We are officially a quarter of the way through the NFL season!
The most dedicated and passionate managers find zeal in exploring the concepts and happenings occurring under the radar. While there are times your roster may allow for snoozing on sleepers, it’s always beneficial to keep tabs on emerging trends and players. This weekly column is for those who understand the satisfaction of digging deep.
All of the listed players are rostered in under 60 percent of Yahoo leagues (at time of writing) and/or are a significant value in our daily game. They’re not the obvious picks, and they’re not without their risks … but that’s what makes them so intriguing. Last week Brian Hill and Randall Cobb underwhelmed, but the rest of the list HIT. Ryan Fitzpatrick posted top-10 fantasy stats, Mo Alie-Cox found the end zone for the second week in a row, and Robert Tonyan went HAM (6-98-3) on Monday night.
Let’s see what fantasy damage we can do in Week 5!
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings (29% rostered — $27)
Cousins’ 2020 start felt more “My Own Prison” than “Higher.” In Week 4, however, the Creed enthusiast was able to “Overcome,” recording two personal firsts in his third campaign as a Viking. Not only did Cousins pass for his highest yardage total (260), but he also managed his first INT-less contest of the year. It should come as no surprise that Cousins’ increased production and clean play aligns with the emergence of Justin Jefferson, who built on his Week 3 breakout with another 103 yards (88 air yards).
While Minnesota remains a run-dominant operation (100 pass attempts, QB27), Cousins figures to air it out more in Week 5 when he travels to Seattle. The Seahawks have allowed the second-most fantasy points to the position, surrendering an average of over 400 passing yards per week. Over the past four weeks, not a single opposing QB has fallen outside of fantasy’s top-10 (Matt Ryan QB6, Cam Newton QB2, Dak Prescott QB4, Ryan Fitzpatrick QB10). The matchup in tandem with Jefferson’s breakout should have Cousins’ fantasy managers liking that. And Vegas agrees, setting the total at 57.5 for Sunday’s tilt in the Northwest.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers (32% rostered — $25)
Stringing together back-to-back victories, Teddy Bridgewater may just be the NFL’s most welcome October Surprise. Last Sunday, he completed 26 of 37 passes for 276 yards and 2 TDs while also running in a third score. The effort was good enough to earn him a top-five fantasy finish for the week. While the Louisville product hasn’t been airing it out (he has just one completion over 40 yards), he has been efficient, managing a true completion percentage of 78.6 (QB4) and a catchable pass rate of over 85 percent (QB1).
As much as Carolina would like to lean on the run (and as impressive as Mike Davis has been in CMC’s absence), the Panthers remain a squad saddled with a defense that Football Outsiders ranks in the bottom-five for DVOA. As a result, Bridgewater is throwing the ball an average of over 35 times per contest. In Week 5 he’ll face off against another NFC South team with a struggling defensive unit. The Falcons are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs and have allowed 16 total touchdowns (13 passing, 3 rushing) to the position. With two teams on bye and Cam Newton unavailable, Bridgewater is a streamable option for needy fantasy managers. He’s the Yahoo consensus QB12.
Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (25% rostered)
After being forced from last Sunday’s game with a Grade 2 hamstring strain, Austin Ekeler is expected to miss the next month. After dealing with a hamstring injury of his own followed by a quad issue ahead of Week 2, Jackson left the door open for Joshua Kelley. The UCLA product has flashed and out-snapped Jackson in Week 4 by a 35:27 ratio. The anticipation, therefore, is that this will be a 60-40 timeshare leaning in the rookie’s favor.
However, when healthy, Jackson has been #good. The Northwestern alum only touched the ball 38 times in 2019 but was incredibly efficient when he did, averaging 5.8 yards per touch. He also managed four breakaway runs over a seven-game span. Since joining the Chargers in 2018, Jackson hasn’t recorded a single fumble and has logged just one drop on a total of 32 targets. The same cannot be said for Kelley, who has fumbled in back-to-back contests. That won’t fly with any HC, but especially not one that used to play the position. Regardless, this offense has demonstrated an ability to support two fantasy-relevant RBs. Facing a Saints defense that gave up scores to both Adrian Peterson and D’Andre Swift a week ago, Jackson offers flex appeal heading into Monday night.
BONUS: Devonta Freeman is rostered in 68 percent of Yahoo leagues (though he was started in just 20 percent of them), but remains a wild DFS value ($10) in Week 5. His snaps and touches more than doubled from Weeks 3 to 4 and he has an exploitable matchup against a Dallas run defense that’s allowing 4.9 YPC to opposing rushers.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers (21% rostered — $15)
This isn’t a take lock. This is just recognizing Samuel’s versatility, which boosts his theoretical upside. An explosive receiving talent who excels after the catch, Samuel is also being used as a rusher out the backfield (as he was in college). That usage could increase this Sunday, as backup RB Reggie Bonnafon has been placed on IR with a high-ankle sprain. While the totes Samuel has been gifted haven’t yielded much production thus far, they could this weekend versus a Falcons defense that has surrendered not only five rushing scores on the season, but also four runs over 20 yards.
More generous than the run defense, however, is Atlanta’s pass defense. A unit that has given up the second-most receiving yards (1,415), the Falcons have also allowed the most passing plays over 20 yards (22). Part of Samuel’s allure is his big-play ability — which he’s demonstrated this season with catches over 20 yards in back-to-back games — and there is no defense less equipped to snuff out ceiling moments than the Falcons. Samuel is a high risk/reward flex in the WR40 range this weekend.
Eric Ebron, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers (35% rostered — $14)
Since the start of the season, Ebron’s role has increased every week. In Week 3 he led the Steelers receiving corps in targets, converting five of seven looks for 52 yards and a score. He also saw a jump in snaps (60) and, more importantly, routes run (31). Garnering a route participation percentage of 78 (TE14) and red-zone looks in back-to-back efforts, Ebron has carved out a legitimate receiving role for himself, particularly in the red area of the field. That could prove beneficial for fantasy managers this weekend when he faces an Eagles defense that is giving up the third-most fantasy points to the position and has allowed scores to opposing tight ends in three of their last four matchups.
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