Each week, new storylines emerge in the NFL. Week five is no different, players coming off suspension, unforeseen struggles, and emerging young stars will change the way fantasy players assess their rosters. However, as the season progresses we gain more clarity into the landscape of the league and are able to predict with more certainty who is likely to overperform, or underperform, from a fantasy perspective in any given week. If you’re reading this column for the first time, I’m going to try to give you some insight into which players are worth starting as well as those I think should be avoided in fantasy this week. Let’s get started.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The struggles the Pittsburgh Steelers have been facing both in the locker room and on the field have been thoroughly documented. Many fans and analysts are rapidly losing faith in the team’s ability to win. However, this is still an offense that has the weapons needed to exploit a banged up Atlanta defense. The Falcons are missing four defensive starters this week, two of whom could be considered key players. Even though Big Ben hasn’t been able to connect with Antonio Brown like he has in seasons past, Juju Smith-Schuster is putting together a strong sophomore campaign, and the Steelers’ signal caller has thrown for over 1,400 yards in four weeks and should be able to keep up that pace against the Falcons. To top it off, the Steelers play at home this week, so we don’t have to worry about “Road Ben” showing up to this one.
Phillip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Phillip Rivers is on track to throw 44 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. That should be enough to tell you he’s probably worth a start on any given week. This week though, Rivers has a particularly inviting matchup at home against the Oakland Raiders. A healthy crop of talented pass catchers led by Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon, combined with ample time in the pocket should result in a very good day for the Chargers’ veteran quarterback. This one is fairly clear cut, the Chargers offense is better than the Raiders defense, Rivers has top 5 potential this week.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
For whatever reason, it seems like I find myself writing about the Jets’ rookie QB at least once a week. This week, it’s not in a particularly positive light. I do not have a lot of faith in Darnold against a stout Denver pass rush. Last week, Denver forced Pat Mahomes to prove himself against constant pressure in the pocket. I don’t expect Darnold to fare as well as Mahomes. Darnold will need his offensive line to step up in a big way if the Jets are going to avoid becoming 1-4. If you read my post on using rookie quarterbacks in fantasy, you already know to avoid Darnold. If he is on your roster, it’s probably best to leave him on the bench in this one.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is very good at making something out of nothing. However, this week he’ll need a whole lot of mojo to stave off the Los Angeles Rams impressive pass rushers. Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh are a quarterback nightmare, and even if Wilson escapes the pocket with his life, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters will make it tough for Seattle’s pass catchers to be effective. Wilson’s ability as a runner should keep his floor pretty high, but there isn’t a lot of upside for the quarterback in this week’s matchup.
Hot Running Backs
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Johnson is clearly the best running back on Detroit’s roster, and though head coach Matt Patricia insists that he will continue to use a committee approach at running back, he can’t be happy that his team currently sits 1-3 on the season. For Detroit to be successful, Johnson will need to take on more of the offensive workload. This week, the Lions play the Green Bay Packers; the Packers continue to be a friendly matchup for pass-catching running backs. That may lead some to lean on Theo Riddick this week, as he still owns the third down back role. However, Johnson is a capable receiver and a superior runner to both Riddick and early down specialist LeGarrette Blount. The best scheme for Patricia to employ is to keep Johnson in the game as much as possible. When Blount is in, it’s a run, when Riddick is in, it’s a pass, when Johnson is in, anything’s possible.
Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins
I’ll be honest, I did not expect Peterson to hold up the way that he has. AD continues to defy the odds and is averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry so far this season. The Redskins will head into New Orleans to take on the Saints on Monday night, and I believe Adrian Peterson may still be bitter about how he feels the Saints misused him during his brief tenure with the team last season. Expect Peterson to play with a chip on his shoulder and run angry. The Redskins will want to avoid a shootout and keep Drew Brees off the field for as much of the game as possible. Peterson is an RB2 with upside this week.
