Can 32-year-old Adrian Peterson and…drum roll please…Orleans Darkwa…continue to operate as productive workhorse runners? Guess who misses Kyle Shanahan? Why are fantasy owners of Andre Ellington and Tarik Cohen cranky? Senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions and sifts through the Week 6 aftermath in his latest edition of “Traps & Trends.”
1. Yo, Adrian! You’ve still got it!
The Dude: Adrian Peterson
The Damage: He was the biggest fantasy surprise of Week 6. Absolutely nothing pointed to Peterson exploding during his Arizona Cardinals debut with 126 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. The 26 totes of the rock was his biggest workload since 2015, and the 126 yards almost doubled Peterson’s rushing production with the New Orleans Saints.
AP had struggled mightily during his injury-marred 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings. A poor all-around fit for the Saints offense, he also hadn’t run particularly well during his four-game stop in the Big Easy, amassing just 23 carries for 71 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and two catches for four yards on three targets with no rushing or receiving touchdowns. The Arizona Cardinals offensive line has been one of the NFL’s worst blocking units in recent weeks due to injuries. Usually a team will edge a newcomer into the mix with a light workload until he gets up to speed with the playbook, but Peterson handled 26 of the 29 touches by Arizona running backs in the Tampa Bay game. Okay, enough of my excuses. Peterson surprised the heck out of me and a lot of fantasy analysts. Can the 32-year-old Peterson continue to produce at a high level?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Yes. If you gambled on Peterson on waivers and coughed up a ton of blind bidding cash for him, your gamble paid off. Throughout his NFL career, Peterson has been an exception to a lot of the established norms about the running back position, and I would be an idiot to bet against him this season. The Cardinals gave AP a huge workload right out of the gate, so they clearly trust him. Arizona’s schedule also looks super favorable for Peterson through Week 16. Seven of his nine matchups are against defenses ranked 18th or lower versus the run. The Cardinals don’t seem interested in using him as a receiver, but Peterson has never been known for his pass-catching prowess. One final thought: the possible late-season return of David Johnson (wrist surgery) could make things interesting. Sorry Peterson owners – I couldn’t let you get too full of yourselves.
2. So is this guy now totally phased out of the Arizona Cardinals offense?
The Dude: Andre Ellington
The Damage: The Cardinals’ ground attack sputtered badly from Week 3 through Week 5 with Chris Johnson toting the rock behind a struggling offensive line, which opened the door for Ellington’s high usage as a safety valve, which made him a godsend in leagues with point-per-reception scoring. He amassed receiving lines of 5-59-0 on eight targets, 9-86-0 on 14 targets and 9-65-0 on 10 targets, respectively, during that time frame. However, Adrian Peterson’s surprising Week 6 monster redemption performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers absolutely gutted Ellington’s usage. He posted goose eggs across the board on a single target. Is Ellington now relegated to low-usage second banana status with Peterson controlling the Arizona Cardinals’ backfield?
The Diagnosis: TREND
There’s no mystery here. Barring an injury to Peterson, the party is over for Ellington owners. Game script wasn’t his friend in the Buccaneers game. With Peterson leading the way, the Cardinals mounted an effective ground game and never fell behind, so Ellington’s services weren’t needed. While he’s expected to continue operating as the primary passing-down specialist – Peterson isn’t expected to see much third-down action – Ellington’s usage will be game-flow dependent. As noted in my Peterson discussion, seven of his next nine matchups are against defenses ranked 18th or lower against the run. Ellington probably will be more involved when Arizona falls behind, which turns his usage into a guessing game going forward.
3. Somebody in Atlanta really misses Kyle Shanahan.
The Dude: Matt Ryan
The Damage: Ryan’s 248 passing yards and one scoring strike during his team’s surprising Week 6 home loss to the Miami Dolphins – his receiver corps was sans just Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) – is just another in a disappointing string of pedestrian fantasy outings from the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year. The Dolphins pressured him constantly, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s play calling was puzzling at times. Ryan is averaging a solid 271.4 passing yards per game and has amassed between 242 and 252 passing yards in three of his last four. However, the Atlanta Falcons triggerman has notched just one 300-yard outing (Week 1) and has tossed multiple touchdown passes in just one game (two of them in Week 3). Overall, he has thrown six scoring passes against six picks in five games played. Will Ryan continue to compile fantasy QB2 production for the short-term?
The Diagnosis: TREND
Ryan’s struggles are proof that offensive coordinator changes are a big deal. Ryan and the Falcons offense are marred in a funk and truly miss Kyle Shanahan. Sarkisian’s shaky play calling has quite a bit to do with Ryan’s struggles. Maybe Sarkisian gets things moving more smoothly later in the season. Maybe he doesn’t. Downgrade Ryan to fantasy QB2 status if you haven’t already. Should you cut Ryan? No. I doubt you’ll find anything better in your free-agent pool, and he’s still a viable backup. Ryan draws a great Week 7 matchup versus a still-leaky New England Patriots defense that allowed Josh McCown (Jets) to throw for 354 yards and two scores this past Sunday. Only one quarterback has failed to toss multiple touchdown passes against the Patriots so far this season.
4. For the second week in a row, the Chicago Bears didn’t use their passing-down back in many passing situations.
The Dude: Tarik Cohen
The Damage: It’s been two straight games with more carries than catches for Cohen. Two weeks ago, he racked up a 6-13-0 rushing line and a 1-(-6)-0 receiving line during a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. This past Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, however, the Bears were unable or unwilling to expand his role in an aerial attack that featured Tre McBride and Tanner Gentry as the starting wideouts with Kendall Wright handling the slot duties. As for Cohen, he tallied a 14-32-0 (2.3 yards per carry) rushing line and a 1-14-0 receiving line on three targets in the Ravens game. He padded his fantasy scoring with a 21-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option throw that would have made Walter Payton proud. Averaging 2.3 yards per carry, however, Cohen clearly didn’t have much success running between the tackles. Since Week 3, Cohen is averaging just three targets per game after he racked up 21 targets from Week 1 through Week 2. Will the Chicago coaching staffers come to their senses and start using Cohen heavily in the passing game once again?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
I honestly don’t know why the Bears continue to minimize his usage as a receiver and instead pound the speedy 5-foot-6, 181-pound Cohen between the tackles or use him on sweeps, which hasn’t fooled opposing defenses or resulted in big yardage for the rookie in weeks. Unless there’s a gem running back sitting in your free-agent pool, I wouldn’t dump Cohen just yet. A healthy running back is a precious thing in fantasy football. Chicago’s next two opponents – the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints – both rank in the top eight in catches allowed to the running back position. Maybe…just maybe…Cohen will see more action as receiver again.