We're nearly a month into the season. Let's examine some slow starters, potential rebounders, and shocking events. Let's also try to separate the emerging talents from the short-term flashes in the pan.
Matt Waldman: The following players have below average fantasy production as starters or contributors:
For each, attribute the top two factors that you believe is contributing to their play:
- Age: Too old to physically compete at a top level.
- Line: The offensive line is limiting the player's opportunities.
- Scheme: The offensive design does not maximize the player's talents to its fullest.
- Skill: The player lacks the physical, technical, or conceptual skills to thrive.
Tell us which is the greatest overriding factor and whether that player has a chance to improve to the point of becoming a reliable fantasy option this year.
Adam Harstad: I just wanted to say as a firm believer in the power of randomness that I'm a little bit disappointed you didn't include a "splits happen" option.
Waldman: Disappointing you is one of the great joys of my life, Adam.
Dan Hindery: Interesting questions, Matt. Does it make sense to drop Carson Palmer from the first one after his big Monday night game? He's currently third in the league in passing yards behind only Brady and Rodgers and on pace for over 4,900 yards on the season.
Waldman: It’s a good question, Dan, but I created this after the game. Leading up to this game, there has been a massive contingent of analysts and media who have dismissed him as old, shot, and useless. You can certainly address him from the angle of “will it last?”
Hindery: Palmer's a tough one for me. I thought the DJ injury might kill his value but might actually end up helping him.
Maurile Tremblay: After three weeks, it's still hard to evaluate Palmer's fantasy prospects for this season. There are things to like and things to dislike. On the plus side, with David Johnson out, the Cardinals have been airing the ball out, giving Palmer plenty of volume. He's attempted 48, 36, and 48 passes in the first 3 games. The Cardinals are second in the NFL (behind the Packers) in pass attempts this season, and that's a trend that could continue. If so, it bodes well for Palmer's fantasy value. Palmer himself has been pretty streaky this season, however. He was generally inefficient in Week 1, he had a weak first half but a strong second half in Week 2, and he had a strong first half but a weak second half in Week 3. There have been times when his accuracy was off and he looked washed up. But there have been other times when his arm strength and accuracy looked as good as ever. The biggest concern may be the shaky play of the Cardinals' offensive line. They've faced some generally weak pass defenses so far (including the Lions and Colts in the first two games), but the offensive line has failed to give Palmer a reliable pocket. On the whole, despite the heavy passing volume so far, I would not want to rely on Palmer as an every-week fantasy starter. He looks to me like merely a streaming option.
Jason Wood: After two weeks, Palmer was 46-of-84 for 601 yards with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions as the No. 14 fantasy QB. More importantly, he looked old and ill-suited to fantasy relevance. A week later, Palmer is 75-of-132 for 926 yards with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and rose to 12th among fantasy passer. For a guy you might have drafted as your QB2, he can't be characterized as a disappointment. In terms of risk factors, age is by far the most relevant. Palmer is 38 years old and his offensive line is also not an asset, particularly with the current injuries. The question is whether the Cardinals can be effective without their main offensive cog, David Johnson. In spite of the year-to-date numbers, I'm dubious. Johnson not only kept defenses honest but was the ultimate safety valve in the passing game. Ultimately, I don't see Palmer as a reliable fantasy starter this year but he can be a viable committee option; which is probably what you drafted him for.
Chad Parsons: I came away impressed with Parson’s Week 3 performance against a suspect Dallas secondary. The roadblock to an even bigger game was the struggles of Arizona's offensive line. As Jason said, Palmer has little help from the run game, so the lack of balance in the offensive scheme is the secondary cause. I am skeptical the offensive line or run game will improve enough to project Palmer into the QB1 conversation. It leaves him in the matchup QB2 zone of fantasy usage against a favorable matchup like Dallas or if a bye week or injury mandates usage.
Stephen Holloway: Arizona’s offensive line play is the biggest detriment to Carson Palmer’s success so far this season. In the first three games, he has been sacked 11 times, tied for 4th most in the NFL. His 27 hits are the highest number in the league. The loss of Johnson and the subsequently reduced effectiveness of the running game increases opposing defenses ability to focus on the rush. The Cardinals have averaged only 2.8 yards per rush, the league’s second-lowest average. The scheme might be improved so that Palmer could get the ball out earlier. Palmer has completed only 56.8 percent of his attempts, but the lack of the running game has forced them to lean heavily on the passing game. He has already earned 926 yards through the air—the third highest total in the league. The additional downside is that his touchdown-to-interception rate among his worst ever in that category. In the Monday night game, even though he was sacked often, he occasionally looked nimble in the pocket and extended several plays. He needs better protection, but the heavy passing game focus keeps Palmer’s potential high.
Jeff Haseley: Age is the first factor that comes to mind here, but I'm not sure we can completely fault his struggles on age. He has shown that he can still be effective as long as he is not under duress. Once pressure is applied and he needs to escape, his efficiency drops way down. The offensive line is arguably the biggest factor in Palmer's success right now. When it's off, Palmer struggles. If the offensive line can come together and be dominant, Palmer can thrive, at least until age and wear and tear catches up to him as the season goes on.
Hindery: There are certainly some reasons to be wary of Palmer going forward. He is 37 years-old and his go-to wide receiver is 34 years-old. It is common to see older players fade over the course of the season. The body simply doesn’t recover from the weekly pounding as quickly when a player gets into his mid-30s.
