THE WIRE TAP: WEEK 5
October 4, 2016 | Scott Cedar
Week 4 is an important turning point in fantasy football. According to an article I read last year, didn’t bookmark, and now cannot find the link to (oops… just trust me), after Week 4 in-season stats become more predictive of performance going forward than preseason rankings. This means you no longer need to fight off the urge to overreact—you can officially, unabashedly go into full-blown panic mode.
Before we get to the waiver adds for Week 5, I thought it’d be helpful to look at what exactly “more predictive” means. Using the RotoViz Screener app, I went back and looked at results from 2015 to see how production from Week 1-4 held up from Week 5-16, using points per game as the metric:
Quarterbacks: 7 of the top 12 quarterbacks from Week 1-4 (by points per game) remained top 12 quarterbacks (again, by points per game) from Week 5-16. The exceptions were caused by: injuries (Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor); injuries to supporting players (Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers); and early season strength of schedule (Marcus Mariota, who faced the Buccaneers, Browns, and Colts before a Week 4 bye).
Running Backs: 14 of the top 24 running backs from Week 1-4 remained top 24 running backs from Week 5-16. Similar to quarterbacks, the 2nd half decliners fell into a few broad categories: injuries/role reduction (Jamaal Charles, Andre Ellington, and Chris Johnson); early season strength of schedule (Titans again… Antonio Andrews and Bishop Sankey); and touchdown-heavy starts (LeGarrette Blount, Jeremy Hill). Only Giovanni Bernard’s drop off surprised me, though given his low touchdown production (1 in first 4 weeks, 1 the rest of the season), it makes sense in retrospect. Carlos Hyde’s early performance was a bit of a fluke, but he was also hampered by injuries.
Wide Receivers: 14 of the top 24 wide receivers from Week 1-4 remained top 24 wide receivers from Week 5-16. Again, each of these had an explanation: role reduction (Larry Fitzgerald); early season strength of schedule (yup, Titans again… Kendall Wright); injuries (Amari Cooper, Vincent Jackson); and injuries to supporting players (Travis Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Randall Cobb, and James Jones). Demaryius Thomas technically was a dropper-offer, but was essentially a starter, finishing 25th in points per game from Week 5-16.
Tight Ends: 8 of the top 12 tight ends from Week 1-4 remained top 12 tight ends from Week 5-16. The drop offs fit in the same general patterns: role reductions (Ladarius Green, after Antonio Gates’ 4 game suspension); injuries (Charles Clay); and injuries to supporting players (Crockett Gilmore; Jason Witten).
(If you’re a visual learner, I put this all into graph form here.)
Overall, 60% of the starting-caliber players in Week 1-4 remained starters the rest of the year. Each case has its unique nuances (especially with respect to the Packers; early 2016 results suggest injuries to Jordy Nelson and the offensive line weren’t their only problems). However, the early season performers who didn’t keep up the pace mostly fit into a few categories: injuries to themselves or supporting players; easy early season schedules; and unsustainable early TD production. If you look at your team and see any of your early season studs fitting into those categories, have a Plan B. Otherwise, absent injury, you can trust the performance.
And so, now that we know what are team is, we turn to the wire for plug the holes. As always, the focus is on players owned in under 40% of Yahoo or ESPN leagues, presented roughly in order of preference.
PAY THE IRON PRICE
(Pry these players from your leaguemates’ cold, dead hands. Figuratively.)
Bilal Powell (22% Yahoo, 36% ESPN)
I thought Powell would be a good own from the start, building on last year’s strong finish while splitting snaps with AARP member Matt Forte. Instead, the Jets had a fever, and the only prescription was more Forte. His 81 opportunities (attempts+targets) through 3 weeks ranked 3rd among running backs and projected to 432 across a 16-game season. We saw this last year, when the Bears rode him heavily early on and he ultimately broke down before returning to a part time role.
On Sunday, Forte had only 14 carries for 27 yards before apparently getting hurt, as he was seen riding in a cart after the game. Bilal Powell filled in well, picking up 26 yards on 4 carries while excelling in the passing game with a 9-6-54-0 (targets-receptions-yards-touchdowns) line. If Forte misses time, Powell’s dual threat game would make him a borderline RB1.
