Three weeks into the NFL season — and thus the fantasy football season — and it’s time for some straight answers.
You have to ask the tough questions: Is your roster where you want it to be? Or are you 1-2 or 0-3 and headed for disaster? We’re not saying we can save you, but we can attempt to answer the biggest burning questions, such as:
These are just a few of the questions our 32 NFL Nation reporters will touch on this week, as asked by ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe.
The game grabbing the spotlight this weekend is unquestionably the return of Tom Brady to New England as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But not to be overlooked are two division games in arguably the best division in football. In a battle of 3-0 teams, the Arizona Cardinals visit the Los Angeles Rams. And the other NFC West matchup pits the Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at the San Francisco 49ers (2-1).
The time has come for the questions and answers for Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season. Let’s go!
Will the Bills have a consistent WR2? Whom do you like most to produce at the position moving forward next to Stefon Diggs?
The Bills are going to get a variety of players involved in the receiving game. Through three weeks, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders have the same number of receiving yards (194), but Beasley has been targeted 10 more times. Beasley, however, has yet to catch a touchdown pass. The most consistent option probably is Beasley, who finished last season just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. Sanders will be someone who has a significant role in this offense, especially downfield. — Alaina Getzenberg
In a PPR league — yes. All 13 of Gesicki’s catches this season have come from Brissett, and although they haven’t been terribly efficient targets, he has still been targeted 18 times in the past two games. He’s too talented to be kept under wraps for much longer and the opportunity is clearly there, so you can certainly find worse options than Gesicki. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Yes, Meyers is a good bet to remain high. He is consistently on the field, playing more snaps than any other receiver, and with that comes a greater chance at production. Meyers leads the team with 19 catches for 176 yards and has developed a rapport with rookie quarterback Mac Jones. — Mike Reiss
Can Michael Carter earn the featured role in this backfield and get around 15 touches a weeks?
No. The Jets do not believe in having a feature back; they prefer the committee approach. Carter will continue to get about 10 touches per game, but he will split the workload with Ty Johnson, with some Tevin Coleman sprinkled in. Carter must improve his blocking if he wants a bigger role. — Rich Cimini
Can we count on WR Sammy Watkins seeing seven-plus targets (as he has in each game this season)?
Yes, until first-round pick Rashod Bateman gets in a game. After Marquise Brown dropped three passes in the first half Sunday, Lamar Jackson targeted Watkins six times after halftime, including that fourth-and-19 conversion. There is really no other proven option for Jackson on the outside beyond Watkins and Brown. Watkins built a rapport with Jackson in training camp, and that has carried over to the early part of the season. Bateman, the No. 27 overall draft pick, was activated off injured reserve Wednesday but could need another week before playing in a game. — Jamison Hensley
Against Jacksonville, eight of nine plays on the first drive were passes: Was that matchup-based or an indicator of what to expect moving forward?
Don’t be fooled by the early passing against the Jaguars. The Bengals are striving for a balanced passing attack one year after Joe Burrow averaged 40.4 pass attempts per game. This season, he ranks 28th among 33 qualifying quarterbacks with 26.8 pass attempts per game. The volume fantasy managers were hoping for this season just doesn’t seem to be there. — Ben Baby
There are enough touches in the Browns’ offense to go around for both Hunt and Chubb. Remember, six of those Hunt touches Sunday were from receptions. Despite Hunt’s big day, Chubb still ranks fifth in the NFL in rushes. Chubb remains the heartbeat of the offense, and that is not going to change. — Jake Trotter
Will the Steelers stay committed to the run, or is there a chance the short passing game serves as that given their weaknesses up front?
The Steelers will keep using the short passing game, but don’t expect Najee Harris to get 19 targets against the Packers. Coach Mike Tomlin said they utilized that a little too much against the Bengals, but it was definitely more effective than the run game. Harris carried the ball only 14 times compared to 58 pass attempts, so while he’s their lead back, the traditional run game isn’t a significant part of the offense through three weeks. Until the offensive line sorts itself out — if it can sort itself out — Harris will be most effective as a pass-catching back. — Brooke Pryor
Tight end production is tough to find. Are five to seven targets a game a reasonable expectation for Jordan Akins moving forward?
It will be hard to rely on Akins for consistent targets, at least for now. Through six quarters, rookie quarterback Davis Mills has focused on targeting wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and 13 of his 27 completions this season have gone to the veteran receiver. Akins had his most productive day of the season (four catches for 32 yards on five targets) Thursday night against the Panthers, but Houston was also without Danny Amendola and Nico Collins. — Sarah Barshop
Jonathan Taylor has yet to score and has just 125 total yards over the past two weeks: Mini-slump, or should we be worried?
