After four weeks of NFL action, there are fewer surprises each week to analyze. So rather than a team-by-team account, we'll focus on the big risers and fallers around the league to see where the "peripheral stats" may not live up to our presumed expectations. As we hit the second quarter of the fantasy season, we must set aside our preseason average draft position opinions -- and replace those opinions with a spin that is based on encouraging usage trends. Let's see if we can spot some value as we head into week five.
Routes run and dropback data in this article is from Pro Football Focus. I prefer to focus on the percentage of routes run which is simply a player's routes divided by the team's total dropbacks. Terms: RMS = Rushing Market Share, TMS = Target Market Share, RR% = Routes Run percentage (of dropbacks)
Snap Count Risers
- Josh Reynolds - The Titans wide receiver took advantage of injuries to A.J. Brown and Julio Jones to go from inactive (healthy scratch) in Week 4 to a 92% snap rate in Week 5! He was second on the team in targets for the week, with 19% TMS (trailing only Jeremy McNichols).
- Ricky Seals-Jones - An injury to Logan Thomas (who had not missed a snap all season!) opened the door for a new tight end from the Washington Football Team. With a multi-week absence projected for Thomas, red-zone maven Seals-Jones will look to improve on his 12% TMS from Week 4 (93% snap rate).
- Trey Lance - With Jimmy Garoppolo missing the second half of Week 4, Trey Lance was unleashed as the San Francisco quarterback. In just one half of action, Lance posted an absurd 20.38 fantasy points. Lance looks like an auto-start option as long as Garoppolo misses time.
- Leonard Fournette - The absence of Giovanni Bernard plus general frustration with Ronald Jones II has led to a full-blown, bell-cow role for Leonard Fournette. His 82% snap rate, 69% RMS, and 82% RR were easily highs on the year. In an explosive offense, Fournette becomes very intriguing if he can claim this role long-term.
- James Robinson - A last-second flare-up to a lingering shoulder injury sidelined Carlos Hyde in Week 4. This left James Robinson with his 2020 workhorse role. Robinson played 95% of the snaps and looked spry in action. There is a chance that this usage could stick based on how well Robinson played in the featured role.
- Cameron Brate & O.J. Howard - Replacing Rob Gronkowski's early-season production is no small feat, but the biggest beneficiary was O.J. Howard whose 65% snap rate was easily a season-high. Howard, however, only ran a route on 33% of Tom Brady's dropbacks, making him little more than an extremely athletic right tackle. Cameron Brate on the other hand ran a season-high (and Rob Gronkowski approved) 69% of team routes.
- Damien Harris - A season-ending injury for James White has created an opportunity in the New England backfield. Brandon Bolden stepped into a portion of this role but ultimately Damien Harris set season highs in snap rate (61%) and routes run (38%). If the "James White role" is essentially split between Bolden and Harris - this dramatically improves Harris' floor.
- Latavius Murray - Rumors began swirling on Sunday morning that Latavius Murray could be the featured runner in Week 4's matchup against the Broncos. However, heads turned as the Ravens went all in on Murray by making Ty'Son Williams inactive. Murray set season highs in snaps (62%), RMS (64%), and RR% (36%). Murray, however, has not drawn a single target in 2021.
- Malcolm Brown - With Salvon Ahmed phased out of the rotation, Malcolm Brown has been the direct backup to Myles Gaskin. In Week 4, however, Brown took over with no apparent injury to Gaskin. Brown handled 67% snaps and 57% of the team's rushes. It was odd to see Brown playing ahead of Gaskin (who is much better in the passing game) in a game where Miami trailed the entire second half.
- Colby Parkinson - A double-whammy created a unique opportunity for Seahawks' tight end Colby Parkinson. In addition to returning from injured reserve (broken bone in foot suffered last season), the Seahawks were also without Gerald Everett (COVID protocol). Should Everett miss another week in the protocol, Parkinson's 68% snap rate from Week 4 could make him an interesting Week 5 DFS dart throw. Will Dissly was the featured option, however, and saw an encouraging 82% of snaps.
