Offensive Sleepers: Week 5

A look at the best under-the-radar starts for Week 5.

Quarterback

Josh McCown at BAL - Baltimore made Peyton Manning look old Week 1, but since then, they have made Derek Carr and Andy Dalton look like all-pros and had a week off playing pass defense against Michael Vick. McCown seemed very competent piloting a short passing offense that uses running backs heavily, with occasional downfield shots. The Ravens are still defending the run very well against backs not named Le’Veon Bell, so expect a high attempt count for McCown again this week. The Ravens have already allowed two three-touchdown through the air, and Andy Dalton even added one on the ground. The makings for there for another big game for McCown.

Jay Cutler at KC - Cutler showed no ill effects from his hamstring injury as he made the necessary throws for the Bears to pull off a comeback win over the resurgent Raiders. This week, he should get Alshon Jeffery back and Cutler faces the Chiefs pass defense that has been paying off of like a rigged slot machine in pass defense. They have given up over 300 yards three times out of four, with the fourth coming in at 256. They have given up multiple pass touchdowns in three games out of four, and in the fourth they gave up four rushing touchdowns. The Chiefs should open the door for Cutler to have a big day.

Marcus Mariota vs BUF - The Bills defense matchup against a rookie might scare people away from Mariota this week, but a closer look reveals that there are points to be scored there against the Bills. Buffalo has actually surrendered ten passing touchdowns, with no opposing quarterback throwing for fewer than two. Four of those came while they were playing prevent and protecting a lead against Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, but that just underscores the the either/or proposition here. Either the Titans offensive braintrust used their two weeks to mimic a gameplan that Tom Brady and Eli Manning ran to successful results, or the Bills defense is so dominant early that the workmanlike Mariota will pile up numbers in the second half in a comeback effort.

Alex Smith vs CHI - What will Alex Smith do for an encore after his efforts led to seven field goals against the Bengals? One would hope he can hook up with his top three targets for some scores against the Bears, who have surrendered ten passing touchdowns through four games. What’s crazy is that those ten touchdowns have come while the Bears are facing the second least pass attempts of any team in the league. The Chiefs pass defense has been almost as bad, meaning Smith will likely have to open things up a little bit in this one.

Running Back

Melvin Gordon III vs PIT - Everyone was wondering when Justin Forsett was going to pay off in fantasy lineups… and then he faced Pittsburgh. The Steelers run defense is exploitable, and they are playing on the road in prime time after a bitter loss. The Chargers will be looking to get their rookie running back going, and if they can get out to an early lead (which they haven’t really done yet), they should be able to feed Gordon 20+ carries against a vulnerable defense. Michael Vick will probably keep the Steelers from being a real threat to the home Chargers, and Gordon should be projected for a lot of second half love. He’s been running well and just needs the opportunity. The Chargers offensive line should get a little healthier this week to help his cause.

LeGarrette Blount at DAL - The Blount recipe is pretty simple. If you think the Patriots are going to blow out their opponent, play him. The Patriots have had two weeks to prepare for the Cowboys, they are facing Brandon Weeden, and the Cowboys are also missing Dez Bryant while their running game is stuck in neutral. This should be a cake walk and Blount will get to eat all of the leftover pieces.

Anthony Dixon at TEN (Monitor Karlos Williams Status) - Concussion recovery is different for each player, but the Bills action to run out and sign Dan Herron at the beginning of the week tells me that they are not expecting to have Karlos Williams this week. Dixon is a capable back who can get it done as a receiver and in short yardage. The Titans are not a stiff defensive test and Tyrod Taylor has been moving the ball well. If Dixon starts, he’ll be worth an RB2 start in fantasy leagues.

Darren McFadden vs NE - The Patriots are going to be a bad matchup for most running backs because their ability to turn games into track meets can make opposing running backs useless on the comeback trail. McFadden might benefit this week for that very reason. With Lance Dunbar out, McFadden should get a lot of the passing down work, and that could easily result in five or more receptions with checkdown-prone Brandon Weeden at the helm. Add in the souring on Joseph Randle that could give McFadden more work in the base offense and a Patriots run defense that is tied for the worst yards per carry against in the league and you have the recipe for the one big week McFadden will give us this year.

Chris Thompson at ATL - Washington has a three-back committee, but on the road against a 4-0 team that is rolling, the one that fits in their passing sets is going to likely be the most heavily used. Thompson is that back, and he looked explosive on a draw play and short reception to basically be the entire offense on the first scripted drive against the Eagles. Add in the Atlanta track record against receiving backs this year (at least six RB receptions a game and an average of 10.5 with Darren Sproles, Lance Dunbar, and Shane Vereen all catching at least seven) and you have the recipe for a sneaky massive PPR game for Thompson.

Andre Williams vs SF - The 49ers have been reliably terrible in two road games this year, with both games basically over by halftime. The Giants pass offense is coming around, and the defense has been surprisingly good, certainly good enough to frustrate Colin Kaepernick. If they can cruise to a prime time victory, look for Williams to get goal line opportunities and the chance to punish a weary and defeated 49ers defense.

