And just like that, the first three weeks of the season are gone. While there's still plenty of time to go until the fantasy playoffs begin, we've seen (and hopefully learned) enough to form some general opinions of the guys on our roster. At this point in the season, the general state of our union is ... panic. If you've got one of the top three quarterbacks or Cooper Kupp, you're enjoying life. Just about everyone else has left something to be desired.
Of course, not all slumps are created equal. Austin Ekeler isn't giving fantasy managers what they hoped for, but few are ready to pull the chute on their first-round pick. Meanwhile, D.J. Moore is trying out his ghost costume a few weeks ahead of Halloween. That's truly scary.
If your players are falling into the latter category of "struggle," then welcome to the Week 4 sleepers column. You've reached a moment where you're not sure if the guys you're counting on can produce based on matchups that suddenly seem more challenging than you anticipated. Hopefully one of the guys on the list can give your roster the kick-start it needs. And maybe send a message to the guys you actually want to start. Y'know, if fantasy actually worked like real football.
Maybe Russell Wilson was the one holding the Seahawks offense back the past couple of years. Before you fire off that angry tweet, just know that I’m joking. But as Michael F. Florio points out, this year’s Seahawks offense is more of an aerial attack than in past years, which is a plot twist that no one saw coming. And Geno wasn’t bad -- last week, at least.
That’s enough to give us hope for Week 4. Pete Carroll said his offense would be more up-tempo heading into Week 3 and his team made good on that promise. Smith threw the ball a career-high 44 times for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This week, the supercharged Seahawks line up against a Lions defense that has faced three quarterbacks and allowed three top-10 fantasy finishes. That might be a lofty bar for Smith to reach this week, but his outlook as a streamer is very positive.
I don’t know if Colts fans are regretting losing Carson Wentz in favor of Ryan, but the early returns suggest that maybe the former wasn’t the total reason for Indy’s late-season collapse last year. But that’s not important for our current fantasy dilemma. What is important is that Ryan would need an upgrade just to reach “meh." Entering Week 4, he’s the QB29 overall, fewer than four points ahead of Cooper Rush and with twice as many turnovers (six) as touchdown passes (three).
The silver lining is that this week the Colts take on a Titans defense that hasn’t been particularly stout versus quarterbacks. Over the past two weeks, Josh Allen and Derek Carr have combined for 620 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Carr’s numbers are even more remarkable when you consider how little Davante Adams was involved. Ryan might not be able to touch 300 yards unless Indy’s passing game can expand beyond Michael Pittman, Jr. But it doesn’t mean that Matty Ice can go hunting for his first 20-point fantasy week in a Colts uniform.
Things are changing a little bit with the Jets offense. The team is expecting to have Zach Wilson back starting at quarterback in Week 4 against the Steelers. The initial response has been to worry about what it means for the Jets running backs. Will Wilson be more of a downfield passer than Joe Flacco has been the first three weeks of the season? Judging from last year’s stats, the answer could turn out to be “no." In 2021, Wilson threw deep just 10.4% of the time, which was middle-of-the-pack. Meanwhile, he threw to running backs on more than 16 percent of his attempts. That landed him just outside of the top 10. When you realize that Michael Carter and Ty Johnson combined for 110 targets last season, it tracks.
So maybe Hall’s target share doesn’t fall off a cliff with Wilson back under center. Even if it somehow does, the Steelers haven’t stood up to the run very well this year. Teams are running it often against Pittsburgh. They’ve faced 103 rushing attempts so far -- only the Texans have seen more. And they’re allowing more than four yards per carry. With the Steelers displaying an anemic offense this season, the game script could allow the Jets to maintain some kind of running game and keep Hall viable for four quarters.
Singletary has been an enigma this season. In three games, his snap percentage has been all over the place. He played nearly 60 percent in Week 1, 55 percent in Week 2 and a whopping 74 percent in Week 3. His number of opportunities has been equally inconsistent, ranging anywhere from eight to 20. That sort of volatility in a backfield with multiple rushers made it hard to trust putting Singletary in the starting lineup. So why am I touting him this week? It’s the matchup -- but maybe not in the way you’d think.
After imposing their will on opponents in the first two weeks, the Bills were in a true battle with the Dolphins in Week 3. Aside from one big Zack Moss run, the ground game never got started. That forced Allen to the air with Singletary seeing 11 targets. This week’s opponent, the Ravens, have been picked apart through the air and have had their struggles with pass-catching running backs. The Jets rushers combined for 13 catches in Week 1 while the Dolphins and Patriots backs each snagged eight receptions. In a game that should be high-scoring and competitive, there’s a timeline where Singletary again does work as a receiver.
The game of the week in Week 4 is Bills at Ravens (on paper, at least) and has the makings of a scorefest with lots of fantasy production. You know all of the usual suspects to start on both sides. But there’s a reason why I’m particularly on McKenzie this week. And it has nothing to do with his big game in Week 3. Well, almost nothing.
