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

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.