Five weeks into the NFL season, we've all hopefully adjusted to the new reality. In this newly accepted version, we know some of the biggest letdowns of the fantasy season. Many players we drafted highly haven't come through, and many have moved on from them.
However, that presents a unique opportunity. Those players we know are still talented, but things just aren't working out for one reason or another, can now be viewed as legitimate weekly sleepers. Their reputation has dropped to the point where they aren't ranked anywhere near a prohibitive spot, and can be had on the cheap or even the waiver wire. Some of these players have strong matchups this week, and are worth riding again despite their season-long disappointment thus far. Daily fantasy has been a big influence in reminding us of this, as the weekly proposition of the game forces us to look at the player's value in a short lens, rather than letting where they were drafted two months ago cloud our judgement.
Looking ahead to this weekend's action, there are 10 sleepers I like to outperform what the masses expect from them in Week 6, including a few draft busts.
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
We'll apparently never know what Eric Decker has to do to get a little respect in the fantasy community. Perennially overlooked for no real reason, fantasy owners consistently let Decker slip through the cracks. He's ranked as the 24th wide receiver on average, with a low of 43, on the aggregate fantasy writers' rankings at FantasyPros.com. Even My colleagues here are NFL Fantasy have him as a WR3 type, with only Matt Franciscovich placing him inside our top-27 receivers.
Someday, there will be proper justice for Eric Decker, who ranks as they WR10 in standard leagues when counting just the games he's played (Weeks 1, 2 and 4), and averages 16.6 PPR points per game (good for .32 per snap). If you're still not convinced, Decker is fourth among receivers with at least 12 targets scoring 1.89 fantasy points for target. He's good at football.
Washington's defense took noticeable steps forward this season, and ranks as 11th best unit in the league according to FootballOutsiders' metrics. While that's up from a 27th place finish last year, Washington hasn't truly been tested yet, as their competition ranks a combined 23rd in FO's DVOA metrics. They certainly haven't faced a wide receiver duo like Decker and Brandon Marshall. Not helping matters is their injury situation in their back end. DeAngelo Hall is on an extended absence, while Bashaud Breeland and Chris Culliver continue to be limited in practice. These players are the weakness of Washington's defense, anyways, and their replacements will prove true liabilities. Washington ranks a lowly 24th in allowing fantasy points to wide receivers per target, and give up a touchdown on 6.3 percent of wideout targets (sixth-highest rate in the NFL).
The Jets are playing at home, and coming off a bye that certainly helped the previously banged up Decker get healthy. All the matchups favor New York in this game, and Decker is no exception. He's a must-start this week, and will help tilt fantasy weeks.
You're never going to feel comfortable using Colin Kaepernick, and for good reason. His floor is ghastly low. He scored a combined 26.08 fantasy points In Weeks 1, 3 and 4. On the other hand, he put up a combined 47.28 in the other two games he's played this season. Kaepernick is the most risk/reward, pure ceiling-chasing play among quarterback streamers. This week, he has an excellent chance to hit that ceiling, and has the best matchup among quarterbacks owned in less than 45 percent of NFL.com leagues.
The days of the dominant Ravens defense are long gone. Baltimore has been absolutely torched by opposing passing games, allowing the fifth most passing yards in the NFL through five games. It's not a pass rush issue either, they rank 10th with a sack recorded on 7.7 percent of the pass attempts against them, but they just don't have anyone to cover on the back end. The Ravens rank 23rd in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks per pass attempt, and 30th in points allowed to wide receivers. Drawing a matchup with this inept unit in his stadium, Kaepernick is one of the best streaming quarterbacks this week. The real question is which current 49ers, and former Ravens, receiver takes advantage of the revenge game narrative.
DeMarco Murray enters Week 6 coming off his best game of the season, but it's still fair to question whether he's truly back. There was never an illusion that we'd see the level of production out of Murray in Philadelphia that he reached in Dallas last season, but we hardly expected the hideous results of the first four weeks.
I was a big fan of Murray coming into the season, and do not believe he's taken a major step back as a player. Murray is still one of my favorite running backs in the league. He certainly looks a tad slower, which is a continuation of what we saw from him in the late portions of 2014. Murray is still an aggressive tone-setting running back, but just a slight step back in his game has changed the type of player he is. At this point, Murray is a downhill running back, best fit for a power scheme that needs a healthy volume of touches to establish and stay in a rhythm. It's not a coincidence that when the Eagles gave him a season high 27 touches last week he turned in his best statistical game of the year.
