Should you start or sit Matt Ryan in Week 5 of the Fantasy Football season? Sports Illustrated offers its start 'em, sit 'em advice.
This Sunday in Cleveland, a 2016 debut will take place that the fantasy community, nay the entire football-loving world, has been anxiously anticipating. On Sunday, Browns fans will finally get their first in-person look at Terrelle Pryor since he turned into one of the NFL’s next big things at wide receiver.
What, were you expecting something else?!
Okay, yes, Tom Brady will take the field for the first time this season, putting an official end to one of the most asinine chapters in NFL history. But there’s not really any intrigue to what Brady will do. He’s one of the best quarterbacks ever. He and his coach have a competitive streak marked by a thirst for vengeance over any slight, perceived or actual. Brady and the Patriots are liable to come out and hang 40-plus points on the Browns’ hapless defense. You know it. I know it. LeBron James knows it. On top of that, partisans of both teams will be a lot more interested in Game 3 of the ALDS between the Indians and Red Sox, which is scheduled to begin right as Browns-Patriots is ending.
Pryor getting to show off for the home fans for the first time since his days at Ohio State, though? That’s worth tuning in for. Pryor’s transformation this season has been nothing short of remarkable. A failed quarterback who was out of the league for the entire 2014 season, Pryor had all of two receptions coming into 2015. He more than doubled that total the first week of the season, but it was Week 3 when he showed that all his hard work had paid off. Now, he gets to put that on display for the hometown fans for the first time.
The 27-year-old Pryor has no shortage of opportunity in the Cleveland offense. He has played at least 88% of the team’s snaps every game, and has topped 90% each of the last three weeks. He has 39 targets on the year, and has reached double-digits twice. Those are clear-cut No. 1 numbers, and that’s exactly what Pryor has turned into for the Browns. Pryor is one of 11 receivers in the top 20 in both snap rate and targets. The other 10 read like a list of the top-10 receivers in a fantasy league draft today: Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Jarvis Landry, Marvin Jones, Allen Robinson, Larry Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin and T.Y. Hilton.
There is plenty to dislike about Pryor’s setup. The best fantasy owners can hope for from quarterback Cody Kessler is competence. And as good as Pryor has looked, he’s still learning the position, and that process is sure to include some bumps along the way. Still, we all saw what he did against the Dolphins two weeks ago (a 200-yard outing, 144 receiving, 35 passing and 21 rushing). He followed it up last week by catching five of his nine targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. There’s nothing fluky about Pryor’s emergence this season.
New England isn’t going to take its foot off the gas now that Brady is back under center. That should lead to the sort of pace fantasy owners love to see for their players on both sides of this game. Larry Fitzgerald put up eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots in Week 1, and both Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker surpassed 100 yards against them in Week 2. Robert Woods hung a quiet seven-catch, 89-yard day on them last week. With all the volume and talent within Pryor’s grasp, he is a must-start this week.
Brian Hoyer (at Indianapolis)
Hoyer has thrown for more than 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns in both of his starts this season, and draws possibly his best matchup to date. The Colts have had some fortunate touchdown luck through the air, but have surrendered 7.94 yards per attempt and a 68.1% completion percentage. They’ve held one quarterback, Blake Bortles, south of 8.0 YPA, but he still managed to throw for two scores. Hoyer is good enough to take advantage of a beneficial matchup, and that’s exactly what he gets in Indianapolis on Sunday. He’s my favorite stream play of the week.
Joe Flacco (vs. Washington)
The Ravens have run the third-most plays per game this season, trailing only the Buccaneers and Panthers. We’re still dealing with a small sample size, and last week’s 80-snap game from Baltimore is helping drive the overall number, but it still haa the predictors supporting Flacco as a strong play this week. The only quarterback Washington has really slowed down this season was Cody Kessler, which isn’t a strong endorsement for this defense. With Baltimore favored and playing at home, Flacco should find a way to put up low-end QB1 numbers.
Andy Dalton (at Dallas)
Dalton has had some poor touchdown luck this season, but he’s hitting the mark in all other facets. He has completed just more than two-thirds of his passes for 1,234 yards and 8.45 YPA. Dallas, meanwhile, has surrendered at least 18.4 points to the quarterback in three of its four games. Take a look at this Cowboys roster and try to find anyone who can even delude themselves into believing they can slow down A.J. Green. Exactly. Dalton should have a strong game.
