The Primer: Week 4 Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
I almost quit.
Get used to those words. Learn to accept them. No, embrace them. Without them, you will never really find out what you’re capable of.
Think about it for a moment. Michael Jordan almost quit basketball after he was cut from the varsity team in high school. That would’ve been a piece of history that you never would’ve seen. Instead, he pushed through and eventually became the best basketball player of all-time. Yeah, he still is.
Everyone sees the end result of hard work, but not everyone sees the struggle and near-breaking point of the path to success. For instance, did you know Bradley Cooper and Gal Gadot almost quit acting? One more failed movie/show/audition and they would’ve called it quits.
But the key word here is ‘almost’ because it’s what separates you from achieving your goals and forgetting about them.
Not many people know this, but I almost quit writing about fantasy football. I started my own website back in 2011 and wrote/did rankings for three and a half years without making a dime. In fact, it cost me money to keep the site up and running every month. I enjoyed it, but it eventually took a toll on me going to work my full-time job and then coming home to write and research all night. It affected my family time, friend time, and free time, which are all sacrifices I knew had to be made in order for it to work. Still, when there’s seemingly no step in the right direction of success, you start wondering if it’s all worth it.
I remember sitting in my car while on break at my former career in the summer of 2015, opening up and telling my wife that I didn’t think I was going to do it anymore. She heard me out and likely heard the exhaustion in my voice, but she told me she wanted me to do it for one more year, and that I’d have to leave everything on the table. She knew it was something I was passionate about and continually said, “This is what you’re meant to do.”
I conceded and said I’d give it one more shot. Just two weeks after that conversation, I saw Pro Football Focus (PFF) post a part-time writing job, so I applied for it. After pestering Jeff Ratcliffe and Mike Clay about it, they gave me the job. It didn’t pay much. It didn’t need to. All I needed was a step in the right direction and that’s what did it.
I continued to work my full-time job while doing the part-time PFF job, which ultimately turned into them offering me a full-time in-season position the following year. Once that season was over, I joined the team at FantasyPros in a full-time year-round position and have been with them for almost four years now. There’s a lot more to that story that I hope to share with all of you one day.
If you ever get to the point in life where you want to quit, I want you to remember this story. Understand that no one will know that you were about to break, but they’ll remember you when you make your mark doing what you’re supposed to do in life. You’re supposed to be great, so don’t let ‘almost’ get in the way.
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.
New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions
Line: NO by 4.0
Drew Brees: It hasn’t been a great start for Brees to the 2020 season. Sure, he finished the game against the Packers with 288 yards and three touchdowns, but how many of that came after the catch? Brees is averaging just 4.8 air yards per pass attempt, which is the lowest in the league by a long shot. He may be completing 70.2 percent of his passes, which some will say is great, but his expected completion rate on his passes has been 73.1 percent, according to NextGenStats. Getting Michael Thomas back would surely help, but Brees just doesn’t look comfortable throwing the ball down the field. The Lions aren’t generating much pressure up front and have sacked the opposing quarterback on just 2.9 percent of their dropbacks. That’s a problem when you consider their lackluster secondary that’s dealt with a few injuries to start the year. On actual pass attempts, the Lions are allowing the seventh-most fantasy points per attempt. Brees should have time to throw in this matchup and the Lions don’t have the cornerback talent to cover their receivers. Brees has me concerned, but the matchup should be good enough for him to post low-end QB1/high-end QB2 numbers. He’s not safe enough for cash lineups, though, as the running backs might be able to carry this offense in Week 4. *Update* Michael Thomas and Jared Cook have been ruled OUT, downgrading Brees to a middling QB2.
