We’re now more than a quarter of the way through the season and this rookie class is proving to be for real in the fantasy world. A week after losing two key contributors, the rooks turned right around and submitted a sterling week led by two emerging stars in the AFC South.
Superstars: Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette
Kareem Hunt has company, and they share the same position.
Yes, welcome to fantasy superstardom Leonard Fournette.
The LSU product put in a performance for the ages on Sunday, ripping through the Pittsburgh defense — in Pittsburgh, mind you — for 181 yards and two scores. Fournette vaults into this category thanks to a 90-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter with the Jaguars already up a couple of scores:
Leonard Fournette made (and ruined) a lot of fantasy weeks with this 90-yard TD run. pic.twitter.com/Jd9OhlIHc2
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 8, 2017
Fantasy doesn’t discriminate when it comes to game timing/situation, and Fournette, for the third time in five weeks, has scored late with the game — from a competitive standpoint — over. In previous iterations of this column I’ve discussed this phenomenon: The Jaguars will feed Fournette no matter how much time is left and no matter how little the carry may matter in the outcome of the game. The Jaguars are built on defense and running the football. Opportunity rules over everything in fantasy. And Fournette is pretty darn good of taking advantage of those opportunities.
In regard to Hunt, Houston actually did a fantastic job limiting the league’s leading rusher. Guess what? He still finished with over 100 yards on the ground and 116 total yards. He touched the rock 32 times and remains the lead back of the efficient Kansas City offense. What separated him from a good fantasy day and a great one was two short touchdown catches by his seldom-used backup, Charcandrick West. Have no worries, though: Hunt should get back in the endzone soon enough after not finding pay dirt the past two weeks in a row.
Clear starters: Deshaun Watson
What an incredible rise it’s been for Watson. He put together another masterful performance — fantasy-wise — against the Chiefs on Sunday night. He’s been terrific for three straight weeks. In fact, it’s worth considering elevating him to superstar status.
But here’s the thing: Unlike Hunt and Fournette, the opportunity won’t be there every single week for Watson. The Texans aren’t going to engage in high-scoring affairs every week that force him to throw an inordinate of deep passes. And the Texans won’t mind that one bit. Watson’s been lucky to have a lot of would-be picks dropped and a lot of incredible plays made on low-percentage passes, especially on Sunday night. Still, Watson’s proved to be a multi-dimensional threat, and that holds great value in fantasy. Unless you have an absolute star at quarterback, Watson’s worth a start.
Solid contributors: Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Cooper Kupp, Christian McCaffrey, Evan Engram, Marlon Mack, Aaron Jones
In PPR leagues, Kamara could very well be on his way to becoming a clear starter, even though he’s not the starter on his own team. The Saints just traded away Adrian Peterson, leaving just Kamara and Mark Ingram in the backfield. This is after Kamara posted a 10-catch, 96-yard, one-touchdown performance that won him Rookie of the Week two weeks ago. He’ll look to be a continued feature in this pass-heavy offense.
Mixon found the end zone for the first time as a professional and continues to function in the lead role in Cincinnati. The second-rounder had 15 carries while Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for just six. It wasn’t easy going against a tough Bills run defense, but the Bengals — who are finally showing life after an 0-3 start — get a bye this week and then face the league’s second-worst (Pittsburgh) and worst (Jacksonville) rushing defenses in the league, sandwiched around a date with the struggling Colts.
Kupp dropped a tough one on Sunday against the Seahawks, but that doesn’t mean you should drop him. He’s tied for second-most targets on the team, only one behind Robert Woods. He’ll keep getting the opportunities, and the Rams won’t be facing the Seahawks every week.
McCaffrey was also held in check in Week 5, but his stock holds steady. He’s averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season, but it’s not like Jonathan Stewart (3.9 yards per carry) is doing much better. The Panthers are struggling on the ground. But McCaffrey’s abilities as a receiver and a playmaker in space keep him here, and his first NFL score this weekend certainly doesn’t hurt either.
After a very consistent start to the year, Engram didn’t catch a single pass on the Giants’ disastrous Sunday. But with no Odell Beckham Jr. and no Brandon Marshall for the rest of this year, Engram’s going to see a ton of targets. Can he find ways to get open without defenses having to focus on Beckham Jr. and Marshall? Even if he struggles with added focus on him, Engram’s one of the few healthy bodies left. He’s worth a roster spot.
