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Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 7


By now, you’ve probably seen the rant.

I say this because it seems like everyone has seen the rant. If you haven’t, you can watch it right above. But I can’t tell you how many tweets, texts, DMs and emails I got from friends, co-workers and fellow fantasy players about it. They all said some version of the same thing. “Man, I’m sorry for your pain. That’s awful. But I can relate.”

Because they’ve been there.

Story after story poured in. “I feel you. You think that’s bad, listen to this one.”

I often write about the unifying aspect of fantasy football, the universal language it speaks and how it brings people from all parts of life together because of a group of shared experiences. I talk about the joy it brings, the hope and light it can shed, the bonds it creates.

I don’t talk about the pain.

Late Monday night, after the game, I was sunk into my couch with only the glow of the television faintly illuminating the room. The rest of my family was long asleep, Scott Van Pelt and Stanford Steve were on the TV, appropriately talking about bad beats, and I just lay there. Depressed. Why do I do this to myself?

Why do we care so much? I get wanting to win, I get being disappointed when I don’t. I get the frustration that comes from spending an entire week of preparation on a game where, every week, half of all teams will take an L. But at the end of the day — realize this is me saying this, a man who has spent three decades of his life dedicated to fantasy football — it’s still just a make-believe game.

And so, I sat on my couch, just destroyed. Like, legitimately depressed. The night before that intense rant, I was seriously questioning why I play this dumb game.

Make no mistake, logically, I get it. I had some bad luck. I did what you are supposed to do in fantasy football. I did the research, I played the odds that gave me the best chance to win and due to a bunch of unlikely events, I fell just short. It happens. Every week, all the time, to anyone who has ever played the game.

It makes complete and total sense and my brain just nods. While my heart just crumbles. Emotionally, I am just destroyed. Why does this game do this to us? How do we get so wrapped up, so invested in a semi-random group of professional athletes who we’ve never met and have no connection to each other except they were selected, in some order, by some random person, at some point in August?

When I win a game, I am happy, but you know my overriding emotion? Relief. Relief that I didn’t lose. That my make-believe collection of players scored more points than my opponent’s make-believe collection. That I don’t have to feel like crap. And if the reaction I got from that rant is any indication, I’m not alone.

To be clear, I don’t take every loss the way I took this one. In fact, I never have. But I do truly care. That was one reaction I heard a lot. People were surprised that I cared this much about any one league, all these years later.

Oh, I care. I always care. The issue is time. I’m in 12 leagues, plus the two “Vampire” leagues. There’s another 15 or so that I “help” out with and need to keep reasonable track of. There’s DFS of course and smaller games, like Pigskin Pick ’em and Eliminator. All in all, I probably make some sort of decision hundreds of times a week. Some of them fall through the cracks. There’s a league where I’ve known I desperately need to make a trade for three weeks now, and I haven’t found the time to go through rosters to see the team that would make the best potential trade partner and to try to negotiate that deal. But I definitely care about every single league I’m in.

The league is called The Scott Fish Bowl and if you are active on Twitter, you may have seen a bunch of people tweeting about it, especially in the middle of July, when we draft. Some of us, Le’Veon Bell. Yeah, this rant was months in the making.

The league is run by my friend Scott Fish, a fantasy analyst for Fanball. Scott is just an awesome human being and he does the league to support a great cause, and the whole industry has rallied around it. There are 800 teams divided into 12-team leagues with 22-man rosters. It is a “super flex” league, where you can play four flex players, including one QB, so ideally you are starting two quarterbacks with three traditional flex players.

Half-point PPR, half-point per first down, except you get one point for tight end receptions and one point for tight end first downs. Also, no kickers or defense, which I love. If you used ESPN standard roster size and eliminated kickers and defenses, it is basically the equivalent of an 18-team league. Unless you’ve ever played in an 18-team league, you have no concept of how deep it is.

Coming into this week, I have lost five of six. I got a lot of comments from folks about how they couldn’t believe an expert had lost five games, but I didn’t want to lie. I’ll own it. Here’s the team that I started this past week:

QB: Carson Wentz, Alex Smith
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Sony Michel, James White, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris
WR: Julian Edelman, Dede Westbrook, Antonio Callaway
TE: Greg Olsen

I have the aforementioned Le’Veon Bell on my bench and Jack Doyle in my training room. I also had drafted Larry Fitzgerald, which was my biggest miss in the draft. Middle of July, in this format, thought he’d be a star. Just dead wrong. He has been unstartable. But other than Larry Fitz? I think that’s a strong team in that deep a league. A little weak at wide receiver, but given that I’ve gotten zero from my first-round pick and almost nothing from my tight ends in a tight-end heavy format? I’m pretty happy that I’m still able to compete.

I lost the week before by 3.8 points to a guy who got that crazy Monday Night Football performance from Mark Ingram, against my Redskins.

Lost the week before that by 4.8 points to a team that started and got six touchdowns from Mitchell Trubisky. That’s right. He needed a six-touchdown game to beat me by four points.

Prior to that, Callaway had become just the 14th person in NFL history to get 10 targets in a game and fewer than 10 receiving yards (hat tip to Ryan McDowell for that stat).

You can’t make it up.

On and on, it has been like that in that league. Starting with the early draft, Le’Veon Bell deciding his career is more important to him than my fantasy team, and all the close losses … It all led up to Monday night, where I was down 0.9, he was done and I had Alfred Morris needing one tiny little point. Not even 10 yards: a six-inch dive for a first down would have been enough. Morris plays literally just one snap, gets a first down called back because of a holding penalty … and I lose again, 158.64 to 157.74.

WHY COULDN’T ALFRED MORRIS GET ONE STUPID POINT?!?!?

So depressed. And then the next morning, when it came up on the podcast, I just snapped. And it was caught on camera and it is now there for you to enjoy my misery whenever you feel like feeling better about your own loss.

I’ve thought a lot about why we care so much, how this game affects us the way it does, and I believe it’s because we have the illusion of control but in reality, we have none. All we can do is watch and hope and pray and yell and use whatever body English we can think of to will the ball into or out of a player’s hands.

I sat on the edge of my couch, watching every single play Monday night like a hawk. Where is Alfred Morris? Is that him lined up in the backfield? I can’t see that guy’s number, is it him? I can’t remember the last time I went through an emotional roller coaster like that. Except maybe the day before. And the Thursday before that. And the Sunday before that. It’s unlike anything else in my life, this relationship I have with fantasy football. After the rant, Scott Van Pelt reached out with some kind words and as we were texting back and forth about it, he wrote this: It’s why fantasy football is so great and terrible. The despair and joy. Side by side. Each can reach out and touch the other.

That they can, Scott. That they can.

And after I got that rant out, I felt better. And I started looking at my Week 7 matchups, I started making waiver claims and what the hell do you know? I’m sucked right back in, ready for Week 7. Bring it on, Fantasy Gods. Because you owe me one.

Let’s get to it. A reminder, this is based on projections for ESPN PPR leagues. “Loves” are players I think meet or exceed their projections, “Hates” are players I feel fall short. Thanks as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and the Stat-A-Pillar himself, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 7

Jameis Winston vs. Browns (ESPN projection: 18.7): Great matchup here, as the Browns have allowed at least 298 passing yards OR multiple TDs in five of six games this season. (The lone exception was Sam Darnold, in Cleveland, on a short week.) The three times QBs have attempted more than 35 passes against the Browns, they’ve averaged 356.7 passing yards. Dating back to 2017, Winston has at least 35 attempts in four of his past five starts. And as a position this season, Tampa Bay QBs are second in fantasy points per game (27.57).

Kirk Cousins at Jets (ESPN projection: 18.4): The Jets blitz at the fifth-highest rate this season (30.3 percent). Cousins ranks fourth in passing yards against the blitz this season and ranks behind only Drew Brees in completion percentage when blitzed. Cousins is averaging 43 pass attempts per game, he is fifth in the NFL in passing yards and third in completion percentage, and now he gets a Jets team that has allowed at least 20 fantasy points to QBs in each of the past three weeks (the Falcons are the only other team that has done that).

Carson Wentz vs. Panthers (ESPN projection: 18.3): The Eagles have had 10 days to prep for a Panthers team that has allowed a touchdown on 81.8 percent of red zone drives this season, second worst in the NFL. Wentz certainly looks healthy, as he has scored at least 20 points in three straight games (matching Andrew Luck for the longest active streak among QBs). In those three weeks, he ranks as QB6 in terms of total points (ahead of Patrick Mahomes). Worth noting: Wentz has more than 275 passing yards and multiple TDs in three straight games, something that, prior to this run, he had never done in his career.

Baker Mayfield at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.7): You know who chucks it deep? Baker Mayfield chucks it deep. Among QBs currently starting, he ranks top five in terms of air yards per target (9.24). Among the many things the Bucs’ defense struggles with is the deep ball. They are tied with the Saints for the highest deep completion percentage against (59 percent; league average: 44.8 percent) and deep completions allowed per game (4.60; league average: 3.24). Mayfield has the fourth-most pass attempts over the past three weeks (trailing only Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco), which makes him my favorite streamer this week.

