In recent memory, there had been few rookies class producing like this right out of the gate. Yes, of course there’s superstar Kareem Hunt, but the depth was what was making this class so, so impressive.
Then Dalvin Cook went down Sunday afternoon with a torn ACL. A few hours later, Chris Carson broke his leg. Those two injuries were just a small part of a day that saw several important players go down with significant injuries.
The hope is that whenever Cook and Carson return, they come back as strong as ever. They’re both special young talents. But from a fantasy prospective, it’s time to scramble for replacements, as challenging as that may be. You may even find those replacements in Cook and Carson’s fellow rookies.
Here are the rookies broken into tiers a quarter of the way through the season.
Superstars: Kareem Hunt
Hunt’s incredible streak of three straight games with a touchdown of at least 50 yards ended, but that doesn’t mean he leaves the top tier. The Chiefs have put their full trust in him, and he has rewarded them for that. He finished with 121 yards on 25 touches on Monday against Washington. His workload has been absurd, but so has his production. It seems like every week we say, “He won’t be this good every week,” but so far he has been.
Clear Starters: Leonard Fournette
This is where Cook was last week and would be this week, but with his injury, Fournette’s all alone. The Jaguars — after bashing the Ravens in London and looking legit for the first time in seemingly forever — lost to the Jets, but that didn’t damper Fournette’s fantasy outlook at all. The former LSU star still got 28 touches — 24 on the ground and four through the air — for 145 total yards and a score. He has a touchdown in his first four professional games.
What was puzzling, though, was his absence in key situations, as jacksonville.com noted. Chris Ivory ended the game with 10 touches and Corey Grant with two. Fournette clearly outpaces both of those players and remains the top option in a run-first offense, though. Up next is a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled to stop the run. He’s a top-of-the-line starter.
Solid contributors: Alvin Kamara, Cooper Kupp, Deshaun Watson, Tarik Cohen, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Evan Engram
This group loses several from last week, but they’re replaced by a trio of intriguing guys: Watson, Kamara and Kupp.
Watson has been wonderful the past couple of weeks but took it to another level on Sunday with a five-touchdown performance. A national champion at Clemson, Watson’s confidence is only climbing, and his impact as a dual threat makes him a must-own player. With Watson at the helm, the Texans are now a viable offense. (Hello, Lamar Miller and, finally, DeAndre Hopkins!) Grab Watson if he’s available.
Kamara is an especially prominent add in PPR roles, as his emergence alongside Mark Ingram has rendered Adrian Peterson essentially useless. Ingram got 46 snaps and Kamara 26, Peterson six, per nola.com. Kamara was terrific catching the ball out of the backfield, reeling in 10 receptions for 71 yards and a score. He also carried it five times for 25 yards, meaning he touched the ball on nearly 60 percent of his snaps. He’s not going to play a ton on early downs, but he’s a key weapon for Drew Brees on third down, and it’s clear that Brees trusts his explosive rookie. Kamara is still available in over half of leagues. It’s time to go get him.
Kupp joins these ranks after a nice performance against the Cowboys on Sunday. The Rams were solid offensively, and Kupp was a big part of that with five catches for 60 yards and a score. Sean McVay’s offense provides ample opportunities for slot men. As Kupp continues to grow into that role, his production should increase or at the very least hold steady.
Cohen saw his lightest workload of the season — just 10 touches — on Thursday night against the Packers. We’ll see how the Bears use new starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as he plays in his first regular-season game, but there’s a good chance they’ll try to acclimate him with some short, safe throws. Cohen could be a major benefactor of that strategy. Don’t panic after a poor Week 4. Cohen still belongs on your team, and he could be an important piece as teams hit byes in Week 5.
McCaffrey, like Cohen, got just 10 touches and, like Cohen, failed to break 50 total yards. Against a porous New England defense, Cam Newton was able to stretch the field, with both Kelvin Benjamin (four catches, 104 yards) and Devin Funchess (seven catches for 70 yards, two touchdowns) recording big days. McCaffrey’s absolutely worth keeping, though, because not every game will be as downfield-pass-friendly as Sunday’s contest.
The Bengals finally won a game! But that backfield continues to be a fantasy mess. Giovani Bernard had the most productive day — 79 yards — but that came on just six touches. Mixon got 21 touches for the second straight week, but had just 48 yards. And that was against a pitiful Browns defense. Still, Mixon’s workload keeps him in this category. Under new OC Bill Lazor, he’s the lead guy in Cincy.
Engram jumps from someone to keep an eye on to someone worth a roster spot as byes begin. The Giants first-rounder turned in a career-high six catches for a career-best 62 yards in rainy conditions in Tampa. He’s a low-risk streamer if needed: He’s never fallen short of four catches or 44 yards this year. If he can turn some of those targets into scores — he has just one this year — that’s all the better. The Giants and Chargers meet in a battle of 0-4 teams in Week 5.
Fringe roster guys: D’Onta Foreman, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis, Samaje Perine
A week after registering two big plays in the passing game, Foreman came back to Earth in a rout of the Titans. The second-stringer out of Texas had 13 carries for a pedestrian 45 yards, but that’s a solid workload, and Foreman remains a Lamar Miller injury away from a major role. Remember, Miller fell apart late last year after a heavy workload; he’s getting another big workload this year. Just something to keep an eye on.
Golladay and Davis are in the same boat in terms of falling out of the “solid contributors” category and into the “fringe roster” category. Both missed their respective Week 4 contests and have now combined to play in as many games (four) as they’ve missed. Both are dealing with hamstring injuries, which can be especially tricky for wide receivers. Both are available in over 50 percent of leagues. Don’t fret just yet if they’re on your roster, but don’t feel the need to pick them up ASAP if they’re not.
Perine only remains on this list because Kelley keeps getting hurt. He left early in Week 2, didn’t play in Week 3 and then left early again in Week 4. That leaves Perine as the main first- and second-down back.
Keep an eye on: David Njoku, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman, Elijah McGuire, JuJu Smith-Schuster
Boy oh boy was it ugly for the Browns against the Bengals. Njoku just barely remains on this list after a nearly silent performance. He’s completely touchdown dependent, and unless that changes, he’s better off in the free agency pool.
Williams still hasn’t returned from a preseason injury. But keep an eye out when he does, and how he plays when he does.
Gallman features in this piece for the first time after making his NFL debut on his 23rd birthday. The Giants’ pathetic rushing attack received a boost from the former Clemson Tiger, who totaled 50 yards and a score on 13 touches. If he takes over for the ineffective Paul Perkins, Gallman warrants fantasy attention.
With Matt Forte hurting, McGuire played a big role alongside Bilal Powell for the suddenly competent (or at least competitive?) Jets, who sit at 2-2. McGuire had a 69-yard score — his first in the NFL — and ended his day with 131 yards on just 12 touches. The Jets are rebuilding, so McGuire should continue to see time, even when Forte comes back. Remember, neither Forte nor Powell has a track record of staying especially healthy, either.
Smith-Schuster scored for the second time in three weeks and sent social media into a frenzy with his touchdown celebration. The rookie out of USC doesn’t quite warrant a roster spot yet, but if he keeps scoring, he just might soon.