- The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL, yet a handful of players haven't shown up for fantasy owners so far this season. Should you start or sit Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant this week? That and more Week 5 fantasy football start/sit recommendations.
In football, there are some events that don’t show up in the box score, but portend of big things to come. And while the Steelers offense hasn’t performed anywhere near its expectations this season, there is great reason to believe those big things will begin this week. Pittsburgh returns home to face the Jaguars on Sunday as 8.5-point favorites, and that, coupled with their prowess at Heinz Field, suggests the offense will finally find its footing.
Let’s look at the Steelers four regular fantasy starters: Antonio Brown has mostly done his thing this year, and Le’Veon Bell got going in his elite RB1 way last week. Roethlisberger has slogged his way to 14.7 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, scoring no more than 17.52 points any week. For my money, though, Bryant has fallen further from where I expected him to be. He has had fewer than 50 yards in three of Pittsburgh’s four games, mixing in a 91-yard, one-touchdown game in Week 2 for good measure. He’s also one of this season’s best illustrations of why fantasy owners need to look beyond the box score.
After his 3-91-1 game against the Vikings, Bryant posted a 2-30-0 line against the Bears, and 3-48-0 line against the Ravens. Both of those duds were painfully close to being better than his game against the Vikings? How close, you ask? Literally inches.
First, allow me to take you back to the Steelers first play from scrimmage in their eventual loss to the Bears in Week 3. We’ll join the play already in progress.
And now, let’s look at a third-and-three play from the fourth quarter of last week’s win over the Ravens. Again, we’ll join the play in progress.
If you’re keeping score at home, Bryant just missed on a 75-yard touchdown in Week 3, and a 42-yard score last week. If both of those connect, Bryant’s pedestrian season-long numbers of 10 catches, 183 yards and one touchdown jump to 12 catches, 300 yards and three touchdowns. The only thing keeping him from that stat line is slightly better execution.
While Bryant and Roethlisberger owners would love to have those touchdowns on the board, they can take solace in the fact that the Steelers are taking multiple shots per game down the field. Even more importantly, their play design has repeatedly gotten Bryant open on those deep balls.
With that, let’s get to the rest of Start ’Em or Sit ’Em for Week 5.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs. Jaguars)
What, you thought we wouldn’t mention Roethlisberger, too? His home/road splits over the last few seasons are well known to any fantasy player, and he has spent three of his four games this year away from Heinz Field. He’ll be happy to get back to some home cooking, even with the young, impressive Jaguars defense on the other side of the ball. A big day is on the horizon for Roethlisberger.
Alex Smith, Chiefs (at Texans)
Smith has delivered in every game this season, scoring no fewer than 15.10 points in any game, and posting two weeks with at least 27.32 points. Houston is a tough draw for a quarterback, but Andy Reid has designed a special offense in Kansas City this season, and he made sure that Smith’s skill set is at the center of it. The Chiefs are using playaction and misdirection expertly this year. They’re getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers regularly, and in spots where they can do the most damage. At the middle of it all is Smith, guiding the offense with a deft hand. With the way he is playing individually, and the offense is playing collectively, no matchup should force him out of your lineup.
Eli Manning, Giants (vs. Chargers)
Going back to the fourth quarter of the Giants Week 3 loss to the Eagles, Manning has thrown for 492 yards and five touchdowns against zero interceptions in his last five quarters. He hasn’t been terribly efficient, but the stats have been there in abundance. Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard have both been huge for Manning in that same timeframe, and with Evan Engram emerging as a reliable tight end, Manning has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Wayne Gallman can bring some semblance of competence to the Giants backfield, and the overall boost the offense will get from that will more than offset any volume-based losses for Manning. This should be a good week for all your Giants not named Brandon Marshall.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills (at Bengals)
Taylor continues to get the job done with one of the least inspiring supporting casts in the league. He has scored at least 17.82 points in two of his four games, and is averaging 15.14 points per game. Cincinnati has a strong pass defense that ranks 11th in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA), and the Bills are slight underdogs on the road. Taylor’s rushing ability, however, gives him a safer floor than most quarterbacks in challenging matchups. The bar for starting in superflex leagues this week is quite low, with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins on bye, and Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota injured.
