Recency bias is a hell of a drug. Under its influence, you can find yourself investing everything in tiny sample sizes, or fading players off the back of one bad week. In order to win your league, you need to be able to break free from the trappings of recency bias and make sensible, rational choices week-to-week.
That’s why this article exists: to help you spot players who are poised for success despite struggling last week. Whether you’re in seasonal leagues or setting DFS lineups, these are the players that win your week, and hopefully, your league.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints // Previous Matchup: Vikings; Next Matchup: Rams
Here’s the deal: Brees’ fantasy career has not been built on six-point performances. In fact, against the Vikings last week, he threw for his lowest yardage total since he joined the Saints. Yes, the return of Mark Ingram means a return to a gameplay that is more run-heavy, similar to what we saw last year. That does place a certain limit on Brees’ ceiling, but let me lay out a couple of important scenarios for this week’s game against the Rams.
First: the Rams have a stout run defense. They’ve only allowed five rushing touchdowns to running backs all year (and prior to facing the Packers last week they had only allowed three). ESPN will tell you that they also boast the fifth-best defense against fantasy quarterbacks this year. However, that’s heavily weighted by games against the 49ers, Cardinals and Raiders where opposing quarterbacks scored a COMBINED TOTAL of 12 fantasy points.
Second and most importantly: the Saints secondary is a sieve. The Rams are scoring 30-plus PPG. In order to stay in this game, Brees is going to have to spread the ball around to multiple outlets at home, in the dome to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Tre’Quan Smith. Start him, folks.
Duke Johnson Jr. – Cleveland Browns // Previous Matchup: Steelers; Next Matchup: Chiefs
I’m not going to lie to you, this one is probably laid out more in hope than in expectation. Amongst all of Hue Jackson’s litany of failures, his irrational hatred for Johnson may be his most heinous. Johnson has averaged 6.4 yards per touch on his career so far. Are you ready for a mind-blowing comparison figure? Todd Gurley (two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro) has averaged 4.9 yards per touch for his career.
I am NOT saying Johnson is as good as Gurley. I am saying that when he is given the ball, he makes things happen. He is the quintessential #goodatfootball guy. With Jackson gone, the Browns coaching staff might finally see the light and turn Johnson and Nick Chubb into a lethal one-two punch from the backfield.
And oh, by the way, the Browns face the Chiefs this week, who have given up the second-most yards in the league this year whilst gaining the third-most yards as an offense. You can expect Baker Mayfield to throw upwards of 30-35 times in this game — and that is a recipe for success for one of the league’s most efficient and most impacting pass-catching backs. If there’s a game for Johnson to break out this year, it’s this one.
Brandin Cooks – Los Angeles Rams // Previous Matchup: Packers; Next Matchup: Saints
Fantasy football doesn’t need to be hard. Cooks is in arguably the most fantasy-friendly situation for a wide receiver. His coach is Sean McVay, who is establishing himself as the most innovative offensive mind in football. His quarterback is Jared Goff, who under McVay’s tutelage, is performing exactly how you would want a No. 1 overall pick to perform.
Cooks has recorded at least 50 yards in every game he’s played this season. In his opening four games, he recorded at least five catches, and caught seven passes in three of those four. Whatever way you cut it this year, Cooks has been a league-winning fantasy asset. Aaaaaand he gets to face the Swiss cheese that is the Saints secondary, in the same dome he posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in. Lock. Him. In.
Vance McDonald – Pittsburgh Steelers // Previous Matchup: Browns; Next Matchup: Ravens
If I had my way, I would ban the tight end position in fantasy football. Just replace all tight end spots with a flex. If you want to play a tight end in your flex, go for it. But, being forced to play Ricky Seals-Jones because bye weeks bit you in the backside is the WORST. Thankfully there are some beacons of light in the tight end darkness, and this week, McDonald could be just that.
McDonald is currently third among tight ends in yards after the catch and yards per target, and sixth in yards per catch. He is a versatile athletic weapon for the Steelers and he’s earning 2.15 fantasy points per target — good enough for sixth among tight ends.
The Ravens have a defense capable of shutting down opposing offenses, but they’ve been sneakily weak against tight ends this year. They’ve allowed 70-plus yards to tight ends in five of eight games this year, and three of those games have come in the last four weeks. In the most volatile position in fantasy football, you can’t afford to ignore someone like McDonald.
By Ben Barton – @Baron_Barton