Week 5 of the NFL season is going to hurt most owners more this year than in years past due to the sheer amount of injuries to fantasy starters we've seen this season. Ty Montgomery and Davante Adams went down last week, further testing fantasy owners' knowledge and skill.
The waiver wire is where many will find their flex and bye week starters, so I am going to let you know who the contenders are and who the pretenders are so you don't make the wrong choices.
Latavius Murray: Murray is the new starter in Minnesota after rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in Week 4. Murray has been productive as a starter before with the Raiders. The problem is Murray still isn't 100 percent healthy from offseason ankle surgery, and is now being added as if he is the bell cow RB for the Vikings. What we are more likely to see is a mixture of Murray and Jerick McKinnon, limiting both of their possible upsides.
Wayne Gallman: Gallman is climbing up the Giants depth chart, and needs to be owned in most leagues. Paul Perkins may be the starter for now, but he has been one of the least productive backs in the NFL with a 1.9 YPC average this season. Orleans Darkwa is still involved, but Gallman gained 42 yards on 11 carries in Week 3, and added 2 catches for 8 yards and a touchdown. He's worth stashing, but only play him as a flex for now.
Will Fuller: Fuller opened some eyes last weekend with 35 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in his first game back from a broken collarbone he suffered in the preseason. While the overall fantasy points are appealing, owners need to remember that he had only 35 receiving yards on his 4 catches. If you take out the multiple touchdowns, his day was very pedestrian. Deshaun Watson isn't going to throw 4 TDs every week, and Fuller certainly isn't going to catch 2 of them every time he does. Fuller is a TD-dependent WR who is likely going to disappoint more than he surprises.
Aaron Jones: Jones is most likely going to be the Packers starter this week as they go on the road to take on the Cowboys. With Montgomery dealing with broken ribs, and Jamaal Williams dealing with a banged up knee, Jones will be in the running for flex play consideration against a Cowboys defense that has given up the an average of 20.2 PPG to fantasy RBs this season. However, with it being possible that both Montgomery and Williams are active in Week 5, owners need to understand that he is likely to be a one-game add only.
Last, but not least, I am staying away from all Seahawks RBs. Eddie Lacy has been nothing short of a bust since 2014; Thomas Rawls can't walk from here to there without injuring himself; C.J. Prosise is clearly only viewed as a passing-down back; J.D. McKissic is a converted WR that has a LOT to prove before we call him a running back. At best we see Lacy figuring things out and taking the starter role. More than likely we see a 3- or 4-headed beast at RB that siphons any value that any one of the guys might have.
Jameis Winston – Buccaneers: Winston has a dream matchup for the Bucs' 3rd game of the season as they take on the most generous defense in the NFL, the Patriots, at home. Not only that, but Doug Martin returns from his suspension. The addition of Martin adds a running dynamic to the offense that it was lacking with Jacquizz Rodgers filling in.
Winston is a top-5 QB option for me this weekend, and someone well worth sticking in there if you also own Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, or Marcus Mariota.
Carson Palmer – Cardinals: Did you know that Palmer has thrown more passes (183) than any other QB in the NFL? The downside to all of that throwing is that he has thrown 5 INTs to his 5 TDs. It also doesn't help that the Cardinals are forced to roll out Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington as their backfield duo.
With no real running game to lean on, Palmer is being forced to throw the ball about 45 times per game. With all that throwing, Palmer is averaging 320.5 YPG this season. With the Patriots giving up an average of 328.2 YPG passing, it is safe to assume that Palmer could eclipse the 300-yard mark for the 4th straight game.
Bilal Powell – Jets: Powell had himself a game last week, racking up 47.5 fantasy points in PPR formats. This week he draws a Browns defense that just gave up 17.1 points to Giovani Bernard, and another 15.3 points to Joe Mixon.
Obviously the Jets offense is hard to trust. But the Browns have given up the 4th-most points (104) this season to opposing offenses. Of those 104 points, 24 of them were to running backs. Consider Powell a strong RB2 play with upside.
