Counting down the significant stats, notable numbers and illuminating integers emerging from the first five weeks of the 2016 season:
1,016 – League-most passing yards over the last three weeks for Brian Hoyer, who has thrown for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in all three of his starts this season for the Bears. His latest was a 397-yard outing Sunday, which marked a career best and was the second-highest total on the day behind only Tom Brady’s 406. NFL and Fantasy Nation had basically written off Hoyer following the lasting memory of his 2015 season with the Texans – a painfully brutal five-turnover outing in Houston’s 30-0 wild-card loss to the Chiefs – but he’s taken over for the injured Jay Cutler and breathed life into a Bears’ passing attack which mustered only 405 aerial yards in the first two games. Even with the Bears missing top-target Kevin White on Sunday in Indy, Hoyer found a connection with little-used WR Cameron Meredith as they hooked up nine times for 130 yards and a TD. Of Hoyer’s eight career 300-yard passing outings in 47 career games, more than a third have now come the last three weeks with the Bears, and the talk is definitely growing louder that Hoyer will retain the starting gig even when Cutler is ready to resume playing.
180 – Receiving yards Sunday for Falcons’ running backs in a 23-16 upset win in Denver. Tevin Coleman led the way with four receptions for 132 yards and a TD as part of a masterful Atlanta offensive game plan, which saw Matt Ryan and Co. bypass the Broncos’ talented secondary and instead isolate speedy backs on the Denver linebackers, who repeatedly were left in the dust. In all, Coleman, Devonta Freeman and fullback Patrick DiMarco combined to catch eight of 12 targets for 180 yards and a TD while the Atlanta wide receivers and tight ends combined to catch seven of 14 targets for only 87 yards and no scores. Fantasy-wise, it’s an obvious benefit for Coleman and Freeman owners, but the versatility and creativity of the passing game is also a boon for Ryan, who doesn’t have to force the ball to stud WR Julio Jones in all-or-nothing scenario we saw play out too many times last season. Witness Week 2 at Oakland, when the Atlanta tight ends were featured and combined to catch 10 passes for 180 yards and a a TD in a win over the Raiders. In other weeks, secondary wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy have stepped up with TD receptions, and then just when defenses start to slack off against Jones, he explodes for 300 yards on 12 catches. The bottom line: Ryan has been fantasy’s top QB so far, and it looks like he’s in at least the top five to stay thanks to one of the league’s best-coordinated offenses.
22.2 – Yards-per-catch average so far for Sammie Cotes, the second-year Steelers wide receiver who’s coming off easily his best day as a pro, hauling in six passes for 139 yards and two TDs in Sunday’s 31-13 spanking of the Jets. Coates was targeted a team-high matching 11 times in the game, and the previous week against the Chiefs, he caught six of his eight targets for 79 yards. By comparison, in Pittsburgh’s first three games, Coates was only targeted a combined 12 times. In all, Coates now has six receptions of more than 40 yards this season – two more than Jones and the Chargers’ Travis Benjamin, the next closest on the list. On the down side, Coates’ not-so-reliable hands continue to crop up from time to time – such as when he flubbed a sure earlier TD Sunday – but it’s time for Steelers Nation and fantasy general managers to stop fretting over the loss of the suspended Martavis Bryant, as Coates has done a pretty fair impersonation of the speedy, big-play wideout of late.
14 – Team-high 14 targets last Thursday night for 49ers WR Jeremy Kerley, who reeled in eight for 82 yards and a TD in a loss to the visiting Cardinals. Through Sunday, only the Jets’ Brandon Marshall, with 15, had more Week 5 targets than Kerley, who easily leads the Niners with 45 on the season and has had at least six in all five outings this season. In fact, Kerley has been targeted on an even 30 percent of the team’s passes overall, and his 45 total targets are nearly double the next most-targeted San Fran receiver (Torrey Smith with 23). Kerley also has twice as many receptions (26) than the next closest Niners pass-catcher (Carlos Hyde with 13) and his 305 receiving yards are more than double TE Garrett Celek’s 135. Kerley has been on the receiving end of two of the team’s five aerial TDs as he’s already eclipsed the 26-16-152-2 stat line he posted a year ago with the Jets. So if you’re looking to secure the top target in a Chip Kelly-led offense that will see plenty of snaps and more often than not will be airing it out while playing from behind, look no further than Kerley.
8 – Consecutive games since last season that the Rams’ Todd Gurley has had at least 17 offensive touches. That’s the longest current streak in the league, with the Titans’ DeMarco Murray, the Bills’ LeSean McCoy and the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott all tied for second with five straight 17-touch-plus games apiece. Gurley has had at least 18 touches in every game this season, and his 116 total trails only Elliott (118) and Murray (117) on the season. In terms of fantasy points, Gurley has yet to return his high first-round value, ranking 16th among all backs through action Sunday, but his consistent usage and touch totals are notoriously hard to come by, and beware of selling Gurley on the cheap to acquire an inconsistent, boom-or-bust performer. Gurley’s steadiness and consistency likely will return more fantasy production in the end.
4 – Career games with four total touchdowns for the Titans’ Marcus Mariota following his three-passing-score, one-ground-TD outing Sunday in a 30-17 win over the host Dolphins. It put Mariota up there with regulars Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck in the weekly fantasy-QB top five, but just don’t go banking on it being any kid of regular occurrence from the second-year QB, who’s definitely more of the fantasy feast-or-famine variety. In 17 career games, Mariota now has had five in which he’s posted three or more passing and/or running scores. That’s exactly one fewer than his total of six games without a passing or rushing TD. And when it comes to pure passing numbers, Mariota can hardly be trusted as he only has two career 300-yard aerial outings – compared to a full 11 with 250 or fewer passing yards, including four of his five this season. Mariota’s big rushing games are also fewer and farther between than you might think as he’s only had three games with 30-plus ground yards, with Sunday’s 60-yard effort in South Beach constituting the latest. In short, the talented Mariota will deliver some winning fantasy weeks, but best of luck figuring out when and where they’ll be.
3 – Zach Miller’s ranking through Sunday among league’s tight ends in receptions. The Bears’ starter has 25 following his seven-catch, 73-outing Sunday in Indy, and he also ranks ninth among tight ends with 229 receiving yards and is tied for second with three TDs. It all adds up to fifth-place ranking (41 points) among standard-scoring fantasy TEs and a fourth-place ranking in PPR (66). As aforementioned, Hoyer has revitalized the Chicago aerial attack since taking over the starting gig in Week 3, and Miller has been one of his primary weapons as he’s caught 18 of 20 targets for 182 yards and his three TDs in the last three games. So in a league where consistent tight-end fantasy points are hard to come by, definitely don’t overlook the veteran Miller.