- Tavon Austin - The veteran speedster made his 2021 debut for Jacksonville and immediately inherited a large workload with D.J. Chark Jr suffering a significant injury on the first series of the game. Austin immediately stepped into the WR3 role for the Jaguars along with Marvin Jones Jr and Laviska Shenault Jr. Austin should handle this role for the foreseeable future.
- Jamison Crowder - Sorry Braxton Berrios, but Jamison Crowder is back in the lineup where he (76% RR), Corey Davis (81% RR), and Keelan Cole (68% RR) formed the primary three-wide set. Denzel Mims was not a factor, going targetless on 14% RR.
- Drew Lock - A concussion to Teddy Bridgewater opens a door for the younger Lock to potentially draw the Week 5 start.
- John Ross - Activated just in time from injured reserve, Ross helped fill a large void left by Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Ross will play the Slayton role as the lid-lifter in this offense for as long as Slayton misses time. Ross tied Kyle Rudolph with 49% RR in Week 4.
- Curtis Samuel - Fresh off of injured reserve, Samuel's Week 4 role was limited to a 37% snap share as he split time with Dyami Brown. Samuel made it out of this game intact, meaning his role should continue to grow as the WR2 behind Terry McLaurin.
- Rodney Smith - It was Rodney Smith, not Royce Freeman who operated as Chuba Hubbard's most direct backup in Week 4. Smith's 37% snap rate was only 10% behind the starter, Hubbard. Despite not drawing a rush attempt, Smith led the backfield in the receiving game with a 13% TMS on 43% RR.
- Le'Veon Bell - The inactive Ty'Son Williams opened a door for Le'Veon Bell who ran as the RB2 in Baltimore ahead of Devonta Freeman. Bell could evolve into the passing game option in this backfield.
- N'Keal Harry - The Patriots could desperately use a dynamic playmaker, but it appears that N'Keal Harry will not be the answer for New England. Harry logged just 25% of his snaps in his debut from injured reserve.
Expanding Rushing Role
- Josh Jacobs - Josh Jacobs did not simply return from his two-week injury. He came back to his old role as the featured rusher, commanding 81% RMS. Peyton Barber only played a single snap in this contest and Kenyan Drake was not targeted in the passing game. Jacobs however saw an encouraging 17% TMS. The future looks bright for Jacobs in this powerful offense.
- Trey Sermon - Sermon played in Week 3 but barely had any practice time, coming off a Week 2 concussion. However, in Week 4, Sermon was handed the keys to the 49ers backfield where he wrangled an encouraging 79% of team rush attempts. Sermon was a non-factor however in the passing game, drawing zero targets on 27% RR. Can he hold off Elijah Mitchell who is expected back in Week 5? We will keep a close eye on this story.
- Chuba Hubbard - With Christian McCaffrey on the shelf, Hubbard did NOT get the "McCaffrey-light" treatment as he spilt work with Royce Freeman and Rodney Smith. Hubbard played less than half the snaps (47%) in Week 4.
- Latavius Murray - With Ty'Son Williams inactive, Murray handled 64% of the team's rush attempt, the most by any running back this season in Baltimore.
- Alex Collins - Collins opened the season fifth on the Seahawks depth chart but has climbed to number two in recent weeks behind only starter Chris Carson. Collins played an encouraging 39% of the snaps for Seattle in their win over San Francisco. He also out-targeted Chris Carson in the passing game. Collins looks like a great insurance option behind Chris Carson.
- Darrell Henderson - Similar to Josh Jacobs, Darrell Henderson returned from injury to claim a stranglehold of the Rams backfield. Playing 90% of the team's snaps (only 10% for Sony Michel), Henderson was locked in as the featured runner and receiving option from this running back group. Henderson has one of the most enviable roles in fantasy football.
