The Primer: Week 3 Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)
Cincinnati Bengals vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Joe Burrow: Can the young QB keep taking this kind of a beating? Burrow has already been sacked nine times. It seemed as if the pressure was starting to get to him late in a Week 2 loss to the Bears when he threw interceptions on three straight fourth-quarter possessions. A date with the Pittsburgh Steelers typically isn’t welcomed by a quarterback who’s been under intense pressure, but the Pittsburgh defense is really hurting. DT Tyson Alualu (ankle) is out for Week 3, and LB Devin Bush, LB T.J. Watt, and CB Joe Haden are all questionable. Derek Carr dropped 382 passing yards and two touchdowns on the Steelers last week, as the Raiders rolled into Pittsburgh and won by nine. How often does that sort of thing happen? Even with the Pittsburgh defense at less than 100%, I’m fading Burrow, putting him at QB20.
Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben is dealing with a pectoral injury that’s reportedly causing him pain on throws. He’s tentatively expected to play, but it’s fair to wonder how effective he’ll be considering that he hasn’t been very effective pre-injury. His completion percentage, TD rate, and passer rating have slipped from 2020 levels, and he ranks QB27 in fantasy scoring. Roethlisberger could also be without Diontae Johnson, who’s dealing with a knee injury. Steer clear of Ben.
Joe Mixon: After a big Week 1, Mixon was relatively quiet in Week 2, rushing 20 times for 69 yards and catching just one pass for two yards. His matchup against Pittsburgh this week is a tough one. Perennially tough against the run, the Steelers are allowing 3.4 yards per carry and haven’t given up a TD run yet. But DT Tyson Alualu is out for Week 3, and LBs Devin Bush and T.J. Watt are questionable, so the Pittsburgh defense might not be close to full strength. I have Mixon ranked as a back-end RB1 simply because of the big rushing load he’ll handle.
Najee Harris: There hasn’t been much running room for the big rookie, but Harris’ pass-catching ability delivered value to his stakeholders in Week 2. He ran 10 times for 38 yards in the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Raiders but caught all five of his targets for 43 yards and a touchdown. He also delivered a nasty stiff arm to the Raiders’ Johnathan Abram that should serve as a warning to all who dare try to tackle this big fella. The Steelers have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and without a consistent push up front in the running game, Harris will need to keep catching passes to provide RB1 value or something close to it. This week Harris faces a Cincinnati run defense that has faced Dalvin Cook and David Montgomery and has only allowed 3.4 yards per carry and one TD run.
Tee Higgins: Higgins has missed practice time this week with a shoulder injury, so keep tabs on him as the week progresses. One of my favorite plays of Week 2 was Higgins using the physique he worked so hard on in the offseason to bully Bears CB Kindle Vildor at the goal line with what seemed like no more than a flick of the wrist, then catching an easy TD pass while Vildor lay crumpled on the grass. Higgins has a TD catch in each of his first two games. If Joe Haden (groin) isn’t able to play this week, Higgins will draw undrafted second-year man James Pierre in an attractive matchup. Higgins is a lower-end TE2 if Haden plays, a higher-end WR2 (and more attractive DFS play) if Haden is out.
Ja’Marr Chase: A 42-yard fourth-quarter TD catch against the Bears salvaged what was otherwise a quiet Week 2 for Chase. The rookie from LSU was targeted only three other times and had one other catch. That may have been because he had the misfortune of drawing coverage from the best Bears cornerback by far, Jaylon Johnson. He’ll have another tricky matchup this week against solid cover man Cameron Sutton. I have Chase ranked WR28.
Tyler Boyd: After hauling in seven catches for 73 yards last week against flammable Bears slot corner Duke Shelley, Boyd gets another favorable draw this week against Steelers slot corner Tre Norwood. He’s a back-end WR3 this week.
Diontae Johnson: Check his status before plugging him into any lineups. He injured his knee at the end of the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Raiders and hasn’t been practicing this week. If he plays, expect double-digit targets. If he doesn’t play, James Washington will take his place.
