We are all prisoners of the moment.
Hard not to be, right?
Especially in an emotional game such as fantasy football, in which way too often our heart, eyes and brain are in conflict.
“He plays for my favorite team and I drafted him early!”
“But he looks awful and hasn’t had a good game in a month!”
“But they play the Dolphins!”
There might be no wider range of emotions than an NFL weekend for a fantasy player, as we go on a roller-coaster filled with highs, lows, dread, hope, anger, prayer, yelling, cheering and cursing.
These are our guys.
We scouted them, we studied them, we drafted them, we started them and we watched them.
These are our guys.
At least they are supposed to be.
How could you not freak out? Joe Mixon! You could have had Dalvin Cook, but no, the idiot site you were on had Mixon ranked higher, so you took Mixon, even though podcast fans know exactly what happens whenever you count on the Bengals.
But you took him early, and then Donnie, stupid Donnie, with his dumb laugh and annoyingly loud voice, who showed up late with no draft materials and has been farting up a storm, asks someone who the next-highest running back is and some jerk tells him it’s Cook, so he takes him one pick before it comes back around to you. And now Donnie, moronic, gassy Donnie is in first place and hasn’t even logged onto the site yet, but you’re stuck with Mixon, and why the hell do you play this stupid game anyway?
I get it.
But if I may, before we go too far down a shame spiral, I’d like to offer a few blind résumés:
Player A: 18.2 total points, 26.5% target share
Player B: 21.8 total points, 26.4% target share
(Player A is George Kittle through the first two weeks of 2018. Player B is George Kittle through the first two weeks of 2019. Kittle finished last season as TE3.)
Player C: 21.4 total points, with one game under 7.5 points and another over 14
Player D: 22.8 total points, with one game under 7.5 points and another over 14
(Player C is Robert Woods through the first two weeks of 2018. Player D is Robert Woods through the first two weeks of 2019. Woods finished last season as WR11.)
Player E: 10.7 points
Player F: 14.9 points
(Player E is Mike Evans in Weeks 9-10 in 2018. Player F is Mike Evans through the first two weeks of 2019. Despite a two-week stretch when he was brutal, Evans still finished 2018 as WR11.)
Player G: 39.5 points (QB12)
Player H: 37.7 points (QB14)
(Player G is Matt Ryan through the first two weeks of 2018. Player H is Matt Ryan through the first two weeks of 2019. Ryan finished 2018 as QB2.)
Player I: 39.5 points, a TD reception in both games, 18 targets (6 deep) with 3 deep receptions, 89.8% of snaps played.
Player J: 40.7 points, a TD reception in both games, 16 targets (7 deep) with 4 deep receptions, 89.4% of snaps played.
Player K: 32.8 points through Week 2 (his previous worst start to a season in his career), 56.7% completion rate, 2 TDs
Player L: 27.3 points through Week 2, 62.5% completion rate, 3 TDs
(Player K is Aaron Rodgers at the start of 2009. Player L is Aaron Rodgers so far this season. Rodgers finished 2009 as QB1.)
I could do this all day. It’s two weeks, kids. Last season, through the first two weeks …
• Tarik Cohen was RB51 (10.6 points) … finished as RB11.
• Chris Carson was RB45 (11.3 points) … finished as RB15.
• Dak Prescott was QB26 (23.6 points) … finished as QB10.
• Andrew Luck was QB21 (30.8 points) … finished as QB5.
And it’s not just about slow starters. Last season, through the first two games (all stats below are on a per-game basis, so as not to be influenced by injury) …
• Javorius “Buck” Allen was RB16 … finished as RB64.
• Nelson Agholor was WR20 … finished as WR51.
• Jesse James was TE2 … finished as TE32.
• Will Dissly was TE3 … finished as TE17.
It’s two weeks. I get it. I really do. But it’s two weeks. There’s a long way to go.
By the way, here’s one final intriguing fact: Eleven WRs had at least 40 points through two weeks in 2018. Eight of those 11 WRs went on to play at least 13 games … and all eight finished in the top 10 among WRs last season.
This year, there are 15 WRs with at least 40 points through two weeks. Will all of them finish in the top 20?
