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Thread: Fantasy Football News, Info, Articles 2017/18 (Lots of ESPN Insider)

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  1. #51  
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    Fantasy football cheat sheet: Start, sit and more tips for Week 3
    Joe Kaiser
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/22/17


    Just when it seemed like defense was taking over in the NFL, the 49ers and Rams gave us a game for the ages on Thursday night with Los Angeles eeking out a 41-39 victory.

    Todd Gurley's three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) and Carlos Hyde's two scores highlighted the high-scoring game, and anyone with these running backs (or Sammy Watkins/Jared Goff) in their fantasy lineup this week has to feel great heading into the weekend with a big head start.

    Now the question is this: Who else is primed for a huge game this week?

    Our weekly ESPN Insider cheat sheet provides a rundown of the greatest hits from all of our Insider fantasy football content. You'll find answers to the top questions of the week, along with injury updates, matchup advantages and wild-card plays from Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Mike Clay, Al Zeidenfeld, Matt Bowen, KC Joyner and Scott Kacsmar. It's all the best tips, distilled into one handy file.

    Here's what our experts are saying about Week 3:


    Top tips

    Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

    Newton isn't running as much as he once did, and, like last season, he is struggling with accuracy on his passes. If there was ever a time for him to start heating up, though, this is the week against the poor Saints defense, Zeidenfeld writes in his daily fantasy best buys column.

    "After two straight disappointing weeks from Newton, this is the perfect time to get back in on the Carolina quarterback," he writes. "The Saints are the cure to all that ails opposing quarterbacks. New Orleans has allowed a league-high 14 completions on balls traveling 15-plus yards in the air [tied with the Colts] which has helped allow Sam Bradford and Tom Brady to throw for 341 and 436 yards against them in consecutive weeks. It's still unknown if Newton will run the ball anywhere close to as much as he did in the past, which brings his value down just a little bit, but the matchup is just too good to ignore ... with or without rushing touchdowns."


    Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

    Two weeks into the season is all it took for one of the four Seahawks running backs to emerge, and Carson is that guy. The 249th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Carson busted out with 93 yards on 20 carries and distanced himself from Seattle's other options in the backfield in the process. Bowen is optimistic about Carson's fantasy value going forward:

    "Remember, this is the same guy who flashed during the preseason. The talent is there with Carson and so is the system fit in Seattle. The Seahawks desperately need that lead back, the downhill runner who can pound the football in the fourth quarter. Based on what I saw on Sunday, Carson is the back you want to roster on this Seahawks team. He has the upside of a low-end RB2 moving forward for a team that is going to run the rock."

    Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Is this week's game at Chicago the one where Bell finally busts out and plays like the player who was drafted with one of the first two picks of almost every fantasy draft this season? Joyner takes a closer look at the blocking numbers, and finds that Bell and the Steelers have a lot working in their favor heading into this road game against the Bears.

    "Bell has scored only 20.8 fantasy points through the first two weeks of the season, but his struggles haven't been due to sub-par run blocking, as Pittsburgh's 51.6 percent good blocking rate (GBR) placed sixth best in Week 2," he writes. "The Steelers also have the makings of a mismatch in pass blocking, as they rate first in ESPN Stats & Information's pass protection metric (PPM) and the Bears' defense ranks 28th in QC (7.0) and 25th in TIP (2.4). Add it up, and it means Bell and Antonio Brown should reach their elite fantasy production potential, Ben Roethlisberger has strong QB1 potential and Martavis Bryant is a very good Week 3 flex option."

    Playing the matchups

    Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

    We know what you're thinking -- the Giants' offense has been extremely disappointing through Week 2, and Beckham's four catches for 36 yards in his 2017 debut on Monday didn't exactly win anyone anything in fantasy. Even so, you can't overlook a good matchup when Beckham has one, and Clay writes that this is one of those weeks.

    "Beckham made his 2017 debut on Monday night at less than full health, but common logic suggests he should be closer to a full go against Philadelphia this weekend. That would be bad news for an Eagles defense that has holes at the cornerback position," he writes.

    "Jalen Mills has been pummeled for 15 receptions and 177 yards on a league-high 21 targets this season. Beckham torched Philadelphia for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season, though only 19 of his 99 routes were against Mills (two catches, 43 yards). Beckham moves around the formation quite a bit, so he'll see some of Eagles rookie Rasul Douglas as well. Assuming he doesn't have a setback, Beckham should be locked into lineups this week."

    Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

    Benjamin may have only seven catches through Week 2, but Bowen believes that the tall receiver has a chance to build on a solid game last week with a game against the Saints.

    "Deep middle-of-the-field throws. The quick passing game outside the numbers. And red zone targets. Hey, this is what Benjamin owners signed up for," he writes. "And after that really disappointing performance in Week 1 (five targets, one reception, 25 yards), Benjamin gave owners a little bit more on Sunday with 77 yards on six grabs (eight targets).

    "Yeah, it's still a line that needs to improve, but Benjamin had red zone opportunities (slant, fade) and his role/volume should expand even more now with tight end Greg Olsen out for an extended period of time with a broken foot. That production needs to be replaced. And with a matchup this week versus a Saints secondary that has been absolutely gashed through two games, giving up a total of 777 passing yards, I'm locking in Benjamin as a high-end WR2 this week."

    Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

    A number of other top tight ends around the league are already dinged up, leaving Kelce as one of the few elite options at the position. His matchup against a tough Chargers defense shouldn't scare anyone away from the Chiefs' star tight end in Week 3, Zeidenfeld writes:

    "Kelce has 17 targets in two games, including four red-zone looks. Coming off last season's 22.35-percent market share of red-zone targets, the 50 percent he's seeing through two games will certainly regress, but it's extremely encouraging to see the Chiefs finally utilizing their biggest and best target when it matters. The Chargers' points allowed to tight ends could lead people elsewhere, but with two games being such a small sample and the two teams they've faced [the Broncos and Dolphins] not exactly being offenses that feature their tight ends, this looks like a great place to invest in Kelce."

    Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Brown gets all the attention in the Steelers' receiving corps, but Bryant has big-play ability that shouldn't go overlooked in this week's road game against Chicago.

    "While Brown is always a preferred target to stack with Ben Roethlisberger, I think this could be a big week for Bryant in Chicago," Kacsmar writes in his Best NFL DFS matchups column. "He scored his first touchdown since 2015 last week against the Vikings and was open for another huge gain had there not been pass interference on the defense. He should have great matchups against this no-name secondary and a defense that has struggled a lot through two games this year. I'd go for the cheaper stack of Roethlisberger and Bryant rather than Brown this week."

    Injury impact

    Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, New England Patriots: Though listed as questionable, both Gronkowski (groin) and Amendola (concussion) are expected to play in Sunday's home game against Houston.

    Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: Nelson (quad) returned to practice this week and is progressing the way the team had hoped for Sunday's game against Cincinnati. He is officially listed as questionable, but it sounds like there's a good chance he'll be available. Cobb (shoulder) is considered doubtful.

    Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes will be without Bradford (knee) for a second straight game, as the team ruled him out on Friday. That means another start for Case Keenum, which lowers the fantasy value of players such as Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph.

    Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks: Graham (ankle) is considered a game-time decision for Sunday's road game at Tennessee. "We've just got to make sure he's OK all the way to game time, but he really feels like he can do it. So, we'll see," Carroll told Dori Monson on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM on Friday. If Graham can't play, Luke Willson will step in as Seattle's primary tight end against the Titans.

    John Brown, Arizona Cardinals: Brown missed Week 2 due to a quad injury and didn't practice Thursday. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians indicated earlier in the week that it would be "miraculous" if the receiver were available for the Monday night game against Dallas. With Brown unlikely to play, it will be another chance for J.J. Nelson to step in and get additional targets as the No. 2 receiver next to Larry Fitzgerald.

    Lottery tickets

    Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions

    Riddick is well-regarded in PPR leagues due to his ability to catch a high volume of passes out of the backfield. He may be more overlooked in fantasy circles this season due to the return of Ameer Abdullah, but Riddick's role as a pass-catcher remains the same. Cockcroft sees promise with the veteran running back this week.

    "The Atlanta Falcons' defense has been an advantageous matchup for opposing running backs for quite some time now," he writes, "with their 37.0 PPR fantasy points allowed through two weeks this season ranking second-most after they afforded the fourth-most [27.4] last season.

    "They struggle the most to contain pass-catching running backs, which is why Riddick, rather than Abdullah, gets the nod here. No defense has afforded more PPR fantasy points to running backs on receptions since the beginning of last season than the Falcons, who served up 19.5 points on six catches to Ty Montgomery in Week 2 alone. After a quiet Week 2 against the Giants, Riddick should rebound with closer to the 5.3 receptions he averaged per game in 2016."

    Rashard Higgins, WR, Cleveland Browns

    Only three weeks into the season, and Higgins -- a fifth-rounder last season who only caught six passes in 16 games as a rookie -- has already established himself as one of the Browns' top offensive options in 2017. Zeidenfeld likes what he has seen out of the second-year receiver out of Colorado State.

    "Kenny Britt has fallen out of favor with the Browns' coaching staff only two weeks into the season and Corey Coleman has been lost for the foreseeable future with a broken hand," he writes. "Enter Higgins, the Colorado State product who, for those of us who played college football DFS back in the day, was a staple week in, week out. A great route runner with the ability to get downfield and behind defenses is now thrust into a great opportunity and could very possibly lead the Browns in targets per game the rest of the way.

    "The Colts have allowed 14 completions on balls that have traveled 15 or more yards in the air [tied for most in the league with the Saints], and have allowed opponents to complete those passes at a 66.7-percent rate [third-highest in the league]. Add the newfound target volume to what has been an inept defense the first two weeks of the season and we've got instant value opportunity without much downside risk at the price."

    Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts

    Until Andrew Luck returns to the field, many fantasy managers are set on fading Colts -- even the big names like T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Doyle is one who warrants some consideration this week against the Browns, though, Cockcroft writes.

    "He has been one of the few parts of the Colts' offense that has been going right the first two weeks, and in Week 2, he seemed to flash the most chemistry with new quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Doyle should again be a big part of the game plan against the Cleveland Browns, who have had an awful time containing tight ends through two weeks, serving up 22.1 PPR fantasy points to Jesse James in the opener and 17.1 to Benjamin Watson in Week 2."

    Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets

    Many Jets fans grumbled when the team traded away DT Sheldon Richardson to Seattle for Kearse and a second-round pick, but so far this season Kearse is the biggest bright spot on an otherwise bad Jets offense.

    "The Jets had to have someone step up after losing Quincy Enunwa to injury this preseason. Kearse came over in a trade from Seattle and has quickly established himself as Josh McCown's main target," Kacsmar writes. "Kearse has two more touchdowns than Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. combined in the start of this crazy season. Kearse is still a bargain since expectations are low for the Jets' offense, but the Miami defense is unexceptional. We know there's a good chance the Jets will be trailing again, too, so there should be plenty of garbage-time opportunities for Kearse."

    Big question of the week

    How will the Bears work out their running back rotation against the Steelers?

    When Chicago hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday, it will do so with one of the best young running back combos in the league in second-year back Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen. Heading into the season, Howard was regarded as a top-10 running back, but he's in danger of his value dropping quickly based on the type of start Cohen -- a fourth-round pick -- is having to his NFL career. Last week against Tampa Bay, Howard suffered through a shoulder injury and rushed nine times for 7 yards and didn't catch a pass. Meanwhile, Cohen rushed seven times for 13 yards -- not great by any means -- but added eight catches for 55 yards in the passing game.

    The running back who gets more snaps and steps forward against the Steelers could have the edge going forward, so that's something to watch closely.
     

  2. #52  
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    Week 3 takeaways on Dalvin Cook, Chris Thompson, Stefon Diggs and more
    Matt Bowen
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/26/17




    On Sunday, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. let fantasy owners know that he's back. Nine grabs, two touchdowns, smooth route running and the ridiculous ball skills to finish plays. But what should we make of Isaiah Crowell's subpar production? And who is jumping on the Chris Thompson train with me? Let's get into that along with a look at Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles' running backs and Stefon Diggs' monster day against the Bucs. Here are my Week 3 fantasy takeaways.

    Odell Beckham Jr. is back

    After playing only 30 snaps in Week 2 and finishing with just 36 yards receiving (on four catches), I focused on the route running with Beckham against the Eagles on Sunday. Is that ankle getting right? That's what owners want to know. And based on what I saw, the Giants' star receiver looked clean. The footwork? Smooth. The change-of-direction speed? Yep. That sudden burst? Again, it's there. We can go back and look at the double-move Beckham ran. Man, filthy stuff.
    Now, Beckham didn't rip off any explosive plays, but he caught nine balls on 13 targets for 79 yards and snatched two touchdowns on red zone throws. Sweet grabs, too. And when we start looking ahead to Week 4, I have no issues slotting Beckham as the No. 2 wide receiver in my ranks behind Antonio Brown. The Giants still refuse to buy into the run game, and I like the upcoming matchup against Tampa Bay. If Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes is still down with an injury, Beckham gets a secondary that was just lit up by Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs (eight receptions, 173 yards, two touchdowns).

    Isaiah Crowell's value continues to slip

    I was big on Crowell this summer. That upgraded O-line in Cleveland, the physical identity coach Hue Jackson wants to build and a rookie starter at quarterback: Run the ball, right? Add in Crowell's skill set and his downhill style and I tagged the Browns' feature back as a high-end RB2 with a ceiling of a low-end RB1. But we just haven't seen it. And after three weeks of subpar production, it's time to drop Crowell down a notch in your lineups.

    Through the first three weeks of the season, Crowell is averaging just 2.92 yards per carry; he has yet to get the ball in the end zone, and he is really struggling to find any daylight. In fact, Crowell is averaging only 1.81 yards per carry before first contact. That's preventing him from getting to the second level. Yeah, I expected more. But based on what I'm watching, and with the Browns playing from behind in these games, the impact just isn't there. For me, Crowell is out of the RB2 mix this week against the Bengals.

    Dalvin Cook is an RB1 heading into Week 4

    When it comes to evaluating Cook, it's the volume, the production and the pro-ready skill set. In both of the Vikings' wins this season, the rookie running back has seen 25-plus total touches. On Sunday in the win over the Bucs, Cook had 32 touches for 169 total yards and touchdown. And it's clear that the Vikings are all-in on Cook to start the season. He's getting a bell cow workload and also growing quickly as a receiver out of the backfield. I'm talking about designed route schemes to get him the ball.

    Heading into Week 3, I had Cook slotted as a high-end RB2. But after another massive volume day, I've got to bump him up to a low-end RB1 with a matchup against the Lions on Sunday. He's running downhill with power behind those pads. I love the sudden acceleration on edge runs, and his production in the passing game is exactly what we saw on his tape at Florida State. He has three-down talent.

    Brandin Cooks and the deep ball

    Through three weeks, Cooks is averaging 20.33 air yards per target from QB Tom Brady. We saw that back in Week 1 against the Chiefs. Go routes, win at the snap and blaze down the field with that 4.3 speed. And it popped up again on Sunday in the comeback win over the Texans.

    The Patriots used a play-action scheme to clear out the middle of the field for Cooks on his first touchdown (dig route), and then Brady hit the wide receiver for the win on a fade route versus Cover 2. Five receptions, two touchdowns and 25.6 yards per catch. And given Brady's ability to manipulate safeties with his eyes, owners should plan on this as a weekly trend. Cooks is the true deep-ball threat in New England's system. And that makes him a low-end WR1 with upside in non-PPR leagues.

    Jump on the Chris Thompson train with me

    Anyone who watched that Raiders-Redskins game on Sunday night could see it with Thompson. Sure the numbers were great: six receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown, eight carries for 38 yards -- legit versatility. But I'm more focused on his speed. This guy has some juice to his game. And the Redskins are finding more ways to use that sudden burst he brings to this offense. He's a dynamic threat.

    With four touchdowns already this season and a system that caters to his skill set based on scheme and formation alignment, Thompson has starter value in that flex spot. Similar to what we have seen from Tarik Cohen in Chicago, coach Jay Gruden is going to script specific plays to get Thompson the rock. Nickel runs, screens, matchups out of the backfield, etc. He gives Gruden more flexibility in the game plan. And he's an ideal fit for today's NFL game.

    McCaffrey should receive a boost in the passing game

    If Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin misses any time for the injury he suffered on Sunday, McCaffrey's value is going to climb in PPR leagues. The rookie running back saw 11 targets on Sunday and finished with nine receptions for 101 yards. Plus, given some of the accuracy issues with Cam Newton, McCaffrey provides the Panthers' quarterback with a reliable target on short, high-percentage throws.

    McCaffrey did catch a 37-yard pass against the Saints on what looked like a quick out that he converted into a wheel route, but his value is really in the underneath passing game. Think of the flat route here, the angle route (matchups all day), the screen game and the simple checkdown. What Newton needs now is open windows, routes where he doesn't have to force the ball against tight coverage. And McCaffrey can give him that. This offense already lost Greg Olsen and wide receiver Devin Funchess isn't going to scare opposing defenses enough. Let's keep an eye on Benjamin's health this week and plan on bumping up McCaffrey in PPR formats.

    Is this Bears run game legit?

    That was one of the most conservative game plans I've seen in a long time from the Bears in their overtime win against the Steelers. The passing attack? Super limited. Check the ball down, really. And that's why quarterback Mike Glennon threw for only 101 yards on 15 completions. But that run game? Yeah, the Bears gashed the Steelers for 220 yards on 38 carries. That's good for a whopping 5.8 yards per carry. Zone left, zone right, find the cutback lane, bounce the ball. Then run it again.

    Jordan Howard rushed for 138 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, including the walk-off score in overtime. Cohen posted 78 yards on the ground off 12 carries. And both backs saw action in that short, conservative route tree the Bears are running. That gave Howard another 26 yards on five receptions with Cohen catching four passes for 24 yards. That's a heavy volume day for both players.

    Can it continue? Moving forward, the Bears and Glennon will have to push the ball down the field more. Now, that doesn't mean consistent vertical shots but enough there to at least threaten the safeties. You can't have those guys playing downhill all day. And you'd like to see some runs out of three-wide-receiver personnel. However, this is a team that is willing to dramatically reduce the game plan to control tempo and compete. Because of that, both running backs will benefit, with Howard checking in for me as an RB1 this week against the Packers on Thursday night and Cohen as that versatile weapon in the flex spot.

    Which Eagles running back should fantasy managers roster?

    With Darren Sproles now out with a torn ACL and broken arm, what should fantasy managers do about running backs in Philly? After not seeing a single carry in Week 2, LeGarrette Blount had 12 carries for 67 yards and a score on Sunday. Wendell Smallwood posted 71 yards on 12 carries, and rookie Corey Clement chipped in 22 yards on six carries and also found the end zone. Three backs that split carries/touches means a committee approach in Philadelphia.

    Look, I love how Blount gets downhill. Give me that all day. That dude runs angry. And he's going to get the majority of the goal line touches. But given how dependent his value is on touchdowns, plus working in an offense that could just start slinging the ball, playing 7-on-7 football at any moment, I think he is a risk/reward play every week. Clement? Yeah, I'm going to pass on the rook for now. That leaves Smallwood, who has the most value here because of his ability to as a receiver. If you are looking to roster one of these Eagles running backs, I would go with Smallwood. He has the skill set to play a key role in the Philadelphia passing attack as the third-down back.

    Stefon Diggs still has WR2 value with Case Keenum

    After catching six passes for just 27 yards in Week 2, Diggs' value dropped a bit heading into Week 3. And that's understandable with a backup QB under center. But what did we learn in Sunday's monster game against the Bucs, in which he produced 37.3 fantasy points in PPR formats? Hey, Keenum will take some shots when he has the matchups. On Sunday, Diggs caught five passes on throws of more than 15 yards down the field. And Diggs is the only player to have two touchdowns on throws of 15-plus yards in the same game. Keenum (25-of-32, 369 yards, two touchdowns) challenged that Tampa Bay secondary and took the matchup with Diggs.

    Looking ahead to Week 4, Diggs is going to see a tougher matchup against the Lions with cornerback Darius Slay and the ball skills and range of safety Glover Quin. Fantasy managers can't expect the Vikings wideout to post another 150-plus-yard day. But given Diggs' ability to track the ball in the red zone, he should be a solid WR2 even if starting quarterback Sam Bradford is still down with a knee injury.
     

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    Best and worst wide receiver matchups for fantasy football Week 4
    Mike Clay
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/27/17

    By utilizing our play-by-play data, we're able to identify where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play. By tracking matchups between the two positions, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings and fantasy advice each week.

    Below are the receivers with the best and worst Week 4 matchups, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.


    To view the primary defenders the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out our weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.

    Downloadable cheat sheet PDF

    Because of the size of the chart in the PDF, here is a key to help you get the most out of it each week:

    Rt = Number of routes run by each player during the 2016 season
    LWR/Slot/RWR = Percentage of the player's routes run from left wide receiver, the slot and right wide receiver, respectively
    T/R = Percentage of a player's pass routes in which he's targeted
    F/R = Fantasy points per pass route
    Green suggests an advantage for the offensive player, while red indicates an advantage for the defender
    An "S" indicates projected shadow coverage

    Advantageous matchups


    Redskins' Jamison Crowder vs. Chiefs' Phillip Gaines

    Despite Marcus Peters' extremely impressive efforts shutting down one side of the field, Kansas City has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. The Chiefs have surrendered the fifth-fewest points to players lined up wide to the right (Peters' side) but the fourth-most to players lined up wide to the left or in the slot. Gaines, the team's primary slot man, has allowed 39 fantasy points (11th-most). Crowder, meanwhile, has lined up in the slot on 80 percent of his routes this season. He should be upgraded and makes for a strong WR3 play.


    Chargers' Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin vs. Eagles' Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills

    The Eagles have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and the most to players lined up on the perimeter this season. Mills has been the biggest culprit. A mainstay in this article, Mills has been targeted 40 times in three games, which is nine more than any other player. The 2016 seventh-rounder has surrendered 28 catches for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He is allowing 0.59 fantasy points per route, which is third-worst. Douglas is a third-round rookie who replaced injured Ronald Darby in the lineup. Williams and Benjamin move around quite a bit, but both work primarily on the perimeter. Keenan Allen shouldn't have much trouble against Patrick Robinson in the slot, but Williams and Benjamin get the bigger boost on the outside.

    Saints' Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Dolphins' Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell

    The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to players lined up wide to the right. That's where Maxwell has lined up on 95 percent of his routes this season. Howard has been a bit better on the other side, but he has been targeted on 22 percent of his routes. Thomas (81 percent) and Ginn (80 percent) primarily line up on the perimeter, which is where they'll see stay-at-home corners Howard and Maxwell throughout Sunday's game. Both should be upgraded. Willie Snead will face off with Brice McCain in his return from suspension. McCain has been targeted on 2 percent of his routes and has allowed .04 fantasy points per route this season. Both are lowest in the league.


    Giants' Brandon Marshall vs. Buccaneers' Vernon Hargreaves

    The Buccaneers have allowed 53 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers and 37 per game to players lined up on the perimeter this season. Both are highest in the league. Like last season, when he allowed an NFL-high 249 fantasy points, Hargreaves has been a big part of the issue. The second-year corner has been targeted on 20 of his 73 routes and has allowed 185 yards. He ranks 62nd in the league in pass routes faced but has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points (and remember, he has played two games while most have played three). Hargreaves is allowing a league-worst 0.62 fantasy points per route. Marshall has lined up wide to Eli Manning's left on 71 percent of his routes this season, which is where Hargreaves has aligned 95 percent of the time. Marshall remains a risky play, but this is a good matchup. If Brent Grimes is out again, Odell Beckham Jr. will get a boost in value against replacement Ryan Smith.


    Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Raiders' David Amerson and Gareon Conley

    Amerson allowed the third-most fantasy points among cornerbacks last season, and he sits second in the category through three weeks. He has allowed a whopping 17 catches for 230 yards and three scores on 100 routes. The Raiders have allowed the second-most fantasy points to players lined up wide to the right, which is where Amerson has aligned on 98 percent of pass plays. Thomas has lined up at that spot on 38 percent of his routes, and Sanders is at 46 percent this season. On the other side of the field will be the rookie Conley. He has allowed a hefty 0.49 fantasy points per route this season. Expect a lot of volume for the Broncos' dynamic wide receiver duo.

    Tough matchups


    Buccaneers' Mike Evans vs. Giants' Janoris Jenkins

    Evans had his hands full with Xavier Rhodes last week, and life won't be any easier this week. Expect shadow coverage from Jenkins, who successfully contained Dez Bryant in Week 1 and has allowed only six catches for 76 yards on 69 routes this season. Jenkins has taken his game to a new level in New York, but he did allow Evans four catches on seven targets for 80 yards on 23 routes when these two last met in 2015. The Giants have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but for the second week in a row, DeSean Jackson should be the indirect benefactor of shadow coverage against Evans. Jackson will face off with Eli Apple, who has allowed 36 fantasy points (15th-most) on just 82 routes this season (54th).

    Raiders' Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree vs. Broncos' Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby

    Cooper and Crabtree are coming off a rough trip to Washington, and things won't be much better this weekend in Denver. In two meetings between these teams last season, Cooper was limited to 16 targets, 10 receptions, 95 yards and one touchdown on 58 routes. Crabtree posted seven catches on 14 targets for 74 yards and no scores on 48 routes. In the Week 9 meeting, Harris shadowed Crabtree a few times, but Talib was out with an injury. We shouldn't expect a repeat this week from a team that hasn't had a player shadow full-time in a game since Week 16 of 2015. Downgrade both receivers and avoid in DFS.


    49ers' Pierre Garcon vs. Cardinals' Patrick Peterson

    Garcon is fresh off a huge Week 3 game against the Rams, but he's in for a rough follow-up with shadow coverage from Peterson on tap. Peterson has already followed Marvin Jones, T.Y. Hilton and Dez Bryant this season. He passes receivers off to Tyrann Mathieu in the slot, but Garcon has lined up on the perimeter 76 percent of the time this season. These two have faced off on only 24 pass routes since 2012. Garcon managed two catches for 14 yards and one touchdown on three targets on those plays. Garcon should be downgraded quite a bit. With Peterson glued to Garcon, Marquise Goodwin is a terrific DFS tournament flier up against Justin Bethel. The Cardinals have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers because of the team's struggles opposite Peterson. Bethel has allowed 54 fantasy points on the season, which is third-most in the league. He has surrendered 0.59 fantasy points per route, which is second-worst.


