I have to quickly vent about a topic that Michael Salfino broached in last week's Breakfast Table column. First, let me say that when it comes to statistical analysis of our fantasy game, Salfino is a first-round draft pick. But he made the mistake of taking a shot at Marshawn Lynch last week, and as an unapologetic Seattle homer, I certainly wasn't going to take it lying down. Here's the Salfino quote I took issue with:
"… while Lynch is better than Shonn Greene, no doubt, he similarly runs straight into contact. Despite his reputation for being a tough runner, the numbers do not support it. He's average at best in yards after contact per rush. (Last year he was tied for 32nd, this year he's good, seventh, but the sample is small so I'm weighting 2011 much more, obviously)."
The problem I had is that I watch Lynch closely, week in and week out, and I simply can't fathom that he's anything less than a "tough" runner. So, are my eyes deceiving me? If not, then I have to conclude that YAC isn't really a good factor for determining "toughness." If it is, then according to ProFootballFocus, the "toughest" runner this season would be C.J. Spiller. And last year's "toughest" runners would be Fred Jackson and Darren Sproles, with Ryan Mathews clocking in No. 4. Obviously, those aren't classic tough guys. Elusive? Electric? Sure, I'm willing to concede that. But a bigger indictment of YAC other than it does not appear to be a good "toughness" evaluator, is that it really has no correlation to actual fantasy value.
Over the past two seasons, Arian Foster has led fantasy RBs in points per game yet hasn't finished inside the top 30 in YAC. Last season, he was tied for 32nd in YAC along with Lynch … and LeSean McCoy … and Ray Rice — that's four of the top five running backs in fantasy last season. In 2009, when Chris Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards, obliterating the RB competition in fantasy, he finished ninth in YAC. If you look at the top 10 PPG fantasy scorers at the RB position over the last three years and the top 10 YAC running backs, there's simply no strong parallels that can be drawn — they are two disparate lists.
Now, if you want to look at Missed Tackles (defined by PFF as tackles either broken or avoided), you start to see some correlation. Last year's top five in that category were Michael Turner, Lynch, McCoy, MoJo and Forte. All five were among the top 12 point-per-game scorers at the RB position, and Adrian Peterson wasn't far behind this group, either. Looking back over recent seasons, I'd much rather populate my fantasy roster with the guys on the Missed Tackles list over the YAC leaders.
I'll conclude with two points here. 1.) YAC is wack. Disregard it as it relates to fantasy football, just as you would LineDrive% (where Mike Trout currently ranks No. 37 and Ryan Braun ranks No. 132) in fantasy baseball. They are mostly meaningless to the virtual game. And, by the way, Salfino is hardly alone in throwing out this stat when it seemed convenient to an argument being made. I've seen many others use it, as well. And, to be honest, I'm sure I've used it to praise or disparage a player on occasion. But, upon further review, that's a mistake I no longer plan to make. And, finally, 2.) Marshawn Lynch, currently No. 1 in missed tackles this season (five ahead of No. 2 Alfred Morris), is ridiculously tough. You might even say he's a "Beast" …
Alright, now I'm ready to talk about Week 5. Let's do it:
Total Week 5 green-light plays by position: 10 QB; 13 RB; 20 WR; 10 TE; 10 DST
Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring
Least FPPG allowed (QB): SEA; DAL; HOU; PHI; DET
• Cam Newton has had a tough year on the reality side of the gridiron, but those sweet rushing totals still have him among the QB elite in fantasy (17 rush TDs in 20 career games, including a TD in three straight). Seattle is the toughest defense in fantasy against opposing QBs, but Cam's legs should keep him in the top 10 money at the position.
• Even if you have another strong QB in tow, I'm not sure how anyone can consider sitting Robert Griffin III at this point. His rushing numbers are easily the best at the QB position and, when he gets in that 10-yard range of the end zone, his ability to launch himself like a rocket towards pay dirt is unbelievable. It's almost unfair to attach that kind of running skill to someone that also possesses elite ability in the passing game — he currently sits at No. 4 in QB Rating (103.2). If you have Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, the two QBs I ranked ahead of RGIII this week, you have a few days still to swing a deal.
• Hat tip to Jay Cutler, who looked better than expected on Monday night at Dallas. But Jacksonville has been decent against the pass this season, while struggling in run defense (4th-most FPPG to RBs). I expect Chicago to feast on Blaine Gabbert and co. and turn to a conservative ground approach on offense while playing with the lead. And for that reason, I'm flying Cutler under the caution flag this week.
• Christian Ponder faces a Tennessee defense that has allowed a league-high 118.3 QB Rating. It's a nice matchup on paper, but the Vikings have kept Ponder on a fairly short leash, as he ranks just 25th in pass attempts per game. Like Cutler, there's concern here that the Vikings can win this game with a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson and defense — Matt Hasselbeck threw two Pick-6's, lost a fumble and was sacked three times in relief of Jake Locker last week. Jerome Simpson does give Ponder a deep element that was missing with this attack but, he may not need to lean on that much this week. I like Ponder, but don't overrate the matchup too much.
