- The Falcons' offense is turning heads and winning fantasy matchups, but does it have staying power? That and more fantasy takeaways through the NFL's Week 4.
It’s not often that a receiver can increase his total season yardage output by 159% in one game, especially when that game is his fourth of the year. Julio Jones is a different breed of receiver.
Jones posted the fourth 300-yard game by a receiver in NFL history on Sunday, hitting the mark exactly on 12 catches. Jones’s final grab was a 75-yard touchdown on Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage after Carolina cut it to a one-score game with a little less than four minutes. The Falcons would go on to win 48–33, moving to 3–1 on the season with every other team in the NFC South sitting at 1–3. We saw Atlanta in this position last year, starting out 6–1 before going 2–7 over its final nine games. With this offense, however, the Falcons appear to have staying power.
Last week, it was the running backs. Devonta Freeman totaled 207 yards from scrimmage, while Tevin Coleman punched in three touchdowns on the ground. Freeman and Coleman took a backseat to Jones and Matt Ryan in Week 4 and, if the league handed out quarter-season MVP awards, it’d be hard to imagine someone other than Ryan earning the honor.
Ryan, who threw for 503 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers on Sunday, has thrown for at least 334 yards in three of the Falcons four games this season, and has multiple touchdowns in every game. All told, Ryan has 1,473 yards, 10.52 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns against two interceptions this season. That comes out to 24.73 points per game, a far cry from the disappointments of last season. With the running game clicking, Freeman and Coleman turning into the league’s best pass-catching duo out of the backfield, Jones doing his thing, and the offense getting contributions from complementary players like Jacob Tamme and Mohamed Sanu, Ryan can stay at or near the top of the quarterback leaderboard this season.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 4 fantasy takeaways.
Jordan Howard takes over and Brian Hoyer creates a controversy
Before Sunday, the last time a Bears running back not named Matt Forte cleared the 100-yard mark was on Christmas in 2011. The back was Kahlil Bell, and he racked up 121 yards on 23 carries in a loss to the Packers. Howard broke that streak in Week 4.
The rookie out of Indiana got the first start of his career on Sunday, and based on the way he played, it will not be his last. Howard ran for 111 yards on 23 carries and caught three passes for 21 yards in the Bears 17–14 win over the Lions. Howard repeatedly made Detroit tacklers miss, running for first down after first down while making himself the most consistent weapon in the Bears offense.
Jeremy Langford is going to be out for another 4–5 weeks with his ankle injury. By time he returns, it appears Howard is going to have a stranglehold on the job. He may not have gotten in the end zone on Sunday, but the workload he enjoyed should be consistent. Joique Bell played his first game as a Bear Sunday, getting just three carries. Even if his role increases after getting some time with the team under his belt, it’s clear that Howard is in control of the backfield. Langford was in a workhorse role during the first two weeks, suggesting that the Bears are going to continue featuring one back. Howard is set to be that guy, and he has the talent to turn it into a lucrative gig from a fantasy perspective.
At the same time, there could be a quarterback controversy in Chicago. Hoyer completed 28 of 36 passes for 302 yards, 8.4 YPA and two touchdowns without throwing an interception. Hoyer has thrown for 300-plus yards and a couple of touchdowns in both of his starts for the Bears, and the coaching staff is going out of its way to insist it isn’t married to Jay Cutler. That could just be coachspeak, and the belief here is that Cutler remains the best man for the job. Still, it’s hard to deny how well Hoyer played in the Bears first win of the season. John Fox is going to have a choice to make when Cutler is able to return from his thumb injury, and that choice could send ripples through the superflex fantasy community.
Welcome back, Jimmy Graham
The first sign that Graham was turning back into a fantasy-relevant player came in Week 2, when he played every snap for Seattle. Even though he caught just three passes for 42 yards in that game, the fact that he was on the field for all of the Seahawks plays was clearly a step in the right direction. Now we have the performance-based evidence to go along with it.
