In this article I give six recommended plays each for the 12 PM ET and 7 PM ET slates of Saturday games. Within the six recommendations for each slate, three are “Paying Up” plays (top-12 salary at their positions), and three are “Digging Deep” plays (outside top-12 salary at their positions).
EARLY SLATE: Noon PM ET
Paying Up: Seth Russell (Baylor): $9,300
Russell is not just the No. 1 QB in the slate. He is the No. 1 QB in the country, leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per attempts, adjusted yards per attempt, and touchdowns passing. But despite being the most productive quarterback in the slate, he has only the third-highest salary at the position. On top of that Baylor is a 45-point favorite against Kansas and has a slate-leading implied point total of 61.75 points, given that the contest also has a 78.5-point over/under, the second-highest of the slate. Baylor scores the most points in the FBS, and only seven teams allow more points to opponents than Kansas. Russell’s salary is only $200 less than the slate-leading salary of Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky — but until he is no longer the best quarterback in the FBS he probably should have the position’s most expensive salary in any given slate. He’s expensive, but somehow he is still acquirable at a slight discount. Russell should be able to accumulate 300 yards and four touchdowns in this game rather easily, and he has the potential for much gaudier numbers.
Digging Deep: DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) – $6,200
I’m not thrilled with many of this slate’s quarterbacking options aside from those with top-12 salaries, but Kizer is a decent play regardless of the other options surrounding him. He has appeared in all five of ND’s 2015 games, but not until Malik Zaire’s ankle injury in Week 2 did Kizer become his team’s lead quarterback. In his three starts, Kizer has been adequate and consistent, completing 64 percent of his passes for an average of 256 yards and 1.7 touchdowns to which he adds 36 yards and 0.7 touchdowns rushing per game. Kizer isn’t likely to outperform the expectations that accompany his salary, but he’s also unlikely to play poorly in a game that ND is favored to win by 14 points at home. Given ND’s implied point total and that he has accounted for 46.7 percent of the team’s offensive touchdowns since becoming the starter, Kizer has a good chance of finishing Week 6 with at least two touchdowns to go along with his 250 yards passing and 50 yards rushing. At his salary, that production isn’t horrible — and that statement basically says everything about how I view this slate’s non-elite quarterbacks.
Paying Up: Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State): $8,500
Elliot is one of the best running backs in the country, and he also is one of the most productive. He has the slate’s third-highest salary at the position, so he’s not cheap, but he has been the slate’s second-most productive running back to date. He contributes almost nothing to the passing game as a receiver, but Ohio State is a 33-point favorite at home against Maryland and has the slate’s third-highest implied point total with 43.75 points. The Buckeyes are committed to running the ball, and they shouldn’t be in a situation where they need to throw the ball that much anyway. Given their roles in their offenses and their matchups this weekend, Elliot likely won’t finish Week 6 as the slate’s top overall running back — that will probably be the highest-salaried Leonard Fournette of Louisiana State — but Elliot has a strong chance producing like the upper-middle-class man’s Fournette. He could give almost comparable production at a $1,400 discount. Elliot has a good chance of finishing Week 6 with 175 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. He has the upside to reach 225 yards and three touchdowns.
Digging Deep: De’Andre Ferby (Western Kentucky) – $5,700
Ferby’s per-game production might not be inspiring, but ever since 2014 stud starter Leon Allen was lost for the season to a knee injury in Week 2, Ferby has been the locked-in lead back for Western Kentucky. He has limited upside — he is not a dynamic rusher or yardage accumulator — but in his three starts he has received 70.5 percent of the rushing attempts on a team that scores a lot of points. Like Elliot, the Western Kentucky runner contributes almost nothing to the passing game as a receiver, but the Hilltoppers are 8-point favorites at home against Middle Tennessee State and have the slate’s fifth-highest implied point total with 38.5 points. Throughout the game, Ferby should get lots of touches on account of positive game flow, and he should also receive significant goal-line opportunities: In his three-and-a-half sans-Allen games, Ferby has five touchdowns. At a minimum, Elliot should have 50 scrimmage yards accompanied by a touchdown and a reception — but he has 100-yard, two-touchdown upside.
