1st Quarter Heroes and Zeroes

Oct 5, 2017


That’s all folks, one quarter of the season done and a mere 12 games ahead (besides the two Florida teams with the weather induced Week 1 Bye). We’ve seen teams’ fortunes rise and fall, as well as our pre-season rankings. The start of the year is always the hardest because of our natural inclination to panic. In a fantasy season with only 16 games (I know there are weirdos who use week 17 but I’m referring to a standard league setup) a slow start is hard to get over. So I was curious as to who out there was exceeding expectations and who has been giving their owners headaches in the first quarter of the season. The process was simple enough, I looked at ESPN’s non-PPR preseason ranks pulled from their Draft Kit and compared the top 12 QBs and TEs and top 36 RBs and WRs with how they ranked in their position group. I also included a Change field that just looks at the difference between the preseason ranks and current ranks with a numerical value. There are two non-numerical values that you will see in that column, “E” is even and a “+” indicates that the players original rank was not included in ESPNs top 200 overall. Because the list only included 200 players, some position groups had more players listed than others. The “+” ranking denotes a jump from outside of the top 20 QBs, top 68 RBs, top 17 TEs, and the top 72 WRs which is as far the the top 200 could get me (minus DEF and K).

A couple other notes before we look at the data: for purposes of ranking the players, I included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers numbers from Thursday night’s game to get them up to four games’ worth of scoring, so the only players with 3 games’ worth of data are the Dolphins. I also excluded New England’s results from Thursday night, so the players from the Pats are properly rated based on their first four games. I am also going to be a little more lenient on guys who may fall into a “Zero” categorization, but didn’t earn it on the merits of their play. David Johnson is the prime example here, as he had less than one game played before being hurt and put onto the IR. Finally, I have highlighted the players in the preseason top rankings that have dropped out of the current top rankings, as they weren’t all going to be accounted for with the limit of players I put on the tables. Anyway, let’s take a quick look at how Quarter 1 wrapped up.



Heroes: Alex Smith is the clearest Hero here based on his early season results, top ranking, and his team’s undefeated record, but the two other QBs who jumped from outside the top 20 preseason ranks to a top 12 spot: DeShaun Watson and Jared Goff. All three of those players were most likely available on the waiver wire to start the season and are on a pace to far exceed some of the most optimistic projections they received. One other young QB that has made a nice jump in the ranks is Carson Wentz. The loss of Jordan Matthews has been completely forgotten thanks to the work of Alshon Jeffrey, the improvement of Nelson Agholor, and the rise of Zach Ertz (more on him later). Wentz started hot last year as well, before teams got more tape on him and were able to scheme to take advantage of his inexperience, but it seems like the improvements he’s made are legit. He’s improved almost every meaningful statistic while adding a rushing element to his game. He’s made huge strides on his third down efficiency as well, greatly improving his ratings to all zones according to Sharp Football Stats. If he can keep it up, Dak will have some real competition as the best QB in the NFC East.

Zeroes: There were a few names that have been disappointments thus far in the season, with Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Cam Newton especially looking bad. Ryan was a major regression candidate as @DFS_mathlete wrote about in preseason and he has done just that, playing at a replacement level for the first quarter. He still will have some good days ahead but anyone who paid for his results from 2016 on draft day wasted a pick. Carr mixed in two decent games with a terrible one against Washington and then was hurt playing in Denver. He has looked close to who he was last year, but his offense has left a little to be desired as his running game and main WR have been even bigger disappointments than him. Newton looked terrible the first few weeks and it seemed to many that he was still working his way back to health. He at least has begun to offer some hope for his owners, but he still shouldn’t have been drafted where he was as he has relied on his rushing numbers to bolster his fantasy stats and there was a lot of talk this offseason about protecting him from that kind of exposure.



