Buffalo. Arizona. Denver. New Orleans.
They are the top four fantasy defenses through four weeks, the only units to have scored at least 35 fantasy points through four weeks based on default scoring settings in Yahoo! and NFL.com (they’ve each scored 39 or more).
They also have something in common: Each has an 18-point performance against a rookie quarterback assisting its gaudy fantasy totals.
The Buffalo Bills are coming off a four-interception, 23-point showing versus Davis Mills and the Houston Texans. The Arizona Cardinals’ defense scored a touchdown and 18 fantasy points against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Denver Broncos shut out Zach Wilson and the New York Jets on its way to 19 fantasy points. The New Orleans Saints recorded a Pick 6 on the first play of the second half in an 18-point performance facing Mac Jones and the New England Patriots.
On average, those teams are scoring 10.75 points per game. In games against non-rookie quarterbacks, the number drops to 7.73 fantasy points. And if you take away a 22-point showing by Buffalo when it blanked the Miami Dolphins after Tua Tagovailoa was injured early in the first quarter, the number drops even further to 6.30 points.
Through four weeks, the average score by a defense is 5.75 fantasy points. In games started by a rookie quarterback, the average score is 10.69. Clearly, you want your defenses facing rookie quarterbacks. But more than that, you really want to avoid playing defenses that square off against the best offenses and more specifically, quarterbacks.
How can we do that? There is a popular strategy in fantasy football called “streaming.” Streaming defenses just means that instead of holding on to one defense all season, you add and drop defenses depending on the matchup each week.
The top defense through four weeks by a wide margin is Buffalo. Here are the quarterbacks the Bills have faced: Ben Roethlisberger, Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke and Davis Mills. In case you’re counting, that’s a struggling vet with no run game support and three backups. This week, they’re playing Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. So, despite the excellent start to the season, the Bills are our 30th-ranked defense in Week 5.
Meanwhile, four of our top six projected defenses this week are facing rookie quarterbacks – Las Vegas (Justin Fields), New England (Mills), Tennessee (Lawrence), and Atlanta (Wilson). So even though those defenses rank 22nd, 10th, 31st and 32nd in fantasy points respectively, they are all strong starts in Week 5. And after they perform well for you in Week 5? Feel free to drop them for a different defense in Week 6.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 5 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using several of our AI-powered models. We’ll get into some yays and nays before highlighting a few DFS value plays.
Note: The ranking to which we compare ours in this piece is the expert consensus ranking (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week. (We pulled these numbers from Thursday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Ryan Tannehill, QB (TEN) vs. JAX (ECR: 18, Our Rank: 12): Tannehill has had a rough fantasy start to the season, with only one top-10 weekly performance through four weeks. But although we want to live in the now, his track record from last season, when he finished as QB7, proves that he is a more than viable starting QB.
And if that doesn’t do it for you, he’s playing the Jaguars.
As of now, it looks like A.J. Brown is going to play. With Brown and facing a Jaguars squad that has allowed 315 or more passing yards each of the last three weeks, Tannehill’s ECR is unusually low. With the Jags having a surprisingly strong run defense that ranks fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (3.46), look for Tannehill and the Titans to attack the Jaguars through the air and courtesy of some play action.
His ECR indicates he’s a low-end QB2 for the week. That’s too low for anyone playing the Jaguars. Look for Tannehill to vault into the high-end QB2 tier, with the potential to crack the top 10 among QBs this week.
Najee Harris, RB (PIT) vs. DEN (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 4): It’s undoubtably a rough matchup for Harris. Denver’s defense is fantastic. Top five in points allowed per game (12.2), rushing yards per game (70.0), rushes of 10 or more yards (five), and first in fantasy points allowed to running backs, it’s a brutal matchup for a team and player that have struggled to find any rhythm running the ball.
In addition, among players in the top 15 in rushing attempts per game, Harris is averaging the fewest yards per game (46.3) and yards per carry (3.36). Because of their inability to run the ball, Big Ben and the Steelers have been forced to attack teams through the air. Roethlisberger’s 170 passing attempts are the second most – tied with Derek Carr.
