Fantasy Football Week 5 Sleepers at Every Position
The first month of the 2017 NFL season is complete, and just like those that came before it, Week 4 was filled with surprises.
The top fantasy quarterback of Week 4 was a rookie making his third career start who threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in a record-setting scoring performance by his team.
Two of the top 12 fantasy tailbacks of Week 4 were members of the New York Jets. And in Elijah McGuire's case, the only people who even knew that he was on the team were McGuire and his mother.
OK, so she might have been caught off guard too.
The No. 2 wide receiver of Week 4 was averaging about 30 yards a game over his career and had never caught two touchdown passes in the same contest. So of course he more than doubled that average and scored twice.
The top three tight ends of Week 4 were a who's who of "who?"—Tyler Kroft of the Cincinnati Bengals, Cameron Brate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and A.J. Derby of the Denver Broncos.
That last one sounds like a made-up person, but as it turns out he's real.
Just as with every week so far this season, many of the top fantasy scorers were folks few expected much from.
But now, it's time to look ahead and try to peg the surprising stars for Week 5.
Before we get into the Week 5 recommendations, let's look back at the Week 4 calls to see who came up big and who shrank from the spotlight.
If a player I recommended finishes inside weekly starter territory (the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, top 24 running backs and top 36 wide receivers), I'm calling that a "win." Otherwise...not so much.
Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver Broncos (179 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 1 rushing yard, QB25): Siemian's matchup with the Raiders looked a lot more favorable than it would up being. The curse of the Sleeper of the Week lives on. LOSS
Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings (219 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, QB30): The moral of this story is this—do not ever count on Case Keenum being more than, well, Case Keenum. LOSS
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (283 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception, 24 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, QB1): Watson put on quite a show against the Tennessee Titans, totaling five touchdowns and leading the Texans to a franchise-record 57 points. WIN
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks (12 carries, 42 yards, 3 catches, 24 yards, RB34): The Seahawks got a big win Sunday at home, but it came at a price. Carson was carted off the field with a broken leg that landed the youngster on injured reserve. LOSS
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (5 carries, 18 yards, 9 receptions, 86 yards, RB12): Ellington didn't gain 20 rushing yards, but his making nine catches is a PPR fantasy owner's dream. WIN
Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (10 carries, 34 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 receptions, 45 yards, RB14): The Eagles absolutely hammered the Los Angeles Chargers on the ground, and Smallwood enjoyed a nice piece of that pie. WIN
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (7 catches, 70 yards, 2 touchdowns, WR2): I stuck to my guns on Funchess despite the fact Kelvin Benjamin was active. Sometimes you have to know when to follow your gut. WIN
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (5 receptions, 60 yards, 1 touchdown, WR13): Don't look now, but the Rams are pretty good. And Kupp is in the conversation as a legit weekly starter as a fantasy WR3. WIN
Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (5 catches, 115 yards, 1 touchdown, WR5): Hitting on two of the top five wide receivers in fantasy football as "sleeper" picks either makes me look really good or really lucky. WIN
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders (3 receptions, 46 yards, TE25): This is another case of a favorable matchup just not panning out, although the Derek Carr injury didn't help matters. LOSS
Ryan Griffin, TE, Houston Texans (2 catches, 13 yards, TE40): Griffin had a huge Week 3, but the fifth-year veteran faded back into the mists of obscurity Sunday despite Deshaun Watson's big day. LOSS
Cincinnati Bengals Defense/Special Teams (215 yards allowed, 7 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 interception, DST7): You can vault the Cleveland Browns to the top of the list of offenses to target if you're playing matchups with team defenses. WIN
WEEK 4 TOTAL: 7/12 (.583)
One week after my worst group of recommendations of the season, I hit on more than half for the second time in four weeks, including a clean sweep of the wide receivers and tabbing three players who finished inside the top five at their respective positions in Week 4.
For the season, I'm batting an even .500. Given that these are far from obvious picks, that's not bad at all.
SEASON TOTAL: 24/48 (.500)
Sleeper of the Week
Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings (at CHI)
Injury was added to insult for the Minnesota Vikings in last Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions. Not only did the Vikings drop a listless offensive effort 14-7, but they lost dynamic rookie tailback Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL.
The Vikings will now turn to veteran running back Latavius Murray, who they signed to a three-year, $15 million deal back in March, to carry the backfield load. Murray has carried the ball sparingly after offseason ankle surgery, but the 27-year-old told Matthew Coller of ESPN Twin Cities he's ready to pick up the slack.
