The Primer: Week 4 Edition (2019 Fantasy Football)
For those who don’t know, I’m a Bears fan. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Yes, we won a Super Bowl in 1985. I was three years old when that happened. There have been 33 Super Bowls since that time, which means that even if you played the odds game of 1:32, they should have won another by now. They haven’t, though last year felt different.
Not many know this, but I’m unable to attend games during the NFL season, unless they’re on Thursday night. When I signed up to do this job, I accepted the fact that certain things had to take a backseat, and that’s one of those things. If I’m out at a live game, I can’t be watching all the other games, which means I wouldn’t be able to write this article. There’s a butterfly effect to everything. Don’t feel bad for me, I absolutely love what I do.
Why is that important? Well, the only Thursday night game the Bears played in 2018 was on Thanksgiving day, and it was in Detroit. So, my brother-in-law and I made a deal that if the Bears made the playoffs and had a home game, we’d pay for tickets no matter the cost. Once the Bears landed their first-round bye, we locked up tickets and brought the wives along. You all know what game that was, right? Double. Doink.
I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my life and let me tell you that I’ve never felt the energy sucked out of a stadium like I did that day. Even worse, I was near the corner of the end zone where the kick was made. When the ball went up in the air, we all held our breath, with anticipation building to a scream that the Bears won, but the next breath that came out was more like a puff of air when the ball hit the first upright. The ball started to come down towards the bottom of the goal post and we hear it hit the crossbar. All I know is that from our angle, it was very difficult to tell if the ball went in. We all moved our heads to the referees below the goal post. They both extend their arms at their sides, parallel with the ground.
This is what defeat feels like.
But you know what? This is why we love sports. We win with the team and we lose with the team. I’ll never understand those who change fandom every year or two. Things aren’t supposed to be great all the time. You’ll never appreciate the ups if you never experience the downs. Take that from someone who grew up watching the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. When you grow up in your teenage years with that going on, you expect it to be like that all the time. When you get older, you realize how rare that is. For kids that are Patriots fans in their teenage years right now, they likely think it’ll feel like this forever. It won’t, but that’s okay.
In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been going back into The Primer on Saturday morning trying to update you on the injury reports that impact your decisions. While I cannot write a whole new article, I do talk about a lot of these things on our Sunday morning livestream, which is FREE to everyone. It’s where I discuss all the latest injury news and then take your questions live from 11-12am EST. Click here to be taken to our YouTube page where you can get notifications when we go live.
If you’re new around these parts, here’s what you can expect out of this article each and every week: numbers, facts, stats, opinions, and some shenanigans here and there. It’s my unbiased opinion about everyone on your roster. Whether it be season-long advice, DFS advice, wide receiver/cornerback matchups, or snap counts, it’s all covered. The idea here is to give you as much information as possible and give you as much confidence as possible when you hit that ‘submit lineup’ button each week. Who should be in your lineup this week?
KC at DET | TEN at ATL | CLE at BAL | OAK at IND | NE at BUF | CAR at HOU | WAS at NYG | LAC at MIA | TB at LAR | SEA at ARI | MIN at CHI | JAC at DEN | DAL at NO | CIN at PIT | PHI at GB
Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions
Line: KC by 7.0
Patrick Mahomes: After lighting up the Ravens on a somewhat messy field, Mahomes gets to go and play inside of a dome? Under Matt Patricia, the Lions have allowed multiple passing touchdowns to 12-of-19 quarterbacks, including three touchdowns to five of them. Here’s a fun fact: all five of those three touchdown games were ones played in Detroit. The five biggest fantasy performances the Lions allowed last year came on their home turf. Yes, they shut down the Chargers passing attack back in Week 2, but Mike Williams was not 100 percent, they’d just lost Hunter Henry, and Darius Slay was able to shadow Keenan Allen. I should also mention that Slay (the Lions top cornerback) may miss this game with a hamstring injury. Mahomes’ 8.77 percent touchdown-rate is actually above his 8.62 percent touchdown-rate from last year when he threw 50 touchdowns. He’s simply unstoppable right now, which includes the last two weeks where he’s been without his top wide receiver and starting left tackle. Don’t overthink this one. Mahomes is the QB1 and is likely going to be worth every penny in DFS lineups.
