Arian Foster, RB, HOU – After rushing for 155 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, it’s safe to say Foster is back. In fact, thanks in part to Ben Tate leaving with a groin injury, Foster racked up 19 rushing attempts prior to the two minute warning in the first half of Sunday’s game. Tate’s status is cloudy, and Foster isn’t even listed on this week’s injury report, so expect another heavy workload in Week 5. With possibly the NFL’s best run-blocking unit on his side, Foster, who might be the best cutback runner in all of football, should again be treated as a top-three fantasy player moving forward.
Ryan Torain, RB, WAS – Torain didn’t receive his first touch of the season until the middle of the second quarter in Week 4, but he made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries. The Rams have had trouble defending the run this season, but this was an eye-opening performance regardless of the opponent. Head coach Mike Shanahan described it perfectly when he called a now fully healthy Torain a man “possessed.” He’s without question a major injury risk, but Torain totaled 751 yards and five touchdowns over eight starts last season, so he clearly has the talent to make a fantasy impact. Tim Hightower’s absence may have had something to do with a shoulder injury that went unreported (although there were rumblings late last week that Shanahan was considering giving Torain an extended opportunity anyway), but it’s worth noting he has forced just as many missed tackles (five) this year over 187 snaps as Torain did in 2.5 quarters Sunday. Also, while rookie Roy Helu looks promising, he is not being used in a change-of-pace role just yet. Hightower should continue playing on passing downs, but Torain will have a major opportunity coming out of the team’s Week 5 bye, with the Redskins facing the Eagles, Panthers and Bills – three teams that rank in the bottom six in YPC against.
Matt Forte, RB, CHI – After rushing for 205 yards on 25 carries Sunday, Forte is now on pace to finish the season with 2,536 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. He’s up to a career-high 5.4 YPC on the year, which is remarkable considering Chicago’s offensive line issues. Marion Barber stole a goal-line TD in Week 4 and could continue getting goal-line work now healthy, but it’s hard to argue with Forte’s yardage output. At this point, it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to consider him a special back.
Jimmy Graham, TE, NO – Graham recorded 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown Sunday, and there’s no question he’s now a top-three fantasy tight end. Graham saw a whopping 14 targets while no other New Orleans wide receiver saw more than seven. Graham’s 147 yards after contact this year lead all tight ends, and considering this is just his second year in the league, there is plenty of time for further improvement. Kellen Winslow Sr. holds the record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end in the modern era with 1,290 in 1980. At the quarter pole, Graham is on pace to finish with 1,468 receiving yards.
Julio Jones, WR, ATL – Jones racked up 11 more catches for 127 yards Sunday, giving him 24 receptions and 342 yards for the year. He is still searching for his first touchdown of the season, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the rookie’s fast start. The worries about him having trouble picking up the playbook have certainly been quieted. On the flip side, it appears likely Jones will have a negative impact on Roddy White’s fantasy value.
Chris Wells, RB, ARI – Wells was a game-time decision Sunday with a hamstring injury, and because of the matchup against the Giants and late afternoon start, he might have been on some fantasy benches. This was probably rather frustrating for those who left him out and watched him run for 138 yards and three touchdowns. The 5.1 YPC at less than full strength is impressive when you consider his scores came from one, one and two yards out – all powerful runs he finished strong. Wells still struggles in pass protection and in the passing game, and whether he can stay healthy remains to be seen, but it’s clear last season’s struggles can be directly attributed to a knee injury that lingered all year. Wells is a top-12 fantasy running back.
Stevan Ridley, RB, NE – Thanks partly to Danny Woodhead’s ankle injury, Ridley got an extended look Sunday. He made the most of his chance, rushing for 97 yards on just 10 carries. Ridley’s 33-yard touchdown run revealed a type of explosion BenJarvus Green-Ellis simply doesn’t possess. Sunday’s performance follows an impressive preseason by the rookie, who’s already a superior receiver to BGE. Woodhead remains week-to-week, and Green-Ellis remains the favorite for goal-line work, but Ridley has a ton of upside and may be the team’s best overall back. He could become a big fantasy factor if given the chance to serve as a feature back, even in the Patriots’ pass-first attack.
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU – Even those who don’t own Johnson had to cringe Sunday when he went down without contact, appearing to take a sniper’s bullet to the leg. Johnson suffered a hamstring injury on the play, and considering the way it looked, a tentative prognosis of three missed games does not seem that bad. With Johnson out a few weeks, Owen Daniels gets an obvious bump in fantasy value, and Kevin Walter becomes a viable option in deep leagues, especially for those looking for bye week fillers. It’s safer to take a wait-and-see approach with the enigmatic Jacoby Jones.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT – Although he scored Sunday, Mendenhall managed just 25 yards on nine carries before exiting the game with a hamstring injury. He isn’t expected to practice much this week and is highly questionable to play in Week 5, making Isaac Redman an intriguing guy to grab despite a difficult matchup against the Titans. Even before the injury, Mendenhall was off to an extremely discouraging start, averaging a paltry 3.0 YPC while offering next to nothing as a receiver. The Steelers’ offensive line has been a big problem, and while I’m not a believer in the “curse of 370,” it’s possible Mendenhall is feeling the effects of his NFL-high 385 rushing attempts last season. He has become a legitimate concern.
Sam Bradford, QB, STL – Bradford has taken a major step back during his sophomore campaign, and he struggled again in Week 4, completing just 46.5 percent of his passes while averaging 3.8 YPA and taking seven sacks. There are plenty other places to lay blame – a receiving corps that not only struggles to separate but also easily “leads” the league with 17 drops, an injury to Danny Amendola, and a struggling offensive line - but it’s clear Bradford is struggling to learn Josh McDaniels’ new offensive system. Bradford’s rookie season went well, but considering he averaged just 6.0 YPA while playing 11 games in a dome, there’s some reason to worry. He’s not a top-20 fantasy quarterback at the moment.
Mario Manningham, WR, NYG – Manningham returned Sunday after missing a game with a concussion. It didn’t take him long to both drop a pass and run an incorrect route; and as a result, he found himself on the bench behind Victor Cruz in two-receiver sets and finished the game with just one catch for 10 yards. Manningham is too talented not to break out of his early season slump, and he is a buy-low target for fantasy owners, but the safe play is to keep him benched for now.
Daniel Thomas, RB, MIA – Thomas’ hamstring injury flared up late last week, resulting in another DNP. It marked his second inactive game of the season, so the team’s Week 5 bye comes at a perfect time. Thomas says he’ll be ready after a week off, and if that winds up being true, he should immediately reclaim a major role in Miami’s backfield. Thomas has averaged 4.9 YPC while showing good versatility as a receiver and outplaying fellow running back Reggie Bush (3.0 YPC). Teammate Chad Henne also suffered an injury, and while it’s to his non-throwing shoulder, it may require season-ending surgery. That could mean even more attempts for Thomas – as long as he stays healthy.
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ – Greene’s YPC mark this season is all the way down to 3.1, and while his 60 receiving yards are already half the total he managed all of last year, it’s hardly enough to make up for his poor running. The team plans on returning to the “ground-and-pound” approach, but that sounds better in theory than in reality, as the offensive line has really struggled and Greene again looks like a bust. In fact, Pro Football Focus has given him the worst “running” grade (-4.2) in the league after the first four games, just ahead of – or below – Reggie Bush, Rashard Mendenhall and Thomas Jones.