Duke of Hazzard

Here are some of Fantasy Expert Ricky Sanders’ DFS-relevant observations from Week 3 of the 2017 NFL season:

Deshaun Watson, Texans – Either the “Bill Belichick versus rookie quarterbacks (QBs)” narrative is bogus or Deshaun Watson is not your average QB (or both). While many around the industry this week talked about how the Patriots defense would come out and shut down an offense that focuses around one receiver, Watson ended up spreading the ball around and nearly left New England with a victory. When all said and done, Watson completed 22 of 33 passes (66.6-percent completion), including a completion to eight total pass-catchers, for 301 yards, two touchdowns (TDs), two interceptions (INTs) and a 90.6 QB rating. Oh, by the way, he also rushed eight times for 41 yards to sweeten his fantasy production. Although DeAndre Hopkins was only targeted eight times, he caught seven of them, and neither of the TDs were caught by him. Essentially, Coach Bill O’Brien did an excellent job of guessing Belichick’s scheme and adjusted his game plan accordingly. The Patriots only came into Week 3 ranking 30th in passing defense according Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) statistic so Watson still has a lot to prove. However, if anyone was unsure if he could succeed without Watson doing a majority of the damage, he put that concern to bed. Moving forward, Watson is firmly in play as a QB option in all formats assuming his price tag remains cheap.

Eagles Backfield – In one of the worst ways possible, the Eagles’ backfield clarified itself a bit, as Darren Sproles left Sunday’s game with what is reportedly a broken arm. The team has already ruled him out indefinitely and his absence led to an interesting committee approach by Coach Doug Pederson. Interestingly enough, Wendell Smallwood dominated the team’s backfield snaps (43) and led the team in both rushing yards (71) and yards per carry (YPC). Nevertheless, LeGarrette Blount was only slightly edged out in terms of YPC (5.9-5.6) and he carried exactly as many times as Smallwood plus he capped his day off with a score. All week long, there had been rumblings that the team would look to get rookie Corey Clement more involved and he received the first six carries of his career and rushed for a TD. Still, Blount was not involved on third downs or passing downs, which was the reason for Smallwood’s extensive playing time. With Sproles out for an extensive period, it is now clear Blount has earned most of the short yardage work and Smallwood is the new third down/passing down back. The X-Factor is Clement who will work in sporadically and could see his workload significantly increase if he performs well. The situation is still a mess but at least there is a tiny bit of clarity.

DeMarco Murray, Titans – After not practicing on back-to-back days to begin the week, it was starting to look like this could be Derrick Henry’s backfield this Sunday. Then, DeMarco Murray returned to practice and was declared active for the team’s matchup against the Seahawks despite drawing the dreaded “questionable” tag. Beat writers reported towards the end of the week that Henry would still shoulder “a substantial amount of the workload” even if Murray were to be active…but that was not the case in actuality. To be fair, Henry was said to be dealing with a thigh injury, but Murray played 48 snaps to Henry’s 29 and out-touched him 15-14. Murray made the coaching staff especially happy when he took a carry from their own 25-yard line 75 yards to the house and he finished with 115 yards. Unfortunately, this situation is going to continue to be a committee moving forward and neither back is going anywhere any time soon. Just when fantasy owners were ready to write off Murray and declare Henry a rock-solid RB2, Murray muddied the picture again. If projecting from here on out, Murray appears to still have the upper-hand and should be considered a low-end RB2 most weeks. Of course, this is a huge drop off from beginning of the season where most were looking to him as a true RB1.