Matthew Stafford: After walking into Philadelphia and winning against a shorthanded Eagles offense where Stafford had to throw just one touchdown to win, he’ll be asked to do a lot more against the Chiefs this week. The Lions allowed a full touchdown per game more at home last year, so the homefield advantage thing may be a bit overblown. The 26.0 points per game the Lions allowed at home ranked as the seventh-most in football. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been going through a scheme transition. Sure, they’ve allowed just the 13th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, but that’s saying something when their competition has been Nick Foles/Gardner Minshew, Derek Carr, and Lamar Jackson (didn’t look good last week). The Chiefs opponents averaged 39.7 pass attempts per game last year, the most in the NFL, and thought it’s early in 2019, they’re facing a similar 38.0 pass attempts through three games. The Chiefs can be run on, which is the only thing that could prevent Stafford from posting QB1 numbers, though given how oddsmakers see this game going (Chiefs big favorites), it’s likely we see a gamescript that has Stafford doing most of the heavy lifting. Consider Stafford a rock-solid streamer and someone who should post low-end QB1 numbers with a good floor. *Update* Stafford was added to the injury report with a hip issue that was suffered during the week. This adds a level of concern, particularly for those who were planning to use him in DFS cash-game lineups.
Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, and Darrel Williams: There are a whole lot of question marks surrounding this backfield right now, though Andy Reid downplayed McCoy’s ankle injury after their Week 3 game when he re-aggravated his ankle injury that had him questionable for the game. Meanwhile, Damien Williams was ruled out somewhat early last week, meaning he’s still not likely to suit up. The Chiefs played Darrel Williams in a big role against the Ravens, as he totaled a team-high 14 touches (9 rushes, 5 receptions) that netted a rock-solid 109 yards. This is a backfield we’ll be revisiting as the week goes on (check back for updates), though it’s important to note that the Lions were a solid run defense for most of 2018. They’ve started the 2019 season on somewhat of a rough note, though injuries to Jarrad Davis, Mike Daniels, and Da’Shawn Hand have helped contribute. The 4.33 yards per carry and two touchdowns they’ve allowed amount to the 12th most fantasy points on the ground, but it’s not just that. They’ve also allowed at least 55 yards receiving to each of the three starting running backs they’ve played, so there’s potential all over the field for the Chiefs running backs. It’s impossible to say how to value each of the running backs without knowing their status, so we’ll re-visit this section later in the week. *Update* It appears Damien Williams will miss this week’s game, as he has not practiced all week. McCoy should be in lineups as an RB2, while Darrel Williams could have emergency flex value.
Kerryon Johnson and Ty Johnson: Some will look at Johnson’s performance in Week 3 and think, “eh.” He gained more stock than most realized, as he totaled 20 of the 25 carries among Lions running backs. That’s uncharted territory for him. While he totaled just 36 yards on them, it was against the Eagles, who have allowed less than 3.2 yards per carry on the season. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have allowed a league-worst 6.20 yards per carry. Teams haven’t had much of an opportunity to run much against them considering how quickly the Chiefs offense throws points on the board. Still, it says something that they’ve allowed 268 yards on the ground over the last two weeks. Johnson still leads this team in targets, too, making him gamescript-proof. Any time you have a running back locked into 18-plus touches against the Chiefs, he’s a must-start. There were 10 running backs who hit that mark against the Chiefs last year and nine of them finished as top-24 options, including five top-12 options. The only one who didn’t hit at least 16.0 PPR points was Doug Martin. It’s safe to say Johnson should be considered a borderline RB1 this week. As for Ty Johnson, he totaled just five touches in the first game without C.J. Anderson, so it’s tough to say he’s worth hanging onto, outside of a handcuff to Kerryon Johnson.
Sammy Watkins: We’re now three weeks through the season and Watkins is tied for third in the NFL with 32 targets from Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately, he’s been somewhat quiet the last two weeks, finishing with under 65 yards in each game despite Mahomes throwing for huge chunks of yardage. But don’t panic, the numbers will follow the targets. The issue this week could be Darius Slay, who was fantastic in his shadow coverage of Keenan Allen two weeks ago, holding him to 8/98/0 on a massive 15 targets. That’s a good comp for Watkins, as both receivers play in the slot more than half the time. Slay isn’t as good without the sideline, as he’s allowed 4-of-5 passing for 60 yards in the slot, while allowing just 5-of-12 passing for 86 yards on the perimeter. The reason Watkins may get a break is due to Slay’s injury he suffered in Week 3, when he left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Those soft tissue injuries could linger, meaning Slay may miss this game. Even if he plays, he may be at less than 100 percent. Watkins may be catching a break against the Lions, who have now allowed three veterans to score at least 17.8 PPR points (Larry Fitzgerald, Keenan Allen, and Nelson Agholor). Plug Watkins in as a high-end WR2 with top-five upside if Slay is out. *Update* Slay has been limited in practice all week and will likely be a game-time decision.
