Week 5 Players to Watch as Rosters Ebb In and Out of Focus

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Ryan Fitzpatrick will return, at least for now, to his slumber under the surface. Four of the five rookie quarterbacks taken in 2018 NFL Draft have assumed starting responsibilities for their respective teams. Julian Edelman and Mark Ingram are set to return from their suspensions. The Tennessee Titans beat the defending Super Bowl Champions despite already having changed quarterbacks three times in four games because of injuries. Chris Carson followed up a 100 yard game with a hip injury that rendered him inactive in Week 4. I could keep going, but feel it’s needless to say a lot of NFL rosters are in flux as we enter Week 5. For this week, let’s try to keep the focus on players who have or will benefit from said fluctuating rosters.

Denver Broncos at New York Jets

Key Players: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Sam Darnold 

Every week when I sit down to start my research, I Google the games on the NFL schedule. I write my article based on their order from that search. This is why I find myself in a strange position writing first about a game I have little to say about . . .

My opinion on the Broncos has not changed since Week 2, the only players worth playing are Lindsay and Freeman. Last week they combined for 136 rushing yards and scored 1 touchdown a piece. Since the Jets have a strong pass defense, they will be needed once more. Until Case Keenum has a breakout game, the Broncos’ receiving corp is not worth playing outside of bye week desperation. As for the Jets, I would also advise not starting any of their players this week. Sam Darnold was able to break his interception streak (5 in the first 3 games), but did little else from a fantasy perspective. Like the Jaguars, the Broncos defense is no joke for a young quarterback. Darnold will not be asked to do too much, nor should he be, so the backs and receivers should not played. Look for this to continue in the coming weeks with Minnesota and Chicago looming in Weeks 7 and 8.

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Key Players: Aaron Jones, Aaron Rodgers, Kerryon Johnson, Golden Tate

For Green Bay it’s the story of two Aaron’s in Week 5. I have no idea what’s going on with Aaron Rodgers. Is he healthy? Are he and Mike McCarthy on the outs? For most quarterbacks, 22-40 for 298 yards 1 touchdown and 1 interception is a decent game. By Rodgers’ standards, it’s cause for concern. Reviewing the tape against the Bills he seemed out of sync. Fortunately for Rodgers and Rodgers’ owners, the Lions are next up on the schedule. There are few things Rodgers’ seems to enjoy more than destroying the hearts of Lions’ fans. Let’s see if he can get back in the rhythm this week. One thing that could help Rodgers is handing the ball off to Aaron Jones a bit more this week. Jones scored 1 touchdown last week on 11 carries for 65 yards. Reviewing the tape, it’s clear Jones can do everything required by the Packers’ offense. He can run inside, outside, out of the gun, out of i-formation, catch passes, run stretch plays, the works. If Rodgers’ still isn’t healthy or in a funk, why not let Jones carry the offense for a little bit? It’s never been something Mike McCarthy has been willing to do, but, seriously, why not now?

The Lions could not build on their upset of the Patriots, dropping to 1-3 last week. Kerryon Johnson did not hit 100 yards again, with 55 yards on only 9 carries and 1 touchdown. Looking at it glass half full, the Lions only ran the ball 20 times and Johnson not only scored a touchdown, he was the only one who generated any momentum on the ground. LaGarrette Blount has done very little this season, it’s unlikely he will continue to get carries unless he does something soon. Those carries will, obviously, go to Johnson. In the passing game, Golden Tate continued his consistent start to 2018 with 8 receptions on 8 targets for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns. I imagine he will continue this against the Packers since Rodgers typically puts up big games in Detroit. Not to mention the importance of getting the ball out quickly against a Mike Pettine defense.

