Hey fantasy football fanatics, after the first five weeks of the season we have a large enough sample size to determine which of our players are “must-starts” or are matchup dependent performers. The definition of a must-start is a player you can start every week without hesitation because they have displayed an explosively high points ceiling and a consistently high points floor.
CeeDee Lamb – DAL WR
Lamb has quickly become one of the most reliable WRs in the NFL and in fantasy football. He has caught at least five receptions for 59 yards in every single game this year, that is a 10.9 point floor in PPR. On top of that, he has only managed to score two touchdowns this season, both coming against CLE in Week 4. Even with this limited amount of touchdown production, he is currently the WR10 in PPR on the year. Once he starts to generate more touchdowns, Lamb will be a top 5 WR.
Now, you might be thinking, “well Andy Dalton is no Dak Prescott.” And you’re right, but he is still an above-average quarterback whose skill set and experience as a starter far exceeds that of a normal back up quarterback in this league. In 2013 under Jay Gruden, who’s known for his pass-heavy offensive system, Dalton threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns on 586 passing attempts. In 2016, he produced 4,206 yards on 563 passing attempts, under a less experienced OC in Ken Zampese. And again in 2018, before he went down to injury, he was on track to throw for 3,732 yards and 30 touchdowns on 530 passing attempts. He has proven that he’s up to the task when given the volume in the past and as recently as 2018.
Through Week 4, Dak was on pace to throw 804 passing attempts this season. With volume even somewhat close to that amount, Dalton will certainly be able to produce and continue to support multiple fantasy-relevant DAL WRs.
Myles Gaskin – MIA RB
This guy right here might be one of the biggest surprises of this season. Originally projected as the third-string RB in MIA, Gaskin has quickly risen through the ranks and is now the featured back of this offense.
In Week 1, he started out with 13 touches consisting of 9 carries, 4 targets, and 4 receptions, basically the workload of an RB in a committee backfield. In Weeks 3 and 5 however, Gaskin saw 27 touches – consisting of 22 carries, 5 targets, and 5 receptions and 21 touches of 16 carries, 5 targets, and 5 receptions.
The Dolphins have won only these two games (Weeks 3 and 5) so far this season. They will continue with this level of usage with Gaskin because they are winning. NFL coaches stick with what works and right now Gaskin is working at the starting RB position for the Miami Dolphins.
Not only is he finally receiving the correct amount of usage, but he is efficiently taking advantage of these opportunities. He has caught 23 of his 25 targets (92 percent catch rate) for a solid 5.9 yards per target in the passing game. On the ground, he’s rushed 64 times for 249 yards and 1 score for 3.9 yards per carry, which is the same efficiency as Derrick Henry (3.9 yards per carry).
This level of usage and efficiency, specifically in the passing game, tells me that he is also matchup proof. If he is efficient here, he will not be pulled off when this average team in Miami is playing from behind every other week. Meaning, Gaskin is NOT a matchup dependent start. For example, in the three games MIA did lose (weeks 1, 2, and 4) he still recorded 10.6, 14.2, and 9.2 fantasy points in PPR formats. That is a modest floor for an RB playing in a negative game script.
For the season, he is 10th out of running back in expected fantasy points.
Now you might be wondering, “where is his touchdown production?” And I have two words for you, Jordan Howard.
In Weeks 1-3 Howard vultured a goal-line touchdown from Gaskin in each game. Howard actually recorded more carries (16) than yards (12) in those games, displaying terrible inefficiency, but was solely used to pound the rock in goal to go situations. In the first game in which Howard was a healthy scratch (Week 5), Gaskin finally got his TD.
With Howard as a healthy scratch, all the goal-line work to himself, his improved efficiency, AND his significant workload, Gaskin is a must-start for me every week as your RB2.
Jonnu Smith – TEN TE
Last year we saw “flashes in the pan” from Jonnu, but he could never manage to stay consistently productive because he was always sharing targets and snaps with seasoned veteran Delanie Walker. Well, Walker is no longer with the Titans and Smith is taking full advantage of his starting role at TE.
Just look at his resume after only four games… tied for the league lead in TDs at TE, the TE4 on the season, his team’s leader in targets, receptions, and receiving TDs, and has outperformed his expected points total three out of four weeks.
Smith is not only used often but is also used in important situations. In the red zone, he has been targeted seven times in four games – which is more than anyone else on the Titans.