Demarcus Robinson: He was saved by a touchdown last week, but when you play with Mahomes, these things will happen more often than most. Robinson actually made a hell of a catch on the touchdown, so credit to him. The Lions will have Rashaan Melvin covering him most of the day, a cornerback who has flashed potential in big spots before. He’s been good for the Lions in his first year there, allowing just 10-of-21 passing for 189 yards, though it’s also worth noting that Darius Slay has covered the opponent’s top option. There may be some shifting around if Slay has to miss this game with his hamstring injury, which would mean more Mike Ford in coverage for Robinson. If Slay is out, the whole Chiefs passing game gets an upgrade. Knowing Robinson has seen 10 targets from Mahomes over the last two weeks with Tyreek Hill, and that he’s produced when targeted, there’s little reason for the targets to stop. He should be considered a high-end WR4 who will need to get things done on lesser volume than most in that range, but his quarterback is better than theirs.
Mecole Hardman: He’s seen just five and six targets over the last two weeks, though you wouldn’t know that by his 158 yards and two touchdowns, which doesn’t even include a 74-yard touchdown that was called back in Week 2. Splash plays are what he does best and Andy Reid continues to put him in a place to make those plays. He’s run 62 percent of his routes from the slot over the last two weeks, which means he’ll see a lot of Justin Coleman, who is coming off a horrendous game where he allowed two touchdown receptions to Nelson Agholor. He’s now allowed three touchdowns on 25 targets with the Lions, which isn’t great. He’s also not a very shifty nickel cornerback, as he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2015. You know the risk with a receiver who’s averaging just five targets per game, but you cannot sit Hardman with how efficient he’s been, especially when you consider the matchup. He’s an upside WR3 who comes with a lower floor than most in that range, but his ceiling is a top-12 play.
Kenny Golladay: It was supposed to be a week where Golladay could kind of “go off” but instead we watched Jones destroy him in the efficiency department. The good news is that Golladay has a team-high 27 targets through three games, highlighting his role in the offense. He’s also accounting for 38.5 percent of the Lions air yards, which is borderline elite territory. The Chiefs secondary really struggled with bigger wide receivers the first two weeks, as D.J. Chark and Chris Conley combined for 10 catches, 243 yards, and two touchdowns, then Tyrell Williams was able to haul in five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. They faced an inaccurate Lamar Jackson last week who couldn’t hit much, though there were plenty of times his receivers had separation down the field. Golladay should have no issues against the combination of Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland this week. Get him back into lineups as a high-end WR2 and expect results.
Marvin Jones: I’d been saying Jones has looked good, though the results just weren’t there for the first two weeks. He took advantage of his matchup in Week 3, destroying the Eagles secondary for 6/101/1 on nine targets. With the Chiefs coming to town, this is likely going to be a game where Stafford drops back to pass 40-plus times. That will allow the potential for multiple fantasy-relevant receivers from his receiving corps. The 1.93 PPR points per target the Chiefs have allowed ranks as the 12th-highest mark in the league, and that’s while playing against the Jaguars, Raiders, and Ravens receivers. Building on the success they had last week, Stafford could start to latch onto Jones similar to the way he did last year when Jones out-targeted Golladay when they were both on the field. I’m banking on Golladay as the top receiver this week, but Jones can definitely be in-play as a backend WR3 with some upside in this matchup.
Danny Amendola: He’s seen just as many targets (19) as Jones has through three weeks, though he hasn’t been a fantasy factor since Week 1. Going back to that performance Amendola had, it came against the Cardinals who’ve been absolutely torched over the middle of the field. Against the Chiefs, it’s tough to say he’ll be leaned on heavily knowing both Golladay and Jones have plus matchups, as does Hockenson. Kendall Fuller is the one who’ll be tasked with covering Amendola, and he’s a cornerback who’s had plenty of issues this year. He’s now allowed 11-of-13 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. It’s funny that some viewed him as a great cornerback when he was traded to the Chiefs, but outside of his one truly great year in 2017, he’s been a below-average player. In a game that should net 40-plus attempts for Stafford, Amendola is still on the fantasy radar, just back in the WR5/6 range as his teammates have what looks like better matchups.