Matthew Stafford: We’ve watched Stafford’s pass attempts decline every week this season, bottoming out at 31 attempts in Week 3 against the Cardinals. That’s the bad news for the immobile quarterback. The good news is that Kenny Golladay came back to the lineup, Stafford averaged a season-high 8.7 yards per attempt, and he threw two touchdowns for the second straight game. The Saints defense hasn’t lived up to its talent level, as they’ve now allowed three straight quarterbacks to scored at least 20 fantasy points. They all did it while throwing the ball 38 times or less, too. Oddly enough, the Saints defense did this last year, too. They allowed the first three quarterbacks they played to score at least 21 fantasy points, but then held proceeded to hold the next seven quarterbacks to a max of 18.0 fantasy points while none of them topped 7.56 yards per attempt. They match up well with the Lions receivers, as Marshon Lattimore will surely cover Kenny Golladay, Janoris Jenkins will cover Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola has been an afterthought this year. Some will wonder if this game has shootout potential, but I can’t see the Saints defense have another performance like they did on Sunday night. I just think their strengths match up with the Lions’ too well. Stafford should be considered just a middling QB2 despite what looks to be a solid fantasy matchup. If you want to play him in DFS, I have no issue with that because I won’t say it’s not possible the Saints just don’t have “it” right now, but save him for tournaments. *Update* The Saints might be without their top two cornerbacks for this game, which would surely upgrade the matchup and make Stafford a low-end QB1.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray: We watched Kamara be treated like a slot receiver last week, as he totaled just six carries but racked up 13 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, Kamara has 31 carries while Murray has 30 of them, so maybe we’re seeing them turn more towards the way it was with Mark Ingram? It’s too small of a sample size to tell, and we can’t forget Kamara out-carried Murray 13-3 back in Week 2. If the Saints want to win this game, they’ll walk into Detroit and run the ball. A lot. The Lions have allowed a league-high 6.10 yards per carry to running backs this year, and it’s not like they’ve played the most talented running backs in the world. David Montgomery and Kenyan Drake were two of the three starters they played against. I said back in the offseason that Aaron Jones was someone who compares to Kamara, and we watched Jones trample this defense for 236 total yards and three touchdowns just two weeks ago. The Lions allowed Damon “Snacks” Harrison to leave this offseason and I believe he was the difference. With him on the field, they allowed 3.26 yards per carry in 2019 and 2.95 yards per carry in 2018. Without him on the field? They allowed 5.53 yards per carry in 2018 and 5.29 yards per carry in 2019. You’re starting Kamara as an elite RB1 play who’s gamescript-proof. Murray is someone who can be considered as a flex-type option this week, as the Lions have faced a rather-high 27.7 touches per game by running backs and allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per opportunity on them.
D’Andre Swift, Adrian Peterson, and Kerryon Johnson: This is a complete mess. There are times you just throw your hands up, and this is one of them. The snap counts through three weeks are Peterson 79, Swift 60, and Johnson 59. The touches are a much larger gap, though, as Peterson has totaled 47, Johnson 19, and Swift 17. It would seem like Peterson would be the obvious play this week, right? Well, the Saints are not a team to run the ball against, and carries have accounted for 91.5 percent of Peterson’s touches. The Saints have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per opportunity this year, and that’s despite playing against Aaron Jones and Josh Jacobs in two of those games. This is no different than 2019 when they allowed just 3.65 yards per carry on the season. Since the start of last year (19 games), they’ve allowed just nine rushing touchdowns to running backs on 362 carries (one every 40.2 carries). You’d think Peterson would get those carries on the goal-line, right? Well, no. Peterson has still yet to get a carry inside the five-yard-line, while Johnson and Swift each have one. Peterson would still be the running back of choice if you had to play one, but he’s just a low-upside RB3/4 in this matchup. Swift’s skillset would work best in this matchup, but after he played just six snaps in Week 3, you cannot trust him. Johnson is stuck in the in-between.
Michael Thomas: It seems like the Saints are expecting Thomas back this week, as they would’ve placed him on IR if they didn’t. Still, we must pay attention to practice reports throughout the week. I’ll update the bottom of his notes as the week progresses. The Saints have been missing him on offense, but it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll be eased back into the lineup to ensure he doesn’t reaggravate his high-ankle sprain. The Lions cornerbacks have been a mess through three weeks, rolling out different combos due to injuries. We watched the combination of Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye allow DeAndre Hopkins to rack up 10 catches for 137 yards last week, though he didn’t find the end zone. While Davante Adams was hurt in Week 2, we saw Allen Robinson turn in a 5/74/0 performance on nine targets in Week 1. Considering the injuries to Okudah, Desmond Trufant, and Justin Coleman to start the year, I’d say the Lions secondary has been better than expected. Despite playing some of the bigger names in fantasy football, they’ve allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to receivers. Look you’re starting Thomas if he plays, but this is not a week to trust him in DFS cash lineups. *Update* He practiced in a limited fashion all week, and despite the optimism by some, Ian Rapoport from NFL Network said the Saints won’t put him out there if they’re worried about re-injury. New update: Thomas has been ruled OUT.
Emmanuel Sanders: It was more of what we expected for Sanders last week, as his target totals with the Saints are now 5, 3, 5. Knowing that Michael Thomas was out for two of those games should concern you about Sanders’ reliability in fantasy. His two touchdowns will mask his low usage, though. The Lions have Darryl Roberts defending the slot with Justin Coleman on IR, and he’s done a competent job. He was the one in coverage last week when Andy Isabella caught his touchdowns, which look poorly on the stat sheet, but the first one was a perfectly placed ball in what I’d consider solid coverage, while the second one was a short out where Isabella just had more speed to the edge. Sanders doesn’t have that speed at this point in his career, though he’s clearly someone they’ll look at in the red zone. Sanders should be considered a touchdown-dependent WR4 option in this matchup.