Others receiving votes: Mitchell Trubisky is the fourth-best QB in fantasy since Week 4. And that includes Week 5, when, you know, he was on a bye. Six touchdowns will do that for you, but he’s also fifth in rushing yards among quarterbacks. That keeps his floor high, especially against a Patriots defense allowing the ninth-most rushing yards to QBs. … It has certainly been ugly, but believe it or not, Eli Manning now has five straight games with 250-plus passing yards. Atlanta will have no issue putting up points on the Giants, which means Eli will keep throwing against a Falcons defense that has allowed at least 21.5 points to a QB in five of six games this season. … I mentioned him in this section last week as well and now C.J. Beathard has at least 17.8 points in three straight games (multiple passing TDs in each). The only QBs who can say that? Tom Brady, Wentz, Luck and Beathard. Junk time still counts, baby.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 7

Deshaun Watson at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 15.6): Man, he has looked bad from a real-life-football point of view. And now that has caught up to him fantasy wise, with just two TD passes over the past two weeks (once every 34.5 attempts) after throwing multiple TD passes in each of the prior three games (once every 19 attempts). Houston is allowing pressure at the highest rate this season (41.4 percent of dropbacks) and the Jaguars create pressure at the highest rate this season (35.3 percent). For his career, Watson has seven TDs and eight INTs versus pressure (21 and 7 when not pressured). I like the chance of the Jags’ defense bouncing back more than Watson in this one.

Drew Brees at Ravens (ESPN projection: 15.9): Brees has played one outdoor road game this season. That was against the Giants and he scored 8.6 points. He has traditionally struggled on the road outdoors (he scored fewer than 14.5 points in three of six such games last season). Other than the Steelers, the Ravens haven’t played a strong offense in the past four weeks, but still they’ve allowed just two touchdown passes in their past four games.

Dak Prescott at Redskins (ESPN projection: 16.2): There have been 128 instances this season — from 36 quarterbacks — of a QB completing 20 or more passes in a game. None of those 36 QBs are named Dak Prescott. He has a league-high four games this season in which he has thrown at least 25 passes and failed to pass for at least 200 yards. You’re counting on rushing with Dak and the Redskins allow the seventh-fewest rushing yards per carry to QBs this season (3.19). The 42-point over/under is among the lowest in Week 7.

Alex Smith vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 15.5): Smith has just one game this season with more than 220 passing yards AND at least one touchdown pass, so his ceiling has been limited thus far. This doesn’t seem like the game he changes that. A slow pace of play has resulted in Dallas being the fifth-least-passed-on team in the league this season. Because the Redskins’ defense has mostly played well this season, Smith hasn’t needed to get into shootouts, and he’s not really running, either, with just one game of more than 15 rushing yards.

Running backs I love in Week 7

Saquon Barkley at Falcons (ESPN projection: 21.9): The best part about doing this new “over or under the projection” way of doing Love/Hate is that I can now talk about “obvious” guys like Barkley. I’m taking the over here against a Falcons team that has allowed more than 20 points to a single running back in all six games this season, including the likes of Jay Ajayi, Giovani Bernard and Peyton Barber. Forget his rushing for a second; Barkley has more catches than Keenan Allen and more receiving yards than Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Ridley, to name a few. The Falcons are giving up more than eight receptions a game to running backs and that’s not changing Monday night. My No. 1 running back this week.

Joe Mixon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 18.1): Say what you want about Marvin Lewis (seriously, go ahead, what do I care?), but the man commits! One back for him and that’s it. Injuries have something to do with it, of course, but in Mixon’s four games and Giovani Bernard’s two starts, the lead back has gotten at least 20 touches. That volume should work well against a Chiefs defense that is third worst in terms of yards allowed before first contact to RBs this season, gives up 5.32 yards per carry to running backs and gives up the third-highest rate of carries that gain 10 yards or more.

Tarik Cohen vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 10.1): In the past three weeks, Cohen is the fourth-best RB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis (only Todd Gurley II, Barkley and Melvin Gordon have been better). Of course the Bears had a bye in Week 5, but in the past two games they’ve played, Cohen has out-touched Jordan Howard 32 to 25 and their snaps are almost equal (64 for Howard, 59 for Cohen). He has 18 carries for 84 yards and a TD, 14 catches for 211 yards and a TD in those two games, and I expect that production to continue against a Patriots defense that coughs up the fifth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs.

Phillip Lindsay at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): The always-risky call of a guy in a committee playing on a Thursday night, but I just lost by one point because of Alfred Morris. What the hell. In the past three games, Lindsay has at least 10 touches in each game, has caught 11 balls and has a 15-6 red zone snap edge over Royce Freeman. The Cardinals are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing almost 200 total yards a game to opposing backs. They’ve allowed 10 touchdowns to running backs, the second-most fantasy points per game and what are the Broncos gonna do, let Case Keenum throw it? Exactly.

Others receiving votes: Running backs who have gotten 15 or more carries against the Dolphins this season (four instances) have averaged 19.3 points per game. The only question is will Kerryon Johnson get 15 carries? I’m not sure, but I do like his chances of beating his projection of 10.1 points. … With the Chargers more than a touchdown favorite, I like Austin Ekeler and his amazing 3.34 yards per carry after contact to get some nice run in the second half and be flex-play worthy. … If you listened to the podcast this week, you know I am a believer in Ito Smith being top-25-or-so worthy against the Giants. Since his first carry in Week 2, Smith leads the Falcons in rushing attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and leads the Falcons with 13 red zone carries (six more than Tevin Coleman). Giants opponents have cashed in four of eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. … It took a bit, but with Jameis Winston under center last week, Peyton Barber finally got going (17 touches for 106 yards and a TD … RB9 finish), and I like his chances of keeping it going against a Browns team allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game this season and the third-most yards per carry after first contact. … And you know all those stats I gave in the Phillip Lindsay section about how bad the Cardinals are? They also apply to Royce Freeman, who, while certainly risky, has a decent chance to hit pay dirt in this one. If ever there was a week to use Royce, this is it. How lucky do you feel?

Running backs I hate in Week 7

Jordan Howard vs. Patriots (ESPN projection: 11.8): Howard hasn’t caught a ball since Week 3 and is trending in the wrong direction, as he was averaging 45 snaps the first three games but just 32 in the past two. Of more concern is that, while Howard’s playing time is going down, the Bears’ offense has gotten a lot better. This sets up more as a Cohen game than a Howard one against a New England defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season long.

T.J. Yeldon vs. Texans (ESPN projection: 16): For the season, Yeldon ranks as a bottom-10 RB in terms of yards per carry after first contact. That’s an issue, because the Texans allow the fifth-fewest yards per carry before first contact this season. Yeldon has yet to have a game with 60 rushing yards, so he’ll need to be effective catching the ball. However, Houston is allowing the sixth-fewest yards per attempt when targeting RBs this season. You gotta start him if you have him, but gimme the under on 16 points.

Lamar Miller at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.8): In his past three games, Miller is averaging just 2.69 yards per carry. And now he gets an embarrassed Jaguars defense in Jacksonville? Yeesh. The Jags are a top-10 defense in terms of limiting red zone drives and limiting the efficiency of drives when opponents do reach the red zone. The odds of Miller scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season are not great.

Dion Lewis vs. Chargers in London (ESPN projection: 11.1): In the past three games for Lewis, he has 21 carries for 43 yards (2.05 YPC). LeSean McCoy is the only RB to rush for more than 70 yards against the Chargers this season … but it took him 24 carries to get there. I don’t see Lewis getting that kind of volume (he averages 10 carries per game this season). He has just two games this season with eight or more fantasy points, and he has been held below 10 rushing yards in two of the past three games. Since Week 2, he is just RB45. After this game, the Titans are on bye, so if you need the roster space, feel free to drop him.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 7

Odell Beckham Jr. at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.5): Remember 2016, when Beckham was WR4? He was WR22 through 5 weeks in that season before a breakthrough game. Through six weeks this season, he’s WR13. His 30.7 percent target share this season trails only Adam Thielen and Julio Jones, and while, yes, Eli is #notgood, he hasn’t been good for a while. Beckham will be fine and it starts this week against a Falcons team that is allowing the most red zone drives per game, the most touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and the fourth-most fantasy points to wideouts.

Tyreek Hill vs. Bengals (ESPN projection: 17.4): Eight different WRs have scored more than 15.5 points against the Bengals this season. Hill has 32 targets in his past three games and I expect another huge game. The Bengals create pressure at the fourth-lowest rate this season and that’s good, because Patrick Mahomes owns the highest passer rating when not pressured since that crazy Nick Foles season of 2013. With time to throw, you can bet Hill will get open. And if he’s within 80 yards of Mahomes, he’ll get the ball.

Jarvis Landry at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.2): You already know I think Mayfield throws the ball a ton here. Well, a lot of that is going to Landry, who has a team-high 26 percent target share this season with Mayfield under center. Opponents are completing 80 percent of passes when targeting the slot against Tampa this season (second-highest rate in the NFL). That’s where Landry lines up.

Tyler Boyd at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 14.4): Boyd has a touchdown or 100 yards in four of his past five games, and he should keep it going against a Chiefs defense that is a bottom 10 against the slot, in terms of catches, yards and yards after the catch per reception. Can you even tell which stat line belongs to Boyd and which one is A.J. Green‘s?

Player A: 37 catches on 51 targets for 455 yards and 4 TDs, 0 drops, recording a catch on 17.1 percent of routes

Player B: 33 catches on 55 targets for 494 yards and 5 TDs, 3 drops, recording a catch on 15.9 percent of routes.

Player A … is Boyd. Now, Green got a little banged up in one game, but still … I don’t think people fully realize what they’re dealing with here.

George Kittle vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 11.2): In a game I expect the Niners to throw a bunch to keep up with L.A., it’s worth pointing out the Rams allow the ninth-most tight end receptions per game this season (5.33) and here are the teams they’ve faced: Raiders, Cardinals, Chargers, Vikings, Seahawks, Broncos. Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph are the only two real tight ends they’ve faced (sorry, Antonio Gates and Ricky Seals-Jones). Kittle is fifth among tight ends in receptions the past four weeks.