However, there are also plenty of reasons to believe that Palmer will continue to be a strong fantasy option every week. The first is sheer volume. Through 3 weeks, he is averaging 44 pass attempts per game and should continue to be amongst the league leaders in pass attempts. He’s also taking more deep shots than any other quarterback in the league. He has already thrown 48 passes at least 10 yards downfield. The big picture view of the Cardinals points toward the high volume of passing attempts and it remaining a trend going forward. The Cardinals lead the league in offensive plays per game (69) and, even adjusting for game situation, the unit is among the top-5 offenses in passing rate with a 66-34 pass-run ratio. As long as he keeps throwing the ball 40 times per game, Palmer should remain a top fantasy option.
Waldman: Well done for a question that was difficult for you, Dan. Let’s move on to Perine.
Hindery: The issues that have kept Perine from being an impact fantasy player—especially in the PPR format—are incurable. Even if he is able to improve upon his 2.9 YPC average and start finding the end zone on occasion, his upside is limited by his skill set and role in the Washington offense. Perine was never much of a factor in the passing game in college at Oklahoma and is unlikely to ever make serious contributions as a pass catcher in the NFL. Especially when you look at how well Chris Thompson has been playing as the third-down back. Even if Perine reaches his realistic potential, he projects only as a two-down back without the speed (4.64-forty yard dash) to consistently break off long runs. A best-case scenario for Perine over a full season is probably something like 1,200 total yards, 8 touchdowns, and 15 receptions. While that looks pretty good on paper, it averages out to 11.5 PPG in PPR scoring, which would still leave him as just a mediocre flex option
Haseley: Ball security and skill is the biggest factor keeping Perine from flourishing, followed by the scheme when he's given snaps. I don't profess to know a lot about Washington's running game, but from what I see, the quicker and faster Chris Thompson is thriving while Perine is struggling to consistently gain a healthy yard-per-carry average (2.9). Rob Kelley has produced a 4.9 YPC average with the same offensive line, so the onus falls back on Perine failing to get the job done.
Holloway: Perine has not displayed special skills as a running back. As a team, Washington is averaging 4.5 ypc—tied for 9th—but Perine is managing only 2.9 ypc. Perine has only 2 receptions thus far for 6 yards. All other Washington running backs have averaged 4.5 yards per carry or greater. Chris Thompson has rushed for 3 yards more than Perine and he has 26 fewer carries.
Parsons: Perine is at the top of his game physically as running backs are the shooting stars of early-career production at the NFL level. His grinder profile is that of a lead back, but Chris Thompson will siphon much of any PPR upside in the near-term. Plus the fumbling factor is in play as Perine has oscillated up and down in coach speak based on the time since his last fumble.
Wood: Perine has not looked like the player I expected. The all-time leading rusher in Oklahoma history struggled to displace Rob Kelley in the preseason but found a new lease on life when Kelley got hurt in Week Two. Unfortunately, Perine has looked awful. It's far too early to give up on Perine as a dynasty prospect, but I have no confidence in him right now. This would be a "skill" and "scheme" issue.
Tremblay: There's a lot of football season still to be played, but so far, Perine has not impressed with his talent. Chris Thompson is Washington's most dynamic playmaker out of the backfield, but the team does not view him as workhorse material. That job will seemingly go to either Rob Kelley or Samaje Perine, but neither one has shown much in the way of high-octane run skills so far. For now, Perine looks like a handcuff with a better-than-average chance of eventually displacing the current starter, but with a below-average chance of excelling in that role if and when he gets it. The talent just may not be there.
Waldman: I’m going to offer a different point because despite the fact that I considered Perine on the border between “good enough/not good enough” in terms of quickness and explosion for a running back, I think a lot of the arguments we’ve heard thus far can be countered with additional context about what’s happening on the field. First, the pre-draft Combine data isn’t enough to say he isn’t good enough to start in the NFL. The 4.64-second 40-time is a useless metric to throw out there alone as the determining factor as we’ve seen from numerous starters—most recently Arian Foster.
Better metrics for running back production are the 20-shuttle and 3-Cone, which measure short-area explosion from a stop and with his change of direction. These are the essential physical skills that matter most for productive running backs. Perine’s quickness was better earlier in his college career. While he lost weight at the end of his senior year and his pre-draft quickness metrics were on the border between starter and non-starter contributor, backs who aren’t comfortable with the scheme will look slower. Rookies that aren’t used primarily in space or given run plays on passing downs against five- and six-man boxes tend to look slow until they catch on. In terms of physical skill, the jury is out about his quickness because he flashed enough quickness during training camp and the preseason. I watched him execute a cutback against the Packers and get the corner in a fashion that a back doesn’t do without the baseline explosion.
Adam has done a great job of demonstrating how flawed yards per carry is for running backs in a feature he published this month. This stat also lacks the context of play selection. A great example was the Rams game. Kelley earned 78 yards during the first half before leaving the game with a bruised rib. What you may not realize is that Kelley earned most of those yards on counter plays that fooled three different defenders into abandoning their responsibilities. The Rams also didn’t crowd the box to stop the run on those plays. The first time L.A.’s defense put eight in the box came in the second half when Perine entered the game. In addition, Washington did not run a single counter play to Perine during that game and from what I saw of the Raiders game, they didn’t run many (if any) last week, either.
