We are five games into the season and it's not too early to make some moves in your league. Plan for the future, prepare for the postseason. There are a few waiver gems still out there, but for the most part the "start now" players are already scarfed up. Who should you be targeting for the stretch run? I'll give you some options that you can look to acquire at each position, some of which may not break the bank.
Who will get you there?
Andy Dalton, CIN - Andy Dalton is currently sitting in the Top 15 (13th) and he may be on your bench, or possibly on the waiver wire. The Bengals have a favorable schedule over the next 6 weeks with games vs PIT, at KC, vs TB, BYE and at NO. Those teams are ranked 19th, 30th, 31st and 32nd in pass defense this season. Cincinnati's schedule gets harder in the second half, including a road game at Cleveland, who is currently 4th in the same category. Dalton may not win your league, but he can help you get to the playoffs where perhaps your "other quarterback" can seal the deal for you.
Alex Smith, WAS - An alternative to Andy Dalton is Alex Smith. Washington has a great middle of the fantasy season schedule that includes opponents CAR (20th pass defense), DAL (26th), at NYG (22nd), ATL (27th), at TB (31st), HOU (29th), at DAL (26th). That string of six games starts this week. Things get much tougher after Week 12, but look for Smith to have a lot of productive games in the next six weeks.
Baker Mayfield, CLE - The Browns offense is on the upswing and Baker Mayfield is the main reason why. He's averaging over 300 passing yards in his two starts and the Browns upcoming schedule should yield more of the same. Starting this week, Cleveland has LAC (18th in pass defense), at TB (31st), at PIT (19th), KC (30th), ATL (27th), BYE, at CIN (21st), at HOU (29th), CAR (20th). Not many difficult games in the next nine weeks.
Who to target for Weeks 14-16?
Joe Flacco, BAL - Baltimore is at KC (30th) for Week 14, home vs TB (31st) and at LAC (18th). The Ravens boast the top average schedule (26.3) for opponent's pass defense for the playoff window. Flacco is currently 9th in passing yards with 1,550 yards in the first five games (310 yards per game). Flacco should see an increase in fantasy success in Week 7 and it has the ability to stretch all the way to the end of Week 16.
Russell Wilson, SEA - The Seattle passing offense has struggled against the 27th ranked pass defense schedule in the first five weeks of the season. Wilson may not climb back into the Top 10 this year, but he has the opportunity to win people some leagues this year with his favorable playoff schedule against MIN (25th pass defense), at SF (15th) and home vs KC (30th) in Week 16. It's possible that Minnesota reclaims their defensive edge, but through five weeks, they have not been a strong unit. If that happens, Wilson's stock drops off some for the stretch run, but he's still one to watch.
Drew Brees, NO - There's no hiding it, Drew Brees is already one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but adding a favorable playoff schedule to his name is just unfair. There will be a lot of league winners who have Drew Brees on their roster. Starting with Week 12, New Orleans will play home vs ATL, at DAL, at TB, at CAR, vs PIT and then home for CAR in Week 17. That stretch has an average pass defense average of 24.6, or facing opponents averaging the 24th worst defense against the pass.
Who can help get you there?
Chris Carson and/or Mike Davis, SEA - The Seattle ground game has had only one favorable rushing matchup this year (Week 4 at Arizona). That week Mike Davis rushed 21 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. The following week he managed to total 68 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Chris Carson added 116 rushing yards on 19 carries. Seattle has had it rough against the run, but that's about to change. The next 7 weeks are against opponents averaging 24th in rush defense. That starts this week at OAK followed by a BYE, at DET, LAC, at LAR, GB, at CAR. The next question is, which running back will outplay the other? Carson had 10 more snaps than Davis in Week 5. He missed Week 4 and Week 3 he handled 72% of offensive snaps. The next closest back was 14% (Rashaad Penny). Penny doesn't appear to be in the cards at this time, but as the schedule improves, he could start to get some play. The opportunity is there for some Seahawks back to take advantage of the situation and right now Carson has a slight edge.
David Johnson, ARI - The Cardinals run schedule is average or below average until around Week 8, but after that, it opens up with some favorable matchups to finish the season. Starting Week 10, Arizona plays at KC, OAK, at LAC, at GB, DET, at ATL, vs LAR. Those opponents average the 27th worst against the run. Johnson may have started off slowly, but he has the chance to be a factor in the second half of the season, including the playoffs.
