There are already several NFL backfields that look different than we imagined they would just two weeks ago. Unless of course, you predicted that Kyren Williams, Joshua Kelley, and Jerome Ford as Week 3 starters. Injuries and trades have caused quite a bit of commotion, and that is reflected in my Week 3 Flex rankings. I will discuss some of those backfield scenarios in the space below, as well as some issues that affect Flex-worthy wide receivers and tight ends. As always, these rankings are based on half-PPR scoring, so adjust as needed based on your league settings.
Running Back Notes
There is a lot to cover concerning the running back landscape. Let us begin on the injury front. Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending injury on Monday night in Cleveland’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns brought Kareem Hunt back into the fold, but I still expect Jerome Ford to be the team’s lead back going forward. Ford should benefit from having one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. However, it should be noted that Cleveland’s next three games are against the Titans, Ravens, and 49ers. Both Tennessee and Baltimore rank in the top 10 in defensive rush DVOA. And San Francisco is no picnic on that side of the ball either. I think Ford gets enough volume to make him a Week 3 fantasy starter, but this week’s matchup against the Titans is about as difficult as they come.
Joshua Kelley knows all too well how tough facing the Titans can be. Kelley filled in for the injured Austin Ekeler last week and mustered just 39 total yards against Tennessee. Ekeler is unlikely to play this week, meaning that Kelley will get a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of fantasy managers. I think he has an excellent chance of doing exactly that. The Chargers face a Minnesota Vikings that ranks 27th in defensive DVOA against the run, and 29th in total rushing yards allowed. I have Kelley ranked as an RB2 in 12-team leagues and a top 50 Flex player in Week 3. Technically I did include Ekeler in this week’s rankings just in case, but I am not expecting him to suit up.
Staying in that same game, this may be a make-or-break week for Alexander Mattison of the Vikings. Mattison has been underwhelming in Minnesota’s two losses. He has mustered just 83 total yards and has graded 47th among 51 qualified running backs per Pro Football Focus. This week, Minnesota acquired former Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers. Akers had a tumultuous time in Tinseltown and now seeks a fresh start with the Vikings. I still think Mattison is the Vikings running back you want in Week 3, as I do not expect Akers to have enough time to learn the offense and make a huge impact this week. However, neither Mattison nor Akers figures to get the amount of work going forward that we had projected for both of them before the season.
The Akers trade presumably leaves Kyren Williams as the Rams’ new RB1. I am a bit skeptical that this remains the case for the entire year. Williams hasn’t exactly dominated when given the opportunity. The second-year back has averaged 3.8 yards per carry so far in his career. To his credit, Williams has scored three rushing touchdowns already this year. But he has also had just one of his 64 career rushing attempts go for 10 yards. For now, though, it looks like he will be given the chance to carry the load going forward. That is good news for those who took a late flier on him in drafts or grabbed him off the waiver wire. Williams should get plenty of touches in Week 3, making him a borderline RB1 in 12-team leagues.
I have not even mentioned Saquon Barkley, David Montgomery, or Jamaal Williams yet. Barkley has already been ruled out for Thursday’s matchup in San Francisco, while neither Montgomery nor Williams is likely to play in Week 3. As was the case with Ekeler, I included Montgomery and Williams in my Week 3 Flex rankings as little more than a bookkeeping measure in case they somehow heal from their injuries faster than we expected. Matt Breida, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Tony Jones are the players most likely to benefit from these respective injuries. Of the three, Gibbs is the only one I would consider a must-start this week. I consider both Breida and Jones dicey Week 3 Flex plays, but you may be forced into playing them depending on how badly your roster has been bit by the injury bug.
Wide Receiver Notes
I discussed Puka Nacua last week, and his stock continues to rise as Matthew Stafford’s new go-to receiver in the absence of Cooper Kupp. But his teammate, Tutu Atwell, has also acquitted himself nicely. Atwell has turned 17 targets into 13 receptions and 196 receiving yards. He is a top-20 fantasy wideout through two weeks despite not yet having found the end zone. Atwell’s usage and production thus far have been very encouraging and have gone a bit under the radar. He ranks 10th in the NFL in air yards and his 13.41 aDOT (average depth of target) is in the ballpark of players like Tee Higgins and Mike Evans. Atwell should continue to thrive as long as Kupp is out, and could even have some staying power given his role in this offense. I have Atwell as a solid WR3 this week.
Another wideout who has balled out so far is Nico Collins of the Houston Texans. Collins is currently the WR7 overall in half-PPR scoring entering Week 3. While I do not think that is sustainable, I do believe Collins is here to stay as a fantasy-relevant player. The Houston Texans are letting rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud throw the ball a ton. Stroud has over 100 dropbacks through two games. Collins appears to be Stroud’s preferred deep threat, which carries plenty of value. Houston also figures to be playing from behind quite a bit, which could boost Collins’ opportunity share. I have Collins as a low-end WR2 this week when the Texans take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. And I may not be high enough on him given how he has performed to this point.
Brandon Aiyuk is reportedly a game-time decision for Thursday’s game against the New York Giants. This is going to be a tricky situation for fantasy managers to navigate. The good news is we will know whether or not he is active before any games lock. However, if he is active, it is hard to say how much work he will get. The 49ers are a huge favorite in this game, and may not need to overdo it with Aiyuk. Part of me is hoping he does not play so that I do not need to decide if I should start him. I ranked Aiyuk right on the cusp of Flex consideration. There are safer options in his range, but there are precious few who carry his upside.
Tight End Notes
So far this year, five tight ends have caught at least five passes in both games. Two are T.J. Hockenson and Evan Engram, who were highly touted coming into the year. The others? Zach Ertz, Hunter Henry, and Sam LaPorta. While Hockenson and Engram are considered every-week starters, we may not feel the same about the other three players on this list. But I am going to continue to ride these players while they are being featured in their respective offenses. To be clear, I am not suggesting you start any of them in your Flex spot, or over an elite player like Mark Andrews. However, if you are streaming tight ends, I would continue to play LaPorta, Ertz, and Henry for the time being. And yes, that is how I currently have them ranked for Week 3.
Week 3 Flex Rankings
|12||Kenneth Walker III||RB7||SEA||CAR|
|17||Amon-Ra St. Brown||WR8||DET||ATL|
|52||Michael Pittman Jr.||WR24||IND||@BAL|
|94||Tony Jones Jr.||RB37||NO||@GB|
|123||Allen Robinson II||WR66||PIT||@LV|
|138||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR72||BAL||IND|
|150||Calvin Austin III||WR78||PIT||@LV|
|155||Irv Smith Jr.||TE26||CIN||LAR|
|192||Terrace Marshall Jr.||WR96||CAR||@SEA|
|212||Laviska Shenault Jr.||WR103||CAR||@SEA|
|225||Melvin Gordon III||RB71||BAL||IND|
|246||John Metchie III||WR120||HOU||@JAC|
|265||Robert Tonyan Jr.||TE57||CHI||@KC|