Fantasy football cheat sheet: Start, sit and more tips for Week 3
Joe Kaiser
ESPN INSIDER
9/22/17


Just when it seemed like defense was taking over in the NFL, the 49ers and Rams gave us a game for the ages on Thursday night with Los Angeles eeking out a 41-39 victory.

Todd Gurley's three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) and Carlos Hyde's two scores highlighted the high-scoring game, and anyone with these running backs (or Sammy Watkins/Jared Goff) in their fantasy lineup this week has to feel great heading into the weekend with a big head start.

Now the question is this: Who else is primed for a huge game this week?

Our weekly ESPN Insider cheat sheet provides a rundown of the greatest hits from all of our Insider fantasy football content. You'll find answers to the top questions of the week, along with injury updates, matchup advantages and wild-card plays from Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Mike Clay, Al Zeidenfeld, Matt Bowen, KC Joyner and Scott Kacsmar. It's all the best tips, distilled into one handy file.

Here's what our experts are saying about Week 3:


Top tips

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

Newton isn't running as much as he once did, and, like last season, he is struggling with accuracy on his passes. If there was ever a time for him to start heating up, though, this is the week against the poor Saints defense, Zeidenfeld writes in his daily fantasy best buys column.

"After two straight disappointing weeks from Newton, this is the perfect time to get back in on the Carolina quarterback," he writes. "The Saints are the cure to all that ails opposing quarterbacks. New Orleans has allowed a league-high 14 completions on balls traveling 15-plus yards in the air [tied with the Colts] which has helped allow Sam Bradford and Tom Brady to throw for 341 and 436 yards against them in consecutive weeks. It's still unknown if Newton will run the ball anywhere close to as much as he did in the past, which brings his value down just a little bit, but the matchup is just too good to ignore ... with or without rushing touchdowns."


Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Two weeks into the season is all it took for one of the four Seahawks running backs to emerge, and Carson is that guy. The 249th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Carson busted out with 93 yards on 20 carries and distanced himself from Seattle's other options in the backfield in the process. Bowen is optimistic about Carson's fantasy value going forward:

"Remember, this is the same guy who flashed during the preseason. The talent is there with Carson and so is the system fit in Seattle. The Seahawks desperately need that lead back, the downhill runner who can pound the football in the fourth quarter. Based on what I saw on Sunday, Carson is the back you want to roster on this Seahawks team. He has the upside of a low-end RB2 moving forward for a team that is going to run the rock."

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Is this week's game at Chicago the one where Bell finally busts out and plays like the player who was drafted with one of the first two picks of almost every fantasy draft this season? Joyner takes a closer look at the blocking numbers, and finds that Bell and the Steelers have a lot working in their favor heading into this road game against the Bears.

"Bell has scored only 20.8 fantasy points through the first two weeks of the season, but his struggles haven't been due to sub-par run blocking, as Pittsburgh's 51.6 percent good blocking rate (GBR) placed sixth best in Week 2," he writes. "The Steelers also have the makings of a mismatch in pass blocking, as they rate first in ESPN Stats & Information's pass protection metric (PPM) and the Bears' defense ranks 28th in QC (7.0) and 25th in TIP (2.4). Add it up, and it means Bell and Antonio Brown should reach their elite fantasy production potential, Ben Roethlisberger has strong QB1 potential and Martavis Bryant is a very good Week 3 flex option."

Playing the matchups

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

We know what you're thinking -- the Giants' offense has been extremely disappointing through Week 2, and Beckham's four catches for 36 yards in his 2017 debut on Monday didn't exactly win anyone anything in fantasy. Even so, you can't overlook a good matchup when Beckham has one, and Clay writes that this is one of those weeks.

"Beckham made his 2017 debut on Monday night at less than full health, but common logic suggests he should be closer to a full go against Philadelphia this weekend. That would be bad news for an Eagles defense that has holes at the cornerback position," he writes.

