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Week 5 Fantasy Football Booms and Busts: Chase Claypool proof Steelers develop receivers like no team in NFL

Scott Pianowski
·11-min read

The NFL draft is one of the all-time “Nobody Knows Anything” events. It’s common for early picks to bust, and often stars to come out of nowhere.

But when the Pittsburgh Steelers select a wide receiver, pay attention. Their conversion rate at this position is astounding.

And with rookie Chase Claypool, it looks like we might be adding another name to the hit list.

Claypool was the undeniable star of Sunday’s early fantasy window, scoring four touchdowns as the Steelers outlasted the Eagles, 38-29. Claypool converted on a short touchdown run in the first quarter, then added a touchdown catch in each of the subsequent quarters. It added up to a brilliant seven-catch, 110-yard afternoon for the rookie out of Notre Dame. The final touchdown salted the game — and the cover — for the undefeated Steelers.

Don’t kick yourself if you didn’t see this breakout coming — Claypool, after all, was ostensibly Pittsburgh’s No. 4 receiver on the depth chart entering Week 5. But when Diontae Johnson injured his back early Sunday, opportunity knocked. And Claypool, who had flashed big-play ability in spurts over the opening month, took full advantage.

Whatever special sauce Pittsburgh puts into its wide receiver scouting, it’s sure working. Consider some of the recent picks to click, all of them outside of the first round: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant. Johnson was a nifty find in the third round last year (he led all rookie receivers in catches), and James Washington was a solid pick in 2018. A few misses to the side (we see you, Sammie Coates), it’s amazing how Pittsburgh keeps finding affordable playmakers.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) scores his fourth touchdown of an NFL football game, with Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) defending, on a 35-yard pass play from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the second half in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Chase Claypool appears to be the latest receiving gem the Steelers found outside of the first round of the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Assuming the Johnson injury isn’t serious, Pittsburgh has one of those convenient problems — too many good players. Most of the summer, Johnson was touted as one of the buzziest sophomores on the fantasy draft board. Smith-Schuster was a Pro Bowler just two years ago. Washington might be the odd man out here. Both Smith-Schuster (4-28-0) and Washington (3-25-0) were quiet in Sunday’s win.

Some draft pundits wondered if Claypool perhaps made more NFL sense at tight end, not receiver. If the Steelers eventually see him as a hybrid player, that might not be a big deal. Eric Ebron had five catches against a weak Philadelphia coverage group, but they covered just 43 yards. He lost one fumble and dropped another catchable pass.

One thing we know for sure, Claypool’s fantasy stock is rising. He’s currently rostered in 15 percent of Yahoo leagues, but that will go through the roof in the next few days. He’s even got a fun nickname: Mapletron. Get those FAB dollars ready, in whatever currency you use. Pittsburgh hosts Cleveland in Week 6.

Unknown Fulgham goes off for Eagles

If you’d like your sleepers a little more hidden, how about Philadelphia wideout Travis Fulgham? He had a nifty 42-yard touchdown catch at San Francisco last week, then went off at Heinz Field Sunday, snagging 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. Carson Wentz peppered Fulgham with 13 targets, and nobody else on the roster made it to 40 receiving yards.

Detroit selected Fulgham as a project last year, a sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion. He spent most of the season on the practice squad. The Lions cut Fulgham this summer, followed by Green Bay and Philadelphia — but eventually the Eagles stashed him on its practice squad. And given Philly’s cluster injuries at receiver, Fulgham’s go-time is now.

Fulgham’s Yahoo roster tag is essentially zero at the moment. Heck, I play in a 20-team cutthroat league and he wasn’t offered anything into Week 5. But the cat is out of the bag now; there’s opportunity here, and Fulgham flashed in two straight games. Baltimore will be a Week 6 challenge, but after that Philly gets the Giants twice, wrapped around the Cowboys. Wentz is desperate for playmakers; perhaps he’s found one.

Is it time for an Arizona backfield change?

The Jets are everybody’s get-well opponent, 0-5 on the year and 0-5 against the spread. You have to wonder how much longer head coach Adam Gase will stick around. Sooner or later, a full housecleaning is coming.

Kyler Murray (380 passing yards, two total touchdowns) and DeAndre Hopkins (6-131-1) smashed against the Jets, no surprises there. But the intrigue is in the Arizona backfield. Kenyan Drake (18-60 rushing, 1-2 receiving) looked sluggish and indecisive at New York, though his fantasy line was bailed out by a 2-yard touchdown plunge. Meanwhile, Chase Edmonds collected five catches and 92 total yards, and one of his three runs was a 29-yard touchdown burst.

Yahoo managers have been smart to stash Edmonds, pushing him to 64-percent rostered this week. The holdouts might want to act in the next few days. Perhaps Arizona will be hesitant to make usage changes after a win, but Drake has not played well all year. Nobody would be surprised if Edmonds stepped into a time-share, or took over the job completely. And even if Kliff Kingsbury keeps the status quo, note that Edmonds is shining in the passing game (18 catches for the year), but Drake is not (six receptions, 22 yards).

Arizona meets up with leaky Dallas defense next week. As for the beleaguered Jets, they’ll be underdogs at the Dolphins after the NFL schedule changes that were announced on Sunday.

Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds, right, runs in for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in East Rutherford. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Running back Chase Edmonds is pushing for a bigger role with the Arizona Cardinals. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Speed Round

• Dak Prescott won me over immediately in his rookie year. Always loved his game, on and off the field. An imperfect team, of course, but this offense had a chance to set records. A shame we'll never know. And obviously, it's lousy that he couldn't finalize the contract before this.