Wide Receiver

Tavon Austin at GB - Austin is getting involved now as a deep receiver, a short-range receiver, and a runner out of the backfield. The Rams are going to have to play inspired offense to keep up with Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau, and if they don’t, the garbage time points will ensue. Austin has been explosive with the ball in his hands, and the playcalling by the Rams is only instilling more confidence in him. Todd Gurley’s emergence will give defenses more to think about and potentially open up more opportunities for big plays for Austin.

Jamison Crowder vs ATL - Crowder looks like one of Kirk Cousins’ “go-to guys” already. He caught a huge downfield pass in the middle of three defenders last week and played a big role in the comeback win and game-winning drive. Now Jordan Reed is out and Washington will likely have to pass more to keep up with the high-flying Falcons. Crowder could be a massive PPR play if Washington falls behind and Cousins has to throw 40+ times.

Kamar Aiken vs CLE - Steve Smith is almost certainly out and Aiken is going to be left as the only wide receiver on the team with any success this year. Cleveland has given up six wide receiver touchdowns and six wide receiver games of 50+ yards. Aiken has already had two games with five catches and over 15 yards per catch. With Joe Haden likely out or at least very limited, Aiken should have every opportunity to put up solid WR2 numbers.

Cole Beasley vs NE - The game script for the Cowboys is going to include a lot of catch up passing in the second half unless the defense accomplishes something no defense has yet and slows down the Patriots. With Lance Dunbar out, Beasley is one of the two most likely targets along with Jason Witten to benefit from a soft Patriots prevent defense nursing the clock in the second half.

Rueben Randle vs SF - In two road contests this season, the 49ers have given up four touchdowns to wide receivers and they allowed five receivers to get at least 62 yards. Rueben Randle has been coming on with touchdowns in each of the last two weeks since the Giants vowed to get him more involved. When Eli Manning isn’t throwing to Odell Beckham, Randle should be the next most targeted receiver and put up a nice line against San Francisco.

Allen Hurns vs TB (Monitor Injury Report) - Hurns might not qualify as a sleeper at this rate, but for now owners are probably still wondering whether to start him. Hurns is a little banged and missed Wednesday’s practice so check the injury report, but he is yet to fall below 60 yards this year, and he has scored in each of the last two weeks. The Bucs have already allowed six touchdowns to wide receivers, so Hurns has a good shot to extend that scoring streak to three weeks as long as he plays.

Leonard Hankerson vs WAS - There’s no doubt who the #2 receiver is for the Falcons, and there’s no doubt who defenses are going to pay the most attention to when the Falcons offense is one the field. Hankerson is benefiting from one-on-ones against lesser corners. He has scored in two of the last three weeks, and he’s averaging over 70 yards a game over that stretch. Washington’s banged up secondary gave up two long touchdowns last weekend against the Eagles, so the big play is in play this week at home.

Tight End

Zach Ertz vs NO - Ertz is yet to have an outburst this year, but the Saints defense could be just the tonic for what ails him and his fantasy owners. Ertz had a touchdown called back last week, and he is still getting red zone targets in the underperforming Eagles offense. The Saints have already seen Greg Olsen put up a 8/134/2 and Darren Fells come out of nowhere for a 4/79/1 line in Week 1. The sluggish Jason Witten even averaged over 14 yards a reception against them last week.

Derek Carrier at ATL - Jordan Reed is out, so Carrier will be the #1 tight end for this team that has now gone through three since the offseason. Carrier is very athletic and an adequate receiver, and Washington could have to pass a lot to keep up with the red hot Falcons. The likes of C.J. Fiedorowicz and Larry Donnell have found the end zone against Atlanta from the tight end position already this year, it’s not a stretch to see Carrier putting up at least 3-4 catches with a chance at a score.

Larry Donnell vs SF - Speaking of Donnell, he’ll face a 49ers defense that yielded scores to Richard Rodgers and Heath Miller. The porous defense can lose track of assignments in the passing game, and Donnell is a player that Eli Manning likes to look to and run plays for down there. The 49ers have been beyond terrible on the road this year, so this is one of Donnell’s best chances to score this year.

Owen Daniels at OAK - Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore, and Gary Barnidge have put up career days against the Raiders from tight end this year. Martellus “only” had 11 catches and a score, and the Raiders defense just plain forgot about him on the touchdown. Daniels has been getting more looks in recent weeks, and the Raiders woes covering tight ends make him low-hanging fruit on the waiver wire to cover a bye this week.

Tim Wright vs ARI - Wright actually came up with a terrific seam route catch on the drive that almost put the Lions ahead late against Seattle. Eric Ebron is out for up to three weeks, so this is Wright’s catch to get back on the radar after he was passed around the waiver wire this year. As a converted wide receiver, Wright certainly has the skills to make a difference with his opportunity, and he scored six times for the Patriots last year and five times for Tampa in his rookie year, so he knows how to do his job in the red zone.