Travis Kelce: It’s somewhat crazy to think that Kelce is currently the No. 4 tight end in a year where Mahomes’ touchdown-rate is higher than it was in 2018 and that Tyreek Hill has been out for 2-of-3 games. We take for granted how stable Kelce is, though, as he’s now totaled at least 88 yards in each of the first three games. The touchdowns will come in time. The Lions are coming off a game in which they held Zach Ertz to just four catches for 64 yards on seven targets, though he was clearly the focal point of their gameplan against the Eagles. You can’t do that with the Chiefs, as they have playmakers all over the field. The Lions did allow seven touchdowns to tight ends last year (ninth-most) and may be without the centerpiece of their defense, Darius Slay. While Slay wouldn’t be responsible for Kelce, he has a butterfly effect throughout the whole defense. Knowing the Lions allowed three passing touchdowns in 5-of-8 home games last year also makes you feel better about Kelce’s potential here. He’s locked and loaded for a high-end TE1 game, and should be worth his cost of admission in DFS.
T.J. Hockenson: After his eruption in Week 1 against the Cardinals – who we now know will allow exactly one million points to tight ends this year – Hockenson has disappeared. Last week really should’ve been expected, though. The Eagles have been dominant against tight ends and you’ve been warned about Hockenson splitting time with Jesse James and Logan Thomas. If you missed that, he’s run 77 routes this year, while James and Thomas have combined for 51 routes. If you want to bank on a week where Hockenson may be able to bounce back, this is it. The Chiefs allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends last year, which included a 70 percent completion-rate, 8.70 yards per target, and a touchdown every 12.0 targets. The 26 receptions they’ve allowed to tight ends in 2019 ranks as the most in the league, though they’ve still yet to allow a touchdown. In a game Lamar Jackson clearly didn’t have it, the Ravens tight ends combined for 9/87/0. While he’s far from a sure thing in this game, most streaming tight ends aren’t, and that’s precisely what he is this week. Consider him a high-end TE2 who should bounce back.
Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons
Line: ATL by 4.5
Marcus Mariota: I’d talked about Mariota’s stats looking better than his actual performance the first two weeks, so I’m somewhat happy everyone got to see him in Week 3. Not that I’m rooting for a bad performance, but it’s more about the fact that not everyone gets to watch all the games, so primetime is their only time to make judgements. He was constantly under pressure but he also has to have a better internal clock. The Falcons suffered another big loss to their defense in Week 3, as safety Keanu Neal tore his Achilles for the second straight year. It was once they lost him last year where everything fell apart. That bodes well for Mariota walking into Atlanta, as they allowed 12-of-15 quarterbacks to finish as top-15 quarterbacks against them without Neal in 2018. One who didn’t was Dak Prescott (was very odd, finished as the QB17), while the other two were Taylor Heinicke and Mike Glennon. Through three weeks, we appear to be on a similar track, as both Carson Wentz and Jacoby Brissett were able to finish as top-12 options, while Kirk Cousins had to throw the ball just 10 times to beat them (completed 8-of-10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown). You cannot stream Mariota in standard leagues with how weak he’s looked, but he appears to be a rock-solid QB2 for those who play in Superflex or 2QB formats.
Matt Ryan: It’s clear that Ryan’s offensive line hasn’t been a strength through three games, as he’s been under pressure on 35 percent of his dropbacks. Against the Titans, that should be better. They’ve yet to pressure any of the three quarterbacks they’ve played more than 27 percent of the time, and keep in mind that two of the teams they played were the Browns and Jaguars, teams with questionable talent on the line. Four of Ryan’s six interceptions have come while under pressure. With that being said, the Titans have allowed just 6.61 yards per attempt, the ninth-best mark in the league. Their touchdown-rate is rather high at 6.3 percent, though touchdowns can often be a bit tricky to predict. The reason you can somewhat predict them against the Titans is due to their tough run defense that’s allowed just seven rushing scores over their last 19 games. Still, it hasn’t been great for quarterbacks against the Titans, as they’ve allowed just six top-12 performances under Mike Vrabel, with four of those performances going to Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson. The Falcons have receivers to take advantage of the cornerback matches and Ryan shouldn’t be under too much pressure, so you still likely start him as a low-end QB1, but it doesn’t appear there’s much of a ceiling here.
Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis: It’s odd to see the snap count so close between these two, as Henry has played 103 snaps to Lewis’ 95 snaps. The touch count is much different with the massive lead going to Henry, 55-14. When he’s on the field, he’s getting the ball more than 50 percent of the time, though he may have lost some opportunity last week when he dropped a screen pass that could’ve gone for a long gain. After allowing Dalvin Cook to run rampant on their defense in Week 1, the Falcons have gotten things together over the last two weeks, holding the Eagles and Colts run-games to a combined 121 yards on 39 carries (3.10 yards per carry) and one touchdown. The Falcons defense has really struggled with pass-catching running backs the last few years under Dan Quinn while their run defense could be described as consistently mediocre. It’s good to see Henry catch a few passes early in the year, but his drop last week could start to shift some of the workload to Lewis. The one note that’s important on the Falcons side is that they allowed just one run of 40-plus yards against them last year, which doesn’t bode well for Henry’s big play ability. You have to play a running back who’s averaging 18.3 touches per game no matter the matchup, so Henry needs to be plugged in as an RB2 for this matchup, even if it may not suit his skill-set. Lewis played a season-high 42 snaps last week, and it was the second-straight game he saw them rise. If the Falcons jump out to a lead, we could see more of Lewis involved in a game that arguably better suits his skill-set. He’s just a desperation RB4 though, considering the weighted touch distribution.
Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith: We don’t know if Smith will be active for this game after suffering a concussion, though it’s not a game you’d want to use him anyway. The Titans have a good run-stopping unit even if the stat sheet says they’ve allowed a healthy 4.92 yards per carry this year. Leonard Fournette had one run of 69 yards but finished with 66 yards on 15 carries. Marlon Mack finished with just 51 yards on 20 carries, while Jordan Wilkins had one big run for 55 yards, again, bumping up that yards per carry they’ve allowed. Bottom line, they’re a rock-solid run defense that’s allowed just seven rushing touchdown in 19 games under Mike Vrabel. Over the last three years, Freeman has just 16 carries that have gone for more than 15 yards, so he’s not what we’d describe as the big play type. They are at home and are 4.5-point favorites, so getting a few opportunities to score would make sense, but he’s not someone I’d consider a must-start, especially if Smith is cleared of his concussion. If Smith plays, Freeman should be considered a high-end RB3. If Smith is out, Freeman would bump up a tier, as he’d likely handle 80-plus percent of the Falcons backfield touches, just don’t expect miracles.
Corey Davis: He’s someone who’s been dropped in fantasy leagues, and it’s hard to blame them. Through three weeks, he’s totaled just six catches for 82 yards. That would’ve landed him around the WR28 spot in Week 3 alone, which is where most drafted him. Even worse, he’s been out-targeted by rookie A.J. Brown, though that’s likely due to the shadow coverage Davis has seen. This week, there will be no shadow situation, so Davis should return to lead the team in targets, though that number hasn’t been great, regardless. His matchup will be primarily with the Falcons best cornerback Desmond Trufant, who may not be great anymore, but he’s competent. On the year, he’s allowed just three catches for 36 yards and a touchdown in his coverage, while intercepting two passes. He’s caught breaks all three weeks, though, as the Vikings threw the ball 10 times, the Eagles lost their top two receivers, and then T.Y. Hilton left before halftime last week. There’s no way you can trust Davis as anything more than a WR4 in this game, though it helps that the Falcons lost Keanu Neal on the back-end of their defense. He is, however, the receiver I’d choose if forced to pick one on the Titans.
A.J. Brown: Now sitting on 14 targets through three weeks, Brown leads the Titans wide receivers in targets. That’s not saying too much, but he’s rosterable. The Falcons don’t have a shadow cornerback who’ll follow Corey Davis, which means Brown will see a mixture of Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver in coverage. Oliver has now seen 52 targets in his coverage and has allowed five touchdowns on them, though he has limited receivers to just a 59 percent catch-rate. Meanwhile, Trufant has looked solid through the first three weeks. Brown is the guy you want to look to if a team removes Davis, though I don’t believe this is one of those weeks. With the way Mariota has played, it’s unlikely he’ll support multiple options, meaning Brown should be left on fantasy benches for this game.
Adam Humphries: I mentioned that Humphries had the best matchup of anyone on the Titans last week, but I didn’t expect him to burst out with six catches for 93 yards on nine targets, especially knowing he saw just three targets in the first two weeks combined. While I’m not convinced he’s a player to own in fantasy, he may have the best matchup once again this week. The Falcons were playing safety Damontae Kazee at nickel cornerback (he’s been getting torn to shreds), but with the injury to Keanu Neal, they’ll likely move him back to safety and ask one of Blidi Wreh-Wilson or Kendall Sheffield to cover the slot. Even if they decide to stick with Kazee, he’s been horrendous, allowing 8-of-9 passing for 73 yards in the slot. If the Titans want to utilize their best matchups, Davis should move into the slot at times to match up with Kazee (or his alternatives). Humphries could be a last-minute replacement in PPR leagues as a WR5-type.
