Alshon Jeffery Caught in the Middle, Sammie Coates Catches On, Michael Thomas Poised to Break Out
Plus, what to make of waiver wire candidates and a couple of buy-low and sell-high options heading into Week 6
The MMQB's Gary Gramling offers his fantasy football advise for Week 6 of the 2016 NFL season.
Oh crap, I forgot to write an intro this week. And now it’s too late...
Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer: I’ll write more about this in my weekend column, but I can’t stop rolling my eyes at the Bears’ reported willingness to stick with Hoyer. My guess is that logic wins out in the end and Cutler, since he showed last year that there’s at least a remote chance he could be a long-term solution (the odds are long, but they’re better than the 0% chance Hoyer has) reclaims the starting job. Either guy can have bye-week streamer appeal since the Bears defense can’t stop anyone, necessitating 40-plus throws every week.
Cam Meredith and Eddie Royal: Apparently it will be Meredith, not Royal, playing the role of Kevin White in the upcoming NBC drama series Chicago Crapfest (it’s all about life and times of a crappy football team in Chicago, a sexy crappy football team). Royal’s calf injury might have had something to do with that, but Meredith is worth picking up as a FLEX play going forward. The Bears seem perfectly happy using Alshon Jeffery as a decoy while Brian Hoyer is under center. Just be aware that Meredith will never have a better matchup than he did against a Colts defense that can’t rush the passer or cover anyone. And there’s at least a chance Jay Cutler will be back in the lineup soon, and passes will once again be thrown to Jeffery. Speaking of whom…
Alshon Jeffery: Jeffery is caught in the middle of Chicago’s manufactured QB controversy. He is a WR1 when Cutler is in the lineup. He’s a boom-or-bust WR2 when Hoyer is under center. And it’s been bust-only so far, the upside is only there because at some point you figure Hoyer has to stop leaving plays on the field.
C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker: Hmmm, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Anderson flashes, then slows down and gives way to the Ronnie Hillman or some reasonable facsimile. Booker is better than Hillman, and he played 29 snaps to Anderson’s 36 against the Falcons on Sunday. I’d expect this to be a 60/40 split in Anderson’s favor going forward. Anderson is now a shaky RB2 going forward and Booker a desperation FLEX play (let’s not get carried away), with each needing the other to get injured to carry significant value.
Tyler Efiert: Eifert, who was injured while fighting the good fight for “Team Irvin” in the Pro Bowl, could be back in the lineup in New England this weekend. I can’t imagine he would take on a full complement of snaps in his first game back though. Hold him out until at least his second game back. Once healthy, I do expect him to resume his big red-zone role and to have a larger role between the 20s than he did a year ago. If somehow he’s not stashed in your league, go get him. And then write yourself a note to find a better league next year because no one in your current league follows professional football.
Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood: I assumed Smallwood wouldn’t have much of a role with Mathews’ healthy post-bye return, but I expected him to play more than a one frickin’ snap. He’s obviously squeezed out for the time being, because of Darren Sproles’ role as much as Mathews’. But there’s no reason to give up on stashing Smallwood. Not only is Mathews proving to be a less-than-ideal fit in Doug Pederson’s system, but his long injury history and fumble problems (he lost a huge one in the fourth quarter on Sunday) suggest that Smallwood will get an opportunity down the line.
Sammie Coates: Like any good Little League coach can tell you, sometimes you have to just have to keep the ball in front of you. Coates did that effectively on Sunday, simply knocking five passes to the ground after the ball hit him in the hands. (In his defense, he apparently needed stitches to close a cut on his left hand.) That said, despite the five drops Coates still managed six catches for 139 and two touchdowns. The fact that Ben Roethlisberger kept going to him bodes well for the future. Just remember: The Jets’ secondary didn’t have enough healthy bodies to cover him. Coates might not have a better matchup all season.
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill: Don’t read too much into Bernard starting over Hill this past week. Hill was playing hurt; not much has changed in the Bengals’ backfield. They’ll continue to go with a 60/40 split most weeks with one back or the other. But really, the Bengals would like to have a bigger role for Hill, playing into their identity as a power offense. Expect Bernard to have the bigger role against New England on Sunday.