Matt Ryan (at Denver)
Ryan is the No. 1 fantasy scorer this season and is coming off arguably the best game of his career, a 503-yard, four-touchdown effort against the Panthers. His matchup with Denver complicates matters, and I do understand benching him for certain quarterbacks. I’d play Dalton over him, and would at least consider both Flacco and Hoyer. With the way Atlanta’s offense has played this season, though, Ryan owners shouldn’t be intimidated by any matchup. I’ll take Carson Wentz, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck over Ryan this week, too, but I’m not reaching down into the third tier of quarterbacks just because of Denver’s defense. Ryan and the Falcons are too good.
Sam Bradford (vs. Houston)
Bradford has been a better real-life quarterback than fantasy quarterback to this point, averaging 14.95 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Houston has allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks this season, but it has faced Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Jacoby Brissett and Marcus Mariota. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row. The over/under on this game is just 40, but Minnesota’s implied total is 23. Bradford and Stefon Diggs can do some work against this team, especially with J.J. Watt out. Bradford projects as a safe QB2 this week.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Philadelphia)
Jim Schwartz has molded himself quite the defense in Philadelphia. The Eagles have allowed the fewest points to quarterbacks this season, and while they got the Browns and Bears the first two weeks, they gave Ben Roethlisberger fits in Week 3, shutting him out of the end zone and holding him to 5.84 YPA. Schwartz knows Stafford well from his days as the head coach in Detroit, and you can bet he has a scheme ready that draws out Stafford’s worst traits. As efficient as Stafford has been this season, the Eagles are about as bad a matchup as he could have. He’s at the top end of my QB2 class this week.
Dak Prescott (vs. Cincinnati)
Prescott has been nothing short of excellent this season, most notably from a real-life perspective. He still isn’t pushing the ball downfield much, however, ranking No. 19 in the league with an average depth of target of 8.3 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals have been burned on the deep ball this year by Ben Roethlisberger and Trevor Siemian, but have done a good job in most other facets of their pass defense. If Prescott can’t hit a few balls down field, which will be tough without Dez Bryant (knee), he’s not going to register as a QB1.
Jameis Winston (at Carolina)
Winston has been all over the place with his throws this season, completing fewer than 60% of his attempts with eight interceptions against the same number of touchdowns. He ranks 29th in the league in YPA among quarterbacks who have started at least three games, outpacing only Blaine Gabbert. Carolina’s secondary isn’t what it once was, but Winston has fallen short of expectations more often than not this season. If Cam Newton (concussion) doesn’t play, this game could take on a slower pace, as well.
Charles Sims (at Carolina)
From a Buccaneer to fade to a Buccaneer to trust. Sims had a rough afternoon against the Broncos last week, but he has likely one more game as the starter with Doug Martin on the shelf. Sims has racked up 28 carries and 11 targets in two games leading the Tampa Bay backfield, giving up just 14 total opportunities to Jacquizz Rodgers. He’s a good bet to handle another 20 or so carries plus targets this week. That sort of volume cannot be overlooked.
DeAndre Washington (vs. San Diego)
Latavius Murray is in a walking boot because of a foot injury, and is already listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with the Chargers. That would open the door for Washington, the talented rookie out of Texas Tech. Washington has impressed in a limited role this season, piling up 147 yards on 23 carries, good for 6.39 yards per rush. Jalen Richard will also have a larger role, and Jamize Olawale could steal away goal-line carries, but Washington is likely to handle a majority of the touches out of Oakland’s backfield. Richard has played three more snaps than Washington this season, but Washington has 23 carries and six targets, compared with 17 and seven for Richard.
Giovani Bernard (at Dallas)
Outside of a nine-catch, 100-yard, one-touchdown game against the Steelers in Week 2, Bernard hasn’t done a thing this year. This week sets up nicely for him, though, going up against a Dallas team that has struggled with pass-catching backs. Shane Vereen, Chris Thompson and Jordan Howard combined to haul in 10 passes for 127 yards against the Cowboys. They’ve also given up nearly 5.0 yards per carry, and while that’s better news for Jeremy Hill, Bernard is still getting more than six totes per game.
Cameron Artis-Payne (vs. Tampa Bay)
Artis-Payne is the primary runner in Carolina with Jonathan Stewart on the shelf, but he doesn’t do a thing in the passing game. It’s hard to trust a player like that in today’s NFL. The Buccaneers have allowed four rushing touchdowns this season, but just 3.3 yards per carry. They haven’t exactly had an easy slate either, facing off with the Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman pairing in Week 1, David Johnson in Week 2, Todd Gurley in Week 3, and C.J. Anderson last week. The only way Artis-Payne shows up for fantasy owners is by falling into a short-yardage touchdown and taking advantage of an ideal game script. I don’t want to bet on that scenario becoming reality.
