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TRAPS & TRENDS: Week 4

Two weeks ago, the Monday morning fantasy football chatter centered on a boatload of player injuries. Last week, it was all about under-performing studs and over-performing scrubs. This past Sunday, fantasy managers watched with baited breath and nervous stomachs as COVID-19 virus endangered four games loaded with stud players, reminding us that the NFL schedule will have some Topsy-turvy shifting this season. Relax, folks. Senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson is here to calm your nerves with some fantasy football talk in his Week 4 edition of “Traps & Trends.”

Putting aside the NFL’s schedule juggling for very understandable COVID-19 safety reasons, Week 4 was routine with plenty of high-scoring games, which have become the norm. Here’s the Week 4 injury list. Keep in mind that some teams conceal player injury information until Monday morning or Monday afternoon, so don’t be surprised if there’s a surprise addition or two to this list:

Week 4 Injuries

QB Josh Allen (non-throwing arm; returned)

RB Austin Ekeler (hamstring, knee)

RB Nick Chubb (knee)

RB Chris Carson (head; returned)

RB LeSean McCoy (ankle)

RB Kenjon Barner (concussion)

WR Mike Evans (leg; returned)

WR DeVante Parker (ankle; returned)

WR A.J. Green (wrist, shoulder; returned)

TE Noah Fant (ankle)

TE O.J. Howard (Achilles’ tendon)

TE Jordan Akins (concussion)

TE Tyler Eifert (concussion)

We’re just four weeks into the 2020 regular season, but …

1. After Cincinnati’s No. 1 tailback tortured fantasy managers by opening the season with three consecutive dud outings, did he finally get back on track this past Sunday?

The Dude: Joe Mixon

The Damage: Well, Mixon’s 2020 breakout performance against the same Jacksonville defense that limited Derrick Henry (Tennessee) to 25 carries and 84 rushing yards two weeks ago was one heck of a surprise. Even though Mixon went into the Jacksonville game listed as questionable with a minor chest issue, he toted the rock 25 times for 151 yards (6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, and caught all six of his targets for 30 yards and a third score to help lead Cincinnati past Jacksonville, 33-25. The six targets was a pleasant surprise after Mixon had split passing-down duties with Giovani Bernard during the first three weeks of the season. In case you’re wondering, Bernard wasn’t targeted in the Jacksonville game.

By the way, Mixon is the first Cincinnati player to rack up two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in a game since Corey Dillon did it during the 2001 season. Heading into Week 4 action, Mixon topped a lot of fantasy analysts’ sell or must-trade lists. Following his massive outing, should fantasy managers opt to hold onto this guy?

The Diagnosis: TOSS-UP

A decision to trade or hold Mixon depends on the situation with your team. If you draft him to operate as your No. 1 tailback, I probably would try to sell high on him and get a high-upside, high-usage player in exchange. If he’s your second running back, I’d try to hold onto him.

Mixon is averaging 22.5 combo touches per game, and we all know that workhorse tailbacks are scarce. Rookie Joe Burrow is throwing well enough to make defenses defend the entire field and not load up the box to contain Mixon. Cincinnati promoted right guard Alex Redmond from its practice squad, and he impressed while starting against Jacksonville, springing Mixon for some big runs and bolstering the protection for Burrow. One new lineman isn’t going to make a massive difference on a line that’s still suspect, but it clearly helped in the Jacksonville game.

On the downside, Mixon isn’t going to light up the tougher run defenses on his schedule, which is loaded with a mix of tough and soft matchups. Mixon’s next two contests are against the Top 10 run defenses of Baltimore and Indianapolis before a plus matchup against Tennessee and then a Week 9 bye. From Weeks 10-16, Mixon will battle four Bottom-10 run defenses and three Top-10 run defenses. Treat him as a matchup-dependent fantasy RB2 with occasional RB1 upside. If Cincinnati’s offensive line play improves during the second half of the season, Mixon could exceed expectations.

