For a while, we talked about a Big 4 in fantasy football this summer. That's before Ezekiel Elliott went off to do his thing. That's before Saquon Barkley got hurt. That's before Alvin Kamara had to deal with an injured Drew Brees.
The Panthers have had quarterback uncertainty, too. A hobbled Cam Newton lasted two weeks, then hit the sidelines. But Christian McCaffrey is looking unstoppable, no matter what's around him. The guy is the unfair fantasy player, the true cheat code.
McCaffrey was once again a one-man wrecking crew in Sunday's 34-27 victory over Jacksonville. He rang up 176 rushing yards and 61 receiving yards. He had three touchdowns in all, one of them an 84-yard jaunt. The busy afternoon puts him at 136 touches through five games, an average of 27 a week. Although McCaffrey is just 205 pounds, the Panthers aren't worried about wearing him out.
Backup quarterback Kyle Allen was mediocre (6.0 YPA, 181 passing yards), but it didn't stop McCaffrey. DJ Moore had a nifty game (6-91-0), Curtis Samuel was ordinary (3-19-0), Greg Olsen bageled. It's hard to consistently trust anyone in this passing offense, to be fair. It's all about Run-CMC.
If you wanted passing in this matchup, you had to look Air Minshew and Friends. Gardner Minshew II, looking more and more like Jacksonville's long-term quarterback, rang up 374 yards passing and two scores. League-winner candidate DJ Chark (8-164-2) beasted again, and Dede Westbrook (7-82-0) was heard from. Leonard Fournette, a sneaky high-floor play, collected 137 total yards and a score.
McCaffrey was already the RB1 in fantasy before this start, and now the gap gets larger. He'd probably be the unanimous No. 1 pick if leagues redrafted. He's become a must-start in DFS, even if the price gets prohibitive. I can't imagine how Tampa Bay stops him next week.
McCaffrey's heavy work in the passing game is a key to keep him healthy. You don't want this guy pounded by several interior linemen; get him on the perimeter, let him try to outrun the lighter defenders. Score one for OC Norv Turner, who's figured out the optimum path to glory.
The Atlanta carnival is real and spectacular
Matt Ryan isn't exactly in MVP form right now. His passer rating before Week 5 was around league average. The Falcons, fresh off a 53-32 drubbing at Houston, are now 1-4.
But we love volume in fantasy football, and we love a carnival. And that's what the screwball Falcons have become.
Ryan rang up 330 yards and three touchdown passes in Sunday's loss, a rich fantasy haul in any format. He played poorly for one quarter, and some of his stats came in garbage time, but that's no concern to us. Atlanta can't seem to run the ball and the defense is horrendous, and that's a bonanza for our stat-grabbing purposes.
Ryan is now on pace to throw 710 passes, which would be the second most in NFL history. Only Matthew Stafford (727 chucks, 2012) has ascended to that level. Ryan's never missed a game in his 12-year career, knock on wood.
Ryan also had a rushing touchdown Sunday, a rarity for him. But otherwise, the Falcons had 17 carries for 50 yards. Dead on arrival. The only thing that bailed out Devonta Freeman's day was a 5-40-1 line in the passing game.
At times the width of the Falcons passing tree can be a little pesky. Calvin Ridley (5-88-1), back off fantasy probation, had a team-high nine targets, tied with consistent Austin Hooper (6-56-0). Julio Jones only saw seven looks, and had a pedestrian 3-42-0 finish. When Ito Smith absorbs six targets (he did catch them all), it throws a wrench in our fantasy plans. Mohamed Sanu (5-42-1) is another fantasy obstructor; good enough that you know who he is, but not good enough that you can really trust him.
The Atlanta stat party should continue going forward. Arizona is next week's opponent, and that defense has been a horror show. Then it's the Rams, a team that's played pinball the last two weeks. Get your popcorn ready. And Matty Ice, get that shoulder in ice.
• Frank Reich is such a breath of fresh air. You can be (more or less) the smartest guy in the room and a strong personality, and yet still be relatable and human. Players will run through walls for that guy.
• Patience is a very difficult thing for a running back to master, but so fun to watch when it's mastered. Marlon Mack is on that level now.
• You want to make Patrick Mahomes look ordinary? Injure him in Week 1 (damn Jags), compromise his offensive line and skill players, keep the ball away from him. And yet I still find myself rooting for Mahomes every week, no matter if it correlates to my personal interest. Anyone who can't appreciate Mahomes would probably boo Sinatra or Yo-Yo Ma. Appreciate generational greatness.
• Damien Williams still leaves me cold. Very possible he's a JAG. I want to see more of Darrel Williams.
• Byron Pringle is just the latest example that the NFL is filled with anonymous talents who we know little or nothing about.
• Tyler Eifert was just about cooked for us, but if you can’t do it against Arizona, when can we ever trust him again?
• The Saints have key defensive personnel that I respect and even fear, and yet I’m still never surprised when teams put up stuff against New Orleans. On some level, I guess that’s just 2019 NFL.
• I’m not sure who to blame, but when both Mike Evans and O.J. Howard are completely irrelevant in the same game, someone deserves harsh criticism. Figure it out, Tampa.
• The longer this goes on, the less I can tell the Chicago quarterbacks apart. At least Allen Robinson has, justly, percolated to the top of Chicago’s passing tree.
• Nine Oakland players caught passes Sunday and I dare any non-Raiders fan to name all nine of them. I thought Oakland was headed for a 4-12 nightmare. You win this round, Jon Gruden.
• It’s not necessarily Jay Gruden’s fault Washington is so awful, but I can’t see any compelling reason to keep him, either. Granted, in-season firings seldom make sense. In most cases, it’s better not to dig up the infrastructure; do it right after the season. Get the next hire right.
• No one will ever enjoy playing against Buffalo. I’ve had the Bills in the playoffs all along, and this team is definitely better, a lot better, than the 2017 fluke team.
• After ever splash play, I find myself looking for the flag. It’s a pox on us all.
• Lamar Jackson is still athletic enough to outrun many of his mistakes. The key is learning how to dramatically cut down on the mistakes.
• Maybe it’s not realistic, but I like to believe there’s a chance the Chargers, in our lifetimes, will be back in San Diego.
• There isn’t a ton going on in Denver, but at least the tree is narrow. At least it’s easy to pinpoint who is going to get the stuff.
• I’m a fan of Austin Ekeler, but that’s about as pedestrian as a 15-catch game could ever be. Defenses will give you all the non-splashy catches you want.