Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 3
Week 2 of the NFL season was a doozy. Even ignoring the string of disastrous injuries to key players, there was still another full boatload of surprises.
And speaking of surprises, we came so close to nailing one of our bold predictions last week. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a last-minute two-point attempt away from upsetting the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday, but just couldn't punch it in.
Our other predictions didn't fare quite so well. James Washington put up a disappointing 23 receiving yards despite an increased opportunity to produce, and the Baltimore Ravens were shockingly kept in check by the Arizona Cardinals.
So last week wasn't our finest performance, but now we have even more data to work/play with -- and even bolder predictions. Here are five bold predictions for Week 3.
DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel Will Be Top-24 Wide Receivers
Yes, Cam Newton is struggling with the foot injury he suffered this preseason. And yes, Newton is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. And yes, he’s lost a noticeable amount of weight after switching to a vegan diet this offseason.
Let’s start with Moore, who has shown clearly through two weeks that he should be treated as the number-one wideout the Carolina Panthers drafted him to be last year. His 24 targets since the season began tie for third in the league at the wide receiver position, and despite the presence of multiple legitimate pass-catching options on his own team, he is still garnering a 27% target share – good for the 13th-highest share in the league.
Moore gets peppered with low average depth of target (aDOT) looks in this Panthers offense. You know, the kinds of targets that easily convert into fantasy points – especially in point-per-reception leagues. And unlike other wideouts with similar play styles a la Keenan Allen and Jarvis Landry, Moore has the elite athleticism to take any of those targets to the house.
Seriously, while Allen and Landry each ran their 40-yard dashes in below the 20th-percentile times, Moore blazed an 89th-percentile 4.42 time at his own combine appearance. Moore’s 92nd-percentile athleticism was visible even in his rookie season, when he finished the year with the 12th-most yards after the catch (YAC) in the league (416) despite playing a part-time role for a significant portion of the season.
So we can envision the kind of upside Moore brings to your fantasy teams from his usage and proven athleticism, but what about offseason champion Curtis Samuel? Samuel was quite possibly the most-hyped wide receiver this offseason across the league. That hype hasn't quite translated into fantasy points -- yet.
Samuel was all but invisible in Week 1, but in Week 2 he led the entire NFL in air yards with 234. Cam’s struggles with accuracy limited Samuel to just 14.3 points in PPR leagues, but that insane volume should start turning into fantasy points sooner rather than later.
Sooner could mean as soon as Week 3, when the Panthers will square off against the defense-less Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are allowing over 309.5 passing yards per game through Week 2 despite playing two of the most run-heavy play-callers in the league. They’ve been essentially unable to stop anything opposing teams are doing. Their own high-octane offense drives up the play counts in their games, meaning the Panthers' offense will be running a lot of plays themselves -- enough plays to produce top-24 wideout performances for Moore and Samuel.
Mason Rudolph Will Be a Top-12 Quarterback
As you probably already know, Ben Roethlisberger is done for 2019, which means Mason Rudolph is now the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think Rudolph could be a QB1 in fantasy this week.
Rudolph took over for Big Ben partway through last week’s match against the Seattle Seahawks, and Rudolph’s performance kept the Steelers competitive in the 28-26 loss. Rudolph completed 12 of his 19 pass attempts for 112 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.
And before we go jumping to conclusions about that interception, it was a very-on-target pass slipped through Donte Moncrief's hands, bounced off of his helmet, and floated gently down to a Seahawks defender. That the Steelers benched Moncrief after that play should tell you where they place the blame for that turnover.
Rudolph was an outstanding passer for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. While playing in the same 2018 draft class as Baker Mayfield, Rudolph led the nation is passing yards while averaging 10.7 adjusted yards per pass attempt -- second in college football behind only Mayfield himself. And for what it’s worth, Rudolph has been solid in each of his first two preseasons.
On paper, Rudolph’s Week 3 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers looks intimidating. After all, the 49ers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. But their seemingly-stout defense could still be a little fraudulent.
Through two weeks, they’ve faced a veritable pick-six factory in Jameis Winston and a Cincinnati Bengals offense that -- while promising -- is still figuring things out two weeks into brand new head coach Zac Taylor’s first season. Considering how that 49ers defense looked just a year ago, there’s reason to believe that they aren’t quite as impressive as they’ve looked on stat sheets so far.
