If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the 2021 NFL season thus far, it’s that two weeks probably isn’t enough to make complete judgments about players coming into new situations. Take Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, for example: he recorded his second 300-yard passing game with Carolina Thursday night against Houston – something he accomplished just four times with the Jets in 38 career games. While I, along with many others, thought he’d be somewhat better after escaping the purgatory that is an Adam Gase offence, we’re seeing a truly impressive glow-up for Darnold.
Let’s take some inspiration from the Panthers QB as we look ahead to this weekend. Just as Darnold plunged into the end zone (twice!) on Thursday to open up the Week 3 action, so too can we plunge ourselves into some bold choices for our starts and sits.
Our weekly picks have been made with 0.5 PPR leagues in mind, with standard rosters of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, and one RB/WR/TE FLEX spot.
QB Start: Daniel Jones, Giants (vs. Falcons)
This may not be an inspiring choice based on Jones’ overall body of work, but so far this season he has been a pretty reliable source of fantasy points, grabbing 21.38 in Week 1 and 29.46 in Week 2. His production has been largely buoyed by his success on the ground, rushing for 95 yards and a score last week. Is that sustainable, especially with Saquon Barkley on the team? Probably not. But considering his willingness to take off – and the favourable matchup against the lowly Falcons defence that awaits him – he’s worth a start.
QB Start: Justin Herbert, Chargers (@ Chiefs)
It hasn’t been the prettiest start to the season for Herbert. He’s adjusting to both a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator, and it’s shown in the fantasy returns – he’s scored less than 15 points in each of the first two weeks. The upside is that the sheer volume of his passing attempts (40-plus passes in both starts so far) is usually enough to keep him in the fantasy conversation. Against a decent (but not great) Chiefs defence, it certainly seems as though the Chargers will need him to throw some more if they want a chance at winning this game.
Another starter to consider: Jalen Hurts, Eagles (@ Cowboys)
QB Sit: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs. Bengals)
This may be an easy call, but even against the porous Bengals defence, there must be better starts than Big Ben at this stage of his career. In addition to the waning arm strength, the Steelers have a reshuffled offensive line that is still adjusting on the fly, one of his top targets (Diontae Johnson) is injured with a questionable status for Sunday, and he himself has been dealing with a pectoral strain this week. Even if he does play, there are probably better options on your bench or on the waiver wire.
QB Sit: Taylor Heinicke, Washington (@ Bills)
Some might be tempted to start Heinicke after the 20-plus point showing against the Giants last week. He did show a terrific connection with top wideout Terry McLaurin, and has given some added juice to J.D. McKissic’s fantasy prospects as well, but a road matchup with the Bills is a different story. Sure, Buffalo has looked like it’s stuck in second gear so far this season, but if Josh Allen & Co. push this game into a higher tempo, I have my doubts that Heinicke can keep up in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL.
WR Start: Mike Williams, Chargers (@ Chiefs)
The early returns on Joe Lombardi’s offensive playbook are pretty promising for Williams, who caught eight of 12 targets in Week 1 and seven of 10 in Week 2. Lombardi used to be the Saints’ QB coach and has borrowed pretty heavily from Sean Payton’s scheme (if you want to make the comparison, Williams is now filling the Michael Thomas role). Sure, they’re not the same kind of player, but with the passing volume of Herbert, Williams will be on his way to another fantasy-relevant game against the Chiefs.
WR Start: Sterling Shepard, Giants (vs. Falcons)
In the crowded wide receiver room in New York, the guy who has managed to stand out is a relatively familiar face. Shepard has emerged as Daniel Jones’ most reliable target over guys like Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, and Kadarius Toney. He has 19 targets through two games, and now has an appointment with the Falcons’ secondary. Start him with confidence.
Another starter to consider: Tyler Boyd, Bengals (@ Steelers)
WR Sit: Odell Beckham Jr., Browns (vs. Bears)
Even if Beckham is active against the Bears on Sunday, the Browns’ passing offence is not consistent enough to feel good about starting any one pass catcher. Even without Landry, it seems the option on first, second, and third down will be to run the ball. Let’s see how OBJ’s health is through a few games before we insert him into our lineups.