Tre’Quan Smith: He’s done a solid job filling in for Michael Thomas, but his ceiling hasn’t been there with Drew Brees unwilling to throw the deep ball. Smith has done his part, catching 10-of-14 passes for 132 yards, but with Thomas due back, we’re going to see his role dissipate. With Thomas on the field in Week 1, Smith saw just one target even though he did play more snaps than Emmanuel Sanders. If Thomas is going to be out, we’ll revisit Smith here later in the week. But if Thomas is back, like we’re expecting him to be, Smith should be back on the waiver wire. *Update* Smith is back on the fantasy radar after Thomas was ruled out. Without Brees taking the deep shots, it’s difficult to recommend him as anything more than a borderline WR4/5 option.
Kenny Golladay: It was good to see Golladay back on the field for the Lions and he played 49 snaps and appears to have escaped setback-free. He led the receivers with seven targets and caught six of them for 57 yards and a touchdown. It’s clear that Marvin Jones is on the final legs of his career, so maybe we’re on our way to a Golladay elite season? If he wants to get there, these are the matchups that are important. Wide receivers are only seeing 39.6 percent of their team’s targets against the Saints, which is the lowest number in the league. No other team has seen fewer than 46.5 percent of the targets go to wide receivers. The reason? They have one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Marshon Lattimore is someone who shadows opposing No. 1 receivers, and that’s precisely what Golladay is. Despite shadowing guys like Julio Jones and Mike Evans twice a year, Lattimore has allowed just six touchdowns on 256 career targets in his coverage. Going back to Week 1, he held Evans to just one catch for two yards, though it was a touchdown. There were five receivers who hit double-digit targets against the Saints last year, and all of them finished as top-18 options that week, so it’s not like you’re going to sit Golladay, but temper expectations to middling WR2 this week. *Update* The Saints are going to be without not only Lattimore this week, but also No. 2 cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Golladay is in your lineup regardless, but he could go bananas as a WR1.
Marvin Jones: Despite Golladay being held out the first two games, Jones didn’t amount to much in fantasy, and the return of Golladay didn’t provide any spark to his prospects, as he totaled just three catches for 51 yards. He hasn’t finished better than WR36 through three weeks and now has a matchup with Janoris Jenkins on deck. With Golladay dealing with Marshon Lattimore, it would be wise for Stafford to look Jones’ way a bit more this week, even though Jenkins isn’t a matchup to target aggressively. Outside of the year he was coming off ankle surgery (2018), Jenkins hasn’t allowed higher than an 81.1 QB Rating in his coverage over the course of a season since 2015. As mentioned in the Golladay notes, wide receivers have only accounted for 39.6 percent of the opposing team’s targets against the Saints, which is the lowest number in the league. Jones is not someone you must start, but he does remain on the WR4 radar knowing Golladay has an even worse matchup. *Update* Janoris Jenkins has been ruled out for this game, upgrading Jones’ matchup into the WR3 with upside tier.
Danny Amendola: After seeing seven targets in each of the team’s first two games, Amendola dipped down to four targets in Week 3, which has a lot to do with the return of Golladay, though it also didn’t help that Stafford threw the ball just 31 times, his second-lowest total since the start of 2019. The Saints are coming off a game where they allowed slot-heavy receiver Allen Lazard six catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, though it didn’t seem like a matchup to attack just a week ago, as they’d held Chris Godwin to 6/79/0 and Hunter Renfrow to 3/37/0 in Weeks 1 and 2. Both Golladay and Jones have tough matchups on the perimeter, which should mean more targets are funneled to Amendola and the tight ends, but the upside is limited, as he’s totaled more than 47 yards just four times in 18 career games with the Lions. In those four games, he saw at least eight targets in each of them, something it’s tough to see here. Amendola is a low-upside WR5/6 option even though he should benefit from the matchup.
Jared Cook: We’re back to where we were last year with Cook, as he looked great in Week 1 and then simply disappears for two weeks. Brees actually hit him in stride for what should’ve been a touchdown, but he didn’t turn his head fast enough, so the ball sailed by. He’s seen declining targets in each week, going from seven in Week 1, to just five in Week 2, and three in Week 3. Keep in mind that the Packers had allowed the second-most yards per target to tight ends coming into that game. The Lions have allowed the fourth-fewest yards per target to them through three weeks, though it’s a small sample size, and they’ve played a combination of Jimmy Graham, Robert Tonyan, and Dan Arnold, so not exactly stiff competition. Going back to last year in the same scheme, the Lions were an average defense against tight ends, though it’s worth noting that the only tight ends who finished as top-12 options against them were tight ends who saw at least six targets, a number that may not be a given for Cook. He should be considered a touchdown-dependent high-end TE2 for the time being, though his quarterback tends to throw more touchdowns than most. *Update* Cook didn’t practice at all this week and has been ruled OUT. Adam Trautman will step in and take his place.
