As a rule, any time a running back breaks a two-year drought of backs being selected in the first round of the draft, even though he was coming off a devastating knee injury, and then runs for nearly 150 yards in just his second-ever NFL game, that guy is going to be among the players trending upward in Risers and Sliders. The Rams' Todd Gurley, however, was not alone in fundamentally altering his fantasy value for the better in Week 4. At the same time, some players who have done nothing but disappoint this season have to be downgraded, even in cases where they’ve already been pushed down the rest-of-season rankings.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Let’s start this off with the guy whose value changed the most as a result of the Week 4 action. Gurley got his first significant amount of playing time in Sunday's game against Arizona and immediately showed why the Rams took him with the 10th pick in the draft, even though he was less than six months removed from an ACL tear. Gurely racked up 146 yards on 19 carries and iced the Rams’ impressive win over the previously undefeated Cardinals. It wasn’t just that he picked up 146 yards, though. It was the way he did it. Here were the Rams’ five longest plays from scrimmage last week:
Now that bye weeks have arrived, fantasy owners need to be a little more pragmatic when making their waiver claims. During the first few rounds of waiver adds, everyone is typically looking for the player who can turn into this year’s Justin Forsett. That player, more often than not, has already emerged by the time we’re transitioning to Week 5 from Week 4. Fantasy owners should be looking for depth on the waiver wire at this point of the season. Four teams are on bye this week (the Dolphins, Jets, Panthers and Vikings), and that will be the minimum number of teams on bye every week through Week 11. The only way you survive that is by having enough depth, and the easiest way to add depth is to make the right moves on the waiver wire.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
Cutler returned after missing one full game, and most of another, and played quite well in the Bears’ win over the Raiders. He did throw one bad interception, but threw for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns, hooking up with Martellus Bennett and Eddie Royal for his scores. He did this against a soft Oakland defense, but he was without Alshon Jeffery, so we can call that a wash. Cutler looks like a low-end QB1 in Week 5 with the Bears visiting the Chiefs. They’ve allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks, surrendering a league-high 11 passing touchdowns and 8.24 yards per attempt. If you’re a Cam Newton owner who needs a one-week replacement, Cutler can be your guy.
Another week, another three-touchdown game for Devonta Freeman, and another necessary conversation around the second-year back out of Florida State. Regardless of the caliber of defense he has seen the last two weeks, you have to give him a ton of credit. Tevin Coleman had clearly asserted himself as the team’s starting back, relegating Freeman to a change-of-pace and third-down role. When the rookie Colean suffered his rib injury, Freeman had one more opportunity to show he could be the starter, and he has taken advantage. Now his owners have to try to read the minds of Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan. Has Freeman earned himself a larger role in the offense upon Coleman’s return? Or will the Indiana product remain the primary back?
The best thing Freeman has going right now, other than his performance, is health. Coleman could return to the field next week when Atlanta hosts Washington, but that is no guarantee. The Falcons really don’t lean on any backs other than the two youngsters, and Freeman has enjoyed having the backfield largely to himself over the last few weeks. If that is again the case in Week 5, Freeman could put together another good game, and essentially force his way into the lineup, even when Coleman is back in the fold. Still, that could be a risky bet, and no matter what we’re looking at some sort of timeshare in Atlanta. That makes now the best time to circulate Freeman’s name in trade discussions. His value isn’t going to get any higher than it is right now, and while everyone in your league will be able to see this as a sell-high situation, he still should be attractive, especially for an RB-needy owner.
With that, let’s get to the rest of what stood out this week in the Week 4 Sunday Superlatives.
Julio Jones vs. Houston
At this rate, Julio’s 2015 reception total will eventually surpass the number of Waffle House franchises in the Atlanta metropolitan area. (But unlike Waffle House hash browns, Julio can’t be covered or smothered.) Jones has 34 catches, the highest three-game total to open a season in NFL history, and 440 receiving yards, putting him on pace for 2,347 (which would break Calvin Johnson’s single-season yardage record of 1,964 from 2012).
Matt Ryan targeted Jones 20 times against the Cowboys on Sunday, and Julio finished with 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons host the Texans this week, and Houston has a good pair of veteran cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. But Joseph and Jackson are both under six feet tall and will have a hard time matching up physically with the 6'3" Jones. At this point, Houston’s best chance of slowing down Julio is having J.J. Watt and the rest of the Texans’ pass rushers put Ryan under duress.
For the second straight week, a significant injury at the quarterback position will send some in the fantasy community scrambling to the waiver wire. This week, it’s Ben Roethlisberger’s knee that has his owners desperate for help. More likely than not, those of you in one-quarterback leagues who just lost Roethlisberger for the next four-to-six weeks will want to fill that void on the wire. If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that you can play the matchup game at quarterback. You’re better off giving up the last player on your roster for a good waiver QB, rather than using a real asset to trade for one.
Who might that quarterback be? One particular option, who has been extremely productive over the last two weeks, jumps off the page for the Week 4 Waiver Wire.
Week 3 was as exciting as Week 2 was bizarre. The Colts, Falcons, Cardinals, Bills and Patriots all scored at least 35 points, led by the Patriots’ 51. Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco and Josh McCown (seriously) all had at least 340 yards and two touchdowns. Three different running backs scored three touchdowns, seven receivers made a pair of trips to the end zone, and we saw our first 200-receiving-yard performance of the year.
We recap the most important developments of the day in the Week 3 Sunday Superlatives.
The Premier Running Back Duel
Joseph Randle and Devonta Freeman were both in great spots for their Week 3 meeting, though for different reasons. With Brandon Weeden under center, it was likely that the Cowboys would heavily feature the run, limiting Weeden’s opportunities to make mistakes. An injury to Tevin Coleman opened the door for Freeman in what figured to be a high-scoring game. Below, I present the first six touchdowns scored in the contest.
There are genuine reasons to be worried about the offenses in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Indianapolis. They all entered the season with different ceilings, but each was expected to be a reliable source of fantasy production. Thanks to injuries and underwhelming performances, though, all have fallen far short of expectations through two weeks. Those offenses are all involved in this week's Risers and Sliders, and the uncertainty within one in particular has created an opportunity for a new fantasy star to emerge.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts
Through two games, Moncrief has been just about the only positive fantasy player for the Colts. He received a lot of attention after T.Y. Hilton’s knee injury, and even though Hilton is essentially at 100% now, Moncrief will remain a fixture of our fantasy lives. Why is that? Well, it appears the Texans knew something about Andre Johnson when they let him go this past offseason. Johnson looks like he has nothing left in the tank, a fact that has to be apparent to the Colts by now. Expect Moncrief to supplant Johnson as the No. 2 target in the offense as early as this week. The second-year player out of Ole Miss already has 13 catches for 168 yards and two scores, and didn’t play much in Week 1 until Hilton suffered his injury. We know that Moncrief is a legitimate weapon for Andrew Luck, and this team already has to be searching for answers after an 0–2 start no one predicted. Getting the ball to No. 10 is one of those answers. He has WR2 upside for the remainder of the season.