- With five weeks of the season in the books, our fantasy experts take a look at some players who have started hot and some players who will continue to disappoint.
No professional sports season flies by quite like the NFL’s. It’s already Week 6, which just about marks the halfway point for most fantasy football regular seasons. Quirks, flukes and luck, both good and bad, are part of every season, but at this point of the year teams and players generally are what their records and stat lines say they are. We also know, however, that they all won’t stay that way.
With that in mind, we gave the SI.com fantasy experts the following task to kick off the Week 6 Cheat Sheet:
With five weeks of the season in the books, we mostly know who and what every player and team is. Still, some players who have started hot won't keep it up, and others who have struggled will turn it around. Give us one from each category.
Michael Beller: This one hurts, because I’m about to turn on one of my favorite players in the league. I see a downturn in production for Jordy Nelson on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s still a WR1, and I love anyone tied to the best quarterback on the planet, let alone his favorite receiver. I’m just not sold on Nelson as a top-five receiver, which he has been to this point.
In fact, take out the Week 2 loss to the Falcons, in which Nelson was hurt on the Packers opening drive, and he’s first in points per game at the position. That owes largely to his nose for the end zone. Nelson has turned six of his 19 receptions into touchdowns. That sort of touchdown rate is nowhere near sustainable. When Nelson was at the peak of his powers, he was making big plays down the field with regularity. We haven’t seen that Nelson since he tore his ACL before the 2015 season. We’ve still seen a great Nelson, but not the one who was one of the league’s premier deep threats. As his touchdown rate regresses, which it can’t help but do, his fantasy production will follow.
On the other side, I can’t help but bet on a turnaround out of Terrelle Pryor. My pal from RotoWorld Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) did some excellent work this offseason looking into the history of receivers posting WR1 numbers in their first year with a new team, and what he found was ugly. Still, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around Pryor posting a 77-1,007-4 line in one of the worst offenses in the league last year, moving to one of the pass-friendliest offenses in the league, and putting up worse fantasy numbers. The chemistry between he and Kirk Cousins has not developed as quickly as I thought it would, but the quarterback is still doing his Drew Brees Light routine that he has perfected over the last two seasons. Cousins has completed two-thirds of his passes for 1,004 yards, 8.3 yards per attempt, and seven touchdowns against just one interception. As long as he keeps that up, the obvious best receiver in Washington will eventually make his presence felt. Pryor is set to explode the rest of the year.
Jennifer Eakins: Will Fuller has returned white-hot after missing the first three weeks of the season because of broken collarbone. In two games, he has six catches for 92 yards and four touchdowns. Fuller didn’t waste any time establishing a connection with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, and Houston’s offense looks to have some staying power. Still, on top of the fact that the touchdown rate is obviously unsustainable, there’s reason to bet against Fuller the rest of the way. His greatest asset is his ability to take the top off the defense, and that sort of production is always spotty. What’s more, we haven’t seen that brand of production from him yet this year. Fuller is more a low-end WR3 but he could bring back WR2 value.
Kirk Cousins’s best days should be ahead of him. His season hasn’t been abysmal, as Beller noted above. Chemistry between Cousins and his receiving corps seems off, though. Terrelle Pryor is the highest ranked Washington receiver, and he ranks just 57th at the position. Not only is that low for a top receiver, it’s far from what the Redskins assumed they’d have with Pryor. Both he and Jamison Crowder need to get more involved, and Jordan Reed’s health is again an issue. The good news is that Cousins is still getting the job done, and there’s nowhere but up for him to go. I expect an uptick in Cousins’s performance as the season rolls on, and his teammates are more comfortable in the Washington’s offense.
T.J. Hernandez: Through five weeks, Chris Thompson has the eighth-most fantasy points per game among running backs in standard scoring leagues, and is the RB7 in PPR, but his production is simply unsustainable. Thompson only has 34 touches on the season, the fewest of anyone in the top 24 at the position. His success has come on the back of long plays and touchdowns, as he's scored on nearly 12% of his touches. The league average for running backs this season is a score on 2.7% of touches. Llast season, no back with at least 100 touches scored on more than 8.2% of touches. With just 21 targets on the year, Thompson isn't even seeing enough volume to make him a reliable PPR commodity. Unless he suddenly improves on the 45% snap share that he's seen this season, Thompson's early-season success is a mirage.
Carson Palmer, on the other hand, has yet to capitalize this season on the golden opportunity of being the signal caller in Arizona. In neutral situations (when the game is within a single score), no team has thrown at a higher rate than the Cardinals and Palmer leads the league in red-zone pass attempts. So far, though, Palmer has thrown a touchdown on fewer than 3% of his attempts and has converted in the red zone just 12% of the time. For his career, Palmer has thrown a touchdown on almost 5% of his passes and has converted over 25% of his red-zone attempts into scores. With a full complement of healthy weapons finally at his disposal, Palmer’s fantasy stock to rise down the stretch.
Chris Raybon: Larry Fitzgerald has faded down the stretch of every season since 2014, the year he turned 31. From Weeks 1–5 of the last three seasons, he has averaged 72.8 receiving yards and 0.79 touchdowns, only to see his numbers dip to 62.8 yards and 0.19 touchdowns per game the rest of the way. Unlike so many others at his position, Fitzgerald's decline will likely end up being graceful and subtle, but expect a bit of a drop-off from here on out.
As usual, Jordan Reed has been dealing with myriad injuries, but expect him to pick it up coming out of the bye. He has only played three games so far, but averages the fifth-most receptions per game among tight ends (4.7). Even at less than 100%, Reed has shown time and time again that he can be one of the league's most productive tight ends. Even though he missed six games combined over the past two seasons, he finished in the top two in fantasy points per game at the position each year.
John Paulsen: Through five weeks, Javorius Allen is the No. 19 running back in standard formats, and sits at No. 15 in PPR leagues. I think he’ll be turning into a pumpkin at some point, probably around Week 11 when Danny Woodhead is slated to make his return from his hamstring injury. Allen just hasn’t done enough to win the pass-catching role—he’s averaging 4.9 yards per catch and just 3.5 yards per carry. If Terrance West returns from a calf injury, he’ll eat into Allen’s early-down work as well.
On the flip side, Amari Cooper should be able to turn things around after a brutal start to the season. Week 1 was solid, when he caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Since then, though, he has caught eight of his 20 targets for a measly 56 yards in the last four games. He has dropped three of his 33 targets after being charged with three drops all of last season. In the preseason, I wondered aloud why Cooper’s ADP was in the second round while Michael Crabtree was widely available in the fourth, but I do think Cooper is too good to continue playing at such an unproductive level. He’s through the tough part of his schedule (Washington, Denver and Baltimore in the last three weeks) and there are much better matchups ahead, including a tasty playoff schedule (Kansas City, Dallas and Philadelphia). Buy low if you can.