Fantasy Overview, Week 4 - Footballguys

Get yourself caught up on what's going on in the league as we enter Week 4 of the NFL season. Here's my take on the fantasy landscape around the league and how you can benefit. 

We are three weeks into the season and the fantasy landscape is starting to take shape. This week I'll take a look at the top 15-20 players by fantasy points (PPR scoring) from each skill position, and provide my take on which players belong and which are destined to decline.

QUARTERBACK

Two Big Surprises

After three weeks, there are two big surprises in the quarterback rankings - Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Mahomes II II at #1 and #2 overall. You could argue Matt Ryan ranked 5th is also a surprise, but his presence in the Top 5 isn't that much of a stretch considering he was the league MVP two years ago. There was a point on Monday night when it looked like the clock was striking twelve on Ryan Fitzpatrick's magic. The Buccaneers found themselves trailing 30-10 at the half and Fitzpatrick had 1 touchdown pass with 3 interceptions. The tent was folding, the music was stopping and the magic was...leaving. There were whispers of Jameis Winston's return and Fitzpatrick's retreat to his role as the backup. Then he pulled up his bootstraps, made some plays and the magic continued. It wasn't enough to win the game, but oh what a valiant effort it was. Enough to keep the magic act in the tent for at least another week. Jameis Winston is eligible to return from suspension this week and the Buccaneers have a bye Week 5. Expect Fitzpatrick to start until the magic wears off.

Patrick Mahomes II II is a surprise, in how efficient and explosive he has been without fail in three games this season. His rise to success is similar to what Aaron Rodgers did in 2008. For Rodgers, his time to shine as a starter came in his fourth year in the league. For Mahomes, his time to shine is now, in year two. The Chiefs showed their hand when they let Alex Smith leave via free agency, opening up the starting spot to Mahomes, who hadn't even thrown an NFL touchdown pass prior to Week 1. Both Rodgers and Mahomes had some expectations of success, but it wasn't off the charts excitement. There was hype surrounding Rodgers, that he might be a Top 10 fantasy quarterback, but he wasn't a star until it happened. Mahomes had that same level of hype. Enough to be on the radar, but not enough to label him a star. Mahomes has a long way to go to be in the same sentence as Rodgers, but their starts, and early rise to fame, definitely have some similarities.

Highlighted in the image above are the NFC South quarterbacks. Four of the top six quarterbacks in fantasy rankings are from the NFC South, and neither is showing signs of slowing down. Not only are these quarterbacks (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton) putting up points on their own, but they are elevating their teammates around them. The NFC South has no shortage of fantasy juggernauts. Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, O.J. Howard and even Calvin Ridley are fantasy studs that you can build your team around.

Some additional unexpected results after three weeks include:

Andy Dalton 10th
Aaron Rodgers 12th
Russell Wilson 17th
Tom Brady 20th
Andrew Luck 21st

Which players are on the way up and which ones are on the way down?

Needle pointing up:

  • Baker Mayfield (currently 35th) - Perhaps a star in the making. His decision-making and gunslinger abilities are going to be a pleasure to watch. He could make Cleveland relevant.
  • Carson Wentz (currently 32nd) - Wentz is clearly the better fantasy option for Philadelphia and he'll make all of his teammates around him, better.
  • Tom Brady (20th) - His time is coming. Julian Edelman will return soon and we've yet to see the Josh Gordon experiment. If anyone can make it happen with Gordon, it's Brady.
  • Josh Rosen (38th) - There's a little bit of concern with Rosen, thinking that maybe Arizona is pulling the trigger too soon on the rookie, but he has a leader's mentality, and the alternative (Bradford) is a weaker option. Nowhere to go but up, right?

Needle pointing down:

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (currently 1st) - It's possible that Fitzpatrick will stay the Buccaneers starting quarterback and have a career year, but it's doubtful that he will maintain the #1 ranking and average 400-yard games every week. The fall from grace may not be a thud, but it seems inevitable that he won't be able to sustain this high level of success.
  • Patrick Mahomes II II (currently 2nd) - Mahomes may be a star in the league, but the likelihood that he maintains his high level of success going forward seems like a tall order. Ride the wave, but waves eventually crash. He may be a Top 10 quarterback this year. He may be a Top 5 quarterback, but it's a stretch to think he keeps his high level of performance where it is right now.
  • Drew Brees (currently 3rd) - The Saints will be getting Mark Ingram II back for Week 5 and that could mean a change in offensive philosophy. Last year Brees finished 10th and the Saints had one of the best rushing offenses in the league. Brees' 8 touchdown passes in three games is a third of what he accomplished in 2017 (23 touchdown passes), but the passing game may be taking a step back soon.