T.J. Hockenson: It was great to see Hockenson get up to seven targets last week in a game Stafford threw the ball just 31 times. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one who caught the touchdown, as fellow tight end Jesse James saw four targets and converted them into 3/28/1. Hockenson has still totaled at least four catches and 53 yards in each of the first three games, highlighting what should be a high floor. Now onto a matchup with the Saints, which used to be a bad matchup. It’s crazy considering the additions they’ve made to the defense, specifically Malcolm Jenkins, but the Saints have now allowed 34.1 percent of their skill-player production to the tight end position. It helps that they’ve received a league-high 35.8 percent of the targets by opponents though, as that is the highest mark in the league. Against the combination of O.J. Howard, Rob Gronkowski, Darren Waller, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis, the Saints have allowed 29-of-38 passing for 290 yards and four touchdowns to tight ends. Knowing that Marshon Lattimore will be covering Kenny Golladay and that Janoris Jenkins will be covering Marvin Jones, we should see targets funneled to Hockenson. Knowing the floor he’s shown, combined with the struggling Saints defense (specifically against tight ends), you should trust him as a mid-to-low-end TE1 this week.
Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: TB by 7.0
Justin Herbert: So, two starts for Herbert, and two 300-yard performances. Nevermind the ridiculous 49 pass attempts against the Panthers last week. Oddsmakers are projecting another negative gamescript, as the Chargers are full seven-point underdogs. The Bucs have brought the pressure through three games, racking up a sack on 9.7 percent of their opponent’s dropbacks, which ranks as the sixth-highest mark in the league. Not just that but their secondary has played very well, allowing the 12th-fewest fantasy points per target to wide receivers. They’ve allowed just three passing touchdowns through three weeks while holding quarterbacks to just 7.09 yards per attempt. It’s pretty crazy to say, but the Bucs have allowed just four quarterbacks to average more than 7.60 yards per attempt against them since the start of last season. Knowing Herbert has been pressured on 38.5 percent of his dropbacks, this has a recipe for disaster. Heck, the Panthers pressured their first two opponents just 12 percent of the time, but pressured Herbert 41.5 percent of the time. The Bucs defense should pin their ears back. The Chargers are also without their top two offensive linemen for this game. Avoid.
Tom Brady: It’s been a bittersweet start to the season for Brady, as he’s not been his normal self, and is now going to miss another starting wide receiver as Chris Godwin hurt his hamstring last week. Still, they’re 2-1 and are now seven-point favorites while at home against the Chargers. This defense may have taken Week 3 a bit too lightly, as they’d been an elite unit through two games against Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, allowing those two to combine for just 5.96 yards per attempt in Weeks 1 and 2. Still, oddsmakers are setting the team-implied total for the Bucs at 26 points, which feels somewhat generous, as they’ve allowed just 19.0 points per game to this point. The Bucs first three games were seemingly walks in the park compared to this game, as the Saints, Panthers, and Broncos defenses have all been extremely generous. Dating back to the start of last year, the Chargers have allowed just three top-12 quarterback performances, with two of them being Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. I’m not expecting them to allow one to Brady this week despite the implied team total. With Godwin missing this game, Brady is just an average QB2. It’s worth noting that Chris Harris Jr. was just placed on IR, making their secondary a bit more beatable.
Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley: It’s clear that this is a timeshare, but you need a positive gamescript in order to trust someone in Kelley’s role as anything more than a touchdown-dependent RB3. If we can’t trust them to be in a positive gamescript against the league’s worst run defense (Panthers), how can we trust him against the league’s best run defense (Bucs) who are coming off wins of 14 and 18 points? The Bucs have been the best run defense in the league since the start of last year, allowing just 1,057 rushing yards on 357 carries over a span of 19 games. That amounts to just 2.96 yards per carry and 55.6 rushing yards per game. Whew. Here’s the list of running backs who’ve finished as top-12 options over their last 19 games: Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, and Leonard Fournette. If there’s any hope for Ekeler, it’s through the air, as the Bucs have had some trouble slowing pass catchers out of the backfield. They’ve actually allowed 51.1 PPR points through the air alone, which ranks as the fourth-most in football. If the Chargers want to slow the Bucs pass rush, they’ll need to involve Ekeler in the screen game. Knowing Herbert has targeted him 15 times over the last two weeks, that’s a step in the right direction. Ekeler should be in lineups as a mid-to-high-end RB2 this week even though it is a tough matchup. Kelley is going to have a much tougher time in this matchup, as he’s not heavily involved in the passing game (four targets through three games). The Bucs have allowed just 13 running backs finish as top-30 options against them since the start of 2019, which is now a span of 19 games. The odds of two running backs getting there when their team-implied total is just 19 points is highly unlikely. Kelley has still totaled six carries inside the 10-yard-line compared to just one for Ekeler, so we can’t write off the possibility that he scores a touchdown. But even if he does, you’re looking at what might be RB3 numbers. He’s just a mediocre RB4 this week in what’s projected to be a negative gamescript. *Update* The Chargers will also be without their two best offensive linemen (Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner) for this game, so lower expectations.