Chase Claypool: As a Claypool investor, I love that he saw nine targets last week, even if he and Ben Roethlisberger connected on only three of them. Efficiency really isn’t the name of the game for Claypool. With his 6-4, 238-pound frame and 4.4 speed, Claypool is a big play waiting to happen. He was thwarted in Week 1 by a matchup against Tre’Davious White but was still able to collect 70 scrimmage yards. He had 70 receiving yards against the Raiders in Week 2. Now he’ll get face time with a pair of beatable outside cornerbacks for the Bengals, Eli Apple, and Chidobe Awuzie, in a game where the Steelers could be without Diontae Johnson (knee). It’s an intriguing spot for Claypool, who falls into upper-end WR3 range. If Johnson is ruled out, I’ll get Claypool into at least one DraftKings lineup at $5,800
JuJu Smith-Schuster: JuJu has been sharing short-area targets with Diontae Johnson, and there are a lot of them to go around in a Pittsburgh passing game that’s gone increasingly horizontal in recent years. If Johnson is out with a knee injury, JuJu should be a near-lock for double-digit targets, and he’ll have a winnable matchup against ex-Steeler Mike Hilton. Even if Johnson plays, JuJu is still flex-worthy.
C.J. Uzomah: The Bengals’ passing game is too WR-centric for Uzomah to deliver any fantasy value. Sorry, C.J.
Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron: The rookie second-rounder from Penn State is quickly marginalizing Ebron. Freiermuth has out-snapped the veteran in both games and has caught 5 of 5 targets for 60 yards, while Ebron has caught 1 of 4 targets for 19 yards. Freiermuth isn’t startable in most formats, but he’s at least rosterable. Ebron needn’t remain on rosters.
Baltimore Ravens vs Detroit Lions
Lamar Jackson: It goes without saying that Jackson leads all quarterbacks in rushing, but his 193 rushing yards currently have him third overall in that category, behind only Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon. Jackson ran for 107 yards and two TDs in a scintillating 36-35 win over the Chiefs Sunday night, adding 239 passing yards and one TD pass, though he also threw a pair of interceptions (including an early pick-six). Jackson’s passing numbers (474 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, a 66.1% completion percentage) have been perfectly adequate, and there’s room for improvement with rookie WR Rashod Bateman‘s return from a core injury not far off. A game against the downtrodden Lions looks like a nice spot for Jackson, who’s an appealing DraftKings play even at a price of $7,800
Jared Goff: Negative game scripts are going to pump up the volume for Goff all season, so is it possible we’ve been underestimating his fantasy potential? Through two games he has 584 passing yards and five touchdowns on a league-high 93 pass attempts. Goff is currently QB8 in fantasy scoring. With Detroit a 9-point home underdog against Baltimore, the likelihood of another negative game script for Goff is high, which could mean significant pass volume yet again. Yes, it’s more about quantity than quality with Goff and the Lions’ passing game, but sometimes quantity matters more. Admittedly, though, I still only have Goff ranked QB26 this week.
Ty’Son Williams and Latavius Murray: The pass-blocking mishaps Williams had in the Ravens’ Week 1 loss to the Raiders didn’t cost him snaps in Week 2. Williams out-snapped Murray 37-27 and out-touched him 15-9 in Baltimore’s Sunday-night win over Kansas City. It was Murray who had the lone touchdown for a Ravens running back in that game, scoring on a 5-yard run in the second quarter. Still, Williams is averaging 71.0 rushing yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry, and he seems the most likely candidate to take advantage of a Detroit defense that gave up four touchdowns to Packers RB Aaron Jones in Week 2. Devonta Freeman also played a bit for Baltimore in Week 2 and had a 31-yard run, but he’s clearly behind Williams and Murray in the pecking order. I have Williams as a high-end RB3 this week, and that feels like a conservative ranking. My only hesitation is that I’m not completely sure the dust has settled in this backfield yet.
