This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
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 (at DET)
Zac Taylor has really leaned on his running game this year, but that changed a little in Week 5 with Joe Mixon playing through an ankle injury and limited to 28 percent of snaps. Burrow finished the first quarter with 12 pass attempts and a sack, while Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for only two carries.
This week, Perine is on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Mixon is still bothered by his ankle, potentially encouraging a pass-first approach even if the Bengals have a lead. That's not to say they'll totally ignore the running game against a defense that's weak all around, but Burrow should get to 30-plus pass attempts, which hasn't been automatic for him this year. Volume has been the problem for QBs facing Detroit — that, and Marquise Brown's dropped TDs — with the Lions ranking 28th in pass-defense DVOA and 31st in NY/A (8.6).
Myles Gaskin (vs JAX)
Gaskin is averaging just 6.8 carries per game, and he appeared in danger of losing the lead role after just two touches on 23 percent snap share in a Week 4 loss to Indianapolis. Of course, he then bounced back with a 10-74-2 receiving line in the Week 5 loss to Tampa, handling season-high 69 percent snap share in the process. Workload remains a concern and makes Gaskin a risky play, but this is the matchup where it makes sense to take a chance; with something like eight carries and a handful of targets likely enough to achieve RB2 production against the Jags.
Javonte Williams (vs. DEN)
Predictably, the Broncos haven't actually been able to find double-digit carries for both Williams and Gordon every week. It happened Weeks 1-3 against Jacksonville and the New Jersey teams, before matchups with Baltimore and Pittsburgh left both RBs in the range of 7-9 carries. Fortunately for Williams and the fading Broncos, their Week 6 opponent and divisional rival looks even worse, losing back-to-back games as well as a head coach. The Broncos are 3.5-point favorites, and Gordon's hip injury could perhaps allow Williams to take on more than his usual ~45 percent share of the backfield workload.
- Honorable Mentions: James Robinson, JAX vs. MIA; Leonard Fournette, TB at PHI; Latavius Murray, BAL vs. LAC;
Tee Higgins (at DET)
Ja'Marr Chase is among the league leaders in aDOT (16.0) and a slew of efficiency stats, but it's actually Higgins who leads the Bengals in target share (23.9 percent) over the three games he's played (Weeks 1-2, 5). His aDOT is down to 8.8, but Higgins should eventually get some of those deep passes in addition to his reliable workload on short/intermediate throws. All three Cincy wideouts are solid starts this week, with a road trip to Detroit being the next best thing to a home game.
Emmanuel Sanders (at TEN)
Even if/when his efficiency drops off, Sanders has all the making of a rock-solid WR3, drawing five or more targets each week from a top-10 QB. Fortunately for his fantasy managers, regression may have to wait another week, as Tennessee has given up a league-high 47.4 PPR points per game to wide receivers, ranking 25th in pass-defense DVOA and 27th in NY/A (7.5).
Ricky Seals-Jones (vs. KC)
He isn't as reliable as Logan Thomas, but Seals-Jones might be just as good of an athlete, and he's now seen 13 targets on 93 and 99 percent of offensive snaps the past two weeks. While none of us really imagined him handling that kind of role, it's not like Washington has great alternatives at tight end. RSJ could be up in the 90s for snap share again, this time facing a defense that's given up the fifth most fantasy points to TEs and the most to QBs.
Ryan Tannehill (vs. BUF)
Pending the status of WR Julio Jones (hamstring) and LG Rodger Saffold (shoulder), the Titans could enter Monday night with all 11 offensive starters available. That's obviously great news for Tannehill, who has started the season slow while getting just two full games from Jones and three from A.J. Brown.
Unfortunately, the reward for fantasy managers may have to wait a week or two, with Tannehill first facing a 4-1 Bills team that comfortably leads the NFL in both pass-defense DVOA (-44.4%) and NY/A allowed (4.6). If you don't like the fancy stats.... the Bills have nine interceptions and five passing TDs allowed. That's schedule-aided, to be sure, but they're also fresh off serving Patrick Mahomes the worst regular-season performance of his career (it's not even all that close if you look through his game logs).
