Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I offer up players that are looking better or worse than usual in Week 4, as well as those that have caused me to hit the panic button after a rough start to the ’17 season.
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5 Players I’m Pushing the Panic Button on
Amari Cooper, OAK, WR – People love the idea of Cooper, the obvious talent leading many to assume greatness is right around the corner. But we are now three weeks into his third season, and he remains maddeningly inconsistent and in Michael Crabtree’s rear-view mirror when it comes to fantasy production – Crabtree has outgunned him in fantasy each of the past two seasons, and is out in front again this season. Cooper and Derek Carr remain oil and water near pay dirt – Cooper has one catch (for a TD) in five attempts from 10 yards or in this season. Last season he was 0-for-7, making him 1-for-12 on ‘10-and-In’ passes since the start of ’16. By contrast, Crabtree is 2-for-2 this season from 10-and-In, 8-for-8 last season, making him 6-for-10 since the start of ’16. Oh, and guess who is leading receivers in drops this year? Yep, that’s right, Cooper paces the group with six drops, three more than anyone else in the league. Cooper is a legit talent, and just like each of the past two seasons, I expect to see some big games from him over the remainder of the year. But he simply doesn’t deserve the elite status yet that so many have already bestowed upon him. Just be sure he’s on your bench this week at Denver.
Cam Newton, CAR, QB – Cam certainly has name brand appeal, which will keep his Percentage Owned numbers higher than they should be. With games against New Orleans and San Francisco in the first three weeks, Newton hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of defenses, yet he’s managed just 188.7 passing YPG and a 2:4 TD-to-INT ratio – he’s currently 24th among QBs in fantasy points. He did have a rushing touchdown against the Saints last week to help salvage some value, but Carolina is looking to remove Newton from harm’s way more often than in the past, which means curbing his exposure in the running game. Relying on Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder in the passing game is an iffy proposition right now. If he can’t take advantage of New Orleans at home, can you really get excited about him facing the Patriots’ pass defense, which has been a bit more generous than even the Saints? I’m not playing the matchup game anymore with Cam – he’s out of my top 15 QBs this week, and for the rest of the season.
Ameer Abdullah, DET, RB – As good as the Lions have looked this season, their ability to run the ball with success consistently just hasn’t been part of the equation. Abdullah has just two touchdowns in his past 18 games. He’s expected to be usurped at the goal line going forward by either Dwayne Washington or Zach Zenner. He’s second in the backfield passing game hierarchy behind Theo Riddick. So it really comes down to him being a strong yardage compiler, and that’s just not the case – he’s averaging just 54.3 rushing YPG and 71 YFS per game – and Abdullah has just one game in his career in which he posted at least 100 total yards (Week 1 of ’16). Considering his rest of season schedule is ranked as the third-toughest for a fantasy RB, I’d be looking to see if someone is willing to give you something in the neighborhood of his draft value for him.
Martellus Bennett, GB, TE – It’s disheartening that Bennett has yet to see a target in the red zone. In fact, he has played 27 red zone snaps, thus far, same as fellow TE teammates Richard Rodgers and Lance Kendrick. Among them, Kendrick is the only TE to be targeted in the red zone to this point (three targets). The past two games, Green Bay has seen receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb lose time to injury (with Cobb sitting out Week 3 entirely), yet Bennett has failed to capitalize for fantasy purposes, turning a combined 15 targets in these two games into just eight catches for 59 yards and, of course, no touchdowns. I, for one, thought Bennett would be pushing for his most productive fantasy campaign to date in this offense. I’ve already lost faith in that idea.
Adrian Peterson, NO, RB – Every Peterson touch is a waste of the talents of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. It’s not that I think Peterson no longer has any business in this league, it’s just that Ingram and Kamara look so much better suited to the Saints’ environment. I appreciate what Peterson was – a generational backfield talent – and I think he still has enough left in the tank to be serviceable in the right situation – like Arizona, for example. He just looks like a fish out of water in New Orleans. If I wanted an ex-generational talent getting capped at 10 touches a week, give me Jamaal Charles instead.
