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.
Mark Ingram, Saints (vs. Dolphins in London)
Another week where Ingram was clearly the Saints’ best back, another week where he didn’t get enough touches. I know the definition of insanity, but I have to believe that the Saints are finally going to end the Adrian Peterson experiment and get more touches to Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Should that finally come to fruition this week, Ingram would be in a good spot with the Saints meeting the Dolphins in London. The Saints are favored by a field goal and have an implied team total of 26 points. Miami’s defense hasn’t looked bad against the run this year, but the unit did allow Melvin Gordon to catch seven passes for 65 yards. Still, this is all about the Saints finally making Ingram the featured back that he deserves to be. He has averaged 5.97 yards per touch this season. For sake of comparison, Todd Gurley has averaged 5.01 yards per touch, while Devonta Freeman is at 4.69 yards per touch.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons (vs. Bills)
It has been a relatively slow start to the season for Coleman, but there’s good reason to believe he breaks out of the doldrums this week. The Bills have yet to see an offense anywhere near Atlanta’s this season, facing the Jets, Panthers and Broncos over the first three weeks of the year. Even a schedule-adjusted metric like aFPA can’t account for the gulf between those three offenses and the group the Bills will see this week. Simply put, you want all fantasy-relevant Falcons active in a game where they’re favored by eight points with an implied team total of 28.25, and playing at home. Coleman is too good to stay quiet another week.
Duke Johnson, Browns (vs. Bengals)
The Bengals are too talented offensively to be as inept as they were the first two games, even with a subpar offensive line. They started figuring things out last week in Bill Lazor’s first game as offensive coordinator, and those improvements should continue against Cleveland this week. If that is indeed the case, there’s going to be a lot of responsibility on DeShone Kizer’s right arm, and that would be great news for Johnson. He’s essentially a wide receiver now, having racked up 11 receptions, 18 targets and 160 yards through Cleveland’s first three games. The team is without a No. 1 wide receiver with Corey Coleman on the shelf, and Kizer has shown more consistent trust in Johnson than in either Kenny Britt or Rashard Higgins.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns (vs. Bengals)
The other end of Cleveland’s backfield, however, belongs on your bench. This could get ugly for the Browns, especially with Vontaze Burfict back from his three-game suspension. Crowell has put together three truly ugly performances, running for a total of 114 yards on 39 carries. He has yet to top 44 rushing yards or 66 total yards in a game, and is still looking for his first score. Last year is looking like more and more of a fluke with each passing week, which is maybe something we should have expected given the personnel in Cleveland.
LeGarrette Blount, Eagles (at Chargers)
Don’t fall for what you saw last week. Blount did have his best game of the season—running for 67 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries—but he was out-snapped and outplayed by Wendell Smallwood. Blount’s volume is unpredictable from week to week because he’s a one-dimensional player, and he brings the wrong dimension to the field in a game against an offense like the Chargers. Philip Rivers will be able to attack the Eagles defense down the field, meaning Carson Wentz is going to need to sling it for his team to keep up. This does not have the feel of a game that plays to Blount’s minimal strengths. If he doesn’t get a touchdown early, he will flop in all fantasy formats.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (at Patriots)
Stewart isn’t as bad of a play as Blount because his workload is safer, but he’s in a similar spot this week. If and when the Patriots force the Panthers to abandon the run, we’re going to see a lot of Christian McCaffrey on the field. McCaffrey also matches up quite nicely with a New England defense that has looked terrible through three weeks, and has allowed big receiving numbers to Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and D’Onta Foreman. Stewart isn’t an auto-sit like Blount, but this matchup and expected game script has all sorts of red flags for a player with his skill set.
Frank Gore, Colts (at Seahawks)
Last week in this space, I said Gore would be useless if he didn’t score a touchdown. That proved to be true, as he ran for 57 yards on 25 carries. Unfortunately for my ego, he did score a touchdown. Still, it took every ounce of energy for him to eke out a double-digit point fantasy game, even with the touchdown. Gore now has 145 yards on 49 carries and two catches for 10 yards this season. He is entirely dependent on touchdowns, which makes a player persona non grata in the fantasy world, unless he’s a tight end. The Colts are 13-point underdogs in Seattle this week, and have an implied team total of 14.25 points.
Terrelle Pryor, Redskins (at Chiefs)
Pryor is off to a frustratingly slow start this season. I was all over him during the summer, thanks to the combination of his breakout season a year ago and the improvement in environment he made by ditching Cleveland for Washington. I’m as shocked as anyone to see him with 10 catches for 116 yards and zero touchdowns through three games. As bad as the stats have been, Pryor is still on the field for the lion’s share of Washington’s plays. The offense remains both pass-friendly and pass-heavy, and he is the most athletically gifted receiver on the team. He doesn’t deserve a free pass for his play this season, but those factors typically lead to good things. I’m still buying Pryor, and I believe the turnaround begins on Monday night.
