Man, Week 3 was crazy, right? It took a score north of 300 to take down the Millionaire Maker and you needed a 165+ to cash in most double-ups and 50/50’s. That’s not usually the case, folks. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t hit, just remember what we talked about last week: process.

Week 3 was also yet another loud clinging gong upside my head, reminding me that fantasy football is as much, if not more, about opportunity as it is skill. Whether it’s game-script-driven opportunity or in some cases injury related opportunity, it often doesn’t matter if the back is elite from a skill stand point. If his team is willing to give him 70% of the snaps and 20+ touches, that player needs to be considered a viable option.

We’re on to Week 4.

Looking for a different position? Check out the rest of the positional rankings:

NFL Quarterback Targets: Week 4
NFL Wide Receiver Targets – Week 4
NFL Tight End Targets – Week 4
NFL Defense Targets – Week 4

As I’ve mentioned before, part of the early season struggle lies in understanding what data to apply to the analysis. How relevant is defensive data from last season? How safe do you feel trusting a player’s efficiency from one year to the next? I think there’s some gray in questions like that, and I’m going to help you weave your way through it. We’re getting to the point where we have more actionable 2015 data that we can lean on, but I’m not willing to trust it blindly yet. Soon we’ll be able to use more relevant information based on what has actually happened rather than relying on a mix of what happened last season and what we expected to happen this season. Make sense?

Thanks to amazing sites like Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, and 4for4, there has been a tremendous wave of actionable analytics in football over the past few seasons. I’ll be introducing you to some of those stats this season, and I hope you find them helpful to your lineup building process. I’ll also be referencing the Expert Consensus Rankings from FantasyPros in order to understand how players are viewed each week, and then related it to their price here on DraftKings.

If you’re new to the daily fantasy community, welcome, you’re in for a whole lot of fun. If you have questions, please find me on Twitter, @RyNoonan.

Cream of the Crop

USATSI_8775668_168381090_lowresLe’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Baltimore Ravens) -$7,700

Well, so much for easing him back in. Le’veon Bell was in on 60 of the 63 snaps (95%) on Sunday, solidifying himself as the top PPR option at the running back position moving forward. Clearly the situation in Pittsburgh has changed with the MCL injury to Ben Roethlisberger, but it’s safe to assume the Steelers will lean heavily on their All-Pro tailback while Big Ben is sidelined. His matchup against Baltimore (8th in scheduled-adjusted fantasy points per average or aFPA) isn’t great, but he’s likely to get 22-25 touches here and can break one any time he touches the ball. Michael Vick will do himself a lot of favors by handing Le’Veon the rock, or checking down to him and letting him create.

Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (vs. Oakland Raiders) -$7,100

Sunday’s contest in Seattle got out of hand quickly, but Matt Forte was still able to handle 20 carries for 74 yards against a fired up Seahawks defense that knew what was coming. Not catching a pass was an anomaly, and I think this week we can bank on the 4-5 receptions that Forte typically sees out of the backfield. The Raiders aren’t going to slow Forte down like Seattle did, as they enter play ranked 30th in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per average so far this season, and rank in the bottom third in rush DVOA according to Football Outsiders. The Jimmy Clausen era won’t be pretty, but it won’t have a huge effect on Forte’s fantasy value. The glass-half-full view is that is has driven his price down.

Karlos Williams, Buffalo Bills (vs. New York Giants) -$3,400USATSI_8829906_168381090_lowres

Occasionally, unforeseen opportunity teams up with talent. Sprinkle in a deep discount and boom…here we are. Did I really just ‘boom’? I’m like the John Madden of running back DFS takes apparently. Buckle up everybody.

Early reports have LeSean McCoy resting his hamstring/groin/toe injuries here, setting up Karlos Williams to handle a sizable workload against a suspect Giants front seven. Boobie Dixon is in the mix, but Karlos Williams will be the lead dog in a game that has the Bills favored by 5.5 at home. Williams is an elite athlete, one that made it easy for Buffalo to part ways with both Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown, so look for him to make the most of his opportunity.

Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (@ Chicago Bears) -$6,300

The Raiders are 3-point road favorites.

Seriously, read that again.

What is this, 2002? Oh no wait, they’re playing the Bears.

Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray. Those are the top four players in terms of percent of team’s total touches. That’s pretty lofty company for Latavius Murray. His skill level was never in question, but it appears that the Raiders are finally handing him the keys and letting him go. He’s not just getting it done with speed and quickness though. He’s top-5 in yards after contact, elusive rating, and missed tackles created. There’s a strong chance that we look back in a few weeks and wax poetic about being able to roster him for $6,000.

