Fantasy Football Week 3 Sleepers at Every Position

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystSeptember 22, 2017

Fantasy Football Week 3 Sleepers at Every Position

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Fantasy football owners who believed Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was a sneaky value at the position can't be thrilled with the early returns. Two games into the season, Mariota is averaging just 235 passing yards per game and has thrown just one touchdown pass.

    Ditto for those who spent a first-rounder on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. The next touchdown the Bengals score in 2017 will be their first of the season.

    Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was a popular early- to mid-round pick in part because he hadn't missed a game since his rookie season. Unfortunately, he's set to miss plenty this year after he broke his foot against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

    Whether it's due to injuries, underperformers or both, it's far too early to throw in the towel. For every player who has fallen flat, there's a flip side—an unsung hero who could potentially plug holes in starting lineups and help get fantasy seasons back on track.

    Let's take a look at some of the best under-the-radar fantasy plays in Week 3.

Accountability Time

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Before delving into the Week 3 recommendations, let's review the Week 2 calls to see who blew up and who blew chunks.

    If a player I recommended finishes inside weekly starter territory (the top 12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses, top 24 running backs and top 36 wide receivers), I'm calling that a "win." Otherwise...not so much.

    Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks (5 carries, 4 yards, RB90): Yeah, about that Rawls call. My "Sleeper of the Week" calls have been asleep, all right. They've been in a coma. LOSS

    Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (224 passing yards, TD, INT, 1 rushing yard, QB24): After looking good in his 2017 debut, Goff backslid a bit in a loss to the Washington Redskins. LOSS

    Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals (332 passing yards, TD, INT, 6 rushing yards, QB11): He still looks done, but thanks to some late stats against a terrible opponent, Palmer sneaked into the back end of the top 12. WIN

    Javorius Allen, RB, Baltimore Ravens (14 carries, 66 yards, 5 catches, 35 yards, TD, RB7): After he topped 100 total yards and scored against the Cleveland Browns, Buck Allen's sleeper status is officially revoked. If he's still on your league's waiver wire, rectify that immediately. WIN

    Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears (7 carries, 13 yards, 8 catches, 55 yards, FL, RB13): Cohen has reeled in eight catches in each of the Bears' first two games. In PPR fantasy leagues, that gives him a great floor. WIN

    Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19 carries, 67 yards, TD, RB20): Rodgers averaged just 3.5 yards a carry against the Bears, but finding the end zone saved his fantasy day. WIN

    Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (6 catches, 82 yards, TD, WR8): Ladies and gentlemen, back by popular demand in 2017, it's Jaguars garbage-time fantasy points! WIN

    Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle Seahawks (2 catches, 19 yards, TD, WR41): Richardson's TD helped salvaged an OK day, but not a good enough one for me to get the "W" here. LOSS

    Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons (5 catches, 85 yards, WR26): Sunday night marks the third straight solid stat line Sanu has posted against the Packers. He's a nice depth piece for fantasy benches. WIN

    Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills (3 catches, 23 yards, TE30): The tight end streaming gods giveth, and the tight end streaming gods taketh away. LOSS

    Julius Thomas, TE, Miami Dolphins (3 catches, 26 yards, TE28): Thomas will have a big game or two in 2017. But until he peels one of those off, you won't be seeing his name in this column again. LOSS

    Oakland Raiders Defense/Special Teams (271 yards allowed, 20 points allowed, 4 sacks, 2 FR, D/ST6): Here's a tip: If a defense is playing the New York Jets in a given week, it is fantasy-relevant. That might be foreshadowing. WIN

    WEEK 2 TOTAL: 8/12 (.667)

    I shall always recall with fondness that glorious September weekend when I hit on two-thirds of my sleeper calls. Especially when that cold November weekend rolls around where I only hit on two.

    SEASON: 13/24 (.542)

Sleeper of the Week

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins (vs. OAK)

    Chris Thompson piled up over 100 total yards and two touchdowns in last week's win over the Los Angeles Rams. As such, one might think head coach Jay Gruden would increase the 5'8", 190-pound scatback's involvement in the game plan against the undefeated Raiders on Sunday, especially with Rob Kelley battling a rib injury.

    However, Gruden told ESPN.com's John Keim that he's leery of overworking the diminutive ball-carrier.