Running back

What stands out?

Approximately 10-11 points separate 15th place from 7th place, whereas the same (10 points) separates 5th place from 2nd place. Sitting in 1st place all alone is Alvin Kamara, who is 13 points ahead of 2nd place, 42 points ahead of 10th place and 46 points ahead of 15th place. Kamara has been a focal point of the Saints offense both as a receiver and a touchdown scorer. His rushing yards is respectable, but it's his 30 receptions in three games, and three touchdowns, that elevate him above all others. Can this torrid pace continue? Probably not, but he's also not going to fall off the map either.
Christian McCaffrey is ranked 6th without having scored a touchdown yet. He has more rushing yards than Todd Gurley and only Alvin Kamara has more receptions. The Panthers in general are averaging 4.7 yards before contact - tops in the league. McCaffrey is a big reason for that. He is being used a decoy in goal-line situations, but his time for end zone celebrations is coming.
Adrian Peterson is a focal point of the Washington offense and is averaging 4.6 yards per rush with three touchdowns. It's difficult to say if he'll be able to sustain a high level of production, but he has a clear role as the primary ball carrier, which means the volume of carries and level of usage should continue.
Javorius Allen, Austin Ekeler and Chris Thompson are in the Top 15 (PPR) despite having 20 carries or less. One or more from this group will probably slide off the pace, but it goes to show that a running back can thrive in PPR format even without a consistent load of carries.
Who's on the rise? Who's on the decline?
Needle pointing up:
  • Kerryon Johnson (currently 30th) - Johnson showed that he is capable of being an every-down back. He can earn tough yards after contact, he has the speed to reach the edge, and he can muscle his way through the middle. If Detroit feeds him the ball enough, he'll produce. The talent is there, the team just needs to lean on him more.
  • Sony Michel (67th) - Rex Burkhead had a concussion after Week 1 and now has a neck injury. Michel has already started to see an increase in snaps. It's only a matter of time before he becomes a more versatile back in the Patriots offense.
  • Corey Clement (28th) - Aside from Jay Ajayi, the Eagles top rusher and versatile back is Corey Clement. Wendell Smallwood may have scored last week, but Clement was the better rusher despite being limited with a leg injury. The return of Carson Wentz will open up the offense and Clement will eventually be the back who benefits the most.

Needle pointing down

  • James Conner, PIT (5th) - If not for Conner's huge Week 1, he'd probably be on the outside of the Top 10. He's still getting decent looks as a receiver, averaging five receptions per game, but his rushing output has slowed down. His yards per rush has dropped to 3.9 and since his explosion of 31 carries in Week 1, he has 8 and 15 carries in consecutive games. He's a good, viable fantasy back, but he's not Le'Veon Bell and he's arguably not a Top 10 fantasy back.
  • Carlos Hyde, CLE (9th) - Carlos Hyde is enjoying a nice season so far, but he has only 4 receptions and his average per rush is a mere 3.3 yards per carry. His four touchdowns have him ranked 9th, but if you take that away, he drops way down. The Browns offense is on the rise, so Hyde could continue to flourish, but he's been very touchdown-dependent in the first three weeks.
  • Isaiah Crowell, NYJ (12th) - Like Hyde, Crowell has benefited from four touchdowns. Like Hyde, Crowell has only four receptions. Unlike Hyde, Crowell has Bilal Powell sharing the number of carries in the Jets offense. If the touchdowns fall off, Crowell becomes a very average running back.

