Week 5 was the week of the fantasy breakout.
Not only was it one of the greatest fantasy scoring outbursts of all time, as ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockroft detailed, but a total of 12 players set personal bests while scoring at least 20 points in ESPN’s PPR leagues.
So we’re kicking off this week’s column with four of the more unexpected breakouts — and why ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters say you can believe in them going forward:
WR Will Fuller, 53.7 points. Fuller is worth starting every week, according to Houston Texans reporter Sarah Barshop. Of course, you can’t expect another ridiculous stat line like 14 catches, 217 yards and three TDs. But that performance was a reminder of the kind of potential the 2016 first-round pick has always had when his seasons aren’t being derailed by injuries like last year’s torn ACL.
“He’s a favorite touchdown target of Deshaun Watson,” Barshop said of the duo that has combined for 14 TDs in just 16 career games played together. “And he said he’s feeling healthier as the weeks go on. As teams continue to focus on DeAndre Hopkins, Fuller will have even more chances. When receiver Kenny Stills returns from a hamstring injury, he may take a few of Fuller’s targets, but not enough that he shouldn’t be started.”
“The offense will go through Adams. But even if he plays this week, how effective can he be with his turf toe injury? If Adams is much less than 100 percent, then Jones once again assumes the role of go-to guy,” Demovsky said. “First-year coach Matt LaFleur’s offense is always going to be skewed toward the passing game as long as Aaron Rodgers‘ top weapon is full go. But LaFleur is still trying to strike a balance between the run and the pass.”
Volume has always been the concern with Jones’ fantasy value. But he ran 19 times for 107 yards and four touchdowns last week, while catching seven passes for 75 yards. Demovsky said his workload will “definitely go down a little” when fellow RB Jamaal Williams returns from a concussion. “But it’ll still be skewed toward Jones,” Demovsky said. “He’s the much more dynamic back.”
WR DJ Chark Jr., 36.4 points. It will be interesting to see how Chark holds up if he gets shadowed this week by New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who has silenced wide receivers Mike Evans and Amari Cooper the past two weeks. But Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco said Chark has fared well this year even though he has drawn more double-teams because of his hot start.
The second-round draft pick from 2018 was already breaking out in September before he went off last Sunday with eight catches for 164 yards and two TDs.
“The biggest difference is his comfort level in his second season — with everything,” DiRocco said. “Chark told me before that he just didn’t know what to expect as a rookie and he had to figure it out on the fly. He had to learn every receiver position and he went into each game not knowing when, where or if he’d even be getting on the field. He made a much bigger impact as a gunner on special teams, though, and he said that was because he knew what his role was and what to expect each week.
“Now that he has a season under his belt on offense, his comfort and confidence levels are soaring. You can see it in the way he plays. His routes are smoother and he’s not fighting the ball any longer, which was an issue last season, too. Add that to his size (6-foot-4), speed and athleticism, and you get a top-five receiver.”
TE Gerald Everett 20.6 points. This is the hardest one to believe because Everett has been such an afterthought in the Los Angeles Rams’ offense for most of his three seasons. And his seven catches for 136 yards last week came in a game where receiver Brandin Cooks left early with a concussion.
But Everett also caught five passes for 44 yards the week before. And Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry said that even before Cooks got hurt, the team went into last week’s game with a plan to utilize different personnel packages, including a 12 personnel package that included tight ends Everett and Tyler Higbee.
“Both players were instrumental in two second-half touchdown drives. And it’s well within reach to believe, given the success and rhythm the offense found, that Higbee and Everett will play larger roles in the passing game going forward even when all of the top three receivers are healthy,” Thiry said.
Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league:
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have simplified their offense since Kyle Allen took over for Cam Newton at QB, wrote David Newton. And they’re making things look easy by getting the ball in Christian McCaffrey’s hands.
Daniel Dopp believes in Jarvis Landry even though he has been held back due to QB Baker Mayfield’s poor performance.
Cleveland Browns: Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield are both frustrated that they haven’t been able to connect on more completions, wrote Jake Trotter. But it hasn’t helped when Mayfield has tried to force the ball to his new receiver.
Nothing seems to be working for Mayfield and the Browns’ passing game, as Trotter detailed here.
Denver Broncos: As Jeff Legwold wrote, rookie tight end Noah Fant has shown “flashes of greatness, flashes of good and flashes of bad,” according to offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts ran the ball 45 times in their surprising win over Kansas City. And that will remain their identity, as Mike Wells wrote, which is great news for RB Marlon Mack’s fantasy outlook. “This is what we want to define us,” coach Frank Reich said.
Kansas City Chiefs: If you get the chance to line up at wide receiver for the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes will give you a chance to be “explosive,” wrote Adam Teicher. KC has already had five different players with at least 97 receiving yards in a game this season — and that doesn’t even include Tyreek Hill yet.
New Orleans Saints: As ESPN’s Saints reporter, I wrote that they have been getting their money’s worth out of receiver Michael Thomas, no matter who is playing quarterback. When Teddy Bridgewater took over for Drew Brees, Bridgewater said he quickly realized, “Man, I have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL out here and I get to throw the ball to him whenever I feel like it.”
Meanwhile, New Orleans’ defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 31 straight games, including the playoffs. But resurgent RB Leonard Fournette will put that to the test after running for 333 yards over the past two weeks.
Oakland Raiders: Tight end Darren Waller has been a breakout player on the field this year. But as Paul Gutierrez detailed, Waller has also made an impact off the field by being so open about his battle with drug addiction and his recovery.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Howard has pulled ahead of rookie Miles Sanders in Philly’s RB timeshare with 149 rushing yards and four TDs over the past two games, as Tim McManus wrote. “It’s kind of going that way,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said — though he suggested Sanders could get more touches at some point if he ever has the “hot hand.”
San Francisco 49ers: The heartbeat of Kyle Shanahan’s offense has always been the running game, wrote Nick Wagoner. The 49ers’ 800 rushing yards are their most through the first four games of a season in 60 years.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is playing at an MVP level, wrote Brady Henderson, who said the quarterback was already off to the best start of his career before he threw another four TD passes last week.