Justin Herbert's Continued Climb

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When Justin Herbert woke up Sunday, he was considered a borderline fantasy QB1 for Week 5 against a Browns defense that had been limiting enemy passing production. When he went to sleep, the internet was debating “Justin Herbert or Patrick Mahomes?”

While that’s still not a real conversation, Herbert is consolidating his claim on the title of “second most important young quarterback in football,” and fanning the hype flames that have been intensifying since his first shotgun start against the Chiefs last September.

He’s also scoring a helluva lot of fantasy points. Herbert is suddenly the QB5 by total points, and averaging 28.6 per game, putting him behind only Mahomes, Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. This, after a start where he managed just two scores across Weeks 1-2. He has 12 over his past three, and that feels closer to the “real Herbert” than Weeks 1 and 2. This is a team that does not force the run and goes for it on fourth down. It remains aggressive at all times. It has also established an elite second weapon in Mike Williams, whose down-field game has become more dangerous as teams must now respect him in the short-to-intermediate areas.

Underlying it all is Herbert’s combination unflappability and derring-do. You don’t become an elite quarterback if you’re easily rattled. You also need to be willing to go big-play hunting. Herbert already picks his spots as well as any QB in the league, and largely avoids turnovers when doing so. That’s an unbeatable mix both in “real life” and fantasy. Even without a true dual-threat — excellent athlete though he is — Herbert’s “single” threat is in rarefied air. He won’t find himself on the matchup borderline again. He has officially obliterated it.

Five Week 5 Storylines

Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s knee injury part of the Chiefs’ bad news avalanche. Struggling to get anything going after back-to-back 100-yard efforts, CEH got his right knee pinned underneath him in the third quarter. The second-year back slammed his fist into the turf in frustration before being carried off the field by his teammates. He was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. Although it is not a season-ending issue, it is probably one that will send CEH to injured reserve, where he will miss at least the next three weeks. It is just the latest blow for the Chiefs’ sub-par running game and the disappointing start to Edwards-Helaire’s career. As expected, Darrel Williams stepped in as the primary back, handling 6-of-7 “opportunities,” with Jerick McKinnon getting one. Fantasy managers should empty the FAAB clip in leagues where Williams remains unowned, as he will probably maintain a role even following CEH's return.

Saquon Barkley suffers only “low” sprain in freak accident ankle roll. Decelerating at the end of a play, Barkley’s left ankle landed square on Jourdan Lewis’ foot, turning and ending Barkley’s day just as he had finally achieved momentum in the Giants’ backfield. His ankle instantly swelled, and he required the assistance of a cart to the locker room. That’s where the good news begins. It’s apparently not a high sprain. It’s not the same right ankle that torpedoed Barkley’s 2019. The bad news, of course, is that’s the good news, while Barkley is expected to miss Week 6 against the Rams. If he can avoid injured reserve this week, it means the Giants are reasonably confident he will be sidelined fewer than three weeks. Devontae Booker will be a near every-snap player in Barkley’s absence.

Daniel Jones carted off with head injury in Dallas. Barkley wasn’t the only irreplaceable Giants offensive centerpiece to depart in the first half. Jones took an inadvertent helmet shot from Osirus Mitchell and was visibly wobbly in the aftermath. He was then diagnosed with the first official concussion of his pro career. In his absence, Mike Glennon was predictably putrid, though he did at least show some chain-moving ability with electric rookie Kadarius Toney. Although players frequently miss no time with concussions, Jones’ visible symptoms could hint at a longer absence. He does have a full seven days to get cleared for Sunday’s game against the Rams. If he can’t go, Glennon will be at risk of sinking the Giants’ entire operation against Sean McVay’s Jalen Ramsey/Aaron Donald-keyed defense. If Jones plays, he will be a lower-end QB2 with his weapons remaining in injury uncertainty.