Yes, it’s good to know that Allen is willing to look in McKenzie’s direction -- though Gabe Davis being less than 100 percent may have contributed. This week, Davis should be closer to full strength, but that might not have an impact on McKenzie’s targets against Baltimore. The Ravens’ secondary has been beaten nearly every which way, but it’s been very vulnerable against slot receivers. No defense has allowed more receptions, yards or touchdowns to receivers lining up inside than the Ravens. This should be another profitable week for McKenzie.
Last year, most of us whiffed on the Aiyuk breakout season. This year, the hype for Aiyuk was muted. We’ve yet to see a truly big game from the Niners receiver in 2022, but the signs are positive. Aiyuk has seen nearly a quarter of the targets and nearly 40 percent of the air yards through the first three weeks of the season. Expect some of those numbers to come down with a healthy George Kittle available, but it’s encouraging that Jimmy Garoppolo is looking in his direction. That’s not something we saw much of last year.
Combine that with a Rams defense that has given up some big games to receivers this year. After being lit up by the Bills in Week 1, Los Angeles surrendered a good performance to rookie Drake London in Week 2 and the Arizona duo of Marquise Brown and Greg Dortch in Week 3. With so much focus on Deebo Samuel, it could create some favorable matchups for Aiyuk. Let’s just hope Garoppolo is better this week than he was last week. It can’t be any worse, right?
Who needs Davante Adams when you have Mack Hollins, amirite? OK, maybe not. But for those who have been paying attention, Hollins is more than a one-week wonder. He earned eight targets and scored double-digit fantasy points in the Week 2 game against Arizona. Then, of course, there was last week. We knew Derek Carr would spread the ball around this year. We just never factored Hollins into our discussion. That was our bad.
On paper, the matchup isn’t great against the Broncos but the Raiders need a win and aren’t likely to find it grinding it out with Josh Jacobs. On the flip side, Denver’s offense should find it easier to move the ball through the air and score points. That should mean more targets for Hollins.
It’s a tough week for fantasy tight ends. There are only a handful that we can trust consistently and most of them have poor matchups this week. The teams that have good tight end matchups don’t have players we can feel good about starting. Are you brave enough to start Geoff Swaim against the Colts? I’m not. That brings us to Hurst.
Despite a slow offensive start, Cincy is picking it up in the last two weeks. Giving Joe Burrow time to throw certainly helps. This week, he might find himself under pressure from Miami’s front. That could mean outlet targets to his tight end. The Dolphins have been vulnerable against the position this year. Yes, Mark Andrews dump-trucked a ton of points on them. He tends to do that. But Miami has also gave up a few catches to the Patriots duo of tight ends as well as a quartet of receptions to Dawson Knox. All it takes is a touchdown to make it a successful week for Hurst.
Did I mention that it’s a tough week for tight end starts? Because, yeah. I put Engram in this space last week and was a missed toe tap away from it working out. Alas, since this is neither horseshoes, hand grenades, nor spit on a windy day, my “almost” counts for nothing. But this is a new week and we persist with the frustratingly tempting Engram.
He’s still very much part of Jacksonville’s passing game, as evidenced by his end zone target and successful two-point conversion catch. This week, he faces an Eagles defense that seems to have mostly figured out its tight end bugaboo but also hasn’t faced any real challenges. Engram won’t be the toughest matchup Philly faces this year, but should still see opportunity.
Things haven’t been great for the Chargers on the injury front this year. Things haven’t been great for the Chargers on the injury front for a few years now. That could be good news for the Texans defense. Justin Herbert is still nursing sore ribs. Meanwhile, Los Angeles lost starting tackle Rashawn Slater and is still waiting to see if Keenan Allen will be available. Without him, this is an offense that struggles to mount a serious passing threat.
The Texans aren’t many people’s idea of a frontline fantasy defense, but they have two top-12 finishes in the first three weeks. This looks like an opportunity to add to the team’s 10 sacks -- a total that ranks tied for fifth-most in the NFL. That feels very doable against a wounded Chargers offense.
The Packers defense was a popular pick among fantasy drafters, though a bit of panic might have occurred after they were torched by the Vikings in their season opener. Since then, things have settled a bit. Green Bay’s stop unit has notched top-10 finishes in back-to-back weeks. But it still hasn’t translated into overwhelming rostership. The Pack is still available in more than 40 percent of NFL.com leagues.
This week, the Packers host a Patriots offense that has been lackluster at best in its first three contests. Now the Patriots go into battle without starting quarterback Mac Jones. Not that Jones is a formidable opponent, but he’s a tad bit scarier than Brian Hoyer. The Packers have an opportunity to take advantage of a toothless offense and continue their Week 1 redemption.