New York Giants at Carolina Panthers

Key Players: Saquon BarkleySterling Shepard, Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess

The Giants are one of those rare teams that don’t score a lot of points while inexplicably wracking up plenty of fantasy points. Saquon Barkley finished with 100 total yards (44 rushing and 56 receiving) and 1 touchdown against the Saints last week. Once more he showed why he was a top pick in draft and remains a must play in fantasy. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and split out wide will always give him value even when he only gets 10 carries. It also doesn’t hurt that he can practically fly. The Panthers have allowed a 100 yard rusher in 2 of their 3 game so far in 2018 and that 3rd game Andy Dalton threw 46 passes. There’s a good chance Barkley will go over 100 this week. In the passing game, Sterling Shepard has stepped into the void created by Evan Engram‘s injury. Against the Saints he posted 10 receptions on 10 targets for 77 yards and 1 touchdown. He has a touchdown in each game over the past two weeks.

The Panthers are back after their bye week looking to build on their win over the Bengals. For the first time in 3 games the Panthers box score resembled a box score one would expect from a Norv Turner led offense. Sure some of the plays looked decidedly more modern, but the overarching theory was in tact. Christian McCaffrey showed the inside, outside rushing attack I expected at the beginning of the season and Cam Newton didn’t take over too much of the running game with only 10 carries. McCaffrey  on the hand, posted 184 yards on 22 carries. The Giants defense just got shredded by Alvin Kamara and the Saints, making it likely McCaffrey posts another big game on Sunday. In the passing game, Devin Funchess has separated himself from the pack with 16 targets in the last two weeks. In Week 3 he had 4 receptions for 67 yards and 1 touchdown. If McCaffrey has indeed hit his stride, teams will have to come up on running downs. When they do, Funchess will be able find space over the top of single coverage. All that remains to be seen is if he will remain a second tier receiver or take a step up to the first tier bubble.

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills

Key Players: Corey Davis, Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Josh Allen

This is another one of those games I don’t have a lot to say about.

Corey Davis had a breakout game last week and that’s pretty much the only thing worth mentioning here. Even Davis is hard to speculate on because the rapport he’s built is with Marcus Mariota and it’s hard to say who will be under center each week for the Titans. As for Henry and Lewis, I’m shocked they have put up such meager numbers this season. I assume this will break, but can no longer speculate when. The Bills, on the other hand, were unable to build off their shocking win over the Vikings in Week 3. Josh Allen regressed against the Packers. Without consistency from him, avoid Bills players at all costs.

Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers

Key Players: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster

This is another game that can be summed up pretty succinctly: start anyone and everyone involved in the passing game for this match-up.

The Falcons can’t stay out of shoot-outs. In the past two weeks they have scored 37 and 36 points respectively, dropping both contests. Matt Ryan finished last week 29-39 for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns. Julio Jones had 9 receptions for 173 yards, while Calvin Ridley followed up his 3 touchdown Week 3 with 2 more touchdowns last week. The Steelers are only a few weeks removed from giving up 6 touchdown passes to Patrick Mahomes. Combine this Atlanta’s own struggles on defense and it looks like a shoot-out. Ryan and his magnificent duo in Jones and Ridley are must starts. Speaking of great receiving duos, Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster have shown no signs of slowly down either. Both can get over the top and catch and run on short passes at will, consistently presenting defenses with an impossible choice: which one do you cover? So, yeah, not a lot to really say here. If you have one of these guys, expect a big game.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns

Key Players: John Brown, Alex Collins, Nick Chubb, Antonio Callaway

John Brown continued his strong start in 2018 finishing with 3 receptions on 7 targets for 116 yards and 1 touchdown. Thus far his reception totals have not topped 5 in any game, but he has scored 3 touchdowns in 4 games. Last week he showed precisely why he continues to score touchdowns when he blew past double coverage on the Ravens’ opening drive. While his intermediate accuracy may always leave fans wanting, no one can deny Joe Flacco‘s arm strength. As such, it is likely Brown will continue to score in 2018 whenever he breaks away from coverage, remaining a fringe starter or flex option in fantasy. Alex Collins continues to be an enigma. Last week he had 11 carries for 42 yards along with a 3 yard touchdown reception. While this would usually be a borderline acceptable performance from a second tier fantasy back, he had a fumble that neutralized any real value. I have him on one of my teams and am trying to trade him with few buyers. Even the guy who drafted Le’Veon Bell doesn’t want him. Hopefully he breaks out soon or some of us will seriously have to consider dropping a high draft pick. The Browns got rocked by Marshawn Lynch last week, so I’ll give Collins another week before trying something drastic.

