Welcome back, Le’Veon Bell, Cam Newton and Lamar Miller.
Those three struggling fantasy studs reclaimed their places among the Week 4 fantasy scoring leaders after worrisome – some more than others – early-season absences.
Meanwhile, ugly and disheartening injuries – some more serious than others – knocked the likes of Dalvin Cook, Julio Jones, David Carr, Marcus Mariota and Chris Carson out of games and altered real-life and fantasy fortunes in Week 4 and beyond.
Tough to stomach and sad to see – particularly in the case of Cook, whose productive rookie season has now been cut short by an ACL tear – but those are the cruel cards that are randomly dealt each and every season.
Regardless, though, march on we must, and we start with our weekly review of the significant stats, notable numbers and illuminating integers compiled through action Sunday in Week 4 of the 2017 fantasy season. Here goes …
- With more than enough bad news to go around, let’s start with some good. Actually, make that great. And even that might be an understatement in describing the last two Sunday afternoons for Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has lit up the Patriots’ and Titans’ defenses to the tune of 584 passing yards, 65 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns, including six of the aerial variety, while leading the Texans to 90 points. Watson’s 98.1 QBR in Sunday’s 57-14 pummeling of the visiting Titans was the highest posted by any quarterback this season, and he became only the third rookie QB in NFL history to finish a game with at least four passing scores and one rushing TD. For the season, Watson has completed 74-of-114 passes for 811 yards, seven TDs and four interceptions while leading all quarterbacks with 148 rushing yards and two TDs on 19 carries. Add it all up and you have fantasy’s fourth-ranked QB through play Sunday with only Super Bowl-winning signal-callers and perennial fantasy studs Tom Brady (112), Aaron Rodgers (102) and Russell Wilson (99) owning more fantasy points than Watson’s 95. It may prove to be a case of a hot rookie taking advantage of two leaky defenses (see below), but it may also be the triumphant arrival of the next great fantasy QB. You do not want to miss out on the latter. And to think a month ago, Tom Savage was starting under center in Houston.
- Now, about that stunningly inept Patriots defense. A quick check of the league’s defensive stats shows the defending champs bringing up the rear in total yards (456.7 per game), yards per play (7.2), passing yards (324.0), yards per passing attempt (9.4), TD passes (11) and passer rating (116.5) allowed while trailing only the Colts with 128 points surrendered. And this is the defense, which gave up a league-low 250 points a year ago. It’s not any prettier on the fantasy side, with New England ranking in the league’s bottom four in terms of fantasy points allowed to all four of the major positions, including last in average QB points (26.6 per game). That’s how it looks when the opposing QBs – Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Watson and Newton – have all thrown for at least 301 yards and multiple scores against the Pats. The previously scuffling Newton on Sunday became the latest to take advantage, throwing for 316 yards and three scores while adding 44 yards and a TD on the ground in a 33-30 Carolina win. In their previous three games – including contests against the 49ers and Saints – the Panthers had totaled 45 points. In the meantime, this is only good news for fantasy general managers owning any New England offensive players with Tom Brady and Co. competing furiously to try and keep up on the scoreboard. To further illustrate, games involving the Patriots have produced eye-popping averages of 64.2 points and 880.5 yards so far. Any turnaround, though, will need to start fast with a date with the high-powered Bucs looming Thursday night in Tampa. Still, until demonstrated otherwise, make it a priority to start almost any and all offensive players involved on either side in upcoming Patriots games and watch the fantasy points pile up.
- The Raiders’ Amari Cooper will have to wait until Week 11 until he gets a shot at that N.E. defense, but his fantasy owners are going to be tempted to bail on the unproductive wideout long before that if his stat lines don’t do a 180 – and soon. On Sunday afternoon, it was a dismal two catches for nine yards and no TDs on eight targets in Denver. And before anyone simply writes it off as another no-duh showing against the Broncos’ vaunted No-Fly Zone or chalks it up to the second-half back injury suffered by QB Derek Carr, here are Cooper’s previous two stat lines: 1-6-0 on five targets at Washington and 4-33-0 on five targets vs. the Jets. Going back even further to look at Cooper’s last 13 games, including a wild-card playoff game in Houston, he’s produced only one contest with more than 63 yards receiving but no 100-yard games, had four games with a TD catch, three with 10-or-more targets and four contests with five-plus receptions. It’s all added up to only three games in his last 13 with double-digit standard-scoring fantasy points and almost three times as many (eight) with six fantasy points or fewer. On the NFL targets-not-caught list this season, Cooper stands second with 19 – including a league-most seven drops according to some tracking services – as he’s reeled in just 12 of 31 for 110 yards and one score for a grand total of 17 standard and 29 PPR fantasy points. You likely used too high of a draft pick to simply waive Cooper right now, but definitely keep him benched in all but the deepest of leagues until he shows he can shake off this current funk.
- Down in the Big Easy, Mark Ingram continues to dominate the snap (RB-most 52.9 percent of offensive plays) and total-touch counts (team-most 57) while 32-year-old Adrian Peterson continues to garner the most attention for his lack of playing time (17 percent of snaps, 29 total touches) and lack of efficiency (85 total yards, no TDs). In the meantime, though, rookie Alvin Kamara quietly has been most productive Saints back. The third-round pick produced 96 yards and a TD on 15 touches, including a perfect 10-for-10 receptions/targets for 71 yards and the score in Sunday morning’s shutout win over the Dolphins in London, and now has found the end zone in two straight games – marking the only two TDs for New Orleans RBs so far this season. Kamara is last among the trio with 15 rushing attempts so far, but his 5.3 yards-per-carry average is tops, and his 28 targets are second on the team and are tied for fourth among all league backs coming out of play Sunday. Kamara’s 20 receptions are tied for fifth among running backs. Coach Sean Payton’s plans – particularly in the backfield – are far from easy to decipher, but it’s clear through a quarter of the season that a certain third-round rookie is a key part of his offensive strategy. Follow suit, and use Kamara without hesitation in PPR leagues.
- Extra points: Coming out of play Sunday, a surprising nine non-wide receivers were pacing their respective teams in targets. The list includes five running backs (the Bears’ Tarik Cohen, the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, the Browns’ Duke Johnson, the Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Redskins’ Chris Thompson) and four tight ends (the Eagles’ Zach Ertz, the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, the Bills’ Charles Clay and the Packers’ Martellus Bennett). … Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins tops all players with 49 targets while Ertz is pacing the tight ends with 36 and the Cards’ Andre Ellington leads running backs with 30 … Some notable current consecutive game streaks with: Eight-or-more targets (Mike Evans and Michael Thomas with seven apiece); 12-plus touches (Le’Veon Bell with 51 with Gurley a distant second with 23) and a passing TD (Matt Ryan with 23 followed by Carson Palmer with 13). … Heading into Monday night’s K.C.-Washington game, Gurley and Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette were the only players to total at least 10 standard-scoring fantasy points in four games so far. … Of the 12 non-wide receivers who had scored at least three TDs through Sunday, only QB Marcus Mariota (20) and RB Chris Thompson (29) had logged fewer than 50 total touches. … On the flip side, LeSean McCoy (89), Christian McCaffrey (67), Joe Mixon (63), Mark Ingram (57), Jay Ajayi (56) and Isaiah Crowell (51) are the only players with 50-or-more touches who have yet to find their way into the end zone. … Finally, there are six players who had garnered at least 30 targets without a TD catch: Jarvis Landry (33 targets), Pierre Garcon (33), Adam Thielen (32), Julio Jones (30), Brandon Marshall (30) and Ellington (30).