As a result of this inefficiency, volume is key. And that’s where Harris thrives. His 49 touches over the last two weeks are third most in that timeframe, just behind Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara. And his 26 receptions, he catches just a shade under 25% of Roethlisberger’s completed passes (23.9%), is tops amongst running backs.
Just three players are projected to touch the ball more than Harris this week. So even though his averages might not make for a pretty sight at the end of this week, Harris’ volume boosts him into firm RB1 territory.
Jakobi Meyers, WR (NE) vs. HOU (ECR: 30, Our Rank: 10): Now that Cooper Kupp is getting his proper dues that we’ve been hammering for since the offseason, our next consistently most undervalued player is Meyers (another player we’ve been highlighting from the start).
In last week’s article, we wrote this about Meyers:
Well, this week, despite being our WR18 on the week, you have to go all the way to WR54 to find a player with a touchdown projection that is lower than Meyers’ TD chances… So how is Meyers 18th? Well, he’s projected to see the third most targets (10.9) and notch the second most receptions (7.1). Since the Pats are going to throw a lot, we like Meyers’ floor as a solid WR2. And if he can finally notch his first career touchdown, he can challenge a top-10 weekly finish.
Guess what Meyers didn’t do last week? Score a touchdown. So he still has zero touchdowns in his NFL career. But guess what? He still finished last week as WR 21 – courtesy of eight receptions on 12 targets. And despite his stunning ability to not find the end zone, Meyers is the only wide receiver in the top 30 in PPR fantasy points without a touchdown.
This week, he gets Houston. In case you haven’t heard, Houston has a problem (we are not sorry about this pun): They are not so great on defense. They are fifth worst in points per game (29.0) and yards allowed per pass play (7.35).
There have only been three instances of a top-10 weekly finish without a touchdown so far this year. With a touchdown projection that is 66th amongst wide receivers, it’s not likely he’s going to find the end zone. Despite that, our projections love Meyers’ matchup and suggest he could become the fourth such player to finish in the top 10 without a touchdown.
Regardless, Meyers is going to significantly outperform his ECR for a third straight week. Once again, he’s a strong WR2 with WR1 potential.
Adam Thielen, WR (MIN) vs. DET (ECR: 19, Our Rank: 11): Thielen and Meyers are polar opposites. Meyers is strong in our projections because of his base. Thielen is strong because of his work in the endzone. He is our third most likely receiver to score a touchdown.
Facing an abysmal Lions’ passing defense allowing a league-worst total in yards per completion (15.97) and yards per attempt (10.59), there is plenty of room for Justin Jefferson (our WR4) and Thielen to thrive.
As a result, even though Thielen is only 40th in receiving yards and has yet to pass the century mark in receiving yards in a single game, his chances of finding the end zone vault Thielen into strong WR2 consideration – with WR1 upside if he can find the end zone multiple times.
Sam Darnold, QB (CAR) vs. PHI (ECR: 13, Our Rank: 24): It’s been a dream start to the season for Darnold both in real life and in fantasy. Darnold, entering Week 5, was QB6.
But, and here’s the massive caveat, that total is boosted by an unsustainable five rushing touchdowns through four weeks. Entering this season, Darnold had five career rushing touchdowns. And yes, in case you were wondering, Darnold leads the entire NFL in rushing touchdowns. So if you think he’s likely to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns, he’s a must start.
We do not and instead will rely on his lengthy track record for now. Facing a really strong Philadelphia defense that’s only allowed 204.0 passing yards per game and 60 total rushing yards by quarterbacks through four games, our modelling suggests Darnold will struggle to perform at a QB2 level this week.
Jonathan Taylor, RB (IND) vs. BAL (ECR: 12, Our Rank: 25): This is Taylor’s second appearance in our “Nay” section. After we included him in our Week 3 piece, he went on to a weekly finish of RB37, his second straight finish outside the top 30.
