NFL Week 5 start 'em or sit 'em


QUARTERBACKS


START: BEN ROETHLISBERGER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Philadelphia Eagles have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the quarterback position this season, but a lot of that has to do with the beating they imposed on Nick Mullens. They also faced Dwayne Haskins Jr. in Week 1 — he's now been regulated to bench duties in favor of Kyle Allen. In Weeks 2 and 3, the Eagles faced Joe Burrow and Jared Goff who both posted over 23 fantasy points. They each threw for multiple touchdowns and averaged just under 300 yards passing.

The Eagles’ biggest weakness is slot cornerback Nickel Robey-Coleman, so I would expect Big Ben to expose the matchup there with JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Eagles' defense does rank first in the league in total pressures, which is why I think they're interesting DST to stream this week, but the advantage still goes to Roethlisberger. His OL has PFF’s fifth-highest pass-blocking grade (79.3) — he has seen pressure on just 22.2% of his dropbacks, the sixth-lowest percentage in the league.

And even if the Eagles can get pressure, Roethlisberger has the eighth-best passer rating (93.8) under pressure this season. 


START: TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, CAROLINA PANTHERS 

Teddy Bridgewater was a highlighted in the waiver wire column this week, because he is a plug-and-play option at the quarterback position this week. 

He has thrown for at least 235 yards in each of his four games this season, which has vaulted him inside the top-six among quarterbacks in total passing yards (1,148).

The Atlanta Falcons bleed fantasy points to quarterbacks (most allowed this season). With the way Bridgwater has been playing and the fact he's going up against this defense, he's a starting QB1 option in Week 5. 

SIT: MATT RYAN, ATLANTA FALCONS

So far this season, we have seen two games in which Matt Ryan has either played without Julio Jones for the entire game or half of one. In those games, he has one touchdown pass and has failed to eclipse more than 13 fantasy points in either contest.

The Carolina Panthers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to the quarterback position — this is a not a spot where I want to be playing Ryan. We see quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers rise up when their top playmakers are down for the count, but in Ryan’s case he truly fails to live up to the Falcon’s hashtag mantra of #RiseUpATL.


RUNNING BACKS


START: RONALD JONES, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Leonard Fournette is looking doubtful for Thursday night. His availability is going to be a game-time decision, but I'm not optimistic about his chances of playing.

Fournette has a history of ankle injuries, so even if were to play he would most likely be limited. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are prepared to enter their game with just two running backs active — Ronald Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

We saw Jones post great numbers on the ground as the primary running back in Week 4 — over 100 rushing yards at 5.5 yards per rushing attempt — despite the fact that the Los Angeles Chargers had held opposing running backs to just north of 65 rushing yards per game.

Part of the Chargers' success was because they'd been run on at the third-lowest clip in the NFL. When running backs did carry the ball, they racked up 5.5 yards per attempt.

The Chicago Bears’ defense presents a similar scenario. Through the first three weeks of the season, teams ran versus the Bears at the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL (32.7%). It jumped up to 38.6% (18th) after the Bears faced the run-heavy Indianapolis Colts in Week 4.

Any time the Bears have been attacked in the ground game versus an average offense (sorry New York Giants fans) they've allowed 4.4 yards per rushing attempt to opposing running backs. The lead running backs they faced all averaged 5.2 yards per rushing attempt and 80 rushing yards.


The Bears have allowed the second-highest percentage of explosive run plays (10-plus yards) on the year. Jones has six rushes this season of at least 10-plus yards, three of which came last week. 

Week 4 also marked a career-high in touches (26) for Jones and was his second game this year with at least 19 touches. Even after a lackluster performance in the passing game — two drops last week, which could lead to more pass work for Vaughn — Jones should see enough targets to satisfy fantasy managers based on the injuries across the board for the Buccaneers.

START: DEVONTA FREEMAN, NEW YORK GIANTS

If you added Devonta Freeman a few weeks back, chances are you're probably hurting at the running back position. Freeman hardly lit the world on fire in Week 4, but his overall uptick in snaps (14 to 35), carries (five to 11) and targets (zero to four) gives me confidence that he can be a RB2/FLEX play this week against the Dallas Cowboys.

After all, we saw the Cowboys get man-handled in the trenches last week to the tune of 228 rushing yards to Cleveland Browns’ running backs.

The Cowboys have also faced the second-most rushing attempts this season to running backs, so the volume should be there for Freeman. 

SIT: JOSHUA KELLEY, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Austin Ekeler won’t be available after suffering a major injury in Week 4, which will elevate Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson into expanded roles on the offense. 

But the likelihood of Kelley being much more involved than Jackson is a hard narrative to buy into. After Ekeler’s injury in Week 4, the two split carries with nine going to Kelley and six going to Jackson. Neither rushed for more than 10 yards on the day.

Going back the three weeks prior, Ekeler (51%) and Kelley (47%) essentially split the carries 50/50. 

The Chargers have run a two-back system all season, and that is likely going to continue in both the running and passing game. Kelley (13 routes run, three targets) and Jackson (eight routes run, two targets) saw almost equal opportunities to fill Ekeler’s void in the passing game in Week 4. 

