Fantasy Football Week 4 Sleepers at Every Position
Well that was...something.
After one of the weirder NFL Sundays in recent memory, we know one thing about the 2017 season.
We know nothing.
The highest-scoring fantasy quarterbacks of Week 3 were Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. This was not surprising.
The No. 3 quarterback was Case Keenum of the Minnesota Vikings, which was more than a little surprising.
The No. 5 running back (Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs) wasn't even supposed to start this year. The back two slots above him made an appearance as the "Sleeper of the Week" in this very column last week.
And that's the thing. This season of madness and mayhem has resulted in a fantasy leaderboard littered with players whom very few people expected much from in 2017. Surprise stars who have gone from waiver-wire fodder to fantasy starters.
And just as with the first three weeks of the 2017 campaign, there will be new names who rise up and help carry fantasy squads to victory in Week 4.
That felt rather like a segue of some sort.
Before delving into the Week 4 recommendations, let's review the Week 3 calls to see who shined and who stunk.
If a player I recommended finishes inside weekly starter territory (the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, top 24 running backs and top 36 wide receivers), I'm calling that a "win." Otherwise...not so much.
Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins (8 carries, 38 yards, 6 receptions, 150 yards, TD, RB3): Not only did Thompson get a season-high 14 touches against the Raiders, but the scatback made the most of them with 188 total yards and a score. WIN
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (212 passing yards, 2 TD, -2 rushing yards, QB21): If Marvin Lewis had any idea what a halftime adjustment is, I might have gotten the win here. But if frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their butts when they hop. LOSS
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (155 passing yards, 2 TD, 9 rushing yards, QB22): Much like Dalton, Smith looked great in the first half. Too bad NFL games have two halves. LOSS
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (3 carries, 27 yards, 2 catches, 12 yards, TD, RB25): Bernard only touched the ball five times against the Packers, but his short touchdown catch left him just outside the top 24 running backs. LOSS
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks (11 carries, 34 yards, 2 catches, 18 yards, TD, RB17): Carson managed just 3.1 yards a carry in Seattle's loss to the Titans, but his touchdown catch saved the day for fantasy owners. WIN
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (2 carries, 23 yards, TD, 6 catches, 81 yards, RB8): The Browns are an awful football team, but at least against the Colts, Hue Jackson remembered Johnson is on the roster. WIN
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (4 receptions, 58 yards, WR48): When you can't move the ball through the air against the Saints, you officially can't move the ball through the air. Cam Newton just doesn't look good at all. LOSS
Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets (3 receptions, 42 yards, WR65): As it turns out, fantasy owners looking to start Kearse should think twice if there's any chance the Jets will be competitive in the game. LOSS
J.J. Nelson, WR, Arizona Cardinals (GOOSE EGG): Maybe it was his injured hamstring. Or maybe the Cardinals made an effort to force the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. Whatever the case, Nelson was my biggest miss of the season so far. LOSS
Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (2 catches, 16 yards, TE29): Of course Jacoby Brissett would remember T.Y. Hilton plays for the Colts the week that I recommend Doyle as a spot start. Not cool, Jacoby. Not...cool. LOSS
Ben Watson, TE, Baltimore Ravens (3 catches, 12 yards, TD, TE12): The Ravens were beyond terrible in London on Sunday, but Watson hauled in Baltimore's only score of the day and finished just inside TE1 territory. WIN
Miami Dolphins Defense/Special Teams (336 yards allowed, 20 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 FR): I don't know if I overestimated how bad the Jets are offensively or underestimated how bad the Dolphins are defensively. LOSS
WEEK 3 TOTAL: 4/12 (.333)
Week 3 was my worst week to date, but I finally hit a "Sleeper of the Week," had two running back calls land in RB1 territory and if I had it to do all over again, I'd still recommend half the guys I missed on given their matchups. It was a wild week, and sometimes plays that make sense just don't pan out.
SEASON TOTAL: 17/36 (.472)
Sleeper of the Week
Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver Broncos (vs. OAK)
One could make the argument that calling the fourth-highest-scoring quarterback in fantasy football through three games a "sleeper" is stretching the term’s definition.
However, according to Matt Franciscovich of NFL.com, Trevor Siemian of the Denver Broncos is owned in less than 30 percent of fantasy leagues on that site. That number probably isn’t going to spike after Siemian failed to throw a touchdown pass and got picked off twice in last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Denver head coach Vance Joseph told ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold he still has confidence in his young quarterback despite the missteps on the shores of Lake Erie.
