Fantasy Footnotes: Takeaways from Sunday's action

Every game day during the regular season, theScore’s fantasy editors recap the important takeaways from around the league.‚Äč

Titans could be key to fantasy glory

The Tennessee Titans, the NFL’s worst team a season ago, have two players who appear poised to lead fantasy owners to the playoffs and perhaps a title.

Let that sink in.

The first is sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose four touchdown passes Sunday gave him multiple touchdowns in six straight games.

Drafted behind quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, and Andy Dalton in fantasy leagues this summer, Mariota is quickly approaching top-five quarterback value. Remarkably, he isn’t doing it with a full arsenal around him. The Titans’ stable of receivers (Rishard Matthews, Kendall Wright, and Tajae Sharpe) remains among the NFL’s worst and the Titans’ coaches seem hesitant to unleash Mariota as a runner (he rushed just four times for eight yards Sunday).

In short, he can still get so much better.

Behind Mariota is one of fantasy football’s happiest surprises this season. Left for dead by many fantasy owners after an abysmal 2015 campaign, running back DeMarco Murray seems to have found the fountain of youth.

Murray raced to a 75-yard touchdown on his first touch Sunday and finished with 123 yards rushing, 33 yards through the air, and a (temporary) hold of the NFL’s rushing lead.

Whether Murray can keep it up remains to be seen (he’s worn down under heavy workloads in the past), but what’s not in question is whether Murray still has the skills necessary to produce at a league-leading clip.

Eagles’ backfield a quagmire, but a productive one

Good luck figuring out the Eagles’ backfield this season.

Just days after head coach Doug Pederson told the media that Darren Sproles had seized the Eagles’ starting job, and after Ryan Mathews handled four and five carries in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, the Eagles’ rushing attack looked nothing like we expected Sunday.

It was Mathews, not Sproles, romping for 109 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 19 carries. And it was rookie Wendell Smallwood, a forgotten man in the mix, carrying the ball 13 times for 70 yards.

Sproles handled just two carries in the contest, taking them for 19 yards, but salvaged some PPR value with eight receptions for 57 yards.

So, yeah…

Fantasy owners who benched Mathews after Pederson’s announcement regarding Sproles must have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it hurts to see a fantasy explosion happen on your bench. But Mathews’ unexpected offensive outburst may have earned him a bigger role moving forward, which would give his fantasy value a big boost.

Then again, can owners really trust that Mathews will get more than few carries next week?

Instant Impressions

  • It’s probably not going to happen for Todd Gurley this season, and there are legitimate questions as to whether he will ever become the elite rusher he showed flashes of being as a rookie. Gurley rushed 21 times for 64 yards and a positively Trent Richardson-esque 3.05 yards per carry Sunday. Gurley isn’t being helped by the Rams’ awful offensive line, nor the team’s abysmal quarterback, but there’s no reason to expect either impediment to disappear any time soon. Drafted as a high-end RB1, Gurley is nothing more than a volume-dependent RB2. Owners in keepers and dynasty leagues have no choice but to hope Gurley’s persistent lack of success doesn’t poison his approach to his craft, as it may have for the aforementioned Richardson.
  • Doug Martin is back, but not exactly better than ever. Out since Week 2 with a hamstring injury, the veteran returned Sunday and looked healthy and rusty. On a snap count that should be lifted in Week 11, Martin rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and added one catch for 13 yards. While his yardage totals leave a lot be desired, it’s not surprising that Martin needed a week to get back up to speed after such a long absence. He could be a difference-maker in the fantasy playoffs.
  • Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said recently that speedy receiver J.J. Nelson had earned the chance to start, but what if he said it just to motivate the other pass-catchers on his roster? Nelson did indeed line up opposite Larry Fitzgerald when the Cardinals took the field Sunday, but had an early fumble and then watched as Michael Floyd reasserted himself as someone who deserves to play more snaps.
  • Saints super-rookie Michael Thomas had his worst game as a pro Sunday, losing two fumbles in the fourth quarter that directly contributed to his team’s loss. Head coach Sean Payton benched Mark Ingram for two fumbles earlier this season, so it will be interesting to see how he approaches Thomas. The smart move is probably for Payton to stick with his rookie to avoid destroying his confidence.

Notable Performances

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
21 carries, 114 yards, 2 TDs, 2 receptions, 95 yards, TD
Elliott is so special, and the Cowboys have made him such a big part of their offense. Just pray that he doesn’t hit the rookie wall.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
25-of-37, 348 yards, 3 TDs
Wilson submitted a nearly flawless performance against the Patriots and it appears that he’s fully healthy after battling through an ankle injury for the majority of the year.

