Sunday Morning Huddle: Week Three

Ryan McDowell

Let’s face it, there’s an enormous amount of information out there on Sunday mornings. We’re not going to waste your time by repeating the news and notes about who’s in or out this week, since that’s really not what you visit us for. We’re also not going to do another article on starts or sits this week – we already have the personalized lineup advice for you on the premium content. Again, there are 100 places you can go for that, so no reason to repeat ourselves or others.

The Sunday Morning Huddle goes through each game and states what we’re looking to see from a dynasty perspective. One player will be picked from each team who has dynasty value tied to the game – players at a pivot point where their value could increase or decrease based on opportunity and performance.

Early Games

New Orleans at Atlanta

The Saints have relied on stars Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas through the first two weeks and haven’t needed much more. Eventually though, these two elite producers will need some support. One player I’d like to see more of… make that anything of is former Bears wideout Cameron Meredith. After missing much of training camp with an injury, Meredith has been inactive each of the first two games. Saints coach Sean Payton claimed earlier in the week that Meredith could suit up for the team’s week three game against the Falcons. Thomas currently has a 25% target share in the first two games.

Last week, Falcons rookie receiver Calvin Ridley caught his first career touchdown as he saw his playing time increase 10%, up to 66% of the snaps. He also saw more targets that veteran Mohamed Sanu. I expect the team to continue to increase Ridley’s playing time as he only ran 20 routes, seven fewer than Sanu. In a possible shootout with a division rival, I can’t wait to see more of Ridley.

Denver at Baltimore

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When rookie receiver Courtland Sutton landed with the Broncos, many, myself included, suggested this could be a redshirt season for the SMU product. He was expected to play behind veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders before potentially taking over in 2019. Through two weeks, Sutton has fast-forwarded that process. He’s playing 49 snaps per games, compared to 59 for Sanders and 56 for Thomas. He’s also run just one route less than Thomas on the short season. Sutton has struggled with efficiency, hauling in just three of 11 passes thrown his way. To continue to see his role grow, he must hang onto the ball.

In week two’s Thursday night game against the Bengals, rookie tight end Mark Andrews caught his first career touchdown. That earned him an overall bump in playing time, seeing 41% of the snaps after playing just 28% in the opener. The Broncos have struggled in the early going against opposing tight ends, allowing the sixth-most yards and fantasy points. With a growing role and a prime opponent, this could be a sort of coming out party for the former Sooner star.

Cincinnati at Carolina

With starting running back Joe Mixon out with a bad knee, we’ll see veteran Giovani Bernard get most of the backfield work for Cincinnati as they travel to Carolina. I’ll be interested in following rookie Mark Walton’s game as well. The team did sign veteran Thomas Rawls earlier this week, but head coach Marvin Lewis said the team would rely on a combination of Bernard and Walton. During his college career, Walton was a workhorse and managed to average nearly seven yards per carry, but also had trouble staying healthy. Let’s see what he does with a handful of touches against the Panthers.

Last week, we finally got to see Panthers rookie receiver D.J. Moore get somewhat involved in the offense. After failing to even draw a target in week one, Moore saw two. The first went for a 51-yard score, while the second was a Hail Mary look that he nearly pulled down. Carolina head coach Ron Rivera would later say that Moore deserved to get more work, which seems pretty obvious. In the first two games, Moore is playing well behind veterans Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright. Yuck!

NY Giants at Houston

In this game, I’ll be focused on the same player everyone is tuning in to see: Giants rookie back Saquon Barkley. Despite the respectable start to his career that has seen him post RB11 and RB5 games in his first two weeks, those performances have been a bit masked by big plays and receptions. In week one, Barkley took a 68-yarder to the house after finding little running room most of the game. Last week, he found no running room but caught 14 passes to pad his fantasy stats. This Giants offense has been among the worst in the league in the early going and I hope Barkley can continue to overcome that and put up big numbers.

As I expected, the return of wide receiver Will Fuller did wonders for the Texans offense in week two. He caught eight of nine targets for 113 yards and a score and now has a touchdown in all five games he’s played with quarterback Deshaun Watson. Fuller averages four receptions for 78 yards and nearly two touchdowns in the limited sample, which projects to a 67/1,254/25 pace for a full season.