• Andrew Luck has attempted 45-plus passes in two of his first three games, both losing efforts. Expect him to be a high-volume passer this week, too, against Green Bay, given the likelihood that the Colts will be chasing the scoreboard yet again. He's No. 14 on my board at the position, but I can see easy top 10 upside.
• A couple more stats to chew on: St. Louis has allowed the lowest QB Rating in the league (64.2); the NY Giants allow the highest yards per pass attempt (9.0); San Francisco and Houston have allowed the fewest YPA (6.0); Cincinnati has a league-high 17 QB sacks; Jacksonville has the fewest QB sacks (2); Chicago has a league-high 11 INTs; Washington has allowed a league-high 6 receptions of 40-plus yards; Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Dallas are the only teams that have yet to allow a 40-yard pass play.
Least FPPG allowed (RB): SF; MIN; CHI; SEA; DET
• Only Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch have more carries than Alfred Morris, who has registered between 78 and 113 rushing yards in all four games. We know that a Mike Shanahan ground attack can be potent when things are clicking, and giving the opposition a nightmare to think about like RGIII only helps the click rate. There's nothing extra special about Morris. But he's yet to fumble, he doesn't go down easily (2nd in missed/broken tackles behind Lynch) and his style fits Shanahan's one-cut-and-go system. He's quickly become one of the safest RB plays on the board and this week he opposes an Atlanta defense that has allowed the 2nd-highest yards per carry rate in the league (5.2).
• The only team that has allowed more YPC than Atlanta is Cincinnati (5.4). Reggie Bush faces the Bengals this week and he was able to post a respectable 3.9 YPC in Week 4 against an Arizona defense allowing just 3.6 YPC for the season, and he did it despite dealing with a sore knee all week. Look for the versatile Bush to get back into the RB top 10 this week against a Cincy defense that not only gives up big chunks of yardage on the ground but also has allowed the second-most receiving yards to RBs.
• I'm not sure what you do with Buffalo RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller this week. Playing together for the first time since Week 1, neither player did much of fantasy note against New England in Week 4. And now they face the toughest run defense in fantasy in the San Francisco 49ers. Both players claim to be in good health after dealing with injuries the past few weeks but, unless head coach Chan Gailey comes out and specifically says that one back is going to have a much larger role than the other, I think you have to exercise extreme caution with both players this week.
• The expectation this week is that Ryan Mathews, after being sent a ball security message last week via a diminished role, will be back in a more featured capacity against New Orleans. His owners certainly hope that's the case as no team has allowed more fantasy production to RBs than the Saints. But even if Mathews returns as the clear leader in backfield touches for the Chargers this week, Jackie Battle has earned a prominent role, likely to stick as that key short yardage, goal line guy that profited Mike Tolbert so much in recent seasons. And Battle showed some versatility with 4 catches for 42 yards last week. God help Mathews and his owners if he fumbles this week in a key situation.
• I'd be leery about "Law Firm" representation this week. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, averaging just 3.5 YPC, has the unenviable task of facing Miami this week. The Dolphins have allowed the lowest YPC in the league (2.4), and it's not even close — the 2nd-lowest YPC is Seattle at 3.0. And let's keep in mind that Miami counts Arian Foster and Darren McFadden among those it has faced this season.
• My hunch play of the week is Donald Brown. He has done very little so far this season, but he does have 22 carries for 99 yards and one catch for 39 yards on touches when the Colts have played from behind. With Andrew Luck likely to air it out often to try to keep pace with Green Bay, I think that should open up plenty of room for Brown, be it on draw plays, screens, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if he found his way to 100-plus yards for the second consecutive game.
• I'm sure not many Chris Johnson owners started him at Houston last week. That looked like a brutal matchup for someone that was lapping the early competition for fantasy Bust of the Year. So what to do now that CJ broke loose for 141 against a good Texans run defense? Well, it's worth noting that Johnson did pick up nine carries and 63 rushing yards in the fourth quarter with the Titans down 28-7, not exactly a situation where the Texans really cared about giving up 7.0 YPC on the ground. But, that said, Johnson still managed a healthy 4.9 YPC (16 for 78) in his first three quarters of work, so he certainly deserves plenty of credit for his outing. This week's opponent, Minnesota, has allowed just 3.3 YPC and the 2nd-fewest fantasy points per game to RBs. No RB has hit the double digit mark in fantasy points against the Vikes, including Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Mikel Leshoure and Donald Brown. Like Brown, I think Johnson has 100 YFS upside, but that's his ceiling. He's no better than borderline top 20 RB play, in my book.
Least FPPG allowed (WR): HOU; DAL; STL; SF; ATL
• Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline obviously have a thing going on the past few weeks, twice hooking up for at least nine receptions, including a nation-wide 12 receptions and 253 yards last week against Arizona. Hartline has been the definition of pedestrian in his three prior seasons in Miami, but you have to now consider that that might have had more to do with system and quarterback play than Hartline. Tannehill obviously has a lack of experience, but he's more athletic and throws a better ball than anyone else Hartline has been saddled with in Miami. And new head coach Joe Philbin, former Packers offensive coordinator, has let Tannehill throw 143 passes in his first four games in the NFL, which is just four less than Matt Ryan. Against a Cincy defense that has allowed the 6th-highest QB Rating, don't be surprised if Hartline, Philbin's poor man's Jordy Nelson, delivers another solid fantasy line, which would really only have to be about one-third the production he had against the Cards in Week 4.
