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Fantasy Football Week 4: Thursday Night Preview

Adam Pfeifer breaks down the fantasy football implications of the Thursday night game between Washington and New York.

Kirk Cousins

Let this game be competitive. I beg of you.

Last week’s Thursday night contest was over at the end of the first quarter. You could see it happening, as the Falcons drove down Tampa Bay’s throat on their first drive, scoring in two minutes. The final score was 56-14, in favor of Atlanta. I wish I could say that we all turned off our Xbox consoles afterwards, but no. This game was, in fact, very real.

And very, very bad.

This week, however, things should be more competitive. Two NFC East rivals who both can look good and horrible at times meet up. There are far less muddled fantasy implications for this contest, so it should be easier to dissect. So let’s do that.

Washington Redskins 

WAS

Quarterback

Kirk Cousins, the god.

It sounds crazy, but many Redskins fans are starting to slowly forget about Robert Griffin III, as over the last two weeks, Cousins has totaled 667 passing yards, five touchdowns, a 64.6 completion percentage and a whopping 47 fantasy points. He looks like the much better fit in this Jay Gruden offense, and I love his weapons in the passing game. So, after a top-three fantasy finish among quarterbacks in Week 3, can owners feel confident about starting Cousins against the Giants on Thursday night?

Sure.

The secondary is actually the strongest part of the Giants defensive unit, but it’s still not outstanding by any means. Through three weeks, they have surrendered the 6th-most fantasy points to signal callers, coughing up almost 19 per contest. The Redskins will throw the ball a fair amount and he should have a clean pocket for the majority of the evening. But I will say that thus far, both Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie rank inside the top-five in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Thursday night contests also tend to favor the running back position. Cousins is a top-12 option this week, especially with Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson on a bye, but I’d temper expectations a bit.

Running Back

Full disclaimer– I love Alfred Morris.

I hate that people pass on him because he doesn’t catch passes. I don’t care. Since he entered the league, you can’t name me 10 running backs who have been more effective between the tackles than Alf. Again, I love him and I love in fantasy for Week 4, as well. So far, the Giants defense has struggled against the run, allowing backs to average a healthy 4.2 yards per carry. Alfred Blue averaged six yards per clip against them last week, while Andre Ellington averaged a strong 6.1 yards per carry back in Week 2. The Giants also give up a lot of short-yardage touchdowns to backs, surrendering short scores to Joique Bell and Jonathan Dwyer. Morris, meanwhile, is an elite short-yardage runner, too. And the fact that he will be playing at home makes it all better.

Over his last 11 contests at FedEx Field, Morris has found the end zone 11 times, rushing for at least 80 yards six times and posting three 100-yard games during that span. Again, running backs usually post the strongest numbers during Thursday night contests, and I’d be shocked if Morris didn’t find the end zone in this one against a Giants defense that could very well be without Jon Beason in the middle.

Wide Receiver

Through three weeks, Pierre Garcon continues to catch a ton of footballs. The NFL’s reigning catch leader, Garcon has hauled in 22 passes this season, the fifth-most in the NFL. Cousins targeted him an awesome 16 times during Sunday’s shootout with the Eagles, so it’s clear who the number one option in this passing game is. During his career in games with Cousins under center, Garcon is averaging a gaudy 10.33 targets per contest, resulting in nearly 12 fantasy points per game to boot. Start him with confidence against a New York secondary that is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to wideouts through three weeks.

As for DeSean Jackson, I wish he could play against the Eagles every week. You just knew he was going to catch a long bomb for a score against his former team. DJax ultimately finished his revenge game with five catches for 117 yards and a score, but he did only catch five of his 11 targets. Jackson isn’t as much of a lock as Garcon because he isn’t 100 percent, dealing with a shoulder injury, and is also on a short week.

Tight End

Oh, hey, Niles Paul. I see you with your 18 catches for 253 yards (10th-most), one touchdown and 84.3 receiving yards per game (10th-most). With Jordan Reed already ruled out again this week, Paul will start at tight end again for the Redskins. He’s averaged almost 0.20 fantasy points per snap so far, a solid number. It sounds crazy, but keep plugging him in as a top-10 fantasy tight end as long as Reed is out of the lineup.

New York Giants

Giants Depth Chart

Quarterback

Don’t look now, but Eli Manning is playing football again.

After an ugly start, Manning has looked better of the last two weeks, completing 71 percent of his passes for 511 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions during the span. He appears to be getting more comfortable in this offense and the receivers are helping him out by not dropping the football. With six teams on a bye, owners may need a replacement passer, and Eli isn’t even close to the worst option. The Redskins secondary is absolutely terrible, and will now be without the services of DeAngelo Hall for the rest of the season. Washington is very good against the run, surrendering just 64.7 rushing yards per game thus far, third-lowest in the league. Having said that, the Giants may abandon the run relatively early in this game, letting Eli air it out. I have him ranked as a top-15 fantasy passer this week against an extremely torchable secondary, but keep in mind that his history against the Redskins isn’t all that inviting as it might see.

Eli  Manning

Running Back

Hurry up and hop on the Rashad Jennings bandwagon while you still can, folks.

The Giants running back was outstanding last week, carrying the football a whopping 34 times for a career-high 176 yards and a score. 34 carries entering a short week is a bit concerning, so I hope Jennings can stay healthy. Of course, the matchup is tough, as running backs are averaging just 2.7 yards per carry and the second-fewest fantasy points per contest thus far. But Jennings is a good running back that showed big play potential, posting six rushes of 10 yards or more against the Texans. To put that into perspective, he only had four such rushes in all 0f 2013. Still, with the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Giovani Bernard, Montee Ball and Andre Ellington off this week, Jennings is absolutely a must-start, and based off of his volume, likely a top-10 back. He’s currently 6th among running backs in snaps (149) and through the first three weeks, he’s averaging a strong 25.3 offensive touches per contest. You can’t ignore, bench or get away from that type of volume.

Wide Receiver

For the first time since Week 4 of 2013, we saw Victor Cruz do the salsa.

Last week, Cruz hauled in five balls for over 100 yards and, of course, a touchdown. He looked a bit more explosive, but more quick than fast. Cruz should continue his recent success on Thursday night against this Redskins secondary that will have David Amerson likely matchup up with him at times. But Cruz will make his biggest impact out of the slot, which he’s so often done in his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Cruz has run 104 routes out of the slot, the 8th-most in football. He’s caught half of his slot targets thus far, and his long touchdown came in the scenario. I like him quite a bit this week.

Then there’s Rueben Randle, who seems to only be valuable in fantasy if he finds the end zone. He very well could in this one, though, as Washington allowed three red zone targets to the Eagles last week.

Tight End

The battle of the waiver wire tight ends.

Larry Donnell continues to lead the Giants in targets per game (7.7) and his role is solidified. Through three weeks, he has hauled in at least five balls in every single game, while seeing at least six targets in each game, too. As Eli’s security blanket at the moment, Donnell is a top-12 fantasy tight end until otherwise.

 

 Thanks to our good friends RotoViz for the Eli Manning chart.

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