In case anyone is wondering, sitting here writing about the Browns last week is causing me to intermittently shout, “Dammit!” every couple of minutes. Anyway, the two players who stuck out for the Browns were Baker Mayfield‘s fellow rookies Nick Chubb and Antonio Callaway. Carlos Hyde has, deservedly, received most of the carries so far this season. When the Browns went up 28-14, the wheels fell off for a few minutes as they inexplicably came out passing. I can’t see them making that mistake again, so look for them to run the ball more than they have thus far. Those extra carries should go to Chubb who posted one of the stranger fantasy stat lines I’ve ever seen: 3 carries for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both runs showed three things that are critical for young backs: patience, decisiveness, and elusiveness. On his first run he waited for his blockers to pull, then hit the hole full speed. On the second, the Raiders had him in the backfield until they didn’t. I find it hard to believe he won’t see more carries going forward. As for Callaway, he remains hit or miss in the passing game. Still, there is no doubting his speed. He will continue to get plenty of targets and can break a touchdown on any catch. I also was intrigued seeing him in motion so much on running plays. He should pick up a few carries in the coming weeks to go along with a high usage rate in the passing game.

Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals

Key Players: TBD for Dolphins, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Boyd

I honestly can’t think of how Week 4 could have possibly gone any worse for the Dolphins as they were absolutely eviscerated by the Patriots. We need to see what they do this week before speculating on any fantasy prospects moving forward. One thing that’s been bothering me though: can anyone explain Kenyan Drake has been this season?

There is a bit more clarity with the Bengals in the sense that they have been putting up pretty consistent numbers. Still, the roster won’t come into focus until there is clarity on Joe Mixon‘s health. The latest news I saw said he had been at practice, an encouraging sign for Week 5. Still, even if he does play, I imagine it will be in a more limited role. He’s probably a better bet to start in Week 6. Last week GIovani Bernard rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries, scoring 2 touchdowns. In desperation, he could slide in as a starter if you have Mixon on the roster. Though, again, it’s probably better to wait a week. The one Bengal I would find on the waiver wire, if he’s still there, is Tyler Boyd. He’s carved out a niche as the underneath receiver in the Bengal offense. With A.J. Green continuing to draw all the attention, Boyd posted 11 receptions for 100 yards. He almost double Green’s targets with 15 compared to 8. Last week the Patriots feasted on the Dolphin defense in all aspects of the game (if I’m being honest), including the intermediate game. Two weeks ago the Dolphins focused their coverage on Amari Cooper, only for Jordy Nelson to post a huge game. Get Boyd, start Boyd.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs

Key Players: T.J. Yeldon, Dede Westbrook, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill

Leonard Fournette will be out once more, I hope those of you that own him didn’t drop T.J. Yeldon already. Against the Jets, Yeldon took over for Fournette, accounting for 100 total yards (52 rushing and 48 receiving) and 2 touchdowns. With the Chiefs passing game humming along, look for the Jaguars to try and play keep away early, hoping they can for the rest of the game. If they can’t, they’ll have to go to air. Dede Westbrook had 9 receptions on 13 targets for 130 yards last week and he would be the primary beneficiary of them trying to keep up. While Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief have had their moments as well, neither of them won the Biletnikoff Award in college. Coming from an RPO heavy system in college, it seems Westbrook is the best fit for the Jacksonville offense. We shall see if that comes true in the coming weeks.

