Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.
But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: MOHAMED SANU VS. BROWNS SECONDARY
On the one hand, the Patriots just added a reliable veteran presence to what has traditionally been the most productive position in the team's passing game with Tom Brady. On the other hand, they just added him. The question of whether or not to start Mohamed Sanu this week is a fascinating one. Of course you'll have to keep an eye on the game-day actives Sunday, and you'll be put in a bit of a tough spot if you're waiting, because the Patriots have a 4:25 p.m. kick time so you'll have to have another option on your roster ready to go who plays either at 4:25 p.m., Sunday night or Monday night just in case.
But if Sanu is active . . . There's a possibility he makes an immediate impact. The reason the Patriots wanted a slot was in part due to the fact that they wanted to get Julian Edelman outside more often. Can't get Edelman outside more often unless Sanu is on the field. (Though Jakobi Meyers is considered an inside player as well.) And when Sanu has been inside, he's been immensely productive. He's played 77 percent of his snaps inside this season (up from 66.7 percent last year and 53.3 percent in 2017), and since 2016 only three receivers have more slot yardage than Sanu. He's second in the NFL this season in slot catch percentage (81.3) behind only Tyler Lockett (88.2), and only seven receivers have more slot targets than Sanu (32) this year (including Edelman, 42).
The Next Gen Stats said coming into the season that Sanu was the fourth-best receiver in the league in getting separation against press coverage since 2016. Plus, there's always the chance the Patriots use Sanu's arm to their advantage. According to NFL Research, the former high school quarterback has 27.0 air yards on his eight pass attempts since 2012, and he's three-for-three for 174 yards and two scores on passes that travel more than 40 yards in the air. Is it likely? No. They just want to get him up to speed on the game plan, and they have very little time to do it. Wednesday wasn't a true practice so much as it was a walkthrough.
But there's potential there for you if you're in dire need of a wideout while better options are hurt or on a bye. What I would do? Bench him for this week if you can afford to. Wait it out. Wait for Brady and the Patriots to get past Myles Garrett and a Browns front that could create some issues. But be aggressive if Sanu is on another roster in your league right now. Go trade for him. Because he's in an offense that peppers the slot. And by the time the fantasy season stretch run arrives, he could be one of Brady's favorite targets.
SEE 'EM POPPING
JULIAN EDELMAN: Whether Sanu plays or not, Julian Edelman has to be in your lineup. He has 36 targets in his last three games, leading to 270 yards receiving. He's also a threat to pick up yardage with the jet-motion runs the Patriots have had some success with (one of the only types of runs that have been successful for them) lately. No matter who is in or out of the lineup, Edelman is going to be one of the most consistent fantasy threats out there. Given the Patriots can't run the ball all that well, he'll see his share of targets on a weekly basis. His 47-yard total on Monday night should've been better but he had an ugly drop early on that would've gone for an explosive gain.
NICK CHUBB: The Patriots defense is the best in the league — the best in the history of the league, in fact — in a boatload of categories. They lead the league in turnover differential, interceptions and total turnovers as well as yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, quarterback rating allowed and third-down defense. They're not truly the cream of the crop, though, against the run. Don't get me wrong. They're still very good. But their eighth in rushing defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. They're 15th in yards allowed per carry (4.2). They've allowed mediocre days to Le'Veon Bell (18.9 points in two games in PPR leagues), Frank Gore (10.9) and James Conner (10.5). Chubb should be serviceable. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field — as he showed with an 88-yard touchdown this season — and if the Patriots have any trouble tackling him then he could be worth a start this week on one play alone.
JAMES WHITE: The Browns are the fourth-best team in football at limiting running back success in the passing game. According to Sharp Football Stats, they allow just a 36 percent "success rate." And yet, Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to yards per attempt sent to backs. Their 7.2 yards per attempt to backs is 27th in the NFL. That tells me the Browns defense is prone to giving up big plays to backs in the passing game. Le'Veon Bell caught 10 passes for 61 yards against the Browns back in Week 2, and I could see White having a similar day.
