By Matt Citak
Week 4 of the NFL season saw a lot of significant fantasy football players go down with injuries. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, while fellow rookie running back Chris Carson will likely be sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken ankle. Meanwhile Derek Carr will be forced to watch the next few games from the bench, while Marcus Mariota is hoping he can suit up for Sunday’s contest. With all of these injuries around the league, you’re going to need all the fantasy advice you can get.
Here are my Week 5 Fantasy Football Starts and Sits.
QB: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While I would normally try to stay away from using players in the Thursday game, this matchup is just too good. Winston is averaging 288 yards and two touchdowns in each of the Buccaneers’ first three games. On Thursday, he faces a New England defense that has surrendered a league-worst 324 passing yards per game. The Patriots are also tied for a league-high 11 passing touchdowns allowed, and through four weeks, have given up 10.7 more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team. Jameis should be licking his chops heading into Thursday Night Football.
QB: Eli Manning, New York Giants
Don’t look now but Manning is currently fifth in the NFL in passing yards with 1,113 through the first four weeks of the season. Over his last five quarters, Manning has caught fire, throwing for 492 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions. A big reason for that is the play of the Giants’ offensive line. After struggling immensely in the first two games, New York’s o-line has prevented Manning from getting sacked in the past two games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. With Beckham looking healthy again, along with the plethora of options in the Giants’ passing game, I like Manning as a top-10 quarterback this week, even against the Chargers’ surprisingly stingy pass defense.
QB: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Palmer has seemingly squashed any talk about him being “washed up.” The 37-year old quarterback currently trails only Tom Brady in passing yards, and has thrown for at least 325 yards in each of his last three games. No quarterback has more vertical attempts than Palmer, who again trails only Brady in vertical completions. The only thing holding Palmer back from being a top fantasy quarterback this season is his lack of touchdowns, as he has thrown for just five in four games. However you can’t get much of a better matchup than the Eagles and their weak secondary, who are allowing 285 passing yards per game (30th in the NFL) and 20.5 fantasy points on average to opposing quarterbacks this season.
RB: Bilal Powell, New York Jets
It looks like Matt Forte will miss his second consecutive game with a turf toe injury, which is fantastic news for Powell’s fantasy owners. Carrying the bulk of New York’s carries last week, Powell exploded for 163 yards on 21 carries, averaging a massive 7.8 yards per carry, with one touchdown while adding four receptions for 27 yards. His 75-yard touchdown run was the second-longest rushing touchdown in Jets history, and after a performance like that, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Jets named him their starting running back for the rest of the season. Cleveland’s run D has actually been pretty good this year, but still, four different running backs have scored at least 10 fantasy points against them in the last three games. Fire Powell up in all fantasy lineups this weekend.
RB: Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
Murray isn’t likely to put up huge numbers, nor will he match the production of the injured Dalvin Cook. However he should receive a heavy workload at Chicago in Week 5 on Monday Night Football, which should be enough for him to at least put up solid RB2 numbers. The Bears have allowed every opposing running back that has carried the ball at least 12 times to score a touchdown this season, with it happening in each of the first four games. Murray isn’t nearly as explosive as Cook, or even as quick as he was with the Raiders a few years ago, but he does get the benefit of running behind Minnesota’s great offensive line in an offense that has surprised a lot of people this season. It may not be pretty to watch, but Murray should be solid as long as he can stay healthy.
RB: Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Gore will face off against his former team for the first time in his career as the Colts welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Lucas Oil Stadium. Gore has not looked great this season, averaging a mere 3.1 yards per carry on 61 rush attempts while scoring two touchdowns. But things are starting to trend in the right direction for the veteran back. Gore finally got involved in the passing game last week, catching three passes for 34 yards, and has scored double digit fantasy points in each of Indianapolis’ two home games in 2017. The Colts are also finally getting starting center Ryan Kelly back in the lineup this week, which should benefit everyone in the offense.
WR: DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Parker gets the edge over Landry, but both are great plays this week as the Dolphins make their home debut against the Titans and their horrendous pass defense. There is no team that has been worse against opposing wide receivers than Tennessee, who has allowed five different receivers to score at least 15 fantasy points this season. Parker has been targeted at least eight times through Miami’s three games, something that only five other receivers have done, and is averaging the third-most deep targets per game this season. Landry has been a reception monster, catching 25 passes through three games for 166 yards. If you have either of the two (or both), make sure they’re in your lineup this week.