    Eagles' Alshon Jeffery vs. Chargers' Casey Hayward

    Hayward did not shadow against Miami or Kansas City the past two weeks, but he did shadow during 10 of his previous 12 outings. Those scenarios included matchups with clear No. 1 perimeter receivers such as Demaryius Thomas, Terrelle Pryor, Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins. That said, I suspect Hayward will shadow Jeffery this week. Despite both spending a lot of time in the NFC North, these two have faced off on only 15 routes in five games tracing back to 2012. The result? A 21-yard catch on two targets. Even without Jason Verrett for most of the action, the Chargers have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to players lined up on the perimeter this season. Downgrade Jeffery in what is a tough matchup.


    Cowboys' Dez Bryant vs. Rams' Trumaine Johnson

    The Rams have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season, including the fewest points to players lined up wide to the right. That's where Johnson has lined up on two-thirds of his snaps this season. Of course, he figures to chase Bryant around this week, as he did Pierre Garcon last week. Johnson struggled against Garcon but has allowed five receptions for 39 yards on 11 targets on receivers not named Garcon this season. These two last met in 2013, and Bryant beat Johnson for two catches and 27 yards on four targets over 15 routes. Bryant has faced a brutal schedule already this season and is up for another challenge in Week 4.


    Lions' Marvin Jones Jr. vs. Vikings' Xavier Rhodes

    With Golden Tate working primarily from the slot this season, expect Rhodes to shadow Jones this week. Minnesota didn't shadow when these teams met in Week 9 last season, but he did line up against Tate on 23 of his 24 perimeter routes in Week 12. Rhodes did, however, shadow Jones when Tate moved to the slot. Tate has aligned in the slot on 83 percent of his routes this season, whereas Rhodes has traveled inside only 3 percent of the time. It's very possible that Rhodes and Trae Waynes simply play their sides this week, but considering that Rhodes has shadowed in seven of his past nine outings, I'd bet against it. If there's a silver lining for Jones, it's that teams have not been afraid to challenge Rhodes this season. Granted, he has been matched up with target hogs, but Rhodes has been targeted on 27 percent of his routes (fifth-highest).

    Considering that Rhodes has done well against top wideouts, yet the Vikings have allowed the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers, Kenny Golladay and Golden Tate should both be upgraded against Waynes and Terence Newman, respectively. Waynes has allowed 42 fantasy points this season, which is seventh-most in the league, and Newman has been targeted on 26 percent of his routes faced (10th-highest).


    Vikings' Stefon Diggs vs. Lions' Darius Slay

    Believe it or not, Diggs is fantasy's top-scoring wide receiver. Although he's a quality player and has brought his A-game, it's important to consider his competition. Split by the cornerback in coverage, his 70 fantasy points have been scored as follows: De'Vante Harris (27), Ryan Smith (23), Hargreaves (13), Joe Haden (five), Robert McClain (two) and P.J. Williams (one). Yeah, it doesn't get much easier than that. Slay, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the game's better cover corners. He shadowed most of last season and chased Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones already this season. These two haven't met since Week 7 back in 2015. Diggs went without a catch on one target over six routes in that affair. Diggs missed one of the games and Slay the other during the two meetings between these teams last year. Slay rarely covers the slot, but Diggs has lined up outside on 78 percent of his routes this season. Expect Slay to follow Diggs around the perimeter this week, which will present him with his toughest challenge of the season.


    Jets' Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson vs. Jaguars' A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey

    The Jaguars have allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the second-fewest to wide receivers this season. That obviously doesn't present an ideal scenario for the Jets' passing game this weekend. The Jaguars added Bouye to a cornerback unit that already included Ramsey and slot man Aaron Colvin during the offseason. The results have been positive so far. All three players rank among the best corners in terms of fantasy points allowed per route. Kearse (71 percent) and Anderson (58 percent) primarily work on the perimeter and will thus see Bouye and Ramsey most this week, but life won't be any easier for Jeremy Kerley against Colvin. This is an offense to avoid against Jacksonville's loaded defense.
     

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    Week 4 fantasy football flex rankings
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/27/17

    The final flex rankings of September are here and with them come reminders that these are just one man’s opinions. Use them as a guide, if you will, and not the final answer -- for these are your teams and sometimes we just have a feeling one player will outperform another. Perhaps it can’t be explained. The flex rankings encompass the best of the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends for a given week, but so much of it is subjective. Activate who you want to activate!

    Regardless, it’s Week 4, so let’s all flex!

    1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: It doesn’t seem like he’s been so great but there he is as the No. 2 WR in PPR so far. And by the way, these rankings are for PPR.

    2. Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: What an emergence! It all looks legit and we’ll see how he reacts after a bad game, if that ever occurs.

    3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: Only one touchdown in three games, but no reason for panic. Well, unless the courts figure things out quickly and he’s suspended. That would be surprising.

    4. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: The good stuff is pending and you’re running out of time to buy low, if that’s even possible.

    5. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: He’s still great but is getting no red zone looks. Can he score eight times?

    6. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons: He can score eight times. He’s halfway there!

    7. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants: Obviously talented, but some of that other stuff seems unnecessary, for whatever it’s worth.

    8. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals: See, Andy Dalton really isn’t so awful.

    9. Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings

    10. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

    11. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: Quite the sideline tirade in Week 3. Wonder if he and Jameis Winston are best pals. Quarterback accuracy is an issue.

    12. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: Was 50/50 to play and then scored two touchdowns. In Aaron Rodgers we trust. Don’t worry about the short week. Last Thursday there were 80 points scored.

    13. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

    14. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers

    15. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills: Perhaps I seem more skeptical than my colleagues, but 30 rushing yards on 26 carries over two games isn’t fun.

    16. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

    17. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: Sure seems like a top-10 running back to me when he’s healthy, which he is.

    18. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: Keep doubting the older fellows but this one is still great.

    19. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: Plenty of catches and targets with his rookie QB.

    20. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

    21. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers: Dealing with a knee injury but looks like he’ll play against the Eagles.

    22. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: Knee injury had to hamper him in great matchup with Jets. Don’t give up on him.

    23. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks

    24. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Not so efficient, but he's getting so much volume, few care. I’m starting to worry a bit, though.

    25. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans: Yep, he’s obviously fine now. Nothing to worry about.

    26. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

    27. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos

    28. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos: This guy doesn’t really give you warning for when the numbers drop precipitously. Yeah, I’d rather rely on his wide receivers.

    29. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Great September last year as well. Not saying you must sell high but be open to possibilities.

    30. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots

    31. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: Don’t give up on top-20 players after two weeks. In any fantasy sport.

    32. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: Don’t give up on top rookies getting much volume, either. OK, so he’s not Kareem Hunt but there’s upside here, too.

    33. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Last year’s receiving yards leader will be fine regardless of who plays QB.

    34. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs

    35. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: Can make a big play at any time, but still needs those touchdowns.

    36. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders

    37. Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: Without the touchdowns there’s not much there. Doesn’t look like he’ll threaten for 1,000 rushing yards like last year’s guy in New England.

    38. Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks: Should be the starter and this is a big week for him.

    39. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins

    40. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys: Is every cornerback matchup for this guy going to be a problem? Wow.

    41. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders

    42. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders

    43. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: Three sort of nothing statistical games but he’s actually close to pace for 1,000 rushing yards. He needs to do more, of course.

    44. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: Double-digit PPR points each week so far, and no reason to think that ends here.

    45. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: This hierarchy is interesting, as the next guy will make big plays but Ertz is acting so consistent now and is a red zone option.

    46. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles

    47. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins

    48. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: Can’t like the matchup with Arizona’s terrific Patrick Peterson.

    49. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: The breakout is coming. Has to be.

    50. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings

    51. Golden Tate, WR, Lions: I have Matthew Stafford and Tate in one league but luckily didn’t need to touchdown-that-wasn’t to win. I’m sure a lot of you did, however. Don’t bench Tate ever.

    52. Davante Adams, WR, Packers

    53. Bilal Powell, RB, Jets: Can’t understand the Jets’ thinking the first few weeks but Matt Forte is likely out and someone has to get touches. I’d say it’s a prove-it game for Powell but it’s probably not. He proved it all last December.

    54. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns: Hasn’t rushed for 45 yards in a game yet and people will be giving up on him. Try to avoid that.

    55. Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: No reason to think his production will wane. Week 3 was nearly a much bigger game for him, by the way ... a touchdown in overtime was called back.

    56. Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons

    57. Frank Gore, RB, Colts: Rushing yards aren’t great but he’s scored consecutive weeks. Not an easy opponent this week.

    58. Terrelle Pryor Sr., WR, Redskins: One of the fantasy busts of the month so far but it’s still a passing offense. Buy low to a degree.

    59. Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams

    60. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots

    61. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers: At this point it’s fair to wonder if there’s anything he can do to keep the starting job when Doug Martin comes off suspension next week. Oh, add Martin now.

    62. Javorius Allen, RB, Ravens: That was a hideous performance by the Ravens. Would figure we’ll see a better game against a division rival this week.

    63. Wendell Smallwood, RB, Eagles: Opportunity is there for him to star now that Darren Sproles is out.

    64. Theo Riddick, RB, Lions

    65. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions

    66. Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins: At some point Pryor and Crowder will get going. A Washington running back has 231 receiving yards and it can’t continue.

    67. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks

    68. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons: More than 100 fewer yards than Julio Jones but he’s got the touchdown.

    69. Willie Snead, WR, Saints: Welcome back!

    70. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers

    71. Chris Johnson, RB, Cardinals

    72. Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Browns

    73. James White, RB, Patriots: From game to game one never knows with this team.

    74. Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins: He is the Washington running back playing great but the team claims he will not see an uptick in touches, so be careful here.

    75. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings

    76. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

    77. Charles Clay, TE, Bills: Seems strange to see him in this spot but the numbers say he’s doing good stuff.

    78. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins: The numbers say he’s a huge risk to either miss any game or leave it early. I’ve been avoiding for a while.

    79. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers

    80. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Numbers say the Patriots can be run on, but that was basically Kareem Hunt doing it.

    81. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles: He still exists and a double-digit touchdown season wouldn’t be shocking. But 1,000 yards would be.

    82. Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos: He also still exists. Broncos have young running backs but Charles got the chance last week and thrived.

    83. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens: Let’s just all ignore the Ravens’ Week 3 outing.

    84. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: Still relevant, actually. If the rookie fails, Bernard appears next.

    85. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

    86. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers: Would seem unlikely he plays this week with a knee injury, but Panthers really do need him.

    87. Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers: Awfully quiet first three games but Philadelphia has secondary problems and didn’t rush the passer in Week 3.

    88. Jordan Matthews, WR, Bills

    89. Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins

    90. Terrance West, RB, Ravens

    91. Adrian Peterson, RB, Saints: Hey London, this guy is a future Hall of Famer! He appears third on the New Orleans depth chart, however.

    92. Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars
    93. Robert Woods, WR, Rams: Looked good in Week 3 and Dallas can be thrown on. Sleeper!

    94. J.J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals: From most added by fantasy players to a big Week 3 goose egg.

    95. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants: Hard to believe the Giants have basically scored most of their points in one 10-minute stretch of one quarter this season.

    96. Brandon Marshall, WR, Giants

    97. Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks: Had one snap last week.

    98. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: If you have Murray, you should keep him around.

    99. Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers

    100. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers

    Others: Robby Anderson, WR, Jets; Eric Decker, WR, Titans; Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans; Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Saints; Paul Perkins, RB, Giants; C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks; D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texans; Shane Vereen, RB, Giants; Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys; Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams; Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts; Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens; Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals; Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars
     

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    Washington options elicit odd Week 4 rankings
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/28/17

    After a sluggish opener, the Washington Redskins have won their past two contests but have placed fantasy owners in a precarious spot when it comes to evaluating their talent. The lone Washington player performing better than expected is a pass-catching running back who was maybe a token last-round pick. This week, there figures to be quite a few players from this team – if not all of them – on fantasy benches for a Monday night matchup against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs.
    What’s happening here is strange since the Redskins are scoring points and rank eighth in the league in total yards. Chris Thompson, a rather undistinguished 26-year-old in his fifth NFL season, is averaging a ridiculous (for a running back) 17.8 yards per his 13 catches, with two going for touchdowns, and he’s the lone Washington player with more than 50 PPR points so far. Quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t been terrible, but he isn’t connecting with wide receivers Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder, while tight end Jordan Reed and running back Rob Kelley have been hurt.
    Pryor’s lack of production has been most notable, and it’s why ESPN’s fantasy rankers as a team left him out of the top 30 this week, though the meeting in Kansas City is likely a strong factor as well. Pryor somehow managed to scrape past 1,000 receiving yards with Cleveland’s many underwhelming quarterbacks last season and now, with a proficient Cousins, is on pace for 619 yards on 53 catches. That’s certainly not what was expected when fantasy owners made him the No. 15 wide receiver in ESPN average live drafts and an early fourth-round selection overall.

    Sometimes things take more than a few weeks to click, and that’s especially true with wide receivers coming to new places. For Pryor, it also so happens that he’s not the most experienced at his position. He used to be a quarterback. Perhaps he doesn’t end up outscoring all but 14 other wide receivers, but there will be times he warrants WR2 placement, perhaps in Week 6 after his team’s bye week, when, in theory, the team can figure out what’s wrong. Pryor didn’t run crisp routes in the opening-week loss to the Eagles, and he was rarely open this past Sunday night in the win over the Raiders. Pryor was targeted four times, catching two.

    Cousins remains a top-10 quarterback for the difficult Week 4 prime-time game, and if he’s going to get there, he’ll need to rely more on wide receivers than Thompson, who can’t possibly keep his level of production going. He’s not Kareem Hunt. He’s 5-8, hasn’t seen as many as 70 rushing attempts in a season and his coach has made it clear extra touches, thanks to his early-season performance, are not in the plans. Oh, I’d use Thompson over Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine and call him a reasonable flex, but keep expectations well in check. I’d still buy low on Kelley, who is clearly the starter when healthy.

    Then there’s Reed, whose initial placement in the rankings Tuesday is varied. Two rankers have him at No. 4 (things may change during the week). I’ve got him ranked, but outside the top-10, hardly befitting his ability and track record. One colleague did not rank Reed, which is eminently fair since the talented tight end missed Week 3 with a chest injury, and there might not be clarity on this week until game-time Monday, which is far too late for fantasy owners to leave him active. Yeah, I’d just go with Eric Ebron or Jared Cook or have Vernon Davis at the ready. At least they’re playing. Reed is a terrific player when healthy, but he’s rarely healthy, and even when he plays, he might not finish the game. I’d sell if anyone’s still buying.

    Week 4 quarterback ranking thoughts: Nobody seems the least bit worried about Falcons star Matt Ryan, as he faces the near-perfect Bills defense. The Bills have yet to allow a passing touchdown, which seems a bit hard to believe. Ryan and his pals seem like they can handle it. … The honor of most passing touchdowns allowed belongs to the Patriots (8), but nobody seemed interested in making Cam Newton a top-10 option. He hasn’t played well. Now watch him throw for four scores! … We keep telling you that Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger isn’t productive in road games, but do you listen? This week for a game at Baltimore, which was last seen destroyed in London by Blake Bortles, Big Ben misses the top 10 again. Don’t be fooled. He’s not a top-10 fantasy QB. … The Chargers’ Philip Rivers hasn’t gotten anything going yet, but we’ve ranked him well for a home game against the Eagles. If Rivers doesn’t come through, he might get ranked in Eli Manning territory after this one, and nobody wants that.

    Week 4 running back ranking thoughts: Three different running backs among the four of us in the top spot. How intriguing! I went with the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt, who is going nuts every week, and until that stops, I’m not going to place others with somewhat tepid performance ahead. Yes, Le’Veon Bell is still awesome. But just look what Hunt is doing! Why must I be loyal to the guy who has done it before? I’m not saying I’d trade Bell for Hunt -- but this week, yeah. … I don’t mind liking the 49ers’ Carlos Hyde more than most. Again, past results are only so relevant to me. We know Hyde is good. We don’t know if he’ll play in all 16 games. … I’m apparently the only one concerned about the lack of efficiency for Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery. What really concerns me? It’s a short week as they play Thursday, and he’s hurting. … Jay Ajayi was awful against the Jets. We still rank the Dolphin top-10 for the Saints game. It shouldn’t be his last chance, but he needs to do something. … Last chance for Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell as a potentially consistent RB2? Yeah, probably. … The same goes for the Jets’ Bilal Powell, as Matt Forte will sit.

    Week 4 wide receiver ranking thoughts: I’m just not sure what more Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald has to do to warrant a top-10 ranking weekly. The matchup isn’t a problem. I’ve got him No. 9. … I’m also higher on Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. He looks fine to me. Deshaun Watson has made him relevant, and by the way, no matter what Watson does on the field, he’s a winner off it. Google his name for this week’s news. … Denver’s corners are perhaps the best in the game, but how far should we drop Oakland’s Michael Crabtree and really underachieving Amari Cooper? This duo has been quiet at Denver the past few seasons. Are they WR2 choices? Perhaps I’m too optimistic. … Don’t forget the Saints have welcomed back Willie Snead from suspension, and he should play an important role right away. … It is a big week for the Chargers’ Tyrell Williams, Titans’ Eric Decker and the Jacksonville options, as they might not be ranked at all for future weeks without some Week 4 numbers.
     

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    What to watch: Will Chargers finally get their offense going?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/30/17


    Things haven’t gone so well for the San Di … sorry, Los Angeles Chargers this season. Potential wins the first two weeks were lost not only because of their new kicker but also thanks to turnovers, inefficiency and poor third-down results. The Week 3 game versus the Chiefs was pretty much over early. Quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t exactly viewed as a surefire fantasy starter before the season, but he’s currently 24th in season scoring at his position, worse than Jacoby Brissett, Josh McCown and two rookies, and that’s not likely to continue.

    While Rivers isn’t likely to be a popular play in fantasy this Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles come to visit, he can certainly change the perception of his future, and some of his weapons certainly can, and they’re worth watching as well. Running back Melvin Gordon is treated as an RB1 and should be, but he wasn’t able to play a full game in Week 3 due to a knee injury. The team claims he’s fine despite his questionable designation, but Gordon is barely a top-10 running back in this week’s rankings. Don’t try to overthink his situation.

    Wide receiver Keenan Allen garnered a clear top-10 ranking among his wideouts, and for good reason. The Eagles' defense can certainly be thrown on. The secondary is young and inexperienced, and when stalwart lineman Fletcher Cox left the lineup in Week 3 against the Giants with a calf injury, things quickly went awry. Without a pass rush, even Eli Manning picked apart their defense for three fourth-quarter touchdowns. With Cox sidelined this week, Rivers and Allen are capable of big performances.

    Also keep an eye on third-year wide receiver Tyrell Williams and how the tight end snaps and targets are divided. Williams really stepped up last season when Allen tore an ACL in Week 1, but through three games he’s being outshined by deep threat Travis Benjamin. Williams hasn’t reached 55 receiving yards in a game after doing so in 10 games last year. Perhaps few would have opted to activate Williams in September games, but this is the last week before the bye weeks and a little relevancy would be nice because we will need him. In addition, fantasy owners should start thinking about rookie Mike Williams, the Clemson first-rounder dealing with a back injury. He could really matter later in the season, and by the way, the Chargers have December matchups with the Browns, Redskins, Jets and Raiders. Sounds enticing.

    Meanwhile, second-year tight end Hunter Henry should be a star by now, but he didn’t get any targets in Weeks 1 or 3. In Week 2, he turned his seven targets and catches into 80 yards. Um, he can do that every week if the Chargers let him! Henry is among the most dropped players in ESPN standard leagues, and it’s easy to see why. Don’t blame Antonio Gates, either. He got his touchdown in Week 2 to break the all-time position mark he shared with Tony Gonzalez, but Gates has caught precisely two passes in each game. It’s odd for Rivers to not feature the tight ends more, especially when the offense is sputtering. I view Henry as a potential top-10 tight end this year, so if you can wait a bit longer before cutting him, do so. Perhaps this is the week things change.

    Which other players or themes are worth watching the rest of this Week 4? Glad you asked!

    Top-20 running back watch: Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell and forgotten Jet Bilal Powell seem like the obvious choices about to get punted aside in ESPN leagues if their statistics don’t improve, though that still would be a mistake. Crowell was a fourth-round pick in ESPN ADP, Powell went in Round 6. So far, Crowell has scored 21.7 PPR points, a low mark that has been eclipsed in a single game 18 times. The worst game for Kareem Hunt is 25.3 points! Crowell is being outscored by teammate Duke Johnson Jr., who has all of six rushing attempts, but Crowell is still being featured and has played well against the Bengals in the past.

    As for those crazy Jets, word is Matt Forte will sit out this week, but Powell, who scored a touchdown in Week 3 but shared snaps with Forte and Elijah McGuire, still isn’t the starter. He’ll have to share. I’m getting the feeling the Jets don’t particularly like Powell, and fantasy owners are starting to feel the same way. Perhaps Powell can be traded to a team that needs aid, like the Green Bay Packers, for example. Running backs on the way up to add prior to Sunday – even if you don’t or can’t play them – include Philly’s Wendell Smallwood, Arizona’s Chris Johnson and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, who returns from suspension after Week 4. Add him now before everyone finds out.

    Houston, we have an offense: The Titans are the lone defense in the league to allow at least 38 PPR points to wide receivers in each of the three weeks, which not only makes Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins a borderline WR1 option but could make this a breakout week for Texans. Hopkins has 37 targets already, and second on the team is backup running back Tyler Ervin with 11. Bruce Ellington did nothing the first two weeks but mattered in Week 3, and he’s worth a look in deep leagues. Braxton Miller has been disappointing and inefficient, but maybe this is his week. Rookie Deshaun Watson often leaves the pocket, either to run or ad-lib plays, and this seems like a decent week to rely on him. The Texans famously started the season getting drubbed at home by the Jaguars, but they almost knocked off the Patriots in Massachusetts last week and could turn into a dangerous offense soon.

    London calling, again: For the second consecutive Sunday, the first game of the day will be played on the other side of the pond, so please don’t wait until lunchtime to get those lineups set. We know you’re entranced by the awesome Fantasy Football Now show each week, but a game starts before that show actually does. Unlike the Jaguars-Ravens game last week, this week’s Dolphins-Saints game features a whole lot of relevant fantasy options, which is generally the case whenever Drew Brees is playing because when he’s not on the field, his team’s awful defense is. That doesn’t mean Jay Cutler is a great play, but don’t be shocked when he does great things with DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and perhaps Kenny Stills. Running back Jay Ajayi should bounce back from a miserable game against the Jets. For the Saints, Willie Snead returns from suspension, and while nobody’s saying he’s awesome, he might be available in your league. And yeah, dropping Adrian Peterson to acquire Snead makes sense. Peterson has totaled 10.1 PPR points this season.
     

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    Fantasy football cheat sheet: Start, sit and more tips for Week 4
    Joe Kaiser
    ESPN INSIDER
    9/29/17


    Thursday night brought us an all-too-predictable outcome with Green Bay beating Chicago in a 35-14 route at Lambeau Field behind Aaron Rodgers' four touchdown passes.

    Unfortunately, the game also included several key injuries, as running back Ty Montgomery left early with what early reports indicate might be broken ribs, and wide receiver Davante Adams was carried off the field after taking a nasty blow to the head from Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan. Luckily, Adams had already been released from the hospital as of Friday afternoon and appears to have avoided serious injury. In any case, the health of both Adams and Montgomery will be something to track carefully in the weeks ahead.

    What else is worth keeping a close eye on heading into this week?

    Our ESPN Insider cheat sheet provides a rundown of the greatest hits from all of our Insider fantasy football content. You'll find answers to the biggest questions of the week, along with injury updates, matchup advantages and wild-card plays from Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Mike Clay, Al Zeidenfeld, Matt Bowen, KC Joyner and Scott Kacsmar. It's all the best tips, distilled into one handy file.

    Here's what our experts are saying about Week 4:


    Top tips

    Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

    It's crazy how fast you can forget about a slow or injury-marred start to the season. For Beckham, all it took was a couple of touchdowns late in last week's loss to Philadelphia. Scott Kacsmar explains why Beckham in this week's game against the Buccaneers is a better bet than one of the other big-name receivers.

    "I'm not fading Antonio Brown entirely, but you have to lower your expectations when he plays the Ravens, which he has three touchdowns in 15 games against. The Steelers often struggle in Baltimore," he writes. "I love Beckham in Tampa Bay, a defense that was just lit up by Stefon Diggs. Beckham found the end zone twice on Sunday, but still didn't crack 80 receiving yards. That monster game is coming any day now and you'll want to have him for that. ..."

    Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills

    Playing at Atlanta this week, Taylor is a quarterback who continues to be overlooked and underrated, per Al Zeidenfeld. In fact, Ziedenfeld lists him as one of his best buys this week.

    "This week it's going to be very easy to target cheap quarterbacks with solid team totals in positive matchups," he explains. "The first one is Taylor going to Atlanta.

    "Tyrod has been solid and efficient so far against three tougher-than-average defenses and now gets a little bit friendlier landing spot in Week 4. Atlanta has allowed 273 yards passing per game thus far but it's more the way it defends that will benefit Taylor. The Falcons' defense is geared to muffle the numbers of outside receivers but funnel targets to running backs and tight ends. That strategy will play right into the way the Bills like to attack with LeSean McCoy notching 20 targets already in three games and Charles Clay also off to a very hot start himself. Taylor offers a solid floor with the possibility for upside if the game flow helps out a bit and the Bills are forced to go up-tempo and chase in the second half."

    Minnesota Vikings offense

    Quietly, the Vikings have one of the most star-studded offenses in the league as far as fantasy goes this season. Who would have ever thought that?! A closer look at the blocking stats heading into this week's game against Detroit points toward another big day of offense for the Vikings. KC Joyner explains why Minny's offense is one to watch this weekend.

    "The past three weeks have been frustrating for fantasy managers with Minnesota Vikings players on their rosters, as every Purple and Gold fantasy mainstay has bounced between great and subpar point totals so far this year.

    "Those start-sit-question headaches should go away due to the highly favorable matchup against Detroit. The Lions' defense ranks 27th in GBR (45.3), 28th in YBCT (2.8), 27th in PPR (22.0), 27th in quarterback contact rate (QC) and 23rd in TIP (2.3). These factors are part of why Detroit places 25th in fantasy points allowed per game to running backs (25.7) and 20th in wide receiver points allowed per game (35.2).

    "Add it up and it means Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen should all be placed into starting lineups without hesitation. It also could make Case Keenum a quality start for fantasy managers in two-quarterback leagues."

    Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

    As we touched on above with the Vikings, Cook is off to an impressive start to his NFL career despite all the pressure of coming in and replacing a legend like Adrian Peterson. Matt Bowen explains why the rookie is so valuable to the Vikings and in fantasy leagues for this week and beyond.

    "When it comes to evaluating Cook, it's the volume, the production and the pro-ready skill set," he writes. "In both of the Vikings' wins this season, the rookie running back has seen 25-plus total touches. On Sunday, in the win over the Bucs, Cook had 32 touches for 169 total yards and a touchdown. And it's clear that the Vikings are all-in on Cook to start the season. He's getting a bell-cow workload and also growing quickly as a receiver out of the backfield. I'm talking about designed route schemes to get him the ball.

    "Heading into Week 3, I had Cook slotted as a high-end RB2. But after another massive volume day, I've got to bump him up to a low-end RB1 with a matchup against the Lions on Sunday. He's running downhill with power behind those pads. I love the sudden acceleration on edge runs, and his production in the passing game is exactly what we saw on his tape at Florida State. He has three-down talent."

    Playing the matchups

    Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver Broncos

    The early-season hype surrounding Siemian undoubtedly has cooled off a bit after a tough loss in Buffalo, but this week's game against an Oakland defense that was embarrassed by Washington last Sunday night is a good opportunity for the young Broncos quarterback to get back on track. Tristan H. Cockcroft explains:

    "Although he flopped in Week 3, with his 7.56 fantasy points ranking fifth worst among the 32 starting quarterbacks, there's a substantial difference between a road matchup against the Buffalo Bills and one back home against the Oakland Raiders, which have served up 61.38 total fantasy points (fourth most in the league) and a 0.521 points-per-passing-attempt average (fifth most)," he writes. "The Raiders' cornerbacks -- David Amerson, TJ Carrie, Gareon Conley and Sean Smith -- rate among the game's weakest, which helps explain why the Raiders are one of only six teams without an interception this season, as well as why they've allowed the highest passer rating out of the 30 teams that have played three games on throws that traveled at least 10 yards downfield. Siemian has two excellent wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders he can use to exploit the Raiders' defensive weaknesses, which is why he's such a strong streaming play for those owners whose usual starters are either struggling mightily (read: Cam Newton) or facing awful matchups (read: Jameis Winston)."

    Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

    If you saw what the San Francisco 49ers managed to do to the Rams last Thursday, you have to be expecting Elliott and the highly regarded Cowboys' offensive line to have a big day against Los Angeles.

    "The Rams' offense has been a fantastically improved unit year over year; their defense, on the other hand, has been gashed by opposing running backs the first three weeks," writes Zeidenfeld. "The Rams have allowed 173 scrimmage yards per game to opposing RBs and are third in the league in fantasy points allowed to the position thus far. Elliott is a bell cow, getting 90 percent of his team's snaps and over 90 percent of the Cowboys' running back usage. You don't need me to tell you how good a player he is, but rest assured he'll be fed this week as a home favorite against a defense that hasn't shown the ability to stop running backs to this point in the season."

    Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins

    When it comes to matchups, you always have to be excited when a top running back option in fantasy faces the Saints, as is the case with Ajayi this week. Kacsmar explains why that's such a great matchup for the young running back.

    "The Dolphins were a huge disappointment in every way against the Jets last week, but we also have to remember that Ajayi's breakout season in 2016 was built heavily on three 200-yard rushing games," he writes. "The Dolphins were not a consistent rushing offense like Dallas or Pittsburgh. I have to think Ajayi bounces back this week against the Saints, which rank 27th against the run. Ajayi is still Miami's best offensive weapon as Jay Cutler gets acclimated to the offense. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Saints rank 30th in yards before first contact per rush (3.12) this season."

    Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., WRs, New Orleans Saints

    Both Thomas, the big target, and Ginn, the speedster, are in favorable situations heading into the game against Miami and cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell, writes Mike Clay.

    "The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to players lined up wide to the right. That's where Maxwell has lined up on 95 percent of his routes this season. Howard has been a bit better on the other side, but he has been targeted on 22 percent of his routes," Clay points out. "Thomas (81 percent) and Ginn (80 percent) primarily line up on the perimeter, which is where they'll see stay-at-home corners Howard and Maxwell throughout Sunday's game. Both should be upgraded. Willie Snead will face off with Brice McCain in his return from suspension. McCain has been targeted on 2 percent of his routes and has allowed .04 fantasy points per route this season. Both are lowest in the league."

    Injury impact

    Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers -- Gordon is expected to play against the Eagles after missing much of the second half of last week's game due to a sore knee. This is the same left knee on which he had microfracture surgery in 2016, so it's worth paying close attention to this in the weeks ahead.

    Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks -- Baldwin sat out most of the fourth quarter in last week's loss to Tennessee due to a groin injury, but he says the injury isn't serious and that he plans to play Sunday night against Indianapolis.

    Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders -- Crabtree left last week's game early after taking a blow to the chest, and his status for Sunday's road game in Denver remains a bit iffy. He was a limited participant in practice on Thursday and is likely a game-time decision.

    Jordan Reed, TE, and Rob Kelley, RB, Washington Redskins -- Both Reed (ribs/shoulder) and Kelley (ribs) are hopeful to return to the lineup for the Monday night game at Kansas City.

    Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings -- Bradford won't play in Week 4 due to ongoing knee pain, and Case Keenum will continue to start in his place.

    Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets - The veteran suffered a turf toe injury in last week's game against Miami and is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Jaguars.

    Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals -- Eifert has been ruled out for this week's game against the Browns and is expected to miss several more games due to a back injury.

    Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans -- There's a chance that Fuller could return this week from a fractured collarbone injury suffered during training camp. He returned to practice last week and would give Deshaun Watson another talented target for the game against the Titans.

    Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans -- A hamstring injury will keep the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft out for a second consecutive week. Eric Decker will start in his place as he did against the Seahawks.

    Lottery tickets

    Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

    Though Williams has yet to find the end zone this season, he is seeing plenty of opportunity and targets on the field. This week, he faces a banged-up Eagles secondary, making him a breakout candidate, according to Cockcroft.

    "Ronald Darby's absence (dislocated right ankle, out four to six weeks) set the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary back in a major way, and in Week 3, the New York Giants revealed their weaknesses by boasting three wide receivers in PPR double digits," he writes. "In fact, the Giants totaled 71.4 points by their wideouts, the highest single-game total allowed by any defense this season. While Keenan Allen might therefore seem like the obvious pick, I'm nominating Williams because of his perceived low value right now. It'll probably result in the lesser coverage of the two, and let's not understate how unlucky Williams' fantasy production seems considering his role thus far: 168 snaps played and 111 routes run (both tied for 14th in the league, but the snaps only among wide receivers), along with 18 targets (tied for 32nd). He was heavily used like this last season, too, and with that much opportunity, he is bound to break through this week."

    Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets

    You have to be a little brave to look to the Jets for fantasy help, but Powell presents a potential value this week against the Jaguars.

    "This play is a search for value with potential for volume and PPR upside," Zeidenfeld explains. "Powell is someone I don't target unless Matt Forte is out, and with him looking doubtful this weekend at the time I'm writing this, I'm very interested in Powell as a flex running back who can provide significant salary relief. The matchup isn't great with Jacksonville, but in the final four games of last season with Forte limited or out, Powell averaged 20.5 carries, 5.2 catches and 138 scrimmage yards per game. ..."

    Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

    If you need help at receiver, Hurns is an underrated option who warrants extra attention in Week 4 because of the matchup against the Jets.

    "The Jaguars and Jets have both been playing blowouts every week, which can be good or bad for fantasy purposes," Kacsmar explains. "Blake Bortles is the king of garbage time, so that's usually good news for his receivers. Marqise Lee has taken over the team lead in targets now that Allen Robinson (ACL) is done for the year, but Hurns is still the most dangerous receiver. He leads the team with 144 receiving yards. This is a good matchup for him against an unimpressive New York secondary."

    Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

    Another Chargers receiver whose stock has dropped some after a slow start to the season, Allen is a big name who has a golden opportunity to put up a big week against the Eagles this week. Eric Karabell explains why he's so bullish on Allen.

    "The Eagles' defense can certainly be thrown on," he writes. "The secondary is young and inexperienced, and when stalwart lineman Fletcher Cox left the lineup in Week 3 against the Giants with a calf injury, things quickly went awry. Without a pass rush, even Eli Manning picked apart their defense for three fourth-quarter touchdowns. With Cox sidelined this week, [Philip] Rivers and Allen are capable of big performances."

    Big question of the week

    With veteran Darren Sproles ruled for the season due to the broken arm and torn ACL suffered in Week 3 against the Giants, who will take over as the lead back in Philadelphia? Will it be Wendell Smallwood over LeGarrette Blount?

    Tim McManus of ESPN's NFL Nation weighed in on what he expects to see for the remainder of the season.

    "I believe the running-back-by-committee approach will continue, so I'm not sure the Eagles' backfield will ever have a clear feature back this season," he writes. "But Smallwood is definitely in line to see an increase in playing time, as the plan for now is to give him a bulk of Darren Sproles' third-down snaps. Assuming Smallwood holds up in pass protection, he has a good chance of leading the backs in touches over the remainder of the season. He's not a bad guy to have stashed on your fantasy roster if his production starts to take off."
     

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    Week 4 takeaways on Kamara, Watson, Abdullah and more
    Matt Bowen
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/2/17


    On Sunday, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson put on a show versus the Tennessee Titans, scoring five total touchdowns. But where does that put the rookie's fantasy value moving forward? Let's discuss how the Texans are utilizing Watson, talk about the numbers Cam Newton produced versus the Patriots' defense and look at a waiver-wire pick up in Seattle. Here are my fantasy takeaways from Week 4.

    Watson must be rostered in all leagues

    After watching Watson rack up high-level numbers for the second straight week -- in an offense that is catering to his skill set -- the rookie needs to be rostered in all leagues moving forward. Quick passing, play action, the boot game and quarterback-designed runs. Yeah, the Texans get it with Watson. And they are putting him in a position to produce.

    On Sunday, Watson lit up the Titans' defense for 283 yards passing (25-of-34) and four touchdowns while adding 24 more yards and another score on the ground. Sure, Watson is still growing at the position, and he will make some mistakes (check out the interceptions late in the second quarter). And I get that. But the key here is the upside with the Texans' quarterback.

    Watson diced through the Titans' defense in the quick game. On throws fewer than 15 yards, Watson completing 21 of 24 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those are high-percentage throws. Get it out quick too. Plus, he's finding the matchups with DeAndre Hopkins, and the Texans are creating open throwing windows off play action, boot and run-pass options. Toss in some quarterback-designed runs, and now we are looking at a QB who needs to be on your roster. And based on the matchups, Watson will have value as a fantasy starter as this season progresses.

    Alvin Kamara's PPR value is on the rise

    Mark Ingram is still the RB1 for the Saints, but don't sleep on Kamara as a flex starter in PPR formats. The rookie caught a team-high 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown plus another 25 yards on the ground (five carries). Versatility, right? For sure. And that's how the Saints feature him in the game plan.

    Kamara lined up at wide receiver, caught passes in the screen game and scored that touchdown on a shovel pass from Drew Brees. Plus, we have to use the eye test here. Kamara brings energy to this offense. He can go. And that's why the Saints are scripting plays to get him the ball.

    On Sunday, Kamara caught five screen passes for 46 yards. That's the most screen receptions for any player this season. Aligned outside at wide receiver? Throw the hitch route. Throw the bubble. Kamara gained 80 yards after the catch versus Miami -- the most for any Saints player since Darren Sproles back in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    There is a trend here with Kamara and coach Sean Payton is bumping him up the call sheet. The Saints have a bye in Week 5, and we should expect wide receiver Willie Snead to be back when the Saints take the field again in Week 6. That could cut into some of Kamara's touches in the passing game. But based on what I've seen, along with the Saints' effort to get him the ball, Kamara should be considered a solid flex play in PPR leagues.

    Is Cam Newton back

    I was down on Newton after his sluggish performance in Week 3 versus the Saints. But what do we make of the Panthers' QB after he torched the Patriots' defense for 316 yards passing and three touchdowns along with 44 yards rushing and another score? Newton lit up the Patriots' blitz schemes (8-of-10 passing, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns), and he looked pretty strong running the ball. The touchdown run? A power-read scheme. Get downhill, drop the pads and run though tackles. Big-boy stuff.

    Now, the Patriots' secondary gave Newton a boost on Sunday. Just look at the lack of communication and the coverage busts for New England. This unit really struggled versus bunch and "quads" bunch (four receivers aligned tightly together) on Sunday. That led to wide open targets for Newton and free plays.

    Going against a Lions defense in Week 5 that is playing really good football, we can't expect Newton to find guys open by 20 yards. But when we pair a much more aggressive Panthers passing game with Newton running the ball once again (eight carries on Sunday), he's back in that QB1 mix.

    Ameer Abdullah's workload

    I wrote about Abdullah a couple of weeks back because of the volume he is seeing at the running back position in Detroit -- around 15 carries a game, plus some targets out of the backfield. And the skill set? Nasty change of direction skills and the burst to get up the field. I like the fit here in the Lions system. But ... where are the touchdowns?

    Abdullah saw yet another high-volume day versus the Vikings in Week 4, carrying the rock 20 times for a career-high 94 yards and adding another 15 yards receiving on three grabs (four targets). However, Abdullah also found the end zone on a 1-yard score. For most backs, that's just a layup. Drop the pads and find some daylight.

    But for Abdullah? That's big for his fantasy value. With goal-line runs, we are talking about a running back who is going to get 15-20 total touches per game and see the ball in scoring situations. If that leg injury Abdullah suffered checks out, I'm going to keep him as a low-end RB2 versus the Panthers in Week 5.

    hat's up with the Dolphins offense?

    I had big hopes for DeVante Parker versus that Saints defense and really expected Jay Ajayi to pump out some numbers in London. Instead, we got a dud. This Miami offense was conservative to a fault and we also saw some questionable play calling in the red zone.

    Parker won some early matchups on inside breaking routes, using his size and catch radius there on the slant or dig. But Parker also needed a garbage-time vertical throw to get to 69 yards on six receptions. Ajayi? 46 yards rushing on 12 carries and one grab for eight yards. Ajayi did break off a nice 15-yard run early in that game, but the lack of daylight was obvious. The Dolphins' running back gained just 14 yards before first contact on those 12 carries. And Jarvis Landry? Six receptions for 40 yards (6.7 yards per catch).

    But when an offense wants to lean on wide receiver screens and elects to throw a goal-line fade route to Julius Thomas (resulting in a pick), instead of handing then ball to Ajayi, this is what you get. I would play single-high safety defenses all day versus this team. And line up in press. Load the front. This is a horizontal system right now. A low-risk offense that is failing to feature its playmakers.

    I need to see more 50/50 throws to Parker and a complete route tree from Landry in the slot. That's going to open up the offense for Ajayi. And the Dolphins have a shot to do that this week versus a Titans defense that gave up a bunch of plays to the Texans.

    Seattle's J.D. McKissic is worth a waiver pick-up

    On Sunday night, McKissic, who played wide receiver at Arkansas State, scored two touchdowns in the Seahawks' win over the Colts. The 5-foot-10, 195 pound change-of-pace back displayed his short-area quickness on a 30-yard touchdown run after he shook a defender out of his cleats. That was smooth. And then he exposed a matchup versus a linebacker on a fade route down the sideline for a 27-yard score. Great finish too.

    What does it mean? Well, starter Chris Carson went down with a tough leg injury. He was a solid fit for this system too, as a downhill runner. Eddie Lacy put up 52 yards on 11 carries. Thomas Rawls? A healthy scratch. C.J. Prosise? An injury kept him out. I would expect Lacy to see a bulk of the carries in Week 5 versus the Rams, but I would also put in a waiver claim for McKissic. Even with a skill set that is similar to Prosise, he's a guy who we have to keep an eye on in Seattle. He's got some playmaking ability. Pick him up and then monitor the running back situation in Seattle.

    lot Todd Gurley in as a top-five back

    Gurley has a tough matchup in Week 5 versus the Seahawks' defense, but his versatility within coach Sean McVay's offense should make the Rams' featured back a top-five play at the position moving forward. Gurley rushed for 121 yards on 23 carries (5.3 yards per carry) in the win over the Cowboys. And he posted 92 of those rushing yards (on 16 carries) versus "light" run fronts (six or fewer defenders in the box). Spread the field and hand the ball off.

    But it's also about his role in the passing game, where McVay is scripting plays to get him then ball. We saw that back in Week 3 versus the 49ers in the red zone and again on Sunday, when the Rams used some window dressing (jet sweep) and sent Gurley up the seam for a 53-yard touchdown. Gurley finished with 94 yards receiving on six receptions, and through four weeks has caught 20 of 22 targets for 11.7 yards per catch.

    emember, this is a modern-day offense under McVay. And the running back is a game-plan weapon. Nickel runs, designed route schemes and goal-line carries. Gurley is getting the touches and being put in very favorable situations to maximize his talent.
     

  9. #59  
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    Four Downs: Injuries to Dalvin Cook, other stars spoil Week 4
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/2/17


    Latavius Murray rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2015 and last season he scored 12 touchdowns, but the Oakland Raiders sure didn’t seem too interested in keeping him around. Entering Week 4 the Minnesota Vikings, who signed Murray in March before they spent a second-round pick on Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, didn’t seem the least bit interested in having him around. That will obviously change after Cook, who looked like a legit top-10 fantasy running back, suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions.
    Murray had been relegated to reserve duties the first month while Cook starred, but the Vikings fear an ACL tear for Cook and that would indefinitely sideline the 22-year-old who had produced 53 PPR points over the first three weeks. The Vikings are going with their backup quarterback as well because Sam Bradford has a bad knee, and now it appears some combination of Murray and ordinary Jerick McKinnon will handle rushing duties. Murray is experienced and more accomplished and he’ll likely be the top free-agent pickup in fantasy leagues heading into Week 5, though I have doubts he'll be successful given his team's situation at quarterback and offensive line. Still, Murray should matter.

    October NFL action opened with a surprising New Orleans Saints shutout of the Miami Dolphins in London, and then the theme of the day, other than running quarterbacks earning big wins, was unfortunately the injuries, with Cook’s left knee appearing to shake fantasy leagues the most. It was a noncontact injury and those rarely have positive results. Still, there will be further tests Monday so don’t cut Cook yet, but be prepared to act. McKinnon has been around for years, mostly as an uninspiring Adrian Peterson backup, and he should be added in deeper formats but Murray should lead.

    As for the other injuries, those relying on Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones -- or, to a lesser extent in deeper formats his colleague Mohamed Sanu -- couldn’t have been pleased by a hip injury that held him to 30 yards on three catches. Jones is prone to nagging injuries and hopefully this isn’t serious. Sanu caught one pass for 3 yards before a hamstring injury removed him from action. The Falcons, not surprisingly, lost at home to the Buffalo Bills. Fantasy owners shouldn’t panic on Jones, not yet. The Falcons get the Week 5 bye week, and it would be surprising if Jones wasn’t healthy by Week 6. Hopefully the team can figure out a way to get him involved in the red zone as well.

    The other notable injuries were to quarterbacks, as the Tennessee Titans lost Marcus Mariota and later in the day a Raiders comeback might have gone differently in Denver had Derek Carr not left early with back spasms. Mariota rushed for two touchdowns in the second quarter before a hamstring injury ended his day. Then the Texans scored the final 33 points after Mariota left. For now let’s assume Mariota won't need to miss games and if healthy he will be in demand for fantasy owners with the brutal Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns up the next few weeks. Carr shouldn’t have been as popular a play as he was at Denver and as of now there’s no update on his back woes. Even if it’s bad news, he isn’t a running back and there are plenty of quarterbacks available, even with the bye weeks looming.

    Second down: Houston’s Deshaun Watson produced an electric performance with four passing touchdowns and one rushing and he’s looking like a potential fantasy starter at this point. The rookie from Clemson impressed in Week 3 when he handled considerable pressure from the New England Patriots and nearly engineered a road win, though it oddly didn’t result in significantly more interest from fantasy owners. Watson was active in only 5.5 percent of standard leagues, as 20 other quarterbacks were more active. That will likely change, of course, though Watson has a tough Week 5 matchup with the only unbeaten team left, the mighty Kansas City Chiefs.

    However, another reason to like Watson a bit more now than a week ago is because he has found another weapon. The first three weeks it was basically all DeAndre Hopkins, as he was the only wide receiver on the team with double-digit targets! Enter Will Fuller V, the second-year Notre Dame product who broke his collarbone in August and made a quick recovery considering the circumstances. Fuller caught four passes for 35 yards and two for touchdowns, making this offense more dynamic. Running back Lamar Miller had a breakout performance with 131 yards and two touchdowns, solidifying his role -- for now -- as fantasy owners questioned him and yearned for untested rookie D'Onta Foreman. Oh, and Hopkins has to be considered a WR1 at this point. Welcome back!

    Third down: While one very relevant rookie running back certainly didn’t enjoy his day, others did, and some new names are starting to assume key fantasy roles. Entering the Sunday night Seahawks-Colts game the highest scorer among rookie running backs was Saints third-round pick Alvin Kamara, who caught all 10 of his targets for 71 yards and a touchdown, while adding 25 rushing yards. It’s clear the Saints aren’t going to stop using veteran Mark Ingram while he’s healthy, even if Kamara looks better, but the Tennessee product is becoming a flex option nevertheless. The Saints don’t play in Week 5, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Kamara handles a greater workload when they resume play in Week 6.

    The New York Jets won again and sixth-round selection Elijah McGuire played a role, turning his 10 rushing attempts into 93 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown. Of course, this being the Jets, roles remain uncertain moving ahead just as in recent weeks. Matt Forte didn’t play Sunday and Bilal Powell did, and Powell scored on the longest rushing touchdown in club history. McGuire is available in nearly every ESPN standard league and there’s no guarantee his role will be significant in Week 5 at Cleveland, but he seems like a smarter bench stash than Terrance West, Jacquizz Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and Paul Perkins, each of whom is owned in a lot more leagues.

    Fourth down: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had his best game of the season, throwing for 347 yards in a close loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but he helped Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams lead all wide receivers in receiving yards (entering Sunday night) and tight end Hunter Henry caught his first touchdown of the season. The winless Chargers continue to find ways to lose close games, but at least the receivers came up large, though tougher matchups follow the next few weeks with the Giants, Raiders and Broncos. Williams entered play with 123 receiving yards over three games and then added 115, with 75 coming on a touchdown jaunt. Of course, to balance out the passing game it wasn’t a good day for running back Melvin Gordon. He battled a knee injury all week and turned his 10 carries into only 22 yards against the Eagles. Monitor his situation but he remains a RB1.

    Speaking of balance, the Eagles won again with their running game, as LeGarrette Blount exploded for 136 yards, including a 68-yarder, and Wendell Smallwood assumed the Darren Sproles role of occasional traditional runner and pass-catcher, totaling 79 yards. When the Eagles feature a balanced offense -- when any team does, really -- they are more dangerous, and both Blount and Smallwood should be on the radar for flex purposes in future weeks.
     

  10. #60  
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    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/4/17

    Things get a bit tougher this week with flex decisions because four teams are not playing (Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins) and injuries were unfortunately one of the major themes of Week 4. Then again, even though there are fewer options to rely on, the same formula works. Check the matchups, see who is getting volume of touches and make the best decisions you can. We’re here at ESPN Fantasy to help with rankings and projections, and there’s so much content all posted for your perusal. Now it’s time to flex!

    1. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: How many of you panicked after the first week or two? Now he looks great, as expected.

    2. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Remember that unbelievable streak of games with at least five catches and 50 yards? OK, so neither happened in Week 4. Don’t panic!

    3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: Last game before the bye week and potential suspension, but I still wouldn’t trade him away for pennies on the dollar. It would be very surprising if this suspension was served in 2017, or actually, at all.

    4. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: Unlike the other Buccaneers starting wide receiver, Evans and his quarterback have chemistry. And they all have a poor Patriots defense to face this week.

    5. Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: What? Only 16.1 PPR points in Week 4? This guy is slipping.

    6. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams: He’s the top scorer in PPR through four weeks. Touchdown rate seems a bit unsustainable, but not sure I’d sell high. Not many running backs to trust anymore.

    7. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: This ranking doesn’t change whether colleague Davante Adams suits up or not. And it would be surprising if Adams can play after the brutal hit he took last week. That suspension was reduced, too. That’s your NFL.

    8. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants: Beckham has a bunch of nagging injuries but he’s so talented it’s sometimes hard to tell.

    9. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals: See, his quarterback is fine.

    10. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: Whoa, his quarterback is definitely fine.

    11. LeSean McCoy, RB, Bills: You’re wasting your time worrying about Mike Tolbert.

    12. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

    13. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers

    14. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: He's playing like he’s 29.

    15. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys: Unfortunately this guy has a tough schedule of cornerbacks much of the season, but certainly not this week!

    16. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: Just keep playing through those nagging injuries, please.

    17. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: Time to buy or past the time to sell? Lot of opinions here. I’m not giving up on him.

    18. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots

    19. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks: Gotta think the running game will be a problem all season at this point. Russell Wilson is playing well.

    20. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

    21. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: Looking and acting more like Gronk every week, even when he’s not catching the passes.

    22. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans

    23. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers: Some concern here after the really quiet Week 4 that perhaps he really does need a week off.

    24. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Couldn’t have expected a big game in Seattle, but now is the time to trade for him for the schedule and pending return of Andrew Luck.

    25. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Personally I didn’t think he’d be much worse without Sam Bradford because, well, Bradford really isn’t a great quarterback.

    26. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs

    27. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: Miller looked fine in Week 4 and by the way, he wasn’t all that bad the first three games.

    28. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears

    29. Golden Tate, WR, Lions: Two big games and two small ones, but I think more big games are pending the next three months.

    30. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: Time to get aboard. He’s getting volume.

    31. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Not only does he lead all tight ends in receiving yards, but only four wide receivers have more!

    32. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

    33. Charles Clay, TE, Bills: Someone has to catch the ball for Buffalo. This is looking like the Tennessee situation, actually. Hard to go with their wide receivers, too.

    34. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Usually when receivers whine about lack of targets they get extra ones the next game. Jackson is certainly experienced at trying this angle.

    35. Bilal Powell, RB, Jets: If you really think you know what the Jets are doing here, buy a lottery ticket. That said, due to lack of better options, Powell is easily a RB2. No Devonta Freeman, C.J. Anderson or Mark Ingram this week.

    36. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: See: the Jets. This rookie should be getting the touches Kareem Hunt does. But he’s not.