- Saquon Barkley - Despite starting the season with an injury in week one, Saquon Barkley is back. Barkley played 89% of the snaps in this offense and handled 81% of the team's rush attempts for the week. Given the injuries the Giants have sustained in the passing game, Barkley is locked into volume regardless of game script.
- A.J. Dillon - The Packers presumably dialed back the workload of Aaron Jones (ankle) in Week 4 against the Steelers, providing an opportunity for Dillon to match Aaron Jones with 15 carries apiece. Dillon was the better runner in this game and the Packers might consider letting Dillon spell Jones more frequently in the coming months.
- Marlon Mack - The subject of trade rumors, Marlon Mack has bounced in and out of the active lineup. He handled 30% of the team's rushes in Week 4 at the expense of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Mack limits the ceiling of the two starters in this offense.
- Jamaal Williams - Despite being touted by Coach Dan Campbell all week, D'Andre Swift was ignored on the ground as Jamaal Williams saw his number called for 61% RMS in the Lions Week 4 offense. Swift was much more involved in the receiving game (73% RR for Swift to 11% RR for Williams), but figuring out how this offense will distribute carries from one week to the next could be a bit unpredictable.
Expanding Receiving Role
- Deonte Harris - Listen - somebody has to get the targets in New Orleans - why not Deonte Harris? Harris is a part-time player behind Marquez Callaway but leads the team in TMS average for the season with 18%. His 35% TMS performance in Week 4 pushed him just past Alvin Kamara for the year after Kamara failed to get a target (for the first time as a pro).
- Dalton Schultz - What was once a competition between Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz no longer is. Schultz has dominated snaps, routes, and targets this season. In this offense, that makes him a locked-and-loaded TE1.
- Antonio Brown - Antonio Brown only averages 53% of the team's snaps in games he has played this year. However, he is second on the team in TMS average, just ahead of Chris Godwin. Brown exploded for a 28% TMS in Week 4 and Brady clearly has eyes for Brown - a player who always pops in the targets per route conversation.
- Robby Anderson - Chase the routes - they will pay off eventually. And they nearly did for Robby Anderson who drew a 29% TMS in Week 4. Step one - run routes. Step two - draw targets. Step three - convert for fantasy points. Anderson just has one step left to go.
- Kadarius Toney - Another beneficiary of the injuries to the Giants receiving game is first-rounder Kadarius Toney. Toney drew 23% of the team's targets in Week 4, tying Kenny Golladay for the team lead. He looks like a solid low-priced DFS option if Sterling Shepard misses additional time.
- Tyreek Hill - After exploding in week one, Tyreek Hill was bottled up by opposing defenses the following two weeks. Hill decided to go nuclear in Week 4, posting his second week of 40%+ TMS. Unfortunately, this usage is not very stable. Hill is a top-three weekly option regardless.
- Laviska Shenault Jr - With D.J. Chark Jr done for the season, there is an opportunity for Laviska Shenault Jr to emerge. Shenault took advantage of the opportunity in Week 4, drawing 33% of the team's targets.
- Dawson Knox - Let the good times roll for Dawson Knox who saw his largest target share of the season at 24%. He converted this for a pair of touchdowns and he now has four touchdowns in the last three weeks. He is a TE1.
- Diontae Johnson - I have personally always been hesitant to asserting Diontae Johnson as king of the Steelers' wide receiver room - but it is simply undeniable as Johnson has seen no fewer than 32% TMS in any game he has played this season.
- Darnell Mooney - Don't look now but Darnell Mooney is thoroughly outplaying Allen Robinson in Chicago. Mooney has more snaps, routes, targets, receptions, and yards than the veteran receiver. I don't think we can officially pass the torch just yet, but making a move for Mooney in your season-long leagues could reap benefits long-term.
- Randall Cobb - With Marquez Valdes-Scantling going on injured reserve, Aaron Rodgers was happy to lean on his BFF, Randall Cobb. Cobb ran a route on 63% of Rodgers dropbacks, working as the new slot-man for Green Bay. That bromance paid dividends in the red zone as well with a pair of touchdowns.