Let's be honest, Week 3 was mostly a disaster. If you didn't have Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Devonta Freeman, you lost. Many reached out to me bemoaning the harsh reality that their 180-plus point lineups didn't win them anything in season-long or daily fantasy. Believe me, I feel your pain. But these things happen, the madness is part of why we love playing this game.
The Week 3 struggles also hit last week's edition of the Sleepers column. Nick Foles, Jared Cook, Isaiah Crowell, Leonard Hankerson and Doug Baldwin all were whiffs despite good matchups. Again, it happens. However, there were still some hits with Lance Dunbar being a massive boom in PPR leagues, Allen Hurns scoring a long garbage time touchdown and the deepest call coming through with Gary Barnidge's 100-plus yard and one touchdown game. It's a roller coaster ride, but I'll keep trying to bring you a few actual sleepers in this column, not just the chalk faux-sleeper plays everyone's touting.
Looking ahead to this weekend's action, there are 10 sleepers I like to outperform what the masses expect from them in Week 4.
Colonel Sanders' Super Secret Sleeper
These next few paragraphs will be as painful for me to write as they will be for you to read. Bear through it. When you sit by the hologram fireside, that still somehow emits heat, with your grandchildren down the line and tell them about the legend of Marshawn Lynch, it will be a wondrous moment for both parties. You'll recollect the Beast Quake run, while telling them how silly it was that reporters got bent out of shape for "Marshawn being Marshawn." You'll see the twinkle in their eye when you tell them about "I'm just here so I don't get fined" and how Pete Carroll took this talented back from draft bust in Buffalo to iconic superstar in Seattle. But, eventually, you'll reach the part where you must tell them about the decline. It happens, it's unavoidable for running backs.
When you reach that part of the tale, you'll tell your suddenly quiet grandchildren about how after over 2,000 career touches, Marshawn's body began to break down. One week it was his back, next his calf, and then his hamstring. They'll tear up a little when you tell them the lack of investments made by Seattle in the offensive line caught up to them. "But wait," they'll reply, "didn't the Seahawks always run out a subpar offensive line for Marshawn?" With a heavy sigh, you'll admit that it was clear in the year of the decline that Marshawn no longer had the special skills he once had to transcend poor blocking, as his yards per carry dipped well below the 4.3 he's averaged throughout his wonderful career. "Kids," you'll say through a choked throat, "all running backs, even those as special as Marshawn, eventually can't do it like they once did." As great as he was, one year it all fell apart for Marshawn Lynch, because it happens to every running back, it's unavoidable.
As sad as it is to say, the start to the 2015 season is shaping up much like the decline chapter of the story you'll tell your grandchildren. Marshawn Lynch is currently the RB29 in fantasy, ranks a striking 47th in fantasy points per rush attempt and has yet to find the end zone. I'm not saying this is the end, and I'm actively hoping that it's not, but if it is, none of us can say we were surprised. This is exactly how that inevitable story was destined to unfold.
The good news, if you're a Marshawn Lynch owner, is that there's a proactive measure you can take in order to insulate yourself from this potential blow. You can do whatever it takes to get Thomas Rawls. If you were perplexed as to why the Seahawks traded away Christine Michael, a player they spent a second-round pick on, for pennies before the season, here's your answer. The team was immediately impressed with Thomas Rawls the moment he hit their practice field. Now we know why.
In relief on an injury-riddled Lynch, Rawls busted off 106 yards on only 16 carries against the Bears on Sunday. The work came in a favorable matchup, but Rawls showed he can run hard, and get more than just what's blocked for him. Despite being an undrafted free agent, Rawls has always been a talented player as detailed in this in-depth profile courtesy of 14TeamMocker of RotoViz. After failing to catch on at Michigan and facing felony charges (they didn't stick), Rawls transferred to Central Michigan. Had it not been for those occurrences, he'd have likely been a mid-round draft pick.
Rawls looked every bit as impressive on the film from Sunday's game as his numbers indicated. If Marshawn Lynch sits out Monday night's game (reportedly a 50/50 chance), Rawls will get a second chance to show what he can do. While Fred Jackson is there, it's clear the Seahawks view him as a utility player and Rawls as the true running back handcuff.
If you're a Lynch owner, let's hope you picked Rawls up off waivers this week. If you didn't check again, but if he's already gone, prepare for his new owner to try and fleece you in a trade offer. However, the reality is you need Rawls. The Seahawks play on Monday night, and Eddie Lacy owners just experienced how rough it is having a running back play in the final game of the week when you're unsure of his status. At least having Rawls as the handcuff makes it an easier road to travel. Beyond this game, if this really is the twilight of a great run for Marshawn Lynch, Rawls is the key to making it through relatively unscathed by the disappointment of coming away empty-handed from your first round fantasy pick.