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones: I said it last week, but I’ll say it again. I’m getting vibes of the 2019 Bucs backfield of Peyton Barber and Jones. Though there was production to be had most weeks, predicting who proved to be a tougher task than I’d like to admit. Through three games, the opportunities are Jones 46, Fournette 32, and McCoy 13. With Jones not doing anything to forfeit the job in Week 3, we must assume he’s the one with the most value in this backfield, though we have to remain fluid. The downside with the Bucs is that they’ve won 2-of-3 games, with both of their wins coming by at least 14 points. Still, the running backs have combined to average just 20.7 carries per game. Jones and Fournette have combined to average just 5.7 targets per game. When you look at those numbers and see a near-even timeshare, it’s not one you can start anyone confidently. Not just that but running backs have averaged just 23.0 touches per game against the Chargers. Them and the Ravens are the only teams in the NFL who haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back, and keep in mind they’ve played against Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Joe Mixon. None of the three starting running backs they’ve played have averaged more than 3.80 yards per carry, either. We have to treat Jones as the starter right now and the superior fantasy play, though he’s on a short leash. Consider him a mediocre RB3 in this tough matchup, though it helps that his team has an implied total of 26.0 points. As for Fournette, he remains in the RB3/4 conversation as someone who can take over this backfield at any minute, though he comes with a low floor, as highlighted last week. It’s also worth noting that Fournette missed practice on Wednesday with an ankle injury. *Update* Fournette has been ruled OUT for this game.
Keenan Allen: Through two games with Justin Herbert under center, Allen has racked up a massive 29 targets that have netted 20 receptions for 228 yards and a touchdown. While the matchups were both good ones, it’s something we must take note of when Herbert is under center. The Bucs bring pressure, which certainly benefits his role as the primary slot receiver. It’s worth noting that Allen hasn’t played in the slot on a full-time basis (44 percent of the time), as the Chargers are hurting for receivers. With Mike Williams questionable for this game, there will be a lot of 2WR sets, which would downgrade Allen’s matchup. The Bucs have Carlton Davis handle opposing No. 1 perimeter receivers, so he should be expected to cover Allen when he’s on the outside. Davis has continually gotten better since being drafted in the second round of 2018. Going back to the end of 2019, here are his recent assignments (most recent first): D.J. Moore 8/120/0, Michael Thomas 3/17/0, Julio Jones 7/78/0, DeAndre Hopkins 5/23/0, Kenny Golladay 3/44/0, D.J. Chark 2/47/0, and Julio Jones (again) 5/68/0. Outside of that Moore game from Week 2, he’s been pretty dang good against top receivers. But he hasn’t been great when traveling into the slot, which is where the Chargers need to get Allen. Considering his target share, you must start him as a WR2 right now, but he’s not someone I’d play in cash lineups knowing how Davis has done with top receivers lately.
Mike Williams: He suffered a hamstring injury during Week 3’s loss to the Panthers, so his practice participation will need to be monitored, but the expectation should be that you’ll be without him in Week 4. I’ll come back and update if he’s expected to play. *Update* He’s been ruled OUT for this week’s game.
Chris Godwin: He hurt his hamstring in the win over the Broncos last week and will not play this week. The Bucs have said they “hope” to have him back for Week 5, though it’s up in the air. *Update* He’s been ruled OUT for this week’s game.
Mike Evans: It was a very Jordan Howard-like stat line from Evans in Week 3 when he caught two passes for two yards and two touchdowns. This is now the second time in three games with Tom Brady under center where he’s totaled less than five receiving yards, though he’s scored in both games, propping his fantasy numbers up. The one game where he did post 104 yards (and a touchdown) was the one Godwin was out, which is something that may happen once again in Week 4. Unfortunately, the matchup against the Chargers is a brutal one. The Chargers have used Chris Harris Jr. in both the slot and perimeter, but he is now on IR after suffering an injury in Week 3. Evans played 47 percent of his snaps in the slot in Week 2 when Godwin was out, and we don’t see Casey Hayward travel into the slot. He’s the cornerback who’s held D.J. Moore to 2/65/0, Sammy Watkins to 1/11/0, and A.J. Green to 5/51/0 through three games. With Godwin being held out, Evans is a must-play low-end WR1/high-end WR2 due to volume alone.
Scotty Miller: He’s seen six, three, and five targets through the first three weeks. Production has been sporadic with 73, 11, and 83 yards. The odd part is that his worst game came with Godwin out of the lineup. Will that be the case again in Week 4? Unfortunately, the matchup is horrendous with Godwin out, as that moves Mike Evans into the slot a lot more, which in turn would mean that Miller would see a lot of Casey Hayward, the Chargers best cornerback. Miller has been dubbed the field-stretcher for the Bucs, and his 15.6 air yards per target would agree with that. Unfortunately, the Chargers haven’t been a team to allow the big pass play. Going back to last year, they’ve allowed just 47 pass plays to go for more than 20 yards, which ranks as the third-fewest in the NFL over that time. Miller should be considered a hit-or-miss WR5 who I’d consider unlikely to hit that big play. *Update* Miller is going to be a game-time decision.