Miles Sanders (vs. TB)
The Bucs are beatable through the air after losing three starting DBs to injuries, but their run defense remains stellar as ever, ranking third in DVOA while allowing a league-low 2.9 YPC. That's bad news for any running back, but especially one like Sanders who is averaging just 9.6 carries per game and splitting pass-catching opportunities with Kenneth Gainwell. Consider that Sanders has a 48-214-0 rushing line for the year, while QB Jalen Hurts is at 43-256-3. The Eagles haven't shown much commitment to their running game, with scrambles on designed pass plays accounting for 26.5 percent of their total rushing yards.
James Conner (at CLE)
It might be tempting to think of Cleveland as a favorable matchup after what Justin Herbert did last week, but even in a 47-42 loss, the Browns allowed a league-average-ish total of 112 rushing yards. They still rank fifth in run-defense DVOA, third in YPC allowed (3.4) and 2nd in rushing yards allowed (75.6 per game). In other words, Conner may need a second layer of TD deodorant to come through for fantasy mangers this week, as the yards aren't likely to be there.
- Honorable Mentions: Josh Jacobs, LV at DEN; Chris Carson or Alex Collins, SEA at PIT; Damien Harris, NE vs. DAL; Mark Ingram, HOU vs. IND
Laviska Shenault (vs. MIA)
This is a word of caution, but not necessarily a terrible matchup. Miami has, admittedly, struggled to defend the pass, despite boasting one of the league's better corner duos in Xavien Howard (groin) and Byron Jones. Had these teams played a few weeks back, Shenault mostly would've avoided those two and instead been facing a primary matchup in the slot against relative weak link Nik Needham.
Then, DJ Chark (ankle) got hurt and the Jags moved Viska to the perimeter for 85 percent of his snaps in the Week 5 loss to Tennessee. New slot man Jamal Agnew actually ran more routes (27) than Shenault (22) last week, largely because the latter played only 71% of snaps in 11 personnel. That's a lot of risk for a guy we aren't even sure is good yet, especially if Howard plays through his groin injury for Miami.
Henry Ruggs (vs. DEN)
A coaching change might not be the worst thing long term, but for now, it still feels like Ruggs' entire fantasy week comes down to whether his one big play is a touchdown or not. The target share (14.4 percent) is still in TE/No. 3 receiver range, with Ruggs seeing a pass on only 17.9 percent of his routes. That's a lot better than Bryan Edwards (12. percent), but a lot worse than young slot lord Hunter Renfrow (25.2 percent). A road matchup with the Denver secondary isn't when we want to bet on Ruggs hitting paydirt, even after watching the Broncos struggle with Steelers deep threat Chase Claypool last week.
Robert Tonyan (at CHI)
Tonyan has fallen victim to regression and then some, potentially creating a buy-low opportunity (i.e., haters like me were probably right, but we weren't 82-yards-through-five-games level of right... we've also been lucky, so far). Of course, this is the downgrades section, and we're supposed to be talking start/sit rather than trades. So, let's keep it simple: Tonyan is averaging 3.2 targets per game and facing a good defense. Boom, there it is.
- Honorable Mentions: Hunter Henry, NE vs. DAL
For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)
QB Trevor Lawrence (vs. MIA)
RB Latavius Murray (vs. LAC)
RB J.D. McKissic (vs. KC)
WR Jaylen Waddle (at JAX)
WR Kadarius Toney (vs. LAR)
TE Zach Ertz (vs. TB)
TE Jared Cook (at BAL)
K Brandon McManus (vs. LV)
D/ST Bengals (at DET)
D/ST Packers (at CHI)
For Medium-depth Leagues (15-39 percent rostered)
QB Taylor Heinicke (vs. KC)
RB Khalil Herbert (vs. GB)
RB Alex Collins (at PIT) - if Carson is out again
WR Tim Patrick (vs. LV)
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (vs. CIN)
TE Ricky Seals-Jones (vs. KC)
K Chase McLaughlin (vs. ARZ)
D/ST Dolphins (at JAX)
For Deep Leagues (under 15 percent rostered)
QB Jared Goff (vs. CIN)
RB Brandon Bolden (vs. DAL)
RB Rhamondre Stevenson (vs. DAL) - if Harris is out.
WR Zach Pascal (vs. HOU)
WR Van Jefferson (at NYG)
WR James Washington (vs. SEA)
TE Dan Arnold (vs. MIA)
K Evan McPherson (at DET)
D/ST Jaguars (vs. MIA)