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Fact vs. Fiction: Usage Questions

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A look at Demarco Murray, Bilal Powell, and Devin Funchess.

Oakland Raiders v Tennessee Titans

Heading into week five we have a couple of players with looming usage issues that need to be addressed. An individual player’s usage is often hard to nail down from week to week unless said player is the current focal point of an offense. Still, that doesn’t stop team owners from hypothesizing whenever a player churns out a solid week. It also doesn’t stifle the hope that a traditionally great player will return to dominance.

If you’ve ever said the words, “I’ll give him one more week” then you know exactly what I’m talking about. In situations that aren’t as clear-cut as saying – start Todd Gurley – it’s easy to abandon what you know to be true for what you hope to be true. With several players entering this week with question marks over their heads I thought it might be appropriate to help separate fact versus fiction.

1. It’s the Bilal Powell show!

For fantasy purposes, there isn’t a lot to like about the Jet’s offense as a whole. They do, however, have an interesting backfield situation developing. The Jets started the season with two backs in Matt Forte and Bilal Powell vying for snaps. With no clear leader in the backfield thus far, fantasy owners have been shy to start either of them.

Last week Powell took full advantage of Forte’s absence and accumulated 163 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. It’s odd that Powell didn’t begin the season as the clear leader for touches after his usage trended upward toward the end of last season.

Many people who drafted Powell expected more of that, and in PPR leagues Powell could easily be a weekly starter. What those same people didn’t expect was for rookie Elijah McGuire to find the success running the ball that he did last week.

He posted 93 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries!

Powell seems to have put some distance between himself and Forte on the depth chart, but if McGuire’s efficiency per snap is the norm going forward Powell’s carries will diminish. One thing is certain; Bilal Powell needs a heavy workload to be fantasy relevant.

Fiction: Hey, I say start him this week if you have him. The Jets will probably give him a hearty dose of carries based on his numbers last week and the fact the Forte likely won’t suit up. But don’t expect that workload to last long if the rising rookie continues his trend upward as well.

2. Don’t Panic on Demarco Murray!

Murray is the highest drafted player on this list. He was a consensus second-round pick on most people’s draft boards. So far, he hasn’t been playing as such. I see two reasons for this.

First, Murray spent most of the Titan’s training camp nursing a pesky hamstring injury, and that injury persisted in the first half of the preseason. In week two that injury flared up again, which gave rise to the best game of Derrick Henry’s young career.

Second, in case you haven’t noticed, the AFC South currently has a three-way tie for first place between the Texans, Jaguars, and the Titans. Given that we are a quarter of the way through a season that places those three teams with very easy schedules it’s not foolish to assume that this division will be decided in December.

So far the Titans have been extremely careful with Murray with the longevity game in mind. Why run your pro-bowl back into the ground when you have a perfectly capable (and legit starter in his own right) Derrick Henry waiting for carries?

With that being said. The emergence of Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans was on full display last week. The Texans stomped Tennessee to the tune of 57 points to the Titans 14. To me, it looks like the marathon that the Titans had in mind just got changed to an all-out sprint.

Fact: Demarco Murray signed a four-year contract extension during the offseason. We are not witnessing the passing of the torch in the Titans backfield. I do believe Derrick Henry will continue to see touches to attempt to keep Murray healthy, but the Titans might need to let the reigns loose sooner rather than later to keep up with the red-hot Texans.

3. Do The Panthers Have a New Number One WR?

The writing is on the wall when it comes to who on the Panthers roster has taken over in terms of targets in Greg Olsen’s absence. His name is Devin Funchess. He is big bodied, former college tight end, with a similar skill set to both Olsen and Benjamin.

Since week four Funchess has been targeted 19 times without Olsen on the field, and last week Funchess found the end zone twice. So is he the new number one receiver?

The problem with attempting to pinpoint a true number one receiver, from a fantasy perspective, on Carolina’s roster lies in their quarterback. Cam Newton has been most accurate in his mid-level passes this season, which is a section of the field Greg Olsen used to dominate. Anyone that assumes that role is going to be targeted heavily.

Now, Benjamin did accrue 104 yards on four targets last week, but that is a statistical outlier on the season. Regardless, Benjamin is going to get more deep looks and perhaps have better yardage totals than Funchess some weeks, but Benjamin’s fantasy numbers are going to be far more matchup dependent moving forward.

The touchdowns are the deciding factor here. Because one game against a suspect secondary isn’t enough to determine if Funchess is looking at a breakout year in the end zone, it might be best to roster him and wait and see.

Historical Fiction: What’s that you say? Is historical fiction a cop out? Well yes, it is, but it seems to fit better than anything else in this case. Historical data points to Funchess being the number one guy based on target volume over the past two games, but to say that this story is 100% factual would be ignoring the question marks in the touchdown department. My gut is telling me that in this case, you are better off assuming that Benjamin and Funchess hold low flex appeal with good matchup & game rules dependent upside. Funchess is your PPR guy. Benjamin is your standard league guy.