Hunter Henry: His role hasn’t changed no matter who’s under center, as Henry has totaled at least seven targets in every game so far. He’s also turned in at least five receptions and 50 yards in each game, something that should be considered extremely valuable to fantasy managers, as tight end consistency has been nowhere to be seen. The Bucs were not a must-attack matchup last year, but they did allow 11 different tight ends to finish as top-15 options. The only tight end who saw more than six targets and didn’t finish with at least 11.5 PPR points was Greg Olsen who turned seven targets into 4/52/0. The Bucs upgraded the safety unit this offseason, adding Antoine Winfield in the second round of the NFL Draft. Through three games, he’s allowed 7-of-12 passing for 84 yards in his coverage. He’s part of the reason the Bucs have allowed the ninth-fewest points to the tight end position. That’s while facing 10 targets to Noah Fant and seven targets to Jared Cook. Neither of them busted, but neither of them crushed the matchup. Henry is going to be played as a TE1 here with his high target floor and consistent play, but he may not be the best to attack in tournaments.
O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski: Did we see Gronkowski turn a corner in Week 3? It seems we did as he saw him play a season-high 63 snaps while Howard played just 33 snaps. Gronkowski also ran more than double the pass routes to Howard (27 to 13) and saw a season-high seven targets. After taking a year away from football, it’s possible Gronkowski just needed to get his legs back under him. The Chargers defense has done a great job limiting running backs, which typically leads to more tight end production. We saw Travis Kelce rack up 9/90/1 on 14 targets while C.J. Uzomah caught 4-of-5 targets for 45 yards against this defense. Going back to last year, there was just one tight end who saw more than five targets against them, and it was Kelce who finished with 7/92/1. If the targets are there, Gronkowski could have his first TE1 performance with the Bucs. When you look at the only incompletion he and Brady had last week, it was one where Brady simply overthrew him on what would’ve been a 21-yard touchdown. With the question marks at wide receiver this week, combined with the cornerback talent for the Chargers, it’s reasonable to stream Gronkowski as a high-end TE2 this week. Howard’s targets will be coming back down to earth if Gronkowski becomes more involved, so he should remain on benches as somewhat of a tight end handcuff.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: CIN by 3.0
Gardner Minshew: It wasn’t the streaming performance that we hoped for with Minshew last week, but we can’t let that cloud our judgement moving forward. He was without his best wide receiver and starting center, which certainly didn’t help matters. Don’t forget he was a top-12 quarterback in each of the first two games. The Bengals, however, have been a surprising pass defense through three games. They have been above average in every major statistical category, allowing 6.52 yards per attempt, a 61.0 percent completion-rate, and a 3.0 percent touchdown-rate. All those marks are bottom-10 for opposing quarterbacks. Now, to be fair, they’ve played against Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, and Carson Wentz, all quarterbacks who’ve struggled to start the year. But still, none of them threw for more than 225 yards and they combined for just three passing touchdowns. Last year, there were just five quarterbacks all year who they held below 225 passing yards. Minshew played them last year, completing just 15-of-32 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 48 yards and finishing as the No. 9 quarterback in Week 7. So, what do we trust? The fact that the Bengals allowed 12-of-16 quarterbacks to finish as top-16 options last year, or that they’ve played well in three games through this year? It does help to know that the Bengals games have netted an average of 146.7 plays per game, as they move through a fast pace, which should allow plenty of chances for Minshew to bounce back. As long as Chark returns, Minshew should be able to get back into the middling QB2 conversation.
Joe Burrow: After a touchdown-less debut in the NFL where he threw for just 193 yards and one interception, Burrow has bounced back strong. He’s now thrown for 312-plus yards in back-to-back games with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s been pressured on a league-high 62 of his dropbacks, leading to a league-leading 14 sacks, but do the Jaguars have the pass rush to get to him? They have not pressured a quarterback more than 32 percent of the time through three weeks, while Burrow himself has been under pressure 38 percent of the time. Can you imagine how well he’d play if he had time to operate? We’ve seen both the Titans and Dolphins take advantage of this over the last two weeks, as Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined to complete 36-of-44 pass attempts (81.8 percent) for 399 yards (9.07 yards per attempt) and six passing touchdowns (Fitzpatrick also rushed for one). When you break that down, the Jaguars have allowed 0.63 fantasy points per actual pass attempt (no rushing), which is the second-highest mark in the league. Knowing that Burrow has thrown 141 pass attempts through three games, he should be considered a rock-solid streamer in this matchup, especially while Joe Mixon struggles to find holes behind this offensive line.
