Fantasy Football Week 3 Sleepers at Every Position
As a wise man once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
OK, so it was Mike Tyson who said that. But still, it holds true in many areas. In the ring. In life. And in 2018, in fantasy football.
High-end fantasy options at every position have either disappointed, gotten hurt or both. The running back position is decimated by injuries already, and two of the top four picks in most drafts (Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson) have been complete busts.
Bell hasn't even seen the field.
Seattle's Russell Wilson is seeing lots of the field—close-up. He's been sacked 12 times and has no time to throw the ball. Two of the top-seven tight ends (Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker) have succumbed to major injuries. Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald ranks outside the top 50 in PPR fantasy points.
Two weeks in, many teams are reeling.
Those floundering teams need a quick fix. A Band-Aid. A patch for the holes in their roster until the big guns get going.
They need a sleeper.
And they need it now.
Before we move on to the Week 3 sleepers, here's a look back at how my Week 2 recommendations went.
Or in many cases, didn't go.
For the record, sleepers count as a "win" if they finish inside weekly starter territory in a 12-team point-per-reception fantasy league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one defense and the always-popular "flex" play—a fairly standard setup.
Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders (4 catches, 49 yards): In classic Jared Cook style, Week 1's huge outing against the Rams was followed up by a much more pedestrian effort against the Denver Broncos. The more things change, the more they stay the same. LOSS
Case Keenum, QB, Denver Broncos (222 passing yards, 16 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD, 1 INT): Keenum looked like a solid spot-start against a mediocre Raiders defense, but had he not gotten a late rushing TD, this one would have been ugly. LOSS
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Cleveland Browns (246 passing yards, 26 rushing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT): Another quarterback with a solid matchup who needed a late score to salvage a so-so effort. LOSS
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (77 rushing yards, 3 catches, 21 receiving yards): Ekeler's status as a "sleeper" is just about gones-ville. He's a significant part of the Chargers offense and worth a look as a weekly starter in flex spots. WIN
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos (107 rushing yards, 1 catch, 4 receiving yards): It's only been two games, but Lindsay has been the most effective tailback on Denver's roster. Who knew? WIN
Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5 catches, 56 receiving yards, TD): Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't just lit up stat sheets the first two weeks of the season—he's made three receivers in Tampa Bay fantasy-relevant…including Godwin. WIN
Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers (1 reception, 35 yards): So much for Pettis seeing an increased role with Marquise Goodwin banged up. One reception isn't going to cut it. The Niners pass-catchers have been "meh" in 2018. LOSS
Mike Wallace, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (Fat Bag of Nothing): To those who actually followed this half-baked recommendation and started Wallace, I can only offer an apology. It seemed like a good idea at the time. LOSS
Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans (Fat Bag of Nothing): To say that Smith's debut as the lead tight end for the Titans was anticlimactic is an understatement. I've decided the only logical thing to do is to blame Blaine Gabbert. LOSS
New York Jets Defense/Special Teams (257 yards allowed, 20 points allowed, 4 sacks, 2 FR): Over the first few weeks of the 2018 season, the Jets defense has the look of a nice cheap source of fantasy production. WIN
WEEK 1: 4-6 (.400)
SEASON: 7-13 (.350)
I'm still not where I want to be (40 percent is the bare minimum I consider acceptable, and I'm hoping to hit on over half), but there were more wins in Week 2 than in Week 1.
Sleeper of the Week
Latavius Murray, RB, Minnesota Vikings (at BUF)
There are a couple of reasons veteran tailback Latavius Murray is making an appearance as Sleeper of the Week.
The first is the health of running back Dalvin Cook. The lead back for the Vikings tweaked his hamstring late in last week's overtime thriller in Green Bay, and per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, the second-year pro has been ruled out for Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The second is a fantastic matchup against a Buffalo defense that has allowed the most PPR fantasy points per game to running backs in the AFC this year.
To say the Bills are not a good football team is one whopper of an understatement. They are heading into the Twin Cities to face an angry Vikings team seething after last week's blown victory/tie in Green Bay, and the belief is this game is going to be a rout. The point spread is north of two touchdowns.
That doesn't typically happen in the NFL.
Assuming this contest follows the script most believe it will, the Vikings will likely be sitting on a large lead in the second half and grinding away on the ground.
That opens the door for a big workload for Murray in a primo fantasy matchup.
It doesn't get any better than that.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. TEN)
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. TEN)
This is the second time that Blake Bortles has appeared here. The first time, Bortles went on to have an OK game against the New York Giants in the season opener.
He's back again because of what happened the following Sunday.
Against the New England Patriots in Week 2, Bortles looked like a world-beater. With tailback Leonard Fournette on the shelf, the Jaguars placed the offense in Bortles' hands. And he responded big-time, passing for 377 yards and four scores in an emphatic victory that established the Jaguars as the AFC's best team.
Defensive end Calais Campbell wasn't surprised by Bortles' big game.