David Njoku at Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): His connection with Mayfield is growing, as evidenced by his 11 targets in each of the past two games. In each of Baker’s three starts, Njoku leads Cleveland in receptions and receiving yards. As we may have mentioned, this is a great matchup; Tampa Bay gives up 7.2 catches, 94.8 yards and the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Others receiving votes: On a per-game basis, the Saints are giving up the most fantasy points to opposing WRs this season (51.86). I like John Brown and Willie Snead IV in this game, as I expect Michael Crabtree to find himself lined up against Marshon Lattimore the most. … Taylor Gabriel has caught all 12 of his targets over the past two games (214 yards and 2 TDs), actually leads the Bears in receptions and yards this season, is second in routes run and has as many slot receptions (11) as any other Bear has targets. The Patriots have allowed six slot TDs this season (second most in the NFL, and four over the past two weeks). … Josh Gordon is coming off a game in which he led the team in routes run, and I’m taking the over on his 11.4-point projection against a Bears defense that has allowed the seventh-most deep TD passes this season. … With Quincy Enunwa out, I expect Jermaine Kearse to play the majority of snaps in the slot against a Vikings team that has given up the fourth-most yards to the slot this season. Heavy target share for Kearse. … Austin Hooper now has at least nine catches and 70 yards in consecutive games (Zach Ertz is the only other tight end who can say that). Hooper has 22 targets in those games and I like him Monday night in a game where a lot of the other receiving options are banged up. … In his first game back from injury, O.J. Howard played 13 more snaps and ran five more routes than Cameron Brate. I expect that gap to widen further this week in a plus matchup. Thirteen of Winston’s past 24 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 7

Demaryius Thomas at Cardinals (ESPN projection: 11.8): Thomas has seven or fewer targets in four straight games and his fantasy output has been bailed out by some late touchdowns. I much prefer Emmanuel Sanders to DT in a game where I expect Denver to go run heavy. The Cardinals have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs so far this season and Thomas is likely to see the most of Patrick Peterson in this one.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Bills (ESPN projection: 14.7): This game is at home, which helps, but I’m lowering expectations under the idea that he says he’s still not 100 percent and because he’s likely to be shadowed by Buffalo’s terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. The Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions and have yet to allow a deep TD pass (one of three defenses that can say that).

Will Fuller V at Jaguars (ESPN projection: 10.6): It’s been a tough two-week stretch for Fuller, and things will get better. But not this week, not against this defense. The Jags have given up zero deep touchdowns and opponents are completing 36.4 percent of deep attempts (tied for second lowest). They will get after Deshaun Watson as well, making it tough for deep plays to develop. Even with a modest projection of 10.6, I’m taking the under.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is down to praying for stat corrections. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.



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Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 6


I was in the moment I saw the tweet. Easiest call I’ve ever made.

On July 21, Tom Kislingbury, who goes by the handle @TomDegenerate, tweeted the following:

“New league idea: vampire. Normal start-up draft except one team does not get to pick at all. They just have to make a lineup from waivers. This team is the Vampire.”

Tom continued in follow-up tweets.

“Every time the Vampire team wins a weekly matchup, they have to swap one of their starting line-up with one of their opponent’s at the same position. So they’ll start out weak but with each win get a bit stronger. If they manage to beat a good team, they’ll grow much more powerful.”

“So when facing the Vampire, you need to make a choice: Play at full strength and risk losing a good player? Or try to beat a bad Vampire team without risking your stars?”

“Needless to say that if the Vampire wins the league, it’s over. Their reign of dark power is complete.”

WEH-HELL.

As soon as I saw the tweet, I quote-tweeted it and said, “I would totally do this.”

I have been playing fantasy sports for 34 years now. And in that time, I have played every fantasy game imaginable. Every sport … NASCAR, golf, college football and basketball … I’ve played fantasy fishing, fantasy sumo wrestling, hell, I’ve even played fantasy hockey once. I’ve always said if you can find a way to keep score, you can play a fantasy version of anything. So I have done a bunch of fantasy games around entertainment. I have played fantasy “Big Brother” (Tyler got robbed). As you might know, ESPN has a fantasy “The Bachelor” game, which I enjoy way more than I should. And my friends and I even created a game called FantasyMovieLeague.com, which is exactly what you think it is: A fantasy game where you program your fantasy movie theater with real-life movies in a salary-cap format, and based on how much the movie makes at the box office is how much your theater makes. Easy to play, hard to master, it’s hella fun, as I am told the kids once, and possibly still, say.

Not surprisingly, I have played tons of different versions of fantasy football. Dynasty to keeper to best ball to start-up, 2QB, super flex, IDP, high stakes, low stakes, no stakes, enhanced TE scoring. I once did a Punt, Pass and Kick league where you rostered only quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Don’t laugh. I’ve actually played in two different punter leagues. I’ve played in four-person leagues and 20-person leagues. I’m in a league right now with 800 players. I’ve played in leagues where every week is a doubleheader, leagues that are a season-long and DFS hybrid, where you play every team in the league every week, and relegation leagues where the bottom two teams get kicked out to a “lesser” league. I’ve played in expert leagues, work leagues, charity leagues, celebrity leagues, leagues with 12-year-olds, leagues with lifelong friends, leagues with strangers, leagues with my wife and kids.

You name the format, the scoring, the league size and I’ve played them all.

Or so I thought.

Because I’ve never played a Vampire league.

I thought I had heard every idea ever. But this one was new, even to me. I loved the idea and loved the challenge of being the Vampire.

I originally had the idea of trying to auction off spots in the league for charity, but setting that up proved too problematic this time. So I just posted in my FantasyLife app about the league and asked who wanted to play. I got so many responses, I decided to do two leagues. I had Stacy Sailer, who is one the executives running the app, choose the participants so no one could accuse me of cherry-picking my competition.

I basically stuck to Tom’s premise with a few wrinkles of my own. When I got on a conference call with everyone, I laid out the rules for these leagues:

• Nine people would take part in a re-draft league using ESPN standard scoring. That is to say one point per reception with a starting lineup of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one flex (RB/WR/TE), one kicker and one D/ST.

• The nine drafting teams must play with the team they draft, meaning they could not make any waiver claims. Because of that, I asked them to think about whether they would want to draft two kickers, two defenses, two QBs, etc.

• After they drafted, I would go and build my team from whomever was left. In addition, I could make unlimited waiver claims during the season. We held the draft on the night of Labor Day, just a few days before the start of the season, so that everyone had the best possible information heading into the season.

• There are no trades allowed in the league, except if I, as the Vampire, beat a team. In that case, I would initiate a trade of one of my players for a player on the team I just beat. And there are rules around that: The player I trade for has to have been in my opponent’s starting lineup. So, if you don’t want to risk losing Todd Gurley II, you can bench him against me and I cannot trade for him. In turn, the player I trade away also has to be someone I started — so I can’t use my bench scrubs to trade for a star — and play the same position. This way, I can’t trade a kicker for a quarterback, for example.

• Teams are NOT required to start a full lineup against me. If they want to bench all of their stars to protect themselves, they can. Out of the 10-team league, four will make the playoffs and we will use ESPN standard playoff settings: two-week semifinals (Weeks 14-15) and two-week finals (Weeks 16-17). Once we hit the playoffs, the four qualifying teams will be allowed to make waiver moves. If I make the playoffs, I get the first waiver move. Otherwise, reverse order of standings prevails.

And that’s it. It’s obviously skewed toward the teams that drafted, but because they can’t make waiver claims at all, it gives me a fighting chance.

I can’t tell you how much fun it has been doing these leagues this year. It’s a very different exercise, and I have to think about my teams in a different way than I run any of my other teams. Yes, I don’t have any superstars, but I do have the entire waiver pool as my bench, in essence, since I can make any adds/drops whenever I want to set my lineup … which is both a blessing and a curse.

While you have all these fill-in guys available … they are all fill-in guys. Calvin Ridley wasn’t drafted in either league, but I’d be lying if I said I started him during his three-touchdown game. Deciding between similar upside plays that I have projected about the same is a challenge. When you play normal fantasy football, there are certain starters that are sort of locked in for you every week, either due to their consistency/star power or just your own lack of roster depth. But when you have infinite possibilities, it’s interesting. Yes, there are available QBs who will score high every week, but you’re deciding between guys like Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. It definitely makes it more challenging.

Not surprisingly, just as Tom predicted in his original post, it has been a slow start for me. But not as slow as you might think. In League 1 (The “Fantasy” Vampire League), I just won my first game. I’ve had a bit of bad luck in that league, as coming into Week 5 I had the second-most points against, but that will even out.

I bet if you thought hard about it, you could probably guess most of my team. Understand, of course, that with the rest of the league drafting, in essence, a nine-man league and at least some of the league using bench spots for extra Ks/DSTs/QBs because of the no-waiver rule, there are some decent players who didn’t get drafted.

I mix and match every week, given specific players and opportunity (Giovani Bernard was a starter for a few weeks there, for example), but my core that I am choosing from every week is this:

And then I stream D/STs and kickers. So after my victory this week, I had my choice of a pretty good team. Aaron Rodgers, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon and Stefon Diggs were among the players available to me.

As much as I like Rodgers and Diggs, of course, I thought running back was my weakest position, as (in theory at least) Leonard Fournette will be back soon, which would push Yeldon back to the Jaguars’ bench. My other running backs are decent players in platoons, whereas my wide receiver depth is actually pretty decent and QB will be easy to figure out from week to week, especially assuming Goff gets all his wideouts back soon (plus Jameis Winston is out there). So I vampired Gordon for Yeldon. Basically a coin flip, but I chose Gordon because I like him (and the Chargers) slightly more than Barkley the rest of the season, and because Gordon’s teammate, Austin Ekeler, is available as well. If something happens to Gordon, Ekeler is a clear alternative who would be productive, while I don’t have as much confidence in the options behind Barkley. So even though I am 1-4 in this league, I like my team and it grows stronger.

