In all likelihood, you will not win your fantasy football championship this season. Your team will fail you, and the players you invest hours of your life fretting over each week will betray you at the worst possible time. There will be no light at the end of the fantasy tunnel in December—only a mix of sadness, regret, and rage as you watch your annoying friend Michael win the title that would be yours if only [Player X] hadn’t [Specific Complaint Y].
We almost certainly won’t be happy with our fantasy season when it’s over, so we might as well enjoy it while it’s still going on. A quarter of the way through the NFL season, let us pause to celebrate the fantasy players who have showered us in points, scapegoat the players who have already disappointed us, and create enough cognitive dissonance that any loss by any amount during any given week is not our fault. It’s time to hand out the Quarter-Season Fantasy Football Superlatives.
The RB1 Sinking Your Season: Jay Ajayi, Dolphins
Ajayi was the 10th running back selected in ESPN leagues on average this year, but through four weeks, he’s 46th in PPR scoring. That number is deflated because the Dolphins didn’t play in Week 1—their opening game was moved to their bye week because of Hurricane Irma—but he’s still averaging just 8.5 fantasy points per game. He rushed for just 16 yards on 11 carries against the Jets in Week 3, and then 46 yards against the lowly Saints defense in Week 4. Last year, Ajayi finished as the 11th-highest-scoring running back in PPR with 177 points, but a third of those came in two games. In nine others he managed only single digits. If you made the sad, sad mistake of drafting Ajayi this year, he'll almost inevitably be on your bench for his one 200-yard performance and in your lineup for his 11-carry, 26-yard game.
Waiver-Wire Heroes: Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins, and Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears
Thompson was a popular fantasy add after he put up more than 40 PPR points in his first two games, and he somehow followed that up with 30 points in Week 3. If you had the faith to start him you probably won your game—and if you didn’t, good luck swimming out of the pool of your own tears. His Week 4 was a dud—just 1.7 points after averaging 24 through the first three weeks. But even with last week’s no-show, he still leads all running backs in receiving yards and currently has as many fantasy points as Ezekiel Elliott.
As good as Thompson’s been, Tarik Cohen might be the better back going forward. It’s been surprising to see the rookie emerge after preseason predictions had Jordan Howard as the main guy in Chicago, and even more surprising considering Cohen is 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds. He had over 25 fantasy points in his debut, but those points were pretty much irrelevant because he was available in 97.7 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 1. Since then, he’s managed 12 points per game and resembled a Snapchat in fast-forward mode every time he touches the ball. Cohen already has 24 receptions on 29 targets this season, and there may be more checkdowns in the Mitchell Trubisky era.
Any running back who can make the Pittsburgh Steelers look like high schoolers is special. A running back who can do that while also resembling a high schooler is a legend.
Waiver-Wire Mirage: Kerwynn Williams, RB, Cardinals
Kerwynn Williams was presumed to be the prime option at running back for Arizona after David Johnson went down with a wrist injury in Week 1, and the owner who nabbed him—either with the first waiver-wire pick or in a FAAB bidding war—probably thought they’d hit the lottery. But in his first game as “the starter,” Williams had nine carries for 22 yards, no targets in the passing game, and was still being run out on special teams. In weeks 3 and 4, he combined for 2 yards on two rushes. The only thing more disappointing than spending your first overall pick on David Johnson this year may have been replacing him with Williams.
The Biggest Running Back Injury Heartbreakers, Ranked
5. Danny Woodhead—In the handful of snaps he played, he looked like he’d be a PPR monster. But he’s a Baltimore Raven, so naturally he’s on IR.
4. Darren Sproles—RIP to a great career.
3. Ty Montgomery—As a fantasy hybrid of David Johnson and Christian McCaffrey, he seemed like a lock to be a top-5 back until he broke multiple ribs. Now he’s a risk to exit every game early.
1. David Johnson—“He’ll be back this season. He’ll be back this season. He’ll be back this sea—”
The “Why Didn’t I Draft That Guy?” Award: Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings
You either have Diggs on your team or you passed on him six times and get the urge to punch walls and shatter glass every time he catches a pass. In retrospect, Diggs was a face-palmingly obvious breakout candidate. He flashed monster talent in 2016 despite the Vikings offense embodying Murphy’s law, and it seemed like he’d play a crucial role for the team entering his third year. Receivers who can do things like this usually get more hype:
Stefon Diggs with his second touchdown of the night after to put the Vikings up 16-6 right before half! pic.twitter.com/ViVwZa7qFP— Dominique Clare (@DomClare) September 12, 2017
In four weeks he’s had a 27- and a 37-point game, the latter of which came with Case Keenum throwing him passes. Not only does watching Diggs fill owners who missed on him with regret, but it makes us begin to resent the players we drafted instead. [Glances at Theo Riddick.]