Wendell Smallwood (at Detroit)
The bye week was apparently good to Ryan Mathews, who is on track to get back on the field after missing one game with an ankle injury. Smallwood could stay in the rotation with Mathews and Sproles, but remember that he really wasn’t in the mix, at least to a point that made him a worthy fantasy starter, before Mathews’s injury. It’s hard to trust him in a game when Mathews is healthy and starting.
James White (at Cleveland)
Tom Brady’s return is seemingly good news for everyone with a role in the New England passing game. White, however, is at the bottom end of the trickle-down effect, and it may not lift him enough to make him a worthy fantasy starter. He fills a necessary role in the Patriots offense, but he doesn’t do it as dynamically as Dion Lewis. I’d play Duke Johnson, Kenneth Dixon and Chris Thompson over him this week.
Jay Ajayi (vs. Tennessee)
There’s good news and bad news for Ajayi. If the Dolphins narrow their backfield, as Adam Gase said they must do, Ajayi will likely be involved. He leads the team in carries and yards in Arian Foster’s absence, and played double the snaps of Kenyan Drake last week. The bad news, however, is that leading the Dolphins in carries and yards the last two weeks has translated to 13 totes a for 61 yards, which isn’t exactly a fantasy bonanza. What’s more, Arian Foster (groin) is back at practice this week. Until further notice, avoid this backfield entirely.
Julian Edelman (at Cleveland)
This might seem obvious, but I seem to be much higher on Edelman this week than my fellow rankers in the fantasy industry. Make no mistake Edelman owners, this is the week for which you’ve been waiting. Edelman was the Patriot most affected by Brady’s absence, catching just 19 passes for 196 yards and zero touchdowns. In eight full games before his foot injury last year, Edelman had 57 catches for 641 yards and seven touchdowns. In his last 18 games with Brady under center, Edelman has reeled in 124 passes for 1,330 yards and 10 scores, good for 10.72 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Add Cleveland’s defense to the mix and it’s a slam dunk.
Robert Woods (at Los Angeles)
In Buffalo’s first game with Sammy Watkins on IR, Woods racked up 10 targets, catching seven of them for 89 yards. The fourth-year player out of USC doesn’t move the needle significantly, but he’s now Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver. Even in a slow-paced offense dominated by LeSean McCoy, top-dog status should result in Woods averaging eight or so targets per game. Mike Evans, Adam Humphries and John Brown have burned the Rams the last two weeks. Even with a game total right at 40, Woods makes a worthwhile WR3 on Sunday.
Will Fuller (at Minnesota)
If you’ve been following along with us at SI.com this season, you know by now that I’m an unabashed Fuller fan. I was bullish on him coming into the season, but he has exceeded those expectations, making himself a top-25 receiver for the rest of the year. Minnesota’s pass defense is on par with Denver’s, but with Xavier Rhodes spending the afternoon matched up on DeAndre Hopkins, Fuller could very well lead the team in targets. When you factor in the diverse ways they’ve gotten him the ball and his ability as a punt returner, he still comes out as a WR2/3 against the Vikings.
Steve Smith (vs. Washington)
Smith has eight receptions and 11 targets in both of Baltimore’s last two games, asserting himself once again as the team’s No. 1 receiver. He’s coming off his best game of the season, in which he piled up 111 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Washington has allowed the fifth-most points per game to receivers this year. Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. have all surpassed the 100-yard mark against a Washington defense that has surrendered 8.03 YPA and five passing touchdowns.
Quincy Enunwa (at Pittsburgh)
Enunwa assumed the Eric Decker role in the Jets offense last week, catching six of his seven targets for 60 yards in a tough matchup with the Seahawks. Decker is expected to be out again this week because of his shoulder injury, automatically putting Enunwa on the start radar in all formats. The Jets-Steelers game comes with an over/under in the high 40s, and both teams play at an accelerated pace. I’m playing Enunwa over Mike Wallace, Eddie Royal and Tyrell Williams.
Michael Floyd (at San Francisco)
Not only is Floyd coming up short of expectations yet again, but also he’s now being passed by players on his own depth chart. He played fewer than 50% of Arizona’s snaps last week, while John Brown saw his highest snap rate of the year and caught 10 passes for 144 yards. Floyd has found the end zone twice and remains a red-zone weapon, but you don’t want to rely on him scoring a touchdown. With Carson Palmer (concussion) out Sunday, there’s no way Floyd should be near a fantasy starting lineup.