DeMarco Murray – Titans: Murray is not only nursing a hamstring injury, but he is also splitting carries with Derrick Henry, making fantasy owners wonder who between them to play from week to week. It is true that Murray hasn't logged more than 14 carries in a game this season, but he has managed to turn those limited touches into 54.30 fantasy points.
The Titans take on the Dolphins this week, and their defense has given up solid fantasy performances to Melvin Gordon, Bilal Powell, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram already this season. I wouldn't expect Murray to break any records this week, but RB2 numbers are within his grasp.
DeSean Jackson – Buccaneers: Jackson hasn't really done much in his 3 games this season, averaging just 3 catches and 47.7 yards per game. This week he gets the Patriots, and like with Winston, I am expecting big things from him. New England is giving up 27.0 PPG to fantasy WRs this season, 2nd-most in the NFL when you take into account the Bucs have played one less game than the Patriots due to their Week 1 bye.
Jackson is still behind Mike Evans for targets, but there should be plenty to go around with Tom Brady slinging the ball, and the Patriots defense being the best offensive weapon available. Consider D-Jax a WR2 for this weekend.
Randall Cobb – Packers: With Devante Adams out with a concussion, Cobb steps into the WR2 role for the Packers passing oriented attack. Aaron Rodgers has attempted the 3rd-most passes in the NFL this season at 160, and has completed the 3rd-most at 107. When a QB is that willing to throw, and that accurate, good things are in store for his WRs.
Cobb has quietly racked up 19 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown so far, but I am looking for him to add another 75-plus yards and maybe another touchdown to that total this week.
Charles Clay – Bills: It's not that the Bengals defense is bad. In fact, the Bengals are ranked as the 3rd-best defense at stopping fantasy TEs this season. However, with Jordan Matthews now out at least a month for the Bills, that leaves Tyrod Taylor with Zay Jones and Andre Holmes as his top WRs. The Bills are the most run-committed team in the NFL, but when they throw, they will throw to Clay more often than most teams target their TEs.
Clay is more of a bye week filler at TE, or someone to consider if you've been putting up with low numbers from guys like Hunter Henry and Eric Ebron all season. He has more value in PPR than standard format, but value nonetheless for a TE.
Baltimore Ravens defense: The Ravens defense isn't what it was back in 2000, but not many defenses in the history of the NFL have been. With that said, this year's defense is still ranked 7th overall for fantasy defenses with 59.5 points. A big reason for that is LB C.J. Mosley and his 31 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception.
The Ravens take on the Derek Carr-less Raiders in Oakland this week, and are in the running for a top 2-3 finish if things go as they should. I'd consider them as a strong streaming option since they are owned in roughly only 60 percent of fantasy leagues right now.
Jered Goff – Rams: I have to admit, Goff has done a 180 this season and has looked the part of a possible franchise QB for the Rams. The addition of Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp at WR have certainly given him the weapons he needed to make a 2nd-year jump. With that said, I'd consider benching him this week as he takes on a stout Seahawks secondary.
The Seahawks are ranked as the 5th-best defense against fantasy QBs, allowing just 14.9 PPG to them this season. They've allowed just 792 passing yards this season, which equates to 198 YPG passing. In a week when players are already limited due to the byes, owners might have no other option than to play Goff. Consider playing someone like Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, or Carson Palmer, guys who are all available on many waiver wires.
Jacoby Brissett – Colts: Brissett is obviously not someone you want starting for you on a normal basis. But with the bye weeks here, and some leagues thin at the QB position, you might be looking at the matchup against the 49ers and think it is an enticing gamble. Not so much.
The 49ers racked up 6 sacks against the Cardinals last week, and now have 9 sacks for the season to go along with their 2 INTs and 3 fumble recoveries. San Francisco isn't an elite defense by any stretch, but Brissett shouldn't be used outside of 2QB leagues where he is the 2nd option. Don't get cute and think he is a sleeper pick this week.
