The Primer: Week 3 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
You know how everyone gets sucked into groupthink on certain subjects? Depending on which social media platform you’re on, the trend will be different, but I promise you, they’re there. It’s easy to just go with the flow and not stand out against something because you don’t want to be shunned by the masses. It reminds me of high school in a lot of ways, and that’s not a good thing.
I don’t care if I sit at the cool kids’ table. I don’t care if I’m not sitting in the back of the bus. I don’t have to worry about impressing anyone. I want to stand up for something I believe in. So, I’ll ask a simple question.
Why has it become cool to mock someone like J.J. Watt for being too positive or working too hard?
I’m sure this happens with many others on different platforms, but around the sports community, it’s become okay to mock Watt for talking positive about things and stressing the importance of hard work. He’s called “corny” and many accuse him of being a walking cliché.
It’s not an act. Watt is one of the hardest workers in the game. Is he the fastest? No. Is he the strongest? No. But his work ethic is second to none. Despite dealing with a multitude of injuries throughout his career, Watt is still playing at a high level. There’s a reason they call it a “grind.”
But here’s the thing. I’m not naïve. I know that when you’re younger, you think you know everything and say there’s no way anyone could possibly “grind” that hard. It’s not until you put everything you have into something will you realize the potential you have.
Why does the term cliché exist? Because a lot of people have used a similar statement to describe something. Instead of being called a consensus opinion, it’s looked at negatively. By definition, a “cliché” is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but if successful people continually come out and point to the same thing for their success, you might want to listen.
Here are some clichés I’m a fan of: If you want something bad enough, you’ll achieve it. There is no substitution for hard work. Better late than never. Actions speak louder than words. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
If J.J. Watt is a walking cliché, well, we should all strive to be just that.
SF at NYG | WAS at CLE | CIN at PHI | CHI at ATL | LAR at BUF | LV at NE | HOU at PIT | TEN at MIN | CAR at LAC | NYJ at IND | DAL at SEA | DET at ARI | TB at DEN | GB at NO | KC at BAL
So, what does The Primer offer? Anything you could ever want. Seriously, it’ll have wide receiver/cornerback matchups, recent history against each team, comparable player performances, unique stats, and most importantly, how they should be played that particular week. The idea here is to give you as much information and confidence as possible when you hit that ‘Submit Lineup’ button each week.
On top of all that, I’ll come back by Saturday morning to update once practice participation reports are posted. Still want more? We’ll be doing a livestream on our YouTube channel every Sunday morning from 11-12 EST, breaking down the inactives and letting you know which players benefit the most from them.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants
Nick Mullens: It appears Jimmy Garoppolo will miss a few weeks with his high ankle sprain, which means we go back to Mullens as the starter. There was a stretch of games he started for Kyle Shanahan’s offense back in 2018. He played competently, averaging 284.6 yards per game while throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over eight games. He averaged 34.2 pass attempts per game, so Shanahan wasn’t afraid to let him loose, though the defense wasn’t great back then. From Week 9 through Week 17 (when he started), he was the No. 17 quarterback in fantasy. The Giants defense has been what I’d call above what we expected, as their front seven is generating pressure, as evidenced by their 9.1 percent sack-rate, which is the sixth-highest mark in the league. They’ve allowed a pedestrian 7.0 yards per attempt to the combination of Ben Roethlisberger and Mitch Trubisky, so this matchup doesn’t appear to have must-start written all over it, which is what you need to start someone like Mullens. There are much better streaming options out there.
Daniel Jones: When going through the draft season, I mentioned the brutal early-season schedule that Jones had, and while he played fairly well against the Steelers, he was shut down by the Bears defense. On top of that, he lost the guy (Saquon Barkley) who at least took some attention/pressure off him. This matchup against the 49ers suddenly doesn’t look as bad as it used to, though. They will be without their top cornerback (Richard Sherman), as well as their top edge rusher (Nick Bosa), and even edge rusher Solomon Thomas. In fact, they could be without edge rusher Dee Ford too, as he missed last week’s game with neck spasms. This is not a must-avoid matchup moving forward. Losing Barkley as an option in the passing game hurts, as does Sterling Shepard, who is dealing with a toe injury. There are so many variables in this game on both sides of the ball, it really is hard to comprehend, but the issue is that oddsmakers don’t think the 49ers losses will matter to Jones much, as his team-implied total is just 18.3 points, one of the lowest on the slate. Jones played just one game without Shepard and Barkley last year, completing 15-of-31 passes for 161 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. It was against New England, so that was going to be a tough matchup regardless, but based on what we’ve seen from Jones this year, it’s best to wait this out and see what happens.
Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson: With both Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman out for this game, the workload will be split between McKinnon, Wilson, and likely Kyle Juszczyk. Over the last 11 games Wilson has played, he’s scored five touchdowns on 30 touches, which is ridiculous. That happened because 16 of his 27 carries came inside the red zone, including 10 of them inside the 10-yard line, which was 25 percent of the team’s total on the season. He’s clearly the favored back in the red zone. McKinnon looked good last week, rumbling for 77 yards and a touchdown on just three carries against the Jets. That’s the issue right there, though. Three carries in a game they lost Mostert, and even before Coleman got hurt, he was inefficient. Still, McKinnon got three carries. He had five targets in Week 1, which is something we should be looking for with Mullens under center. He targeted running backs 49 times in his eight games, enough for a 17.9 percent target share, and they didn’t have the problems they do now at wide receiver. The Giants have allowed a healthy 4.64 yards per carry through two games, and though they haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown, they did allow David Montgomery to score a receiving touchdown last week. We know Kyle Shanahan’s scheme works, which is why we search for running backs who will get the most touches in it. My guess here would be that Wilson gets at least 12 touches, including goal-line work. Because of that, he’s my favorite play in this backfield and should be considered a middling RB3 this week. McKinnon has a much wider range of outcomes, so we need to be careful not to expect too much for a running back who’s received nine touches in the last two-plus years. He has some upside, sure, but I can’t say for certain he gets more than 10 opportunities, and we’re expecting Wilson to get the touches that matter most. Consider McKinnon a high-end RB4.
Devonta Freeman, Wayne Gallman, and Dion Lewis: The Giants are going to move forward with some sort of combination of Freeman, Gallman, and Lewis after Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Some will think Gallman was inactive due to being behind Lewis on the depth chart, but it was more to do with the type of players they are. Lewis complimented Barkley, while Gallman is more of a backup. Freeman didn’t look good with the Falcons last year, so many want to leave him for dead. There are others who say, “If Barkley couldn’t produce behind the Giants offensive line, why do you want any of these guys?” It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Teams gameplan differently when Barkley is in there versus when Dion Lewis is in there. Remember last year when Gallman filled in for Barkley against Washington and totaled 27.8 PPR points? That doesn’t make him better. The 49ers run defense isn’t as scary as it was just one week ago, as they’ve lost a lot of firepower on their defensive line, as both Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are both out for the season. To this point, they’ve allowed just 0.67 PPR points per opportunity to running backs, which ranks as the eighth-lowest mark in the league, though we must remember that one of those games was against the Jets and their incompetent offense. We can’t pretend the Giants offense has been much better, as they’ve totaled just 55 yards on 30 carries this season and have scored just 29 points as a team through two games. If you wanted to play one, Freeman would be my choice, though trusting him as anything more than an RB4 could lead to disappointment as he’s learning a new offense on the fly. Lewis is nothing more than a change of pace running back at this stage, though he’ll get some work in the passing game with the void left by Barkley. Lewis is a low-upside RB4/5-type option. As for Gallman, he’s the dark horse to be the best option on the team. If for whatever reason Freeman is inactive due to just a few days with the team, Gallman would take his place.
Brandon Aiyuk: He made his NFL debut last week, playing 44 snaps and running 25 routes, which was right up there with Bourne for tops among 49ers receivers. He saw three targets, catching two of them for 21 yards, so nothing to write home about. The Giants have still yet to allow a receiver more than 69 yards, and that’s despite playing against JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Allen Robinson. Newly acquired cornerback James Bradberry has played quite well outside of a few pick plays that caught him up. Aiyuk is playing almost all his snaps on the perimeter, which means he’ll see Bradberry and Corey Ballentine, as I don’t foresee Bradberry shadowing anyone in this game. Ballentine is the one to attack, as he’s allowed nearly 10.0 yards per target over his two years in the league, including a touchdown every 10.0 targets. We watched Bears rookie Darnell Mooney just flat out win a one-on-one battle in the end zone with him last week on a broken play. Aiyuk is someone who’s trending up and as long as Bradberry doesn’t shadow, he could have a fantasy relevant week. We’d ideally see it first, making him a risk/reward WR5 play.