Sammy Watkins (57.7)
John Ross III (56.0)
Emmanuel Sanders (48.4)
Marquise Brown (47.3)
Keenan Allen (44.1)
DJ Chark (43.1)
T.Y. Hilton (43.0)
Julio Jones (42.7)
Odell Beckham Jr. (42.2)
Michael Thomas (41.2)
Calvin Ridley (40.9)
Larry Fitzgerald (40.7)
Terry McLaurin (40.7)
Chris Godwin (40.4)
DeAndre Hopkins (40.1)
Food for thought, as is this Love/Hate for Week 3. As always, this is not a start-or-sit column. I don’t “love” or “hate” players. I do, however, “love” or “hate” their ESPN projection for PPR leagues. So that’s what this is. Players who are “loves” are players I believe will generally meet or exceed their ESPN projections. “Hates” are players I believe will fall short of their ESPN projections. That simple. For specific “this player or that player” questions, please consult my rankings, which are constantly updated all the way through Sunday at kickoff. You also can watch The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, which expanded to four episodes a week this year, and of course Fantasy Football Now, every Sunday morning on ESPN2. Thank you as always to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the 06010 podcast and the Stat-a-pillar from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski, for their help at various points in this column.
Here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 3
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (vs. Dolphins; ESPN projection: 21.6): The hottest QB in the league takes on the worst defense in the league. Do you need more? Dak is the first player with 25 completions, 330 yards of offense and 3 TD passes in three straight games since Drew Brees in 2012. Las Vegas is projecting 33 to 34 points for the Cowboys in this game. Prescott averages 24 PPG for his career when the Cowboys score 28-plus points. Gimme the over on 21.6.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (vs. Bengals; ESPN projection: 19.1): You had me at Bengals. Cincy is giving up 11 yards per attempt this season (second most). It’s a good matchup for the strong-armed Allen, and with a banged-up run game, expect the Bills to take some deep shots here. Allen’s rushing keeps his floor high; he has six rushing scores in his past six games.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Giants; ESPN projection: 17.2): What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I’m definitely crazy. But here I am, writing in front of you, putting Winston on the love list. What is wrong with me? Someone send me to rehab. In the meantime, he is at home and has had 10 days to prepare for a Giants team that has allowed opponents to complete 71% of their passes (seventh highest) for 642 yards (third highest) and has only three sacks on the season.
Others receiving votes: Despite not running very much so far, Kyler Murray is the 12th-best QB in fantasy. Only Patrick Mahomes has attempted more deep passes than Murray. I like the over on 16.7 points at home against a Panthers team that is giving up 9.0 air yards per target (eighth most in the NFL). … Opponents have completed 75% of passes against the Steelers this season for 640 yards, 6 TDs and no INTs, making Jimmy Garoppolo a viable option for two-QB leagues or those streaming QBs in the wake of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and (maybe?) Cam Newton. … Speaking of Newton, if he misses this game, I like Kyle Allen as a dirt-cheap DFS play and/or deeper-league fill-in. Allen is a better QB than you think. He impressed in his Week 17 start last season (16-of-27 for 228 yards and 2 TDs, and he ran in a third), and I like him against the group of people Arizona calls a defense.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 3
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 16.4): Currently below Derek Carr in yards per attempt and touchdown percentage, Goff has struggled on the road recently. Since the start of 2018, he averages just 237.4 passing yards and 13.3 fantasy points per game away from home. Myles Garrett
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (vs. Rams; ESPN projection: 15.9): Fair warning — the initial over/under for this game was 50.5, one of the highest of Week 3, so there’s a decent chance putting Goff and Mayfield on the “hate” list is going to blow up in my face worse than putting Aaron Jones on it did last week. But here I am because, honestly … I thought Mayfield looked bad on Monday night, throwing into double coverage and missing open receivers. He got two amazing Beckham plays — and hey, he’ll have OBJ on Sunday night, and those kind of plays are certainly in his wheelhouse. But those two crazy plays accounted for 59.2% of Mayfield’s Week 2 points. Without those two big plays, Mayfield’s season features a 59.2% completion percentage, just a single TD pass and four interceptions. The Rams, meanwhile, are giving up the fourth-fewest yards per pass attempt this season. I love Mayfield long term and am a fan, but on a short week against the seventh-best pass defense in the NFL, I’m a bit nervous here.
Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 14.9): I think Rudolph will be fine for the Steelers pass-catchers you care about, but there are other fill-in/streaming types I prefer more than him traveling across the country to face a better-than-you-think Niners defense. San Francisco has the eighth-best scoring defense this season, it is sixth best in completion percentage against and it has more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed thus far.