Paying Up: Corey Coleman (Baylor) – $7,900
This is a great slate for wide receivers — lots of value plays can be found throughout the salary spectrum — but I couldn’t highlight a top-12 receiver other than Coleman. He is simply the best wide receiver in the country right now. Even though Baylor had a bye in Week 3, Coleman still leads the FBS by a wide margin in total touchdowns receiving and is fourth in yards receiving. He is a big play machine with an FBS fifth-best 23.8 yards per reception. He is the most expensive receiver in the slate, but he is worth it: His floor and ceiling are both incredibly high. His worst game is five receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown. Compare that to Roger Lewis of Bowling Green State, the slate’s second most-expensive and productive receiver, who out of five contests has two games in which he has fewer than 50 yards and no touchdowns. Coleman has the slate’s best matchup, going against a Kansas team that gives away points as if it were a philanthropy. Coleman’s downside is 100 yards and a touchdown. His upside is 200 yards and three touchdowns.
Digging Deep: Johnny Jackson (Arizona): $3,200
Jackson has been one of my “Digging Deep” plays before, and he is criminally undervalued given his past production and his ongoing potential. He’s a highly risky cash game play, but for people who play multiple lineups in tournaments he and Randall make for an intriguing discounted stack with a lot of upside. Although Jackson has a dirt cheap salary and is third in yards receiving, he is tied for first on the team in receiving touchdowns and his 236 yards on 19 receptions are highly comparable to the 244 yards on 18 receptions and 242 yards on 18 receptions that fellow receivers Cayleb Jones and David Richards have in the same number of games. At worse, Johnson is in a three-way tie for Arizona’s lead receiver role — but he is only the fifth-most expensive receiver on his team. Johnson has a good matchup against Oregon State, Arizona is expected to score over five touchdowns in Week 5, and if a couple of touchdowns are thrown the odds are decent that one of them will go to Jackson. He has scored a touchdown in four of five games this season and gone over 80 yards in two of those games. Rosterting Jackson will enable one to commit more money to other positions, and if he can score a touchdown and go over 50 yards will provide a major return at his salary.
LATE SLATE: 7 PM ET
Paying Up: Skyler Howard (West Virginia) – $6,300
This slate is better at the quarterback position than the late slates of the last few weeks have been. Trevone Boykin of Texas Christian and Jared Goff of California are good top-tier options, but the top-12 quarterback who this week has the best combination of value and matchup is Howard. He’s available at a slight discount to his 2015 production, and, although he’s not an elite player, he is a top-20 FBS passer. Additionally, Howard is a serviceable runner, with 101 yards and a touchdown in four games.
WVU has a strong offense and is a favorite at home against Oklahoma State in what is projected to be a high-scoring game. Last week, Howard had his worst performance of the year — but even at his worst he still score two touchdowns. Given his matchup and role in the offense, Howard has a good chance of finishing Week 6 with at least 275 yards and two touchdowns. He has 325-yard, four-touchdown upside.
Digging Deep: Kent Myers (Utah State) – $5,800
Kent Myers is an injury fill-in with one appearance this season — but that appearance was amazing. Starting in place of the injured Chuckie Keeton, last week Myers rushed for 191 yards (a school record for the position) — and he added 137 yards passing and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). And his performance last week was not entirely fluky. Last year, Myers also had to start in place of an injured Keeton, and in his six starts the Aggies won five games and he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 821 yards and five touchdowns and rushed 53 times for 282 yards and another five touchdowns — as a true freshman.
Utah State’s offense might seem unimpressive by the numbers, but the Aggies are a different team with Myers as the starter, scoring 33 points last week while they had scored no more than 17 points in any game previously. A double-digit favorite on the road, Utah State should have no problem creating scoring opportunities against Fresno State, which has one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Myers is highly unlikely to finish as a top-two producer this week, but his rushing ability gives him a high floor and ceiling. Myers should be able to get 150 yards passing, 30 yards rushing, and two touchdowns in this game. He has the ability to finish with 250 yards passing, 100 yards rushing, and three touchdowns.