Tennessee at Jacksonville

There’s little to like about the Titans offense so far this season, but they did manage to get a much-needed victory last week. Now, they travel to Jacksonville to face the league’s toughest defense. Their only offensive touchdown in the game came on a pass to second-year wideout Taywan Taylor. After being left out of the week one game plan, Taylor led the Titans receivers in target share with 17% and saw his playing time increase from just 13% in the opener to 41% against the Texans.

Former Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief was my pick to emerge as the Jaguars top receiving option this season and boost his dynasty stock along the way. While he doesn’t have the production to go along with it, he is certainly getting the opportunity. Moncrief leads the Jags in target share (15%), average depth of target (14.6) and air yards (219). All of this suggests the big plays are eventually coming for Moncrief, but he has to start by improving on his 33% catch rate. While he leads the team with 15 targets, he’s only tied for fifth in receptions.

San Francisco at Kansas City

This might be the game we’ve been waiting for. After a hot streak to end his 2017 season, dynasty players began to treat 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as a sure thing with his ADP climbing as high as QB5. Through two weeks this year, Jimmy GQ has managed weekly fantasy ranks of QB22 and QB16. This week though, he faces the Chiefs whose defense has been miserable. With the expected return of top wideout Marquise Goodwin and a forgiving foe, Garoppolo could remind us all why we spent the summer chasing him.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Even on an offense that features Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt, this game is all about quarterback Patrick Mahomes. After his six-touchdown performance last week, Mahomes is on pace to break the single-season passing score record. In fact, even if he throws only one score against the Niners, he’ll still be on pace to break Peyton Manning’s mark of 55 passing touchdowns.

Oakland at Miami

There is little to be excited about for the Raiders struggling offense which now travels cross-country to face a surprising undefeated Dolphins team. In week two against Denver, wide receiver Amari Cooper finally reminded us why he is such a valuable dynasty asset, catching all ten targets for 116 yards. He’ll need to keep that level of play up against a Miami team that has played tough defense in the early going, but I do expect Derek Carr and the Raiders to have to throw to stay in the game.

The Dolphins fans and many fantasy players will once again be on DeVante Parker watch. He’s reportedly fully healthy but still no lock to suit up, which is clearly a bad sign. After hearing trade rumors during the off-season, this seems like a situation where the team might be ready to move on. Parker’s dynasty value is fading fast and he needs to get on the field soon.

Buffalo at Minnesota

It must be a miserable time to be a Bills fan. I know it’s not a good time to be a fantasy owner of any of the Bills players. Even established veterans like LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay are virtually worthless so far this season. One player who is making the most of this rough spot is second-year receiver Zay Jones. The East Carolina product leads the team with eight receptions for 89 yards through two games, although the unproductive Kelvin Benjamin is still being treated like the team’s top option in the passing game.

There’s a lot to like about this Vikings offense but today they will be without starting running back Dalvin Cook, who suffered a hamstring injury last week. Hopefully, this is a minor injury as Cook claims, but in his place, the Vikes will turn to veteran Latavius Murray, who must be licking his lips in anticipation of seeing a full workload against the Bills. Murray will be a free agent following the season and has been impressive every time he’s been given a chance yet is still an underrated dynasty asset.

Indianapolis at Philadelphia

The Colts travel to face the defending Super Bowl champions and for the second time in three weeks running back Marlon Mack will miss the game with an injury. While it is no easy task to run against the Eagles, rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines will get the chance. This is looking like a complete committee backfield to avoid for 2018 but I am still interested to see if there is valued to be mined for the future.

Months after suffering a season-ending knee injury, the Eagles will welcome quarterback Carson Wentz back into the lineup. When Wentz was lost for the year, he was the fantasy QB2 averaging over 25 fantasy points per game. Combined with his age and solid supporting cast, that was good enough for many to move him up to the QB1 spot in dynasty rankings. Wentz begins season with a limited group of weapons as he’ll be without receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Jay Ajayi, among others.

Green Bay at Washington

After serving a two-game suspension, the Packers will have second-year running back Aaron Jones back on the field. Although most seem to agree that Jones is the more talented of the three-headed Green Bay backfield, it is current starter Jamaal Williams who possesses the best pass-blocking skills, which will keep him in the lineup. I’m excited to see how the team uses Jones and how the backfield snaps are distributed.

