Injuries dominated much of the conversation around Fantasy Football Sunday, and it felt like a pretty gloomy day as the games came to a close. But Monday morning has brought pretty good news across the board with some of the biggest names who were forced to leave.
In today's newsletter, I've got an early look at the top waiver-wire targets for Week 5, plus my breakdown of the biggest winners and losers from Sunday's action and how it changes how we should view them moving forward. But first, let's catch up on all the injuries you need to know about from Sunday:
Kenny Pickett's knee injury is not believed to be a season-ender – NFL Network Monday morning reported that initial testing on Pickett's injury "didn't point to an ACL injury". He'll still likely miss some time, but it may not be as bad as it initially looked. The Steelers have the Ravens in Week 5 and then a bye week, so it's possible we only see Mitchell Trubisky start one game for the Steelers – though I'll be honest, .
Tee Higgins suffered a fractured rib – This is the one injury we're waiting on an update for as of 9 AM Monday, though it might be a situation where there won't be any updates until later in the week when the Bengals are preparing for Week 5's game. Rib injuries are often mostly about pain tolerance, so Higgins may end up able to play in Week 5; or he might miss several weeks. At this point, it's pretty hard to say.
Mike Evans' hamstring injury is thought to be minor – This one might end up only costing Evans the time he missed Sunday, because the Buccaneers are on a bye in Week 5 anyway. That would be something like a best-case scenario for the veteran wideout, since you'd have him on your bench this week anyway.
Javonte Williams has a hip flexor injury – Williams missed of the second half of Sunday's injury, allowing Jaleel McLaughlin to have a nice little breakout game in his absence, but it sounds like it may not open much of a door for McLaughlin, as ESPN reported Monday morning that Williams is "not expected to miss much – if any – time." Williams will have an MRI taken Monday to determine whether that timetable is accurate, so hopefully we'll know before waivers run tomorrow night.
So, yeah, all in all, not a bad week for injuries. Certainly not as bad as it seemed Sunday. The downside of that is, there aren't necessarily any absolute must-add waiver-wire options heading into Week 5. And, with our first crop of byes on the way – the Browns, Chargers, Buccaneers, and Seahawks are all off in Week 5 – let's hope you've already got in-house replacements ready to go.
I'm ranking Jaleel McLaughlin as the top priority on the wire as of now, coming off his 104-yard performance Sunday. We assumed Samaje Perine would be the handcuff for Williams if anything happened, but now it looks like Perine might just be the reliable backup here, someone Sean Payton can depend on in any situation, but who doesn't necessarily need to be the lead back. They'll split playing time if Williams has to miss time, but with McLaughlin getting more carries and targets Sunday – and looking much more explosive – I'd bet on McLaughlin being the better Fantasy option for Week 5's tough matchup against the Jets.
- C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans (68%)
- Michael Wilson, WR, Cardinals (5%)
- Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals (47%)
- Marvin Mims, WR, Broncos (51%)
- Jake Ferguson, TE, Cowboys (63%)
Biggest Winners and Losers
Here's who has the arrow pointing up or down coming out of Sunday's action:
For most of the offseason, I ranked McCaffrey as my No. 1 player, but as the start of the season neared, I pivoted to Justin Jefferson, the consensus choice. And hey, Jefferson wasn't a bad choice – he's averaging 26.4 points per game! But McCaffrey is the best Fantasy player of his generation, and the concern that he might not be able to unlock that kind of upside again kept him behind the ascending Jefferson, and we may have discounted how good a fit a fully integrated McCaffrey is for this offense.
The 49ers were willing to use games like Sunday's to give McCaffrey a breather last season, but they've done no such thing so far this season, and it's got him on pace for some truly bonkers numbers: 1,951 rushing yards, 77 receptions, 600 receiving yards, and 30 touchdowns. I'd say there's no way McCaffrey can keep that up, except … it wouldn't even be 1 point per game better than his best season in PPR scoring. We might just be seeing another legendary season from McCaffrey, an elite player in a perfect situation.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans
I didn't bury Stroud in my rankings for the matchup against the Steelers, but I was admittedly, a little wary – he was my QB16 for Week 4. Well, he's QB9 with two games left as I'm writing this, in a very good week for QBs, as he put his third straight 25-point effort in six-point-per-pass-TD leagues. He completed just 16 of his 30 passes attempts but still managed to throw for 306 yards and two touchdowns, his third game in a row with 300 and a pair of scores. He managed to stay clean against that tough Steelers pass rush and continues to make plays with a group of pass-catchers that looks much better than expected. I can't say Stroud is a locked-in QB1 moving forward, but he belongs in that conversation, and I think I'd be more confident in him than Joe Burrow or possibly even Trevor Lawrence for Week 5.