D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams: Both of these guys turned in productive fantasy performances against the 49ers in Week 1, but neither came through against the Packers in Week 2. They had 15 combined carries for 62 yards against Green Bay. Swift had four catches for 41 yards to avoid a completely disastrous fantasy outing. Williams had three catches against his old team but finished with 37 yards from scrimmage. Swift played 68% of the offensive snaps in Week 1, 63% in Week 2. Williams’ snap share has been under 40% in both games, although Swift has only out-touched Williams by a 31-27 margin. Still, this seems to be Swift’s backfield and not so much the 1a/1b situation it was billed as. The Lions face a Ravens defense that’s given up three short rushing touchdowns but has otherwise been stout against the run, allowing 72.0 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. Treat Swift as a high-end RB2 and Williams as a low-end RB3.
Marquise Brown: After missing some practice time last week due to an ankle injury, Brown was surprisingly frisky against the Chiefs on Sunday night, catching six balls for 113 yards and a touchdown. He also had six catches and a touchdown in Week 1. Could this finally be the breakout year for “Hollywood” we’ve been waiting for? It will be interesting to see how rookie Rashod Bateman‘s eventual return from injury affects the Ravens’ target distribution. But that’s something for Brown investors to worry about later. This week, he’s in a terrific spot against a tattered Lions defense that lost CB Jeff Okudah to a ruptured Achilles in Week 1 and CB Ifeatu Melifonwu to a quadriceps injury in Week 2. Get Brown into your starting lineups and tee him up in DFS at an affordable $5,600 cost.
PRISTINE MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Each week, we’ll pick a matchup of the week, presented by Pristine Auction. For Week 3, Marquise Brown is Fitz’s Pristine Matchup of the Week.
Sammy Watkins: The mercurial Watkins has been surprisingly consistent so far, with 4-96-0 on eight targets in Week 1, then 4-44-0 on seven targets in Week 2. Perhaps his involvement in the Ravens’ passing game will remain consistent at least until Rashod Bateman returns from a core injury. But it’s Sammy, so … (insert shrug emoji here). Watkins gets to face a Lions defense missing injured CBs Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu. I have Watkins as a midrange WR4 this week and think he’s worth considering as a flex play. I’m not as drawn to him in DFS since he’s only $100 cheaper than teammate Marquise Brown, whom I consider to be the far better option, but I suppose Watkins has some contrarian GPP appeal in such a favorable matchup.
Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St. Brown: Tyrell Williams was billed as the Lions No. 1 receiver entering the season, but he’s about to miss his second consecutive game with a concussion, and in his absence, Cephus has really stepped up. He had a nice TD catch late in a Week 1 loss to the 49ers, immediately followed by a circus catch on the two-point conversion. Against the Packers in Week 2, he caught 4 of 7 targets for 63 yards and a touchdown, and he almost had a one-handed TD catch that would have rivaled Odell Beckham‘s famed one-hander for sheer spectacle. I only have Cephus ranked WR63 this week, but he’s coming on fast and has the potential to serve as handy bye-week spackle in October. St. Brown has yet to pop, but he’s played 62% of the Lions’ offensive snaps and gets a favorable matchup against mediocre Ravens slot corner Tavon Young this Sunday.
Mark Andrews: A popular TE target during fantasy draft season, Andrews is off to a slow start, though his five-catch, 57-yard performance against the Chiefs in Week 2 wasn’t a catastrophe. Maybe he can get it going in Detroit this week. The Lions did a decent job of defending George Kittle in Week 1, holding him to four catches for 78 yards, but they yielded 52 yards and a touchdown to Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan in Week 2.