"I don't think it matters how it is, I have to be ready just like today," Murray said. "Unfortunately things happen, so it's not about whether I'm ready or what type of rhythm I have; I need to be ready when my number is called."
Murray isn't close to the talent Cook is. He's averaging just 2.7 yards a carry this year, and while he scored 12 touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders last year and topped 1,000 yards on the ground the year before, Murray managed just four yards a carry in both of those campaigns.
Given that paltry average and the fact the Chicago Bears rank 26th in fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2017, it's fair to question why Murray is listed in here.
The answer is attrition.
At inside linebacker, the Bears have lost Jerrell Freeman to a torn pectoral. Then they lost Nick Kwiatkoski to the same injury. Then they lost Danny Trevathan to a suspension. Their starters inside on Monday night will be Christian "Cheese" Jones and John Timu.
Oh, and starting strong safety Quintin Demps is on injured reserve.
The run lanes will be there for Murray.
Jay Cutler, QB, Miami Dolphins (vs. TEN)
Stop looking at me like that.
Yes, Jay Cutler and the Miami Dolphins have looked terrible offensively over the past two games. During that span, Cutler is averaging fewer than 200 passing yards a game with a pair of interceptions. The Dolphins have scored a grand total of one touchdown over the last two weeks.
After being shut out by one of the worst defenses in the NFL in the New Orleans Saints last week, there have been grumbles for Cutler to be benched. However, head coach Adam Gase came to the veteran signal-caller's defense while speaking to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
"I know where the ball is supposed to go," Gase said. "I know who is supposed to do what on every play. If we protect him and give him a second to throw the ball, we'll be all right. If he is going to get hit from start to finish, I don't care who you put back there. We need to do a better job of protecting him and being where we're supposed to be."
Does it take guts to roll Cutler out there after he failed to do much of anything against the Saints a week ago? Absolutely.
But consider this: The Tennessee Titans are surrendering the second-most fantasy points to the quarterback position. No team in the National Football League has allowed more passing touchdowns than Tennessee's 11.
And while it hasn't shown yet, it's not like the Dolphins don't have receiving talent.
The Dolphins will get right through the air Sunday, and Cutler will benefit.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants (vs. LAC)
It's been a nightmarish season for the New York Giants. After making the playoffs in 2016, the G-Men have lost their first four games. Their crushing last-second defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all but ended their postseason chances.
However, lost amid the rubble and tears of Giants fans is the fact that of late, New York's problems haven't been the fault of its star quarterback.
And yet, with the Giants falling apart, Manning has been rendered a fantasy afterthought.
Per James Kratch of NJ.com, Manning told Mike Francesca of WFAN Radio that he isn't giving up on the season. "I still think we're a good team," Manning said. "We're playing pretty good football, but we're not playing great football. There's not many mistakes being made. Guys are doing the right things. We've just got to do it better."
Fantasy football owners shouldn't give up on Manning yet, either—not heading into a home matchup with a similarly winless Los Angeles Chargers team.
It's only a middle-of-the-pack fantasy matchup, and you can call it a gut call.
But Manning tops 300 yards Sunday and tosses at least two touchdowns, and Big Blue gets win No. 1.
Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (at OAK)
This isn’t the first appearance by a Ravens back in this column this year, but given the state of the Baltimore running game of late, the “sleeper” status of their revolving door of runners remains intact.
Sure, the Ravens rank ninth in the NFL in rushing, at 127.2 yards per game. But most of that damage was done earlier in the season. In last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens managed just 82 yards on the ground, and almost all of that damage was done by second-year pro Alex Collins.
For the second week in a row Collins topped 80 yards on the ground despite less than 10 carries, but for the second time in three weeks Collins lost a fumble against Pittsburgh. Neither he nor Terrance West appear to be able to nail down the job of early-down back, because neither appears to be able to hold onto the football.
Still, head coach John Harbaugh told Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun he feels Collins’ fumbling woes are correctable.
“We’re working on the way he carries the ball a little bit technique-wise. He’s got one or two things that are an issue that we’re trying to fix. I do think in his case, it can be corrected. I think he’s very conscious of it,” Harbaugh said.
Collins has easily been the most impressive runner of the Ravens’ three backs this season, and if Harbaugh indeed hasn’t lost faith in the second-year pro there could be some room to rumble (and a chance at a short-yardage score) against Oakland’s 24th-ranked run defense.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts (vs. SFO)
There isn't a minimum age to be included in this week's "sleepers" piece. Things are just sort of working out that way with many of the picks.
