The fantasy community has witnessed a barrage of injuries and dismissed players to start the year. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have been lost for the season, while Drew Brees is out until November. It takes good team management, research and some luck to replace quality players throughout the season. There are solid players to target every week based on their matchups and opportunity, and those players are listed below, including Randall Cobb and Greg Olsen.
Randall Cobb, Greg Olsen Highlight Fantasy Football Must-Starts in Week Three
Matthew Stafford at Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles secondary and Detroit Lions quarterback, Matthew Stafford, both suffered injury-plagued seasons in 2018. This season, Stafford appears to be fully healthy and his play has reflected that. Stafford has seen his passing yards, yards per attempt, and his TD/Attempt ratio, increase after suffering from career-lows last season. The Eagles secondary, meanwhile, has not seen much improvement from the final quarter of 2018 to now. This season, Philadelphia is allowing 340 passing yards and three passing touchdowns per game, while combating 87 pass attempts through two games.
Two weeks into the young season, Stafford is averaging 26.4 fantasy points per game, ranking him sixth through two games. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is allowing 29.2 fantasy points after facing Case Keenum and an erratic Matt Ryan. One reason why the Eagles have been tortured by opposing passing games is their ability to stop the running game. So far, Philadelphia is facing nearly 30 more pass plays per game than rush attempts as they are allowing less than three yards per carry. Teams have passed the ball a whopping 73 percent of the time and the Eagles failure to record sacks (2.3-percent sack rate) and defend the pass (7.6 net yards per attempt), has made them susceptible to big performances.
Detroit, who attempts a pass on 57 percent of their plays, may be forced to throw the ball more than hoped. If that is the case, Stafford should take advantage of a secondary that allows averages that are consistent with Stafford’s above-average start to the 2019 season. Fantasy players should expect a competitive game that places Stafford in the top-10 scorers among quarterbacks this week.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs Pittsburgh Steelers
The last time Pittsburgh played on the west coast was in a must-win game against the Oakland Raiders in 2018. That day, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a Raiders 24-21 victory. This Sunday, Pittsburgh travels to San Fransisco to take on the undefeated 49ers.
Coming off arguably the best game of his career, Jimmy Garoppolo torched the Cincinnati Bengals for nearly 300 passing yards on 11.8 yards per attempt and three touchdowns. During the week, Pittsburgh added former Miami Dolphins defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and they will need him. So far in 2019, the Pittsburgh defense has coughed up 640 passing yards and six touchdowns on nearly nine yards per attempt. The Steelers have also failed to record an interception while allowing a touchdown pass on over eight percent of quarterback passes this season.
Kyle Shanahan and company have taken advantage of their opportunities by averaging 36 points and 414 yards per game while never committing a three-and-out on offense. The 49ers, thus far in 2019, are scoring on 50-percent of their drives. The Steelers, on the other hand, have allowed scores on 50 percent of their opponent’s drives – third-worst in the NFL. The Steelers, now without Ben Roethlisberger for the season, are in jeopardy of watching Garoppolo and the 49ers offense do damage this week. Garoppolo is a safe top-14 play for those who may have lost Roethlisberger or Drew Brees last week.
Frank Gore vs Cincinnati Bengals
It is hard to determine the better news for Frank Gore heading into Week Three: No Devin Singletary or the Bengals rushing defense. For fantasy purposes, we’ll say both are great news. The age-less Gore has been less than effective rushing the ball (2.9 yards per carry), but he’s remained fantasy relevant. This week, the Buffalo Bills host the Bengals who recently surrendered 259 rushing yards to the 49ers. With little competition from his own backfield and across from him Sunday, Gore should be in for a strong performance.
Through two weeks, the Bills have run the ball 45 percent of the time which ranks 11th-highest in the league. Behind their new-look offensive line, Buffalo averages over five yards per carry by their running backs. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Buffalo also ranks third in Adjusted Line Yards which assigns values to the offensive line’s play-by-play performances. The benefactor of their improved line play will be Gore, who has accounted for 50 percent of the team’s rush attempts and 68 percent of all running back touches. Gore has an assumed workload that gives him potential as a fill-in this week, but what makes him a capable starter is his opponent.
This season, the Bengals are allowing 41.9 fantasy points to opposing running backs – 17.4 more points than the next team. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Cincinnati is surrendering 5.4 yards per carry to running backs and ranks dead last in runs going 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Since the beginning of 2018, the Bengals have allowed 18 rushing touchdowns within the seven-yard line. During that same time, 11 of the Bills last 14 touchdowns within the seven-yard line have been rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, 10 of Gore’s last 14 touchdowns have come within the opponent’s seven-yard line. Gore is a low-end RB2 heading into Week Three.
