NFL

NFL Fantasy Picks: George the pick of the bunch for Steelers

By Sports Desk October 05, 2022

In fantasy football, it’s often the ones you least suspect.

Every week, there are surprise stars who seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver performances that prove decisive in fantasy matchups.

Unexpected contributors are the theme of this week’s fantasy picks.

The players mentioned are not unknowns, but they either have matchups that would not be expected to deliver fantasy success or feature for teams that have surprisingly become relevant in both the NFL and fantasy worlds.

As usual, Stats Perform has backed up its selections of four offensive players and a defense with advanced data that supports their case for inclusion in fantasy lineups this week.
 

Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans @ Washington Commanders

Tannehill is approaching the end of his time as the Titans' starter, but he still holds value for a Tennessee team looking to recover from a slow start to win a bad AFC South and for fantasy players eyeing a matchup to exploit this week.

That matchup comes in the form of a Commanders defense that has allowed over seven yards per pass and has given up 10 passing touchdowns, tied for the most in the NFL.

With Tannehill delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 87.6 per cent of his pass attempts – the third-best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – he is in a strong position to see his consistent accuracy rewarded on Sunday despite the relative lack of playmaking talent around him.

Running Back: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

Most in the NFL world will be anticipating the Giants to come back down to earth against the Packers in the second London game of the season.

While the Packers are heavy favourites to slow New York’s fast start to the season, the odds of them halting Barkley's renaissance look slim.

No player in the NFL is averaging more yards per game than Barkley's 115.8, while a Packers defense that has traditionally struggled against the run is surrendering 4.97 yards per rush, the 11th-most in the league.

Hopes of progress for the Packers on run defense have yet to be realised, and Barkley should take advantage of their fallibility on the ground.

Wide Receiver: George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills

This is less about the matchup, which is an awful one for Pittsburgh, and more about opportunity for rookie receiver Pickens, who figures to be one of Kenny Pickett's favourite targets as the rookie quarterback makes his first career start.

Over the last two weeks, Pickens has been targeted 15 times, and he enjoyed the best game of his young career so far against the New York Jets, catching six of his eight targets 102 yards in a game Pickett entered for the second half.

The Buffalo defense is substantially better than that of the Jets, allowing only 4.75 yards per pass play. Yet the Bills are still dealing with injuries in the secondary and Pickens, whose big-play rate of 38.6 per cent is 10th among receivers with at least 20 targets, has the all-round game to turn the attention he will get from Pickett into production regardless of the difficult matchup.

Tight End: Tyler Conklin, New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins

There's such a lack of depth at tight end for fantasy football purposes that it's necessary to take a few swings if you're stuck for an answer at the position.

Conklin represents such a swing but is one you can have more confidence in after his impressive Week 4.

He demonstrated chemistry with Zach Wilson on the quarterback's return from a knee injury, hauling in three catches for 52 yards in the Jets' surprise win over the Steelers. Conklin was targeted five times and registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when targeted, on all five.

This week, the Jets face a Miami defense that has conceded 7.43 yards per pass play this season. Only the Seattle Seahawks (8.24) have fared worse by that measure. If Wilson and Conklin continue to build their rapport, the latter could prove an astute fantasy play by those managers who take a chance on him.

Defense/Special Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans

The Jaguars being competitive with the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles a week after stunning the Los Angeles Chargers illustrated just how far they have come in so little time under Doug Pederson.

Very few thought the Jags would quickly be in the mix for the AFC South but that is where they stand, with a diverse and aggressive defense playing a huge role in Jacksonville's progress.

The Jags have forced 27 negative plays this season, tied for the eighth-most among NFL defenses. The winless Texans, meanwhile, have seen their offense suffer 26 negative plays for minus 121 yards. Only four teams have lost more yardage on those plays this season.

Tied third in the NFL for takeaways with nine, look for a defense nobody saw coming to make the most of a favourable matchup and get Jacksonville back on track.

Related items

  • Giroud breaks France's all-time scoring record Giroud breaks France's all-time scoring record

    Olivier Giroud etched his name into the France history books as he became Les Bleus' all-time top scorer after netting against Poland at the World Cup.

    The Milan striker equalled Thierry Henry's 51-goal record with a brace in a 4-1 win over Australia in his nation's World Cup opener, leaving him one shy of the outright benchmark.

    That made Giroud, aged 36 years and 53 days, the second-oldest player to score a double at the World Cup, after Roger Milla, who did so in 1990 for Cameroon aged 38.

    Giroud claimed the record outright with the opening goal in the round-of-16 clash against Poland, latching onto Kylian Mbappe's pass to fire Les Bleus ahead.