Cold Running Backs
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook has been underwhelming since returning from the knee injury that ended his rookie season. Averaging a mere 2.7 yards per carry, he hasn’t found much room to work. It’s truly surprising that Cook has actually been the best back in Minnesota even though he’s only mustered 98 yards on the ground. To put that into perspective, Cook’s season total is lower than Ezekiel Elliott’s per game average (106.5). The Vikings don’t look like the contender they were last year, and so far they have been heavily reliant on their air attack. Dalvin Cook will try to right the ship this week against the Eagles, but Philly’s front seven will be just as eager to prove that they are still an elite, run-stifling force to be reckoned with. Avoid Dalvin Cook this week unless you have no other option.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram will rejoin his team this week after serving a four game suspension to start the season. He has proven to be an effective running back, even when splitting snaps with Alvin Kamara, but I would take the cautious approach here and at wait at least a week to see what kind of workload Mark Ingram will get. Kamara has been extremely effective to start the season, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Saints continue to give Kamara the lion’s share of work. Ingram’s history gives him immediate flex appeal, but the presence of Alvin Kamara is always worrisome.
Hot Wide Receivers
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
I’m taking a shot here, but I do believe Christian Kirk has a good shot to outperform his current projections for week five. Kirk is leading Cardinals receivers with 16 receptions for 149 yards. His numbers haven’t been prolific by any means, but he’s had another week to establish chemistry with Josh Rosen, and he’ll be running against a San Francisco secondary that isn’t the most imposing threat the rookie will face this year. Larry Fitzgerald has been limited by a nagging hamstring injury, which bodes well for Kirk from a fantasy perspective. If Fitzgerald plays, the defense has to key on him and Kirk faces soft coverage, If Fitzgerald is ruled out, Kirk is the Cardinals’ undisputed WR1. If you’re looking for a bye week cover at wide receiver this week, look for Christian Kirk.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
I’ve said this before, and I will continue to stand by it, Dede Westbrook is the best wide receiver on Jacksonville’s roster. No disrespect to Keelan Cole or Donte Moncrief, we’ve seen Westbrook be consistently productive dating back to preseason of his rookie year. Westbrook’s speed isn’t talked about enough, he runs a 4.3 second 40 and has a knack for finding space in coverage. It’s no accident that Dede leads all Jaguars in receiving with 21 receptions or 294 yards. Westbrook is an excellent flex play, particularly in PPR formats. This week Westbrook will look to torch a vulnerable Kansas City defense that has already given up over 1,300 yards to opposing receivers this year, good for 31st among 32 teams.
Cold Wide Receivers
Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins
Kenny Stills is a boom or bust player if there ever was one. Stills’ production is dependent on the deep ball. At this point in the season Stills is averaging over 18 yards per reception. If Tannehill is unable to connect on a big play with Stills, it’s unlikely that the receiver will have a productive fantasy outing. The Dolphins will play at Cincinnati this week, against a Bengals team that is by no means great on defense, but hasn’t given up a passing play over 49 yards and only allows 7.4 yards per attempt to opposing offenses. If Stills is in your lineup he will have to score, likely on a long play in order to be productive. So far the wide out is averaging just under 5 targets per game (less than Laquon Treadwell).
Taywan Taylor, Tennessee Titans
Taylor has been fairly efficient with this year, catching 14 of 19 targets across the first 4 games of the season. But h e’s only scored once and is only averaging 35 yards per game. With Rishard Matthews out of the picture, Taylor may emerge as a solid WR2 behind Corey Davis. At this point, I’m not quite sold on Taylor as a legitimate fantasy contributor. He is worth picking up and stashing if you need depth at wide receiver or want to get pre-emptive in covering bye weeks, but I don’t see a big game for him this week against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo’s pass defense has been middle of the pack, so it’s unclear how successful the Titans can be through the air. What I’m anticipating is an early lead from Tennessee, and subsequent safe play calling to maintain that lead. I have Corey Davis ranked head and shoulders above Taywan Taylor this week as I don’t think it will take much more than a strong effort from Davis to close out this game.