Thompson is a space back. They run him on draw plays, screen passes, and deeper routes from the backfield when they can create mismatches against a linebacker or safety with their formations. These lead to big plays. Thompson has great speed, but comparing his yardage to Perine is like comparing the responsibilities for a hotel doorman and its general manager. They are both responsible for customer service, but the contexts in which they do their jobs are vastly different. When Thompson is in the game, he’s one of the 4-5 players who could be targeted and at least 2-3 of those options are players the opponents have been more concerned about, which is why the mismatches occurred. When Perine is in the game, defenses know there’s a strong chance Washington will run the ball so they stack the box. It makes little sense to compare Perine—who will see 7-9 defenders in the box and is asked to run into it—to Thompson, who will earn his touches in space and as an unexpected target as a runner on passing downs or as a formation generated mismatch.
As for the fumbling, Perine’s fumble rate at Oklahoma was borderline between starter and contributor (1 per 120.8 touches). Jay Gruden happens to be a stickler in this area and that’s his right. However, Alvin Kamara average 1 fumble per 71 attempts in college and Sean Payton didn’t lord training camp mistakes over the rookie. Tarik Cohen muffed a punt two weeks ago and John Fox went right back to him. Cohen averaged a fumbled every 96.8 attempts at North Carolina A&T. Perine has to practice better ball security, but I believe this has more to do with him overthinking his responsibilities and playing tight due to the acclimation process to the NFL in his professional environment.
Based on this information and context, I’m not ready to attribute Perine’s issues to skill. I will attribute them to age if I can define it as a lack of experience as well as scheme. I think he has a chance to improve with additional playing time, but those chances are slim with Kelley likely to return to form soon and Thompson having a huge year as a passing down back. Look for Washington’s offense to be very personnel predictable based on how it uses Kelley and Thompson.
Adam, you’ve abstained from much of this conversation. Is there anyone on the list you want to address?
Harstad: Jimmy Graham. From weeks 14-16 last year, Graham had 4/90/1 receiving, good for 19 points in PPR. From weeks 1-3 this year, Graham has 11/81/0 receiving, good for... 19.1 points in PPR. But since the former came at the tail end of a top-5 fantasy campaign and the latter came in weeks 1-3, his cold streak last year was just a random slump while his cold streak this year definitely means something.
Waldman: Anyone with thoughts concerning what that “something” is?
Tremblay: With Graham, it's a combination of factors. He's getting up there in age, the Seahawks' offense is not nearly as tight-end friendly as the Saints' offense was, and he's had to play through a variety of injuries over the past few seasons, including an ankle that may have hindered him so far this season. The Seahawks do appear intent on getting Graham more involved in the passing game (his 11 targets this past week are a good sign), but there's no getting around the fact that the Seahawks' desire to win with defense and a strong running game will limit Graham's upside potential as a fantasy tight end.
Wood: Graham will be fine. The Seahawks have major offensive line issues but they'll figure something out, they always do. Graham had a healthy preseason and is a mismatch in most game scripts. With Doug Baldwin banged up, Graham is Russell Wilson's best option.
Parsons: Graham has slowed down some after his injuries and now is in the back-half of his career…
Waldman: I disagree. Graham hasn’t been targeted like he was in New Orleans. I think Maurile alluded to this point earlier. I don’t think we can conclude he is notably less explosive if he’s lost anything at all.
Parsons: Perhaps. However, if he has lost some of that ability, tight ends succeed often despite the physical downturn. Seattle is a week-to-week offense, and Graham will oscillate between volume and hoping for a rogue touchdown as a fantasy owner. Travis Kelce is not even immune to the high variance nature of the tight end position. A healthy Rob Gronkowski is the closest thing to a high weekly floor. Graham simply blends into the rest of the TE1 types with TE2/3 weekly floors.
Haseley: To me Graham still has it, and he'll show his worth when called upon. The problem has been lack of targets, which goes back to the Seattle offensive line and game script. It's been well documented that the Seattle offensive line has struggled this season, making it tough for Russell Wilson to make plays downfield, which affects Graham. Seattle has scored 5 touchdowns and average 16 points per game. Graham and the offense came alive last week against Tennessee, but not every game is going to have that pass-oriented game script. When Seattle struggles to generate offense, Graham's chances of a big game with fantasy relevance decreases. We may have to live with that going forward. The fact that we saw them struggle against Green Bay and San Francisco is concerning.
Hindery: The Seattle coaches seem unsure of how to maximize Graham’s effectiveness in this offense and a real reason to question his upside this season. Graham’s 20 targets through 3 weeks are solid. He is on pace for 107 targets on the season. The bigger issue is that Graham’s average depth of target (aDOT) is just 5.2 yards. That’s lower than Jason Witten (6.3) and just a fraction of Rob Gronkowski’s aDOT (12.6). So may of Graham’s targets have come near the line of scrimmage that it shouldn’t be a surprise he has so few big plays. Back in his prime, Graham had one of the highest aDOTs in the league amongst tight ends (9.6 in his big 2013 season) and unless the Seattle coaching staff can figure out a way to buy Russell Wilson more time and get Graham into some deeper routes, Graham will remain more of a possession receiver and not the big-play threat he once was.
Waldman: I think that truly hits on the problem, which is the quality of targets and the underlying issue that drives it. Let’s wrap this up with Terrelle Pryor.
Hindery: It may never all come together for Pryor to really emerge as a legitimate No.1 wide receiver, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering he is attempting the nearly impossible task of converting to wide receiver in the NFL at age 27. Pryor surprised defenses early last season before they had a great scouting report on him but has put up very few notable performances since then. It has been 11 weeks since Pryor has scored a touchdown (way back in Week 9 of 2016). He has topped 36 yards in just two of his last seven games, so the yardage numbers haven’t been there either.
