Few fantasy football players rise or decline in linear fashion every week, instead looping, ascending and dropping like a rickety roller coaster that leaves riders with splitting headaches.
Unless we’re talking about Devonta Freeman. Every week we wait for the fall, but the Atlanta Falcons running back instead keeps trekking upward. Skepticism is usually a healthy trait for daily players, but trustworthy people sailed on his dominance for weeks.
Will these players make our lives easier by continuing their climb or fall? Or will they change course mid-ride this weekend? The best any DraftKings contestant can do is use the current data to make educated estimations.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears ($5,200)
Wait, isn’t it an Internet rule that everyone has to make fun of Jay Cutler? Those jokes will prove tougher after the polarizing quarterback returned quicker than expected from a hamstring injury and led the Chicago Bears to two come-from-behind wins.
He didn’t deliver massive fantasy gains, but he offered 18 DraftKings points at a low cost each time. Despite throwing two scores each game, his price dropped to $5,200, continuing his weekly salary gauge:
If there was ever a week to capitalize, this is it. The Detroit Lions have relinquished an NFL-worst 76.6 completion percentage and 9.2 yards per pass attempt, rating No. 26 in DraftKings points allowed to quarterbacks.
Cutler has managed two solid games without star wideout Alshon Jeffery, and he might have to do it again. Eddie Royal and Martellus Bennett also enter Sunday hobbled, so keep an eye on their statuses. If he can at least get Jeffery back, the passer is an interesting punt play.
Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Cleveland Browns ($4,500)
Duke Johnson Jr. is averaging 24.2 rushing yards per game on 3.0 yards per carry, and that’s just fine. The rookie running back has absorbed 21 catches over the Cleveland Browns’ last three games, helping him average 16.6 DraftKings points a game during that stretch.
Put Johnson on the New England Patriots instead of Dion Lewis, and we’re talking about the newcomer as a top-10 points-per-reception play going forward. Pro Football Focus examined his tough running this season:
Ranked No. 1 in total defense, the Denver Broncos are nobody’s ideal opponent—except for a pass-catching running back like Johnson. According to ESPN.com, they have allowed an NFL-high 8.6 receptions per game to backs. Quarterbacks can’t find any openings downfield, so they settle for safe, short tosses and live to fight another day.
He’s no longer cheap at $4,500, but Johnson isn’t too expensive yet, either. C.J. Anderson and Knile Davis, neither of whom may receive 10 touches, cost the same amount on Sunday.
Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore Ravens ($4,300)
Somebody has to catch passes for the Baltimore Ravens, or at least get footballs thrown his way. Per the team’s Twitter page, Steve Smith Sr. does not expect to be that person on Sunday:
The veteran wide receiver will likely miss his second straight game after injuring his back in Week 4. In Baltimore’s past two bouts, Kamar Aiken has taken the No. 1 wideout role by default, tallying nine catches for 155 yards and a touchdown. If Smith sits, the 26-year-old will spend one more weekend as Joe Flacco’s top option.
He’ll get a golden matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, who rank No. 31 ahead of Detroit in completion percentage (71.8) and yards per pass attempt (8.9). They were last seen letting Eli Manning complete a franchise-record 41 passes for 441 yards on Sunday night.
Aiken vanished for two of Baltimore’s first three games, but the team can’t afford for him to disappear again without any healthy alternatives. He’s a great No. 3 option for $4,300 if Smith doesn’t suit up.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills ($5,400)
Disappointed in Sammy Watkins’ sophomore season? You’re not the only one. The Buffalo Bills wide receiver, who hasn’t played since Week 3, vented about his lack of targets to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News:
Everybody looks at you getting zero catches, zero yards but when you look on film 90 percent of the time you’re open.
I understand that these guys are young and they need some time to trust me. Once we get that trust, it’ll be different. But for me, I need the ball at least 10 times — I need 10 targets — and I’ll be fine with however many yards I get. And that’s what I addressed in talking with my agent. We reached out to a couple people and tried to pull some strings like, ‘Hey, I need my targets. You came up to draft me and I’m not getting targets — that’s a problem. You’re making me look bad and you’re making yourself look bad. Why not make both of us look good?’
In the three games he played, Watkins caught seven balls on 12 targets. As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, Buffalo has used him predominantly on deep balls after flourishing on shorter gains at Clemson:
A healthy Watkins has superstar talent on par with Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., but he landed in a worse situation. Although his comments sound like selfish sour grapes, the Bills need to get him more opportunities in open space.
Of course, it’s tough to target someone sidelined with a calf injury. Watkins’ Week 6 status remains uncertain, but he’s pushing to play against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. If he plays, consider him a high-risk, high-reward tournament gamble.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks ($5,400)
Another case study in a situation offsetting talent, Jimmy Graham has quickly realized everyone’s worst fears when the pass-happy New Orleans Saints traded him to the run-first Seattle Seahawks.
The tight end has caught 21 of 27 targets in Seattle, collecting 204 yards and two scores through five games. To go along with drastically decreased volume, he’s averaging a career-low 9.7 yards per catch.
“We’d love to get more,” head coach Pete Carroll told the Seattle Times‘ Jayson Jenks. “We’d love to get more from everybody. I’d love to get the ball in his hands more.”
Formerly the clear-cut No. 2 tight end, Graham is now in danger of losing his weekly starting status in season-long formats. Considering he costs $5,400—third among the position behind Rob Gronkowski ($7,600) and Greg Olsen ($5,500)—the choice is easy for daily players.
There’s a top tight end to use in Sunday’s matchup between the Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, but it’s not Graham. While Carolina has surrendered the fewest DraftKings points to the position, Seattle ranks No. 28 after getting picked apart by Tyler Eifert. Olsen should see plenty of work as Cam Newton‘s top target.
Note: All pricing and scoring information obtained from DraftKings.com.
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