Fantasy football Week 3: 10 most intriguing players to watch
People Magazine runs an annual feature on the 25 most intriguing people of the year. Barbara Walters hosts an annual special on the 10 most fascinating people of the year. So, melding together People’s adjective and Babs’s number and adding football to the mix, we offer you the 10 most intriguing fantasy performers to watch in Week 3 of the NFL season. This is, of course, a subjective list, but for one reason or another, a great many fantasy owners are anxious to see how the following players will fare in their upcoming games.
1. Le’Veon Bell at St. Louis: Welcome back, Mr. Bell. Pittsburgh’s do-everything running back returns from a two-game suspension (appealed down from three games) incurred after Bell played the happy-go-lucky Chong to LeGarrette Blount’s more caustic Cheech in a marijuana-fueled escapade in August 2014. Bell would have been the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s fantasy drafts were it not for the suspension, and he was still the top pick in many leagues. Bell was an insatiable yardage-gobbling machine last season, chewing up 2,215 yards from scrimmage and scoring 11 touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch on 85 receptions. Bell will make his 2015 debut in St. Louis, where he’ll encounter a Rams defense that’s sure to be in an ornery mood after yielding 182 rushing yards and a pair of touchdown runs to rookie Matt Jones in a 24–10 loss to Washington last weekend.
2. Jimmy Graham vs. Chicago: Regrets, we all have a few, though for the majority of us, the list of regrets does not include being traded to a team that’s gone to consecutive Super Bowls. Graham is reportedly peeved—really peeved—that he’s been targeted only 10 times in Seattle’s first two games, resulting in seven catches for 62 yards and one touchdown. It was widely anticipated that Graham wouldn’t see the same sort of target volume in Seattle that he saw in New Orleans. But oddly, Russell Wilson has attempted 71 passes in two games, which qualifies as pass-happy by the Seahawks’ usual standards. Graham hasn’t been asked to block on an extraordinarily high number of snaps, so it’s hard to fathom why Wilson hasn’t been dialing up the big tight end more often. Luckily for Graham, the Seahawks host the hapless Bears on Sunday, and it's a good bet that Wilson will take advantage of that awful Chicago defense to pepper Graham with targets and salve his wounded feelings.
3. Sam Bradford at N.Y. Jets: Shouldn’t Chip Kelly be multiplying loaves and fish right about now? Kelly, much beloved in the fantasy industry, has spent the last couple of years turning water into wine at the quarterback position, transforming the likes of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez into productive fantasy performers. Kelly’s latest pet project, Bradford, looked fantastic in the preseason and also in the second half of the Eagles’ opener in Atlanta, bringing Philly back from a big deficit and nearly pulling out a victory. But Bradford was dreadful in a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys, committing three turnovers and leading the Eagles to just 21 total yards in the first half. Bradford owners are now faced with a decision whether to bail on Bradford or have faith that Kelly will straighten out his wayward quarterback. Bradford now has to face a vicious Jets defense that just finished making Andrew Luck look terrible, and Bradford will have to do it Sunday in New York, where fiery Jets fans will be even more fiery coming off a 2–0 start.
4. Matt Jones at N.Y. Giants: Washington has been a pleasant surprise thus far, beating up opponents on both sides of the ball and asserting itself as a legitimate contender, if not the favorite, in the tumultuous NFC East. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan’s unit has simply been mauling people. The Redskins lead the league with 171.5 rushing yards per game, as Jones and Alfred Morris have combined for 331 rushing yards. The rugged Jones, a rookie third-round pick from Florida, is averaging 6.0 yards a pop and had the first two touchdown runs of his career last week in a 24–10 win over the Rams. Morris has outcarried Jones 43–25, but with Washington’s offensive line dominating opponents and head coach Jay Gruden seemingly committed to a run-heavy approach, Jones offers compelling fantasy value even in a supporting role. And might it be possible that Jones unseats Morris as the starter at some point? Though Morris has been consistently productive over his career, he’s a holdover from the old regime, while Jones is new GM Scot McCloughan’s handpicked guy. The Redskins have a Thursday night game against the divisional rival Giants, who’ve been sturdy against the run so far, allowing 3.0 yards per carry.
5. Allen Robinson at New England: During draft season, Robinson was a darling of fantasy analysts as well as owners looking to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Robinson’s rookie numbers (48-548-2) might not have prompted Pavlovian salivation, but he was consistently involved in the Jaguars’ passing game before a broken foot cut his season short, and armchair scouts were enticed by his size (6’3”, 215 pounds) and by the moxie he showed as a 21-year-old competing against NFL veterans. But members of the A-Rob Fan Club had their confidence shaken in Week 1, when our hero had but one catch for 27 yards against the Panthers. Week 2 was a different story entirely, as Robinson detonated for six catches, 155 yards and two touchdowns in Jacksonville’s 23–20 win over Miami. Now Robinson and the Jaguars head to New England for a difficult matchup against the Patriots. Bill Belichick and his minions often devise schemes intended to negate an opponent’s top offensive weapon, and it’s possible they’ll have A-Rob in their crosshairs.