Quincy Enunwa (37% Yahoo, 40% ESPN)
I talked about him in depth in Week 3. Since then, Eric Decker’s shoulder injury has gotten worse to the point where surgery was, and may still be, considered. Enunwa has 32 targets (24th in the league heading into Monday night) and has shown a solid floor, with at least 6 catches and 50 yards in 3 of his first 4 games (the outlier being Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 6-INT game). He’s an every-week starter while Decker is out, which could be the rest of the year.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): John Brown showed signs of emerging last week, but his 16 target, 10 catch, 144 yard day was still one of the big surprises of Week 4. After limited usage, he played nearly all of Arizona’s snaps, surpassing biennial disappointment Michael Floyd… Martellus Bennett went 6-5-109 in an otherwise brutal day for the Patriots’ offense. With Brady coming back and Rob Gronkowski’s hamstring “a real reason for concern,” Bennett’s arrow is pointing way up… The Colts are throwing a ton (6th most attempts in the league) but have no one behind T.Y. Hilton, so if Donte Moncrief was dropped you need to scoop him up ASAP… Steve Smith Sr. continued to defy age and modern science, going 11-8-111-1 as the Ravens passed 52 times in a loss to the Raiders. Their 170 attempts is 3rd in the league.
PRETTY-AY, PRETT-AY, PRETT-AY GOOD
(Should be owned in 10- and 12-team leagues, whether by you or someone else.)
Terrance West (28% Yahoo, 45% ESPN)
With a bottom 5 rushing offense through 3 weeks (3.3 YPC), the Ravens ended their committee and rode preseason darling Terrance West. He responded by converting 21 carries into 113 yards (5.4 YPC) and a touchdown. That’s good, but it’s also what he was supposed to do—Oakland had given up the 3rd most yards to opposing running backs. He’s worth an add, but with Kenneth Dixon returning to practice last week and on track to play Sunday, it’s a matter of time before West finds himself back in a committee.
James White (27% Yahoo, 22% ESPN)
Chris Hogan (24% Yahoo, 31% ESPN)
The Patriots have leaned on the running game during Tom Brady’s suspension, as Blount is 3rd in the league in carries with 88 attempts through 4 games. That changes Sunday. Well, not this Sunday against the Browns, when the Patriots will probably feed Blount while sitting on a double-digit lead most of the game. But the Sunday after that, it’s back to the Brady-centric offense (his 624 pass attempts were 3rd most in the league) that crushed it in 2015.
That means White’s stock is up. White isn’t a super talent, doesn’t give you much in the running game, and hasn’t produced much this year (3.7 points per game on just 6.25 touches per game), but he’s capable of playing the pass-catching back for Brady, which always leads to RB2 production. I’m skeptical Dion Lewis comes back soon, if at all, and even if he does the next injury isn’t far off. Coming off of a good game Sunday (5-5-50), White’s worth an add in a pretty boring week for waivers.
I’d throw Chris Hogan into the mix as well. Hogan has consistently played the most snaps of any outside Patriots receiver, so he stands to benefit the most from Brady’s return. I’ve set Brandon LaFell’s 2014 (62 catches, 953 yards, 7 touchdowns, WR21 finish) as a reasonable goal, and think he starts out down that path on Sunday. He should be cheap after 2 very quiet games with Jacoby Brissett.
Robert Woods (7% Yahoo, 10% ESPN)
Sammy Watkins was placed on injured reserve and seems likely to miss the rest of the year after his offseason foot injury never quite healed. By default, Woods becomes Buffalo’s #1 receiver. He went 10-7-89 against New England, but I’m skeptical. He averaged 6 points per game in 3 games without Watkins last year, and while the much-maligned firing of Greg Roman appears to be working out, the Bills have only 335 passing yards on 64 attempts (5.23 YPA) over the last two games. That is… not good. I can’t get excited about Woods (never topped 700 yards or 5 touchdowns), and still think tight end Charles Clay (7-5-47) benefits most from Watkins’ absence, but Woods will at least have the opportunity.
Zach Zenner (0% Yahoo, 0% ESPN)
Dwayne Washington went down early in the game with a sprained foot and ankle. There’s hope Washington can play in Week 5, but that seems like a longshot given he couldn’t put weight on his foot/ankle on Sunday. In his absence, Theo Riddick continued to struggle as a runner, taking 11 carries for just 31 yards.
That paves the way for Zach Zenner. In addition to great alliteration, Zenner excelled in D I-AA (rushing for ~2,000 yards thrice at South Dakota State) and last preseason (35 carries for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns). Zenner’s big and has pretty good speed for his size, but doesn’t seem to have the trust of the Lions’ coaching staff, as he’s been used sparingly since singing as an undrafted free agent last year. Still, with no other options (thank god Joique Bell signed with the Bears last week), Zenner is in line for double-digit carries against the Eagles as the compliment to Riddick.
