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Top Ten Players Through the First Quarter

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Author: Matt “The Jerk” Morrison (@DynastyJerk)

Hey all. We are officially one-fourth of the way through the 2020 NFL season.  Well, I should say, “30 teams are officially one-fourth of the way through the season.”  COVID impacted multiple teams this week and therefore (as all of you know) the Steelers and Titans had to reschedule their Week 4 matchup and also shuffle around one of their future weeks. Week 4 essentially acted as each team’s bye. At any rate, we can consider the NFL season 25 percent complete. We’ve learned quite a bit in the past four weeks, and we’ve learned even more about all of the rookies we anxiously awaited to see. 

In this article, I will list the Top 10 players from all five positions and break down how some of these players arrived at their current elite standing. First off, let’s (appropriately) start with quarterbacks…

Quarterbacks: Name (Yearly Salary) [DO Fantasy Points]
  1. Russell Wilson ($35,000,000) [170.8]
  2. Josh Allen ($5,295,760) [161.6]
  3. Dak Prescott ($30,144,000) [161.1]
  4. Aaron Rodgers ($33,500,000) [144.2]
  5. Patrick Mahomes ($4,106,447) [143.5]
  6. Kyler Murray ($8,789,661) [120.5]
  7. Tom Brady ($25,000,000) [112.7]
  8. Matt Ryan ($30,000,000) [104.7]
  9. Lamar Jackson ($2,367,912) [102.0]
  10. Gardner Minshew ($677,721) [97.8]

For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to talk about every player on each list, but I will touch on the highlights. 

Let’s start at the top with “Mr. Unlimited”, Russell Wilson.  If you read my “Don’t Tilt” article following Week 1, you’ll remember I described Russ’ day as perfect.  Well, after Week 4, not much has changed.  Wilson has 1,285 passing yards with 16 touchdowns.  That puts him on pace for 5,140 and 64.  Obviously, it is unrealistic to expect him to end the season with that stat line, but it’s impressive through four games, nonetheless.  Don’t be surprised if Mr. Wilson finishes the season as the QB1.  So far it looks like the 35 million/year contract is well worth the cap hit.

Dak “The King of Garbage Time” Prescott is off to a ridiculous pace as well.  He has thrown for 450+ yards in three of his first four games.  Yes, you read that right.  His game this last weekend he threw for 502 yards and added four touchdowns.  As long as the Cowboys terrible defensive performances continue, Dak will be involved in shootouts.  While he is obviously not as efficient as Wilson, his volume makes up for it.

At first glance, you may be disappointed where Pat Mahomes falls on this list, but it’s not disappointing at all.  Mahomes worst (fantasy) game this year was Week 4 where he put up 26.6 points.  The game script was not great for Pat and the Chief’s passing game as he only needed to attempt 29 passes.  Do I think Mahomes will have worse games than his Week 4 performance?  Probably, but not many and not by much.  I see Mahomes’ floor as right around 22-25 points a game.  That’s what you paid the high draft price for.  A high floor with an astronomically high ceiling.  Not bad for a player that only costs 4.1 mil…this year.

The final QB I’ll comment on is Lamar Jackson as I’d imagine some people are disappointed in his current spot at #9.  I’m disappointed a little as well, but it was a tough proposition to expect Lamar to be the runaway (pun intended) QB1 again this year.  I don’t see him being QB1, but I do expect him to be in the Top 5 at the end of the year.  Lamar is on pace for roughly the same number of passing yards as 2019 but is projecting 8 less passing touchdowns and 250 less rushing yards.  Honestly, it’s not a big deal to me.  We knew coming into this season that his touchdown percentage and efficiency would almost certainly regress.  Also, it’s to be expected that John Harbaugh doesn’t want one of the most valuable quarterbacks in the league rushing 175 times.  Even with the projected regression, he should still finish QB5 or higher. 