    37. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins: The Dolphins will score multiple touchdowns this week against a Titans defense that has been terrible.

    38. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins

    39. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots: Deserving of WR2 status with this tasty matchup.

    40. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Better than most realize. And again, when Bradford returns, it might not stay at this level. Case Keenum is throwing the football downfield!

    41. Frank Gore, RB, Colts

    42. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings: My play would be to add him off free agency and then sell high before he plays a below-average game and then you can’t do so. He’s just not that good.

    43. Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots

    44. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: Yep, we expected more. My hand is raised. But he is No. 20 in RB PPR scoring. He’s not Terrance West, ya know.

    45. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: Hello there and welcome to the 2017 season! Bucs haven’t said he’ll get a full workload but I'd guess Martin will be ranked better in future weeks.

    46. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Apparently having broken ribs does not mean you have to miss a game, but plan ahead. I think we’ll be removing him from consideration by Friday night.

    47. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles: Patrick Peterson is the best in the biz so good luck with Jeffery this week.

    48. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders

    49. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders: Not a good time to rely on Raiders, folks. By the way, the EJ for their new fill-in quarterback stands for Erik James. Thought you’d like to know. I did.

    50. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders

    51. Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Browns: Enough is enough. He’s the better Browns RB now.

    52. Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears

    53. Wendell Smallwood, RB, Eagles: The other Eagle ran wild in Week 4 but yeah, I’d still rather have the younger guy who can catch passes, too.

    54. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles: That 68-yarder when he ran over anything in his path was awesome. Just remember, other than that legendary run, it was 68 yards on 15 carries. I think you get my point.

    55. Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams

    56. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers: Yes, he has played better than I expected.

    57. Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans: So has he. The rookie has done nothing and the touchdown guy brought in has been quiet.

    58. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers: Might deserve more love from us if/when Adams is deemed out.

    59. Javorius Allen, RB, Ravens

    60. Theo Riddick, RB, Lions

    61. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions: Was so close to becoming the first Lion to rush for 100 yards since Barry Sand… actually, it was Reggie Bush in 2013. Still a long time, though.

    62. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers: Wow, it’s almost like we were absolutely right to be so cautious about a streaky player so reliant on touchdowns!

    63. Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers: Finally got some numbers in Week 4. Now he gets to play the Giants. Think Philip Rivers and Eli Manning are more jacked up for this one since they were traded for each other? Eh, prob not.

    64. Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots

    65. Eddie Lacy, RB, Seahawks: See my Latavius Murray write-up. I really have doubts Lacy will become a fantasy fixture, but it’s his job now if he can run well. Poor Chris Carson. We just can’t have nice things.

    66. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns: Doesn’t add up. He rushes for 952 yards last year, with seven scores and 4.8 yards per pop. Team upgrades the line. The rookie quarterback is competent. And Crowell now averages 2.9 yards per rush. You’re darn right I’m angry. I don’t like being wrong.

    67. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers

    68. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks

    69. Will Fuller V, WR, Texans: Excellent debut game but still hard to see consistent volume because Hopkins gets so much.

    70. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: At some point, based on the volume he’s still seeing, we’ll have to rank him better. But I still think Mixon is on the verge of getting most of the touches.

    71. Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Lions

    72. Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars

    73. Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers: Showing signs of becoming a WR3.

    74. Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens: Used to be so overrated. Now it’s the opposite.

    75. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens: I see no problem not ranking him as the top Baltimore wide receiver.

    76. Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals

    77. Alex Collins, RB, Ravens: Being added in many leagues but his volume is hardly safe.

    78. Chris Johnson, RB, Cardinals: Being dropped now because he isn’t doing much with the volume.

    79. James White, RB, Patriots

    80. Jack Doyle, TE, Colts

    81. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: That was 14 targets last week and that is a lot. There is some Duke Johnson potential here.

    82. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings: Some believe he gets more volume than Murray and I can’t say that would shock me. Murray is still dealing with ankle problems. McKinnon just isn’t that good, either.

    83. Brandon Marshall, WR, Giants: Has 21 targets the past two weeks, so that’s not the problem. His hands are.

    84. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants

    85. Aaron Jones, RB, Packers: Jamaal Williams could easily be the guy as well. Seems like a situation to avoid.

    86. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers: Actually did fine in two of the three games, but oddly wasn’t used to catch passes. Martin is back ... so now watch Rodgers run wild.

    87. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: It’s a bit disconcerting how few targets and catches he’s getting.

    88. Wayne Gallman, RB, Giants: The reason he’s ranked so poorly is prime Barry Sanders would struggle behind this offensive line. Yes, we love opportunity but there are roadblocks. Like five of them attempting to block.

    89. Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts

    90. Robert Woods, WR, Rams

    91. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans

    92. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seahawks: Can be a factor if he can just stay healthy.

    93. Elijah McGuire, RB, Jets: So he broke a long touchdown, but the Jets are still time-sharing? Why not give the rookie the job?

    94. Matt Forte, RB, Jets: Why is he still here?

    95. Eric Decker, WR, Titans: So far this doesn’t look like such a good fit.

    96. Robby Anderson, WR, Jets

    97. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Jets

    98. Shane Vereen, RB, Giants

    99. Kenny Britt, WR, Browns

    100. Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars

    Others: J.J. Nelson, WR, Cardinals; John Brown, WR, Cardinals; Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys; Evan Engram, TE, Giants; Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams; Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks; Paul Perkins, RB, Giants; Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks; D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texans; Terrance West, RB, Ravens; Matt Breida, RB, 49ers; Zay Jones, WR, Bills; Torrey Smith, WR, Eagles; Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals; Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers; Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders; Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions; Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars
     

  11. #61  
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    Seattle and Minnesota try to deal with RB injuries
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/6/17

    There’s a difference between recommending a new starting running back because you really like him and think he’ll be really productive and talking about a player just because he suddenly has the opportunity. That’s kind of how I feel about the running back situations for both the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks after they each lost exciting rookie starters, Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson, respectively, to season-ending leg injuries. Sure, Latavius Murray and Eddie Lacy have each had seasons in the past when fantasy owners loved them and they’ll be relevant in Week 5. Still, it seems unlikely we’ll love them in 2017.
    Murray was the more popular pickup compared to longtime backup Jerick McKinnon -- and he should be, as the Vikings went to him on Sunday after the Cook injury and figure to give him the larger workload. The problem, of course, is that Murray isn’t that good to start with and he’s still dealing with ankle soreness after offseason surgery. So, when many of us advise fantasy owners to add Murray to their teams -- and people are so desperate that he’s up to 80 percent rostered -- it shouldn’t be construed as blind faith for another 1,000-yard rushing season or a repeat of last year's 12 touchdowns.

    The Vikings are likely to use Murray on early downs and McKinnon on passing downs, and it would be surprising if Stevan Ridley, signed Thursday after last playing a key role for a team in 2014, mattered. It might just be that, like several other NFL squads -- the Giants and Cardinals jump to mind -- there simply might not be any Vikings running back that will truly matter statistically. We’ll all be watching Monday night, and perhaps Murray will be awesome. Then again, despite my RB2 ranking for him, I do have reservations.

    My best guess for the Seahawks is that both Lacy and Thomas Rawls get some opportunities and whichever one ends up being more productive is the one who will keep getting touches. Lacy was the more popular fantasy addition this week -- and that makes sense, for he likely gets the first shot. After all, he’s the one who ran 11 times for 52 yards against the Colts in Week 4 and, at times, looked somewhat more competent than the others. He’s not fast. He's far from svelte. Heck, he's not much of a pass-catcher, either. Oh, and the Seattle offensive line has big problems opening up reasonable holes to run through. Other than that, it’s a Super Bowl-contending team. Ha!

    Rawls was a healthy scratch in Week 4, but wasn’t healthy prior to that. He also doesn’t catch passes. C.J. Prosise does, but he’s got a sprained ankle, didn’t play the past two games and didn’t practice Wednesday. Prosise, when healthy and available, could be like Cleveland’s Duke Johnson Jr. -- a fun pass-catcher who rises up to become the most valuable fantasy asset among his team’s running backs. But Prosise seldom seems to be able to stay healthy and available. There’s also J.D. McKissic to consider, as he turned his five touches from scrimmage into 65 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday night. Don’t discount his potential relevance. We watch because we care, and any of Lacy, Rawls, Prosise and McKissic could end up being valuable. For now, I’d roster them in that order. Still, try to avoid relying on any of these guys.

    Top-20 running back watch: This is becoming a weekly section in this “What to Watch For” space because fantasy owners are desperate for running back help, especially with the bye weeks beginning and Devonta Freeman, C.J. Anderson and others unavailable. This week, we continue to watch in relative amazement as Cincinnati Bengals rookie Joe Mixon fails to emerge as the team’s lead back, despite much evidence he should. Carolina Panthers pass-catching back Christian McCaffrey continues to frustrate as well. You know what? Mixon and McCaffrey were both comfortably assigned to our collective top 20 for Week 5, in part because there’s nobody else to nominate, but also for the upside we keep discussing but have yet to truly see. Continue to invest in them. Last week, we focused on Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell and the Jets’ Bilal Powell in the hopes of finding some clarity, but didn’t really get any answers. Perhaps this week a few rookies will break out to take their place.

    Revenge is a dish best served in Indy: Or something like that. The point is that the Indianapolis Colts face the San Francisco 49ers this week, and veteran running back Frank Gore faces the team for which he played an excellent 10 seasons. Gore isn’t off to such a great statistical start in 2017, as he ranks just 30th in PPR scoring after having finished last year just outside the top 10. Fantasy owners aren’t dropping him, but they’re probably not excited about activating him, either. Well, the ESPN rankers have him easily in the top 20 at running back. No, he hasn’t gotten any younger, but it doesn’t look like he has hit some imaginary wall either, despite the tepid performance. A tough schedule and the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck haven’t helped. One could easily argue that Gore is someone to trade for in fantasy, though I wouldn’t give up a lot for him. The 49ers have permitted the fourth-most fantasy points (PPR) to running backs, and three of Gore’s five catches on the season came Sunday at Seattle. Perhaps he’ll be more active in that department moving forward.

    More rookie talk: Then there’s the other side of the Monday night game in which the Chicago Bears turn to No. 2 overall draft pick Mitchell Trubisky to save them. Well, perhaps not save them, but at least to gain some valuable experience and perform better than Mike Glennon did. That, at least, seems attainable. While my general feeling about trusting rookie quarterbacks is always something along the lines of it not being a good idea, Houston’s Deshaun Watson looks fantastic and Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer -- well, things take time. I wouldn’t even roster Trubisky in a re-draft, 10-team standard league. In a dynasty format I would because he really could be valuable in a year. Perhaps he follows the Jared Goff path and looks completely out of place his first season but ends up emerging in Year 2 thanks to some offensive line help, more weapons and better playcalling. Things like this don’t surprise me much anymore. Fantasy owners should watch the initial effect on running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and whether any wide receivers become potential flex options. For now, however, don’t downgrade Howard and Cohen or roster the likes of Kendall Wright in shallow formats. Don’t be surprised if this works out, though. You never know.
     

  12. #62  
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    Best, worst matchups at all fantasy football positions for Week 5
    Tristan Cockcroft
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/6/17

    Matchups are often a driving force behind fantasy football owners' weekly lineup decisions. When choosing between two (or more) similarly talented players, you know the first question that comes to mind: Which one has the best matchup?

    Ah, but what, exactly, constitutes a favorable or unfavorable matchup?



    That's where the "Matchups Map" comes in. Each week, I'll provide a schedule-independent method to determine strength of positional matchups, using the most recent, relevant data. Check back for updated numbers each week, including matchup highlights at each position -- both favorable and unfavorable -- based upon those statistics. For these purposes, we will use PPR (point per reception) scoring, though I have analyzed this data for both PPR and non-PPR and have found that the rankings would scarcely change (if at all). Therefore, these help in either scoring format.

    The maps include two measures: The first, "Rk," is my personal ranking of how favorable/unfavorable I consider that positional matchup; the second, "Adj. FPA," reflects how far above or below a player's average that defense has held opponents at that position. For Week 5, we'll use 2017 data (four weeks are already in the books), but beginning with Week 6, we'll use the most recent five weeks. Keep in mind that as "Adj. FPA" statistics represent only a four-week, smaller-than-usual sample, my personal ranking ("Rk") won't fall quite in line as it will in future weeks.

    Finally, a caveat: Remember that matchups are only one ingredient in my rankings formula. Not every favorable matchup should be exploited; not every unfavorable matchup should be avoided. To get the most complete recipe for whom to start and sit, consult my weekly rankings.

    Quarterbacks

    Favorable matchup: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NE)

    His is playing in the Thursday Night Football game, so get him into your lineups right now! Winston gets the advantage of facing the New England Patriots' defense at a time during which it is performing as poorly -- if not more poorly -- as it has at any time in Bill Belichick's reign as head coach. Through four weeks, the Patriots have afforded 10.7 more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team and a league-high 0.645 fantasy points per pass attempt, and they've pressured the passer on only 20 percent of pass plays, the fourth-worst rate in the league. Last week, they made Cam Newton look about as good as he has at any point in his career, surrendering 33.04 fantasy points to him after he had totaled 33.24 in his previous three games. Despite it being a short week, Winston should benefit greatly from this matchup.

    Unfavorable matchup: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (KC)

    He's by far the most added quarterback in ESPN leagues (up 42 percent, to 71.3), he's coming off a position-leading 33.72 fantasy points in Week 4, and he's now seventh at his position in fantasy points for the season (77.24), despite having made only three starts to four by all six of the players with more. Though there's much buzz surrounding Watson in fantasy, let's pump the brakes a little bit, because he had outrageously favorable matchups in Weeks 3-4 and hasn't yet faced a defense nearly as stingy as that of the Kansas City Chiefs. Granted, the Chiefs haven't pressured the quarterback that much, their 14 pressures tied for fourth fewest and their two sacks tied for third fewest, and Watson is about as apt a quarterback as there is at scrambling and making plays from outside the pocket. Remember, it's his statistical floor that makes him so appealing for our purposes, and his mobility fuels that. Still, Watson's passing numbers -- the part of his game that addresses his weekly upside -- have been poorer inside the pocket, and on pass attempts 15-plus yards downfield he's tied for the league's most interceptions (four). I ranked him 10th this week, and that's a start in ESPN standard leagues, but let's see him prove it against an unfavorable matchup before valuing him more.

    Running backs

    Favorable matchup: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (NYJ)

    It's effectively a make-or-break matchup for him, because Crowell's numbers are noticeably down this season and his owners are growing impatient. His 6.35 PPR fantasy point average is less than half of his 2016 number (12.82) and his 2.9 yards-per-carry rate is significantly beneath his 4.2 career number. Still, Crowell now draws his best matchup all year, against a New York Jets defense that has been far more ineffective against opposing running backs than their back-to-back wins allowing 26 combined points with a plus-17 point differential would have you believe. The Jets have allowed a league-high six runs of 20-plus yards as well as the sixth-highest yards-per-carry average (4.7), and their 28.7 PPR fantasy points allowed to running backs is third most. Neither of these teams' defenses is especially good and the betting line suggests a close game, so Crowell should get plenty of opportunities in this one to rebound.

    Unfavorable matchup: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (BUF)

    From favorable to unfavorable in a week Mixon has gone, and let's not overlook the fact that he mustered a mere 1.7 yards per carry facing the Browns last week, with his four catches effectively saving his day in PPR scoring. Poor offensive line play has played a large part in Mixon's slow start -- his Bengals rank fourth worst in yards before contact per rush -- but tough matchups, such as this one, aren't helping. The Buffalo Bills, despite a poor showing against the Atlanta Falcons running backs in Week 4, have afforded the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position (20.9) and the eighth-fewest fantasy points per target to running backs (1.317). Mixon might now have a hold on the Bengals' starting job, but there will be better weeks to play him than this.

    RB Matchups Map
    "DEF to avoid" and "DEF to exploit" columns rank team defenses in terms of strength of matchup; "Opp.": Week 5 opponent; "Rk": Tristan's matchup ranking, where 1 is the toughest defense and 32 is the easiest defense to face; "Adj. FPA": The number of fantasy points that defense added or subtracted from its opponent.

    Wide receivers

    Favorable matchup: DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins (TEN)

    You could really go in either direction here between Parker and Jarvis Landry, as the Tennessee Titans have been one of the worst -- if not the worst -- defenses against opposing wide receivers to date. No team has afforded a greater number of wide receivers 15-plus PPR fantasy points in a game than the Titans this season (five), and what separates Parker in this matchup is his tendency to play on the perimeter, where the team has afforded the fourth-most points. Amari Cooper (17.2), Marqise Lee (14.6), Doug Baldwin (26.5) and DeAndre Hopkins (26.7) already have had big games while playing primarily on the outside against this defense this season.

    Unfavorable matchup: Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (@DET)

    He had a productive Week 4 against the Patriots -- 10.4 non-PPR and 14.4 PPR fantasy points -- and still shapes up as Cam Newton's go-to guy in the offense, but this is one of the toughest matchups on Benjamin's entire 2017 schedule. One of the reasons the Detroit Lions rate so challenging a matchup is cornerback Darius Slay, who has caused headaches for opposing No. 1 wideouts: Larry Fitzgerald, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and Stefon Diggs have averaged 7.5 non-PPR and 13.0 PPR fantasy points against the Lions, those coming on a whopping 9.3 targets per game. Fantasy owners might do well to keep Benjamin on the sidelines this week, knowing that he then has about as favorable a matchup as he could ask facing him in Week 6 (PHI).

    Tight ends

    Favorable matchup: Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders (BAL)

    EJ Manuel's installation as Raiders quarterback saps a lot of appeal from this offense, but Cook is one player who still matches up fairly nicely. His 25 targets are ninth most at the position, he's one of only four tight ends to score at least 6.5 PPR fantasy points in each of his four games, and after Manuel's arrival in the Week 4 game, Cook was targeted a team-high (tied with Seth Roberts) four times on Manuel's 17 throws. That bodes well for Cook's involvement against the Baltimore Ravens, who by the way were the defense that surrendered 28.2 PPR fantasy points to Marcedes Lewis in Week 3 and 11.7 to David Njoku and 8.1 to Seth DeValve in Week 2.

    Unfavorable matchup: Evan Engram, New York Giants (LAC)

    He's on track for one of the better rookie seasons in history at his position, which shouldn't come as a complete surprise considering that, coming out of the draft, he was regarded skills-wise more of a fit to a wide receiver's than tight end's role. With the Giants playing far more often from behind than expected, Engram should continue to be heavily targeted, perhaps not far off his third-best-at-the-position 7.5 targets per game. Still, this is a matchup to avoid, considering how much trouble the Los Angeles Chargers have been giving opposing tight ends. Travis Kelce managed a miserable 1.1 PPR fantasy points against them in Week 3, and Zach Ertz required eight targets -- that's the 15th most by any tight end in a game all year -- to get 13.1 against them.
     

  13. #63  
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    Week 5 takeaways on Doug Martin, Aaron Jones and more
    Matt Bowen
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/9/17

    After throwing five interceptions on Sunday and failing to play consistent football in the vertical passing game, can fantasy managers trust Ben Roethlisberger as a QB1 moving forward? Let's break down the lack of production with the Pittsburgh quarterback, discuss the upside of rookie running back Aaron Jones in Green Bay and also look at the monster numbers from Deshaun Watson.

    Here are my Week 5 fantasy takeaways:


    Will Packers rookie Aaron Jones cut into Ty Montgomery's touches?

    Jones put on a show in Dallas. The rookie rushed for 125 yards and touchdown on 19 carries (6.6 yards per carry). And he's pretty smooth. I'm talking about the lateral jump cuts, the vision and the sudden burst to get vertical in the hole. Yeah, Jones can play. This is a one-cut runner who also set up Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' play-action passing game in the fourth quarter.

    Given that type of production, we have to anticipate Jones eating into the touches for Montgomery when the veteran does return from a rib injury. Jones put that production on tape and his skill set would allow the Packers to reduce Montgomery's workload as the No.1 back. Plus, the rookie could get another start in Week 6 versus the Vikings if Montgomery is still out with that injury. Jones should be rostered in all leagues and he has some real upside in this offense.

    Cam Newton is rolling

    After throwing for 355 yards (26-of-35 passing) and three touchdowns on Sunday versus the Lions, Newton has now racked up the second-most fantasy points in the NFL during the past two weeks (59.24). He's attacking opposing secondaries and benefiting from a Carolina passing game that is challenging with vertical throws down the field.

    I hit on Newton's production coming off the Week 4 win over the Patriots. And even though that New England secondary left some doors open for Newton with communication busts, the game plan was aggressive. That's key from my perspective. Take some shots, mix in some QB designed runs and get creative.

    We saw the similar script on Sunday in Detroit. Newton was 6-of-7 with a touchdown versus the Lions on throws of 15 or more yards down the field for an average of 29.7 per attempt. And while Newton didn't have the rushing numbers (seven carries, zero yards), that shovel pass to Christian McCaffrey was set up by the threat of the Panthers quarterback carrying the ball. Newton widened the edge defender on the option look and opened up a lane for McCaffrey to find the end zone off the inside shovel. Nasty to defend.

    Newton's slow start to the season caused some real hesitation for fantasy managers. But after two straight weeks of high-level production in a multiple, aggressive offense, Newton should be viewed as a solid QB1. The shoulder looks good and he's got a solid matchup Thursday night versus the Eagles' secondary.

    Ben Roethlisberger can't be trusted as a QB1

    The interceptions were a problem for Roethlisberger versus the Jags on Sunday. He tossed five of them. And two were brought back to the house. But we also have to look at Roethlisberger's lack of consistency this season when throwing the deep ball, because it's becoming a major issue that is derailing Roethlisberger's fantasy production.

    In 2016, Roethlisberger led the NFL with 16 touchdown passes on throws of 15 or more yards down the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And he completed 47 percent of those passes with only four interceptions. This season? A completely different story. Roethlisberger has yet to throw a TD pass on such throws, he has recorded five picks (with four on Sunday) and he is completing only 34 percent of his attempts.

    Yes, the Jags' secondary is legit. And Jacksonville has a ton of speed at the second level. That has to be discussed here. But this isn't just a one-game trend for Roethlisberger. There is an obvious rhythm issue with this offense. Roethlisberger has completed just one touchdown pass to Antonio Brown through five weeks and we are still waiting for Martavis Bryant to have that breakout game.

    With a road matchup versus the Chiefs in Week 6, fantasy managers should put Roethlisberger on the bench. Along with the negative production tendencies Roethlisberger has shown in road starts, the veteran can't be trusted to post a QB1 line based on the numbers and what I'm seeing on tape.

    Doug Martin is the RB1 in Tampa

    I wanted to go back to the Thursday night game because it was the first time we got to check out Martin this season. Coming off of a suspension, Martin rushed for 74 yards on 13 carries (5.7 yards per carry) versus the Patriots, he found the end zone and also posted 8 yards on one reception (three targets).

    But more important than the numbers, we saw the speed, the sudden burst with Martin. The veteran was fast to hit the hole. Get downhill and go. Martin also showed that burst on edge runs. Bounce the ball. And he finished runs with some power too. Plus, with Jacquizz Rodgers seeing only three carries in that game, it's pretty clear that Martin is the RB1 in Tampa. He will provide fresh legs and more energy for the offense.

    Deshaun Watson stays in the QB1 mix

    That's 10 total touchdowns for the rookie quarterback in his past two starts and a league-leading 69.26 fantasy points over that span. Crazy numbers in an offense that is catering to his ability at the position.

    On Friday, I wrote about the how the Texans have adapted the game plan to maximize the talent of Watson. Play-action, movement passes and QB runs put him in a position to produce and attack open windows.

    We saw that in Week 4 versus the Titans. Watson diced up that defense, was ultra-efficient in the quick passing game and took advantage of some poor eye discipline from the Tennessee secondary. But after doing it again versus the Kansas City defense? Yeah, that's good stuff. And even with a late score in garbage time Sunday night, Watson is showing consistent trends from a fantasy perspective. He can extend plays, find positive matchups and use his legs to give managers a boost in production.

    With a Week 6 matchup versus the Browns, Watson should be starting in all leagues. He has legit upside as a QB1 against a Cleveland defense that has had issues playing consistent football in Gregg Williams' pressure system.

    Rookie TE George Kittle is a solid streaming option

    Given the unpredictability at tight end this season and injuries to some of the league's top players at the position, fantasy managers should look at Kittle as a solid streaming option. The rookie out of Iowa produced in critical game situations versus the Colts and he caught seven passes for 83 yards and a score.

    Quarterback Brian Hoyer targeted the rook on a crucial call late in the game off play-action and found Kittle again on a scripted red zone pick route to tie it up late in the fourth quarter. With Kittle aligned as a slot receiver, the tight end came underneath the pick to make the grab for six points. Big play in a pressure moment.

    Kittle is a really good fit for Kyle Shanahan's offense as that H-back or "move" tight end. He's got low 4.5 speed and the route-running ability to get open in Shanahan's system. And with a Week 6 matchup versus a Redskins defense giving up an average of 18.4 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (30th in the NFL), Kittle should be on the radar for managers who need to stream a tight end.

    Marlon Mack needs to be rostered in all leagues

    After Mack's production Sunday, the rookie is a player who must be rostered in all leagues. Mack posted 91 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries (10.1 yards per carry). He has some juice on edge runs and he gives the Colts a changeup in the backfield.

    The way I see it, Mack has the ability to rip off big plays and he could thrive with more volume. That's why he should be added this week. And with Frank Gore's low-level production Sunday, Mack should see more touches. At worst, he's a guy you pick up and stash in case of an injury to Gore. The playmaking skill set is there.

    Will Fuller V should be in the lineup versus the Browns in Week 6

    Fuller is another player who has benefited from the play of Watson in Houston. Since returning from injury, Fuller has caught six of nine targets for 92 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns over the past two weeks. And while managers can't bank on this run of touchdowns to continue, Fuller should be in the lineup versus the Browns this week as a WR3/flex play. He's got blazing speed and has the ability to convert routes down the field when Watson extends the pocket.
     

  14. #64  
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    How to replace Beckham and what to do with Big Ben
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/9/17

    For all the talk about injuries wreaking havoc with fantasy football rosters, entering Sunday’s Week 5 the only player chosen in the first few rounds of this season’s drafts to suffer a long-term malady was Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. Well, until Sunday. That’s when fellow first-round selection New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. fractured his ankle, and as we await further word on the severity of the injury and his chances of gracing a football field again this season, this one will also be difficult for fantasy players to overcome.