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5 Players I’m Still Exercising Patience with
Isaiah Crowell, CLE, RB – Duke Johnson has been impressive so far this season, but any narrative that says he’s a serious threat to Crowell’s workload is off base. Johnson has a passing game role, but he’s handled just six carries all season. Crowell is top 20 in touches at the RB position, and you don’t want to dismiss that kind of workload after just three weeks of the season, especially as he was a top 15 fantasy RB in this same lousy situation in ’16. Crowell’s gathered some lemons early on, but that should start producing some lemonade before long.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR, RB – Stewart hasn’t been terrible for fantasy purposes, ranking 26th at his position in fantasy points through three weeks. But I think he’s in line for much better production over the course of the rest of the season. He showed strong at the goal line last season with nine TD carries from inside the five-yard line, good for third best in the league. That role remains intact. He’s also just one carry per game off his ’16 workload pace despite rookie Christian McCaffrey having played 51 more snaps than J-Stew to this point. With a schedule that ranks among the top 10 easiest at the RB position the rest of the season, Stewart is still in position to finish inside the RB top 20 in per-game fantasy production, like he did last season.
Terrelle Pryor, WAS, WR – That’s right, I’m not giving up on TP. The Redskins have yet to find a rhythm in the passing game, but facing the fourth-easiest fantasy WR schedule certainly will help Pryor’s cause. And perhaps QB Kirk Cousins’ big game last week will give him and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh the confidence to air it out a bit more going forward. Last season, Cousins was third in pass attempts of at least 20 yards. This season, he ranks third from the bottom. Pryor was 15th in yardage gained on passes of 20-plus yards last season (and was targeted on 32 ’deep balls’), but he has yet to see a deep target this season. Eventually the Redskins will figure out how to properly employ TP, and I will be waiting patiently until they do.
Hunter Henry, LAC, TE – You can’t put up two goose eggs in the first three weeks and be someone to be relied upon as a starter. Sure, he has to be benched until signs of consistency emerge. But I still like Henry for the long haul, and I’ve avoided cutting him loose in a couple leagues because he’s a special talent. And, he’s got, on paper, the easiest remaining schedule among fantasy tight ends. At 0-3, the Chargers are close to having enough nails in their coffin to seal their postseason fate, and once they reach that point, they really don’t have a good reason not to completely pass the torch from Antonio Gates to Henry.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR, WR – I’m bailing on Cam Newton, but not his go-to WR. Benjamin hurt his knee in Week 3, contributing to a disappointing 2-for-8 line. But the injury turned out to be minor and, while he may sit in Week 4, that’s probably the worst case scenario. Benjamin came to camp in great shape this summer, he’s in a clear alpha dog position in Carolina’s passing game now that TE Greg Olsen has been lost for the season and his rest of season schedule ranks as the easiest among fantasy wideouts. I’d be exploring buy-low opportunities.
5 Widely-available Players Looking Especially Good for Week 4
Deshaun Watson, HOU, QB – Watson leads all QBs in average time to throw (3.27 seconds per PFF), and that’s not because of great protection, but rather due to his legs and ability to maneuver out of harm’s way. It’s helped him in the running game, where his 124 rushing yards leads all signal callers. And it’s helped him pick up extra yardage through the air that less mobile quarterbacks would not have been able to get into position to make happen. This week he gets a nice matchup at home against a Tennessee defense that has recorded just five sacks (fourth-fewest in the NFL) and has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the QB position. Owners of Derek Carr (@ DEN) or Jameis Winston (vs. NYG) might want to consider a Watson plug-n-play this week.
Wendell Smallwood, PHI, RB – Darren Sproles (broken arm, torn ACL) was lost for the season in Week 3 against the Giants, with Smallwood stepping up with 12 carries for 71 yards, and a backfield-high 43 snaps, in Sproles’ absence. Eagles OC Frank Reich has confirmed that Smallwood’s role going forward will increase. The likelihood is that he’ll split carries with LeGarrette Blount (but obviously not the goal line ones) while also increasing his participation in passing downs (he showed good hands at West Virginia). Facing a Chargers’ defense that is allowing a robust 5.3 yards per carry to the RB position, Smallwood’s elevated role comes at the perfect time. Don’t be afraid to move him straight from the waiver wire to your starting lineup this week.