Additional note:  The Top 10 is split right down the middle with five cheap QBs and five expensive QBs.  There isn’t much analysis for that statistic, but it’s interesting to note how contracts of all prices can be valuable in Dynasty Owner.  Now onto the running backs…

Running Backs: Name (Yearly Salary) [DO Fantasy Points]
  1. Alvin Kamara ($964,443) [128.0]
  2. Aaron Jones ($650,484) [102.9]
  3. Dalvin Cook ($1,588,334) [96.4]
  4. Ezekiel Elliott ($15,000,000) [85.2]
  5. Chris Carson ($616,282) [79.0]
  6. James Robinson ($763,333) [78.6]
  7. Joe Mixon ($1,362,544) [70.3]
  8. Kareem Hunt ($3,259,000) [68.7]
  9. Jerick Mckinnon ($1,160,000) [68.7]
  10.  Josh Jacobs ($2,983,350) [68.0]

Ezekiel Elliott is the only running back to crack the Top 10 whose salary is over 3.3 million/year.  Quite a strange occurrence, in my opinion.  We all know that it is mainly due to early season injuries to Christian McCaffrey ($4,310,326), Saquon Barkley ($7,798,688) and Austin Ekeler ($6,125,000).  I would have projected all three of these players to be comfortably in the Top 10 if they were fully healthy.  Also, the fact that the Titans had a “bye”, allowed Derrick Henry (10,278,000) to fall to #17.  Had he received 12 fantasy points against the Steelers, he would be on this list.  Regardless, Elliott is by far the most expensive player in this elite group and boy is he having a solid start.  He’s averaging 21.3 fantasy points per game with four total touchdowns.  When you drafted Elliott, you paid up (both in draft capital [9.7 ADP] and cap space [15 million/year]), but his consistency has made these expenses worthwhile.

Joe Mixon’s path to the Top Ten is the definition of inconsistent.  62.7% of Mixon’s fantasy points came in Week 4. Yikes…  I mean if you started him last week then you are more than happy, and you may have had no other options with all the injuries, but I don’t blame anyone for placing Mixon on their bench. The truth is this…while 62.7% of Mixon’s fantasy production came in one week, 34.4% of his touches came in Week 4.  While that is still up from the 25% you would expect, it’s not like his issue is low volume.  Mixon has received at least 19 touches in every game this year.  So yes, this was a blow-up game, and I expect this will be the best game of his season, but he will produce.  He is getting volume on a team that is getting better.  Hold him and continue to start him, at least this year while he’s cheap.

Kareem Hunt is RB8 on the season prior to being the best back in the backfield.  Well, he is now (by far) the best back in the backfield for at least three weeks and most likely longer.  Here are some stats that compare Hunt and Chubb through the first three weeks:

  • Touches: Hunt – 47, Chubb – 54
  • Receptions: Hunt 8, Chubb – 3
  • Fantasy Points: Hunt – 49.6, Chubb – 58.9

The point is that they were both very close (production wise) through the first three weeks.  Hunt will now take over as the primary back, both rushing and receiving.  I do expect D’Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard to receive carries, but Hunt will receive the majority of the carries and the high value carries.  Hunt will continue to give elite numbers behind an offensive line that produces over 200 rushing yards/game.

Additional note: (Based on ADP) Of the 10 players…

  • Two were drafted in the first round
  • Four were drafted in the second round
  • One was drafted in the fifth round
  • One was drafted in the sixth round   
  • One was drafted in the fifteenth round
  • One was drafted in the twentieth round
Wide Receivers: Name (Yearly Salary) [DO Fantasy Points]
  1. Amari Cooper ($20,000,000) [85.1]
  2. DeAndre Hopkins ($16,200,000) [84.7]
  3. Calvin Ridley ($2,725,178) [80.5]
  4. Tyler Lockett ($10,250,000) [79.8]
  5. Stefon Diggs ($14,400,000) [78.3]
  6. Adam Thielen ($16,050,000) [75.6]
  7. DK Metcalf ($1,146,513) [74.3]
  8. Tyreek Hill ($18,000,000) [74.0]
  9. Terry McLaurin ($961,918) [71.0]
  10. Odell Beckham Jr. ($18,000,000) [70.9]

It’s interesting to note that four of the first five wide receivers drafted, are not currently in the Top 10.  Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin and Davante Adams all missed multiple weeks with injuries so no blame can be passed there.