The “Why Did I Draft Him in the Third Round?” Award: Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
Cooper has managed only 29 PPR points so far this season, good for 68th among all wide receivers, which is a pitiful return for the 22nd-highest-drafted player in ESPN leagues. Cooper, the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft, is not even the top fantasy receiver named Cooper this season (Rams wideout Cooper Kupp is 33 spots higher than him). A possible explanation for this precipitous decline from 2016—when he had 20 catches for 318 yards through his first four games—is that Cooper has forgotten how to catch a football. He’s dropped a league-leading seven passes, and he’s hauled in only 12 (tied for 87th in the league). Luckily, he won’t lead the league in drops for long. With EJ Manuel taking over at quarterback for Derek Carr, Cooper won’t see many catchable passes in his future.
The “You Should Have Traded Him After Week 1” Award: Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots
Mike Gillislee was a popular sleeper pick entering the season. He was the no. 1 running back by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and he was replacing LeGarrette Blount—who led the league in rushing touchdowns last season—as the Patriots’ goal-line back. Fantasy owners who drafted Gillislee looked like freaking geniuses in Week 1, as he went off and scored three touchdowns. After that game, every owner in America considered trading for Gillislee, and if you have him and brushed aside those Week 1 offers, you’re a fool. Gillislee scored again in Week 2, but has just eight total fantasy points over the past two weeks. He doesn’t play in passing situations and with New England sporting the worst defense in football, the Patriots might find themselves in a lot of passing situations this season. Gillislee will get plenty of red zone carries the rest of the year and still could lead the league in rushing touchdowns, but your window to get a massive trade haul for him has likely closed.
The “Thank God You Didn't Trade Him After Week 1” Award: Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs
The other star of the season opener was Kareem Hunt, whose Week 1 stat line of 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns was the highest-scoring debut in the history of fantasy football. After the rookie’s ludicrous start to his career, selling high on Hunt may have seemed like a wise choice. It wasn’t.
Kareem Hunt through Week 3 pic.twitter.com/qgoU2eFCLQ— Connor Peters (@chief8225) September 25, 2017
This is incredible by Kareem Hunt..— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 3, 2017
Some RB parkour/ Ninja Warrior stuff.. The cut in hole vs LB - but immediately step thru SS's tackle pic.twitter.com/X6ITJ1XpCL
In PPR leagues, Todd Gurley is the highest scorer with 119.6 points. Hunt has 112.9, and no other player has broken 100—not even a quarterback. He has the second most yards from scrimmage ever through the first four games of a career, and he has such a massive lead in rushing yards this season that Gurley, currently second in the league, needs over a game and a half at his current pace to catch up to Hunt’s current figure. If you’re the lucky owner who drafted Hunt, you’re no. 1 in your league power rankings right now.
Guy Everyone Thought Was Washed but You Actually Should Have Drafted: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
For the fifth season in a row, this award goes to Larry Fitzgerald. It’s understandable that nobody wants to be stuck with Fitz when his production finally falls off a cliff, but, once again, this isn’t going to be that year. He somehow managed to lead the league in receptions in 2016, and through four games this season he’s been at a WR1 level, even though he’s approximately 83 years old. As long as he’s catching game-winning touchdown passes, Fitz will continue to win this award.
The legend continues... pic.twitter.com/mXQQCVzg0d— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) October 1, 2017
Player That Proves Why You Shouldn’t Draft Kickers Until the Last Round: Justin Tucker, K, Ravens
Tucker nailed 38 of 39 field goals last year during one of the best kicking seasons in league history. This year, he’s already missed two. Granted, they were both well beyond 50 yards, but there should be no sympathy for a dude who thinks he can nail one from 70. Tucker, the 89th-highest-drafted player in ESPN leagues this season, is the 28th-highest-scoring kicker on ESPN. If you took a kicker in the top 100 picks of your draft, or spent more than $2 on one in an auction, you have brought shame upon your family and deserve to spend the rest of eternity stepping on Legos.