As much as weekly and cumulative usage starts to paint a picture at this point of the season, defensive matchups are equally important. Through three weeks, both sides of the equation are coming into focus. Everyone expected that they’d have to temper offensive expectations against Seattle, Carolina, Houston (even now without J.J. Watt) and Denver, but there are a few other legitimate shut down defenses that have shown their ability to cut an opponents fantasy production through the first three weeks. It’s time to start paying attention.
After watching Minnesota sack QB Cam Newton eight times on Sunday and following a defense that has created consistent pressure against the opposing offensive line through three weeks they certainly belong in the ‘downgrade’ category. Aging CB Terrance Newman has allowed a few big plays and has seen a number of pass interference calls go against him as well, but as long as the d-line is generating a significant pass rush he won’t be exploited significantly. At 295 YPG and 13.3 PPG allowed, the ceiling is low on your fantasy stars against the Vikings.
Other surprise entries into the top-7: the Ravens, whose defense appears to be back to form and the Philadelphia Eagles who have a lot of young talent on D and seem to have made the right personnel and scheme (i.e. they aren’t on the field all the time) changes after Chip Kelly’s departure. Say what you will about quality of opponent through three week’s, Jim Schwartz’s defense in Philadelphia is performing – the Eagles have allowed just 9 PPG this year. That number is certain to climb, but make no mistake, this defense is legit.
And now, onto the bullets for the other half of the equation.
Touches and Targets: NFL Week 3 Review
- LeGarrette Blount out-touched James White 24-4 on Thursday Night Football and I’d expect that trend to continue for the week ahead against Buffalo. As Tom Brady integrates back into the lineup, the team will probably lean more heavily on the run than pass as well, but I’m not expecting a 24 touch workload to be a mainstay for Blount. In fact, if you can find a taker you’ve probably got a ~10 day window to deal him before that number gradually starts to decline. Blount has had more than 22 carries in each of the three games to start the year, but the offense should shift when Brady gets up to speed.
- Yes, the Cardinals traveled poorly and Carson Palmer showed shades of his 2015-playoff self but there is some silver lining for the fantasy prospects of at least one Cardinal. David Johnson scored twice so you’re already well aware of his solid output, but what was particularly impressive is that he managed a solid workload despite poor game flow. Buffalo went up 23-7 quickly in the third quarter and Johnson still netted 19 carries (83 yards) and made three receptions on six targets. Meantime, with the team trailing, Palmer slung it around a lot as well. Larry Fitzgerald (12) led WRs in targets but John Brown and Michael Floyd finished right behind him (11). In a standard week there won’t be that much volume to go around, but it does seem that Johnson is in line for solid work regardless of game situation.
- After a solid fantasy outing in Week 2, Giovani Bernard had just five carries (8 yards) while Jeremy Hill picked up 17 and the goal line work (as expected). Gio did manage to haul in all five of his targets, but this makes two weeks now where he had 10 touches or fewer. He hasn’t topped five carries in a game The Bengals and Broncos played close for most of the day, despite what the box score suggests, and it seems that they were content to run their base offense most of the day… leaving Bernard without a lot of work. This (averaging five carries per game vs. 9.6 from 2015) seems like the new normal in the post-Jackson offense. If I could get an RB2 trade offer for Bernard after a solid game, I’d take it.
- Emmanuel Sanders had 13 targets to Demaryius Thomas’ seven a week after griping about the ball not finding its way to him. I’ll be intrigued to see if that holds in Week 4 or whether it was a squeaky wheel situation.
- The story of Detroit’s outing on offense was Marvin Jones’ big day, but a little deeper look suggests that Dwayne Washington is worth an add. It was speculated that he’d see some work between the tackles for Detroit, and with Theo Riddick struggling to carry the ball (overall he had 10 for 9 yards) he notched 10 carries. He was targeted just once and lost yards, but if the Lions are taking this week as proof that Riddick isn’t ready to carry the load, 12-15 touches isn’t out of the question for Washington moving forward. Riddick received 9 targets and caught 7 balls, so he has the PPR value you’d expect but you shouldn’t anticipate him being a 20 touch back with Abdullah out.
- Green Bay didn’t need to pass a whole lot, so we won’t read too much into the data, save to note that it’s Jordy Nelson (seven looks; six catches and two scores) and everybody else when the score gets lopsided. Davante Adams scored and has had seven targets in each of the team’s first two games, so he may be worth a look in deeper leagues but will be inconsistent, particularly when the score gets lopsided.