Alex Collins and/or Javorius Allen, BAL - So far, the carry and touch share in Baltimore has been split by Alex Collins and Javorius Allen. Collins has more carries (57) vs Allen (34). He also has a higher YPC average (3.8 vs 2.8). However, Allen has more snaps (195 to 168), targets (27 vs 14) and rushing touchdowns (3 vs 2). The picture isn't exactly clear, but that could change any week. Looking ahead, the Ravens have the 3rd best schedule against the rush going forward with only two poor matchups the rest of the way, one of which is Week 17 (vs NO in Week 7 and vs CLE in Week 17).
WHO TO TARGET FOR WEEKS 14-16?
wide receivers & tight ends
Players to watch
So far, receivers from Tampa Bay, LA Rams, Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, and Atlanta have been productive. There's no reason to think they will drop off much. The season will have some ebbs and flows as opponents get tougher and easier for this group, but there are some gems out there who could see a spike in production in the coming weeks.
Michael Crabtree, BAL - We know about John Brown having a surprising season, and that isn't expected to decrease. But Crabtree has yet to find his niche, and the Ravens passing offense is about to take off.
Amari Cooper & Jordy Nelson, OAK - Derek Carr quietly has 1,641 yards passing in five games (328 yards per game) which is ranked 5th in the league. This includes games against the Rams, Dolphins, Browns, and Broncos. That may not sound too menacing, but those teams average as the 9th best pass defense in the league. In short, the Raiders schedule against the pass is going to get easier going forward which could be good news for Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. A jump in production and success may be in the cards.
Keke Coutee, HOU - In his first two games Coutee has 17 catches for 160 yards and 1 touchdown. His 22 targets in that span trail only DeAndre Hopkins (25). Will Fuller V, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, but still played, has 8 targets in that time. Coutee is catching 77% of his targets and looks to be the player the Texans have desperately been looking for in the slot role. To make things more appealing, Deshaun Watson has 310, 385, 375 and 375 yards passing in the last four games. That is expected to decline in the coming weeks as the schedule gets tougher, but that's still an offense that is capable of throwing the ball when necessary.
C.J. Uzomah, CIN - Uzomah was on the field for 92% of the team's offensive snaps last week compared to 40% from Tyler Kroft. The Bengals schedule improves vs the pass in the coming weeks. Andy Dalton is primed for a spike in production, and one of those players who should benefit is Uzomah. We know about A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, but Uzomah is the gem who can rise to the occasion. His best asset is his ability to run after the catch. Kroft may have better hands and could be more of a downfield target, but Uzomah can separate and gain yards after the catch. He is primed to see an increase in touches beginning this week vs Pittsburgh.
Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed, WAS - Washington's schedule vs. the pass is about to open up in their favor starting this week vs. Carolina and continuing until the Eagles game in Week 13. Currently, Chris Thompson is dealing with a rib injury which could keep him shelved for a week or two. Vernon Davis (hamstring) is also injured, which opens the door for others to benefit. Crowder and Reed enter the equation as the ones who stand to see the biggest increase in targets. We've been waiting for Crowder and Reed to take off. It could happen beginning this week.
George Kittle & Trent Taylor, SF - The 49ers are about to enter a stretch of tougher opponents vs the pass, but the injury situation at receiver (Goodwin and Garcon) leaves George Kittle and Trent Taylor as the ones who could see an increase in touches. Kittle leads the team in receiving yards already with 399 yards. The next closest is Kyle Juszczyk with 197. Trent Taylor had 7 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown last week. He looks to have some good rapport with C.J. Beathard and may continue to impress, especially if the position is thin.
Seahawks receivers - Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore - Seattle has had only two instances where a receiver topped 6 targets in a game this season. The passing game has been put on the back burner while the running game has taken over the last few games. Their schedule against the pass is about to open up with road games at Oakland and Detroit. Doug Baldwin is improving every week, but right now Tyler Lockett has been the brightest light in the receiving corps, and don't forget about David Moore. Moore has recently come onto the scene and looks to have supplanted Brandon Marshall. His two touchdowns last week may be an indication of future success.
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