The other day a friend of mine wondered if this is the most similar fantasy football has been to real life football, referencing the use of IR slots in fantasy which has become much more common this season. There’s also the fact that, just like fantasy managers, coaches and GMs are spending a lot more time in front of computer screens to get ready for game-day, instead of on the practice field. Coaches, GMs, and players are also incredibly frustrated by the rash of injuries across the league this season, as well as players (or teams) missing games because of positive COVID-19 test results. Of course, those involved in real football are likely infinitely more frustrated by all of this than any fantasy manager. Honestly, managing a fantasy football team will always pale in comparison to being a real coach of GM, but there are some parallels we can make that may help us with our fantasy teams.
This season, possibly more than ever before, NFL teams need to find the perfect balance between patience and making quick changes in the hopes they’ll make the team better. If you wait too long hoping an injured player returns, or an under-performing player turns it around, it could cost you some losses. Move on too quickly from that player to a lesser, but healthy, player, and your team might be worse off for it in the long run. It’s difficult to find that happy medium but it is often the key to success for both NFL and fantasy football teams.
If you have a player who isn’t meeting your expectations but everything about their situation, surrounding talent and opportunity on their team, makes you think they’ll turn it around, maybe you should hold on to them. If you see that type of player on another team maybe that’s a good buy low target for you. Although, it’s a lot easier to be that patient with a player if you already have a winning team, as opposed to a team with two or fewer losses so far this season. A team struggling to scrape together wins might be better off cutting bait and getting, whether via waivers or trade, a player who can produce right now. Wait too long to make a change and you could cost yourself a chance at the playoffs.
If you’re dealing with a player who has just been bad and there’s no reason to believe they’ll improve, get rid of them, ASAP. Especially if your team isn’t very good, you can’t afford to hold out hope for a lost cause when there are productive players on the waiver wire.
On the flip side, say you have an elite player but no depth behind them or a big hole at another position. A winning team has been lucky enough that that elite player is carrying their team and the team’s other deficiencies haven’t held the team back. As good as that elite player might be, for a team worried they might miss the playoffs trading them might be the best way to improve your team in the long run. See if you can get couple high-floor players and maybe one high upside, or high risk-high reward, player in exchange for your elite starter. It might hurt to trade such a good player but suddenly you have a much more complete roster. However, don’t wait too long to realize a change is needed, one loss can be the difference between the playoffs and the consolation bracket.
As always, the easiest to help yourself win each week is by reading this column.
QB: Justin Herbert (vs JAX) – Even without an NFL win to his name, Herbert has to be feeling good coming off of his first NFL bye week. The rookie knows he’s the starting quarterback going forward, he’s playing well, and he’s got a cake matchup. The loss of Austin Ekeler hasn’t kept the Chargers offense from humming along with Herbert at the helm. A 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio through his first four starts, and completing over 66% of his passes in three out of four games, has given Herbert some well-deserved job security. Against Jacksonville, Herbert has a good chance to get his first career NFL victory and the second of the season for the Chargers. The Jaguars have allowed either 300+ passing yards or multiple touchdowns in all but one game so far this season, as well as a league worst 73.4% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. With three 50-yard touchdown passes already, most in the NFL, Herbert has shown he’s not afraid to go after the big play, and has Mike Williams back in the fold to help with that. If you’ve been streaming quarterbacks get Herbert on your team, he’ll be plenty useful this week and down the stretch.
Also consider: Matt Ryan (vs DET) – Julio Jones missed practice Wednesday so make sure he’s playing before rolling out Ryan because clearly Ryan isn’t the same without Julio, but the matchup might be too good to pass up even without Julio, this should be a shootout. Matthew Stafford (@ ATL) – You always want to consider any quarterback facing the Falcons, and Stafford is on the other side of the likely shootout this week, he makes for a strong option.
RB: Justin Jackson (vs JAX) – This is looking like a good week to start your Chargers. Jackson gets the nod here over Josh Kelley after Jackson received 59% of the snaps in Week 5, to just 35% for Kelley. Jackson also got more action than the rookie, receiving 15 carries to Kelley’s 11, and five catches on six targets compared to Kelley’s one catch on one target. Jackson turned all of that into 94 total yards, while Kelley gained just 38 total yards. While we can’t be certain this is how the backfield split with break down moving forward, facing Jacksonville’s defense, both could be productive. The Jaguars have allowed over 100 yards rushing in four of six games so far this season, and just allowed three touchdowns to Detroit’s running backs. Yup, Jacksonville’s defense is bad. While you might be able to play Kelley as a flex this week, based on Week 5 Jackson has the higher ceiling thanks to his efficiency on the ground and use in the passing game.