Kendrick Bourne: He’s the only 49ers receiver who’s played more than 55 snaps. He’s been on the field for 102-of-123 plays, so he’s a full-time player, and he’s racked up six catches for 101 yards through two weeks. He’s never someone you’re excited to play, but with all the injuries adding up, some may be looking at him as a potential floor play. It seems likely that he’ll see the most of Giants top cornerback James Bradberry, who’s done extremely well in his new uniform. Both Allen Robinson and Diontae Johnson both saw at least nine targets, but neither of them topped 57 yards. Bourne moves back and forth, so it’s possible he sees a 50/50 mix of Bradberry and Corey Ballentine, who’s been the weakest link to this point. With Brandon Aiyuk moving into a bigger role and now past the first game jitters, my expectations are that he takes over the top receiver play for the 49ers, making Bourne just a WR6.
Mohamed Sanu: He played just 13 snaps in his 49ers debut, though he was with the team for just a couple days prior to the game. It would seem that was to ease him in, but we don’t know for sure, as Kendrick Bourne, Brandon Aiyuk, and Trent Taylor all played at least 28 snaps. Until we see him on the field in a full-time capacity, we can’t consider him in fantasy.
Darius Slayton: Has now has three targets inside the 10-yard line, which is tied for the league lead. That’s good news, and we already know his target floor took a massive leap heading into Week 3 as the offense lost 23.5 percent of the targets (Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard). We could be looking at a receiver who’s going to see eight-plus targets per game moving forward. The 49ers secondary isn’t as daunting as it was last year, that’s for sure. We’ve watched DeAndre Hopkins rack up 14 receptions for 151 yards in Week 1, then Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios combine for 12 catches, 134 yards, and a touchdown in Week 2 against them. Not just that but losing their top pass rusher for the season is going to force their cornerbacks to remain in coverage that much longer. Don’t forget that Richard Sherman is out for at least two more weeks, as well. Slayton will see a mixture of Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley in coverage, a duo that’s combined to allow 15-of-21 passing for 170 yards and a touchdown through two weeks. You should be considering Slayton a middling WR3 this week with some upside.
Golden Tate: It’s possible that Tate is still trying to play through the hamstring injury that limited him through training camp and held him out of Week 1, as he went down to the ground without a fight against the Bears on multiple occasions, which is something we never see out of him, as he’s typically among the league leaders in yards after the catch. It’s something to monitor. K’Waun Williams is the one Tate will see in coverage most of the time, a cornerback who’s played extremely well over the last two years, allowing just 5.35 yards per target and one touchdown on 82 targets in coverage. Now, to be fair, the 49ers run a lot of zone coverage, so Tate won’t always line up against him, but that could be looked at as a negative as well. On 46 Golden Tate targets against zone coverage last year, Daniel Jones had just a 69.7 QB Rating compared to 108.9 in man coverage. Tate should be considered a middling WR4 who will get more targets now that Shepard and Barkley are out.
George Kittle and Jordan Reed: We don’t know if Kittle will play just yet, but it certainly wasn’t a good sign that he was ruled out days before the game against the Jets. It helps the 49ers to know that Reed can step in and play well, as he racked up seven catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns in his first full-time game since 2018. Stay tuned to the bottom of these notes as the week goes on for updates. The Giants have done a good job with tight ends over the first couple weeks, as Eric Ebron and Jimmy Graham both finished with exactly one catch for 18 yards. But that’s the thing… they’re Ebron and Graham, guys who haven’t been fantasy producers for some time. They also saw a combined three targets, so we can’t assume anything. It’s a new defense under Joe Judge, so we must sit back and observe, but knowing how involved the tight ends are in this offense, it’s hard to sit the starter. If Kittle is out again, Reed should be on the streaming radar as a low-end TE1/high-end TE2. If Kittle plays, well, you’re playing him. As of now, the 49ers are expecting to have Kittle back. *Update* Kittle has been ruled out for this game, so get him out of lineups.
