It’s time to take our weekly look around the NFL to see which players have the potential to set your roster on fire and which ones seem to be cooling down. I’ll try to avoid the obvious candidates for the players that are heating up, in addition to focusing in on higher profile players that could leave your team on ice this week. I will also be taking a look at their performance from the previous week, as well as what the matchup holds for them heading into Sunday.
Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
Matchup – Denver Broncos
Matty Ice is 100% without a doubt on fire this season. I’ll admit I was a bit down on him coming into this week due to his matchup against Carolina, but the Panthers simply could not stop Julio Jones and Matt Ryan. His performance on Sunday broke Atlanta’s franchise record, and his yardage combined with Julio’s were a first in the NFL. What’s most impressive is that despite leaning heavily on Julio, Ryan completed passes to nine different receivers and kept Carolina on their toes. The former Boston College standout completed nearly 76% of his passes on Sunday and has only thrown 2 interceptions to 11 touchdowns on the season. Ryan is averaging nearly 370 yards a game and almost 3 touchdowns. Granted, that average was boosted after his game on Sunday, but he’s been solid through all 5 games this season. The Falcons will have a tough matchup against a Broncos defense that held Tampa Bay to only 7 points on Sunday but may be rolling out rookie Paxton Lynch at quarterback. To make matters worse they’ll face a Seattle Seahawks team the week after that appears to finally be clicking, and we saw Atlanta completely break down around this time last season. I do have some apprehension with Matt Ryan considering the next two games, however, his schedule lightens up a bit until the bye week. It’ll be hard to sit Matty Ice moving forward regardless of the matchup.
Russel Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
If you listened to our podcast last week, then you already know our concern regarding Russell Wilson. We’re looking at a mobile quarterback that finds a lot of his success by using his legs to create space to pick up yard on the ground and move out of the pocket. If you know all that, then you’re also aware that Wilson has been dealing with ankle and MCL complications over the last few weeks. After Sunday’s performance those tweaks seem of little concern. Wilson completed 23 passes for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Jets in Sunday while losing 5 yards on the ground. Any concern regarding his ability to stand in the pocket and throw the football has suddenly become irrelevant. Everyone in Seattle has to be pretty relieved that the team has an early bye this season, because the Seahawks will have the week to give everyone a rest to heal up. Russell Wilson will have an advantageous matchup against the Falcons when he comes back, and I anticipate he’ll continue to impress as the season moves along.
Dak Prescott – Cowboys
Matchup – Cincinnati Bengals
When you think of quarterback efficiency a lot of players come to mind. I seriously doubt Dak Prescott is one of them, but the rookie out of Texas A&M has been a model of efficiency in the first four games of his short career. He’s averaging 253 yards a game and has yet to throw an interception. Prescott recorded his first multiple passing touchdown game as a pro and was solid while operating without Dez Bryant on the field. I’ve written several times about the idea that Prescott could become the starting Cowboys for the rest of the season, and he is making a pretty decent case for himself. The largest variable in that situation would be Jerry Jones and his infatuation with Tony Romo. It’s hard to imagine the Cowboys would make a change if the team was on a roll, but the Dallas ownership has started to feel very much like the last few years of Al Davis in Oakland. Prescott will face a tough Bengals defense in week 5, so I don’t know that I’m playing him immediately. However, he then faces a Green Bay team that was torched by Matt Stafford before their bye week. If you have a need for a quarterback and have some bench space, then I’d have no problem picking up Prescott as he’s only owned in 53% of ESPN leagues.
Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns
Matchup – New England
You probably wouldn’t have guessed that Isaiah Crowell would be tied for second most rushing yards behind LeGarrette Blount after four weeks into the season. Duke Johnson was the guy that many believed would possibly take a step forward this year, but Crowell is firmly entrenched as the Browns number one running back. He was averaging an impressive 6.1 yards per carry before adding another 112 yards on 15 carries against the Redskins on Sunday. While there is some concern that Crowell is bound to have some off weeks due to the game script the Browns will undoubtedly find themselves in, he still deserves to be inserted into your lineups. Cleveland faces a tough New England defense this week, so if Crowell can once again be productive I think he ventures into must start territory.
Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
Matchup – Indianapolis Colts
There were reports out of Chicago that Jordan Howard would be pushing Jeremy Langford for playing time even before the latter went down with an ankle injury. Howard was an immediate must add on waivers last week, and I hope you were able to snag him. One week is a small sample size, but the rookie out from Indiana looked very impressive in his first NFL start as he rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries and added another 21 yards on 3 catches. Langford will likely miss another few weeks, and Ka’Deem Carey should be a non-factor even when he’s healthy. I expect Howard to take over as the lead runner in the Bears backfield and not look back. The Bears have a couple of opportunistic matchups against the Colts and Jaguars over the next two weeks, so Howard will continue to be a strong play for the immediate future.
Matt Jones – Washington Redskins
Matchup – Baltimore Ravens
There were two opinions regarding Matt Jones before the season. Either you saw him as a potential breakout candidate or a total bust. It’s still too early to tell, but it appears that he has the potential to be a dominant running back in the NFL. He’s averaging a pretty impressive 4.5 yards per carry through the first four weeks of the season, so he’s certainly productive when he’s given the carries. The biggest obstacle for Jones moving forward will be whether or not the Redskins defense can improve down the road. They’ve given up 20 or more points in each game this season and are causing the offense to resort to the passing game in order to stay competitive. The Redskins will face a Baltimore team this week that hasn’t been particularly explosive to this point, so this should be another game where Jones has the opportunity to shine.
John Brown – Arizona Cardinals
Matchup – San Francisco 49ers
We’ve seen a lot of surprises in the NFL in just four short weeks, but the Cardinals stand out to me as one of the biggest. And not for any good reasons. Arizona was a trendy Super Bowl pick coming into this season, but they have not played anywhere near to the level we saw them at last year. However, one of the bright spots on the team over the last couple of weeks has been John Brown. After a slow start to the season, he has accumulated 16 catches on 27 targets and 214 yards over the last two weeks. When he’s healthy, Brown is one of the premier deep threats in the National Football League. From a fantasy perspective the sheer amount of targets he’s been seeing are extremely encouraging if you have him on your roster. One situation to monitor that will impact Brown will be how quickly Carson Palmer can recover from a concussion he suffered on Sunday. Interestingly enough, Brown may not take much of a step back if backup quarterback Drew Stanton gets the start as he has targeted the wide receiver often in the past. The Cardinals will face off next against a 49ers defense that has given up anywhere between 24 and 46 points over the last three weeks. Brown should be able to keep his hot streak alive.
Will Fuller – Houston Texans
Matchup – Minnesota Vikings
Fuller made an immediate impact to start the season after posting back to back 100 yard receiving games against the Bears and Chiefs before going relatively quiet game against the Patriots in week 3. He then had another solid outing on Sunday against the Titans bringing in 7 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, which officially makes Will Fuller the leading Houston wide receiver through the first quarter of the season ahead of DeAndre Hopkins. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s disappointing for Hopkins’ owners or why people that drafted Fuller are doing a happy dance right now. The rookie out of Notre Dame is now averaging nearly 5 catches for almost 81 yards per game and has 2 touchdowns on the season. DeAndre Hopkins will surely bounce back, but Fuller has proven to be a key piece of the Houston offense. The Texans will face two stout defenses in the Vikings and Broncos, but also face off against the Colts and Lions as well before their week 9 bye. There are at least two more weeks I’m rolling with Fuller in the immediate future.