Kansas City passed their first test against an elite defense, now we can see if they can do it again. Kareem Hunt had 1 touchdown and 121 rushing yards on 19 carries against the Broncos. His ability to run out of the shotgun and catch passes out of the backfield is a key against high pressure defenses like Denver and Jacksonville. Even if he struggles on the ground, he still has plenty of value in PPR leagues. Tyreek Hill has been sparring in the media with Jalen Ramsey, though I think is value is more as a lateral running option on jet sweeps and on quick passes. The Chiefs will need these plays to keep the Jaguars from going all out on their blitzes. The third cog in the quick passing attack for the Chiefs is Travis Kelce. Last week he had 7 receptions for 78 yards and 1 touchdown, look for him to hunt for zones opened up by Hunt and Hill.

Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers

Key Players: Marshawn Lynch, Jared Cook, Melvin Gordon, Philip Rivers

In the middle of the third quarter of last week’s Browns/Raiders game, my wife turned to me and asked, “why can’t the Browns stop that guy with the dreads?” After the game ended, I answered her question far more eloquently than my immediate response (a combination of profanity and guttural shouts directed at the TV). My personal anguish aside, Lynch is off to a great start in 2018. It’s remarkable he continues to be able to both allude tacklers and run them over. He doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon and Doug Martin remains buried on the bench. Lynch has gone from wild card to flex option to second tier starter in only 4 weeks, if he keeps it up, he will a top-tier fantasy back once again. The other player who stood out for the Raiders was Jared Cook, who found every hole in Greg Williams‘ blitz happy defense to the tune of 8 receptions for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. He had a big Week 1 before cooling off the next two weeks, so there are consistency concerns. His work running down the seam and at the goal-line needs to be monitored. If you have him, keep him.

Melvin Gordon continues to keep Austin Ekeler in a back-up role. He accounted for 159 total yard, 104 on the ground and 55 through the air, 1 touchdown and 1 two-point conversion. Even if Ekeler siphons off touches, Gordon is integral to the Charger offense. There’s really not a lot to say here. Philip Rivers continues to have a good season as well. Last week he was 25-39 for 250 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. If nothing else, he’s a good back-up to keep around with Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger looking at bye weeks in the coming weeks.

Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles

Key Players: Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey 

I don’t know which is more surprising, the Vikings’ record or their inability to run the ball. So long as it continues, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will put up huge numbers. Kirk Cousins remains a starter as well. Until the running game picks up, there’s not a lot else to say about the Vikings.

The Eagles’ roster is somehow simultaneously coming more and less into focus now that Alshon Jeffrey is finally healthy again. Nelson Agholor is no longer the primary target in the passing game and Carson Wentz now has an outside passing option in the red zone, possibly affecting the Philly running backs. The Vikings, on paper, boast a strong pass defense, so this will be a good test for Jeffrey and Wentz. I say “on paper” because they sure didn’t look very good against the Rams last week (more on them later). If the Vikings focus their coverage on Jeffrey, I’m curious to see how that will affect the tight ends in Philly. A week after Dallas Goedert had a break-out game, he was only targeted twice. Instead it was Zach Ertz carrying the heavy load with 10 receptions on 14 targets for 112 yards. Since the Vikings carry so many safeties to stop tight ends, this is a great litmus test for Ertz and Goedert. Owners of both will want to watch this game closely.

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Key Players: Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Mike Davis, Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin

Oh my god, the Rams. The Rams look like the best team in the league this year. Their offense looks unstoppable. If you have any of Jared Goff. Cooper Kupp, Todd Gurley, or Brandin Cooks, start them. Keep starting them. We can check back in if, God forbid, something happens to one of them.