League 2 (The “Life” Vampire League), is going even better. I am riding a two-game win streak and just finished Week 5 with the highest point total in the league. I am currently 2-3 in that league and my roster is fairly similar:

And then I stream all the D/STs and kickers. Two weeks ago, I had Bernard in the lineup, so after beating that opponent, I was able to vampire Ezekiel Elliott in exchange for Gio. My victory this week was against a team that chose to hide all of its good players, fearful of the Vampire. He played me with a bench that included Tom Brady, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Brown and Diggs.

Of the useful players he actually did play were Carlos Hyde, Marvin Jones Jr. and Alex Collins. I chose a swap of Hyde for Yeldon, which will be pretty close until Fournette comes back. But I love the Browns’ upcoming schedule and, again, I like my WR depth.

So Team 2 will have starting RBs of Hyde and Zeke (heh heh) with White or a third WR as my flex. Lots of work to do, of course, but I like where this is headed. It has been a really fun challenge. I will definitely do more of these next year, and probably expand to 12-team leagues in at least some of them. But in the meantime, I have more games to win and more players to vampire until my reign of dark power is complete. Let’s get to it.

For those who missed last week, Love/Hate is now very simple. Next to every player is a number — the official ESPN projected total for that player in Week 6 (as of that week’s publish time). If they are a “Love,” I expect them to meet or exceed that projection. If they are a “Hate,” I expect them to fall short. Easy peasy.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 6

Matt Ryan vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 20.1 points): I know. Last week was brutal in what should have been an awesome matchup, but I’m back on him this week as a top-five play. Since the beginning of last season, Ryan is averaging 2.8 more points at home than on the road. To that end, he has scored more than 29 points in all three home games this season. I like him to beat his current projection against a Tampa Bay defense that has given up a league-high 28.6 fantasy points per game to QBs, along with a 77.1 percent completion rate and a league-high 8.3 percent of passes resulting in a touchdown. Giddy up.

Jameis Winston at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.2 points): It’s pretty easy to see why Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Winston for a half or so) combined to lead the NFL in fantasy points before their bye week. The Bucs can’t run the ball, bad defense puts them in constant passing situations and they have one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL. Now Winston, who is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues, gets a Falcons team that has allowed the fifth-highest completion rate (69.8 percent), 10th-best TD-INT ratio (3.0) and the fourth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs.

Kirk Cousins vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): The Cardinals blitz on a league-high 38.9 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. Cousins is completing a league-high 77.3 percent of passes against the blitz this season (also, he ranks third in completion percentage against the blitz from 2015-17). Also, you know, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Andrew Luck at Jets (ESPN projection: 16.9 points): Weeks 1 to 3: 5.42 air yards per target. Weeks 4 and 5: 8.40 air yards per target (for reference, 2016: 8.25). Luck already has three games of 38-plus completions this season. For comparison, from 2014-17, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL with three total games of 38-plus completions. There have been three QBs this season who have thrown at least 35 passes against the Jets and they’ve combined for 1,051 passing yards. Those QBs? Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Matthew Stafford.

Others receiving votes: Carson Wentz has three straight games of at least 35 pass attempts, and the injury to Jay Ajayi certainly doesn’t mean he’ll throw less. Wentz is one of only two QBs to have 300-plus passing yards and multiple passing TDs in each of the past two weeks, which makes him a low-end QB1 on Thursday night. … For those looking for QB2 streaming options, Baker Mayfield should be usable against a Chargers defense that allows the fourth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.48). In Mayfield’s two starts this season, Cleveland is sixth in yards after the catch. He’s just one of four QBs with at least 40 pass attempts, 295 passing yards and one passing TD in each of the past two weeks: Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Luck are the others. … The truly desperate could look at C.J. Beathard, who should be chucking it a ton against a Packers team that has allowed multiple TD passes in three of the past four weeks (Josh Allen being the lone exception).

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6

Russell Wilson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 17.6 points): Under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer this season, Seattle has the lowest percentage of pass plays in the league (54.4 percent). Last season, the Seahawks had the third-highest rate. Wilson has less than 200 yards passing in each of his past three games, he’s averaging just 24.3 pass attempts per game in that stretch and has only 42 rushing yards this entire season (last season, he averaged 36.6 rushing yards PER GAME). Seattle will not need to play catch-up in this game.

Andy Dalton vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): Hey, 19.1 is a big number and I get it with the matchup, but the Steelers’ defense did play better last week against Atlanta. In the games this season in which Joe Mixon has been active, Dalton is averaging just 252 passing yards (versus 345 in the two games Mixon missed). Dalton has 16.5 points or fewer in three of five games this season and even with a high over/under in this game, I think this is more of a divisional slugfest featuring a lot of running from both teams. He’s a borderline QB1, but with a projection of more than 19 points, I’m taking the under, making him a “hate” under our new format.

Joe Flacco at Titans (ESPN projection: 14.6 points): Very quietly, the Titans own a top-10 pass defense this season in each of the following (all per-game stats): completions, passing yards, yards per dropback, sacks per dropback and TD-INT rate. Since Flacco threw for three touchdowns in 34 attempts in that Week 1 beatdown of Buffalo, he has just five TD passes in 193 attempts.

Blake Bortles at Cowboys (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): In what should be a low-scoring game (the over/under is 40.5, lowest total on the slate), Bortles faces a Cowboys squad that is a top-10 defense in terms of QB rushing yards per carry allowed this season, despite having already faced Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. That matters because, since that awesome Patriots game, nearly 28 percent of his points have come from his legs.

Running backs I love in Week 6

Joe Mixon vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): As I said in the Dalton section, I expect this to be a slugfest and a heavy dosage of Mixon, who had 25 touches in his first game back from injury (a game Marvin Lewis said he would limit Mixon’s workload). Yeah, right. A volume-driven day is in play here on Sunday against a Steelers defense that has given up an average of 18.3 points to RBs in the four games aside from the Buccaneers game (Tampa can’t run). Loves are about meeting or exceeding projections, and I have him as a top-six play this week.

Sony Michel (ESPN projection: 14.8) and James White (12.9) vs. Chiefs: Great matchup for both guys against a Chiefs team that is a bottom-10 red zone defense this season. They allow a league-high 4.44 yards per carry BEFORE first contact this season. Michel is averaging 2.28 yards per carry AFTER first contact this season, fourth most in the NFL. And White now has consecutive games with at least eight catches, 65 receiving yards and a receiving TD. Here’s the list of RBs who can say they’ve done that: LaDainian Tomlinson (2003), David Johnson (2016) and White. Running backs as pass-catchers have given the Chiefs problems this season. Against the position, the Chiefs have allowed the second-most completions and tied for the most receiving touchdowns this season.

Chris Carson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 13.8 points): See Wilson, Russell. The Seahawks are gonna run in this one against a Raiders defense that ranks as a bottom-10 unit in both yards per carry before AND after first contact (one of only three teams to do so). Game flow should favor Seattle here, especially as Oakland has allowed the third-most rushing touchdowns this season (six) and the eighth-most red zone drives.

Alfred Morris at Packers (ESPN projection: 11.9 points): Morris has at least 12 carries in four of five games this season, and that was with Matt Breida healthy (Breida is highly unlikely to play this week). Morris should get the majority of early-down work against a Packers team allowing the seventh-most yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. He caught three passes last week, so there’s a little action to be had there as well, given that RBs own a 32.7 percent career target share from C.J. Beathard.

Others receiving votes: I’m not the biggest Lamar Miller fan by any stretch, but he should find success against a Bills team that has allowed a touchdown on 12 of 15 red zone drives this season, making them the fourth-least-efficient red zone defense. … We’ll see what kind of impact Marlon Mack has on this Colts offense, but regardless, I expect the pass-catching Nyheim Hines to continue his touch trend from the past few weeks (5, 10, 13, 22), especially against a Jets squad that allows opponents to complete 85 percent of passes to RBs this season (fourth highest). … In a game that should have some bad weather, I like both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman against a Rams defense that has allowed 5.0 yards per carry and has given up at least 24 fantasy points to running backs in three of five games. The exceptions being the Vikings game in Week 4 when Dalvin Cook played very little and the anemic Cardinals in Week 2. … Javorius Allen has set a season high in touches in consecutive weeks. He’s a goal-line back who also has at least 6.5 points as a pass-catcher in four of five weeks this season.

Running backs I hate in Week 6

Devonta Freeman vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): Freeman showed up on the injury report Wednesday (again), and this is turning into a three-headed monster, as Ito Smith got four touches last week (compared with 10 for Freeman and nine for Tevin Coleman). Since Week 5 of last season, Freeman has just two games with 15-plus carries. It’s a great matchup, but this is a 40/40/20 split and I believe it’s unlikely he reaches 16.8 points, even if he plays.

LeSean McCoy at Texans (ESPN projection: 12.4 points): As trade rumors continue to swirl, McCoy faces a Texans team that is allowing just 3.44 yards per carry this season (fourth fewest). Playing on a Bills team that is averaging the second-fewest red zone drives per game this season (2.00), he’s going to need to score to get past 12.4, and I think that’s unlikely.

