As I spend my first full season writing about fantasy football, I am seeing a pattern develop in my advice: Don’t panic. I have continually advocated patience with the likes of David Wilson, Trent Richardson, and C.J. Spiller. In Week 4, none of them really rewarded my faith. Yet, as you will soon read, I remain vigilant in my defense of each. While I am perhaps an overly loyal sort with regards to underachieving fantasy players, I have noticed a strong tendency for folks to change their opinions based on incomplete information. We are a quarter of the way into the season, but it is still only four games. A lot has happened and not much has happened all at the same time. So when watching games, reading tweets, or listening to NFL talking heads, please always keep in mind that in the end, talent usually wins out.
49ers 35, Rams 11
It is looking like the Rams are a lost cause on offense. The speculation as to why ranges from Sam Bradford being not very good to Brian Schottenheimer being too conservative. And many are now saying they think the game has passed Jeff Fisher by. If you mix all that in with the NFL’s youngest roster, some awful offensive line play, a staggering number of drops (the Rams lead the NFL), and an overrated defense, you have a rough situation in both fantasy and the real world. As of now, there is not one Ram I would be comfortable starting in a 12 team league.
After a two-week hiccup, the 49ers got it right. They used the run to set up the pass and dialed back the play calling, giving Colin Kaepernick a high probability of success. I tweeted this out on Thursday night, but it bears repeating: Kaepernick is 25, in his third season, did not go to a major college program, and has only 14 starts under his belt. The sky is the limit, but as we saw in Weeks 2 and 3, he is also going to have bad games. As long as Jim Harbaugh keeps it simple, as they did this week, those should be few and far between.
Buy: Frank Gore was an ultimate buy-low candidate coming into this week. Say goodbye to that. The smart money is on him challenging for the back end of the top 10 at season’s end.
Sell: All Rams
Hold: Colin Kaepernick
Bills 23, Ravens 20
C.J. Spiller is on the short list of most disappointing players of the fantasy season. Making matters worse for Spiller owners, his backfield mate, Fred Jackson, is tearing it up. To that point, through the first three weeks, Jackson was third in the NFL in net expected points (NEP) per rush, while Spiller ranked 30th among the 32 players with at least 30 carries. More bad news: The Buffalo offensive line is among the worst run blocking units in the NFL. All that said, the Bills are very committed to the ground game and there is no denying Spiller’s talent. Health permitting (he has an ankle issue), much better days are ahead for the first round pick.
The Ravens had a miserable game on almost all fronts. The lone bright spot was Torrey Smith, who is making a push to be a considered a consistent WR2 play. Going back a season, in the 10 games Smith did not top 10 points, he scored more than seven only once. Even worse, he scored fewer than four points six times. So far in 2013, he has at least 8.5 standard fantasy points in every game.
Buy: Robert Woods as a great end-of-the-bench wide receiver stash. He isn’t getting enough targets to be a weekly play, but the upside is there.
Sell: Any notion of Marlon Brown as a consistent producer. He may score 6-8 TD on the season, but in the games he doesn’t hit paydirt, his value is almost non-existent.
Hold: Ray Rice played his normal snap count but wasn’t used much. This was entirely a game flow issue as Baltimore backs totaled only 10 touches. He came out of the game healthy and expects a full workload next week in Miami.
Browns 17, Bengals 6
A.J. Green has had three consecutive games with 51 or fewer yards. Despite a big Week 1 and managing a touchdown in Week 3, his owners are probably feeling a little disappointed. Playing Ike Taylor and Joe Haden hasn’t helped; things won’t be much better against the Patriots next week (aside from one big play late, Aqib Talib shut down Julio Jones Sunday night). The matchups get much easier going forward, so be patient.
In Bengals running back news, Giovani Bernard led the touches battle 16 to six over BenJarvus Green-Ellis. BJGE, who is averaging under 2.8 yards per carry, has not looked good, while Bernard has been electric. This is not a fluke kids, it is reality for potentially the rest of 2013.
Brian Hoyer had a nice game against a solid, if banged up, defense. As long as Hoyer is playing at, or near, this level, Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon will be strong weekly plays. Cameron is locked in as a top-five option with upside for much more.
