15 Fantasy Football Transactions for Week 4
My intent isn't to beat a dead horse.
I've got a process with fantasy football. I like game theory. I like doing regression analysis. I like looking at the bigger picture and asking questions like Is this sustainable? or Can he really be that good if he has red hair?
You know, the important questions.
In a given fantasy football season, there are usually several hot-button players who end up being the center of a lot of questions directed my way. If a dude seems to be overperforming, owners, naturally, want a take on that player. The same is true if the opposite is happening.
That's a big reason why there are repeated transactions in this column each week. It's not that I'm stubborn, or it's not that I'm beating a dead horse. It's that I'm attempting to focus in on players who are divisive in the fantasy football world.
That's a vital piece to remember as you read this week's first transaction.
Sell Jordan Howard
No, guys. I don't hate Jordan Howard. In fact, I once wrote about how he was one of the most effective running backs in football.
Selling Howard has little to do with Howard himself. It's all about situation.
The Bears have a good offensive line and an underrated defense, and that could realistically keep them in games. But they also have questionable quarterback play and a group of wide receivers -- thanks to injury -- who caught one pass in Week 3's win. One!
There's no doubt that we should be questioning the sustainability of this offense. And this can't be stressed: it has nothing to do with the talent of their (talented) running backs. It's everything surrounding those backs.
So let's look at Howard's performance thus far. He's been a top-12 running back on the year in PPR formats, but he's played a smaller percentage of his team's snaps than 20 running backs. A key reason he's been able to produce is two-fold: high usage while on the field and touchdowns.
Howard's played 56% of Chicago's snaps this year, and he's seen a rush on 41% of those plays. That's the 12th-highest rushing usage rate in the league among backs who are seeing 20 or more snaps per game, and it's the fourth-highest of any running back with 50% or more of the team's overall snaps.
Is that sustainable? Perhaps. He ran the ball on 39% of his snaps last season, so it's not that far off.
But he also didn't have any other player competing for touches in the backfield. Again, he's playing 56% of the team's snaps this year, but when he broke out in Week 4 last season, he played fewer than 56% of the team's snaps in just two games.
He hasn't been on the field nearly as much in 2017. And when you're not on the field as much, you absolutely need a higher usage rate in order to sustain production.
And speaking of sustaining production, Howard now owns 50% of Chicago's offensive touchdowns this season while scoring a touchdown on every 15 rushes and 65.67 rushing yards. Given the rate of scoring on attempts and rushing yards over the last six years, his total touchdowns should be closer to 1.25 rather than 3. Touchdown regression should hit.
All of this is to say that, yes, Howard should be a usable running back asset in fantasy football moving forward. That was never in question -- if he sees volume, he'll be viable. His ceiling is what's been the topic of conversation. And given all of this, if someone in your league sees a relatively high ceiling for Howard, it seems fine to sell him.
Drop Cam Newton
"Let's give him a chance against the Saints," they said.
Cam Newton has now faced the 49ers, Bills, and Saints, and he's combined to score 33.24 fantasy points. What's worse is that 10.60 of those points have come on the ground, meaning his arm is averaging just 7.55 standard fantasy points per game. That's the 30th-lowest average among passers with 30 or more attempts this year.
And he played the 49ers and Saints.
Newton hasn't looked right all year, and whether it's due to the shoulder injury or not, it doesn't really matter for fantasy purposes. You can't trust him until we see something -- anything -- out of him. And with the quarterback position being one that's easily replaceable, you can probably just flat out drop him.
Buy Joe Mixon
Mixon hopefuls should be happy that he didn't score this past week, because owners may be more willing to sell him as a result. His peripheral numbers looked great -- he was on the field for 56% of the team's snaps, saw 18 of a possible 28 running back attempts, and was targeted more than anyone on the roster not named A.J. Green. And he's been the most effective back on the team, rushing to a 37.14% Success Rate (percentage of positive expected point runs according to our Net Expected Points formula) versus Jeremy Hill's 26.32% rate and Giovani Bernard's 20.00% one.
This, as I noted in last week's article, is all coming after the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese in favor of Bill Lazor last week. If Week 3 is any indication, Mixon's role should be pretty nice moving forward, especially over the next handful of weeks as the Bengals will face the Browns and Colts.
Drop Eric Ebron
My love for Eric Ebron and a potential breakout entering the year was well documented, but it's not looking like it's going to happen. (I'm currently wiping tears off my face, just so you're aware.)