Kadarius Toney explodes for 189 yards vs. Cowboys, gets ejected. Toney was the only good news in the Giants’ Texas JerryWorld massacre, making like 2014 Odell Beckham and continuing his breakout unabated. Toney was chewing up man coverage and tacking on serious yardage after the catch. As he hinted at in Week 4, he has unusual stop/start ability. We are beginning to see now why the Giants were willing to gamble on an “offensive weapon” who had limited official experience at the wide receiver position. Provided Toney isn’t suspended for throwing a punch in a late-game fight, he is already forcing his way into the WR2 mix for Week 6. That includes some caveats, including likely snaps vs. Jalen Ramsey and the potential return of target hog Sterling Shepard. Toney has probably already rendered Darius Slayton irrelevant on the depth chart.

Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert split touches in David Montgomery’s absence. Everything from snaps, carries, routes and yards were even, though Williams did score notable advantages in targets (3-0) and carries inside the 10-yard line (3-1). It is probably what we should have expected. 29-year-old Williams has still never reached 20 carries in a game, while rookie Herbert entered the league with a serious change-of-pace profile. Williams will nevertheless get the benefit of the doubt in high-leverage situations on third down and near the goal line. With the Bears certain to remain run heavy as they hold Justin Fields’ hand through the early days of his NFL career, both backs should return fantasy value for as long as David Montgomery (knee) remains sidelined. Williams has RB2 juice with Herbert providing touch-based FLEX floor.

Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

Five More Week 5 Storylines

Trey Lance not ready for prime time in loss to Cardinals, still shows fantasy promise. We saw with our own eyes why the 49ers were so reluctant to commit to Lance as starter. The man simply isn’t ready as a passer, sailing one throw after another and getting almost as many tipped at the line of scrimmage. We also saw the dual-threat upside that put Lance in the lottery mix to begin with. He notched 16 carries, making him just the sixth quarterback since 2006 to do so. Not bad for his NFL debut. Lance should have gotten a touchdown out of it, but Isaiah Simmons blew him up at the goal line. That was promising but also alarming. Lance appeared to have little regard for his own life, a common rookie quarterback mistake. Ultimately, the bad outweighed the good, and we would expect the Niners to return to Jimmy Garoppolo following their Week 6 bye. Lance’s upside is such, however, that we would at least hold onto him until Shanahan makes an official announcement. With 10-plus quarterback carries, you are going to cashing fantasy checks more weeks than not.

Ja’Marr Chase puts some distance between himself and Tee Higgins. The question was how Chase would fare with the return of fellow outside threat Higgins. The answer was with the best game of his young career. Overtime helped the Bengals’ overall play volume, but Chase reached 10 targets for the first time as he stacked up 159 yards and his fifth touchdown in five contests. Chase’s score was a 70-yarder where his college mindmeld with Joe Burrow was on full display. Although Chase isn’t creating an abnormal amount of separation to the naked eye, he is already dominating cornerbacks in the technical battle. He is climbing the WR2 ranks while we must now pause Higgins as a mid-range WR3. The Lions are a mouthwatering Week 6 matchup.

Dolphins go back to Myles Gaskin vs. Bucs. Malcolm Brown notched zero touches as Gaskin’s pass catching ended up the extent of Miami’s “running game” against Tampa’s foreboding ground defense. Gaskin’s receptions killed two birds with one stone, finally finding a way for the Dolphins to move the ball on “the ground” while providing cheap targets for a short-handed pass-catching group. That’s not how you would draw it up, but the Dolphins have yet to diagram anything better. This probably settles the matter of which Dolphins back we can trust as a FLEX option for the foreseeable future. This kind of worked. Nothing else has. The Jaguars and Falcons are juicy matchups over the next two weeks.

