Donovan Peoples-Jones Start/Sit Week 7: How to value the Browns’ de facto no. 1 WR

Donovan Peoples-Jones leads Cleveland Browns wideouts in yards and touchdowns, but can you start him in fantasy tonight?

When an NFL team’s top-scoring fantasy football receiver also happens to be the TE18, that’s a problem. Such is the mess that is the Cleveland Browns’ receiving corps. But there is one bright light shining on this rag-tag group of superstars and upstarts: Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Is Donovan Peoples-Jones an ascending fantasy contributor?

What if last year I’d told you that Peoples-Jones would enter Week 7 of the 2021 season leading all Cleveland wideouts in receiving yards (228) and touchdowns (2)? Pretty insane.

Yet, here we are, preparing for a Thursday Night Football without Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt — with Odell Beckham Jr. on the down side of questionable while Jarvis Landry reportedly is poised to return. So we’re left with the 2020 sixth-round pick — a guy who scored 57% of his fantasy points last weekend — as the de facto No. 1 receiver.

Peoples-Jones’ chances tonight hinge on three factors

The first is who’s playing. Assuming the most likely scenario as of Thursday morning — Beckham sitting and Landry starting — the second-year pro’s chances to produce decent numbers for managers would be about 50/50. Realistically he could be a WR4 in a game where Case Keenum probably will need to throw more than the Browns want him to.

However, if both high-priced Cleveland receivers are sidelined, the ascending 22-year-old will be in prime position to serve as his team’s target leader. A 12-plus-point performance would be realistic. In other words, I’d start him in most flex spots, especially with six teams on bye.

The second factor concerns Keenum. His last start was in Week 17 of the 2019 season. In that forgettable contest, he completed less than 50% of his pass attempts while throwing for 206 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. For context, he failed to get a touchdown in three of his previous four starts. So … that helps explain why he hasn’t started in nearly two years.

Don’t get me wrong — the 35-year-old Keenum is a solid-quality NFL quarterback. His career 75:47 TD:INT ratio is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a mostly part-time player. But his best days are arguably behind him, and tonight’s matchup won’t make things easier.

And that brings us to the third factor. The Broncos have a top-five pass defense. For Peoples-Jones to come up big, he needs to get past a team that’s yielded only 229 receiving yards per game. It can be done (see Henry Ruggs, Marquise Brown, etc.). But the margin of error is pretty slim.

Should managers start Peoples-Jones in Week 7?

You know the risks, and you know the variables at play. If Peoples-Jones doesn’t have to worry about Beckham and Landry, you know what to do. If Landry returns as expected, then he’d be a risky WR4.

BJ Rudell is the Fantasy Football Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of BJ’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @BJRudell.