Heroes: There has been a ton of turnover in the ranks for TE, which just goes to show you that if you do not pay up to take Gronk or Kelce, just wait. The big name to talk about here, though, was a guy who had a ton of hype heading into the season, was ranked top 12 this preseason, and has managed to out perform the considerable expectations: Zach Ertz. While there are other guys who made larger leaps, Ertz is the only guy who has been a major contributor each week. He’s been very consistent scoring 9.3, 9.7, 11.5, and 8.1 points through the first four games. He’s been a monster for the Eagles and is easily QB Carson Wentz’s preferred target.

Zeroes: Really, take your pick here. Aside from Gronk and Kelce, pretty much everyone has disappointed to some degree. Even the lower ranked TEs that remained in the top 12 at the position have done so more as a result of low scoring output from the position overall. The Zero here is everyone who thinks they know what will happen at TE. Don’t invest a high draft pick and be sure to work the wire aggressively to obtain a usable option.



Heroes: Kareem Hunt is the first name that probably pops to mind here, and he has been fantastic and while likely continue to be, but depending on when you drafted, the surprise with him is how good he’s been, not the fact that he has been good. He was already going as a top 20 RB with a high variance of outcomes, but most viewed him as safe a bet as any of the non Leonard Fournette rookie RBs. The bigger surprises that stand out are two excellent receiving backs who have managed to carve out significant roles for themselves on their offenses: Chris Thompson and Alvin Kamara. Thompson was seen as the third best option for fantasy purposes in the Washington backfield as Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine were both going higher than him. He’s taken advantage of Kelley being a little banged up and Perine suffering through typical rookie running back issues to step up as the third down back.

Taking a similar path to productivity, Kamara has emerged as the most consistent option in the Saints’ backfield. Like Thompson, he was a distant third option for fantasy players as Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson loomed large in the minds of drafters. Instead, Peterson has been a total non factor and Ingram has resumed his frustrating role as a very talented player that can’t seem to earn a bell cow role from head coach Sean Payton. Kamara has been the second best rusher in terms of yardage despite receiving the fewest carries of the three main options, and is second on the team in both targets and receiving yards. The Saints’ offense hasn’t been as high scoring but they continue to be among the leaders in passing yardage, and smart fantasy players learned long ago to chase opportunities and not TDs. Kamara should continue to be a very useful back and like Thompson was probably undrafted.

Zeroes: Of the top guys heading into the year, Jay Ajayi has been tough to own. I don’t want to be too harsh on him, considering he only has three games of stats to build his rank on, so we’ll focus on another preseason top 15 RB: Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders’ offense has been brutal, as Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have also been underachieving to a frightening degree. Lynch has somehow used his off the field celebrity to trick fantasy players into believing that one of he most physically intimidating runners of the last 20 years only needed a year off to rejuvenate himself despite being on the wrong side of 30 and being one of the only workhorse backs left when he retired. Anyone who owned Lynch his last year in the NFL could have told you that Lynch had lost a good bit of the burst that made him such a powerful and dangerous runner. Lynch is a case where his fame and notoriety are disproportionate to his on-field production; he’s fun to own right up until the games start.

Another big disappointment in the first quarter has been Isaiah Crowell. There was a big push to draft him as a high volume, mid-level talent that ended up with him being taken somewhere in the second or third rounds of drafts. What we’ve seen happen is his average yards per rush are way down, whether it’s due to a combination of no receiving threat to take the attention of the defense, or his lack of skill, the results are the same. It would be easy to just brush off his lack of production on the Browns if it wasn’t for another RB in the same backfield greatly out producing him. Duke Johnson Jr. was a favorite off-season target of mine, and he has managed to produce right around Crowell’s pre-season ADP despite going roughly six rounds later. Crowell was a bad value before and is very unlikely to rebound to anywhere close to his original value.

One last player who deserves mention here, unfortunately, is Adrian Peterson. There was hope in the fantasy community that in New Orleans’ backfield, he could become enough of an asset to warrant his selection as a top 30 option. He was going ahead of similar players who profiled to be part timers with projected goal-line work like Mike Gillislee and LeGarrette Blount. What we’ve seen is an aging back coming off of another major injury who has only hit double digits in touches in one game and has failed to score through the first quarter of the season. Peterson is just the latest in the long line of former fantasy studs who get over-drafted one last time based on past performance. It’s tough to see guys like this fade, but it’s just a part of football-real and fantasy.