Tremblay: Pryor got encouraging volume in Week 1 with 11 targets, but had a few drops and generally looked out of sync with QB Kirk Cousins. He had a tough matchup against the Rams' Trumaine Johnson in Week 2 and failed to bounce back against what should have been a better matchup against the Raiders in Week 3. Pryor could regain the effectiveness he showed with the Browns last season, but so far he's been a disappointment, and the targets have dwindled after the first week. The physical talent is there, but the chemistry with his quarterback isn't. He may not be a good fit for the role of deep threat in this offense formerly held by DeSean Jackson.
Haseley: Pryor is ranked 64th in PPR scoring through three games. He has 10 catches for 116 yards in 3 games with 0 touchdowns. On the outside, it looks like Pryor has struggled to gain much traction. He has 19 targets, tied with Chris Thompson for the team lead. He's learning the ropes with Washington and figures to be a key piece with them. Once he establishes a two-way confidence with Kirk Cousins, he should rebound.
Wood: I've maintained for months that Pryor was miscast as a WR1. He was a product of being the "only man in town" in Cleveland, and the Browns made no attempt to re-sign him, opting instead for Kenny Britt.
Waldman: And how has Britt worked out, Wood?
Wood: Ha! Not so well. But Pryor hasn’t been working out, either after he settled for a modest one-year deal with Washington, and predictably he's looked lost as a go-to option. Pryor can't be this bad, but he's unlikely to return his draft day cost, either. This is entirely a skill issue. He's not a natural receiver, and I don't think he ever will be.
Waldman: I would love to spend an hour with you watching tape of Pryor, Jason. I think you’re mistaking skills with fit. Pryor dominated Josh Norman last year after facing him in man coverage. His routes, releases, and hands were so on-point that Washington had to bracket Pryor during the second half. The drop-off in production for Pryor last year was simple: Robert Griffin is a shell of what he could have become before his injuries and misuse.
I think Pryor is dropping the ball because he’s thinking too much out there with the adjustments to the Washington scheme. I can definitely say that I was wrong about Pryor making a quick acclimation to Washington, but I disagree that he lacks receiver skills and will never have them. That’s a bold statement that past tape does not support.
Rebound or Release?
Waldman: These players are off to a rough start for fantasy leagues.
Which options do you expect to rebound and which would you recommend releasing from fantasy squads? Explain. Let’s begin with Rivers.
Tremblay: I've already dropped Rivers in a number of leagues to pick up guys like Trevor Siemian, Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson, or DeShone Kizer. Rivers will have some big games this season—he always does—but his upside potential is no higher than your average fantasy QB2 at this point, and his lack of running ability gives him a lower weekly floor than I'm comfortable with. In standard leagues that start only one QB, I have no problem dropping Rivers knowing that if I change my mind about him in a few weeks, he'll probably still be right there on the waiver wire where I left him. In the meantime, there have been other players on the waiver wire I like better.
Hindery: Rivers is a hold and can still be a strong quarterback-streaming option as long as you make sure to sit him when he faces tough matchups. His struggles against the loaded Denver and Kansas City defenses in Week 1 and Week 3 were entirely predictable. Many of our writers pointed out his brutal early-season schedule all offseason. In Rivers’ one decent matchup to date, Week 2 against the Dolphins, he threw for 331 yards and looked like the player we expected coming into the season. While the schedule is not easy the rest of the way, there are a number of weeks that Rivers will likely project as a top-12 option. This coming week against a beat up Eagles secondary, Week 6 against the Raiders, Week 8 against the Patriots, Week 12 against the Cowboys, Week 13 against the Browns, Week 14 against the Redskins, and Week 16 against the Jets. Rivers needs to be paired with a strong complementary option but should be usable in many of the next 13 weeks.
Haseley: Rebound. Philip Rivers has years of success in the league to think he will struggle all season. He still has his playmakers on offense. I see him rebounding sooner rather than later.
Holloway: Philip Rivers’ passing attempts and yardage are only slightly behind last year’s averages to this point and his completion percentage is slightly improved. His problem has been the lack of touchdowns. A year ago, he averaged 2 touchdowns per game and this year, he has only four through three games and also has four interceptions. Rivers should rebound going forward.
Wood: I'm worried. Rivers is completing 65 percent of his passes but he's only thrown 4 touchdowns in 3 games, to go along with 4 interceptions. Rivers led the league in interceptions last year, and I was inclined to give him a pass. That may have been a mistake. Age (36) may have caught up to him as it looks like throws he's used to making simply aren't available to him anymore. Defensive backs are getting a jump on him now. Can it be fixed? Absolutely but unless you're in a larger league, Rivers is expendable. He certainly shouldn't be in your starting lineup until he turns things around.
Tuccitto: Because of how much they depend on each other, I'll rank Philip Rivers and Hunter Henry as 1A and 1B in terms of my confidence in a rebound. Prior to the season, Rivers ranked 4th in True Yards per Attempt and 5th in True Touchdowns per Attempt. Meanwhile, Henry ranked 6th in True Yards per Route Run and 3rd in True Touchdowns per Route Run. Both are underperforming those rankings through Week 3, so my stats system projects an improvement towards their "true" rates going forward.
Waldman: Let’s keep the thoughts rolling on Henry.
