By RYAN BRAUCH
Now that we are a quarter of the way into the NFL season, we can start to tell who the real studs are and who will not deliver the hype that surrounded them at the beginning of the season. There have also been some major injuries to many teams in the league, which means new players will have their turn in the spotlight. This is also a crucial time for fantasy owners as we are nearing the end of the first half of the season. If your record is not quite what you would have hoped for then now is the time to make some moves.
Breakout Players: These are probably the guys you drafted in the later rounds and expected them to have somewhat decent flex potential. Some of the players listed may have even gone un-drafted in your league, but have yielded big fantasy value.
Most players in this scenario head into the season with a big target on their forehead and speculations on whether or not they would be able to make a significant contribution to their team. To everyone’s surprise these players have evolved from fantasy dud to stud overnight and now have the league and all its viewers full attention.
If you have fallen behind in your fantasy league’s standings, these are the players you need to pursue in trades. After a lackluster year in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly, Demarco Murray looked to recapture his 2014 “mojo” in which he led the NFL in rushing yards playing for the Cowboys. Murray looked to start fresh after being traded to Tennessee and despite the doubts placed on him. He has taken control of the Titans’ offense.
After four games, Murray has averaged about 18.5 fantasy points per game, 85 yards a game, and has run the ball into the end-zone three times. Tennessee’s newest star is definitely a top trade target heading into Week 5. Another running back that has taken a big leap, is Isaiah Crowell of the Cleveland Browns. Crowell went un-drafted in a majority of fantasy leagues but soon proved himself to be a hot commodity.
Following the first quarter of the season, Crowell has posted some impressive numbers: averaging about 15 fantasy points each week, 98.5 yards a game, and three touchdowns, not to mention two games in which he ran for over 120 yards.
From the run game to the passing game, one of the biggest surprises of the season is how well Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan has been playing. Ryan has been on a steady decline over the past few years, but was able to break the trend this year as he leads the league in passing yards with 1,473.
Matt Ryan was also considered an un-drafted player in most fantasy leagues but has easily gone from free agent to starter. It was also surprising to see how it seems as if newly signed Marvin Jones has flawlessly filled the void of Calvin Johnson.
Jones signed with the Detroit Lions as they tried to find another talented receiver after the retirement of Johnson. Many experts chose Golden Tate, Jones’ teammate, as the breakout receiver to replace Johnson. To everyone’s surprise Jones has quickly transitioned from a minor role in the Bengals’ offense, to a key role in Detroit’s receiving game. Jones has averaged 14.5 fantasy points, about 120 yards a game, but has only taken the ball in for a score twice. Jones has unmistakably become a viable starter in all fantasy leagues.
Hidden Gems: As the name implies, these players were all free agents to start with, but as the season progresses, they are becoming more and more relevant. Players like these are often developed when a starter is injured and they are called upon to fill in as the interim starter. If one of your starters has been plagued by injuries, these players might be what your team needs to keep playoff hopes alive.
Orleans Darkwa of the New York Giants found himself starting after both Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen were sidelined with injuries. In the two games in which Darkwa was given a bigger role, he has recorded over 10 fantasy points and a touchdown in each contest. Darkwa is a solid pick up after his decent performance against the forceful Minnesota defense.
Following the releasing of Josh Gordon and the injury to rookie wide out Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor of the Browns has stepped into a new role as he leads Cleveland’s offense in many different ways. Pryor is a versatile and multidimensional player that can get you fantasy points in just about any way possible.
Pryor is now the Browns’ interim No. 1 receiver; but also runs the ball occasionally; and in extreme cases and in the absence of a quarterback, can also throw the ball. In Week 3 against the Dolphins, Pryor caught 8 receptions for 144 yards, threw for 35 yards, and also ran ball four times for 21 yards and a touchdown.
Although Pryor mainly stuck with receiving the ball in Week 4, his performance against the Dolphins should not be forgotten as it reveals his true potential as a significant fantasy contributor. After losing top wideout Sammy Watkins for the year, the Buffalo Bills’ pass game will need a suitable replacement. It has already been stated that Robert Woods will be the Bills’ top receiver in Watkins’ absence. Since the loss of Watkins, Woods’ workload has already doubled and will likely continue to grow, as will his fantasy value, especially in deeper fantasy leagues.
On a Steep Decline: If something goes up, it must come down. That is the case for some players like New York Jets’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Coming off a year in which he threw for his career best in yards, 3,905, and in touchdowns, 31, Fitzpatrick is quickly offsetting his impressive performance. Following Week 4 of the regular season, the Jets lead the NFL in interceptions with 10, six of which, came in their Week 3 matchup against the Chiefs. Despite Fitz already throwing for 1,012 yards, he cannot be considered a viable fantasy starter as his touchdown to interception ratio is 2:5.
This shows inconsistency and carelessness when it comes to the protection of the football. Another major disappointment this season, is the lack of production and ability to play from Antonio Gates. The veteran tight end is quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite target and has been notoriously known for being a fantasy powerhouse.
But over the past two or three seasons, Gates has done little to nothing and has fallen off completely as a big name in fantasy football. Unfortunately, that just comes with age and was to be expected of such a great player.
Other fantasy duds include: Arian Foster, Todd Gurley, Eddie Lacy, Derrick Henry and Golden Tate, all of which were expected to record big numbers and play a significant role on fantasy rosters. Hopefully these fantasy tips are useful in your chase for a playoff berth and earn you some bragging rights as the season rolls forwards.