Kenyan Drake vs. Bears (ESPN projection: 10.8 points): Last week was good, I guess, if you have Drake. There were signs of life. But still — just six carries. Six. And one fewer touch than Frank Gore. Being in a committee on a low-scoring, poor offense will continue to depress his fantasy value, especially against a Bears team allowing the second-fewest YPC to RBs this season (2.93) and a league-low 1.75 red zone drives per game. No player has rushed for 50 yards against the Bears and I don’t believe Drake, with a single-game high of 53 rushing yards, will change that.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 6

Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 19.6 points): 19.6 is a big number and I’m taking the over? Yeah, I am. See everything I wrote about Ryan, Matt. Jones has exceeded 19.6 twice this season and Sunday will make it three, as Tampa Bay’s corners are no match for Julio. Also, I am playing against him in the ESPN War Room League, so I assure you he is going off. I would be very excited to be wrong on this one, but I don’t think I will be. Another blow-up spot coming.

Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 13.4 points): Boyd played fewer snaps in the slot last week against the Dolphins (57.1 percent compared with 66.2 percent the previous weeks), as A.J. Green spent more time there (48.1 percent compared with 27.2 percent entering the game). I assume that was due, at least in part, to trying to get Green free from Xavien Howard. They may do that some this week to try to get Green free from Joe Haden, but Boyd will play enough slot snaps to beat his projection here. The Steelers allow 11.6 slot completions per game this season (second most), while seeing the slot targeted more than any other team (17 times per game). Boyd has at least seven targets in four straight games and is top 15 in the NFL in total targets during that stretch.

Mohamed Sanu vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Very quietly, Mo Sanu has 15.5 or more points in each of the past three weeks, one of only six wideouts to say that. He leads Atlanta in receptions (12), yards (151), targets (20) and touchdowns (two) from the slot this season, which is important when you consider the Bucs have coughed up a league high in yards (745) and touchdowns (seven) to go along with the second-most completions (55) and completion percentage (82.1) to the slot this season.

Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): As of this writing (Wednesday night), we don’t know the health status of Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison, but we do know this: The 49ers have given up the most touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They also have allowed the fifth-most red zone drives this season. Since Week 2, Graham is fourth among tight ends in targets (behind only Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron). Those three, incidentally, are the top three tight ends in fantasy this season.

Others receiving votes: I whiffed last week on Quincy Enunwa, although in fairness he came within six inches of a long touchdown and would have had it had Chris Harris Jr. not grabbed his jersey (a bad pass interference that wasn’t called). Either way, it allowed for Robby Anderson to wake up and I’m in on both of them this week as flex plays against a Colts secondary that has given up 516 yards and four touchdowns in just the past two games to opposing wide receivers. … In the same game, Chester Rogers faces a Jets secondary that has given up the third-most receptions and yards to the slot. A cheap DFS option, Rogers has run 95 percent of his routes from the slot. … Speaking of the slot, 67 percent of Keke Coutee‘s snaps and 76 percent of his catches this season have come from the slot. With Tre’Davious White having his hands full against DeAndre Hopkins, Coutee should find success against a Bills group that has given up the seventh-most slot receptions this season. … I know it has been tough recently, but I expect Jordan Reed to have one of his better days Sunday against a Panthers team that is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 87 percent of passes when targeting the TE this season (20-for-23). … If O.J. Howard doesn’t play this week, I like Cameron Brate to be a top-10 guy, especially considering his past connection with Jameis Winston.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 6

Allen Robinson at Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.3 points): Quietly, the Dolphins are giving up the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs and my expectation is that underrated Xavien Howard will shadow Robinson. Howard is turning into a shutdown corner and it’s worth noting the Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. I believe this is a heavy Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen game, so Robinson should be OK, but I feel he will fall short of his projected 12.3 points.

Corey Davis vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): I get the talent and the target share argument, but among starting quarterbacks, only Josh Allen is throwing fewer passes per game than Marcus Mariota. Only one wide receiver has gotten more than 70 receiving yards against Baltimore this season (Tyler Boyd) and that was from the slot. Davis is a perimeter player and I don’t love his chances against a Ravens defense that is allowing opponents to complete just 54.8 percent of passes this season, which, if it holds, would be the lowest rate in the past six years.

David Njoku vs. Chargers (ESPN projection: 9.3 points): Njoku has shown some improved chemistry with Baker Mayfield under center, but this is a tough matchup against the Chargers. The Bolts have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and just one score, and that includes games against Travis Kelce, Jared Cook and George Kittle. Yes, Kittle went off, but that was basically one big play. Opponents are completing just 57.6 percent of passes when targeting the TE against the Chargers this season (third lowest in the NFL) and for all his size, Njoku has yet to see a red zone target this season.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, once heard of a fantasy league that was all about predicting which Phish songs would be played at an upcoming concert. There’s a league for everything. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.



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Fantasy football picks, sleepers, busts for Week 5


@UpRootCha1 was straight and to the point.

“@MatthewBerryTMR I miss the love/hate column. Was so awesome over the years. (Three heart-eye emojis).”

@UpRootCha1 is not alone in their sentiments.

@BragantheRules tweeted: “Bring back Love/Hate please. These aren’t doing it.”

@rex_johns said, “I miss the Love/Hate column! Bring it back!”

And so on. I have gotten many positive and supportive tweets over the past four weeks about my new 50 Facts column format and certainly, people are still reading it, for which I am eternally grateful. But I would also be lying if I said that every week, after every column post, I don’t get replies like these as well.

In tweets, texts, comments on my posts in the Fantasy Life app and in conversations with friends, I have heard the same refrain for a month now. “I get why you did it, but man, I really miss Love/Hate.”

The challenge, of course, is that all of the same issues that caused me to retire the column in the first place still exist. Due to some boring internal things and some extenuating circumstances, the truth is my schedule is actually even more hectic and compressed than I originally anticipated.

So why am I writing about this? Isn’t the solution to just ignore the comments, put out the new column and go about my life? Numbers are still good, ESPN is happy with me, and as I just said, I’m busier than ever.

All of which makes sense and would work perfectly fine except for one small issue: I miss it, too.

Make no mistake: I really enjoy the 50 Facts column. I love the process of the research, of figuring out which stats I want to use, of fitting the puzzle pieces together, as it were, to put them in the right order to build my case.

But it’s not Love/Hate. Love/Hate was a part of my life for 20 years. If you choose to do something for 20 years and don’t miss it, something’s wrong.

But still … is there any way to do this?

After talking to a bunch of people — an informal focus group, if you will — I zeroed in on what I think people like about the column. Everyone takes something different, of course, but I believe for the most part one of the big things people like about the column is the intro. Well, I can do that. I’ve already been doing that all along with 50 Facts. The other big thing they like are many names — just knowing which players I “love” or “hate.”

Could I do that? And maybe give a stat or two about each guy, but not go into the in-depth analysis like I used to? Because after the intro, that’s the part that takes the most time. The long paragraph about each player.

So when I would make predictions, especially in written form, each of them was like a mini-thesis. Even if I got it wrong, I felt, I wanted you to see at least a decent chunk of all the thought process behind it and the research that went into creating that prediction.

Every week, from 1999 until this past August, that’s what I did. As my role changed and I got the opportunity to do more and more at ESPN, I never stopped that process. Five thousand-plus words, every week, rain or shine. Some columns better than others, of course, but all of them with blood, sweat, tears, thought, worrying, writing and rewriting until the early morning the following day. One of my favorite authors, the late, great Douglas Adams, used to say, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.”

And that work habit carried over to other areas of the company as well. It was a hard lesson I learned as I started doing more and more television. I would spit out all these stats — too many to process for someone watching — but it was an ego thing. I had done the work and, well, I wanted to prove it. Which I did in my mind, but to the viewer at home it probably just sounded like a ton of numbers all mashed together.

As I reflected on all of this and the lessons I’ve learned from TV — that sometimes less is more — I wondered if maybe that was the solution. Look, I’ve done the work. I do it all day, every day, 24/7. I live, eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. But condensing a page of all that research — about every single player — into one robust paragraph takes forever.

As I talked with my editors, the question was raised: What if I just ask the audience to trust that I have done the work? They have watched, read and listened to me for almost 20 years professionally, the last 11 on ESPN. If they don’t trust me by now, they’re never gonna.

So how about if we made rules, we thought? Rules that we explained to the audience. Bring back the old format — players you love, others receiving votes and players you hate, sorted by position. Still do the intros, but make them a bit shorter. Try to do more players, but with shorter analysis; no more than three sentences on a player. Skip the explanation of the premise we did every week and add in the ESPN point total projection to each player, so that readers know a “LOVE” means I think they meet or exceed the projected points and a “HATE” means they fall short. That simple. Bingo, bango and be done with it.

Basically, a “good parts” version of Love/Hate for you, less writing for me. We’ll call it Love/Hate 2.0. Or, as I prefer: Love/Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo.

I thought that would work. It’s still going to mean a long night at the office, but it seems more doable, and it gives the people what they’ve told me they want. So, then, the only reason not to do it was, honestly, ego.

I mean, come on. Six weeks ago, I wrote a 14,000-word teary-eyed goodbye to Love/Hate. And now I’m coming back? Who am I, Mike Francesa? If I do this, am I saying 50 Facts is New Coke? Remember when Michael Jordan tried baseball and then had to go crawling back to hoops? That’s what it’ll look like, right?

Kinda, yeah.

But then I thought, “Well, that’s dumb.” To not do the column just because of ego? Look, it’s embarrassing and stupid and I’m sure I look silly to some. But that seems like a dumb reason not to do it. And I did give myself an out in the retirement column, saying I reserved the right to bail on the whole thing and come back. So make fun of me all you want on this. I know it’s coming and I get it. Quick, someone make a meme of a computer hanging over a phone line a la Marshawn’s shoes.

