Let's talk records, shall we?
No, no, I'm not referring to Peyton Manning's record-setting touchdown, though we'll get to that. Instead, let's first address the record set that has going-forward implications, being that I so rarely focus on the going-forward angle of the week's action in this space. This is, after all, a place to recap the week that was, to put the recent results into a historical context.
But when I see DeMarco Murray get off to the kind of start that he has enjoyed -- setting a new NFL standard with his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing performance to begin a season -- I have a question that perhaps many of his fantasy owners now do: What does his monstrous early-season workload mean for his rest-of-season prospects?
It turns out that Murray's 187 carries and 209 total touches in the Dallas Cowboys' first seven games aren't unprecedented, but they're awfully close. Only one player carried the football more often in his team's first seven games: O.J. Simpson, with 192 in 1975. Three players had more touches: James Wilder, with 216 in 1984 en route to the single-season record of 492; Ricky Williams, with 215 in 2000; and Priest Holmes, with 212 in 2002.
For a more relevant sample, let's expand the scope to players with at least 175 carries -- an average of exactly 25 per game -- or 200 touches in their teams' first seven games of the season. Thirteen players for a total of 17 instances -- counting Murray -- have absorbed that hefty a workload, and their performances in those seven games, during the remainder of said seasons and in their follow-up campaigns are shown in the chart below:
Though this group exhibited a decline in fantasy production, specifically a 2.6 point-per-game drop-off, during the remainder of the season while missing an average of 1.1 games, those numbers could be as much the result of regression to the mean as anything workload-related. Certainly they don't inspire flat-out panic, especially considering that five of the 16 before Murray improved their fantasy points per game numbers, including three of the six who had averages closest to Murray's 19.1 during their first seven games. In addition, the nine who were closest in age to Murray suffered a mere decline of 2.3 fantasy points per game going forward while missing just two games total.
It's the follow-up campaigns that are the concern. The group declined by 3.6 fantasy points per game comparing their consecutive full seasons to each other, 4.9 if you compare their production from their follow-up seasons only to their first seven contests (as shown in the chart), and missed an average of 3.2 games (2.3 if you extract the "retired" Ricky Williams).
What that means is that it's the dynasty-league owners who should be most troubled by Murray's usage to date, though even they have reason not to deal out of panic. The multiple appearances by Holmes, Simpson, Williams and Wilder on the chart show that such a workload is hardly a death sentence for a running back. A key difference between Murray and these four, however, is that Williams is the only one who made a playoff appearance in one of those seasons in question, and his was a lone contest of six carries and seven touches in 2000. Murray's Cowboys could play deeper into the playoffs, further increasing his workload into the danger zone.
We'll see how this one plays out, but don't race to cash in your Murray chip.
Peyton Manning: Professional record-setter
Congratulations to Peyton Manning, who didn't need the full 60 minutes to complete the three passing touchdowns he needed to break Brett Favre's all-time record; he set the new standard before halftime and extended it with a fourth passing score during the third quarter. Considering Manning's accolades during his three seasons with the Denver Broncos, perhaps he's deserving of a regular section in this space each week?
From a fantasy angle, the most impressive part of Manning's Sunday night was that he tallied a sixth consecutive 20-point fantasy game to begin his season and an eighth such game in a row dating back to Week 16 of 2013. Only one quarterback since 1960 enjoyed such a streak that was lengthier: Aaron Rodgers, who had 12 in a row to begin the 2011 season, one that concluded with him setting a then-record with 385 fantasy points for the year. Manning is now tied with Drew Brees (Week 10 of 2011 to Week 1 of 2012) for the second-longest streak during that time span, a testament to his consistency.
Manning also joins Rodgers and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to manage at least six consecutive games of 20-plus fantasy points to begin a season; Young had exactly six in a row to begin the 1998 campaign.
• Manning might have captured the Sunday headlines, but Andrew Luck remains fantasy's No. 1 overall player. His 19 points scored give him 165 for the season, 22 more than the second-place Manning. That gives Luck a seasonal pace of 377 fantasy points, which would place him fifth all-time among quarterbacks, behind only Manning (406 in 2013), Rodgers (385 in 2011), Brees (380 in 2011) and Tom Brady (378 in 2007).
Luck does trail Manning in terms of fantasy points per game, though, since Manning has already had his bye week. Luck's 23.6 ranks second to Manning's 23.8.
• The New Orleans Saints defense finally put some fantasy points on the board, scoring seven after entering Week 7 with a big, fat doughnut (really, exactly zero). Still, that puts them within striking distance of the all-time record for fantasy futility by a team defense/special teams -- something the Oakland Raiders, who now have eight fantasy points for the year, can also claim -- as the 1981 Baltimore Colts had the since-1960 low with seven fantasy points all year. There isn't a more disappointing D/ST this year than the Saints.
• With 12 fantasy points in Week 7, Antonio Gates gave himself 76 for the season. That doesn't just cement his comeback status; it actually puts him on a personal-best pace. He's on track for 174 fantasy points, which would exceed his previous high of 169, set in 2004, as well as the 164 he scored during his follow-up 2005 season. Gates is apparently far from washed up at age 34.
• Sammy Watkins' 24 fantasy points were the most by any rookie wide receiver this season -- exceeding Allen Hurns' 23 in Week 1 -- and are the most since Tavon Austin had 31 in Week 10 of 2013. Only 11 rookie wide receivers have scored more in a game since 2001, led by Torrey Smith's 34 in Week 3 of 2011.
With Stacy absorbing a zero-touch Week 7, there's every reason to think Mason might enjoy the kind of second-half success Stacy did as a rookie a year ago.