Julio Jones: Let’s make a trading card for him and name it: Julio Jones, Scorer of Touchdowns. He’s now scored in seven straight games and has accumulated 12 touchdowns over his last 12 games. He’s also happened to top 100 yards in 12-of-19 games since Ridley joined the team, so anyone who was worried about his upside was mistaken. The Titans have tried to do some shadowing with Adoree Jackson in the past, but he’s not on Jones’ level and that would be a mistake on their part. Jackson was much better when asked to play sides last year and man a zone rather than shadow. Through the first few weeks, it seems like they’re keeping him at LCB, which means Jones will see Malcolm Butler most of the time, the one who has now allowed 10 touchdowns on 112 targets since joining the Titans. It’s not just touchdowns, either, as he’s allowed a massive QB Rating (105-plus) in his coverage. You’re never going to sit Jones and this matchup doesn’t give you any hesitation in DFS, either.
Calvin Ridley: If there’s a reason Jones doesn’t go off in this game, it’s likely because Ridley also has a plus-matchup on his side of the field. Adoree Jackson is a phenomenal athlete, though that hasn’t translated to him doing well in man coverage, as he allowed a 115.9 QB Rating last year. Meanwhile, Ridley has a nearly perfect rating (150-plus) when being thrown to versus man coverage. Coming off a one-target game, the Falcons will get him back on track. Knowing the Titans haven’t pressured the opposing quarterback all that much, it should allow Ridley to get deep into his routes and shake Jackson. Consider him a low-end WR2 with upside in this game. *Update* Ridley has been limited in practice with a hip injury, though it doesn’t appear to be anything serious.
Mohamed Sanu: It’s odd to think Sanu has more targets than Ridley through three weeks, but that’s where we are. Sanu is essentially the Jason Witten of slot wide receivers, as he’s reliable, but isn’t going to win you a fantasy game any time soon. The same applies this week, as Sanu will match-up with Logan Ryan, the most best cornerback on the Titans roster. He’s already intercepted two passes this year and the only touchdown he’s allowed in his coverage was on a crossing route to Parris Campbell who runs a low 4.3-second 40 -yard dash. Sanu is going to have some usable weeks in this offense particularly when their defense allows a ton of points, though this isn’t one you should be using him.
Delanie Walker: Knowing he was being drafted outside the top-12 tight ends, there are a lot of surprised fantasy owners out there. Walker currently sits as the No. 7 tight end in PPR leagues while Mariota has been very mediocre. If he’s able to string some nice performances together, it could be even better for the 35-year-old Walker. Seeing at least six targets in each game is the key point here, as that’s what you should be chasing with tight ends. Jonnu Smith has oddly played just as many snaps as Walker, though Walker has run 79 routes to his 36 routes. The Falcons just lost starting safety Keanu Neal for the second straight season, though if there was one position that didn’t benefit from the injury, it was tight ends. The Falcons allowed the 10th fewest points per game to them despite his absence, including just 1.66 PPR points per target. It seems to have continued in 2019, as they held Zach Ertz to just 72 yards on 16 targets in Week 2. The combination of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron did go for 7/93/0 on eight targets last week, so it’s not horrendous. As mentioned earlier, we want to chase tight ends who are locked into five-plus targets, which Walker seems to be. So, even though the matchup may not be great, Walker is still on the low-end TE1 radar. *Update* Walker was held out of practice until Friday with what’s listed as a knee injury, though it could be just veteran rest.
Austin Hooper: It was good to see Hooper take advantage of the matchup last week, as it was one of the better ones he’ll have all season. He’s another tight end who’s seen at least six targets in each game, which is what we look for at the position. The matchups have really dictated his production, so we must pay close attention to his opponents for spikes in production. The Titans were the fifth-best team in the league at defending tight ends last year, while allowing just two touchdowns all year. Well, they’ve now allowed a touchdown in each of their first three games. Touchdowns can be fickle, so what about per-target production? The 5.45 yards per target they’re allowing to tight ends is the fifth-lowest mark in the league. Knowing Hooper has never scored more than four touchdowns in a season, you don’t want to chase touchdowns. He’s more of a high-end TE2 in this matchup than a must-start.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Line: BAL by 6.0
Baker Mayfield: The year has started out poorly for those who invested in the Browns offense, as they’ve scored just 49 points through the first three games of the year. Mayfield has been arguably the biggest disappointment, but is it all his fault? The play-calling appears to be routes that require time to develop, forcing Mayfield to create time with his legs. He’s been terrible under pressure, posting a 28.3 QB Rating, worse than all quarterbacks not named Eli Manning or Josh Rosen. When he gets the ball out quickly, the offense has moved much better, so it’s puzzling to see them continue try to press the ball down the field. The Ravens generated a ton of pressure in Week 1 against the Dolphins (who doesn’t) but have been slightly below average the last two weeks. Their cornerback depth has added up and it’s led to them allowing 723 yards over the last two weeks, including 349 to Kyler Murray. Mayfield played them twice last year, totaling 48-of-85 passing (56.5 percent) for 718 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) with four touchdowns and four interceptions. This is a different Ravens defense that lost a lot of key components last offseason, so it’s difficult to call it a brutal matchup. The Browns are projected for just 20 points in this game, which is never ideal for a quarterback you’re relying on as your QB1, especially when he’s not running the ball. For now, we have to move Mayfield into the middling QB2 territory until the play-calling changes, though it’s promising he was able to throw for so much yardage against them last year (don’t forget Mayfield was sacked just three times over his last seven games in 2018, while he’s been sacked 11 times through three games in 2019).