Tremblay: I'm holding onto Henry for now. He's been shut out in two out of three games so far, but he's got the potential to become a significant part of the Chargers' passing offense. Antonio Gates is never a sure thing to stay healthy, and Henry is the better player overall right now anyway. He'll get more routes in the coming weeks, which should lead to more targets and better fantasy production. My opinion could change quickly, however, if Henry has a couple more invisible weeks.
Hindery: Henry has seen no targets at all in 2-of-3 games so far. At this point, you simply cannot trust inserting him into your lineup when his usage is so inconsistent. He can be dropped in favor of someone like Austin Seferian-Jenkins who made his season debut in Week 3 and saw 6 targets. Seferian-Jenkins has a much safer weekly floor at this point and similar upside to Henry as well.
Holloway: Henry’s usage this season is one of the biggest surprises. If I had a long bench, Henry would be a hold for me, but at this point, you can’t start him until he gets consistent opportunities. Weak rebound opportunity as he is currently tied with Brandon Oliver for sixth in team targets.
Wood: Brutal. It’s bad enough to earn 7 catches for 80 yards through three games but it's worse all of that production came in one game! Henry has TWO goose eggs in three weeks. Even at a position with high volatility, that's problematic. If you have deep enough rosters to keep multiple tight ends, hold onto Henry. But if there's anyone on waivers with a shot at contributing in the next few weeks, Henry is an easy drop.
Waldman: Brandon Marshall….Go!
Tucitto: The player I deem has the least probability of rebounding is Brandon Marshall. Outside of name recognition and track record, he didn't have much going for him, to begin with heading into 2017. He entered this season at 33 years old, which translated to just 1.25 expected years of fantasy viability remaining according to Harstad's model of wide receiver aging. He changed teams in the offseason, which has portended a drop in fantasy performance historically unless a WR1 role came along with it. And of course, with Odell Beckham Jr around, that condition wasn't met. Now, update those prior beliefs with what we've seen from the Giants' offense -- and Marshall's own performance -- through three weeks. Their offensive line ranks in the lowest tier according to Matt Bitonti. They rank dead last in Rush Offense DVOA, which puts a ceiling on what the pass offense can accomplish. Meanwhile, Marshall himself was nearly invisible on the stat sheet against a Cowboys pass defense that subsequently got shredded by Denver and Arizona, as well as against a Lions pass defense that shadowed Beckham, thereby leaving him with an opportunity for increased market share. Finally, in Week 3, he had a 4-25-0 stat line entering the fourth quarter of a game in which the Giants trailed 14-0.
Wood: Marshall looked finished last year but we all assumed that was due to disinterest and tension within the Jets organization. On second thought, he's just washed up. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram are the future in New York, alongside Odell Beckham Jr Jr. Marshall shouldn't be in anyone's lineup in 12-team leagues (or smaller).
Holloway: Marshall was missing in action, much like the entire Giant offense for the first two games. Their inability to run the ball was anticipated, but the ineptitude of the offensive line was the primary factor in lack of production for the passing game. Eli Manning and all his receivers came alive last week and Marshall caught 8 passes for 66 yards. Going forward, Marshall’s age and lack of speed could shift him to be the fourth option in the passing game behind Beckham, Shepard, and Engram. 'Release' is a much more likely scenario than rebound for Marshall.
Tremblay: I have no faith in Marshall to become a worthwhile fantasy starter this season. Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram all look like more effective receivers than Marshall does right now, and I don't expect that to change. Most fantasy leagues should have plenty of players available with better potential than Marshall.
Haseley: I see a scenario where there is a rebound. Marshall is 2nd on the Giants in targets (20) and snaps (161). He's still being featured in the offense, but he needs to adjust to Eli Manning's quick decisions. Marshall is used to running deeper routes and so far Manning has decreased the number of throws that take more time in the pocket. Marshall has a career 12.8 yards per reception, however this year he's averaging 9.3 yards per reception because he's seeing several 2- and 4-yard targets coming his way in addition to 12-, 15-, and 18-yard targets. I would be surprised if Marshall doesn't continue to learn the ropes with Manning. A rebound seems likely, but I don't see a super high ceiling like we've seen from him in the past.
Hindery: He and the Giants offense finally showed signs of life in Week 3 against the Eagles. The Giants decided to pick up the pace, playing more no huddle. The game plan also clearly called for Eli Manning to get the ball out of his hands more quickly (he averaged just 1.98 seconds before releasing the ball against Philadelphia). This quick-strike attack fits Marshall’s current skillset well. He racked up 8 catches for 66 yards on 11 targets. At this point, if you own Marshall, you should hold for another week and see if he can build upon his first positive performance.
Waldman: Isaiah Crowell wraps up this section. Rebound or release?
Tremblay: I'd expect Crowell to rebound. He's gotten off to a slow start against some tough defenses in the first three weeks: there's no great shame in being held in check by the Steelers and Ravens as Crowell was in Weeks 1 and 2, and his Week 3 opponent, the Colts, have had a surprisingly stout run defense so far as well. The game scripts have not been friendly to Crowell thus far, either, but as the team as a whole starts to gel a little bit, he'll get some relief there as well. I think his fantasy owners will be much happier with Crowell after his next two games against the Bengals and Jets than they are right now.
Hindery: Crowell has been ineffective and hasn’t approached the level of usage we expected coming into the season. His season-high in touches came in Week 1 with 19. Over the past two weeks, he has averaged just 12.5 touches and is losing time in the backfield to Duke Johnson Jr. Owners have to be incredibly concerned about Crowell but should hold for the next two weeks. The Browns are at home playing the winless Cincinnati Bengals and the 1-2 New York Jets. If Cleveland can’t generate a positive game script for Crowell and get him rolling in one of the next two games, it probably isn’t going to happen.