"We go against Blake in practice and he has some days where he's just lights out," Campbell said, via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com. "He gets us and we're like, 'If he can get us, he can get anybody,' because we feel pretty good about ourselves."
Campbell may not have been surprised, but jaws dropped all over the place. It was arguably the most impressive game of Bortles' career—he was decisive and accurate in carving the Pats to pieces.
It can be dangerous to chase big games in fantasy football—what a player's already done is of no use to us now. But the Jaguars are still banged up at tailback, and the Titans have struggled at times defensively.
Given their respective starts to the season and Week 3 matchups, I'd be sorely tempted to start Bortles over Russell Wilson (who is up against the Dallas Cowboys).
Did not expect to be typing that sentence, well, ever.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (at CAR)
However, if you mention Dalton as a top-10 option in fantasy, the league or any other comparative measure, you're going to be met with an expression that's equal parts derision and bemusement.
The reasons for that puzzled look are justifiable from an NFL perspective. Dalton's record in night games is abysmal—even after beating the Ravens in Week 2. His record in the playoffs is worse (0-4). Dalton has a bad habit of folding in the face of a steady pass rush.
But none of that matters right now. It's Week 3 of the regular season. The game starts well before sundown. And through two weeks, the Bengals offensive line looks significantly improved from last year, allowing just two sacks—including none a week ago.
What matters is the Carolina Panthers just allowed a four-touchdown performance (two passing, two rushing) to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. The Panthers are just a so-so 14th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but that number's skewed because they played an anemic Dallas offense in Week 1.
The Bengals are not anemic, and like Ryan and the Falcons, Dalton has a superstar receiver in A.J. Green. The Carolina secondary will have its hands full.
Throw in a Joe Mixon injury that could put extra pressure on Dalton to move the ball through the air, and the "Red Rifle" is a quality Week 3 streamer.
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. IND)
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. IND)
Success in fantasy football is largely dependent on talent. But opportunity is a significant factor as well.
In the latter regard, fortune may be shining on Philadelphia Eagles tailback Corey Clement in Week 3.
As Martin Frank reported for the Delaware News Journal, Eagles running back Jay Ajayi has been ruled out of Sunday's matchup against the Colts with a back injury suffered a week ago.
With scatback Darren Sproles also on the shelf, Clement could get a huge bump in workload.
Per Dave Spadaro of the Eagles' website, Clement said he's ready to answer the call if needed.
"We're not a selfish team, and I'm not a selfish person," he said. "It's great to be called on in certain situations, knowing the coaching staff trusts that I'm going to get the job done. Everybody wants to do better than the next person, and I think that's why we're a great team."
If last week is any indication, more touches for Clement could mean a juicy stat line against a defense that allowed a big game to Joe Mixon in Week 1. Clement had 11 touches for 85 total yards against the Bucs, including a 15-yard touchdown scamper.
Given all the injuries that have already hit the running backs, fantasy owners will take 85 yards and a score all day every day—and twice on Sundays.
However, there's a catch...potentially a big one. Per Frank, Clement is questionable after tweaking his quad in practice Friday.
It's been that kind of week for Eagles tailbacks.
Have a Plan B in place in case Clement can't go. But if he does, the potential payoff is worth the risk.
Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots (at DET)
Trusting a running back from the New England Patriots in fantasy football can be a dicey proposition. Trusting one that was on the field for just 13 snaps last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars appears to sail right past dicey.
However, here we are.
Dig a little deeper, and the reasons for optimism regarding rookie tailback Sony Michel start to appear. Yes, the first-round pick was only out there for those 13 snaps against the Jaguars, but on 11 of those snaps the youngster touched the ball. On another he was targeted but couldn't haul the pass in.
Touching the ball on over 80 percent of the snaps he plays isn't a sustainable rate. But it does demonstrate that when Michel is on the field, the Pats are making a concerted effort to get him the ball.
Against the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, that would portend good things. In two games, the Lions have surrendered the third-most fantasy points in the league to running backs. Detroit has surrendered over 100 yards on the ground to both Isaiah Crowell and Matt Breida—not exactly a who's who of the NFL's best tailbacks.
Michel is, on paper, the Patriots' best bet at picking up yardage between the tackles. The Lions have had all sorts of problems stopping teams from doing that very thing. Bill Belichick knows both of these things.
It's not a play for the faint of heart, but Week 3 sets up well for Michel to have a coming-out party.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay Packers (at WAS)
When the Green Bay Packers let go Jordy Nelson in the offseason, many questioned who would be the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Davante Adams.
"G-Mo, I've always had a lot of confidence in him. He's a great teammate, he has a great professional work ethic, he's prepared, he knows the offense really well, and that's the starting point of any type of trust is the mental part. So I expect him to be in the right spot and to run the routes the right way and if he's open, he'll get the ball."
Allison may not technically be Green Bay's No. 2 receiver, but Rodgers has put his money where his mouth is. Through two games, Allison is third on the Packers with 14 targets—two behind Randall Cobb. He has parlayed those looks into 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown—numbers that slot him 26th among receivers in PPR formats.
