Week 3 got off to a rough start if you have Christian McCaffrey on your roster. The Carolina star running back left Thursday’s game early with an injury and will be out multiple weeks. If you started Sam Darnold, D.J. Moore, or Brandin Cooks, you are probably in decent shape. I mention this because it feels like my recommendations for this week are a bit more boom-or-bust than normal. This was not my intention when I began working on this the other day. Perhaps it is simply my subconscious speaking as someone who has McCaffrey in multiple leagues. Whatever the case may be, you may have to take on a bit more risk with your lineup decisions if Thursday’s happenings put you in a hole. With that in mind, here are my Week 3 start and sit recommendations.
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Fantasy Football Week 3 Start and Sit Recommendations
Quarterbacks to Start
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns
I highlighted why I am high on Justin Fields in his first NFL start here. Rather than repeat myself, I would like to discuss a little game theory if I may.
Sometimes the whole “start/sit” conundrum gets a little tricky. In most 10 and 12-team leagues, you are only required to start one quarterback. And there are several quarterbacks you are pretty much starting every week regardless of matchup. There are a few quarterbacks who are usually in the QB2 range whom I like quite a bit this week based on their matchups. So which ones do you start, and which should you bench? At the risk of giving a non-answer, it sort of depends on your other options.
Fantasy football is very much a game of playing the odds. The reason why 99 percent of us rank Christian McCaffrey as our RB1 every week isn’t that we think he is going to necessarily score the most points in every single matchup. It’s because he is the safest choice out there (yes, I recognize the irony of this statement given Thursday’s injury) to put up a big number for us.
How does this relate to Justin Fields? Well, I clearly like him a lot this week. I would not at all be surprised if he finished the week as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. My bold prediction is meant to be just that, but I truly believe he can reach the thresholds I suggested. At the same time, I would be lying if I said I would start him ahead of a consensus top-six signal caller. There are reasons to be a bit wary of the matchups for other consensus QB1s like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. But they are still safer picks than Fields is. Just keep that in mind when setting your lineups this week.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons
Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos vs. New York Jets
Daniel Jones and Teddy Bridgewater are essentially in the same boat as Fields. The difference (for me at least) is that I think Fields has a higher ceiling this week. Yes, I know Jones was a top-five fantasy quarterback against Washington last week. But I think it’s safe to say that Jones, while more athletic than we tend to give him credit for, is not going to run for 95 yards in Week 3. Whereas I think Fields has a better chance to reach that mark. Jones likely will not need to run much against an Atlanta defense that has allowed an 83.6 percent adjusted completion rate and a league-high eight touchdown passes. They will also likely be without top cornerback A.J. Terrell. Jones will be just fine this week based on his passing production, but I give Fields the greater chance of eclipsing 20 fantasy points.
As for Bridgewater, we know what he brings to the table. He is steady and efficient and can produce if necessary. I just do not see that necessity occurring on Sunday against the New York Jets. The Jets have scored a total of three points in the first half of their two losses. If the Broncos get out in front early, I would expect them to take the air out of the ball. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have each carried the ball at least 11 games in both of Denver’s wins. That is exactly the style that the Broncos want to play. If there was a category for fantasy points per dropback, I would be fine with starting Bridgewater this week. Otherwise, I just do not think the volume will be there. Also, if such a league exists, please invite me for next year because that sounds awesome.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
My listing of Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford here ties in with my earlier diatribe on Justin Fields. The game between the Rams and Buccaneers features the largest Vegas total on the Week 3 board. And the Bucs are favored by a single point, so this figures to be a hotly-contested affair. That could lead to offensive fireworks, and I do not expect either team to generate much on the ground. The safe money says both quarterbacks in this game approach 300-plus yards and throw for multiple touchdowns. However, there are reasons to be a bit concerned about the matchups for these quarterbacks.
Per FTN’s advanced defensive pass stats, Tampa Bay generates pressure within 2.21 seconds of the snap. That is tied for fourth-best in the NFL. Stafford has averaged 3.53 fewer yards per attempt thus far this year when facing pressure. That number comes with the obvious small sample size caveat, but it is something worth paying attention to. The Rams are one of the three teams who generate pressure at a rate quicker than the Bucs’ 2.21-second mark. Los Angeles clocks in at 2.20. Because both teams generate pressure so quickly, they also rank in the top-four in the lowest aDOT (average depth of target) allowed. Neither coach will want to put his quarterback in harm’s way given their opposing defensive fronts. That could lead to a bit more of a conservative game plan than most would expect.
The Rams have allowed just one of 12 red-zone targets to result in a touchdown so far this year. Tampa Bay has been a bit more generous, as they have yielded three touchdowns on 16 red-zone targets. Of course, neither defense has been tested to the degree that they will be on Sunday. But I could see some of these drives ending in field goals rather than touchdowns. I feel that this game turns out a bit like the game between the Cowboys and Chargers did last week. The quarterbacks in that game combined for 575 passing yards but managed to find the end zone just once. I expect Brady and Stafford to avoid the costly mistakes that hampered Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert in that game. However, I think they will fall shy of the lofty expectations thrust upon them.
