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:
1. Todd Gurley left guard to ARZ 16 for 52 yards.
2. Nick Foles pass deep right to Tavon Austin to ARZ 18 for 47 yards.
3. Todd Gurley left end to ARZ 8 for 30 yards.
4. Todd Gurley up the middle to ARZ 35 for 23 yards.
5. Todd Gurley up the middle to ARZ 36 for 20 yards.
There’s a pretty common thread there, and it’s the rookie out of Georgia. Now that Gurley has arrived, he will be an 18-plus-touch-per-game back for the rest of the season. He’s going to turn that into low-end RB1 production. Consider him a top-25 player, regardless of position, for the rest of the season.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Through four games, Dalton is second in total points at the quarterback position (trailing Aaron Rodgers) and third in points per game (behind Tom Brady and Rodgers). He’s averaging 23 points per game. As a comparison, Andrew Luck averaged 22.9 points per game last season. Looking for consistency? His weekly finish at quarterback has been ninth, 13th, second and 10th. He has topped 300 yards twice, has a pair of three-touchdown games, is getting 10.23 yards per attempt and has thrown just one interception. No matter how you look at it, Dalton has become a rock-solid QB1 this season. With a steady offensive line and a cache of weapons that would make nearly every quarterback in the league jealous, Dalton isn’t going away.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jets
The one under-the-radar stat that portended an Ivory breakout more than any other was missed tackles. The first-time starter broke 52 tackles in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. That was the fourth most in the NFL, despite the fact that he had just 198 carries. Ivory returned in Week 5 from a quad injury and showed the Dolphins just how hard it is to take him down. A ridiculous 110 of his 166 yards came after contact in the Jets’ win over Miami. This wasn’t the case of the Dolphins being soft, either. It was simply Ivory being too much for the first guy to get down. That’s the stuff RB1s are made of, and so long as Ivory stays healthy, that’s exactly what he’s going to be this year.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Broncos
I typically try to keep players who appear in the waiver wire column out of that same week’s Risers and Sliders, but Hillman’s ownership rate heading into Week 4 pegged him as a player who was already owned in most competitive or deeper leagues. That makes him a wholly appropriate riser, especially when you consider what he has done, and what C.J. Anderson hasn’t, through the first four weeks of the season. Anderson has played more snaps and received four more carries, but Hillman has outgained him on the ground, 191–117. After playing just 22% of the snaps in Week 1, Hillman has played at least 37% of them in all three games since and played a season-high 44% of Denver’s snaps last week. He was the only player to show burst in the backfield, breaking loose for a 72-yard touchdown run. After the game, Gary Kubiak said the duo would continue to split carries. That’s good news for Hillman, who was nothing more than a change-of-pace guy entering the season, and terrible news for Anderson.
Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
We need to take anything said by a member of the Jones family with a grain of salt. Still, the fact that members of the Dallas front office are willing to suggest that Bryant could be back after the Week 6 bye does jibe with the team’s unwillingness to place Bryant on the IR-designated-to-return list. That roster move would have had him out until at least Week 10 and is pretty much a no-brainer if you are certain a player is going to be out that long. The Cowboys illustrated that they know this, given that they placed Tony Romo on that list one week later. There’s a chance that Bryant is back soon, and that makes him an intriguing trade target for a fantasy owner who is sitting at 4–0 or 3–1. If that describes you, put in a call to the Bryant owner in your league today.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints
A Brandin Cooks play, in one act.
An East Coast-based Cooks owner wakes up on Monday morning after going to sleep early and missing most of the Saints–Cowboys Sunday night game. He grabs a coffee and his phone.
“Oh, hey, Drew Brees threw for 359 yards last night, and the Saints scored 26 points. Finally, my man Cooks is off the schneid.”
The Cooks owner scrolls down to the receiving portion of the box score. He sees that Cooks had four catches for 25 yards. His phone is no more.
Cooks now has 20 catches on 31 targets for 215 yards this season. He has yet to visit the end zone. This was my concern with him all summer, and it's exactly why I would tell anyone who would listen that he was being significantly over-drafted. Cooks caught 53 of his 70 targets for 550 yards and three scores last year. We’re talking barely more than 10 yards per catch, and less than eight yards per target, and he’s suddenly worth drafting as a WR1? This year, he’s at that same 10ish yards per catch number, but is now south of seven yards per target. This is a WR3 and nothing more.
John Brown, WR, Cardinals
Brown was another trendy receiver heading into the 2015 season on the belief that he’d be Carson Palmer’s primary deep threat. That simply has not come to pass in the first month of the season. Brown has 19 receptions on the season, and exactly two of them have gone for more than 20 yards. Neither of those were longer than 27 yards. As a rookie, Brown averaged 14.5 yards per catch and had 11 receptions for 20 or more yards on just 48 total grabs. Just because that hasn’t been part of his game this year doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, but at this point fantasy owners shouldn’t be thinking of him as anything more than a mid-tier WR3. He’ll have a meaningful fantasy role over the next couple months with byes now a part of our lives, but there’s no way to sugarcoat his disappointing start to 2015.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
When DeAngelo Williams left Carolina for Pittsburgh, Stewart was supposed to be the one who benefited from a fantasy perspective. I don’t think any of us would have thought that Stewart would do more in his two games as Pittsburgh’s starter with Le’Veon Bell suspended than Williams did in the first month, but that has come to fruition. Stewart has just 220 yards on 59 carries and has yet to visit the end zone this season. He has had fewer than four yards per carry in three of Carolina’s four games and has been a total non-factor in the passing game.
What’s truly alarming here is that the Panthers, who aren’t exactly stocked with weapons, are doing just fine without any contributions from Stewart. Life is also about to get a whole lot harder for him. Stewart has seen the Jaguars, Texans, Saints and Buccaneers, which aren’t exactly run-stuffing defenses. The Panthers are off this week, and their two games following the bye are with the Seahawks and Eagles, both of which rank in the top five in terms of stingiest fantasy defenses for running backs.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
Everyone’s stock in Miami rose just a bit when the team showed Joe Philbin the door. That offense didn’t just lack an identity—it seemed like it wasn’t even trying to find one. Still, Tannehill has been complicit in the team’s disastrous start, completing just 56.7% of his passes for 6.32 YPA and seven touchdowns against five interceptions. Most of the damage he has done to defenses has come in garbage time after he inflicted irreconcilable damage on his own team. There remains a lot of talent on this offense, Tannehill included, and better days are ahead. Having said that, Tannehill is back in the QB2 bin until further notice.
Karlos Williams, RB, Bills
Williams became the darling of the fantasy community last week, partially on the strength of his first three weeks, but largely because of LeSean McCoy’s hamstring injury. With the starter looking at a three- or four-week absence, it followed that the rookie Williams, who had 186 yards and three touchdowns on just 24 carries heading into last week’s meeting with the Giants, would step into the void and take advantage. He did, indeed, take over as the starter in Week 4, but he fell short of expectations and suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter. Now his status is in jeopardy for Buffalo’s Week 5 game with the Titans, a team that’s allowing 4.5 yards per carry to running backs. He might have just two weeks as the starter before McCoy returns, likely after the team’s Week 8 bye.
Photos: TK/Getty Images (Gurley), TK/AP (Ivory), TK/Getty Image (Cooks), TK/Getty Image (Stewart)