It’s only been four games, but from the looks of things it sure seems like Andy Dalton has turned a corner in his development. His 1,187 passing yards has him on pace for 4,748 on the season. That’s 452 yards more than his previous career high in 2013. The yardage uptick has come with a spike in his yards per attempt, which stands at 10.23, a number that trails only Ben Roethlisberger and is just under three yards better than his previous best of 7.3 yards-per-attempt.
There are going to be naysayers out there, meaning he is undervalued. It’s hard to forget an erratic past. It’s hard to shed the game manager label. This will be the year it happens, though. The indicators are there. The biggest one being his accuracy. Dalton has completed 67.2 percent of his passes. He has shown a gradual progression through his career before this jump, so this should be viewed as sustainable.
The other thing that really sticks out is the lack of interceptions. He has just one this year. He has had at least 16 in each of his last three seasons. Sure, the Bengals are a run-first team under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, but Dalton’s ability to keep from turning the ball over is going to earn him more chances as the season progresses.
This team has plenty of weapons as well. The two headed monster at running back of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard ensures team’s respect the running game. A.J. Green can win just about any one-on-one matchup. Tyler Eifert has emerged as a Top-6 option at tight end, meaning teams have someone else to game plan against in the passing game.
Is Andy Dalton an every-week Fantasy starter? My answer is no. He is, however. a guy that should be owned in every league, and is fully capable of being used with confidence in plus matchups, something that couldn’t be said prior to this season. Guys progress at different rates, and at age 27, Dalton looks as though he has taken that next step.
Last week, Julio Jones racked up 20 targets, a truly eye opening number. DeAndre Hopkins racked up 22 this week, while facing off against the Falcons; my head nearly exploded. He wasn’t able to haul in a touchdown but he did manage to catch nine of those targets for 157 yards. For the season, he has 31 grabs for 409 yards and three touchdowns on 59 targets. Sub-par quarterback play from the combination of Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer hasn’t hurt him this far because he is averaging 14.75 targets a game. As long as the ball is put someplace near him, a player of Hopkins’ caliber is going to do some damage with some of them. The Texans lost Cecil Shorts to a dislocated left shoulder and Nate Washington with a hamstring injury. Prospects for both don’t look good for the immediate future. This leaves rookies Keith Mumphery, Jaelen Strong and return man Chandler Worthy as the only healthy options left on the roster at receiver. Expect Hopkins to continue getting a ton of targets with the lack of options left in this passing attack. He faces off against lockdown corner Vontae Davis and the Colts next week, in what will be a very interesting matchup. Hopkins is a must-start, but temper your expectations with him.
The Cardinals’ Andre Ellington was expected to return from the knee injury he suffered in Week 1, but was once again inactive this week. He probably wished he played because he once again got to watch Chris Johnson do a very nice job filling in, as he logged 94 total yards on 19 touches against a tough Rams’ defense. Cards’ coach Bruce Arians has long been known to prefer his veteran players, and based on Johnson’s strong effort in Ellington’s absence, it sure looks like he earned the starting job. Ellington has been tagged as an explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands but he averaged just 3.3 yards-per-carry last year while failing to rush for more than 95 yards in a game. He didn’t establish himself and as a result the aforementioned Chris Johnson was brought in as a free agent and David Johnson was drafted. That doesn’t reek of confidence from the organization. Chris Johnson is going to get around 60 percent of the backfield work going forward, with Ellington and David Johnson fighting for scraps.
We finally got our first full look at Todd Gurley and man, was he impressive. After a slow first half in which he gained two yards on four carries, he really turned things on, finishing the afternoon with 146 yards on the ground on 19 carries. He had four carries of 20 or more yards, with the highlight being a 52-yard scamper that led to the Rams’ final score. Tre Mason had two touches on the afternoon, both in the third drive of the game for the Cards. Benny Cunningham actually was second on the team in touches at the position with four. This game was Gurley’s coming out party. He is going to dominate touches from here on out for the Rams. In Gurley, Fantasy owners have an RB1 talent that more often than not is going to provide those type of numbers. His line is really the only thing that will hold him back, and is the number one reason you should temper your expectations with Gurley against staunch defensive fronts. That being said, he is an every week start from here on out regardless of matchup.
The return of Drew Brees from injury brought us plenty of dink with a side of dunk. He attempted 41 passes on the evening with 16 of them going to his running backs. According to the play-by-play, he attempted just five passes that were classified as deep, which included the final pass of the game; a pass to C.J. Spiller out of the backfield that he took 80 yards to the house on the second play in overtime. His final line had him completing 33-of-41 passes for 359 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His owners will take those numbers. What you need to know, though, is that in this offense that now focuses on short quick passes and trying to win one-on-one matchups, Brees is not going to have the big games we are accustomed to on a regular basis. Better defenses with sure tacklers are going to keep this team in check. Brees isn’t a set-it and forget-it option anymore at the position because of this.
For the fourth consecutive week, Ronnie Hillman has outperformed C.J. Anderson. Anderson is still the starter on paper, but this has been a pretty strict committee all season long. Anderson has seen 50 touches to Hillman’s 41, while Hillman has outgained him 189 yards to 166. Denver is off to a 4-0 start, so there is no need to rock the boat here. That being said, Hillman and his home run hitting speed seems to be a better fit for the Broncos’ new offensive scheme that has Peyton Manning spending a majority of his time in either the pistol or shotgun. With Anderson showing little burst, Hillman looks to be in position to start getting more work starting next week against Oakland. Unfortunately, neither of them are worth more than FLEX consideration until we get some more clarity.
Bills tight end Charles Clay saw his ownership rise 47.8 percent in leagues hosted by ESPN heading into this week’s game against the Giants. Those owners that picked him up and started him have to be happy after he caught nine passes for 111 yards. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor targeted Clay 13 times on the afternoon, a number that not only led the team, but actually was a season high for any Bills receiving option this year. When a quarterback locks in on his tight end, particularly one capable of beating most safeties and linebackers in coverage, it means good things. Clay has shown us just that. Heading into this season, the overall depth at the tight end position left many owners waiting to draft a tight end. Those that did so, and ended up with guys like Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron, Zach Ertz and Owen Daniels in hopes of getting solid production, have been completely let down. Clay, however, has posted TE1 numbers and will continue to do so. If you happen to be in a league in which he is still available, pick him up.