"Jalen Mills has been pummeled for 15 receptions and 177 yards on a league-high 21 targets this season. Beckham torched Philadelphia for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season, though only 19 of his 99 routes were against Mills (two catches, 43 yards). Beckham moves around the formation quite a bit, so he'll see some of Eagles rookie Rasul Douglas as well. Assuming he doesn't have a setback, Beckham should be locked into lineups this week."

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Benjamin may have only seven catches through Week 2, but Bowen believes that the tall receiver has a chance to build on a solid game last week with a game against the Saints.

"Deep middle-of-the-field throws. The quick passing game outside the numbers. And red zone targets. Hey, this is what Benjamin owners signed up for," he writes. "And after that really disappointing performance in Week 1 (five targets, one reception, 25 yards), Benjamin gave owners a little bit more on Sunday with 77 yards on six grabs (eight targets).

"Yeah, it's still a line that needs to improve, but Benjamin had red zone opportunities (slant, fade) and his role/volume should expand even more now with tight end Greg Olsen out for an extended period of time with a broken foot. That production needs to be replaced. And with a matchup this week versus a Saints secondary that has been absolutely gashed through two games, giving up a total of 777 passing yards, I'm locking in Benjamin as a high-end WR2 this week."

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

A number of other top tight ends around the league are already dinged up, leaving Kelce as one of the few elite options at the position. His matchup against a tough Chargers defense shouldn't scare anyone away from the Chiefs' star tight end in Week 3, Zeidenfeld writes:

"Kelce has 17 targets in two games, including four red-zone looks. Coming off last season's 22.35-percent market share of red-zone targets, the 50 percent he's seeing through two games will certainly regress, but it's extremely encouraging to see the Chiefs finally utilizing their biggest and best target when it matters. The Chargers' points allowed to tight ends could lead people elsewhere, but with two games being such a small sample and the two teams they've faced [the Broncos and Dolphins] not exactly being offenses that feature their tight ends, this looks like a great place to invest in Kelce."

Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Brown gets all the attention in the Steelers' receiving corps, but Bryant has big-play ability that shouldn't go overlooked in this week's road game against Chicago.

"While Brown is always a preferred target to stack with Ben Roethlisberger, I think this could be a big week for Bryant in Chicago," Kacsmar writes in his Best NFL DFS matchups column. "He scored his first touchdown since 2015 last week against the Vikings and was open for another huge gain had there not been pass interference on the defense. He should have great matchups against this no-name secondary and a defense that has struggled a lot through two games this year. I'd go for the cheaper stack of Roethlisberger and Bryant rather than Brown this week."

Injury impact

Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, New England Patriots: Though listed as questionable, both Gronkowski (groin) and Amendola (concussion) are expected to play in Sunday's home game against Houston.

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: Nelson (quad) returned to practice this week and is progressing the way the team had hoped for Sunday's game against Cincinnati. He is officially listed as questionable, but it sounds like there's a good chance he'll be available. Cobb (shoulder) is considered doubtful.

Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes will be without Bradford (knee) for a second straight game, as the team ruled him out on Friday. That means another start for Case Keenum, which lowers the fantasy value of players such as Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph.

Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks: Graham (ankle) is considered a game-time decision for Sunday's road game at Tennessee. "We've just got to make sure he's OK all the way to game time, but he really feels like he can do it. So, we'll see," Carroll told Dori Monson on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM on Friday. If Graham can't play, Luke Willson will step in as Seattle's primary tight end against the Titans.

John Brown, Arizona Cardinals: Brown missed Week 2 due to a quad injury and didn't practice Thursday. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians indicated earlier in the week that it would be "miraculous" if the receiver were available for the Monday night game against Dallas. With Brown unlikely to play, it will be another chance for J.J. Nelson to step in and get additional targets as the No. 2 receiver next to Larry Fitzgerald.