Also consider: Phillip Lindsay (vs KC) – This totally depends on Melvin Gordon’s status. No Gordon, Lindsay can be the RB2 he was the last couple seasons. Gordon plays, Lindsay can still be a decent flex option. D’Andre Swift (@ ATL) – As the main pass catching running back for Detroit, Swift could be very active in a great matchup, especially coming off his best game of his rookie season.
WR: Jamison Crowder (vs BUF) – The Jets suck but Crowder really deserves plenty of recognition for his season so far. At least seven catches in each of the four games he’s played, over 100 yards in three of those four, and two touchdowns. That’s all happening as a New York Jet. In case you forgot from two sentences ago, the Jets are really bad. Through four games of Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco throwing him the ball, Crowder has 46 targets and at least 10 in every game. Somehow Crowder hasn’t been held back by the lack of talent around him. Buffalo does have Tre’Davious White but since Crowder runs the majority of his routes out of the slot he’ll have a much easier time against the Bills’ Taron Johnson. The Bills had allowed at least one passing touchdown to a wide receiver in every game until last week, so Crowder has a decent chance of finding the end-zone. Crowder remains the only viable fantasy starter on the dumpster fire that is the New York Jets.
Also consider: Cincinnati Bengals WRs (vs CLE) - Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and A.J. Green could all be viable in this one, that’s how bad the Browns pass defense has been. A.J. Brown (vs PIT) – Brown returned from injury with a bang last week. The Steelers defense is good but is vulnerable to wide receivers, giving Brown a good chance to keep his momentum going.
TE: Austin Hooper (@ CIN) – It feels like just yesterday that it seemed that Hooper would have a minimal role in the Browns offense, now he is surging back into relevance. He has back to back games of at least 50 receiving yards, and three straight games with at least six targets, with five catches in each of those three games. His 23 targets in the past three games are also more than Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have seen 21 and 20 targets respectively. Even if that’s Hooper’s ceiling in Cleveland’s offense, that’s a lot better than what many tight ends are giving you these days. Hooper has a good chance to continue this productivity against a Bengals defense that has allowed at least six catches and 58 yards to tight ends in four of six games this season. Just last week they allowed Trey Burton and Jack Doyle to combine for seven catches, 87 yards, and two touchdowns on just eight targets. It’s tough to trust Cleveland’s passing attack, but Hooper seems to have carved out a consistent role in the offense. That role plus a great matchup gives Hooper a good chance to be a TE1 for you this week.
*UPDATE* - Austin Hooper was ruled out for Sunday. He had appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy on Friday. Consider David Njoku a low-end streaming option in this plus matchup.
Also consider: Eric Ebron (@ TEN) – The Titans have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in every game but one, and just allowed a big game to Darren Fells, great chance for Ebron to reassert himself. T.J. Hockenson (@ ATL) – Bailed out fantasy owners last week with a touchdown but had been fairly reliable to start the season, and in case you hadn’t caught on, you can confidently start Lions players against the Falcons.
QB: Drew Brees (vs CAR) – It’s tough to endorse Brees in a week that screams for a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara (and Latavius Murray). Carolina has only allowed one quarterback to throw for more than one touchdown, but in that game Kyler Murray only threw for 133 yards. They’ve also only allowed one passer to throw for over 240 yards, and Justin Herbert only had one touchdown pass in that game. The Panthers also have an interception of four of six games so far, and as you might have expected, they’ve held wide receivers in check as well. On the other hand, only two teams have run for fewer than 100 yards against the Panthers, and those two teams are also the only ones to not score a rushing touchdown. Carolina is allowing 4.9 yards per rush. Michael Thomas may return this week, which would be a boon to Brees and the Saints passing attack, but why would they go away from Kamara? Brees is still highly accurate but he shouldn’t be expected to carry a team with his arm like the old days. There are likely better streaming options available.
Be wary about: Cam Newton (vs SF) – Can you really trust Cam or anyone on the Patriots offense? Cam’s best game came when he passed the ball 44 times which is unlikely to happen again this week. Jared Goff (vs CHI) – Having Goff here really just serves as a reminder that Chicago’s defense is really, really good.
RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (@ DEN) - Running back is as shallow as ever, so unless your team has absurd depth, you’re starting CEH, but there sure are a lot of reasons to fade him this week. First there’s the Chiefs addition of Le’Veon Bell. We don’t know if Bell will make his debut for Kansas City this week, and if so how much of a role he will have, but if he plays there’s a good chance he’s doing more than just usurping Darrel Williams touches. Maybe Bell gets a significant share of the redzone opportunities. While Edwards-Helaire hasn’t scored since Week 1, losing any of those high value touches would be a significant blow to the rookie’s ceiling. CEH has been active in the passing game as well, but Bell has been known as an elite pass-catching back throughout his career (or at least he was in Pittsburgh), so that’s another area we might see a shift in opportunities. That would especially be detrimental to those counting on CEH in PPR leagues. Second, even if Bell doesn’t play this week the Broncos defense is a difficult matchup for any running back. In Week 1 it took Derrick Henry 31 carries to get 116 yards rushing (3.7 yards per rush) against Denver. Week 2 did see James Conner go for 106 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, but in the following three weeks teams have averaged just 51.7 rushing yards against the Broncos. Until James White had 65 receiving yards on eight catches last week, Denver hadn’t allowed a running back to have over 24 yards through the air. Just because you’re starting CEH this week, or either of the two running backs you’ll read about below, doesn’t mean you need to feel good about it.
Be wary about: Derrick Henry (vs PIT) – None of Saquan Barkley, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Miles Sanders, and Kareem Hunt have gone for over 90 yards rushing against the Steelers, this won’t be easy for Henry. Josh Jacobs (vs TB) – Even more terrifying, the Bucs have held Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Christian McCaffrey, Melvin Gordon, David Montgomery, and Aaron Jones all under 60 yards rushing. Hold out hope for a touchdown or two.
WR: Henry Ruggs (vs TB) – It’s tempting to get Ruggs right back into lineups after he put up 118 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs in Week 1, but don’t think the rookie is suddenly a plug-and-play wide receiver. Those 118 yards came on two catches and he only saw three targets. He’s only seen 11 targets in his three games so far, and still hasn’t had more than three catches in a game. With Ruggs speed and talent he can break off a big gain at any time, but with such low volume it’s really a shot in the dark if it’ll happen again this week. Add in the fact that Derek Carr isn’t normally a deep ball passer and it’s extremely difficult to trust Ruggs. On top of his own situation, Ruggs has to face a Tampa Bay defense that just held the Packers wide receivers (including Davante Adams) to just ten catches for 109 yards. The Buccaneers have allowed just four touchdowns to opposing wide receivers through four games and have only allowed one team’s wide receivers to accumulate over 200 yards receiving this season. Ruggs could also see a decent amount of the Bucs’ solid, third year cornerback, Carlton Davis. With just one catch Ruggs could give you a good fantasy outing, but it’s a gamble that probably isn’t worth taking this week.
Be wary about: Davante Adams (@ HOU) – After a good not great return to action last week, Adams gets shadow treatment from Bradley Roby, one of the toughest matchups in the league this season. Los Angeles Rams WRs (vs CHI) – Once again, if you’re downgrading the quarterback, you probably have to downgrade the wide receivers, and Chicago’s defense is really, really good.
TE: Jared Cook (vs CAR) – Through the first six games, Carolina hasn’t allowed a single tight end to exceed 50 receiving yards, and they’ve only given up two touchdowns to tight ends. Those tight ends they’ve held in check include Darren Waller, Hunter Henry, Hayden Hurst, and Jimmy Graham. Cook is good but it seems unlikely he’ll outclass that group this week. Not helping Cook’s cause is the fact that he saw only three targets in back to back games, and has caught just three passes in three straight, and Michael Thomas didn’t play in either one. There was some though that Cook would see more volume in the passing game while Thomas was out, but that failed to materialize. Instead the Saints rode Alvin Kamara as both a rusher and receiver. Now Thomas might return, leaving even fewer targets available for Cook. As always, tight end is a very shallow position so Cook might be your best bet. Don’t expect much from him this week, hold out hope for a touchdown, but don’t be surprised if Cook leaves you hanging.
Be wary about: Chris Herndon (vs BUF) – The matchup is enticing but Herndon has done nothing to earn your trust this season, especially not after seeing zero targets last week. Darren Fells (vs GB) – If Jordan Akins is back Fells won’t see the field as much, and his great showing last week is unlikely a sign of things to come, especially against a Packers defense that is solid against tight ends.
Follow Moshe Kravitz on Twitter @MosheKravitz