6. Donte Moncrief at Tennessee: Sometimes you can just tell that a young player belongs, and such is the case with Moncrief, a second-year receiver out of Ole Miss who just turned 22 last month. Moncrief has been one of the few points of light during the Colts’ dismal start, catching 13 of 19 targets for 168 yards and two touchdowns. His rapid emergence has taken most fantasy owners by surprise. Moncrief seemed buried on the depth chart in August, stuck behind starters T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson, and training camp reports suggested that Moncrief had been passed by rookie first-rounder Phillip Dorsett. But Hilton is banged up, the venerable Johnson looks like he’s running on fumes, and Dorsett appears to be little more than a nine-route guy at this point, tasked with stretching whatever the part of the field hasn’t already been stretched by Hilton. (An interesting draft pick there by Colts GM Ryan Grigson—and by “interesting,” I mean “dubious.”) The Colts desperately need a win in Tennessee what weekend, and Moncrief figures to be prominently involved in the gameplan.
7. C.J. Anderson at Detroit: A first-round pick in many a fantasy draft and a top-five selection in more than a few, Broncos running back Anderson has been a colossal disappointment thus far, with 56 rushing yards for an average of 2.3 yards per carry, 21 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Still, it's probably premature to get Anderson fitted for a pair of goat horns. Denver's offense as a whole has looked out of sorts, and Anderson has been dealing with a toe injury he sustained in Week 1. Still, there’s speculation that if Anderson doesn’t start producing immediately, the Broncos will hand the starting job to Ronnie Hillman. Anderson needs a convincing performance Sunday night in Detroit, where he’ll face a Lions defense that’s been gashed for 294 rushing yards and a league-high four touchdown runs.
8. Jeremy Hill at Baltimore: Hill seized control of the Cincinnati backfield last year with a phenomenal performance over the final two months of the regular season. He began the 2015 campaign with 19 carries for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Week 1, but he coughed up two fumbles against the Chargers last week and was benched in the second half. Hill’s backfield buddy, Giovani Bernard, was terrific in a 24-19 Bengals victory, rushing 20 times for 123 yards, while Hill finished with 10 totes for 39 yards. Hill remains the lead runner for Cincy, but his alpha-dog status is more tenuous than it was a week ago. He’s fumbled seven times in 18 NFL games, and the Bengals can’t afford that sort of generosity to opponents. Bernard is a talented, versatile back who was going to play a significant role in the Cincinnati offense regardless, and Gio’s role is bound to increase if Hill keeps spilling the bean.
9. Julian Edelman vs. Jacksonville: This just in from the Fun With Early-Season Rate Stats Department: Edelman is on pace for 176 receptions and 248 targets with the Patriots this season. (Yowza!) The 5’10” mighty mite from Kent State has posted identical catch and yardage totals in his first two games: 11 receptions for 97 yards. The Patriots are barely bothering to run the ball these days, choosing instead to dissect opponents with short throws to Edelman and RB Dion Lewis, with occasional downfield tosses to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson. It’s unrealistic to think that Edelman can keep up this sort of statistical pace, but with opponents forced to devote heavy defensive attention to Gronk, Edelman will continue to have room to work the flats and turn quick, easy passes from Tom Brady into nice gains. Edelman won’t have 176 catches this season, but he has a legitimate chance to finish in the 120–125 range.
10. Brandin Cooks vs. Carolina: A lot of people had Cooks penciled in for 90-100 catches this season and invested major draft capital in the Saints' undersized second-year receiver. It made a lot of sense: New Orleans lost Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills in the offseason and finds itself short on quality pass catchers, with Cooks far and away the best of the bunch. Cooks hasn’t exactly been idle, with nine catches on 15 targets, but he’s produced only 111 receiving yards so far, with no touchdowns. You’d think he would have gotten more looks from Drew Brees in the first two games, considering how much time the 0–2 Saints have spent playing from behind. Now, Brees is dealing with a bruised rotator cuff and might not be able to play against the Panthers on Sunday, so the Saints might be forced to start backup quarterback and unlikely TV pitchman Luke McCown against a stingy Carolina defense. It’s probably too early for Cooks owners to panic, but SI.com’s Michael Beller warned in August that Cooks was being overrated as a fantasy commodity, and it looks as if he might have been spot-on. In 12 career games, Cooks has scored four touchdowns (one of them on a run) and has yet to log a 100-yard receiving day.