    "He's so important to us on third down, we just have to be careful," he said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. We don't want him to get 20-25 carries a game and get a lot of pounding on that body. He's definitely needed in pass protection and the routes and all that stuff on third down and red zone. So we'll try to expand his role a little bit, but we don't want to go too crazy with him."

    Gruden may not want to give Thompson 25 carries, but this week, he's a good bet to see more than the six touches he got against the Rams. Washington likely will be forced to the air to keep pace with Oakland's offensive juggernaut.

    If Kelley sits, rookie Samaje Perine will be tasked with handling the early-down work for Washington on Sunday. Perine isn't nearly as good as Thompson in pass protection and spent much of the summer in Gruden's doghouse due to fumbling issues. Even if Kelley plays, he'll be doing so with a painful injury that could limit his effectiveness.

    Thompson may see upward of 12-15 touches in Week 3, with about half coming on catches.

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (at GB)

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Through two games, the Bengals have scored zero touchdowns. After losing their second straight home game last Thursday, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and elevated quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to the position.

    Lazor's first task? Attempting to "fix" Andy Dalton, who has been horrific through two games. Dalton has completed less than 55 percent of his passes, tossed four picks and has a passer rating south of 50.

    Despite calls for everyone from backup AJ McCarron to Colin Kaepernick to replace Dalton, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick insisted to Geoff Hobson of the team's website that the Bengals still support the Red Rifle.

    "We look each other in the eyes and rally around each other," said Kirkpatrick. "I'm 100 percent behind Andy. Andy's spent all his time [with Lazor] the last two years and [Lazor] has been in that situation calling plays … It's the chemistry. We've got to get in a groove. It's been off. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Great players find a way to get back and I think we'll do that."

    Are the Bengals going to win this week? Absolutely not. Not at Lambeau Field against a Packers team that's smarting after getting thumped in Atlanta...again.

    But Dalton and the Bengals aren't as bad as they've looked the last two weeks. They're going to score some points this week, even if the game's out of hand when they do. And Dalton still has A.J. Green at his disposal.

    Luckily, garbage-time fantasy points count the same.

Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (at LAC)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Alex Smith entered the 2017 season with the reputation of an average quarterback and a game-manager. When the Chiefs traded up to select Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL draft, it appeared as though they took those criticisms to heart.

    Through two games, however, Smith has displayed newfound aggressiveness. He has completed more than 75 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions. Only two quarterbacks have more fantasy points: Trevor Siemian of the Denver Broncos and Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Tony Gonzalez of Fox Sports compared Smith's hot start to Aaron Rodgers.

    "It's the best [Smith's] ever played," the Hall of Fame tight end said. "It's somethinglike I said it on air, Patrick Mahomes has pushed Alex to bring out his best. He is throwing that deep ball. And I told you this before. And I say it half-jokingly, but I'm half serious, too. What is the difference between Alex Smithif he's hitting this deep ball the way he is right nowbetween him and Aaron Rodgers?"

    In more fantasy leagues than not, Smithand Siemian, for that matterare languishing on the waiver wire.

    Comparing Smith to Rodgers is a stretch, but there's no denying Smith looks as good as he ever has. This coming week, that red-hot quarterback gets a banged-up Chargers secondary that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks so far this year.

    Enough said. 

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (at GB)

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Getting Andy Dalton untracked isn't the only tall order facing new Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Despite a three-headed backfield that includes Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and rookie Joe Mixon, the Bengals rank 23rd league-wide in rushing heading into Week 3.

    Bernard has been the most effective of the three. He leads the team in rushing yards with 50, and the fifth-year veteran is the only Cincinnati tailback picking up more than four yards a carry. Bernard also leads the Bengals with an average of 18.3 yards per catch, which figures to come into play Sunday in Titletown.

    The Bengals may try to get their ground game going to control the tempo against the Green Bay Packers. But in reality, they're likely to spend the second half in catch-up mode after Green Bay thumps them early.

    Catch-up mode means more time on the field for Cincy's third-down back in a situation where the Packers will be pinning their ears back against an overmatched offensive line. That means lots of dump-offs, too.

    Like Dalton, much of Bernard's fantasy production may be in garbage time. But again, it all counts the same.

Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks (at TEN)

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    The Seattle Seahawks have a number of problems on offense. Their offensive line has been awful. Their ground game has been stagnant. And they have managed just one offensive touchdown in two games.