Lamar Jackson: After looking untouchable against the Dolphins and Cardinals in the first two weeks, Jackson didn’t look as good against the Chiefs last week while completing just over 50 percent of his passes. The Chiefs continually got pressure to Jackson and it forced him to make some errant throws. The Browns strength is their front-four that has pressured the quarterback as well as anyone through the first three weeks. Their 9.7 percent sack-rate is the fifth-best in the league, though if Jackson can evade that pressure, he’ll find open receivers. The Browns were not only without their starting safety on Sunday night football, but they were also without their top two cornerbacks. They were game-time calls, so it seems likely that they may play here, but it’s something to monitor. Jackson is still the No. 3 quarterback when under pressure this year, so we’ll have to shake off the bad Week 3 performance. Continue playing him as a high-end QB1 who presents a solid floor even when he doesn’t have it as a passer (was still a top-10 quarterback last week). Want an even better example? He completed just 14-of-24 passes for 179 yards and no touchdowns against the Browns last year, but finished as the No. 5 quarterback because he rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns. *Update* Both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, so it’s looking more likely that they’re both going to miss this game, upgrading Jackson’s matchup.
Nick Chubb: He’s doing his part in the offense and should’ve had a touchdown last week that was called back due to penalty, but the offense overall is limiting his potential. Still, despite their slow start, he sits as the No. 12 running back in PPR formats, right behind Ezekiel Elliott. What we love is that he’s third in the league with 58 carries and has averaged five targets per game. The issue this week is that he’s going into Baltimore to play against a Ravens run defense that hasn’t really missed a beat with the players they lost this offseason. No running back has totaled more than 62 yards on the ground against them, though David Johnson and LeSean McCoy were able to punch in touchdowns to salvage their fantasy days. The 3.90 yards per carry they’ve allowed ranks 10th in the league, though the area Chubb can do work is the passing game, as they’ve already allowed 166 yards and a touchdown to running backs on just 15 targets. The 2.11 points per target they’ve allowed ranks third-most through three weeks. While playing in Baltimore last year, Chubb finished with just 24 yards on nine carries. These are different teams, but there’s definite concern with locking him as a clear-cut RB1. He’s more of a volume RB2 in this game who will offer more upside once the offense turns things around.
Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards: Who would’ve thought Ingram would score three touchdowns in a game the Ravens lost? It was the first time we got to see somewhat of a neutral gamescript, so seeing Ingram play 50-of-82 snaps is huge. The Browns really struggled to stop the run for much of last year, as they allowed 4.75 yards per carry (eighth-most) and 14 rushing touchdowns (sixth-most). After watching Derrick Henry accumulate 84 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, it seemed like more of the same in 2019. They held Le’Veon Bell to just 68 yards on 21 carries the next week but let’s be honest, it’s going to be like that most weeks for Bell when playing alongside a third-string quarterback. But then, last week, they actually shut down the Rams run-game without starting linebacker Christian Kirksey. That seems more like a blip on the radar than the norm for the Browns defense, as you don’t want to overrate one game. Now having five touchdowns through three games, it’s fair to say Lamar Jackson won’t steal as much of Ingram’s touchdown upside as we thought. As a big home favorite, Ingram should be in lineups as a solid RB2 this week who comes with a high floor. Edwards is getting close to 10 touches per week, though many of them are on the ground, so it’s touchdown-or-bust with him. Knowing the Browns showed some life against the run last week, it’s enough to say he’s just an RB5.