The Steelers showed us that they have some confidence in the young quarterback when they sent their 2020 first-round pick -- which could become a top pick if the Steelers continue their losing streak -- to the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’ve seen more of Rudolph than we could possibly have, and he’ll reward their confidence in him by finishing as a top-12 quarterback in fantasy football.
Miles Sanders Will Put It All Together
It’s no secret that Philadelphia Eagles second-round pick Miles Sanders has struggled so far this year. In my rookie watch column last week, I noted how Sanders had actually cost his team over four expected points in Week 1 according to numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) model. You can read more about NEP in the terms glossary.
Those struggles are fully visible in the stat box, as well. Sanders has earned the largest share of the running back work in Philly with 21 carries, but he has leveraged those carries into just 53 rushing yards. It is worth noting that he’s had some plays that would have boosted those numbers called back due to penalties, but the same could be said for a number of backs across the league.
As glum as his performances in Weeks 1 and 2 were, he showed real signs of improvement on Sunday night. In Week 1, NFL’s Next Gen Stats graded Sanders as having the fourth-worst efficiency ranking in the league. He was accumulating 7.83 yards on average before reaching the line of scrimmage. As I’m sure you know, your fantasy football squad and NFL teams alike would really prefer their running backs to rack up yards on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
His better Week 2 mark of 5.67 quantifies what we saw on the screen -- that the young back was spending less time durdling around behind his offensive line and was bursting through the lanes with greater urgency. That change also showed up in numberFire’s metrics, which charted him with a 12% increase in Rushing Success Rate – a metric that measures the percentage of a back’s rush attempts with positive NEP values. And the Eagles have been making a point to get Sanders more involved -- he had all of the work in the team’s first half two-minute drill.
Sanders will put it all together in Week 3 when the Eagles face off against the Detroit Lions, who have been bleeding fantasy points to opposing backs, particularly in the passing game. The Eagles are seven-point home favorites, which is really the most desirable situation a fantasy back could ask for. Miles Sanders will post up a top-16 finish among running backs this week.
The Pats Will Shut Out Their Second Consecutive Opponent
In Week 2, the New England Patriots shut the Miami Dolphins out in such a blowout, it was surprising no one retired at half time. In Week 3, they’re going to shut out yet another team -- the New York Jets -- and become the first team since 2014 to shut out back-to-back opponents.
The Jets really aren’t much better than the blatantly-tanking Dolphins at the moment. Two of their top defensive players in Quinnen Williams and Leonard Williams are questionable heading into Week 3, and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold is sidelined with mononucleosis for at least the next few weeks. The team then proceeded to lose Darnold’s backup Trevor Siemian in their own Week 2 blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Luke Falk -- their third-stringer -- stands close to no chance against this Pats defense. He did muster up 198 passing yards against the Browns, but he did so only when the game was well out of hand. His 5.3 intended air yards per pass attempt ranked second-worst in the league, and on average he threw his passes 3.1 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That’s just not going to cut it against a defense that held Roethlisberger’s Steelers to a single field goal.
Mark Andrews Will Post the First Tight End Three-Peat Since 2015
Mark Andrews is having one of the most sensational breakouts at the tight end positions we’ve seen in recent years. After putting up elite numbers on minimal playing time in his rookie year, the 2018 third-rounder has already established himself as one of the premier tight ends in the league for fantasy football.
It’s almost unbelievable that the Baltimore Ravens selected Hayden Hurst before Andrews in that draft -- not to mention that they valued Hurst over sophomore sensation Lamar Jackson, as well. What a world.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Andrews has the target share of Zach Ertz, the aDOT of Travis Kelce, and the YAC ability of George Kittle. That’s not even hyperbole. He is actually leading all tight ends in target share, has the exact same 9.9 aDOT as Kelce, and the same 64 YAC as Kittle as of this writing. He's playing like some kind of tight end Voltron right now, and he is absolutely dominating.
Andrews will continue his string of beastly performances this week when the Ravens square off against the Kansas City Chiefs. The game has the highest total on the slate at 55.5 points, which sets Andrews up perfectly for another top-tier performance. He’s already put up back-to-back weeks of 20 or more fantasy points using FanDuel scoring, and he’s going to become the first tight end since Jordan Reed in 2015 to continue that streak for a third consecutive week.