The trouble is, not much of that fits with what's going on in Philadelphia right now. The Eagles don't have the offensive line personnel to execute a power run game, and Murray just isn't fitting in with the outside zone stretch scheme they currently employ. Ryan Mathews, on the other hand, continues to show he's an ideal fit week-in-and-week-out. Mathews ranks 10th in the NFL among running backs with at least 30 touches in fantasy points per touch, while Murray comes in 31st. You can't even cite workload skewing the figures, as only 18 touches separate the two Eagles backs. Mathews has just been more efficient with his touches because he has more burst right now, can compensate a bit more for the poor line, and just generally fits the offense better.
Whether Mathews ever gets a majority share of the backfield touches is a mystery, but is more or less inconsequential to his weekly outlook. We know he's efficient enough to be an every-week flex consideration, even with limited touches. That includes this Week 6 Monday night tilt with the Giants, who let Carlos Hyde run all over them last week. If Murray were to ever go down for an extended stretch, or the winds do shift, Mathews is one of the few backup running backs who presents season-changing upside. Try to get him on your roster before that event occurs.
With the news that the Ravens placed Lorenzo Taliaferro on Injured Reserve, Buck Allen comes into focus as the Ravens primary handcuff. Which is quite timely, as Justin Forsett is dealing with an ankle injury. The veteran running back went down late in their Week 5 loss to Cleveland, and has yet to practice this week. If he can't play on Sunday, Allen should get the bulk of the carries, and is the only other healthy running back outside of Raheem Mostert (just signed Wednesday).
If you're unfamiliar with Allen, you must not have been following college football lately. Allen was extremely productive in his last two seasons at USC, scoring 27 total touchdowns over that span. He's also a capable pass catcher, recording a combined 63 receptions in 2013 and 2014. That's important in Marc Trestman's version of the Ravens offense. Justin Forsett is continuing the tradition of Trestman backs as staples of the passing game, finishing tied with other players at the end of the top 10 in running back targets. Even if Forsett does end up playing, the team hasn't been inclined to hand the reigns over to Forsett in the scoring area. He only has 40.9 percent of the red zone touches among backfield players.
Whoever the Ravens starting running back is draws a tremendous matchup in Week 6. The 49ers rank 28th in fantasy points allowed to running backs per rush attempt. Allen's pass-catching ability should make him game-script dependent in an offense that likes to target running backs. He could well be the punt play of the week in DFS.
We're going to give this one last go. C.J. Anderson has been a colossal fantasy bust through the first five weeks. Anderson is the RB57 in fantasy, and 67th in fantasy points per touch. However, I'm still a believer in Anderson's talent; the stellar play he showed off to finish 2014 was no fluke. Injuries and a poor offensive line that he doesn't trust are the main culprits in his slow start. The Broncos rank 30th in Football Outsiders' "stuff rate" (running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), with 28 percent of their runs being of this variety.
What we're counting on here is a when bad meets bad it ends up favoring Anderson and his Broncos' teammates. The Browns are the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing an NFL worst 5.33 yards per carry. They also give up 9.38 yards per catch to running backs, and rank 26th in points allowed per rush attempt. Nothing is working up front for this team, Cleveland presents a perfect get-right game for Denver's rushing attack. Ronnie Hillman is nursing a hamstring injury, and may miss this game, leaving the lion's share of the work to Anderson. If you thought Hillman was going to steal this job outright anyways, give me a break; we've seen this story before. Week 6 could be the beginning of C.J. Anderson's redemption story, or the time we finally wave goodbye for good.
Some were surprised to see Riddick garner 15 targets in Week 5. However, that was right in line with his 2015 season utilization. Riddick leads the NFL in running back targets and catches, seeing 36 passes and catching 30. The caveat here is that 55.5 percent of his targets have come in the fourth quarter. However, there's no reason to expect the Lions will do anything but continue to be terrible, and as such there's no reason he can't keep that up. He's currently the RB13 in PPR leagues, of course with volatility in his weekly outputs.
The Bears offense has been surprisingly frisky, despite playing without Alshon Jeffery. Jay Cutler and Matt Forte should lead an offense whose ancillary pieces are playing well enough to put up points against the Lions. Even if Alshon Jeffery sits out again, all the matchups are still in Chicago's favor. With that scenario playing out, Theo Riddick comes into play. The Bears group of linebackers aren't the best, and Riddick should make at least one play through the air. He's one of the best fill-in options for PPR leagues, especially in games where the Lions will be trailing, which should happen plenty.