Evan Engram: After a brutal Week 1 performance, Engram bounced back against the Bears defense, catching 6-of-8 targets for 65 yards. With Saquon Barkley out of the picture, you’re going to see more games like that in Engram’s future, as running back and tight end targets correlate more than most positions. It’s not like he’s been lacking targets, though, as he’s now totaled at least five targets in 14 straight games, including eight or more targets in eight of them. Since the start of last year, the 49ers defense played against eight different tight ends who saw five-plus targets. Here are the results:
The results are hardly conclusive, as four of them finished as top-12 tight ends, while the other four finished as the TE20 or worse. With the lack of pass-rush from the 49ers defense, my guess is that their secondary will struggle a bit more. Engram should be played as a mid-to-low-end TE1 this week with some optimism.
Washington Football Team vs. Cleveland Browns
Dwayne Haskins: Through two games under Scott Turner, Haskins has totaled 12.8 and 11.7 fantasy points. He’s still yet to throw for more than 261 yards or two touchdowns in his NFL career, so when you add in his lack of mobility, he’s an easy fade every week. Some may wonder if he’s streamer worthy in Week 3 against a Browns team that has allowed three passing touchdowns in back-to-back games to start the season. Well, one of them was Lamar Jackson, so that’s to be expected. The other was Joe Burrow, who threw the ball 61 times. Meanwhile, Haskins has 64 attempts through two games combined. The Browns defense will also have had 10 days to prepare for this game, which certainly helps while they’re learning a new defensive scheme this year. Haskins should not be played as anything more than a low-end QB2. Ideally, he’s just a bench quarterback for emergencies in Superflex/2QB leagues.
Baker Mayfield: Maybe we overreacted about Mayfield’s poor performance against a great Ravens defense? We can’t overreact to a good performance against the Bengals, though. Through two games, Mayfield has been pressured on just 30 percent of his dropbacks, but the Washington front four is one of the most talented in the league and will force Mayfield into some tough decisions. Carson Wentz tried holding onto the ball too long, while Kyler Murray utilized his legs. The two combined for just 6.95 yards per attempt against this defense. They’ve generated a sack on 12.1 percent of dropbacks, which ranks as the second-highest mark in the league. When under pressure last year, Mayfield had a 62.0 QB Rating, which ranked 22nd among quarterbacks. Through two games in 2020, he has a 24.6 QB Rating when under pressure. If someone looks at the fantasy points allowed, they’ll see that Washington has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, but that’s a bit misleading due to the two rushing touchdowns they allowed to Murray last week. Remove those and they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest points per attempt to quarterbacks. The Browns receivers can win their one-on-one matchups, but Mayfield may not have the time to get the ball downfield. The part that I’m still trying to understand is why teams have passed the ball on 65.0 percent of their plays against this Washington defense; that’s the fourth-highest percentage in the league. He took a step in the right direction last week, but he’s still just a low-end QB2 in a run-first offense against a team that doesn’t score many points.
Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber: Last week in this article, I wrote “Gibson is an upside RB4 who should continue to see his role grow.” Well, after just one week, he saw his snaps skyrocket. He played just 18 snaps in the opener but watched that number grow to 43 snaps in Week 2, while Barber went from 29 offensive snaps to just one last week. Now, McKissic is clearly going to be a thorn in Gibson’s side, as he’s been consistent in his snaps and has totaled 16 opportunities through two weeks, but he’s only going to lose momentum as the season goes on. The Browns run defense has played much better than anyone anticipated given their linebacking unit, as they’ve allowed just 2.97 yards per carry over the first two weeks to backfields much more talented than this one. The Ravens and Bengals running backs combined for just 38 carries in the two games combined, and no running back has rushed for more than 46 yards. With Gibson only seeing one target in a game they trailed throughout, he’s still not getting enough opportunities to play as anything more than an RB3 but we’re getting closer. McKissic is never someone you’re going to feel comfortable playing, so why roster him? And Barber, well, we’ve seen enough, right?
