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Projecting Week 3's Top Fantasy Football Scorers

Zach WarrenContributor ISeptember 30, 2016

Projecting Week 3's Top Fantasy Football Scorers

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    Were you one of the lucky people from Week 2 who listened to the Week 2 numberFire rankings and rode Victor Cruz to victory? How about one of those who started Eli Manning after seeing him ranked at No. 4, or tempered expectations after seeing Aaron Rodgers out of our list altogether? How about those who started Jamaal Charles after seeing him in our top five? Whoops, I forgot about that one. Well, you can't win them all.

    But if you're numberFire.com (my other home on the Web), you can win most of them. The numberFire projections beat any of those that you'd get inside your fantasy game. We've taken our projections and those of our competitors, subtracting each from the actual number of fantasy points any player got, and seeing who was closest. In 93 percent of weeks over the past two years, we've been closest on 60 percent of players. For the math un-inclined, that's really, really good.

    After last week's top overall projections of Adrian Peterson and Victor Cruz, this week's selection of number one projections may not be as exciting. At the very least, there are no major surprises at the very top of the list. But once you get down a bit into the top five projections this week, you'll find a few eye-openers. From the Steelers' air attack to the Return of the MJD, let's get into this week's top fives.

QBs: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Week 3 Projected Stats: 17.6 completions on 31.8 attempts, 236.12 passing yards, 1.35 passing TDs, 0.95 INTs, 7.8 rushing attempts, 50.13 rushing yards, 0.67 rushing TDs

    Projected Point Total: 21.08

    Week 3 Opponent: New York Giants

     

    Cam Newton may have been relegated to RGIII version 1.0 status in the minds of many NFL fans, but he's still one of the biggest fantasy football threats around. Newton bounced back from a rough 12 fantasy point (FP) Week 1 to more than double his fantasy points against the Saints in Week 2 with 25 FP in a standard ESPN league. On the season, that now places him fifth among all fantasy QBs, behind only Griffin, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

    Strangely enough for a running QB, Newton has been one of the most effective passers through the air in the first two weeks. NumberFire likes to look at a stat called net expected points (NEP) to determine a player's effectiveness. On each play, a team can be expected to score a certain number of points. For instance, on a 3rd-and-2 at the 50 against the Steelers, a team can be "expected" to score 1.23 points on that drive. The amount a player increases or decreases that expected value is their NEP.

    Through Week 2, Newton has the second highest NEP per pass rating at 0.47, behind only Ryan's 0.49 mark. In easier terms, every time Newton drops back to pass, he gains the Panthers an average 0.47 points on the scoreboard more than the average player. That's a good deal up from the 0.10 NEP per pass mark he posted last season, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

    He hasn't been as efficient rushing the ball (a -0.13 NEP per rush this year compared to 0.56 last year), but his large number of rush attempts (13 last week) makes up for that lower efficiency. Especially against the Giants' patented Swiss cheese defense, Newton looks like the best play this week.

    The other name on the top five that may interest you is Ben Roethlisberger. While you may not have him above Aaron Rodgers (tough Seattle matchup) or Tom Brady (ditto with Baltimore) on your own board, numberFire expects him to go off this week. He has had at least 2 TDs in each game so far this year, and both were against much stronger defenses than he'll face this week in Oakland. Remember his name for when we get to the receivers slide as well.

     

    The Best of the Rest

    2. Drew Brees (vs. Kansas City): 20.36 FP

    3. Matt Ryan (at San Diego): 20.19 FP

    4. Ben Roethlisberger (at Oakland): 20.17 FP

    5. Matthew Stafford (at Tennessee): 19.47 FP

RBs: Arian Foster, Houston Texans

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    Week 3 Projected Stats: 22.54 rushing attempts, 106.01 rushing yards, 0.88 rushing TDs, 2.83 receptions, 32.90 receiving yards, 0.19 receiving TDs

    Projected Point Total: 20.10

    Week 3 Opponent: Denver Broncos

     

    With all of the talk about Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller, everybody's forgetting about the little guys. And by little guys, I mean the consensus No. 1 pick in most fantasy leagues who has put up the sixth most fantasy points (39) in the entire NFL through two weeks. OK, so I lied some about that "little" thing.

    Arian Foster has lived up to all of the hype and then some through the first two weeks. Foster's been a case of quantity over quality: His -0.08 NEP per rush is dead average for a starting NFL back, but his 54 rush attempts are seven more than anybody else in the league. He hasn't even busted a long run yet—his 18-yard long rush is the fourth-shortest "long rush" of the 21 players who have at least 100 yards rushing total this season.

    The critics among us might say, "Yeah, but those two games came against the Dolphins and Jaguars. Of course he's going to rush a lot when the Texans get ahead early." That may be true, but what makes you think that is going to change against the Broncos? Isaac Redman looked pitiful against them in Week 1, but Redman has looked pitiful against everybody. Otherwise, lead backs haven't performed too poorly. Jonathan Dwyer averaged 4.5 yards per carry on nine rush attempts after coming in for Redman, and Michael Turner finished Monday Night Football with 10 fantasy points of his own. I don't know about you, but I think I'd take Foster over either one of those guys any day.

