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The Primer: Week 3 Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)

Sep 23, 2021
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Los Angeles Rams

Date/Time: Sunday September 26, 4:25pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Rams -1
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 54.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Rams 27.75, Buccaneers 26.75

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady: After watching Brady dice up Dallas and Atlanta, it will be fun to see Brady take on a spunkier defense. The Rams made Andy Dalton‘s life miserable in Week 1, then roughed up Carson Wentz in Week 2. Brady is on a different plane than those guys, of course. He’s already thrown nine TD passes and has racked up 655 yards. It’s about time Brady and the Rams stopped fighting tomato cans and took a step up in class. As famed boxing referee Mills Lane used to say, “Let’s get it on!”

Matthew Stafford: The Buccaneers have a pass-funnel defense. They’re so good against the run that opponents don’t put much effort into the running game and try to attack Tampa through the air. The Bucs have given up 342 passing yards per game so far. That doesn’t mean their pass defense is bad, however. Opponents have attempted a league-high 106 passes against the Buccaneers’ defense and are averaging an inefficient 6.6 yards per pass attempt. This might not be an easy matchup for Stafford, but he still checks in as a low-end QB1 this week because he’ll probably throw 40-plus passes against the Buccaneers and could end up in a shootout with Tom Brady.

Running Backs

Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Giovani Bernard: Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians named Jones the starter in advance of the Bucs’ Week 2 game against the Falcons, but “starter” was a figurehead title in this case. Fournette edged Jones in snaps and out-touched him 15-7. Jones simply isn’t useful in the passing game, which is always going to limit his role – especially with Tom Brady running the offense and being particular about his RBs being in the right place at the right time. Fournette isn’t the most efficient pass catcher, but he at least demonstrates basic competence in that area. He’s probably the only Tampa back worth rostering at the moment, though he’s no better than a mid-range RB3 against a good Rams defense. It’s surprising we haven’t seen more of Bernard, who’s played 18% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps through two games. There had been reports just before the start of the season that Bernard had been dealing with a “mild high-ankle sprain,” which is probably just a regular high-ankle sprain, which is probably something Bernard shouldn’t have been trying to play through. Perhaps he’ll play a bigger role when he’s fully healthy.

Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel: Henderson has a rib cartilage issue and hadn’t practiced as of Wednesday, leaving his status up in the air. If Henderson can’t play, the bulk of the rushing duties would go to Sony Michel. The problem is that Michel probably does his best work between the tackles, and that path leads straight to Buccaneers DTs Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, who form an impregnable fortress in the middle of the defensive line. Without Henderson, it’s possible the Rams finish this game with something like an 80/20 pass/run split. Regardless of whether Henderson plays, I’m not going to have a Rams RB among my top 30 at the position.

Wide Receivers

Chris Godwin: After being peppered with 14 targets in Week 1 and cashing in for 105 yards and a touchdown, Godwin operated more efficiently in Week 2, turning five targets into a 4-62-1 line. Godwin figures to get more face time with Jalen Ramsey, the Rams’ best cornerback and one of the better cover men in the game, than any of the Bucs’ other receivers. So after Mike Evans was quiet in Week 1 and Antonio Brown faded into the background in Week 2, maybe it’s Godwin’s turn to recede in Week 3. Or maybe he’s just too good for that. I still have him as a high-end WR2.

Mike Evans: Touchdown dependence is pretty clearly a thing with Evans now. He has games where he barely registers as a yardage producer. Going back to last season, including the playoffs, he’s finished with fewer than 60 receiving yards in 8 of his last 12 games. He failed to reach 60 yards in 10 of 16 regular-season games in 2020. Not that these are terribly damning stats. A lot of receivers don’t meet those thresholds. But Evans might not be quite as special as he used to be, and it’s getting harder to squeeze useful fantasy numbers out of him if he doesn’t find the end zone. Evans may have the best of the matchup situation this weekend, likely to run most of his routes against CB David Long Jr., who’s not bad but may be the least distinguished of the Rams’ cornerbacks.

