As unimpressive as Latavius Murray has been to this point in the season, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry behind arguably the best offensive line in football, the backups did absolutely nothing to separate themselves from him in his absence. Therefore, even though Murray was listed as questionable this week, he returned to a full workload immediately, touching the ball 20 total times on Sunday. As he had in 75-percent of his games beforehand this season, Murray found the end zone once again…not once but twice. Clearly, he separated himself from the pack. While DeAndre Washington had been gaining on him in weeks past, the two TDs (even though he was inefficient) solidified his role as the bell cow moving forward. If there were any question how this backfield were going to shape up in his return, more Murray than ever before (this season) was the answer and likely will be moving forward as well.
Here are some of my other DFS-relevant observations from Week 7 of the 2016 NFL season beginning with someone who may be replacing Luck in the nearly elite tier of QBs:
Kevin Hogan, Browns – Do not call him “Hulk” but Kevin Hogan proved he had some strengths of his own as he stepped in for an injured Cody Kessler and finished as QB7 on the Sunday slate. While he only threw for 100 passing yards and two interceptions, he rushed for 104 yards and a TD on just seven attempts (14.9 yards per carry). In 2016, Hogan was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round out of Stanford and obviously that did not pan out. Looking back to his college days, he averaged 24 yards rushing as a senior although he did score six rushing TDs in 14 games. Basically, this 100-plus yard performance is a bit of an outlier legitimately dating back all the way through college as he never averaged more than 26.3 yards rushing per game in any season at Stanford. Although the initial numbers look nice, this is a QB who struggled to throw the football flung into an awfully difficult situation quarterbacking for the Browns. Do not expect another performance like this again and things could get ugly if he is forced to rely on his arm moving forward (he only completed 50-percent of his passes and finished with a 26.4 QB rating).
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins – Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me…this should be the sentiment surrounding Jay Ajayi moving forward as he now has shown in consecutive weeks that he is a more than capable back. In fact, he has eclipsed 200 yards in each of the last two games so capable really does not begin to describe how fantastic he has been. The running game had stalled in previous weeks as they only ranked middle of the pack in yards per carry prior to Ajayi’s first 200 yard outburst propelling the team into seventh in the category (and they still average less than 100 yards rushing per game as a team and rank 20th overall with 97.3 per game). After one 200 yard performance, it was clear he earned himself more carries moving forward but the second clinched his role as the workhorse back moving forward. Now the only question is how high can his ceiling go? If being realistic, these are probably going to finish as Ajayi’s best two games of the 2016 season considering the mediocre offensive line with two glaring holes (per Pro Football Focus) due to injury and the fact teams can scheme for Ajayi moving forward. On the other hand, recency bias is strong here and it feels right to just deem him a “stud” and move on (oh and some of the injured linemen’s returns are on the horizon). To me, Ajayi is a borderline top 10-12 back moving forward and he will continue to ascend as success mounts. Next week the Dolphins are on a bye but it will be interesting to see his price tag against the Jets. Assuming it is under $11,000, he will be tough to fade considering his recent production.
Michael Thomas, Saints – Here is how many targets per game each member of the Saints receiving core has averaged to the point:
Brandon Cooks – 10.0
Michael Thomas – 9.8
Willie Snead – 9.0
Brandon Coleman – 3.6
Even so, Thomas was priced at just $9,200 this week while Snead costed nearly $2,000 more ($11,000). When the smoke cleared, Thomas had produced the most fantasy points of the bunch as he caught 10 passes for 130 yards (26.00 fantasy points). Heading into this week, Thomas was averaged 14.94 fantasy points per game to Snead’s 15.90 and Thomas had actually played more snaps per game (54.2-51.5). Essentially, he and Snead have been virtually interchangeable in terms of value but he is both playing more and receiving more looks from Brees. Considering both Cooks and Snead had productive games of their own, it is unlikely Thomas’ price tag rises much moving forward. The Saints play the Seahawks at home in Week 8 and Thomas has sneakily snuck into the number two receiver role on this offense. Although this may not be the best matchup for him, he is proving to be the much better value than Snead. If looking for a receiver to pair with Brees in an affordable stack in the weeks to come, Thomas possesses the most bang for his buck (although of course the receiving core is somewhat matchup-dependent).
Marqise Lee, Jaguars – Quietly, Marqise Lee led the Jaguars in receptions (RECs) for the second consecutive week as he cracked 100-yards on seven catches against the Raiders in Week 7. This was supposed to be the where Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns busted out against the defense that had allowed the absolute most receiving yards to opposing WRs and Lee was the (only) one who had the big day. Hell, Lee even fell one REC short of the team lead in Week 5 when he caught four passes to Robinson’s five. Prior to this week, Lee had only played on 64-percent of the team’s offensive snaps compared to Robinson’s 94-percet and Hurns’ 86.6-percent but yet he appears to be Bortles’ security blanket. Why? Probably because Lee handily leads the receiving core in catch rate (78-percent) and, interestingly enough, he leads them in yards per target (YPT) as well (9.1). With the other two struggling to haul in passes at a rate of 60-percent of better, Bortles has simply been focusing his attention on the guy hauling in the passes at an acceptable rate. With the offense showing no signs of grave improvement, Lee’s emergence is clearly eating into the production of the others. Hurns, Robinson and even Julius Thomas need to be dropped down a rung moving forward with added competition and a passing offense that just is nowhere near comparable to last year’s unit. Lee is looking like a weekly WR3 in PPR formats.
Antonio Gates/Hunter Henry, Chargers – Unfortunately, this situation continues to spiral out of control into a full-blown TE-by-committee scenario. Although it appeared the situation was clarifying itself over the past three weeks with Hunter Henry scoring in back-to-back-to-back contests, Henry barely out-snapped Gates in Week 7 (47-37). More importantly, Gates was targeted 10 times to Henry’s three which led to five Gates RECs and only one for Henry. Prior to this week, Gates had averaged 7.0 targets over the team’s past four games (he only played in three of them) compared to Henry’s 5.5 targets so it is fair to question whether Henry’s recent production was sustainable. Sure Henry gained 60-plus yards in four consecutive weeks heading into his Week 7 flop but he dropped form an average of 64 snaps per game in Weeks 3 and 4 combined to an average of 44.7 between Weeks 5, 6 and 7 combined. The steep drop is correlated with Gates’ health improving and role expanding so there is a definite worry. Writing off Henry is tough to do though because he averages 10.7 YPT to Gates’ 2.7 so most of the looks Philip Rivers is directing towards the veteran are of the ultra-short variety. Henry possesses the most upside on a weekly basis but both are awfully TD dependent while vulturing value from one another. While they are GPP viable, it is difficult to predict which will go off in a given week so they should be avoided in cash games barring an injury that keeps one of them from suiting up. They are sort of becoming the Giovani Bernard/Jeremy Hill duo of the TE position except maybe even more frustrating.