    The other interesting fantasy play this week at the top of the RB charts is Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. Jones-Drew has the second-most fantasy points of any running back without a touchdown... and considering first-placer Darren Sproles has not received a single carry in New Orleans, I'm not sure he counts. But against the Colts defense, watch out for his point-scoring potential. NumberFire gives MJD the second highest projected rushing TD total this week behind Foster and the second highest projected receiving TD total behind Sproles. If he doesn't get into the end zone against the weak Indy defense, consider it an upset.

     

    The Best of the Rest

    2. Maurice Jones-Drew (at Indianapolis): 18.94 FP

    3. LeSean McCoy (at Arizona): 17.52 FP

    4. Ray Rice (vs. New England): 17.40 FP

    5. Darren McFadden (vs. Pittsburgh): 15.37 FP

WRs: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

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    Week 3 Projected Stats: 5.58 receptions, 101.56 receiving yards, 0.83 receiving TDs

    Projected Point Total: 15.06

    Week 3 Opponent: Tennessee Titans

     

    "Boy, Zach, I really hope you don't fall off that limb you're going out on there."

    Yeah yeah, I know this isn't exactly a reach pick. But when the matchup dictates that Calvin Johnson's going to have an other-worldly week, I'm not going to go against the numbers.

    Much like Maurice Jones-Drew, you haven't heard as much about Johnson this season because he hasn't gotten into the end zone. Don't mistake that for a down year, though. A "quiet" season for Megatron only means 205 yards receiving (No. 7 in the NFL), 19 targets his way (No. 16) and five catches of 20 yards or more (No. 2).

    Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, those games came against the Rams and 49ers, both of whom numberFire has ranked in the top half of NFL defenses. You could even add their defensive rankings (No. 14 and No. 12, respectively) and still not get to the defensive ranking for this week's opponent, the No. 31 Tennessee Titans. I think predicting Megatron to get his first TD this week is about as solid of a play as you can get; his projected TD total is third among wide receivers this week behind Antonio Brown and Victor Cruz.

    In speaking of Mr. Brown, he and teammate Mike Wallace are the most interesting names in our top five receivers this week. Remember when I was talking about Ben Roethlisberger as a top-five QB? The same principle applies, but apply it to the receivers. Brown gets the better-play nod because of the number of times Big Ben has looked his way this year: Brown's 18 targets are seven more than anybody else on the team. But Mike Wallace's 82 percent catch rate through two weeks and 2 TD receptions makes him a solid choice for a top slot as well.

     

    The Best of the Rest

    2. Antonio Brown (at Oakland): 14.59 FP

    3. Victor Cruz (at Carolina): 14.42 FP

    4. Mike Wallace (at Oakland): 12.93 FP

    5. Roddy White (at San Diego): 12.70 FP

TEs: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

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    Week 3 Projected Stats: 6.35 receptions, 81.83 receiving yards, 0.56 receiving TDs

    Projected Point Total: 11.47

    Week 3 Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs

     

    After two straight weeks of having Rob Gronkowski at the top of the tight end projections, numberFire decided to switch it up this time... but only by a little bit. Jimmy Graham has been far and away the best tight end this season, ranking first among tight ends with 25 targets, second with 153 receiving yards and third with two touchdowns. Any time that a tight end is an elite QB's favorite target, you have to go with him, and that is indeed the case in the Big Easy. Graham's 23 targets leads the Saints by one over Darren Sproles.

    If there is reason at all to be worried with Jimmy Graham this week, it is his catch rate. At only 56.5 percent through two weeks, Graham's catch rate is one of the worst of any top-flight tight end. I expect that percentage to go slightly up—he ended 2011 with a 66.4 percent catch rate—but his ceiling would be even higher if he had caught even one or two of the 10 incomplete balls Drew Brees threw his way.

    The rest of the top five is pretty standard this week, especially if you take into account numberFire's justified man crush on Tony Gonzalez. However, a few people may be scratching their heads on Jermichael Finley being included this high, fresh off a spectacularly dismal 0 fantasy point day against the Bears. Don't be. Finley still had the second-most targets on the team in that game, and he faces a Seahawks defense that has allowed at least five catches to opposing tight ends in each of the first two weeks.

     

    The Best of the Rest

    2. Rob Gronkowski (at Baltimore): 8.73 FP

    3. Tony Gonzalez (at San Diego): 8.01 FP

    4. Jermichael Finley (at Seattle): 7.91 FP

    5. Jason Witten (vs. Tampa Bay): 7.62 FP

     

    Zach Warren is a writer and editor for numberFire.com as well as Bleacher Report. And he's here to bring the Fire to your fantasy team. NumberFire.com specializes in predicting stats for players and teams through their prediction models. Follow Zach on Twitter at @ZachWWarren or numberFire @numberFire for more fantasy football news throughout the week.

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