But I’m giving the people what they want. I miss Love/Hate and want it back, even if it’s in a shorter, “to-go” version. And hey, from Marshawn Lynch to Magic Johnson to Michael Phelps to The Eagles to George Foreman to Letterman … to guys like Nick Saban and John Calipari, who coached in the pros for a nanosecond only to scurry back to college … to The Who to Mario Lemieux to, yes, Mike Francesa, the Coca-Cola corporation, the GOAT Michael Jordan and a zillion others I am sure I am forgetting … I’m in pretty good company with my waffling.

Did you know George Washington unretired TWICE? Once to lead the Continental Army against the British and another time to become, you know, the PRESIDENT. So yeah, just like G-Dubs, I’m back, baby. Let’s get to it.

NOTE: All projection values below are from late Wednesday and are subject to change.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 5

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.9): Through four games, the Falcons’ pass defense has allowed the eighth-most passing yards, seventh-most touchdown passes, fifth-highest completion percentage and the second-most completions. They are missing four defensive starters and the over/under for this game is 57 (highest for any game this season). My No. 1 QB this week.

Matt Ryan at Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.2): Through four games, Ryan has more fantasy points than he did in the first four games of 2016, when he won the MVP and was the No. 2 QB in fantasy. Good times roll along this week while facing a Steelers defense that has allowed a league-high 21 deep completions and seven deep TD passes. Ryan is top six in the NFL this season in deep completions, deep completion percentage and deep TDs.

Jared Goff at Seahawks (ESPN projection: 17.9 points): Coming off a Thursday night destruction of Minnesota, Goff has had a long week to prepare for a Seahawks team that will be without Earl Thomas and has allowed 22 total passing TDs and 1,301 yards on deep passes over its past 16 games. Top-five play for me this week.

Others receiving votes: Matthew Stafford is averaging 313 passing yards in his past six games against Green Bay and has 14 touchdowns in those games, and the Lions refuse to give a ton of work to Kerryon Johnson. … Playing on a short week after a road game, the Chiefs have yet to allow fewer than 23 points in a game this season and have coughed up the second-most passing yards in the NFL. As streamers go, you could do worse than Blake Bortles. … For the truly desperate, it’s worth noting there are only five quarterbacks who have at least 15 points in all four weeks this season: Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff and … Joe Flacco. The Browns’ defense is better, but it’s not legendary. Expect Flacco to get at least 15 points here.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 5

Russell Wilson vs. Rams (ESPN projection: 16.6 points): He’s just not running this year (42 yards total in four games) and he is coming off back-to-back games with less than 200 total yards. The Rams create pressure 36.1 percent of the time this season, the second-highest rank in the league, and when pressured this season, Wilson has completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for zero touchdowns and one interception.

Andrew Luck at Patriots (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): When the Patriots have been leading this season, their defense has the second-best completion percentage against. Traveling on a short week to Gillette with no T.Y. Hilton, no Jack Doyle and no Marlon Mack, Luck is outside my top 10.

Baker Mayfield vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 14 points): I’m all-in on Baker season-long and for the Browns, but the Ravens are allowing a league-low 53.8 percent completion rate with only five passing touchdowns allowed in four games, and four of those were to red-hot (see what I did there?) Andy Dalton when they were traveling on a short week.

Running backs I love in Week 5

Christian McCaffrey vs. Giants (ESPN projection: 20.5 points): Since the beginning of last season, the Giants are allowing a league-high 5.84 yards per catch after the reception. Since he entered the league, McCaffrey ranks fourth in yards after the catch (trailing only Todd Gurley II, Alvin Kamara and Golden Tate).

James Conner vs. Falcons (ESPN projection: 20.9 points): The Falcons are missing four defensive starters from a defense that has given up the most receptions to opposing running backs. Conner is eighth among running backs in targets this season, and his 9.7 yards after the catch per reception is fifth among running backs. I want as much of this game as I can get. Giddy up.

T.J. Yeldon at Chiefs (ESPN projection: 16.3 points): When he gets at least 15 touches in a game, he averages 15.04 PPG for his career. That his AVERAGE. And now he gets a Chiefs defense on a short week that allows a league-high 5.73 yards per carry.

Sony Michel vs. Colts (ESPN projection: 13.7 points): Michel has touched the ball on 77 percent of his snaps this season, the highest percentage in the NFL. He’s tied for the sixth-most carries in the NFL since making his debut in Week 2, and the Patriots have run the ball 43.4 percent of the time this season, the third-highest rate in the league. New England is a 10-point favorite.

Matt Breida vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): No team in the NFL is being run on more than the Arizona Cardinals. Thirty-five times a game, the highest rate since the 2010 Buffalo Bills. On the road with a young QB, expect 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to lean on his running game, led by Breida, who is averaging 7.6 yards per carry this season.

Others receiving votes: Nyheim Hines leads the Colts with 22 receptions this season and Indy is the second-pass-heaviest offense in the NFL thus far. Did I mention the Colts are 10-point underdogs? … I have been on record since early this summer that Aaron Jones is the most talented Packers running back and would be the one you want by midseason. But I think it happens sooner than that now, starting this week against a Lions team that allows the third-most yards per carry. … I already mentioned Matt Breida, but I kind of think Alfred Morris gets enough run here in a great matchup to be flex-worthy for the desperate. Remember, Morris still leads the team in carries and Arizona has given up eight touchdowns to opposing running backs, most in the NFL. ALF still gets the majority of red zone work and has a decent chance of falling into the end zone here.

Running backs I hate in Week 5

LeSean McCoy vs. Titans (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): There have been 101 instances this season in which a player touched the ball at least 14 times in a game. McCoy is not one of the players who have. It’s hard to expect heavy volume, and now he faces a Titans defense that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season.

Dalvin Cook at Eagles (ESPN projection: 12.9 points): Obvious health concerns and the offensive line is doing him no favors, but his 36 carries have netted just 98 yards this season and he hasn’t had a 10-plus-yard run since the first half of Week 1. The Eagles allow the fewest rushing yards per game and third-fewest yards per carry.

Lamar Miller vs. Cowboys (ESPN projection: 11.8 points): Miller has fewer than 15 carries in three straight games (and six of his past seven), and the Cowboys allow just 3.62 yards per carry this season (fifth lowest) and rank third in preventing yards per carry before first contact.

Mark Ingram vs. Redskins (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): It’s not as easy a matchup as you might think (the Redskins are seventh against the run), so you’re basically praying for a touchdown here. Given how well Alvin Kamara is playing, I find it hard to believe he comes off the field to give significant snaps to Ingram.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 5

Marvin Jones Jr. vs. Packers (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): You’re already starting Golden Tate and Kenny “Babytron” Golladay, but did you know Jones leads the NFL with 10 end zone targets (all other Lions have a total of two)? So, I like his chances of getting a score here. Jones also has eight targets at least 20 yards downfield, tied for the sixth most in the NFL. The Packers have allowed eight such completions this season, tied for the sixth most.

Calvin Ridley at Steelers (ESPN projection: 11 points): He has to come back down to earth at some point, but you’re not benching him now. Not this week, not this matchup. The Steelers have allowed a league-high 21 deep completions this season. Ridley has turned six deep targets into 138 yards and three touchdowns in the past three weeks.

Tyler Boyd vs. Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): Here’s the list of players with three straight games of six catches and 90 receiving yards: Adam Thielen, Brandin Cooks and …Tyler Boyd. It’s skewed a bit because A.J. Green got banged up in one game, but Boyd leads the Bengals in receptions (26), targets (35), routes (145) and receiving yards (349).

Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor vs. Vikings (ESPN projection: Ertz 15.9 points, Agholor 11.9 points): With Xavier Rhodes expected to shadow Alshon Jeffery, Carson Wentz should attack the slot the way the Rams did last week (9 completions for 165 yards and 3 TDs to the slot). Both Ertz and Agholor are top 10 in the NFL in targets and receptions from the slot.

Julian Edelman vs. Colts (ESPN projection: 12.9 points): Tom Brady can’t welcome him back fast enough. Including playoffs, Edelman is averaging more than 12 targets per game in his past 10. Facing a beat-up Colts defense that is allowing the fifth-highest completion percentage this season, I’m firing him up Thursday night.

Jimmy Graham at Lions (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): With Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison all in various stages of banged up as I write this (Wednesday night), expect Rodgers to lean heavily on Graham against a Lions team that has allowed opponents to complete 75 percent of passes to TEs this season (sixth-highest rate). Over the past two weeks, Graham has been responsible for 30 percent of the Packers’ red zone targets.

Others receiving votes: Quincy Enunwa continues to get major target share and this week faces a Broncos team that has allowed the second-most yards per attempt to the slot, not to mention the third-highest completion percentage when the slot is targeted. … Another week with Evan Engram on the shelf, another productive week for Sterling Shepard, who ranks seventh among WRs in red zone target share this season (40 percent). The Panthers are the only team in the NFL yet to stop a red zone drive from resulting in a TD this season. … Very quietly Dede Westbrook is fifth in the NFL in yards after the catch. This is worth noting considering the Chiefs allow the fifth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.66). … With Corey Davis expected to be shadowed by Tre’Davious White, even more love should go to Taywan Taylor, whose 22.6 percent target share over the past two weeks ranks in the same range as Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill and Emmanuel Sanders. … I’ve said I want as much of the Falcons-Steelers game as I can get and that includes Vance McDonald, who is averaging 16.7 yards per catch … and much more yards per Conte.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 5

Corey Davis at Bills (ESPN projection: 13.2 points): As noted above, I expect a shadow by terrific young corner Tre’Davious White. Since the beginning of last season, the Bills have allowed the third-fewest deep completions, the third-fewest deep touchdowns and the ninth-lowest deep completion percentage. More than 45 percent of Davis’ career receiving yards have come via the deep pass. Also, I’m not convinced yet that Marcus Mariota is any good.