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: We’ve now seen two different gamescripts for the Browns, and they’ve given us clarity on how the backfield will be handled under Kevin Stefanski. Chubb is the preferred early-down option, especially in positive gamescripts, while Hunt is the preferred pass-catching back who’ll get double-digit carries if they run the ball 25-plus times. Through two games, this backfield has averaged 32.0 touches per game. Funny enough, the Vikings running backs averaged 32.5 under Kevin Stefanski last year. Against Washington, we should see them rack up the carries, though there have been warning signs about efficiency in this matchup. Under Ron Rivera, this unit has allowed just 0.56 PPR points per opportunity to running backs, which ranks as the second-lowest mark in football through two weeks. A big part of that is due to them being one of just four teams who’ve yet to allow a touchdown to running backs. Now, to be fair, they played a Miles Sanders-less Eagles team in Week 1 and then Kyler Murray rushed for two touchdowns in Week 2, so we can’t automatically assume they’re rock stars that you can’t run the ball against. Chubb and Hunt are tied, leading the league with 4.4 yards after contact, so getting to them isn’t all you have to do; you still must bring them down. In a game they should be able to run the ball 30-plus times, you have to start these two. Chubb is the preferred option due to the positive gamescript and has double the carries Hunt does inside the five-yard-line, so start him as a low-end RB1. Hunt is still a fine backend RB2 play given the projected gamescript.
Terry McLaurin: He’s had a couple tough matchups to start the year against Darius Slay and Patrick Peterson, but McLaurin continues to shine while finishing as the No. 11 fantasy receiver through two weeks, racking up 12 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown. Knowing the other options on the team, his 26.6 percent target share should hold strong throughout the season. The Browns don’t have a shadow cornerback, but rather trust their cornerbacks to play sides. The good news for McLaurin is that he plays about 75 percent of his snaps on the left side of the formation, which is away from the Browns top cornerback Denzel Ward. He’ll see Terrence Mitchell, who’s played every snap on that side of the field. It’s fair to say that Mitchell has been undervalued for much of his career, allowing just a 75.5 QB Rating when targeted in coverage, including allowing just 2-of-10 passing for 19 yards against the Bengals last week. But again, he’s not on the level of Slay and Peterson, as proven by the four teams he’s been on over the last five years. We could also see the return of Greedy Williams, which would boot Mitchell from the lineup. No matter the case, I’m not letting this secondary scare me off McLaurin, who’s a rock-solid WR2 with top-12 upside given his target share. *Update* Denzel Ward was downgraded to DNP on Friday, so he’s not likely to play with a groin injury. This is obviously a good thing for McLaurin.
Steven Sims: He’s only seen eight targets through two weeks but has turned them into 103 yards, so Sims has been doing his part when called upon. If Washington wants to exploit matchups, he’ll be a bigger part of the gameplan this week, as the Browns have relied on Tavierre Thomas to cover the slot and that hasn’t worked out all that well, as he’s allowed 11-of-12 passing for 104 yards and a touchdown in his coverage. There have been 14 balls thrown his way over the course of his three-year career, and just one has hit the ground. Sims is far from a sure thing, but if Washington falls behind and they want to take the efficient road down the field, Sims should be a bigger part of the gameplan. He should be considered an emergency WR5 option with some upside in this game. It’s worth noting that we’d downgrade his matchup if Kevin Johnson were able to return to the lineup.
Odell Beckham: He ended last week with 76 yards and a touchdown, but if you watched that game, it could’ve been much more. There were penalties that should’ve been called, but the good news is that people were able to see Beckham is still very good on national television. The potential downside, however, is that Mayfield seemed to go into that game with a different mindset, and it was one that wasn’t going to force the ball to Beckham. This is a good thing in some ways, but it could take away some of the steady targets. Going against Washington’s cornerbacks is hardly a daunting task, though the pressure their front seven is bringing to the quarterback has allowed them to look better than they are. The duo of Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau have stuck to sides, and Beckham plays on both sides of the formation, so he’ll see a mixture of these two. We watched DeAndre Hopkins catch 8-of-9 targets for 68 yards and a touchdown against this secondary last week. Beckham may not get back to the elite status we once knew, but he should remain in play as a solid WR2 with upside as long as Mayfield can keep it together.
Jarvis Landry: The 10-day break should be good for Landry, who’s been bothered by his surgically repaired hip, forcing him to be limited in practices. Through two games, he’s caught 8-of-9 targets for 107 scoreless yards. This figures to be a run-heavy attack by the Browns, but teams have averaged 70.0 plays per game against Washington, so we should still see 30-plus pass attempts. Knowing the strength of the Washington defense (getting pressure), slot receivers should provide an outlet for their quarterbacks when under duress. We’ve seen the combination of Greg Ward and Larry Fitzgerald combine to catch 12-of-14 balls for 81 yards against them over the first two weeks, which isn’t particularly exciting, but then again, you didn’t draft Landry to be exciting. The matchup with Jimmy Moreland in the slot is a good one, so as long as Landry appears healthy, he should deliver decent WR3/4 numbers in this game.
