First look at fantasy football in NFL Week 3: Steelers on the rise

First look at fantasy football in NFL Week 3: Steelers on the rise
First look at fantasy football in NFL Week 3: Steelers on the rise

The once-reliable Pittsburgh Steelers offense struggled during the 2019 season as soon as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt his throwing elbow in the second weekend, and he ended up missing the remainder of the games. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges sure tried hard to replace him, but the Steelers finished as an 8-8 team and nobody wearing their jersey caught as many as 60 passes or reached 750 receiving yards for the season. Averaging 186 passing yards per game, second worst in the league, was indeed very un-Steelers like.

As the Steelers enter a prove-it Week 3 contest with the Houston Texans, that sure seems likely to change, as Roethlisberger enjoys myriad talented teammates at his disposal, and the offense is clicking after wins over the New York Giants and Denver Broncos. Separate Steelers running backs have topped 100 rushing yards in each of the first two games, while young wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool join JuJu Smith-Schuster in a solid passing game. Is it possible fantasy managers underrate this offense? After all, Roethlisberger was fantasy’s No. 3 quarterback in 2018, so it is hardly a stretch for him to return to a QB1 level this season.

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Johnson is the receiver fantasy managers should not only be rostering but thinking of as a flex option, if not more, moving ahead. The second-year player from Toledo led the team with 59 receptions last season, and he has reached double-digit targets in each of the first two weeks. Johnson caught eight passes for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos, and concerns about a toe injury seem forgotten. There is little worry about Johnson and Smith-Schuster meshing. They look like one of the top wide receiving duos in the league.

Claypool is the tall, speedy rookie from Notre Dame, and he electrified while hauling in a Roethlisberger rainbow that went for an 84-yard touchdown catch and run in the second quarter. Last season, no Steelers play from scrimmage topped 80 yards. Claypool adds another dimension to the offense. His first NFL catch, against the Giants, was an acrobatic one on a third-and-nine as he tapped his toes to stay in bounds. Claypool added an eight-yard run later in the game. Defenses will have a problem containing him single coverage, as shown on the 84-yarder Sunday.

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First look at fantasy football in NFL Week 3: Steelers on the rise

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Regardless, it will be interesting to see how and if the Texans properly defend this offense, with Roethlisberger, who eclipsed 5,000 passing yards and led the league in both passing attempts and completions in his most recent full season, forcing his way into acknowledged QB1 territory with another solid effort. This offense can clearly thrive sans Antonio Brown. It features a strong running back presence, whether it is James Conner or, when he is hurt, Benny Snell Jr. Smith-Schuster is a borderline WR1 with Johnson honing on WR2 territory, and Claypool is an emerging rookie. Watch out for this offense.

Will they or won’t they?

Injuries to myriad high-profile wide receivers dominated the fantasy headlines entering Week 2, as fantasy managers needed to bench and find replacements for, among others, the New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin, Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay and Tennessee Titans’ A.J. Brown. A new and unfortunate list of injured players joined them Sunday, including New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and seemingly half the San Francisco 49ers, leaving fantasy managers wondering how to fill lineups yet again for Week 3.

Well, at least the bye weeks have yet to start, right? The pool of available players remains relatively high, for now. Predicting health situations for injured players well in advance of Week 3 seems a fool’s errand, but there is much to watch as the days go by. Lions reporters have already speculated that Golladay, out with a hamstring injury, seems likely to face the Arizona Cardinals. Godwin missed Sunday with a concussion but could face the Broncos in Week 3. Brown has a bone bruise in his knee but he could face the Minnesota Vikings. Thomas and his sprained ankle might be the most likely to miss another week.

Replacing Barkley

Meanwhile, the Giants nearly found a way to beat the Chicago Bears sans the awesome Barkley, who might have torn an ACL and if so, would miss the rest of the reason. That is tough news for fantasy managers, as Barkley was the No. 2 selection in the majority of ESPN standard drafts. There appears to be no suitable backup for fantasy purposes; though veteran Dion Lewis rushed for a touchdown Sunday, he turned his 10 carries into a mere 20 yards. Lewis is far more likely to help the offense through the air. Wayne Gallman, a surprise inactive for Week 2, figures to play a role in Week 3, but the fourth-year pro lacks speed and vision and failed to star as a rookie, necessitating the Barkley pick in the first place.

Sans Barkley, one might want to reconsider relying on second-year quarterback Daniel Jones, who lacks a running game and a running back he can count on for 75-plus catches, and continues to struggle to avoid turnovers. Lewis caught 59 passes for the 2018 Titans, but it is tough to compare him positively to other pass-catching running backs around the league such as the Bears’ Tarik Cohen, Indianapolis Colts’ Nyheim Hines and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Chris Thompson, even if he has the potential for more rushing attempts. One might want to avoid all Giants in starting lineups for a while. As for the aforementioned 49ers, they had little trouble outscoring the beleaguered New York Jets in Northern New Jersey, and fantasy managers in deeper formats might want to invest in Nick Mullens in case Jimmy Garoppolo misses significant time with a high ankle sprain. Garoppolo was playing efficient football against the Jets, but few regard him as a starter in fantasy. The same goes for Mullens, who had some moments as a rookie in 2018. The 49ers will miss Garoppolo and running back Raheem Mostert, should he miss time with sprained MCL, with Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon as reasonable replacements, but the loss of defensive end Nick Bosa is a far greater one in the big picture, and it should lower the fantasy value of the team’s defense.

Tight end party

Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee embarrassed the Philadelphia Eagles with three touchdown catches and solidified his status as a TE1, but it will be interesting to see how the others with Week 2 breakout performances at the position fare in future weeks. The Titans’ Jonnu Smith, for example, now has three touchdowns in two games entering Week 3. The Dallas Cowboys turned to Dalton Schultz, and he responded with nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Jack Doyle missed Week 2 for the Colts, but Mo Alie-Cox caught 111 yards worth of passes in his stead. Doyle last broke the 100-yard barrier in a game in 2017!

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Then there are, again, the 49ers. George Kittle missed Sunday’s win with a sprained MCL in his left knee, and perhaps the team no longer rushes him back after former Washington star Jordan Reed scored a pair of touchdowns against the Jets. Reed hardly deserves the same fantasy attention as potential starters such as Smith and Schultz, due to Kittle’s presence, but also his unfortunate history of concussions. However, if Reed can remain healthy, it will certainly aid whomever quarterbacks the 49ers, making for a potentially devastating combination when each is healthy.

Best versus the best

Finally, the Week 3 Monday night affair features the top quarterbacks from fantasy drafts. While I ranked Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes just a hair over Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson and still do, we can at least admit one could not go wrong either way and each is a must-start every week. The running back situations, however, do bear some watching. While Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire followed up his dominating debut with a cautious 70 total yards in Week 2, and nothing close to a touchdown, few are concerned with his immediate fantasy influence.

When it comes to the Ravens, however, rookie J.K. Dobbins continues to demand attention. Starter Mark Ingram II totaled 77 yards on 11 touches and scored a rushing touchdown, perhaps reasserting his role atop the depth chart, but later in the 33-16 win over the Texans, it was Dobbins breaking through with a 44-yard run. Ingram, 30, has two 40-yard runs since the start of 2018. It might not come in Week 3 or even until Thanksgiving, but Dobbins will get his chance and become a terrific fantasy running back, when volume and opportunity match skills.

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