Buy: The youngsters. Giovani Bernard, Josh Gordon, and Jordan Cameron should all be in your lineup.
Sell: The Browns run game. This is a repeat of last week’s advice on the situation: Unless you are desperate, none of these guys is worth playing.
Hold: Davone Bess. In the Week 3 recap I touted him as a viable PPR play and he rewarded me with a stinker. His overall consistency suggests it is nothing more than a small hiccup.
Lions 40, Bears 32
That’s the Jay Cutler we all know and love! Despite looking awful for more than three quarters, he took advantage of the Lions’ generosity late, boosting his and his teammate’s numbers with underneath throws in garbage time. I watched every snap of this game and saw nothing that changes my opinion much on any Bears players. Do keep in mind that they have the Giants and Redskins coming up in Weeks 6 and 7. Fantasy points should spring forth.
I said this a couple of weeks ago, but Reggie Bush is a guy I wanted in every draft. This game is real evidence as to why. He was simply outstanding, taking advantage of every hole and creating myriad missed tackles. A byproduct of his big day is that the Lions pass game didn’t produce much for anybody. Consider this a one-week blip on the radar.
Buy: Alshon Jeffery as a bye week fill-in with weekly 10- to 15-point upside. He also has a low floor, so don’t get too excited and plug him in as a WR3 just yet.
Sell: The Bears defense as a bad fantasy matchup. I would not suggest they are a bad fantasy defense, but they have not been unkind to opponents from a fantasy perspective. And without Henry Melton for the season, the line can be run on.
Hold: Joique Bell. He is not going to score 20 every week but will almost always have flex value, especially in PPR.
Chiefs 31, Giants 7
The Giants are just awful. We knew this was coming against a really good (maybe elite) Kansas City defense, but that doesn’t make it any less pathetic. Better days are (probably) ahead as they face Oakland, Philadelphia (twice), and Minnesota four of the next five games.
Let’s save everybody some time here: The Chiefs are good. Play their defense and Jamaal Charles every week. Play Dwayne Bowe as a WR3 and Alex Smith as a steady QB2.
Buy: David Wilson led Giants running backs with 15 touches and 63 total yards. Now is the time to buy.
Sell: Sean McGrath. Who? Exactly.
Hold: Hakeem Nicks. With the schedule easing up, Nicks will not continue to be this bad.
Bonus Hold: Brandon Myers. He had two very nice games to start the season but hasn’t been a factor since. The two tough games were against Carolina and Kansas City, who rank second and fourth respectively against tight ends.
Vikings 34, Steelers 27
Le’Veon Bell made his regular season debut in a rather resounding way by scoring two touchdowns. More significantly, he had 20 touches for 84 yards. Considering their talent deficiency at the position, Bell is going to be an every week bell cow for Pittsburgh. And as long as he is, he should be penciled in as an RB2.
Let’s not get too excited by Jerome Simpson’s second breakout game in the first month of the season. They sandwiched two abysmal showings, making him more than a risky play. And while Greg Jennings had a great fantasy game, he did it on a paltry four targets. Matt Cassel could make them viable, but one week is not enough information to take that leap.
Buy: Steelers pass catching options. As much as Bell helps this offense, their lack of depth at running back will force the Steelers to throw more than they would like. And as long as they are, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, and Emmanuel Sanders will be valuable fantasy contributors.
Sell: Can somebody explain how Kyle Rudolph is owned in 94 percent of ESPN leagues? Just stop it, guys. He isn’t remotely ownable.
Hold: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson
Cardinals 13, Buccaneers 10
I am going to give this game all the attention it deserves.
Buy: A brick and hit yourself over the head any time you consider starting a Cardinals running back.
Sell: All Cardinals not named Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd (who is only a WR4/5).
Hold: Mike Williams, Vincent Jackson, and Doug Martin. Let’s see what the Bucs look like out of a bye in week six before we hit the panic button on the Mike Glennon era.
Colts 37, Jaguars 3
As long as the Jags are force-feeding us Blaine Gabbert, Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts are in for a long season. The return of Justin Blackmon won’t help matters as long as the failed first-round pick is the one under center.