Logan Thomas: All you can do is chase targets at the tight end position, and Thomas is clearly getting them in this offense called by Scott Turner. He’s totaled 17 targets through two games, and though they’ve only netted 63 yards, we must follow the targets, especially when he’s about to go against a defense that’s allowed a league-high 18 receptions for 148 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends through two games. We watched Drew Sample and C.J. Uzomah rack up the fantasy points against them in Week 2, so it’s not like Mark Andrews did all the damage. All in all, the Browns have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to skill-position players through two weeks. Thomas isn’t a highly efficient player to this point, but against the Browns, he may not need to be. Consider him a solid high-end TE2 streamer.
Austin Hooper: We thought Hooper would be much more involved in the gameplan with David Njoku going to IR, but four targets is not something to get excited about. The Browns decided to involve rookie Harrison Bryant and give him two targets, so this is bound to be a timeshare no matter what. Unless we see a game where the Browns are expected to throw the ball 35-plus times, it’s going to be tough to trust Hooper as anything more than a touchdown dependent TE2. In this game against Washington, it’s tough to see that being the case with the Browns favored by almost a full touchdown. The one positive for Hooper, however, is that of the production Washington has allowed to skill-position players, 28.5 percent of it has gone to tight ends, which ranks as the third-highest mark in the league. He’s far from a guarantee with the limited targets, but Hooper may be better than expected this week as a high-end TE2.
Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
Joe Burrow: While Burrow may be accurate and poised, he’s still learning the speed of the NFL. The windows are closing much faster than they did at LSU, but he should continue to grow every week. He wasn’t perfect against the Browns last week, but he showcased his upside while throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 19 yards. The downside is that it took him 61 pass attempts to get there while averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt. The Bengals offensive line is the biggest issue, as he’s been pressured on 35 percent of his dropbacks to this point. The Eagles defense has seen just 58 pass attempts against them through two weeks, and if not for Tyler Higbee, they’d have looked pretty good. Both Washington and the Rams opted to go with a run-heavy approach against them, which is why the 45.3 percent passing play percentage against them is the second-lowest mark in the NFL to only… the Bengals. If the teams hold true to those percentages, this could be a slower paced game than we hope. Going on the road against a desperate Eagles team who are 6.5-point favorites is not the recipe for success, and they have some ball hawks in that secondary. With a team implied total of less than 20 points, Burrow is not a recommended streamer this week.
Carson Wentz: It’s been a rough start for Wentz in 2020. He’s completed just 58.8 percent of his passes and has twice as many interceptions (4) as he does touchdowns (2). The offensive line is clearly an issue for this offense, as they want to stretch the field. It surely won’t help if the Bengals could get defensive tackle Geno Atkins back in Week 3 (he’s been ruled out), but if not, Wentz may be able to get back on track. The Bengals have generated a sack on just 3.6 percent of dropbacks this year, which is among the lowest in the NFL. Do the Eagles take advantage of that, or the fact that the Bengals have allowed a league-high 358 rushing yards to running backs through two weeks? Dating back to last year, the Bengals have faced just three quarterbacks who’ve thrown more than 33 pass attempts. Most don’t need to throw a whole lot because they’ve been efficient. 14-of-18 quarterbacks have averaged at least 7.2 yards per attempt against them, including 9.5 or more yards per attempt to eight of them. Wentz is clearly struggling, but this matchup could be a get-right spot for the entire offense. You shouldn’t expect him to finish as a top-five quarterback with limited attempts, but a high-end QB2? Sure. *Update* Now that we learned Jalen Reagor is out for an extended time, Wentz moves down a few spots in the rankings. While he should still be able to post high-end QB2 numbers, there is some hesitance with how he’s played this year.
Joe Mixon: He’s scored just 16.2 half PPR points through two games, which is not what fantasy enthusiasts had in mind when they drafted him in the first round. The offensive line does have a few new parts and may take some time to gel, but the biggest concern with Mixon is that he’s conceding a lot of passing-down work to Giovani Bernard. To this point, Mixon has run 44 routes, while Bernard has run 41 routes. With that being said, Mixon has totaled just six targets on 97 pass attempts by Burrow (6.2 percent target share) while Bernard has seen 12 targets. Teams have chosen to run the ball against the Eagles, as Washington and the Rams ran the ball on 54.7 percent of their plays. Their running backs amassed 55 carries and 204 yards with three rushing touchdowns over the last two weeks, and we can’t pretend they have the most talented units or offensive lines. The problem here is gamescript with Mixon, as the Bengals are 6.5-point underdogs, which would not favor his role as the early-down back. He should still get goal-line touches against a team that’s allowed 64 points in their first two games. Mixon should remain in lineups as a high-end RB2. *Update* Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is considered highly questionable for this game, which would obviously boost Mixon’s value if he were held out.
