Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I offer up shutdown covers to avoid, hot starts to believe in and bold predictions for Week 3.
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5 Bold Predictions for Week 3
Joe Mixon takes over in the Cincy backfield, posting 100 YFS versus GB – I expect the Bengals to shake things up this week under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. In line with that will be a significant uptick in workload for rookie Mixon, who leads the team in carries (17) but is part of a three-pronged backfield (along with Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill) that many feel has stymied the opportunity for any of those backs to build in-game momentum. Under Lazor’s guidance in ’14, Lamar Miller had his best fantasy season as a pro, scoring nine touchdowns, picking up 1,374 YFS and averaged 5.1 YPC as Miami’s bell-cow back. For Mixon owners, there’s hope that Lazor will recognize the need to lean on a similarly explosive, versatile back like Mixon. Fearless forecast for Mixon vs. Green Bay in Week 3: 16 carries, 68 rushing yards, 4 catches, 36 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Matt Stafford paces all QBs in Week 3 fantasy scoring in an upset victory over Atlanta – Stafford attempted just 21 passes in a win at the Giants on Monday night, the second-fewest pass attempts in his career. In fact, of Stafford’s 111 career games, he’s only finished below 30 attempts 11 times. In other words, he hasn’t been afforded the luxury of nursing a comfortable second-half lead that often. I see a shootout at home this week against the Falcons, who have seen more pass attempts (90) than any other team.
Adorned with new snow leopard cleats, Christian McCaffrey pulls a Tyreek Hill, scoring via rush, reception and return against the Saints – Ok, this is perhaps a recklessly bold prediction, but the point is that New Orleans is still a terrible defense. They are allowing 512.5 yards of offense per game, more than 100 yards per game more than any other team in the league save New England (483 YPG). The Saints allow 396.5 of those yards through the air, and have yielded the most catches and yards to the RB position. So, yeah, you can see why I’m bullish on Run-CMC this week. Sure, the odds are pretty long for him to pull off the TD hat trick, but I’d bet on him at least finding the end zone for the first time as a pro.
The 49ers finish as a top six defense versus the Rams – The 49ers were a dumpster fire defense last year, but they’ve shown promising signs of improvement through the first two weeks. San Francisco is one of 10 teams allowing under 300 yards per game, despite fielding the second-most snaps on defense. The 49ers also allow just 4.2 yards per play, fourth-lowest in the league. Especially on a short week, I like the 49ers as a plug-n-play defense against the Jared Goff-led Rams.
Terrelle Pryor registers his first 100-yard game and TD in a Washington uniform - Pryor’s not the only one being impacted by Washington’s currently dysfunctional passing game. Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed have yet to top 50 receiving yards in a game or find the end zone. But this is the week that Kirk Cousins and crew straighten things out. Washington hosts an Oakland defense that allowed a 113.1 QB rating to Josh McCown last week, and Raiders’ top corner Dave Amerson is allowing a passer rating of 141.7 for the season. Look for Pryor, who would have posted big numbers in Week 1 had he not struggled with drops, to finally make a big splash with his new team this week.
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5 Surprisingly Strong Starts to Believe in
Ty Montgomery, GB, RB – Many doubted that Montgomery could take full ownership of the Green Bay backfield, but after two weeks, no running back has played more snaps than the recently converted receiver – Montgomery has 139 total snaps compared to a combined 18 for backups Jamaal Williams and Devante Mays. Montgomery’s 3.1 YPC mark is a bit underwhelming, but he’s getting a lot of play in the passing game (10 catches, 114 receiving yards, TD) to help pick up the slack. Montgomery has been a top three fantasy RB up to this point, and I wouldn’t bet against him sticking in the top five for the long haul.
Carson Wentz, PHI, QB – Wentz is becoming a Funston Five regular. I was bullish on him coming into the regular season, and my stance remains firm after two games in which he’s produced as a top three fantasy quarterback. This is an offense that should be among the most pass heavy, and Wentz has a better receiving corps to work with this season compared to last year’s crew.
Chris Carson, SEA – Throughout the preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season, Carson has been the best Seattle running back. Last week his efforts were finally rewarded with 20 carries (for 93 yards) against the Niners. Built like what a NFL running back is supposed to look like, Carson has shown the physical style that Seattle covets, while also looking adept in the passing game. He’s earned the lead role, and I don’t expect him to look back.
Tarik Cohen, CHI, RB – Cohen catches the ball. That’s a skill that has stood out for the Bears this season, as Cohen’s caught 16 passes (on 20 targets) without recording a drop. Now compare that to the rest of QB Mike Glennon’s targeted options this season – a combined 57 targets, 38 catches and 10 drops. Cohen has quickly established himself as Glennon’s most trusted target (and most dangerous). Moreover, this is an offense that is going to be forced to the air often (85 pass attempts ranks third-most through two weeks). Cohen has a clear path to 70-plus receptions, and he should add north of 100 rush attempts to the mix. He can be for the Bears what Theo Riddick was for the Lions last season, which netted out as a borderline top 20 RB in terms of fantasy points per game.
