TE Notes: Gronk should see more consistent targets now that Aaron Hernandez is out of the picture for a month. … Gates looked good in Wednesday’s practice and appears safe to pencil in lineups at mid-week. … Every time I looked up in the Eagles-Ravens game, Celek had shaken free from coverage to give Michael Vick a clear target on intermediate routes. An underappreciated athlete after the catch, Celek is also leading all tight ends in Yards Per Route Run at 3.22, up from 1.9 as fantasy’s No. 5 tight end in 2011. Don’t forget, Celek’s uptick in production down the stretch coincided with Jeremy Maclin’s spate of injuries. Pettigrew’s matchup couldn’t be better this week. The Titans surrendered five receiving scores through two weeks, all to tight ends. … Anecdotal evidence suggests Eli Manning loves to throw to his tight ends in the end zone. Statistical evidence supports the notion as well. Matchups guru Evan Silva believes the big, athletic Bennett is a good bet for double-digit scores this season.Pitta led all tight ends in targets the first two weeks and officially bypassed Ed Dickson on the Ravens’ depth chart on Wednesday. He’s earned confidence as a TE1 play. … Tamme’s snap count is an issue, as we suspected it would be. He’s no lock to outproduce Dreessen on a week-in, week-out basis. … Chandler could have had another 20+ yards last week, but Ryan Fitzpatrick missed him wide open.
Week 3 Defense/Special Teams
Week 3 Kickers
Do you ever watch the Raiders and Titans and wonder why the play-callers can’t get Darren McFadden or Chris Johnson the ball in space more often? In fantasy football, as in the NFL, coaching can have a dramatic impact on a player’s production. There are strong arguments to be made that neither McFadden nor Johnson, both reading and hesitating at the line of scrimmage, is a particularly good fit for a zone-blocking scheme. In 25 games with Tom Cable’s zone-blocking system from 2007-09, McFadden rushed for 856 yards on 217 carries (3.9 YPC) and just one game over 90 yards. Enter Hue Jackson, a more creative schemer who installed McFadden’s favorite running plays in a power-blocking scheme. In 20 games under Jackson, McFadden exploded for 1,771 rushing yards at 5.1 per clip with 11 games over 90 yards. I can’t put the disappointing Week 2 performances on the running backs. McFadden simply had no holes to exploit against a dominant Dolphins run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rushing performance in 16 games. Want a sign that problem lies in blocking, not McFadden? He’s getting first contact on average 0.7 yards downfield compared to 3.6 yards a season ago.There is no shortage of theories on Johnson’s struggles, but he simply had no chance versus a Chargers defense that has completely shut down both backs in consecutive weeks. Johnson was hit behind the line of scrimmage on two of his first three carries, and the Titans were down 17-0 before they ran their sixth offensive play. McFadden is confident the Raiders’ ground attack is “going to start popping.” Titans backup Javon Ringer tells us the coaches “want to get C.J. rolling” this week versus the Lions. What to do in fantasy leagues? If you can land Johnson for a Michael Bush, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Alfred Morris or even a WR3 type like Malcom Floyd (those small sample size panic offers are out there; I’ve seen them on Twitter), I would pull the trigger. The carry totals have nowhere to go but up, and with that comes the opportunity to add boom to the bust performance to date. As Evan Silva points, the optimal buying point may not come until Week 7, though. CJ401K’s Weeks 4-6 stretch includes daunting matchups versus the Texans and Steelers.Already having faced two stout run defenses, McFadden draws the shut-down Steelers in Week 3 followed by a strong Broncos defense in Week 4. Coming out of the Week 5 bye, however, McFadden has a walk in the park versus the Falcons, Jaguars and Chiefs. That Week 4-5 window is prime buy-low real estate.
