Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I offer up some exploitable matchups for Week 6, some backups that I’d find a bench spot for and some buy-low/sell-high trades targets to contemplate.
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5 non-Captain Obvious Week 6 Matchups to Exploit
Carson Palmer, Ari, QB vs TB – Palmer is outside the top 10 in fantasy PPG at the QB position this season, but he’s got a good chance to finish near the top of the QB1 class this week against a Buccaneers defense that has allowed no fewer than 288 passing yards to each of the four QBs it has faced this season, including 300-plus yards to Mike Glennon and Case Keenum. Palmer has attempted more passes this season than any other signal caller, and that pass-heavy approach should serve him very well this week.
Elijah McGuire, NYJ, RB vs. NE – With Bilal Powell (calf) and Matt Forte (toe) nursing injuries, McGuire steps to the plate in Week 6 as the Jets’ expected featured back. The timing could hardly be better as he’ll face a New England defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy PPG to the RB position. Among players with at least 30 rush attempts this season, McGuire sits at No. 7 with a YPC clip of 5.2. And he has the athleticism and hand-eye coordination to make his mark in the passing game, if the likelihood of a negative game script for the Jets is a concern.
Ricardo Louis, CLE, WR vs. HOU – The athletic Louis is starting to gain traction as the lead wideout in Cleveland’s offense, combining for 17 targets, 10 catches and 135 yards over his past two games. And he has a catch of 21-plus yards in four of five games this season. Last week, Louis picked up 43 of his 71 yards in the second half against the Jets after QB Kevin Hogan replaced Browns starter DeShone Kizer, so there’s hope that Louis can continue his upwards trend with Hogan leading the Browns this Sunday against a Houston defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points per catch to the WR position.
A.J. Derby, DEN, TE vs. NYG – In Week 4, before stepping out to observe his bye, Derby posted a career-best line of 4-75-1 vs. Oakland, a team that has struggled against the tight end position in recent seasons. Derby comes out of his bye week facing a Giants defense that has also struggled mightily against tight ends, allowing the most receiving yards (374) and touchdowns (6) to the position. In fact, six tight ends have scored double-digit fantasy points against the Giants in their five games this season. Given the sweet matchup and his healthy production in his last outing, Derby’s not a bad bye-week dice roll for those owners of bye-week tight ends Charles Clay, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and the Tylers (Eifert/Kroft).
Washington Defense hosting San Francisco – The Redskins come off of bye to host a 49ers team that has allowed 3.0 QB sacks per game, 10th-most in the NFL. The Redskins’ defense is averaging 3.0 QB sacks, good for seventh-best. I like the way those numbers line up for Washington, especially playing at home this week.
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5 non-Platoon Backups worth Stashing
Alfred Morris, WAS, RB – We still aren’t sure that Ezekiel Elliott is going to be able to avoid suspension. If the NFL wins its request from the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction, Zeke could start serving his six-game penalty soon. That would put Morris behind an offensive line that, although not quite as ferocious as it was last season, is still one of the best offensive fronts in the league. Considering how lucrative the lead backfield role is in Dallas and the possibility that Elliott could still be suspended, Morris’ wide availability in fantasy leagues is surprising – with a decision on Elliott expected this week, adding Morris now in advance of the court decision is a prudent course of action. You can always cut Morris loose if things go Elliott’s way.
Marlon Mack, IND, RB – I’ve been holding onto Mack in a couple leagues, and I suspect, after rushing for 91 yards on nine carries against San Francisco on Sunday, that he’ll be an item of interest in many of the leagues where he’s currently unowned. Mack now has four runs (of his 25 carries) that have gone for 10 or more yards. Gore has five such carries (on 75 attempts!). Mack has fresh legs and he brings some much-needed juice (speed, quickness, elusiveness) to the table that Gore can’t match. It may not be that Mack outright takes over for Gore, but Mack is certainly bucking for some kind of platoon that serves him much better than the current 3:1 split he’s currently in – head coach Chuck Pagano agrees, saying this week that Mack has earned a bigger role going forward.