Melvin Gordon: Gordon is the subject of my favorite Matt Christopher book: “The Kid Who Couldn’t Stop Fumbling. Like Ever” He has lost six fumbles on only 320 career touches. If it’s Adrian Peterson you can put up with some fumblitis, but Gordon averages 3.5 yards per carry while usually running against light boxes. The Chargers don’t have anyone else on the roster to replace him, but I would expect passing back Dexter McCluster’s role to increase over the next few weeks. Of more concern: Gordon has barely been able to take advantage of one of the softest schedules any back has had. With more NFL-caliber defenses coming up, he’s a middling RB2 at best, even with a big workload.
Terrelle Pryor: The QB situation is killing his receiving numbers, while simultaneously opening opportunities for him to take some snaps at quarterback. I consider Pryor a boom-or-bust option against the Titans (my best guess is a banged-up Coky Kessler will be under center). The good news for Pryor owners is that Corey Coleman is probably gone for another month, and Cleveland’s bye week weirdly doesn’t come until Week 13 (weird because there are no Week 12 byes), at which point all of America will mourn the fact that neither the Browns nor the Titans are in action.
Jacquizz Rodgers and Doug Martin: I’ve crunched some numbers, and my theory is that Rodgers’ weekly touches will follow the formula x = the sum of the previous four weeks’ combined touches + 20. It worked out perfectly for Week 5’s projection, so therefore I project Rodgers will have 70 touches in San Francisco when the Bucs come back from their bye week.
If you deny the math, then perhaps you should go with the assumption that the expected return of Martin after their bye week hacks into Rodgers’ workload, making him nothing but a poor man’s Charles Sims and virtually unstartable unless Martin gets hurt again. As for Martin: He missed out on the toughest stretch of Tampa’s schedule, one that has caused unnecessary consternation when it comes to Jameis Winston’s play. If that troublesome hammy is behind him, Martin projects as a top-10 RB over the rest of the season.
Zach Ertz: Don’t lose faith. Ertz was quiet in his return to the lineup on Sunday, targeted only three times. But he was on the field for 52 of the Eagles’ 61 snaps, reinforcing that he’s healthy. He has some work to do chemistry-wise with Carson Wentz, but he’s the most talented player among Wentz’s weapons, and Pederson will feature Ertz on those Y-Iso formations, just like he did with Travis Kelce in K.C.
Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata: McKinnon owners don’t have to get too worked up over the 14 carries Asiata received on Sunday. Asiata got seven touches to McKinnon’s two over the Vikings’ final two drives (including all five carries on the final drive), the most garbage-y part of garbage time. (Though one could argue that, in this game, garbage time began the moment the Texans inked Brock Osweiler.) Asiata has re-established himself as the short-yardage back, but the Vikings really only go heavy when they’re on the one. McKinnon is still clearly the guy to own here.
Colin Kaepernick: There’s this knee-jerk reaction to do something because Kaepernick is starting again. (I remember that guy from the Super Bowl, better pick him up!) I suppose his upside as a runner in Chip Kelly’s offense would make him a potential streamer for the most desperate of owners. But this offense isn’t fooling anyone (and, for what it’s worth, Kaepernick’s first opponent, the Bills, just faced and shut down a run-first QB in Jacoby Brissett two weeks ago).
D.J. Foster: It’s a name to file away. I saw him spin at the club a few nights ago and he was great. (Nah, just kidding, EDM is the worst.) But Foster has a small role in New England’s backfield for the time being, and he looked comfortable out there during his 12 snaps on Sunday. The undrafted rookie was a playmaker at tailback and slot receiver at Arizona State, and it seems like he would fit nicely into that passing-back role for the Patriots. Of course, at this point it would take a James White injury and the continued absence of Dion Lewis to get White into the lineup.
Adam Thielen: The finest product of Minnesota State University since the Craig T. Nelson vehicle Coach made us laugh, cry and think, Thielen put up a monster day against a good Houston secondary on Sunday (7-127-1). But while I’d certainly encourage anyone to pick up the DVD box set of Coach (Jerry Van Dyke is a treasure, goddamit), there’s no need to add Thielen to your fantasy roster. Assuming Stefon Diggs returns from his groin injury after their Week 6 bye, Thielen is once again relegated to a fourth receiver role for the run-heavy Vikings.
Justin Forsett: Welcome back, Justin Forsett. We missed you. Forsett would need a Theo Riddick injury (and probably another injury to Dewayne Washington) to have any fantasy relevance, but even at this point in his career the veteran is just as good as Zach Zenner.
Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Jamize Olawale: At this point, I’d guess Murray will return to the lineup on Sunday (though it’s far from guaranteed). If so, this backfield goes back to a four-way time share. I misread it a week ago, when I thought Washington would get more of a featured role in Murray’s absence considering he has the best early-down skill set among the other three. But it was a straight-up committee, with Richard spelling Washington for a couple sets of downs and Olawale getting the short-yardage work. So in short: Avoid Raiders RBs if you can.
Michael Thomas: I’m high on Michael Thomas. Higher than I’ve been since I spent that weekend in my poorly ventilated basement spray-painting those “Bud Selig 4 Prez” campaign signs. The Saints, more than anything, want to hit those throws up the seams. Thomas is, by a wide margin, their best option in the middle of the field. Expect the rookie’s role to grow significantly coming out of the bye week. He could legitimately overtake Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead as Drew Brees’s most targeted receiver from here on in.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Hey look, it’s Cordarrelle Patterson! And he’s doing stuff! He was on the field for 36 offensive snaps in Week 4, and then 45 in Week 5. It’s enough to make him worth monitoring on the waiver wire, simply because the Vikings have always wanted to figure out a way to get him involved on offense. He’s used almost exclusively on bubble screens for now (and the impending return of Stefon Diggs cuts into his chances), but maybe his role expands as the year goes on.
Marcus Mariota: I remember this guy! Sunday’s win over the Dolphins was a chance for Mariota to show off what he could do before the Titans turned him into, as my podcast partner Andy Benoit astutely pointed out, Shaun Hill. Facing the Dolphins is always good for curing what ails ya, but if Mariota is more willing to run it (seven times for 60 yards and a TD on Sunday, all season highs) he’ll at least have QB2 appeal for the rest of the year.
Jonathan Stewart and Cameron Artis-Payne: Stewart seems to be on track to return on Sunday at New Orleans. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Artis-Payne was the most playable back on Carolina’s roster while Stewart is out. And with Stewart returning, Artis-Payne now has the most to lose. One quick note on Stewart: The Panthers have to be considering fewer carries for Cam Newton on the goal line. Stewart, who has just 18 touchdowns over 59 regular-season games since Newton came into the league, and Mike Tolbert, would stand to benefit.
Cam Newton: If he’s cleared for Sunday I’d start him in New Orleans. But it’s worrisome that the Panthers will resumably have to change their approach with Newton going forward. At the very least, they should pull back with him on the goal line. And from what I understand about fantasy football, fewer touchdowns would be a bad thing.
Carson Wentz: I’ve been asked about Wentz a lot, which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me since he’s been such a headliner early on in the season. But for fantasy purposes, make no mistake: Wentz is a fringe starter at best. Think of him as a better version of Alex Smith. He’ll rarely have games in which he bottoms out, but with the Eagles’ mediocre weapons and good defense there’s just not a ton of statistical upside.
C.J. Fiedorowicz: Part of the Texans’ mind-bendingly awful first draft class under Bill O’Brien, Fiedorowicz is getting onto the field more, finally moving ahead of Ryan Griffin in snap counts the past two weeks. With all of Houston’s problems on offense, tight ends will play an important role as check-down guys. Fiedorowicz has eight catches for 109 yards and a TD over the past two weeks combined, and is a low-end streaming option during bye-week season.
Brandon LaFell: The Cowboys effectively took A.J. Green out of the game on Sunday, leading to LaFell’s big day. He’ll go back to being more of a depth guy most weeks, trending down with the impending return of Tyler Eifert.
Martellus Bennett: Not a bad time to sell high. The Patriots have too many weapons for Bennett to consistently put up these kinds of numbers. Plus, of his two red zone touchdowns, he certainly wasn’t Brady’s first look on the first one and the progression on the second one seemed to move to Bennett only when a double team went to Gronkowski.
Tevin Coleman: It’s a tough matchup with the Seahawks this week, as Seattle has the linebackers who can run with Coleman when he splits out wide. But going forward it looks like he’ll have enough of a role in the passing game to hold onto RB2 value even while Devonta Freeman is healthy.
Phillip Dorsett: Like pretty much the entire Colts roster outside of Luck, Hilton and Gore, Dorsett has been immensely disappointing, especially with Donte Moncrief out. He’s a boom-or-bust streamer the next two weeks, with the hope that Hilton draws enough attention to open up Dorsett for a couple of big plays behind the Houston and Tennessee defenses.
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