Lottery tickets

Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions

Riddick is well-regarded in PPR leagues due to his ability to catch a high volume of passes out of the backfield. He may be more overlooked in fantasy circles this season due to the return of Ameer Abdullah, but Riddick's role as a pass-catcher remains the same. Cockcroft sees promise with the veteran running back this week.

"The Atlanta Falcons' defense has been an advantageous matchup for opposing running backs for quite some time now," he writes, "with their 37.0 PPR fantasy points allowed through two weeks this season ranking second-most after they afforded the fourth-most [27.4] last season.

"They struggle the most to contain pass-catching running backs, which is why Riddick, rather than Abdullah, gets the nod here. No defense has afforded more PPR fantasy points to running backs on receptions since the beginning of last season than the Falcons, who served up 19.5 points on six catches to Ty Montgomery in Week 2 alone. After a quiet Week 2 against the Giants, Riddick should rebound with closer to the 5.3 receptions he averaged per game in 2016."

Rashard Higgins, WR, Cleveland Browns

Only three weeks into the season, and Higgins -- a fifth-rounder last season who only caught six passes in 16 games as a rookie -- has already established himself as one of the Browns' top offensive options in 2017. Zeidenfeld likes what he has seen out of the second-year receiver out of Colorado State.

"Kenny Britt has fallen out of favor with the Browns' coaching staff only two weeks into the season and Corey Coleman has been lost for the foreseeable future with a broken hand," he writes. "Enter Higgins, the Colorado State product who, for those of us who played college football DFS back in the day, was a staple week in, week out. A great route runner with the ability to get downfield and behind defenses is now thrust into a great opportunity and could very possibly lead the Browns in targets per game the rest of the way.

"The Colts have allowed 14 completions on balls that have traveled 15 or more yards in the air [tied for most in the league with the Saints], and have allowed opponents to complete those passes at a 66.7-percent rate [third-highest in the league]. Add the newfound target volume to what has been an inept defense the first two weeks of the season and we've got instant value opportunity without much downside risk at the price."

Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis Colts

Until Andrew Luck returns to the field, many fantasy managers are set on fading Colts -- even the big names like T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Doyle is one who warrants some consideration this week against the Browns, though, Cockcroft writes.

"He has been one of the few parts of the Colts' offense that has been going right the first two weeks, and in Week 2, he seemed to flash the most chemistry with new quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Doyle should again be a big part of the game plan against the Cleveland Browns, who have had an awful time containing tight ends through two weeks, serving up 22.1 PPR fantasy points to Jesse James in the opener and 17.1 to Benjamin Watson in Week 2."

Jermaine Kearse, WR, New York Jets

Many Jets fans grumbled when the team traded away DT Sheldon Richardson to Seattle for Kearse and a second-round pick, but so far this season Kearse is the biggest bright spot on an otherwise bad Jets offense.

"The Jets had to have someone step up after losing Quincy Enunwa to injury this preseason. Kearse came over in a trade from Seattle and has quickly established himself as Josh McCown's main target," Kacsmar writes. "Kearse has two more touchdowns than Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. combined in the start of this crazy season. Kearse is still a bargain since expectations are low for the Jets' offense, but the Miami defense is unexceptional. We know there's a good chance the Jets will be trailing again, too, so there should be plenty of garbage-time opportunities for Kearse."

Big question of the week

How will the Bears work out their running back rotation against the Steelers?

When Chicago hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday, it will do so with one of the best young running back combos in the league in second-year back Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen. Heading into the season, Howard was regarded as a top-10 running back, but he's in danger of his value dropping quickly based on the type of start Cohen -- a fourth-round pick -- is having to his NFL career. Last week against Tampa Bay, Howard suffered through a shoulder injury and rushed nine times for 7 yards and didn't catch a pass. Meanwhile, Cohen rushed seven times for 13 yards -- not great by any means -- but added eight catches for 55 yards in the passing game.

The running back who gets more snaps and steps forward against the Steelers could have the edge going forward, so that's something to watch closely.