Fair warning, this is going to be a negative week. In the 100-meter sprint that is an NFL season, four weeks is enough time to start evaluating, harshly if necessary, the “stars” drafted early in the first round. Several of those players have been found wanting early in this season, and for a few, it does not look likely to turn around any time soon.
First, though, let’s at least look at some players that are exceeding expectations early on.
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Manning is an obvious stock-up candidate after his 300-yard, five-total-touchdown game against Washington Thursday night, but his rising value goes farther than one performance. Eli has been solid this season outside of the Week 1 debacle against Detroit. Over the last three weeks, Eli has completed 70.7 percent of his throws, and has thrown eight touchdowns against only three interceptions.
The difference between the Eli from Week 1 and the Eli we have seen the last several weeks is very simple; time. Manning has been an exceptional quarterback when given protection throughout his career, and his protection has been considerably better the last three weeks. Eli was hit nine times by the Lions in Week 1. He has been hit four times total in the three weeks since.
Over the next three weeks Eli gets the Falcons, Eagles and Cowboys. All three teams struggle to get to the quarterback, and all three are vulnerable in the secondary. With the Giants’ offense finally rounding into form, Manning will be on the QB1 streaming radar throughout the bye weeks.
Manning’s success has also led to good opportunities for Rueben Randle. Randle has 27 targets over the last three weeks, and has steadily been growing into his role as the No. 2 receiver in New York. Even with rookie Odell Beckham’s return on the horizon, Randle will continue to see a lot of looks in the Giants’ offense, and those looks should turn into a least some fantasy points. He will be a high-upside WR3 through the byes.
Chris Johnson made some noise about his workload last week, claiming his efficiency would improve if he saw more of the ball. After Chris Ivory dominated touches Week 4, chances are we may be hearing more from Johnson again this week.
Ivory out-touched Johnson 19-to-8 and out-snapped him 39-19 against the Lions Week 4, and it should have been worse. Ivory was dominant on the first drive of the game, racking up 51 yards on only nine carries and almost single handedly leading the team down the field for a score. Despite the impressive early work, the Jets inexplicably gave Ivory only eight more carries the rest of the game.
For his part, Ivory did drop a few passes that would have given him more touches, but there was only one message the Jets’ coaching staff could take away from the game. If they want to move the ball, they need to get Ivory more involved. That may lead to an eventual injury for the historically brittle Ivory, but the Jets need someone to spark their offense. Ivory is that player, and should be given somewhere around 20 touches a game as long as he is healthy.
Long a favorite of DraftNiks, myself included, Jerick McKinnon burst into the national consciousness with an 18-carry, 135-yard performance against the Falcons on Sunday. The highlight of the day came when McKinnon burst through a gaping hole for a 55-yard run in the second quarter. All of McKinnon’s physical gifts were on full display on that run, and it is difficult to come away with any other conclusion than “wow” when McKinnon has the ball in his hands.
I still have some concerns for McKinnon. He had two passes bounce off his hands, and was only on the field for nine passing downs compared to 22 for Matt Asiata. He will need to prove himself as a pass protector and catcher to earn a bigger role.
He also had huge holes to run through all day against the Falcons. That will not be the case against better defenses, and I worry the tendency he showed against Atlanta to always look for the big play could get him in trouble against a competent defense.
The workload outweighs all the negatives, though. If McKinnon continues to get 15-plus touches a game, his physical tools will almost ensure he is a usable fantasy asset. He needs to be owned in every league, and is a high-upside play against the Packers on Thursday night.
Stash and See
These players may not be worthy of a start Week 5, but certainly are worthy of a roster spot.
Darrin Reaves may be the Panthers’ starting running back against the Bears. DeAngelo Williams (ankle), Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Mike Tolbert (leg) are all expected to miss. … Austin Seferian-Jenkins played all 71 of the Bucs offensive snaps, and saw seven targets. With Mike Evans (hamstring) out for the next couple weeks, ASJ could become a focal point of the offense. … Branden Oliver saw 13 touches on 19 snaps against the Jaguars. With Donald Brown struggling, that workload could stick around. … Eric Ebron caught his first career touchdown, and was more involved with Joseph Fauria (knee) out of the lineup. … Jace Amaro came on strong late against the Lions with four fourth-quarter catches. He has at least four targets in three of the first four games. … Andre Holmes did most his damage in garbage time, but easily led the Raiders with 12 targets. Denarius Moore was a healthy scratch for Oakland.
One terrible performance against a decent Washington rush defense could be excused, but after two straight sub-2.0 YPC days, it is time to start questioning if McCoy can still be a high-end fantasy running back.