T.J. Hockenson: It’s looking as if Hockenson could be on his way to a monster season. He’s played 88% of Detroit’s offensive snaps and is third among tight ends in number of routes run. He’s caught 16 of 20 targets for 163 yards and two TDs, putting him on a 136-catch pace. The Ravens wouldn’t seem to be an appealing matchup on the surface, but second-year LB Patrick Queen has received consistently poor coverage grades from PFF and figures to be assigned to Hockenson on a majority of the tight end’s routes. At a very reasonably price of $5,200, Hockenson should be a staple of DraftKings cash game lineups this weekend.
New York Jets vs Denver Broncos
Zach Wilson: The rookie from BYU faces a brutal matchup against a Denver defense that’s giving up just 5.5 yards per pass attempt and has held opponents to a 51.4% completion rate. There’s no reason to get down on Wilson, who was always going to need more seasoning before he was ready to become a weekly fantasy contributor, but he’s having a rough first semester at the School of Hard Knocks.
Teddy Bridgewater: With two solid performances to open the season, Bridgewater is currently QB15 in fantasy scoring. For fantasy purposes, he’s a useful streamer. He’s my QB13 this week in a favorable matchup against the Jets, who have a bunch of young, inexperienced quarterbacks. Bridgewater is perfectly playable this week, and I’ll be using him in a couple of superflex leagues. But in Weeks 4-5, when he faces the Ravens and Steelers, it’s probably best to find other QB options.
Michael Carter and Ty Johnson: It’s a mystery why Carter was so buried on the depth chart when the Jets broke training camp, but never mind. What matters is that he quickly worked his way up the depth chart. Carter and Ty Johnson each played 45% of the Jets’ offensive snaps last week while Tevin Coleman was left out in the cold. That’s how it should be since Carter and Johnson are intriguing young talents and Coleman is a known, unexciting commodity. Carter looked pretty good against the Patriots last week, carrying 11 times for 59 yards and catching 2 or 3 targets for 29 yards. It’s not hard to understand how Carter was able to force a timeshare with Javonte Williams at North Carolina – Carter just moves differently. He has an NFL skill set, no question. Johnson reasonably fared well against the Patriots, too, carrying 12 times for 50 yards. He didn’t see any targets, and passing-game usage is probably going to propel Carter way past Johnson in terms of fantasy value. Carter is very good in the passing game. Johnson has been an inefficient pass catcher at the NFL level and wasn’t used much in the passing game during his college career at Maryland. Carter is the guy to roster here, although I don’t particularly like his outlook this week, on the road against a tough defense.
Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams: The frustration of Williams’ investors is already palpable. They have a talented young back who’s looked good so far and is going to be a lead back eventually. But Gordon isn’t going away. That was the miscalculation for people who drafted Williams as early as the fifth round: concluding that Gordon is on the downslope of his career and would be out of the picture soon, leaving a clear runway for Javonte. Even at 28, Gordon a quality NFL running back with speed, contact balance, and pass-catching ability. He’s not washed yet and barring injury, this backfield is going to be a two-man affair for a while. You can still use either guy in the right circumstances, and the circumstances look right this week, with the Broncos big home favorites against the Jets and likely to get a run-friendly game script. I have Williams and Gordon both ranked as top-end RB3s. DraftKings pricing on these two is interesting: Gordon is $5,500, and Williams is a more intriguing thrift play at $4,900.
Corey Davis: After being held to eight yards on two catches against the Patriots last week, Davis will try to rebound against a strong group of Denver cornerbacks. It’s a tough road spot for the Jets and for rookie QB Zach Wilson, so Davis should be regarded as a WR4 this week and thrown into lineups only if necessary.
Elijah Moore: Never mind the Braxton Berrios distraction. Moore played 78% of the Jets’ offensive snaps last week and caught 4 of 8 targets for 47 yards. It wasn’t an exciting stat line, but the eight targets are encouraging. Moore isn’t usable yet, but if once he establishes a reasonable weekly target baseline, we can start picking our spots with him. A road game in Denver certainly isn’t the sort of spot we want to pick.
