- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Through the first quarter of the fantasy football season, some surprising names have topped the leaderboards at each position.

Maybe Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck isn’t too much of a stretch as the top quarterback in fantasy under standard scoring rules, even though he was drafted much later in your league than the usual elites, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

But Ahmad Bradshaw as the fourth best running back? Steve Smith as the second best wide receiver? Surprise performers like these pose a crucial challenge for fantasy owners trying to predict the rest of the year.

After all, the fact they’re top performers now matters a whole lot less to your lineup than whether they’ll do it again. And that’s the constant chase for fantasy owners, the type that cause people agony over lineup decisions.

Fortunately, there are a few tools to help you identify the circumstances that make for a breakout, generating confidence that it’s OK to stray from the impressions you formed before your draft.



What Luck, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown have in common, beyond topping their position in standard fantasy scoring: They each have the most touchdowns of any player at their position (some are tied).

Luck has 13 passing touchdowns, while the Eagles’ defense, Murray and Brown each have five total TDs.

For Luck, Murray and Brown owners, enjoy the ride. You drafted them to be in your starting lineup and obviously will be keeping them there except when they’re on bye or if they get injured. And not because of the TDs.

If Luck keeps up his pace, he’ll finish with the second-most touchdowns in NFL history. If Murray and Brown score 20 TDs each, they’ll join 27 other players in NFL history - not that many when you consider the record books for that threshold span six decades. So the bet is clearly that they’ll slow down, and that’s OK because they offer value in far more ways than just getting in the end zone.

But as for the Eagles’ defense and special teams, you can’t bank on more than one touchdown per game and even the team’s coaches rank their play as inconsistent. That doesn’t mean drop them, but you shouldn’t expect them to finish the year as the top defense.

When you’re not sure about players, see how much of their fantasy value has been tied up in touchdowns. If they’re scoring more than expected, it’s a sign to let others be more enthusiastic about future games.



Bears tight end Martellus Bennett is leading all tight ends in fantasy scoring, with more points than Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. But even more encouraging than that is he’s behind only Graham in targets. With his quarterback Jay Cutler struggling, Bennett has gotten more looks (and more fantasy points) than Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the wide receivers who are a staple of many fantasy teams.

That might be discouraging, but Bennett had relatively low expectations coming into the year - he was a late round pick in many leagues and considered among a handful of tight ends you could mix and match from to see who sticks.

If Bennett were scoring on only a few chances, it’d be easier to call him a fluke. But the targets are showing he’s at least dependable, though his numbers may be modest going forward.



There are people on Twitter and other social networks - more than you might imagine - complaining that they should have started Steve Smith over Calvin Johnson in Week 4.

Everyone has that player they’re frustrated with right now: LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy, Demaryius Thomas, Doug Martin, among others.

But it’ll be OK. Unless you see a clear reason to stop believing in your player, don’t.


Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/oskargarcia

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