From a fantasy lens, dozens and dozens of players being sidelined is already greatly impacting the depth of your league and roster. Starting stars is as justifiable as ever, but I am still here to take a flamethrower to your optimism on a weekly basis, highlighting a handful of upcoming “busts” for the forthcoming slate of games. Let me be clear - I like fun, I prefer to focus on positives and, most of all, do not hate any of these players. I simply believe they will perform below their normal output.
Eagles QB Carson Wentz at PIT (-7)
Total: o/u 44 - 26% Started
My name is Josh Norris and I drafted Carson Wentz in way too many leagues this summer. The Eagles were a priority team stack due to projected value - Wentz as the QB11, DeSean Jackson as the WR50 and Jalen Reagor as the WR54. Light it on fire. Many crazy developments have occurred through four weeks of the NFL season, but perhaps the most shocking is any shred of the MVP level talent that Wentz once displayed has now vanished.
Despite being surrounded by fringe roster talents along the offensive line and at wide receiver, the exact scenario GM Howie Roseman worked to prevent this offseason, Wentz has still produced top 12 QB weeks in his last two contests. How? Rushing, with 65 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 and 37 yards and a touchdown in Week 4. As Rich Hribar notes, a mind-boggling 43% of Wentz’s production has come from rushing, only behind Kyler Murray and Cam Newton. Is that dependable? Absolutely not. What is stable is the awful supporting cast, woeful inaccuracy (last in the NFL in accurate passes) and difficult matchup against the Steelers in Week 5. Pittsburgh's pass rushers will monopolize the line of scrimmage. Perhaps DeSean Jackson returns, and we’ve seen the Steelers’ defense be slightly more open to downfield shots compared to 2019, but this is simply an offense I’m bypassing - outside of Miles Sanders’ volume.
Prediction: 24-of-42 for 250 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions and 5 sacks.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon at Ravens (-13)
Total: o/u 51 - 90% Started
In spite of your frustration, Mixon has still achieved RB12 production in fantasy points per game through four weeks of the NFL season. He’s received at least 16 carries per game but just 15 total targets in four contests. A positive - despite being listed on the injury report with a chest issue, Mixon smashed his season high opportunity totals last week by claiming 25 carries and catching all six targets - the lone win on the Bengals’ record thus far. In many instances, winning equals running back production, and Sunday’s game against the Jaguars proved to be one of the few where the Bengals’ offensive line was not totally overmatched.
Neither will be the case against the Ravens on Sunday with the Bengals on the books as 13-point underdogs. Negative gamescripts destroyed Mixon’s ceilings earlier this season, failing to score in RB2 range in games where the Bengals tied or lost. The Ravens are among the best in the league against the run - No. 3 in Run D DVOA. Unless last weekend’s win ignited a lightbulb in Zac Taylor’s head that Mixon should receive ALL of the passing game usage, Mixon likely underperforms his weekly averages.
Prediction: 17 carries for 63 yards, 3-of-4 targets for 24 yards
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Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman vs Raiders (+13)
Total: o/u 56 - 12% Started
You hear “RB insurance” often to describe a back with limited standalone value unless the player in front of him misses time. For much of his young career, Hardman’s usage indicates he is WR insurance more than featured player. Hardman has played just 45% of the team’s snaps this season, behind No. 3 option Demarcus Robinson’s 52%. There have been two occasions, however, where Hardman has played above Robinson - Week 2 when Sammy Watkins left with an injury, and Week 4 (by three snaps). More trends line up in Hardman’s favor if you’re considering playing him, including catching 8-of-12 targets over his last two games including two touchdowns. His penchant for making a big play in the most explosive offense in the NFL is intriguing, but I still feel you are chasing a touchdown when adding Hardman to your lineup. The opportunity simply is not there, especially inside the 10-yard line, where Hardman has one single target. If that changes, count me all the way in.
Prediction: 3-of-4 targets for 42 yards
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Titans WR A.J. Brown vs Bills
Total: o/u ? - 31% Started
Betting against a WR phenom is always difficult, but too many signals point in that direction for me to feel good about starting A.J. Brown this week. First, exhibiting restraint to instantly play skill position players off multi-week injuries is good process if you have a viable alternative/bench. The Titans’ facility has been shut down for COVID-19 reasons, so we still do not have an update on Brown’s practice status. Second, his matchup is a nightmare. Despite the Bills dropping to No. 17 in Pass D DVOA, Tre’Davious White remains one of the best corners in the NFL. He stuffed Brown for a 2-for-37 line last season. In fact, Brown has a history of struggling against true No. 1 corners. With Arthur Smith and Ryan Tannehill trusting Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries with far bigger roles than in 2019, it would not be surprising to see Brown eased in rather than instantly reclaim his WR1 opportunity.
Prediction: 3-of-5 targets for 47 yards
Browns WR Jarvis Landry vs Colts (-1.5)
Total: o/u 47 - 46% Started
Every Browns player is hitting except for Landry, failing to cross 50 receiving yards in each of the last three weeks. Kevin Stefanski’s vision for this offense simply does not include high passing totals. The Browns are 30th in pass attempts per game (29), only above the Ravens and Vikings. Considering the Colts have proven to be one of the best defenses in the league through four weeks, No. 2 versus the pass and No. 5 versus the run, and it would be stunning for Week 5 to be a spiked performance in Landry’s favor.
Prediction: 4-of-4 targets for 45 yards