Wide Receiver

Ten points separate the 20th ranked wide receiver from 6th ranked wide receiver. There's a jump between 2nd and 5th and then Michael Thomas stands alone. The Saints have a Top 3 quarterback, the #1 overall running back and the #1 overall wide receiver. In case you missed it, New Orleans is a fantasy factory. Michael Thomas has an incredible 38 receptions on 40 targets with three touchdowns. His torrid pace is not sustainable, but he should still continue to be a weapon and a fantasy force going forward.
What stands out?
Julio Jones has 20 catches and 329 yards but no touchdowns, despite Atlanta as a whole with 7 passing touchdowns. His performance without finding the end zone has him ranked 14th.
Calvin Ridley is quickly becoming fantasy relevant thanks to four touchdowns in the last two games. He has 13 of his 15 targets in the same span, and last week he was targeted more than Julio Jones. His needle is pointing up, but he may have peaked.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has more receptions and yards than Antonio Brown and his reception percentage (71%) vs Brown's (57.1%) is worth noting.
Adam Thielen (32 receptions) has twice as many as Stefon Diggs (16). The yardage is following suit as well. If not for three touchdowns, Diggs would be on a milk carton.
Needle Pointing Up
  • Keenan Allen, LAC - He is one big game from being in the Top 12-15. He leads the team in targets (26) and receptions (17), but the game against the Rams set him back, while other receivers across the league rose to the occasion. The schedule is definitely opening up for both him and the Chargers offense (vs SF, vs OAK, at CLE, vs TEN) in the next four weeks.
  • Antonio Calloway, CLE - The emergence of Baker Mayfield running the Browns offense is going to start a ripple effect of positive fantasy outcomes. Jarvis Landry may be the possession receiver, but Calloway already looks to be Mayfield's downfield weapon. He's on the verge of being fantasy relevant right now. The addition of Mayfield could put him in the flex option category.
  • Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas, and Brandin Cooks all have 25-26 targets with zero or one touchdown each. Thomas and Crabtree lead their team in targets and Cooks isn't far behind Robert Woods. All three have the pedigree to improve their standing in the rankings. Cooks has the best quarterback to work with, followed by Crabtree and Thomas. One big game could put them back into fantasy relevance.

Needle pointing down

  • DeSean Jackson, TB - Yes the Buccaneers offense is on fire right now, but Jackson is behind both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in targets and receptions. Jackson has big games here and there but he's not consistent enough. If the touchdowns fall, Jackson loses his fantasy appeal.
  • Tyler Lockett, SEA - Doug Baldwin (knee) will be returning soon, which will relegate Tyler Lockett back to a complementary role. Lockett has only 12 receptions this year, but thanks to three touchdowns, he's ranked 21st. It's difficult to not chase points, but Lockett isn't getting enough looks. No Seattle player has more than 7 targets in a game this season.

Tight end

The tight end rankings are wide open. Travis Kelce leads the way thanks to 16 receptions, 229 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The #2 and #3 ranked tight ends, Jared Cook and Zach Ertz have yet to score a touchdown. A big game from O.J. Howard, Rob Gronkowski, Eric Ebron or Jordan Reed could easily catapult them into the Top 3. Gronkowski is sitting at a disappointing 6th place, but he's capable of exploding any given week. Generally, if Tom Brady struggles, so does Gronkowski. Brady has yet to hit his stride and it's affecting others around him, including their star tight end.

Changes seem inevitable in the Top 12. Only 8 points separate 11th place from 4th place. All it takes is one big game to alter the tight end landscape.

Players I like moving forward

  • O.J. Howard, TB - The Buccaneers offense is clicking on all cylinders right now and as long as that doesn't fade, Howard should be a key contributor and stalwart fantasy option.
  • David Njoku, CLE - The Browns offense is on the rise which means Njoku should start to see a spike in snaps, targets, and production.
  • Dallas Goedert, PHI - Zach Ertz is the big name in the Eagles offense, but Goedert is capable of being a productive piece as well. He was on the field for 67% of the team's offensive snaps last week and his presence resulted in a touchdown. Goedert is filing the role vacated by Trey Burton last year, who had 5 touchdowns in 2017 as a complementary tight end receiving option.
  • Hayden Hurst, BAL. Hurst is recovering from a foot injury and could wind up being a key contributor once he's back. It is common to shy away from rookie tight ends, but Baltimore's usage of the tight end is different from other teams. No one tight end has stood out in his absence, which opens the door for Hurst to be productive out of the gate.

Players I'm shying away from

  • Trey Burton, CHI - Until the Bears take the training wheels off the offense, Trey Burton will be relegated to short-yardage targets with minimal scoring opportunities.
  • Jared Cook, OAK - Cook led the team in targets in Week 1, but he slipped down in targets in Weeks 2 and 3. He may lead the team in receptions, but he has not been a red zone threat and Oakland isn't a prolific passing offense to hang your hat on.
  • Jonnu Smith, TEN - Like Chicago, the Titans passing offense has struggled to be a consistent force. Smith has only two targets since Week 1 when Delanie Walker got injured. Until he shows differently, Smith isn't deserving of a starting spot in your lineup. He's good enough to stash, but eventually someone else is going to come along that deserves a spot on your roster over him.
  • Will Dissly, SEA - 13 targets in three games aren't enough for me to get excited about. The Seattle offense, in general, is nearly off limits.

Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to haseley@footballguys.com


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