Paying Up: Tyler Ervin (San Jose State) – $8,300
Ervin is a diminutive runner — but that’s the only thing small about him. His game is bigtime. He is expensive, but he is still available at discount to his 2015 production, which has been prodigious. He leads the FBS with 949 scrimmage yards, and he has 11 touchdowns on the season. In each of his five 2015 games, he has reached 120 scrimmage yards and scored a touchdown. In only one game has he failed to score two touchdowns. On a 2-3 team, that consistency is incredible, and it shows the extent to which the Spartans rely on him and to which he can produce regardless of game flow, in part due to his receiving abilities: He has at least one reception each game and is averaging 3.4 receptions per contest. Rare is the running back who accounts for at least half of his team’s total offensive touchdowns. Ervin accounts for 55 percent of the Spartans’ offensive scores.
San Jose is a three-point road favorite against Nevada-Las Vegas and projected to score only 26.5 points. Even though that total is uninspiring, Ervin should have plenty of touches in what will likely be a close game, and he has been highly productive in other games with comparable outcomes and game flow. At worse, Ervin should have 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. At his best, he has 250-yard, three-touchdown upside.
Johnson is not anything close to an elite runner — he has only 240 yards through four games — but he nevertheless is the big-bodied lead back on a triple-option offense that this weekend is playing at home, favored to beat Wyoming by 23.5 points, and projected to score 40 points, the most in the slate. Johnson leads the Falcons with 48 rushes and five touchdowns, and in the team’s two blowout victories to open the season Johnson averaged 16 rushes for 92.5 yards and two touchdowns per contest.
In the typical slate, the top runner on the team with the highest implied point total is usually expensive — especially when he’s playing at home. In this slate, that guy is available at a discount. Johnson needs to be in lineups. He has a 75-yard, one-touchdown floor and a 125-yard, two-touchdown ceiling.
Paying Up: Aaron Burbridge (Michigan State) – $5,500
This season, Burbridge has had three strong games and two bad games. With that in mind, you might want to think of his as more of a tournament than cash game play. Nevertheless, for a guy who has been either great or dreadful through five contests, he accounts for a remarkably high portion of State’s receiving production. In other words, Burbridge is not a typical boom-or-bust receiver, even though he might look like one. Instead, he is the top receiver on his team and QB Connor Cook’s most productive weapon. Going forward, he should be a more consistent producer.
In Week 6, with State favored to beat Rutgers by 13.5 points on the road, Burbridge should be relied on early in the game, and with a 34-point implied total the Spartans should afford their lead receiver with ample opportunities to score. Burbridge is not an elite play, like Josh Doctson of TCU, but he is a top-12 receiver available at a slight discount and playing on a team projected to score almost five touchdowns this weekend. Burbridge should be able to accumulate 75 yards and a touchdown in Week 6, and he has 150-yard, two-touchdown upside.
Digging Deep: Shelton Gibson (West Virginia) – $4,500
Gibson is a must-play non-elite option this week. Through four games, he is a top-12 receiver in this slate, but he barely has a top-24 salary. Like his QB, Gibson had a poor performance last week (on the road), but Gibson’s worst performance prior to that was a 3-81-1 showing against Liberty in a game that WVU handily and in which Gibson saw little action because he wasn’t needed. In the other two games, Gibson averaged 4.5 receptions for 124 yards and 1.5 touchdowns. He is a legit playmaker and makes for an intriguing QB-WR stacking partner with Howard.
WVU is at home and favored to beat OK St. while scoring close to five touchdowns. Considering the matchup and his role in the offense, Gibson should receive a solid number of targets and a few opportunities to find the end zone. In Week 6, he has a good chance of having at least three receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, and he has six-reception, 120-yard, two-touchdown upside.