J.J. Nelson, ARI, WR – Nelson has opened the season with touchdowns in each of his two games, which carries on a hot streak that began late last season. Dating back to Week 13 of ’16, Nelson now has scored seven touchdowns, averaging 73.4 YFS, in his past seven games. Nelson’s not the most well-rounded wideout, but he has game-breaking speed and with David Johnson out for the season (and John Brown out in the near term), there’s opportunity galore in the Arizona passing game. Nelson’s not going to keep up his WR1 pace, but it’s certainly possible that he keeps up a mid-level WR3 pace.
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Ben Watson, BAL – Watson came alive in Week 2, hauling in all eight targets for 91 yards in a win over the Browns. Yes, Watson is 36 years old, but that doesn’t make him unique among the TE class (see Jason Witten, Antonio Gates), and last season QB Joe Flacco made a 31-year-old Dennis Pitta the third-most targeted tight end in the league. In fact, the Ravens have finished top 15 in tight end receptions each of the past six seasons, so Flacco has a history of looking to his tight end, which bodes well for continued success for Watson.
Evan Engram, NYG – Engram is in that hybrid TE/WR mold, and should probably be considered more wide receiver than tight end. In fact, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock compared Engram to Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans – high praise, indeed. We’re already seeing Engram put those receiving talents to good use on the gridiron, leading the Giants in receiving yards (93) after two weeks. With a healthy workload in this Giants’ offense (91 snaps through two games), Engram has delivered top 10 fantasy points among tight ends. It’s not far-fetched to think he can continue posting back-end TE1 numbers going forward.
Zach Miller, CHI – Miller was No. 6 among tight ends in fantasy points through 11 weeks of ‘16 before a Lisfranc injury knocked him out the remainder of the season. He’s looked healthy to open ’17, as he’s picked up 81 yards on 10 catches (15 targets, fifth-most at TE). Chicago should have plenty of negative game scripts the rest of the way, which should keep QB Mike Glennon looking his way, especially when you consider the sad state of this team’s wide receivers.
Gerald Everett, LAR –Like Engram, Everett’s athleticism stands out among the tight end class. The rookie from South Alabama has been the Rams’ big-play specialist thus far. He’s seventh among tight ends in receiving yards (134), and leads the position in catches of 20-plus yards (3). He was limited to 16 snaps in Week 2 as a sore groin put an end to a 3-for-95 serve-notice performance. Owners will need to watch his availability for this week, but if he’s healthy, his role should only continue to grow.
Charles Clay, BUF – Clay might not be the most exciting replacement option for Olsen, but at least he offers a floor that owners should feel comfortable about – four straight seasons with at least 50 catches and 500 yards. And recent history casts him in especially nice light, as he was the No. 2 fantasy tight end over the final four weeks of the ’16 campaign, and he’s No. 12 in the TE class after the first two weeks of ’17.
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Patrick Peterson, ARI – Peterson has been on the field for 86 snaps and has allowed just two receptions for 22 yards. As Arizona will use Peterson to shadow particular receivers, he should be an object of concern for owners of Dez Bryant and Alshon Jeffery, who are likely to see a lot of Peterson when they matchup in the coming weeks.
Janoris Jenkins, NYG – Don’t take my word for it on Jenkins, check out receiver A.J. Green’s words of praise. Said Green, “He (Jenkins) lets you do your thing and then he reads your hips and the quarterback’s eyes to decide when to jump on the route. His instincts are the best in the NFL, and he’s extremely quick. Extremely quick.”
Aqib Talib, DEN – Dez Bryant scored against Talib in Week 2. It took a perfect back-shoulder throw to make it happen. And nobody could make it happen last season as Talib did not yield a TD in coverage over the course of the entire ’16 campaign. Long, athletic and physical, Talib is a daunting challenge for any receiver.
Xavier Rhodes, MIN - Rhodes is coming off of a ’16 season in which he allowed the lowest passer rating on passes to his coverage assignment (47%). He’s not off to quite as strong a start to ’17, but he’s seen a fair amount of Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown over the first two games and neither receiver finished among the top 40 wideouts in fantasy points in the week they faced off. Rhodes faces another stiff challenge this week in Tampa Bay duo Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
Jalen Ramsey, JAX – Ramsey proved to be worthy of the top five pick the Jags used on him in the ’16 draft. He was tested often by opposing signal callers (102 targets, third-most in the NFL), but he allowed just a 76.6 QB rating on those passes, good for 17th best among the 79 corners that played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. This season, Ramsey is off to a strong start, having allowed just three catches (on eight targets) for 23 yards. Teamed with free agent A.J. Bouye, who could also make a case to be on this list, the Jaguars are shaping up as a nightmare assignment for opposing wideouts.