Antonio Brown: Brown’s 5-121-1 outburst on opening night was followed by a 1-17-0 clunker against the Falcons in Week 2. So it goes on a team with this many star-caliber pass catchers. AB’s primary defender on Sunday figures to be Darious Williams, a smallish but sound cover man. AB has also tested positive for COVID. While he technically still has a shot to play Sunday, the team is preparing as if he won’t be available. You should do the same.

Cooper Kupp: New Rams QB Matthew Stafford has totally clicked with Kupp, who’s thrown up 16-271-3 in just two games. Kupp rocked the Colts for 163 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday – and the Colts actually have a decent set of cornerbacks. This might be an even better spot for Kupp. The Buccaneers have put slot corner Sean Bunting-Murphy on IR. Bunting-Murphy was arguably the weak spot in the Bucs’ cornerback group to begin with. Now the slot corner spot gets even sketchier with Ross Cockrell. This is a bad, bad matchup for the Bucs.

Robert Woods: While Kupp is off to a blazing start, Woods has posted more modest totals, with 8-91-1 through two games. He may have to stand in the background yet again since he’ll draw Tampa’s best cover man, Carlton Davis.

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski: It’s amazing how inexpensive Gronk was in drafts this summer, and now he leads all tight ends in fantasy scoring (half-point PPR), if only briefly. There’s no debating whether to start him. Party on, Gronk.

Tyler Higbee: Between the Falcons’ Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith, and the Cowboys’ Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, tight ends have caught 15 passes against the Buccaneers for 153 yards and no touchdowns. Cooper Kupp once again figures to be Matthew Stafford‘s favorite target in this one, but this game sets up pretty well for Higbee, too.

Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings

Date/Time: Sunday September 26, 4:25pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Seahawks -1.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 55.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Seahawks 28.5, Vikings 27

Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson: Kyler Murray just dropped 400 passing yards and three TD passes on the Vikings, and now the red-hot Wilson visits Minneapolis. Wilson’s efficiency has been through the roof these first two games. He’s completed 74.1% of his throws and is averaging 11.1 yards per attempt. The Vikings, meanwhile, are allowing opposing quarterbacks (Murray and Joe Burrow so far) to complete passes at a 77.8% clip and are yielding 10.5 yards per pass attempt. I have Wilson ranked QB5 but won’t pay $7,600 for him on DraftKings, which seems a bit high for a quarterback who doesn’t run and is more about efficiency than volume.

Kirk Cousins: Opponents have been forcing Cousins and the Vikings into shootouts. That’s not how Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wants to play, but Cousins has thrown for 595 yards and five touchdowns as a result, leaving him QB10 in fantasy scoring. Seattle’s defense has recorded six sacks so far, but the Seahawks have some holes on the back end. And if Dalvin Cook (ankle) isn’t fully healthy, the Vikings may have little choice but to be pass-happy in order to keep up with the high-flying ‘Hawks.

Running Backs

Chris Carson: He’s been his usual rock-solid self in the running game, but it would be nice to see new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron get Carson more involved in the passing game. He caught 3 of 3 targets for 26 yards in Week 1 but wasn’t targeted in Week 2. Carson squares off against a Minnesota defense that gave up 127 rushing yards and a touchdown to Joe Mixon in Week 1 but fared better against the Cardinals’ RB duo in Week 2. I have Carson ranked RB15.

Dalvin Cook: A sprained ankle kept Cook out of practice Wednesday, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t seem concerned about Cook’s availability. The Seahawks would probably be grateful to face a top back at less than 100% capacity after being steamrolled by Derrick Henry in Week 2, allowing the big man to rack up 155 rushing yards and three TD runs, plus another 55 receiving yards. In fairness, the Seattle defense did a far better job of keeping the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor under control in Week 1.

Wide Receivers

Tyler Lockett: He trails only Cooper Kupp in half-point PPR fantasy scoring, and he’s averaging 23.2 yards per catch. Lockett’s three TD catches this season have covered 23, 69, and 63 yards. Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s offense has suited Lockett quite well so far, to say the least. Lockett is going to run some routes against Vikings CB Beshaud Breeland on Sunday – an epic mismatch in Lockett’s favor – but he may see some of Mackensie Alexander, too.