After another so-so performance, Trent Richardson is getting some heat from owners, fans, and journalists alike. Donald Brown had five more yards than Richardson on 17 fewer carries, causing the Twitter-verse to make rather insane comparisons between the two. The impetus for such crazy talk was a 50-yard run by Brown. On the play in question, he ran untouched through a gaping hole, broke a lackluster attempt at a tackle, then got caught from behind. It was a very nice run, but one that Richardson (or any number of other players) would likely have made in the same situation.
There is a difference between excuses and reasons. With Richardson, we have a lot more reasons than excuses. Last year it was two legitimate injuries. This year it was a bad Browns offense. And now he has been traded to a new team and had to learn a new system. Next week the Colts have Seattle at home, so I wouldn’t expect it to get better right away, but I am all-in on Richardson as an RB1 the rest of the season.
Buy: Trent Richardson
Sell: T.Y. Hilton as a WR3. The Colts aren’t throwing enough and Hilton isn’t playing enough for him to be anything more than an inconsistent WR4. Maybe the Colts figure out he is worth more offensive attention, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to start him until that happens.
Hold: Coby Fleener. He is inconsistent, but the talent, usage, and upside exist for a run at TE1 status.
Seahawks 23, Texans 20
Stat of the week: The Texans defense ranks second in yards allowed but 25th in points surrendered. That seems impossible, until you also learn that they have allowed a staggering total of four special teams or defensive touchdowns. As this regresses to the mean, so will their need to be fourth in the league in pass attempts. I mention this because Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham have both probably played their best four game stretch of 2013.
In the preseason quarterback rankings discussion, Russell Wilson was usually relegated to the 10-12 range. This was never an indictment on his skill, only his opportunity. But things have been worse than even the most conservative prognosticators had projected. Through four games, Wilson has thrown the ball more than 23 times only once, and that was back in Week 1. With the Seattle defense being the best in the NFL and their running game able to move the ball on anyone, I really don’t see how this changes. If you drafted him to be your guy, you need to open yourself up to streaming other quarterbacks based on matchup.
Buy: Arian Foster as the guy, no matter how much people complain (justifiably) that Ben Tate should get more carries.
Sell: All Seahawks receivers and tight ends as anything more than bye-week fillers. They just don’t throw enough to give anybody a real shot at consistent production.
Bonus Sell: Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham to continue the 12-touchdown pace that each is on.
Hold: On to (probably false) hope that opposing teams can score enough to make Russell Wilson a QB1.
Titans 38, Jets 13
For a second straight week, Jake Locker looked like he had turned a corner in his career. And then potential disaster struck as Locker had to be taken off the field on a cart with a hip injury. If he misses time, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be asked to take snaps for the Titans. One of the better backups in the NFL, even if their upside will likely be capped versus what the surging Locker may have been able to offer, Tennessee skill players should not see a significant drop in value with him under center.
A week after they broke out, the Jets lost both Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Stephen Hill (possible concussion) for the game. This allowed Jeremy Kerley and Kellen Winslow to field more targets than usual, leading to nice games for both. Unless Holmes or Hill miss significant time, I wouldn’t read too much into it.
Buy: Bilal Powell as a strong weekly flex play. We keep saying it and he keeps making us look smart.
Sell: Kenny Britt. Similar to what I said about Kyle Rudolph above, Britt is simply not worth owning in almost any league. Yet somehow his ownership percentage hovers at 84. Smarten up people, it isn’t going to happen for him in Tennessee.
Hold: Nate Washington is playing like a WR2. numberFire thinks he is a WR5. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. In any event, he should be owned in all leagues.
Broncos 52, Eagles 20
After two consecutive letdowns, people may be concerned about Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. A quick look at the schedule should cure that. The Eagles have perhaps the easiest run to the end of the season of any team in the NFL. The average rank of opposing defenses left on the schedule is 20th, with none in the top 12.
I feel like I say this every week, but in case you have not been paying attention: Start all Broncos except Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.
Buy: The Eagles offense. The Broncos are an impossibly good team, especially at home. The Eagles Week 3 opponent, Kansas City, is almost as good. Things get much easier from here on out.
Sell: Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. They just won’t do enough week-to-week to warrant anything but a bench stash.