Ebron's been a ghost in two of the three Lions games this year, with the one contest where he performed coming against a Giants defense that's arguably worst in the league at covering the tight end position. He's only been on the field for about 67% of Detroit's snaps, and he's got the 15th-highest target market share in the league among all tight ends. In most league formats, you can send him to the waiver wire and start streaming the dumpster fire of a position.
Add Branden Oliver
With Melvin Gordon sidelined for a good bit of the second half on Sunday with a knee injury, Branden Oliver stepped in and played 45% of Los Angeles' snaps, plenty more than third-stringer Austin Ekeler. He didn't do much with his workload (just 16 yards on 8 carries), but in the event that Gordon's knee isn't strong enough to play in Week 4, Oliver would walk into a strong workload. As a result, he's worth a look off the waiver wire.
Sell Chris Thompson
Most "sells" in this column are entirely dependent upon what you can get for the player. If someone's listed as one, it doesn't automatically mean that player is worthless. It just means the market may view him as a better asset than where my head's at.
If you put a couch on Craigslist, you're not doing it saying, "Yo, guys, this couch is totally awful and you'll get every disease on earth if you sit on it." The reason you're selling it in the first place is to extract value.
That's where I'm at with Chris Thompson. I love him dearly as a player -- he's one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL. But given his production to this point, what he's done in 2017 isn't sustainable. And if someone in your league thinks that it is, then you may be able to get something stronger in return.
We know regression to the mean is a thing, and players overperform expectation in small sample sizes all the time. That's no different for Thompson, who's now scored 2.67 PPR fantasy points per touch (receptions plus rushes) this season, which is almost a full point more than the second-place Kareem Hunt.
Thompson's also scored a touchdown on the ground for every 7.0 rushing attempts, and a touchdown through the air for every 6.5 receptions. Over the last six seasons, an average running back has scored on every 35.50 rushes and every 29.42 receptions.
Like, when statistics are this dramatic, even if the player is really, really good, luck factors into the equation. And Chris Thompson, for all intents and purposes, has been lucky.
That doesn't mean he's bad. He's now seen 19 targets in three games, which is fifth-best in football. And his usage without Rob Kelley in Week 3 was nice, as he played 41% of the team's snaps in a positive game script while carrying the rock 8 times and seeing 7 targets through the air.
To assume he'll be an RB1 or even a high-end RB2 from here on out, though, especially in a standard format, would be foolish. Could it happen? Sure, football is a small sample game, so anything is possible. Is it likely? Not at all. And I play probability when I play fantasy football.
Hold Terrelle Pryor
One of the most disappointing early-round picks this season has to be Terrelle Pryor, who's been the anti-Chris Thompson in terms of efficiency. On the year, Pryor's scored just 21.6 PPR points and is averaging 1.14 fantasy points per target, which ranks in the 21st percentile among wideouts with 10 or more targets. From a production standpoint, he's been bad.
A huge problem has been usage in the red zone. From within the opponent's 20-yard line, Pryor has just 2 targets out of a possible 12 that Washington has run. And he hasn't seen a single target (out of three, to be fair) from within the opponent's 10.
He's also not stretching the field the way we'd ideally like, either, having seen just four deep targets in three games. More than 40 wide receivers have seen more long-ball looks.
But as a Pryor owner, what are you going to do? You wouldn't get a return on him now after three mediocre performances, so all you can do is hold and hope things turn around. The good news is that he's still been on the field for 80% of the team's snaps, which is the most of any Washington wideout. That's something, I guess.
Add Vernon Davis
Jordan Reed's got injury issues -- that's plural because, well, his shoulder, toes, and chest are hurting -- which allowed Vernon Davis to see significant run in Week 3. He ended up playing a hefty 82% of Washington's snaps against the Raiders, and saw 5 of Kirk Cousins' 30 passes, scoring a touchdown. This isn't anything new: Reed missed four games last year, and Davis finished as a top-15 tight end in three of those contests. Two of them actually resulted in a top-10 finish.
If Reed continues to miss time, Davis should be a very worthwhile option at the position.
Sell Sammy Watkins
And here comes another controversial "sell".
Sammy Watkins owners came out in droves during Thursday's island game between the Rams and 49ers after he scored a pair of touchdowns en route to a top-five performance on the week. So that makes three games -- two with plus matchups -- and one good performance from Watkins.
Let's slow down a second here.
Watkins has been super efficient on his targets this year, but he's still only seen a little over 16% of Los Angeles' targets, which is lower than wideouts like Marquise Goodwin and Adam Humphries. And despite Jared Goff throwing it deep 15 times this year, Sammy's only seen one of those deep-ball targets. He's got a 9.1 average depth of target, per Pro Football Focus, which really isn't a high number at all for someone who's known as a field stretcher.