One of the most underrated players in fantasy leagues continues to go almost unnoticed despite scoring as an RB1 in each of the first two games. Redskins back Chris Thompson is one of several backs on pace to break the single-season record for receptions by a running back, currently held by Matt Forte with 102 catches. Thompson has fully recovered from his leg injury a year ago and is a strong trade target for dynasty contenders.

Late Games

LA Chargers at LA Rams

In a three-way nearly equal split among the Rams wide receivers, newcomer Brandin Cooks has emerged as the team leader in fantasy points early this season. Cooks has played over 98% of the team’s snaps and leads the team with 67 routes run, though teammates Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are right on his heels in all categories. In a possible shootout against the Chargers, this sets up as a huge game for Cooks.

The Chargers have been carried by their running backs early in the season, and not just on the ground. Starter Melvin Gordon actually leads the team with 22 targets and two receiving touchdowns, while backup Austin Ekeler has compiled most of his fantasy points through the air. The Rams are expected to control this game and if they get out to an early lead, we might see this duo again targeted in the passing game. Both players are currently top 12 fantasy scores with Gordon the RB2, while Ekeler is the RB11.

Chicago at Arizona

Honestly, the player we all want to watch for the Bears is linebacker Khalil Mack, but since IDP is not my forte, I’ll also be on the lookout for second-year running back Tarik Cohen, but if I blink, I might miss him. After making an early impact during his rookie season, Cohen has played sparingly this year. Cohen is playing just 36% of the snaps, which is less than he saw a year ago. The worst part is he’s being out-targeted by starter Jordan Howard nine-five as new head coach Mark Nagy has made good on his preseason promise to use Howard as a receiver. This new game plan appears to be a mainstay, which is slowly killing Cohen’s once rapidly growing dynasty value.

Lost in the struggles of the Cardinals offense, most importantly running back David Johnson, has been the usage of late-round rookie Chase Edmonds. It was decided very early in training camp that Edmonds would be Johnson’s primary backup and he’s had a real role through two games. Edmonds is playing over 27% of the Cardinals snaps and touching the ball on over half of those opportunities. In comparison, top backup Andre Ellington played just 13% of the snaps during Johnson’s breakout 2016 season.

Dallas at Seattle

The Cowboys offense is yet another one that has been putrid early this season. The worst offenders have been the receiving corps. The top preseason candidates to serve as Dak Prescott’s WR1 was former Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup. That duo has combined for four receptions for 43 yards through two games, being outperformed by Deonte Thompson, among others. These two need to improve their games quickly and could do that against the fading Seahawks defense.

While Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has stubbornly stuck with running back Chris Carson as his starter, the Seahawks did use first-round rookie Rashaad Penny more in the second half of last week’s game as Carson was apparently “winded” after his six carries for 24 yards. In a winnable home game this week, we could the continuation of the Penny takeover.

Sunday Night

New England at Detroit

You know who you want to see in this game. Expect big performances from quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, but the real headliner will be former Browns receiver Josh Gordon. It is unclear if Gordon will even suit up for this one as he’s been dealing with a leg injury. The expectations are all over the board for Gordon as he begins his Patriots career, with some comparing him to Randy Moss and others expecting yet another disappointment.

Last week, we saw the Lions increase the playing time of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who saw 47% of the snaps after playing just 23% during the opener. Johnson responded with 66 total yards on 13 touches and was involved in the passing game as well. With veteran LeGarrette Blount struggling, expect to see even more of Johnson as the Lions try to hang with the Pats.

Monday Night

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay

It’s been a wild week for the Steelers, as usual. The absence of running back Le’Veon Bell is almost a non-story at this point as most are starting to accept he won’t return until week ten. Star receiver Antonio Brown was seemingly headed down a similar path after some confusing Tweets this week. While that was quickly dismissed, we should still expect Brown to be fed targets as the squeaky wheel. Although, he already leads the league with 33 targets entering week three, so it is hard to know what to expect from Brown.

Of course, we’ll all be watching to see if veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can somehow do it again. He’s thrown for over 400 yards and four touchdowns in each of the first two weeks and now gets a Steelers defense that has been generous in giving up yards and points. Fitzpatrick has been heavily targeting receiver Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, but I want to see if he can get second-year receiver Chris Godwin more involved. Godwin has run 41 routes compared to 60 for Evans and a surprising 50 from slot man Adam Humphries and is playing over 60% of the snaps, good for second-most on the team. He’s also second on the team in targets, so it will all come together soon.

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ryan mcdowell