Matt Breida, SF, RB – Breida wasn’t considered a platoon back heading into Week 5, but after out-snapping starter Carlos Hyde on Sunday at Indy, he has emerged from Week 5 with the potential for an expanded, platoon-level role. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said that Breida’s expanded role was about riding the hot hand, and it could be he’ll continue to manage his backfield in that manner. Breida has turned one of every five totes (6 out of 30) into a gain of 10 yards or more this season. For comparison, that’s the same number as LeSean McCoy, who has 57 more carries than Breida this season. Hyde will continue to start, and you can argue that he doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment considering he’s posted some impressive numbers this season. But Shanahan enjoyed great success using two backs in tandem last season in Atlanta and, apparently, he’s not going to be satisfied with a stand-alone featured back in San Francisco either.
Mike Tolbert, BUF, RB – Tolbert is the backup for a team that leans on its starting running back, perhaps more than any other team in the league. If LeSean McCoy were to go down with injury, something that would not be completely out of the ordinary for his career (the 29-year-old has missed nine games in past five seasons), Tolbert is the next man up in the Bills’ backfield. I’ve been quietly adding The Kool-Aid Man in leagues where I can afford the bench space.
Geronimo Allison, GB, WR – We’ve already seen Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb miss time this season because of injury, and if not for an amazingly quick recovery from a brutal head blow in Week 5, Davante Adams would have been in the same boat. Should any of those three miss time moving forward, Allison stands at the ready - with Cobb out, we’ve already witnessed Allison post an impressive 122 yards in Week 3. Green Bay is a lucrative offense for receivers. The next time Allison finds himself among the top three WR options in this attack (like Week 3), you’ll want to make sure you are prepared to capitalize.
5 Sell-High Candidates
Todd Gurley, LAR, RB – Last week, Seattle sold out to prevent Gurley from beating them, relying on its’ secondary talent to hold up against QB Jared Goff’s arm. The plan was a success. Don’t be surprised if we see opponents follow suit against the Rams. Gurley’s ROS schedule is ranked the toughest in fantasy football at the RB position, so expect to see more fails for Gurley down the stretch. If you could swing a deal that landed you, say, Jay Ajayi, LeSean McCoy or C.J. Anderson, all with ROS schedules among the top 10 easiest at the RB position, and another fantasy starter-level piece for Gurley, you should strongly consider making that move.
Chris Hogan, NE, WR – Hogan has scored in each of his past four games, but he’s yet to top 80 yards in any contest and he will face the third-toughest ROS schedule among WRs, andNew England’s schedule through the first five weeks of the season ranks as the fourth-easiest at the WR position. If the touchdowns start drying up as Rob Gronkowski gets healthy and Mike Gillislee starts cashing in on goal-line carries again, Hogan could have difficulty staying consistently relevant in fantasy against much tougher competition ahead.
T.Y. Hilton, IND, WR – With QB Andrew Luck back on the practice field, you might be able to still get something close to draft value for Hilton, who has topped 150 receiving yards in two of his past three games. Unfortunately, Hilton’s fantasy playoff schedule is a murderer’s row for wide receivers (Weeks 13-16 - @JAC, @BUF, DEN, @ BAL). Who knows what the surgically-repaired (shoulder) version of Luck will look like right out of the gate? There’s enough cause for concern for Hilton to entertain the idea of moving him.
Tarik Cohen, CHI, RB – Cohen created a lot of buzz with his surprise RB1-level fantasy outburst through the first three weeks of the season. But reality has bitten back the past couple weeks, as he’s combined for just 60 YFS and no touchdowns in his past two games – Monday night’s numbers in QB Mitch Trubisky’s first NFL start representing a single-game low point for Cohen (12 YFS, one catch for -1 yards). But, despite this latest downturn, there’s still some brand value out there for Cohen, which is confirmed if you look at the deals he’s going for in Yahoo leagues of late – one-for-ones include Cohen for the following: Tevin Coleman, Kelvin Benjamin, Mark Ingram – all deals that I would jump on as a Cohen owner.
