Offensive Sleepers: Week 3

The best plays at every position this week that you might be overlooking


Carson Palmer (vs SF)

Is Palmer still a sleeper after a top five start? After this week’s game against the once vaunted 49ers defense, everyone will be fully awoken to this QB1 for 2015. The 49ers were vulnerable to the deep pass against the Steelers, with four 40+ yard pass plays allowed last week. Guess what Bruce Arians’ pass offense specializes in? Palmer should have another multi-touchdown game without breaking a sweat. He’s one of the safest plays of the week, but he also has a very high ceiling.

Nick Foles (vs PIT)

Only Alex Smith has failed to throw for multiple touchdowns against the Steelers since Martavis Bryant joined the offense in Week 7 last year, and Smith still threw for over 300 yards. The Steelers defense is almost as bad as the offense is good. They can stifle opposing offense when they have limited quarterback play while the Steelers build a lead, but once they are in prevent mode, the undisciplined unit gives up big plays, as they did last week to Torrey Smith. The only real pitfall here for Foles is the Rams defense keeping the Steelers offense in check.

Tyrod Taylor (at MIA)

Taylor won’t be a sleeper for much longer. He’s getting a good amount of rushing stats by design, showing out much better than expected as a passer, and maximizing the value of one of the wide receiver groups in the league despite being in a run-first offense. This week he gets a Dolphins team that allowed Blake Bortles one of the best games of his career last week. Taylor has had at least 40 rushing yards in each of the first two games, and he’s throwing a touchdown about every 12 pass attempts, so even low pass volume can’t hold him back from being a solid start against the Dolphins.

Andy Dalton (at BAL)

This is where we learn whether Andy Dalton is really a new man this year. The Ravens, and AFC North competition in general has given Dalton trouble over the years. Joe Goodberry, a Bengals expert, has isolated how Dalton has done a lot worse against opponents that have seen him recently than those that haven’t seen him for two years or more. This held true in the first two weeks of the season against “uncommon” opponents San Diego and Oakland. The Ravens are obviously a “common” opponent are also hosting Dalton and the Bengals. So why recommend him as a sleeper? Dalton has never had Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones Jr, AJ Green (monitor this week’s injury report - knee), Giovani Bernard, and Mohamed Sanu healthy for a matchup with them in the Hue Jackson offense, and the Ravens gave up 351 yards and three scores to Derek Carr last week after shutting down an old-looking Peyton Manning Week 1. This could be the game where we learn that 2015 Dalton is worth trust in typically bad matchups for him.

Running Backs

LeGarrette Blount (vs JAX)

Blount owners have to be wondering if he’s even still on the team right now. It’s all Dion Lewis (who should still be in your lineup as at least a flex), but a game that projects for the Patriots to jump out to a big lead on the Jaguars should include at least one touchdown and 15+ carries for Blount. Unless the Jaguars surprise by keeping this close, Week 3 should be a breakout for Blount. If they control this game and he doesn’t get a lot of work, it might be time to cut bait on the big back.

Shane Vereen (vs WAS - Thursday Night)

We know Odell Beckham Jr Jr. will get his, but with a running game stuck in neutral, who else is going to help Eli Manning? Rueben Randle is a dud, Larry Donnell is limited, and Victor Cruz is still out. Vereen already has an eight catch game under his belt, and with Washington trying to shorten this game with ball control football, the Giants should be forced to resort to a lot of hurry up pass offense. The running game is non-existant and Washington has been bottling up opposing running backs anyway. This will be a pass heavy game for Manning, which equals a lot of work for Vereen.

Bilal Powell (vs PHI)

Powell has blossomed into almost a full backfield partner for Chris Ivory, who has a groin issue that almost cut short his Monday night performance. On a short week of rest, Ivory probably won’t be ready for a full workload anyway, but either way Powell continues to earn work as the best passing down back on the Jets. They should control this game and allow the offense to play conservative, setting up Powell for at least 15 touches. If Ivory has any problems in practice or the game, Powell could be in line starter-level touches.

Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles (at NYJ)

Demarco Murray’s nightmare season just got worse, as he suffered a hamstring injury in practice Wednesday that was severe enough to merit an MRI. It was only a tweak, but mid-week injuries can lead to weekend absences. There’s no word on his availability for Week 3, but it seems very likely he will sit. The Eagles running game is stuck in a ditch on the side of the road, but perhaps Mathews will be the beneficiary of changes to hide the issues at the guard position and revitalize the passing game heading into Week 3. It’s a tough matchup, but if Mathews is the starter and he gets most of the work in the backfield, he could break through. Sproles is already in line for a decent amount of targets in the passing game, but he could assume a larger role as a runner, including in the red zone (if the Eagles can get there). Murray owners’ loss is the gain of Mathews and Sproles owners this week, and potentially a lot longer.

James Starks (vs KC)

Monitor the Eddle Lacy injury reports for Monday night before starting Starks, but know that the Packers have no reason to risk a worse injury to Lacy on a bum ankle when Starks has shown he can more than capably carry the load when Lacy is out. Starks had over 100 total yards in relief of Lacy last week, and he also had a 100-yard game when Lacy had leave early in Week 2 of 2013. He’s also a good receiver out of the backfield, and playing in an efficient offense that should have at least 2-3 trips into the red zone. Consider Starks a strong RB2 this week unless there are strong signs from the team by Saturday that Lacy will play.

David Johnson (vs SF)

Bruce Arians is a straight shooter, so when he says he wants to not put too much on the shoulders of rookies, we should believe him. Still, when David Johnson already has three total touchdowns on just a handful of touches, it’s hard to keep from being excited when Arians also says Johnson’s role will increase each week. The 49ers were terribly prone to the big passing play, and also the short rushing touchdown against the Steelers last week. Johnson won’t get that many touches with Chris Johnson the lead back while Andre Ellington is still out, but he showed us in the first two weeks that he doesn’t need that many.

Devonta Freeman (at DAL)

Tevin Coleman is out for at least this week with a broken rib, which means it is Freeman’s show in the Atlanta backfield. His lack of size, speed, and overwhelming initial burst makes Freeman get overwhelmed between the tackles at times, but he still got tons of red zone looks after Coleman went down last week. If the stout Cowboys run defense does predictably bottle him up as a runner, Freeman is still excellent as a receiver and likely to catch at least 3-4 passes. He is not a high ceiling play, but Freeman will get enough touches this week be a safe RB2 play.

Wide Receiver

John Brown (vs SF)

Brown’s first two games seem disappointing when you look at how many passing touchdowns Carson Palmer has thrown, but know that Brown drew a pass interference in the end zone in Week 1, and over 80 yards on two pass interference penalties that set up scores in Week 2. Against the San Francisco pass defense that gave up four plays over 40 yards last week, Brown almost seems like a lock to reel in at least one deep ball, and probably for a touchdown. Brown scored all five of his touchdowns last year at home, and his one score this year also came at home.

Allen Hurns (at NE)

Hurns has been rounding into form as the #2 receiver for the Jaguars this year, and showing that he is more than a vertical threat with some nifty moves after the catch. Marqise Lee is back, but the loss of Rashad Greene Sr and budding shutdown corner Malcolm Butler possibly being on Week 2 breakout star Allen Robinson should lead to more than enough targets for Hurns to be a sneaky upside WR3/Flex type and GPP daily fantasy play. The Jaguars are on the road against one of the two or three best offenses in the league. Expect them to play from behind and have to lean on the passing game more than usual.

Mike Wallace (vs SD)

Wallace was more of an afterthought in a game the Vikings controlled in Week 2, but he got a perfect deep ball from Teddy Bridgewater in Week 1 that did not result in a score because of an obvious pass interference that was not called. The Chargers were victimized by a long score to Marvin Jones Jr last week, and Philip Rivers should force the Vikings offense out of the conservative passing comfort zone they occupied while feeding Adrian Peterson last week.