Javorius "Buck" Allen – Ravens: Allen was supposed to step into the passing-down role left vacant when Danny Woodhead was sent to the I.R. with a hamstring injury. And while he has averaged 5.3 catches per game in that role, he has turned those catches into just 21.3 yards per game. Allen is one of those guys that has more NFL value than fantasy value, and I am starting to cut bait with him in favor of other hot FAs like Murray, Gallman, and even a TE like Greg Olsen as a stash.
Alex Collins is making a name for himself with strong runs, but he can't seem to get over the fumbling problems that plagued him in college. You can see that those ball security issues are already wearing thin with Coach John Harbaugh, making him a risk to be benched at any moment. Even if Collins is benched, Allen hasn't been as productive as we had hoped, making him a risky flex play against the Raiders' middle-of-the-road defense.
Marshawn Lynch – Raiders: Speaking of the Raiders and RBs I am done with, let's talk about the artist formerly known as "BEASTMODE." Lynch's best game of the season was in Week 1, when he carried the ball 18 times for 76 yards and hauled in a pass for 16 more yards. Since then, Lynch has just 27 carries for 75 yards, with the last 2 games accounting for 15 carries and 30 yards.
With Carr out, I would expect the Ravens to stack the box and force Manuel to throw or scramble. If they do that, Lynch will be looking at another 2-3 YPC game when it is over.
Will Fuller – Texans: As I said above, Fuller shocked the fantasy world by racking up 18.4 fantasy points in his first game of the season. But like I also said, unless he catches 2 TDs per game, he will disappoint owners who are chasing stats.
Fuller gets a Chiefs defense that has given up the 11th-most fantasy points to WRs this season, so there is that. My point in putting him here is for owners to be aware, and beware, of how he got those 18.4 points. He had only 35 receiving yards on 4 catches, which means he got 8.8 yards per reception, which isn't exactly good for a WR. He's more of a bye week WR4 than the WR3 people are playing him as.
Jeremy Maclin – Ravens: Jeremy Maclin is a symptom of the problem that is the Ravens offense this season. Take last week for instance: Joe Flacco threw 49 passes against the Steelers, and Maclin was targeted just 6 times. The 6 targets tied him for the 2nd-most, but he was tied with Michael Campanaro, Buck Allen, and Ben Watson. There is no reason a WR like Maclin should be tied with Campanaro and Watson.
I've just lost faith in Maclin and his ability to draw enough looks from Flacco to be a productive fantasy player. Even with the Raiders having a middle-of-the-road defense, Maclin owners can only hope he gets a touchdown to salvage his day.
Eric Ebron – Lions: As we all know, TE is an all-or-nothing position in fantasy football, and the drop-off after Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz is a steep one. Ebron was my preseason sleeper pick, and while he has managed to be tied with the 14th-most targets for a TE (19), he has turned all those targets into an 11/87/1 line. That is right – 87 yards receiving in 4 games!
Simply put, 2.75 receptions and 21.8 yards per game won't do much for fantasy owners in any format. If Ebron can't establish himself as a real redzone threat, he doesn't have any tangible value. Consider grabbing Evan Engram or Cameron Brate if you own Ebron.
Houston Texans defense: Outside of Week 1 when the Jaguars thumped the Texans, their defense has been fairly reliable in fantasy circles. Even with netting just 3.8 fantasy points in Week 1, the Texans are the 8th-best fantasy defense with 58.7 points this season. They have managed to record 10.0 sacks, 4 INTs, 3 recovered fumbles, and 2 defensive touchdowns in the last 3 games.
Given all that praise, I'd still sit them against an undefeated Chiefs team that is looking mighty strong behind ROY candidate Kareem Hunt. The Texans secondary is banged up and missing key pieces, and Alex Smith is playing like a man whose fire was relit after the Chiefs drafted a rocket-armed QB in Patrick Mahomes. Don't cut them, though; instead, stash them for their Week 6 matchup against the helpless Cleveland Browns offense.