James Robinson and Chris Thompson: This is just a feel-good story all around, as Robinson was an undrafted free agent who earned the starting job in training camp and it led the Jaguars to cutting Leonard Fournette. Through three games, he’s rushed for three touchdowns, which is the same number Fournette had the entire 2019 season on 265 carries on this same team. Robinson has now totaled 43 of the team’s 47 carries and racked up a career-high six targets in Week 2. Meanwhile, Thompson has touched the ball just 14 times through three games. The pending return of Ryquell Armstead is worrisome to Robinson’s insane workload, but he’s earned the majority of work. Similar to last year, the Bengals are a team to run the ball against. Through three games, they’ve allowed the third-most fantasy points on the ground to running backs (23.5 points per game on the ground alone), behind only the Panthers and Raiders. Of the flip side of that, they’ve allowed just 39 yards through the air to running backs through three games, which is the fewest in the league. The Bengals also faced the sixth-fewest targets to running backs in 2019, so teams just don’t feel the need to attack underneath. The 14.0 percent of targets that have gone to running backs through three weeks is the second-lowest percentage. Knowing Robinson has totaled 91.5 percent of the team’s carries to this point, this matchup suits him well. He should be started as an RB2 this week against a team whose opponents are averaging 71.7 plays per game. This matchup doesn’t do any favors to Thompson’s role, and it’s not like you’re considering him anyway.
Joe Mixon: There’s panic through the fantasy world when it comes to Mixon, which is something similar to what happened in 2019 when he was the RB34 through the first seven weeks of the season. Did you know he only had one touchdown through those seven games? Well, for the remainder of the season, he was the RB5 in fantasy and scored six touchdowns in the last nine games. As Joe Burrow continues to improve and force defenses to be honest, Mixon will get better. The Jaguars have surprisingly been one of the better run defenses to start the year, allowing just 3.17 yards per carry through three weeks. It’s not a small sample size, either, as they’ve faced 75 rushing attempts, which ranks as the sixth-most in the league. They also played against Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor, so it’s not like they played backups. Still, the Bengals are an offense that’ll stretch out that defense in ways that the Titans and Colts couldn’t. To be fair, though, Mixon has only faced eight-man defensive fronts on 7.7 percent of his carries, so that hasn’t been too much of an issue. When playing against a defense that’s surrendered 99 touches to running backs over the first three weeks, you’d better be playing Mixon, even if you’re upset with the way the year has started. He’s getting 20-plus touches this game where they’re the favorites, and I’d be willing to bet he scores his first touchdown. *Update* Mixon popped up on the injury report with a chest injury on Saturday, so his managers should snag Gio Bernard at the chance Mixon doesn’t suit up. The reports are that he will, in fact, play this week.
D.J. Chark: He was scratched last Thursday due to chest and back issues, though he was reportedly close to playing, so we should expect him to be out there this week. Unfortunately, the Bengals secondary has been better than expected. They have still yet to allow a receiver more than 74 yards against them, which includes Keenan Allen, Odell Beckham, and DeSean Jackson. The trio of William Jackson, Darius Phillips, and Mackensie Alexander has proven to be capable. The Bengals have Jackson do a little bit of shadowing, though nothing is guaranteed in this matchup, especially with Chark not certain to play. Phillips is only playing because Trae Waynes went to injured reserve, so he’s the weakest link, but Chark’s position most of the time does happen to be on Jackson’s side of the field. We did see Beckham get behind Jackson in Week 2 and that’s where he’s been burned over the course of his career when he does get beat, which is why he’s allowed 13.8 yards per reception over the last two years. Chark finished with 3/53/0 on just four targets against the Bengals last year, though it was a different offense he was in. For now, we must consider him a middling WR3 until we know he’s healthy, especially when the matchup doesn’t scream must-play. He was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice.
Keelan Cole: Even with Chark out of the lineup, Cole kept playing his slot-heavy role, and has now been in there on 71 percent of his routes. He’s caught 15 of his 17 targets, though he hasn’t topped 58 yards in a game, so you’re limited in the ceiling department if he doesn’t score. He’s still seen at least five targets in each game, so there should be a semi-decent floor with him. His matchup in the slot against the Bengals isn’t that great, though. They brought in Mackensie Alexander this offseason to help shore up that position and he’s done a solid job in coverage. While Week 3 was an odd one where he allowed Greg Ward a big day, he completely minimized Keenan Allen in Week 1 (4/37/0) and Jarvis Landry in Week 2 (3/46/0), so it’s tough to say you should attack the matchup. He wasn’t the sole reason for their struggles, but he’s the one who’ll see Cole the most. If Chark is out again, we’d raise him in the ranks, but for now, he’s just a mediocre WR5 option. *Update* Alexander is considered doubtful for this game, upgrading Cole’s matchup. He moves into the WR4 conversation with the uncertainty around Chark.
