Week 3 was the rubber match. We saw two different sides of the coin from players and teams in the first two weeks and the third game helped give us clarity on what teams and individuals are for real and which ones are a flash in the pan - here today, gone tomorrow. The answer hasn't revealed itself completely, but we can now make educated guesses on which direction teams and players are going. Who are the sleepers that have awakened and who are the ones that we can sleep on? Let's get to it.
- Andy Dalton and the Bengals are 3-0 and he's ranked third among fantasy quarterbacks. His yards per attempt is a healthy and respectable 9.41, which leads all quarterbacks who qualify. The Bengals have options everywhere on offense led by A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, which makes Dalton's job much easier. The biggest glaring omission from that group is second year back Jeremy Hill. The offense is humming just fine without the need to pound the ball. Hill is their pile mover and grind-it-out drive sustainer, but they haven't had a need to rely on him yet. When the weather gets colder and the game flow dictate his skills, we'll see more from Hill, I'm fairly confident of that.
- Most NFL quarterbacks perform better at home, especially Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is a must start every week, however when he's playing at home, you can virtually put 30 fantasy points on the board as a floor. He's arguably the best quarterback of his era and perhaps of all time when he decides to hang up his cleats. How many quarterbacks can not skip a beat when losing their top wide receiver? Not many. Rodgers is a rare breed who can make good players great and great players spectacular. Those who spent a high round draft pick on Rodgers are living large. If you're not sure about that, ask the Andrew Luck and Drew Brees owners.
- A whopping 46% of Matt Ryan's 946 yards passing has gone to Julio Jones, including four of his five touchdown passes. To say Ryan is relying on Jones is an understatement. As long as Ryan has Jones, he remains a Top 10 quarterback, if not higher. He currently is ranked 8th after three games. The Falcons have a favorable schedule for most of the season. They will have to play Carolina Week 14 and 16, which could be a difficult match up, but that's a long ways away. Ride the wave for now and reap the benefits.
- What will Pittsburgh do for 4-6 weeks without Ben Roethlisberger (knee)? Replacing Roethlisberger will be veteran Michael Vick. It's difficult to imagine Vick having an immediate positive impact, which leads me to believe there will be a drop off in production from all offensive individuals, including Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. Vick did not look good in limited action last week, but he also didn't have a week of practice as the starter either. Vick's best days are probably behind him, but perhaps just maybe he can rub two sticks together and keep the offense on fire. We'll know more on Thursday night against Baltimore if we should expect cloudy skies in Pittsburgh for the next 40 days or if a rainbow will pierce the clouds and bring fantasy joy to Steeler Nation.
- There are fewer and fewer teams with a known, proven three-down running back who can be the workhorse week in and week out. For every LeVeon Bell, Arian Foster, or Jamaal Charles, there are four to five more who are waiting for their opportunity to make an impact. The parity among NFL backs is rampant, which is causing many teams to use more than back in a committee approach.
- The hot hand gets the ball and the other sits - until it's his turn. Last week it was Devonta Freeman's turn to show what he is capable of doing on the football field when given the opportunity to be the team's lead back. Tevin Coleman's injured ribs is Freeman's meal ticket to stardom. What's bad news for Coleman, is good news for Freeman and other backs who are lucky enough to make an impact when their number is called.
- This "next man up" landscape in the NFL is quickly becoming the league's motto. If you have talent plus opportunity, good things can happen and they often do. Joseph Randle, Ryan Mathews, Karlos Williams, Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, Giovani Bernard, Chris Johnson, Matt Jones have all performed well when called upon. The strategy of drafting fantasy running backs is evolving every year. The ability to learn which backs will be "next man up" is the skill we all should covet as fantasy owners. Who's next? Here's a few backs that I have my eye on. Injuries happen every week. If one of these backs gets an opportunity, the chance is there for them to shine. Antonio Andrews, TEN, Damien Williams, MIA, Theo Riddick, DET, Thomas Rawls, SEA, Ronnie Hillman, DEN, Duke Johnson, CLE, Andre Williams, NYG, Chris Thompson, WAS, Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR, Zach Zenner, DET Rex Burkhead, CIN and Bobby Rainey, TB.
- All of the successful fantasy wide receivers have one thing in common - they receive a large share of the quarterback's targets. The lone exception may be Travis Benjamin on Cleveland, who continues to defy odds with four touchdowns with only 10 receptions and 17 targets. Last week he had 10 targets, so maybe he's the example of success find targets. Usually it's the other way around. Interestingly enough, Benjamin has as many targets as John Brown. I'm convinced Brown's time is coming. The opportunities are there, he just needs to capitalize. A long touchdown is right around the corner. A 150-yard week with a score will elevate him up the ranks.