    Johnson injured his left wrist in Week 1 and word is he could return in late November. With Beckham, there should be more clarity on Monday as to whether there is ligament damage along with a break, but surgery is a possibility. Hopefully one of the best wide receivers in the sport can return later this season. There have been other significant injuries this season to haunt fantasy managers, of course, from Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen to Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and others, but they weren’t chosen until Round 5 in ESPN ADP. Johnson went first overall; Beckham went sixth.

    The winless Giants had already lost the next two wide receivers on the depth chart to first-half ankle injuries and the availability of Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard for Week 6 at Denver remains problematic. Then again, even if they’re deemed 100 percent, which seems unlikely, it’s going to be tough to trust any Giants for a road game against the Denver Broncos. Then in Week 7 the Giants host the Seattle Seahawks. That doesn’t figure to be much fun either. Quarterback Eli Manning hasn’t been a popular fantasy option the first five weeks and that will surely continue.

    Even the worst NFL teams have someone interesting for fantasy, and the Giants really are no different in that respect. Rookie tight end Evan Engram did next to nothing in Sunday’s home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but in his first month he averaged more than 11 PPR points per game, quite impressive for a first-year player and a top-10 figure at the position. Engram’s usage figures to rise and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Giants line him up outside as a wide receiver, since they’re lacking options and Engram is hardly a strong blocker. Engram is on a roster in roughly 70 percent of ESPN standard leagues but that number should rise this week.

    Meanwhile, Roger Lewis was pretty much the last Giants wide receiver left at the end of Sunday’s game and the second-year player from Bowling Green should also move into a key role, pending news on Marshall and Shepard. Others will be signed as well. There’s little reason to add Lewis for the Broncos and Seahawks games, however, just as it’s unlikely fantasy owners will be rushing to activate running backs Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman. The Giants actually ran the ball quite well against the Chargers, with this tandem splitting touches and combining for more than 27 PPR points, but again, we can probably ignore Giants until Week 9, after their much-needed bye week.

    As for external replacements for Beckham, colleague Field Yates will have the complete free-agent rundown Tuesday, but among the wide receivers to look for on free agency in your league, available in more than half of ESPN’s standard formats, are Jets Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson, Rams Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, Cardinals John Brown and Jaron Brown, Eagles Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor, the 49ers’ Marquise Goodwin and Chargers rookie Mike Williams, who could debut soon.

    Second down: One of the top quarterback performances of Week 5 was supplied by Philadelphia Eagles second-year option Carson Wentz, who ripped up the Arizona Cardinals' defense for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Wentz was ranked as a top-10 option for the week, in part for the intriguing matchup but also because three recognized top-10 quarterbacks were on bye (Matt Ryan, Drew Brees Kirk Cousins). Still, Wentz had never amassed three touchdown passes in any of his first 20 career games, let alone four, and fantasy owners might treat him as a top-10 option moving forward. The Eagles play at Carolina this Thursday and that doesn’t feel like a positive matchup on a short week, but Wentz is at least a solid QB2 for 10-team formats and will merit more in the better matchups.

    Then there’s the starting quarterback for the other Keystone state team. Pittsburgh Steelers veteran Ben Roethlisberger tossed five interceptions in a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he was active in nearly half of ESPN standard leagues. Conventional wisdom held that Roethlisberger was playable in fantasy depending on venue. On the road, we pass, as the quarterback has been decidedly below average the past three seasons away from Pittsburgh. At home, he’s remained solid. However, even that’s not assured any longer. Sure, give the young Jaguars defense much credit, but Roethlisberger, who reportedly flirted with retirement last offseason, hasn’t looked good in any games so far. Perhaps there’s an injury we don’t know about, but for now there’s little reason to keep this longtime fantasy stalwart on your team in a shallow league.

    Third down: An average of more than eight running backs per each of the first four weeks achieved 20 or more PPR points, but entering the Sunday night game between the Chiefs and Texans a mere three had reached the mark in Week 5. One was Chargers third-year back Melvin Gordon, who topped 100 rushing yards for the first time this season and also converted two Philip Rivers passes into touchdowns. Gordon entered this season with two receiving touchdowns in two years! On Sunday in New Jersey he bounced back from a poor Week 4 against the Eagles. In a fantasy world lacking in running back depth, he remains about as safe as one can be.

    As with Gordon, Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette topped 30 PPR points, reaching the mark for the first time on a 90-yard touchdown jaunt late in the big win. Also as with Gordon, Fournette is being ranked as a top-10 running back every week and for him it starts with volume of touches. The LSU product entered the day third among all running backs in rushing attempts, behind only Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell and the Rams’ Todd Gurley, and there’s little reason to expect the team’s confidence to alter. Fournette has scored a touchdown each week and remains someone to covet in trades.

    The third running back to reach 20 PPR points, and he barely made it, was Green Bay Packers rookie Aaron Jones, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown at Dallas in place of injured Ty Montgomery. Jones, a fifth-round pick from Texas-El Paso, was bestowed 19 rushing attempts, while fellow rookie Jamaal Williams got one carry. While fantasy owners are sure to be extra excited about Jones, who remains available in nearly a third of ESPN standard leagues, there’s really no indication he’ll keep the starting role if and when, as expected, Montgomery returns in Week 6. Add Jones anyway.

    Fourth down: Let’s call Sunday a success for several highly regarded, top-20 wide receivers whose availability was anything but assured. Green Bay Packers starter Davante Adams was carted off Lambeau Field in Week 4 after a frightening hit to the head and spent time in concussion protocol. Fantasy owners had to be a bit surprised upon hearing he had traveled to Dallas for Sunday’s game with the Cowboys and, based on the many calls and tweets concerning him on the Sunday morning Fantasy Focus on ESPN Radio, a majority seemed hesitant to trust him. We advised to treat Adams as the top-20 wideout that he is for the positive matchup, and Adams came through with a pair of touchdowns, including the game winner with seconds left, and a season-best 25.6 PPR points.

    Then there’s Oakland Raiders veteran Michael Crabtree, who wasn’t so recommended for a home matchup with the generally strong Baltimore Ravens defense, mainly due to EJ Manuel's replacing the injured Derek Carr at quarterback. Crabtree missed Week 4 with a chest injury but found the end zone in the second quarter Sunday and turned his six catches into 82 yards. Crabtree has caught precisely six passes for at least 80 yards in each of the three games in which he’s been healthy. Compare that to the hyped Amari Cooper, who for the third consecutive week failed to reach as many as 10 receiving yards! Not only was Cooper drafted in fantasy ahead of Crabtree, despite his being outscored by Crabtree each of the past two seasons, but until a few days ago he was rostered in more leagues. Don’t cut Cooper, despite his recent struggles, but regardless of quarterback don’t presume he’s trustworthy anymore, either. Crabtree could be a top-20 option against the Chargers. Cooper should definitely not be.
     

  15. #65  
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    Week 6 fantasy football flex rankings
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/11/17

    The first segment of planned bye weeks seemed to be a problem for many fantasy owners, notably with filling out the flex position. Perhaps your team’s depth seemed fine in September, but then came October; remove some weekly options from consideration and the tune changes. We’ve got more byes this week and in future ones, so depth will be tested, and teams might have to choose from players barely ranked in the forthcoming top 100. It’s a challenging time for all. We’re all counting on you. Good luck.

    Let’s flex, Week 6 style!

    1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Topped 10 receptions in Week 5 for the third time this season.
    2. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: The 90-yard touchdown scamper helped a lot, but still, he’s scoring in every game.

    3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: It’s not about the rushing yards. It’s about the total yards, and he’s getting them.

    4. Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: What? He hasn’t scored since Week 3? Yep, time to move on. Charcandrick is taking his job. (Hunt is fine.)

    5. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams: First rough game came against Seattle. Gurley is not the first to struggle against that team.

    6. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: Back from bye and hopefully healthy and with a few red zone looks coming his way.

    7. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: One of two Texans among the top-10 overall scorers so far. The rookie quarterback is the other. Trust.

    8. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

    9. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers

    10. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: You know, anyone can get hurt, and just because Allen has had that issue more than others doesn’t mean it will happen again. Not thinking about selling high here.

    11. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

    12. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans: Would be more concerned if his backup was usurping the starting role. But that’s not the case. Titans need their quarterback to return.

    13. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos

    14. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: Disappeared at the end of the Dallas win, and while it’s not worry time, his fantasy value does seem awfully tied into touchdowns.

    15. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots: He’s fifth on the team in receptions, which kind of makes this ranking seem odd, I admit. Let’s be a bit more patient.

    16. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Proving that his talent supersedes the talent level of the guy throwing the football.

    17. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: Well, now that they’ve traded for a Hall of Fame running back, just imagine how many more targets this Hall of Fame receiver will get! C’mon. Nothing changes here.

    18. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: It’d be nice to see him score a touchdown. Heck, let’s see the Dolphins score.

    19. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears

    20. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: Can’t complain about consistency; between 56 and 75 rushing yards each week.

    21. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: It’s his turn to face the scary Patrick Peterson monster. And by the way, that’s absolutely a thing. If you’ve got better options, sit Evans. Peterson is the best.

    22. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs

    23. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders: Perhaps sometime in 2020 we’ll all definitively proclaim he’s not the team’s top wide receiver. Amazing how people view the Oakland wide receiver hierarchy, still.

    24. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

    25. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: What a weird situation here. Hyde owners shouldn’t panic just because the head coach might bench him for an undrafted and unproven rookie on a whim, but be prepared.

    26. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles: Just faced the Peterson monster and it wasn’t much fun. Easier matchup this week.

    27. Davante Adams, WR, Packers: Give him credit. Not only played in Dallas but scored twice.

    28. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots: Can’t say he’ll actually be changing ranking places with Cooks soon, but Hogan is becoming safe WR2 option.

    29. Golden Tate, WR, Lions: Not all weeks will be great. Sure would be nice to have more of a threat of touchdowns, though.

    30. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders: His believers think the return of Derek Carr will change everything statistically, but don’t be so sure. He’s just not the same guy.

    31. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: Looked pretty good in his season debut.

    32. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: If I were coaching the Saints I’d probably give the rookie more chances than this veteran. But until the Saints actually do that, both are worth it, and Ingram comes first. For now.

    33. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: Whine all you want about him, but he’s a rookie running back on pace for 86 catches. There’s nothing wrong with him at all.

    34. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Uh oh, the injury bug has found him again. Hope this doesn’t go like last season, when Diggs rocked in September and then stopped rocking.

    35. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos

    36. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: He’s on pace for 90 catches and 1,213 yards. That’s a top-20 WR easy.

    37. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Some will say it’s ridiculous that the rookie Packer isn’t ranked ahead, but do you know what the team will do? Montgomery, when healthy, and that might not be this week, isn’t going away.

    38. Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Browns: Looks odd to see him ranked here, but a mere six running backs have more PPR points this season.

    39. Javorius Allen, RB, Ravens: And this guy is 15th in PPR scoring at RB. Rushing attempts aren’t the key anymore.

    40. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints: Future star, of course.

    41. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

    42. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Let’s stop pretending it matters who plays QB for the Vikings, OK? Thielen is just a good player.

    43. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: So, ya gonna play this week, Rob? Just give us notice, that’s all we ask.

    44. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins

    45. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Whined about lack of targets and look what happened! He got more! Works every time!

    46. Terrelle Pryor Sr., WR, Redskins: I like how some fantasy owners believe their players will be rested and so much more awesome coming off the bye, and others think they’d forgotten how to perform. It’s just a week off.

    47. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: He’s in concussion protocol so it’s no certainty he plays this week.

    48. Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: Not so much fun to rely on when he’s not scoring touchdowns. And he hasn’t scored since Week 2. Sad face.

    49. Frank Gore, RB, Colts: Not looking like this will be his 10th season with 1,000 rushing yards. But he is giving you something each week.

    50. Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons

    51. Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers: Ask and you shall receive. He and Ed Dickson have really stepped up lately.

    52. Will Fuller V, WR, Texans: Won’t be scoring two touchdowns every week, which makes him a prime sell-high choice.

    53. Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans

    54. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Seventh in receiving yards, and tied for third in receptions, and not just at his position -- in the NFL. If you’ve got Ertz and Gronk, play ‘em both.

    55. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders: We know you want to give up on him, and this ranking seems unbecoming of someone of his ability level and track record, but be patient. He’s really good.

    56. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings: Not a huge surprise that he looks like the Vikings back to own.

    57. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: He’s the Cardinals back to own. No, really, he is.

    58. Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins: We keep the theme going, even though Kelley really hasn’t done much.

    59. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles

    60. Elijah McGuire, RB, Jets: As of this writing, it’s unclear if Bilal Powell and/or Matt Forte will play, but if you’re running the Jets, why not see what this rookie can do?

    61. Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams

    62. Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots

    63. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions

    64. Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: Things have quieted down for him statistically, which isn’t a surprise.

    65. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers

    66. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins: We’ve all seen Jay Cutler play poorly before, but he’s reaching some new lows recently.

    67. Alex Collins, RB, Ravens: The problem here is the Ravens don’t trust he can hold on to the football. Otherwise, he’s great.

    68. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Still think he’s the most valuable Carolina back?

    69. Theo Riddick, RB, Lions: Had a season-best 53 yards from scrimmage in Week 5 and 53 really isn’t much.

    70. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens

    71. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns: Keep him owned but on the bench.

    72. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings: Seems like he should be on your bench as well.

    73. Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers: The debut of rookie Mike Williams is nigh.

    74. Willie Snead, WR, Saints: Should debut this week, and if it goes well, watch him be a popular free agent add next week. Why not act now?

    75. Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins: Not at all likely to keep scoring touchdowns at his current rate.

    76. James White, RB, Patriots

    77. Aaron Jones, RB, Packers: If Montgomery is ruled out, then Jones moves into top 30 on this list. He looked that good.

    78. Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins

    79. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants: Someone has to catch the Eli Manning passes ... other than the Denver secondary of course.

    80. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

    81. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins

    82. Ricardo Louis, WR, Browns: Watch him and new QB Kevin Hogan lead the Browns to greatness.

    83. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: People still love him, but that’s 16 yards on 10 carries the past two weeks.

    84. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers

    85. Marlon Mack, RB, Colts: He probably should be the starter already, but Gore is very respected and still competent.

    86. Matt Breida, RB, 49ers: He could be the San Francisco starter soon, believe it or not.

    87. Adrian Peterson, RB, Cardinals: He has surprised us before. Kinda reminds me of when Emmitt Smith finished things up in Arizona except his final year actually was productive.

    88. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: If you want to believe it’s because Case Keenum was at QB, then whatever works for you.

    89. Cameron Brate, TE, Buccaneers: No longer hearing from all the people who swore rookie O.J. Howard would make Brate disappear anymore. Hmmm.

    90. Evan Engram, TE, Giants

    91. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers: Has reached 50 receiving yards in one game. Doesn’t sound so enticing anymore.

    92. Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Lions

    93. Eric Decker, WR, Titans

    94. Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens: He caught a pair of 50-yard passes just last week!

    95. Taylor Gabriel, WR, Falcons: Reasonable fill-in insurance if Mohamed Sanu isn’t healthy enough to suit up.

    96. Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts

    97. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Saints

    98. John Brown, WR, Cardinals

    99. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Jets

    100. Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams

    Others: Robert Woods, WR, Rams; Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos; Orleans Darkwa, RB, Giants; D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texans; Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals; Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars; Robby Anderson, WR, Jets; Shane Vereen, RB, Giants; Matt Forte, RB, Jets; Roger Lewis, WR, Giants; Wayne Gallman, RB, Giants; Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins; Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers
     

  16. #66  
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    Best and worst wide receiver matchups for fantasy football Week 6
    Mike Clay
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/11/17

    By utilizing our play-by-play data, we're now able to identify where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play. By tracking matchups between the two positions, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings and fantasy advice each week this NFL season.

    Below are the receivers with the best and worst Week 6 matchups, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.


    To view the primary defenders the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out our weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.

    Downloadable cheat sheet PDF

    Because of the size of the chart in the PDF, here is a key to help you get the most out of it each week:

    Rt = Number of routes run by each player during the 2017 season
    LWR/Slot/RWR = Percentage of the player's routes run from left wide receiver, the slot and right wide receiver, respectively
    T/R = Percentage of a player's pass routes in which he's targeted
    F/R = Fantasy points per pass route
    Green suggests an advantage for the offensive player, while red indicates an advantage for the defender
    An "S" indicates projected shadow coverage

    Advantageous matchups


    Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Jaron Brown vs. Buccaneers' Vernon Hargreaves III and Robert McClain

    The Buccaneers are surrendering an NFL-high 48.3 fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. Wideouts lined up across from Hargreaves have been targeted 40 times (sixth most) and have accrued 76 fantasy points (fourth). The Bucs have allowed the second-most fantasy points to players lined up in the slot, which bodes well for Fitzgerald (67 percent slot this season). He'll be on Bucs slot man McClain throughout this weekend's game. The Browns will see a fairly even share of Hargreaves and Brent Grimes. Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Jaron Brown each scored a touchdown when these teams met in Week 2 last year.


    Panthers' Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess vs. Eagles' Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas

    Only the aforementioned Buccaneers have allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers than the Eagles this season. Philly is allowing a league-high 35.0 fantasy points to receivers lined up on the perimeter, which is where Benjamin (82 percent) and Funchess (76 percent) generally align. Mills has become a poster boy for this article and was targeted eight more times in Week 5 to bring his league-high total to 59. Receivers lined up across from Mills have piled up 90 fantasy points, which is also tops in the NFL. With 57 fantasy points allowed, Douglas ranks 16th in the category. Expect Carolina's top two receivers to be targeted early and often on Thursday night.

    Colts' T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief vs. Titans' Adoree' Jackson and LeShaun Sims

    Only the Buccaneers and Eagles have surrendered more fantasy points to wide receivers than the Titans this season. Sensing a trend? The rookie Jackson has been picked on often and has surrendered 64 fantasy points in five games (seventh most). Sims has been a part-time player (79 routes faced) but has still managed to rank 40th in fantasy points allowed with 40. Hilton fleeced Tennessee for 230 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings last year, but a) Andrew Luck played and b) Tennessee has almost completely overhauled at cornerback this year. Still, the matchup is ripe for the picking with the Titans' struggling so badly against the position. Lock Hilton in and consider Moncrief for your flex.


    Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Chiefs' Phillip Gaines

    As well as Marcus Peters has played this season, the Chiefs have still managed to allow the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this year. Part of that is game script (teams have been pass-heavy in comeback mode against the Chiefs in all five games), but an even bigger part has been the struggles of the team's other corners. Gaines is the team's slot corner and wideouts lined up against him have put up 44 fantasy points on the year (32nd most). Smith-Schuster has emerged as the Steelers' slot man and has actually run more routes than Martavis Bryant over the past three weeks. He's an intriguing DFS tournament dart throw. Terrance Mitchell has also struggled (78 fantasy points allowed, third most), which will provide some relief from Peters for both Bryant and Antonio Brown on the perimeter. Brown caught 10 of 16 targets for 172 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings against the Chiefs last year.


    Vikings' Adam Thielen vs. Packers' Quinten Rollins

    Thielen and Stefon Diggs both annihilated the Packers' secondary last season, and considering that Green Bay's cornerback woes remain, both are intriguing plays in Week 6. Thielen caught 16 of 21 targets for 243 yards and two scores, and Diggs hauled in 13 of 16 targets for 211 yards and two touchdowns during the 2016 meetings. In terms of fantasy points allowed, the Packers have been better than average against perimeter receivers this year, but they have allowed the 10th-most points to players lined up in the slot. That's where Thielen has aligned on 65 percent of his routes this season, which is why he gets a larger boost than Diggs. Both obviously should be in lineups.


    Redskins' Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder vs. 49ers' Dontae Johnson, Rashard Robinson and K'Waun Williams

    The 49ers' starting cornerback trio has struggled all season, and life won't be any easier for them against Washington. Johnson has allowed 69 fantasy points (fifth most), Williams has surrendered 50 (22nd) and Robinson sits at 44 (35th). Pryor will primarily see Johnson and Robinson in coverage, and Crowder should feast on Williams in the slot. Josh Doctson figures to see more work off the bye, though he's still a risky play.

    Tough matchups


    Buccaneers' Mike Evans vs. Cardinals' Patrick Peterson

    This week's most intriguing showdown features one of the game's top, young wide receivers in Evans and arguably the league's best cover corner in Peterson. When these teams met in Week 2 last season, Peterson shadowed Evans on 30 of the 40 pass plays Peterson was on the field for. Evans was targeted a whopping 18 times in the game but was limited to four catches, 49 yards and one touchdown. Incredibly, half of those targets came on the 22 routes he ran when Peterson wasn't on him. Evans has lined up on the perimeter 80 percent of the time this year and you can expect Peterson to be on him for nearly all of those plays. Avoid Evans in DFS cash games. As usual, DeSean Jackson is the indirect beneficiary here. Expect him to feast on Justin Bethel throughout this contest. Despite Peterson's strong play, Arizona has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Players lined up across from Bethel have found the end zone four times, which is tied for most in the league.


    Saints' Michael Thomas vs. Lions' Darius Slay

    When these teams met in Week 13 last season, Slay shadowed Thomas on 35 of his 40 routes (including 35 of 36 on the perimeter). Thomas managed only four catches for 42 yards on five targets in the game, including two catches for 24 yards on three targets against Slay. Needless to say, expect the Lions to deploy a similar game plan this week. Considering Slay's success in last season's meeting, Thomas needs to be downgraded and should be avoided in DFS cash games. Ted Ginn Jr. will be a sneaky play against Nevin Lawson and D.J. Hayden on the other side.


    Packers' Jordy Nelson vs. Vikings' Xavier Rhodes

    This is a tricky one. Rhodes didn't shadow during the first meeting between these teams last season, but he ended up chasing Rhodes for roughly half of the second meeting. Nelson has, once again, been terrific this season, but so has Adams on the other side. Aaron Rodgers is no dummy. If Rhodes is following Nelson, Rodgers won't have any qualms about featuring Adams against struggling Trae Waynes. Receivers lined up across from Waynes have scored 56 fantasy points this season (18th most), and those across from Rhodes have totaled 34 (57th most). Though Rhodes would obviously present a challenge for Nelson should he shadow, it's worth noting that both Nelson (22 targets, 14 receptions, 227 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Adams (12-7-70-1) had little trouble filling the box score during the two 2016 meetings. This is a situation to monitor throughout the week.


    Rams' Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods vs. Jaguars' A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey

    Bouye and Ramsey have been lights out for a Jaguars defense that has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. Watkins and Woods have both lined up on the perimeter 74 percent of the time this season, which is where they'll see the Jaguars' dynamic duo throughout this weekend's game. Watkins caught both of his targets for 74 yards on seven routes when lined up opposite Ramsey last year, but that's obviously a small sample and he was with Buffalo at the time. Both receivers should obviously be downgraded and are not recommended flex options. Though I honed in on the perimeter matchups here, note that the Jaguars have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to slot receivers. That suggests Cooper Kupp will also be in for a long day against Aaron Colvin.


    Jaguars' Marqise Lee vs. Rams' Trumaine Johnson

    Johnson hasn't shadowed often over the past three seasons, but he has during two of the team's past three games (Pierre Garcon in Week 3 and Dez Bryant in Week 4). What's notable about those two games is that the opposing offense had a clear No. 1 perimeter receiver, whereas Seattle's Doug Baldwin (whom Johnson didn't shadow last week) primarily lines up in the slot. Lee usually lines up outside (86 percent of the time this season) and is the Jaguars' clear top perimeter receiver ahead of rookie Keelan Cole. That said, expect Johnson to be on Lee often during this week's game. The Rams have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to wideouts this year. Lee should be downgraded and Cole can be viewed as a desperation flex against Kayvon Webster in 24-team leagues.


    Chiefs' Tyreek Hill vs. Steelers' Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Mike Hilton

    The Steelers have surrendered an NFL-low 18.6 fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. Granted, their schedule has been light, but that mark is a whopping 13.6 points below league average for wide receiver units this season. Terrific across the board, they've allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to players lined up wide to the left, second fewest to those wide to the right and fourth fewest to the slot. That's key here considering Hill lines up all over the Chiefs' offensive formation. Albeit in a lesser role, Hill caught nine of 13 targets for 51 yards and one touchdown in two games against the Steelers last season. Hill should be downgraded a bit here, but his explosive play-making ability means he should be locked into lineups.


    Dolphins' DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills vs. Falcons' Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford

    The Falcons have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to wideouts this year. That includes 17.0 points per game to players lined up on the perimeter, which is seventh best. That doesn't bode well for Parker (79 percent perimeter) and Stills (59 percent) this week. Both should be downgraded. Jarvis Landry, meanwhile, will face off with slot man Brian Poole. Poole is a solid player, but Atlanta has surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to players lined up in the slot. Landry is a fine Week 6 play, especially considering his massive 32 percent target share this year.


    Patriots' Danny Amendola vs. Jets' Buster Skrine

    The Jets are allowing an NFL-low 8.8 fantasy points per game to slot receivers this season. A big part of that success has been Skrine, who has aligned inside on 76 percent of the pass plays he's been on the field for this season. Though Skrine has been good this year, it's worth noting that Amendola has faced him on 66 routes in his career. The results were nine catches on nine targets for 94 yards and one touchdown. Amendola has lined up in the slot on 87 percent of his routes and has been heavily targeted when active this season. He's still in the flex discussion, but early-season indications suggest this may be one of his tougher challenges.


    Raiders' Amari Cooper vs. Chargers' Casey Hayward

    When these teams met in Week 15 last season, Hayward shadowed Cooper and Trevor Williams shadowed Michael Crabtree. Cooper was limited to one catch for 28 yards on three targets in the game. Crabtree posted an 8-6-60-1 line. For that reason, I'm projecting the same setup here in Week 6. The variable that could throw this off is the fact that Cooper has struggled mightily so far this season. It's possible the Chargers have noticed that and decide to put their shutdown corner (Hayward) on Crabtree. That's something to keep in mind as you make lineup decisions this week, though to his credit, Williams has held his own opposite Hayward so far this season.

    Other notes

    The Giants' Janoris Jenkins shadows quite a bit, but it's very possible -- if not likely -- that he simply plays his side this week against Denver. That would mean Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders would see a fairly even share of both Jenkins and struggling second-year man Eli Apple during the game.

    If the Lions' Kenny Golladay is out this week, don't be surprised if Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore shadows Marvin Jones at least part of the game. Lattimore has been outstanding and would mean a big downgrade for Jones.

