Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Cam Newton, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins. Glancing at the leaderboard from the 1 p.m. ET games and seeing many of these names, it certainly seems like all’s right in the fantasy football world now, doesn’t it?
While proven performers wrote many of the day’s headlines, not everything went according to script: A pair of lesser-owned rookies stood out, while the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons suffered their first home loss in their past six games.
As we do each week, we recap the week’s winners and losers from a fantasy perspective, complete with applicable game and historical data. Check back after the conclusion of the 1 and 4 p.m. ET (and, when applicable, Sunday Night Football) games for our picks of the week’s best and worst.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans: So far, so good for his young career, as through three NFL starts, Watson has two wins and now one of the best single-game fantasy point totals by a rookie quarterback in history. As illustrated in the chart below, Watson’s 33.72 fantasy points on Sunday, the best score at his position during the 1 p.m. ET game block, was the seventh-best single-game effort by a rookie quarterback since 1950. It also gave him 71.56 fantasy points in his first three starts combined, sixth best since 1950 behind Robert Griffin III (79.68), Eric Hipple (77.30), Tim Tebow (73.94), Aaron Brooks (72.86) and Cam Newton (72.28). Watson has elevated himself to a clear QB2 option in two-quarterback leagues, and this performance, which came in an extremely favorable matchup against the Tennessee Titans, shows he can even help as a streaming specialist in standard leagues. He was started in 11.6 percent of ESPN leagues this week.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Now that’s more like it! Bell’s fantasy owners no longer will have complaints after he led his position (among the 1 p.m. ET game block) in PPR points with 34.6. It was the fourth-best single-game effort from among his 51 career games, behind only his 51.8 of 2016 Week 14, 47.5 of 2014 Week 14 and 39.4 of 2014 Week 13. Make no mistake, however: This one was mostly about volume, as his 39 total touches were the second most in his career (42, 2016 Week 14) and he averaged 4.1 yards per carry, beneath his career average of 4.4. Still, that Bell was able to shoulder that much of the load against the Baltimore Ravens‘ run defense is a promising sign, confirming the obvious — that he’s a weekly must-start RB1.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: What a bounce-back performance this was, but unfortunately, his start percentage in ESPN leagues plummeted to 21.3, showing that few owners reaped the benefits of his 33.04 fantasy points. Newton nearly doubled his seasonal total — he had 33.24 points combined in Weeks 1-3 — while registering the ninth-best single-game effort of his seven-year NFL career. This was his 16th career game with at least 30 fantasy points, which trails only Drew Brees (20), Tom Brady (19) and Steve Young (17) on the all-time list. Though this might have been more of a statement on how poorly the New England Patriots‘ defense has been playing — heads up, Jameis Winston owners, as your quarterback faces the Pats in Week 5 — it also gives Newton’s fantasy owners much more confidence about starting him against the Detroit Lions in Week 5.
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams: That’s four weeks and four games of at least 20 PPR fantasy points for Gurley, and bear in mind that he had just four such games total in the first two seasons of his NFL career. Gurley (34.5 points) finished one-tenth of a point behind Bell for the position lead during the 1 p.m. ET game block, and became the first player to manage at least that many fantasy points in consecutive weeks since Devonta Freeman (2015 Weeks 3-4). By the way, this is the second time in the past three weeks that Gurley has averaged at least five yards per carry (5.3 on Sunday), which helps support his case for a breakthrough season. He’ll have a much tougher time finding room in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks, but he should have earned a regular spot in every fantasy team’s lineup nevertheless.
Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets:Now will the Jets grant him a starter’s workload going forward? Powell scored 25.0 non-PPR and 29 PPR fantasy points on Sunday, in a game in which Matt Forte (toe) was sidelined, Powell’s second-best single-game efforts behind only his 29.9 and 34.9 of 2016 Week 14. In the seven games that Powell has now played with Forte sidelined, he has averaged 12.0 non-PPR and 15.8 PPR fantasy points. Powell’s owners, who started him in 37.2 percent of ESPN leagues, will surely be clamoring for a similarly sizable role for him when he faces the Cleveland Browns‘ defense in Week 5.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: His was another bounce-back effort utilized in a minimal percentage of ESPN leagues (11.4), and if not for a lost fumble early in the first quarter, he’d have managed the fifth 30-point fantasy effort of his seven-year career. Dalton had to settle for 28.34 points, the fifth-best performance in his 97 career games, and he now has four 20-plus-point fantasy scores in his past five games against the division-rival Browns. It’s that latter point that makes him a somewhat shaky pickup considering his upcoming schedule: BUF (Week 5), bye (Week 6), @PIT (Week 7).
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints: He was one of the few highlights of a mostly ugly game in London, scoring a game-high 25.6 PPR fantasy points, that the best single-game score of his young, four-game NFL career. It was also an unusually productive game for a rookie running back under coach Sean Payton, as of the 120 games played in that sample — 25 of which belonged to first-rounders Reggie Bush (2006) and Mark Ingram (2011) — Kamara’s score was fourth-best behind only Bush’s 49.8 (2006 Week 13), Pierre Thomas’ 40.6 (2007 Week 17) and Bush’s 28.2 (2006 Week 14). Of greater note was that, per Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke, Kamara played 26 of a possible 74 offensive snaps to Mark Ingram’s 46 and Adrian Peterson’s six, hinting that Kamara has moved definitively ahead of Peterson on the depth chart. Started in just 6.1 percent of ESPN leagues on Sunday, Kamara remained available in 57.7 percent as of the game’s kickoff. Though he’ll be on his bye in Week 5, he’s a worthy pickup nevertheless.
Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers: Though he had been heavily utilized by the Panthers in Weeks 1-3, he hadn’t yet produced massive fantasy numbers — before Sunday, that is. Funchess, Newton’s go-to guy with a team-high nine targets in the Panthers’ upset win at New England, set new personal bests with 19 non-PPR and 26 PPR fantasy points. Funchess’ 27 targets lead the team’s wide receivers, and there’s a decent chance he could extend his success into a Week 5 meeting with the Lions, especially if Darius Slay shadows Kelvin Benjamin in that game.
Will Fuller V, WR, Texans: In his 2017 debut after missing the season’s first three games while recovering from surgery to repair a fractured collarbone, Fuller managed 15.9 non-PPR and 19.9 PPR fantasy points, the third-best numbers in his 15 career games to date. It was quite an out-of-nowhere performance, considering how little he had gotten to work with Watson previously, and that Fuller was started in just 1.38 percent of ESPN leagues showed that fantasy owners agreed. He’s certain to — and should — rank among the week’s hottest pickups, though, as while he’ll probably be matchups-dependent as (at best) the distant second option in the passing game for Watson, there remain a good number of worthy matchups on Fuller’s upcoming schedule.
Greg Zuerlein, K, Rams: It’s rare that a kicker gets a lot of love in this space, but when one has the kind of game that he did on Sunday, he warrants a mention. Zuerlein, started in just 20.9 percent of ESPN leagues, managed a whopping 27 fantasy points, the highest single-game score by a place-kicker since Cairo Santos scored the same amount in 2015 Week 4. In fact, Zuerlein came awfully close to breaking the single-game record for a place-kicker — as in, listed at that position rather than being one of the “combo” players from the pre-merger era like George Blanda — finishing two shy of Rob Bironas’ 29.0 (2007 Week 7).
Tyler Kroft, TE, Bengals: For the second consecutive week, a relative unknown stood out at the tight end position. After Marcedes Lewis, started in only 0.03 percent of ESPN leagues, scored 28.2 PPR fantasy points in Week 3, Kroft, started in just 0.10 percent, managed 24.8 PPR fantasy points to top the 1 p.m. ET block. That represented 5.4 points more than he scored all of last season. Though Kroft might continue to see a handful of targets in games Tyler Eifert (back) is forced to miss, this performance was much more likely the result of Kroft’s facing one of the weakest defenses against tight ends in the Browns. It’s actually a more relevant development for owners of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the next tight end to battle the Browns, than for those considering adding Kroft.
Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills: For the third time in four games, Clay managed at least 15 PPR fantasy points, his 16.2 ranking second among tight ends from the 1 p.m. ET game block. He’s now on pace for 100 targets, which would be his second-highest single-year total (101, 2013), and 210.8 PPR fantasy points, which would shatter his previous career best (188.4, 2013).
Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins: For the second consecutive week, Ajayi’s fantasy owners were left with feelings of disappointment, and for the second straight week, it was partly the fault of his supporting cast’s poor play. The Dolphins played the majority of the game from behind and lost the time-of-possession battle by a sizable margin, losing it by nearly nine minutes after losing it by more than 12 in Week 3, resulting in only 12 carries and 6.4 PPR fantasy points for Ajayi. He has 13 touches in back-to-back games, those tied for his worst totals in any of his 15 career starts, and he did it while facing favorable matchups in both. Ajayi did perform better in this game than the one that preceded it, but his owners in the 91.6 percent of ESPN leagues in which he was active can’t be happy with his results. His schedule is only going to get more challenging from here.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: He was started in a whopping 89.9 percent of ESPN leagues, but he couldn’t get much done against a Buffalo Bills defense that, entering the week, had afforded opposing quarterbacks the third-fewest fantasy points per game (9.6). Ryan’s 8.48 fantasy points on Sunday represented his worst single-game effort since 2015 Week 14 (4.86), and it was his 15th worst out of 146 career games. Hey, at least he now gets a bye week to shake it off before then getting a much more favorable matchup (MIA, Week 6).
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys: He was unusually quiet on Sunday, drawing just two targets that resulted in 1.9 PPR fantasy points (0.9 if you take away his one catch). Only 11 times in Witten’s 226 previous NFL games did he manage a lower score than that. He was started in 54.2 percent of ESPN leagues.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams: After his big game at San Francisco in Week 3 and with a favorable matchup facing him on Sunday, Watkins was started in 49.7 percent of ESPN leagues. He delivered those fantasy owners a mere 2.7 PPR fantasy points on two targets, the third-worst performance of his 41-game NFL career behind only his zero from 2015 Week 1 and 2.0 from 2016 Week 15. Watkins wasn’t even targeted until late in the game, though that shouldn’t be the game plan every week. His unpredictable role in the Rams’ offense, however, makes him a difficult player to trust heading into a matchup with the Seahawks in Week 5.
Terrance West, RB, Ravens: He was scarcely started in ESPN leagues (5.4), but he’s owned in 78.3 percent, and after a game like this he’s almost certain to wind up on the most-dropped list entering Week 5. Rightfully so — he scored minus-0.7 PPR fantasy points on Sunday, his second straight game of near invisibility on the fantasy score sheet (and frankly, his owners would’ve preferred invisibility this time). Alex Collins has cut into West’s workload, managing nine carries to West’s four on Sunday, so it’s fine to move on from the latter.