This is going to be a split backfield, and that isn’t going to make things easy in a tough matchup against the Saints. New Orleans has allowed just 3.5 yards per attempt this season to opposing running backs and boasts PFF’s 10th-highest-graded run-defense (64.1).

The only running backs to score double-digit fantasy points against the Saints either scored TDs or had at least 18 touches. Kelley (12) and Jackson (eight) combined for 20 touches last week. 


WIDE RECEIVERS


START: D.J. MOORE, CAROLINA PANTHERS

D.J. Moore currently ranks 11th in targets (32) among wide receivers but just 31st in fantasy points. Meanwhile, free agent addition Robby Anderson has established himself as the No. 1 wide receiver in Carolina, ranking eighth in targets (34) and ninth in fantasy points.

Moore's reduced production has a lot to do with how the new coaching staff is using him. Instead of running short-to-intermediate routes, Moore’s team-leading aDOT (12.8) is a reflection of his new role as the primary deep threat.

Anderson is the receiver who is benefiting from the underneath usage which has helped him post some of the best YAC stats in the league. His 6.9 YAC per reception is well above his career-high and ranks 10th in NFL among wide receivers with at least 15 targets.


But the matchup versus the Falcons could be exactly what Moore and his deep threat role need. The Falcons have allowed the most deep ball pass attempts (26) and third-most deep pass completions (11) this season, so Moore needs to be entrenched in lineups.

Last season in two games against the Falcons, Moore averaged 11 targets, six catches and 88 receiving yards.

DARIUS SLAYTON, NEW YORK GIANTS

Darius Slayton has suffered tremendously in the Giants’ offense over the past two weeks. He has only six catches and has averaged under eight fantasy points per game.

But, on the other hand, Slayton has seen seven targets per game and owns 38% of the team’s total air yards. He is a big play waiting to happen as the team’s primary outside wide receiver, and that position has absolutely killed the Cowboys this season.

Dallas has allowed the highest passer rating (140.1) and touchdown percentage (18.2%) against passes to perimeter receivers this season. Eight of their nine league-leading touchdown passes allowed to wide receivers this season have gone to receivers lined up outside. 

SIT: T.Y. HILTON, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

You might glance at T.Y. Hilton’s matchup versus the Cleveland Browns and think this is the spot he finally gets it going after a slow start. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bade news, but this ain’t it, chief.

Hilton is going to see a ton of cornerback Denzel Ward this week — he's PFF’s sixth-highest-graded CB (76.5) entering Week 5. 

We also have to consider that the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns enter this game ranking first (57.1%) and second (56.5%), respectively, in run play percentage over the past three weeks. This run-heavy game flow is going to eat up clock and limit Hilton’s ability to make plays in the passing game.

I’d honestly feel more comfortable starting Zach Pascal — he's been the more productive fantasy player dating back to Week 8 of the 2019 season and gets the much better matchup in the slot versus the Browns.

The Browns have allowed the second-most targets, third-most catches, second-most yards and third-highest passer rating to slot wide receivers this season. 


TIGHT ENDS


START: ROB GRONKOWSKI, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The stage is set for Rob Gronkowski to put up a solid fantasy performance on Thursday night. He's coming off a week in which he received multiple downfield looks from Tom Brady — and there are targets up for grabs now that O.J. Howardhas been placed on injured reserve.

Gronkowski’s usage in the offense has also been on the uptick. After averaging less than 20 routes run and two targets per game over the first two weeks, he has averaged 29 routes run per game and five targets per game over the last two weeks. Those total both rank inside the top 15 among tight ends over the past two weeks.


The Chicago Bears have also allowed the third-most targets to tight ends inside the 10-yard line. Gronkowski ranks second to only Mike Evans on targets inside the 10-yard line (three) on the Bucs.

He also has the third-most favorable matchup per PFF’s TE matchup chart with coverage from linebacker Roquan Smith.

IAN THOMAS, CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ian Thomas ranks 14th in the NFL among tight ends in routes run this season (109) and saw more targets (five) this past week than he did through the first three weeks combined (four). He was able to haul in one of his targets for a touchdown, so that makes him a sneaky start in a  favorable matchup in Week 5.

The Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points per game to the tight end position.

Thomas got his first start in 2019 versus the Falcons and saw a season-high in targets (nine) and receiving yards (57). In his short career, Thomas has scored only four touchdowns, but two have come against the Falcons. 

SIT: MIKE GESICKI, MIAMI DOLPHINS

It’s hard to ignore how well the San Francisco 49ers have played versus the tight end position this season. They've allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, capped off by limiting Zach Ertz to just nine receiving yards in Week 4.

Usually the saving grace with Mike Gesicki is that he runs out of the slot and can escape bad matchups for tight ends. That’s also not the case here. 

The 49ers have allowed the second-fewest passing yards and just one passing touchdown to players lined up in the slot this season. They also rank second on defense in passer rating generated on passes to the slot (77.5).

Factor in that Gesicki has just 30 receiving yards and six targets over the past two weeks — he needs to be on the bench this week. 

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