Week 4 of the 2015 NFL season is almost over. Here are the injuries, standout performances, and on whom to buy low and sell high from what little we have learned.
Sell high on Devonta Freeman
We shouldn't really question Freeman's talent. He is a legitimate top-10 running back who can dominate carries and catch balls when he's the only show in town. Credit to Freeman (14/68/3; 5/81/0 in the passing game) and the Falcons, scoring four rushing TDs against a Texans defense which hadn't allowed a rushing TD to an RB in eight games, dating back to 2014. The problem is that Tevin Coleman is not losing his job to injury. Even if Freeman remains the starter when Coleman returns from his rib injury, there will be a split here.
That said, this split has the upside of surpassing the Bengals and Chargers' timeshares. The offense is high octane, the line still makes passing risky but is creating holes for rushing, and the porous pass defense creates checkdowns. But the timeshare limits Freeman's upside.
"Sell high" does not mean that Freeman will flame out and return to being the waiver wire fodder he was last year. It means that 342 total yards and six TDs over two weeks is exactly the type of low-hanging fruit with which we want to tempt our opponents into biting instead of holding too long when some regression toward the mean is inevitable. Where we can't move Freeman, we should be very glad with his production, especially in PPR, as he's had five or more targets in three straight weeks and ten catches for 133 yards in the last two. But we should never miss out on opportunities to try for the truly elite top-15 fantasy options for slightly lesser players playing over their head.
And don't bother with Terron Ward (19/72/1). His first two carries came in the 2nd quarter when the Falcons were up 21-0. The final 17 all came in the 2nd half with the Falcons up 35-0.
Arian Foster is fine
This game was out of hand. Foster (8/10/0) struggled to break through in his season debut and didn't register a snap when Houston was down 35-0 early in the 2nd half. The Texans were committed to starting the game by feeding him the ball and he logged five targets, so expect him to get a large share of this offense again and be very Arian Fostery with it. I don't care about the short week, playing on Thursday, and neither should you because Colts.
Sell high on DeAndre Hopkins
Who would've thought a game that started out 35-0 would be so fantasy relevant?
Anyway, Hopkins did most of his damage in the final 20 minutes of the game, which was landfill garbage time. Nine catches is fantastic, 157 yards is elite, but needing 22 targets to get there limits his upside. His talent can equate to top-5 fantasy production, but the quarterbacking abomination in Houston could make him too dependent on garbage time with Foster back in the mix to expectedly dominate an enormous share of the offense from Hopkins.
On the other hand, Hopkins was so cheap that it is very rare for a fantasy team to have him as their WR1, though he is definitely top-12, rest of the season. But where he is because of a RB-heavy draft or a the person who drafted Dez Bryant or Jordy Nelson, this is high time to attempt unloading Hopkins for Demaryius Thomas or Randall Cobb or Odell Beckham, Jr. where we can. It is a long shot, but always worth a shot. Where we are deeper at WR, he can be that shot at upgrading our RB situation or getting 13 games of Rob Gronkowski for Hopkins' 12.
Brandon Marshall is a WR1 again
Where we don't have, we want him. The problem is that no one is more conscious of Marshall (7/128/0) as a matchup-proof volume monster than his owners, so he is very expensive. Many people will try to buy him from us, and we will almost never get the value we deserve.
The Jets are Marshall's fourth team. He battled some injuries and endured a complete intangible disaster in Chicago, through which he does not cope well, to say the least. But lest we forget that he caught almost seven balls per game for over 87 yards and accumulated 23 TDs in 2012 and 2013. On Sunday, in London, where passing games are always anemic and Ryan Fitzpatrick was bad, Marshall had a phenomenal game. He's received nine or more targets in every game this season and double digits in three straight weeks.
He has clearly said, "Give me the damn ball!" and Fitzpatrick is neither good enough nor alpha enough to defy this.
Buy low on Eddie Lacy
After only 55 yards on 13 carries in Weeks 2 and 3, he amassed 90 yards in 18 carries. He added 41 yards in the passing game in Week 3 to his 46 rushing, but he has not scored a TD since Week 1 and was not drafted to score 9-10 points when healthy. He was drafted to score 12 per week with 200-point upside. Where we can find frustrated Lacy owners, maybe they are tempted by: the riskier, more TD-dependent Jeremy Hill or Joseph Randle; the higher-volume Ivory; or Devonta Freeman, who is doomed to lose volume when Tevin Coleman returns.
The Packers face the Rams and Chargers in Weeks 5 and 6, so this is the time Lacy's price will be cheapest. He has a sick schedule going into our fantasy playoffs of the Lions twice, the Bears, the Vikings, and the Raiders in five of six weeks. If the deal requires a sweetener like our WR2 for their WR3 tossed in the mix, we can likely still win the deal in a way that transforms our season.