- Rishard Matthews is the 11th ranked PPR wide receiver after three games. The Miami offense has yet to hit it's stride and Matthews is putting up decent numbers. His three scores compared to Jarvis Landry's zero is enough to keep him 9 slots ahead of Landry in the rankings. I doubt Matthews will stay in the Top 25, let alone 15 at the end of the season. Matthews is getting the looks that DeVante Parker will get soon enough. Don't be surprised if Parker sees a big boost after the Dolphins Week 5 bye. He should be on your short list of players to proactively acquire now, before it's too late.
- Brandon Marshall is taking advantage of Eric Decker's absence due to a knee injury. Marshall is finding his groove with the Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's the 9th ranked wide receiver thanks to a touchdown in each game so far. I expect Marshall to continue to be a big part of the Jets offense going forward.
- James Jones is the Travis Benjamin equivalent on a good offense with a quarterback who can sustain his success. The loss of Davante Adams (ankle) for at least one or two games will keep Jones afloat as a weekly fantasy start. He may not have many receptions (12) but he has a knack for the end zone and the league's best quarterback knows it. If you have Jones on your roster, it will be difficult not to play him for the foreseeable future.
- Donte Moncrief is one big game away from being a Top 10 wide receiver. The Colts offense has yet to find it's groove, but we said the same thing about Tom Brady and the Patriots at this point last year. The Colts have too many weapons not to find success at some point. As bad their offensive line might be, there will be opportunities. Andrew Luck will adjust and find his niche and his supporting cast will come along for the ride. Moncrief's score in each game so far has me thinking the needle is definitely pointing up on this young talent in the making. I would not be surprised to see Phillip Dorsett see more action as Andre Johnson is eventually phased out of the offense.
- In my opinion, it's only a matter of time, before Amari Cooper has a breakout game with one or two scores. The 2-1 Raiders have their sights on bigger things this year and now planning for the present, rather than the future. Cooper has the talent to thrive in the league. I would be surprised if he's not much higher in the rankings in the few weeks.
- The Ravens don't have an identity on offense, so Steve Smith is filling the role as best he can. Breshad Perriman definitely has a role with the team once his knee is healthy enough, but that's still a few weeks away. Continue to ride the Steve Smith wave until it finally breaks. Joe Flacco has confidence in him all over the field and the other options aren't as reliable as Smith is. The targets should continue to come and Smith will continue to put up big fantasy weeks.
- Rob Gronkowski is league's best tight end. That goes without saying, but there's a line of others who are looking to make an impact. Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Jason Witten, Jordan Reed and Jimmy Graham are in the next tier of successful tight ends. Any one of them is capable of a big game any given week. Eric Ebron is starting to make some noise in Detroit. His second year is looking promising so far.
- Martellus Bennett was thought to be among the league's Top 6 tight ends, however the sluggish Bears passing game has resulted in a decrease in fantasy production for Bennett. He may rebound once Jay Cutler (hamstring) returns to action, but it's pretty evident that Jimmy Clausen and John Fox don't make a good team. Bennett has a favorable match up this week against Oakland, who has given up the most fantasy points to tight ends this year by far. Tyler Eifert, Crockett Gillmore and Gary Barnidge each had big outings against the Raiders in the first three games. Those are far from stud tight ends. If Bennett doesn't have a big week this week, we should all assume the disaster watch is on.
- Antonio Gates (suspension) and Julius Thomas (hand) should not be forgotten. Gates will be back for Week 5 and Thomas could be back just as soon. If you're starving for a tight end, because you drafted Dwayne Allen or Zach Ertz, take a look and see if Gates or Thomas is available on your waiver wire. A pre-emptive or proactive waiver claim that pans out is music to your ears. Both of these players have the ability to put up decent points when they return.
- Don't give up on Jordan Cameron, Jared Cook, Coby Fleener (especially with Allen out). I would be most interested in buying low on Cameron. The Dolphins offense has the players to be a powerhouse, but you have to remember, a lot of those guys are new to the offense and each other, Cameron included. Ryan Tannehill will come around and so will the offense.
- Delanie Walker is another player who should come around. The Titans are surprisingly putting up decent point totals and Marcus Mariota has the offense clicking. Walker was hampered by a hand injury which kept his fantasy production down. He should rebound in the coming weeks, especially if the offense continues to thrive.
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