If Frank Gore hasn't been asleep to this point in the 2017 season, he's certainly been napping. Through four games, Gore has looked every bit of 34 years of age. He's averaging just 3.1 yards a carry in his 13th NFL season—over half a yard less than in any other season of his career.
Gore may still be rostered in most fantasy leagues, but he's been glued to the majority of benches.
With the likes of Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons on a bye this week, it's time to use Gore.
For starters, the running back has at least (to this point in the season) been able to salvage a modicum of fantasy value from a couple of short touchdowns. A PPR ranking of 30th among fantasy tailbacks at the quarter pole isn't great, but it could be worse.
There's a good chance Gore will at least get a third touchdown in Week 5 when the Colts host the San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners aren't as bad against the run this year as they were in 2016, if only because that isn't possible. But they are still just a middle-of-the-pack team in yardage allowed (106.0) and have surrendered more fantasy points to the tailback position than all but two teams.
Look for old man Frankie to have his best game of the year against his old team.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Seattle Seahawks (at LAR)
Two weeks ago against the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks tailback Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch.
Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, it’s possible Lacy will be the lead running back.
Because football is weird.
In last week’s blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts, it was Thomas Rawls who was scratched. But while Lacy was active, he took a back seat to youngster Chris Carson.
With Carson now on injured reserve with a broken leg, it’s back to the drawing board for a Seattle ground game that has struggled this year.
Lacy had easily his best game of his Seahawks tenure against the Colts, picking up 52 yards on 11 carries. As Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reported, the effort didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Pete Carroll.
"I really liked the way that Eddie played," Carroll said. "I thought he looked great, maxed out his opportunities and looks like it’s going to be a real nice fit for us. We are excited about that."
Carroll’s excitement level is debatable given that this is approximately the 11th plan for the Seahawks running the ball in 2017—something they have not done well with consistency this season. And both Rawls and passing-down back C.J. Prosise are going to see touches as well.
However, Lacy showed more last week than he’s shown at any point since joining the team, and Sunday, Seattle draws a Rams team that has allowed the most fantasy points to running backs in 2017.
Think of starting Lacy as a 30-yard out-route with less than a minute left and no timeouts. It’s not a high-percentage play, but sometimes you just need the points and have to roll the dice.
Jaron Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals (at PHI)
In Week 1, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown threw up a big fat zero against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. This didn't matter to fantasy owners, since he was started by almost nobody.
That's been steadily changing ever since, both statistically and regarding his fantasy usage.
In Week 2, Brown hauled in four passes for 73 yards against the Colts. The following week, in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Brown caught just two balls, but one was for a touchdown. Last week, in a win over the San Francisco 49ers, Brown caught eight passes for 105 yards—the first 100-yard effort of his five-year NFL career.
For those keeping track, that's three straight games with double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues.
With John Brown banged up and tailback David Johnson on injured reserve, Jaron Brown has emerged as Carson Palmer's No. 2 target in the passing game. Per FantasyPros, the signal-caller has targeted Brown more than 10 times per game in two of the last three weeks.
If that continues Sunday against a Philadelphia Eagles team with a banged-up secondary that's allowing the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers, it's a good bet his streak of double-digit scoring will as well.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans (vs. KCC)
Will Fuller V made his season debut for the Houston Texans in their record-setting Week 4 blowout of the Tennessee Titans. And he wasted no time in making an impact on the field.
After Fuller hauled in a pair of touchdown passes from Deshaun Watson in the 57-14 win, head coach Bill O'Brien told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle there was a reason why it appeared the pair looked like they had been working together despite the receiver's rehab from a broken collarbone.
"I give our training staff credit," O'Brien said. "He's been able to do some drills behind the scenes. He wasn't cleared to run routes, but Deshaun would be right there with him in the stadium after hours throwing routes. It wasn't like it was the first time they were throwing.
"Deshaun threw it with him quite a bit before he got injured. It wasn't the first time he caught passes from him or Deshaun threw passes to him."
There's no question who the top dog is at wide receiver in Houston. In fact, since Watson took over at quarterback, DeAndre Hopkins is the most targeted wideout in the NFL.
The Kansas City Chiefs know that too, however. Their defense will focus on Hopkins when the teams square off Sunday night at NRG Stadium.
