This article will highlight several players who played expanded roles, impressed relative to expectations, or had an opportunity created by injury and could be targeted on Fantasy Waivers. Their availability and usefulness will depend on your league’s depth, so the article will address the general outlook for each player and what type of situation the player might fit in. The player’s initial Week 3 Half-PPR Fantasy projection is in parenthesis next to the player’s name.
Sam Darnold, CAR (WK3 Projection: 19.0, QB12)
If there was any doubt about whether Adam Gase will coach in the NFL again, quarterback Sam Darnold appears to have extinguished any remaining hope in his first two weeks as a Panther. Darnold played well in the opener, but there were questions about the level of competition against a rebuilding New York Jets team.
New Orleans was missing several key defensive players, but the unit held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to three points in Week One, so it’s more difficult to poke holes in another outstanding performance from Darnold. The frequent doubt and hesitation in the pocket that derailed Darnold during his years in New York is largely absent, which has allowed Darnold’s natural talent to shine through. With a deep collection of skill talent headlined by running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore, Darnold is a fit as a backside with upside in one-quarterback leagues and should be in the mix to start in two-quarterback leagues. He is also a viable DFS option, though his price is likely to rise after his latest performance.
Justin Fields, CHI (WK3 Projection: 18.1, QB17)
Reports are that starting quarterback Andy Dalton did not tear his ACL, so Fields hasn’t been assured the job for the rest of the season, but the fact that Chicago had to announce that Dalton did not tear his ACL does not bode well for Dalton’s availability in the near future.
Fields could win the job long-term by then, but for the short-term, he projects as a quarterback who brings a high floor in fantasy because of his ability to run. He is going to make mistakes, as fans saw on Sunday, but he should also make some spectacular plays. Fields fits into a similar range as Darnold now that he is the starter and should be considered in the same situations. He opens against Myles Garrett and Cleveland, which is not an ideal situation, but Tyrod Taylor had the Houston offense moving against this group last week.
Taylor Heinicke (WK3 Projection: 15.2, QB26)
Taylor Heinicke’s performance on Thursday Night (336 yards, 2 TDs) was a reminder of why it’s typically wise to wait to draft a quarterback in a one-quarterback league. It’s great to have one of the elite guys, but there are enough options that owners can often find solid options on Waivers in a one-quarterback league.
Heinicke isn’t as strong an option as Darnold or Fields, but he has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his last two starts. A matchup against a Buffalo defense that just pitched a shutout looms, so this might not be the week to play him, but there will be spots where Heinicke will be a viable DFS consideration at the right price.
Injured: Tua Tagovailoa, MIA, Tyrod Taylor, HOU, and Carson Wentz, IND
The injuries to Tua Tagovailoa, Tyrod Taylor, and Carson Wentz do not open the door for viable fantasy starters. Jacoby Brissett, who will replace Tagovailoa in Miami, is the best of the three replacements, but Brissett has rarely been a big-yardage passer and uses his mobility selectively.
The dropoff for the skill players in Miami will not be as severe as in Houston and Indianapolis, where the unproven Davis Mills (Houston) and Jacob Eason (Indianapolis) are set to take over. Houston’s Brandin Cooks remains an interesting receiving option given the massive target shares he’s drawn and Colts running back Jonathan Taylor may be a must-start based in season-long based on draft position, but the complementary players should not be in your lineups if either backup quarterback is starting. Mills and Eason should not be played in fantasy until after establishing results at the NFL level.
Sony Michel, LAR (WK3 Projection: 8.5)
Darrell Henderson injured his ribs against Indianapolis, which opened the door for former Patriot Sony Michel to get in the running back mix for the Rams. Michel may have been dropped in some season-long leagues after Henderson’s dominant Week One carry share, but he’s in play again, particularly in No PPR leagues, after posting 46 yards on 10 carries.
Henderson may be able to play through his injury in a critical matchup with Tampa Bay, so the model will slot him in as the second running back in the carry share behind Michel and keep him at his current position in the team’s target share. If Henderson is on a pitch count, the Rams are likely to use him in the passing game given that they didn’t throw to Michel after Henderson’s exit.
This is potentially a short-term situation for Michel, so it is probably unwise to overextend yourself to acquire Michel in season-long leagues.
Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL (WK3 Projection: 7.4)
The Falcons offense has its issues, but head coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone have done a great job scheming up a role for Cordarrelle Patterson. At points in his career, Patterson has been relegated to using his explosive traits in a return role because the offensive designer couldn’t figure out how to use him, but the Falcons have put him in a featured role as an offensive weapon who lines up at running back, fullback, tight end, and wide receiver.
With running back eligibility in most leagues, Patterson, who is coming off a game with seven rushes for 11 yards, five receptions for 58 yards, and two total touchdowns, is an interesting option as a lower-end running back in PPR formats. It’s evident that a lot of thought went into designing this role for Patterson, so expect him to continue to get touches.
Tony Pollard (WK3 Projection: 8.8), DAL
After a week of questions about their run game following a pass-heavy game plan in the opener, the Dallas offense showed they get it done on the ground against the Chargers in Week Two. Second-string back Tony Pollard had 13 carries for 109 yards and a TD, while Ezekiel Elliott had 16 carries for 71 yards and a TD.
Pollard is in a complementary role, but his explosive ability means that he should continue to get touches throughout the season, and the fact that he got involved in the passing game (three receptions for 31 yards) is another good sign for fantasy players. Pollard may be a hit-or-miss player, but he’s worth a roll of the dice as a low-cost DFS option and is intriguing if you’re drafting in a Best Ball format.
