In a season marred by devastating injuries to star quarterbacks and the limited production of most high-caliber running backs, weekly fantasy league players will actually get to welcome back some key contributors in Week 5.
After serving four-game suspensions for various reasons, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, and Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain are all set to make their 2015 debuts and their returns couldn’t have better timing.
There’s also the possibility the Jacksonville Jaguars finally see some return on their $46-million investment in tight end Julius Thomas, who is recovering from a fractured right hand sustained in the preseason opener. However, Thomas must first be cleared by team doctors before returning to the practice field ahead of Jacksonville’s matchup at 1-3 Tampa Bay.
Gates, who was forced to sit after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, is San Diego’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches, and stands to punish a Pittsburgh defense allowing 14 fantasy points a game to opposing tight ends. Should Gates excel, Ladarius Green owners will suffer, but quarterback Philip Rivers and wide receiver Keenan Allen owners will rejoice.
Bryant returns to a Steelers offense that’s in serious need of another receiving threat outside of Antonio Brown, who could use another pass catcher to draw some attention from defenses. Bryant caught eight touchdowns last season, and he’ll even help new starting quarterback Michael Vick as well as running back Le’Veon Bell.
And while their Week-5 matchup against New England takes them out of the running for a starting position across any league format, the Cowboys D/ST could move up our rankings in the coming weeks. Dallas has scored only 18 points through four games according to FantasyData.com but will bring back two solid to excellent players in McClain and Hardy, both of whom should change the culture of a pass rush that’s forced only 6.0 sacks and three turnovers. McClain especially helps with linebacker Sean Lee sustaining a concussion in Week 4, even if the Cowboys are optimistic he’ll be back against the Patriots.
Week 5 also means four teams and their top fantasy producers won’t be available. The Vikings, Jets, Panthers, and Dolphins will all sit out, leaving some huge holes in the form of running backs Adrian Peterson and Chris Ivory, receivers Jarvis Landry and Brandon Marshall, and quarterback Cam Newton.
But in the fifth installment of our rankings we should help weekly fantasy league players find the perfect patch to plug up their lineups.
Here are our players to target for weekly leagues in Week 5, broken down and ranked by position.
Week 5 byes: Minnesota, N.Y. Jets, Carolina, Miami
1.Tom Brady, Patriots
2.Aaron Rodgers, Packers
3.Matt Ryan, Falcons
4.Eli Manning, Giants
5.Philip Rivers, Chargers
Rodgers is a monster but it’s impossible to put anyone above Brady at this point, especially when he’s facing a Dallas pass defense that’s No. 20 in the league. Ryan draws a Redskins D that has yet to make a single interception, while Manning makes his debut on our list for how he shredded up Buffalo’s D and because he next faces a San Francisco secondary allowing quarterbacks to complete 69.9 percent of their attempts for a 108.3 passer rating, the third-worst in the NFL.
1.Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
2.Matt Forte, Bears
3.Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
4.Justin Forsett, Ravens
5.Devonta Freeman, Falcons
Bryant’s return and Peterson’s bye elevates Bell, who meets a Chargers D allowing 4.9 yards per carry and 126.8 yards a game. Freeman moves up from the top FLEX play to the No. 5 back because he simply can’t be stopped, but he’s no higher because the Redskins actually can stop the run with just 78 yards allowed per game. Forte and Charles will face each other, and luckily for their owners neither of their defenses are very good against the run.
1.Julio Jones, Falcons
2.Antonio Brown, Steelers
3.Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
4.Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
5.Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Jones looked human in Week 4 but he’s still No. 1, while Brown rises thanks to Bryant and the Chargers pass D slipping from No. 3 in passing yards allowed last week to No. 12 after the Browns lit them up for 356 yards and two scores. Thomas joins the top five since he stares down a Raiders defense allowing 318.8 yards per game to opposing receivers.
1.Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2.Martellus Bennett, Bears
3.Charles Clay, Bills
4.Antonio Gates, Chargers
5.Owen Daniels, Broncos
Gronk’s back so of course start or buy him ASAP, but Eifert and Kelce drop out for now. Bennett’s just happy Jay Cutler’s back and healthy, with Bennett owning a team-best 31 targets through four games. Clay holds at No. 3 as Buffalo’s most targeted and effective pass catcher with Sammy Watkins nowhere to be found. Bonus: Monitor Julius Thomas and his status before making any final decisions.
1.Karlos Williams, RB, Bills
2.DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
3.Travis Benjamin, WR, Browns
4.Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
5.T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars
LeSean McCoy who? The workhorse Williams, and Clay, were Buffalo’s only bright spots in Week 4 and now he gets a Titans D allowing 4.3 yards per carry. Hopkins is also the only thing to like about the Texans right now, and he gets a favorable matchup against a Colts D that’s let up 355 yards after the catch.
Here’s a phrase many wouldn’t have uttered with Peyton Manning still in orange and blue: “The Broncos are undefeated because of their defense!” Meanwhile, Seattle just needed time to build momentum, although it’s understandable if owners are hesitant because it will face the Bengals No. 4 ranked offense. So instead maybe go with the Bills as they face Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, or even a Giants D/ST that draws the hopeless 49ers offense.