Steve Smith Sr – Baltimore Ravens
Matchup – Washington Redskins
What can be said about Steve Smith that hasn’t already been touched on multiple occasions over the years? At 37 years old, he still has the speed, talent, and desire to be an effective receiver in the NFL, which is depressing to think about considering I’m only 29 and can hardly roll out of bed in the morning without a joint popping. Smith hauled in 8 catches on 11 targets for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders on Sunday and proved once again he is the go to receiver in the Baltimore offense. The veteran wide out is averaging 6 catches and over 9 targets for 70 yards per game so far this season. The fact that he has almost doubled the amount of targets over any other Baltimore receiver gives him a pretty solid floor on a weekly basis. The Ravens have an advantageous matchup this week against a Redskins defense that allowed Cleveland to score 20 points in addition to giving up at least 27 points in the other three games this season. I’d have no issues inserting Smith into my lineup this week if I own him.
Jimmy Graham – Seattle Seahawks
If you’ve been playing fantasy football for any extended period of time, then you’ll remember Graham’s glory days with the New Orleans Saints. His numbers were Gronk-like during those four seasons, but his production has been anything but that to this point with the Seahawks. However, Graham finally seems to be healthy and is clicking with Russell Wilson for what feels like the first time. The Miami star was able to pull in 6 catches on 8 targets for 133 yards on Sunday just one week after roasting the 49ers for a similar stat line. The Seahawks are off this week but face an Atlanta defense that is giving up 31 points per game in week 6. I believe Wilson and Graham continue to find success against a weak defense after a week to rest up.
Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Matchup – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Panthers are struggling through the first four games of this year after being just one season removed from playing in the Super Bowl. While it’s not fair to put the blame squarely on Cam’s shoulders, it’s a good place to start. Outside of a big game against an underwhelming 49ers defense Newton has had multiple turnovers in half the games, and threw for only 165 yards against the Falcons this week. To be fair, he suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game. However, he was turning in a poor showing up until that point in a game where both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones had historic performances. The Panthers defense is another part of the problem as they had given up at least 21 points or more in each game leading up to the 48 point explosion from the Falcons. Owners will want to watch Cam this week as he goes through concussion protocol and hope this team can turn it around in the weeks to come.
Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
Matchup – San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of disappointing surprises, the Arizona Cardinals don’t fall far behind the Panthers in that regard. A slew of people picked the Cardinals to make it to the Super Bowl this season. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but I’m not entirely confident that Arizona makes it there. In a situation that closely mimics the Panthers, we’re looking at a team that has underperformed from a defensive standpoint and has suffered subpar performances from the quarterback position. Palmer was solid the first two weeks but has averaged under 9 fantasy points over the last two weeks. He has arguably the best wide receiver core in the league and his accompanied by the leading scorer at the running back position in standard leagues. Why Palmer has been so flat is truly a head scratcher. To add insult to injury (literally), Carson Palmer suffered a concussion on Sunday and seems unlikely to play this week against San Francisco. If he does play then you have to like your chances at a big game. However, if the struggles continue it might be a serious cause for concern.
Eli Manning – New York Giants
Matchup – Green Bay Packers
I was actually going to write about Andy Dalton this week. I’ll send you over a snapshot of my outline if you want proof. However, I’m writing this in the 4th quarter of the Giants and Vikings game, but I feel confident enough that I won’t have to edit anything here. I included Peyton’s lesser half in this column a couple weeks ago, and I’m including him again in case you didn’t listen. I’ll start off by saying that if you own Manning go grab another quarterback off waivers. Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Alex Smith, and Brock Osweiler are all players that are owned in less than 35% of ESPN leagues that have similar or better fantasy totals as Manning over the last couple of weeks. I’ll be fair in stating that the Giants had a tough matchup against the Vikings on Monday night, and the Eli hopeful will point that out. However, Manning put up similar numbers against soft Saints and Redskins teams, so the slack here is getting tight. The Giants have too many offensive weapons in the passing game for Eli to perform at such a mediocre level. Again, if I’m an Eli Manning owner I’m certainly looking for other options.