The same forces that make almost any quarterback a worthy superflex starter this week make it hard to call any fantasy-relevant quarterback a sit. Consider this week’s sit calls at quarterback more a warning to temper your expectations, but not an outright command to put these players on your bench. That’s not equivocation, that’s reality.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals (at Eagles)
Palmer has faced the Lions, Colts, Cowboys and 49ers this season. The Lions are second in 4for4’s aFPA against quarterbacks, but the other three are all 15th or worse, with the Colts and Cowboys in the bottom third of the league. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row of defenses. Palmer has 1,282 yards, 7.01 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. The Eagles defense hasn’t been special against quarterbacks, either, but that doesn’t seem to matter for Palmer. What does matter is that the Eagles are playing at home and favored by nearly a touchdown, both factors that typically work against the opposing quarterback.
Deshaun Watson, Texans (vs. Chiefs)
Watson has been nothing short of great this season, and it’s hard to imagine how he wasn’t the Texans starter right from the jump. We do have to credit Bill O’Brien for making the change quicker than most coaches would, but we can also knock him for not seeing sooner that Watson was the guy. No matter that, he is the guy now, but this could be a back-to-earth week for the rookie out of Clemson. The Chiefs rank fourth in aFPA against quarterbacks, and while some of that owes to the Patriots scoring all three of their touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 1 on the ground, it’s still a group that can make life tough on passers. Watson is my QB14 this week, so it’s not like I think he’s a terrible play, but it’s worth considering other options if you have someone who is a top-12 type.
Marcus Mariota, Titans (at Dolphins)
This is about Mariota’s hamstring more than anything else. He’s almost certain to be a game-time decision on Sunday, and that makes playing him a risky proposition. Thankfully, this game kicks off at 1 pm ET, so we’ll know if Mariota is playing by time most lineup decisions need to be made, but it seems safe to say that, even if he does play, he won’t be 100%. Mariota doesn’t rely on his legs the way some quarterbacks who are threats on the ground do, but he is unquestionably better when scrambling and designed runs are part of his game. That’s unlikely to be the case on Sunday. Like Watson, Mariota won’t be a terrible fantasy play if he starts. He’s my No. 17 quarterback, and he always carries QB1 upside. His strained hamstring, however, makes this a good week to go in another direction if you can.
Latavius Murray, Vikings (at Bears)
What just might go down as the Great Running Back Waiver Wire Bonanza of 2017 is set to bear immediate fruit. Murray may not be terribly good, but he finds himself in an excellent spot for fantasy purposes. He’s going to be the lead back in Minnesota, running behind a great offensive line and playing in an offense that is truly explosive, at least when Sam Bradford is at the helm. Murray has turned in two great seasons in similar circumstances. He totaled 1,298 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 2015, and 1,052 yards and 12 scores last year. He can approach similar per-game numbers this season, even though it won’t be pretty to watch.
Wayne Gallman, Giants (vs. Chargers)
Gallman, too, goes from most waiver wires immediately into the starting lineup. He injected some life into the Giants running game for the first time since the days of Ahmad Bradshaw and Tiki Barber. Gallman, the rookie out of Clemson, made his career debut last week, running for 42 yards on 11 carries, and catching two passes for eight yards and a touchdown. Orleans Darkwa will likely be back this week, Paul Perkins is not seriously injured, and Shane Vereen will always have a role in the passing game, but the Giants have to try something new in the backfield, and Gallman can be the cure to what has ailed them on the ground for years. He should get enough of a chance to be worthy of a flex play in most fantasy formats.
