NFL Week 3 fantasy football start 'em or sit 'em


QUARTERBACKS


START: TOM BRADY, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tom Brady disappointed in the fantasy column in Week 2, finishing with a meager 10.7 fantasy points and ranking as the QB29 on the week. But his poor fantasy performance can't be put entirely on him — his supporting cast was of little help.

Chris Godwin missed the game after leading the team in targets in Week 1. In his absence, the other Bucs players combined for a league-high seven drops — two of which were blatant drops in the end zone. Brady earned PFF’s second-highest passing grade (88.5) among quarterbacks, and I expect that to be the driving force behind a QB1 fantasy performance against the Denver Broncos in Week 3.

First off, he gets Godwin back healthy after a one-week absence. When Brady targeted Godwin in the home opener, the dynamic receiver hauled in six of his seven targets for 79 yards. Most importantly, he had zero drops. Sure hands are nothing new for the Buccaneers’ wide receiver — he has just two drops over the past two seasons.

The matchup versus the Broncos’ exploitable defense should also work in Brady’s favor. The Broncos have faced the third-most passing attempts this season and felt the loss of starting cornerback A.J. Bouye in Week 2. Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 300 yards and two scores. Without Von Miller to apply pressure, Roethlisberger saw pressure on just 19% of his dropbacks.

Brady is going to have plenty of time to dissect the defense and distribute the ball to his top playmakers, which will result in him finishing as a QB1 in Week 3.

And for those that think the Buccaneers will just go into Denver and steamroll the Broncos because they're starting Jeff Driskel, don’t jump the gun. Driskel is feisty and will keep games competitive. In his last nine games (including last week), his team lost by just one score in seven. 

We could see more back-and-forth action than initially anticipated. After all, Driskel brings a #yolo ball mentality to the lineup. His 10.3 aDOT since the start of 2019 ranks third among all quarterbacks behind only Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston.


START: DESHAUN WATSON, HOUSTON TEXANS

You might be hesitant to start Deshaun Watson this week after he failed to reach 15 fantasy points in a tough spot against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. He has another tough matchup in Week 3 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers own the league’s highest-graded PFF pass-rush grade (86.9), but that could lead to more rushing attempts from the Houston Texans’ quarterback. Watson is tied withKyler Murray and Joe Burrow for the most rushing attempts under pressure this season. Dating back to the 2017 season, Watson ranks No. 1 in scrambles and rushing touchdowns when under pressure.

The Steelers’ defense has also been vulnerable against explosive passing plays. They've allowed the fourth-most passing plays of 15 or more yards while facing the fifth-most deep ball attempts.

Watson currently ranks sixth in the NFL in deep ball pass attempts (10). With a healthy Will Fuller, Watson will be productive despite the stout opposing defense. Keep in mind the Steelers through the first two weeks have faced the likes of Daniel Jones and Jeff Driskeland allowed both quarterbacks to average over 250 passing yards, two touchdowns and score at least 19 fantasy points.

I also think this is the perfect time to acquire Watson in a trade. He's coming off a bad game and owners are looking for a reason to get away from him this week, but this is the perfect time to buy. After Week 3, he gets the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars (twice),Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers.

This is the time to target any and all Texans players, like Fuller, David Johnson and Brandin Cooks. Johnson is seeing 81.5% of the team’s total running back carries to go along with a 13% target share. Meanwhile, Cooks is coming off a very quiet five-catch for 95 yards performance in Week 2.


SIT: DREW BREES, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

We got to see the New Orleans Saints ’ offense in full without stud wide receiver Michael Thomas on Monday night, and it was not pretty. Drew Brees failed to push the ball downfield despite Las Vegas Raiders struggling against deep passes. Brees' aDOT (5.3) ranked 31stout of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in Week 2.

He did manage to get over the 300-yard mark, but the Green Bay Packers’ offense this season ranks No. 1 in time of possession, which could easily limit opportunities for the Saints’ offense to accumulate yards without chunk plays. Their defense has also faced the fifth-fewest passing attempts this season.

Brees doesn’t project to have high passing volume, big-play upside or rushing ability, so he needs to be firmly on the bench this week.

RUNNING BACKS


START: MYLES GASKIN, MIAMI DOLPHINS

Myles Gaskin dominated the offensive snaps (64%) over Matt Breida (22%) and Jordan Howard (11%) in Week 2, solidifying him as the running back to own in South Beach. He was used heavily as a receiver (six catches) and was extremely efficient (6.1 yards per attempt).