Todd Gurley – LA Rams
Matchup – Buffalo Bills
Talk about your all time backfires…here we have Todd Gurley. Generally speaking, a consensus sure thing that was ready to literally carry fantasy owners to greatness. That most certainly has not been the case so far this season, and if I’m a Gurley owner I’m likely freaking out. It’s not like the Rams are neglecting the guy. He’s ranked 6th in the league in carries before you count the 19 attempts he saw against Arizona. What’s most concerning is what he’s been able to do with that sort of opportunity. Gurley is averaging 2.6 yards per carry this season and has been a non-factor in fantasy outside of a two touchdown game he had against a soft Buccaneers defense two weeks ago. The other aspect of Gurley’s situation I’m concerned about is the schedule he’ll face toward the end of the season. This very well may be the last chance you have to get some value out of Gurley while you still can.
CJ Anderson – Denver Broncos
Matchup – Atlanta Falcons
The only concerning aspect surrounding CJ Anderson to me is volume. It’s not the fact that he’s not seeing enough carries, because he’s ranked within the top ten at the running back position in terms of opportunities. What concern me is what he does with those carries as he’s only averaging 3.4 yards per carry through 4 games this season. There are plenty of running backs that have done more with less at the running back position this season. Furthermore, Anderson’s lack of involvement in the passing game adds to my belief that he is not a true three down back in the NFL. Rookie Devontae Booker is waiting in the wings. I’m not suggesting that you sit Anderson this week against a red hot Atlanta Falcons team. However, I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Anderson doesn’t put up a ton of points.
LeGarrette Blount – New England Patriots
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
Whelp, it was nice while it lasted. Tom Brady will make his triumphant return from his suspension due to the Deflate-Gate debacle, and I fear that Blount’s time at the top of the charts has come to an end. I’m not saying Blount will not factor into games from time to time. He’s still a valuable fantasy asset. However, I do not see him getting the huge amount of touches that he’s seen throughout the first 4 weeks while Brady has been out. The Patriots game plan has centered around Brady for as long as he has been under center, and I don’t see that philosophy changing now that the future Hall of Famer is back on the field. It’s completely obvious that New England was limited on offense with Jacoby Brissett leading the offense, and I’m expecting Brady to have a statement game after serving a suspension most viewed as too harsh for the crime. If I own Blount I’m likely going to look to trade him while his stock is high and pick up James White if he’s available.
DeAndre Hopkins – Houston Texans
Matchup – Minnesota Vikings
The hope here is that DeAndre Hopkins and Brock Osweiler can get on the same page. Nuke finished last season with over 1,500 yards receiving, which made his value skyrocket. Unfortunately, he’s been off to a slow start and is in pace to finish this season with less than 1,000 yards. That type of production is certainly not what people were anticipating when they drafted him in the first round of their draft. Through four games he has accumulated 227 yards with 113 of those coming in one game. Another change in the Texans offense that I believe is negatively impacting Hopkins’ production is the newfound dedication to the run game. Lamar Miller is second in the league in rush attempts and is averaging over 23 carries a game. That type of volume takes away some of the opportunities Hopkins saw last week. Regardless of production, I’m likely looking elsewhere for fantasy points this week as the Texans play a lockdown defense in the Vikings. Let’s hope Nuk can turn it on over the next couple of weeks.
Travis Benjamin – San Diego Chargers
Matchup – Oakland Raiders
One week after Keenan Allen was placed on injured reserve, Travis Benjamin exploded for 6 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, he’s only caught 8 passes for 130 yards in the two games since. The largest area for concern here is the amount of targets Benjamin is seeing. The general consensus was that Benjamin would slide into Keenan Allen’s role after the injury, but we’ve seen a much more balanced distribution of targets by Phillip Rivers over the last few weeks. Three Chargers wide receivers have over 21 targets on the season with Hunter Henry seeing 14 come his way over the last two weeks. I think Benjamin will have some solid games, but we’ll need to temper expectations a bit if he continues to see 6-7 targets per game. The Chargers face of vulnerable Raiders defense on Sunday, so let’s hope Benjamin can make some big plays.
