This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Earlier this week, RotoWire's Chris Liss wrote an even-better-than-usual edition of East Coast Offense, discussing the annual battle between weighing preseason expectations against year-to-date results. Best of all, the article made me feel smart, putting words/numbers on something I'd sort of intuitively guessed over the years... that YTD results start to matter more than priors around Weeks 4/5.
With that in mind, Start/Sit for Week 5 will highlight specific matchups for certain players while taking more of a bird's eye view for others.
Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.
Joe Burrow (vs. GB)
The Packers' second-best defensive player, OLB Za'Darius Smith, is out indefinitely following September back surgery. They've gotten by alright without him, but that's likely to change if their best defender, CB Jaire Alexander, decides to have surgery on his right shoulder. Either way, Alexander is expected to miss Week 5, while Cincinnati's Tee Higgins (shoulder) is hoping to return from a two-game absence. Plus, Joe Mixon (ankle) is banged up, potentially encouraging Bengals coach Zac Taylor to deviate from his newfound reliance on the ground game.
- Honorable Mentions: Kirk Cousins, MIN vs. DET; Ryan Tannehill, TEN at JAX; Trevor Lawrence, JAX vs. TEN; Matt Ryan, ATL vs. NYJ; Zach Wilson, NYJ at ATL
Leonard Fournette (vs. MIA)
Given the addition of passing-down work, Fournette gets a big boost whenever Giovani Bernard (knee) is unavailable. And while Gio may be back this week, Fournette's control of the ground game appears stronger than ever, as he took 20 carries to Ronald Jones' six last week, dominating early downs in addition to clear passing situations. He may not even need the latter this week, facing a Miami defense that ranks 20th in DVOA against the run, 30th in fantasy points allowed to RBs and 27th in rushing yards allowed (136.8). It doesn't hurt that Tampa Bay (-10) is the biggest favorite of Week 5.
Damien Harris (at HOU)
You didn't draft Harris for consistency; you drafted him for weeks when the Patriots are heavy favorites or else facing a vulnerable run defense. This week happens to be both, which Harris kind of deserves on the heels of back-to-back nightmare matchups (TB, NO). His nosedive was even worse than expected, but there was also a glimmer of potential in the loss to Tampa, with Harris taking on season-high 61 percent snap share in the first game sans James White. Heck, Harris already has more targets (eight) than he did in 10 games last season, and he could now be good for 2-3 catches per week with White out of the picture.
- Honorable Mentions: Darrell Henderson, LAR at SEA; Mike Davis & Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL vs. NYJ; Chuba Hubbard, CAR vs. PHI (if McCaffrey is out again)
Corey Davis (vs. ATL in London)
Three TDs on 15 catches within a bottom-five offense is an obvious fluke, even for a 6-3 wideout on a team with poor alternatives for deep throws and red-zone targets. Fortunately, the Falcons like to accommodate outliers, perfecting a style of defense where you leave the wideout open and just hope the QB doesn't see him.
Here's to hoping Zach Wilson can see Davis through the London fog this Sunday, because we already know the veteran will be open. As a bonus, Davis doesn't figure to run too many routes against Atlanta's top corner, A.J. Terrell, who stuck to the LCB spot last week while Washington's Terry McLaurin beat up on RCB Fabian Moreau and the Falcons' safeties. Davis aligns wide right more often than McLaurin, but it's still been well less than half the time (39.2 percent of snaps) this year.
Emmanuel Sanders (at KC)
Sanders won't average 16.8 yards per catch all year, but that doesn't mean it's entirely a fluke. He really is getting more downfield work in Buffalo, with his average depth of target (aDOT) all the way up to 16.0 after crashing to 8.8 in New Orleans last year. He should eventually settle in somewhere in the middle, but the more important point for now is that Sanders is in a good spot for both volume and efficiency against the defense-averse Chiefs. He's seen six or more targets each week this season, and could push toward double digits for the first time in a Bills uniform come Sunday night.
- Honorable Mentions: Calvin Ridley & Olamide Zaccheaus, ATL vs. NYJ; Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins & Tyler Boyd, CIN vs. GB; Marvin Jones & Laviska Shenault, JAX vs. TEN; Jaylen Waddle, MIA at TB; Jamison Crowder, NYJ at ATL
Mike Gesicki (at TB)
While Tampa's front seven remains impressive, a rash of injuries in the secondary seems to have widened the already-present gap between the team's excellent run defense and not-quite-as-excellent pass defense. In fact, the pass defense has even been a weakness this year, with Tampa ranking 21st in DVOA and 18th in NY/A allowed (6.8).
The Bucs gave up TDs to Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith last week, after Tyler Higbee hit them for 5-40-1 on five targets the week before. Looking back further, Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin combined for 9-65-0 on nine targets in Week 1, and Kyle Pitts had 5-73-0 on six targets in Week 2. If nothing else, Gesicki should come away with some cheap, quick catches this weekend.
Trey Lance (at ARZ)
There's every reason to be excited about the union of Lance's talent and Kyle Shanahan's brain, not to mention what Deebo Samuel and George Kittle can do after the catch. But, we can still expect some early struggles, even after the rookie threw for a pair of touchdowns in the second half last week (he also completed only nine of 18 passes).
Lance is only 21, coming out of an FCS program, and played just one football game in 2020. He faces more of a learning curve than the typical rookie QB, which is why he's been on the bench behind someone like Jimmy Garoppolo (calf) who has only a fraction of his talent. Long term, Lance is promising, but he'll likely be subpar in his first NFL start, which happens to be on the road against a healthy, undefeated team that ranks third in pass-defense DVOA and 10th in NY/A allowed (5.8). And while veteran DC Vance Joseph hasn't blitzed quite as much as usual so far this year, the Cardinals are still well above league average with a 30.6 percent blitz rate (No. 7). The Niners may need to hide Lance, not feature him, if Garoppolo can't make the start.
