Week 5 of the 2013 NFL season kicks off on Thursday evening, and a couple of the players in action for that matchup are among the critical start-and-sit options for fantasy football lineups.
This forthcoming list of offensive weapons to consider for this week consists of those who are either just now coming into their own in the league, past standouts who are struggling, or stars who aren't quite dependable on an every-game basis.
Check out the best semi-sleeper options—and the worst—to ensure that your fantasy matchup can be a less stress-inducing experience. A number of these options may even be floating around on the waiver wire.
Up: Eli Manning, New York Giants
Manning has had a rough go at it this season, forcing the ball often down the field and throwing nine interceptions.
Absent a competent rushing attack that is averaging 57.8 yards per game, the Giants don't have much choice but to go to the air. This is a system Manning has been in forever, and this is the week he will finally get back on track.
The NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles have been awful since their season-opening win on Monday Night Football.
Philadelphia's uptempo offense will give Manning plenty of opportunities to attack the league's 31st-ranked pass defense, which also can't stop the run. Look for New York to get its first win of 2013 and somehow force its way back into the division race.
Projections: 30-of-43 passing for 410 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Down: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Other than A.J. Green, it seems like the Bengals don't have many options on the outside for Dalton to target.
A pair of viable tight ends occupy the middle in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, but Dalton is looking shaky in his third season in the same offense.
Dalton tends to don the cape of Captain Checkdown at times, doesn't have great arm strength and is not accurate often enough to be a surefire, franchise-caliber quarterback.
B/R NFL expert Mike Freeman perhaps said it best:
Andy Dalton has regressed.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) September 29, 2013
The New England Patriots invade Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. Even with Pats nose tackle Vince Wilfork's torn Achilles injury, Dalton won't be dynamic enough to push the Bengals back over .500.
Up: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
If one has even a casual interest in the NFL, one has heard about the controversy CJ2K has generated since Week 4's win over the New York Jets.
Johnson ran for only 21 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for 10 yards, much to the chagrin of many a fantasy owner. His response was admirable in a sense, but also could have been avoided if he simply didn't listen to the trolls:
Public service announcement: I can care less about fantasy football. Key word fantasy. As long as we win I'm ... http://t.co/8mu7lqgOag— Chris Johnson (@ChrisJohnson28) September 30, 2013
Just to spite the doubters, the speedy playmaker is going to come back with a vengeance against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
As athletic as KC's front seven is, it is yielding 117.5 yards per game on the ground—24th in the league.
Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been thrust into starting duty after Jake Locker's hip injury. That would in all likelihood shift the game plan to a more Johnson-driven offense.
Projections: 20 carries, 110 yards, TD; 5 receptions, 60 yards, TD
Down: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Fresh off a bye week, fantasy owners should be feeling good about Williams' chances to put up good numbers with the rest.
Williams has started off 2013 on a far better pace in being the catalyst for the Panthers' No. 3 rushing attack, producing explosive plays of 10-plus yards at a more frequent rate:
Through 3 games, DeAngelo Williams has 9 rushes of 10+ yards. He had 17 all of last season.— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) September 26, 2013
But the veteran took a bit of a low blow at departed offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, as Williams implied that the new scheme is the reason he is playing better.
Easy there, Mr. Williams. It's only been three games, and defenses have plenty of time to adjust.
A road trip to face the Arizona Cardinals—against whom QB Cam Newton lit it up in his NFL debut 422 yards passing—will prove more difficult for Williams than the early part of the season. Arizona has the second-ranked rush defense, letting up an average of 75 yards per contest.
Up: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The young man is a beast, and he leads the league in receiving yards with 481. Only his lack of touchdowns is surprising, as he's had two through four games.
That's not enough to keep him out of the lineup though. Even with fellow receiver Roddy White missing only two offensive snaps on Sunday night against the Patriots, Jones managed to make his mark in a big way late.
Jones should be relied upon more in the red zone, where the Falcons failed to score a touchdown in five of six trips in falling to 1-3 last week.
Not only does Jones' incredible speed make him a dangerous deep threat, he has excellent vision in the open field, as he's second in yards after the catch:
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan succinctly summarized the problems Jones brings to the table:
Rex on Julio Jones: "That might be a problem." #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) October 2, 2013
Jones will bring the pain on Monday night in a must-win game for the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. With QB Matt Ryan's 34-6 career home record (h/t Pro-Football-Reference.com), it would be a shock for a team this talented to lose two weeks in a row on the big stage.
Projections: 10 receptions, 145 yards, 2 TD
Down: Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills
Last week's one catch for minus-one yard was not the type of performance a No. 1 wide receiver should have, but Johnson was frequently open. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel simply missed him on many of his six targets, as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com points out in a brilliant, detailed way.
Rodak also points out how Johnson has been dealing with an ailing hamstring, which doesn't bode well for him on a short week for Thursday night's encounter with the Cleveland Browns.
Johnson will be matched up with Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who shut down the Bengals' superstar wideout, A.J. Green, in Week 4.
The Browns are getting a lot of pressure on opposing QBs and are tied for third in the league with 14 sacks. Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo is living up to his billing as a top draft pick, and that's helping a lot on the back end.
Considering how well Haden is playing and the inexperience of Manuel, Johnson is someone who should not be relied upon this week.
Up: Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
On the other side of the coin of Thursday's prime-time showdown, the third-year tight end is now a must-start option.
Cameron has risen to stardom in placing 11th in the NFL in receiving yards with 360 and tied for third in touchdown receptions with five through four games.
In the fantasy spin section of Cameron's ESPN.com profile points, it is noted that the Bills have given up just 161 yards to tight ends through four games.
B/R expert Matt Miller also believes the Browns offense is in trouble once defenses figure out how to stop the 25-year-old playmaker:
As soon as a defense learns to take away Jordan Cameron, the #Browns are in trouble. Until then, enjoy the winning.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 29, 2013
With all due respect, this is disagreeable, because that implies with a tone of inevitability that defenses will be able to shut Cameron down.
Miller did follow up with this tweet, though, implying that a banged-up Bills secondary won't be able to handle the league's current No. 2 receiver at the tight end position:
New quarterback Brian Hoyer has lit a fire under this Cleveland team, is getting the ball out quick and is placing it in all the right locations. The return of Josh Gordon in Week 3 has also made things far easier on the other Browns' playmakers, including Cameron.
Projections: 8 receptions 105 yards, 2 TD
Down: Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts
A knee-jerk reaction will be to add Fleener this week after he caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown last week.
Which tight end's team got the better end of the Trent Richardson trade?
Pump the brakes.
First of all, the opponent was a horrendous Jacksonville Jaguars team that might go 0-16.
Fleener does have the benefit of playing under his college offensive coordinator in Pep Hamilton and his ex-roommate at Stanford in Andrew Luck. In weighing those factors, Fleener should be far more consistent than he's been.
The Seattle Seahawks are a different beast on defense, with linebackers in K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner capable of dropping in coverage, on top of a deep cornerback corps consisting of Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell in addition to Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
Sherman is capable of facing up to Reggie Wayne one-on-one, which won't allow as many favorable matchups as Fleener might be used to.