Courtland Sutton: I faded Sutton during draft season because I wasn’t sure how well his vertical skillset would pair with Teddy Bridgewater, who’s never been one to make a lot of high-risk throws deep downfield. That may have been a mistake. With Jerry Jeudy out with a high-ankle sprain, Sutton went off last week, catching 10 of 15 targets for 173 yards and piling up 258(!) air yards. It was quite a performance, and Sutton is poised for a satisfying encore against an inexperienced group of Jets cornerbacks. Consider him a midrange WR2 this week. He’s a top-10 WR value on DraftKings, too, where he’s priced at only $6,000.
Tim Patrick: He’s had two targets in each of his first two games, and there may be a lower target ceiling than we first thought if Courtland Sutton is going to turn into Randy Moss before our very eyes, as he seemed to last week. But Patrick usually finds ways to stay busy in the Denver offense, and the matchup against the Jets’ secondary is appealing. Treat Patrick as a mid-range WR4.
K.J. Hamler: With Jerry Jeudy out in Week 2 after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in Denver’s opener, Hamler’s snap share jumped from 36% to 71%. He only had one catch for three yards last week, but Hamler could be a sneaky-good play this week if he sees a 70% snap share against a suspect Jets secondary. I still only have him ranked in WR6 range, but at $3,600, he could be a useful budget play in DraftKings contests this weekend.
Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam: The surprise is that Okwuegbunam has played more than 50% of the snaps in each of Denver’s first two games. A terrific athlete with a bright future, Albert O. has hauled in 7 of 7 targets for 40 yards and a touchdown. And yet, Okwuegbunam’s presence has done nothing to devalue Fant, who’s TE5 in fantasy scoring with 10.3 points per game (half-point PPR). The TE dynamic might change a bit when Jerry Jeudy eventually comes back from his high-ankle sprain and stakes his claim to a healthy share of targets, but for now, Fant is an every-week fantasy starter and Okwuegbunam is a worthwhile stash.
Miami Dolphins vs Las Vegas Raiders
Jacoby Brissett: With Tua Tagovailoa out with broken ribs, Brissett will get the start against the Raiders in Las Vegas. He was thrust into an unenviable position last week after Tua was knocked out. The Miami offensive line couldn’t handle the Buffalo pass rush, and Brissett was getting hit on nearly every throw. As ugly as Brissett’s stat line looked (24 for 40, 169 yards, no touchdowns, one interception), I didn’t think he played that badly in light of the constant pressure and his sudden insertion into a maelstrom. The Dolphins did some offensive line shuffling this week, and Brissett will have more time to prepare, but this is still a tough spot against a suddenly frisky Raiders defense. The Miami offensive line was overrun last week, and the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby has turned into an absolute terror off the edge. I like Brissett more than Davis Mills, Zach Wilson, and Jacob Eason this week, but that’s not saying much.
Derek Carr: With 817 passing yards through two weeks, Carr leads the league in that category by 128 yards. Even with Darren Waller having a relatively quiet day in the Raiders’ Week 2 road win over the Steelers, Carr threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He’s completely dialed in right now, and it’s been fun to watch. As good as Carr has been, he’s “only” QB9 in fantasy scoring. So it goes with non-running quarterbacks, who have lower ceilings than their speedier counterparts. Despite the flames emanating from Carr’s right arm, I have him ranked QB16 for Week 3. The Dolphins have some high-quality defensive backs, including ace CB Xavien Howard, and I don’t know if Miami is going to generate enough offense with Jacoby Brissett to force the Raiders into an OK Corral game script where points pile up quickly. This feels like a shy-away spot.
Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Malcolm Brown: The uber-negative game script in the 35-0 loss to the Bills last throttled the value of the Miami running backs. I’m listing all three of them here, but it’s looking like the only one who really matters is Gaskin. He dominated touches before the game got out of hand and seems to be the leading man again. Ahmed looks like the top backup with Brown running third. Gaskin is playable this week against a Las Vegas defense that’s given up 228 rushing yards and three TD runs. I consider him a low-end RB2 for this week. Ahmed and Brown aren’t viable.