However, despite that solid production, Allison is flying under the radar. According to Yahoo, he's owned in just over 30 percent of the leagues on that site.
That number is ludicrously low.
The Redskins aren't a great matchup for opposing wide receivers—third-worst in the league, as a matter of fact. But that stat is skewed by a game with the god-awful Arizona Cardinals, and with Davante Adams drawing Josh Norman much of the day, Allison will see a ton of single coverage.
John Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens (vs. DEN)
John Brown has long been a dangerous vertical threat when healthy. Back in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals, Brown topped 1,000 receiving yards, averaged over 15 yards a reception and scored seven touchdowns.
It was the staying healthy part that was the problem. Brown has missed time in each of the past three seasons, including six games a year ago.
Now, in his first season with the Ravens, Brown is healthy again. And he's going next-level on that whole "vertical threat" thing. The 28-year-old has just seven catches over two games this season, but he's averaging an eye-popping 19.4 yards a grab. Two of those catches have gone for touchdowns.
And yet, despite that production and the confidence Joe Flacco clearly has in him, Brown is available in almost 40 percent of the fantasy leagues at Yahoo.
On Sunday, Brown and the Ravens play host to the Denver Broncos. Denver isn't a great fantasy matchup for wide receivers (allowed the 15th-most PPR points), but this also isn't the days of the "No Fly Zone"—Amari Cooper of the Raiders just torched Denver for 10 catches and 116 yards.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons (vs. NOS)
In the first game of his NFL career, rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley was held off the stat sheet. However, his second game was a much different story—Ridley reeled in four passes for 64 yards and his first career touchdown in last week's win over the Carolina Panthers.
Per Kelsey Conway of the team's website, Matt Ryan was both impressed by Ridley's first score and not at all surprised.
"He ran a great route," Ryan said. "Really good patience versus man-to-man coverage to be able to reset his stem of the route and the separate at the top. That's what he's capable of doing, creating separation. I was proud and happy for Calvin."
Ridley's route running has long been touted as one of his best assets. And it's shot him up the pecking order in Atlanta quickly—Ridley isn't playing as many snaps as veteran Mohamed Sanu, but the youngster did more damage in Week 2 alone than Sanu has done all season.
It's going to be all hands on deck Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a game that has the makings of a good old NFC South shootout with the New Orleans Saints. And two weeks into the 2018 season, no team in the NFL has surrendered more PPR fantasy points to the wide receiver position than the Saints.
With Marshon Lattimore and Julio Jones likely to spend most of the game getting to know one another better, Ridley will be in single coverage on the inside—where he can show off that route-running skill.
The result is going to be a second consecutive good game for the rook.
Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers (at TBB)
Raise your hand if you believed that Jared Cook of the Oakland Raiders and Jesse James of the Pittsburgh Steelers would be the highest-scoring tight ends in fantasy football two weeks into the season.
Now put your hand down. Lying is wrong.
James wouldn't have dared dream that after two games he'd have eight catches for 198 yards and a touchdown.
Red-hot start aside, the fun will likely soon be over for James, who isn't even the No. 1 tight end on his own team. With Vance McDonald back in the fold after missing time at the beginning of the season, this Cinderella run may be coming to an end soon.
However, that doesn't mean that there isn't one more bullet left in James' six-shooter. It's going to take McDonald some time to get fully back to speed, and while he does, James will continue to see an increased snap count. It's possible that will continue even after McDonald's 100 percent again, given how James has played the last couple of weeks.
That includes a Week 3 matchup against a Buccaneers team that has given up the most fantasy points in the NFC to tight ends this season.
It's been an ugly start to 2018 for many tight ends. James has been a rare bright spot among all the injuries and disappointments.
That bright spot is going to shine for one more night.
Dallas Cowboys Defense/Special Teams (at SEA)
Don't look now, but the Dallas Cowboys have become something of a defensive team.
Sounds weird, doesn't it?
After putting the clamps on the New York Giants in Week 2, the Cowboys head into Sunday's matchup with the Seahawks ranked fourth in the league in total defense, at 274 yards allowed per game. Only the Chicago Bears have accrued more sacks than the nine the Cowboys have tallied against the Panthers and G-Men.
However, to date that success hasn't translated to fantasy football. Due mostly to a lack of takeaways, the Cowboys are just tied for 13th in fantasy points in NFL.com default fantasy scoring.
That number is going up after Week 3.
Where team defenses are concerned, it's all about the matchups in fantasy football. And it doesn't get any better in that regard than facing the reeling Seahawks. Through two games, the Seahawks have given up a league-high 12 sacks. Under constant duress, Russell Wilson is making mistakes—the Seahawks are just one off the league lead in giveaways (with five) as well.
Given all that, it should come as no surprise that two weeks into the season, no team in the NFL has allowed more fantasy points to defenses. Not even the disasters that are the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.
Outside of Minnesota (vs. Buffalo) and maybe Chicago (at Arizona), there isn't a better play among defenses this week.