Running Backs to Start
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Through two weeks of the NFL season, Tony Pollard leads all running backs in overall grade according to Pro Football Focus. And he has not been a one-dimensional contributor. He ranks second in both rushing and receiving grades. Pollard has amassed 183 total yards on just 23 touches and has often looked like the superior back in the Cowboys’ backfield. There is no controversy here, and the reports of Ezekiel Elliott’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. However, it appears Pollard will continue to be utilized more than your typical “backup” running back. And given the solid offensive line, his efficiency should remain relatively high. Pollard has also benefited from the formations in which he is being used. He has run against just a six-man box on 10 of his 16 carries so far this year. Pollard has averaged 9.9 yards per run in those situations.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been a middling defense against the run so far this year. They are one of just four teams who have allowed at least 200 total rushing yards and 100 receiving yards to opposing running backs thus far. The Eagles have been a bit prone to allowing the big play. They have been “gashed” (runs against that have gone for at least 10 yards) on 13.3 percent of opponents’ rushing plays. That mark is tied for fourth-highest in the NFL. Pollard has accounted for such runs on 25 percent of his carries. I would expect Tony Pollard to get about a dozen touches in this game. That should be enough for him to put up Flex-worthy production in this matchup.
Latavius Murray, Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions
Most fantasy managers will be starting the usual suspects on Baltimore this week, which makes sense. However, I believe Latavius Murray is going a bit under the radar, which feels like a mistake. The Ravens are a solid 7.5-point favorite on the road against the Lions. Detroit just gave up four touchdowns to Aaron Jones following a 104-yard outburst by (then) relatively unknown Elijah Mitchell in Week 1. Simply put, Detroit is a matchup we should feel confident about when starting our running backs. Murray is just a tertiary rushing threat behind Lamar Jackson and Ty’Son Williams. However, he could see a bit more run than usual this week.
Williams had a goal-line fumble in last week’s victory. The fumble was recovered by the Ravens, so all’s well that ends well. But Murray is the back who will likely be called upon if and when Baltimore needs to burn the clock in the fourth quarter. He may also get a couple of looks at the expense of Jackson. Jackson’s explosiveness knows no bounds, but he is currently on pace for over 200 carries. That is far too many for a quarterback, regardless of how good he is as a ball carrier. He also is recovering from an illness and reportedly injured his hip celebrating his second touchdown run against the Chiefs. Neither ailment should prevent Jackson from suiting up, but I believe he will run less than normal. That should lead to a greater likelihood for Murray to post Flex value in Week 3.
Running Backs to Sit
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins vs. Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders rush defense is a bit of a paradox through two weeks of the 2021 NFL season. They rank in the bottom-10 in the NFL in terms of yards per carry permitted as well as yards per carry after contact. On the other hand, their stuff rate (percentage of yards that go for four yards or less and do not result in a first down or touchdown) is the fourth-highest in all of football. That indicates to me that their gash rate is probably pretty high. Sure enough, their 11.6 percent mark in that area is the ninth-highest in the league. When facing a boom-or-bust defense such as the Raiders, I want to start a running back that I know will get a lot of touches. And I am just not sure that applies in the case of Myles Gaskin.
Gaskin has totaled just 14 carries through two games. He has managed to salvage some value through receiving production, but not enough to where I would be enthused about starting him in Week 3. The Miami Dolphins are a bit of a mess offensively at the moment. They are without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and have also missed starting wide receiver Will Fuller so far. Those absences have thrown the offense a bit out of whack. Miami has scored just 17 points through two games. That is the lowest number in the league, though the Dolphins are merely just serving as temporary placeholders for the New York Jets in that area. Still, Miami is far from a fully functioning offense, and I would prefer to see them put together a solid 60 minutes of football (even 30 would be nice) before trusting Gaskin as a fantasy starter.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As I mentioned in this Week’s Flex rankings column, I am not so secretly hoping that Darrell Henderson sits out this game to get a bit of rest to help his rib cartilage injury. The matchup against the Buccaneers is a brutal one for a completely healthy back, much less one dealing with an injury. Even if Henderson does take the field on Sunday, I do not like his chances for success given the matchup. This is also a late game with a 4:25 PM EST start. Depending on your roster construction, you may not have another player to slot into your lineup if Henderson is ruled out on gameday. I ranked Henderson as my RB33 for Week 3 the other day, and I may even drop him a few more spots before all is said and done on Sunday.
Wide Receiver to Start
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
(Cordarrelle Patterson is listed as both a running back and wide receiver in Fantrax leagues. Add this to the list of reasons you should host your leagues here, but I digress. In most leagues, however, Patterson has strict WR-only eligibility. Thus I will include him here instead of in the running back section.)
Let’s get weird, people! Mike Davis is looking very much like a JAG (just a guy) as Atlanta’s de facto lead running back. Davis has 37 touches through two games and only two of those plays have gone for at least 10 yards. His 1.92 yards per carry after contact is uninspiring, and is well below the 2.96 mark he posted last season in Carolina. Cordarrelle Patterson, meanwhile, is averaging 9.00 yards after contact per rush. That number is unsustainable, of course. But Patterson has long been heralded as a player who can make defenders miss in space. Head coach Arthur Smith has identified him as a player who should get frequent touches in Atlanta’s offense. Patterson set a career-high last season with 89 touches-plus-targets in 16 games. He has already had 23 offensive opportunities so far in 2021.