Chris Carson was out last week and the Seattle running game didn’t miss a beat with Mike Davis. Davis rushed for 101 yards on 21 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Chris Carson returned to practice on Thursday, making it unclear which back will get a majority of the carries this week. I have a feeling they will both end up with 12-15 if things go well for the Seahawks. Like every team who will face them between now and the end of the season, Seattle is going to want to grind the clock down in an effort to keep Goff and his merry band of weapons off the field. Conversely, if things go very wrong very quickly, neither back will get many carries. Since Earl Thomas is out for the rest of the season, I have a feeling the Seahawks will not be able to slow the Rams down. So, avoid playing either back if you can. The only thing murkier in Seattle than the running corp is the receiving corp. As feared Doug Baldwin‘s return last week severely impacted Tyler Lockett‘s fantasy value. Even worse, all Lockett’s receptions did not go to Baldwin and they finished with eerily similar stat lines: 5 receptions on 6 targets for for 53 yards for Lockett and 5 receptions on 7 targets for 41 yards for Baldwin. I’ll once more state that while balance on the field is critical for success in the NFL, it is kryptonite for fantasy football. If we’re lucky, the Rams will be the Rams and we can see who Wilson favors when he’s trying to mount a comeback.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Key Players: David Johnson, Josh Rosen, George Kittle, Matt Breida, Alfred Morris

This is another one of those games that really doesn’t hold a lot of fantasy promise.

Josh Rosen completed two passes over 30 yards, finally giving the Cardinals passing game some teeth. David Johnson finally had a little bit of room to work with, finishing with 22 carries for 71 yards and 1 touchdown, plus 3 receptions for 41 yards. It remains to be seen if this will continue or if this is just the universe teasing Johnson owners. All things considered, the 49ers didn’t look that terrible with C.J. Beathard under center. I find it hard to believe, however, they want him throwing 37 times every game. Look to see what will happen with Matt Breida and Alfred Morris this week. George Kittle is another who needs to be watched after his 6 reception for 125 yards and 1 touchdown. Can he do it again this week? We shall see . . .

Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans

Key Players: Ezekiel Elliot, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee

Ezekiel Elliot is the Cowboys offense, showing it once more last week with 25 carries for 152 yards along with 4 receptions for 88 yards and 1 touchdown. We can can keep waiting for someone else to emerge, until then it’s Zeke, Zeke, and only Zeke.

The Texans, on the other hand, have a plethora of fantasy options. DeAndre Hopkins posted his usual 10 receptions on 12 targets for 169 yards and 1 touchdown, while Will Fuller had a more pedestrian 4 receptions on 5 targets for 49 yards and 1 touchdown. As I have been speculating since the beginning of the season, another receiver finally benefited from all the space these two create. Admittedly, I was not completely correct as it was not a tight end, it was instead rookie slot receiver Keke Coutee. Coutee exploded onto the scene with 11 receptions on 15 targets for 109 yards. He feasted on the aforementioned space and, like Tyreek Hill and Antonio Callway, will be carving out a niche as the man in motion to threaten jet sweeps on a multitude of plays. I have to give Bill O’Brien credit for creativity, especially on the play at the 1:36 mark in the highlight above I can only think to describe as a “reverse-motion, run option, screen pass”. Since the Houston running game has yet to take off, look for Coutee to help out whilst also forcing defenses to think twice about falling back to cover Hopkins and Fuller deep. Since the Cowboys have struggled so much in the passing game, look for Houston to come out gunning in an attempt to build a lead large enough to force Dallas to go to the air.

Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints

Key Players: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas

No game is more important to the fantasy football world than this one. I have few answers, only a multitude of questions. Is Adrian Peterson for real or not? Specifically, is he a week to week wildcard or a marvel of science like Marshawn Lynch? What exactly is Chris Thompson‘s role in the Washington offense? Does he still hold value in PPR leagues? What about the Saints backfield? Has Alvin Kamara established himself so well as a runner that he’s the lead back? What can we expect from Mark Ingram? How many carries will he take back from Alvin Kamara? If it’s a lot, how will this affect Michael Thomas in the passing game? Will Kamara be split out more often and dip into Thomas’ reception total? If not, will Thomas bounce back after a forgetful Week 4?

I’ll be watching this game closely to try and answer these questions for next week because, as I sit here contemplating, I can see at least five vastly different answers for each question and need a bit of Logos before making an educated guess.

Follow Nick on Twitter @anthonynickrose. Check out his other work here, such as his look at drafting fantasy running backs in the age of NFL RB rotations.

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