How ironic that on a day Alex Smith makes his glorious and amazing return to the arena, Prescott meets this cruel outcome. Hopefully given Prescott’s age and the wonders of modern science, he can make a full recovery.

• I need to marinate on the Andy Dalton situation; that’s not something we’ll solve tonight. Can he be 60 percent of Prescott? Maybe 70 percent? The skill pieces are exceptional, though the Dallas line has fallen apart. Dalton's style in the second half of his career would seem to fit CeeDee Lamb's slot routes, though it was Dalton and Michael Gallup who bailed out Sunday's game against the Giants.

• Don’t let the points throw you, the Colts are coaching around Philip Rivers and the Browns are doing the same with Baker Mayfield. A week after finishing as the WR1, Odell Beckham will probably be WR40 or higher when this week ends (despite the league losing a surprise extra game). Fantasy managers were over Rivers a while ago, but if he’s going to be this compromised, it could sink the entire offense. Name me one Indianapolis pass-catcher you’re excited about.

• When we saw Daniel Jones’ opening schedule (Steelers, Bears, Niners, Rams), we figured a slow start was likely. But an eight-point fantasy brick against Dallas is stunning. There’s nothing to bench Jones for — Colt McCoy is not the answer, and the Giants need to develop and evaluate Jones, anyway. But he remains a walking turnover and sack, and although some of the blame lies at the feet of a horrible offensive line, there’s no question Jones has regressed in Year 2.

• No matter where Jones goes, Darius Slayton is worth a spin as a weekly WR3. And if Jones steps forward, Slayton climbs a tier. Slayton had a breakout game at Dallas, despite losing a touchdown on a spotty penalty.

• Jamison Crowder now has three starts this year: 115 yards, 104 yards, 116 yards. He’s scored two touchdowns. He’s commanded double-digit targets in every game. He’s produced in spite of Gase, in spite of the struggles of Sam Darnold, in spite of Joe Flacco on Sunday. If you rank the league wideouts in half-PPR points per game, Crowder grades as the WR3. Not one of the WR3s, the third guy overall. Miami is next.

• Gardner Minshew continues to spread the ball around, dealing at least two catches to nine different teammates. It’s a smart way to play given that no one is a superstar here, but it caps the ranges of the targets we like the most, DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault. Chark also battled an ankle injury Sunday.

• Conversely, Deshaun Watson knew where his bread was buttered, pushing 26 of his 35 targets to his three primary wideouts. Maybe it’s time to stop waiting for Duke Johnson to emerge here; like the Browns, the Texans don’t seem interested in prioritizing him. But no complaints with the way Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks balled Sunday. Maybe you run quicker with Bill O’Brien off your back.

I wasn’t proactive with Cooks in DFS, which perhaps outlines that I didn’t properly apply Jacksonville’s defensive injuries, particularly in the secondary. Or maybe I was still tilted by Cooks doing absolutely nothing in Week 4 (or, if you prefer, the calendar year 2019). We trudge forward.

• The Dolphins are a team of ordinary talent but they always play hard; that’s a clear sign that Miami hired the right coaching staff. Myles Gaskin doesn’t look pretty in the efficiency numbers, but the blocking has been awful. He’s passing the eye test, and if Jordan Howard stays in the doghouse, Gaskin holds some weekly touchdown equity, in addition to a sturdy floor for touches.

• Maybe it’s unfair to critique a player who’s not fully healthy yet, but Jimmy Garoppolo looked like a backup quarterback against Miami. Very quietly, Jimmy G turns 29 next month. Maybe he’s destined to never climb out of the good-not-great tier, even with one of the game’s best designers calling the shots. To be fair, Garoppolo’s ankle was an obvious problem in the ugly loss to Miami.

Apples and oranges, but Raheem Mostert didn’t show a single bit of rust in his return. He’s also capable as a receiver, if they ask. Meanwhile, Jerick McKinnon had just three touches.

• It was refreshing to see Derek Carr let it rip at Kansas City, and it’s ironic that his most impressive day of the year came in a game where he threw a rare interception. If your interception ratio hovers close to 0.0, you’re playing with too many internal restrictions.

• It’s only five weeks, we’re so far from a verdict. But to this point, Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks like a good player, not a special player. If we redrafted a new fantasy league, I certainly wouldn’t consider him in the first round.

• We love seeing DJ Moore back in the end zone, even as the Atlanta defense practically gave him a police escort down the left sideline. But the Robby Anderson show (8-112-0) isn’t slowing down, and note that Anderson had 13 targets to Moore’s five. Maybe this is a testament to the connection Anderson has with Matt Rhule, his college coach. Or perhaps Anderson’s skill set is a better match for Teddy Bridgewater’s strengths (not that Moore’s lacking polish in any way).

• A duplicate from last week, but I’m blown away at the job Rhule and Joe Brady have done, quickly assembling a strong team despite a new quarterback, a new wide receiver, and an injury to a star running back. I feel like I need to recalibrate Bridgewater, too. Mike Davis has three straight Top-10 finishes, and is the cumulative RB1 over the last three weeks. Basically, he’s been Christian McCaffrey, as ridiculous as that sounds.

On the flip side, Carolina’s young defense has been surprisingly competent. Sure, it’s getting trampled in the run game, and you’d like to eventually plug that leak. But pass defense is far more important in the current shape of the NFL, and the Panthers have respectable ranks in that area: seventh-lowest rating allowed, third-lowest YPA allowed.

• Two bars of touchdown deodorant bailed out Darrell Henderson, though a 2.5 YPC puts him on notice. Malcolm Brown was ordinary. Cam Akers did nothing until a garbage-time 46-yard run. Henderson moves to the front of a shaky committee, but Sean McVay remains the Rams featured back.

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