The Yays and Nays: Our Fantasy Football Rankings, Projections and Strategy Session for Week 3
Fantasy Football Quick Hits
- Week 3 Yays: Marcus Mariota (QB10), Raheem Mostert (RB19), Deebo Samuel (WR2), Brandin Cooks (WR9), Gabe Davis (WR12)
- Week 3 Nays: Russell Wilson (QB18), D’Andre Swift (RB14), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB30), Jaylen Waddle (WR26), Christian Kirk (WR25)
- Key Data Point: Raheem Mostert’s 71.9 projected rushing yards are the most of any running back projected for fewer than 15 carries.
After eight months without football, two crazy weeks to open up the season is just what the doctor ordered.
Congrats to those of you who had either of the only two running backs who scored multiple touchdowns: Nick Chubb (sorry Cleveland Browns fans, us fantasy managers were happy Chubb scored, and so were New York Jets fans) or Aaron Jones in the Green Bay Packers’ demolition of the Chicago Bears.
Or, to those of you who had Stefon Diggs playing on Monday night in the Buffalo Bills’ evisceration of the Tennessee Titans, Jaylen Waddle or anyone on the incredibly fun Miami Dolphins, or the Detroit Lions clear No. 1 wide receiver in Amon-Ra St. Brown, you probably had a pretty fun week.
Or, if you’re like me and faced all five of those players in one league (!!!), it probably wasn’t a whole lot of fun.
But since fantasy football is a week-by-week game, it’s time to turn the page and focus on Week 3. Losing by 132.5 points (yes, that’s how much I lost by) is the same as losing by 0.1. And since matchups can be decided by so little, let’s have a little fantasy football strategy session and help correct a relatively common mistake that fantasy managers make.
Here’s the thesis statement:
If you play in a PPR league, always start a wide receiver in your Flex spot.
Seems like a bold blanket statement, right? Nope!
Here are four reasons why that is exactly what you should do.
It seems obvious but it’s worth repeating, one point per reception adds up really quickly! Five catches for 50 yards and 24 carries for 100 yards both come out to 10 fantasy points, even though one of those scenarios includes a player touching the ball 19 more times than the other. How does that happen? A 10-yard catch is worth twice as much as a 10-yard run. Essentially, more fantasy points are scored during a passing play than a running play.
Well, across the entire NFL last season, passing plays occurred on 57.9% of all plays. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the league at 66.2%.
On those plays, the NFL average was 6.22 yards per play. Filtering out passes that were incomplete or intercepted, the average length of completion in the NFL last season was 10.96 yards.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles were the only team that ran the ball more than half of the time last season at 51.2%. Overall, running plays occurred 42.1% of the time and on those plays, NFL teams averaged 4.33 yards per play.
Therefore, the average completion accounted for just under 2.1 PPR points and the average rush for less than 0.5 PPR points, or FOUR TIMES LESS than the average pass. And, oh yeah, on average, teams pass significantly more than they run.
But it even goes one step further. Amongst all qualified players last season, wide receivers averaged 12.6 yards per catch, compared to 7.8 yards for running backs. Only one qualified receiver, Rondale Moore, out of 82 total wide receivers, had an average below 7.8 yards per catch.
Which leads us to a critical baseline to establish in choosing who to put in our Flex spots each week…
WRs Have a Higher Floor
Because of the pure advantage in per-touch scoring opportunities, wide receivers have a higher floor, even though they’re not likely to receive as many touches as running backs.
Take Adam Thielen of the Minnesota Vikings for example. His team struggled all game on offense, and through three and a half quarters, Thielen didn’t have a catch, and only had one target. But in garbage time, he caught four passes for 52 yards.
And while you’re probably hoping for more than 9.2 points out of your Flex spot, it’s at least serviceable. It’s also more than the 7.6 PPR points Dalvin Cook recorded, despite having six additional touches.
In Week 2, 47 wide receivers scored at least 10 points. However, only 22 running backs reached that total. Same story in Week 1 when 46 wide receivers scored at least 10 points, compared to 33 running backs.
So, if you’re choosing between a running back and wide receiver to fill your Flex spot, chances are your receiver has a better chance of scoring at least 10 points than your back.
However, what if you think you’re playing a team that’s better than yours? Should you start a running back, since they are a higher risk, but higher reward type of position?