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers (@ San Francisco 49ers) -$6,900

On Monday night, Eddie Lacy certainly didn’t look like someone whose status was in doubt for most of the week. He didn’t dominate, but 10 carries for 46 yards to go along with three catches for 41 yards certainly makes me feel better heading in to Week 4. The injury has impacted Lacy’s price though, and that’s something that’s worth exploiting. He’s down $600 from opening day and a juicy matchup as 8.5-point favorites against the dumpster fire that is the San Francisco 49ers is a welcomed sight. The Packers have an implied team total of 29, the largest on the slate.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (@ Cincinnati Bengals) -$7,600

We saw on Monday night that Jamaal Charles is still the main cog in the Chiefs’ offense. They finally have some pieces to work in around Charles like Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin but Captain Checkdown Alex Smith limits their upside, making JC the prime option in their offense. We’ve seen the Chiefs move the ball better at times though, increasing the scoring opportunities for Charles, who’s third in the league in percent of team’s touches (44.0%). The Bengals haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown to date, but they haven’t exactly faced the league’s top rushing offenses along the way. The home run nature of Charles’ game makes him more of a tournament play for me.

Middle of the Pack

Davonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (@ Houston Texans) -$5,200

My opening rant was centered on my inability to drowned out the noise last week and realize that Davonta Freeman was a viable play regardless of what I think his true skill level is. Tevin Coleman is a far superior talent, but since he was out with a cracked rib he was no threat to Freeman’s touches last week. Atlanta’s decision to carry just two running backs should have been an obvious sign that Freeman was going to get 25 touches, and even if he did next to nothing with them he’d likely return 2-3x his salary. Not much has changed this week in terms of expected usage for Freeman, as it appears Coleman is likely to miss this week’s game as well. The expected game script sets up favorably here as well, as Freeman and the Falcons are 6.5-point favorites against the Texans in the Georgia Dome. The general public chases points though, so don’t expect to be alone on Freeman this week.

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (@ Denver Broncos) -$7,800

We’ve seen a multitude of instances in Adrian Peterson’s career where he was the lone weapon in Minnesota, one that was capable of throwing his teammates on his back and posting crazy fantasy days to keep a less than stellar Vikings team in contention. That might need to happen again this week in Denver. It’s not that the Vikings are devoid of talent, but the Broncos have the best defense in the game. Their secondary is elite, led by Chris Harris, and their pass DVOA is head and shoulder above the rest of the league. At the same time they’re a top-10 run-stuffing unit as well, making the likelihood of a repeat 126-yard two touchdown performance very unlikely. Being 7-point road dogs doesn’t help here, either.

Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars) -$4,700

It wasn’t pretty at times but the Colts saved their season with a strong second half effort on the road last week. After a rough start against two of the league’s best run defenses, Frank Gore finally got it going against Tennessee, finding the end zone twice while playing on 75% of the snaps (his highest mark of the season). Gore is $200 cheaper this week and his Colts are 10-point favorites at home against a Jacksonville team that’s 31st in schedule-adjusted fantasy points per game to running backs. Giddy up.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Detroit Lions) -$7,200

What’s up, Marshawn? You good? How’s the calf/back/hamstring thing going for ya? Hit me up when you got a sec…thanks.

Was Lynch really hurting last week or was he just like, ‘Who? The Bears? Nah, you guys take this one.’ I’m not sure we’ll get a true workload specific update prior to game time, but a healthy Lynch would be a strong option this week. I’m not sure we have that. If he does take on his normal workload then he’s in a great spot to produce. The Lions have allowed the third most aFPA to running backs this season, and the Seahawks are 10-point favorites at home.

USATSI_8771168_168381090_lowresMelvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers (vs. Cleveland Browns) -$4,900

This feels like a Melvin Gordon breakout game. Sure, some of you (myself included) thought last week might be the Melvin Gordon breakout game, but you have to like this spot, at home against the Browns, even better than on the road against the Vikings. Cleveland’s run defense is ranked 27th through the first three weeks according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and the anticipated game script sets up favorably for Gordon as an 8-point home favorite. He still dances behind the line more than I’d like to see, but his ability to break the big play is what makes him so appealing. Danny Woodhead ($4,600) isn’t going anywhere and makes for a decent play as well, but I like Gordon over Woodhead for the first time this season.