• James Jones is a fantastic dice roll this week if Greg Jennings (groin) sits, as he's indicated he might. Maligned for concentration lapses in the past, Jones has maintained his focus this season, catching 73 percent of the passes thrown his way, 8th-best among WRs that have played at least 60 percent of their team's snaps. Jones' role would be enhanced with Jennings out and, no matter how you slice it, Indy has been a bad pass defense this season.
• Over the past three weeks, rookie Kendall Wright has been targeted 27 times, ranking 17th among all receivers. His production in that span (111 yards and 2 TDs) is only good for a No. 38 placement in fantasy points at the position, but you have to like Wright's opportunities. And, with Kenny Britt (ankle) still no sure thing to play in Week 5, Wright could continue to be heavily targeted at Minnesota on Sunday. In PPR leagues, bump Wright up into WR3 territory if Britt doesn't play, as Minnesota has allowed the 8th-most receptions to WRs.
• As mentioned in the QB section above, the Giants have allowed a league-high 9.0 YPA. Admittedly, Cleveland is not the best team to take advantage of that situation but it at least makes Greg Little, who had 10 targets, four catches and 77 yards in Week 4 at Baltimore, a bit more interesting. Consider him a reasonable flex option this week.
• I have Jeremy Maclin as a low-end chartreuse option this week, but that might be a little too generous. Returning from a sore hip with a 1-catch, 7-yard effort against the Giants in Week 4 (he was on the field for nearly all of Philly's offensive snaps), and set to face a Pittsburgh defense in Week 5 that's expected to have Troy Polamalu and James Harrison back, I'm not sure I'd be that comfortable slotting him in an active roster spot this week.
• Yes, if Hakeem Nicks (foot) sits again on Sunday, backups Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden need to be bumped up. But the biggest winner will continue to be Victor Cruz, who is tied with Dwayne Bowe among receivers in total targets (49). Against Cleveland's 2nd-most generous fantasy pass defense, Cruz could very well pace the position in fantasy points in Week 5.
• Pierre Garcon (foot) has played just 60 snaps this season, but has 129 receiving yards and two TDs, one coming via a recovery of an RGIII fumble in the end zone last week. By comparison, Dez Bryant has played four times as much as Garcon (245 snaps), and in leagues where Garcon is credited for a fumble recovery TD, he's scored just two fewer total fantasy points than Bryant. As a heavily invested Garcon owner, I am champing at the bit for Garcon's full-duty return. In the short time that he's had with RGIII, the pair has looked dynamic together. Even against a tough Atlanta opponent, I'll have Garcon as a WR2 if he gets good health reports this week
Least FPPG allowed (TE): NO; IND; PHI; CLE; SEA
• According to FantasyPros, the leading aggregator of weekly industry expert rankings, Fred Davis is only the consensus No. 12 TE in early Week 5 rankings. Sure, he hasn't scored a TD yet, but how can you not like the 80-yard average over his past two weeks? And he's facing an Atlanta defense in Week 5 that was just burned by Carolina TE Greg Olsen for 6 catches, 89 yards and a TD last week. I like Davis comfortably inside the top 10 among TEs.
• Tennessee has allowed twice as many fantasy points per game to the tight end position than 22 teams in the league. They allow more than a TD (6.3 FPPG) more fantasy points per game than any other team in the league. The best week for the Titans this season is when they held Brandon Pettigrew to 61 yards on 8 catches in Week 3. If you were looking for validation of Kyle Rudolph as a top TE play this week, here it is.
• Antonio Gates had his moments in the first half against KC last week, but he ultimately finished with less than 6 fantasy points for the third time in as many games this season. For the most part, Gates has looked a bit slower, both in foot speed and reaction time, this season, and ProFootballFocus currently ranks his body of work as a receiver this season as just the 37th-best at the TE position — in the past three seasons, he's finished no worse than 5th. This week he'll face the toughest fantasy defense vs. TEs, on paper, in the Saints. New Orleans hasn't allowed a TE score and has limited Fred Davis, Jermichael Finley and Greg Olsen to less than 6 fantasy points each. I have generously listed Gates at No. 6 this week, but I get it if you prefer any, or all, of the next half-dozen TEs on my list over Gates.
• It's worth a reminder since he's coming off bye, that Heath Miller rates as the No. 1 TE in FPPG. Despite already observing his bye, Miller is tied with Julio Jones and Martellus Bennett with an NFL-high 8 red zone targets. Ben Roethlisberger stated before the season that his goal was to get Miller to the Pro Bowl. So far, so good. His Week 5 opponent, Philly, has netted out well against TEs, thus far, but it played two TE non-factor squads in Cleveland and Arizona. In other words, don't shy away from Miller if you need him.
Least FPPG allowed (DST): HOU; OAK; NE; WAS; ATL
WEEK 5 GAME PREDICTIONS