Haseley: Rebound, but the ceiling isn't very high. I don't think a release is warranted here, but he may only be a logical play if the matchup is favorable.
Holloway: The scheme seems to be using a heavier passing volume, but that may be driven by the game script and the fact that they have already had eight interceptions compared to 14 in the entire 2016 season. Another factor for Crowell is that DeShone Kizer has already rushed for two touchdowns, which further limits red zone opportunities for Crowell, who seems unlikely to rebound.
Wood: Disastrous. I thought Crowell was a lock high-end RB2 this year with a shot at elite RB1 status. The Browns offensive line is supposed to be good and Crowell displayed the all-around skill set last year to be a workhorse. Through three games, Crowell hasn't scored and has only four receptions. It can't get much worse. He's still young (24), and the team doesn't have an alternative (Duke Johnson Jr is a third-down specialist) so he should be held onto, but if you have any viable alternative put Crowell on your bench for a week or two.
Tuccitto: Isaiah Crowell is the player I think is next-least likely to rebound. Unlike Marshall, however, preseason indicators weren't all bad. Cleveland solidified their offensive line. His True Yards Per Carry ranked 40th among returning running backs, but his True Touchdowns Per Carry ranked 11th. Furthermore, based on the season he put up in 2016 as a receiver, his projected usage in 2017 seemed insulated against the usual danger of being a running back on a bad team. Crowell's problem in 2017, therefore, appears to be a lack of touchdown runs and a near-disappearance in Cleveland's pass offense. If he is to rebound, those are the two statistical aspects of his performance that will have to change. I see the former as more likely to happen than the latter.
Shocking 2017 Fantasy Developments
Waldman: What fantasy development has shocked you this month? How would you recommend fantasy owners to proceed?
Tuccitto: Outside of Carolina's massive underachievement, which we already discussed in last week's roundtable, there haven't been any other specific player or team results that have truly shocked me. Rather, what I've been shocked at regards the process underlying over- or underachievement and how that should/will affect my own process in the future. Namely, if you look at Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, you'll find that two of the top three pass offenses are the Rams and Vikings. It turns out that, although we projected both of them to improve based on coaching and the addition of Dalvin Cook, respectively, we wildly underestimated just how much of a positive influence these singular changes would have…
Waldman: I will note that the Rams added two excellent offensive linemen and upgraded its receiving corps significantly with the addition of three quintessential professionals. It’s not just coaching and scheme. This is also true of Minnesota, which hasn’t had a majority of its offensive line healthy for much of the season for at least two years, which if we were to weigh each player’s value as an equal contribution to the offense (which it isn’t, but I’d argue offensive line has greater weight than the third receiver in many units), that’s at least 45 percent of the offense that wasn’t functioning adequately and directly impacting the quarterback, who also carries a heavier weight.
Tuccitto: On the other end of the spectrum, Cincinnati ranks 28th primarily because of their offensive line which underscores your point, Matt. Again, we knew this unit would be bad but maybe we didn’t act on this as strong as he should have.
By way of analogy, what I'm getting at here is that we should think of NFL offenses—and defenses for that matter—as a two-legged stool or a three-legged stool. If it's a three-legged stool, then adding a leg makes it more stable, but it would still stand without that addition. Take one of the three legs away, however, and you end up with total failure a la the Bengals. Conversely, if the offense is a two-legged stool, adding a third leg doesn't just improve the stool's stability, it removes it entirely from the realm of non-functionality. This is the Rams and Vikings.
Applying the above to fantasy football going forward, the main piece of actionable advice is to identify the two-legged stools and avoid them like the plague until they add a third leg—if they ever do. It's going to be difficult for Cincinnati to fix their offensive line in-season, so it's likely they will remain two-legged. In contrast, the Colts are a good example of gaining that third leg. All it took was trading for a functional quarterback to replace their completely non-functional one (and perhaps getting Andrew Luck back sometime this year).
Parsons: I can attest that I did not see the Minnesota Vikings offensive surge coming. Sam Bradford or Case Keenum under center has not changed the viability of the offense. Dalvin Cook, while I still have concerns about him as an interior runner, is still workhorse level usage and snaps. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are playing Batman and Robin roles in the offense's superhero storyline. The Vikings are No.3 in fantasy points at quarterback, No.9 in running back points, and No.2 in wide receiver points after finishing 25, 29, and 13 in those categories a year ago. I would be selling Dalvin Cook and seek a rising player like Joe Mixon, for example, and a strong second piece (think RB2 or WR2 type) when exploring deals.
Waldman: Wow, I think Cook looks fine between the tackles. He has always been a smart runner in that area of the field. He understands zone blocking very well and he’s mature about pushing for yardage to generate what’s there even when little is available. While I like Mixon, I would not let go of Cook. Mixon may be a dreamboat for the metrics-heavy crowd and I definitely love his skills, but it’s a little riskier to part with Cook behind a good line for Mixon behind a bad one. Good luck with that. It may work out, but I do not love the logic behind that decision.
Haseley: Let's take a look at Lamar Miller. He is currently ranked 24th in PPR format, which is respectable, but there's some concern about his longevity this season and the potential emergence of D'Onta Foreman. For now, Miller is seeing a decent number of carries and touches, but his yards per carry is only 3.7 (career 4.4 YPC). He's performing well enough to maintain an RB2 status in your lineup, but my concern is that he won't live up to expectations this year. In my opinion, he's a sell candidate. He hasn't scored yet this season and his value is mostly based on the success he had in previous seasons. Wait for him to have a good game and then see what you can get in return. His window is closing, especially if Foreman enters the equation.