    However, it appears the Seahawks may have found an answer to at least one of those issues. 

    After Thomas Rawls mustered just four yards on five carries last week against the San Francisco 49ers, the Seahawks turned to preseason hero Chris Carson. The rookie responded with 93 yards on 20 carries, and head coach Pete Carroll told Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times he doesn't see why Carson can't keep it up Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

    "I think we can have very high expectations for Chris' play," Carroll said. "He has shown us, and now that we have looked at him all through camp and all of that, nothing has changed in his style of approach, his toughness and all of that. Everything he has done has been very, very consistent. I think he can continue to go, and he didn't have any problems carrying it 20 times, which is a good sign."

    This isn't a particularly robust matchup for Carson. The Titans were 29th in PPR fantasy points allowed to the running back position in 2016, and that number has only marginally increased this year.

    But the Seahawks badly need to get their run game going to take pressure off their line and set up play action. Carson is likely going to see at least 15 touches in this game. Each of those touches will be an opportunity to produce for fantasy owners.

Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (at IND)

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    Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

    While Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has struggled over the first two weeks, Duke Johnson has shined—at least in those rare instances where the Browns got him the ball.

    In Cleveland's Week 2 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Johnson tallied 80 total yards on just seven touches, which is only 23 fewer yards than Crowell has all season. His big day included a circus catch for 34 yards that is the Browns' best highlight of the year.

    It's well past time to get Johnson more involved in the offense. He's been exponentially more effective than Crowell, and he could perhaps provide a badly needed offensive spark. If the Browns concur—that's a real question, seeing as the Browns rarely do things that make sense—Johnson could be in for a big day against the Indianapolis Colts.

    While the Colts are only 21st in fantasy points allowed to running backs this year. the Arizona Cardinals' injury-ravaged backfield helped skew that number last week. Last year, the Colts allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to backs, which is a more accurate representation of how good they aren't defensively.

    If you're desperate for a flex play, consider the Duke. 

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (vs. NO)

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers are 2-0, but last week's win over the Buffalo Bills came at a steep cost. Tight end Greg Olsen suffered a broken foot that resulted in a trip to injured reserve, which casts a dark shadow across the Panthers passing game.

    Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula admitted to Max Henson of the team's website that it will take a village to replace the veteran tight end.

    "I think it's going to be a combination," Shula said. "We'll mix personnel groups, we'll still have one or two tight ends in there at times. But as far as the production, each guy has got to do their job. We feel like we've got guysand while they haven't shown it as much as we'd like tobut guys that can put points on the board."

    One of the biggest beneficiaries of Olsen's absence figures to be big-bodied third-year wide receiver Devin Funchess, who played some tight end in college at the University of Michigan. Funchess caught four passes for 68 yards against the Bills, which was his highest receiving output since Week 17 of the 2015 season.

    Additional targets aren't the only reason fantasy owners should consider using Funchess in Week 3. On Sunday, the Panthers play host to the New Orleans Saints, the team with the NFL's worst defense.

    Through two weeks, the Saints have allowed almost 390 passing yards per game. They've already given up six touchdown passes this season and are surrendering more than 45 PPR fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position.

Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets (vs. MIA)

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    When the Seattle Seahawks traded wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to the New York Jets just before the season began, the sixth-year veteran told Bob Glauber of Newsday that he arrived in the Big Apple with something to prove.

    "I got a chip on my shoulder, and I'm still hungry out there and I got a lot of things that I want to prove," Kearse said. "We've got a young receiving corps and a lot of guys that want to do the same."

    Through two games, Kearse has done that, having hauled in 11 receptions for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns (both of which came last week against the Oakland Raiders). He leads the Jets in all three categories, and he's one of just two pass-catchers on the team averaging over 10 yards a reception.

    The Dolphins are a middle-of-the-pack fantasy matchup for wide receivers, but that isn't especially important. Kearse won't be an especially matchup-reliant fantasy option this season.

    Instead, he'll be one of the kings of garbage timea receiver who cleans up while his team plays catch-up late in games. And as you might have gleaned by now, I love garbage time.

J.J. Nelson, WR, Arizona Cardinals (vs. DAL)

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    As Kyle Odegard noted on the Arizona Cardinals' website, wide receiver J.J. Nelson left one on the field in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, dropping a long pass from Carson Palmer. The 25-year-old told Odegard he wasn't about to have a repeat last Sunday in Indianapolis.

