Every year, a player or two emerges from the NFL fantasy shadows to rule the leaderboard. Last year, my early round choice of Cam Newton flamed out, but my last round choice of Matt Ryan saved my season. After the first four games, can we spot this season’s Newton and Ryan? Let’s compare the top ten quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers from the pre-season draft to the current leaderboards and see what looks like fantasy and what will be the reality by the time our fantasy playoffs come around.
Will Alex Smith be the top QB?
No doubt about it, the Kansas City Chiefs are a new team this season. Between the excitement of Kareem Hunt running amok, Tyreek Hill catching passes all over the field, and Travis Kelce lining up as a running back, it’s almost an afterthought that their quarterback looks like a star. But wait, isn’t that Alex Smith?
Alex Smith sits just behind Tom Brady on the list of leading fantasy quarterbacks. He is on pace for a 4200 yard, 32-touchdown season. Not bad for the passer selected 24th in the average preseason draft. He is always a threat to pull the ball down, although he hasn’t had to do much of that this season, with 89 yards and one score so far.
We have reason to doubt he will keep this performance up over the rest of the season. Indeed, his second and third weeks were more to form, with only 15 and 16 NFL fantasy points. But he followed that up with another great performance in Week 4, good for 27 fantasy points.
We may have seen his floor in those two weeks and a floor of 15 is superb. While I don’t see him finishing as the number 2 quarterback, he will probably hold on for a top-ten finish with more good weeks than bad. His ownership has gone from 51% opening day to 86% in Week 4. If he is still unowned in your league, he could answer any quarterback worries you have.
What about Jared Goff and Carson Wentz?
Before the season started, I wrote that Dak Prescott could be the third-best sophomore quarterback this season. So far, that is the case with Carson Wentz ranked #8 and Jared Goff #10, both ahead of the 12th ranked Prescott. Wentz was the 19th quarterback off most boards while Goff went mostly undrafted. They are still unowned in a majority of leagues.
Wentz looks more likely to continue his pace with the Eagles. Goff faces a significantly stronger slate of defenses in the weeks ahead and could fade. He is still light-years ahead of his 2016 performance and is at the least a streaming option against weaker defenses.
What happened to Matt Ryan?
Matt Ryan is having a good season in real life. His numbers are similar to how he started what ultimately became a QB-1 season a year ago. But so far, his efforts have him ranked as the QB-22, a far cry from the 4th position he was largely drafted in. The Falcons are still adjusting to their new offensive coordinator, and last year it wasn’t until the second quarter of the season that Ryan heated up. Hold onto him and expect better games ahead.
The sixth and seventh quarterbacks taken in the draft, Derek Carr and Jameis Winston rank just behind Ryan in 23rd and 24th place. About 15 fantasy points separate them from the QB-10 position, so it will take a couple of big games to put them closer to what their owners expected on draft day.
Top Running backs: Chris Thompson?
Among the top ten running backs, there are few surprises. The top ten scorers all had preseason ADPs of RB19 (Carlos Hyde) or lower… except for one guy; Chris Thompson. Where did he come from? With an ADP of RB58, Thompson is by far the biggest surprise this season. If he was to continue at this pace, he could be a historical NFL fantasy story.
But… he won’t. Thompson had a magical start to the season on a handful of touches. But the word is out. Teams will no longer ignore Washington’s second running back. Kansas City didn’t last week when Thompson had his first off week. With coach Jay Gruden saying he will not increase the workload of his oft-injured player, Thompson has more off weeks than standout weeks ahead of him.
In case you are wondering, the Wonder Kid Kareem Hunt had an ADP of RB16.
Tripped up: LeSean McCoy, Jay Ajayi, and DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray’s owners are dismayed that their top-ten-drafted running back is sharing the load with Derrick Henry this season. The situation leaves Murray ranked 29th in running back fantasy points and is not likely to rise.
LeSean McCoy’s 21st ranking is less than what his owners expected when they drafted him in the first round. He is a victim of a new game plan in Buffalo, although he has not made the most of his opportunities, either. McCoy has an excellent shot of climbing the leaderboard though as he understands his role better and the weather worsens in the northeast. Keep plugging him in.
The biggest draft disaster is Jay Ajayi. In the preseason, I warned everyone that his projected ADP was way too high for such an inconsistent rusher. Last season, a pair of 200-yard games skewed his numbers. But when Miami said he would be a workhorse, everyone expected 200-yards every game. Instead, we have a repeat of 2016; a fantastic game followed by two duds. Miami’s first-week bye leaves him ranked 43rd, but even on a per-game basis, he is only 34th best. A monster Ajayi game is coming and will put him back in the top-15 or so, but he is a predictable bust most weeks.
Top Wide Receivers: Stefon Diggs, Chris Hogan
Stefon Diggs plays in Minnesota, a team most people don’t think of enough when they look for top performers. He started the season with Sam Bradford at quarterback, which also helped him slip to WR-24 in preseason drafts. But here he is at the top of the Week 4 leaderboard with Case Keenum in for Bradford. He is the real deal. When a teammate joins you among the top five receivers in yardage, it is a good bet that yardage will not drop off anytime soon. Heck, if Adam Thielen could get a touchdown here or there, he could be right behind Diggs in NFL fantasy rankings.
Chris Hogan was picked at an ADP of WR-38, not bad for the fifth receiver taken off a team (after Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and tight end Rob Gronkowski.) Injuries helped him rise in Tom Brady’s pecking order, especially in the red zone. Cooks is ranked right behind Hogan mostly on yardage, but it is Hogan’s five touchdowns in five games that have him ranked fourth among fantasy wide receivers. He is not likely to maintain a touchdown-per-game pace, even with Tom Brady throwing the ball. Look for him to fade towards the pack as the season progresses, assuming injuries don’t continue to be an issue in New England.
Dropping the ball: Julio Jones, Amari Cooper
If you flipped a coin between Julio Jones and Antonio Brown in the draft, I hope you got Brown. Jones has been playing with an achy back and isn’t getting the number of targets he saw last season. Those two things could be tied to each other, but the result is a WR-33 ranking after four weeks. He remains a threat to have a monster game each week and could quickly rise in the rankings. No one else on the Falcons is taking over as the top receiver anytime soon, so don’t think of doing anything silly like trading or waiving him.
The most disappointing wide receiver has to be Amari Cooper. In the preseason, he was touted as a premier receiver, ready to separate himself from Michael Crabtree and become the star we predicted he would be. Instead, he leads the league in drops, hasn’t been able to beat top cornerbacks, and still can’t get open in the short quarters of the red zone. With an injured quarterback, he is not likely to rise much from his RB-69 ranking this week, either. He is still an explosive threat. If someone cuts him, stash him for when Derek Carr gets back into form and the Raiders’ schedule gets easier.
With a full third of the NFL fantasy season in the books, some trends and surprises have developed. More surprises certainly lay ahead, so keep coming back to RealSport for the latest updates and advice. And if you have a question about NFL fantasy football, send it to [email protected] so we can publish the answer in our weekly NFL Fantasy Mailbag each Wednesday.
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