2. So this is the “elite” tailback that Arizona preferred over David Johnson?

The Dude: Kenyan Drake

The Damage: In eight games played for Arizona last season, he dazzled fantasy managers while rushing for 643 yards, catching 28 passes for another 171 yards and tallying eight touchdowns despite operating behind a subpar offensive line. While Drake’s production was streaky, some fantasy managers put their faith in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s feel for how to run effectively out of the Air Raid spread formations. With Drake, a usually electric runner in space, entrenched in a full-time workhorse role for 2020, the expectations were high, but the production so far has been low:

  • Week 1 at San Francisco – 16 rushes, 60 yards, TD; 2 receptions, 5 yards (2 targets)
  • Week 2 vs. Washington – 20 rushes, 86 yards; 2 receptions, 9 yards (2 targets)
  • Week 3 vs. Detroit –18 rushes, 73 yards; 1 reception, 6 yards (1 target)
  • Week 4 at Carolina – 18 rushes, 35 yards; 0 receptions (0 targets)

Calling Drake’s production low overall is probably harsh. He did compile some workmanlike rushing efforts, but fantasy managers who spent a low first-round or early second-round draft pick on Drake obviously were expecting much better numbers – especially in the scoring department. His handcuff, Chase Edmonds, outplayed and outproduced him in the Carolina game. Edmonds carried four times for 16 yards and caught five passes for 24 yards and one touchdown against Carolina. Should fantasy managers continue to be patient with Drake and expect better performances ahead?

The Diagnosis: TRAP

No and no. It’s time for Drake managers to push the panic button. Bench him if you can or trade him if you can (good luck with that as his value is parked in the cellar right now). He’s healthy and receiving steady large workloads, but Drake has disappointed in three straight plus-matchups (Week 2 through Week 4). He couldn’t gash three Bottom-12 run defenses, including Carolina, so when will Drake erupt?

The preseason chatter from some fantasy managers about Drake’s lack of top-shelf talent and lack of a proven track record as a featured tailback has alarm bells going off. The fifth-year pro has never been a full-time player. Arizona tried to make a career part-time player a full-time one, and it’s not working out. Some folks think Edmonds is a better tailback than Drake, and I’m one of them. I suspect the Arizona backfield will go timeshare very soon because this level of production from Drake clearly isn’t cutting it for the team. If Edmonds is available in your league, he’s a great pickup this week.

3. Has a former New York Giants superstar wideout finally emerged as a new Cleveland superstar wideout?

The Dude: Odell Beckham

The Damage: Heading into Week 4 action, Beckham had compiled just 11 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown grab on 22 targets, which made his monster performance against Dallas this past Sunday look all the more like a massive breakout. Beckham parlayed eight targets into five receptions for 81 yards and not one but two touchdown catches. He also carried two times for 73 yards and one touchdown, which he scored on a game-clinching 50-yard run on a reverse. Baker Mayfield also overthrew Beckham on what probably would have been a third touchdown catch. Following his disappointing injury-wrecked 2019 Cleveland debut, has Beckham finally turned the corner and rejoined the ranks of the elite fantasy wideouts?

The Diagnosis: TRAP

Just to clarify, the 27-year-old Beckham is still the elite physical talent who made those trademark acrobatic one-handed receptions during his time with the Giants. When he was traded to Cleveland, fantasy managers surely imagined Beckham making similar circus catches on passes thrown by Baker Mayfield, but that hasn’t happened. He’s simply not that good of a passer. Say what you want about Eli Manning, but he could get the ball to Beckham consistently.

Since Beckham’s performance against Dallas probably will end up as his best of the season, I think it’s sell high time. During the Dallas game, Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski got the ball into Beckham’s hands – a good coach schemes to get the ball into the hands of his top player – on a gimmick pass from Jarvis Landry and on a reverse, as noted. I don’t see Beckham suddenly drawing double-digit targets and putting up huge receiving numbers each week. On the season, he has averaged 4.5 combo touches or just four targets in a Cleveland offense that will remain run heavy (28.8 pass attempts per contest on the season). Even an elite talent like Beckham can’t crank out big passing numbers on a low number of weekly targets. Beckham drew eight targets in a shootout against Dallas, and that’s probably his high-water number of looks.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson has played NFL fantasy football since 1994 and has been a featured columnist at FantasySharks.com since 2008. His 18 combined years of professional writing experience includes a five-year stint as a contributing writer/editor at KFFL.com. He has been a featured contributor to The Fantasy Football Guide since 2008 and has been published regularly in the award-winning USA Today Sports Fantasy Football preview. Matt is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and holds a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois.