You did not think you would get rid of me that easily did you!? After a one week hiatus, (shout out to devekkiocarter for picking up my slack there) I am back to breaking down those ever so critical Thursday Night matchups to help get your fantasy week off to a hot start. As always, be sure to check out the ratings scale for reference as we explore the player options for your lineups. This week features a plethora of viable fantasy options though so let’s dive right in and get those lineups set for week 6!
Jalen Hurts: This quarterback matchup is as close to a display in polar opposite playing styles as you might see this season. Starting on the Philly side of the ball we have the one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the NFL in Jalen Hurts who has been quietly having an incredible year for fantasy football managers that roster him. Through five weeks, Hurts has snuck his way up to QB7 on the year, averaging just less than 2 points behind QB1, Patrick Mahomes. Now as mentioned, the reason Hurts is ranking so highly is not because of what he brings through the air but instead due to what he brings on the ground. Anyone who was high on Hurts in the draft season loved the upside and floor that he brought with his legs more than anything else.
Take his performance last week against, by all team statistics, what is considered a top 10 defense so far this year in the Carolina Panthers for example: before his first rushing touchdown (which came in the final minute of the 3rd quarter), Hurts had under 5 fantasy points for your team and you were probably pulling your hair out while you lost your matchup. Fast forward to the end of the game and you have a QB finishing with over 23 points and the QB7 on the week. All because of the cheat code that is rushing production. This is what you are hoping for when you drafted Hurts though, anything he does through the air is the cherry on top when he is rushing for multiple touchdowns in a game. Now comes the matchup, Tampa Bay has been stifling against running backs this season, look out Miles Sanders managers, and that might still be doing them an injustice.
We will save the stats for the Sanders and Kenny Gainwell breakdown but the Bucs have very much turned into the epitome of a pass funnel defense. Where their rush defense has succeeded on the ground, they have failed through the air, averaging the most yards against (314) per game in the NFL via the pass. What this tells me for Hurts is that we could be about to see a sneaky top 3 QB option if he is able to get anything going through the air in what should be a safe matchup that the Eagles most likely will be trailing in on the scoreboard. Add this to the almost guaranteed rushing totals he will have when the running backs are taken out of the game plan and you have week winning upside. So you know what, I am all aboard the bumpy Hurts train this week!
My Final Confidence Rating: Hurts: 5 lock it in.
Tom Brady: As mentioned above, Tom Brady as we all know is not the quarterback to beat you with his legs; 36 yards total on the year. But what Brady is going to do this week, as he has done all season, is light up the opposing secondary with a plethora of weapons that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. I mean who would have expected that Brady’s first career 400 yard and 5 TD game would come at age 44. This week he will face an Eagles passing defense who currently rank in the middle of the pack against QBs through 5 weeks. But when you breakdown their matchups to similar play style teams, they have been torched by the Chiefs and gave up 3 passing TDs to the Cowboys in a blowout loss.
While the Eagles have been able to shut down the Panthers (the only other team they have played that runs over 50% of their plays from 11 personal like the Chiefs and Cowboys do) they do not have nearly the quality of weapons the latter teams carry with them. Partner this with the fact that Brady has been scorching the earth in the passing game and the Bucs are averaging well over 340 yards per game means that it is all systems go in this one for TB12. The only thing that should be monitored is the status of Brady’s thumb, which was injured during their win over the Dolphins on Sunday. All reports out of Tampa are positive with beats saying there is little chance that he does not play on Thursday. But should something flare up with the thumb in practice then it would not be completely out of the question that Brady be limited. Again, all wheels are up for TB12 in Philly but it is good just to know all the angles!
My Final Confidence Rating: Brady: 5.
The Running Backs
Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell: I am going to make this easy in case you want to move ahead in the piece, I will not be starting any Eagles running back in this Thursday night matchup. So knowing that, let’s look into the “Why” behind that. The Eagles rushing attack has been masked by Hurts rushing totals as both Sanders and Gainwell have failed to average over 45 yards per game this season with Hurts being the leading rusher for the team. In fact, Eagles running backs have combined for a total of just 26 carries in their past three games. The only way to be fantasy viable with rushing like that is throw the air, and as mentioned already, that has not been the focal point of this offense.