WRs Have a Higher Ceiling
No running back has surpassed 34 fantasy points yet this season and it only happened 10 times all of last season. In fact, there were only two running backs in Week 2 that scored more than 20 points (Chubb: 32.2, Jones: 32.0).
Meanwhile, five wide receivers have already surpassed 34 PPR points this season, after there were 17 such instances last season. And 14 wide receivers scored more than 20 points in Week 2.
But what we really need to do is take out the studs like Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers or Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders – the no-doubt starters – from this equation because those types of players aren’t the ones you’re thinking about placing in your Flex spot.
Garrett Wilson, Noah Brown and Tyler Lockett were all players with a Week 2 ECR worse than WR40. So was Nelson Agholor of the New England Patriots against the Pittsburgh Steelers. All four finished amongst the top 16 wide receivers by scoring more than 19.5 points and all four likely weren’t started in your leagues.
The only running backs with an ECR of worse than 30 to score 11 fantasy points last week were Tony Pollard, Darrel Williams and J.D. McKissic.
Since most teams only field one on every play, running backs with lower ECR’s usually require something outside of their control (injuries, fumbles by the starter, etc) to produce meaningful numbers. Since most teams field at least two and usually three every play, wideouts can realistically contribute with ECR’s stretching into the 50s and 60s.
There is simply more opportunity for wide receivers and that was readily apparent in Week 2.
Recent Use Cases
We’ll close this out with some real-life examples from Week 2, starting with the running backs.
- Leonard Fournette led all NFL players with 26 touches last week as Tom Brady struggled to get anything going against the New Orleans Saints. Fournette scored 9.4 PPR points.
- James Robinson was second with 25 touches. He scored 15.8 PPR points.
- Saquon Barkley of the 2-0 New York Giants was third with 24 touches as the Giants limited Daniel Jones’ overall involvement. He scored 11.8 PPR points.
- Austin Ekeler had 23 touches on Thursday night. He scored 18.4 PPR points.
- Joe Mixon rounded out the top five with 22 touches. He scored 11.3 PPR points.
Robinson was the only player in that group to score a touchdown, which is why he was the second-highest scorer. Ekeler’s biggest fantasy strength is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, which he did to the tune of nine catches for the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night. That’s why he led this group in scoring. None of the other three players caught more than three passes.
Case in point, Javonte Williams had 16 touches in Week 2 and scored 9.5 PPR points. Williams had 18 touches in Week 1 and scored 19.8 PPR points. He didn’t score a touchdown in either week and he only rushed for 32 more yards in Week 2. But he had 11 receptions in Week 1, leading to his increased total.
While it was a difficult week for running backs, wide receivers were running rampant all over the place.
- Christian Kirk only had six targets. But he caught all six of them, scored two touchdowns, and finished as WR7.
- CeeDee Lamb was being benched because of the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback situation. He only had seven catches and didn’t score a touchdown. Yet, he finished with 15.1 PPR points. Only 10 running backs scored more than 15 points last week.
- Carson Wentz only targeted Jahan Dotson five times. If anyone in your league rostered Dotson, they almost certainly didn’t start him. He caught four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown and finished with 17.9 PPR points. Only four running backs scored more than he did, and he finished as WR20.
- Sammy Watkins had one play go for 55 yards. He caught two other Aaron Rodgers passes and finished with 12.3 fantasy points. On three touches.
We could keep going. And we fully realize that running backs had a particularly difficult week. But even in a much more productive Week 1, there were more wide receivers that scored 20 or more points, 15+ points and 10+ points.
So let this serve as the ultimate reminder. When it comes to roster decision-making time, think long and hard before placing anything other than a wide receiver in your Flex spot.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 3 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using several of our AI-powered models. Refer back to our fantasy football rankings for any questionable waiver wire or lineup decisions.
Week 3 Yays
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week. (We pulled these numbers from Thursday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Marcus Mariota, QB (ATL) vs. SEA (ECR: 18, Our Rank: 10, Projected Points: 18.53)
Last week, we mentioned as an overreaction that Mariota would have at least six finishes as a top-12 weekly quarterback. He finished right behind Jacoby Brissett and Cooper Rush last week after a rough performance against the Los Angeles Rams. Not his best. But our model is optimistic that this is a big chance for a good Mariota performance.
