The Fantasy 32 analyzes the NFL from a fantasy perspective, with at least one mention of each of the league's 32 teams. Though efficiency will be discussed plenty, the column will lean heavily on usage data, as volume is king (by far) in fantasy football. Use these tidbits to make the best waiver-wire, trade and lineup decisions for the upcoming week and beyond. Be sure to check back each week of the season for a new version of the Fantasy 32.
Note that data from Monday Night Football may not be reflected in charts in the article until Tuesday afternoon.
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The Niners' emerging superstar tore his ACL and is out for the season. This means the team will turn back to C.J. Beathard. The 49ers' offense scored eight touchdowns during Beathard's five starts last season. The 2017 third-round pick targeted a running back (including fullback Kyle Juszczyk) on an astounding 35 percent of his aimed throws, with another 18 percent distributed to tight ends. Carlos Hyde handled 48 targets (22 percent share) during that span and saw a drastic dip in the department when Garoppolo took over. This suggests Matt Breida, Alfred Morris and Juszczyk could benefit some in the target department from this move. Overall, the team's skill-position players need to be downgraded significantly. Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon are WR3/flex material, at best, George Kittle is a fringe TE1, and Breida and Morris are flex options.
Giants TE Evan Engram suffered a knee injury and reportedly could miss at least a month of action. Rhett Ellison was the next man up on Sunday, running 23 of a possible 33 routes and handling three targets. Ellison doesn't have nearly the receiving ability of Engram and is no more than a shaky TE2. Sterling Shepard seemed to benefit most from Engram's early injury, racking up six catches for 80 yards and a score on seven targets. Shepard has now seen seven or more targets in 18 of 30 career games, including four of his past five. He's a viable WR3 in PPR, especially with Engram sidelined.
Rams CBs Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib: This may not seem to be a "fantasy" entry, but these injuries could have significant implications for opposing wide receivers, especially with the Vikings on tap this Thursday. Both players left Sunday's game with ankle injuries. Sam Shields and Troy Hill are the next men up at the position, with Nickell Robey-Coleman hanging in the slot. Shields and Hill very well could prove solid (Shields was once the Packers' No. 1 corner), but the duo is obviously a major downgrade from stars Peters and Talib. Monitor this throughout the week, but Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen stand to benefit on Thursday night.
Throughout this piece, I'll be referencing "OFP" and "OTD." OFP stands for opportunity-adjusted fantasy points. Imagine a league in which players are created equal. OFP is a statistic that weighs every pass/carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player's opportunity to score fantasy points, or his "expected" fantasy point total. For example, if a player has an OFP of 14.5, it means that a league-average player who saw the same workload in the same area of the field would have scored 14.5 fantasy points. OTD works the same way, except instead of fantasy points, it's touchdowns.
That said, here is the Week 3 OFP leaderboard:
*Complete positional leaderboards will be posted at ESPN+ this week
Saints RB Alvin Kamara has finished as a top-three fantasy back all three weeks and currently paces the position in fantasy points. Unlike last season, Kamara's dominance is fueled by heavy volume -- not earth-shattering efficiency. Kamara is averaging 3.8 yards per carry (down from 6.1 last season), 7.6 yards per target (down from 8.4) and one touchdown for every 22.3 touches ("down" from 15.5). On the other hand, Kamara tops the NFL in both OFP (99 expected points) and OTD (5.0 expected touchdowns). Considering he's at 95 actual fantasy points and three scores, Kamara is actually underperforming his expected numbers. Kamara is a good bet to sustain enough volume to allow strong RB1 numbers, though Mark Ingram II figures to eat into it a bit when he returns from suspension in Week 5.
Bills QB Josh Allen ranked 17th overall and sixth at quarterback with a 21 OFP in Week 3. He easily exceeded that mark with a career-high 28 fantasy points and now has to be taken even more seriously as a potential fantasy option. Last week, in this column, I compared Allen's game to DeShone Kizer circa 2017, and that continued into Week 3. He's throwing deep and rushing with the ball a ton. The difference between the two young passers is that Allen has been more efficient with the high-value usage (at least after a strong Week 3). Allen is in the QB2 mix against Green Bay and should be rostered in 16-team and two-QB leagues.
With three weeks in the books, Texans QB Deshaun Watson leads all quarterbacks with an OFP of 72. Only Kamara has a higher OFP across all positions. Watson has underperformed expectations (59 points), but the opportunity suggests he's headed for better days. Watson has finished each of the past two weeks as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Incredibly, Houston is the only team yet to run a single offensive play with the lead this season.