Not only does he receive a healthy workload with high-value touches, but Jonnu also is a freak athlete who can break long runs and turn them into TDs. During Weeks 1-3, 100 of his 181 yards were all accumulated after the catch (YAC). With his combination of size, speed, and athleticism, he will continue to turn small gains into big plays for TEN.
With the return of AJ Brown, I do not believe he will stay the team’s leader in these categories. However, I believe Brown will help, not hurt, Smith’s production in the passing game. As we have seen with several other teams, having a WR1A/WR1B situation in your receiving core ensures continued usage of both players because neither can be fully focused on by opposing defenses.
A top tier TE will demand as much respect from opposing defenses as a WR1, but I do not believe Smith is viewed this way by the league… yet. Defensive coordinators look at this offense and their first thought is to stop Derrick Henry, and it should be. Their second thought is to not get beat deep by AJ Brown, as he clearly demonstrated he could do with wild efficiency and big splash plays on downfield throws last season. When defenses scheme to stop the run and the deep pass, their defenses then become stretched out across the field of play and the middle of the field opens up for short to middling route runners, ie tight ends.
Ryan Tannehill has also shown continued success rushing the ball from the QB position, putting a different kind of stress on linebackers and defenses as a whole. This forces defenders to play downhill or closer to the line of scrimmage which in turn opens up passing lanes in the middle of the field and in the flats. Again, these are the same type of routes TEs run. We saw a perfect example of this during Jonnu’s second TD reception on Tuesday night in Week 5. The DB was drawn downfield due to the threat of Tannehill’s legs and he pulled up and tossed it over his head to Smith for six.
Trading Tip: Now that you can start Jonnu every week, you can now look to trade your original starting TE. What I mean is, you probably got Smith late in drafts or off of waivers, you likely did not draft him early. You did however possibly draft one of the top tiers TEs like Kittle, Kelce, or Andrews and now have two starting TEs on your hands. Deal one of them to improve other parts of your lineup. And it should not be Smith because he has already had his bye and has proven to be even more consistent than some of the other top tier TEs. Boom! There ya go, your team just got better AND you have the breakout TE of 2020!
Kyler Murray – AZ QB
When you start Kyler Murray you are essentially starting two players in one, a quarterback AND a running back. Over his first five games this season he has produced at least 21.7 fantasy points in every outing. And he has done this with only average numbers in the passing game, 259.8 yards per game, 1.6 passing touchdowns per game, 6 interceptions on the season, and a quarterback rating of 74.3.
So why is he a weekly starter? And where did his 21.7 point floor come from? Very simple, his legs. Kyler Murray is the Cardinals’ leader in rushing yardage (296 yards) and rushing touchdowns (5). At an average of 59 rushing yards and 1 touchdown per game, that is an added 11.9 fantasy points per game to add to his QB2 type production through the air.
And not only does he have significant production running the ball, but he also needs very little rushing attempts to accomplish this feat because his efficiency is so high. So far this season he has carried the ball only 41 times for 296 yards. That 7.2 yards per attempt stat line leads the entire league, including guys like Aaron Jones (5.8), Dalvin Cook (5.3), or Raheem Mostert (7.0).
So even during terrible passing performances or negative game scripts like Week 1 (230 paYds, 1 paTD, and 1 Int) or 3 (270 paYds, 2 paTDs, and 3 Ints) for AZ, Murray can still cover up this lack of production through the air with his performance on the ground. With the surprising inefficiency and lack of explosiveness being shown by Kenyan Drake, AZ needs Murray to continue to dominate on the ground if they are going to generate any sort of run game to keep their offense balanced. Chase Edmonds is starting to see a rise in touches and snap percentage, but I believe this is actually a good thing for Murray.
Edmonds has shown to be the more efficient runner at 5.0 yards per carry to Drake’s 3.7 yards per carry. The story is much the same in the passing game too with Drake having next to no production through the air this year with only 6 targets, 6 receptions, and 22 yards and Edmonds dominating out of the backfield in the passing game with 23 targets, 18 receptions, 129 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
That guaranteed continued rushing production and just QB2 numbers will keep that 21.7 point floor intact for you all season long. All it takes for Kyler to “go off” is one extra TD in the running game (like Week 2) or to post QB1 numbers. With this high floor AND high ceiling created by all this, Murray is an easy must-start.