It was only natural that a few Dolphins would appear on the positive side of this list after their offense finally began to realize the breakout potential it had at the start of the season. Hopefully, the coaching change in Miami didn’t come too late for the fantasy community, which is rejoicing at the change in offensive mentality in South Beach.
By now, you’ve already guessed that Lamar Miller and Ryan Tannehill are among the players trending in the right direction. Who else joins them, and who is on the other side of that coin? Find out in the Week 7 Risers and Sliders.
Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
For Joe Philbin’s sake, let’s hope he didn’t catch the last two Dolphins games. If he deployed Miller the way Dan Campbell and Bill Lazor have since Philbin was shown the door, he might still have a job. Miller has been the best fantasy player over the last two weeks, racking up 288 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a pair of Miami victories.
This is the back Miller was supposed to be all season, but no back, no matter how talented, can do much when he’s getting just fewer than 12 touches per game, as Miller did through the season’s first four weeks. With Campbell at the helm, he's averaged 19 touches per game, and the only reason that isn’t higher is because the Dolphins didn’t need him in the second half of their blowout win over the Texans last week.
Miami’s schedule does toughen up a bit over the next few weeks, but Miller looks like the top-10 back so many people, myself included, expected him to be all year. Not only that, he has top-five upside for the remainder of the season.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
After running for 143 yards and a touchdown last week, Ingram is the No. 2 running back in standard-scoring leagues, trailing only Devonta Freeman. He falls to ninth on a points-per-game basis, but the fact remains that Ingram has established himself as a reliable RB1 in fantasy leagues this year.
Ingram has scored double-digit points in all but one game this year, and has a pair of top-10 weeks among his six top-20 weekly performances. Just as important, Ingram has had at least 16 touches in six of the Saints seven games this year. Not surprisingly, the only time he failed to reach double-digit points was the game in which he had his fewest touches of the season.
Ingram isn’t going to be the No. 1 overall pick, and he likely won’t finish the year in the top five, but he has turned himself into a viable RB1, regardless of your format. If someone comes knocking on your door asking for Ingram in return, understand the asset quality you have on your hands.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings
In three weeks, Diggs has gone from unknown to waiver pickup to must-start receiver. You can make that sort of progression when you’re a five-star talent who was beset by injury, and nothing else, in college. Now, Diggs is fully healthy and showing what he can do with Teddy Bridgewater in the Minnesota offense.
The three-game transformation represents Diggs’ entire career to this point. He has 19 catches for 324 yards and one touchdown, which translates to an average of 12.8 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Norv Turner coach-spoke some people out of starting Diggs last week, but he won’t be able to do that any longer. The entire fantasy community sees Diggs for what he is: an easy WR2 who could eventually become a WR1 down the line, so long as his body doesn’t betray him. Diggs has world-class speed and, as he showed last week (and as Rashead Mathis can attest), he’s already a great route runner.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
Miller isn’t the only one who benefitted from the coaching change in Miami. It should come as little surprise that Tannehill has looked like a completely different quarterback since the Dolphins have shown a commitment to, and ability to establish, the run game. Tannehill did struggle in the first half of Campbell’s first game at the helm. In the six quarters since, he has thrown for 399 yards and six touchdowns. The damage could be even greater if the Dolphins weren’t coasting in the second half of their win over the Texans last week.
Tannehill hasn’t suddenly turned into a locked-in starter in one-quarterback leagues, but he is safely back on the QB1 radar. You should have no qualms about starting him against the Patriots in what could be a high-scoring affair on Thursday.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
Three weeks into the season, Martin’s owners were rightfully worried about him. He had just 176 yards on 46 carries and more lost fumbles (one) than touchdowns (you guessed it). Since then, Martin has been among the best fantasy players in the league, regardless of position. In Tampa Bay’s last three games, Martin has 365 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 107 receiving yards, and four total touchdowns. That comes out to a whopping 23.73 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Martin hasn’t been rolling over cupcake defenses, either, posting those numbers against Carolina, Jacksonville and Washington. Those defenses ran 18th, sixth and 16th, respectively, in DVOA against the run, according to Football Outsiders.
The Buccaneers’ next three games are against the Falcons, Giants and Cowboys, which have allowed the third-most, 11th-most, and fourth-most points, respectively, to running backs. In other words, it’s going to remain fun to be a Martin owner.