"[Siemian] is trying to make plays," Joseph said. "I can't fault him for that. We want him to be smart with the ball—he has been smart with the ball—and he's made those plays before, so I'm not down on that part. We can't do it, but I get why he took some chances."
Fantasy owners need to have that same confidence in Siemian in Week 4.
The third-year pro will be back in the friendly confines of Mile High, where he’s averaging 225 passing yards and three touchdowns per game. There’s also the matter of a very solid matchup with an Oakland Raiders secondary that just allowed over 350 passing yards to Kirk Cousins and hasn’t intercepted a pass yet this year.
Toss in that the Silver and Black have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to signal-callers so far in 2017, and you have the recipe for another surprisingly effective fantasy outing from Siemian on Sunday.
Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings (vs. DET)
There wasn't a more surprising performance at the quarterback position in Week 3 than Case Keenum's surgical dismemberment of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Heck, there wasn't a more surprising performance at any position.
Keenum completed nearly 76 percent of his passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating was over 140, he completed passes to eight different receivers and the fifth-year journeyman finished the week with more fantasy points than Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Maybe that dude who predicted the Apocalypse was going to start on September 23 wasn't all that far off after all.
This isn't to say that Keenum is going to back up that performance with another 300-yard, three-score outing against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. To this point in the season, the Lions have fielded a better pass defense than Tampa. They just did a fine job keeping Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons in check and Detroit ranks 20th in fantasy points per game given up to quarterbacks in 2017.
There's also the matter of Keenum's admittedly shaky performance at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2.
But Keenum appeared much improved with a full week of preparation under his belt, he'll be playing in the Twin Cities again Sunday and while the Lions have been relatively stingy from a fantasy perspective, the team does rank 22nd in pass defense this year.
If you're in a pinch at quarterback, you could do worse than hopping on the Case Keenum bandwagon in Week 4.
There's a sentence I never thought I'd type.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (vs. TEN)
After the New England Patriots squeaked past the Houston Texans, 36-33, in Week 3, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle that Tom Brady had some words of encouragement for the rookie signal-caller.
"He said, 'Heck of a game. Keep grinding.' Keep doing what I'm doing," Watson said.
On behalf of fantasy football freaks everywhere, I concur with Sir Tom the Bradylicious.
Keep doing what you're doing, Deshaun.
After passing for just 227 yards in his first two games combined, Watson blew up against a leaky Pats secondary, completing 22 of 33 throws for 301 yards and two scores. He also topped 40 rushing yards for the second straight week.
Cue those same fantasy football freaks nodding enthusiastically about the benefit of having a mobile quarterback in the starting lineup.
This week, the Texans play host to the Tennessee Titans in an AFC South showdown. The same Titans who have given up the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks to this point in the 2017 season. The same Titans team that just allowed 399 total yards and four touchdowns to Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.
Watson isn't close to being an NFL player of Wilson's caliber (at least not yet), but he's getting better by the week and gets a plus fantasy matchup in Week 4.
If you're in a bind under center this week, the future is now in Houston.
Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks (vs. IND)
Generally speaking, I'm going to try to avoid too many repeats in this column. Especially with players who "hit" the week before.
Every rule has its exception, however. And Seattle Seahawks tailback Chris Carson qualifies.
That Carson was able to crack the top 20 fantasy tailbacks a week ago says more about the slow week so many ball-carriers had than it does about Carson's performance. The rookie barely topped three yards a pop on his 11 carries and would have been a fantasy afterthought were it not for a third-quarter scoring grab.
But even in those struggles, there was room for a measure of optimism. Neither Eddie Lacy nor Thomas Rawls received even a single carry against the Tennessee Titans. Carson's 13 touches were the most of anyone on the team not named Russell Wilson.
For now, at least, Carson is Seattle's lead back. And that portends good things in Week 4.
This week, the Seahawks welcome the Indianapolis Colts, and while the Colts enter Week 4 10th in the NFL in run defense, it's worth noting that they've played teams the last two weeks that are 24th or worse running the ball this year.
The Colts are also 13th in PPR points surrendered to the position—so it's not as if running backs haven't had some fantasy success against Indy.
