Don’t look now, but we’re officially through the first month of the 2018 NFL season. Where did the time go? Well, as the old adage goes: “Time flies while you’re having fun”, and boy are some of these teams having fun. The first month of the season has seen the rise of two juggernaut offenses in the West for both conferences (Rams/Chiefs), and it’s also introduced us to some new faces that are taking the league by storm. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts from Week 4.
Jared Goff (QB, Los Angeles Rams)
Thirty-nine points. That’s how many points Jared Goff scored against a Minnesota defense that was arguably the best unit in the league just last season. Goff’s been called a “System QB” by plenty of pundits and fans alike, but the guy just keeps getting better every week. Through the first month Goff’s boosted his PPG each time out (17/19/26/39), and his monster 465 yard/5 TD performance this past Thursday resulted in a perfect 158.3 QB rating.
In short, the man was on fire. Sean McVay’s system is tearing the NFL apart one week at a time, and Goff is running it to perfection. It’s time to stop using that as a negative, and start giving the 3rd year QB his due. This team is giving the Greatest Show of Turf a run for its money early on in the season, and No.16’s a big reason why.
Andy Dalton (QB, Cincinnati Bengals)
The man they call the “Red Rifle” has been a sharpshooter in the first month of the season, and no one seems to be talking about it for some reason. Andy Dalton’s TD:INT ratio of 11:6 is well above his average and he’s routinely throwing for over 300 yards per game. But it’s not the stats that have made Dalton so impressive to me, it’s his ability to be clutch for his team when it matters. Nowhere was that more evident than in his prolonged, 16-play drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green to beat Atlanta this week. Dalton converted on 4th down twice on that drive, and showed flashes of the brilliance he’s shown Bengals fans in the past.
People will continue to doubt this team because recent history suggests they’ll fall apart, but for the first time in years the Bengals feel like a legitimate force with Dalton under center.
Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Dallas Cowboys)
If you looked up the 2018 Dallas Cowboys offense on Wikipedia, you would find a picture of Ezekiel Elliott standing there by himself (likely with a belly shirt on, it’s kind of his thing). Elliott has been the driving force for an otherwise stale and predictable offense under Jason Garrett, and he’s the primary reason this Dallas team is winning games at all.
After being efficient through the first 3 weeks, Elliott exploded against the Lions in Jerryworld to the tune of 29 touches for a combined 240 yards and a TD. Even with all of that production Dallas only won by 2 points. They needed every single one of those yards, and Elliott shouldered that burden comfortably as he ripped the Detroit defense to shreds. The other reason I’m highlighting Zeke is his work in the passing game. He’s become a certifiable dual-threat back this year, and his 4/88/1 line speaks to how much he’s grown since entering the league. There may not be a lot of weapons in big D, but as long as they have Elliott they’ll have a shot to put up some points on a weekly basis.
Calvin Ridley (WR, Atlanta Falcons)
11/200/5: If I listed that stat line and asked you to pick which NFL wideout posted it you’d immediately go for the name brand superstars wouldn’t you? OBJ? Julio? Hopkins? No, No and No! It’s Calvin Ridley! I sung the praises of Ridley last week and urged fantasy owners to snatch him up anywhere they could find him, and if you took that advice it paid off handsomely in Week 4. Ridley made the most of his targets, securing 4 receptions for 54 yards and 2 TDs, and continuing his rapid ascension up the ranks of a red hot Atlanta offense. The crazy thing is that there’s no reason to believe this production will slow down. Atlanta’s defense has been decimated already with All-Pro caliber starters like Deion Jones/Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen going down, and as a result they’re giving up a ton of points per week.
Because their defense can’t stop a drive to save their lives, the offense needs to move the ball aggressively through the air, and that’s where Ridley has thrived. His range has no limit, he can score from 40 yards out or from just outside the goal line. The rookie from Alabama is an all-purpose player with a flair for the dynamic plays that this team thrives on. If you grabbed him on your team you’re ecstatic right now, if you didn’t, well; you’ll probably have to give up an arm and a leg to get him now.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston Texans)
Baller: (adj.) “Extremely good or impressive; excellent”.
Synonyms: DeAndre Hopkins
What can I say that hasn’t already been said over a million times about the Texans No.1 wideout? Hopkins is somehow simultaneously a top-3 receiver and an underrated receiver at the same time. He doesn’t have the superstar name value of the Beckham/Julio/Green/Brown variety, but to those that watch him he’s arguably better than all of them every week. His ability to go up and get the ball over defenders larger than him is a testament to how badly he wants to win each week, and his talent jumps off the screen every time his number gets called.
Only Michael Thomas rivals Hopkins when it comes to efficiency. In Week 4 he caught 10/12 targets for 169 yards and a TD to secure the Texans first victory of the season over the division rival Colts. With an ADP in the first 10 picks I don’t need to tell you to have Hopkins in your lineup, but the man deserves all the hype he can get and I don’t think he gets nearly enough on a national stage.
Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs: (Minnesota Vikings)
Name a better WR duo in the league right now. I’ll wait. You won’t find many that can compete with Minnesota’s dynamic tandem of pass catchers. The Vikings may have lost on Thursday night, but Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs balled out to the tune of a combined 258 yards/TD against the LA Rams.
Thielen has caught an average of 9 balls for over 100 yards in all 4 games so far this season. He’s a PPR machine with standard league value because he’s so in sync with Kirk Cousins it’s almost ridiculous. Thielen has been targeted an unbelievable 56 times so far this year, that’s almost HALF of his total targets from all of last year (142). As long as he’s on the field, Thielen is as good as gold both in fantasy football and in real life for the Vikings. Just look for the yellow gloves, they usually have a football resting between them.
Diggs, on the flip side, has been a target monster in his own right with 44 in the first month. He’s taken those opportunities and posted a stat line of (27 Rec/311 Yds/3 TDs). Diggs has made himself the go to touchdown guy for Kirk Cousins, and when paired with the consistency of Thielen, he’s deadly in one-on-one coverage. Minnesota’s 1-3, but they’ve got all the firepower they need to rebound.
Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
I featured Alvin Kamara’s teammate Michael Thomas on this breakdown last week so it’s only fitting that the pint-sized powerhouse makes his way onto the Week 4 breakdown. I heard the same thing from seemingly every “Expert” and “Analyst” over this past offseason regarding Kamara. They said he was set for massive regression, and that his 2017 campaign was an extremely impressive anomaly. Kamara was clearly listening, because all he’s done in the first month is prove every single one of those people wrong.
Through the first 4 weeks the 2nd year RB has amassed fantasy totals of (34/11/19/36) in standard formats (in PPR he’s arguably the most valuable player in the league). He paced the Saints offense on the road in Week 4 against the Giants (19/134/3), and also caught 5 balls for another 47 yards. That’s madness, there’s really no other way to describe that level of production. Kamara’s already topped 300 yards on the ground and through the air this season, and the only thing that can potentially stop him is the return of his buddy Mark Ingram. You know, the same Mark Ingram that was in the offense during most of his breakout year.
Those who have Kamara in their lineup are in love, and in all likelihood are planning on naming their first-born child after him. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.
Mitch Trubisky (Chicago Bears)
Okay, so…this is awkward. Anyone who read last week’s edition of the Fantasy Files is well aware that I wasn’t sold on Mitch Trubisky this past week. Well, unfortunately for me it seems Mitch got the link to my article, because he responded with the single greatest game by a Chicago Bears quarterback in franchise HISTORY.
Trubisky showed the poise he’d been lacking the previous 3 weeks and gleefully cut through the Tampa Bay defense to the tune of (354 Yards/6 TDs), he also added another 53 yards on the ground for fun. Mitch had a field day against a 31st ranked defense after Fitzmagic officially reverted to Fitztragic and never regained its sparkly form. The Bears cruised to an easy 48-10 and sent a message to the rest of the NFC North; they believe in their 2nd year QB, and he believes in himself too.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 4:
The league is changing before our eyes, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
Take most playoff teams from last year and line them up. What was their defining characteristic? An elite QB? In some cases. Great offensive weapons? Mostly. But the main characteristic that most playoff teams from 2017 had was a strong, reliable defense. Nowhere was that more evident than in the NFC with teams like the Falcons/Saints/Vikings and eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. These teams scratched, clawed and beat their opponents into the turf every week, and once the calendar turned to January those units were prepared to do what was necessary to win a championship.
Now take a look at those 4 units presently, it’s a dismaying sight to behold. Every one of those teams is currently struggling on defense despite having largely the same roster they fielded just 10 months ago. Instead of imposing their will and grinding out wins they’re trailing in games and forcing their offenses into shootout modes.
So why is this happening? Because the NFL wants it to happen. Increased penalties on the quarterback are confusing edge rushers and defensive coordinators alike, and because of that the point totals are rising steadily week after week. Shootouts like the ones we saw in the Rams/Vikings and Raiders/Browns games are becoming the league norm, and that’s the way they like it. They like it that way because a shootout is easily marketed to anyone.
There’s a TON of points being scored, and the flashiest positions on the field are emphasized (QB/RB/WR). This offensively charged product opens a wide net for anyone to watch and get excited about. The new age NFL says “forget about defensive battles” and buries any attempt at that style of play under a pile of red tape and yellow flags. It’s become comical to the point that the parodies of the Roughing the Passer penalty are only slightly funnier than the actual calls. When QBs in the league like Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith are saying that they want players to be able to hit them, you know you’ve gone too far.
In an attempt to promote itself to a wider audience the league has stumbled into the Catch Rule Pt. 2 and it’s not looking like the confusion is going to alleviated any time soon. I can only speak from my own perspective, but it’s a shame to see the overall flow of these games continuously interrupted by penalties in an effort to keep point totals high. As long as this remains the norm we’ll continue to see defenses struggle, and the point totals will continue to climb whether the overall product benefits from it or not.