You started to see some victory laps when Nacua only had five catches for 72 yards last week, which was a sign of how rarified the air he's already operating in. And, well, Nacua turned around and had another dominant performance, this time catching nine passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, the first of his NFL career – and it was a game-winner in overtime, to boot. Nacua has 39 catches through his first four NFL games, which is obviously the record for a rookie. However, I want to put what Nacua is doing into perspective a bit. Since 1970, there have been 73 different four-game spans where a player has at least 39 receptions, and Nacua's 12.8 yards per catch would be the 22nd-highest among those 73. This isn't just a guy dominating volume thanks to a bunch of short-area looks; Nacua is making plays down the field.
Of course, Cooper Kupp is working his way back from his hamstring injury and is expected to return to practice this week, so this might be the best it gets for Nacua. But I still think he can be a top-15 wide receiver even alongside Kupp – Robert Woods was averaging 15.2 PPG in 2021 before his season-ending injury, a stretch which also saw Kupp averaging 26.2 PPG. Add in the risk of Kupp suffering another setback before he even debuts, and I'm not moving Nacua for anything less than a top-12 WR in trades.
This was an ugly game for the Saints offense, as Derek Carr was seemingly well less than 100% playing through a shoulder strain, and he completed just 4 of 16 passes beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. But it was a great game for Kamara, who came back from suspension and ran a route on 30 of 43 pass attempts and played 75% of the snaps. 33 yards on 13 receptions isn't great, but you love the usage – Kamara got 14 of 16 RB targets and 11 of 12 RB carries. On days when the offense is more functional, he should be even better for Fantasy. I'm buying Kamara as a fringe RB1.
In my Week 4 RB rankings piece, I wrote about why I still had Jacobs ranked as a top-five RB, and it mostly came down to how strong his workload has been – very little had changed between how Jacobs has been used this season and how he was used last season, he'd just been much less efficient, and with no touchdowns to his name. Well, most of that changed on Sunday. He still averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on his 11 carries, though he did put in a big game as a receiver, catching eight passes for 81 yards on 11 targets. The passing game efficiency along with his first touchdown of the season led to a big 27.9-point game in PPR scoring. And the thing is, this wasn't even a best-case scenario for Jacobs, as his longest carry went for just 9 yards. There remains so much to like about Jacobs' role – and we know he's extremely talented – but you might have just missed your buy-low window.
Brown had a huge game in Week 3, but it still felt like he's left a lot of points on the field this season – even last week, he and Jalen Hurts missed on a couple of deep shots, and Brown got his hands on two passes in the end zone that he couldn't quite complete. Well, he made up for all that and then some Sunday, as he enters Monday as the No. 1 WR with nine catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns. You weren't worried, were you?
Even with Cam Akers making his Vikings debut, it feels like the ice is a little thicker under Mattison right now than it had been. He had his best rushing day of the season, carrying the ball 17 times for 95 yards while adding one catch for 3 yards. It wasn't an incredible Fantasy day, but given some concerns that the Vikings might adopt a hot-hand approach with Akers joining the backfield, Mattison at least held serve. He may well still lose this job – and I didn't love seeing Akers run seven routes to Mattison's 10 in a low pass-volume game – but he hasn't yet, and can still be viewed as an RB2 for Week 5.
The Bengals offense
I think the simplest explanation here is that Burrow just isn't fully healthy. Maybe he hasn't been since initially injuring his calf early in training camp, but he clearly isn't right now, and it's led to some of the ugliest performances of his career. I don't have much else to add here, but just because there seems to be an easy explanation doesn't necessarily mean it's an easy fix. The Bengals have a bye in Week 7, and it seems like Burrow is just going to play straight through it as the 1-3 Bengals try to turn their season around.