Rams WR Robert Woods has picked up where he left off last season as Jared Goff's favorite target. Woods sports a massive 29 percent target share, and he sits seventh at wide receiver with a 57 OFP (55 actual points). Woods' production is legit, and he's a viable weekly WR2. Teammates Brandin Cooks (18th at WR in OFP) and Cooper Kupp (28th) should also be in lineups every week.
The Browns have made the obvious decision to promote Baker Mayfield into starting duties. Mayfield was terrific in his NFL debut in Week 3, completing 17 of 23 attempts for 202 yards, with only one throw registering as "off target." Mayfield's promotion is good news for the team's offensive skill players, who were mostly held in check for two and a half games. Jarvis Landry was Mayfield's target on nine (or 41 percent) of his 22 aimed throws and remains a strong WR2 play. Antonio Callaway is a must-add on waivers after running a route on all 41 of the team's pass plays and handling 10 targets against the Jets. David Njoku and Duke Johnson Jr. have been busts thus far, but more production is likely with Mayfield under center. Both should, at least, remain on rosters. Mayfield, by the way, is best viewed as a QB2 with upside until we see him produce over a larger sample.
Dolphins WR/KR Jakeem Grant has registered only 10 offensive touches in three games but sits 36th at the position in fantasy points, thanks to three touchdowns (two catches, one return). Before you run to the waiver wire to scoop him up, consider that his production is extremely unsustainable. Grant played only seven offensive snaps in Week 3, which trailed or tied Kenny Stills (37), DeVante Parker (29), Danny Amendola (26) and Albert Wilson (seven). Unless Grant works his way into a larger role, he won't be leading the team in targets (he has 15) for long.
The Cowboys' season is off to a rough start, but it hasn't stopped Ezekiel Elliott from leading the NFL in rushing through three weeks. In fact, Elliott is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and is on pace for 1,461 rushing yards, which would've led the league by 134 yards last season. Elliott's receiving inefficiencies (11 catches for 37 yards on 17 targets) and a lack of goal-line work (two carries inside the opponent's 10-yard line) have limited him to the eighth-most fantasy points at the position. This isn't perfect circumstances, but Elliott's heavy volume should continue to allow solid RB1 numbers, and there's room for even more.
What's in the box?
The number of in-box defenders has a gigantic influence on a running back's ability to generate yardage.
Through Week 3, these are the backs who have seen the highest average of in-box defenders (minimum 20 carries):
Especially with Broncos undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay stealing the show early on, Royce Freeman's rookie season is off to an uninspiring start. Stacked boxes are a big reason for that. Freeman's "expected" yards per carry sits at 3.6, thanks to facing an average of 7.4 in-box defenders. Freeman has been 0.6 above that expected, which is the seventh-best mark at the position. The 49ers' Breida leads the category at +4.4 (8.7 YPC, 4.2 expected YPC). Freeman is a fringe flex option during bye weeks, assuming Lindsay sustains a large role.
Speaking of rookies, Sony Michel's NFL career is off to a slow start, but it hasn't helped that he's seen eight-plus men in the box on 42 percent of his 24 carries (seven-plus on 71 percent). The Patriots are straight-up tipping plays when Michel is on the field, calling run 71 percent of the time. New England has been in shotgun on only 16 percent of runs by non-quarterbacks (sixth lowest). Michel's role as lead back in this offense oozes with upside, but he may not bloom until the return of Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon helps open up the offense.
These are the backs who have seen the fewest in-box defenders:
Granted it's only 20 carries, but Rashaad Penny's slow start is a concern. The 2017 FBS leading rusher has seen most of his carries come between the tackles (75 percent) on first down (70 percent) against light boxes, but he's struggled to find yardage, including after contact. Penny was limited to 10 snaps (Chris Carson played 49) in Week 3, and the rookie has settled in as a backup for now. He's only a handcuff and isn't a must-hold.
Though Kerryon Johnson, Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey have benefited from light boxes, the trio has also run the ball very well. Ekeler trails only the aforementioned Breida with a YPC 3.7 above his expected mark of 4.4. Johnson (+1.3) and McCaffrey (+1.6) have run the ball extremely well, and the former is on the verge of taking full control of the Lions' backfield, while the latter is a weekly top-five fantasy back.
Bears WR Taylor Gabriel has been targeted 22 times in three games, but that has allowed him only 15 catches for 89 yards and no touchdowns. The efficiency (26 fantasy points ranks 57th at the position) is atrocious, but the opportunity (41 OFP ranks 24th) is good. Rookie WR Anthony Miller is expected to miss significant time with a shoulder injury, which should help cement Gabriel's large role. He's an under-the-radar target who could provide flex numbers down the stretch.