Odell Beckham Jr – New York Giants
Matchup – Green Bay Packers
Through four weeks Odell Beckham Jr is the 27th ranked wide receiver in PPR leagues and 35th in standard scoring leagues. He’s currently ranked behind players such as Kenny Stills, Brian Quick, and even Sterling Shepherd. Similarly to DeAndre Hopkins, OBJ is not even the most productive receiver on his team through the first quarter of 2016. Beckham was drafted as a top 5 player in drafts this season, so this type of production has to be concerning if you have him on your roster. While his play on the field has been frustrating, I’m equally concerned with his behavior. He once again instigated a fight with an opposing player and probably should have been ejected from the game at one point. Beckham is an emotional player, but the NFL implemented a new rule regarding personal foul penalties almost solely due to his behavior against the Panthers last season. It wouldn’t surprise me if Beckham were to be ejected in at least one game this season. Behavior issues aside, OBJ is still an elite player at his position and should turn things around at some point. He’ll face a Green Bay team this week that is fresh off a bye week but just gave up 27 points to the Lions the week before.
Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Matchup – Cleveland Browns
Gronkowski’s struggles to this point in the season are hardly his fault, but that doesn’t mean you’re not at least a little concerned if you have him on your roster. He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him limited over the last two weeks he’s been active and only has 1 catch on 3 targets for 11 yards. With Martellus Bennett’s production on Sunday the Patriots likely didn’t feel the need to push Gronk anymore than what was necessary. The good news for owners is Tom Brady will make his season debut this week after serving his 4 game suspension. The expectation is that this will be the week Gronkowski breaks out of his shell, since New England is facing a struggling Cleveland Browns team. However, pay close attention to the injury reports to see how much he’s participating in practice. If it’s me I’ll likely want to see some encouraging news before rolling the big man out on Sunday.
Coby Fleener – New Orleans Saints
Just one week after going off for 7 catches and 109 yards Fleener reverted back to the disappointing fantasy player we saw for the first two weeks of the season. He only saw 5 targets against the Chargers, which he turned into 3 catches for 19 yards. Fleener ranks third on his team in targets, however, Drew Brees has thrown passes to 11 different players in the Saints offense so far this season so a multitude of targets may be hard to come by for the former Colt tight end on a weekly basis. New Orleans is off this week, which should give Fleener little more time to get comfortable in the offense. The Saints will host a struggling Panthers team when they next take the field who have given up a surprising amount of points so far this season.
Delanie Walker – Tennessee Titans
Matchup – Miami Dolphins
To be fair, I’m pretty far down on the Titans offense as a whole with the exception of DeMarco Murray. Mariota hasn’t seemed to take the step forward many believed he would after promising rookie campaign. The good news with Delanie Walker is that he is the unquestioned starter at his position and typically has a great rapport with his quarterback. I’m assuming Walker is still feeling the impact of the hamstring injury that kept him out of the game two weeks ago, because he was only able to catch 2 passes on 8 targets for 34 yards. As I mentioned, I have been far from impressed with Mariota’s game so far this season. This is one of the big reasons I’m nervous if I have Delanie Walker as my tight end. The good news here is the Titans face a mediocre Dolphins team this week, so there’s hope that both Mariota and Walker can get back on track.
In my opinion, roster management is the key to putting together a winning fantasy football season. It’s imperative to be conscious of the players on your roster that are performing well and ones that you may want to keep an eye on. Blindly starting players because of where you drafted them can quickly run a team into the ground if those players are on a cold streak. It can be difficult to come to the conclusion that your 2nd round pick may be better left on your bench, but those decisions are what will help win you a fantasy championship.
As always, please feel free to give us a shout on Twitter @No_HuddleFFB if you have any questions or concerns regarding your lineup or just want to chat about fantasy football. Best of luck this week!