Devin Funchess vs. Giants (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Among the reasons I like Christian McCaffrey this week (outside the obvious) is that I expect Janoris Jenkins to shadow Funchess and be fairly successful at it. For all their struggles, the Giants have the fourth-best red zone defense this season and that matters because 77.8 percent of Funchess’ career TD receptions have come in the red zone.

Amari Cooper at Chargers (ESPN projection: 12.2 points): Inconsistent as all get-out, this strikes me as a “down” game against Casey Hayward and the Chargers. Cooper has three or fewer catches in seven of his past nine games, and this is more than likely a big Jared Cook/Marshawn Lynch game. And without the volume, you’re hoping for a touchdown. How lucky do you feel?

And there you go. Thanks as always to Kyle Soppe and Damian Dabrowski for their help with this column. Good to be back.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is in a deep league and has to start another guy who left and came back, Antonio Gates. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.



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Fantasy football sleepers, busts, breakouts for 2018


The difference between winning and losing your league often comes down to a single decision on draft day. It could be taking a player whose production explodes, turning him into one of the elite players in the game. It could be selecting a player whom others slept on during the draft but far exceeded his preseason value. It could also be a player whom you intended to rely on but then flopped miserably.

To assist you in securing the best impact players and draft values — while avoiding players who will wreck your roster — the ESPN Fantasy Football staff offers its top sleepers, busts and breakouts as defined here:

Sleeper: a player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2018 season.
Bust: a player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.
Breakout: a player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared with his previous seasons (or a rookie who will burst onto the scene).

Our panel is composed of the following ESPN Fantasy writers and editors: Stephania Bell, Matthew Berry, Matt Bowen, Tom Carpenter, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, Jim McCormick, Andre Snellings and Field Yates.

Each analyst named a sleeper and a bust for each of the major offensive positions, as well as one breakout candidate. You can find their picks in the charts below, and then analysis and insight on a selection of players they felt most passionate about in each category.


Sleepers

These are the players our panel believes will exceed their 2018 average draft position and provide value for those who take a chance on them.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle was one of the best rushing teams in the league during the first half of the decade, with Marshawn Lynch as a perennial threat for at least 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns. The Seahawks have struggled on the ground during the past three seasons, but Penny is their most talented running back since Lynch. A first-round pick with both strength and burst, Penny averaged 7.8 yards per carry in college last year. The Seahawks have spoken of using Penny as an every-down back in a heavy-rushing offensive system that lacks playmakers, which gives him big upside. — Andre Snellings

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

Last season was a disaster for Mariota from a statistical perspective; 23rd in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks, and he had more turnovers than passing touchdowns. Where does the optimism come from? Time traveling to a modern NFL offense surely helps — especially with an offensive coordinator from the Rams — as does the fact that he averaged the 15th-most fantasy points at the position in his first two seasons. There is not just a great deal of untapped potential with Mariota’s passing production. This gifted collegiate scrambler ranks 19th among QBs in rushing attempts per game since 2015, a rate that could surely rise in a more progressive scheme. — Jim McCormick

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins

He’s a 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser who ran a 4.46 40 at the combine and has flashed pass-catching ability (44 receptions in 2016). Already turning heads at training camp — just google his name — I wrote about Ballage after interviewing him. And while I think Kenyan Drake is a good football player, I am not convinced the Dolphins see him as a bell-cow running back. Who knows how much Frank Gore has left in the tank, and given Ballage’s size, it’s very easy to see him starting off as a short-yardage/goal-line back and expanding his role even further as the season goes on. — Matthew Berry

Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Sometimes all a player needs is a change of scenery to realize his potential, and that is precisely what McKinnon is getting. In his move from Minnesota to San Francisco, he will be putting all of his athletic skills to use, not just to run but also to catch. In fact, coach Kyle Shanahan has already said McKinnon will line up as a wideout at times. Speed and explosiveness combined with the opportunity to snag passes is the stuff of PPR dreams. McKinnon will likely be undervalued in this season’s drafts based on his recent stats as a Viking, but the numbers he posts with the 49ers should showcase his first-round worth. — Stephania Bell

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While Cameron Brate put up the greater fantasy point total last season, Howard’s role seemed to expand as the year progressed. One could point to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s brief time filling in during Jameis Winston‘s injuries (three games and portions of two others) for an explanation, but even after Winston’s return in Week 13, the pendulum appeared to have shifted in Howard’s direction. During the season’s second half, Howard played more snaps than Brate (264-259) and had more PPR fantasy points (48.5-45.7), despite playing two fewer games. I think it was a clear sign that Howard’s future as the team’s primary pass-catcher is close, and he’s got enough skill to be a top-10 tight end if those trends continue. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots

Due to injuries and a busy depth chart, Burkhead didn’t play more than 10 offensive plays in a game for New England until Week 7 last season. From Week 7 on, however, Burkhead averaged 14.1 fantasy points (PPR) on 21.3 snaps per game. There are valuable unclaimed touches in New England; the Patriots are tied atop the league (Saints) with 75 carries within 5 yards of the goal line by their running backs during the past three seasons. If Burkhead, who proved dangerous in the red zone last season, can claim a healthy share of goal-to-go work, I think there is real profit potential. — Jim McCormick

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

The hopeful parallel for Trubisky is Jared Goff, who pivoted his career after a forgettable rookie season to throw 28 touchdowns in Year 2 under the guidance of Sean McVay as his head coach. Trubisky, who managed just seven touchdowns last season in 12 games, now follows the lead of coach Matt Nagy, an exceptionally well-regarded offensive mind. Moreover, the talent level was boosted significantly this offseason with the additions of — among others — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel. — Field Yates

Trey Burton, TE, Chicago Bears

The former Eagle who tossed a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl should be one of the top targets for second-year quarterback Trubisky, who should emerge now that he has better weapons and coaching. Burton steps into a wonderful situation with new coach Nagy, who came from the Chiefs and made tight end Travis Kelce a focal point of the offense. The athletic Burton should easily top 100 targets and find his way into the end zone at least six or seven times during his first season. — Eric Karabell

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

In 2016, Ryan completed 373 passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns in his second year under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In 2017, Ryan’s numbers were down across the board, even though his passing attempts were roughly similar. There were growing pains with a new OC, the Falcons led the NFL with 30 drops, and they had a bit of a Super Bowl hangover. However, Ryan’s career numbers suggest that he’s due for a bounce back, and with first-round wide receiver Calvin Ridley added to the mix, Ryan should be able to play himself back into being a weekly fantasy starter. — Andre Snellings

Will Fuller V, WR, Houston Texans

You’d be hard-pressed to find a statistical suggestion that Fuller is primed to soar this year, as his productive games last season had outlying traits (seven touchdowns on 13 total catches in a four-game stretch), and he posted an average of 24 yards in his other six games. A peaks-and-valleys player in 2017, Fuller should evolve into a steadier component of an offense that will be led by the wizardry of Deshaun Watson. This is a bet on the talent of Fuller, the blazing-fast 2016 first-round pick. — Field Yates

Michael Crabtree, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Last season was lost to injury, but Crabtree’s draft stock — he is going 32nd on average among receivers — bakes in injury risk without much appreciation for his actual production pattern. From 2015 to 2016, Crabtree ranked 16th in fantasy points per game at the position. The opportunity for elite usage in Baltimore is obvious; players who accounted for 59 percent of the team’s target share are no longer on the roster, the highest vacated rate in the league. The Ravens also have 71.3 percent of their air yards from last season vacated, per AirYards.com. — Jim McCormick

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Considering Cooper is currently going as WR22 and I believe he’s got top-10 potential, yeah, he qualifies as a sleeper. To succeed in the NFL, you need talent and opportunity. No one questions Cooper’s talent. His concentration sometimes, sure, but not his talent. Still just 24, Cooper has more than 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns and has averaged 14.3 yards per catch in three NFL seasons. Now, with Crabtree and others moving along, there are more than 160 targets available. I’m not a Jordy Nelson believer, so yeah, expect this offense to revolve around Cooper, who has averaged 18 fantasy points per game when he has had eight or more targets. I’m all-in on a big bounce-back season from Amari Cooper. — Matthew Berry

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

In 2016, Graham averaged a career-best 14.2 yards per reception with only six touchdowns. Then he reversed the trends with a career-low 9.1 yards per reception but 10 touchdowns in 2017. Many believe Graham lost a step and became a possession receiver, but Graham never had the chemistry with Russell Wilson that he displayed with Drew Brees. This season, Graham joins Aaron Rodgers in a pass-friendly system, full of motivation to perform with a non-guaranteed contract. Graham has played at least 15 games in eight of his past nine seasons, giving him both a high floor and a high ceiling. — Andre Snellings


Busts

Which players are destined to fall short of their draft-day expectations? Our panel suggests you stay away from these players, who are sure to disappoint.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

It’s hard to pick a bust at quarterback. There are so many similar options that the only real mistake you can make is reaching at the position. That said, Brees is going a pinch earlier than where I have him ranked. Brees finished ninth at the position in fantasy points last season, managing only four top-10 fantasy weeks (18 quarterbacks had more). He ranked ninth or lower in dropbacks, attempts and touchdowns and adds little with his legs. The Saints’ defense is even better in 2018, which figures to mean even less on the 39-year-old’s shoulders late in games. — Mike Clay