Whether he's doing more harm than good there is a question for someone smarter than me to figure out, but I think you can make a case for it – he had scrambled just once through the first three games and had only gone outside of the pocket 12 times, the fourth-lowest number for an QB (data for Week 4 isn't available yet, but I didn't see much to suggest that factor changed for this offense, at least). The problem is, when your QB isn't right, your offense isn't right, and it's pretty hard to say whether Burrow is ever going to be right this season. And the Bengals certainly haven't figured out how to elevate Burrow after having gotten used to him doing the opposite. I'm not dropping him, but I'm making active plans to start other quarterbacks until further notice, even in Week 5 against the Cardinals.
The Jaguars offense
This one is harder to pin down because the Jaguars don't have significant injury issues. They got the win Sunday over the Falcons, but it wasn't a win Fantasy players are happy about – entering Sunday night's game, Trevor Lawrence was QB14, Travis Etienne was RB22, Christian Kirk was WR16, Calvin Ridley was WR31, and Evan Engram was TE7. The Jaguars are just 16th in yards per game and 17th in yards per play this season, pretty lousy showings for an offense pretty much everyone thought would be one of the NFL's elite this season.
Part of the problem has been that they've scored a touchdown on just 44% of their red zone drives, tied for 25th in the league; but a bigger part of the problem might be that they only have nine drives that have reached the red zone total, also ranked 25th. I still have faith in the level of talent in this offense, but it's pretty hard to ignore four mediocre weeks in a row to open the season, especially with Calvin Ridley not looking like the kind of elite playmaker we thought they were getting. Expectations have to be lowered at this point.
One of the funniest subplots of the season now belongs to the Patriots, who leaked to the media prior to Sunday's game that Ezekiel Elliott was "expected to get starter reps against his former team" only for Elliott to see half as many touches as Stevenson Sunday. That set off a lot of panic about Stevenson in Fantasy circles – and hopefully convinced some of you to bench him. Not because Stevenson lost his starting job, but because he had yet another subpar showing in a Patriots offense that doesn't look much better than it did a year ago. And, while Stevenson is still the clear lead back, Elliott is a factor here and looks to remain so. Even the larger part of a committee can be hard to trust in a bad offense, and that's what it looks like we've got here, which makes Stevenson a low-end RB2 at best.
The biggest question with Sanders' usage in Week 4 is how much of it was determined by the groin injury that limited him all week in practice. If Sanders was healthy and still split RB touches evenly with Chuba Hubbard, it might be time to smash the panic button. If Sanders is in a legitimate committee moving forward, his outlook looks a lot like Stevenson's. And now he's got a matchup against what looks like a very tough Lions' front in Week 5. He might not even rank as an RB2 for that one.
Dallas Goedert, TE, Eagles
I'm very much a "trust the process" kind of analyst for Fantasy, and a big part of my process is trusting in the value of larger sample sizes to be more predictive. That can make situations like Goedert's incredibly frustrating because we're going on four weeks of the same. He's averaged 10-plus yards per target in consecutive seasons heading into 2023, which I have to assume has more predictive value than four games where he's now averaging 4.6 yards per target. We should get some regression at some point here, with Goedert breaking off a string of efficient games where he looks more like the must-start guy we've come to know. But I know a lot of you are frustrated with the lack of production right now, and I can't say you shouldn't be. I can only say that I'm not necessarily looking for the likes of Jonnu Smith or Tyler Higbee to replace Goedert … yet.
We got what I thought was a surprising number of questions asking about starting Johnson this morning. I had him as a low-end RB3, but I was still confused by how many more people seemed to be starting Johnson than Khalil Herbert – and, in the end, Johnson was started in 18% of CBS Fantasy leagues, while Herbert was in just 12% of lineups. I guess it was because Johnson got one more carry than Herbert a week ago? I really don't know how else to explain that one, but it ended up being a fairly big mistake.
Johnson got five of his eight carries last week at a point in the blowout loss where Herbert only got one, so it's remained pretty clear who the lead back here is – and it became crystal clear Sunday, as the Bears nursed a rare lead with Herbert getting 18 carries and Johnson just five. It helped that Herbert had the hot hand in this one, but Johnson also didn't have a single carry in the first quarter and had just two at halftime. Herbert had the edge the whole time, and should be viewed as the bigger part of this committee moving forward, including Thursday against the Commanders, where he'll be in the RB2/3 range of the rankings; Johnson is more like a desperation RB3/4 play.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons