, they've allowed three top-20 performances to wide receivers, surrendering four wide receiver touchdowns. Look for Hankerson, Matt Ryan's new favorite number-two target, to take advantage against his (narrative street alert!) old team.
Kendall Wright (vs. Buffalo): Wright's a top-30 wide receiver in fantasy so far this year despite missing last week with a bye. In Week 5, the Titans get a Bills secondary that looks good according to our advanced metrics, but that's mostly because they've been great at turning the ball over. Really, they've allowed the third most fantasy points to the wide receiver position, all while giving up six WR2 (top-24) or better performances this season. Wright is definitely in play as the top target for Marcus Mariota.
Week 5 should be much kinder. Jacksonville will face Tampa Bay, a team that was one of the worst against the pass last year according to our numbers, and one that already ranks 23rd against the pass this year. So far on the year, number-one wideouts Kendall Wright, DeAndre Hopkins and Ted Ginn Jr. (still can't believe he's a "top" wideout) have ranked at least 17th against the unit, scoring four combined touchdowns.
Tight Ends to Sit
Gary Barnidge (at Baltimore): Gary Barnidge is a legitimate piece of the Browns offense, whether people want to believe it or not. (I know it's hard to, because his name sounds like he should be working for a landscaping company.)
But Barnidge isn't in a great spot in Week 5. While Baltimore's been porous against the pass this year, they've actually defended the tight end better than any team in football. Heath Miller caught just one pass against them last week, Tyler Eifert put together a goose egg (thanks to some penalties, to be transparent) the week before, and in Week 1, Denver's tight ends caught just two passes for five yards.
Tight ends are tough to predict in general, but judging off our small sample, Barnidge could struggle on Sunday.
Other tight ends to sit: Coby Fleener (at Houston)
Tight Ends to Start Instead
We saw what Clay was able to do with a ton of targets last week -- he turned 13 of them into 9 catches for 111 yards. The Bills get the Titans this week, who've been below average -- well below average -- at defending the position. It all adds up to a decent day for Clay.
Derek Carrier (at Atlanta): Last season, only three teams compiled more tight end receptions than the Washington Redskins. And it's because the position is important in the offense. Niles Paul was going to be the top guy, but he ended his season early in the preseason with an injury. Jordan Reed has stepped in admirably, but he sprained his right MCL and is now in concussion protocol.
That leaves Derek Carrier (who?) to fill the void in a Washington offense that is going to be forced to pass, but is without its top weapons. Carrier is a deeper play, but one you can use if you're desperate for tight end help.
Defenses to Sit
Seattle Seahawks (at Cincinnati): Whether we want to believe it or not, the Bengals offense has been legit with Andy Dalton this year. No quarterback has a higher Passing NEP total (this is mostly because Tom Brady was on bye last week), while the offense overall ranks fourth according to our schedule-adjusted metrics. Fantasy defenses against Cincinnati have ranked 32nd, 21st, 10th and 30th in weekly scoring this year, and with Seattle playing in Cincinnati, they're not set up for success.
Other defenses to sit: St. Louis (at Green Bay), Dallas (vs. New England)
Defenses to Start Instead
New York Giants (vs. San Francisco): The 49ers have the third worst offense in the NFL per our metrics, and no team has ranked worse than 15th in defensive scoring when facing the 49ers this year. That even includes Minnesota in Week 1, when the Vikings lost. Colin Kaepernick has been sacked five or more times in two of the team's four games this year, and with a Vegas spread that heavily favors the Giants, there's reason to believe turnovers will occur, too. The Giants, who have been a top-half defense this year in terms of schedule-adjusted NEP, make for a great defensive streaming option.
Other defenses to start: Atlanta Falcons (vs. Washington), San Diego Chargers (vs. Pittsburgh)