Buy low on Carlos Hyde
The 49ers are a disaster. Colin Kaepernick is terrible, unstartable, and is doing the same for everyone in the passing game. Regardless of the scoreboard, SF has to revolve the offense around Hyde's talent. Hyde only has 114 yards in 36 carries since his Week 1 domination of the Vikings. Something has to happen here. He has too much talent for SF to become a total fantasy wasteland. This is a situation where, at least, the RB has to come through.
This is a very tough schedule, so treating Hyde as more than an RB2 is a mistake. There are still ups to come, but Hyde may not be flexworthy in those particular weeks. Waiting until after the Giants game in Week 5 will likely be the best time to drop lines to buy very low. If the owner doesn't bite, the Hyde owner will be fed up by their after the Week 7 matchup against the Seahawks.
Steve Smith, Sr. is going to miss a lot of time
Smith broke four bones in his back on Thursday and is officially week-to-week. Already a sell-high candidate because we were seeing a repeat of last season, where he started huge and became unstartable, he should probably not be dropped, but traded where he can for anything startable. If we can improve any spot in our weekly lineups for Smith, we should make that deal because there is little reason to believe we can plug him in our lineups with faith again this season.
Justin Forsett can be top-10, rest of season
Forsett had a great game against the Steelers on Thursday night and we should not sell high on him. We have seen this season that Marc Trestman is picking up where he left off with the Bears; he does not craft his offenses to force to ball to lesser talent, and Matt Forte was a record-setting receiving back for it all.
Forsett (27/150/0) is second on the team with 19 targets, which is very small through four games, but goes to show how much of the offense Smith was usurping. The Ravens defense is bad, so they will have to keep throwing. Smith had 33 targets in Weeks 2 and 3, then seven before leaving Thursday's game. That volume won't be spread around to make no one fantasy relevant. Expect the ball to be forced to Forsett, despite no targets in Week 4.
Pick up Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore
Aiken (5/77/1) was the primary target of Joe Flacco in the high-leverage fourth quarter. He finished the game with seven targets after only 11 in the first three weeks. He is widely available and has top-20 upside in all formats. There is risk as we have seen lower passing volume in the past from John Harbaugh, but Trestman was not brought in and Forsett was not kept around to pound the ball up the middle for two yards a pop.
With Michael Campanero on IR, the ball won't be spread around to the point where no one has fantasy value. The Ravens traded for Chris Givens, but--even if that amounts to any significant share of the offense--Trestman's scheme is too complex for this to matter for quite some time.
Gillmore was widely dropped after his Week 3 calf injury and is questionable for Week 5. He would get the Browns on Sunday, so should perform as a TE1 whenever he returns for the same reasons the fantasy community was constantly bullish on Dennis Pitta when he was healthy. Gillmore is much bigger at 6-6 than Pitta and may have better hands. Back to Trestman, he made Martellus Bennett a top-5 TE and a PPR monster. For bad football reasons, but to great fantasy expectations, Trestman is a creature of habit.
Sell high on Chris Ivory, if you're leaning on him
Ivory (29/166/1) had a great performance in London. Bilal Powell left the game in the 2nd quarter with a groin injury and did not return. Ivory did not split time with Zac Stacy (5/7/1); he dominated the ball. The problem is that the Jets have a bye in Week 5, so Powell can return in Week 6 pretty easily, where the Jets face a very stout run defense in Washington.
The Jets have an awesome run of the Patriots, Raiders, and Jaguars in Weeks 7, 8, and 9, so where we are 4-0 or 3-1, we can afford to be conservative with Ivory over the next two weeks. Where we are 0-4 and 1-3, every week is a must-win, so we really can't afford him to be bad or benched, and there should be great value to get in return for him.
Stand pat on C.J. Spiller
We have dropped Spiller in standard league where we don't own Mark Ingram, but I have been irrationally patient on Spiller in PPR. Before OT on Sunday night, he 29 total yards on four catches and two carries. An 80-yard TD reception saved his week and gave us the illusion of fantasy upside. Spiller will be relevant in PPR, and his value has likely not peaked yet.
Sean Payton said that he wanted to get Spiller the ball more before Sunday night. That didn't happen. But it is so difficult to sell for less than an a top-20 PPR back when the Saints have the Eagles, Falcons, Colts, Giants, and Titans over the next five weeks. The Saints can't tackle or cover anyone, so they will have to pass. Mark Ingram got another seven targets in Week 4, but the Saints backs have 40 catches through four weeks.
