7 Deep Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 3
Last week was a pretty nice turnout for some deep sleepers. Matt Jones busted out a big game for Washington, Dion Lewis posted another useful fantasy performance against a might-still-be-really-good Buffalo defense, Crockett Gillmore outperformed Rob Gronkowski, and Ryan Fitzpatrick bested Andrew Luck on Monday Night Football.
All four of those players were highlighted last week here, and trust me: that's not a tout. Plenty of these picks fizzle, which is understandable given how deep we're digging.
The important thing is that the process -- trying to identify positive matchups that can be taken advantage of by unheralded players -- can work and can pay off big time if you're in a deep league or are playing in a large-field tournament in daily fantasy formats.
With that in mind, which guys have the right script ahead for a potentially useful fantasy day in Week 3?
Week 3 All-Deep-Sleeper Team
Quarterback: Ryan Mallett (Started in 1.9% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 4.0% of ESPN Leagues)
Expecting Mallett to throw 58 passes again probably isn't a safe bet, but in a home matchup against the Buccaneers (let's not bring up Drew Brees), there's merit for a decent game for Mallett, who ranks as our 14th-best fantasy quarterback this week. DeAndre Hopkins had a concussion scare this week, but the Texans are optimistic that he'll play. Hopkins had a bit of a down week last time out while squaring off against the suffocating coverage of Josh Norman, but as long as he's in the lineup, Mallett has potential.
Last year, the Bucs ranked 31st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and through two games this year, they're 19th against fantasy quarterbacks even after stymieing Brees and the Saints in Week 2. Mallett also grades out as our third-best value play in terms of FanDuel pricing.
Running Back: Bilal Powell (Started in 2.2% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 10.4% of ESPN Leagues)
James Starks and Devonta Freeman are going to be popular recommendations, and for good reason. The starting running backs for Green Bay and Atlanta could miss time -- or be limited in the case of Eddie Lacy. Less publicized is the fact that Chris Ivory is a game-time decision heading into Sunday. While the matchup isn't exactly exciting -- Philadelphia ranked 5th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play last season and is 11th so far this season -- the opportunities could be there if Ivory is limited.
Powell has actually seen more offensive snaps (66) than Ivory (64) this year, and he has also seen 9 passing targets, which he's turned into 6 catches for 32 yards. Even if Ivory plays, Powell should see enough work -- at least in the passing game, as Ivory has just 3 targets this year -- to be a fantasy factor in this matchup.
Running Back: Lorenzo Taliaferro (Started in 1.2% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 25.0% of ESPN Leagues)
Taliaferro is dealing with a foot injury but practiced on Friday, so that's good news. If he doesn't go, then Javorius Allen (2.1% owned in ESPN formats) makes some sense as well, but Taliaferro is the more intriguing play given his skill set. Baltimore is a three-point favorite against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team against whom Andy Dalton generally struggles (he owns a 7:12 touchdown to interception ratio and a 5.53 adjusted yards per attempt mark against Baltimore in his career).
With tons of question marks at receiver, the Ravens could keep the ball on the ground with a positive game script. Cincinnati currently ranks 9th in per-play rushing defense, per our metrics, but they finished 26th last season. The sample couldn't be much smaller (Taliaferro has just seven carries this year), but his Rushing NEP per carry ranks him fourth among all running backs with at least five carries. His Rushing Success Rate, the percentage of carries that add to his team's NEP, ranks third, as he has converted on five of his seven carries. Those types of runs can bleed a clock, and if he plays, he can be a sneaky producer.
Wide Receiver: Rishard Matthews (Started in 3.6% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 14.0% of ESPN Leagues)
Usually, these deep recommendations are predicated on big-play ability or potential game flow scenarios. That isn't really the case here. Matthews has seen 13 targets through two games, and they've been pretty consistent: 6 in Week 1 and 7 in Week 2. Matthews trails Jarvis Landry's 22 targets, but he's seen 5 more than Greg Jennings (8) so far. Against Buffalo, running the ball might be tricky. Though they rank 25th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play this year, they finished 9th in the metric last season.
Miami has been the fifth-most pass heavy team in the NFL through two weeks, and they were ninth last season. Matthews is probably a safe bet for some targets, which is a nice feeling if you're digging deep for a receiver.
Wide Receiver: Ted Ginn Jr. (Started in 2.8% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 7.1% of ESPN Leagues)
Okay, let's throw safety in the trash with this one. Ginn has actually seen 16 targets through two weeks -- same as Vincent Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Randall Cobb. That's not a dominating market share by any means, but with at least seven targets in each game so far, Ginn could be a sneaky play in a good matchup with the Saints. Last year, New Orleans ranked 29th in pass defense, according to our adjusted per-play metrics, and this year they're 27th.
New Orleans ranks just 12th in fantasy points allowed to receivers this year, but they have faced just 56 pass plays (29th most) because of game flow. Ginn's an all-or-nothing receiver (his catch rate of 37.5% is better only than Harry Douglas's 35.0% among receivers with at least 10 targets so far), but there's plenty of reason to expect more "all" than "nothing" in Week 3.
Tight End: Coby Fleener (Started in 3.6% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 16.3% of ESPN Leagues)
Dwayne Allen missed practice on Friday, and if he doesn't go, then Fleener steps into a big opportunity. Our algorithms project Luck to throw 44 times in Week 3, and they can't all go to Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton. According to the RotoViz game splits app, Fleener has averaged 9.46 fantasy points per game in 20 career contests without Allen in the lineup and just 5.06 with Allen.
There's not much more to say, as Fleener has just one target on the year, but he's proven to be capable when given targets. That could be the case in Week 3.
Flex: Tyler Lockett (Started in 3.0% of ESPN Leagues | Owned in 18.0% of ESPN Leagues)
The Seahawks are massive favorites (14.5 points), and the Bears are projected to score -- based on the over/under and spread -- roughly 15 points. Now, this screams positive game script for Seattle's rushing attack. However, with so much struggle on offense expected for Chicago -- especially without Alshon Jeffery, who is confirmed as out, in the lineup -- that could lead to plenty of drives ending in punts. That's good news bears for Lockett.
As a receiver, Lockett has just 6 targets on the year (which he turned into 6 catches and 51 yards), and expecting a heavy target total isn't really the reason he's worth a shot. Rather, the Bears secondary is beatable enough that he may not need to be fed targets to post an explosive play. They ranked 27th in per-play Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP last season, and things aren't getting better overnight.