Week 4 offensive line ranks: Will David Johnson bounce back?

KC Joyner
ESPN PLUS


The fantasy football world has lagged behind when it comes to effectively measuring the impact blocking has on fantasy production, so last year I devised a grading system that uses multiple advanced metrics to project how blocking matchups will impact fantasy football performance in the upcoming week's contests. The details of the system can be found here.



The entire list of the Week 4 overall matchup grades is posted below, along with a detailed look at how those blocking grades could impact certain start-sit decisions this week. Subjects here include if this is the week David Johnson can finally break out of his slump, if Chris Carson can now be trusted as a starter, and how blocking matchups affect the fantasy value of Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Phillip Lindsay, Giovani Bernard and more.


Most favorable Week 4 fantasy blocking matchups

Denver Broncos (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)


Fantasy managers are well aware of how powerful the Kansas City offense is, but this week they should also pay close attention to how weak the Chiefs' defensive front seven is. Kansas City's defense ranks 27th in pass pressure rate (PPR, 23.8 percent), 31st in quarterback contact rate (QCR, 7.0 percent) and 27th in sack rate (4.0 percent). The Chiefs are equally poor against the rush, as they place 27th in yards per carry before first defensive contact (YBCT, 3.0) and are next to last in my good blocking productivity (GBP) metric that measures overall rush defense prowess (4.3).


Those metrics alone could make Broncos players strong fantasy start prospects, yet that value is amplified by Denver ranking second in the league in my post Week 3 overall offensive blocking grades. The Broncos earned an A in run-blocking and an A-minus in pass-blocking in part due to ranking fifth in GBP (4.2) and fourth in PPR allowed (21.9).


This mismatch should give Case Keenum plenty of time to hit Sanders and Thomas on downfield throws and is why I have Keenum rated as a viable QB2, Sanders as a WR2 and Thomas a solid WR3 or flex option in my ESPN non-PPR rankings this week. The ground game advantage will make Lindsay an upper-tier RB2 and Royce Freeman a strong flex option as well.


Cincinnati Bengals (at Atlanta Falcons)


Not to take anything away from the New Orleans Saints' powerhouse offense, but the elite numbers Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara posted last week were due in part to the abysmal state of the Falcons' defense. Atlanta ranks 30th in PPR (22.5), 24th in QCR (10.2), 30th in sack rate (3.6) and has the lowest rush defense grade in the league in my latest front seven grades.


That latter ranking offers some upside to a Bengals offense that ranks ninth in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that gauges rushing productivity on plays with quality run-blocking (8.6), but the real value here could be via a pass-blocking mismatch. Cincinnati ranks third in sack rate allowed (3.3) and placed sixth in my post Week 3 pass-blocking rankings.


This should make Bernard a no-brainer start this week, but it also could propel Andy Dalton in starting contention. Dalton ranks 12th in quarterback fantasy points and is only one week removed from throwing four touchdown passes against Baltimore. Given that he is facing an Atlanta secondary that is missing both of its starting safeties, this could be a week to sneak Dalton into the lineup for the potential 20-plus point upside.


Arizona Cardinals (vs. Seattle Seahawks)


The most disappointing player in fantasy football this season has to be Le'Veon Bell, but one of the leaders in that category among players who have actually showed up to play would have to be David Johnson. Fantasy managers didn't draft him at or near the top of the draft with the idea that he would rank 20th in running back fantasy points after Week 3 and would not gain as many as 50 rushing yards in a single contest in that time frame.


This lack of production hasn't been due to unacceptable blocking, as the Cardinals' run-blockers rank 11th in good blocking rate (GBR, 45.5 percent). Arizona could end up moving into the top 10 in that category following a matchup against a Seahawks rush defense that ranks 25th in GBR (47.9), 26th in YBCT (2.9) and 26th in my overall rush defense grades.


These contrasting metrics make this the sixth most favorable rushing matchup in Week 4. Johnson has been a popular start-sit question of late, but when the matchup is this favorable, he goes from flex consideration all the way to a low-tier RB1 ranking.
Least favorable Week 4 fantasy blocking matchup

Seattle Seahawks (at Arizona Cardinals)


Before getting too fired up about Chris Carson's 20.4-point day against the Cowboys, be sure to take a closer look at how Seattle's offensive line actually performed in that contest. I did that for the Week 3 fantasy blocking review article posted earlier this week and found that the Seahawks' GBP in that game was just as bad as they had posted in the first two games of the season. This means the run-blocking issues that held Carson back earlier this season have not been solved.


That is not a good place to be when going on the road to face a Cardinals defense that ranks ninth in my post Week 3 run defense grades. This platoon even went toe-to-toe with the dominant Rams offensive line in Week 2 and allowed a meager 2.0 GBP in that contest.


To be fair, the Arizona offense is so weak that it can leave its defense in many subpar field position situations. That happened in the Rams game and it led to Todd Gurley II scoring three touchdowns, but Seattle's offense is nowhere near as strong as the Rams. Add it up and this matchup pushes Russell Wilson to the borderline between QB1 and QB2 status and places Carson into risky RB3 status.