James Starks, RB, Packers
7 carries, 33 yards, 3 receptions, 11 yards, TD
Playing for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in mid-October, Starks was the Packers’ featured runner. He looked like he always does, which is to say competent but wholly unspectacular.

Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers
3 carries, 9 yards, 2 receptions, 11 yards
With Starks handling most of the Packers’ backfield work, Montgomery was a non-factor. His fantasy value may have dried up.

Rob Kelley, RB, Redskins
22 carries, 97 yards
In Kelley’s first game as the Redskins’ starter (Matt Jones was a healthy scratch), he showed he deserves to keep the job.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
31-of-51, 371 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT, 3 rushes, 27 yards, TD
The Packers were shelled by the Titans, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at Rodgers’ fantasy stats.

Drew Brees, QB, Team
21-of-29, 303 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Brees is almost 38 years old and looks like he could keep doing this for several more years. 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos is nothing to sneeze at.

Philip Rivers, QB, Team
23-of-44, 326 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs
Rivers melted down in the late fourth quarter, throwing two interceptions. The good news for his fantasy owners is that Rivers knows how to shake off a performance like this.

Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
9 receptions, 107 yards, TD, 2-PT
Robinson continues to survive Blake Bortles’ season-long meltdown.

Davante Adams, WR, Packers
6 receptions, 156 yards
Adams is one of this season’s best rags-to-riches stories. There was a time he was toxic to fantasy owners – and perhaps on the verge of being released by the Packers. Now he’s arguably the team’s most dangerous receiver.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers
4 receptions, 66 yards
The Bears held Evans catchless in the first half. His numbers were hurt by the fact that Jameis Winston was running for his life behind a leaky offensive line for most of the afternoon. That could affect both players moving forward.

Delanie Walker, TE, Titans
9 receptions, 124 yards, TD
Walker remains the Titans’ best receiving option – by far.

Cameron Brate, TE, Buccaneers
7 receptions, 84 yards, TD
Brate led the Buccaneers in receiving. He’s clearly Jameis Winston’s second-favorite option behind Mike Evans.

Vernon Davis, TE, Redskins
3 receptions, 66 yards, TD
Even with Jordan Reed back in the lineup, Davis has a role.

Injury Ward

Jordan Howard, RB, Bears
Howard exited late in the game with a lower leg injury and head coach John Fox said the team believes it could be to the rookie’s ankle or Achilles. Howard suggested it was mere “tightness,” but if his Achilles is indeed damaged it could spell the end for his season.

Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots
Despite being activated off the PUP list, Lewis was inactive Sunday. The decision may simply be a matter of the Patriots being very careful not to rush him back too soon. It’s not like they need him right now.

Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
Miller left in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, but later returned. He doesn’t look as explosive as in previous seasons, but it’s hard to say if it’s because he’s nursing an injury or just beat up.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Fitzgerald was taken to the locker room after landing awkwardly on his neck, but returned to the game. He should be fine moving forward but will undergo an MRI on Monday.

Waiver Wire Targets

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
Tannehill is playing better now that the Dolphins have a more reliable rushing attack.

Ryan Mathews, RB, Eagles
There’s a chance he was dropped in your league with news that Darren Sproles passed him on the depth chart. Scoop him up if he’s available.

Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears
The Bears’ Week 1 starter could get his job back if Jordan Howard’s injury is confirmed to be to his Achilles.

Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Bears
He’s also in the mix for a boost in touches if Jordan Howard misses time.

James Starks, RB, Packers
Starks played as the Packers’ primary tailback in his return from knee surgery.

Damien Williams, RB, Dolphins
Williams poached a short rushing touchdown from starter Jay Ajayi, then scored again on a nice catch in the end zone. He’s only a handcuff, but could have RB2 value if Ajayi were to get hurt.

Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
Hill led the Chiefs with 13 targets and 10 catches with Jeremy Maclin sitting out Sunday.

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Dropped in many leagues, Floyd is worth adding if you have room on your roster. He has WR1 upside.

Vernon Davis, TE, Redskins
Jordan Reed is clearly the top tight end in Washington, but Davis will stay involved in this offense.

Ladarius Green, TE, Steelers
It’s not insane to think Green will have fantasy value once he is fully integrated in his new team’s offense.

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