Running backs I love in Week 3
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Texans; ESPN projection: 17.7): Since the start of 2016, here is the entire list of players who have had consecutive games of at least 55 yards rushing and 65 receiving yards: Melvin Gordon, Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson and … Austin Ekeler. The Texans allow a league-high 4.52 yards per carry before first contact this season. Ekeler has played 74% of the snaps and is locked in as an RB1.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots (vs. Jets; ESPN projection: 13.3): I expect the sun to come up tomorrow morning. I expect the sun to go down tomorrow night. And I expect the Patriots to crush the Jets at home. And when the Patriots are up big against New York, expect a heavy workload for Michel against a Jets team that has allowed the 10th-most yards per carry before first contact this season. Patriots running backs have run for more than 115 yards AND a touchdown in four of the past five games against the Jets. I say it becomes five of the past six on Sunday with Michel doing a good chunk of the damage.
Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 14.3): I’m taking the over on 14.3 for Gurley on the road in what should be a raucous prime-time game. Wanting to take the crowd out of it and protect Jared Goff (see above), expect a nice workload for Gurley, who has been the ball carrier for 18 of the Rams’ 24 drives this season. You can run on the Browns, as those with Derrick Henry or Le’Veon Bell have discovered this year. Bell wasn’t efficient, but he got 31 touches and, given the rest of the offense, performed pretty well.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (at Redskins; ESPN projection: 12.2): The bell-cow usage is starting to come for Montgomery, as he got 18 of the Bears’ 25 RB carries (72%) in Week 2, up significantly from 54.5% in Week 1. Montgomery’s five goal-to-go carries this season are tied for the most in the NFL (all came last week!). And you couldn’t ask for a better matchup, as the Skins are giving up 5.17 yards per carry.
Others receiving votes: I’m already on the hook for Jameis Winston, so what the hell. Might as well dive all the way in. I don’t think Peyton Barber is anything more than just a guy, but he’s currently the guy for the Bucs and now gets a Giants team that has allowed a league-high four rushing touchdowns in two games. … Assuming Devin Singletary misses the game Sunday with that hamstring injury, Frank Gore should be flex-worthy against a Bengals team that has allowed the third-most rushing yards this season. … There should be enough volume to give both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert flex consideration. The Niners are the league’s second-run-heaviest team this season, trailing only the Vikings, and the Steelers are a bottom-10 run defense traveling west as a 6.5-point underdog.
Running backs I hate in Week 3
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (at Patriots; ESPN projection: 18.0): You have to start him, of course, but I’m taking the under on 18 points here. The Patriots allow just 2.6 yards per carry this season (second best) and opponents have completed just 60% of passes to RBs against them this season (fifth lowest). Now, one of those games was against the Dolphins, so it shouldn’t really count, but still. Pretty sure Bill Belichick will sell out to stop Bell and take his chances with Luke Falk. Volume and junk time will help, but I’m going under on 18.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (at Bills; ESPN projection: 14.1): Brutal, I mean BRU-TAL, offensive line and a concern that he may not be 100% after last week’s game-time decision don’t make you feel good. But even if Mixon is healthy, I don’t have a ton of optimism against a Bills defense that, despite facing Le’Veon Bell and Saquon Barkley to start the season, is top 10 against the run so far. With a pretty low over/under for Week 3 (and you know I like Josh Allen in this one), I fear we see a lot more Giovani Bernard in the passing game than you’d want.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 14.6): I’m not sure he’s going to play, and if he does, I’m not sure how much it’ll be. And regardless of if he plays, this is a tougher matchup than you might think. The Niners are allowing just 3.24 yards per carry this season (seventh best) and my expectation is Jaylen Samuels gets more run in this game. Just like with Bell, if he’s active you have to play him, but I would lower expectations here.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 13.5): I believe the release of C.J. Anderson means more about the Lions’ confidence in Ty Johnson than it does anything about CJA or wanting to get Kerryon more work. Tough matchup here for Kerryon, who will need significant passing-down work to earn his keep. The Eagles cough up just 2.83 yards per carry this season (fifth best) and have yet to allow a rushing TD. The way you beat Philly is by attacking its secondary (wait ’til we get to pass-catcher love) and given that Johnson (as of this writing) is less than 100 percent, I’m taking the under here.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 3
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 13.9): The same reason I am down on Kerryon Johnson this week is why I’m high on Golladay. The way you attack Philly is through the air, as the Birds have allowed 300-plus passing yards and three TDs in both games so far this season. With a 29.6% target share in his past four games and what should be a running game that will struggle, expect Golladay to get plenty of chances to beat 13.9. Gimme the over.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (vs. Saints; ESPN projection: 12.9): Coming off of a career-high 10 catches at Pittsburgh, Lockett makes a repeat appearance on the love list after last week. Likely seeing a lot of Saints slot corner P.J. Williams in a matchup Lockett should win handily, this is another great spot for Lockett against a Saints team that since the start of 2018 has allowed a score on slot passes at the eighth-highest rate. Also since the start of 2018, Lockett has at least five catches or a touchdown in 15 of 18 games. He’ll do it again at home against the league’s sixth-worst scoring defense.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Raiders; ESPN projection: 12.6): Weird game last week, and Diggs had a touchdown called back. But despite the low volume and inconsistent QB play so far for the Vikes, Diggs still has a 24.3% target share and is averaging 18.9 air yards per target. So far this season, the Raiders have allowed the most receiving yards (382) and the most TDs (4) on deep passes and the second-most deep receptions allowed (11). I’m digging Diggs this week. Sorry. I’ll see myself out.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Steelers; ESPN projection: 14.0): You know from the intro that I’m on team #patience with Kittle. He’s still getting a significant target share (26.4%), the Steelers’ issues with players out of the slot are well-documented and coming off a game where Will Dissly just hung 5 for 50 and two touchdowns on them, this might be your last chance to acquire Kittle at any sort of a discount.
Vance McDonald, Pittsburgh Steelers (at 49ers; ESPN projection: 9.6): He seemed to have a connection with Mason Rudolph, as he led Pittsburgh with four catches from Rudolph in Week 2, two of which went for scores. McDonald is playing heavy snaps and opponents are 11-for-15 when targeting the TE position against San Francisco this season (73.3%). Given the state of the position, McDonald is locked in as a TE1.
Others receiving votes: As I said earlier, I like Kyle Allen. So whether it’s him or Cam Newton on Sunday, I’m in on the Panthers’ offense. You were already starting DJ Moore, but Greg Olsen has run a route on 80% of Carolina’s dropbacks this year. The Cardinals have given up a NFL-leading 273 receiving yards to opposing tight ends. I also like Curtis Samuel, who quietly had 13 targets last week and should see similar volume against Arizona’s bottom-five pass defense. … In the same game, the Cardinals are going to have to throw, so Christian Kirk (currently top 15 in the NFL in targets) is on the WR3 radar and deep-league managers and/or DFS dart-throw seekers should take a long glance at his teammate Damiere Byrd, who has run 92 routes this season (third most among all players) and has gotten seven targets in both games. Breakout game coming soon. Maybe it’s Sunday. … Much has been made of the connection Mason Rudolph and James Washington have from their days together at Oklahoma State. Allow me to be another one echoing that. I interviewed both of them at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere a few years ago and they could not have been more effusive about each other. Washington played 13 more snaps than Donte Moncrief last week and this week expect it to be even more. … For the truly TE desperate, it’s worth noting that Jason Witten has now scored in two straight weeks, Michael Gallup is out for this game and opposing tight ends are averaging 22 points a game against the Dolphins early on.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 3
Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams (at Browns; ESPN projection: 12.8): You already know I’m down on Goff in this one, so it stands to reason Cooks takes a hit as well. Especially since he has stark home/road splits as well, averaging just 10 points per game on the road as a Ram while averaging more than 19 a game at home. We talked about the high pressure rate Cleveland brings and, for his career, when Goff is pressured he averages just 5.6 yards per attempt (a 33% decline over what he normally does). You still have to start Cooks, but I think this is a close-to-the-line-of-scrimmage Todd Gurley/Cooper Kupp game, so I’m taking the under here.
Tyrell Williams, Oakland Raiders (at Vikings; ESPN projection: 12.9): Xavier Rhodes isn’t what he once was, but he’s still good enough to create issues for Williams. Since the beginning of last season, the Vikings have allowed the third-lowest deep completion percentage (37.6%) in part because they rank fifth in pressure percentage (31.7%). Ten of Williams’ 11 catches this season have come when Derek Carr is not pressured. Volume will help here, but not enough. I’m taking the under.
John Ross III, Cincinnati Bengals (at Bills; ESPN projection: 11.8): He has been a revelation this year and I’m on board with it being more legit than not. But I think the train derails a bit this week against a Bills defense that, so far this season, has allowed just one deep completion. He’ll see more Tre’Davious White than I would like in this one, and given the expected low-scoring nature of this one, I’m going under 11.8.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (at Eagles; ESPN projection: 8.9): One good game, one bad one … that inconsistency isn’t a shock from a rookie tight end. And I believe he’s more likely to struggle again this week than have a huge game. Since the beginning of last season, the Eagles have the best red zone defense (45% of such drives have resulted in a TD) and have given up just three — count ’em, three — tight end touchdowns in 18 games. Not a top-10 play for me this week.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — says that if Mike Evans or O.J. Howard don’t do it against the Giants, then you can freak the hell out.