Bengals WR Tyler Boyd was on the field for 38 of the Bengals' 47 pass plays and handled seven more targets in Week 3. It's safe to say the Bengals' primary slot receiver is blooming in his third season and has earned his way into the weekly WR3 discussion. Granted, Boyd's current level of production (52 fantasy points) is unsustainable (32 OFP), but said OFP still ranks 34th at the position. Boyd has two touchdowns, but they came on his only two targets while within 11 yards of the end zone. He'll need more work near the goal line in order to manage top-20 production going forward.
The Jaguars' offense struggled to six points and failed to score a touchdown during a Week 3 loss to Tennessee. On the bright side, Keelan Cole further cemented himself as the team's top wide receiver by running 35 of 37 possible routes and hitting a season high with nine targets. Cole sits 42nd at wide receiver in OFP (29), but he's the top target in an offense that -- believe it or not -- is the league's game-script-adjusted pass-heaviest unit (13 percentage points above expected). Cole is in the WR3/flex mix.
Raiders WR Jordy Nelson exploded for 173 yards and a score on six catches (eight targets) in Week 3. That's after the ex-Packer totaled five catches, 53 yards and no touchdowns on eight targets during Weeks 1-2. Nelson now trails "No. 1" receiver Amari Cooper by two snaps, three pass routes and one target on the season. Nelson's 15 percent target share isn't going to cut it, but if his big Week 3 leads to a mark closer to 20 percent, he'll certainly join the flex conversation. He'll be hard to trust in the meantime, however, especially considering that his 26 OFP is well below his 40 fantasy points and ranks 49th at the position.
Packers RB Aaron Jones made his 2018 debut on Sunday. The second-year back was effective as usual (42 yards on six carries) but was limited to six carries and one target on 16 snaps. Jamaal Williams (28 snaps, five carries, two targets) and Ty Montgomery (19 snaps, four carries, seven targets) sustained significant roles. None of the three backs are reliable weekly starters and should be viewed as no more than bye-week flex dart-throws. Jones sports the most upside.
Should you be panicking if currently invested in Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt? A little bit. Hunt found pay dirt twice on Sunday, but sits 18th at the position in OFP (-2 FORP) and has been targeted only three times. Hunt is handling most of the Chiefs' carries (68 percent), but an Andy Reid offense hasn't ranked top-20 in running back looks (carries plus targets) since 2013. Hunt is a fringe RB1, at best, until his targets pick up.
Should Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald be on benches? I don't think so, especially with the team expected to turn to rookie QB Josh Rosen. Fitzgerald is battling an injury, but he was still on the field for 27 of the team's 30 pass plays in Week 3. Arizona is averaging an insanely low 47 offensive snaps per game, which is hard for even an incompetent offense to sustain. Fitzgerald remains a featured target in an offense that figures to get a boost at quarterback, so he's still a viable WR3 against Seattle this week.
Should Falcons WR Calvin Ridley be locked into lineups after a three-touchdown explosion in Week 3? Not quite. Ridley had an A-plus matchup with P.J. Williams/Ken Crawley on Sunday and took advantage in a big way. The rookie was still third in line at the position in routes (26), however, trailing both Julio Jones (34) and Mohamed Sanu (32). Ridley is in the flex conversation in leagues that start three wide receivers (especially with two teams on a bye), but life will be a bit tougher against William Jackson III and the Bengals in Week 4.
Can Jets WR Robby Anderson be dropped? Yes. Anderson was outstanding in 2017 and, to be frank, it's ridiculous that New York is not generating ways to get the ball in his hands, but the fact is that Anderson isn't close to fantasy relevance right now. He actually ran fewer routes than Terrelle Pryor in Week 3 and has been targeted only 11 times this season. It's worth noting that Anderson didn't really bloom until midseason in 2017, but he was much more involved than this early on. There are worse players to keep on the end of your bench, but Anderson is not a must-hold.
Can Redskins WR Josh Doctson be dropped? Yes. Doctson paces Washington's offensive skill-position players in snaps (175) and pass routes (95), but somehow ranks fifth in targets (11). QB Alex Smith has funneled throws to his running backs (28 targets) and tight ends (24), saving only 36 for the wide receiver trio of Doctson, Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder. The trio ranks 81st, 70th and 60th, respectively, in OFP at wide receiver. None can be started in fantasy right now.
Is Buccaneers RB Peyton Barber a viable flex? Not quite. Barber racked up 35 carries during Weeks 1-2, but was held to 91 yards (2.6 YPC) and added only one reception. With Tampa Bay playing from behind on Monday Night Football, he was limited to eight carries for 33 yards and no catches. Barber is super-dependent on heavy carry volume and touchdowns (the latter of which has eluded him thus far) and is a zero in the passing game. He shouldn't be in lineups but is worth a bench spot, considering he's the lead back in a good offense.