- A week after netting eight carries while rookie DeAndre Washington had seven and Jalen Richard followed with six, Latavius Murray didn’t fare much better for Oakland. Murray had 10 carries, ran well, and found the endzone but Washington cut into his work load again, ripping off a 30-yard carry and notching 57 total on six – a number matched by Richard. There are plenty of carries to go around, but this is a full blown RBBC in Oakland. He’s tied to a potent offense and there aren’t a lot of 18-20 touch backs out there… but if you could land one who has had a heftier workload through three weeks, it may be a worth a look.
- One to file away for later: Jace Amaro (and not Anthony Fasano) was the featured Tight End with Delanie Walker out of the lineup. He had four targets, and caught three of them for 59 yards. Not an awful situation if you’re in need of a flier.
- With Josh Gordon due back after Week 4 I’m not thinking Gary Barnidge’s heavy use will keep up – he was targeted six times and caught five balls this week with Corey Coleman absent from the lineup, but after a slow start to the season I wouldn’t treat this as a long-term sign of resurgence. On the ground, the Browns were predictably run heavy and that proved to be a strong formula. Isaiah Crowell picked up 15 carries (for a productive 79 yards) and did not connect on his lone target while Duke Johnson caught five balls on seven looks (netting just 12 yards) and added 10 carries. I’d count on 13-16 touches a piece moving forward, though those numbers won’t yield particularly attractive fantasy lines unless they score.
- I went heavy on Devonte Parker last week after he was heavily used by the Dolphins in his return to the field, and he netted just six targets this week – behind Jarvis Landry (expected) and Kenny Stills (8). Stills had four targets to Parker’s 13 a week ago.
- If Arian Foster misses another week it seems that the Fins are very much committed to a committee approach behind him. Kenyan Drake led backs with nine; while Jay Ajayi had seven (including the overtime game-winning TD) and Isaiah Pead even chipped in with 5. That’s not enough work load to get excited about anyone.
- Orleans Darkwa scored and was the only back other than the now-injured Shane Vereen to net carries (10) this week. He scored, and put up a 5.3 YPC average and has generally been productive while in the lineup. Bobby Rainey was active in this one as well, while Paul Perkins didn’t see the field. As such, Darkwa is the warranted add and should stay engaged to spell Rashad Jennings even when the veteran is back to health. Meantime, add Darkwa and keep an eye on the injury report for Week 4.
- It’s getting hard to ignore Jamison Crowder, who was targeted seven times this week (one behind DeSean Jackson and tied with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed in an even distribution from Kirk Cousins. Crowder caught four balls for 78 yards and a score, and now sits at 25 targets on the young season. The seven looks are actually the lowest he’s seen on the season. Indeed, the ball has been fairly well distributed as Garcon, Jackson and Reed all have more than 20 of their own… which means that some weeks Crowder could be under-productive relative to his peers but he certainly warrants ownership in most standard leagues.
- Cameron Artis-Payne was active for the first time on the season in the wake of Jonathan Stewart’s injury and he received 12 carries to Fozzy Whittaker’s five this week… essentially, replacing Stewart’s workload. Against a tough defensive front he put up a 3.9 YPC average and should fare well as a back-end RB2/FLEX as long as Stewart is out. For his part, Whittaker got the passing down work and netted six targets to CAP’s 1. The Panthers (having faced the Vikings and Broncos in their first three games) have had a rough start to the season in terms of fantasy schedule, but the sledding gets lighter from here.
- For the Vikings, the run game didn’t produce a whole lot but the carries were dominated by Jerrick McKinnon. McKinnon had 16 carries (to six for Matt Asiata) and was targeted twice. With the Giants, Texans and Eagles on the horizon the matchups aren’t particularly easy but McKinnon should work fine as a volume play and he has some juicy opponents mid-season. In theory, he’s worth a buy-low trade offer should he struggle to put up points in the next few weeks.
- Terrance West led the Ravens backfield in carries for the second time in three weeks (10-7 over Forsett) but with Kenneth Dixon’s return looming, the split may become even more troublesome despite the fact that the Ravens offense is operating at a pretty good clip early this year. In the pass game, Dennis Pitta (eight targets) and Steve Smith (11) paced the pass catchers in targets. Smith seems to be returning to form quite well, and his increased workload came directly at the expense of Mike Wallace. Wallace is going to continue to work as a deep threat and will get his looks in the endzone, but his weekly floor is fairly low with Smith dominating looks again. This week’s six targets are nothing to shake a stick at, but they do represent a decline.