Hindery: The biggest surprise to me is that Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley are far and away the top two fantasy running backs through three weeks. While I think both players are the real deal, I would recommend looking into selling high.
Hunt has passed the eye test with flying colors, but he still isn’t seeing a massive workload. He hasn’t played more than 40 snaps in any game and over the past two weeks saw 16 and 18 touches. He’s still put up huge fantasy numbers due to breaking off long gains, but the elite production he’s managed so far in unsustainable if his usage doesn’t change. If I could flip Hunt for someone like Le’Veon Bell, I would pull the trigger. Bell is playing way more snaps (average of 65 over the past two weeks) and has seen 18 more touches (52 to 34) than Hunt in Weeks 2 and 3.
With Gurley, the concern isn’t whether his usage is sustainable, but how much he has benefitted from an incredibly soft early schedule. Things get much tougher starting in Week 5 with a 7-game stretch that sees the Rams square off against many of the league’s best run defenses: Seattle, Jacksonville, Arizona, the New York Giants, Houston, and Minnesota. Gurley’s playoff schedule is also difficult. He faces Philadelphia in Week 14 and then travels to Seattle and Tennessee the following two weeks. I wouldn’t sell too low on Gurley, but now is the perfect time to try to sell high and try to get a king’s ransom from an owner in your league who thinks the gravy train will keep on rolling the rest of the season.
Holloway: Jared Goff’s play thus far has been very surprising. He remains only startable in two-quarterback leagues, primarily due to his low volume. He has only attempted 81 passes, ranking 25th. However, he has completed 70.4 percent of his passes and is second among quarterbacks with 10.1 ypa, behind only Sam Bradford who has played 1 game to Goff’s 3.
Wood: The Rams are relevant. Jared Goff has been a fantasy QB1 in two of three weeks. Todd Gurley trails only Kareem Hunt in fantasy points among running backs. Although he's averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt, he has 381 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns. Sammy Watkins is WR8 currently, and both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have made big plays, even if their week-to-week production isn't fantasy-worthy. Sean McVay has transformed this offense into an above average squad in just a few weeks.
Tremblay: Jason and Steve mentioned the Rams and Chad mentioned the Vikings. Those are the surprises that stand out to me as well. I did not expect either team to produce more than one or two worthwhile fantasy starters, but each now looks capable of doing so. For the Rams, Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins were drafted as starters, but it looks like Jared Goff, and maybe Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, could end up having fantasy value as well. For the Vikings, Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs were drafted as starters, Kyle Rudolph too, but it looks like Sam Bradford and Adam Thielen could sneak into that category as well. It's still early and the Rams' and Vikings' passing offenses could prove to be flukes so far, but with the efficient play from the quarterbacks, these offenses could produce sustained fantasy value for multiple players each. At the very least, Todd Gurley and Dalvin Cook both have significantly greater value now than they did three weeks ago.
Emerging or Flashing?
Waldman: These players have flashed big-time skill or the promise of productive volume:
Which of these players will emerge and which will disappear from the fantasy radar? Define "emerge" as a player that you'd give up a well-known starter in return for that player.
For example, last Thursday, an Audible Live listener traded AJ Green for Derrick Henry and wanted to know what we thought. I doubt any of us liked the deal but when posed the question, I said that on a broader level, I could understand the merits of this kind of offer.
I further explained the scenario where I could imagine such a deal, and I want you to use this scenario (think each player an individual basis) when considering whether these players fit my definition of emerging: With each player, imagine your team is deep at positions other than the position of that player. Unfortunately you can't use that depth as a flex alternative to that missing talent at the position of need and if it's the right player, you'd be willing to deal a marquee name for one of these emerging talents plus a lesser-known name who could give you depth, flex, or bye-week help and upside for me?
If you would, then these players are emerging talents in your mind. If not, they may be talented, but not a good fit for fantasy production this year.
Haseley: In order…
Joe Mixon: Emerging. Mixon is going to be a big piece of the Bengals offense under Bill Lazor. Good things will come to those who wait and have patience. We've already seen it in one week with Lazor calling plays. Good things are on the horizon for Mixon.
Derrick Henry: DeMarco Murray isn't quite ready to relinquish his lead back role, making Henry more of a complementary player on the Titans. He has a world of talent, but it appears as if the Titans are content with keeping the Corvette in the garage with limited use.
Chris Thompson: I see Chris Thompson and Tarik Cohen in similar roles. Both will probably not see increased usage or decreased usage. Thompson will make big plays here and there and be a decent PPR running back, but I don't see him sustaining such high production week in and week out. He's flashing right now, but he has created a role on offense that won't go away anytime soon. This is the same with Tarik Cohen.
Josh Doctson: I would not give up a well-known re-draft starter for Josh Doctson at this point and time, but he is firmly on my radar as a player who could emerge for the Washington offense. He's a pre-emptive pick up if available on the waiver wire because his time is coming.
Hindery: Of the four players listed, Joe Mixon is the only one who I who I expect to truly emerge this season and the only one who makes for a strong trade target in redraft leagues. As Matt has consistently pointed out, Mixon is an elite talent who can consistently make something out of nothing. The Bengals know this and the three-man RBBC experiment looks to be a thing of the past. Jeremy Hill touched the ball just once in the second half against Green Bay last week. Cincinnati tried to ride Mixon across the finish line against the Packers. The team made has emphasized in recent weeks the need to establish an offensive identity. The signs from Week 3 under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor indicate that the offense is going to flow through A.J. Green (13 targets) and Joe Mixon (21 touches).