Kenyan Drake and Peyton Barber: Josh Jacobs still isn’t practicing because of an ankle injury, and it’s looking like another week with Drake and Barber as the Raiders’ top two backs. Drake played a robust 71% of the offensive snaps in Week 2. He had 7-9-0 rushing and 5-46-0 receiving, and it’s that usage in the passing game (along with the promise of a generous snap count) that has me regarding him as a low-end RB2 this week. Barber dominated carries last week with a 13-32-0 rushing line, and he may well serve as the goal-line guy while Jacobs is away, but the floor and ceiling with Barber are both uncomfortably low.
Henry Ruggs: He was a popular waiver wire pickup this week after his 5-113-1 performance against the Steelers this week, but should you start him in a tough matchup against Miami where he’ll get a lot of face time with Miami CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones? No. It was the second 100-yard day and third career TD catch for Ruggs in 15 NFL games. I have him ranked WR56 this week and wouldn’t be anxious to play him.
Bryan Edwards: There’s a lot to like here, but not this week. He and Henry Ruggs get skull-and-crossbones matchups with Miami outside CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Besides, Edwards hasn’t seen more than five targets in a game this season. It’s not yet time to plug him into lineups.
Hunter Renfrow: Renfrow has 11 catches through two games and offers some low-level PPR bench appeal, but he’s scored six touchdowns in 31 career games. You can do better.
Jaylen Waddle: It will be interesting to see what Miami’s target distribution looks like with the return of Will Fuller this week. Waddle has blazing speed, but his average depth of target so far is 5.2 yards, so he and Fuller won’t necessarily be competing for the same downfield targets. Waddle is off to a nice start, with 10 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. Hopefully, Fuller’s return won’t cut into the rookie’s target load. I’m not especially eager to start Waddle this week with a backup quarterback forced into action for Miami and Fuller returning to action, but it will be interesting to see if Waddle can decisively win a rookie vs. rookie matchup with CB Nate Hobbs.
Will Fuller: In Week 1, Fuller served the final game of a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy. He also missed Week 2 due to an undisclosed personal issue. Now he’s back, and we’ll find out if there are enough targets and receptions in this offense to make Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVante Parker fantasy-viable. The guess here is that there aren’t, and at least one of these guys will fall by the wayside. Fuller may have the clearest niche as the designated field stretcher, although he showed last year in Houston that he could be effective in all areas of the field. The Raiders don’t pose the most daunting of matchups, but I’d still be reluctant to start Fuller this week unless you’re in a pinch. With Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, there may not be a lot of wealth to spread around between three receivers.
DeVante Parker: If Will Fuller‘s return this week is going to kneecap the fantasy value of someone in this WR corps, Parker is probably the most likely candidate. Aside from his 2019 breakout, he’s been a marginal fantasy contributor, and that was with far less target competition at the WR position. Keep Parker on the bench this week. You might soon be reassessing whether he warrants a spot on your roster.
Darren Waller: The guy in your league who’s toggling between Austin Hooper and Gerald Everett at tight end probably doesn’t have much sympathy for the Darren Waller investors disappointed by Waller’s 5-65-0 performance last week. Waller will face a Miami defense that yielded a combined 8-73-0 to New England TEs Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in Week 1, then let Buffalo TE Dawson Knox find the end zone in Week 2. This looks like a smash spot for Waller. But then again, every week looks like a smash spot for Waller.
Mike Gesicki: Here’s another guy who could lose fantasy value with the return of Will Fuller. The Dolphins are probably going to use fewer two-TE sets and more three-WR sets. Gesicki isn’t much of a blocker, so often the lone TE in single-TE sets is going to be Durham Smythe. Gesicki is already off to an inauspicious start, with three catches on nine targets. I consider him a low-end TE2 this week.