SONY MICHEL: If you like opportunity and you like touchdowns, you have to start Michel. I know it's not easy. His yards per attempt numbers have been abominable. But the Patriots know that — even without a real fullback — the smartest thing to do at the goal line is to run. And after a week off from that role, Michel was very clearly the goal line back once again on Monday night. You know he's going to sniff around 20 carries or so even if the Patriots can't run it; they haven't been able to and yet he's had 19, 22, 16 and 17 carries in his last four games. That alone makes him worthy of a start. With goal line work factored in, you have to play him. Regardless of how productive he is yardage-wise on a carry-to-carry basis.
PHILLIP DORSETT: Now that we know Josh Gordon won't be in the mix, that should open up opportunity for Dorsett. Even if Sanu plays, he shouldn't challenge Dorsett for reps in their three-receiver sets. Dorsett is an outside-the-numbers player for the most part while Sanu is an inside guy. When N'Keal Harry returns, that could complicate the picture for Dorsett, but for now, it's worth starting Dorsett in deeper leagues. When targeted, he catches it. And he's a vertical threat in an offense that doesn't have many of those. The Browns are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to yards per attempt allowed, so there could be some opportunities for Brady and Dorsett to hook up and pierce Steve Wilks' single-high safety looks.
TOM BRADY: The question is: Will Brady have time to throw? If he has time, this is the kind of scheme he's carved up before. The Browns run a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks, and they like to lean on their zone calls in critical situations. At least that's what they did against Russell Wilson two weeks ago. If that's the case, Brady should feast . . . if he's not pressured. Easier said than done. Myles Garrett is a monster. He'll give the Patriots problems regardless of where he aligns if he's one-on-one. (He lines up on both the left and right sides fairly equally; 57.6 percent of the time he's on the offensive right.) But the Patriots have seen this type of scheme frequently enough that Brady should be fine.
SEE 'EM DROPPING
ODELL BECKHAM JR.: Anyone confident starting this guy this week? I know the Browns just sent 11 targets his way against Seattle. I know they want him more involved. But he's going to see a lot of Stephon Gilmore. And even if he shakes free of Gilmore, odds are he's not going to get much on a per-target basis. The Patriots have been ridiculously good in a number of categories this year, but particularly against receivers. They allow just 5.1 yards per attempt to wideouts and just a 32 percent success rate on receiver targets — both of which are the best marks in football. If you have other intriguing options, I'd go with them. Seems safer to bet on the Patriots defense to continue what they're doing rather than to assume Beckham is going to buck the trend.
JARVIS LANDRY: See: Beckham, Odell.
BAKER MAYFIELD: The Patriots are 20-0 against first- and second-year quarterbacks in their last 20 games for a reason. Defensively they'll be able to confuse Mayfield, and he may be playing behind an offensive line that's dealing with some moving parts. There's no doubt that this is the best collection of pure talent the Patriots have faced this year. But if Mayfield's offensive line doesn't give him a chance against a team that is leading the league in sacks, he'll struggle. He's last in the league among quarterbacks with at least 50 percent of their team's snaps when it comes to quarterback rating under pressure (24.1).
JAKOBI MEYERS: Two games. Nine targets. Nine catches. That'll play. That'll earn you Tom Brady's trust. He's trending in the right direction and showing that he can do the little things he did in preseason to get open in the regular season when "the bullets are live." The only question here is whether or not Sanu is active. If he's not, I think it's safe to assume Meyers will be good for about five catches and 50 yards once again. If Sanu is in uniform, I think you have to wait and see what Meyers' role is before you start him any time soon.
BEN WATSON: You might be desperate here. Most of us are. If you have to play him, I get it. But last week's performance — three catches, 18 yards — seems about right for him most weeks until he proves to us otherwise. There are too many options in this offense when all are healthy to depend on Watson for much. Particularly this week. The Browns have been good against tight ends, allowing just 6.6 yards per target to that position. That's sixth-best in the league.
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