Stefon Diggs, MIN, WR – Yes, Diggs is coming off an early exit on Monday night (groin), having left with just one catch for four yards, so his trade value is not at its zenith. However, you can probably still get a pretty penny for him given that his injury is not considered serious and he’s still sitting at No. 3 overall in fantasy points at wideout. As a fan of Diggs’ talent, it’s hard for me to throw him out here on the trading block. But I have to admit that sustaining health (3 DNPs in each of his first two seasons) and maintaining healthy levels of fantasy production have been issues in Diggs’ short career - he’s averaging over 100 yards per game in September, right at 70 YPG in the months of October and November and has managed just 33 YPG in eight career December games. With QB Sam Bradford also dealing with a health issue (knee) and Diggs looking at a rest-of-season schedule that, on paper, is the toughest slate for a fantasy WR, exploring offers for the dynamic Vikings’ receiver is justifiable.
5 Buy-Low Candidates
Jay Ajayi, MIA, RB – In volume and soft matchups I trust. And Ajayi, who is sixth in carries per game (19) and has the 11th-softest ROS schedule at RB, has both going for him. Ajayi is also fourth among RBs in missed tackles and ninth in YAC per attempt, so things still look good under the hood. Ajayi is outside the top 30 at the running back position in fantasy PPG, and that point should be hammered home to current Ajayi owners as you make your trade pitch for him.
DeMarco Murray, TEN, RB – Murray is in a similar place as Ajayi, outside the top 30 in RB fantasy production, but still in the lead role for his team and looking at a soft remaining schedule (fourth-easiest at the RB position). Murray has out-carried backup Derrick Henry by more than a 2:1 ratio (21 to 10) in the past two games, and has 97 more snaps on the season than Henry (204 to 107). In other words, he’s still the clear platoon leader. And I think Tennessee has much better football ahead of it than what it has showed us in the first five weeks. This was a physical, dominant offensive line and running game a season ago, and I expect we’ll see that re-emerge before too long.
Jimmy Graham, SEA, TE – Graham ranks just 20th in fantasy points at the tight end position to this point, but he’s eighth in points over the past three weeks, and only Zach Ertz has been targeted more at the TE position in that span. And last week against the Rams, Graham found the end zone for the first time this season, and in a manner that was long overdue in the minds of many Seattle fans, a goal-line jump ball fade that took advantage of Graham’s height and athleticism. Graham’s rest of season schedule is TE-favorable, and QB Russell Wilson has been one of, if not the best, second-half of the season quarterbacks since his arrival in the league. Another sizzling stretch run by Wilson is sure to include a lot more of Graham.
Amari Cooper, OAK, WR – Ok, I’ll admit, I’ve been hammering nails into Cooper’s coffin on a regular basis in this column. But everyone becomes a bargain at a certain point, and after amassing a combined 33 yards in his past three games, I think Cooper has reached his bargain point. Working in his favor is the return of Derek Carr (back) in Week 6 and a rest-of-season schedule that ranks third-easiest at the WR position. I’m looking at one-for-one trades for Cooper being made in Yahoo leagues and I’m seeing a market that I like – some of the players that have been dealt for Cooper (one-for-one) this week: Wendell Smallwood, Tarik Cohen, Alex Smith, Sammy Watkins. … If you can swing sweetheart deals like those, make the move.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR, RB – This isn’t a get-rich kind of trade target, just one that you can count on to touch the ball 15-17 times a game, get regular shots at goal line carries and won’t cost very much in a deal right now because he’s been slow out of the gates. Stewart actually ranks sixth in ProFootballFocus’ Elusive Rating, which, as they describe it, “boils down a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers.”