Welcome to another wild Sunday.
During the 1 p.m. ET game block, the highest-scoring quarterback (Josh McCown), wide receiver (Kenny Stills), tight end (O.J. Howard), kicker (Kai Forbath) and team defense/special teams (Chicago Bears) were all started in fewer than 10 percent of ESPN leagues. Expect unusual results in your fantasy matchups as a result, though the good news is that the known-commodity running backs were generally reliable!
As we do each week, we recap the week's winners and losers from a fantasy perspective, complete with applicable game and historical data. Check back after the conclusion of the Sunday night game for additional picks of the week's best and worst.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys: While fantasy managers await the resolution of Elliott's league discipline, the second-year running back continues to put forth some of the best statistics in the league. On Sunday, he matched his personal best for PPR fantasy points, his 40.9 tying his total from 2016 Week 10, and set a career high for non-PPR points, his 39.9 one more than he had in that same game last season (38.9). With that, Elliott now has 454.0 PPR and 404.0 non-PPR fantasy points through the first 21 games of his NFL career, which puts him in exclusive company. Since 1950, that's the sixth most in either format by any player at any position through that many career game (see chart below).
Bears defense/special teams: For the second consecutive week, the Bears scored a defensive touchdown, and this week they scored two -- both by Eddie Jackson (one on a fumble recovery, one on an interception) -- on their way to a 29-point fantasy day. Suddenly, the Bears, who entered the week having allowed the sixth-fewest total yards per game (302.7), have elevated themselves to "viable streamer" territory. This is the first time the team had managed 20 or more fantasy points from its D/ST since 2013 Week 3, a span of 67 consecutive games beneath that number, which helps explain how it hasn't been started in greater than 30 percent of ESPN leagues since 2015 Week 13. On Sunday, the Bears were started in just 1.80 percent, and that number might not increase much in Week 8 in a tough matchup at the New Orleans Saints. The Bears do have some viable matchups after their Week 9 bye, however: Green Bay, Week 10; San Francisco, Week 13; at Cincinnati, Week 14; Cleveland, Week 16.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: As you can see in the earlier chart, Prescott's career also has gotten off to an exceptional start, as he played his 21st career game in Week 5 and put himself in the top 10 in terms of fantasy points through that many contests. He upped the bar on Sunday, however, scoring a career-high 29.96 fantasy points, meaning that he has now enjoyed the two best single-game scores of his career in the Cowboys' past two games. Prescott didn't even complete this contest, leaving midway through the fourth quarter for Cooper Rush, so his score could've been even higher. Now the author of three consecutive three-touchdown passing performances, Prescott is a locked-in fantasy starter, though he will face a somewhat more challenging matchup in Week 8 at the Washington Redskins.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders: Where did that come from? Though it was a Thursday Night Football performance, Cooper's 44.0 PPR fantasy point (and 33.0 non-PPR) effort deserves a place here. It set a personal best in either format, and in fact it was the best individual score by any player since Kareem Hunt's 45.6 in Week 1 and by any wide receiver since Adam Thielen's 44.6 in 2016 Week 16. In doing so, Cooper more than doubled his PPR season point total, increasing it from 38.6 entering the week to 82.6, and his non-PPR score was greater than he had in his previous seven regular-season games. Cooper's fantasy managers had finally begun to doubt him entering Week 7, his 50.9 percent start rate significantly down from his 97.1 percent in Week 1, and his 96.0 ownership percentage at the time of his Thursday kickoff was actually his lowest at any time since the preseason of his 2015 rookie season (meaning during 2015 draft season). Now he'll earn starts with greater confidence, especially since he's facing two good-to-great matchups in the next three weeks sandwiching his Week 10 bye.
Josh McCown, QB, New York Jets: For only the fourth time in his career, he scored at least 20 fantasy points in consecutive weeks, his 24.46 on Sunday the fifth-best performance in any of his 67 career starts. It was also one of the more unexpected from that sample, evidenced by his 4.45 percent start rate in ESPN leagues, with that following his 7.65 start percentage for his 20.26-point performance against the New England Patriots in Week 6. McCown, who is averaging 31.6 pass attempts per game, is a viable two-quarterback-league streaming candidate. Keep his name tucked away, particularly for an extremely favorable Week 10 matchup at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: And that's what happens when your opposing defense decides to plan around practically ignoring you. Howard capitalized for a position-best (at least through Sunday's games) 27.8 PPR and 21.8 non-PPR fantasy points on Sunday at the Buffalo Bills, ending the week with scores that more than doubled his season totals of 21.7 and 16.7 entering the day. It was the best individual PPR score by a rookie tight end since Jordan Reed had 28.4 in 2013 Week 7, and the best in non-PPR since Rob Gronkowski's 25.2 in 2010 Week 10, and it was fueled in large part by a 33-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown reception in which Howard couldn't have been left more wide open. Unfortunately, few fantasy managers reaped the rewards, as Howard is on a roster in only 9.26 percent of leagues and was started in only 0.9 percent, both season lows. He's an absolutely huge target who in time should have additional games nearly as good or better than this, but in the short term this might serve to make him overrated. Remember, Cameron Brate remains the Buccaneers' go-to tight end this season as the author of five consecutive double-digit PPR fantasy games, and Brate had more targets of the two on Sunday (9-6).
Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins: In what was his 23rd consecutive start on Sunday, Stills managed the third-best fantasy day of his career, 26.5 PPR and 20.5 non-PPR points. He has now tallied two of his six best single-game scores in his three seasons with the Dolphins in the past two weeks, as he has taken on a larger role with DeVante Parker (ankle) sidelined. Stills has been one of the more underrated wide receivers in fantasy, ranking 28th in non-PPR and 46th in PPR last season, but his chances at repeating a game like this hinge upon Parker's health. Stills, started in just 4.08 percent of ESPN leagues on Sunday, is a good bench stash in any league with deep benches or 12 teams.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: Finally he's off the schneid in the touchdown department, as on his 94th rushing attempt of the 2017 season, McCoy finally scored, punching through a 1-yard touchdown. (By the way, he had gone 110 carries between regular-season touchdowns.) He'd add another en route to a 27.2 PPR and 22.2 non-PPR day, the 20th time in his 123 career games that he has managed at least 25 of the former. Among players on active rosters, only Adrian Peterson (29) and Matt Forte (23) have had more.
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams: That's four games of 25-plus PPR fantasy points this season alone, and bear in mind that he has a grand total of six in his three years in the NFL. Gurley's 25.4 PPR fantasy points on Sunday were again fueled by another good game as a receiver -- four catches for 48 yards -- and they gave him 163.0 for the season in seven games. In his first two years, Gurley managed 130.1 (2015) and 94.1 (2016) PPR fantasy points through his first seven games. Another way to look at it: Last season, only David Johnson (174.4) had more than 150 PPR fantasy points through his team's first seven games.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers: He dominated backfield snaps, carries, touches and fantasy points on Sunday, as Ty Montgomery took a back seat while Jones did much of the damage against a New Orleans Saints defense coming off a big Week 6. Jones played 44 snaps to Montgomery's seven (out of 55 Packers plays), per Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke, had 17 carries and 20 touches to Montgomery's four and five, and managed 19.8 non-PPR and 22.8 PPR fantasy points, the latter more than 20 greater than Montgomery's 2.5. Jones has shown good burst while filling in for the less-than-full-strength Montgomery in recent weeks, posting 20-plus PPR fantasy points in two of his past three games and managing at least 13 touches in each of his past four, yet Jones was started in a mere 15.7 percent of ESPN leagues on Sunday. While Montgomery might come out of the Packers' Week 8 bye healthier and readier to take on a larger role, the team could try to lighten his rushing workload knowing it has Jones to help out.
Travis Benjamin, WR, Los Angeles Chargers: In a week of unheralded names enjoying big fantasy scores, Benjamin's was one of the oddest, as he had one rushing attempt, one reception and three punt returns and scored two touchdowns in the process (on the reception and one of the punt returns). That gave him 17.6 PPR fantasy points, his most in a game since 2016 Week 5 (18.7). Benjamin is owned in just 5.60 percent of ESPN leagues, and he was started in only 0.65 percent.
