Looking ahead to this weekend's action, there are 10 sleepers I like to outperform what the masses expect from them in Week 5.
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
If you had to guess, who would you imagine has played the most among Washington running backs the last two weeks? Is it the steady veteran Alfred Morris? How about the exciting young rookie, Matt Jones? No and no. The correct answer would be 2013 fifth-round Chris Thompson, who had nine career touches coming into this season.
Over the last two games, Thompson has out snapped his backfield mates 71 to 47 (Morris) and 41 (Jones), playing on 44 percent of the possible offensive plays. He's earned a role as the team's primary passing game back. He's garnered 16 percent of Washington's passing game targets. Thompson has made good on his chances with 81 receiving yards and a touchdown to go along with 82 rushing yards. That's gold in PPR leagues, but he's even scored a solid 22.3 points in standard over the last two weeks.
Jay Gruden has long wanted a Giovani Bernard-type back to complement the early down only Morris. It looks like he's settled on Thompson for that roll. While Thompson's inclusion into the backfield only muddies the already clouded picture of Morris and Jones' outlook in the long-term, he brings enticing value for this week.
The Falcons have been eaten alive by pass-catching running backs this season in fantasy. Since Week 1, Atlanta has ceded 31 catches for 300 yards to Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen, Lance Dunbar and the Chris Polk/rusty Arian Foster combination. Forget about just PPR, those players averaged 11.3 standard fantasy points in their games against the Falcons. The Falcons defense is improved, but their linebackers are too slow in coverage to deal with these ancillary players.
All the stars are aligning for Chris Thompson to have a strong stat line this week, even potentially breaking 100 yards from scrimmage. If the bye week gauntlet has you down, and you're in need of a spot starter in PPR leagues, Thompson is a solid play to get you through.
The starting quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars is a top 10 fantasy quarterback. Blake Bortles, top-10; not something we expected to hear at this stage. However, it's reality with Bortles averaging 19 fantasy points over the last three games. The Jaguars have a solid No. 1 receiver, who draws top-tier coverage, in Allen Robinson. Additionally, Allen Hurns has emerged as a more than reliable complementary threat, who can make good on favorable looks on the other side of Robinson.
Bortles still has a long way to go in proving he's worth the draft capital Jacksonville sunk into him, or that he's even a viable NFL starter. Because while there's some optimism, in the Jags offense, Bortles is mostly succeeding in fantasy on the back of volume. His ranking plummets to 22nd when sorted on a per pass attempt basis. Yet, we're just worried about fantasy here, and Bortles has an excellent chance to keep up his pace in Week 5. The Buccaneers have allowed the ninth most fantasy points per pass attempt to the quarterback position. Regardless of this week, it's probably time to roster Bortles in most leagues, anyways. That volume isn't going away.
There's a good chance you were spurned by Sam Bradford and his 16.4 combined points in Weeks 2 and 3. There's every reason to be wary of this Eagles offensive situation, which is still on the fritz compared to what we expected from them this season. However, Bradford did seem to turn a corner last week against Washington, after looking painfully conservative and willing to check down at any chance in the first three games. In Weeks 1 through 3, Bradford averaged 83.3 air passing yards per game. In Week 4 alone, he gained 200 air passing yards. He finally showed some willingness to attack a defense deep, and even displayed some fight and emotion -- something sorely lacking from his makeup in the opening few games.
With Bradford showing some life, we can safely roll him out as a fantasy starter again, at least on a matchup basis. It just so happens he gets a tremendous one this week. The Saints give up .8 fantasy points per pass attempt, which is the highest rate in the NFL. The quarterbacks they've faced are as follows: Carson Palmer, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Brandon Weeden. Only one of those passers currently fields a robust aerial attack (Palmer). If Bradford is committed to actually incoporating deep passes into his game, this is the time to do it. The Saints also rank dead last in yards per attempt allowed with 9.8.
Not many people like Jay Cutler anymore, and his apologists have all but withered away. Yet, we can take one last ride with Cutty as a fantasy starter this week. With so many questions and injuries at the quarterback position, we can't get too picky with our streaming replacements. In all honesty, outside of his three interceptions, Cutler has enjoyed a solid season in limited action.
The Chiefs defense is bleeding points to opposing passing game players. They lead the league in air yards allowed (766) through four games. Opposing fantasy players have reaped the rewards too. Kansas City ranks 29th in quarterback points allowed per pass attempt and in wide receiver points allowed per target. This defense is ripe for the picking, and this offense is talented enough to take advantage.
We're in the closing portions of the "Duke Johnson is a sleeper" window. After a puzzling lack of involvement in the passing game through the first two weeks of the season, the Browns targeted Johnson 17 times over the last two games. He's recorded 15 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown over that span. The Browns split him out of the backfield and into the slot on multiple occasions, including his long touchdown against a linebacker in space.
