Can you believe it? We're one-fourth of the way through the NFL and fantasy season! What a wild four weeks it has been. Despite the relative infancy of the season, we've learned quite a bit about the teams and players we spent all offseason speculating about. With that in mind, here are the five biggest surprises/bargains and reaches/disappointments of the 2014 fantasy season. This was a tough list to crack, as there have been plenty of surprising and disappointing players. I left off players who have had injury-plagued starts to the season, as it's unfair to judge them based on that just yet.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Murray was gone by Round 3 in most fantasy drafts, but few owners expected him to dominate all of his competition this thoroughly through the first four weeks of the season. Murray has had 100-plus rushing yards in all four of his games, found the end zone five times and is 21.2 fantasy points ahead of the second place rusher (Le'Veon Bell). All told, DeMarco has laid to rest questions about his status as an elite NFL (and fantasy) running back, and as Marcas Grant recently pointed out he'd be the No. 1 overall pick if we were drafting today.
Steve Smith, Sr., WR, Baltimore Ravens: Smith is one of my favorite players of the last decade, but even I didn't think he'd come out of the gates in this fashion to kick off his age-35 season. He's currently the third-highest scoring pass-catcher behind only Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson. The narrative last season in the sports media last season was that Smith couldn't go deep any longer, but he's put that notion to bed as well, seeing as only Jones has more plays of 20-plus yards than the cagey veteran. Smith was a late flier in most fantasy drafts paying huge dividends so far in 2014.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers: I was very high on Rivers this offseason, but I didn't expect him to perform as well as he has in the early goings of the season. Almost no quarterback has played the position at as high of level as Rivers consistently through the first four games. His performance has translated to fantasy as well, as he's the third-highest scoring passer, even though he was drafted, on average, in the 11th round earlier this fall.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers: Needing to replace Steve Smith, the Panthers drafted Benjamin at the end of the first round this year. There were questions surrounding whether Benjamin could adapt to the NFL game quickly, as well as handle the duties that come with being a team's No. 1 wideout -- as a rookie, no less. Well, Benjamin has looked the part of the NFL Rookie of the Year through four weeks, leading his team in receiving and making at least one ridiculous circus catch per week. He and Cam Newton already have a rapport, and the duo could become even more dangerous as the season wears on. Despite all of the warnings surrounding rookie wide receivers in fantasy, Benjamin currently ranks seventh in fantasy scoring for wide receivers, which begs the question -- what could he and Smith have done on the same team?
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans: Much ballyhoo was made this offseason about the emergence of Justin Hunter, but the talented sophomore has proved as inconsistent as ever thus far in 2014. Which is why the emergence of Walker has proven all the more surprising. Walker has become the most consistent and dynamic threat in the Titans passing offense. Need proof? Walker ranks 10th in the NFL (yes, the entire league) in receiving yards. The next closest Titan? Kendall Wright sits at No. 59. Tack on Walker's three scores, and that's how you go from relative draft afterthought to the No. 3 scoring tight end in fantasy.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy through the first four weeks. Lacy was a surefire first-round selection in 2014, with many (including myself) valuing him more than Marshawn Lynch (doh!). Part of Lacy's problems has been that he's faced three of the toughest run defenses in the NFL through four weeks and has also been playing a line that was without two starters for portions of time. Nevertheless, if I can offer words of assurance to Lacy owners, it's this: Lacy has 161 yards and a touchdown through his first four games, compared to 270 yards and a touchdown last year. That 109 yard difference averages out to roughly 27 yards a game -- not much if he gets a few more touches. Lacy has only carried the ball more than 15 times once through the first four weeks. It might just be taking the big guy a little while to get going as his offensive line gets it's act together. Or, so we hope.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: While Lacy has been disappointing, there was more risk attached to his name than McCoy's. Yet the duo has been equally disastrous in fantasy in 2014. Part of the blame for McCoy has been that like Lacy, his offensive line has deteriorated during the season (and in a more staggering fashion). McCoy was missing three starters last week in front of him, and his 17 rushing yards speak for themselves. If something doesn't change, and soon, his owners will begin panicking at unfathomable levels.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Oh boy, what else can be said about Brady and his performance this season (both in real football and fantasy) that hasn't already been said? Not a lot, boys and girls, not a lot. But I will say this: We're currently living in a world where Tom Brady has more turnovers than touchdowns on the season and has been outscored in fantasy by the likes of EJ Manuel (who just got benched) and Brian Hoyer (who had a bye in Week 4). Let that sink in for a moment.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: Thomas told us last year that "only winners get wings" last season, and he earned loads of wings posting his second straight 1,400-plus receiving yard, 10-plus touchdown season. So far this year, Thomas isn't even in the top 50 at his position, and while he's had a minor injury slowing him down, he's been playing second fiddle to Emmanuel Sanders in the passing attack all season. So far, Thomas won't be getting too many wings from his fantasy owners in 2014.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: What do Preston Parker, Donte Moncrief, Taylor Gabriel and Greg Salas have in common? They've all scored more fantasy points than Fitzgerald thus far in 2014. That's not a who's who of fantasy studs -- it's a "Who's that?" of actual NFL players. Many were down on Fitzgerald heading into 2014, but nobody expected this. Let's hope the venerable pass-catcher can turn the tides around, or his fantasy owners will feel like Switch from "The Matrix" as they watch their fantasy season get unplugged, quietly uttering, "Not like this. Not like this."