Odell Beckham invisible in Browns’ shootout loss to Chargers. Baker Mayfield attempted 32 passes. He targeted his “No. 1 receiver” on three of them. Four Browns drew more looks, with role players David Njoku and Donovan Peoples-Jones easily outproducing OBJ. Beckham has seen his targets decrease from nine to seven to three since making his 2021 debut in Week 3. He has cleared 30 yards one time. It’s difficult to say what’s going on beyond “nothing.” Mayfield doesn’t particularly seem to like targeting Beckham. Coach Kevin Stefanski has never made it a priority. When the Browns’ offense is running hot, it is running. It is time to give up Beckham WR2 hopes and even ponder if he still deserves WR3 benefit of the doubt.

JuJu Smith-Schuster suffers serious shoulder injury against Bengals. Smith-Schuster could be done for the season after lasting just one target vs. the Broncos. His departure came as Ben Roethlisberger finally got something going on offense. Striking up deep(er) connections with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. If Smith-Schuster is indeed done, the primary effect on the Steelers’ offense will probably be consolidation of targets. More consistent looks for Claypool and Najee Harris behind volume monster Johnson. James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud will see more snaps, but not targets. Smith-Schuster is droppable.

Questions

1. Does Urban Meyer know we can see and hear him?

2. How are we still allowed to send these games to England after Brexit?

3. How can the Patriots stop Tom Brady but not Davis Mills?

Early Waiver Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

QB: Ben Roethlisberger (vs. SEA), Taylor Heinicke (vs. KC), Carson Wentz (vs. HOU), Teddy Bridgewater (vs. LV), Tyrod Taylor (@IND)
RB: Darrel Williams, Alex Collins, Khalil Herbert, Devontae Booker, Samaje Perine, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jerick McKinnon, Jaret Patterson
WR: Kadarius Toney, Michael Gallup, Hunter Renfrow, Darnell Mooney, Rondale Moore, Tim Patrick, Marquez Callaway, Rashod Bateman, Amon-Ra St. Brown
TE: Hunter Henry, Evan Engram, Tyler Conklin, Dan Arnold, Ricky Seals-Jones, David Njoku
DEF: Colts (vs. HOU), Dolphins (@JAX), Bengals (@DET), Chiefs (@WFT), Packers (@CHI), Jaguars (vs. MIA)
On Bye: Falcons, Saints, Jets, 49ers

Stats of the Week

Zero. The number of blitzes the Bills dialed up on Patrick Mahomes.

Four. That’s how many catches of 15-plus yards Kyle Pitts managed against the Jets as he broke out for 9/119/1 in London. After all the hand wringing, Pitts enters the Falcons’ Week 6 bye as the TE6 by total half PPR points.

Five percent. That is Joe Mixon’s target share over his past four games. That is, uhh, not gonna cut it in the RB1 ranks.

Via the NFL: “Dawson Knox is the first Bills tight end with 100-plus receiving yards and one-plus receiving touchdown in a game since Pete Metzelaars in Week 2, 1992.” Knox is now the TE2 by total half PPR points.

Via The Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman: The Bucs have scored 44-plus points six times in 25 games with Tom Brady. That was something they had done six times in 44 years before Brady’s arrival.

The Jaguars are just the third team in NFL history to lose 20 games in a row.

Awards Section

Week 5 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Justin Herbert, RB Derrick Henry, RB Austin Ekeler, WR Mike Williams, WR Davante Adams, WR Antonio Brown, TE Kyle Pitts (By the letter of the law, it was David Njoku)

Tweet of the Week, from Sheil Kapadia: It feels like Mike Zimmer and Dan Campbell should just embrace for a few minutes and sob into each others’ shoulders at midfield after that finish.

Tweet of the Week II, from Chris Wittyngham: The Dolphins have spent my entire life kicking field goals against Tom Brady.

Griff Whalen Memorial Award: Whatever this was from the Texans.

Little Gift of the Week: Every time the camera panned to the sideline and reminded me Mitchell Trubisky is on the Bills.

Please Delete Award: All images of Christian Pulisic wearing a Jets jersey.