This season is shaping up to be the year of the rookie running back but nobody should be surprised. Fantasy analysts from all the around the industry declared the 2017 draft class to be one of the strongest groups of running backs in years. Of course, nobody could predict which of the running backs would really make it big, and almost everyone hedged their choice to hit it big with the caveat that it might take until later in the season for it to happen. Well, just three games in and I think we’ve already gotten an answer on at least a few of them.
Kareem Hunt was hot right out of the gate…well, sort of. He fumbled on his very first NFL play from scrimmage to make a rather inauspicious debut, but he’s been solid ever since. He’s averaging just shy of 30 FPPG and he’s scored six touchdowns already – four on the ground and two via the pass. If he keeps this up, he could end up an MVP along with garnering Rookie of the Year honors.
Cam Newton’s season has been a disaster so far (see below) but Christian McCaffrey has benefitted from his quarterback’s troubles so far. McCaffrey’s ground game hasn’t been very good. He’s run the ball 25 times for only 73 yards for an average of 2.9 YPC, but it’s really the offensive line that has been the cause of that low production. It’s the passing game that’s really made McCaffrey a stud so far. He’s caught 18 of 23 targets (78 percent catch rate) for 173 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per reception.
The Panthers’ coach has made it clear that they don’t want Newton to run, so he is going to need a go-to receiver, someone he can find and trust when he needs to release the ball quickly. This was crystal clear in Sunday’s game against New Orleans, as McCaffrey was targeted 11 times for nine receptions and 101 yards. Look for McCaffrey to put up more big games in the weeks ahead. If you acquire him in a trade (good luck), you should do what you can to make it happen.
The bottom line is that Hunt is the RB to own in standard leagues, while I really like McCaffrey’s future in PPR formats. There are other emerging RBs, though, so this is subject to change as the season wears on.
THE QUICK DEMISE OF CAM
The Carolina Panthers put up another mediocre effort in Sunday’s game in London against the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, the mediocrity was led by the one player on the team who’s expected to set the tone and lead the team. However, Cam Newton’s effort in this game was a continuation of what is now a string of poor performances that began about halfway through the 2016 season. The Panthers’ record over their last 10 regular season games is five wins and five losses, but that doesn’t begin to illustrate the real problem.
First, the Panthers are averaging just 19.4 points per game over their last 10 games played. They have been trying build up their ground game to eat more time off the clock and keep their opponents’ offense off the field. Unfortunately, the Panthers’ defense has allowed opponents to score an average of 21 points during the same span. When you dig a little deeper, though, you find that in games they won, they did so by an average of 10.4 points, while in games they lost, they did so by an average of 15 points. For the most part, their wins have been fairly close games, but their losses have been blowouts.
More troubling, though, is Newton’s performance and that of his offensive line. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made it clear during the preseason that the team was revamping the offense to keep Newton in the pocket and getting rid of the ball earlier in an attempt to protect him from injury. For the most part, that’s what has happened, except when it hasn’t. So far, Newton has been sacked 10 times this season. This includes four sacks by the Saints, a team that only notched 27 sacks for the entire 2016 season, and only three sacks over the first two games of this season combined.
The real bottom line in all this, though, is Newton’s production from a Fantasy standpoint. He was actually benched and replaced by Derek Anderson after an effort in which he threw three interceptions and just 17 completions in 26 attempts for a paltry 167 yards. In the Fantasy game, that’s good for…10 FP. Oh my. It is the worst single regular season game performance (in FP) of his career, and it follows a game in which he racked up just 14.1 FP. In fact, over his last eight games played dating back to Week 13 of last season, Newton has averaged just 17.3 FP per game. However, if you remove the one really good game included among those eight (Week 15 of 2016 vs. WSH – 32FP) Newton’s FPPG drop down to 15.1.
Simply put, that isn’t going to help any Fantasy team. In fact, after the first three games of this season, Newton ranks QB22 (46.9 FP), which places him behind studs like Blake Bortles (59.6 FP), Jared Goff (61.3 FP) and DeShone Kizer (65 FP). Looking ahead, though, things may not get any easier for Newton. The next two games are both on the road against New England and Detroit. In theory, Newton should have a good game against the Patriots, however, he should have had a good game against New Orleans, so don’t assume that logic will rule the day.
If you own Newton now, you’re probably stuck with him since nobody is going to take him in a trade, unless, of course, you can convince someone that they should pounce now while his value is at its lowest. The problem here is that you’d be telling the truth, so you’re not going to get much of anything in return. Your best bet is to try and pry a player with upside who hasn’t performed well to date. On the flipside, if the Newton owner in your league is shopping him around and rattles your cage with a trade offer, you should politely say, no thank you, and don’t give it a second thought. Newton is Fantasy kryptonite at this point, a far cry from the Superman he was in 2015.
Cincinnati Bengals coach Bill Lazor promised we’d see more of Joe Mixon and he made good on it in Sunday’s game. In fact, Mixon had 18 carries against the Packers, which is one more carry than he had in the first two games combined. Mixon rushed for just 62 yards (3.4 YPC), but the increase in touches is a significant step forward for his Fantasy value. He played a total of 34 snaps in Week 3 after playing a total of 38 snaps in the first two games combined. It’s also notable that his snap counts were spread more evenly between passing and running downs…Amari Cooper dropped just four passes in 2016 but he’s dropped six passes already in 2017…The Trevor Siemian story was nice while it lasted. Siemian showed his true colors against Buffalo on Sunday. After putting up 26.9 and 29 FP over the first two games respectively, he tumbled to just 14.2 FP this week. He’s still a good matchup play but be careful against teams that can stop the running game and force Siemian to throw. He can’t throw 40 times in a game and be successful…Several RotoExperts analysts have said that the Patriots’ defense is porous and can’t stop opposing offenses. That held true again this week, as the Pats made DeShone Kiser look like John Elway. However, I’m still not playing Cam Newton against the Patriots in Week 4. The Bucs (Wk 5) and Falcons (Wk 7) are a different story. I’d roll with Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan against the Pats…Jay Ajayi should have run roughshod over the Jets. Instead, he disappeared. He got 13 touches and produced just 25 yards in a losing effort. Problem is, you can’t bench him against the Saints next week. He’ll be active for me.