Fantasy Football Week 5: Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts sit/start tips for Thursday night football

Fantasy football Week 5 kicks off tonight and has the same vibe as last week’s TNF. The headliners aren’t as prominent, but their performances conflict with expectations. I can’t figure out either team. The Colts told us they wanted a balanced offense to win a championship. But Indianapolis is below average in dropback and rushing EPA. And they’re third in their division.

Meanwhile, Denver’s bet on trading for a franchise quarterback looks like a bluff. The Broncos are bottom-10 in red-zone drive rate, with only 27.3 percent resulting in points. It’s hard to trust anyone on either squad.

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However, I’ve got a few plays for this evening. Plus, I’ve got two points of interest with season-long impacts, but let’s look at the matchup first.

The AFC Chaos Continues with the Colts Facing the Broncos

Any confusion regarding both teams starts with their quarterback. They’re both starting fresh in new cities, and we expected their passing skills and talent-elevating presence to come with them. Regardless, it’d be nice for Indianapolis to have some stability under center as the Colts struggle to find their identity.

Matt Ryan might be missing Atlanta at this point. Through four weeks, the once-vaunted Colts’ offensive line is 26th in pass block win rate. Their pass-catching running back with a 34 percent snap rate is second in targets. I understand Ryan needs more time to get in sync with his receivers. But the core of their personality isn’t even apparent, which is even more shocking.

Indianapolis has been 21st in neutral passing rate on early downs since Frank Reich came to town. It’s a team predicated on their rushing attack. However, they can’t run. The Colts are 29th in rushing success rate. Jonathan Taylor has had three explosive runs in Weeks 3 and 4 after opening up the season with 10. The team has no new options and seemingly can’t return to their old tricks. And Taylor has now been ruled out of this game.

But the team started slowly last year. It appears worse, given preseason expectations, but they’re not out of it yet. Luckily, they’re facing an offense in a similar state of disarray:

There was always a question of whether or not Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett would click in their first year. Last season, Wilson had the third-most yards on attempts of 20-plus yards. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers’s 2.59-sec average time to throw was the eighth quickest. There are philosophical differences in how Wilson and Hackett want to run an offense.

And, like all couples, they’re learning to compromise.

But their relationship trials are negatively impacting our fantasy squads. As Brett’s tweet above shows, Wilson’s trying to connect over the middle of the field but coming up short (there’s a joke about his height here somewhere ...). Denver’s offense is 22nd in EPA per play and 17th in yards per drive. But the missing piece for fantasy is their lack of scoring.

Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos has had a slow fantasy start
Russell Wilson's fantasy start with the Broncos has been a bit slow. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

The Broncos have the eighth-lowest rate of drives to reach the red zone. And they’re scoring on just 27.2% of their opportunities when they do make it. Indianapolis is 30th in dropback success rate allowed this season.

It'd be tonight if there were a time for Russ to cook. But there are a couple of other compelling storylines for tonight to monitor, too.

Points of Interest in TNF

Normally at this point, I’d be diving into the weeds to tell you which players to avoid. But this week’s a bit different. There’s a total of eight players rostered in more than 50.0% of leagues playing tonight. You don’t need me to tell you to bench Jelani Woods.

So, I’m calling an audible.

I’m interested in a couple of narratives tonight. But not just for TNF. Recent trends are challenging our off-season priors with rest-of-season implications. I’ll have my eye on the following two situations in particular.

Nyheim Hines, (Hopefully) It’s Your Time

Five months ago, drafters latched onto a quote that was seen as irrefutable proof Nyheim Hines would be a larger part of the Colts offense. Plus, his competition for targets wasn’t very intimidating: Parris Campbell was yet to string together multiple healthy games. Jack Doyle retired. Ashton Dulin and Alec Pierce were unproven.

Last season, Hines's 1.52 YPRR was top-10, with a top-3 aDOT. The Colts were already using Hines like a receiver, and the runway was clear for him to ascend this season.

We've gotten the opposite.

Nyheim Hines route analysis for fantasy football
Nyheim Hines route analysis for fantasy football. (Photo by Chris Allen)

Hines’ route utilization has been on a downward trend. He hit season-lows in targets per route run (TPRR) and route participation rate in Week 4. And it was a game Indianapolis trailed by two scores for three quarters. Week 2 was a sure sign the offense was in trouble.

Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce were out. Jacksonville jumped out to a 17-0 lead by halftime. But Hines had just a 30.0% snap rate, with even fewer options available. He ran fewer routes than Dezmon Patmon. However, there are a couple of positives.