    The Giants' Sterling Shepard is questionable for this week's game against Denver, but even if he plays, most of his routes will come in the slot against Chris Harris Jr. That's about as tough a matchup Shepard will see this season. He's best left on your bench, even with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall out for the year.
     

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    Watching Week 6 roles for Packers' Jones, other running backs
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    There’s always plenty to watch in a given NFL weekend, but fantasy owners will likely be spending a bit more focus this time around on the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings tilt. While there’s turmoil presenting itself in many running back situations, there’s obvious upside with these two backfields. After all, are you really interested in which New York Giants running back gets the first carry Sunday at Denver? I didn’t think so. However, when it comes to Ty Montgomery versus Aaron Jones and Jerick McKinnon versus Latavius Murray, the tension is high!
    Fantasy owners thinking solely about the most recent NFL weekend are obviously hoping that Jones and McKinnon end up being the top options, and we should expect them to be pretty popular in starting lineups. The problem is, Montgomery and his busted ribs did indeed practice on Wednesday. He could be in the lineup come Sunday. As for the Vikings, Murray is, well, still around. Fantasy owners don’t always think logically, though. Even if we would prefer to see Jones and McKinnon getting 20 touches apiece moving forward, it hardly means the coaches share that sentiment. For what it's worth, the ESPN Fantasy rankers all went with Montgomery over Jones, but four of the five have McKinnon over Murray.

    Regardless, what fantasy owners need to do, even if the real coaches don’t follow their wishes (as if!) is to continue to roster both options, just in case Montgomery and Murray remain very much in the picture -- which is what I expect to happen. Murray is among the most-dropped running backs this week. It’s certainly possible such a move will prove to be prophetic, since he’s hardly at full strength after offseason ankle surgery. His performance has shown it, and McKinnon looks better, but we’re not there yet.

    Several running backs on the most-dropped list, actually, shouldn’t be there. It’s one thing to part ways with now-former Cardinal Chris Johnson -- who probably will find new employment real soon, by the way -- and Jacquizz Rodgers, who was reduced to a backup role. However, players such as Eddie Lacy, Wendell Smallwood, Tarik Cohen and others still matter and could play important roles, even in shallow leagues. Ultimately, it seems pretty clear that Jones has skills and McKinnon is better than Murray, but coaches don’t always agree. If there’s any position to stash on fantasy benches just in case, it’s running back.

    Answered prayers: Of course, many eyes will also be on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Arizona Cardinals tilt to see if recently acquired running back Adrian Peterson has anything left in the tank. Peterson, who currently has only 10.5 more PPR points than you and me in his four games, claims his prayers were answered by the Tuesday trade from New Orleans to Arizona. We'll see. The expectations don’t seem to be overly generous for the 32-year-old, nor should they be, but Peterson does figure to be on a lot more rosters this week than he was in Week 5. When it comes to running back, it’s hard to rule just about anyone out.

    Another thing to watch in this game is whether Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans can be the first at his position to produce his normal excellent statistics despite full-time shadowing by stellar Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Evans isn’t going to be benched by fantasy owners, nor did we advocate this in our rankings, but that time could be coming. Peterson has controlled top-20 options (if not higher) Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton and Alshon Jeffery, among others, but now he gets a first-round fantasy pick. It’s not only about team matchups, but individual ones, and they often explain why wide receivers with the highest pedigree aren’t ranked that way.

    Speaking of, um, pedigree: Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper scored a touchdown among his five receptions in Week 1 against the Titans, and has been awfully quiet statistically since. Over his past three games, Cooper has caught just four passes and failed to reach 10 receiving yards in any game. The pending return of quarterback Derek Carr for a home game with the Chargers on Sunday would seem to be a major positive for all Raiders hopes, but Carr missed only one game and things weren’t going so hot prior to his absence.

    For whatever reason, be it health or simply bad luck, Cooper, who was drafted as a WR1 option this season, is currently being outscored by 82 other wide receivers in PPR formats. Stefon Diggs scored more in Week 3 alone! Fantasy owners are still relying on Raiders like Cooper and running back Marshawn Lynch, but all these offensive woes haven’t been just because Carr sat for one week. Perhaps the Chargers' defense can help move things along toward a turnaround.

    AFC East supremacy: Only one member of the New York Jets is rostered in more than 60 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and that guy -- running back Bilal Powell -- might not even play Sunday against the New England Patriots. This game might seem like an unfair fight, but both the Jets and Patriots are actually 3-2 and the winner stands alone in first place. New England’s defense has been subpar, though it held Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers mostly in check in Week 5. Can Josh McCown and his weapons really do something special? The Patriots have been permitting 25 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and second place is 20.8 (Colts)!

    Running backs also score the most fantasy points per game against the Patriots, so with Powell likely out and Matt Forte probably joining him on the bench, rookie Elijah McGuire is pushing for RB2 status. McGuire and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins are among the most added players this week. Yeah, you can bet I’m interested in what the Jets do. A win over the Patriots would shock a lot of people but, from a fantasy standpoint, don’t be surprised to see several Jets swing contests.
     

  18. #68  
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    Answering Week 6's biggest fantasy football questions
    ESPN INSIDER

    Need some help setting your lineup this week? NFL Nation reporters answer the biggest fantasy questions -- provided by ESPN fantasy football analyst Mike Clay -- across the league for Week 6.

    AFC EAST


    Buffalo Bills

    Do you expect one of the team's backup tight ends to be a consistent target in the passing game while Charles Clay is out?

    The only candidate is Nick O'Leary, who had a career-high five catches for 54 yards on Sunday. With Clay down, O'Leary -- a sixth-round pick in 2015 -- is now the receiver or tight end with the most experience playing with QB Tyrod Taylor. Given how Taylor has targeted his wide receivers an average of 10 times per game, the lowest rate in the NFL for a group of wide receivers since at least 2001, I believe O'Leary can become Taylor's favorite target until Clay returns. Coach Sean McDermott noted Monday that he likes the direction O'Leary is headed and that O'Leary has Taylor's trust. -- Mike Rodak


    Miami Dolphins

    Jarvis Landry has enjoyed a massive 32 percent target share so far. Should we expect something similar moving forward?

    It's unreasonable for that to continue for 16 games because it's not working. The Dolphins are last in the NFL in scoring, total offense and passing offense. They need to give the ball more to running back Jay Ajayi and receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker (if healthy) to have long-term success. -- James Walker



    New England Patriots

    Chris Hogan is playing more, running more routes and seeing more targets than Brandin Cooks. Is it fair to say Hogan is their No. 1 WR?

    Hogan is technically the No. 1 receiver because when the team runs sets with just one receiver, it's more often than not Hogan who stays on the field. At the same time, fantasy owners should still expect some week-to-week volatility as it relates to the production of Hogan and Cooks. One week it could be Hogan. The next it could be Cooks. That's just the way the Patriots' offense is structured. -- Mike Reiss


    New York Jets

    Austin Seferian-Jenkins has handled a 22 percent target share since his return in Week 3. Can we expect that high-end usage to continue?

    Yes, look for him to remain an integral part of the passing attack. Two reasons: After missing the first two games, he's building his comfort level in the offense. Also, their next two opponents -- the Patriots and Dolphins -- have allowed 28 catches apiece to tight ends, the fourth-highest total in the league. The Patriots have surrendered four touchdowns. So, yes, Seferian-Jenkins is a player to watch. -- Rich Cimini


    AFC NORTH


    Baltimore Ravens

    Buck Allen has seemingly taken on Danny Woodhead's projected role, handling 18 percent of the team's targets. Can we expect that massive usage to continue?

    Yes, for at least the next four games while Woodhead is out. Allen is easily the best pass-catcher out of the backfield right now, and he should get more room underneath if QB Joe Flacco stretches the field like he did in Week 5. What makes Allen valuable is he's tied for second on red zone targets with three. But his role will be reduced drastically by mid-November, when Woodhead is expected to come off injured reserve. -- Jamison Hensley

    Cincinnati Bengals

    What have you learned about Joe Mixon through five games? Do you expect him to continue to be the team's workhorse out of the bye?

    Jeremy Hill has been getting an increasingly small share of the snaps, and that shouldn't change after Mixon scored his first career touchdown. Mixon is still going to have to split snaps with Giovani Bernard, but he'll get the majority of the snaps going forward, as has been the case for the past few weeks. -- Katherine Terrell


    Cleveland Browns

    Which skill-position players do you expect to benefit from the quarterback change to Kevin Hogan?

    Tight end David Njoku, who has improved each game. Hogan has twice found Njoku for touchdowns longer than 20 yards, and as long as Njoku makes the catches, Hogan will keep looking for him. -- Pat McManamon


    Pittsburgh Steelers

    JuJu Smith-Schuster has run more routes than Martavis Bryant in three straight games. Is the rookie now the team's No. 2 WR?

    In certain sets he will be, though Bryant is still the Steelers' No. 2 in targets (31) by a wide margin. Eli Rogers is also back in the lineup to help against Kansas City's man coverages. Expect the Steelers to find ways to play Smith-Schuster and Rogers together at times while utilizing Bryant as the primary big-play option, outside of Antonio Brown. The team is dedicated to cracking the code on Bryant, so it's hard to call Smith-Schuster the definitive No. 2 just yet, though his trust with QB Ben Roethlisberger is rising steadily. -- Jeremy Fowler


    AFC SOUTH


    Houston Texans

    Will Fuller V's touchdown pace is unsustainable and he's caught only six balls in two games. Can we expect more targets moving forward, or should we sell high now?

    Expect more targets for Fuller going forward as he continues to get more reps in with QB Deshaun Watson following his return from his broken collarbone. Watson and coach Bill O'Brien continually praise the young receiver for his route running and said he's gotten stronger and improved his hands from last season. The Browns rank 19th in passing defense, so Fuller could get some more targets on Sunday. -- Sarah Barshop


    Indianapolis Colts

    How much do you expect Marlon Mack to eat into Frank Gore's workload following the rookie's impressive Week 5 performance?

    Coach Chuck Pagano said it would be "wise to try to find ways to get [Mack] the football and get him more involved" after the rookie had three runs of at least 16 yards while finishing with 91 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries against San Francisco last week. Mack should see an increase from his eight carries a game, but Gore will remain the primary back for the time being because Mack still needs to improve his running in between the tackles -- he has 11 carries for no gain or a loss of yardage -- and his pass-blocking. Teams aren't going to continue to let Mack get to the edge and turn the corner. The quicker the fourth-round draft pick improves in those areas, the quicker his workload will increase out of the backfield because he has the "home run" ability. -- Mike Wells


    Jacksonville Jaguars

    The Jaguars' defense/special-teams unit is, by far, tops in fantasy. We know the unit is loaded with talent, so is it fair to say the dominance will continue moving forward?

    I don't think it would be fair to expect that unit to continue to score touchdowns at the rate it is -- four in the first five games -- but in terms of forcing turnovers and being one of the best pass defenses in the league, absolutely. The Jaguars already have forced two more turnovers than they did last season and lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-10. The defense has given up only five pass plays of 30 yards or more and allowed only three touchdown passes so far. -- Mike DiRocco


    Tennessee Titans

    When can we expect Corey Davis back in the lineup?

    Davis is out for Week 6, but he's starting to join the team for stretching at practice. The most reasonable timetable for his return will be Week 9 against Baltimore following the Titans' Week 8 bye. Coach Mike Mularkey hasn't ruled Davis out for Week 7 in Cleveland, but they would certainly make sure he's 100 percent because he's injured this hamstring twice and it's cost him at least a month of action each time. When Davis returns, he could evolve into a player who is worth a weekly start in fantasy. -- Cameron Wolfe


    AFC WEST


    Denver Broncos

    With the team fresh off its bye week, should we expect any change in the distribution of touches in the backfield?

    If you mean whether there will be more clarity about the specific number of carries each of their top three backs will get each week, the answer is no. C.J. Anderson will still lead the way, but Jamaal Charles will continue to get between nine and 12 carries per game, while Devontae Booker's workload will steadily increase given that he played in just one game before the bye. Coach Vance Joseph said he considers all three to have "the potential to be the No. 1 guy'' in terms of impact. But Anderson will still get the most carries if all goes as planned -- he's had 20, 25 and 20 carries in the Broncos' three wins. -- Jeff Legwold


    Kansas City Chiefs

    With WR Chris Conley out, could one of the team's recent fourth-rounders -- Demarcus Robinson or Jehu Chesson -- enjoy a breakout?

    Robinson has the better chance of the two. Chesson has been inactive for each of the past four games. Robinson has just three catches this season, but his playing time will increase significantly in Conley's absence. Robinson runs well after the catch, so the Chiefs could look to feature him with bubble screens and other open-field type of plays. -- Adam Teicher


    Los Angeles Chargers

    Do you expect Casey Hayward to shadow Amari Cooper (as he did Week 15 last year), Michael Crabtree or neither?

    Is Cooper worth shadowing at this point? The Alabama product has just 13 catches for 118 receiving yards and one touchdown on the season. He's dropped four passes this year and has just four catches in his past three games. The Chargers are likely to keep Hayward on the left side of the field defensively, where he traditionally plays, and let him cover whichever receiver lines up in front of him. Or perhaps he'll shadow Crabtree. -- Eric D. Williams


    Oakland Raiders

    What's gone wrong with Amari Cooper? Could a rebound game be on tap against the Chargers this week?

    Breaking the tension a bit this week, Cooper laughed and said the suggestion that he hid his frustration with his play this season -- four catches for 23 yards in the Raiders' three-game losing streak -- was "funny." He also told me he did not have to voice any displeasure, that the ball would eventually "find" him. But against the Chargers, who have the worst rush defense (161.2 yards allowed per game) in the NFL? Only if the Raiders are able to first run on the Bolts, simply because they want to limit the exposure to Derek Carr's back, which has a fractured transverse process, to the Chargers' dangerous pass rush. Cooper is a high-risk, high-reward option this week. -- Paul Gutierrez


    NFC EAST


    Dallas Cowboys

    All the man does is make plays. So the people want to know: Is there any chance #FreeBriceButler will ever happen?

    The coaches like Terrance Williams more than people know, so there likely won't be a change in the starting lineup. But you have seen Brice Butler take more snaps in the past three games. They've come at the expense mostly of Cole Beasley. Butler is averaging a ridiculous 25.9 yards per catch. He's made clutch catches against Arizona and Green Bay. He had a strong offseason and training camp. He's earned the right to play more, but the coaches have been loyal to Williams over the years. Will there be a lineup change? Probably not, but Butler should see more snaps. -- Todd Archer


    New York Giants

    Do you expect Janoris Jenkins to shadow Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders in Denver?

    Thomas seems the more likely option. He's the bigger, stronger of the two receivers, whom Jenkins can handle. Remember the Giants are without Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and could have Donte Deayon in his first NFL game covering the slot. That's the spot that needs to be watched closely come Sunday night. -- Jordan Raanan


    Philadelphia Eagles

    What was the most notable fantasy performance from Thursday Night Football?

    Zach Ertz continued his monster start to the 2017 campaign. Already the leading tight end in catches and yards entering the game, he found the end zone twice against the Panthers. He now has four touchdowns on the young season, matching a career-high. Quarterback Carson Wentz has found his go-to receiving option. -- Tim McManus


    Washington Redskins

    What's gone wrong with Jamison Crowder? Do you expect him to get rolling in a good matchup against K'Waun Williams this weekend?

    Good question. Crowder has been banged up a little bit since camp, starting with a hamstring issue, and coach Jay Gruden said that might be contributing to the receiver's slow start. Gruden also said it's his fault that Crowder hasn't been targeted more and that he'd like to get him the ball more on bubble screens, etc. They want to get him the ball in space, something they haven't done enough of -- the emergence of Chris Thompson as a dangerous playmaker has cut into that. My guess is they'll make a stronger effort to get Crowder the ball more on Sunday. Keep in mind the 49ers allow 13.03 yards per catch to players aligned in the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only six teams are worse. (File this away: The damage against the 49ers by the slot receiver comes between the numbers and the hashes; Crowder has 66 career catches in this area for 13.06 yards per catch and four touchdowns). -- John Keim


    NFC NORTH


    Chicago Bears

    Mitch Trubisky aimed 44 percent of his throws at tight ends on Monday. Is that a sign of things to come from the rookie?

    Trubisky targeted tight ends out of necessity. The Bears just don't have much at wide receiver -- outside of Kendall Wright, who led Chicago with four catches for 46 yards in Monday night's loss. Markus Wheaton has been a disappointment. Josh Bellamy is a special-teamer. Deonte Thompson just got cut. And Tanner Gentry and Tre McBride are relative unknowns. Tight end Zach Miller is the most proven weapon in the passing game. Trubisky can trust Miller. Now, I don't think the tight end position in general -- Dion Sims had some bad drops in Week 5 -- will be targeted 44 percent of the time every week, but I strongly believe in Miller's ability to help fantasy owners. He's the real deal, just as long as he stays healthy. -- Jeff Dickerson


    Detroit Lions

    Darren Fells has been playing more snaps than Eric Ebron and was only five behind in pass routes in Week 5. In terms of the team's top pass-catching tight end, are we nearing a changing of the guard?

    It's tough to say that because they have two very different roles within the offense. Fells is, by far, the better blocker. It's why the Lions signed him. He's more athletic than people give him credit for, too. That said, not sure he's completely replacing Ebron. They've been in a timeshare for most of the season already and I would expect that to continue, at least until Taylor Decker returns. As far as Ebron, he's not in the best place now. He met with Matthew Stafford this week to try and fix some of what's going on and, if he can, he's always shown he has the potential to be a mismatch. He has to show it, though. I wouldn't trust either from a fantasy perspective right now. -- Michael Rothstein


    Green Bay Packers

    If Ty Montgomery returns in Minnesota, how do you expect touches to be distributed between him and rookie Aaron Jones?

    There's plenty of sentiment inside Lambeau Field to stick with Jones after what he did last week in his first career start: 19 carries, 125 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. But coach Mike McCarthy also loves Montgomery's versatility, so we could be looking at some kind of job-sharing plan if Montgomery is cleared to return from his broken ribs. If not, then McCarthy will try to ride Jones again. -- Rob Demovsky


    Minnesota Vikings

    Do you expect Xavier Rhodes to shadow Jordy Nelson this week?

    Remember the last time the Vikings played the Packers and Minnesota's defensive backs went rogue on their assignments on the first series so Terence Newman could cover Nelson? Yeah, don't expect something like that to happen again. As has been the case all season with his opponent's No. 1 receiver, Rhodes is expected to cover Nelson one-on-one on the outside. What's different through five games this season is the cornerback following receivers into the slot, a trend that could continue to grow. In Chicago, the ball was not once thrown in Rhodes' direction, which has never happened in his career. You can expect the opposite of that to happen against the Packers. -- Courtney Cronin


    NFC SOUTH


    Atlanta Falcons

    Can we expect an expanded role for Austin Hooper in the passing game following the Week 5 bye?

    The Falcons firmly believe in Hooper's playmaking ability, even if the numbers don't show it. He was targeted just twice in each of the first three games -- including on an 88-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Bears -- and has 13 targets on 96 routes run this season. But against Buffalo, with Julio Jones (hip flexor) and Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) out the second half, Hooper finished with a team-high seven targets, catching five passes for 50 yards. With Jones limited this week and Sanu unlikely to play, Hooper should get his opportunities against the Dolphins, especially in the red zone. Miami gave up a touchdown to Titans tight end Phillip Supernaw last week. -- Vaughn McClure


    Carolina Panthers

    What was the most notable fantasy performance from Thursday Night Football -- good or bad?

    Cam Newton can be streaky good like he was in Weeks 4 and 5, throwing six touchdown passes and only one interception, compiling a passer rating of more than 130.0. But he also can be streaky bad like he was on Thursday, throwing three interceptions and one touchdown. He missed open receivers like he did in the first three games of the season and made poor decisions, admittedly not seeing coverages at time. If you play him, you'll have to take the bad weeks with the great ones. -- David Newton


    New Orleans Saints

    Michael Thomas struggled in Darius Slay's shadow when these teams met last year. Should we expect the same in Week 6?

    We should absolutely expect the same treatment from Detroit -- a healthy dose of Slay and double coverage -- because Thomas is such an obvious No. 1 threat in New Orleans' passing game. He's more of a true No. 1 receiver than the Saints have ever had in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, since they had more weapons around guys like Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham (including each other). But the Saints have done a good job of getting the ball to Thomas over the past two games despite his star treatment (a combined 15 catches, 176 yards and two touchdowns). And he's big and strong enough to fight through it. So he's obviously a weekly must-start in all season-long leagues. -- Mike Triplett


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Especially considering his rough game against Arizona last season, is there any hope for Mike Evans against Patrick Peterson's shadow coverage this week?

    Evans said Peterson was "the best I faced last year," and that's saying something given he also played against Pro Bowlers Richard Sherman, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Casey Hayward. Evans expects to see Peterson a lot again this year. One of the things Evans learned was that he needed to be even more physical at the line of scrimmage and do a better job of getting open. He also believes having a ground game, which they didn't have last season, will help open things up. Also unlike last season, the Bucs have DeSean Jackson and two of the best scoring tight ends in the league in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. With so many more options, it'll be hard to key in on just one guy. It should also be noted that Evans is still the 12th-most-targeted wide receiver in the league, even though he's played one fewer game than all but Jarvis Landry in that category. He's averaging 9.5 targets per game, more than any other Bucs receiver. -- Jenna Laine


    NFC WEST


    Arizona Cardinals

    How many touches can we expect from Adrian Peterson in his Cardinals debut?

    It's safe to expect 10 or more, possibly in the range of 15. However, if Peterson gets going early and the Cardinals' offensive line can open holes for him, then Arizona will ride him and he can turn in a 20-carry day. But Arizona is preparing Peterson to be the primary rushing option on first and second down. However, while Arizona has converted 37.2 percent of its third downs this season, Tampa Bay's defense has give up conversions on 46.4 percent of third downs. -- Josh Weinfuss


    Los Angeles Rams

    What's gone wrong with Sammy Watkins? Is there hope for a big rebound anytime soon?

    Watkins has been targeted only six times in the past two games and didn't catch a single pass for only the second time in his career last week. A big reason for that is the Rams are going to spread the ball around, and there are a lot of others -- Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and, lately, Tyler Higbee -- who will be targeted. But also, Watkins wasn't acquired until the start of the preseason and doesn't know the playbook as well as the others. He continues to be matched up against the opposing team's best corner, and next up are A.J. Bouye (Jaguars) and Patrick Peterson (Cardinals). It might not get much better any time soon. -- Alden Gonzalez


    San Francisco 49ers

    Moving forward, how much of a gap in touches do you expect there will be between Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida?

    From listening to coach Kyle Shanahan, it doesn't sound like Hyde is necessarily being phased out. It's important to remember that Hyde made a couple of crucial mistakes before Breida got the bulk of his work last week, and then Breida had some success. But Hyde had been quite effective in the games before that, and I don't get the impression the Niners are going to abandon him now. Unless Hyde continues to make costly mistakes (fumble and missed blitz pickups), I'd expect him to still get the lion's share of the work with Breida mixing in. -- Nick Wagoner


    Seattle Seahawks

    Did Week 5 offer you any more clarity as to who the top dog is in the Seattle backfield?

    Nope. Last week's game in Los Angeles and coach Pete Carroll's comments afterward all indicated that Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy will to some degree share the workload in Seattle's backfield. Technically, Lacy started against the Rams, but Rawls ended up with more snaps -- 32 compared to 19 -- after playing quite a bit in the fourth quarter. They each finished with 10 touches, and Carroll said of the two the next day: "We like our guys, and really, equal status now is good for us." There might be times when Seattle goes with one of them primarily if he has a good week of practice or gets hot in a game, but as of now, there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut No. 1 option like rookie Chris Carson was over the first month of the season. -- Brady Henderson
     

  19. #69  
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    Week 6 takeaways on Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and more
    Matt Bowen
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/17/17

    On Sunday, in his first game with the Cardinals, running back Adrian Peterson thrashed the Buccaneers defense for 134 yards and two touchdowns. But is the veteran now back for good? Let's discuss Peterson's value moving forward, hit on the fantasy fall-out in Green Bay with the injury to Aaron Rodgers, take a look at Nelson Agholor's run on production and much more.

    Here are my Week 6 fantasy takeaways:


    Adrian Peterson isn't done yet

    When Peterson was traded to Arizona last week, I didn't see the veteran having an immediate impact after his limited production in New Orleans. But that's exactly what Peterson did versus the Tampa Bay defense on Sunday, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries (5.2 yards per carry).

    With consistent touches, and a major jump in volume, Peterson showed his entire skill set in that matchup. The power? Yes, it's still there. So is the vision to jump through running lanes, the footwork to make defenders miss in the open field, and that sudden burst when he finds daylight. Peterson tore up the Buccaneers on downhill runs and finished the job at the goal line.

    Plus, his ability to run the ball led to Carson Palmer's touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. They came out in tight formation (run alert), and utilized play-action. The safety took the bait and left an open window for Palmer to hit Fitzgerald for six points. If the Cardinals can continue to run the ball effectively with Peterson, Palmer will get to see more eight-man fronts with one-on-one matchups on the outside.

    Looking ahead, I don't think this is just a one-game thing with Peterson. We all saw it. The talent is still there, and so is the Cardinals' commitment to run the ball. This is a back who thrives with a heavy workload and he should be a solid RB2 in Week 7 versus the Rams.

    The fantasy fallout from the Aaron Rodgers injury

    The fantasy stock of Green Bay's offensive skill players takes a major hit with the collarbone injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. There's just no other way to say it. Yes, with Brett Hundley stepping in (18-of-33, 157 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions versus the Vikings), the Packers will still showcase their West Coast concepts and movement passes. Run your offense. I get that.

    However, Rodgers' ability to deliver the ball into tight windows, make off-schedule plays and extend the pocket was key to the value of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Think of all the red-zone plays where Rodgers would buy time for routes to convert, or the pinpoint ball placement on back-shoulder throws. It's amazing stuff. While Hundley has the mobility to step up and get to the edge of the pocket, he's not close to the magician that Rodgers is when it comes to creating opportunities for his wide receivers at all three levels of the field.

    There is a possibility that tight end Martellus Bennett sees a slight bump in targets thanks to middle-of-the-field throws. The Packers could also lean more on the run game with Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery. However, fantasy managers have to prepare for this Green Bay offense to take a serious step back as they transition to life without Rodgers, who had already thrown 13 touchdowns on the year.

    Nelson Agholor's value climbing

    Did you see the speed from Agholor on Thursday night? I'm talking about that immediate burst to get vertically up the field after hauling in that slant route to get six points versus the Panthers. Sure, it was a poor matchup decision by Carolina to have a linebacker walk out into coverage over Agholor in the slot -- one quick shake at the line and Agholor was gone. All day.