Rest of the Field

Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys (@ New Orleans Saints) -$5,500

There’s no denying the results, but I think we just saw Joseph Randle’s best game of the season. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s another not-so-subtle reminder to not chase last week’s performances. After seeing 38% and 42% of the snaps the first two weeks, Randle saw 43% in week 3 but he was just more efficient with them. Darren McFadden is still around, stealing about 20% of the snaps each game, but the real hindrance to Randle’s value is Lance Dunbar ($3,600) who’s also seeing 40% of the snaps each game. My point is, nothing has really changed here with Tony Romo out of the lineup. They’ll continue to lean on all three while they’re healthy, and Randle’s upside will be capped because he’s rarely featured on passing downs. The touchdowns are nice, but unsustainable with these usage patterns.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Green Bay Packers) -$5,100

Monday night of Week 1 must feel like a different season at this point for Carlos Hyde. Things have not gone well since opening night for the 49ers second-year back, and Week 4 appears to be more of the same. Last week’s game in Arizona was over before it started, so it’s hard to read too much into the decreased usage and snaps for Hyde. His talent alone makes him worth a mention here each week, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where Hyde is grinding out a fourth quarter win here against the 8.5-point favorite Packers.

Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns (@ San Diego Chargers) -$3,100

Cleveland’s backfield situation is one that’s rarely worth mentioning, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that these two backs are role and game flow dependant. If Cleveland is winning or the game is still in doubt, Isaiah Crowell is getting the featured back snaps (47%). If not, or if it’s a passing down, then Duke Johnson is on the field (50%). That sets up well for Duke here as the Browns are big road dogs in San Diego this week. I think it’s only a matter of time before Johnson takes a step forward in this time share, but for now we can take advantage of a player with higher than expected usage given his near minimum salary this week.

Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (vs. St. Louis Rams) -$4,500

Are the 49ers that bad? For real, at times it looked at is they weren’t even trying. Chris Johnson was running wild, breaking half-assed attempted tackles and putting a strangle hold on the Cardinals running back job while Andre Ellington remains sidelined. I’m not a believer in Johnson’s skills at this point in his career, and I’m not sold on St. Louis’ being a below average run defense, but Chris Johnson remains in play at this price. David Johnson is still around, and he did see a slight uptick in snaps, but he was underutilized and that trend will likely continue.

T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Indianapolis Colts) -$4,400

One of these Jaguars’ games will see an unexpected game script and T.J. Yeldon will EAT. When it matters, he’s the back on the field and he continues to get a lion shares of Jacksonville’s touches (42.7%). On the road against the Colts is not ideal, but a back who’s on the field this much and getting the majority of his team’s touches is worth mentioning for just $4,400.

Some other quick notes:
  • The Philadelphia Eagles backfield is becoming one to avoid. If DeMarco Murray is out again, then you have to consider both Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, but if all three suit up I don’t want any part of it.
  • The same can be said in Cincinnati, but there are no injuries to blame. The Bengals are simply using Gio Bernard in passing downs and his success in that role is garnishing him more carries, and rightfully so. Jeremy Hill has not looked good and will be hard pressed to return value at his current price.
  • We’ll need to watch the status of Arian Foster as the week progresses. If the Texans’ starting tailback is a go, he needs to be a serious tournament option against the Falcons’, who’ve allowed the most aFPA to running backs this season.
  • I don’t know how the Lions’ coaching staff watches that film this week and decides to keep running Joique Bell back out there, but if they do, shame on them. They have two young, talented running backs in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, both of which deserve more touches moving forward. Riddick is averaging 11.6 DraftKings points per game so far and will likely have a strong outing against as the Lions are likely to be playing from behind in Seattle.
  • Everyone wanted Matt Jones last week and you know what you got? Chris Thompson. Alfred Morris saw a huge dip in snaps last week, and Thompson’s 51% lead the team and will likely be an issues moving forward, making all options unplayable.
  • When the coach comes out and says, ‘we need to get Player X more involved this week’, we need to take notice. It can be Coach Speak 101 and not worth your time, but in this instance I think it’s relevant. The Saints are without their Quarterback, and will likely continue to lean on their running game moving forward. A healthy C.J. Spiller will likely be featured more moving forward, sapping any fantasy value out of Mark Ingram.

Continue Reading This Week’s Rankings Series

NFL Quarterback Targets: Week 4
NFL Wide Receiver Targets – Week 4
NFL Tight End Targets – Week 4
NFL Defense Targets – Week 4

Take home $1.2 MILLION in the Week 4 NFL Millionaire Maker!