    The former Chelsea and Arsenal striker would likely have not started for Didier Deschamps' side if it had not been for pre-tournament injuries to Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku.

    Instead, Giroud and Kylian Mbappe have been tasked with carrying the attacking burden as France aim to defend their World Cup crown.

  • Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash

    Zlatko Dalic stressed that staying disciplined will be crucial if Croatia are to defeat Japan and reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Croatia, runners-up in Group F behind Morocco, face Japan on Monday in the last 16.

    Japan were the shock victors of Group E in Qatar, having claimed 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain either side of a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.

    Runners-up to France in 2018, Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup (W4 D2), while Japan have never progressed beyond the last 16.

    Hajime Moriyasu's team have shown their quality against top sides, however, and Dalic knows his team must stay regimented if they are to avoid an upset.

    "Spain might have thought it was going to be easier, but Japan are a team that do not quit, as they showed against Germany as well," Dalic told reporters.

    "At some point, when Costa Rica were leading against Germany, Spain were out of the tournament, so they couldn't allow themselves to lose. Japan deserved to win.

    "Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.

    "If you are first in a group with Germany and Spain, it shows your quality and that you are playing at a really high level. What I would say about the Japanese team is that they never quit. They conceded goals at the beginning of the match both against Germany and Spain, but they came back.

    "They had a lot of faith in themselves, and that is a great virtue of the Japan national team. For us, it will be key that we are also disciplined and patient. We cannot make mistakes, because Japan has the quality to punish those mistakes. We need to be good at falling back if we lose the ball."

    Croatia might have progressed from a group that also included Belgium and Canada, but failed to score in two of their matches – they had only drawn a blank in two of 13 matches at the tournament in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 editions combined.

    Dalic's side like to control possession, but that could play into Japan's hands. They averaged just 32.3 per cent of the ball across their three group stage games. Indeed, their two wins over Spain and Germany came with 17.7 per cent and 26.1 per cent possession respectively, while the one match they lost came when they had more of the ball against Costa Rica (56.8 per cent).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Japan – Ritsu Doan

    Three of Japan's four goals scored have been scored by substitutes. Ritsu Doan has netted two of these. 

    Only three players have ever scored at least three goals as a substitute at a single World Cup – Andre Schurrle in 2014 (three), Roger Milla in 1990 (four), and Laszlo Kiss in 1982 (three).

    Croatia – Ivan Perisic

    Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric run the midfield for Croatia, but their attack is not quite as world-class.

    That being said, in Ivan Perisic they have a wide player more than capable of chipping in. The 33-year-old has scored nine goals at major tournaments, which is a joint record for Croatia along with Davor Suker.

    Perisic has also set up seven goals at either the Euros or the World Cup, a national record, and no Croatia player has had more shots so far in Qatar than his tally of five.

    PREDICTION

    This will be the third World Cup meeting between Japan and Croatia, with Japan winless and goalless in the previous two – a 1-0 defeat in 1998 and a goalless draw in 2006, both in the group stage. 

    Opta's model says the odds are against Japan, who are given a 26 per cent chance of progressing to the last eight. Croatia are the favourites (46.1 per cent).

    Do not be surprised to see this one go to extra-time, though – the draw is ranked at a 27.9 per cent chance.

  • Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero

    Lionel Messi was liberated by winning last year's Copa America and is relishing his leading role in Argentina's World Cup bid, according to former team-mate Sergio Aguero.

    Messi scored his ninth World Cup goal – and his first in a knockout tie – as Argentina claimed a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday, teeing up a quarter-final meeting with the Netherlands.

    The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's strike, a trademark left-footed finish after cutting inside from the right, also saw him surpass Diego Maradona's tally of eight World Cup goals for Argentina. Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) now has more for the country.

    Messi highlighted his "beautiful" bond with Argentina's supporters after the win, but Aguero believes that is a recent development, one which came about as a result of the Albiceleste ending a 28-year wait to win the Copa America last July.

    "Leo is going to do everything possible to achieve the goal that we all want," the former Argentina international told ESPN. 

    "Leo is happy and content. The Copa America changed his life, it gave him life. After the Copa America, he was happy again in the national team, like when we were in the under-20s.

    "He lived with criticism and lost finals for a long time. The Copa America was liberating for him."

    Prior to Argentina's triumph over hosts Brazil last year, Messi had suffered the ignominy of losing four major international finals, failing to help his team over the line at the 2014 World Cup or the 2007, 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America.

    Recalling that victory in Rio de Janeiro, Aguero said Brazil – who could meet Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – would not relish a rematch.

    "If we made it to the quarter-finals, let me be excited," Aguero said. "Do you think that Brazil wants to meet Argentina in the semi-finals? 

    "Brazil has just lost the Copa America final, I think they don't want that match."

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