Both Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle suffered hamstring injuries on Sunday night, and neither has practiced yet this week. Beckham returned to the game, but Randle did not. There should be some opportunity emerging in this Giants passing game. Even with those two in the fold, Dwayne Harris has seen a steady growth in his passing game involvement. Over the last two weeks, Harris owns a 17 percent share of the Giants' targets, trailing only Odell Beckham among wide receivers. Harris has converted 78.6 percent of his targets into receptions, too.
The Giants have long searched for a reliable slot receiver for this offense, especially with the installation of the quick strike Ben McAdoo offense. Harris runs the vast majority of his routes from that position. The Eagles currently employ E.J. Biggers as their slot defender. Biggers is at the journeymen stage of his career, and was regularly torched in previous stops at Washington and Tampa Bay. Especially if Randle misses this game, Harris gets a good bump with the matchup, opportunity and game flow all looking up for him. If you need a fill-in for Amari Cooper, Mike Evans or another bye week receiver, you could do a lot worse than Harris.
The Vikings pass offense hasn't been the place to mine for fantasy gold. They don't push the ball downfield, and Teddy Bridgewater is slumping just a bit behind a bad offensive line. With that being said, push will come to shove this week when Minnesota faces Kansas City. Wide receivers have wrecked the Chiefs defense, scoring 11 touchdowns against them. This secondary allows the most fantasy points to receivers, and a 63.2 percent catch rate. Mike Wallace is the only viable receiver in this low-percentage passing offense, seeing 23 percent of the targets. In an out of character way, Wallace is catching 85 percent of his targets. He still has the game-breaking ability to make good on this matchup. Keep an eye on his injury status, as he's yet to practice this week. If Wallace sits, pivot off to the rookie Stefon Diggs, who ran clean routes and caught six passes for 87 yards in his first game action for the Vikings before their bye.
The Steelers secondary is still a liability, ranking 19th in fantasy points allowed to receivers per target. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown will be popular plays this week against the Pittsburgh pass defense in a game that could turn into a shootout if Ben Roethlisberger suits up. Those two are Carson Palmer's guys, and will certainly get theirs while likely owning the passing pie. However, if you're looking for a deep flex play, the forgotten Michael Floyd makes sense. A popular breakout candidate last year, Floyd disappointed fantasy owners, and then started this season off banged up. He's working his way back into the base offense, playing 71 percent of the snaps the last two weeks, as opposed to just 40 percent through Weeks 1-3. When searching for deep sleepers, we're often best-off to just pluck ancillary players from the league's top offense. The Cardinals fit that mold, and rarely are those pieces as talented as Michael Floyd. He's well worth exploring as a punt play in DFS, as well.
One of the best late-round targets at tight end in August fantasy drafts, Jordan Cameron has disappointed his owners. With the Miami offense in free fall, Cameron is currently the TE29 in PPR leagues. Most of those who drafted him have already moved on, and he's only owned in 58.3 percent of NFL.com leagues now. However, this is still one of the most athletically gifted tight ends in the NFL, and the Dolphins could get a quick spark coming off their bye with an interim head coach now in charge.
Dan Campbell, a former NFL blocking tight end, feels like a back to basics coach who will emphasize the running game and high-percentage passing throws. That could mean plenty of work for Cameron. This is the matchup to make it happen, as the Titans rank dead last in fantasy points allowed per tight end target (1.68), and yards per target given up to the position (10.85). Those figures include a one-catch, 7-yard shut down of Charles Clay last week. If Cameron was dropped in your league, and you're in a bind at tight end, pick him up and see what happens in this plus matchup.
Thursday Night Football bonus start
With injuries dogging both Julio Jones and Leonard Hankerson last week, Jacob Tamme stepped up to pace the passing game. He saw 10 targets go his way (tied with Jones) and caught 80 percent of them for 94 yards. Tamme posted a massive 17.4 outing in PPR leagues seemingly out of nowhere. With both receivers still banged up, the Falcons may need to call on Tamme once again to step up into a larger than usual role. The Saints are another team, along with Tennessee and Oakland, that is just bleeding points to the tight end position. The Saints rank 30th in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to tight end per target, and allow the seventh-highest catch rate to the position (73.2 percent). The Saints defense is a nightmare, and Tamme might be the best way to exploit that this week.