WR Sit: Will Fuller V, Dolphins (@ Raiders)
After serving his suspension in Week 1, Fuller didn’t play in Week 2 due to a personal matter. While his presence on the field for Week 3 does give the Dolphins’ offence some more weapons, having backup Jacoby Brissett at QB this week means there might be fewer passes to go around than normal. As long as Tua Tagovailoa is out, the Dolphins’ receiving corps as a whole takes a hit.
RB Start: Ty’Son Williams, Ravens (@ Lions)
It’s definitely tough to trust pretty much any single Ravens running back on any given week, if only because the most productive runner in this offence is Lamar Jackson. However, Williams has looked pretty great in the backfield, averaging an astonishing 6.5 yards per carry, and logged four more carries than Latavius Murray. The goal-line offence may flow to others right now, which is a definite knock against him, but against a Lions defence that gives up the most fantasy points to running backs, there’s room for all at this dinner table.
RB Start: David Montgomery, Bears (@ Browns)
It’s always tough to gauge a player when there’s a QB change. Justin Fields is going to make his first career start in place of the injured Andy Dalton, and if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that the running game can be a rookie QB’s best friend. While Montgomery may be an RB2 against a pretty tough Browns front seven, he has received a steady diet of carries and targets (40 touches combined over the first two weeks), which will always lend him fantasy value.
Another starter to consider: Myles Gaskin, Dolphins (@ Raiders)
RB Sit: Kareem Hunt, Browns (vs. Bears)
On the flip side of this matchup, some may be convinced that Hunt is on his way to eke out a larger chunk of the valuable Browns running offence after he led the team in carries in Week 2. With Jarvis Landry sidelined with injury and Baker Mayfield dealing with a sore shoulder, it’s possible Hunt gets more looks, but even with the additional carries Nick Chubb was still able to significantly outpace him. Against a stout Bears rush defence, it’s probably better to look elsewhere, as Hunt is nothing more than a flex play this week at best.
RB Sit: Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers (@ Rams)
Generally speaking, Fournette will probably be more than serviceable this year going forward, but overall his ceiling is always going to be capped by his teammates – Ronald Jones Jr. on the ground, and the plethora of pass-catchers through the air. Against a Rams defence on L.A.’s home turf, there’s a high possibility that it’s the Tom Brady show. If you’re starting Fournette, you’re hoping the offence stalls out around the goal line and he punches one in, which is too wild a dart throw for me. Let’s wait for a better matchup on the ground.
TE Start: Dallas Goedert, Eagles (@ Cowboys)
Looking back to Week 2, it simply wasn’t a great matchup for any Eagles pass-catcher, as Jalen Hurts only had 12 completions on the day. Still, Goedert is facing a Cowboys defence that has ceded plenty of work to both Rob Gronkowski and Jared Cook over the past few weeks. Keep an eye on Zach Ertz’ status – he was added to the Reserve/COVID List this past week, so if he doesn’t play it boosts Goedert’s stock even more. If he does, there’s still room for them both to eat.
TE Start: Jared Cook, Chargers (@ Chiefs)
At this point, Cook is only on this list because last week’s contest ended with a late touchdown grab of his being negated due to penalty, on a drive in which the Chargers ended up settling for a field goal. Cook is only behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in terms of pass-catchers, and that’s not a bad place to be. We’ve now seen the other tight ends on the roster do next to nothing most plays, so it’s safe to say that Cook needs to be owned in all leagues, and started in all but the most daunting matchups.
Another starter to consider: Noah Fant, Broncos (vs. Jets)
TE Sit: Mike Gesicki, Dolphins (@ Raiders)
No Tua Tagovailoa means a shaken-not-stirred offence for the Dolphins this week, which basically makes every receiver a little less safe to start. Gesicki only has three catches on the season, and much like Will Fuller, we need to wait and see before starting Gesicki even at a thin position such as tight end.
TE Sit: Jonnu Smith/Hunter Henry, Patriots (vs. Saints)
The simple read on the offence in New England right now is that while Mac Jones is still figuring things out early in his career, the way to get points on the board is through the running game. That means Damien Harris and James White are the guys to own, but it also means both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are being used as blockers. They simply don’t see enough of the target share right now to be viable. Maybe the playbook opens up for Jones – and thus Smith and Henry – later in the season, but for now there are likely better of staying on your bench.