With a healthy-enough Drew Brees, the difficulty of teaching old dogs like Brees and Payton old tricks, a horrendous defense which will prevent them from pounding out he clock, and a continuous struggle to shape the passing game around WRs, there should be space for two RBs to catch 60 balls in this offense over the last 12 games of the season.
Sell the whole Cowboys offense but Joseph Randle and Christine Michael
Lance Dunbar may have torn his ACL and MCL, taking away Dallas' only strong pass-protecting back. The offensive line is perfect and Brandon Weeden showed that he can get the ball downfield. But they can't face the Saints every week and Weeden has just lost his security blankie in Dunbar.
Terrence Williams (3/49/1) got the highlight but could only haul in three of his ten targets against a bad defense. With the Patriots, Seahawks, their bye, and the Giants over the next weeks, we cannot start anyone but Randle. And even Randle (11/26/1) is so TD-dependent that some strong blocking from Michael can make him lose his job. Honestly, Michael is the best back for this offense. He averaged almost five yards per carry in limited usage in Seattle over his first two season, so with size like 220 lbs. in a 5-10 frame, all he need is a line and Dallas has it.
Sell the Eagles run game
They don't run the ball because they can't. And when their line allows it, good luck guessing who gets the carries. Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles are all worth rostering, but only for the case that one gets injured and the other two have hopes for relevance. Murray is a TD-dependent RB3 (translation: low-end flex), Mathews has only 12 total touches in the three games Murray has played, and Sproles is a low-end PPR flex in leagues 14 teams and larger. That's it. Nothing else to see here, folks.
Bench the Broncos run game
Until C.J. Anderson (11/43/0; 1/27/0 in the passing game) or Ronnie Hillman (11/103/0) get injured, neither is startable. Don't believe the fool's good of Hillman's TD. Peyton Manning looks really bad and Denver has to pass. Anderson is the most trusted in pass protection, so this hurts Hillman. Sure, Hillman will lead Denver in rushing for the time being, but not good enough; and Anderson's snaps keep giving him the shots to steal the job back.
Sell as high as possible on T.J. Yeldon, which means not now.
We always knew that the Jags want to give Yeldon the volume and he is a very talented rusher, but were always skeptical of when the volume can come when they are always playing from behind and that the offensive line is too terrible to make anything come of the volume. Luckily, the Colts had to start Matt Hasselbeck for the injured Andrew Luck (who may miss Week 5, as well) and they can't get through any lines. Perfect scenario for Yeldon (22/105/0), so we want to sell high.
But we may want to risk waiting to do so. Yeldon gets an awful Buccaneers run D in Week 5 and an exploitable situation against Houston in Week 6. Start shopping him around high to gauge value, as you may be able to afford to be stingy for a week.
Buy Mike Wallace
This feels icky inside, but Teddy Bridgewater is so good against the blitz that it is difficult to see a bad matchup for Wallace (8/83/1) until Weeks 13 and 14 against the Seahawks and Cardinals. The Vikings also aren't good enough to solely lean on Adrian Peterson. The Chiefs, Lions, Bears, Raiders, Rams, and Falcons should all force the Vikings to throw enough, in that Minnesota blowouts will be tough to see, as all of those teams should be able to score on Minnesota. Moreover, Wallace is standing out over the failures of other receiving options.
Week 4 was the first time this season Wallace has seen more than seven targets, but he did more with his ten targets than anyone has with their targets through four weeks. And this was against Aqib Talib when the Broncos blitzed the hell out of Bridgewater. The upside is finally starting to rise again.
Sell high on Jeremy Maclin over the next two weeks
Maclin (11/148/0) had his second week in a row of double digit targets and over 140 yards. Alex Smith (31/45, 386 yds) is his quarterback. This is not sustainable. Maybe we keep him to face the Bears in Week 5 and the Steelers in Week 7, but we should fear flying too close to the sun. KC has been playing from behind so much in recent weeks with tough matchups against the Packers and Bengals on the road that we are seeing an outlier. The coming weeks can have the Chiefs safely putting the team on Jamaal Charles' back.
Buy low on Travis Kelce
Where owners will be jaded by Maclin's volume, they may be frustrated with Kelce's (5/49/0). He has neither broken 100 yards nor seen the end zone since scoring two TDs on 106 yards in Week 1. Again, Alex Smith is his QB, too, and the risk aversion that will dominate the Chiefs juicy schedule should heavily favor Kelce after Charles.
Sell high on Karlos Williams
Williams (18/40/0; 3/30/1 in the passing game) is very, very good and was decent against a very good Giants run defense. But--and there is always a "but"-- this is similar to the Falcons situation in that Williams will split time when LeSean McCoy returns. What makes this situation worse is that we cannot trust Rex Ryan to handle this well. In New York, Ryan routinely prevented fantasy relevance with timeshares and general low-volume offense. Williams is a matchup- and TD-dependent flex with limited upside. Owners may value him as a legit RB2 and that is enough to sell high on an inevitable timeshare.