If you believe that the Seahawks will take care of business at home, this represents a golden opportunity for Carson to have his best game of 2017.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals (vs. SFO)
The Arizona Cardinals backfield is officially a hot mess. With star tailback David Johnson out with a dislocated wrist, the Cardinals managed just 49 yards on 21 carries against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
That's 2.3 yards per carry, for the math-averse.
However, even amidst the darkness, there was a ray of light. Fifth-year scatback Andre Ellington garnered just five carries in the game, but he gained 22 yards on those totes and turned five more touches in the passing game into 59 more yards.
Again, if math isn't your thing, that's 81 total yards—and just over 13 PPR fantasy points. That ranked Ellington just inside the top 20 at his position last week.
Given that Ellington was exponentially more effective than Kerwynn Williams or Chris Johnson on Monday night, it makes sense that the Cardinals would endeavor to get him the ball more Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
That's the same 49ers who were historically bad against the run last year, are allowing almost 125 yards a game on the ground in 2017 and are surrendering the sixth-most fantasy points per game to the running back position so far this season.
Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (at LAC)
The Philadelphia Eagles are running the ball pretty effectively in 2017. The team ranks ninth in the NFL in that regard through three games, averaging just over 119 yards per game.
However, that ground game was dealt a serious blow against the New York Giants last week, when veteran tailback Darren Sproles tore his ACL and broke his arm—on the same play.
With Sproles done for the season, the other backs on the roster are going to have to pick up the slack—including second-year pro Wendell Smallwood.
Per Dave Zangaro of CSN Philadelphia, offensive coordinator Frank Reich indicted it's Smallwood who will get the first crack at stepping into Sproles' role as the team's passing-down back.
"There's no doubt Wendell is going to have an increased role," Reich said. "He's the guy ... I think all the guys have some third-down ability, but Wendell has really improved in that area. He's shown natural aptitude for it early, both from a protection standpoint and from a route-running standpoint."
If Smallwood's workload a week ago after Sproles went down is any indication, he could be in for more than just third-down work. As Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports pointed out, Smallwood out-snapped veteran bruiser LeGarrette Blount 43 to 22, turning those snaps into 13 total touches for 80 yards.
If that workload split holds at anything close to that ratio this week against a struggling Chargers team, Smallwood could be a quietly strong fantasy play, especially in fantasy leagues that award a point for receptions.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (at NE)
This is the last repeat of the week, I promise.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess didn't do a lot to reward fantasy owners who followed my "sleeper" recommendation a week ago. His four catches for 58 yards weren't a terrible stat line, but it didn't win anyone's week, either.
Still, there are a few reasons why last Sunday could just be the beginning for the big-bodied third-year pro.
For starters, while Funchess had just four catches, those grabs came on 10 targets—the second most on the team and a career high.
That target share probably isn't going to decrease this week. After top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a scary-looking injury last week against the Saints, ESPN.com's David Newton reported an MRI revealed no structural damage to Benjamin's knee. Newton also passed along word that Benjamin is set to play Sunday despite being banged up after practicing in full Thursday.
As a matter of fact, Benjamin isn't even listed on Friday's injury report.
But this smells of smoke—of a team floundering offensively rolling out a hobbled wideout as a "decoy" in the hopes of drawing coverage away from the rest of an already decimated receiving corps.
With tight end Greg Olsen already on injured reserve with a broken foot, that potentially leaves quarterback Cam Newton without two of his top targets in the passing game—and Funchess looking at another week of double-digit looks against a Patriots defense surrendering the seventh-most fantasy points to the wide receiver position.
Yes, Newton and the Carolina passing game have been out of sync this season, but given the way New England's offense is humming, that isn't really going to matter.
The Panthers will be throwing the ball whether they want to or not. And when that ball is chucked downfield, it will more than likely be to Funchess.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (at DAL)
One of the more interesting developments of the first month of the 2017 NFL season has taken place in Los Angeles, where Rams quarterback Jared Goff, well…
Goff looks like an honest-to-goodness NFL quarterback.
The biggest beneficiary of this second-year surge has been newcomer Sammy Watkins, who has parlayed a huge Week 3 into a top-20 fantasy ranking among wideouts through three games. But Watkins isn't the only receiver making a dent in his first year with the Rams.
Rookie Cooper Kupp was quiet last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but with nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown this year, Kupp has shown both to be a fairly quick study and to have developed a rapport with his young quarterback.
After watching Watkins torch the 49ers for a sizzling 6/106/2 stat line in Week 3, it's a safe bet that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will make him the focus of his secondary's attention Sunday at Jerruh World.