Miles Sanders and Boston Scott: Based on what we saw in Week 2, Sanders is 100 percent healthy. He played 77 percent of the snaps, which is massive for a player in Doug Pederson’s offense. Now a big home favorite, can we get a breakout game from him in Week 3? When playing the Bengals, the gap between running backs and quarterbacks is 24.6 fantasy points, which is the second-highest gap in the league. Despite the additions the Bengals made this offseason, they still appear to be a team you can run the ball against, as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt showcased on primetime last week. We watched the Chargers and Browns both rack up at least 32 carries in this matchup, which bodes well for Sanders, and maybe even Scott. The Bengals allowed 19 running backs to finish as top-20 options against them last year and have allowed three of them through two games in 2020. The Eagles offensive line is a problem, but we can’t pretend that the Browns or Washington have offensive lines that are great, and they were able to make it work. Start Sanders as an RB1 in this matchup. Scott touched the ball seven times in Sanders’ return to the lineup, which isn’t great, but what is great is the fact that it was only those two (Sanders and Scott) who touched the ball. If we get anywhere close to the 35 touches per game running backs have averaged against the Bengals here, Scott could offer last-minute RB4 value, especially in PPR formats.
A.J. Green: There’s some pros and cons to Green moving forward. The pros are that he’s seen a team-high 22 targets through two weeks and Burrow looks like he’s going to be a good one. The cons are that Green has turned those 22 targets into just 80 scoreless yards and hasn’t looked like the player he once was. His 3.6 yards per target is the 31st worst mark of all-time from wide receivers who’ve seen 20-plus targets. It seems every time he gets up off the ground, it’s a struggle. He might be working back into game-shape after having 2019 off, which must be the hope. Until we see his efficiency rise, we have to treat him as a risky start in fantasy. Still, his ridiculous 330 air yards through two weeks leads the NFL by a full 34 percent. Take this from someone who loved Green before the season began: I have zero clue what to do. Fortunately, his matchup doesn’t entice you to start him this week, as he’s likely getting Darius Slay in coverage, one of the top cornerbacks in the game. Slay did move around the formation in Week 1, but then stayed firmly planted at LCB in Week 2, so it’s possible we don’t have a shadow situation, but I’d expect it. Slay hasn’t allowed anything higher than a 97.4 QB Rating in his coverage over each of the last six seasons. Green should be considered a risky WR3 who needs to remind us of the player we once knew. If he does, the volume has been better than ever.
Tyler Boyd: After many panicked based on his Week 1 usage, Boyd reminded fantasy owners that he’s still a very large part of this offense with his seven-catch, 72-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 2. That was a smash spot, though, as he was playing against a backup slot cornerback. This week, it’s going to be a lot different, as the Eagles went out and acquired one of the best slot cornerbacks in the game. Nickell Robey-Coleman has been a thorn in receivers’ side, allowing just a 61.9 percent completion rate, which is low for a slot cornerback, and 6.04 yards per target in his coverage. To be fair, Boyd did play against him last year while he was on the Rams and posted a 6/65/0 line on nine targets, so it wasn’t a complete waste. We’re probably looking at a situation similar to Cooper Kupp last week, who wound up with five catches for 81 yards. This is not the plus matchup it was for wide receivers last year, so don’t let anyone tell you that. Boyd should be considered a low-upside WR3 in this game.
Tee Higgins and John Ross: After Ross was trusted as the clear-cut No. 3 receiver on this team in Week 1 running 37 routes to just 9 routes for Higgins, we saw a changing of the guard in Week 2 when Higgins ran 42 routes while Ross ran just 23 of them. This is clearly an open competition, and one that Ross may have lost already. For now, we should give Higgins the benefit of the doubt. Against the Eagles, you really don’t want to start either of them, as they have yet to allow a receiver top 81 yards or five receptions. Keep in mind they’ve played against Terry McLaurin, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. We’ll continue to monitor this receiver corps, but neither of these two need to be rostered right now.