Kenny Stills, MIA, WR – By now, most fantasy owners are conditioned to targeting the New Orleans defense. Be sure you carry out that exercise to the fullest extent, which means not just getting amped about Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry, but Stills, too. The Saints have allowed 19 pass plays of 20-plus yards this season, second-most behind the 20 allowed by the Colts. Stills’ skill-set is conducive to the big play, and there’s a really good chance for him to deliver one or two of those this week.
Chris Johnson, ARI, RB – Johnson picked up just 17 yards on 12 carries against Dallas on Monday night as the Cardinals fell behind to the Cowboys and sent Johnson to the sidelines for the final quarter of the game in favor of passing-down back Andre Ellington. That is less likely to be the case this week as Johnson faces a San Francisco team that has led on the scoreboard for just 4.5 minutes this season (in the fourth quarter against Seattle in Week 2). As the more traditional featured back in this offense, Johnson should push for upwards of 20 touches against a Niners’ defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the RB position. Johnson has definite flex appeal this week.
Cameron Brate, TB, TE – While receivers have found little success against the Giants’ talented secondary, the tight end position has been a different story. In each of the first three weeks, the Giants have allowed 10-plus fantasy points to a tight end – Jason Witten, Eric Ebron and Zach Ertz. In total, the Giants have allowed 23 catches to tight ends on 28 targets (a whopping 82% completion rate). Brate caught all four of his targets for 33 yards and a TD last week, finishing as the No. 10 fantasy TE for Week 3. He’s a good bet to land in the top 10 again this week.
5 Players With Especially Bleak Outlooks for Week 4
Jameis Winston, TB, QB – Winston hasn’t gotten out to a great start this season, and this doesn’t shape up as a good week for him to find his groove. The Giants have faced three QBs that currently rank among the top 8 fantasy signal callers for the season (Dak Prescott, Matt Stafford and Carson Wentz). None of those QBs finished inside the top 12 the week they faced the Giants, and only Prescott (No. 14) finished inside the top 20. The Giants have allowed just five pass plays of 20-plus yards, and none of 40-plus yards. I still think Winston will be fine in the long run, but avoid him this week, if you can.
Marshawn Lynch, OAK, RB – It’s pretty hard to start Lynch this week against a Denver defense that has held Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy to a combined 85 rushing yards and zero rushing TDs on 41 carries (2.1 YPC). Running backs have had some success in the passing game against the Broncos, but that’s not Lynch’s department.
Kirk Cousins, WAS, QB – Kansas City has already held Tom Brady and Philip Rivers outside the top 20 fantasy QBs this season. Don’t be surprised if it does the same to Cousins at home this week. The Chiefs, in recent seasons, have been very good at limiting production from the tight end and running back positions in the passing game. Those are preferred target options for Cousins, who has especially leaned on passing-down RB specialist Chris Thompson this season. Cousins had his best performance of the season last week, but there’s a good chance he’ll take a step back from that on Sunday.
Jeremy Maclin, BAL, WR – Maclin faces a Pittsburgh defense that has been better at limiting fantasy WR production through three weeks than any other NFL team. The Steelers have allowed just one WR touchdown (Corey Coleman in Week 1), and haven’t allowed more than 53 yards to any receiver (also Coleman). While Maclin has delivered top 40 fantasy WR production to this point, the foundation has been his two touchdowns. He’s 57th among WRs with 14 total targets, and he drops to 68th at the position with just seven total catches. That’s not the level of usage you want to back this week given the matchup.
Martavis Bryant, PIT, WR – We wouldn’t ever consider benching Antonio Brown in a tough matchup, but his teammate Bryant is a different story. The Steelers will travel to Baltimore in Week 4 to face a Ravens’ secondary that has allowed just 46 percent of passes intended for receivers to be completed. Their top two corners (Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith) rank in the top three in QB Rating allowed to their intended targets, while nickel corner Lardarius Webb is a solid 15th in that category. Bryant has delivered dud efforts in two road games already this season, and we know how QB Ben Roethlisberger has struggled on the road in recent years, so this seems like a good week to avoid Bryant’s services.
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