Cole Beasley (vs. Cincinnati)
This is admittedly a bit reactionary on my part. I was all aboard the Beasley train last week because of Dez Bryant’s absence, assuming his already sizeable role in the offense would grow. Instead, he caught three passes for 66 yards, which is right in line with what he had done the first three weeks of the season. It’s more about the matchup, though, with Beasley drawing a date against Cincinnati’s slot corner, Josh Shaw. The second-year player out of USC has turned himself into one of the league’s premier slot corners, last week limiting Jarvis Landry to 61 yards on seven catches.
Phillip Dorsett (vs. Chicago)
One narrative from the preseason that seems to be lazily ingrained in the collective fantasy consciousness is that of a porous Chicago secondary. I’m not saying this group is knocking on the Broncos door, but the trio of Tracy Porter, Jacoby Glenn and Bryce Callahan has been much better than advertised. The Bears have allowed just one 100-yard receiver, my best friend Will Fuller, this season. They held DeAndre Hopkins to 54 yards, Dez Bryant to 40 yards, and Marvin Jones to 74 yards. Dorsett has made exactly one play since Donte Moncrief’s shoulder injury. I see him as no more than a WR4 this week.
Zach Ertz (at Detroit)
The Eagles are set to fire up Ertz this week after the tight end missed two games with a shoulder injury. Don’t hesitate to get him back in your lineup. The Lions have surrendered the second-most points per game to tight ends this year, allowing at least one touchdown to the position in all four games. His return means great things for Carson Wentz, as well. Both players are rock-solid starters in Week 5.
Hunter Henry (at Oakland)
In two games as San Diego’s starter, Henry has nine catches for 133 yards and a touchdown, displaying the athleticism that made him a worthy early-second-round pick in this year’s draft. He’s already grabbing the torch from Antonio Gates, and even when the veteran returns from his hamstring injury, the Chargers have to find snaps for the Arkansas product. Oakland shut down Dennis Pitta last week, but is still in the top 10 in points allowed per game to tight ends this year.
Zach Miller (at Indianapolis)
Over the last two weeks, Miller has 11 catches on 12 targets for 109 yards and three touchdowns. That has less to do with Brian Hoyer being under center and more to do with Miller taking on a larger role in the offense, especially in the red zone. With Kevin White on IR because of a broken fibula, Miller is no worse than third in the pecking order through the air. The Colts have faced two true threats, Eric Ebron and Hunter Henry, at the tight end position this year. Ebron caught five passes for 46 yards and a score, while Henry also had five receptions, with his going for 76 yards.
Martellus Bennett (at Cleveland)
In case you haven’t heard, Tom Brady is back this week. Rob Gronkowski’s hamstring still isn’t 100%. The Browns have allowed the sixth-most points per game to tight ends. The Patriots have an implied team total of 28.5 points this week. Yeah, Bennett is a strong play. Remember, too, that he had two 100-yard games without Brady. The Patriots were already making good use of him. Brady will make him even better.
Dwayne Allen (vs. Chicago)
Since scoring a touchdown Week 1, Allen has seven catches for 80 yards. He appears to be an afterthought in the Colts offense. I’d rather drop him than start him at this point.
Jesse James (vs. New York Jets)
Look, James is fun and all, but he’s not exactly robbing the banks and storehouses of Pittsburgh’s opponents. He has 12 catches for 85 yards this season, and has made his way in the fantasy world thanks to two touchdowns. You don’t have to rely on that with the influx of depth that has hit the tight end position over the last few weeks.
Gary Barnidge (vs. New England)
Barnidge has turned in a couple of decent performances with Cody Kessler at the helm, totaling 12 receptions for 123 yards the last two weeks. The ceiling on Cleveland’s offense remains low, however, and Barnidge is the third option, at best. He’s not an overwhelming talent like Terrelle Pryor, who can bully his way to fantasy relevance despite a lackluster offense.
Defenses to stream
Chicago Bears (at Indianapolis)
Few offenses have been friendlier to fantasy defenses than the Colts this season. Their four opponents have averaged 11.3 points in standard-scoring leagues, second-most behind only the Jets, or, more accurately, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Colts have turned it over five times this season and have surrendered a league-high 15 sacks. Chicago’s offense may not be great, but it can get after this offensive line.
Green Bay Packers (vs. New York Giants)
I don’t love this stream on its face. Green Bay could be without Sam Shields (concussion) again this week, and the Giants offensive line has been among the best in the league. When in doubt, though, you could do worse than streaming the defense of a team that’s playing at home and favored by a touchdown.
Miami Dolphins (vs. Tennessee)
Similar logic is at play with the Dolphins and Packers. The Dolphins aren’t favored by quite as much as the Packers, but their game total is about five points less. The Titans have zero speed out wide, giving Miami’s defensive backs a lot of options, all of them of the aggressive nature. That’s the sort of mentality that can lead to big fantasy performances.