Editor’s note: The players listed below are NFL stars who were drafted in virtually every Yahoo Fantasy league. That said, this column is not an endorsement to bench them in Week 4. You’re in control of your roster; every league size and shape is different. What we are trying to explain is that expectations should be lowered this week compared to usual for some of football's biggest names. Aside from examining this week’s matchups, this can also serve as a reminder not to overreact if one of your stars disappoints in Week 4.
Cook is being labeled as day-to-day after leaving last week with another shoulder injury, and he’s had big games while playing with a harness before. But Cook isn’t practicing and figures to be limited even if he plays Sunday (and don’t forget the London game is a 6:30 AM start time for those on the west coast), as Minnesota has more than capable RB depth in Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler. Moreover, the Vikings face a Saints defense allowing the second-lowest EPA/rush (-0.26) this season. It’s also looking increasingly possible the new coaching staff in Minnesota isn’t a huge upgrade for the offense as many expected (myself included), as the team’s neutral pass rate is actually lower this season.
In a tough matchup while playing through a shoulder injury at risk of recurrence, Cook shouldn’t be treated as a top-20 RB this week.
It’s nice to see Sanders getting goal-line work this season, and he’s a threat to lead the league in YPC, but Sunday could be Philadelphia’s first matchup this season in which they aren’t nursing a comfortable second-half lead. Game script may not be as positive against a legit Jacksonville team that’s vastly improved on both sides of the ball, including a run defense allowing the lowest EPA/rush (-0.31) in the NFL. In fact, while the Jaguars have allowed some nice receiving games from running backs this season, Jacksonville has yielded an NFL-low 47.0 rushing yards per game and zero rushing touchdowns to open the year. It’s not exactly an ideal matchup for Sanders, whose 6.4% target share ranks 43rd among backs.
Over his last six regular season games, Stafford has a 10:12 TD:INT line. Of course, he had a terrific playoffs in between, but Monday night he’s unlikely to get any help from his rushing attack and will likely be dealing with pressure throughout a matchup with a low total (43 points) featuring two teams in the bottom-six in Pace (neutral situations). Moreover, San Francisco’s defense has allowed an NFL-low 3.9 yards per play, the second fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the third-lowest EPA/pass this season. An easy schedule has certainly helped, but the 49ers enter with a sizable DL>OL advantage. Stafford is barely a top-20 QB this week and belongs on fantasy benches.
Volume has helped Murray’s fantasy value stay afloat, but the QB is off to an extremely rough start. In fact, his 5.6 YPA is better than only Mitch Trubisky's (5.5), and Murray has played every game indoors. Put differently, Murray ranks second in pass attempts yet 12th in yards. Volume may not be there Sunday in a matchup with a low total (43.5 points) and featuring an Arizona team that ranks last in Pace in neutral situations. They also rank toward the bottom of the league in pre-snap motion and play action, so it’s not all Murray’s fault. The Cardinals don’t figure to be playing from behind as much this week either, after trailing a combined 31-0 after the first quarter over the first three games.
Murray has also curtailed running after signing a huge offseason contract, averaging 40% fewer carries and 45% fewer rushing yards over the first three games compared to his prior career marks. Now Arizona travels outdoors against a Carolina defense that’s yielded just 5.9 YPA while allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Expectations should be tempered this week.