On Sunday morning, fantasy owners will inevitably struggle through decisions of which similarly priced players to start. Let fantasy expert Ricky Sanders guide you through five difficult decisions many will be dealing with heading into Week 4:
QB – Matthew Stafford/Kirk Cousins – Whether to pick on the Bears or pick on the Browns is an interesting and difficult question. Through three games, Matthew Stafford has thrown for at least 260 passing yards in each game so far and ranks sixth in passing attempts (120). By comparison, Kirk Cousins has managed at least 296 in each game thus far and sits at fourth in attempts (124). The lone reason Stafford has averaged more than 6.00 fantasy points more per game and is priced $1,400 more is due to Cousins’ struggles in the red zone. Although he has attempted the second most passes in the red zone (22), Cousins has only completed seven passes and thrown for one TD. The league average in red zone completion percentage is over 50-percent so Cousins is bound for some positive regression in the near future. On paper, Cousins’ matchup against the Browns is superior as they’ve allowed more fantasy points to the position but the Bears will be without top corner Kyle Fuller. The differentiator here is the game script for the Redskins and how eerily similar their match up is to the Dolphins’ from just a week ago. Ryan Tannehill squared off against the Browns in Week 3, leading a team devoid of a running game and throwing to a loaded receiving core. The same holds true for the Redskins and Cousins has even attempted more passes through three games than Tannehill had. Other than Joe Haden, there isn’t much talent on this defense, and opposing teams should be able to light them up all season long. Both matchups are ripe but Cousins’ similar projection deems him the better play of the two simply because he’s cheaper.
RB – David Johnson/Le’Veon Bell – David Johnson hasn’t scored the most fantasy points of any back but he’s generally considered the consensus top RB in daily fantasy football. Not only is Johnson explosive on the ground but he is “the best receiving back” his general manager has ever seen (his words). Most of all, he has played a whopping 85.2-percent of the team’s snaps so far. Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell will be playing his first game post-suspension after DeAngelo Williams produced the second best numbers of any fantasy back through three weeks. The fear with Bell is he will lose at least some touches to Williams due to his recent success. However, Coach Mike Tomlin assured fantasy owners this week by telling the public to expect “a lot” of Bell. He noted later in the week that Bell is “highly conditioned” so there should be no workload curve (meaning he is able to handle a ton of carries from the get-go). On Saturday, Ben Roethlisberger eluded Bell could line up in the slot more often than last season. Considering Bell finished as RB3 in terms of fantasy points per game in 2015, any hint of an uptick in targets means the sky could be the ceiling for him. Assuming he plays 75-percent of the snaps (which could be a low estimate), we’re looking at approximately a four snap difference between Johnson and Bell…so not much. Therefore, I’m leaning towards the player with the cheaper price and slightly better matchup: Bell. Although both the matchup (Chiefs allowing 11th most fantasy points to RBs versus the Rams allowing 13th most) and price differential are both minimal, small advantages are the only things to separate a pair of two elite backs.
RB – Carlos Hyde/Jordan Howard – To me, this is an easy decision especially in cash games. Clearly, the way to beat the Lions is via the air considering they have allowed the most fantasy points to both opposing QBs and TEs. On the other hand, they have allowed the eighth fewest fantasy points to RBs including zero TDs allowed. In other words, this projects as a game where the Bears could/should be throwing more often than usual. Jordan Howard is clearly their best back, vastly underpriced and was targeted six times last game so the appeal is undeniable. Still, the Bears’ offense is horrendous and a threat to score three points on any given week. Furthermore, literally 20-percent of the public money is on the Bears so most are forecasting a Lions win. Howard’s workload isn’t guaranteed and he’s going to have to gain yards after the catch to end with a productive day. On the other side of the matchup, Carlos Hyde rumbled, bumbled and stumbled his way to a productive day in a blowout loss last week. Coach Chip Kelly proved he wasn’t afraid to continue to run with his team down big and Hyde finished with multiple TDs for the second time this season (and a season-high 23 carries). Now, in a game with just a 2.5 point spread, the running game should be that much more important in a close game. In a decision between a young back in a possible blowout and an established workhorse in a close contest, the decision is simple. Use Hyde.
WR – Antonio Brown/DeAndre Hopkins – Unlike the Hyde/Howard conundrum, there is no clear cut answer between two of the game’s top receivers. One statistic stands out when it comes to Antonio Brown: all six of his 35-plus fantasy point explosions last season came at home and with Ben Roethlisberger under center. The two of them are virtually unstoppable together in Heinz Field and the Chiefs’ passing defense looked susceptible prior to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six interception implosion last week. Although DeAndre Hopkins’ QB has changed since last season, he still notably torched the Titans in two 2015 meetings. In those two games, Hopkins caught 15-22 targets for 211 yards and two TDs. The issue is his team is only implied to score 22.5 points and are listed as 1.5 point underdogs. Still, the ownership on Brown is bound to be out-of-control to the point where fading him in tournaments is viable. Since Brown’s floor is higher, he is the play in cash games, while Hopkins is an absolutely fantastic pivot from him in tournaments.
WR – Terrelle Pryor Sr./Tyrell Williams – It seems like most fantasy analysts are going gaga over the Chargers’ passing game this week but I much prefer the running game. After watching the Falcons’ RB duo torch the Saints to the tune of 194 yards and four TDs on 26 carries last week, there’s no reason other teams wouldn’t lean on a run-heavy scheme as well. As if that weren’t enough, the Saints allowed the most yards per carry (YPC) last season. Sure the Chargers could absolutely blow the Saints out but the Giants disappointed in a similar situation just a few weeks ago. Comparatively, Terrelle Pryor Sr. is the focus of the entire offense with both Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown on the shelf. He played 82 snaps last week including 14 at QB and one at RB last week to go along with the fact he led the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards. With the news Josh Norman will not be shadowing Pryor, there isn’t much reason to worry considering the Redskins have allowed the fourth most fantasy points to WRs. An all-around weapon such as this rarely ever comes along (in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in the pros) so it’s worth taking advantage of…especially at the ridiculous bargain price! If Cody Kessler were to struggle, his snaps at QB could even go up and you could be rostering a true QB2 at less than $9,000.
TE – Jordan Reed/Greg Olsen – Since it was established Kirk Cousins is worthy of playing in the first tidbit, Jordan Reed must be the preferred TE as well, right? Wrong. He’s certainly worthy of GPP consideration but there is no safer option on this slate than Greg Olsen. First and foremost, Olsen leads all TEs in fantasy points by nearly 3.5 fantasy points per game. Secondly, he’s priced as TE3 aka $700 cheaper than Reed. While the Redskins’ starting TE has yet to reach 13.50 fantasy points, Olsen has easily succeeded that plateau in 2-3 games so far. Most importantly, the Falcons are absolutely awful against TEs as evident by their performance last week. Coby Fleener, who couldn’t catch a cold, played a mediocre game and still ended with six catches for 100-plus yards and a score. Consequently, the Falcons rank in both the bottom three of fantasy points allowed and Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) statistic against the position. Honestly, both should be in line for excellent games, but Olsen’s matchup is the “nuts” as they say in poker.