It has been a wild start to the season for fantasy purposes, and while I believe the changes in rules designed to protect the quarterback play the biggest factor in the increased production, the redefined catch language plays a role, as well.
Week 4 concludes with the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs taking on a division rival in Denver on Monday Night Football. We witnessed a third AFC West team enjoy something for the first time in more than 17 years: Jon Gruden winning as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, spanning 6,133 days. For perspective, that was more than five years before anyone had an iPhone in their pocket.
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson has struggled through three games to produce yardage and, as a result, manufacture strong fantasy results. His value has been buoyed by three touchdowns in four games, and Week 4 displayed his heaviest workload of the season (25 touches). Life will get better from the yardage perspective, and we’re looking at a back who has scored 36 touchdowns over his 37 NFL games. His pass-catching ability will salvage fantasy starts when the ground game isn’t working or the Cards have to abandon it due to the score. DJ makes for a worthwhile trade target at a reasonable price.
Going along with the success of Gruden’s first win in 100 years or so, the Raiders offense generated a 400-yard passer in Derek Carr, a 100-yard rusher in Marshawn Lynch, and a pair of 100-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and TE Jared Cook in Week 4. The last time this happened by a Raiders team, according to Elias Sports Bureau, was in 1964. Gruden was a 1-year-old. Left out of that impressive stat line: Jordy Nelson scored again. It took a little time, and there will be growing pains yet to come, but the Raiders have begun to find their way over the past two games. Maybe most important of all, Gruden has been able to adapt his system to keep up with the times. If nothing else, it shows Oakland’s offense can deliver against lesser competition.
Any record as a rookie involving touchdowns scored means you’re doing it right. Just how good has Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley been in a historical sense? With six touchdowns in his first four professional games, he becomes the first receiver in NFL history to accomplish this feat. He is only the second receiver with a five scores, joining 1952 Green Bay Packers wideout Billy Howton, in his first four NFL outings. Ridley should keep up his strong play with upcoming matchups against Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants before the Week 8 bye. Given how poorly Atlanta’s defense has played, mostly due to injuries, all three of these games have shootout potential.
Speaking of standout rookies, Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb showed up in a big way after three weeks of his best impression of “Where’s Waldo?” He had only three carries, but it he made the most of them and then some. Going for touchdown jaunts of 41 and 63 yards against the Oakland Raiders, the Georgia rookie became the first back in a Cleveland uniform to accomplish this feat since the great Jim Brown in 1963, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He also became the first back to score a pair of TDs and top 100 yards on three or fewer carries. Carlos Hyde has played better than many expected to see, and he’ll remain the primary back, but the coaching staff will be excited to sprinkle in more of Chubb. Fantasy gamers, however, may want to exercise caution when deploying him until his workload increases.
There really isn’t much to say here from a fantasy perspective since Adam Thielen is universally owned and trading for him will cost two arms, a leg, and an ear, so consider this more of a moment of admiration. He has four straight games of 100-plus receiving yards to open the year, becoming the third player in the Super Bowl era to accomplish this feat: The others were Issac Bruce (2004) and Randy Moss (2007). Carry on….
4.62 seconds: This was the 40-yard dash time of Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. That’s slow. Like only seven receivers were slower that year kind of slow. However, his Next Gen Stats from Week 4 prove some players simply play faster than they time. Among all players handling the ball in the fourth game of the year, Kupp posted the fifth- and sixth-fastest times. His 70-yard score checked in at a cool 20.7 mph, and Kupp’s 19-yard touchdown was good for 20.58 mph — both faster than a 42-yard haul by T.Y. Hilton, whose speed is his hallmark.
The Chicago Bears scored 38 points in the opening half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4. Entering the game, Chicago had not scored 35 points in its previous 42 consecutive games. While I reckon the Bears will be consistently better under Matt Nagy than in recent years, this offense won’t face the comically bad Buccaneers defense each week. After the Week 5 bye, Chicago returns with matchups at Miami, against the New England Patriots, vs. the New York Jets, at the Buffalo Bills and vs. the Detroit Lions — all shaky but mostly competent defenses. Week 4 marked the third time in four games the Buccaneers allowed 30-plus points and the second it has surrendered a 40-burger.
Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee recorded the most receptions (11) by anyone at his position making their NFL debut since 1970. There will be games, like this shootout, where he’s heavily involved, but expecting the rook to be a regular contributor is asking a bit much in fantasy. He’ll see a fair amount of looks out of the slot as a checkdown, but don’t get caught up in the hype.
The way Giovani Bernard has played in Joe Mixon‘s absence, Cincinnati has zero incentive to rush (pun totally intended) the latter back into action. I fully expect the second-year runner to miss the long end of the original two- to four-week window.
It is now the best possible time to trade away Alvin Kamara. Mark Ingram returns and will undoubtedly steal some touchdowns. The New Orleans Saints’ schedule mercilessly stiffens with Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles ahead through Week 11. He has a bye in Week 6. Elite players find a way more often than not, and being a dynamic PPR threat obviously helps, but Kamara could fetch multiple players to help in return for owners thin in other spots. Look around your league, entertain offers, and don’t be married to his phenomenal success of the past month.
Let’s make it an all-RB section this week … Leonard Fournette hurt his hamstring in Week 1 and sat out the following two games. Head coach Doug Marrone said he didn’t like to put anyone out there unless they feel 100 percent healthy, suggesting that is indeed how Fournette felt entering Sunday’s game. After a week with just one full practice and a lingering questionable tag, the former LSU star was trotted out in Week 4 only to reinjure the hammy. Was this a case of the player convincing the coach he’s ready? Did Marrone cave a week after scoring a pathetic six points in a divisional loss? Fournette, a player with a history of nagging injuries, should not have seen the field without being healthy enough to practice all week and be removed from the injury report. We likely won’t know where the blame lies, but this is quickly shaping up to be a lost season for the powerback. For owners whose rosters are built to weather his absence should inquire about his availability from a frustrated league mate. Specifically, Ingram would be an interesting bargaining chip if you face such a luxury. Otherwise, you may be surprised by how little it takes the land Fournette right now.