Heroes: Any discussion of exceeding draft day expectations has to start with the starting duo in Minnesota. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have both jumped at least 30 spots in the WR ranks (Diggs-30 and Theilen-32) and after week 4 were both top 10 at WR. Diggs had shown some flashes of very high level talent but hadn’t put together a full season of healthy production. Theilen had a breakout season last year, finishing just shy of 1,000 yards after only totaling 281 in his first two years. Both guys had some preseason hype as sleepers, but I doubt there were many people anticipating seeing the kind of results the two of them have produced. What’s been especially nice to see is that they have both produced with Sam Bradford and Case Keenum starting, so an injury to either one shouldn’t hurt their production in a meaningful way. Looking ahead, it will be worth watching how the Vikings offense produces without talented rookie RB Dalvin Cook, but both guys seems locked in as top 20 options.

Two more names to touch on here are Sterling Shepard and Devin Funchess. Both guys are very viable #2 options on their teams that have benefited from having a #1 guy around to draw coverage. Shepard has thrived on a New York Giants team that has been a nightmare for their fans. There was some hesitancy on Shepard that caused his ADP to slip a bit because of the signing of Brandon Marshall, but he has easily out produced Marshall and it’s been rookie tight end Evan Engram that has drawn more production away from Shepard than Marshall. Odell Beckham Jr.’ s season ending injury in week 5 is a little scary for Shepard owners, but he has enough talent and the Giants will be behind in enough games for Shepard to keep a top 36 ranking, even if he doesn’t hold his WR13 slot after the first quarter. Funchess has looked to be the weapon fantasy players were hoping for two years ago when he was the top outside threat while Kelvin Benjamin recovered from a torn ACL. Instead, he struggled through his first two years, but has now found success in his third season. Funchess has looked good since Greg Olsen was lost to a broken foot in week 2, and become a larger part of the offense. If Cam can continue his recent turnaround, Funchess should still be a valuable player until Olsen returns from the IR, and depending on how he looks, Funchess might have secured a spot for himself in the offense by then.

Zeroes: There are two names right at the top that cannot be missed: Amari Cooper and Terrelle Pryor Sr. Cooper has seemed completely lost this year, after an outstanding first two seasons to start his career. He started off strong with a 62 yard one TD performance in week 1 against the Titans, but has disappeared since then, totaling only 48 yards in weeks 2-4. Losing QB Derek Carr has hurt, but Cooper has also dropped a lot of passes and has only a 40% catch rate. He has been rated as one of the worst receivers in the league through the first quarter and the scariest part is there seems to be no easy explanation. Hopefully a rebound is coming, and normally he would make for a great buy low trade target, but he is so lost right now that it’s tough to endorse doing anything with Cooper besides burying him on your bench.

While Cooper had a tremendous collegiate career and two successful years in the NFL, Pryor was a bit harder to project as he had only one year as a full time WR. After putting up some pretty good numbers for the Browns last year, everyone was looking at Pryor’s raw athleticism and projecting him as a #1 WR as Kirk Cousins’ new primary target. Fueling the hype even more was a series of videos of Pryor making some impressive catches in practice against Josh Norman. It was all going according to plan, right up until the games started. Like Cooper, Pryor started off week 1 with a mild success, catching 6 passes for 66 yards, before struggling mightily the next two weeks. Pryor has looked lost at times and unsure of how to even play the position at others, but he did rebound to put up a nice game in week 4. There is some hope for Pryor as Cousins has shown a pattern of starting the year slowly before turning it on as the year progressed. Still, Pryor has not fulfilled the potential he showed in Cleveland last year, and he has hurt his owners more than he’s helped.

So that’s Q1 of 2017. There have been some interesting developments already in Week 5 and the lead up to Week 6, so I’ll look forward to seeing how things stack up at the half way point. Bye weeks will make this a little trickier moving forward, but I’ll plan on doing this again once everyone has 8 weeks of games played. See you then.

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