- Honorable Mentions: Baker Mayfield, CLE at LAC; Ben Roethlisberger, PIT vs. DEN; Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater, DEN at PIT
Miles Sanders (at CAR)
The Panthers defense got a reality check last Sunday in Dallas, after beating up on Zach Wilson, Jameis Winston and Davis Mills throughout September. Talk of a worst-to-first type turnaround may have been premature, but the Panthers do appear significantly improved from last season, falling somewhere between the helpless Week 4 version and the bully from Weeks 1-3.
So, this isn't the worst matchup.... but you'd need a much better one to start Sanders with any confidence right now. He took just two and seven carries the past two weeks, while backfield mate Kenneth Gainwell is coming off his best game of the season (3-31-1 rushing, 6-58-0 receiving). Competing with Jalen Hurts for carries and red-zone touches was bad enough before Sanders had a rookie breathing down his back. At the four-week mark, Sanders has the same number of carries (37) as Tony Pollard, Peyton Barber and Michael Carter, forming a four-way tie in 34th place. And yet they still call him Miles even when he's barely running...
Damien Williams (at LVR)
While their defense has cooled off from a hot start, the Raiders are 5.5-point favorites for Sunday, with Chicago tied for the third-worst implied total (19.25) of Week 5. That's partly because Justin Fields has been terrible, and partly because the rest of the Chicago offense hasn't been a whole lot better, David Montgomery aside.
Montgomery is now out with a knee sprain — possibly for a month or longer — but that doesn't mean Williams will replace his full rushing workload (17.3). In fact, Williams might only get about half that while Monty is sidelined, as Fields and rookie RB Khalil Herbert also figure to take carries. The only sure thing for Williams is passing downs, which won't be as valuable alongside a dual-threat QB. Small sample, sure, but the RBs have accounted for only eight of 52 targets (15.4 percent) from Fields.
- Honorable Mentions: Antonio Gibson, WAS vs. NO; Melvin Gordon & Javonte Williams, DEN at PIT; Myles Gaskin & Malcolm Brown, MIA vs. TB
Allen Robinson (at LVR)
Fields has sent 25.0 percent of his targets to Robinson so far, but Darnell Mooney (28.9 percent) has actually seen two more passes and also done a bit more with his opportunities (8-166-0 vs. 7-104-0). That's not to say Fields will prefer Mooney over Robinson long term; in fact, that seems highly unlikely. However, the possibility of a closing gap is just one more issue on top of everything else, namely the poor accuracy and decision-making Fields has shown. Not that the Bears were going anywhere with Andy Dalton, so maybe a 1,000-yard season just isn't in the cards for A-Rob this year. It wouldn't be the first time his talent has gone to waste. (Also, he'll have to deal with Casey Hayward on Sunday
JuJu Smith-Schuster (vs. DEN)
On top of everything else being a disaster, Smith-Schuster is playing through a rib injury and now facing one of the better slot corners in the league. Denver's Bryce Callahan holds the 15th-best PFF grade among qualified CBs, well on his way to ranking Top 25 for a fourth consecutive season (minus the year he missed, 2019).
Anyway, it is a tough matchup, but at this point you'd have JuJu on your bench even for easier draws, given that he's averaging 32.3 yards per game and is more or less utilized like a slightly fancier Adam Humphries. Smith-Schuster is droppable in shallow redraft leagues, and even in mid-sized formats his value is mostly based on hope for a trade.
You may have noticed that this is a matchups column and yet sometimes I use it to discuss other things. Rather than force a 'downgrade' where I don't really see one, I'll point out that Goedert has a pretty good matchup but still hasn't seen more than five targets in a game this year. And that, my friends, is probably more important than any so-called analyst's opinion of the player (love him) or the matchup (like it).
(Goedert is only 18th among TEs with 84 routes run, even though Hurts is t-6th among QBs with 174 dropbacks, per PFF. Plus, he's been targeted on only 17.2 percent of his routes, a lower rate than teammates DeVonta Smith (21.8 percent) and Zach Ertz (also 21.8 percent). Goedert is closer to Jalen Reagor (17.5 percent) and Quez Watkins (15.6 percent) for that one.)
- Honorable Mentions: Travis Kelce, KC vs. BUF (bench him for Waller in one-team leagues)
For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)
QB Trevor Lawrence (vs. TEN)
RB Latavius Murray (vs. IND)
RB Michael Carter (at ATL)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (at KC)
WR Cole Beasley (at KC)
WR A.J. Green (vs. SF)
TE Jared Cook (vs. CLE)
D/ST Vikings (vs. DET)
For Medium-depth Leagues (15-39 percent rostered)
QB Daniel Jones (at DAL)
WR Jamison Crowder (at ATL)
WR Nelson Agholor (at HOU)
WR Zach Pascal (at BAL)
TE Evan Engram (at DAL)
TE Cameron Brate (vs. MIA)
K Nick Folk (at HOU)
D/ST Raiders (vs. CHI)
For Deep Leagues (under 15 percent rostered)
QB Zach Wilson (at ATL)
RB Khalil Herbert (at LVR)
RB Darrel Williams (vs. BUF)
RB Ty Johnson (at ATL)
WR Kadarius Toney (at DAL)
WR Van Jefferson (at SEA)
TE Tyler Conklin (vs. DET)
TE Ricky Seals-Jones (vs. NO)
K Greg Joseph (vs. DET)
D/ST Falcons (vs. NYJ)