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As we leave Week 5 and enter Week 6 of the 2017 NFL season, we have a sizeable chunk of data to evaluate. With five games of film on the majority of teams, we’re reaching the point where slow starts or infrequent usage can no longer be ignored.

Furthermore, we’re in the thick of bye season, and there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to make some cuts. It’s not easy to keep a handcuff running back when your only QB is staring down a Week 6 bye and you need to find a defense to stream. Still, this is the time of year when the roster crunch we all feel can squeeze us into some of the difficult add/drop decisions that we live to regret later.

For this week’s column, I’m detailing some players that I believe fantasy owners should make a priority to keep on their roster, especially in deeper leagues with six or more bench spots.

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Do Not Cut - Running Backs

Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens

Although he was outshined by Javorius Allen in a Week 5 win over the Raiders, Collins continues to get heavy usage for a team that wants to run the football. It isn’t out of the question that the Ravens can support two fantasy-worthy running backs. His usage is trending upward and it’s fair to wonder if he has pushed Terrance West completely out of the rotation, even when West returns from his calf injury. Still boasting an insanely efficient 7+ yards per carry on the young season, Alex Collins’s ascent up the Ravens depth chart has been very quick and might not have hit the plateau just yet.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

As discouraging as Derrick Henry’s workload has been over the past two weeks, it’s important to remember that the Titans are a shell of themselves without Marcus Mariota. Henry is a player that figures to thrive on favorable game script, but disappear in an unfavorable one. Shallow leaguers probably don’t have the luxury of taking the longview on Henry, but in deep formats, it’s very easy to envision a scenario where Derrick Henry wins a championship for the patient owner in your league. The changing of the guard will happen eventually. It’s not guaranteed to happen in 2017, but it’s inevitable and it seems too early to quit on Henry with Mariota expected back soon, a change which could dramatically affect every Titans' outlook.

Elijah McGuire, New York Jets

This one actually became obvious when Jets beat reporter Manish Mehta speculated Monday morning that McGuire could be in for a “heavy workload” against the Patriots in Week 6, but McGuire was going to make this list anyway. While McGuire underwhelmed against what has been a surprisingly stout Cleveland Browns run defense in the early part of the season, the more important take-away from that game was that Bilal Powell was forced out with a calf injury. With Matt Forte also dealing with turf toe, McGuire is the only fully healthy Jets running back right now and should be owned in all leagues. The Patriots have been atrocious on defense and this could be a huge opportunity for the rookie if he indeed makes his first career start. Even in the absolute shallowest of leagues, I want to see what happens with the Jets backfield this week before I consider cutting bait on McGuire.

D'Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

After making this list last week, Foreman turned in an even less inspiring performance in Week 5 against the Chiefs on Sunday night, but the poor production should be understood in the proper context. The Chiefs played phenomenal keep away for the second straight game, holding the Texans to under 22 minutes time of possession. It’s extremely hard for two running backs to get their reps in a game where the opponent almost doubles their time of possession, even moreso when a huge chunk of the game saw the Chiefs with a double digit lead. Foreman still looks like a powerful, punishing runner more ideally suited to between the tackles work than Miller. I’m not giving up on a player with a decent role on a team that has scored 10 TDs in the last two weeks. Most teams will not have nearly the same success killing the clock as Kansas City. Foreman will have his opportunities and remains at least a looming threat to Lamar Miller’s starting gig, and may have standalone value in his own right.


Do Not Cut - Wide Receivers

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

It gets harder to make a case to keep him every week, now failing to eclipse even 10 yards in three straight starts. There are a couple of things to keep in mind about Cooper’s futile three- game stretch however. First, Derek Carr hasn’t been on the field for quite a lot of it. Second, the Raiders have faced two of the top four defenses in the NFL in limiting opposing fantasy points to wide receivers in Washington and Denver. Granted, this is not the primary reason for Cooper’s struggles. It’s obvious from watching him play that he’s not in the right place mentally. The drops have to be killing his confidence. While you could be forgiven for not believing in Cooper, he’s still a big enough name that it’s virtually certain that someone in your league will give you something to take a chance on him. Maybe you’re struggling at QB and the Deshaun Watson owner in your league also has Carson Wentz? If you want to bail on Cooper, be sure to get something for him.

Sterling Shepard, New York Giants

Although he was also injured during the Giants devastating loss to the Chargers that saw all three starting wide receivers go down, Shepard is the lone wideout whose condition is characterized as merely day to day. While he probably can’t yet be considered a lock to suit up at Denver in Week 6, he likely wouldn’t have been a starting consideration anyway. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall will miss the season so Sterling Shepard likely inherits de facto number one duties for the foreseeable future, barring a breakout from a player way down the depth chart. Under the circumstances it’s pretty easy to imagine him becoming a dependable WR3, so I wouldn’t let the combination of the ankle injury and the poor matchup on tap put me off of holding onto Shepard if I can help it.

Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

Through five games, Bryant has just one quality fantasy performance. After a particularly brutal performance in which Jacksonville picked off Pittsburgh five times, Bryant's likely future Hall of Fame quarterback even questioned whether he “didn’t have it” anymore. There’s no dancing around the fact that Martavis Bryant’s stock has taken a significant hit through the season’s first five weeks. Still, it’s important to understand that Bryant profiles as a feast or famine player. The ratio of booms to busts is looking bleak at the moment, but he’s still a freak talent who spent a year away from football. A slow start shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. Bryant’s outlook as a fantasy player would look dramatically different if he had connected on just one more big play to this point, and could change just as dramatically with a big performance against a Kansas City defense that gave up deep ball after deep ball to Deshaun Watson and company on Sunday night.

Jaron Brown, Arizona Cardinals

It’s very easy to build a case that Jaron Brown’s days of being considered a quality PPR WR3 could be coming to an end. With John Brown getting healthier, the Cardinals WR corps is suddenly looking awfully crowded. All four of JJ Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, and the two Browns have been fantasy considerations dating back to last season. Still, I think it would be preemptive to let go of Jaron Brown just yet. He’s still racked up 35 targets over his last four games, catching 17 balls for 244 yards and two touchdowns, with another score negated by penalty, all during a span of games in which the David Johnson-less Cardinals have utterly failed to establish a running game. Carson Palmer leads the league in pass attempts and there's no reason to think If that wasn’t enough to compel you to hold Jaron Brown, I offer one more reason: Arizona’s Week 6 matchup is at home against a Tampa Bay team that is surrendering the most points to opposing fantasy WRs.


Do Not Cut - Tight Ends

Evan Engram, New York Giants

As much of a bummer as it was to see the rookie’s momentum come to a screeching halt while posting a goose-egg on four targets against the Chargers en route to an 0-5 start to the Giants season, Engram’s flop shouldn’t be the biggest take-away from this game. As with Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram suddenly finds himself staring down a potentially massive target share going forward. After opening his career with four straight games with at least four catches for at least 44 yards, Engram should be thrown right back into starting lineups for a Week 6 contest against a Broncos defense whose biggest weakness has been defending opposing tight ends. In what is bound to become a heavy youth movement for the Giants for the rest of 2017, he’s arguably as good a bet as any tight end in football to soak up double digit targets on a weekly basis going forward.


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