D.K. Metcalf: While Tyler Lockett has exploded early in the season, Metcalf had been more subdued, with 10-113-1 through his first two games. The Titans’ Kristian Fulton seemed to frustrate Metcalf for much of the day, and Metcalf seemed to sustain a minor leg injury at one point, although there’s been no indication that he’s in any danger of missing Week 3. Veteran Patrick Peterson, who’s 31, will bear most of the responsibility for trying to handle Metcalf on Sunday.

Justin Jefferson: The normally sure-handed Jefferson only dropped two passes in his sensational rookie year but has already dropped two this year. It’s not anything to worry about, but it’s among the reasons that Jefferson’s 11-136-1 stat line feels a little light. This could be a good week for Jefferson to fatten up his numbers since he’ll probably run most of his routes against Seahawks CB Tre Flowers, a liability in coverage.

Adam Thielen: We keep talking about how touchdown regression is coming for Thielen, and he keeps scoring touchdowns. Another TD catch in Week 2 gives him three for the season. Dating back to the beginning of the 2020 season, Thielen has scored 17 touchdowns in his last 17 games. Seattle’s top cornerback, D.J. Reed Jr., will bear primary responsibility for keeping Thielen out of the end zone.

K.J. Osborn: A blown coverage by the Cardinals allowed Osborn to score a 64-yard touchdown less than a minute into last Sunday’s game. He has 12 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown and ranks WR21 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring. Although I don’t think the production is a fluke, I could get Osborn higher than WR60 in my rankings this week.

Tight Ends

Gerald Everett: He’s played 76% of Seattle’s offensive snaps and has run a good number of routes (39), but Everett has this far drawn only four targets and has three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. Everett is TE22 in my rankings this week and is on the cusp of making my “cut ’em” list.

Tyler Conklin: Conklin’s snap share climbed to 80% in Week 2, and he’s run 48 routes this season. That usage has translated to six catches for 56 yards. Those are modest totals, but there may be room for growth here. Still, Conklin remains outside even the TE2 picture this week.

Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers

Date/Time: Sunday September 26, 8:20pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: 49ers -3.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 47.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: 49ers 25.5, Packers 22

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers: After turning in one of the worst performances of his career in a Week 1 loss to the Saints, Rodgers threw for 255 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-17 Week 2 win over the Lions, though a couple of those touchdowns were easy flips to RB Aaron Jones, who did the heavy lifting. The 49ers’ pass rush is a potential problem for Rodgers, still missing his starting left tackle, David Bakhtiari, who’s recovering from a torn ACL. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Arik Armstead can really bring the heat for the 49ers, who have five sacks so far. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur will sprinkle in plenty of runs, especially with the Packers faring so well with the running game against Detroit. I have Rodgers ranked QB10 and don’t anticipate a true shootout in this one. 

Jimmy Garoppolo: His Week 2 numbers weren’t pretty (22 of 30, 189 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions), but Jimmy G. managed the game for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, didn’t make any big mistakes, and brought home a 17-11 win over the Eagles. Rookie Trey Lance didn’t play any snaps against Philly in Week 2, but I’ll bet he sees a few on Sunday night in an effort to capitalize on the Packers’ lack of speed at linebacker. Green Bay has had problems generating a pass rush with edge rusher Za’Darius Smith injured, so Garoppolo’s lack of mobility may not be a problem for him in this game.

Running Backs

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon: Jones exploded for four touchdowns Monday night, three of them coming on pass receptions (though one was more like a forward handoff on a jet sweep). The Packers’ offensive game plan was so thoroughly blown up in the lopsided Week 1 loss to the Saints that we didn’t get any sort of handle on backfield usage. In Week 2, Jones played a lead role and Dillon was pretty clearly in a backup role. In other words, Dillon seemed to be less of a co-equal in the Green Bay backfield than Jamaal Williams was to Jones last year – a somewhat unexpected development for the Dillon supporters. But that was only one game, and maybe it didn’t give us a true read on the Packers’ RB usage. For now, you’re obviously playing Jones, but I don’t think you can confidently use Dillon in fantasy lineups.

Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and Jacques Patrick: Mitchell (shoulder) wasn’t practicing as of Thursday. Sermon (concussion) was practicing but in a non-contact jersey. Patrick was signed earlier this week for insurance. Based on merit, it would seem that Mitchell would be the lead guy, but a Mitchell injury may be exactly what Sermon needs to get his foot in the door. They could eventually form the thunder-and-lightning tandem we thought we’d see from Sermon and Raheem Mostert before Sermon tumbled down the depth chart and Mostert got hurt. Mitchell is a pretty reasonable proxy for Mostert’s game. If Sermon can’t provide the thunder, maybe the Niners will turn to Patrick, a 6-2, 226-pound thumper with 4.7 sundial speed. Patrick played four undistinguished seasons at Florida State from 2015 to 2018.

Wide Receivers

Davante Adams: If it’s possible to have a “quiet” eight-catch, 121-yard game, Adams had it on Monday, doing much of the damage when he hauled in a perfectly thrown 50-yard rainbow from Aaron Rodgers. With Jason Verrett out for the season with a torn ACL, the 49ers don’t have a cornerback who can go toe to toe with Adams. Youngster Deommodore Lenoir and oldster Josh Norman both figure to get their chances, but either defender will be outmatched.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling: The enigmatic MVS has pulled in just 3 of 12 targets on the season so far for 17 yards. He’s known for mixing egregious drops with huge gains, but we really haven’t seen either yet in 2021. Maybe we’ll get one of each on Sunday night. I have Valdes-Scantling ranked WR68.

Deebo Samuel: The WR3 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring, Samuel has dominated production in the 49ers’ passing game, hauling in 15 of 20 targets for 282 yards and a touchdown. He even added two carries for eight yards in the win over the Eagles. Samuel was used as a short-area receiver last year and had an average depth of target of 2.2 yards. So far in 2021, his aDOT is 7.4 yards, which is right in line with the 7.5-yard aDOT he had as a rookie in 2019. It’s unclear how the Packers plan to deploy their best cornerback, Jaire Alexander, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll spend at least some of his Sunday evening covering Deebo.

Brandon Aiyuk: After an impressive rookie year, Samuel has one catch for six yards so far. It’s still not clear whether 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan slid Aiyuk down the depth chart, or if Aiyuk has still been recovering from a hamstring injury he dealt with late in training camp. Some of Shanny’s remarks about the Aiyuk situation have been rather cryptic. As good as Aiyuk was in 2020, it would be a surprise to see him go the way of Dante Pettis and play his way out of the Bay Area.

Tight Ends

Robert Tonyan: George Kittle and Tonyan are good friends, so both tight ends might have extra motivation for this one. Tonyan’s 11-TD season in 2020 screams “regression,” but he scored a touchdown in Week 2 on a perfectly thrown laser from Rodgers, and it seems as if Rodgers likes to seek out Tonyan in the red zone. The 49ers were blowtorched by Lions TE T.J. Hockenson in Week 1 but kept Eagles TEs Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz from doing any significant damage in Week 2. Consider Tonyan a low-end TE1 or top-end TE2.

George Kittle: It’s only a matter of time before this guy gets rolling. Maybe it will happen against a Green Bay defense that gave up two TD catches to Saints TE Juwan Johnson in Week 1 and then yielded 8-66-1 to T.J. Hockenson in Week 2. Kittle currently ranks TE13 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring behind the likes of Jack Doyle, Dawson Knox, and, yes, Kittle’s buddy Robert Tonyan.

Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys

Date/Time: Monday September 27, 8:15pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Cowboys -4
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 51.5 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Cowboys 27.75, Eagles 23.75

Quarterbacks

Jalen Hurts: After destroying the Falcons in Week 1, Hurts’ performance against the 49ers in Week 2 was harder to interpret. Nearly half of his 190 passing yards came on a 91-yard completion to Quez Watkins. But Hurts also had a 36-yard TD pass to Jalen Reagor nullified by an illegal touching penalty – Reagor stepped out of bounds and came back in before making the catch. On the ground, it was business as usual, with Hurts running 10 times for 82 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles face a Dallas defense that was picked apart by Tom Brady in the Thursday-night opener but played well against Justin Herbert and the Chargers in Week 2. Hurts made his first start against Dallas last December when he threw for 342 yards and touchdown (with two interceptions) and ran for 69 yards in a 27-17 Cowboys win. With his intoxicating rushing potential, Hurts is my QB7 this week.

Dak Prescott: It’s probably too early to draw conclusions about differences in Prescott’s game post-leg injury. Two interesting nuggets: (1) He’s completing 76.5% of his passes, and (2) his average targeted throw is 6.0 yards downfield this year, down from 7.9 yards in 2020 and wa-a-a-y down from 9.3 yards in 2019. So Dak is making shorter throws that he can complete at a higher percentage. It will be interesting to see whether that’s a two-game anomaly or a sign of a sea change for the Dallas offense. This week, Prescott faces an Eagles defense that has allowed only 325 passing yards so far and is yielding just 5.4 yards per pass attempt.

Running Backs

Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell: In each of Philadelphia’s first two games, Sanders played about two-thirds of the offensive snaps, and Gainwell played about one-third. That’s a satisfying split for fantasy purposes: a clear lead role for Sanders, and a meaningful complementary role for Gainwell. The only other thing I’ll mention here is that I feel like we still don’t have a clear read on Sanders, which is strange for a running back who’s starting his third NFL season. Some games, I’ll watch him and think, “Wow, he’s really good.” Other games, I’ll watch him and think, “He should be better.” If anyone thinks they have a good handle on what kind of player Sanders is, hit me up on Twitter and tell me because I’m stumped.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard: It seems like we’ve been subjected to a wave of Pollard-mania this week. He’s a talented dude, no question. I wouldn’t knock him because I have him on a bunch of teams, both dynasty and redraft. But just consider the case of the starter vs. the relief pitcher in baseball. The starter has to apportion his energy in a sensible way, making sure he has enough high-octane stuff left in the tank for the middle innings, occasionally using guile and cunning in place of pure velocity. The relief pitcher can come in and throw fastballs as hard as he can because he only has to do it for 15-20 pitches. There might be a similar dynamic at work with Zeke and Pollard, so I don’t want to be too quick to jump on the “Pollard is better” train. I did find it interesting that Pollard either took a handoff or was targeted with a pass on 16 of his 21 snaps in Week 2. When he’s in the game, the Cowboys want to let him pump those 100 mph fastballs.

Wide Receivers

DeVonta Smith: Smith followed up an impressive debut with kind of a clunker in Week 2, catching 2 of 7 targets for 16 yards. That stat line isn’t that bothersome when you consider that Smith already has 224 air yards, That’s a great sign for alpha usage. Smith falls into mid-level WR3 range and is worth firing up on Monday night.

Jalen Reagor: As noted in the blurb about Jalen Hurts, Reagor could have had his second TD catch in as many games if not for an illegal touching penalty. I don’t think Reagor is startable in most leagues. He’s another guy I don’t think we have a true read on yet. I will say, however, that the more I watch Reagor and the more I watch Justin Jefferson, the more flabbergasted I am that Eagles GM Howie Roseman and his staff could have chosen the former over the latter. Just … wow. (Sorry, Eagles fans.)

CeeDee Lamb: It’s going to be fun to watch Lamb go against Darius Slay on Monday night. Slay has been a rock-solid cover man for a long time, but Lamb is special. He’s commanding a 28.6% target share so far this season, and Lamb and Amari Cooper have a combined target share of 54.8%. Hard to blame Dak Prescott for wanting to throw to those two.