This isn’t to brag, just merely point out that our models have consistently pointed to Taylor as a running back who is being overrated. His lower projection this week stems from the lack of passing game action he’s received the last few weeks. After recording six catches in Week 1, Taylor has only caught five passes since – Nyheim Hines and the other Indianapolis Colts running backs had nine catches in Weeks 2-4. Because of this pattern of usage, Taylor’s 1.6 projected receptions is fourth lowest among the top 25 running backs.
Running the ball on Monday night will be difficult against a Baltimore Ravens defense only allowing 85.8 rushing yards per game. However, the Ravens have proven to be susceptible through the air. This could be a Hines game and Taylor is a borderline RB2 this week.
DJ Moore, WR (CAR) vs. PHI (ECR: 6, Our Rank: 18): It stands to reason that if our models don’t expect the greatest performance from Darnold, than his weapons will struggle as well. But this one is tricky.
Poor quarterback play can still enable an elite wide receiver and Moore is well on his way to achieving that elite status. He’s WR4 through four weeks, and unlike with Darnold and his absurd number of rushing touchdowns, this isn’t because of anything unsustainable.
The argument against Moore achieiving WR1 status this week stems from the same historical factors working against Darnold’s rushing touchdowns. Moore doesn’t have the strongest track record for getting in the end zone – his career high is five receiving touchdowns. As we discussed with Meyers previously, without a touchdown, it’s hard to crack the top 10 among WRs in a given week. So even though Moore is averaging 7.5 catches and 99.5 receiving yards, that only equals 17.5 fantasy points. Last week, that would have been WR20.
In reality, this truly is an argument against Darnold more than Moore. Darnold is 22nd in the league with a 76.4 well-thrown percentage, which measures how often quarterbacks make an accurate, on-target throw. Moore is fantastic. The models don’t seem to believe that the quarterback tasked with getting him the ball is. For this week, Moore is a WR2 for us.
Mike Williams, WR (LAC) vs. CLE (ECR: 20, Our Rank: 43): It’s truly odd to have a player who has soared to a WR5 start through four games sitting at 43rd in our projections. And with the boom potential of Williams, there is always a chance that he makes this look silly.
But, after three straight weeks of at least seven catches, 80 yards and a touchdown, Williams came crashing down to earth with a 1/11/0 performance in Week 4. And therein lies the danger of trusting Williams, who remains one of the most boom or bust receivers in the league.
When it’s good, it’s great. But he still endures games where he’s mostly a peripheral option, which is an issue this week because the Los Angeles Chargers are facing one the league’s best defenses to begin the year.
Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns defense have been the beneficiaries of Nick Chubb and a strong running game controlling the time of possession battle. The Browns have been on defense for the third-fewest plays this season (224). On top of this, the Browns allow the second-fewest yards per play (4.47), and fourth-fewest yards per pass play (5.36).
In a game in which points are going to be at a premium, Williams isn’t likely to be in the shootout that is conducive to his point production. He is a risky start this week, even if he’s WR5 through four weeks.
Best DFS Value Plays
Damien Williams, RB (CHI) vs. LV (DK Price: 4,900): This is becoming a trend amongst our best value plays. When a starter goes down, the backup is usually able to be had for a decent price. Williams proved a capable back with the Chiefs in 2019. Now he leads the Chicago backfield against a Las Vegas Raiders squad that just allowed Austin Ekeler 145 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. He’s our top RB value of the week.
Tyler Boyd, WR (CIN) vs. GB (DK Price: 4,700): Our best values usually have one main thing in common: They have a chance for a large volume of work. Boyd gets that nearly every week. Now facing a Green Bay secondary without Jaire Alexander, not only is Boyd our top play of the week, he’s within our top 10 wide receivers for the week.
Olamide Zaccheaus, WR (ATL) vs. NYJ (DK Price: 3,200): In the London game, the Atlanta Falcons will be without their top two wide receivers in Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. In steps Zaccheaus. In career games in which he’s had at least six targets, Zaccheaus has averaged 12.8 fantasy points. With a chance for that sort of volume again, he’s worth the flier at his price.
Design by Matt Sisneros.