Should Rawls get the call on Monday, he's facing a favorable matchup. The Lions currently rank a respectable 15th in fantasy points per rush attempt allowed to running backs. However, that's skewed by their tilt against a Broncos team that has been unable to move the ball on the ground. In Weeks 1 and 2, Detroit ranked 23rd and 25th in allowing fantasy points to running backs. Their run defense has taken a major step back with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and DeAndre Levy out of the picture. Even if you're not a Lynch owner, and especially if you're looking for a daily fantasy flier, Thomas Rawls is worth a look.
Sound the alarm; the Raiders have both a winning record and a fantasy fruitful offense. Plenty of well-respected analysts weren't even sure that Derek Carr was the long-term answer for Oakland behind center after a rookie season where averaged 5.5 yards per pass attempts. However, he's come on strong in his second year, and is currently the QB12 in fantasy leagues. That's right, Derek Carr is a QB1.
This week he draws one of the best matchups for quarterbacks. The Bears let up a 71.4 competition percentage, and allow the second most fantasy points per pass attempt (.26) to the quarterback position. Chicago is in fire-sale mode too, shipping off veterans Jared Allen and Jon Bostic with more potentially down the line. Carr figures to keep his streak of 20-plus fantasy point outings alive.
All right, so this is a pretty chalky Week 4 sleeper play, and you've already seen a number of other analysts parade Karlos Williams as an option this week. However, let's take a deeper look at just how good Williams has been this year.
Williams' bruising style helped endear him to the Bills' coaching staff in training camp. He's brought the strong practice play to the field. Through the first three weeks, Karlos Williams has been the most efficient back in fantasy football. Of the backs who've toted 20 or more touches, Williams has the highest fantasy point per touch figure with 1.58 on his 26 touches. For comparison's sake, the Bills current starter, LeSean McCoy averaged .58 fantasy points (ranking 45th in the NFL) on his 50 touches. Of course, Williams' number would come down if he saw more opportunities. Yet, averaging a whole fantasy point more on his touches, on more than half of McCoy's workload, is quite the feat for this rookie runner.
NFL Media's own Rand Getlin reported Monday night that LeSean McCoy is likely to sit out this week to finally rest up a nagging hamstring injury. If he does, Karlos Williams will get the start in a run-heavy offense. The Giants are a stellar matchup for his first career start, as they allow the second most fantasy points per rush attempt (.32) in the NFL. New York has been particularly generous to running backs in the red zone, ranking 21st in the NFL in allowing fantasy points in this area. Williams is a big back who can thrive in the short yardage game, but has more than enough wiggle and juice to threaten a defense at every level. He's a must-start if McCoy sits, and should be universally owned in fantasy leagues in case this backfield trends more toward an even split.
There's not a more frustrating backfield than the Detroit Lions right now. Talent abounds in their running back room, but the dreaded veteran deference by the team isn't allowing it to shine. Joique Bell is the classic case of a good guy rising through the ranks of the undrafted to carve out a solid NFL career. However, we thought he was done before the season started, and the game action has sealed the deal. You can't spin 1.1 yards per carry any other way. While many are clamoring for Bell's removal to see more touches go to Ameer Abdullah, for good reason, Theo Riddick is another talented player who needs more work.
It's early, and his sample size is small, but Riddick ranks fifth among running backs with at least 10 touches in terms of fantasy points per rush attempt. He's a pass-catching specialist with 53 career receptions in the NFL. This is a trend going back to college, where Riddick averaged 38 catches over his last three seasons at Notre Dame. Even better, he's a playmaker in the area, averaging 9.2 yards per catch in the pros.
The Lions offense is edging dangerously close to chaos mode, with Matthew Stafford looking lost playing with a conservative coaching staff, and the offensive line deteriorating. That chaos figures to be compounded by a trip to Seattle in Week 4. The best way to offset the impending storm is by using short dump off passes to their running backs. That should mean plenty of Ameer Abdullah, but if you're in a PPR league, Riddick might get enough to get by. 13 of Riddick's 18 targets have come in the fourth quarter when the team is trailing, which they'll almost certainly be again in this spot. Of course, we're relying on the assumption of rational coaching for the Lions to see who needs to get the biggest slices of this backfield pie. We know that's a dangerous proposition, so be wary.
The Bengals' No. 2 wide receiver may be set to graduate from sleeper consideration soon. Now healthy after injuries robbed him of a follow up year to his 10 touchdown 2013 campaign, Marvin Jones is back to his old ways. He's scored in back-to-back contests, and plays on 77 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps. He's once again earned a fulltime role in an offense that is rapidly ascending.
No team has been taken to task harder by wide receivers than the Bengals' Week 4 opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. They've let up the most fantasy points to wide receivers, and rank second in points allowed to the position per quarterback pass attempt. If you're in need of a spot start, the matchup and opportunity is right for Jones.