There are two main reasons for this. First, the Seattle Seahawks are one of seven NFL teams that have yet to record an interception. As such, Mariota’s interception projection of 0.62 is the third lowest amongst our top 16 quarterbacks, behind only Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.
Secondly, only Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts have rushed for more yards among quarterbacks than Mariota this season. And those two are the only QBs our algorithms are projecting to rush for more than Mariota this week – Kyler Murray is fourth. In a game that will likely be one of the lower scoring games, Mariota’s legs might be the difference maker for the Atlanta Falcons. He’s 10th in our QB Rankings this week, just behind stalwarts like Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow.
Raheem Mostert, RB (MIA) vs. BUF (ECR: 42, Our Rank: 19, PP: 13.71)
Lost in Miami’s astounding comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 that was spearheaded by Tua Tagovailoa was Mostert’s prominence in the offense. He played more snaps than Chase Edmonds and significantly out-touched him 14-6.
It’s his three receptions to Edmonds’ one that is critical for this week, however, as the Buffalo Bills, like the Ravens did last week, can put up points in a hurry. Coming over from San Francisco with Mike McDaniel, Mostert is being put in a position to thrive, and his career averages of 5.6 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception are both elite numbers at the running back position.
Buffalo, in all its dominance through two weeks, did allow Derrick Henry to score a touchdown last week and Darrell Henderson Jr. to record five receptions in Week 1. Mostert’s 71.9 projected rushing yards are the most of any running back projected for fewer than 15 carries. He has a solid chance of returning RB2 value this week.
Deebo Samuel, Wide Back (SF) vs. DEN (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 2, PP: 21.80)
That’s right. Wide Back. With another running back injured, and sadly, Trey Lance as well, Deebo is likely going to continue seeing increased opportunities in the backfield for Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers, especially with the NFL’s best blocking tight end George Kittle likely on his way back. In Jimmy Garoppolo’s last five games, Deebo has averaged 47 rushing yards and has scored two rushing touchdowns on top of his production as the premier player in the NFL in yards after the catch.
Our model is expecting more of the same this week against Denver. Because while catching passes is more important, Deebo’s floor and ceiling are raised by his likelihood of having some carries in goal-to-go situations. He’s a top-three wideout this week, and a top-one wide back.
Brandin Cooks, WR (HOU) vs. CHI (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 9, PP: 14.95)
Cooks, who was prominently featured on our Yay lists last season, is making his first appearance this season, once again remaining an underrated fantasy option. He’s earning a massive 29.3% target share, meaning that Davis Mills is targeting Cooks on 29.3% of his passing attempts so far this season.
Now after playing a stingy Broncos defense, Cooks and the Houston Texans face a Chicago Bears team that just allowed 12.3 yards per reception to the Packers. In his career, Cooks averages 13.8 yards per catch – almost identical to Tyreek Hill’s 13.9 yards per catch. Cooks is projected for the seventh-most targets of any wide receiver this week, and he should see more success against the Bears.
As the undisputed top dog in the wide receiver room for the Texans, Cooks will continue to receive massive opportunities to produce. Our model thinks he’s got a real shot at a top-10 finish this week, sitting right behind the star receiver duo of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Gabe Davis, WR (BUF) vs. MIA (ECR: 24, Our Rank: 12, PP: 14.66)
This has a chance to be the game of the week, and extremely profitable from a fantasy perspective, with outstanding weapons across the field. And while it’s Diggs that gets most of the attention, Davis has carved out a significant role in the Bills offense.
Davis has scored 10 touchdowns in his last eight games despite having only one game with more than five catches. He’s the big-play threat on this offense and that was reflected in his big-play percentage of 48.9, which led all receivers that ran at least 200 routes last season.
So, what we have is a receiver who consistently produces big plays and just happens to have maybe the strongest arm in the NFL in Josh Allen throwing to him – although Justin Herbert and Mahomes may have something to say about that. Davis is currently questionable to play this week with an ankle injury. But if he’s able to suit up, he’s a must start in this potentially high scoring affair.
Week 3 Nays
Russell Wilson, QB (DEN) vs. SF (ECR: 11, Our Rank: 18, PP: 14.86)
The 49ers have been tortured by Wilson in the past, going a rather remarkable 4-17 against the ex-Seahawks star, so they were surely thrilled when he was traded. Until they looked at the schedule and saw that once again, there he was on their schedule, this time with the Denver Broncos. But our model thinks this game might go differently.