Johnson is trending toward every week starter status in PPR leagues. He's a fine play to roll out again this week. The Ravens aren't playing well against opposing quarterbacks, so Josh McCown should string together another positive performance. That will spill over into good numbers for Johnson. There were multiple plays from Sunday where McCown identified matchups pre-snap in order to get the ball in Johnson's hands.
With Steve Smith out of the lineup, Kamar Aiken will assume the role of the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver. Now, you might not know about Aiken, he's been in the NFL for five seasons but didn't catch a pass until last year. However, he won a starting gig in the offseason after Breshad Perriman went down with an injury. When he's been targeted this season, Aiken has produced for Baltimore. Flacco has sent the ball Aiken's way seven times in Weeks 2 and 4, and the wideout responded with 10 catches 166 yards and a touchdown. He'll be counted on to tote that sort of volume on Sunday.
The Browns are a bottom-half NFL pass defense, giving up 1.22 fantasy points per target to wide receivers (ranked 19th), and .58 fantasy points per pass attempt to quarterbacks (ranked 26th). Their top cornerback Joe Haden, who wasn't playing well anyways, missed last week. If he sits in this game, even a substandard Ravens passing offense could get plenty of room to thrive. If you need a third receiver, or sneaky flex play, Aiken presents a good mixture of safety and upside.
Despite all the offseason hype surrounding Brandin Cooks, he's been out-played by another young pass catcher. Despite ranking third on the team in targets, Willie Snead leads the Saints in receiving yards and is the only wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass so far. He's been efficient with his chances, catching 72.7 percent of his targets, where his teammates have not. The second-year undrafted free agent is just the latest unheralded player to rise to prominence in the Saints offense. Snead is their new version of Lance Moore, with a tad more explosive ability.
The Eagles pass defense was legendarily generous to wide receivers in the first two games of the NFL season. They've improved lately, currently ranking 15th in allowing fantasy points to wide receivers per target. But the game script is what's enticing here. The Saints throw the ball 64.6 percent of their plays and the passing volume should be there in this tilt. The Eagles finally got on track with the deep ball last week, and should make this a back-and-forth game. It's strange to say, but if we're trusting anyone from this passing game to give some reasonable return, it's Snead.
Let's not forget about this development just because the Titans were on bye last week. Tennessee is making a concerted effort to get their ultra-talented second-round wide receiver the ball in key situations. He's steadily played on 16 to 17 percent of the team's snaps throughout the season. However, he's been called upon to make big plays when they've needed it most. In the second half of two games where they were fighting for wins the last two weeks, the Titans deployed their massive weapon. In those situations, he's amassed all three of his 2015 catches, and both of his touchdowns.
He's been their red zone chess piece, and he grabbed both of his touchdowns in that area during competitive games. The Titans should be in a similarly close game with the Bills this weekend. There's a chance they'll be looking to even the score late in the game, and potentially come up with some more red zone chances. He'll have every-week flier value if the current usage keeps up, and potential starting appeal if his snap share trends upward.
The fourth-year pro is something of an unknown commodity with only 19 career receptions to his name. However, we do know a couple of things that make Derek Carrier very appealing. When Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen went down with preseason injuries, Washington turned right around and sent draft capitol to San Francisco to acquire Carrier. He's quickly risen up the ladder, and is currently the team's No. 2 tight end on the depth chart. With historically fragile Jordan Reed dealing with an MCL injury and in the concussion protocol, Carrier is set to get his shot this week.
We also know that Kirk Cousins loves to throw to his tight ends, and peppers them with targets. Going back to 2013, the Reed/Paul/Paulsen combination averages 16.9 targets in games Cousins starts versus 10.1 when he's not in the lineup. Despite Carrier's unproven nature, the team trusts him to some degree and Cousins' history shows he'll lean on the new starting tight end. If you're looking for a desperation streamer in a position that only gets murkier by the week, Carrier is a good flier playing in game that should feature a good amount of scoring.
If you've been paying attention to fantasy football here in 2015, you know the one rule that is iron-clad is "start all tight ends against the Raiders." Let's review. Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore and Gary Barnidge have put up career-best days against the Raiders this year. Martellus had 11 catches and a score, on which the Raiders blew the coverage and left him wide open. They've been doing that a lot. Oakland has allowed 74.8 fantasy points to the tight end position this year, almost a full 20 points more than the second most generous team (Giants, 54.9).
Owen Daniels only has a 14 percent share of the team's targets over the course of the season, but that number is trending up with 21 percent over the last two games. He's also garnered 57 percent of the team's red zone targets in that span. He might not explode in the manner that some of the previously mentioned names did, but he's a secure bet for a TE1 day against the Raiders.