Odell Beckham: When the ball has come his way, Beckham has not disappointed, totaling 288 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets, though many were expecting more (myself included) out of him in this new offense. With that being said, I mentioned last week that it was a tough matchup with the Rams who people continually underestimate on defense. The Ravens lost Tavon Young in the preseason and they’ve been without Jimmy Smith the last two weeks, so their secondary’s depth is being tested. They’ve already allowed eight wide receivers to post double-digit PPR days against them, though none of them scored more than 18.4 PPR points or finished higher than the WR16, which includes Chiefs and Cardinals receiver corps. They don’t have Beckham, but the point is that the production has been spread out. If Smith remains out, Anthony Averett will be tasked with covering Beckham the most. He’s fresh off a game where he allowed 116 yards and a touchdown on just four targets in coverage. On the year, he’s now allowed 16-of-24 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns, which led the Ravens to playing Maurice Canady a bit last week. One thing is for sure, and that’s that Beckham will be facing an inferior talent. Plug him in as a rock-solid WR1 who comes with a solid floor given his matchup and target floor.
Jarvis Landry: He’s continued to be extremely inefficient with Mayfield and is now outside the top-50 PPR receivers despite seeing 23 targets, which ranks in the top-25 among receivers. He’s still playing nearly 80 percent of his snaps in the slot, which means he’ll see veteran Brandon Carr in coverage this week, who has transitioned to the slot nicely at the later stages of his career. He has allowed 8/54/0 on 13 targets in the slot, though he did allow a touchdown to Demarcus Robinson last week when he moved to the perimeter. Still, he’s the best cornerback on the roster at this point, and given Landry’s inability to produce with Mayfield, he’s nothing more than a low-ceiling WR4 who probably has a higher floor than most in that range.
Rashard Higgins: We wondered this offseason if certain offenses could produce three fantasy relevant wide receivers, but knowing the Browns have scored just 49 points through three games, we’re a long way from that conversation with them. So, even if Higgins returns to the lineup, he’s nothing more than a hail-mary play against the Ravens.
Marquise Brown: The bad news is that Brown finished Week 3 with just two catches for 49 yards against a beatable Chiefs secondary. The good news is that he’s seen 22 targets over the last two weeks, which is elite territory for a guy who has an average depth of target of 16.3 yards down the field. Elite volume combined with elite air yards equals big moments in fantasy. He might also catch a break in this game, as the Browns were down both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams last week, as they’re both dealing with hamstring injuries. If they’re not 100 percent against someone like Brown, they’re likely not going to play. Regardless, Ward’s issue this year has been the deep ball, as he’s allowed a ridiculous 17.6 yards per reception. You have to wonder if he was trying to play through an injury, as he allowed just 10.3 yards per reception his rookie year. This is a matchup that can go from mediocre to great if Ward/Williams are forced to miss again. Still, Brown should be considered a high-upside WR3 who needs to be in lineups given his volume no matter what. *Update* Both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, so it’s looking more likely that they’re both going to miss this game, upgrading Brown’s matchup.
Willie Snead: There doesn’t seem to be much value in Ravens receivers outside of Brown, though Snead is the one playing most of the snaps and has seen the second-most targets (9), so we’ll touch on him here. The Browns just gave up 11 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns to Cooper Kupp, who dominates slot work, similar to Snead. The difference, of course, is the fact that Kupp is highly targeted every single week, while Snead has yet to exceed three receptions or five targets in a game. T.J. Carrie is the one they have in coverage there, and he was able to hold Snead to just 5/55/0 in their first meeting last year, and then 1/25/0 in their second meeting. Snead shouldn’t be owned in fantasy leagues.
Demetrius Harris: In his first game without David Njoku on the field, Harris saw just two targets in what was a pretty bad matchup against the Rams. He did walk away with a touchdown, but the lack of targets is the most worrisome part. The Ravens allowed 8.25 yards per target to tight ends last year and have allowed 8.22 yards per target this year, though they haven’t allowed a touchdown yet, which includes Travis Kelce last week. Until Harris sees more targets, he cannot be trusted near fantasy lineups.
Mark Andrews: It was reported right before the Chiefs game started that Andrews didn’t look great in pre-game warmups. That was worrisome, as was his three-catch, 15-yard game, though there’s reason to remain optimistic. He played 43 snaps, which was more than he had in Weeks 1 and 2. He was also targeted seven times. He may be playing at less-than-100-percent, but aren’t all players at this point? He’s still run more than double the routes than Hayden Hurst has. The Browns are a gift, too, as they’re the team that allowed Delanie Walker 55 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. They’re also one of just two teams that allowed 100 receptions to the tight end position last year. With all the heath question marks surrounding their safeties and cornerbacks, injuries could also play a part in their performance this week. Andrews had a bad week, though I don’t think an injury was to blame, so we shouldn’t overreact unless the Ravens tell us we need to. Don’t play him in DFS cash lineups knowing the question marks, but continue playing him as a solid TE1 in season-long leagues who has a good matchup on deck.