Hines’ seasonal TPRR of 27.1% ranks fourth amongst all RBs. So, he’s not just getting a cardio workout. Also, Hines has the third-most combined snaps from the slot or split out wide. The usage indicates he’s a key piece of the passing offense compared to running routes out of the backfield. And he has a chance to capitalize on the workload in TNF.

I’ll be watching for how the Colts deploy Hines against Denver. If necessity is the mother of invention, Taylor’s absence may be the forcing function for Hines to see more work. With a weakened opposing pass rush, Reich would be right to test the short area of the field through their quick game. Hines would be the perfect option to exploit their deficiency.

No Mo’ Albert O

Levitan perfectly captures my sentiments below. What a disaster:

If losing a key cog in the running game wasn’t bad enough, the passing game has fewer options now. But the offseason held so much hope for Albert Okwuegbunam. At least, the earlier parts of it did.

After Noah Fant’s departure, no one could stop the Okwuegbunam hype train. Every blurb or update from training camp was another sign of a breakout year for the third-year tight end. But we started to see cracks in the foundation during the preseason.

Okwuegbunam’s alarming preseason usage planted the first seeds of doubt. We knew his blocking skills wouldn’t earn him playing time, but his athleticism would keep him on the field. However, Okwuegbunam’s diminished status in the offense flew under the radar amidst the other headlines.

Albert Okwuegbunam route analysis for fantasy football. (Photo by Chris Allen
Albert Okwuegbunam route analysis for fantasy football. (Photo by Chris Allen

I’ve talked about targets and route utilization for TEs before. This lesson is more basic. Receiving TEs need passing yards to score points. Air yards are a strong indicator of future passing yards. Okwuegbunam has 27 total air yards through four weeks.

Kyle Pitts and Evan Engram are examples of struggling players to bet on for future production. They’re at opposite ends of the talent spectrum but still seeing steady or large shares of their team’s air yards. The opportunity is there, but they’re not turning them into fantasy points. For Okwuegbunam, there’s nothing to convert. Even worse, his window of opportunity may already be closed.

Okwuegbunam doesn’t factor into the team’s run-game plans, Eric Saubert is clicking with Wilson, and Greg Dulcich is due back anytime. I’ll have an eye out for Albert O tonight to see how he performs. He’ll likely hit waiver wires without a dramatic change before TNF ends.

But Don’t Bench These Guys

The aforementioned injury situations have given us a window of opportunity. And on a short week, we could see more targets or touches funneled towards some players. I’m normally not one to overreact to a one-week sample, but I’d give the nod to these guys if you’re considering them.

Mo Alie-Cox

I realize I just said I don’t want to overreact to a one-week sample, and here I am talking about the guy who just scored two touchdowns on Sunday; the only time he’s found the paint all season. It was the first time he’s scored in nearly a calendar year. But, I’m less focused on the result and more interested in his opportunity.

Mo Alie-Cox was behind Kylen Granson through Week 2. Pick an opportunity stat — Granson had more of it. Well, except for red-zone targets. Their height difference likely gave Alie-Cox an edge. Regardless, there’s been a switch over the last two weeks.

Alie-Cox’s 10.8% target share in Weeks 3 and 4 slides ahead of Granson’s. The veteran TE led the team in targets on Sunday. His upward trend of routes and opportunities is a positive sign on a team needing more receiving options. Denver is 11th in fantasy points allowed to the position. If you’re struggling at TE, Alie-Cox is a suitable streaming option in Week 5.

Parris Campbell

None of the Colts’ receiving options look startable in season-long outside of Pittman. However, in a single-slate DFS format, I can make a case for Parris Campbell. He doesn’t have the same “home-run” ability as Dulin or Pierce, but the matchup is conducive to his usage. The last two weeks give us a clue.

Jimmy Garoppolo / Derek Carr pass charts
Jimmy Garoppolo / Derek Carr pass charts. (Photo by NextGenStats/NFL.com)

The 49ers and Raiders avoided Patrick Surtain II on the right side. As a result, their quarterbacks focused on the opposite half of the field and, more importantly, threw intermediate attempts. Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr hit or tied season-lows in yards per attempt.

Campbell couldn’t ask for a better setup.

Pittman and Campbell are the only wide receivers on the team with an aDOT under 10.0. Campbell has more slot targets than the rest of the WRs combined. If any other pass-catcher has the chance to take advantage of an ailing interior defense, Campbell’s matchup and ability to create after the catch should earn him a spot in your lineups tonight.

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