    However, the Eagles' slot receiver now has four touchdowns on the season and has caught 11 of 16 targets in the past three weeks for 206 yards. The key here is the production after the catch. On those 11 grabs, Agholor averaged a whopping 9.0 yards after the catch. The former first-round pick is playing extremely fast in a Philadelphia offense that will lean on the quick game and RPOs (run-pass options) with quarterback Carson Wentz. Get the ball out and let Agholor use that separation speed to slice through defenders.

    For managers looking for that rising WR3/flex, Agholor is a guy you can drop into the lineup. He's currently rostered in only 36.3 percent of ESPN leagues. His targets are becoming more consistent and the ability is showing on tape.

    Jerick McKinnon is the running back to start in Minnesota

    Rostered in 75.5 percent of ESPN leagues, McKinnon is a must-add for any manager looking for a back with RB2 production. Over the past two weeks, McKinnon has racked up 245 total yards (on 43 touches) with three touchdowns. It's McKinnon's versatility as a pass catcher that makes him the smart play over Latavius Murray in the Vikings backfield.

    Based on what I'm watching, the game speed (or burst) is what separates McKinnon from Murray. He just plays faster with the lateral quicks to shake defenders in the open field. That shows up in both the screen game and on downhill runs. Go back to McKinnon's touchdown run versus the Packers on Sunday. He hit that hole quick. Watch McKinnon after the catch. He can cut down angles.

    With 11 receptions (on 12 targets) in a pair of wins over Chicago and Green Bay, McKinnon has shown that he can handle a heavier workload and produce in multiple ways. Get him in your lineup moving forward.

    Mark Ingram now in the RB1 mix?

    With Peterson now having moved to Arizona, Ingram saw a jump in volume versus the Lions. The Saints running back carried the ball 25 times for 114 yards (including a 51-yard run) and also added another 36 yards on five receptions. Ingram ran hard too, gaining 90 yards after first contact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and scored both of his touchdowns on goal-line carries. That's a major positive in a New Orleans offense that is going to move the rock and score points.

    We know about the skill set of Alvin Kamara and I wrote about the Saints rookie earlier this season. There's dynamic talent there with legit value in PPR formats. Kamara got 10 carries (75 yards) and also caught four passes on Sunday. He's still going to see touches as a versatile threat in Sean Payton's system.

    However, with Peterson out of the mix, Ingram is going to jump into the discussion as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2. I'm going to rank him as an RB1 in Week 7 versus the Packers defense.

    Cameron Brate has TE1 value in Week 7

    Over the past three games, Brate has seen 23 targets. That's a big number. Tampa Bay's tight end has caught 15 of those targets for 224 yards, with three touchdowns. I think Brate runs the red-zone shake/seam route as well as any tight end in the league. Plus, he shows good body control to adjust to the ball, and his frame is a factor when he gains leverage inside.

    Yes, we have to monitor the shoulder injury to Jameis Winston this week, but Brate did catch his touchdown against the Cardinals from backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a good throw -- back-shoulder placement with the linebacker running the seam. While Brate has a tougher matchup in Week 7 versus the Bills defense, I'm still going to rank him as low-end TE1. There's just too much volume here to ignore.

    Beware Darius Slay in future matchups

    We need to give some credit here to ESPN's Mike Clay, who warned fantasy managers of the expectations for Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas in Week 6 in a matchup with the Detroit cornerback. On Sunday, Thomas was held to just 11 yards receiving on three receptions (six targets) in the New Orleans win over Detroit.

    That sub-par stat line really speaks to the coverage skill set of Slay. I truly think Slay is one of the NFL's most underrated cornerbacks. He has a smooth pedal, the transition speed to close on the break, and the ball skills to finish. He's going to challenge routes. Slay took one pass away from Thomas on an interception and should be on the radar of every fantasy manager this season when they set their lineups.

    Where did the production go with Sammy Watkins?

    Remember that Thursday night game back in Week 3 when Watson went off versus the 49ers? Watkins made plays at all three levels of the field and finished with six receptions (on seven targets) for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He has strong run-after-the-catch ability, can chase down the deep ball, and has the physicality to finish. He looked to be a good fit for Sean McVay's system in Los Angeles, but since then? Man, there's not much to talk about.

    In the past three weeks, Watkins has a total of two grabs (on 10 targets) for 28 yards. That's it. No touchdowns. No big plays. The Rams did have some nasty matchups in their past two games against the secondaries of Seattle and Jacksonville, and Watkins had an opportunity on a deep throw that missed on Sunday. Still, the lack of production here, along with the low volume of targets, is going to push Watkins down in my rankings this week versus Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals.

    Adam Gase, Dolphins show some creativity with Jarvis Landry

    Landry didn't put up massive numbers on Sunday in Miami's upset win over Atlanta (eight receptions, 62 yards, one touchdown), but the wide receiver did see a ton of targets (14). Gase also dug deep into his playbook to set up Landry for an easy score in the red zone. Really, this is what I've been waiting for all season with Gase and quarterback Jay Cutler.

    Outside of the quick game and the screens off the RPOs, Gase has the creativity as a play-caller to facilitate production in his system. I loved the window dressing the Dolphins used with Landry coming in motion to the backfield and then wheeling back to the flat versus man-coverage for the score. It forces the defense to adjust and is a quick read for Cutler, too, off play-action.

    Check it out, as I broke down the play here on Madden. It was smart, fun football from a Dolphins offense that had a rough start to the season.
     

  20. #70  
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    Week 6 fantasy football flex rankings
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/17/17

    The first segment of planned bye weeks seemed to be a problem for many fantasy owners, notably with filling out the flex position. Perhaps your team’s depth seemed fine in September, but then came October; remove some weekly options from consideration and the tune changes. We’ve got more byes this week and in future ones, so depth will be tested, and teams might have to choose from players barely ranked in the forthcoming top 100. It’s a challenging time for all. We’re all counting on you. Good luck.

    Let’s flex, Week 6 style!

    1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Topped 10 receptions in Week 5 for the third time this season.
    2. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: The 90-yard touchdown scamper helped a lot, but still, he’s scoring in every game.

    3. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: It’s not about the rushing yards. It’s about the total yards, and he’s getting them.

    4. Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: What? He hasn’t scored since Week 3? Yep, time to move on. Charcandrick is taking his job. (Hunt is fine.)

    5. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams: First rough game came against Seattle. Gurley is not the first to struggle against that team.

    6. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: Back from bye and hopefully healthy and with a few red zone looks coming his way.

    7. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: One of two Texans among the top-10 overall scorers so far. The rookie quarterback is the other. Trust.

    8. Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons

    9. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers

    10. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: You know, anyone can get hurt, and just because Allen has had that issue more than others doesn’t mean it will happen again. Not thinking about selling high here.

    11. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

    12. DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans: Would be more concerned if his backup was usurping the starting role. But that’s not the case. Titans need their quarterback to return.

    13. C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos

    14. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: Disappeared at the end of the Dallas win, and while it’s not worry time, his fantasy value does seem awfully tied into touchdowns.

    15. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots: He’s fifth on the team in receptions, which kind of makes this ranking seem odd, I admit. Let’s be a bit more patient.

    16. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Proving that his talent supersedes the talent level of the guy throwing the football.

    17. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: Well, now that they’ve traded for a Hall of Fame running back, just imagine how many more targets this Hall of Fame receiver will get! C’mon. Nothing changes here.

    18. Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins: It’d be nice to see him score a touchdown. Heck, let’s see the Dolphins score.

    19. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears

    20. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans: Can’t complain about consistency; between 56 and 75 rushing yards each week.

    21. Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: It’s his turn to face the scary Patrick Peterson monster. And by the way, that’s absolutely a thing. If you’ve got better options, sit Evans. Peterson is the best.

    22. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs

    23. Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders: Perhaps sometime in 2020 we’ll all definitively proclaim he’s not the team’s top wide receiver. Amazing how people view the Oakland wide receiver hierarchy, still.

    24. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos

    25. Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers: What a weird situation here. Hyde owners shouldn’t panic just because the head coach might bench him for an undrafted and unproven rookie on a whim, but be prepared.

    26. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles: Just faced the Peterson monster and it wasn’t much fun. Easier matchup this week.

    27. Davante Adams, WR, Packers: Give him credit. Not only played in Dallas but scored twice.

    28. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots: Can’t say he’ll actually be changing ranking places with Cooks soon, but Hogan is becoming safe WR2 option.

    29. Golden Tate, WR, Lions: Not all weeks will be great. Sure would be nice to have more of a threat of touchdowns, though.

    30. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders: His believers think the return of Derek Carr will change everything statistically, but don’t be so sure. He’s just not the same guy.

    31. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: Looked pretty good in his season debut.

    32. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: If I were coaching the Saints I’d probably give the rookie more chances than this veteran. But until the Saints actually do that, both are worth it, and Ingram comes first. For now.

    33. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: Whine all you want about him, but he’s a rookie running back on pace for 86 catches. There’s nothing wrong with him at all.

    34. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Uh oh, the injury bug has found him again. Hope this doesn’t go like last season, when Diggs rocked in September and then stopped rocking.

    35. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos

    36. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers: He’s on pace for 90 catches and 1,213 yards. That’s a top-20 WR easy.

    37. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers: Some will say it’s ridiculous that the rookie Packer isn’t ranked ahead, but do you know what the team will do? Montgomery, when healthy, and that might not be this week, isn’t going away.

    38. Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Browns: Looks odd to see him ranked here, but a mere six running backs have more PPR points this season.

    39. Javorius Allen, RB, Ravens: And this guy is 15th in PPR scoring at RB. Rushing attempts aren’t the key anymore.

    40. Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints: Future star, of course.

    41. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

    42. Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: Let’s stop pretending it matters who plays QB for the Vikings, OK? Thielen is just a good player.

    43. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: So, ya gonna play this week, Rob? Just give us notice, that’s all we ask.

    44. Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins

    45. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Whined about lack of targets and look what happened! He got more! Works every time!

    46. Terrelle Pryor Sr., WR, Redskins: I like how some fantasy owners believe their players will be rested and so much more awesome coming off the bye, and others think they’d forgotten how to perform. It’s just a week off.

    47. Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: He’s in concussion protocol so it’s no certainty he plays this week.

    48. Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: Not so much fun to rely on when he’s not scoring touchdowns. And he hasn’t scored since Week 2. Sad face.

    49. Frank Gore, RB, Colts: Not looking like this will be his 10th season with 1,000 rushing yards. But he is giving you something each week.

    50. Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons

    51. Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers: Ask and you shall receive. He and Ed Dickson have really stepped up lately.

    52. Will Fuller V, WR, Texans: Won’t be scoring two touchdowns every week, which makes him a prime sell-high choice.

    53. Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans

    54. Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Seventh in receiving yards, and tied for third in receptions, and not just at his position -- in the NFL. If you’ve got Ertz and Gronk, play ‘em both.

    55. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders: We know you want to give up on him, and this ranking seems unbecoming of someone of his ability level and track record, but be patient. He’s really good.

    56. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings: Not a huge surprise that he looks like the Vikings back to own.

    57. Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: He’s the Cardinals back to own. No, really, he is.

    58. Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins: We keep the theme going, even though Kelley really hasn’t done much.

    59. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles

    60. Elijah McGuire, RB, Jets: As of this writing, it’s unclear if Bilal Powell and/or Matt Forte will play, but if you’re running the Jets, why not see what this rookie can do?

    61. Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams

    62. Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots

    63. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions

    64. Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: Things have quieted down for him statistically, which isn’t a surprise.

    65. Randall Cobb, WR, Packers

    66. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins: We’ve all seen Jay Cutler play poorly before, but he’s reaching some new lows recently.

    67. Alex Collins, RB, Ravens: The problem here is the Ravens don’t trust he can hold on to the football. Otherwise, he’s great.

    68. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Still think he’s the most valuable Carolina back?

    69. Theo Riddick, RB, Lions: Had a season-best 53 yards from scrimmage in Week 5 and 53 really isn’t much.

    70. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens

    71. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns: Keep him owned but on the bench.

    72. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings: Seems like he should be on your bench as well.

    73. Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers: The debut of rookie Mike Williams is nigh.

    74. Willie Snead, WR, Saints: Should debut this week, and if it goes well, watch him be a popular free agent add next week. Why not act now?

    75. Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins: Not at all likely to keep scoring touchdowns at his current rate.

    76. James White, RB, Patriots

    77. Aaron Jones, RB, Packers: If Montgomery is ruled out, then Jones moves into top 30 on this list. He looked that good.

    78. Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins

    79. Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants: Someone has to catch the Eli Manning passes ... other than the Denver secondary of course.

    80. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

    81. Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins

    82. Ricardo Louis, WR, Browns: Watch him and new QB Kevin Hogan lead the Browns to greatness.

    83. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: People still love him, but that’s 16 yards on 10 carries the past two weeks.

    84. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Buccaneers

    85. Marlon Mack, RB, Colts: He probably should be the starter already, but Gore is very respected and still competent.

    86. Matt Breida, RB, 49ers: He could be the San Francisco starter soon, believe it or not.

    87. Adrian Peterson, RB, Cardinals: He has surprised us before. Kinda reminds me of when Emmitt Smith finished things up in Arizona except his final year actually was productive.

    88. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: If you want to believe it’s because Case Keenum was at QB, then whatever works for you.

    89. Cameron Brate, TE, Buccaneers: No longer hearing from all the people who swore rookie O.J. Howard would make Brate disappear anymore. Hmmm.
    90. Evan Engram, TE, Giants

    91. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers: Has reached 50 receiving yards in one game. Doesn’t sound so enticing anymore.

    92. Marvin Jones Jr., WR, Lions

    93. Eric Decker, WR, Titans

    94. Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens: He caught a pair of 50-yard passes just last week!

    95. Taylor Gabriel, WR, Falcons: Reasonable fill-in insurance if Mohamed Sanu isn’t healthy enough to suit up.

    96. Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts

    97. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Saints

    98. John Brown, WR, Cardinals

    99. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Jets

    100. Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams

    Others: Robert Woods, WR, Rams; Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos; Orleans Darkwa, RB, Giants; D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texans; Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals; Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars; Robby Anderson, WR, Jets; Shane Vereen, RB, Giants; Matt Forte, RB, Jets; Roger Lewis, WR, Giants; Wayne Gallman, RB, Giants; Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins; Charles Sims, RB, Buccaneers
     

  21. #71  
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    Best and worst wide receiver matchups for fantasy football Week 7
    Mike Clay
    ESPN INSIDER


    By utilizing our play-by-play data, we're now able to identify where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play. By tracking matchups between the two positions, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings and fantasy advice each week this NFL season.

    Below are the receivers with the best and worst Week 7 matchups, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.


    To view the primary defenders the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out our weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.

    Downloadable cheat sheet PDF

    Because of the size of the chart in the PDF, here is a key to help you get the most out of it each week:

    Rt = Number of routes run by each player during the 2017 season
    LWR/Slot/RWR = Percentage of the player's routes run from left wide receiver, the slot and right wide receiver, respectively
    T/R = Percentage of a player's pass routes in which he's targeted
    F/R = Fantasy points per pass route
    Green suggests an advantage for the offensive player, while red indicates an advantage for the defender
    An "S" indicates projected shadow coverage

    Advantageous matchups


    Redskins' Terrelle Pryor Sr., Ryan Grant and Josh Doctson vs. Eagles' Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas

    In what will be one of the first rematches of the 2017 season, the Redskins will look to improve on the 240 passing yards they put on the board against Philly back in Week 1. In that game, Pryor was targeted 11 times (eight against Mills) and caught six passes for 66 yards. Since that point, both Washington's receivers and Philadelphia's perimeter corners have struggled. The Eagles are allowing 40 fantasy points per game to wide receivers, which is second-most in the NFL. At 34 per game, they're also allowing the most points to perimeter receivers. That includes the most to players lined up wide to the left, which is where Pryor has aligned on 48 percent of his routes this season. And that leads to our weekly Mills update: The second-year corner has been targeted an NFL-high 67 times, and players lined up across from him have scored 96 fantasy points (second-most). Receivers have scored 68 fantasy points against Douglas (10th-most). Redskins' perimeter receivers should be upgraded this week, though you'll notice I did not mention slot man Jamison Crowder, who will have his hands full with a resurgent Patrick Robinson.


    Cowboys' Dez Bryant vs. 49ers' Dontae Johnson and Rashard Robinson

    Fresh off the Cowboys' Week 6 bye, Bryant is positioned for a big day against the 49ers' struggling cornerbacks. Players lined up against Johnson have scored 70 fantasy points this season (eighth-most). That's who Bryant will face on as many as half of his routes this week. Robinson is the 49ers' best corner and will be on Bryant quite a bit but shouldn't be much of a roadblock for the Cowboys' top wideout. Bryant aligns in the slot on 27 percent of his routes, so he'll also see some of underwhelming K'Waun Williams. Bryant is set up for a big day, and teammates Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley can also be upgraded.

    Patriots' Danny Amendola vs. Falcons' Brian Poole

    Running back James White may have stolen the show, but Amendola also had a big game during New England's Super Bowl victory against Atlanta back in February. The Patriots' slot man caught eight of 11 targets for 78 yards and one touchdown. Of that production, five catches for 62 yards came on eight targets against Poole. Poole has been a solid slot man for Atlanta, but the Falcons have now surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to players lined up in the slot this season. Amendola should obviously be upgraded. Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan will face a tougher challenge against standout perimeter corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.


    Raiders' Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree vs. Chiefs' Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines and Marcus Peters

    Are you a Cooper or Crabtree manager and worried about Peters this week? Don't be. Based on 2017 usage, Cooper will see Peters on 37 percent of his routes and Crabtree will on 41 percent. That's significant, but the two wideouts will also run more than half of their routes against the struggling combination of Mitchell and Gaines. Receivers facing Mitchell have put up an NFL-high 479 receiving yards this season and scored 95 fantasy points (third-most). Seth Roberts is a notable sleeper against Gaines, who is this season's lowest-graded cornerback at Pro Football Focus. Despite Peters' strong play, the Chiefs are allowing the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. In two meetings with Kansas City last season, Cooper caught 15 of 23 targets for 158 yards and no touchdowns. Crabtree was limited to six catches for 31 yards and no scores on 11 targets. Roberts managed five catches for 41 yards on 15 targets. Those stats don't exactly jump off the page, but the Chiefs' struggles opposite Peters open the door for better performances this week.

    Tough matchups


    Bengals' A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell vs. Steelers' Artie Burns and Joe Haden

    The Steelers are allowing an NFL-low 20 fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season. Burns and Haden have held down the perimeter, which is where Green (88 percent of his 2017 routes) and LaFell (81 percent) primarily align. Green was limited to two catches for 38 yards on seven targets against Pittsburgh in one meeting last season, but note that he was shadowed by Ross Cockrell in that game (Cockrell is now on the Giants). On 131 career routes aligned across from Haden, Green has 15 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 34 targets. Pittsburgh hasn't faced many top-end wideouts this season -- Green will be its toughest challenge -- but the unit's strong play is enough to downgrade the star receiver slightly. LaFell should be on the bench.

    Chargers' Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams vs. Broncos' Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby

    When these teams met in Week 1, Williams was limited to five catches for 54 yards on seven targets. Allen posted five catches for 35 yards on nine targets but bailed out his managers with a touchdown. As I wrote prior to the Week 1 meeting, underwhelming wide receiver production from the Chargers against the Broncos has been a trend for several years. Philip Rivers' target distribution to the position has dipped considerably when Denver is the opponent. This means that Allen (who will see Harris most often on Sunday) and Williams (who will primarily see Talib) both need to be downgraded significantly. Quarterbacks have preferred throwing to the tight end position against Denver this season, so expect a boost in production for Hunter Henry.


    Broncos' Demaryius Thomas vs. Chargers' Casey Hayward

    During the Week 1 meeting between these teams, Hayward shadowed Thomas on 23 of his 30 routes. Thomas caught five passes for 67 yards on eight targets in the game. Hayward also shadowed Thomas on 62 of his 82 routes when these teams met last season. Thomas tallied 19 targets, 10 catches and 114 yards with no touchdowns in those games (with two incomplete targets coming against corners other than Hayward). Especially with Emmanuel Sanders out this week, it's fair to expect Hayward to chase Thomas around once again. Thomas is worth downgrading slightly, but Hayward has "contained" him rather than shut him down.

    In the meeting earlier this season, Jason Verrett, who has since been lost for the season, shadowed on 20 of Sanders' 29 routes. With Sanders out and Hayward on Thomas, Trevor Williams will be on replacement Jordan Taylor throughout the game. Williams, a 2016 undrafted free-agent signing, has been terrific in place of Verrett, and his presence should all but crush any sleeper appeal for Taylor. The Chargers have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, but if we break it down further, we see that they've allowed the 10th-most points to slot receivers and the seventh-fewest to players lined up on the perimeter. Those struggles against the slot make Bennie Fowler III an interesting name this week, especially with Sanders sidelined.


    Colts' T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief vs. Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and Aaron Colvin

    The Jaguars have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. That includes an NFL-low 10.7 points per game to players lined up in the slot. Hilton has aligned on the perimeter on 59 percent of his routes this season, which is where he'll see Ramsey and Bouye, but the Jaguars' success against the slot means he won't get much relief when aligned inside. Granted, Andrew Luck was under center, but in two games against the Jaguars last season, Hilton produced 13 receptions, 137 yards and one touchdown on 22 targets (seven catches for 76 yards on 13 targets against Ramsey without a score). On 31 career routes when aligned across from Bouye, Hilton and Moncrief have combined for no catches on four targets. Hilton should be avoided in DFS cash games. Moncrief will see Bouye and Ramsey on roughly 80 percent of his routes and shouldn't be in lineups this week.


    Rams' Sammy Watkins vs. Cardinals' Patrick Peterson

    Peterson has shadowed in all six games this season, so we should expect the same in Week 7. Though Watkins has been limited to a 13 percent target share this season, he has been on the field for 165 pass plays and has aligned on the perimeter on 75 percent of those plays. Though it's possible Peterson simply plays his side, I imagine Arizona will choose to put him on the Rams' top talent at the position. Watkins has yet to see Peterson in coverage in his career.

    If Watkins does, in fact, receive shadow treatment, watch for Robert Woods to take advantage of coverage from Justin Bethel. Players lined up across from Bethel have scored 109 fantasy points and six touchdowns, and are averaging 0.53 fantasy points per route faced this season (all three are highest in the NFL). The Cardinals are allowing the most fantasy points per game to players lined up wide to the right, which is where Woods has aligned on 58 percent of his routes. Both Woods and Cooper Kupp are viable fantasy starters this week, but Watkins should be avoided.


    Ravens' Mike Wallace vs. Vikings' Xavier Rhodes

    Rhodes has shadowed Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Marvin Jones and Davante Adams over the past five weeks. With Breshad Perriman struggling (and dealing with a concussion), Rhodes seems likely to shadow Baltimore's clear No. 1 perimeter receiver in Wallace. These two last met in 2014, and on 29 routes lined up across from Rhodes, Wallace caught all three of his targets for 34 yards and two touchdowns. Rhodes simply doesn't travel to the slot, so if Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) returns, expect him to face off with Terence Newman throughout most of Sunday's game. Maclin would be a flex option, but Wallace is best left on benches.


    Giants' Roger Lewis vs. Seahawks' Richard Sherman

    Looking for a deep sleeper? You may want to avoid Lewis this week. The team's new top perimeter wide receiver has aligned wide to the right on 66 percent of his routes this season. That's where Sherman has been on 95 percent of the pass plays he has faced. Sherman is allowing a position-best 0.11 fantasy points per route, and Seattle is allowing the fewest points to players lined up at the spot.

    Other notes

    The Falcons' Mohamed Sanu missed Atlanta's Week 6 game with a hamstring injury, but if he returns this week, consider firing him up against a Patriots defense allowing the most fantasy points to players lined up in the slot this season. Sanu has aligned in the slot on 61 percent of his routes.

    Buffalo slot receiver Jordan Matthews is also dicey to return from a thumb injury this week, but if he does, he's a sneaky flex play against a Buccaneers defense allowing the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. That includes the second-most to players lined up in the slot (and the most over the past four weeks). Matthews would primarily see struggling slot man Robert McClain in coverage.

    Should you go with the Panthers' Kelvin Benjamin or Devin Funchess this week? The matchup suggests Funchess. Benjamin lines up wide to the left on 53 percent of his routes, and the Bears have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to that position. Funchess lines up wide to the right on 47 percent of his routes, and the Bears have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to that position. Benjamin will see more of Prince Amukamara and Funchess more of Kyle Fuller in this one.

    The Jets' Morris Claiborne has shadowed in five consecutive games, so if Miami's DeVante Parker (ankle) returns this week, expect those two to face off throughout the game. Claiborne is solid but far from a shutdown corner. You won't need to downgrade Parker in the matchup. Jarvis Landry will primarily see Buster Skrine in the slot. The Jets have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to slot players this season.

    Cleveland's Jason McCourty has been outstanding this season. He has aligned at right corner on 84 percent of the pass plays he has faced but did shadow A.J. Green in Week 4 and DeAndre Hopkins last week. It's hard to know if he will shadow Rishard Matthews this week, but my guess is he will simply play his side. That'd mean he'd see Eric Decker roughly 45 percent of time, Matthews 25 percent and Taywan Taylor (assuming Corey Davis remains out) another 25 percent. Unless ESPN NFL Nation reporter Pat McManamon reports McCourty will shadow Matthews, he's still safe to play.
     

  22. #72  
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    Best, worst matchups at all fantasy football positions for Week 7
    Tristan Cockcroft
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/19/17

    Matchups are often a driving force behind fantasy football owners' weekly lineup decisions. When choosing between two (or more) similarly talented players, you know the first question that comes to mind: Which one has the best matchup?

    Ah, but what, exactly, constitutes a favorable or unfavorable matchup?

    That's where the "Matchups Map" comes in. Each week, I'll provide a schedule-independent method to determine strength of positional matchups, using the most recent, relevant data. Check back for updated numbers each week, including matchup highlights at each position -- both favorable and unfavorable -- based upon those statistics. For these purposes, we will use PPR (point per reception) scoring, though I have analyzed this data for both PPR and non-PPR and have found that the rankings would scarcely change (if at all). Therefore, these help in either scoring format.

    The maps include two measures: The first, "Rk," is my personal ranking of how favorable/unfavorable I consider that positional matchup; the second, "Adj. FPA," reflects how far above or below a player's average that defense has held opponents at that position. All data is from the past five weeks of NFL action.