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants: Perhaps the lone bright spot in what has been a miserable season for the Giants, Engram managed 18.0 PPR fantasy points on a whopping 12 targets Sunday. That gave him 82.2 PPR fantasy points and 53 targets through the first seven games of his NFL career. Since 1950, only five tight ends scored more fantasy points through the first seven games of his team's rookie season: Raymond Chester (106.1), Mike Ditka (103.5), Keith Jackson (94.3), Jordan Reed (84.8) and Junior Miller (83.1). In addition, since 1992, the earliest season for which target data is available, no tight end has garnered more targets through the first seven games of his team's rookie season than Engram. Frankly, it's remarkable that Engram remains available in 16.7 percent of ESPN leagues, because he should be universally started at this point.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Well, then, I guess you really did have just six days to sell high. After posting a dominant debut of 25.4 PPR fantasy points for the Cardinals in Week 6, Peterson looked destined for another standout game facing a weak Rams run defense in London. ESPN fantasy managers started the veteran in a whopping 80.9 percent of leagues, 14th highest at the position and a significant increase from the 0.48 percent who started him last Sunday. Peterson flopped to the tune of 4.3 PPR fantasy points on 11 carries (plus one reception), the fifth-worst score in any of his 118 career games in which he had double-digit rushing attempts. What's more, Carson Palmer's broken left arm takes the Cardinals' offense significantly backward, perhaps leading to more stacked defensive fronts for the running back. Peterson is merely a matchup play going forward.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: Though his matchup was a worse one than you might think -- the opposing Bears entered Week 7 allowing opposing quarterbacks the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game (14.0) -- Newton's elevated statistical floor, largely the product of his rushing ability, earned him a place in many ESPN lineups. His 66.5 percent start rate was sixth highest among quarterbacks, but he delivered his managers 7.44 fantasy points, the fourth-worst single-game effort in his 100 career games played. That gives him two single-digit fantasy performances in his seven games this season, and it's transforming him into a much more risk/reward player than he's traditionally regarded. Newton's next matchup, a Week 8 game at the Buccaneers, is one of the best he could ask for. Just as he was entering Week 4, though, he'll enter that game facing much scrutiny, and he'll need to deliver as he did in that game (33.04) if he's to continue earning weekly starts from his fantasy managers.
Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers: Expect much panic among these two wide receivers' managers during the upcoming week -- Adams is owned in 97.0 percent of ESPN leagues, Nelson 99.95 percent -- after the duo combined for a mere 5.5 PPR fantasy points on nine targets on Sunday. In fact, neither scored a single catch during the game's first half, the first time in any of their 38 games played together that they had been held to fewer than two combined before halftime. In his first start following Aaron Rodgers' injury, Brett Hundley attempted 25 passes, a number Rodgers exceeded in 33 of his 36 games preceding his Week 6 injury and well beneath Rodgers' career per-game average of 32.8, and he didn't look good on most of them.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders: While Cooper starred for the Raiders on Thursday, Lynch flopped, in fact drawing an ejection resulting in a one-game (Week 8) suspension for making contact with a referee during the game's second quarter. Lynch played just 10 snaps in the process, his third fewest in any of his 134 career games (4, 2009 Week 17; 9, 2010 Week 1), and managed 0.9 fantasy points, the fourth-worst PPR performance of his career (-1.2, 2010 Week 4; -0.2, 2009 Week 11; 0.7, 2010 Week 8) and fifth worst in non-PPR (also 0.2, 2009 Week 17). With Lynch likely absent next week -- an appeal is pending -- Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington will get a chance to cut further into the veteran's carries moving forward. Understandably, Lynch's popularity in ESPN leagues continues to drop, as he's now on a team in 97.5 percent of leagues, and it might plummet further in the coming days.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans: His 8.9 fantasy points was a significant disappointment, considering the strength of his matchup as well as his career-high 59.2 percent start rate. Entering Week 7, the Cleveland Browns had allowed an average of 20.5 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and never fewer than 13.46 in a game, and that was despite the team facing a relatively light schedule at the position. Mariota's one rushing attempt further raises concerns about his health, after he attempted just two carries in Week 6, but at least he now gets the bye week to perhaps work himself back to full strength.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers: For a starting running back on a team that won, 21-0, Gordon's 5.4 PPR fantasy points was an oddly poor performance. Granted, the opposing Denver Broncos possess one of the game's best run defenses, but he scored 18.9 against this defense in Week 1, the most that the Broncos had allowed in a single game all year. This was Gordon's worst single-game score in any Chargers win in his three-year NFL career, and it was the seventh-worst of any of his 34 games overall. He was started in 95.4 percent of ESPN leagues, fifth-most among running backs.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: You'd think that in a game in which Emmanuel Sanders (ankle) was absent, Thomas would dominate targets and put up a big fantasy day. Not so -- Thomas scored just 2.9 PPR fantasy points, the ninth-worst single-game score in any of his 107 career contests, and his second game beneath three points in the past four weeks. Much of the blame, however, can be placed upon Trevor Siemian, who for the second consecutive week was erratic as a passer. Thomas garnered just five targets on Sunday, which matched his Week 4 total for his fewest in a game since the beginning of 2014.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots: For the fifth consecutive week, GIllislee failed to find the end zone, resulting in his fifth straight game of fewer than six fantasy points. He managed 3.1 on Sunday night, failing to convert his only goal-line carry out of eight total rushing attempts, leaving him 0-for-2 on attempts within three yards of the goal line in the past five weeks combined. Dion Lewis, by comparison, converted the Patriots' only other rushing attempt in those circumstances during that same time span, so Gillislee's fantasy owners have reason to be concerned. Gillislee's ownership percentage dipped to a season-low 86.5 percent this week.