Amari Cooper is the most targeted player in the NFL through four weeks.  He is the most targeted player on a team that has at least five high quality weapons.  He is two yards behind the league leader in receiving yards.  I believe there will be games that Cooper “disappears” in, as he’s done his whole career.  However, at least through the first quarter of the season, it seems there is plenty of volume to go around on the Cowboy’s offense.  Even with the large price tag he carries, he is returning value.

Calvin Ridley is the #3 wide receiver on the year despite putting up a goose egg last week.  That is a testament to how dominant he was through the first three weeks.  I threw Ridley into this article mainly because I wanted to discuss his five opportunities on Monday.  Ridley had 5 recorded targets.  His first was a deep shot down the right sideline that was juggled.  Ridley fell but had he stayed on his feet and juggled the ball back towards him, he would have had a runaway 70-yard touchdown.  His second shouldn’t even qualify as a target.  Ridley slipped and the ball was thrown five feet out of bounds.  His third was a very high value target.  Matt Ryan threw deep middle to Ridley and the ball was overthrown by an arm’s length.  A reception would have gone for at least 40 yards.  His fourth was a throw away by Ryan.  His fifth would have been a 26-yard touchdown had Ryan thrown the ball perfectly, but Ridley had to wait for it and the play was ultimately broken up.  I know we can play “what ifs” all day, but if any of those three “true” targets had been caught, Ridley would currently be WR1.  Regardless, I don’t think anyone is going to be fading him because of the last game.  I am unconcerned.

Tyler Lockett ($10,250,000) and DK Metcalf ($1,146,513) both slide into the Top 10.  It may appear odd that two players from the same team are WR4 and WR7, but what’s even more surprising to me is the fact that they are tenth (Lockett) and twentieth (Metcalf) in targets for wide receivers.  Once again this shows the efficiency of Russell Wilson and his receivers.  If Russell cools down (which I assume will happen), I expect both Lockett and Metcalf to fall in the rankings.  While I project good seasons for both these receivers, I don’t see them both finishing inside the Top 10 given their “lowish” volume.  It may be late advice, but I’d obviously take Metcalf over Lockett the rest of the season, given the more than 9-million-dollar difference between them.

I quickly want to mention OBJ for the same reason.  Odell has 16 receptions on the season which ranks 36th among all wide receivers.  Despite this fact, he is the 10th ranked wide receiver.  The main reason is that he rushed twice for 73 yards on Sunday including a sensational 50-yard rushing touchdown.  My point is that OBJ has received little volume but has been efficient.  I predict more “boom or bust” type games throughout his season if his opportunities don’t increase. 

Additional note: As expected the majority of the wide receivers in the Top 10 are on large contracts.  Seven out of ten to be exact.  Also, the player with the lowest ADP inside the Top 10 is Stefon Diggs (102.5).

Tight Ends: Name (Yearly Salary) [DO Fantasy Points]
  1. Travis Kelce ($9,368,400) [65.7]
  2. Robert Tonyan ($750,000) [60.3]
  3. Darren Waller ($7,450,000) [56.5]
  4. Noah Fant ($3,147,680) [54.9]
  5. Mark Andrews ($863,290) [51.6]
  6. George Kittle ($674,572) [49.4]
  7. Jonnu Smith ($776,572) [49.1]
  8. Dalton Schultz ($728,090) [48.9]
  9. Tyler Higbee ($7,250,000) [48.5]
  10. T.J. Hockenson ($4,955,306) [47.0]

As everyone knows, tight end is the scarcest position in fantasy football.  With the bench scoring in Dynasty Owner, the position becomes even more scarce.  If you didn’t draft well when it came to this position, you didn’t have many options through the Free Agent Auction.  In fact, there are only three tight ends inside the Top 20 that are cheap (less than 2 million per year) and that were undrafted according to ADP.  Those players are Robert Tonyan (95% owned), Dalton Schultz (99% owned) and Mo Alie-Cox (96% owned).  All three of these players were picked up early in their breakouts due to the overall lack of consistency at the position.

