Three weeks into the season, some ideas we held in the preseason have been strongly confirmed. Some have been resoundingly debunked. A new reality is coming into focus, but we still have situations with mixed signals and conflicting information. Sifting through the noise to find the signal and acting with confidence is what the best fantasy owners do consistently year after year. That means taking risks and acting with incomplete information, but in hindsight, that is the only way to lock in the best buy low and sell high deals of the year.
Kenneth Dixon, RB, BAL - Dixon is a resident buy low player so far in 2016. Justin Forsett looks like he is swirling down the drain and Terrance West hasn’t distinguishing himself yet. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will remind you again that Dixon is the only back in this group who can truly be a three-down do-everything lead. There should be a lot of pass-catching opportunityfor Dixon in a Marc Trestman offense, and Dixon looked great in the preseason before getting hurt. The team will likely start working him in next week, but the door is open for Dixon to get as much work as he demonstrates he deserves with the limited early opportunity he gets coming back off of his injury. That alone is worth a roster spot and trying to target Dixon as a throw-in in a trade.
Josh McCown, QB, CLE - McCown might not be able to stay healthy, but if he does, this Browns offense might end up being the fun fantasy playground we hoped it could be when events lined up to make it more potent all offseason. Hue Jackson is showing the willingness to take risks to keep the team competitive, and the drubbing dished out by the Eagles defense doesn’t look so ignoble now. McCown dominated the Ravens defense for a quarter before he got hurt and this Browns defense will force him into a lot of high-scoring games. Terrelle Pryor, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Gary Barnidge, Duke Johnson Jr, and Isaiah Crowell are a formidable group of skill players who can who win in one-on-one situations. McCown is worth a stash for quarterback streamers in deeper leagues.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, CLE - This one is especially important in dynasty leagues. Pryor is 27 and his best football as a wide receiver is still ahead of him. His wide receiver skills have improved by leaps and bounds. He is natural at the catch point and after the catch. The possibility that he could remain involved as a “package play” quarterback is just gravy. When Josh Gordon returns, Gordon will get more attention from defenses. Pryor is an ascendent player, but we don’t know how high his arc bends. A dynasty owner that picked him up off of the waiver wire might think a second round pick is a nice return for a wide receiver that we would be gushing over as the next big thing if he wasn’t already perceived as a failure at quarterback.
Andrew Luck, QB, IND - I’m not a huge fan of spending to upgrade at quarterback, but if his shoulder woes don’t slow him down later this year, Luck could be an excellent buy low after an up and down start to the season. We shouldn’t hold the Broncos game against him, and the Chargers cornerback trio is one of the best in the league. Luck destroyed a Lions defense that still had DeAndre Levy and Ezekiel Ansah in Week 1, and a lot more of his remaining opponents resemble the Lions than the Broncos from here on out, with only the Vikings and Jets standing out as potential landmines now that JJ Watt is out for the year. If Luck’s owner is underwhelming, it might not hurt to dangle an offer to start talks heading into a matchup with the Jags.
Spencer Ware, RB, KC - This is more dynasty than redraft, although I won’t believe Ware’s redraft value is in steep decline until I see Jamaal Charles look like himself again. Don’t undersell what Ware has done with Charles sidelined. He has been one of the best running backs in the NFL, including as a receiver. Even against the stout Jets defense last week, he was outstanding, only really getting slowed down when the Chiefs went into game-killing mode and the Jets loaded up against the run. He should have had a score but the ball slipped out of his hand diving for the pylon. Ware might go back to being a timeshare back for the rest of the year in a worst case scenario, but he’s going to start in 2017 and going forward.
Travis Benjamin, WR, SD - Benjamin has been promoted to the #1 receiver in an offense piloted by a great quarterback. The production was enormous against a weak Jags pass defense in Week 2, and Benjamin won’t see many good pass defenses outside of Denver and Carolina for the rest of the season. As long as he is winning in his routes, Benjamin is going to get a lot of targets, including high value deep balls.
Cam Newton, QB, CAR - Newton actually put up a decent line against the fearsome Broncos to open the season and his only dud this year came at the hands of the NFC version of the Broncos defense. The Panthers pass offense is multi-faceted and able to strike for a score from just about anywhere on the field. Five juicy matchups against NFC South opponents are still left on the schedule. Newton could be a league winner when you factor his running into his weekly upside.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, MIN - McKinnon’s tenure as the lead back for the Vikings didn’t start with a bang, but consider the competition and setting. The Panthers run defense is tough and McKinnon still showed elusiveness and power to convert a two-point attempt. The Vikings defense is going to get them into lots of run-heavy game scripts, and the hope is that the Vikings start to use McKinnon more in space as a receiver and out of the shotgun to highlight his burst and playmaking ability. The schedule will get easier as the season goes on, so look for McKinnon’s redraft and dynasty value to mature as the leaves change colors.
Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG - Shepard has proven to be everything the Giants hoped for in his early career performances. He has scored twice and he was tackled close to the one on another reception. He was also a main chain mover against the Saints and already appears to be a core piece of the passing game. Teams are going to continue to focus on Odell Beckham, making Shepard a fantasy WR2 with his touchdown prowess, volume, and ability to win at the catch point and after the catch. He’s still available for cheaper than that in redraft leagues right now.
Christine Michael, RB, SEA - We said for years that Michael would impress if he ever got a chance. He got his head on straight, he’s getting the chance, and now he is impressing. Thomas Rawls was great last year and he might have some loyalty from the team, but if the Seahawks line settles down and Michael continues to run hot, he can render Rawls moot in this backfield. Seattle has been outstanding at setting up their running backs with winning fantasy game scripts. With Rawls still not right and Michael producing despite an offense that has been overcoming injuries and lack of OL cohesion, Michael could be a league-long RB1 that is still available for a discount heading into a tough matchup against the Jets.
Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA - This take is more dynasty than redraft, as Lockett is not likely have consistent redraft weekly value any time soon. A zero is still a good buy low moment in any format, but Lockett is much much more likely to appreciate in value in dynasty leagues. All of the strong fundamental talents and skills that Matt Harmon highlighted in reception perception are still present and eventually they will translate to consistent fantasy value.
Jamison Crowder, WR, WAS - Crowder is the kind of waterbug slot receiver that we tend to write off for long term stable fantasy value, but his abilities mesh perfectly with Kirk Cousins’ skills as a quarterback. He is getting consistent targets, including in the red zone, and he is getting targets deep downfield, including one Cousins overthrew or we might be talking about Crowder as a breakout fantasy player. Washington is likely to take it slow with Josh Doctson now that his achilles has flared up and Jordan Reed’s injury history also looms as something that could trigger an even higher weekly ceiling for Crowder this year. He is a redraft and dynasty buy low, mostly because he is still being regarded too lightly.
Lamar Miller, RB, HOU - Miller isn’t an urgent sell high, but he looks like a high volume/low ceiling play. The added weight has slowed him down, and I’m not sure it will help him hold up if the Texans continue to ride him like this. The loss of JJ Watt could introduce more game scripts where the Texans trail. The “fresh” Miller at the beginning of the season hasn’t been all that exciting in two ideal game scripts. Perhaps touchdown luck will start to break his way, but if Miller is the key piece to get a deal done to upgrade big elsewhere, I’m not gripping onto him too tightly right now.
Demarco Murray, RB, TEN - As long as Murray keeps cobbling together RB1 stat lines, I’ll keep putting him in the sell high column. The Tennessee offense is one of the least inspiring in the league, Murray has a more talented younger back breathing down his neck for carries, and he is relying on Marcus Mariota’s limitations as a quarterback to continue to get fed targets in the passing game. His fantasy pace seems unsustainable after three weeks. Unfortunately, most fantasy players are factoring this into his value, but you never know.
Julio Jones, WR, ATL - I know, coming off of a 1-16 game doesn’t exactly scream sell high, but most still see Jones as a clear top 3 overall value that you trade the farm to get on your roster. This Atlanta offense doesn’t have to rely on Jones to move the ball like they did last year, and it is also fair to wonder if his leg injuries are going to deteriorate his condition as the season goes on. Don’t sell Jones for pennies on the dollar, but if you can move from him to say Amari Cooper or Mike Evans and get a decent upgrade at your biggest hole, it’s not a bad plan.
Matt Ryan, QB, ATL - Just another reminder that Denver and Seattle are up next for Ryan. His matchups through Weeks 4-6 are as bad as they were good through Weeks 1-3, meaning that by Week 7 we will probably see him as a matchup streamer with a mixed set of good and bad matchups left to go over the remainder of the season.
Jordan Howard, RB, CHI - Howard is intriguing and a hold for dynasty simply because he’s probably better than Jeremy Langford and the Bears love to run the ball. For redraft, he’s a sell if you can pawn him to a running back needy owner for an upgrade elsewhere. The Bears just aren’t likely to give him many run-favorable game scripts, which makes him amount to roughly the same low ceiling volume RB2 that Langford was before he went out.