Duke Johnson Jr., Browns – Coach Hue Jackson has referred to Duke Johnson Jr. as a “weapon” multiple times when talking to the media and he is finally starting to use him as such. Through three weeks, Johnson has graded as Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top receiving back and he has also graded as the third best pass-blocker at the position. Those attributes alone will keep on the field for the Browns especially with the team missing number one wide receiver (WR) Corey Coleman. Instead of focusing on one man ascending to his role, the team looks committed to spreading the ball around and increasing Johnson’s role since he appears to be the best healthy pass-catcher remaining. DeShone Kizer is a young QB who habitually holds onto the ball too long so naturally he will be under pressure quite a bit. When he is, it is important that an inexperienced QB find their security blanket, and Johnson Jr. fits the bill in the offense. It appears this will finally be the season where Johnson Jr. outscores “starter” Isaiah Crowell in fantasy points.

Stefon Diggs, Vikings – Stefon Diggs is officially QB proof and that is huge for his ongoing value. Even with Case Keenum under center on Sunday, for the second time in three games, Diggs caught multiple TD passes and eclipsed 90 receiving yards in the process. Of Diggs’ 11 targets, three came from deeper than 20 yards downfield according to PFF and he caught two of them for 64 yards. Even with a backup QB at the helm, Diggs created enough space to draw deep targets, and that is incredibly encouraging. Regardless of who is throwing Diggs the ball, he is worthy of consideration.

Rashard Higgins, Browns – What a bummer Rashard Higgins was in Week 3. After looking like he may directly replace Coleman as the team’s top target in the passing game, Higgins hauled in just 2-6 targets for 10 yards. Once again, a majority of Higgins’ snaps came out of the slot (38 total routes) but he was only targeted on 10.3-percent of them. Prior to last week’s seven catch, 95-yard performance, Higgins was a rookie fifth-round pick coming off a disappointing preseason. Out of 32 qualified receivers, Higgins has rated 29th in WR rating over the course of the last few weeks, per PFF. In other words, maybe the expectations were out of control after one convincing game. As of Week 3, Johnson looks like the best receiver on the team and Higgins will need to develop consistency before he can be relied upon. He appears to be a nice talent but he is nothing more than a shot-in-the-dark FLEX play until he becomes a more season professional.

Ryan Griffin, Texans – Finally, a tight end (TE) near the top of the original depth chart proved to be healthy this week and Watson immediately took notice. Whereas Coach O’Brien noted earlier in the week “teams know we are targeting Hopkins,” the star WR was only targeted two more times than Ryan Griffin against the Patriots. Griffin hauled in five of those passes for 61 yards and a TD and his presence will continue to be essential to the success of the Texans offense. The team is still waiting on Will Fuller’s return, and he will help stretch the field, but Watson also needs dump-off options for when the pocket collapses. Griffin is 6’6” and excelled in limited time last year (20 receptions in just nine games) so extensive opportunity should lead to more production. Do not sleep on Griffin as a cheap, under-the-radar TE option moving forward with the chance to rack up targets and potentially end zone looks. By default, he must play this role on a team devoid of receivers.

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders is a fantasy sports expert with over 15 years of playing experience. After starting several freelance fantasy sports blogs, Ricky moved up in the fantasy industry when he joined Going9 Baseball. He wrote fantasy baseball content and had a weekly radio spot on the site’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio show. Shortly thereafter, in early 2013, Ricky joined RotoExperts as a three-sport fantasy contributor, eventually becoming one of the site’s lead basketball writers. While writing for RotoExperts, Ricky was introduced to daily fantasy sports and immediately fell in love. With help from some of his mentors, some of the best DFS players in the world, he honed his skills and became the daily fantasy expert he is today. When RotoExperts created a daily-focused website called DailyRoto.com, Ricky was brought on as one of the main contributors. He still makes frequent appearances on the RotoExperts SiriusXM Radio show and on the FNTSY Sports Television Network, talking daily fantasy sports. He also continues to write for a few DFS content sites: RotoCurve and The Fantasy Fix. Ricky is a proud and active member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He has agreed to be a writer and representative for the FantasyDraft brand and serves as an ambassador to the site. He has no more access to the site than the typical user. Don’t hesitate to contact Ricky with questions on Twitter @RSandersDFS.

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