Laviska Shenault: There were a lot of fantasy owners going bananas for Shenault last week with Chark out, though I never understood why it made him a must-play. He saw four targets in each of the team’s first two games, and that was bumped up to six targets with Chark out, but it also eliminated a few of the carries he was expected. The good news is that Shenault is looking like he’ll be a player in the NFL, though it’s not time to rely on him as an every-week starter or anything. He will, however, have the best matchup on the field in Week 4 against the Bengals. Darrius Phillips is playing in place of injured Trae Waynes, and that’s who Shenault will see on most of his snaps. Phillips is in his third year and has allowed 8.3 yards per target in his coverage, as well as a touchdown every 13.3 targets. Shenault has totaled at least 8.4 PPR points in each game, so he shouldn’t be forgotten, especially when we’ve seen rookies take a few games to get acclimated. He’s a sneaky upside WR4/5 this week who I’d like more if Chark sits.
A.J. Green: I mentioned last week that we were proceeding with caution when it came to Green, but though his stat sheet may not show it, he looked much better in Week 3. His matchup with Darius Slay was brutal, which is why I explained he was a risky start last week, but he looked much smoother while going through his routes in that game. It may have just taken him a few games to get his legs back under him without a preseason. Green has still seen a rock-solid 33.3 percent of the Bengals’ air yards, which ranks 14th in the league. With Joe Burrow playing extremely well, Green’s arrow is pointing up. The Jaguars secondary has yet to allow a receiver more than 71 yards through the air, but they’ve only faced 46 wide receiver targets through three weeks, which is the third-fewest in the NFL. On those targets, they’ve allowed a league-high 73.9 percent completion-rate. Meanwhile, Burrow has targeted his receivers on 89 of his 141 pass attempts for a massive 63.1 percent target share. The Jaguars cornerbacks will be tested in this game. Knowing they’ve allowed 1.94 PPR points per target to this point tells me that Green should be trusted as a high-end WR3 this week.
Tyler Boyd: Through three games with Burrow, Boyd is now on pace for 139 targets. Not quite the 147 he saw last year, but not too far behind. It’s clear he’s a big part of Zac Taylor’s plan, though he has disappeared in a few games since Taylor took over. One of his less-than-stellar games last year was when the Bengals played the Jaguars in Week 7 where he totaled just five catches for 55 scoreless yards with a fumble. Some may think, “that’s not a terrible game,” but when you hear he saw 14 targets, it was. This is still the same defensive scheme with the same slot cornerback, D.J. Hayden. He hasn’t been very good through three games in 2020, though, allowing 12-of-14 passing for 154 yards and a touchdown, as both Parris Campbell and Adam Humphries got the best of him. Is it a blip on the radar because Hayden had allowed just 5.69 yards per target in his coverage over the previous four years, or is this something we need to react to? With Boyd’s targets increasing each week, you’re playing him, but the question is: Is he a better play than A.J. Green this week? I’d be torn if I had to choose, so we’ll put him right there in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 conversation.
Tee Higgins: Once we found out that Higgins was the clear No. 3 receiver on Sunday morning (John Ross was a healthy inactive), he became a solid dart throw in that game against the Eagles due to the tough matchups for Green and Boyd. He now has 15 targets over the last two weeks, though it needs to be noted that Burrow threw the ball 105 times in those contests, so it’s not as impressive. Still, for a team that’s targeted their wide receivers on 63.1 percent of their pass attempts, Higgins can have some relevance. The Jaguars aren’t a team you’re going to throw the ball a ton against, as they’re not running away with the game or anything. We’ve seen them face just 44 pass attempts over the last two weeks combined. You’ll definitely want to consider Higgins when the Bengals are in for a projected shootout, but considering Bengals are favorites and the Jaguars have faced just 46 wide receiver targets through three weeks, it’s okay to find an alternate option in Week 4.
Tyler Eifert and James O’Shaughnessy: This seemed like it’d be Eifert’s job after Josh Oliver went down during training camp, and while he’s run 80 routes to O’Shaughnessy’s 35 routes, they’re essentially identical in the target department (Eifert 10, O’Shaughnessy 9) through three games. This isn’t a tight end unit you want to attack, as we don’t know who will net more targets. The Bengals have played against Hunter Henry and Zach Ertz yet haven’t allowed a touchdown on 29 tight end targets. Let’s not pretend you’re starting either of these two for yardage.
Drew Sample: In a game where Joe Burrow dropped back and passed 44 times, Sample saw one target. That’s a problem and not one we can talk our way out of. It’s odd after Sample saw nine targets against the Browns, but it seems like the targets that were destined for C.J. Uzomah will be funneled to the wide receivers. It stinks because the Jaguars are a team to aggressively attack with tight ends, as they’ve allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to the position, and the second-most on a per-target basis. But then again, the Eagles had allowed the most fantasy points on a per-target basis (though much of that had to do with the four touchdowns they’d allowed). We have to sit back and ensure Sample gets back into the offensive gameplan. The good news is that he did play 69 snaps, so he’s certainly full-time. He’s run the 10th-most routes among tight ends over the last two weeks. We’ll keep an eye on him, but if you’re looking for a one-percent owned tight end in DFS, the matchup here is great.