Somehow, Ted Ginn is only allowed to produce in Carolina. It's been a rocky ride, but Ginn is getting 22 percent of the team's targets, averaging 8.3 standard fantasy points per game and is on pace for a 1,000 yard season. Opportunity breads fantasy results, even if those are meager. Like it or not, Ginn is a weekly WR4 and flex option in good matchups.
One such plus-matchup comes this weekend. The Buccaneers are the eighth worst team at stopping fantasy receivers with .27 points allowed per quarterback pass attempt. They allowed another slender, speed receiver to take a short pass to the end zone against them in Week 1 with Kendall Wright. Last week, DeAndre Hopkins went off for over 100 yards and a score. Those two are much better players than Ginn, but if Carolina plans to take advantage of Tampa's weakness, their recent usage trends say Ginn will be the one to do it.
The Jets' second round pick missed most of the offseason with rib injuries, and those long absences usually lead to a lost rookie season. However, in his first available action for New York, Devin Smith was named the starter in place of the injured Eric Decker. He went on to play 83 percent of the team's snaps, and saw nine targets against the Eagles. It was a pretty surprising workload for Smith, but the Jets trusted him enough to ask it. Ryan Fitzpatrick was unable to hit him though, as he only caught 33.3 percent of his targets, but Smith was getting open and running deep effortlessly.
Decker is no lock to play in Week 4, and that could mean more opportunities for Smith. If so, he has an excellent chance to make good on his targets this time around. The Dolphins give up 7.9 yards per pass play, and have been torched by wide receivers, allowing the seventh most fantasy points to wide receivers per quarterback pass attempt. It's a longshot play, but Devin Smith (28.2 yards per catch in 2014 at Ohio State) has the ability to get deep and break a week-winning play.
It only took one week for Terrance Williams to show you why he should never have been a high-priority waiver claim after Dez Bryant went down in Week 1. Yes, he did suffer a massive quarterback down grade with Brandon Weeden now at the offensive controls, but it's still disturbing that Williams was completely blanked from the Week 4 stat sheet. Falcons' all-star cornerback, Desmond Trufant, blanketed Williams and rendered him a non-factor.
Even in light of all that negativity, Williams makes for a fine spot start this week. The Saints rank 14th in terms of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers per quarterback pass attempt. While that's a league average figure, the Saints generosity to big play receivers is quite eye-opening. The Saints allow 9.7 yards per passing attempt, the worst in the NFL. Williams has long been a big-play dependent receiver, averaging 16.7 yards per catch in his career. This projects as a game where he gets one over on New Orleans.
The Raiders matchup with the Bears will lead to many positive projections for the Raiders rookie wideout, Amari Cooper. Rightfully so, Cooper's looked every bit the fantastic refined prospect he was billed as coming out of Alabama. However, veteran Michael Crabtree is playing well right along with him, and is in a mid-career revival. Through three games Crabtree actually leads the Raiders in targets, besting Cooper by two. More importantly, he's seen the largest share of the team's red zone targets with 29 percent, while Cooper hasn't seen a single red zone look to this point. Those haven't turned into touchdowns yet for Crabtree, but there's every chance regression to the mean takes place soon and he finds a score.
You don't need a ton of advanced stats to know the Bears defense has been porous this season. They've given up the sixth most fantasy points to wide receivers in the NFL, and rank dead last in receiver points adjusted per quarterback pass attempt. Crabtree ran a multitude of routes out of the slot last week, and the Bears' slot corner Sherrick McManis has been worked over repeatedly this season. If a frustrated owner dropped Crabtree (-0.5 percent ownership change in NFL.com leagues) after he followed up his massive Week 2 game against the Ravens with four catches for 46 yards, he makes for a good plug and play if you're in a bind at wide receiver. In daily fantasy, he's a tremendous value, and someone we should target heavily.
Even in light of the Gary Barnidge call from last week, there's no doubt this is the deepest, most longshot call among the 2015 sleepers listed so far. The tight end landscape is bleak outside of the obvious names, and potential rookie sleeper, Maxx Williams playing on Thursday night. We had to dig deep here, and we did. Brandon Myers hasn't done anything fantasy relevant since recording 79 catches for the Raiders in 2012.
However, if you're desperate, there's some merit to streaming him in Week 4, provided you're in a tight bind or looking for the most aggressive punt play in DFS. Jameis Winston has a long history of peppering his tight ends with targets. During his their two years together at Florida State, Nick O'Leary averaged 5.8 receptions per game courtesy of Winston. He carried that willingness to target the position over to the NFL. Austin Seferian-Jenkins saw seven targets go his way in Week 1, and before he left the Week 2 game with injury, Winston threw him three passes. It's a total desperation play, but there's some logic in it adding up.