Eddie Lacy, Seahawks (at Rams)
Lacy is our third and final waivers-to-starter back of the week. We have to try to read the tea leaves on this one, and few coaches are as skilled in the art of obfuscation as Pete Carroll. Lacy dominated the carries after Chris Carson went out with a season-ending leg injury last week, but part of that owed to Thomas Rawls being inactive. Even though he was a healthy scratch, there’s no guarantee that Lacy will own the backfield, at least on the ground, in quite the same fashion with Rawls sure to be active this week. Still, we have to read last week’s active/inactive statuses as a tacit endorsement of Lacy as the de facto starter with Carson out. Lacy ran well, too, picking up 52 yards on 11 carries in the win over the Colts. The Rams have been the worst defense against the run in terms of aFPA this season.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions (vs. Panthers)
Abdullah didn’t join any teams from the waiver wire this week, but he does feel like a newly minted starter in fantasy circles. He ran for 94 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries last week, and caught three passes for 15 yards. It was his third straight game with at least 86 yards from scrimmage, and he squeezed Theo Riddick further out of the gameplan with what was one of the best games of his career. Abdullah is running as well as he ever has, and he’s making himself a player in Detroit’s passing game, as well. He’s trending toward being a locked-in fantasy starter in all formats.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders (vs. Ravens)
When you watch Lynch play this year, it’s almost like he’s a 31-year-old running back who sat out last season. What, you’re telling me that’s exactly what he is? Huh, funny, given his draft-day price, you’d think that wasn’t the case. Lynch’s predictable struggles are crushing fantasy owners who bought into the narrative. They need to do their best Bill O’Brien and make the change before it’s too late. His last three games? Twelve carries for 45 yards, six carries for 18 yards, and nine carries for 12 yards. Other than draft-day cost, I can’t see any reason to start him until he shows some life.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns (vs. Jets)
Crowell has been just as bad as Lynch, running for 134 yards on 46 carries this season. He has yet to run for more than 44 yards in a game, or gain more than 66 yards from scrimmage in a single week. His next touchdown will be his first of the year. The Browns offense has struggled mightily this season, scoring more than 18 points just once. That was against the almost-as-lowly Colts. The Jets are a cushy matchup, ranking 31st in aFPA against running backs, but matchup can’t be everything, You have to at least somewhat like the player, and there’s little to like about Crowell at the moment.
Ty Montgomery, Packers (at Cowboys)
I know, I know. You’re excited that Montgomery kicked off this week by participating in practice, even on a limited basis. You’re getting even more excited about one of the key pieces in one of the league’s best offenses being available to you this week. I’m loath to rain on that parade, but I have no choice. When the Packers take the field on Sunday, Montgomery will be 10 days removed from sustaining multiple broken ribs. Even if he does play, he’s not going to enjoy the sort of workhorse role he had the first three games of the season. The Packers would be wise to take it easy on him, especially if he can be at or near full strength by Week 6. Unless you’re in dire straits, resist the urge to play Montgomery this week.
Sterling Shepard, Giants (vs. Chargers)
Shepard got a ton of love in this week’s Target and Snap Report, and with good reason. The receiver’s rise has paralleled that of Eli Manning over the last two weeks, which is a strong foundation for his future. The Chargers have been awfully friendly to receivers this year, ranking 25th in aFPA against the position. Shepard is turning himself into a nightmare for slot corners, as well. He leads the NFL in receptions and yards out of the slot, and ranks fifth in yards per route run.
John Brown, Cardinals (at Eagles)
Brown returned last week and quickly abolished the talk of a snap count or measured usage. He got seven targets from Carson Palmer, catching three of them for 47 yards. He also nearly came down with a nifty, highlight-reel, toe-tapping catch off a deflection in the end zone for what would have been the game-winning touchdown in overtime, but he was ruled out of bounds. With the Cardinals unable to move the ball on the ground and touchdown-underdogs in Philadelphia, Palmer is going to have to put the ball in the air 40 times for the Cardinals to stand a chance of winning on Sunday. That’s bad news for the quarterback, who can’t live on volume alone, but good news for his receivers.
Pierre Garcon, 49ers (at Colts)
Garcon is still looking for his first touchdown of the season, but there has been more good for him than bad on the year. He had one huge yardage game, racking up 142 yards in Week 3, and another solid one when he had 81 yards in the season opener. Just as importantly, he’s getting a ton of opportunity, netting 33 targets from Brian Hoyer, including at least eight in three of his four games. He deserves some credit, too, for his tough schedule to begin the season, with games against the Cardinals (Patrick Peterson) and Seahawks (literally everyone in the secondary). Garcon draws a weak Indianapolis secondary on Sunday, and is a good bet to help worsen their No. 23 ranking in receiver aFPA.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (at Texans)
Hill didn’t hit on a big play last week, and, in turn, he didn’t show up for his fantasy owners. This is why players like Hill are risky—it’s big-play-or-bust for them, and those types of plays are too inconsistent for them to be reliable players. It was telling that as the Chiefs were putting together their game-saving fourth-quarter drives last week, Alex Smith targeted Albert Wilson and Chris Conley more often than he did Hill. If you own Hill you might have to start him, so this might be more of a sell recommendation than a sit recommendation, but I’d find a way to get him on my bench if I could.