To be clear, the problem is not really McCoy. He still looks like the back that gained over 2000 total yards last season. The offensive line in front of him, however, is nowhere close the unit from a season ago. Lane Johnson has missed the first four games due to suspension, Jason Kelce is set to miss at least six weeks with a sports hernia and Evan Mathis is not eligible to return until Week 10 after being placed on injured reserve/designated to return with a sprained knee. Without those three, the offensive line is simply not very good.
Johnson’s return this week should give the offensive line a boost, but it will not solve the problem. McCoy deserves to be trusted, especially against a weak Rams run defense. That trust is quickly waning, though, and may not survive another putrid performance Week 5.
After Cordarrelle Patterson exploded for yet another big play against the Rams Week 1, I cautioned that some of the underlying numbers of that performance were still concerning. He only had five targets, and only averaged 5.2 yards per target. That concern was met with the usual blend of thoughtful dissent and hilarious insults. For the person interested, yes I do like Zebra Cakes.
Three weeks later, I have been proven right. While the big plays have dried up, Patterson has not improved enough as a pass catcher to be a consistent fantasy contributor. He is on pace for only 84 targets, and does not have more than four catches in any game this season. Two players in the last five years managed to finish in the top 20 wide receivers with fewer than 90 targets. The chance Patterson is the third is slim.
Of course, Patterson could start getting more looks, but he will have to start getting open. Many lamented the fact that Jarius Wright saw ten targets to Patterson’s four against the Falcons, but the reality is Wright was open and Patterson was not. As long as that continues, Patterson will struggle to find targets.
Patterson will have big weeks again this season. One may even be on Thursday night against the Packers. The problem is Patterson still has not addressed the problems that limit him as a receiver, and no player will be able to have 60-plus yard scoring plays on a weekly basis. He will stay a high-upside WR3 because of that blow-up potential, but I do not see him being a reliable option any time soon.
The one solace Eddie Lacy owners could take amid his horrendous start to the season was the schedule. He played three of the toughest rush defenses in the league the first three weeks of the season, and understandably struggled.
The Bears were supposed to be his saving grace. Though their rush defense was improved, it was still one of the worst in the league, and Lacy was sure to eat them up. 17 carries for 48 yards later, it is time to start worrying.
Despite the bad game, there is not much to do about Lacy. His workload still seems secure, and he will get touchdowns in the Packers’ high-powered offense. On top of that, his trade value is essentially zero right now. Lacy turning it around is a better bet than whatever scrub he could get in a trade becoming a fantasy star. Ride it out, and hope Lacy takes advantage of another solid matchup against the Vikings this week.
Cam Newton the passer has actually been pretty good this season. His 63.8 percent completion percentage is the highest of his career, his 7.7 yards per attempt is right at his career average and his three-game pace would put him right around 3,900 passing yards in a full season. In short, Cam Newton the passer is exactly the same player we have seen throughout his career.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Cam the runner. Whether it is because of his ribs or his ankle, Cam has only eight rushes through three games this season and zero touchdowns on the ground. He had at least 110 rushing attempts in his three previous seasons in the NFL, and has never finished with fewer than six rushing scores.
It seems unlikely Newton reaches either of those plateaus this season. Without that rushing threat, Newton is hard to trust as anything more than a matchup play in a quarterback by committee. He is start-able against the Bears Week 5, but I do not feel great about it.
I did not expect Toby Gerhart to be an effective running back for Jacksonville, but I at least thought he would get a big enough workload to be a dependable RB2. I was right about how effective he would be, but may have been wrong about the work.
Gerhart was out-touched by Denard Robinson 12-to-11 against the Chargers Week 4, and was out-snapped 36-to-21. Robinson has not looked better than Gerhart, but it appears the Jaguars are willing to give him a shot to spark the running game.
Gerhart will still get the goal-line looks, but the Jaguars’ offense will be too inconsistent to predict when those touchdowns will come. He is a shaky FLEX play at best against the Steelers this week.
Donald Brown was not good against the Bills, but his 36 touches gave me hope that his workload would see him through in an easy matchup against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, his workload dried up Week 4. He only saw 14 touches, and was terrible again.
Brown was never going to be a fantasy starter against the Jets, but I thought he could be a decent play against the Raiders. That no longer looks to be the case. The Chargers need Ryan Mathews back as soon as possible.
These players are unlikely to make any noise this season. They are not must drops, but can be replaced without worry.
Maurice Jones-Drew gained one yard on two carries against the Dolphins. … Aaron Dobson was a healthy scratch for the second-straight game. … Johnny Manziel is nowhere close to taking over the starting job in Cleveland. … Josh McCown may need surgery on his thumb, and likely will not regain the starting job in Tampa even if he comes back healthy. … Lance Dunbar has two total touches the last two weeks. … Danny Amendola had zero targets in a game the Patriots lost by 27 points.
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