WR: Chris Hogan, New England Patriots
As bad as New England’s pass defense has been this season, Tampa Bay’s has not been much better. The Buccaneers’ defense is allowing 316 passing yards per game, and its secondary has been one of the worst against opposing teams’ wide receivers. Add in the fact that Hogan is second in the NFL in red zone targets (including having as many as Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola combined), and this seems like a no-brainer. Hogan, along with Amendola, could both put up huge games against the Bucs this week, with the latter having sneaky sleeper appeal.
WR: Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
Shepard was the forgotten man in the Giants’ receiver corps heading into the season, as all the attention was being given to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Well fast forward four games and Shepard is leading the team in both receptions (21), yards (254), and yards per reception (12.1). Granted those stats don’t take into account Beckham’s missed game, but still, the point is Shepard has been very good in 2017. In fact, he currently leads all receivers in yards from the slot with 244. With Beckham drawing the coverage of Casey Hayward this week, and Brandon Marshall suffering from a case of the drops, Shepard could be New York’s leading receiver on Sunday as the Giants welcome the Chargers to the Meadowlands.
TE: Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
Who would have guessed that four games into the season, Clay would be a top-5 tight end? Not many people. But Buffalo’s tight end has proven to be quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s favorite target in the Bills’ passing game. Clay is ranked in the top seven in yards, receptions, and touchdowns among tight ends, and has scored at least nine fantasy points in non-PPR leagues in three of four games. With Buffalo’s number one wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, set to miss at least the next month, Clay should play an even larger role in the Bills’ offense. Keep in mind he is already receiving 42 percent of his team’s red zone targets, which is higher than any other tight end. The Bengals aren’t the easiest of matchups, but Clay has earned his way into the “must start regardless of matchup” group.
TE: Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
Cook has not had a big game through his first four contests as a Raider, but that could change this week. The 30-year-old tight end has seen his targets increase as the season has progressed, receiving eight targets in last week’s loss against the Broncos. Michael Crabtree is banged up and Amari Cooper has been awful this season. While Derek Carr missing some time will hurt the two receivers, it could actually help Cook’s value. E.J. Manuel looked to his tight end a lot in his limited action last week, and with the Ravens allowing 14.4 yards per catch to tight ends this year, Manuel is likely to continue targeting him. Baltimore has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, which makes Cook a solid play this week.
QB: Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
If he ends up playing, I understand that it might be tough to bench Mariota this week, as every roster spot holds a lot of value with the amount of injuries we have seen this season. But don’t expect a big performance from the Titans QB this week, even against Miami’s awful pass defense. If you take away Mariota’s rushing stats from last season, he drops from 10th to 24th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. As he deals with his hamstring injury, it is unlikely we see much (if any) rushing production from Mariota. This doesn’t bode well for the third-year quarterback. If you have a solid backup, I’d strongly consider starting him over Mariota this week.
QB: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Since switching offensive coordinators, Dalton has looked much improved, combining for 55 fantasy points in the last two games against Green Bay and Cleveland. However this week’s opposing defense is a whole other beast. The Bills are giving up a solid 213 passing yards per game, but their strength has been keeping teams out of the end zone. Through four weeks, Buffalo has surrendered a combined ONE passing touchdown to Josh McCown, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, and Matt Ryan, with the four quarterbacks earning 36 total fantasy points. Although he has looked good recently, there’s no way you can trust Dalton in this matchup.
QB: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton finally decided to join the party last week, scoring 38 fantasy points against New England’s garbage defense. Is that enough to get him back in the must-start category every week? Not quite. Newton combined for just 33 fantasy points in the first three games, including contests against the 49ers and Saints, whose defenses are far from daunting. This week the Panthers travel to Detroit to take on the Lions, who have been surprisingly strong against opposing quarterbacks. Through four games, QBs have averaged just 12.5 fantasy points against Detroit, including matchups against Palmer, Manning, and Ryan. While last week’s performance was certainly promising, I’d keep Cam out of my lineup this week.