Amari Cooper: He’s been dealing with a rib injury, but Cooper got in a limited practice, and with this game on Monday instead of Sunday, it would be a surprise if he didn’t play. He’ll probably see a lot of Eagles CB Steven Nelson, which will make for an interesting matchup. You’re absolutely starting Cooper, of course, though it makes sense to stay on top of the rib injury.

Tight Ends

Dallas Goedert: Zach Ertz is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so it appears as if Goedert will have the TE snaps to himself on Monday night against a Dallas defense that was Gronk-smashed by Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski in the Thursday-night season opener. That’s what Goedert advocates thought they’d be getting all along when Ertz made noise about wanting out of Philadelphia in the offseason. But an Ertz trade never materialized. With Goedert likely getting the TE targets to himself I have him ranked TE8 this week.

Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz: Schultz has been getting a slightly higher snap share so far this season, but the receiving numbers are close: Schultz with 8-63-0 on 8 targets, Jarwin with 6-57-0 on 7 targets. It’s a value-killing situation. I have Jarwin TE21 this week, Schultz TE23.

Carolina Panthers vs Houston Texans

Date/Time: Thursday September 23, 8:20pm ET
BettingPros Consensus Spread: Panthers -7.5
BettingPros Consensus Over/Under: 44 points
Implied Vegas point totals
: Panthers 25.75, Texans 18.25

Quarterbacks

Sam Darnold: Here’s an example of how Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady are setting up Darnold for success. Playing under Adam Gase in his rookie year with the Jets, Darnold’s average depth of target was 9.5 yards. This year it’s 7.5 yards. Easier throws, easier completions, better results. Darnold ranks QB15 in fantasy scoring. He’s completed 68.5% of this throws for 584 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Granted, he got to pick on an inexperienced group of Jets cornerbacks in Week 1, then faced a Saints defense that was without CB Marshon Lattimore and edge rusher Marcus Davenport. The Houston defense that Darnold will be facing this week held up well against rookie QB Trevor Lawrence in Week 1, but Baker Mayfield completed 19 of 21 throws against the Texans in Week 2, averaging 10.1 yards per pass attempt. This is not a defense to fear. Darnold is my QB12 this week.

Davis Mills: It’s not completely implausible that Mills could surprise us with a strong performance in his first start. In 2018, Nick Mullens made his NFL debut in a Thursday-night game and lit up the Raiders for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-3 blowout, finishing with a passer rating of 151.9. Then again, the Raiders’ pass defense was terrible that year, giving up a league-high 36 TD passes and allowing 8.2 yards per pass attempt. Mills is going to be facing a Carolina defense that terrorized Zach Wilson in Week 1 and Jameis Winston in Week 2, collecting 10 sacks in those two games, intercepting three passes, and allowing a 52.5% completion percentage. Mills is playing because Tyrod Taylor is on IR with a hamstring injury. In relief of Taylor last week, Mills completed only 8 of 18 passes. He’ll also be short on receivers, with Nico Collins and Danny Amendola both out. It could be a long night for the rookie QB from Stanford.

Running Backs

Christian McCaffrey: He’s currently second in RB fantasy scoring behind Derrick Henry, even though McCaffrey has only scored one touchdown so far. (Henry has scored three.) CMC is piling up yardage as usual – 170 rushing yards, 154 receiving yards. The rushing efficiency has left something to be desired (3.8 yards per carry), but the receiving efficiency is off the charts (10.3 yards per target). This seems like a smash spot, with the Panthers favored by 8.5 points against a seemingly overmatched foe. One minor concern: McCaffrey had what he described as “onset cramps” during the Saints game and briefly went to the locker room for an IV. Could the cramping be an issue again only four days later? That seems like the only thing that could possibly slow down McCaffrey in this one.

Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and David Johnson: The Texans’ snap shares so far this season: Ingram 40%, Johnson 35%, Lindsay 23%. Ingram earned a plurality of snaps in Week 1, when a comfortable win over the Jaguars kept the game script favorable – i.e, run-heavy. But in Week 2, when a game that was 14-14 at halftime got away from Houston in the second half, Johnson led the Texans’ backs with 26 snaps. This trio will be facing a Carolina defense that has allowed a league-low 93 rushing yards per game and just 2.7 yards per carry. Ingram has 40 carries on the season, while Lindsay has 13 and Ingram has only nine. But given the likelihood of a negative game script and the probability that rookie QB Davis Mills will be looking to check down when the Panthers turn up the heat, Johnson has some appeal in DraftKings’ Thursday-night Showdown, since at $8,100 he’s $1,800 cheaper than Ingram and $600 cheaper than Lindsay. But all of these dudes are unusable this week in redraft leagues.

Wide Receivers

D.J. Moore: With more than twice as many targets as Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall, Moore is staking his claim as the alpha of the Panthers’ WR corps. Three years into his career, Moore’s single-season high in touchdowns is only four, and entering Week 2 he had scored only 10 touchdowns in 47 career games. But he had his first TD catch of the year Sunday against the Saints, and as good as Moore has been, it seems like the TD floodgates are bound to burst open. Texans cornerback Terrace Mitchell (concussion) and safety Justin Reid (knee) missed practice Tuesday and may not be ready to go for a Thursday-nighter. If Mitchell can’t play, the duty of trying to cover Moore will go to Vernon Hargraves and/or Tremon Smith. Those are matchups Moore should win. Regard him as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 this week.

Robby Anderson: He ranked 10th in targets last year with 136, but Anderson has only been targeted nine times in his first two games of 2021. That’s probably no fluke, with Christian McCaffrey back after an injury-plagued 2020, and D.J. Moore asserting himself as the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver. I sounded the same alarm in this space a week ago, but I’ll blare the horn once more: Try to trade Robby in redraft leagues while you can still get a reasonable return. Despite the favorable matchup with the Texans, I have Anderson ranked as a low-end WR3 because of the target uncertainty he’s facing these days.

Terrace Marshall: Through two weeks, Marshall has played 52% of Carolina’s offensive snaps. His six receptions have netted 43 yards, and his average depth of target so far is 5.7 so far. Marshall has 4.4 speed and averaged 15.0 yards per catch during his three seasons at LSU, so it would be nice to see him get some higher-value looks downfield. As good a prospect as Marshall is, it might be hard for him to break out this year with Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson providing such stiff target competition. That said, I sort of like his affordable $6,000 price tag in the DraftKings’ Thursday-night Showdown.

Brandin Cooks: Through two games, Cooks has an outrageous 35% target share and is doing yeoman’s work to try to give an undermanned offense a veneer of respectability. As good as Cooks has been so far, with 14-210-1 on 21 targets, the deck is really stacked against him this week. He’ll be working with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, Davis Mills, and he’s facing a good trio of Carolina cornerbacks in Donte Jackson, A.J. Bouye and Jaycee Horn. As good as Cooks has been so far, I have him as a back-end WR3 this week.

Chris Conley: Nico Collins is on injured reserve, and Danny Amendola is hurt, too, so Conley figures to see a lot of snaps on Thursday. He played a 90% snap share in Week 2, yet he’s priced at only $2,400 in the DraftKings’ Thursday-night Showdown, where he makes a nice cost-cutting option. That’s the only place you’d want to use Conley, however.

Tight Ends

Dan Arnold: With just a 29% snap share in Week 2, it’s hard to trust Arnold against the Texans, even though Cleveland’s three tight ends combined for 11 catches and 107 yards against Houston last week. Carolina TE Ian Thomas played 69% of Carolina’s offensive snaps in Week Two but isn’t much of a factor in the passing game. Rookie Tommy Tremble is getting some snaps as well. Best to avoid this situation for now.

Pharaoh Brown: Houston’s TE spot isn’t a place to invest under normal circumstances. Factor in a rookie QB making his first start and there’s absolutely zero appeal here.

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Pat Fitzmaurice is a featured writer and editor at FantasyPros. For more from Pat, check out his archive and follow him @Fitz_FF.

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