Jeremy Hill is a sell superhigh or stand pat
Hill scored three TDs, but only had nine carries for 40 yards, while Giovani Bernard had 13 carries. Neither were targeted in the passing game where Cincinnati was looking to solely exploit the Chiefs secondary. KC had long drives that amounted to nothing, keeping the ball away from Cincy. Otherwise, we have to believe that Hill get more carries and yards in a game where their win probability never dipped below 60% over the final 26 minutes, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Hill is still third in the NFL in red zone carries (16), despite Bernard tied for fifth (13). This means something for a team which should run away its division.
Hopefully we stood pat on Todd Gurley
Gurley was not startable against a great Cardinals defense and it was most advisable to wait until he beared the load of the offense to start him as a bellcow. The switch got flicked and he dominated for a 19/146/0 slash. He's an RB2 in all formats, rest of season, and we can now forget about Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham.
Duke Johnson is legit, but the Chargers are porous
But he may not be an RB2 in PPR just yet. Johnson had a 9/85/1 slash in the receiving game and has seen seven and ten targets in the last two weeks after not seeing any in the first two weeks. The targets will still be high, but this is peak production.
The Lions RBs totaled 108 yards on ten catches and a TD in Week 1 against the Chargers. Bernard's 20/123/0 over San Diego in Week 2 was only the second 100-yard rushing game of his career--only the fourth over 80. And AP Adrian Petersoned all over the Bolts for 126 yard and two TDs in Week 3. Johnson is very, very good and can catch 60 balls, rest of season, but the Chargers are horrendous against running backs with no light at the end of the tunnel. After facing Le'Veon Bell, Lacy, Latavius Murray, Forsett, Forte, and Charles over the next seven weeks, expect them to be the worst or near-worst rush defense in the league.
Hold on to Matt Jones
Jones (7/11/0) only has 49 yards in 19 touches since his 146-yard, 22-touch, two-TD Week 2 performance. We can't really drop him because the waiver wire is pretty weak this week, and the idea of selling low in a trade undervalues his potential. Where we can trade our QB2 or WR5 for him, it's worth it, but even the biggest fish hate selling this low on someone they acquired for nothing because they are not depending on him.
Move over, Chargers; Antonio Gates is coming
There is no secret that Philip Rivers loves Antonio Gates almost as much as his 57 children. Green (4/57/1) has been a decent option in the three games he's played, getting six targets every week to total 14/174/2. But Gates returns from his suspension and we have seen this movie before when Gates returns and Green disappears from fantasy relevance.
Rivers threw 38 times. Stevie Johnson saw a season-high eight targets and did nothing with them (4/32/0). Keenan Allen (4/72/1) is inconsistent, seeing 17 then four then 18 then seven targets, but a TD saved his fantasy week, unlike Week 2. And this may be closer to what we should expect with Gates in. Allen still has WR1 upside any given week, but good luck guessing those weeks. Don't expect volume to save him as often in PPR without scoring a TD.
David Johnson is not rosterable
Andre Ellington did not return in Week 4 and Chris Johnson did not lose his spot on the depth chart with a 16/83/0 slash. When Ellington returns, D.J. has a definitive ceiling as a returner who, otherwise, barely gets five touches. C.J. is fourth in the NFL in red zone carries (14) and tied for second in carries within the 5-yard line (5).
Drop Jonathan Stewart
There is a point where being the bellcow just doesn't matter. There are a couple of teams per year where this is the case, and once again the Panthers are one of them. Stewart's touches have gone down every week. He has neither broken 65 yards nor scored a TD yet. And there really is zero sign that he can crack the top-25 at the position. Call him an RB3, which can be rosterable, but if a player should never crack your lineup and no one will ever take them in a trade, that means they should be dropped.
Frank Gore has to get better
Gore pooped his opportunity against the Jags with a 17/53/0 line, but we have to keep trusting his 22 touches and 15 in each of the last three weeks. Throw this game away for all Colts for obvious reasons. His schedule is beautiful.
Leonard Hankerson has to be taken seriously
Hankerson has 25 targets in the last three weeks and is the second-most targeted on the Falcons at 29. Six targets in each of the last three games and logged a 6/103/1 line in a silent game for Julio Jones (4/38/0). This is a ceiling type of game for Hankerson, but we have to chase seven and eight targets week to week in this offense.
Davante Adams is day-to-day
Adams (ankle) is out of the walking boot. There has been speculation of a high-ankle sprain, so the timetable is unknown.
Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.