That's going to mean plenty of single coverage for Fuller against a Chiefs secondary that can be had over the top.
If his rapport with Watson was more than a one-week fluke, it could set the stage for a big night.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay Packers (at DAL)
It's a shame that Green Bay Packer wide receiver Geronimo Allison is even on this week's list. That crushing helmet-to-helmet hit from Danny Trevathan in Week 4 landed Davante Adams in the hospital and in the NFL's concussion protocol.
Per USA Today's Ryan Wood, there's a chance Adams could clear protocol in advance of Sunday's matchup at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, which would render this moot.
But in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Allison was thrust into a prominent role with Randall Cobb inactive because of injury, and he responded in a big way, reeling in six targets for 122 yards.
"I've known Geronimo's been a player for a long time," Rodgers said. "He's a fantastic part of our offense. He's a tough, tough kid. Really tough competitor."
Of course, Allison followed that big game against the Bengals with a doughnut against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. If the Green Bay receiving corps is at full strength, Allison is an afterthought.
But for all the optimistic talk about Adams' recovery, I don't expect him to play Sunday. That was a frightening hit, and Green Bay should be able to move the ball just fine through the air against an injury-depleted Dallas secondary without him.
If Allison's in the lineup, a repeat of the Cincinnati game is a possibility.
Tyler Kroft, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. BUF)
The tight end position in fantasy football is somewhere between a hot mess and a catastrophe in 2017.
If you don't have Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs or Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, odds are you're in scramble mode—largely because of injuries to the likes of the Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen and Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert.
In Week 4, at least, some unlikely relief arrived for fantasy owners—in the form of Eifert's replacement.
Outside of the Kroft Family Fantasy Football League, it's unlikely third-year pro Tyler Kroft was in many lineups last week when the Bengals had a road game against Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. He may not have been in any lineups in that league either, for that matter.
I hear his Aunt Wilma is a real hard case.
But after erupting for six catches for 68 yards and two scores, Kroft was one of Week 5's hottest waiver-wire pickups.
For his part, the 24-year-old was a cliche machine while discussing his big game with Branson Wright of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"As people go down, we always preach next man up has to come up and make a play," Kroft said. "With any injuries across this team, we've got guys and depth at each position."
The tight end deserves the confidence of hard-up fantasy owners at the position in Week 5 too.
For one week, at least.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets (at CLE)
In last week's 23-20 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium, New York Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins hauled in four catches for 46 yards. This is not a stat line that leads fantasy owners to dance with joy—or even smile.
However, there are a couple of reasons to think the fourth-year pro could leave some smiles on faces during Week 5's game in the Factory of Sadness that is FirstEnergy Stadium.
First, while no one is going to confuse the Jets passing "attack" with the New England Patriots' any time soon, when New York does throw the ball, Seferian-Jenkins has been a sizable part of its plans.
Since making his 2017 debut in Week 3, he ranks second on the team in both targets (10) and receptions (nine).
The reason for this recommendation has less to do with the player than it does with his opponent. The Jets are facing a Browns team that leads the AFC in PPR fantasy points surrendered to tight ends. In two of four games this year (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati), the Browns have allowed multiple touchdown catches to that position.
If Kroft can gash the Browns, there's no reason Seferian-Jenkins can't duplicate the feat. Not against a team as bereft of all things good as Cleveland.
New York Jets Defense/Special Teams (at CLE)
The New York Jets aren't an especially good defensive football team. They rank 17th in total defense, 21st in scoring defense, 30th in sacks, and 30th in fantasy points, per NFL.com default fantasy scoring.
There doesn't seem to be one good reason to recommend the Jets defense as a fantasy start in Week 5.
Scratch that. There's one. One really good reason. One excellent rationale.
The aforementioned pile of, um, something that is the Cleveland Browns.
Through four games, the Browns are 26th in total offense, with 296 yards a game. They rank 27th in rushing (76.5 yards per game) and 28th in scoring (15.8 points per contest).
Considering the stats that generate the most fantasy points, it gets even better. The Browns are tied for the fifth-most sacks allowed in the NFL this year with 13. They lead the NFL in interceptions (nine) and are averaging 2.5 turnovers per game.
In Week 1, the Steelers were fifth in fantasy points after facing the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. The Baltimore Ravens were fourth in Week 2. Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals also finished inside the top 10 thanks to a matchup with Cleveland.
Those are three top-10 finishes in four weeks.
Defenses that play the Browns should be in fantasy lineups. Period.