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

While there is little doubt that Graham should fit better within the Packers’ offense than that of the Seahawks, it is unclear just how many targets will come his way. The last two Green Bay tight ends (Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett) didn’t exactly light the fantasy world on fire. Granted, Graham has proved himself to be a superior pass-catcher, but can he truly still get separation? (Wide receiver Jordy Nelson couldn’t, and he was sent to the West Coast.) Can he get up in the air and beat out those around him to catch a classic Rodgers Hail Mary? While his recovery from a ruptured patellar tendon (2015) has been impressive, it’s still fair to think this version of Jimmy Graham will not be Saints 2.0. — Stephania Bell

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Currently going ninth among quarterbacks, Ben is my QB14, so not a huge drop, but given how deep QB is, it’s hard to pick a true QB bust. But it’s worth noting that he’s played all 16 games just three times in a 14-year career, and here’s his finish in total fantasy points the past six seasons: 2017: QB10; 2016: QB 18; 2015: QB20; 2014: QB5; 2013: QB12; 2012: QB19. He’s been a top-10 QB just twice in the past six years and has beaten his current ADP of QB9 just once (2014). Whether it’s a mental thing, a weird coincidence or a game plan to be more conservative on the road, the fact is that Ben is averaging fewer than 14 points per road game the past four seasons. No Todd Haley this year makes me a bit nervous as well. — Matthew Berry

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders

He’s now 32 years old with more than 2,350 career carries on his legs and is coming off what was a disappointing return from retirement in 2017 (relative to what he cost in fantasy drafts at the time). The Raiders planned accordingly, bringing in Doug Martin for depth while retaining both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, each of whom tallied at least 56 carries for a team that played a significant portion of its offensive snaps from behind. Lynch should still contribute to fantasy teams, thanks in large part to his likelihood of goal-line carries, but a timeshare is a possibility, and his statistical ceiling is probably the lowest it has been at any point in his career. I can’t make the case that he belongs in the sixth round, preferring to take a chance on a higher-upside running back that early. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns

A great point was raised at the ESPN Fantasy Football Summit. As a group, we’ve ranked a pair of Browns wide receivers (Josh Gordon being the other) generously, yet when we look at the team as a whole, there’s not enough offensive strength for both players to earn a season-ending fantasy point total that’ll back it up. On raw talent, both Landry and Gordon warrant those valuations, but Landry’s move to Cleveland worries me most because of the extreme volume fueling his fantasy numbers during his days in Miami. He’s not a big red zone threat, struggling to fill the touchdown column, and Tyrod Taylor is really no better a quarterback for Landry’s skill set than any he worked with in Miami. There’s a downside here, and I fear it could be perhaps a drop-off of 25 catches (or more). — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

The former Dolphins star averaged 5.8 yards per rush for the Eagles after his midseason acquisition, but the Super Bowl champs boast depth at this position and will not be afraid to use it. Ajayi broke out in 2016 with more than 1,200 rushing yards, but half of them came in three explosive games. The rest of the time, fantasy managers were frustrated. With chronic knee problems and constant backfield competition, Ajayi will struggle to hold RB2 status all season. — Eric Karabell

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

You can read Tristan H. Cockcroft’s take on why Brady is overrated in fantasy this season right here.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns

Hyde is one of my favorite players in the league to watch, but he simply should not be coming off the board in the single-digit rounds of fantasy drafts. Hyde was well-positioned for high-end fantasy production as the leadman in Shanahan’s offense last season, but he’s in a much worse situation in Cleveland. Even if Hyde holds off second-round rookie Nick Chubb for early-down/goal-line duties (not a given), he will defer change-of-pace touches and certainly most passing-down work to Duke Johnson Jr. Hyde is coming off his least efficient pro season and is looking at no more than committee duties in 2018. — Mike Clay


Breakouts

Who will join the ranks of the elite and help you win your league this season? Here are our expert picks for 2018’s breakout stars.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

From 2012 to 2017, eight running backs were selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Six of those backs finished as top-10 fantasy backs as rookies. Plain and simple: When teams select a running back early, they plan to use him a ton. The Seahawks have made it clear they’re moving back to a run-first offense, and 27th overall pick Penny is a strong bet to lead the backfield during most of the 2018 season. Looming Chris Carson shouldn’t steal much work from the elusive Penny, who paced the nation in rushing while averaging 7.8 YPC at San Diego State last season. — Mike Clay

Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins

Many scouts felt he was the best running back after Saquon Barkley. Guice’s rushing rates during his final two collegiate seasons (6.3 yards per carry with 41.9 percent of his carries gaining at least 5 yards) were very much in the Barkley range (5.7 yards per carry with 37 percent of his carries gaining at least 5 yards). Now he lands in Washington, where, despite an injured offensive line last year and a struggling running game, Jay Gruden’s Redskins ran the ball 54.7 percent of the time in goal-to-go situations, 10th most in the NFL. In fact, if you combined Rob Kelley‘s and Samaje Perine‘s goal-to-go carries from last season, that “player” would rank tied for third in goal-to-go carries with 21. While Chris Thompson will handle a lot of third downs, they want to limit his touches, so expect Guice to be more involved in passing work than you think. — Matthew Berry

Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos

The third-round pick from Oregon might not be the pass-catcher incumbent starter Devontae Booker has been, but then again, we have seen Booker’s act, and it is not special. Freeman is big and fast and should push Booker aside for the early-downs and goal-line work, with the potential for at least 1,000 rushing yards. The offense finally has a decent quarterback, so do not judge it off last season. There are myriad rookie running backs to consider, and Freeman has a good shot to emerge right away. — Eric Karabell

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

While Jamaal Williams will probably begin the season as the Packers’ starter, thanks in large part to his serviceable job in the role in 2017, Jones was the most dynamic talent of the team’s three starters last season when given the chance. In his four starts, he averaged more than 11 carries a game, 6.4 yards per carry and 2.75 yards after contact per rush. Assuming he can stay healthy, he should overtake Williams fairly quickly, and given that chance, he could be a top-15 performer at the position. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

It’s simple: If Barkley does all the things the Giants believe he can do, he will be the breakout player in 2018. Rookies universally find the going a little bit tougher initially, struggling to adapt their skill set to the NFL … with the occasional exception of one position: running back. As opposed to rookie wide receivers, who have to improve route running, or rookie quarterbacks, who need to learn to read defenses, rookie running backs are more dependent on a match between their style and that of their new offense, along with opportunities to touch the ball. If you can run, catch and pass-protect, the opportunities go up. Barkley has all of this working in his favor. — Stephania Bell

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon had a disappointing rookie season but still led all Bengals backs in rushing yards and tied for the lead in touchdowns. This season, the Bengals have Mixon as their feature every-down back. Cincinnati had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season but has upgraded the unit this offseason. The scheme is more wide open this season behind new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, so Mixon should have better scoring opportunities. Now established and ready to display the electric running ability he showed in college, Mixon has a good chance to break out this year. — Andre Snellings

Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers

There are a few ways to examine the excitement surrounding McKinnon, but let’s start with his ability: He possesses uncommon athletic skills with terrific speed and nifty open-field work. He’s got the soft hands to handle a massive passing game load and will spring chunk plays with regularity. Now let’s get to the offensive fit, as he takes over a presumptive starting role in a Kyle Shanahan offense that is primed to involve the back as a pass-catcher. In 2017, Carlos Hyde accumulated 59 catches; he had never had a season with more than 33 targets prior to Shanahan’s arrival, suggesting to me that 70-catch upside is on the radar for McKinnon. By the way, sometimes following the money can tell you something you need to know, and the 49ers made McKinnon one of the richest backs in football on an $8 million per-season contract. He’ll be busy in the Bay Area. — Field Yates

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

My zeal for Davis is in part tied to my appreciation for Mariota’s potential as a passer, while also recognizing the increased utility and upside Davis can offer in new coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense. Davis, like his quarterback, is a former elite prospect felled so far by a blend of injuries and a role in an archaic offense. He can be found just after Crabtree in drafts, and pairing the two as a blend of high-floor and high-ceiling investments is a fun idea for managers to consider. — Jim McCormick



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2018 Fantasy football rankings, cheat sheets, mock drafts, sleepers, breakouts, busts, analysis and more — draft kit


Another ESPN Fantasy Football season is here, and we hope you’re as excited as we are.

Whether you’re a wily veteran or a fantasy first-timer, we have everything you need to draft a great team and start the season with a shot at a championship.

Below you’ll find all of our best content, from rankings and analysis to cheat sheets and mock drafts. Enjoy and good luck this season!

The latest

Faces in new places
Tristan H. Cockcroft highlights the top-10 offseason roster changes to get you up to speed in your draft prep.

The 192
Mike Clay lists the 192 players who should be drafted/rostered in all leagues, broken down by tier.

QBs with the best chance to break out in 2018
Matt Bowen ranks his favorite signal-callers poised to take the next step.

Getting started

Sign up for ESPN Fantasy Football
It’s free to play! Create or join a league with friends, customize your settings and battle all season for the top spot.

ESPN Fantasy Football 101
Thinking about trying fantasy football for the first time? Start here.

Mock draft lobby
Practice makes perfect! Hop into a mock draft and prepare for the real thing against other ESPN Fantasy players.

Live draft lobby
Jump into a live draft with other ESPN Fantasy players!

The essentials

Cheat Sheet Central
A collection of downloadable, printable cheat sheets for the 2018 fantasy football season, including PPR, non-PPR and dynasty/keeper leagues. Perfect for your drafts.

Sortable 2018 projections
Mike Clay’s projected output for players at every fantasy position.

Depth charts: QB | RB | WR | TE

Mock draft: 12-team PPR (May 3)

Rankings

PPR: Top 200 | Berry | Clay | Cockcroft | Karabell | Composite

Non-PPR: Top 200 | Bowen

Mike Clay dynasty ranks: Top 240 overall | Top 80 rookies



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