Football -- and fantasy football -- is a distraction. I mean that in the best possible way. For many, it's a diversion from the everyday life that's been equal parts scary, depressing and frustrating for the past 18 months. Unfortunately, our real lives and our fantasy lives have continually meshed in the worst ways.
In the past seven months, the football media world has borne the loss of Chris Wesseling and Terez Paylor. NFL Media lost a treasure when Tara Deeker succumbed to cancer. Now that sadness has touched the fantasy community with the passing of Mike Tagliere.
A lot of people claim to be "your favorite fantasy analyst's favorite fantasy analyst," but it might really have been true of Tags. He was good at what he did. He was better at what he was. Tags loved his job, his friends, and his family -- and seamlessly blended all three. I knew him for a relatively short time but I'm better for it. I'll miss the fun and informative football conversations we had. More than that, I'll miss just talking about our lives over beers and food.
Rest well, friend. We'll do our best to hold down the fort for you.
We haven't talked much about Baker Mayfield this season. It makes sense. When you think of the Browns offense, your mind goes to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But Week 4 could be a showcase for the Cleveland quarterback. Picking on the Vikings defense has been de rigueur in recent seasons. That hasn't changed in 2021. Through three games, Minnesota has faced the 11th-fewest passing attempts but has somehow allowed the sixth-most passing yards. Look for a heavy dose of play-action to hold an already shaky run defense. That should open things up for Baker to feel dangerous in Week 4.
While watching Taylor Heinicke play last week, the word "plucky" came to mind. Upon further review, it felt like a polite way to call someone a "try-hard." Heinicke's 21 points in Week 3 don't tell the full story. The FT QB threw two interceptions and had a third wiped out by penalty. But he did run for 21 yards and a touchdown. Pluck wasn't good enough to keep the Football Team close to the juggernaut Bills offense last week. It might be good enough for Washington to stay with Atlanta. If you're part of the streaming crowd, Heinicke might be for you.
In Week 1, Zack Moss was a surprise inactive. In Week 2, he was an offensive afterthought. In Week 3, he was the backfield leader. The young running back's Pokevolution over these three weeks has been a sight to behold. It's also a reason to have renewed confidence in him going forward. Buffalo isn't going to suddenly transform into a ground 'n pound offense, but 15 touches per game is a nice workload. The most encouraging thing that happened to Moss last week? It was Josh Allen dumping it off to him for a short touchdown. In the past, Allen would have kept it himself. I consider that growth. Our fantasy teams thank you, Josh.
Knox's 9% target share might not sound exciting, though it's not nothing in one of the NFL's most pass-heavy offenses. It's meant four targets in two of Buffalo's first three games. That's an encouraging -- especially this week against the Houston Texans. I'm not sure if you've heard, but tight end is thin. Anyone seeing consistent targets is worth checking into.
While we're talking about tight ends, let's check in on the Steelers offense. As concern over Ben Roethlisberger's state of washedness rises, it feels like every pass-catcher in Pittsburgh is now a glorified tight end. Pat Freiermuth is actually listed on the roster as such and is carving out a modest role in the offense. I know, I know … rookie tight ends and all of that. Alas, nine targets in two games are noteworthy -- especially with injuries to the wide receivers. Meanwhile, the Packers have had a tough time against tight ends. So, there's that.
The Patriots offense isn't wowing anyone this year. That isn't a surprise, considering how thin their receiving corps was entering the season. The good news is that through three weeks, we have a better idea of who is in which offensive role. The part of WR1 is now being played by Jakobi Meyers. He's opened a significant lead in targets and receptions over the rest of his teammates and is building a rapport with Mac Jones. This week, Meyers goes against a Bucs defense that has allowed 96 or more yards to four different receivers. Of course, three of those four are currently top 20 fantasy receivers. That might be a lofty bar for Meyers to reach this week, but in an anticipated negative game script for New England, targets could be plentiful.
The third week was the charm for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. After many missed connections between MVS and Aaron Rodgers in the first two weeks, the Packer pitch-and-catch pair finally linked up last Sunday against the 49ers. Most of Green Bay's passing work will still be funneled to Davante Adams, but maybe there's a second receiver worth paying attention to. Valdes-Scantling will have greater appeal in DFS formats, though managers in deeper seasonal formats could take a swing. The Steelers secondary has run into some of the NFL's top passing games early in the season and looked the worse for wear. This week won't be any easier.
When Sam Darnold was quarterbacking the Jets, slot receivers were the order of the day. Now that Zach Wilson is running the offense, well … not much has changed. Nearly 30% of Wilson's attempts have gone to the slot. It's also where four of his seven interceptions have happened, but we won't focus on that. It's a big reason why Braxton Berrios is the Jets' top receiver. Berrios' appeal comes from his volume of targets, since the Jets aren't in the big play business right now. The Titans secondary, however, has been generous this year. Could this be the week that Gang Green strikes gold?
The previous paragraph notwithstanding, the Titans DST has some appeal in Week 4. The first few weeks of the season have shown that streaming defenses against rookie quarterbacks is a sound fantasy business model. Streaming against Wilson and his league-leading seven picks has been especially lucrative. The Jets have, on average, given up four more points per game to fantasy defenses than the next closest team. (Hi, Falcons!)
Since we're picking on rookie quarterbacks, the Bengals DST looks like a tasty option against Trevor Lawrence and the struggling Jaguars offense. You know those seven interceptions I mentioned for Wilson? Well, Lawrence has matched them. He's also playing behind an offensive line that isn't doing him any favors so far. Cincinnati made life miserable for Roethlisberger and the Steelers last week. It should do the same, and more, to Jacksonville on Thursday.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is trying to come up with a clever send-off for this week's column. Send him your swaggy outros or fantasy football questions onTwitter@MarcasGor TikTok atmarcasgrant.