Cameron Brate (10% Yahoo, 9% ESPN)
In his first full week without Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brate continued to receive a heavy workload while putting up 5 catches for 67 yards on 8 targets (2nd most on the team behind Mike Evans). Tampa’s offense in general looked lost against Denver, but they should have an easier time next week against Carolina. As Atlanta’s 48 point, 593 yard day showed, the Panthers’ defense is no longer to be feared, and they’ve given up the 7th most points to opposing tight ends. The Buccaneers have nothing behind Evans, so Brate’s role should remain safe.
(By the way, Brate went to Harvard. Under the Ryan Fitzpatrick Act of 2005, I’m required to mention this.)
Hunter Henry (30 % Yahoo, 33% ESPN)
Second week in a row we’re talking about Hunter Henry, who built on his solid Week 3 with a 7-4-61-1 line in Week 4. He now has 12 targets in the 2 games Antonio Gates has missed, and with so many injuries to the Chargers’ skill positions his role should remain steady while Gates is out. The Chargers play the Raiders next, whose defense continues to get gashed by land, air, and sea (their 6.8 yards allowed per play is most in the league, by 0.5 yards).
Wendell Smallwood (12% Yahoo, 10% ESPN)
Smallwood performed well in mop up duty Week 3 against the Steelers and will fly under the radar after the Eagles’ Week 4 bye. Ryan Mathews is reportedly going to play, but his workload is unclear. Even if Mathews is active this week (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the optimistic reports sour as the week progresses), I like Smallwood’s long-term upside in a surprisingly good Eagles offense (scoring on 50% of its drives, 3rd best in the league).
Bobby Rainey (3% Yahoo, 2% ESPN)
Orleans Darkwa (38% Yahoo, 33% ESPN)
Paul Perkins (3% Yahoo, 3% ESPN)
Rashad Jennings is probably back next week, though that’s what I said last week. If not, Orleans Darkwa continues to do his solid, unexciting thing. He’s a 4.0 YPC guy, which is what he did last night while punching in a touchdown. Usable as an RB2, but little upside.
Paul Perkins was used sparingly (6 touches), though made a case for more work with an electric 67-yard reception. Still, he sits 4th in the pecking order and probably returns to inactive status once Jennings is back. Just a long-term stash in deeper leagues, for now.
Meanwhile, Bobby Rainey appeared to step into the vacated Shane Vereen role. Against an elite pass defense, everything was short for Eli, leading to 9 targets for Rainey. That usage won’t carry over against lesser defenses, but if Rainey’s taking passing down work that’s worth owning in this offense. He’s always seemed like a guy who has produced in limited opportunities and deserves more work.
Carson Wentz (38% Yahoo, 34% ESPN)
Speaking of that surprisingly good Eagles offense, Wentz is in a prime spot in Week 5, coming off the bye to face a Detroit defense that has given up the 2nd most points to opposing quarterbacks.
Terrance Williams (9% Yahoo, 9% ESPN) and Brice Butler (1% Yahoo, 1% ESPN)
Dez Bryant’s injury isn’t as bad as originally thought, and he could play as early as next week (the fact that he traveled to San Francisco is encouraging). If not, both Brice Butler (9-5-41-1) and Terrance Williams (6-4-44-1, and only one unbelievably bonehead play) make for decent plays against Cincinnati, whose 7.3 net yards/attempt was 6th worst in the league before getting the Ryan Tannehill bump last Thursday.
Check Your Wire (players owned in <75% of leagues): T.J. Yeldon finally had room to run on Sunday and looked like the preseason breakout I was hoping for with 117 total yards. Unfortunately, touchdowns will remain an issue with Chris Ivory entrenched as the goal line back… After a slow start, Duke Johnson has 15 targets since Cody Kessler took over at quarterback, and put up 84 total yards on Sunday … Gary Barnidge finally looked like the breakout from last year, going 7-7-57 against the Redskins. With Josh Gordon back in rehab and Corey Coleman’s injury, Barnidge should continue to see targets… Michael Thomas led the Saints in targets (9-4-44-1), and now sits at WR25 heading into Monday night. Willie Snead is already hurt, and given Brandin Cooks’ quiet 3 weeks, you have to wonder if he’s dealing with something too… DeVante Parker and Arian Foster are both right at 75% ownership, but will fall after the disaster against the Bengals. Don’t overreact to primetime island games; they still have value… Tyrell Williams was disappointing (8-5-40) in a great spot against New Orleans, but I wouldn’t bail after 1 mediocre game…There was (rosy-eyed) talk of Tyler Eifert debuting last Thursday, but Week 5 feels like a realistic target… Zach Miller has 3 touchdowns his last 2 games and gets a Colts defense that’s terrible when it isn’t jet-lagged.
DEEPER LEAGUE PLAYS
(In no particular order.)