    Finally, a caveat: Remember that matchups are only one ingredient in my rankings formula. Not every favorable matchup should be exploited; not every unfavorable matchup should be avoided. To get the most complete recipe for whom to start and sit, consult my weekly rankings.

    Quarterbacks

    Favorable matchup: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (@CLE). On the surface, considering the strength of his matchup, Mariota's Week 6 looked to be a disappointment. He mustered just 14.24 fantasy points against an Indianapolis Colts defense that had previously surrendered an average of 20.2 in games against Jared Goff (16.44, Week 1), DeShone Kizer (22.08, Week 3) and Brian Hoyer (22.12, Week 5). The hamstring injury that cost Mariota Week 5, however, was clearly still an issue Monday night, especially in limiting his mobility. He attempted just two runs, resulting in zero fantasy points rushing. It was only the seventh time in his 32 career games that he had been held scoreless (or worse) with his legs.

    Mariota did improve over the course of the contest, though, and an additional week to heal should be good for him. A matchup against the Cleveland Browns can only help, as they've allowed more fantasy points per pass attempt (0.578) than any other team.

    Unfavorable matchup: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (CIN). In recent seasons, Big Ben has developed a reputation as a home/road player, in other words, someone to only start in fantasy in his home games. This season, Roethlisberger hasn't been a reliable fantasy option regardless of the venue, falling shy of 20 fantasy points in six straight games and exceeding 12 only twice.

    The Cincinnati Bengals provide him one of his tougher tests for a home game, having afforded quarterbacks the fifth-fewest fantasy points per pass attempt (0.298). They've also been the only team to hold Deshaun Watson in check as a passer (5.00 fantasy points passing, Week 2) in his five career starts. Roethlisberger, incidentally, has averaged 14.23 fantasy points per game against the Bengals since the beginning of 2012, more than three points below his overall per-game average.


    Running backs

    Favorable matchup: Adrian Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (@LAR). If you're angling to sell high on Peterson following his 25.4 fantasy point bounce-back Week 6 -- and I'd suggest you do -- perhaps it's worth waiting until after this week to follow through on the plan. The Los Angeles Rams represent the league's most favorable matchup for a running back, having afforded them the most fantasy points (191.8), as well as the most fantasy points per rushing attempt (0.730).

    In Week 6, two Jacksonville Jaguars running backs, Leonard Fournette (21.8) and Chris Ivory (22.7) scored 20-plus points against them. Though Peterson will face tougher times ahead, he does appear to have enough left in the tank to capitalize against weaker defenses.

    Unfavorable matchup: Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders (KC). Lynch is off to an awful start to his first season with the Raiders. His 3.7 yards-per-carry average is his worst in seven years, and the second worst of his NFL career. He's also playing on considerably fewer snaps this year than in seasons past, just 24 per game after averaging at least 35 per game in each of his five most recent seasons.

    Lynch is a player to avoid if you can whenever he faces a Kansas City Chiefs defense that has been one of the stingiest against the run in the league. They've already met Le'Veon Bell (Week 6), Melvin Gordon (Week 3), Lamar Miller (Week 5) and Chris Thompson (Week 4) over the past four weeks and held each of the latter three to two-or-more fantasy points fewer than their seasonal points-per-game averages.




    Wide receivers

    Favorable matchup: Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (ARI). When it comes to the Cardinals defense, you want to avoid the wide receiver covered by Patrick Peterson and start all of the others. Through six games, the Cardinals have allowed 233.6 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, fifth most in the league, but a league-leading 171.6 of those have been accrued by non-No. 1 wideouts.

    Sammy Watkins is the logical guess as the Rams wide receiver most likely to be covered by Peterson on the majority of snaps, as he is the team's most naturally gifted player at the position, as well as one of the two most likely to play on the perimeter. Robert Woods is the other. Kupp generally plays out of the slot, which gives him the better matchup. He also has the second-most targets (32, three behind Woods) and second-most fantasy points per target (1.8, behind Watkins' 2.0) of Los Angeles' top three receivers.

    Unfavorable matchup: Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers (@CHI). The Chicago Bears' pass defense has been one of the more surprising units through six weeks, led in large part by Prince Amukamara and Bryce Callahan. Typically, No. 1 wideouts fare better against the Bears than supporting cast members do, so this could be a tougher week for Funchess than it will be for Kelvin Benjamin. Among some of the wide receivers the Bears have held relatively quiet to date: Davante Adams (9.3 fantasy points, Week 4), Stefon Diggs (1.4, Week 5), DeSean Jackson (6.9, Week 2), Julio Jones (10.6, Week 1) and Adam Thielen (9.5, Week 5).

    Tight ends

    Favorable matchup: Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers (DEN). Although it didn't play out that way in the Week 1 meeting between these sides, the way to typically beat the Denver Broncos' pass defense is to target the tight end rather than wide receivers. That's no surprise, considering the Broncos sport the game's best cornerback trio in Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and Aqib Talib.

    This defense has faced four tight ends who received at least five targets in a game so far this season -- Jason Witten in Week 2, Charles Clay in Week 3, Jared Cook in Week 4 and Evan Engram in Week 6 -- and they averaged 17.1 fantasy points in those contests. Henry has been targeted 15 times combined in the past two weeks, playing 59 and 54 snaps in those games, and showing a distinct increase in usage that bodes well heading into a matchup as favorable as this one.

    Unfavorable matchup: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (@SF). Only one team in the league hasn't allowed a single tight end to score eight or more fantasy points in a game this season. Can you guess which one it is? That's right, it's the San Francisco 49ers, who have faced Greg Olsen (3.8 fantasy points, Week 1), Jimmy Graham (1.1, Week 2) and Jordan Reed (7.7, Week 6), which is hardly an easy schedule.

    While the recent release of NaVorro Bowman might drag this defense somewhat in the wrong direction against tight ends, Reed's difficulty last week -- that game played after Bowman's release -- suggests that Witten might have to settle for shorter passes that will cap his fantasy upside. If the 49ers have a healthy Reuben Foster (ankle), that would only serve to make this matchup even more difficult.
     

  23. #73  
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    Week 7 rankings reaction to McKinnon-Allen meeting
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/19/17

    Perhaps it will take some time for fantasy managers to view the running backs in Sunday's Ravens-Vikings matchup as truly reliable options, but we at ESPN Fantasy are all-in on rejuvenated Minnesota starter Jerick McKinnon this week. We also figure to be for Baltimore starter Javorius Allen in better matchups.

    But wait, don't the Ravens and Vikings both do a great job defending the run? Well, it's Week 7 and we have some evidence showing that isn't quite the case, thus the rankings discrepancy.
    When Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook went down with his knee injury, most predicted Latavius Murray would be involved moving forward. He has been, but with a caveat: He wasn't likely to be quite as good -- or healthy -- as the numbers he provided in Oakland would indicate. But few could have believed that McKinnon, who was pretty underwhelming in past seasons -- and he did have opportunities -- would perform to this level.

    McKinnon has fumbled in each of the past three games, losing two of them, but that doesn't seem to be hurting his ability to attract touches. He has scored rushing touchdowns in both of the past two games and caught a combined 11 passes for 81 yards and another score in that span.

    Murray looks to be quite ordinary and perhaps it's due to not being fully recovered from his offseason ankle surgery. Still, that doesn't buy one an asterisk in fantasy. McKinnon approached RB1 status from us this week, and part of the reason I was willing to push him ahead of more established veterans like DeMarco Murray and Carlos Hyde was the matchup. Baltimore did nice work against the run the first two weeks of the season, but when better running backs were on the schedule over the past month, those backs have thrived. The Ravens have permitted an average of nearly 30 PPR points per game to running backs over four games, and while McKinnon isn't Leonard Fournette, Le'Veon Bell or Jordan Howard, he has certainly played that way recently.

    For Allen, the problem is that the Vikings still do defend the run well, having permitted the second-fewest fantasy points to the position this season. Only the Denver Broncos, who a few days ago were embarrassed by Orleans Darkwa of all people, have been better. Perhaps we're overrating matchups, but Allen still earned a strong flex rank from us because he's clearly Baltimore's main guy by this point and he catches passes. There's no sign of Terrance West anymore and Alex Collins, while averaging a hefty 6.4 yards per rush and getting enough rushes to matter in non-PPR, has yet to catch a pass. The Ravens appear scared to use Collins in the fourth quarter due to his own fumbling issues. Allen’s the guy, but this week might be the last time we don't view him as an RB2.

    Week 7 quarterback thoughts: We're splitting hairs with most of the top options, but there is some variance to be found with Cam Newton and Carson Palmer. Newton plays the Bears in Chicago's den and it's worth pointing out the Bears have kept opposing passers in check. They haven't allowed any 200-yard games in a month and had only one game with more than one touchdown pass. They haven’t faced someone this mobile, though. Palmer, meanwhile, gets the Rams. I just wonder if the Cardinals rely heavily on the run and, in an effort to keep him upright, don't allow Palmer to throw 40 times.

    Brett Hundley is a QB2 -- and he has never started a game. ... Don't buy into the popular debate that points aren't scored on Thursday nights. Yes, the players are tired and it's probably not at all healthy for them to play on a short week, but teams that tend to score points still score points. Alex Smith should do well. I fear I may have ranked Derek Carr too well, though. ... The Titans get thrown on, but I have a hard time relying on DeShone Kizer, even if the Browns suddenly feel they can.

    Week 7 running back thoughts: Speaking of the Broncos and how they didn't look so Bronco-like against Darkwa, I have no concerns about Melvin Gordon this week. Remember, Gordon averaged more than 100 yards rushing in the two games against Denver last season. And really, Orleans Darkwa? I keep repeating the name. By the way, he has Seattle this week. None of us ranked him with any expectation of another 100 rushing yards.

    Things change so quickly. One week, Carlos Hyde is losing carries and then, when he doesn't, we all unilaterally trust him and Matt Breida is nowhere to be found. Keep Breida owned. I bet this story isn't over yet. ... As you can see from our Adrian Peterson rankings, we're not exactly "all-in" there for another monster statistical game, at least not in PPR. Oddly enough, Arizona is playing the team allowing the most fantasy points to running backs in the Rams. I just have to think Andre Ellington will be more involved than he was last week, so don't punt him yet. ... I can't say I was tempted to rank Derrick Henry ahead of DeMarco Murray, but I did rank Henry more generously than others. ... With this ridiculous Ezekiel Elliott situation still ongoing, those who have picked up Alfred Morris and/or Darren McFadden might feel like it has been a waste. I don't know if it has been or not, but keep them on benches just in case.

    Week 7 wide receiver thoughts: I thought that my ranking Sammy Watkins outside the top 40 was a bit mean, but it's the best of the group! Hey, facing Patrick Peterson is no joke. For Watkins, facing any cornerback has been a struggle. ... I did not initially rank a second Denver wide receiver since Emmanuel Sanders is out, but I've reconsidered and put Bennie Fowler III in. ... Usually when wide receivers whine about a lack of targets, things change for them. However, I don't see that happening with Martavis Bryant.

    I feel like we've talked more about Willie Snead in the past few days than we did all of last year when he was healthy and modestly productive. He is helpful in PPR, but c'mon Saints, use him! ... Cam Newton's ranking was inconsistent, but two of his receivers are top 30. ... Nobody is saying the Eagles have the best secondary in the league, and they're allowing the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers, but quite a bit of that came in Week 3 in the fourth quarter to the Giants. Otherwise, they're not an embarrassment. In other words, don't assume Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder suddenly perform like their 2016 versions. I didn't.
     

  24. #74  
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    Super Bowl rematch brings lots to watch for in fantasy
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/20/17

    One could take a look at the final statistics from Super Bowl LI and fantasize that the same players will do the same things, and we'll get the same results. However, not only wouldn’t that be so awesome for fantasy, it also doesn’t seem so likely to me. Oh, make no mistake, it should be entertaining when the Atlanta Falcons travel to face the New England Patriots on Sunday night and fantasy managers should have high hopes for a high-scoring affair. With that in mind, here's what we should be watching, at least from a fantasy aspect.
    1. Matt and Julio down by the end zone: It’s pretty ridiculous that Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has only one more red zone target this season than either you or I do. I don’t play in the NFL, and I suspect you don’t either. My colleague Field Yates tweeted on Thursday that 162 players have multiple red zone targets this season -- but Jones does not. Matt Ryan can rectify that on Sunday night, and I suspect Atlanta's coaches are both aware of this stat and will make sure it gets handled. It should have nothing to do with Mohamed Sanu or Devonta Freeman or any Patriots. Jones might not score 10 times this year, but he'll score eventually. It all starts with Ryan, though, a top-five QB pick on draft day (fourth round ADP) who currently isn’t even in the top 20 at his position on a per game basis. You shouldn't drop Ryan, but if he doesn’t go statistically wild on Sunday, there will be plenty of advocates for you to do so. Let me remind people that before his MVP season, Ryan had never finished among the top five quarterbacks in fantasy.

    2. Running down a dream: Patriots running back Mike Gillislee is still on a lot more ESPN fantasy rosters than James White. Perhaps people just aren’t paying attention, but Gillislee's four-week stretch in PPR shows just 3.1, 4.9, 5.2 and 2.4 points. Meanwhile, White has literally outscored him in each of those games and twice been a top-15 fantasy RB. Way, way back on that first Sunday of February, it was White who caught a record 14 passes from Tom Brady for 110 yards, and his third touchdown of the game that won New England the trophy. Still, we can’t presume that White will be used in a similar way Sunday -- if we did, we’d have to rank him ahead of Le'Veon Bell. As for Gillislee, he doesn’t belong on nearly as many rosters as he currently is. Yes, he rumbled for three touchdowns in the first game, but he’s clearly not last year’s LeGarrette Blount either. Brady is the one doing the work. Let’s see if this continues.

    3. Going deeper: It’s odd that Jones hasn’t caught a touchdown, but stranger still is the fact that not one Falcon has more than one receiving touchdown. Sanu scored in double-digits for PPR in each of the first three weeks, then got hurt and was cut in many leagues. He could certainly be a factor Sunday if, active. The problem is that we might not get clarity on his status by the time the early Sunday games start. Taylor Gabriel should remain in play regardless, as he ranks second to Jones in targets. For Brady's sake, we eagerly await official word on whether or not Chris Hogan is healthy enough to play, since we ranked him as a WR1 and actually better than his far more popular teammate Brandin Cooks. How did that happen? Well, Hogan and Cooks have the same number of receptions, targets and PPR points. Hogan has scored more touchdowns, while Cooks has more yards. It seems odd to value them so closely, but it’s Week 7. How much more proof do we need that they actually are, essentially, one and the same?

    4. The defense rests: The Patriots D/ST wasn’t expected to be a top-10 unit in fantasy terms, but this is ridiculous. They've scored a total of five points this season! Then again, they are trending in the right direction. The Patriots held the Buccaneers and Jets to a combined 31 points over the past fortnight, but there just aren't enough turnovers or sacks here. Brady will always get his numbers, which means the Falcons D/ST isn’t a good Week 7 play. Surprisingly, this unit hasn’t been good in fantasy, though in real life -- at least according to Pro Football Focus -- they're bordering on being a top-10 defense. Yes, the Patriots are playing better defensively and Ryan has played in underwhelming fashion, but look elsewhere. Just stop short of expecting 60-plus points again like February. I think a 24-21 game makes more sense. In any event, you shouldn’t rely on either defense for this contest -- and perhaps until further notice.

    By the way, there are other games remaining this weekend involving teams that failed to reach the most recent Super Bowl. Here are a few random thoughts on things I’ll be watching for.

    Backup QB roulette: Last week we watched as the Packers (famously, as we say farewell to Aaron Rodgers), Buccaneers, 49ers and Broncos (briefly) all needed to turn to second-stringers and nary a win was earned from the group. The Browns have swapped out quarterbacks this week, going back to the original guy they chose, a struggling rookie. I ranked veteran Brett Hundley kind of well, considering he’s never started an NFL game, because the matchup is a good one, it’s at home and he’s got myriad weapons. I don’t think it’s a good week to rely on Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, but as of this writing, it sounds like the team might not be relying on him because of a sore shoulder. Ryan Fitzpatrick back in Buffalo against his old mates should be fun, but don’t go that direction in fantasy. What other backup QBs will we see, either by choice or injury?

    Rising Arizona: We’ve talked enough about the rejuvenated Adrian Peterson this week, from columns and blog entries to the Fantasy Focus podcast. The future Hall of Famer should get every opportunity to chew up yards against a Rams defense that struggles against the run, but we didn’t rank him as if that’s necessarily a guarantee, either. OK, so we were wrong in Week 6. Everyone was, except basically the Cardinals. Should we double down on the mistake or do we still think Peterson emerging as a safe RB2 sounds a bit too good to be true? Keep Andre Ellington rostered. The Cardinals could trail on Sunday and make him relevant again.

    Start spreading the news: Both New York teams are in last place and lacking clarity in exactly who their offensive weapons are -- which is why we must pay attention. The Giants stunned the Broncos in their elevated stadium, so writing them off against Seattle at home might seem ill-advised. Still, I can’t recommend any Giant except their rookie tight end Evan Engram -- and that includes the breakout Orleans Darkwa. It’s not like all their offensive line problems are suddenly fixed. The Jets also have a pretty decent tight end, but it’s tough to rely on any wide receiver beyond Jermaine Kearse. The Jets do employ several running backs of varying ages and ability level, but even if Bilal Powell does (as expected) play at Miami, it will be tough for fantasy managers to feel real good about relying on him.
     

  25. #75  
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    Week 7 fantasy takeaways on Matt Ryan, Jerick McKinnon and more
    Matt Bowen
    ESPN INSIDER
    10/24/17

    The Atlanta Falcons' passing game looks stale and quarterback Matt Ryan continues to put up average numbers for fantasy managers. So, why has the Atlanta offensive scheme struggled under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian? Let's hit on those issues in Atlanta, take a look at the fallout from the Carson Palmer injury, discuss Amari Cooper's breakout game and more.

    Here are my fantasy takeaways from Week 7 in the NFL.

    What's up with Matt Ryan and this Falcons passing game?

    After throwing for 233 yards against a Patriots defense that has been gashed at times this season, Ryan has topped the 300-yard mark just once this year. And he only has seven touchdown passes -- with one coming in garbage time Sunday night.

    Wide receiver Julio Jones? He had one red zone target coming into Sunday. Yep, just one target (in five games) for the league's most naturally gifted player at the position. That's bad football. Now, Jones did see three red zone targets Sunday night (with two coming late) and he literally just took the ball away from Malcolm Butler on a fade route for six points in the fourth quarter. Amazing stuff.

    But what gives here with the Falcons? And why has Ryan struggled to execute in this system?

    From my perspective, this system in Atlanta is extremely stale under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The lack of movement. The lack of creativity. And the lack of generating open windows to take shots down the field.

    That's a 180 from the offense we saw last season under Kyle Shanahan, a system I broke down leading up to the Super Bowl. It was a nightmare to defend, too, with Ryan embarrassing defenses at all three levels of the field. Play-action, boot, inside combination routes, wicked red zone concepts and calculated deep shots.

    But this system, one that is heavy in the run game, isn't producing those open windows, clearing out throwing lanes or creating matchups to highlight the deep talent base on this Falcons roster.

    And while Ryan still has value as a fantasy starter, he's going to drop down in the ranks. Because until the Falcons make some game plan changes, Ryan can't be viewed as a high-end QB1 anymore.

    Sticking with Jerick McKinnon as the top back in Minnesota?

    I'm still riding McKinnon as the back to start in Minnesota because of the higher ceiling in the passing game. Yeah, Latavius Murray had a really good day against the Ravens on Sunday, ripping off 113 yards and a score on 18 carries, with 75 of those yards coming before first contact. But McKinnon got his touches too, carrying the ball 14 times (47 yards) and catching three passes (10 yards).

    Plus, even with both backs splitting carries/touches moving forward, McKinnon still passes the eye test for me more than Murray. He's got more juice, more shake to his game. And that shows up in his impact on the third-down package with the ability to turn a simple screen pass into an explosive play. Murray is going to find his way into some lineups, but give me McKinnon as a RB2 with that ceiling being pushed up in PPR scoring.

    Aaron Jones is the guy to start in Green Bay moving forward ...

    The big picture here is the touch count in the Packers' backfield with Jones and Ty Montgomery. The rookie running back saw a total of 20 touches vs. the Saints, with Montgomery checking in at only five. And, really, the production talks with Jones in an offense that now has to be much more balanced with Brett Hundley at quarterback.

    Jones carried the ball 17 times for 131 yards and a score. He also chipped in with three receptions for 7 yards. The touchdown run? It was a classic power scheme. Wash down the edge and pull the guard to kick-out the force player. That allowed Jones to wait on the block, cut inside and then show a smooth burst up the field. Split those safeties and go. A 46-yard blast.

    Jones is in that RB2 discussion. It's the volume and the skill set there. However, I am concerned that Jones won't maximize his value if Hundley continues to struggle in a cut-down Packers game plan. You want the best from Jones? Hundley needs to threaten more in the passing game. And Mike McCarthy needs to open up the playbook in Green Bay. That's gotta happen when the Packers return from the bye in Week 9 with a matchup vs. the Lions.

    ... And it's time to seriously downgrade the Packers' receiving threats

    When I was setting my ranks this week, I didn't have a good feel for where to slot Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Sure, we all knew they were all going to slide without Aaron Rodgers at QB. But after that game vs. the Saints, these cats are really going to fall until Hundley shows the ability to manage the offense and produce as a starter.

    Even with Jones rolling on the ground, Hundley completed just 4-of-10 passes for 32 yards off play-action, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On throws of 15 or more yards down the field? He was 0-of-4 with a pick. And when targeting his two main targets, Nelson and Adams, Hundley completed 3-of-8 passes for a lowly 25 yards.

    As I said above, McCarthy will have to open up the playbook more for Hundley, and the young quarterback should show signs of improvement with more game reps. But for fantasy managers of Nelson, Adams, Cobb and even tight end Martellus Bennett, you have to be realistic here. When the Packers come off the bye, Nelson is going to drop to a WR2 in my ranks with Adams as a WR3. And until Hundley shows progress, neither Cobb or Bennett should be considered viable options in the lineup.

    Bet on talent with Amari Cooper

    We were all down on Cooper through the first six weeks of the season. The lack of big plays. The drops. The low target volume. But that breakout game on Thursday night in the win over the Chiefs reminded us that you always bet on the talent.

    Cooper caught 11 passes (on a whopping 19 targets) for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Derek Carr (417 yards passing) fed the ball to Cooper all night and we also saw the Raiders get away from those static looks on offense with Cooper stuck running the hitch, the curl, etc, outside of the numbers. This allowed Cooper to showcase his silky-smooth route running ability from multiple alignments. His second touchdown grab? A crossing route from the slot. Get him the rock with open field after the catch.

    I had Cooper tagged as a flex play heading into Week 7. And while his target volume is naturally going to drop a bit from that monster number on Thursday night, there is no reason Cooper shouldn't jump in the ranks. He's back in the mix as a mid-tier WR2 for me this upcoming week against the Bills.

    Bucs rookie TE O.J. Howard should be viewed as a streaming option in Week 8

    We talked last week about Cameron Brate as the tight end with weekly fantasy value on the Bucs roster, and that's not going to change moving forward. Brate caught six passes for 60 yards in the loss to the Bills and his nine targets were second most on the team to wide receiver Mike Evans (10).

    But Sunday was also a breakout game for Howard. The rookie out of Alabama caught all six of his targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns. And those two scores came on scripted plays. Howard caught his first touchdown a Hi-Lo concept in the deep red zone. That's a shallow crossing route off play-action with Howard working away from the defender's leverage. And then the Bucs went to the tight end "throwback." Roll Jameis Winston to the edge of the pocket and sneak Howard back across the field. Wide open.

    The scripted plays? Those jump out to me with Howard. Offensive coordinators are very selective when it comes to red zone plays and concepts designed to produce chunk gains. That's why it's important to look at the Bucs and how they targeted Howard on Sunday, because he played a key role in the game plan. And while one game isn't enough to vault Howard over Brate, I see value here with the rookie as a streaming option this week vs. the Panthers.

    The fallout in Arizona with the Carson Palmer injury

    With Palmer now down with a broken arm, Larry Fitzgerald should be viewed as the only Cardinals wide receiver with any weekly fantasy value moving forward once Arizona returns from the bye in Week 9 vs. the 49ers. And Fitzgerald's stock is going to take a hit, too.

    It's easy to say that backup quarterback Drew Stanton is going to force the ball to Fitzgerald and that the Cardinals will lean more on the short-to-intermediate passing game -- where the veteran wide receiver thrives. But we also have to be honest about Stanton's skill set at the position. There is going to be a major drop-off in efficiency for the Arizona offense with Stanton running the show and I don't see this offense moving the ball or putting points on the board with any consistency. Fitzgerald is now a low-end WR2 in PPR leagues with a limited ceiling.

    Don't sleep on Doug Baldwin as a WR1 in Week 8 vs. Houston

    In Weeks 4 and 5, Baldwin totaled 72 yards on seven receptions. And he didn't get in the end zone. But coming off the bye, with a matchup vs. the Giants on Sunday, Baldwin caught nine passes (on 12 targets) for 92 yards and a score. And we were reminded just how talented he is at the line of scrimmage.

    Baldwin can shake press coverage all day with his footwork on the release and that showed up when he beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a touchdown against blitz-man coverage. Nasty release there. Separate and go. Get six.

    Now, I'll be the first to tell you that this Seattle offense lacks a true identity. But I love Baldwin's game. The toughness, the technique and the super-underrated route running. Lightning-quick footwork to win at the line or within the route stem. And when he's healthy, as he is now, Baldwin jumps into that WR1 tier for me.

    Mitchell Trubisky throws seven passes -- and the Bears get a win

    Trubisky doesn't have much fantasy value right now, but I couldn't leave without hitting on his stat line from yesterday: 4-of-7 passing for 107 yards. And 70 of those yards came on a pass to Tarik Cohen with the back flexed out.

    Those numbers? I've seen that at the high school level with double-wing offenses. Play-action stuff. Hit the tight end on a wide-open seam route. But in the NFL? Nah. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the last team to have seven or fewer passes by one player was the '06 Panthers, with Chris Weinke (who completed all seven of those passes). And the Panthers won that game, 10-3 over the Falcons.

    The rookie out of UNC has shown flashes of his ability in his three pro starts. There is some quality play on his tape. But that Bears game plan on Sunday was extremely limited. And it's probably going to have to loosen up a bit with a trip to New Orleans in Week 8.
     

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