Ty Johnson (WK3 Projection: 7.8), Michael Carter (WK3 Projection: 7.1), NYJ, Peyton Barber, LVR (WK3 Projection: 7.3)
Ty Johnson and Michael Carter were the lead backs for the Jets while Tevin Coleman dropped to third in the carry share, but given how the first two weeks have gone for the Jets offense, they are only worth picking up if you desperately need a running back to roll the dice on.
Peyton Barber was the primary ball carrier for the Raiders against Pittsburgh, but had limited success and does not have a history in the passing game. There should be superior options available in almost any format.
Injured: Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, Trey Sermon, SF
San Francisco has turned into Baltimore West in terms of running back injuries, with Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, and Trey Sermon all suffering going down a week after starter Raheem Mostert suffered a season-ending injury. Hasty has officially been ruled out for the Green Bay game, while Mitchell and Sermon have a chance to play, but the 49ers may be forced to turn to the recently acquired Trenton Cannon and/or Kerryon Johnson this week.
The 49ers running back rotation will be important to monitor for DFS, but with Jeff Wilson Jr. potentially becoming available at mid-season, it’s hard to justify actively acquiring anyone in this backfield with so much uncertainty for a season-long league, especially as Elijah Mitchell was claimed off waivers in virtually all formats last week.
Brandin Cooks, WR, HOU (WK3 Projection: 10.3)
This isn’t necessarily a change in role, as Cooks was the number one target in Houston going into the season, but it’s worth noting that he has put up huge target share numbers in each of his first two games, posting a 21.9% share in Week One and a monster 50% target share against Cleveland. With injuries to Danny Amendola and Nico Collins affecting Houston’s depth at receiver, expect Cooks to continue to see the ball regularly regardless of the quarterback.
Julio Jones, WR, TEN (WK3 Projection: 11.0)
The Professor had a Week One overreaction when it came to Julio Jones’s lackluster opener. Jones looked far from finished in Week Two as he posted six receptions for 128 yards in Tennessee’s comeback victory over Seattle. He is a viable option in all formats moving forward and is set to face an Indianapolis defense that has struggled to keep receivers from the Seahawks and Rams in front of them in the first two weeks.
Rondale Moore, WR, ARI (WK3 Projection: 11.1)
Rondale Moore had a breakout performance against the Minnesota Vikings highlighted by a 77-yard touchdown. He should be a top waiver wire add in all season-long leagues where he is still available. With a matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars looming, Moore is a strong consideration to start in many leagues and is an excellent low-cost option for DFS.
K.J. Osborn, WR, MIN (WK3 Projection: 7.5)
K.J. Osborn established himself as the third receiving option behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen in Week One and his stock continues to rise after a 64-yard touchdown in a five-catch, 91-yard performance that saw him lead the team in receiving yards. He’s not a threat to surpass Jefferson and Thielen, but with tight end Irv Smith Jr. out for the season and no viable receiving threat at tight end to replace him, Osborn should have a significant role for this productive offense.
Braxton Berrios, WR, NYJ (WK3 Projection: 5.9)
Braxton Berrios has now racked up significant targets (seven in Week One, 11 in Week Two) for two consecutive weeks. He is playing in a poor offense and faces competition from Corey Davis and Elijah Moore for targets, but if you’re playing in a deep league and are desperate for a receiver, Berrios is getting opportunities.
Injured: Jarvis Landry, CLE; Diontae Johnson, PIT; Laviska Shenault, JAX
Jarvis Landry, Diontae Johnson, and Laviska Shenault are all uncertain for their respective teams moving forward, but their absences would not open up any clear opportunities for a single player. The Browns heavily targeted their trio of tight ends after Landry’s injury Sunday, the Steelers have a deep cast of receivers to spread the ball around even without Johnson, and Shenault’s unique skill set will be difficult for any player currently available for Jacksonville to fill.
Dan Arnold, CAR (WK3 Projection: 4.5)
Panthers receiver Robby Anderson received a hefty contract extension in the offseason and is due to get some targets in this offense at some point, but despite the competition for production, tight end Dan Arnold is poised to benefit as quarterback Sam Darnold hits his groove.
Arnold showed his ability to stretch the field with three receptions for 55 yards last week. He hasn’t gotten in the end zone yet, but this Panthers offense seems set to score a lot more touchdowns than a year ago, and Arnold will get in the mix at some point. He isn’t more than a speculative player to add as a backup, but if you need a tight end, this addition could prove valuable in weeks to come.
Maxx Williams, ARI (WK3 Projection: 3.6)
Maxx Williams also showed the ability to stretch the field vertically from the tight end position as he posted seven receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. It was a surprising performance from a tight end who has typically been used as a blocker and short-area target, but the Cardinals put a lot of stress on the Minnesota defense and Williams regularly found himself open up the seam.
Given his lack of production in the past, Williams is a longshot to continue posting numbers in this range, but if he posts another productive game in the next few weeks, he will be added to rosters in many leagues. As Williams is coming off seasons of 202 receiving yards (2019) and 102 (nine games in 2020), it may be worth waiting for him to repeat the performance before using a roster spot.
This column highlighted several players who should be considered for Fantasy Rosters after this weekend’s action. Check out BeerLife Sports for The Professor’s game previews in the weeks to come, and happy roster-building!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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