That's not really what you're looking for.
The worst part may be the upcoming schedule, though. Week 4 features a plus matchup for Watkins against the Cowboys, but then he'll hit the buzzsaw with games against the Seahawks, Jaguars, Cardinals, Giants, Texans, and Vikings. So Watkins will see corners like Richard Sherman, Jalen Ramsey, Patrick Peterson, Janoris Jenkins, and Xavier Rhodes.
No big deal. (It's a big deal.)
Like I said, there's a shot Watkins puts together a decent outing next week, but selling now after a huge Week 3 isn't a bad idea at all.
Drop Thomas Rawls
Carson ended up playing 56% of Seattle's snaps in Week 3, and that was in a game where the team was trailing for a large portion of it. In turn, C.J. Prosise was on the field for 37% of the snaps as Russell Wilson's pass-catching security blanket.
The early-down work was mostly Carson's, though. He had 11 of a possible 15 running back attempts, and has now carried more than 48% of the team's total rushing attempts this season.
Oh, right...Thomas Rawls. Rawls was on the sideline for almost all of the game, having played just one snap. One. Because this is Chris Carson's backfield, Rawls can find your waiver wire.
Add Wendell Smallwood
Darren Sproles is (unfortunately, because he's awesome) out for the year with a torn ACL, which actually leaves a lot of opportunity in the Eagles backfield. In Weeks 1 and 2, Sproles played 49% and 69% (nice) of Philly's snaps, respectively, which led to 12 carries and 12 targets across those two games.
Who's going to step up? Well, Wendell Smallwood fits the pass-catching mold best among the remaining backs, as we know LeGarrette Blount isn't much of a receiver (48 career receptions in over 100 games), and Corey Clement saw about half of the receiving market share that Smallwood captured in college. Smallwood also was the only Eagles back to be involved in the passing game in Week 3, catching a pass on a pair of targets, and he played by far the highest snap share in the offense at 57% (Blount was at 29%, Clement at 9%).
As the best all-around running back remaining on the roster, he deserves an add off the waiver wire this week with Sproles out.
Add Andy Dalton
We saw a rejuvenated Bengals offense in Week 3, and by "rejuvenated" I mean "one that could actually score a touchdown".
In all seriousness, while Andy Dalton didn't look flawless -- and he certainly missed some big throws -- he was competent from a fantasy football perspective, scoring over 16 standard points.
Week 4 is a common opponent for Dalton, and that's a little scary. But it's the Browns, and that's not. So far this year, Cleveland's surrendered a healthy 25.33 points per game to opposing offenses, and quarterbacks have scored an average of 19.4 fantasy points against them. And they may struggle a bit getting to Dalton, which is big against the Bengals' porous offensive line -- the Browns rank in the bottom 10 in sacks and quarterback hits thus far in 2017.
Add Jay Cutler
There's no doubt that Jay Cutler will be dropped from a lot of the teams that streamed him in Week 3, and I can understand why: the Dolphins offense was atrociously ineffective against a bad Jets defense this past Sunday. But I'm still intrigued by Cutler's matchup in Week 4, as he'll be in London to face the Saints, a secondary that ranks third worst in football in terms of yards per play allowed on passes that travel 15 or more yards through the air.
Cutler, meanwhile, has attempted 19 deep balls this year, which is tied for the eighth-most in the NFL. And he's played in just two games.
The game itself has a high 49.0-point over/under with the Saints as small 2.5-point favorites. That's a great situation for a streaming quarterback.
Add Cameron Brate
Streaming the tight end position is pretty basic right now: play anyone who's facing the Giants.
The G-Men struggled against tight ends last year, and that's continued into 2017. Every starting tight end that's faced them has scored, and only the Patriots have allowed more PPR points to the position per game.
Cameron Brate's played fewer snaps than O.J. Howard this year at tight end, but he's seen 3 more targets with 11 more routes run, per Pro Football Focus. He's their pass-catching tight end, and should benefit in the plus matchup.
Add the Cincinnati Bengals Defense
The Cincinnati defense is coming off a six-sack performance against the Packers, and the team is currently tied for the fifth-most sacks in the league. All the while, rookie DeShone Kizer is consistently getting tackled behind the line as he looks down the field for the big play (he's thrown the second-most deep balls in the league through three weeks). In fact, the Browns have allowed 11 sacks this year (fourth-most), and Kizer, according to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats, is taking more than three seconds to throw each pass, which is the second-slowest time in the NFL. This combination makes the Bengals a must play in Week 4.