In college, my roommate and I drank a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon. People would ask why we chose such a terrible beer, and I’d be quick to point out PBR won the Blue Ribbon Award, signifying it was America’s best beer. One day, I read the fine print on the can, and while PBR had in fact won the Blue Ribbon Award, it did so all the way back in 1893. That’s basically C.J. Spiller, a bad product that did something good once, a long time ago, that I still inexplicably love. He looked good in very limited usage (9 snaps) against the Jets, including a receiving touchdown. While Christine Michael also received passing game work (6 targets), Spiller’s role could increase as he gets more familiar with the offense. Or he could torment owners by alternating between promising performance and disappearing act. Again.
Dontrelle Inman led the Chargers with 11 targets in Week 4 (7 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD), but I still think he’s just a deep league play. He was on pace for 103-59-786-5 in 7 games without Keenan Allen last year, but now has better competition at wide receiver, and won’t play the Saints every week.
I love the Robby Anderson dart throw. Anderson dominated preseason, leading the league in receiving yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points. He received 6 targets on Sunday with Decker out, but caught only 2 for 12. He’ll have days like those. At 6’3” with 4.34 speed, he can also have days where he wins you your week out of the flex.
I like DeAndre Washington, who again looked good in turning 8 touches into 46 yards. But he also had a costly fumble, and after reports he’d be more involved, he actually had the fewest snaps of any Oakland running back. The good news is Jalen Richard had only 2 carries, and Latavius Murray only 8 (for a mere 19 yards). Reading between the lines, I think the Raiders eventually want this to be Washington’s job.
Mohamed Sanu is playing with a separated shoulder, and I can’t imagine he makes it through the year without missing time. That makes Taylor Gabriel an interesting add as the Falcons’ offense rolls. He caught all 3 of his targets for 49 yards on Sunday, and showed flashes the past 2 years in Cleveland.
Seth Roberts already has 4 red zone targets, including a touchdown on Sunday. He hasn’t been heavily involved elsewhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his role increases. He’s got a good height-speed combo, and the Raiders had among the narrowest target distributions in the league last year.
Devontae Booker is getting carries again (7 for 30 yards against Tampa Bay, a good run defense). Denver sits at 5th in rushing attempts (115) and isn’t likely to change while Trevor Siemian is out. Meanwhile, I love C.J. Anderson but he’s really only had 1 good game and hasn’t graded out well.
Malcolm Mitchell is worth an add for all the same reasons Chris Hogan is, except Mitchell sits lower in the pecking order.
T.Y. Hilton leads the Colts in targets with 44. In a distant second? Rookie running back Josh Ferguson, who got 10 targets on Sunday (catching 7 for 33 yards) as Andrew Luck made Alex Smith blush with all his check downs. Frank Gore (18 targets) is also a pass-catcher, and Ferguson has only 7 rushing attempts all year, so his upside is limited. Still, if the Colts’ offensive line continues to play like they did Sunday (and the last 3 years, really), then Ferguson will see enough dump offs to be a deep league PPR play.
THAT DON’T IMPRESS ME MUCH
The Dolphins started their 4th running back in 4 games, and while that designation doesn’t really matter (“starter” Damien Williams got 2 carries for 9 yards), it’s symbolic of the post-Foster mess this backfield has become. Behind Williams, Jay Ajayi had 6 carries and 2 targets for 46 total yards, Kenyon Drake got only 2 carries (after leading the team with 9 last week) for 15 yards, and Isaiah Pead took 3 carries and 1 target for 11 total yards. Their backfield is a true tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Anquan Boldin led the Lions in targets with 8, but turned 6 catches into just 31 yards. Never a great athlete to begin with, his yards per reception have taken another big drop after falling off last year (12.8 in 2014, 11.4 in 2015, 8.0 in 2016). I can’t get excited about Boldin even if Golden Tate’s benching last week translates into reduced workload going forward.
Eddie Royal had his annual early-season tease game, with a 7-7-11-1 line that included a 64-yard touchdown. In fact, over the past 3 years he’s averaging 17 points in Week 4. I’ll keep that in mind for next year, but he’s had only 5 other double-digit games in that span. Even with Kevin White hurt, don’t fall for this trap.
The Rams’ passing game is a mainstay in this section, but I’m still not buying into Brian Quick’s 2 touchdowns on 2 catches, even if it’s his second good game in a row. Maybe the Cardinals, with back-to-back losses to Buffalo and Los Angeles, are just bad?
Any questions, hit me up on Twitter, @scedar015. Be sure to check out Chris Manni’s Streaming Spotlight and Adam Cook’s Field of Streams for weekly quarterback, tight end, and defense pickups.