Week 3 Quarterbacks
QB Notes: Brees isn’t getting quality pass protection through two weeks, but there’s shootout potential in Kansas City versus a defense that has bent over backwards for the Falcons and Bills. … Keep an eye on Newton and the read-option Thursday night. The Panthers had over 130 rushing yards out of the option by halftime of last week’s game. … The Packers haven’t been the same on offense since Christmas night, with Rodgers struggling to move the ball consistently in four of their past five games. Playing in Seattle against one of the NFL’s fastest and most physical defenses is no picnic. As we told you last week, RGIII is for real. He has the highest completion percentage in NFL history among players with 50+ career pass attempts, is excelling versus the blitz and completing a ridiculous 79 percent of his play-action pass attempts at 15.5 yards per. Baylor’s offense should continue to get it done for fantasy leaguers against a Bengals pass defense already shredded by Joe Flacco and Brandon Weeden.The Eagles have been a sloppy, turnover-happy mess at times, but they marched up and down the field consistently against a traditionally stingy Ravens defense. Vick was sharp in Week 2, but he faces Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson -- two of the best defensive players in the league last week -- in Arizona. Some people will tell you Peterson isn’t yet a great cover corner. Those people are wrong.Rivers isn’t holding the ball for long stretches like he did when he struggled at mid-season a year ago. It’s a good sign for his 2012 value. … Flacco made some beautiful throws versus the Eagles, but his accuracy went in the tank in the second half when he started habitually throwing off his back foot -- pressured or not. … Luck may not wow you with spectacular plays like Griffin does, but he excelled out of the shotgun on 77.1 percent of his snaps versus the Vikings. Peyton faces the league’s toughest pass defense, led by J.J. Swat and legit lock-down corner Johnathan Joseph. … Struggling to nail down timing with his receivers, Palmer has been the picture of inefficiency so far. … Locker was downright brutal versus the Chargers, and his receivers aren’t helping. … Bradford, on the other hand, has been a changed man early in the season, showing a rifle arm and converting big third-down plays. Ponder is not only leading the NFL in completion percentage, but his 75 percent mark is the third-highest after two games since 1960. Failing to threaten defenses vertically, though, he sorely misses Jerome Simpson. … Don’t get carried away with Weeden’s 300-yard game. While he did play with much more confidence and stood in against the blitz, the Bengals defense has been a hot mess.
Week 3 Running Backs
RB Notes: While the Raiders and Titans fail to get their backs in space, Bills coach Chan Gailey is a master of creating room for his runners to operate. It starts with Gailey’s spread offense, which was bolstered by a dizzying array of draws, reverses, fake reverses and Wildcat looks in Week 2. It certain helps that Spiller has that instant second gear and freakish lateral agility that CJ2K once flashed on a regular basis. Reggie Bush is the only NFL back with more total rushing yards than Spiller’s 211 yards after contact through two weeks. Can we expect Spiller to keep the job once Fred Jackson returns in 3-4 weeks? Spiller is averaging 153.8 scrimmage yards and over a touchdown per game going back to Week 15 of last season. He’s gaining an eye-popping 10.7 yards every time he touches the ball this season. Keep in mind, however, that F-Jax topped 100 yards in 8-of-9 games as a top-three fantasy back before his mid-season injury a year ago. Jackson is also a highly respected team leader and coaching staff favorite. Spiller’s hot start will earn him a significant role the rest of the way, but I wouldn’t expect Jackson to fade away. Speaking of Bush, how would you like a three-down back with goal-line duties coming off 100 rushing yards in five of his past six games while averaging 149.3 scrimmage yards over that span? Concerns about Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman veering from Tony Sparano’s plan to use Bush as an every-down back appear to be unfounded. “The durability is what amazes me,” Sherman told the Palm Beach Post on Monday. “He’s out there today like he didn’t even play a game yesterday.” Look for more of that same heavy workload going forward.One small note on Rice: Running backs are averaging just 1.9 yards per on 40 carries versus the Patriots this year. … Martin invites comparisons to Rice based on body type, skill-set and history with coach Greg Schiano, but he doesn’t have Rice’s acceleration. … I wouldn’t hesitate to use Mathews in his first week back. He was physically prepared to play a week ago; the Bolts just opted to hold him out one more week to get him mentally ready. Arian Foster’s 13 red-zone carries lead the NFL. Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle of the Chargers have combined for 17 such totes. What a difference a week makes. Richardson offered no burst and saw no running lanes versus the Eagles. That all changed in Cincinnati, where Richardson exploded through holes and looked even better after the catch. Don’t be overly concerned with Chris Ogbonnaya’s six receptions. Richardson was in the game on passing downs than Obie and offers much more after-catch ability. Charles is practicing fully this week after leaving the Bills’ blowout late in the third quarter with a knee bruise. If the owner in your league is in panic mode, take full advantage. He has an excellent matchup this week versus a Saints defense that has been bowled over on the ground. … David Wilson operated as the change-of-pace back to Ahmad Bradshaw early in the game and Andre Brown in the second half. He’s not trusted as more than a package-play back. Expect Brown to see 15-20 touches Thursday night. … As Adam Levitan would say, S-Jax is 29, has a soft tissue strain and plays the running back position. It’s not a good mix. Benson and Greene can be benched against the forbidding run defenses of the Seahawks and Dolphins. … Although Dwayne Bowe was the Week 2 garbage-time king, Hillis also padded his yards per carry rate. He looks like he’s running in quick sand, stutter-stepping too much. … If your local NCAA apologist tells you the NFL is an inferior product because the players “don’t give enough effort,” point him toward Pierre Thomas’ Week 2 tackler-carrying bonanza versus the Panthers. Rotoworld’s Chet Gresham described Michael Turner this week as a “fat pug trying to roll uphill.” Needless to say, it’s an apt (and vivid) comparison. Turner is done; the sooner the Falcons realize it, the better for their offense. … Kevin Smith took the majority of the first-team reps in Wednesday’s practice, but Leshoure wasn’t far behind. I would expect a fairly even split versus the Titans.Sunday Update: Moved Steven Jackson down, Daryl Richardson up slightly. S-Jax is active and starting but expected to be limited by the groin injury in a tough matchup. Moved Mikel Leshoure up, Kevin Smith down after Lions announced LeShoure as the starter.
Week 3 Wide Receivers
WR Notes: Megatron has averaged 162.7 yards in his past six games. … As they do annually, too many fantasy owners are overreacting to the season’s first two weeks. Jump all over Julio Jones if your league’s owner is nervous. … Cruz leads the NFL in targets (26). He has 11+ targets in each of the first two games after seeing 11 or more in just three games a year ago. There’s a good chance he will make three in a row with Hakeem Nicks out. Even at age 33, it’s no surprise that Steve Smith lead the NFL with 101 yards on deep passes. What may be a surprise, however, is that LaFell is third with 90 yards. That tells us a lot about Cam Newton, poised to exploit a shaky Giants secondary Thursday night. … Slipping and breaking tackles with equal aplomb, Harvin has been the most impressive skill-position player I’ve seen through two weeks. The sky isn’t falling on Dez Bryant. The Seahawks physical corners knocked him off his routes early, and Tony Romo prides himself on getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less. Look for a bounceback game against Aqib Talib, who was abused by Nicks in Week 2. … It was obvious a week ago that Josh Freeman trusts Vincent Jackson to beat his man at the point of the catch. It’s a tough matchup this week versus the Cowboys corners, but V-Jax remains a good bet for WR2 production. I agree with Levitan that Lloyd is on the verge of a breakout game. He’s been heavily targeted, has come close to a few big plays downfield and won’t have Patrick Peterson hounding him this week. … Garcon is already doing more in practice this week than last. It looks like he has a better chance than Maclin of suiting up for Week 3. … Demaryius Thomas has a tough matchup with Johnathan Joseph in coverage. … DeSean Jackson is playing better than he has in a couple of years, even making tough catches in heavy traffic. Sidney Rice has another tough matchup against a defense that shut down Brandon Marshall, but it’s worth noting that he’s leading all receivers in red-zone targets. … Britt’s snap count is expected to increase this week. He’s a shaky WR3 option until we see him produce on those surgically-repaired knee. Teammate Washington is leading the NFL in drop rate. Barden played 47 snaps to Randle’s three in Week 2. We can expect Barden to take on a bigger role with Nicks out, but he’s been a disappointment thus far in his career. … Collie practiced fully on Wednesday. Any time he suits up, he’s a better fantasy option than Avery. Blackmon has had trouble separating from coverage. I suspect it’s part route-running and part Blaine Gabbert. I would hold onto him as a roster stash in 12-team leagues. … The slippery Hawkins isn’t trustworthy yet as a WR3 in PPR formats, but he’s a player to watch as the league-leader in yards after the catch.Sunday Update: Moved Greg Jennings, Torrey Smith down. Jennings is expected to play but will be limited. Smith vows to play, but could be touch and go following his brother's early morning death. Moved Donnie Avery up, Austin Collie down after the Colts announced Avery as the Week 3 starter. Bumped Leonard Hankerson as the starter over Aldrick Robinson. Moved Dexter McCluster down, as details on his injury are scarce.
Week 3 Tight Ends