Jeremy Maclin, Ravens (at Raiders)
There are plenty of ways to indict the Baltimore offense, but one of the most effective ones is to point to Maclin’s game log. Here’s a receiver who, over an admittedly uneven career, has averaged just shy of 63 yards per game. He hasn’t had more than 56 yards in a game this season, and has had 31 or fewer in three of four contests. Unfortunately for Maclin and his fantasy owners, the Baltimore offense has completely undermined his ability. Until it shows some signs of competence, it’s impossible to trust him in ideal fantasy conditions. The only way I’d be playing him this week is if the byes forced my hand.
Allen Hurns, Jaguars (at Steelers)
People still want to believe in Hurns, evidenced by his consensus ranking of WR35 on FantasyPros. I’m not buying it, slotting him just barely inside my top 50. Hurns did get 10 targets last week, but he caught just four of them for 42 yards. As is the case with Baltimore’s passing game, there just isn’t a lot to get excited about with Jacksonville’s aerial attack. After a paroxysm of competence in Week 3, Blake Bortles reverted to form last week, throwing for 140 yards, 4.0 YPA, one touchdown and one interception. He has thrown for one score and completed fewer than 60% of his passes for 6.56 YPA or less in three of his four games this season. Don’t start anyone tied to Jacksonville’s passing game unless you must.
Michael Crabtree, Raiders (vs. Ravens)
Crabtree missed the Raiders Week 4 loss to the Broncos with a bruised lung, which, I’m guessing is as scary as it sounds. He’s expected to return Sunday, and, with the hope that an NFL team wouldn’t mess around with internal organs, that’s a good sign that Crabtree is back to 100%. Still, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the team take it easy on him this week. He’s also returning to an offense that will be without Derek Carr, who broke a bone in his back last week. If you have other palatable options, you’ll want to explore them. Ravens-Raiders has the potential to be a rock fight.
Hunter Henry, Chargers (at Giants)
The Giants have been a tight end’s best friend this season. They’ve surrendered a ridiculous 26 catches for 299 yards and five touchdowns combined to Jason Witten, Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. That’s good for 11.98 points per game in standard leagues, and 16.98 in PPR formats. Henry still has to contend with Antonio Gates for targets, but he put up big numbers in his one game with more than three targets this season (seven catches, 80 yards) and he made an acrobatic touchdown catch last week. He deserves more looks in this offense, and this is just the defense against which he should get them.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jets (at Browns)
Like Henry, matchup at least partially drives this recommendation. Unlike Henry, matchup drives it almost entirely. Seferian-Jenkins should be able to take advantage of a Cleveland defense that has been just as bad against tight ends as the Giants. They haven’t been burned quite as nastily in terms of absolute numbers, but they’ve allowed the trio of Jesse James, Ben Watson and Tyler Kroft to catch 20 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. Josh McCown has never been shy about going to his tight end when he has proved reliable, and Seferian-Jenkins has caught nine of his 10 targets for 77 yards this season.
Evan Engram, Giants (vs. Chargers)
Engram has been quietly effective this season, catching 19 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he has at least four receptions and 44 yards in all four games this season, and numbers even as modest as that matter at a position where the barrier for entry to a starting lineup is so low. Consistency is key, and Engram has shown it across the first four games of his career.
Martellus Bennett, Packers (at Cowboys)
Bennett is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, and while that’s great for his teams in real life, it hurts his fantasy owners. It has a particularly curbing effect on his fantasy value when his team is dealing with injuries on the offensive line, which forces him in to block more often. The Packers could get both David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga back this week, but Bennett is still riskier than most of the players on the TE1/2 borderline this week.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (at Bears)
In three games with Case Keenum at the helm, Rudolph has seven catches for 89 yards. He has just six targets in his last two games. The Bears have been tough on opposing tight ends, ranking 10th in aFPA at the position. Add it up, and it keeps Rudolph on most fantasy benches this week.
Tyler Kroft, Bengals (vs. Bills)
Don’t chase the points here. Kroft took advantage of the aforementioned Browns defense in what is proving to be an incredible matchup for tight ends a week ago. He’ll have a much different challenge on his hands when the Bills come to town this weekend. The Bills rank 12th in tight end aFPA this season, limiting opposing tight ends to 3.78 standard-league and 7.78 PPR points per game.