A hearty welcome to Marlon Mack, making his debut in this column. With the normally dependable Frank Gore fumbling twice, Mack took advantage of his opportunity and then some, rumbling for 91 yards and a score on just nine carries. Normally Gore, now seventh on the all-time rushing list, is the bell cow in that backfield. But Mack provides much more burst, which he put on display multiple times Sunday. Yes, the 49ers are awful. But the Colts plan to only get Mack more involved going forward. Nab him off the free agency pool if possible.
After a monster week, Aaron Jones makes his debut in this column as well. The rookie out of UTEP confirmed our suspicion that he could be a perfect fit for the Green Bay offense, racking up 134 yards on just 20 touches. Ty Montgomery’s been solid, but he’s not built for the workload he had been getting previous to his broken ribs. Remember, this is a Packers team that has unearthed running back gems like Ryan Grant, James Starks and even Montgomery himself seemingly out of nowhere. Could Jones be the next? He won’t make Montgomery completely obsolete, but he’s more than worth a roster spot. The Packers face a stiff Vikings run defense this coming weekend, when we’ll find out a lot regarding Jones’ abilities.
Fringe roster guys: Matt Breida, Tarik Cohen, Waynes Gallman, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis
Breida makes his debut after a strong Week 5. After a couple of early second-half miscues from Carlos Hyde, Breida took over down the stretch and played well, racking up 71 total yards on 13 touches. It’s tough to tell what Hyde’s benching means. Did head coach Kyle Shanahan just sit him down for the game? He had struggled finding much in the first half, too. Is it a long term thing after how well Breida filled in? Hyde’s a talented runner, but Breida was already showing good things in the first four weeks before putting it all on display in the second half. Shanahan maintained he was simply going with the “hot hand” against the Colts. But if Breida’s hot handedness continues, that alone is worth a roster spot.
Cohen drops down a tier after a second-straight quiet week. After going over 100 total yards in two of his first three weeks, Cohen has totaled just 55 total yards in the past two games. Mitch Trubisky looked to pass more to tight ends Zach Miller and Dion Sims as his safety valves rather than his diminutive fellow rookie backfield mate, and Jordan Howard has fully returned to the undisputed workhorse. Don’t panic on Cohen just yet, but don’t plan on him contributing like you could have a few weeks ago.
After scoring in his debut, Gallman racked up 82 total yards on 16 touches. He’ll compete with Orleans Darkwa and, once he comes back from injury, Paul Perkins for carries, but for now he’s stuck on a team already out of playoff contention and certainly willing to see what it’s getting out of its fourth-rounder from Clemson. Gallman’s injected some juice into what was a lifeless rushing attack when Perkins was leading the way. He should continue to have a significant role going forward.
Golladay and Davis remain in this group and will until they get healthy. Both are talented enough and both have good enough quarterbacks to be on every roster when they can play again.
Keep an eye on: David Njoku, Mike Williams, Elijah McGuire, JuJu Smith-Schuster, George Kittle
Njoku caught another touchdown. He’s been one of the few bright spots on Cleveland. That still doesn’t make him all too fantasy relevant, but he does remain a guy to monitor.
Williams will make his NFL debut against Oakland this week! It’s been a long road back, but the 1-4 won’t rush him back. Don;t expect a full workload from the Clemson product, but do watch how he’s used and if Philip Rivers looks his way often, especially in the red zone.
McGuire is the only fully healthy running back for the Jets. He didn’t get much going against the Browns on Sunday, which is worrisome, but that doesn’t mean he should fall off the radar completely. It just proves he’s not quite worthy of roster consideration yet.
On a day in which his quarterback had his worst day, Smith-Schuster has his best, catching four passes for 58 yards. As a slot receiver, he’s unlikely to produce many big plays down the field, but he’s also growing more and more into the offense with each passing week. Another solid week could move him up to fringe roster territory.
George Kittle makes his debut after a breakout Week 5. The Iowa product caught seven passes for 83 yards and a score. On the final regulation-time drive alone, he caught five for 70 and a score. He converted on two huge fourth downs. Basically, he was really, really good. Kittle’s not a guy who will wow you with athleticism, but rather he’s a very dependable player and undoubtedly the top tight end for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan knows how to get tight ends to produce, too: Before Sunday, no San Francisco tight end had caught at least seven passes in a game since Vernon Davis in 2013.