- Chris Ivory saw 12 carries in his return to action for Jacksonville. He didn’t do a thing with them (14 yards) but T.J. Yeldon had just six. The Jags have struggled and have a long trip this week for their overseas game, but Ivory isn’t worth giving up on coming out of the bye.
- Jimmy Graham’s target count went through the roof this week, nearly doubling his season total with nine. He looked sharp, too, and Russell Wilson knew it. Better yet for fantasy investors: on a day when the Seahawks didn’t have to pass a whole lot, and where Graham’s targets spiked, Doug Baldwin still got his (10-8-164-TD).
- The Bucs spent far more time passing than anyone projected this week, but Charles Sims still had 13 carries (adding six catches on eight targets) while Jacquizz Rodgers had just five so the rumours of a timeshare seem to have been greatly exaggerated – something to bear in mind now, or later in the season if Doug Martin misses any more time.
- Adam Humphries’ 12 looks appear to have been a product of an exploitable matchup more than a leaping of Vincent Jackson in the pecking order. That said, he did produce 100 yards on nine receptions while the vet had just six targets and has posted only 99 yards on the season. Jackson isn’t in the WR3 conversation at this stage.
- Tyrell Williams (nine) out-targeted Travis Benjamin (seven) against the Colts. Judging by the last two weeks, something around (eight) apiece in a standard contest is a fair projection.
- Y. Hilton was the main beneficiary of Donte Moncrief’s absence, with 11 looks and the game winning score. Meantime, Philip Dorsett caught three balls on four targets – hardly mind blowing numbers. Jack Doyle was the Colts’ most targeted TE (6-5 over Dwayne Allen).
- Matt Forte has been a workhorse in the first three games, and he notched 15 carries in a contest that the Jets trailed throughout. That said, Bilal Powell still appears to be in the lead as the passing down / catch up back. Powell had only four carries, but was targeted seven times (making six receptions) in the passing game while Forte had four (catching two). It’s worth watching to see if this trend continues, and adjusting expectations for Forte based on projected game flow. You may get a good chance to see New York trail against Seattle.
- Philadelphia was in control most of the game so this may have been simply taking advantage of an opportunity to get the rookie back touches (15 carries came after half time with Philadelphia well in control), but with Ryan Mathews going down it was Wendell Smallwood (17 total rush attempts) who got the carries. Smallwood impressed, too, with 79 yards and a score. Kenjon Barner pitched in with seven, but the situation is worth monitoring re: Mathews’ health coming out of the team’s Week 4 bye. In the passing game, one week after all my Nelson Agholor love Dorial Green-Beckham saw four targets to his three. This wasn’t a typical gameflow, however, and I still see Agholor as the team’s #2 option and worthy of ownership in deeper leagues.
- With Jeremy Langford going down and set to miss at least a month, Jordan Howard stepped in with nine carries for 45 yards for Chicago. It looks like the Bears will trail often, limiting his overall opportunities, but Howard demonstrated burst that Langford hasn’t and this could be his job to hold. Further, he was targeted six times in the passing game which is promising. The next test comes with monitoring the snaps and touches when Ka’Deem Carey is available but Howard must be owned in all formats.
- TE Zach Miller was a favourite target of Brian Hoyer’s, scoring twice on nine targets. Kevin White actually led pass catchers (14) but I’d expect that particular pendulum to swing back in favour of Alshon Jeffery.
- Both had monster fantasy lines, but just in case you missed it Devonta Freeman slightly out-touched Tevin Coleman (19-15 this week). He outgained him significantly, however, it was Coleman who had the touchdown binge. Both are absolutely worth starting in most matchups; but based on the early returns a projected 60-40 split in favour of Freeman is a fair expectation re: the workload distribution.
- Last week, we used a healthy 8 target performance to suggest that Coby Fleener would remain engaged in the Saints offense. He certainly did in Week 3 and what’s more, he was finally productive. Fleener drew 11 targets (or just over 20% of Drew Brees’ 54 pass attempts) which tied Michael Thomas for the team lead. The numbers for both will come down, perhaps considerably, when Willie Snead is active but Fleener remains very much a part of the offense and Thomas flashed great potential. I’d still treat the TE as a back-end starting option at the position until he can string together productive outings, but that outlook is much better than what most were giving him at this time last week.