Kenyan Drake at Dallas Cowboys
The bad news about the Miami Dolphins is that they are not good. The good news about the Dolphins, for Kenyan Drake, is they are not good and are playing the Dallas Cowboys. With a 23-point spread heading into the game, it is easy to expect this to be a lopsided game. Luckily for Drake, the Cowboys are one of the most generous teams when facing receiving running backs.
Through two games, Dallas has allowed 16 receptions on 21 targets to running backs, good for the third and second most, respectively. With only two carries last week, Chris Thompson surpassed 10 fantasy points on dump-off passes and designed screens. Similarly, in 2018, Dallas surrendered the fifth-most receptions to running backs with 110. With Drake’s running mate Kalen Ballage obvious inexperience in the passing game, Drake should see more work if or when the Dolphins begin to heavily trail.
The two running backs, Ballage and Drake, have accounted for 21 percent of the team’s targets. In 2018, Josh Rosen targeted running backs on 18-percent of his attempts, as well. Unfortunately, the Dolphins quarterbacks have only completed 46.5-percent of their attempts this season. With an offensive coordinator that stems from the New England Patriots coaching tree, we could see Drake be utilized in the flat against a Cowboys defense that encourages such passes. Temper your expectations for Drake, but a 10-12 point outing seems plausible for team owners facing emergency RB situations.
D.K. Metcalf vs New Orleans Saints
Here’s a list of receivers with a target share of at least 23 percent and average over 21 yards per reception: D.K. Metcalf. That’s the list. Granted the Seattle Seahawks are not a pass-heavy bunch, but Metcalf has emerged as the clear number two receiver on an offense led by Russell Wilson. This week, Metcalf and Seattle host a disappointed New Orleans Saints team that is without Drew Brees due to injury for the first time since Week Three of the 2015 season.
Metcalf has been fantasy relevant after his first two games, averaging 14 fantasy points per game. This week, he draws a defense allowing 46.2 fantasy points per game to wide receivers. The Saints passing defense has been reeling, allowing 12.3 yards per target and a touchdown on 16.7 percent of receiver receptions. This opens a spot for Metcalf to heavily contribute, as he averages 11.5 yards per target and a touchdown on 14.3 percent of receptions. If Wilson hits his season average of 27.5 pass attempts, Metcalf should receive his average seven targets with teammate Tyler Lockett drawing a majority of the defenses attention, and possibly Marshon Lattimore. Metcalf is a solid FLEX play with WR2-upside this week in fantasy.
Randall Cobb vs Miami Dolphins
In his first two games with the Cowboys, Randall Cobb has as many games of 8.5 or more fantasy points as he did last season. This week against Miami, teammates Michael Gallup and Tavon Austin are listed out, leaving Dallas with only four active receivers. With Gallup out, 15 targets have been vacated for Cobb to add to his own 5.5 targets per game. Additionally, star safety Reshad Jones and his safety counterpart, Bobby McCain, are listed as out and questionable for Sunday’s game.
It is no question that Miami has struggled to stop the passing game of its opponents this year. Despite only facing passing plays on 39.1 percent of their opponents plays, the Dolphins are surrendering 37.9 fantasy points per game to opposing receivers. With an increase in target share for Cobb, the lacking secondary could open opportunities for a strong performance. Barring a complete blowout, Cobb will be a FLEX option and possible low-end WR2 in deeper leagues.
Greg Olsen at Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals have been abused by tight ends to start the 2019 campaign. Through two games, the Cardinals are giving up an average of seven receptions on nine targets for 122 yards, and a touchdown for 25.7 fantasy points per game. Carolina Panthers tight end, Greg Olsen, is coming off a six-catch, 110-yard performance last Thursday night. Olsen is a sure-fire play except for quarterback Cam Newton being out due to a lingering foot injury.
Luckily, and unfortunately, it would be difficult for backup quarterback Kyle Allen to be less efficient than Newton has been. This season, Newton is averaging career lows in yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt and has yet to throw a touchdown in 89 attempts. Newton has also led the league in uncatchable target percentage, making him one of the least effective quarterbacks thus far. In Allen’s first and only start in 2018, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, including a touchdown to Panthers tight end Ian Thomas. With Olsen out for that game, Allen targeted Thomas six times for four catches, 30 yards, and 13 fantasy points. Fantasy players should start Olsen with confidence as he has the opportunity to finish as a top-five tight end this week.