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TRAPS & TRENDS: Week 4

You didn’t expect the NFL fantasy universe to calm down just three weeks into the regular season, did you? Senior writer Matt Wilson has sifted through the Week 3 aftermath and checks in with a look at the 10 fantasy players grabbing the morning headlines. We call them the “Traps & Trends 10.”

 

1. THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES’ BACKFIELD – CLEAR AS MUD

The Dudes: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood.

RB_Wendell_Smallwood_PHI_2
Eagles rookie RB Wendell Smallwood.

The Damage: Back in Week 1, Mathews owned the Philadelphia Eagles backfield, racking up 22 touches (all rushing attempts) while tailbacks not named Mathews touched the rock a combined 12 times against the Cleveland Browns. In Week 2, however, Philadelphia surprised the fantasy universe (and angered Mathews owners) by using a committee that resulted in this distribution of touches: Mathews 10, Sproles 14, Smallwood 3 and Barner 2. By the way, Mathews salvaged what could have been an otherwise lousy outing with two rushing touchdowns.

Some had reasonably thought the Eagles had used a committee only to save some wear and tear on the notoriously injury-prone Mathews in what was a blowout victory over the Chicago Bears, and Mathews would return to lead dog status, right? Nope. Philadelphia used the timeshare again in Week 3 with this distribution of touches: Smallwood 17, Barner 8, Sproles 8 and Mathews 2. Has the Philadelphia backfield gone timeshare for good?

The Diagnosis: TREND

There has been credible Internet speculation that Mathews has been slowed by a lingering ankle injury (and possibly other ailments) that he suffered during the preseason, which I find believable – even though Mathews’ name doesn’t show up on any of the injury reports published on the team’s website. In Week 3, he didn’t see much action if any after the first quarter.

When Mathews returns healthy, he should resume the primary goal-line back duties as a touchdown-dependent fantasy RB3 (Mathews has been targeted in the passing game just once so far), but I think Sproles (the primary passing-down back), Barner and Smallwood have played too well not to be involved going forward. Sproles looks like the safest of the bunch right now as a flex in PPR leagues. Fortunately, for Mathews owners, they won’t have to deal with mess again until the Eagles return from their Week 4 bye.

 

2. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ true No. 2 wideout is…

The Dude: Adam Humphries

The Damage: Vincent Jackson, who has started three straight season-opening games as Mike Evans’ wingman, has compiled receiving lines of 2-18-0 on seven targets, 4-44-0 on nine targets and 3-37-0 on six targets. Second-year pro Adam Humphries, operating as the team’s No. 3 wideout, has amassed receiving lines of 3-34-0 on five targets, 6-67-0 on eight targets and 9-100-0 on 12 targets, which were all career highs. Has Humphries surpassed the 33-year-old Jackson in the target pecking order?

The Diagnosis: TREND

Some in the fantasy universe think Humphries’ huge Week 3 outing is the product of the Buccaneers playing in a shootout and consider him fool’s fantasy gold. If you studied the numbers closely, you surely noticed that Humphries has produced more with his 25 targets than the 33-year-old Jackson has with his 22 targets. The Tampa Bay defense surrendered 31 offensive points to a Los Angeles Rams team that hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown heading into Week 3. The Buccaneers defense is terrible, and the team is going to be in a lot of shootouts this season. Humphries is a must-add in deeper PPR leagues. Given his smallish size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), I don’t see Humphries as major red-zone/end-zone threat.

 

3. HEY! DIDN’T YOU USED TO BE AN ELITE GREEN BAY PACKERS WIDEOUT?

The Dude: Randall Cobb

The Damage: Let’s see…Cobb…2016 season…going to need a magnifying glass here…ah, here are the numbers. In Week 1, he compiled a 6-57-0 receiving line on eight targets and threw in 11 rushing yards on three carries. In Week 2, Cobb produced a 5-42-0 receiving line on seven looks with one rushing yard sprinkled in. What? His Week 3 numbers? Oh, yeah, Aaron Rodgers had a big game with four touchdown passes, so Cobb probably did well, too. Oh, wait, he racked up just one catch for 33 yards on three targets, which came on a broken play during the Green Bay Packers’ first possession of the afternoon against a soft Detroit Lions’ secondary. His 9.0 yards per catch is one of the worst in the NFL among wideouts with a similar number of receptions. When was Cobb’s last 100-yard game? That would be Week 2 of the 2015 season. Are better fantasy outings ahead for Cobb?

The Diagnosis: TOSSUP

I’m going to be honest here: As the Green Bay Packers head into their Week 4 bye, I don’t know why Cobb is struggling. With Jordy Nelson returning healthy and commanding top coverage from opposing defenses, I thought Cobb would rebound nicely back from an injury-marred 2015 season. He’s healthy as far as we know. If you own Cobb, bench him – if you haven’t already – until he starts to produce. Cobb is the No. 2 option in the Packers passing attack, and the team should be able to get him back on track. Personally, I’m having some doubts about whether Cobb will return to his days of 100-yard games. Call it a hunch.

 

4. IS THIS GUY THE NEW SLASH 2.0?

The Dude: Terrelle Pryor

The Damage: Damage? There was quite a bit of it in Week 3. Pryor, who was the subject of a lot of talk and speculation on the Sunday morning fantasy football shows, operated as the Cleveland Browns’ featured wideout with Josh Gordon (suspension) and Corey Coleman (broken hand) not available to face the Miami Dolphins. Pryor hauled in eight balls for 144 yards on a whopping 14 targets. He also toted the rock four times for 21 yards and one touchdown, and the converted college quarterback went 3-for-5 for35 yards. Will the Browns continue to use Pryor this way, and is he worth a pick up?

The Diagnosis: TREND

The answer is yes to both questions. Granted, 100-yard receiving games from Pryor each week is likely a stretch. His usage my drop slightly when Josh Gordon returns from his suspension in Week 5. Corey Coleman (broken hand) is expected to miss anywhere from three to six more games, and Josh McCown (shoulder) is expected to miss at least three more weeks. However, the Browns aren’t exactly loaded down with playmakers, so why would they change Pryor’s role? He’s a great short-term waiver wire add.

 

5. WILL THE REAL RYAN FITZPATRICK PLEASE STAND UP?

The Dude: Ryan Fitzpatrick

The Damage: Back in Week 2, Fitzpatrick could do no wrong against what was a leaky Buffalo Bills defense, completing 24 of 34 passes for 374 yards and one touchdown. However, in Week 3 versus a Kansas City Chiefs defense that apparently rediscovered its mojo, “FitzMagic” did a lot of things wrong. He went 20 of 44 for 188 yards and…gasp…six interceptions. Fitzpatrick probably could have been picked at least two more times in that contest. Will we see more of the Week 2 Fitzpatrick or the Week 3 Fitzpatrick going forward?

The Diagnosis: TREND

Were you wondering why the New York Jets front office was reluctant to give him a huge money contract? With the New York Jets playing a much tougher schedule than they faced in 2015, we’re going to see these up-and-down performances from the journeyman passer going forward. The real Fitzpatrick is somewhere in between his Week 2 and Week 3 performances, so downgrade him to a streaming option. Fitzpatrick’s next game is a home contest against the Seattle Seahawks followed by two road matchups versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, who are much better than they played this past Sunday.

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.