While the backs have been getting a combined eight targets a game, they have turned that into each averaging under 25 yards per game receiving with no touchdowns (Sanders is still yet to find the end zone this year). This comes from the questionable play calling that we have seen from first year head coach Nick Siriani. When you dive into Sanders and Gainwell’s ADOT it is not exactly pretty, Sanders sits with a -2.7. Yes, that is correct… a negative average depth of target. Then you look at Gainwell and he is not fairing much better with an ADOT of 1.1. If this is the production that you are going to see from either of the two main backs in this side of the matchup, then either one you place in your lineup is a desperation play at chasing a touchdown that has seemed far and few between.
The hardest decision in this is for fantasy managers to move away from someone like Miles Sanders who came with a mid-round ADP this offseason and most likely was your teams RB2 going in. After being 5 weeks in though it is time to move on and not sink your proverbial ship making him a must start.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Sanders: 2 and Gainwell: 2.
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones: I went back and forth on whether or not I was going to include Ronald Jones as even an option but, I decided to play it safe and include him in case there were still some managers that were desperate. At this point in the season I think Rojo unfortunately is a borderline drop candidate and would certainly be the first one on my bench to go when it comes to working the waiver wire. Thought to be at a minimum in a two headed timeshare with Fournette, Jones has found himself not eclipsing 6 carries in a single game so far only receiving 4 total targets. Not exactly what you would consider a timeshare when you flip over to his running mate and see that Fournette has had over 65% of the total running back carries and just looked good overall if you believe in the eye test. Possibly the most surprising thing about Fournette though this season has been his passing game work.
Going back to last season, while Fournette did have a small lead in the running back targets (47 to Rojos 42), it was not something that most analysts thought would continue, especially with the addition of Gio Bernard to the team. Bruce Arians and TB12 apparently had other plans though as Fournette, on a team with all-pros pass catchers everywhere, is on pace for over 80 targets this year! If you take his career average catch rate of just under 80%, this would pace Lenny for over 60 receptions in addition to all of the work he is getting on the ground this year. Those are numbers that solidify someone in the RB2 discussion every week. Especially when they come from the lead back in such a potent offense.
The only concern I will have with Fournette is the threat of an Arians doghouse game, but so far, we have not seen any signs of that and Fournette gets an Eagles defense who currently ranks 15th against RBs but will have their main focus almost certainly be placed on Brady and passing attack.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Fournette: 4, Jones: 1 and Bernard: 1.5.
The Wide Receivers
Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins: This might end up being the toughest position group to decide on for this matchup when looking up and down the breakdown. All signs and analysis point to the Eagles having to beat the Buccaneers through the air if they are going to win this game. However, looking at this receiving room it is hard to find any sticky stats that make you feel comfortable starting any of the pieces outside of Devonta Smith. Smith, after being the Eagles top draft pick this season, has been everything as advertised as he has stepped right into the definitive WR1 for this team. Smith has been garnering over 21% of the teams target share over the course of the season and has been the only wide receiver to produce with any consistency for fantasy teams.
For an offense ranked that ranks surprisingly high in passing yards per game (12th), Smith has been averaging 10 half PPR points and comes in as a WR3/flex appeal for the season. The biggest appeal that Smith has is the lack of touchdowns he has gotten so far in this young season. After scoring in their week 1 matchup with Atlanta, Smith has yet to find the end zone, in fact, no Eagles wide receiver not named Greg Ward has scored a touchdown since week 1. Because of the lack of scoring opportunities this unit presents, it is hard to justify with confidence starting someone like a Jalen Reagor when there are so many better options available. Since Week 1, Reagor has only been able to top 50 total yards one time and even that only netted him 53 yards. That kind of usage, even in a plus matchup, makes it hard to trust the receiver for your lineup.
Which leaves us with Quez Watkins, the preseason darling that had people talking about Joe Flacco challenging for the starting job for some reason. If there were a second Eagles receiver I was forced to start though in this matchup it would be Watkins. Through five weeks he has only garnered 17 targets, but, with those he has totaled nearly 270 yards. Watkins is the deep threat/big play specialist for this team with an ADOT of over 20 yards down field. This is the type of player to attack in DFS and the type of dart throw you want in your lineup if you are looking for the hail mary play in a high scoring affair. I even told some friends of mine that this is the shot I am calling for the week: Quez Watkins goes for 100+ yards and 2 touchdowns.
Overall there is almost certainly guaranteed to be fantasy points coming from this team Thursday night, with the Bucs secondary banged up and the amount of points their offense will put on the board; a shootout is almost certainly on the horizon. The only question is who are you brave enough to shoot your shot with or do you play it safe and stay away.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Smith: 4, Reagor: 2, and Watkins: 3.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown: Where you had concerns and questions over who you could start from the Eagles wideout room, you have absolute certainty on the opposite side of the ball. You are starting all three of the Bucs main wide receiver weapons and you are starting them with the utmost confidence. So far through 5 weeks, Tampa Bay leads the league in attempted passes, passing yards and ranks second in touchdowns. Almost all of that volume has gone to their big three and Gronk (who has been declared out for TNF, load up on Bucs WRs!). Through five games, this trio has totaled: 1,084 yards and 9 touchdowns. All three also rank inside the top 20 fantasy wideouts currently as well, there really is no argument against starting anyone from this group.
The only real chance of busting could be a Mike Evans dud game which could always happen but, then again, could also happen to anyone. Even looking at last weeks performance, Evans and Brown both went off to the tune of 113 and 124 yards with 2 touchdowns each respectively. Surely, with that much usage Godwin could not have had a usable game right? Well in a normal offense probably not but this Tampa team is not normal as Godwin drew the “short” stick and only had 7 receptions for 70 yards on the day. This Eagles team may rank third against the pass so far on the year, but I would not be worried about them or anyone else slowing down this offense for fantasy.
The Bucs WRs have hit matchup proof status; and then some.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Evan: 4.5, Brown: 4.5 and Godwin: 4.
The Tight Ends
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert: At this point in writing, Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert is most likely going to be absent from the TNF matchup after being placed on the Covid list earlier this week. Goedert will need 2 negative tests within the 2 days leading up to the game in order to be active, which, unfortunately seems unlikely so it could be one last hoorah for the veteran Ertz being the lone dog. If this is in fact the case and Goedert misses, Ertz immediately leaps up into TE1 territory, especially with the injuries we have seen in the past few weeks. One of the reasons that the wide receiver group has been underwhelming is because of how much usage Ertz and Goedert have gotten. When your tight ends are accounting for nearly a quarter of the target share, there more than likely is not going to be much fantasy production from more than one receiver, especially if your quarterback is soaking up the touchdowns on the ground.
While Ertz has received more targets over the season, both options have been on the receiving end of touchdowns this year with scores propping Goedert into the top 10 in fantasy tight ends on the year. If Ertz even gets half of vacated weekly targets this week, that would put him at nearly 8 on the game. If you told me my starting tight end would get 8 targets in game with a 51.5 o/u, I would be ok with those odds that Ertz does not at tank my lineup for the week with the upside of scoring a touchdown in the cards. Oh, and did I mentioned Bucs are also a top ten defense to play tight ends against so far, sign me up for that streaming tight end.
My Final Confidence Rating: Ertz: 3.5.
Cam Brate and OJ Howard: Much like the Eagles side, the Bucs are missing their most relevant fantasy option at the tight end position in Rob Gronkowski as he is slated to miss another week due to injury. Because of that absence, I will make this short and sweet, you are not starting or rostering either of these tight ends for anything more than a dynasty stash. When you tally up all of the production that the other skill positinos have had on the Bucs offense, eventually you have to run out and that is the case with this tight end group sans Gronk. A combined 12 catches for 130 some odd yards is not going to get it done I am afraid.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Brate: 1 and Howard: 1.
This one will also be another short and sweet addition, as much as I think the Eagles defense will have viable fantasy performances this year with the playmakers that they have, no one is starting the defense opposite of Tom Brady and company. It just does not make sense from a fantasy perspective to shoot that shot and ignore other options. On the Bucs side of the ball though, their defense came into the season as the fantasy darling and if you drafted them you are most likely playing them still in this matchup. While Hurts has been a solid fantasy quarterback, there have been a few interceptions and this defense still has the front seven to put a monster pass rush on an Eagles team that shockingly has a banged up offensive line with Lane Johnson not practicing (personal reasons) and a few others recovering or nursing injuries of their own in Dickerson and Mailata.
Again, the Eagles rank middle of the pack against opposing defenses and will almost certainly put up some points at home in this game, but there should be a fair amount of sacks and turnovers to balance it out. I would not shy away from using them unless there was a waiver opportunity to pick up a sure fire group such as the Rams or Bills which just should not be the case.
My Final Confidence Ratings: Eagles: 1 and Buccaneers: 4.
So there we are Phinest fans! It definitely feels could to be back behind the keys and breaking down stats again. One more time shoutout to the squad for picking up the slack last week for me. Hopefully you had a successful waiver week with bye season upon us and now you are ready to roll into week 6 of the NFL season. As always let me know who you are starting in this matchup and where you think there might be a spot for some extra fantasy value!