That should mean plenty of single coverage for Kupp against a beaten-up Cowboys secondary giving up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position in 2017.
And that sets the stage for the Kupp to runneth over in Week 4.
Tyrell Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. PHI)
For every fantasy breakout in a given season, there are fantasy disappointments. Last year, Los Angeles Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams fit into the former category, coming from nowhere to top 1,000 yards and finish inside the top 20 wide receivers in PPR formats.
This year, with 11 catches for 123 yards and no scores, Williams has taken up residence in the latter category—as has most of the Chargers offense.
However, all is not lost. In two of three contests this year, Williams has seen seven targets in the passing game. And while Philip Rivers' early struggles in 2017 mean that some of those targets have been off the mark, at least we know that the veteran signal-caller hasn't forgotten Williams is on the team entirely with Keenan Allen healthy once again.
If ever there were a week for the Chargers passing game to get going, this is it. Through three games this year, the Philadelphia Eagles and their injury-battered secondary are 25th in the NFL in pass defense. Last week, the Eagles allowed 366 passing yards and three touchdowns to Eli Manning of the New York Giants, who, like Rivers, has struggled early in the 2017 season.
More importantly, only two teams have allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers this year than the Eagles.
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders (at DEN)
In 2017, there are two types of fantasy owners where tight ends are concerned—the fortunate few who have New England's Rob Gronkowski, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and Philadelphia's Zach Ertz—and everyone else.
And as injuries have ravaged the position over the first few weeks of the season, that second group has grown steadily larger.
This is shaping up as a season where the fantasy owners in group No. 2 who can cobble together reasonably consistent scoring from the tight end spot are going to be the ones left standing.
And in that regard, Jared Cook of the Oakland Raiders looks like a good matchup target in Week 4.
The 30-year-old is coming off his best game as a Raider after making four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown last week in Washington. But while that stat line is hardly awe-inspiring, Cook has a better-than-average chance of bettering it in Week 4 when Oakland travels to face its AFC West rival in Denver.
Yes, Denver's "No Fly Zone" defense is stout. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are among the best in the game at what they do.
But while Talib and Harris are adept at shutting down wide receivers, the Broncos have been much kinder to opposing tight ends in 2017. The team ranks seventh in PPR fantasy points given up to the position.
If the Raiders are going to move the ball through the air in the Mile High City, Cook may well be their best chance to do so.
Ryan Griffin, TE, Houston Texans (vs. TEN)
Despite coming up big for the Houston Texans last week in a Beantown homecoming, tight end Ryan Griffin told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle that he wasn't especially happy with his performance, even if he was glad to be on the field.
"It felt good getting back out there," Griffin said. "I was out last week. It was tough watching the game. I was happy to be out on the field battling for the guys. In terms of having a good game, it's a loss unfortunately. I've got to do better."
Fantasy owners also weren't especially enthusiastic about Griffin's five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, given that the 27-year-old was either on the bench or (more likely) the waiver wire in the overwhelming majority of leagues.
That shouldn't be the case in Week 4 when the Texans host the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium.
The Titans have been fairly generous to tight ends this season, allowing the 11th-most fantasy points per game. And young quarterback Deshaun Watson has demonstrated a level of confidence in Griffin, targeting him six times last week.
That Griffin hauled in all but one of those looks isn't going to hurt his chances of seeing a similar target load Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals Defense/Special Teams (at CLE)
OK, so last week my matchup-play defense pick was, um, yeah.
The Miami Dolphins are dead to me.
However, that doesn't mean the philosophy that led me to pick the Dolphins doesn't work.
It just means the Miami Dolphins are DEAD…TO…ME.
The Cincinnati Bengals were a top-five defensive fantasy play last week, but that was a fluke score buoyed by a pick-six against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
The Bengals are on the road again this week, but if they crack the top five in Week 4, it isn't going to be any fluke.
This week, the Bengals face a Cleveland Browns team that's a mess in just about every way an NFL team can be a mess. In their defense, though, the Browns are a middle-of-the-pack team in total offense (16th) and scoring (18th).
But the Browns have also allowed the fourth-most sacks in the league, have thrown twice as many interceptions as any other team in the NFL and have the most giveaways.
Given that those big plays are the source of fantasy points in most scoring systems, it's no surprise the Browns have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to team defenses so far in 2017.
A bad team prone to mistakes led by a first-year quarterback?