The matchup against the New York Giants is one that both Falcons’ backs have the potential to exploit. New York gave up 159 scrimmage yards and a score to Denver’s pair of running backs in Week 1. They followed that up by allowing 166 yards and two touchdowns against Washington last week. Davis has the more secure role and is the preferred pick in the Atlanta backfield. But do not expect Patterson to go quietly into the night. He has the quickness and elusiveness to take any touch to the house. And Atlanta has even fed Patterson red zone carries on occasion. Patterson is a solid Flex option on his own and could slot in nicely at WR for teams who are without Diontae Johnson, Tee Higgins, or Antonio Brown this week.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Michael Pittman was one of the breakout stars of Week 2. The second-year wideout set career-highs in targets (12), receptions (8), and receiving yards (123) last week. That he was able to put up those numbers against the Los Angeles Rams is no easy feat, and speaks to his tremendous potential. People are now expecting him to build on last week’s performance. Normally, I would be right there with those people, as I am high on Pittman’s long-term outlook. However, I just cannot get behind him this week even in a plus matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
The Colts’ quarterback situation is too shaky for my liking. Carson Wentz is dealing with dual ankle sprains. He is expected to suit up on Sunday, but I am still reserving judgment on how effective he will be. Pittman has an aDOT of 11.29 through two games this season. He has accounted for 35 percent of his team’s air yards so far in 2021. That ranks him 21st among NFL wideouts heading into Week 3. I suspect he will be targeted closer to the line of scrimmage given Wentz’s lower body issues. That does not necessarily prohibit Pittman from putting up numbers this week. However, I would not expect another 100-plus yard performance out of Pittman given the constraints that Wentz may be under.
Corey Davis, New York Jets at Denver Broncos
Corey Davis is the overall WR25 in half-PPR scoring as we embark on Week 3. That sounds good enough until you realize he was the WR5 in Week 1 and the WR94 in Week 2. It is an indication that Davis is going to lack the weekly consistency of many of the receivers in his general range. That could be a frustrating scenario for fantasy managers to navigate. The only thing worse than starting a dud is sitting a stud. His expected weekly production will likely be tied to his matchups more so than many other wideouts. This week’s matchup is not a great one against the Denver Broncos.
Denver features one of the league’s best young secondaries. Wide receivers have caught just 53 percent of their targets against the Broncos so far this season. That is the second-lowest rate in the league. The 6.47 yards per target they have permitted is the third-lowest in the NFL. The most likely scenario for Davis to put up a top-36 week is that he produces in garbage time. That is certainly possible, as Davis himself proved in Week 1. However, that is not something we want to rely on each week. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson looked completely overmatched against the New England Patriots a week ago. Denver’s defense will not offer Wilson much of a reprieve. I would try to find someone else to start over Corey Davis in Week 3 if possible.
Tight Ends to Start
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins vs. Las Vegas Raiders
I completely understand the desire to leave Mike Gesicki on your bench this week. He has just three catches for 41 scoreless yards through two weeks. And as I mentioned earlier, Miami is a mess in general on the offensive side of the football. Last week’s shutout at the hands of the Buffalo Bills does little to give us much confidence about any of the Dolphins’ players. However, I do believe Gesicki is a bit undervalued heading into this matchup. Las Vegas linebacker Cory Littleton has struggled in coverage so far in 2021. His 31.0 coverage grade is second-worst among all linebackers. He has also allowed a healthy 1.28 yards per route run so far this season. I would not start Gesicki if you have an elite alternative, but I think he is in for a solid performance this week.
Evan Engram, New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons
This is very much a dice roll and depends on your risk management, tolerance, and other options. Engram is still on the mend from his calf injury, and his Week 3 status remains murky. Injuries like his tend to recur, so I am not expecting a full complement of snaps. But the matchup is one of the best in all of football. The Atlanta Falcons have already allowed three touchdown receptions to enemy tight ends. Linebacker Deion Jones has been one of the primary culprits for Atlanta’s struggles in that area. He has allowed a catch on all nine targets in his coverage. His 1.83 yards per route covered is fifth-highest, and his 0.41 fantasy points allowed per target are second-highest. Engram is a risky play for sure, but he could reward his fantasy managers in this matchup.
Tight End to Sit
Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team v. Buffalo Bills
Logan Thomas had a solid performance in Week 2, finishing with five catches on seven targets. Backup Ricky Seals-Jones turned his lone target into an acrobatic 19-yard touchdown catch. As Pink once stated, “Sometimes it be’s like that.” I think Thomas’ place atop the pecking order in Washington is secure, but I am not crazy about this week’s matchup. Matt Milano is perennially one of the premier linebackers in the NFL in terms of coverage. And Tremaine Edmunds has done a nice job in coverage so far this year as well. The fourth-year linebacker has covered 60 routes through two games and has only ceded three catches for 20 yards. This is a matchup I would prefer to avoid if possible.
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