When we talk about opportunity, there is no tight end in the league that has seen more than Darren Waller.  Waller leads the position in targets (40) and receptions (29).  He has also only caught a single touchdown despite seeing seven red zone targets and converting five of those into receptions.  I expect Waller to continue to see the high value targets, and if he does, his touchdown total will rise.  At $7,450,000/year, Waller is certainly expensive for a tight end, but he is returning value early in the season.

Dalton Schultz is the beneficiary of Blake Jarwin missing the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.  Dalton stepped in immediately and has shown a clear path to being Dallas’ number one tight end.  He has received five targets in the red zone since taking over, and he converted one into a touchdown.  Dalton’s second touchdown of the season came on a 26 yard reception, where he bullied his way into the endzone when it looked like he was going to come up a couple yards short.  If you moved on Schultz early, you will have (at a minimum) a solid bench TE for the rest of the season.  There still may be time to trade for him if you are struggling to roster a reliable second or third tight end.  With a yearly salary of less than $800,000, virtually any team can afford him.

Additional note:  The first three drafted tight ends are all comfortably within the Top 10.

Kickers: Name (Yearly Salary) [DO Fantasy Points]
  1. Randy Bullock ($2,102,500) [43.0]
  2. Mason Crosby ($4,300,000) [42.0]
  3. Justin Tucker ($5,000,000) [38.0]
  4. Stephen Gostkowski ($2,750,000) [38.0]
  5. Jason Sanders ($637,800) [37.0]

I don’t want to spend much time on kickers, and I’m not going to talk about anyone individually, but I want to highlight a general strategy that I’m sure most of you know by now.  If you’ve played fantasy football or dynasty football for a while, you understand that kickers are the most volatile players when it comes to predicting points.  In addition to it being the most difficult position to predict, the variance between “top tier” kickers and “low tier” kickers is not a lot when it comes to final point totals.  Let me give you an example…

If you had missed out on drafting Will Lutz, Justin Tucker, or Harrison Butker last season, the most points you could have received from a single kicker was 114 (Matt Gay).  In contrast, if you owned the twentieth best kicker last year (Jake Elliot) you would have received 85 points.  So, aside from the top kickers (all of which are over 4 million dollars/year) you weren’t receiving a great amount of fantasy point difference between the fourth spot and the twentieth spot.  This is traditionally the reason that kickers are drafted at the very end of drafts.  Well, Dynasty Owner complicates matters a little more when you are able to place a kicker on your bench and receive 20% of his point total.  Here is my philosophy when it comes to bench kickers.  Make sure you have a starting kicker in that spot, but other than that, I honestly don’t care who it is.  As I talked about, it is nearly impossible to predict when a kicker will have a reliable game.  Now add onto it the fact that kicker will only be getting 20%.  I’m not concerned about placing a low-level kicker on my bench, especially if his contract is cheap.  Another good option is to play the kicker carousel game.  Follow kicking transactions and team news to see if you can pick up a kicker that may work his way to the starting job due to injury or lack of production from his predecessor.

Additional note: I wanted to add this because I found it hilarious.  In my Week 1 matchup, I had Austin Seibert in my kicker bench position.  Well, he ended the day with -3 fantasy points, but because he was on my bench that total was cut to -0.6 fantasy points.  A rare moment when the reduction in bench scoring actually helps someone’s team.

I thank you all for reading and sticking with me. Take care and continue to be safe. 

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