Hold: Julius Thomas. The targets are fading, but he is getting enough attention that you can deal with the occasional 4-6 point week in return for the 10-20 point days.
Redskins 25, Raiders 14
It wasn’t pretty, but the Redskins got themselves a win. The timing could not be better as they enter their bye, giving Robert Griffin III a week off to heal and get ready for the toughest stretch of their schedule (they get Dallas, Chicago and Denver in Weeks 6 through 8). We will get a much better sense of where RG3 is after the Dallas game, but as is a common refrain from yours truly, I am not that worried about his early season struggles. numberFire’s advanced data agrees with me: Griffin is ninth among quarterbacks in NEP/attempt, a measure of how many real world points he brings to his team’s bottom line on a per attempt basis.
The only Raiders I would consider playing on a weekly basis are Terrelle Pryor and Denarius Moore.
Sell: Darren McFadden. His NEP/rush ranked 27th out of 32 running backs with at least 30 rushes coming into week four. Despite facing the 26th, 30th, and 32nd ranked rush defenses, he is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. And on top of that, he has already suffered his first lower body injury of the season. McFadden should not be a weekly start in most leagues.
Hold: Denarius Moore has had one great game, one good game, one OK-ish game, and one game where he saw zero receptions on two targets. He has the talent to be a WR3 this season but his inconsistency makes it tough to take advantage.
Chargers 30, Cowboys 21
I think I was wrong. Despite a woeful offensive line, no down field threats at wide receiver, a non-existent running game, degrading advanced metrics, waning arm strength, and a new offense, apparently Philip Rivers is not terrible. He has 22 or more fantasy points in three games this year and is second in the NFL in NEP/attempt. He also passes the eye test, getting the ball out early and accurately and showing strong command of the offense. He won’t continue to complete 74 percent of his throws, but at this point it is hard to argue with results. Rivers should be owned in all leagues and, for at least the next month (San Diego faces Oakland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Washington), started where appropriate (let’s not get crazy and start him over obvious top-5 guys).
The Cowboys did exactly what they did last week, which is put up more or less the exact numbers we expected them to. Jason Witten continues to suffer a relatively slow start, but aside from that, this game changes nothing about Dallas’ fantasy prospects.
Buy: Antonio Gates as a consistent TE1 with top-three upside in any given week.
Bonus Buy: Danny Woodhead as a very good PPR RB2. He finished 23nd in PPR scoring in 2012 with a much less prominent role. Even if Rivers falls back to Earth, Woodhead will maintain much of his value.
Sell: Eddie Royal. Can we stop pretending his start was real and get back to reality?
Hold: Jason Witten. As I said above, aside from Week 1, he has not had a great start to the year, scoring one, six, and four standard fantasy points the last three weeks. Dallas’ offense hasn’t gotten completely rolling yet either, but as with the rest of the NFC North, they have a very soft schedule that should allow them to open things up soon.
Patriots 30, Falcons 23
Dear Coach Belichick:
I am getting rather tired of seeing LeGarrette Blount run through holes the size of Mack trucks while the more talented Stevan Ridley stands on the sidelines. I know you think you are cute and clever and all that. And I know you are 4-0 and have 39 Lombardi Trophies. But this is either arrogance at its peak or stupidity in its purest form. Can we just cut the bull and play the better player who would likely be four gagillion times more productive in the same game situations?
There isn’t much to say about the Falcons, so I am going to brag: Last week I said Tony Gonzalez still had it and that he was still a top-10 tight end. Consider this me patting myself on the back.
Buy: Tom Brady as a top-five guy the rest of the way. Despite some boneheaded drops, Kenbrell Thompkins is coming around rapidly. And both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski are primed to return over the next couple of weeks. Brady is about to take his place back in that top tier of fantasy quarterbacks.
Sell: Until Roddy White actually does something on the field, I am not playing him. His first game back will be on my bench.
Hold: Steven Ridley. Sorry, guys, I just can’t help myself. Last year he was fifth among running backs with 150 or more rushing attempts in NEP/attempt at .04. This season his figure of -.42 in the same metric ranks him 31st out of 32 backs with 30 or more rushes. Even if reality is in the middle somewhere, as it likely is, he is better than he has been and the Patriots have to know that.