Willie Snead, Saints (vs. Dolphins in London)
There are definitely playing-time concerns for Snead in his first game after serving a three-game suspension because of a DUI arrest. Still, here are some facts we know about him. In 30 career games—15 of which he had to fight both Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas for targets—Snead has 141 catches for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s a 16-game average of 75.2 catches, 1,002 yards and 3.7 touchdowns. He’s a more complete receiver than Ted Ginn, who is really just the home-run hitter in this offense. He has regularly outperformed Coby Fleener when both have been on the field. Translation: Even with the playing-time concerns, smart money is on Snead immediately asserting himself as the No. 2 option in the passing game behind Thomas. Last I checked, the No. 2 options in passing games led by Drew Brees typically do pretty well.
Sterling Shepard, Giants (at Buccaneers)
This admittedly has the feeling of chasing last week’s points, but I promise you that’s not what’s at play here. New York’s offense finally got going when it took some pressure off its line by getting the ball out of Eli Manning’s hands quickly, and into the hands of his two best playmakers, Odell Beckham and Shepard. Shepard finished the game with seven catches on 10 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown, and had another score taken away from him by what seemed to be a botched replay review. After doing nothing offensively for the first 11 quarters of the season, it’s safe to expect the Giants to follow the script that finally worked in the fourth quarter of their Week 3 loss to the Eagles, when they scored 24 points. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have the highest aFPA against wide receivers this season.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (vs. Redskins)
This is an aggressive sit call that I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% of Hill’s owners will not make. For one thing, you’d have to be deep at receiver to realistically sit Hill. For another, the only way you ended up with Hill this year is if you really liked him during draft season. No one got Hill at a discount. Still, as I wrote in the Target and Snap Report this week, Hill has run just 84 routes this season. A whopping 56.7% of his standard-league points and 46% of his PPR points have come on two plays this season. That sort of big-play dependence will pay off every so often, but it’s not likely to happen when you’re staring down Josh Norman, as Hill will do with regularity this week.
Michael Crabtree, Raiders (at Broncos)
Remember those stats for Derek Carr against the Broncos? Let’s run that idea back for Crabtree. In his two games against Denver last year, he had seven catches for 74 yards. In 2015, he had eight receptions for 73 yards in Oakland’s two meetings with Denver. I know it’s hard to send Carr or Crabtree or Amari Cooper to your bench, but the Broncos shut down passing games, especially ones that do most of their damage outside the numbers. They’ve done it for years, and they’re continuing to do it this season. If you have the depth to make the move, Crabtree should be on your bench this week.
Tyrell Williams, Chargers (vs. Eagles)
I was a big Williams believer coming into the season but he has been thoroughly mediocre, catching 11 passes for 123 yards. I still want to believe in him, based largely on the Chargers offense, but this is different from the Terrelle Pryor situation. Williams is not in a better situation than he was a year ago, when he was the de facto No. 1 receiver at Philip Rivers’s disposal. Williams is not the most athletically gifted receiver on his team with Keenan Allen healthy. At this point, Williams does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Allen Hurns, Jaguars (at Jets)
Hurns is back on the fantasy radar after Allen Robinson’s season-ending knee injury. In three games this year, Hurns has 12 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. It’s Marqise Lee, though, who leads the team in targets, and has been the top receiver for the Jaguars in both of those last two weeks. Ignore the touchdowns and pay attention to targets and yards, both of which are better predictors of future success. Hurns is a fine depth receiver, but you shouldn’t need to turn to a player of his ilk before byes begin next week.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (vs. Giants)
Until something changes at the tight end position, Start/Sit decisions will largely turn on the question, “Which touchdown-dependent players have the best chance of finding the end zone this week?” Brate is right at the top of that list. The Giants own the fifth-highest aFPA against the tight end position this season, allowing a combined 20 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns to Jason Witten, Eric Ebron and Zach Ertz. None of the three scored fewer than 10.2 standard-league or 15.2 PPR points. Brate found the end zone last week, and is a tough cover for the Giants’ woeful linebackers.
Charles Clay, Bills (at Falcons)
Clay is the 1a to Brate’s No. 1 on the touchdown-dependent tight-end bet list this week. Clay has two touchdowns in Buffalo’s three games, and is Tyrod Taylor’s favorite weapon in the red zone with Sammy Watkins in Los Angeles. Clay is tied for third in the NFL with four targets inside the 10-yard line, two of which he has converted into touchdowns.
Jared Cook, Raiders (at Broncos)
The fantasy world seems ready to buy into Cook this week after he caught four passes for 43 yards and a score a week ago. There is some logic to it, based on what we’ve already discussed with respect to Oakland’s passing attack, and its prospects against Denver’s defense. The Broncos do a great job locking down the outside, which should force Derek Carr to the middle of the field. Still, Cook needs to beat Denver’s linebackers and safeties for that to matter, and he’s going to have a tougher time than he did against the interior of Washington’s defense last week.
Coby Fleener, Saints (vs. Dolphins in London)
For those of you worried about Willie Snead, I’d retort that this is the Saint who should concern you. In four games as a member of the Saints with Snead out, Fleener has 16 receptions for 217 yards and three touchdowns, good for 9.93 standard-league and 13.93 PPR points per game. In 15 games with Snead on the field, Fleener has 43 grabs for 522 yards and two scores. That translates to 4.28 standard-league and 7.15 PPR points per game. You can only buy one of the two, and I am plunking my money down on the receiver.