Darrius Heyward-Bey (at STL)

Heyward-Bey appeared to be ahead of Markus Wheaton in the pecking order for targets heading into St. Louis. The return of Le'Veon Bell against a Rams run defense that got gashed by Washington last week should only open things up deep even more. Heyward-Bey snagged a long touchdown last week and he is probably the best vertical target (until Martavis Bryant returns) in an offense that loves to use the deep ball.

Tavon Austin (vs PIT)

Austin has been getting shot plays and touches that are designed to give him the ball in space. He’s converting the touches into nice gains, but the shot plays haven’t connected yet. Against the Steelers woeful secondary, there’s a better chance that this will the week that Foles and Austin connect on a deep ball, even if it is when the game is out of hand a la Colin Kaepernick and Torrey Smith last week. The Rams will likely be able to move the ball well with the possible return of Todd Gurley and porous Steelers defense, so Austin can also convert any of those rushing or short passing touches into long gains, too. This game should be setting up the Rams passing game to be big in Week 3.

Doug Baldwin (vs CHI)

Baldwin has been the one constant between the two uneven games the Seahawks pass offense have played so far. Against the Bears defense breaking in newer players in a new scheme just about everywhere, Seattle should have a lot of offensive success in their home opener. Baldwin doesn’t have a big play high ceiling, but unless this one turns lopsided early, he should catch at least 4-5 balls with one of his best chances at a receiving touchdown this year.

Donte Moncrief (at TEN)

Is Moncrief still a sleeper? With TY Hilton seeing a lot of Darrelle Revis and still banged up and Andre Johnson looking like he is the December of his career, Moncrief was the #1 target for Andrew Luck. Yes, that bore out to be as valuable for fantasy football as it sounds, even on a very very rough night for Luck. Even with Hilton getting healthier, Moncrief is not going away, Soon, the “sleeper” designation will seem behind the times as Moncrief becomes a core part of weekly lineups.

Tight End

Gary Barnidge (vs OAK)

Barnidge is not a name known to many fantasy football players, but neither was Crockett Gillmore until last week. All you need to know is that two of the four biggest fantasy games by tight ends so far this year have come against the Browns Week 3 opponent, the Oakland Raiders. Barnidge is a decent pass-catching tight end, and the Browns lack a #1 or even really a #2 wide receiver. If Barnidge is the “surprise” tight end of Week 3, no one can say we couldn’t see it coming.

Coby Fleener (at TEN)

Dwayne Allen is day-to-day with an ankle injury, which puts Fleener right back into the spotlight. He has been very quiet with Allen in the lineup, and even after Allen went out, he was quiet on Monday night against the Jets. The allure here is the 7-144 and pair of two touchdown games Fleener put up when Allen was hurt or out last year. Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a big Week 1 against the Titans defense (5-110-2), and if the Colts get on track this week, Fleener could be next.

Jared Cook (vs PIT)

The theme of starting passing game players against the Steelers defense pops up again. If Nick Foles has a #1 receiver in the Rams offense, it is Cook. He has led the team in catches and yards in each of the first two weeks, converting 10 of 13 targets into receptions. The Steelers have allowed Rob Gronkowski to catch three scores, and Vernon Davis came back to life against them with a 5-62 line last week. Cook is the safest play in the Rams passing game in a matchup that should yield big passing stats.

Delanie Walker (vs IND)

Walker is coming back off of a hand injury, but he has already practiced in full and should be ready to return for Week 3 against Indianapolis. Meanwhile with Walker out in Week 2, Marcus Mariota greatly favored his tight ends to the tune of the best fantasy line Anthony Fasano has put up since 2010 (5-84-1) and five more passes completed to tight ends. Walker should have a good shot at scoring and maybe even leading the Titans in receptions in this early season divisional showdown.

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