Holloway: My thoughts on each…
Joe Mixon has emerged as the best running back for the Bengals. He has more rushes than Bernard and Hill combined and also leads the running backs in receptions. The Bengals have struggled, but he will have a solid opportunity to improve his production if their offense improves. It would not be surprising if Hill shows up on the healthy inactive list going forward.
Derrick Henry continues to be a productive running back for the Titans and although he remains in an RBBC situation with DeMarco Murray, he can be a productive fantasy asset for the remainder of the season. He could be emergent if Murray ever was injured. Their running opportunities and production have been almost equal so far this season and although neither has received many targets, Murray has gotten more in the passing game than Henry although Henry is decent as a receiver.
Chris Thompson has emerged as the most consistent fantasy player for Washington. He already has scored two touchdowns, both running and receiving and has totaled 350 yards from scrimmage. This top-flight production should see a marked decrease going forward as he has had several long plays that are not sustainable. However, he remains a consistent running back option going forward, especially in PPR leagues.
Josh Doctson flashed one long touchdown reception, but his low usage to date (only 3 targets) keeps him out of fantasy lineups.
Joe Mixon: He's worth investing in, for sure. Bill Lazor committed to the rookie in Week Three and, although the results weren't brilliant, the role is now confirmed. The Bengals aren't as bad as they looked in Weeks One and Two, and Mixon is one of the few players with top-tier upside who can be had for a fair price.
Derrick Henry: Just when we thought Henry's window was wide open, DeMarco Murray shrugs off an injury-riddled week of practice with a dominant performance. Henry is back to being what we thought he was, an immensely talented backup. Per your rules Matt, I would NOT give up a marquee player at another position for Henry.
Chris Thompson: Thompson has been great, but it's never smart to invest in the "low touch, high output" guy. Every year there are a few players who seem capable of scoring with every touch, but they rarely hold onto weekly fantasy value. I love the player, but I don't yet trust the role. Thompson is worth rostering and riding as a hot-hand flex, but he's not worth trading a marquee player at another position to acquire.
Josh Doctson: This is a tough one. I'm a Doctson believer. Yet, he's had one reception in three weeks. He hasn't done enough to trade away a viable starter at another position, but I want our subscribers to understand Doctson is worth rostering if you can. His snap count has gone from 20 to 29 to 36 in three weeks, and Terrelle Pryor has not lived up to his No. 1 hype. Doctson's 52-yard touchdown last week is the kind of thing that builds trust from his quarterback and play-caller. I wouldn't put Doctson into my starting lineups yet, but I also think there's a high degree of likelihood he's in lineups a few weeks from now.
Joe Mixon was mired in a committee for the first few weeks, but he is now pulling away from Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Mixon is the most talented runner in the Bengals' backfield, and his share of the workload will continue to grow in the coming weeks. I see Mixon as a solid fantasy RB2 from here on out, so if I were weak at RB and could trade away surplus talent at another position to secure him, I would absolutely do so.
Derrick Henry is frustrating to fantasy owners because he has the ability to succeed as a workhorse running back, but as long as he's stuck behind Demarco Murray, he will never realize his fantasy potential. How much value Henry adds to your fantasy squad depends on how the rest of your team is constructed. He's less valuable than his market price if you're thin at RB and are forced to start Henry. But if you have solid RBs (perhaps including Demarco Murray) and can stash Henry as depth for the time being, his upside potential is terrific. In general, though, I think his perceived value in the fantasy community is higher right now than is warranted.
Chris Thompson is this year's, Antone Smith. Remember Smith's hot start for the Falcons a few years ago when he seemingly made a big play every week and was near the top of fantasy leaderboards early in the season despite very few touches? Chris Thompson's efficiency hasn't been quite as extreme as that, but the same principle holds: ultimately, the low volume will trump high efficiency, and Thompson will not maintain solid fantasy value. He just won't get enough touches. Don't trade away an established starter for him.
Josh Doctson has struggled to stay healthy so far in his young career, but he could emerge as the Redskins' best receiver by the end of this season. Nonetheless, he should still be considered a speculative flyer at this point, not someone who can be relied on for production. He's not worth a roster spot in shallow leagues. I certainly wouldn't give up an established fantasy contributor for him.
Tuccitto: If the question is "for which of these players would you trade your starting-caliber depth?" then my answer is none because all four are playing less than half the snaps in their respective offenses. There are far too many players I can trade said depth for that don't have this weakness. So as to not totally punt this question, I will say that I'm more confident about Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry eventually crossing the 50 percent threshold sometime this season than I am about Chris Thompson and Josh Doctson.
Mixon and Henry are too skilled relative to their backfield competition to be denied higher volume for much longer. Thompson and Doctson, on the other hand, play in a scheme that doesn't afford them the opportunity to significantly increase their volume. I get that Thompson is currently RB3 in both PPR and standard leagues, but I just don't think that level of per-snap efficiency is sustainable. Mind you, I say that as someone who, during the preseason, found Thompson to rank in the top half of all five of my "true" stat categories for running backs (including No. 5 in True Yards Per Carry). I'm not surprised he's been this good from a fantasy perspective; just think he's more of a sell-high candidate than a buy-low one.