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
For all of the hype he received when he came out of retirement and went home to Oakland, Lynch has done very little to impress while on the field. After running for 76 yards and 4.2 yards per carry in Week 1, Lynch has just 75 rushing yards in the last three games combined, and has averaged 2.8 yards per carry. With Carr out, the Ravens are likely to stack the box against the Raiders this weekend, daring Manuel to prove that he is capable of throwing the ball. If Baltimore’s starting defensive tackle, Brandon Williams, cannot go on Sunday, it will boost Lynch’s value a bit. Regardless, you should look for other options at running back this week.
RB: Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
While I discussed how bad the Buccaneers’ pass defense is, I failed to mention how strong their rush D is. Tampa Bay has given up 78.7 rushing yards per game thus far, which ranks fifth in the league. In addition, the Buccaneers are surrendering a mere 2.9 yards per carry, which trails only Denver’s 2.4. New England’s defense does not help Gillislee’s case, as they allow opponents to pour on points against them at will, thus taking away the chance for the Pats to use Gillislee to milk the clock in the fourth quarter. Gillislee always has multiple-touchdown potential in the Patriots’ offense, but because of his very low floor, I’m benching him this week.
RB: LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
Blount looked awful after the first two weeks of the season, racking up just 46 rushing yards on 14 carries. But over the last two weeks, the veteran back has turned things around, running for just over 200 yards on only 28 carries including a touchdown. While his season outlook certainly looks better now, I don’t expect the strong performances to continue this week. The Cardinals have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in over a year, and are surrendering only 2.97 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season. The only way Blount will put up respectable numbers on Sunday is if he can manage to find the end zone.
WR: Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
Take away Jeffery’s 7-catch performance against the Chiefs in Week 2, and the 6-foot-3 receiver has just 123 yards on 10 catches in three games. Those are far from the numbers the Eagles expected when they signed the veteran receiver to a one-year, $9.5 million contract over the offseason. Jeffery gets the added bonus of being shadowed by Patrick Peterson this week. Peterson leads all cornerbacks in fantasy points per route in coverage over the last three seasons. Through the first month of the 2017 season, the All-Pro corner has allowed only 56 yards on 13 targets. Things aren’t looking good for Jeffrey this week.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams
Watkins got fantasy owners excited after Week 3 in which he caught six of seven targets for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers. However he followed that up with one reception for 17 yards against the Cowboys last week, and this week has to go up against the Seahawks and their talented secondary. While Jared Goff has been producing like a top fantasy quarterback, Watkins has just one game with over six points in standard leagues. Seattle is fourth in the NFL with 185 passing yards allowed per game. All of these statistics don’t bode well for Watkins’ fantasy outlook in Week 5.
WR: Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Week 5 might be Benjamin’s toughest matchup of the season. Despite topping 100 yards last week for the first time this season, Benjamin does not look like the strongest of fantasy options this week. He has missed some practice time leading up to Sunday’s tilt against the Lions, which isn’t great but not the worst news considering he did the same last week. The reason to be pessimistic about the big receiver this week is the fact that he will be guarded by cornerback Darius Slay. Slay has matched up against Larry Fitzgerald, Beckham, Julio Jones, and Stefon Diggs through the first four weeks, and has limited them to an average of 7.5 points in non-PPR and 13.0 points in PPR on a massive 9.3 targets per game. I’m keeping Benjamin planted on my bench this week.
TE: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Witten has cooled off since his amazing start. Over the last two weeks, the 35-year-old tight end has caught just two passes on six targets for 12 yards. It’s difficult to imagine that trend changing this week as Witten will face a Packers defense that has been one of the best against tight ends. Green Bay has given up only 12 receptions for 106 yards and no touchdowns to opposing tight ends through four games. With how unpredictable the tight end position has been this season, I’d much rather stream someone for the week than start Witten in this matchup.
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Let me preface this by saying if Sam Bradford is able to make the start on Monday Night Football, then I’d feel comfortable starting Rudolph. That said, signs are pointing towards Case Keenum getting the start again this week, which is bad news for Rudolph. Since Keenum has taken over at quarterback, Rudolph has just seven receptions on 12 targets for 83 yards and no touchdowns. That’s pretty unbelievable considering Keenum has thrown for 755 total yards in those three games. Chicago has also looked strong against opposing tight ends (except for Austin Hooper’s two big catches in Week 1). I’m avoiding Rudolph if possible in Week 5.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.