Frank Gore, RB, Colts
Gore has yet to rush for 100 yards in a single game this year, and has had fewer than eight fantasy points in three of the Colts’ seven contests. He’s averaging 10.3 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, which checks in at 23rd among running backs.
The bigger problem, however, is the Indianapolis team as a whole. An inefficient offense and substandard defense are both kryptonite for running backs; put those two deficiencies together, and you have a dangerous cocktail that almost always goes down horribly for that team’s starting back. Gore has had fewer than 10 carries twice this season, the same number of times he has topped 15 totes.
Gore remains a capable lead back, but he doesn’t have the explosion he once did now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 and 3,000-plus touches into his career. He needs at least 18 touches per game to post numbers that make him a regular fantasy starter. Short of that, he’s no more than a low-end RB2.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Over the last two weeks, Manning has thrown for 359 yards, 5.79 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions. In a completely non-coincidental development, those are also the two games that Odell Beckham has played at less than 100% because of a balky hamstring. The two games before that, with Beckham playing at full capacity, Manning accumulated 653 yards, 7.34 YPA, six scores and two picks.
This is a pretty simple path to follow: If Beckham isn’t fully healthy, Manning’s fantasy value isn’t, either. He just doesn’t have enough on his own, and the rest of the supporting cast for the Giants isn’t strong enough, to make Manning a safe QB1 without Beckham at his best.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Despite playing with Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, Ryan is 22nd in points per game among quarterbacks. In a one-QB league, there’s no reason that you should trust him as your regular starter without at least considering other options. There’s no way that he should be cut outright, but at this point he’s a matchup play. Would I rather have him than, say, Blake Bortles or Ryan Fitzpatrick for the rest of the season? Yes, I would. But Bortles and Fitzpatrick could be predictably better in a given week than Ryan. If you own Ryan, make sure you have another option you can pair him with for the remainder of the year.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks
Graham has had 31 yards or fewer in four games this season. He had five such games from 2011 through '13. Just as damning is the fact that he has had four games with five or fewer targets. He had four games with five or fewer targets in the entire 2014 season, which was his worst since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. From 2011 through '13, he had a grand total of four games with so few targets.
Graham, quite simply, is not the same player, and he’s in a radically different offense from the one in New Orleans that made him a fantasy star. Forget about him challenging Rob Gronkowski for supremacy upon Tight End Mountain. I’d rather have Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, Travis Kelce, Martellus Bennett, Gary Barnidge, Antonio Gates and Jordan Reed for the rest of the season. That’s right, Graham is no better than the No. 9 tight end in fantasy leagues. The position is deeper than ever, and it has swallowed Graham whole.
Golden Tate, WR, Lions
Tate was never going to approach last year’s numbers so long as Calvin Johnson was upright for most of the season. Even knowing that at the outset, it was hard to see this downturn coming. It’s not just that Tate has 34 catches for 318 yards and one touchdown in seven games, and ranks 61st among receivers in fantasy points per game. It’s that the chunk plays that were once a staple for him have disappeared.
Tate is averaging just 9.4 yards per catch and 5.21 yards per target this season. Forget about him just being a Slider. Tate should have been among our Droppables after his two-catch, 14-yard performance against the Vikings last week. There’s just nothing here to excite a fantasy owner
BONUS Isaac Newton Special: Davante Adams rising, James Jones falling
Mankind has known for the better part of 400 years that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. Adams will make his return from an ankle injury in Week 8, and the action of him getting back on the field and rising back up the fantasy rest-of-season rankings results in the reaction of Jones falling back down to earth. Adams’ stat sheet will tell you that he has played three games this season, but realistically he has been out there for just one and change. Adams suffered his ankle injury against the Seahawks in Week 2, and then was able to gut it out for all of one play one week later against the Chiefs before limping off the field.
In the interim, Jones has turned into a reliable second receiver for Rodgers, especially in the red zone. The fact remains, however, that Jones’ touchdown rate is wildly unsustainable. He has six scores on just 21 catches and 29 targets. It doesn’t matter how good a receiver is in the red zone, he’s not going to be able to keep up that pace. Adams is a more complete receiver, and it’s just a matter of time before he’s getting more targets per game than Jones. In Green Bay’s last three games, Jones has a total of 14 targets. Don’t be surprised if that rate comes down even more with Adams back on the field.
Photos: Chris Trotman/Getty Images (Miller), Gregory Shamus/Getty Images (Diggs), Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Gore), Ben Margot/AP (Graham)