Going back to the start of last season, there are eight receivers who have at least seven games with 12 or more fantasy points in leagues with standard scoring, with at least one of those games during this season. That last qualifier might seem like a less-than-artful way to reduce the in-group, but we don’t want to give too much credit to someone who did all his damage in 2016 but has yet to deliver this season. We go back to the start of last year to increase the sample size and show a trend, but require at least one of the data points to be in 2017 to show that the player is still getting it done presently.
The eight receivers: Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Jordy Nelson, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton and … Rishard Matthews.
Matthews was a revelation for the Titans last season, catching 65 passes for 945 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing as fantasy’s No. 13 receiver in standard leagues, and No. 19 receiver in PPR formats. With the Titans’ offseason additions of Corey Davis and Eric Decker, though, Matthews’s standing in Nashville appeared to take a hit. Even if he remained the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, there couldn’t possibly still be the volume available that there was last season. That helped push him down draft boards and make him a questionable play the first few weeks of the season. Not anymore.
Davis has dealt with a hamstring injury that dates back to training camp, and Decker has failed to bring his touchdown prowess with him to the Titans early on. Matthews, on the other hand, has picked up in 2017 where he left off in ’16. He has 14 grabs for 201 yards and a score on the season. Last week, facing off with Seattle’s stout secondary, he caught six of his 10 targets for 87 yards and a touchdown, putting up his best game of the season while helping the Titans roll up 33 points and post their most impressive win to date.
Matthews does not have the ceiling of the seven other receivers listed above. What he does have, though, is the brand of rock-solid consistency that is crucial in all fantasy formats. Matthews has seven games over the last two seasons with at least eight targets. He has scored a touchdown or crossed the 100-yard mark in six of those seven games. When Matthews gets his fair share of opportunities, he shows up for the Titans and his fantasy owners.
Davis is out again this week, and Decker has taken a backseat to Matthews in the offense. The Titans are favored in Houston and have an implied team total of 22.75 points. The Texans have been the eighth-friendliest defense to receivers this year, based on 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, or aFPA. All of that is great, but Matthews doesn’t need it. He should be locked into your starting lineup.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (vs. Giants)
There’s still a little bit too much Jay Cutler in Winston’s game, as we saw last week when he threw three picks in a loss to the Vikings. Two of those picks were particularly Cutler-ian, and you could almost see a thought bubble over Winston’s head that said, “Whatever, I’m going for it,” on those throws. Still, all the right tools are in place, and Winston should be trusted this week, even with Mike Evans drawing Janoris Jenkins in coverage. I’m a little scared off by the Buccaneers’ modest implied total of 23.5 points at home, but I still like Winston to post low-end QB1 numbers.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (at Browns)
In the Bengals’ first game with Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator, Dalton threw for 212 yards, 7.85 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those numbers aren’t exactly gaudy, but they represent easily Dalton’s best game of the season. Lazor did a better job of getting Cincinnati’s best players involved in the game plan than former OC Ken Zampese did, and Dalton’s increased comfort was clear to see. Dalton should have little trouble with a defense that got shredded by Jacoby Brissett a week ago and owns the highest quarterback aFPA in the league.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals (vs. 49ers)
If you think the Cardinals will handle the 49ers at home, it’s basically impossible to not like Palmer this week. The Cardinals are favored by a touchdown and have an implied team total of 25.75 points. With the run game essentially a non-threat at this point, the entire responsibility for getting up and down the field falls to Palmer and the passing attack. The Cowboys handled the Cardinals last week, but Palmer still threw for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 49ers are in the middle of the pack in quarterback aFPA, so there’s no reason to be afraid of this matchup.
Deshaun Watson, Texans (vs. Titans)
Watson looked great in his second career start, throwing for 301 yards, 9.12 YPA and two touchdowns, while also running for 41 yards on eight carries. Like Tyrod Taylor, the passing numbers Watson needs to put up for a productive fantasy game are lower thanks to his bankability on the ground. Watson has 124 rushing yards on 15 carries this year, and has averaged 54 rushing yards in his two starts. That’s equivalent to 1.35 passing touchdowns in standard-scoring leagues. What’s more, the Texans aren’t afraid of letting Watson go deep, and that’s something he proved he could do efficiently during his time at Clemson. He’s an easy top-20 quarterback this week, with QB1 upside.
Derek Carr, Raiders (at Broncos)
In his one game against the Broncos last year, Carr threw for 184 yards and 5.94 YPA. In two games against them in 2015, he totaled 384 yards and 5.65 YPA, though he did manage three touchdowns against one interception. Carr is presently better than he was in any of those three games, but the personnel on both sides is largely the same, and the Broncos still have elite talent in their secondary. The Raiders are at their best when Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree can outclass defenders outside the numbers, and that won’t be the case this week. Carr is a QB2 for Week 4.
Carson Wentz, Eagles (at Chargers)
What is it I keep missing about Carson Wentz? He has a consensus ranking on FantasyPros of QB15 this week, but I have him seven spots lower than that. He seems to get away with multiple bad throws every week, is barely over 7.0 YPA on the season, and had a legitimately ugly performance against the Giants last week. The Chargers aren’t a bad matchup, especially with Jason Verrett out, but I just don’t see what Wentz has done to earn entry into the QB1 class. If Wentz were the only quarterback on my team, I wouldn’t feel terrible about starting him, but it’s likely that anyone who owns him has a second passer to which they can turn.
Cam Newton, Panthers (at Patriots)
Newton is now in the prove-it stage of his season. Through three games, he has 566 yards, 6.82 YPA, two touchdowns and four interceptions. In what could go down as the best matchup he gets all year, he laid an egg against the Saints at home last week, throwing for 167 yards, 6.42 YPA, zero touchdowns and three picks. Newton was a special fantasy quarterback in the past because of his rushing numbers. Yet, those attempts have been cut back significantly, largely by design to keep him healthy. While that makes all the sense in the world for multiple reasons, it undoubtedly curbs his fantasy value. It also doesn’t help that Greg Olsen is out, and Kelvin Benjamin could join him after injuring his knee last week. Newton is impossible to trust at this point.
Robert Kelley, Redskins (at Chiefs)
Kelley missed last week’s game with the Raiders because of a rib injury, but he was practicing during the week, which bodes well for the team’s Week 4 tilt in Kansas City. Monitor the team’s practice reports closely because Washington is once again playing in primetime, this time on Monday night. You’ll need a good backup plan if you want to start Kelley and the Redskins don’t give us a strong indication on his status before the earlier games begin. Assuming Kelley does play, though, he’ll project as an RB2. Jay Gruden said his status is not in question, and that Chris Thompson will remain in his standard role. Kelley would be a good bet for 15 or more touches should he get back on the field this week, and I think the Redskins could keep it closer than the touchdown spread indicates.