    "I wasn't going to let that happen again this week." Nelson said. "I was pretty upset. This [week's touchdown] felt great. Great that I was able to uplift the team."

    Nelson did plenty of uplifting in Arizona's Week 2 overtime win. He hauled in five passes for 120 yards and a 45-yard touchdown, a performance that earned Nelson NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

    The soft-spoken receiver told Odegard he prefers to let his play do the talking on the field.

    "I don't say much, and they get on me every day about not talking," Nelson said. "I let my playing do the talking for the most part. I've done that since I was little."

    The Cardinals are not a good team, nor are they suddenly going to morph into one. Palmer looks closer to 67 than 37. Larry Fitzgerald has been a non-factor this season. And with David Johnson on the shelf due to a wrist injury, the Cardinals can't the run the ball.

    That lack of a run game means Old Man Carson has no choice but to drop back and let it rip 40-plus times a game. And with Fitz on a milk carton and John Brown on the sidelines, Nelson has become the Cardinals' de facto No. 1 wide receiver.

    So long as that's the case, Nelson is going to have fantasy value. This week's matchup against a beatable Dallas secondary only adds to it.

Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts (vs. CLE)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    If there was a bright spot in the Colts' Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, it was tight end Jack Doyle. 

    While Indy's wide receivers hauled in just nine of their 23 targets from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Doyle caught all eight of his targets for 79 yards.

    Assuming the Browns watch game film of their upcoming opponents, they'll recognize Brissett looked Doyle's way all game long against the Cardinals. That doesn't mean they'll be able to do anything about it, though.

    In Week 1, the Browns allowed two touchdown catches to Jesse James of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He died in 1882, I think.

    In Week 2, the Browns allowed eight catches for 91 yards to Ben Watson of the Baltimore Ravens. He's still alive. Barely.

    In other words, the Browns can't cover tight ends at all.

Ben Watson, TE, Baltimore Ravens (at JAX)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    After posting a goose egg against the Bengals in Week 1, Watson roared to life with eight catches for 91 yards in Baltimore's Week 2 drubbing of the Browns. Afterward, the 36-year-old did his best to downplay the big game while speaking to Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun.

    "It's one game," the tight end said. "Every game is different. From week to week, you never know how it's going to turn out. Defensively, offensively, a guy can make a play here or a guy can make a play there and you might not hear his name for the couple games."

    Still, it was Watson's biggest statistical output since November 2015, when he topped 140 receiving yards in a game with the New Orleans Saints. Since then, he joined the Ravens as a free agent and suffered a torn Achilles that ended his 2016 campaign before it even began. 

    This Sunday, the Ravens will rack up frequent flyer miles as they head to London to face a Jacksonville Jaguars team that gave up four catches for 61 yards and a (rushing) touchdown to Tennessee's Delanie Walker in Week 2.

    While Watson isn't likely to run the ball for a score like Walker did, only two teams have given up more fantasy points to tight ends this year then the Jags. Last week demonstrated a comfort level exists between Watson and Joe Flacco.

    If you own one of the numerous tight ends who got hurt last week, you could do a lot worse than Watson.

Miami Dolphins Defense/Special Teams (at NYJ)

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    You're going to notice a trend with my sleeper defense picks this season. Here's the strategy:

    1. Find a team with some modicum of defensive talent that is playing a punching bag.
    2. Sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

    Last week, I used that not-so-secret formula to select the Oakland Raiders. They finished just outside the top-five fantasy defenses for the week.

    This week, that same formula favors the Miami Dolphins, who will head north this weekend to take on the dreary New York Jets.

    Through two games, the Jets are 30th in the NFL in total offense at 242.5 yards per game. They rank 28th in first downs, 28th in passing, 21st in rushing and 20th in scoring. Gang Green has allowed four sacks and has the second-worst turnover differential in the league.

    Somehow, the Jets have looked even than those numbers indicate.

    With a deep and talented defensive front, the Dolphins should be able to consistently pressure Josh McCown, who doesn't have the arm to take advantage of a so-so Miami secondary.

    Add in the likelihood that the Jets will be playing from behind, and you have the makings of a top-five day for a Dolphins D that's widely available on most waiver wires.