Wilson is only projected for 31.5 passing attempts this week – the third-lowest total among all 32 starting quarterbacks. Why? Because the Niners have been excellent at possessing the ball so far this season, leading the NFL in time of possession through two weeks.
Because of that, the 49ers defense has seen the second-fewest passing attempts against (52) and allowed the fewest passing yards (285). Wilson, meanwhile, is still adjusting to his new teammates and surroundings. He has completed fewer than 50% of his passes in the red zone and has yet to throw a touchdown in the red zone, despite 18 attempts. Facing a menacing defense, Wilson is outside our model’s top 15 quarterbacks this week, right behind Jameis Winston.
D’Andre Swift, RB (DET) vs. MIN (ECR: 7, Our Rank: 14, PP: 14.20)
No running back was more efficient with touches last week than Swift. Swift finished as RB7 in the Detroit Lions’ win over the Washington Commanders despite only receiving seven touches in the entire game.
There are two ways to process that information. The first is that if Swift were to maintain that efficiency and simply receive a few more touches, he’d be an elite RB option this week and the rest of the season. The other way to receive that information is to be concerned that he only received seven touches.
Our model leans ever so slightly to the latter this week, ultimately leaning on the principle that touches are more important than general efficiency. That and concern that Swift only has two carries in the red zone so far this season, compared to Jamaal Williams’ nine, has Swift outside the RB1 conversation for our algorithms this week.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB (KC) vs. IND (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 30, PP: 10.96)
Here’s the list of players who have finished as a top-10 running back in both weeks to start the season: Swift and Edwards-Helaire. That’s it. And it just so happens those two running backs make up our Nay list for the week.
Edwards-Helaire, like Swift, has gotten off to a great start despite a lack of touches. He has yet to carry the rock more than eight times in a game this season and hasn’t reached double-digit carries since Week 14 of last season. With his four receptions in Week 2 being his high watermark during that stretch, Edwards-Helaire’s projection for this week is nine carries and only two receptions. And the Indianapolis Colts have allowed the second-fewest yards per carry (2.66) to start the season
If you have him, he’s probably worth a start because of the consistency he’s shown through the first two weeks and his starting role on a dynamic Kansas City Chiefs offense. However, his volume is simply not enough to treat him as anything more than a touchdown-dependent RB2.
Jaylen Waddle, WR (MIA) vs. BUF (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 26, PP: 12.73)
This one is scary for us. Waddle is one of the very few NFL players with the consistent ability to score a 50-yard touchdown on any given play. The model placing a player with that ability so far down the list is essentially indicating that they are too reliant on a big play for fantasy value.
For Waddle, that’s certainly the case. If we had magic powers to go back in time and take back Waddle’s touchdown in Week 1, he would have finished the week with 6.5 points. As for his Week 2 explosion, it can be explained by highlighting that he received six more targets in the game than his previous career high.
A return to the norm in passing volume and a limited chance of a big play against a strong Bills defense lowers Waddle’s prospects of a repeat top-10 performance rather significantly. He’s a low-end, big-play dependent WR2.
Christian Kirk, WR (JAX) vs. LAC (ECR: 12, Our Rank: 25, PP: 12.88)
Kirk, as we alluded to in our intro, was the beneficiary of two touchdowns in Week 2. The touchdowns masked the fact that he only had six targets and that the Jacksonville Jaguars ran the ball 12 more times than they threw it.
Through two weeks, Kirk has also faced the Commanders and the Colts – two generous pass defenses. The matchup gets much tougher this week when the Jags face an elite pass rush led by Joey Bosa and maybe the best secondary in the NFL, led by J.C. Jackson and Derwin James (did you see that tackle on star tight end Travis Kelce?). The Chargers have held two players (Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr) who finished in the top five in passing yards last season under 300 yards. Trevor Lawrence and the Jags will likely struggle to hit that mark.
To make matters more difficult, Kirk’s career high in touchdowns in a single season is six with the Arizona Cardinals in 2020. He doesn’t have a great history of scoring touchdowns and facing a team that’s well equipped to slow him down, he’ll likely need the massive volume (12 targets) he saw in Week 1 to return WR2 value.
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