DeSean Jackson: He’s the No. 2 receiver in the league when it comes to air yards, a stat that’s often predictive of fantasy success. To this point, Jackson has averaged just 6.9 yards per target, but over the last seven years, he’s averaged at least 10.0 yards per target in six of them. Seeing seven and nine targets is encouraging; he’ll bounce back. The Bengals secondary hasn’t allowed more than four receptions to a receiver over the first two weeks, which is due to the fact that running backs have had their way with them. But still, we’ve seen Keenan Allen get eight targets and turn them into 4/37/0, Mike Williams turn nine targets into 4/69/0, and then Odell Beckham turn six targets into 4/74/1. What was encouraging for Jackson is that Beckham seemed to routinely get open down the field against them, and if not for some holding, we would’ve seen a bigger game out of him. If Wentz can get some time, those air yards for Jackson might turn into a big play or two. Given his target and air yards share, he should remain in the WR3 conversation.
Jalen Reagor: Here’s the list of wide receivers who have more air yards than Reagor through two weeks: A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Calvin Ridley. That’s it. That’s typically a big indicator of success, so don’t worry too much about Reagor’s mediocre start to the season. The downside is that he’s not playing many snaps in the slot with Alshon Jeffery out of the lineup. He’s going to see a lot of Darius Phillips in coverage this week, a cornerback who ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash back in 2018. That’s obviously not enough speed to keep up with Reagor. Since the start of last season, Phillips has allowed just a 39 percent catch rate in his coverage, but when he allows them, they count for quite a bit, as his 24.0 yards per reception suggests. They signed Trae Waynes in free agency to take that spot, but he was hurt before the season started and is currently on IR. Reagor is a sleeper for a bomb in this game, though the same can be said for DeSean Jackson. Consider Reagor a boom-or-bust WR4/5-type option. *Update* Reagor is likely to miss 6-8 weeks with a UCL tear in his thumb.
Greg Ward: It seems Ward is losing a grip on the No. 3 wide receiver spot, as John Hightower and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside are both playing similar snap counts to him. In Week 2, Ward ran just five pass routes, which is not nearly enough to consider for any league. The Eagles seem dead set on running 2TE sets, which eliminates his slot heavy role. He’s droppable in fantasy leagues.
Drew Sample: The Bengals have thrown the ball 97 times through two weeks, with the tight ends accumulating a massive 21 targets (21.6 percent target share). Now that C.J. Uzomah is out for the season, Sample will be relied upon as the go-to option. He caught 7-of-9 targets for 45 yards against the Browns last week, which may not seem like a huge deal from a yardage standpoint but seeing nine targets is huge. What’s also huge is that Sample is tied for the league lead in red zone targets with four of them. You must consider him if streaming tight ends, and the matchup against the Eagles has been a tremendous one in 2020. First, it was Logan Thomas who caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Then it was Tyler Higbee tagging them for 54 yards and three touchdowns. Every passing touchdown the Eagles have allowed this year has gone to a tight end. It seems like moving on from Malcolm Jenkins might have hurt more than the Eagles thought. Sample is definitely on the streaming radar this week.
Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert: The Eagles are going to run 2TE sets a lot more than even I expected. After two weeks, we’ve seen Ertz play 126 snaps while Goedert has played 118 of them. Meanwhile, the highest snap count among receivers is 101 by Jalen Reagor. These two are the heartbeat of the offense. Goedert is starting to look like the preferred option, as he out-targeted Ertz once again. He now leads the duo in targets on the season, 17-14. The Bengals have an all-new linebacker group and have been without starting safety Shawn Williams, but they’ve been competent against tight ends to this point, allowing 7.44 yards per target with no touchdowns. It’s such a small sample size, so we must go back to look at 2019 when they allowed 8.40 yards per target (fourth-most), and 1.91 PPR points per target (sixth-most) to the position. There were six tight ends who saw more than three targets against them last year, and five of them finished as top-nine options. It’s safe to say you can start both of these tight ends, though Goedert might be the favorite moving forward, as he’s totaled at least eight targets in four straight games dating back to last year, and has at least six targets in each of his last nine games. With Jalen Reagor ruled out, these two are going to be busy. I’d set the over/under on their targets at 15.