On the season, Gaskin also ranks eighth in overall PFF rushing grade (77.8), 10th in yards per attempt (5.0) and seventh in yards after contact per attempt (3.94).

Among all running backs, he also owns the second-highest target share (15.5%) through two weeks — that should prove favorable against a Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense that has been shredded when facing pass-catching running backs.

Jacksonville has allowed the third-most receptions, targets and receiving yards to the running back position. Only Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson have run more routes than Gaskin this season.


START: JERICK MCKINNON, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman are going to miss the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 3 contest versus the New York Giants, so I fully expect them to deploy a two-back committee between Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson Jr.

Wilson will likely lead the team in carries with McKinnon working in as a change-of-pace back, but his true appeal will be catching balls as a receiver. Over the first two weeks of the season, no team has targeted its running backs at a higher rate (36.67%) than the 49ers.

The New York Giants gave up a huge catch and run to Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery in Week 2, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle Shanahan dial up something similar for McKinnon.


The 49ers are so injury-riddled that they will need to lean on their best skill players in all facets of the game, so expect McKinnon to be used in an appropriate manner. It also doesn’t hurt that McKinnon has been averaging 13.6 fantasy points per game prior to this massive opportunity.

In deeper formats, I would also be OK rolling the dice on Wilson. In his spot starts with 49ers over the past two seasons, he has four rushing touchdowns and has seen double-digit carries.  

Benny Snell Jr. averaged 6.0 yards per attempt against the Giants in Week 1, and Montgomery averaged 5.1 yards per attempt against them in Week 2.


SIT: LEONARD FOURNETTE, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Last year, Ronald Jones was infamously benched during the team’s win over theJacksonville Jaguars in favor of Peyton Barber. For the last four remaining games, Jones was the starter over Barber and received the bulk of the carries (47.5% vs. 32.3%).

I bring this up to not compare Barber to Fournette — who is a clear upgrade — but to warn that just because Fournette was more productive in Week 2, that doesn't mean that he's the locked-and-loaded guy moving forward under this coaching staff. We also need to remember that LeSean McCoy is siphoning away targets in the passing game — this backfield is shaping up to be a potential mess versus a strong Denver Broncos run defense in Week 3.

Denver has allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position through the first two weeks and held Derrick Henry to 3.7 yards per attempt. They did allow a productive outing toJames Conner, but that was on the back of a 59-yard gain that he earned late in the game.

Without that long touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Conner's yards per attempt fall from an impressive 6.6 down to 3.1, which is more indicative of how the Broncos had him bottled up for 58 minutes of the game.

We saw something similar with Fournette last week when his production spiked drastically on the back of a 46-yard touchdown as the Buccaneers were running the clock out at the end of the game.

This is not something we should bank on happening to justify starting specific players.

WIDE RECEIVERS

START: WILL FULLER, HOUSTON TEXANS

The most recent reports about Will Fuller are that the team is optimistic he plays on Sunday. Considering he still never received any formal injury designation and practiced on Wednesday, he should be a full-go. If so, he should be viewed as a startable WR2 this week.

Let’s not forget it was just two weeks ago that Fuller commanded a 30-plus percent target share in the Houston Texans’ offense and put up eight catches for 112 yards operating as the team’s alpha wide receiver.

You knew the injury risks when you drafted Fuller. If he's deemed healthy by all accounts, you can’t leave his ceiling on the bench. As I mentioned in the Deshaun Watson write-up, the Steelers’ defense can be exploited against big passing plays.

In Week 1, Fuller had three receiving plays of at least 15 yards and finished seventh in aDOT (14.6) among receivers with at least eight targets.


START: MICHAEL GALLUP, DALLAS COWBOYS

Michael Gallup hasn’t done much during the first two weeks of the season (WR53). He only has eight targets, which are fewer than Amari Cooper (22), CeeDee Lamb (15), Dalton Schultz (14) and Ezekiel Elliott (11).

But he leads the team in aDOT (17.0) and in targets over 20 yards downfield. These are the signals that a boom week is coming. The Seattle Seahawks’ defense this season has allowed the most fantasy points to the wide receiver position, so if Gallup can’t produce here, then it’s time to hit the panic button.

He should post solid numbers — Seattle has allowed the most explosive passing plays and second-most receiving yards this year to outside wide receivers. The Dallas Cowboys’ passing offense should also experience positive touchdown regression. They rank third in the league in total passing yards (716) but have just two passing touchdowns (second-last).

The Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons are the only other teams to throw for at least 700 yards this season, and they have six passing touchdowns apiece. Look for Gallup to find paydirt this week.

SIT: TYLER BOYD, CINCINNATI BENGALS

Over the past two weeks, Tyler Boyd has been much more of an afterthought than a featured piece for the Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Burrow has been peppering A.J. Green with targets (22), even though Boyd has compiled more receptions (11), receiving yards (105) and touchdowns on nine fewer targets.

In the long-term Boyd is likely to eat more into Green’s large target share if the veteran continues to be inefficient with his opportunities, but I'm not confident that happens as soon as Week 3.

The Philadelphia Eagles have allowed just six receptions to wide receivers targeted from the slot to start the 2020 season. These receivers included Steven Sims (one), Terry McLaurin(two), Cooper Kupp (two) and Van Jefferson (one).

The addition of one of the league’s top slot cornerbacks, Nickell Robey-Coleman, has made the Eagles a team to fade in fantasy for opposing slot wideouts.

TIGHT ENDS

START: T.J. HOCKENSON, DETROIT LIONS

It’s the matchup we've been all waiting for — round two of T.J. Hockenson versus the Arizona Cardinals’ defense. We all remember Week 1 of last year when Hockenson went off against the Cardinals, setting off a yearlong trend of starting all tight ends against the Cardinals.

This season, Arizona has hardly been the same punching bag it was in 2019 — the Cardinals have allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to the position. But I don’t think that lasts long because they've gotten a few breaks so far in 2020.

Had it not been for an injury, George Kittle in Week 1 would have easily exceeded his four receptions for 44 yards stat line, considering he amassed those numbers all in the first quarter.

In Week 2, tight end Logan Thomas saw nine targets and ranked third among all tight ends in air yards but only managed to convert his opportunities into four catches for 26 yards. Only six of his nine targets were catchable, which factored into the Washington tight end’s poor finish.

Hockenson, on the other hand, has seen nothing but accurate passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford en route to nine catches for a team-leading 118 receiving yards through two weeks.

The Cardinals' fast-paced offense is sure to put up points in a hurry against a banged-up Lions’ defense. This will lead to a more-emphasized game plan built around the passing game, in which case I don’t see how Hockenson doesn’t deliver in Week 3 even if Kenny Golladay is active.

START: MIKE GESICKI, MIAMI DOLPHINS

It’s important to peel back the curtain when it comes to Mike Gesicki because he's only a tight end by position designation. The team views and uses him as a slot receiver — 80% of his snaps and 10 of his 15 targets have come when he has lined up in the slot this season. That's more than any other tight end.

So when we see that the Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends, this needs context. We need to see how much production they've allowed versus tight ends in the slot. Spoiler — it checks out in Gesicki’s favor.

Two of Jack Doyle’s three catches came out of the slot against the Jaguars in Week 1. Both of Jonnu Smith’s two touchdowns and all of Antony Firsker’s four receptions came out of the slot.

Gesicki is in a prime spot to produce on Thursday night.

START: LOGAN THOMAS, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

If somebody dropped Logan Thomas onto the waiver wire after Week 2, consider it a gracious care package for any tight end-needy squad.

He leads his team in targets (17) and ranks third in NFL in air yards among all tight ends. These are great predictors of future success, and the matchup against the Cleveland Browns — who have given up the most fantasy points allowed to tight ends in 2020 — makes starting him a no-brainer.

SIT: TYLER HIGBEE, LOS ANGELES RAMS

It’s going to take some serious stones to bench Tyler Higbee after he posted the highest-scoring tight end performance in Week 2 — especially with the Buffalo Bills his next opponent after being gashed by Gesicki.

But remember that Gesicki is a slot receiver, and that's been the Bills' weakness through the first two weeks of the season. Jamison Crowder had 100 receiving yards from the slot in Week 1 and Gesicki followed that up with 78 receiving yards of his own in Week 2.

Higbee has only played eight snaps from the slot with one catch this season. His production last week was dependent on his three touchdowns — his yardage (54) and receptions (five) were certainly not anything out of the ordinary.

You also have to factor in that the Bills’ defense has always been tough on opposing tight ends. They erased Chris Herndon in Week 1. Last season, they allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to the position.  

You might not be able to bench Higbee, based on scarcity at the tight end position, but you should at least send out a few trade offers because he's a prime sell-high candidate. 

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