Graham went north of 100 yards for the second straight game on Sunday, the first time he surpassed the century mark in consecutive games since doing it in four straight from Week 2 through Week 5 in 2013. Graham had six receptions for 113 yards in the Seahawks 27-17 win over the Jets. He got eight targets after racking up nine a week ago, and is once again a key part of an offense. With Tyler Lockett failing to turn himself into a consistent second weapon opposite Doug Baldwin, Graham is taking advantage. He’s back in the trusted TE1 class, a group it didn’t seem he’d be joining any time soon.
It’s time to talk about Marcus Mariota
Mariota hasn’t exactly taken the step forward in year two that so many were expecting of him. His best statistical game of the season was back in Week 1, when he got over some first-half woes to throw for 271 yards, 6.61 YPA, two touchdowns and an interception in Tennessee’s 25–16 loss to Minnesota. He didn’t play as well as those pedestrian numbers suggest, and it hasn’t gotten any better since then.
In the Titans’ last two games—losses to the Raiders and the Texans—Mariota has completed less than half of his pass attempts, has been picked off three times, hasn’t thrown a touchdown and totaled just 6.71 YPA. Tennessee’s passing game has been one of the worst groups in the league this season, and it doesn’t appear there’s real hope for turning it around any time soon.
Part of the problem is Mariota’s receiving corps. Despite an impressive preseason, Tajae Sharpe hasn’t popped—the rookie has 16 receptions for 172 yards and has yet to hit paydirt. Kendall Wright made his season debut Sunday, catching two passes for 14 yards. Delanie Walker returned from a hamstring injury this week, but was limited to two receptions for 34 yards. He has had fewer than 50 yards in two of his three games this year. Rishard Matthews hasn’t built on a successful year with the Dolphins in 2015, pulling down 12 catches for 178 yards through four games.
Mariota is the most individually culpable, but he’s just not getting any help from his pass-catchers. Until things turn around, he should not be on the start radar for most fantasy owners.
A couple of AFC North running backs stake their claims in the fantasy world
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and Isaiah Crowell has proved me wrong. The third-year running back notched his second 100-yard game of the season, running for 112 and a score in Cleveland’s 31–20 loss to Washington on Sunday. Through four games, Crowell has 386 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards and three touchdowns, which comes out to 15.48 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. To give you an idea of how good that is, Devonta Freeman averaged 16.26 points per game last season.
Meanwhile, Baltimore might have an answer to its backfield woes and, unfortunately for those of us who have been stashing Kenneth Dixon, it’s all about a hometown kid making good. Terrance West ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the Ravens 28–27 loss to the Raiders. The Ravens gave just three other carries to running backs, with Buck Allen getting all of them. Justin Forsett was inactive, and Dixon is on his way toward his NFL debut, but West gave himself a real chance to lock up a starting gig for the Ravens.
At this point, Crowell has to be viewed as a season-long RB2, with a ceiling to remain in the RB1 class. The picture isn’t nearly as clear for West, who has one strong game to his name and a muddled backfield in Baltimore. What we learned Sunday, though, is that the AFC North running back game goes beyond the inimitable Le’Veon Bell and the somewhat-plodding Jeremy Hill. Crowell and West could be real players for the fantasy community the rest of the way.
Lamar Miller’s touchdown drought continues, Will Fuller gets the job done again
It’s clear that workload isn’t going to be a problem for Miller. The Texans RB got 22 more opportunities—19 carries and three targets—on Sunday, totaling 108 yards from scrimmage. Miller now has 93 carries, 13 receptions and 15 targets this season, which he has turned into 429 total yards. Unfortunately, not one of those 106 touches has finished with Miller in the end zone.
As frustrating as Miller’s first four games in a Houston uniform have been, he’s going to break through sooner rather than later. He’s too good and getting too many opportunities to stay down for long. This could be a smart time to check in with his owner in your league. If that person is getting jumpy, you might be able to steal away a running back who still projects as a top-five player at the position from this point forward.
Miller’s teammate Fuller is writing a completely different story. The rookie out of Notre Dame got nine more targets on Sunday, catching seven of them for 81 yards and a touchdown. He also scored on a punt return, giving him three touchdowns on the season. Fuller is up to 19 receptions on 34 targets, and has had a catch of at least 28 yards in three of his four games. The rookie is becoming a player who his fantasy owners lock into their starting lineups without thinking twice.