It’s completely baffling why Taylor had only 10 carries while averaging 6.4 yards an attempt against the Titans when quarterback Carson Wentz was playing with two bad ankles. Wentz is healthier this week, but don’t expect Taylor to have only 10 carries again against Miami. The Dolphins are 27th in the NFL against the run, giving up 136 yards a game, which sets up the perfect opportunity for Taylor to have his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. — Mike Wells
Who will get the biggest uptick in targets with DJ Chark Jr. injured?
I think it’ll be spread around between WRs Laviska Shenault Jr., Tavon Austin and Jamal Agnew, which is what happened after Chark got hurt. Agnew might see the most additional work out of that group because he’s really good in the open field. But the player people should watch is TE Dan Arnold. He joined the team Monday but picked up the offense well enough to play and catch two passes, including a critical 17-yarder. He’s the best pass-catching TE on the roster and the Jags tried to sign him in free agency, so they clearly had a big role in mind for him when they pursued him. — Michael DiRocco
Is Derrick Henry‘s involvement in the passing game here to stay?
Yes. Henry joked that he gives QB Ryan Tannehill a shoulder nudge as a reminder that he’s available when the deeper routes are covered. Henry has worked hard to improve his pass catching and has even been utilized in empty sets. As long as the coverage continues to focus on vertical passing, Henry will be an option as a checkdown for Tannehill. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing will also occasionally dial up screen passes that typically result in chunk plays for Henry. Tannehill has targeted Henry 13 times, with 12 of them resulting in completions for 105 yards. — Turron Davenport
Given the injuries at WR, what are your expectations for Tim Patrick as the presumed WR2?
The only item that could affect Patrick’s snap count, beyond an injury, would be the Broncos’ use of a three-tight-end look they have used plenty this season — 14 snaps in the Week 3 win over the Jets alone — as Patrick or Courtland Sutton is usually the lone wide receiver on the field for that look. Otherwise, Patrick is going to get the work and be efficient given he has turned 13 targets into 12 receptions and two touchdowns. — Jeff Legwold
Field Yates and Matthew Berry break down the pros for having Tim Patrick on your fantasy football roster.
What has changed for Tyreek Hill over the past two weeks (eight catches and 11 targets) from Week 1 (11 catches on 15 targets)?
He has been more the focus of defensive attention as it appears opponents are daring the Chiefs to beat them with their other wide receivers. Those receivers haven’t yet been consistently good enough to do that, which is why the Chiefs signed Josh Gordon. Gordon won’t play Sunday against the Eagles and perhaps for a game or two after that, so the Chiefs will need to scheme better to get Hill open at least until he does play. — Adam Teicher
Are we looking at a 100-catch season from WR Hunter Renfrow?
No. Oh, you want elaboration? After three games, Renfrow is on pace for 90.7 catches, so he’d need a big uptick to get to triple digits, right? Plus, while Renfrow might be Derek Carr‘s security blanket on third down, tight end Darren Waller is target No. 1. Then there’s the maturation of Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards, especially late in games. — Paul Gutierrez
Allen has 21 receptions for 258 yards, and Williams has 22 receptions for 295 yards. Williams has an average depth of target of 8.8 yards; Allen is at 8.6. Allen has 33 targets to Williams’ 31. There just isn’t much separating them, and that figures to be the case all season. — Shelley Smith
Did Dalton Schultz lock up the TE1 role with his big Week 3 performance?
It’s looking that way, but they will continue to lean on a two-tight-end look, which means Blake Jarwin will get the ball as well. There was one scoring drive last week vs. Philadelphia in which the Cowboys exclusively used 12 personnel. But Schultz has developed much better than anybody with the Cowboys could have thought. He has a knack for getting open, and his ability after the catch is somewhat surprising because he’s not overly fast or sudden. He has QB Dak Prescott‘s trust and so does Jarwin, but right now he’s getting more looks. — Todd Archer
Field Yates and Mike Clay share how they view Dalton Schultz after his biggest game of the season.
Is it fair to call RB Saquon Barkley close to full strength after 22 touches and nearly 85% of the snaps?
Physically? Absolutely. The Giants were so confident in Barkley’s ability to handle a full workload last week that they had his backup, Devontae Booker, inactive. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said he’s doing a “remarkably good job.” Of course, Barkley could still knock off some rust. He’s missing holes and running timidly, at times. But that should get better with time as he becomes more confident in his knee. The explosion is coming. — Jordan Raanan
Is Jalen Hurts too limited as a passer for fantasy managers to count on any of his pass-catchers?
Hurts is capable of engineering a successful passing game (see Week 1 against Atlanta), but the Eagles’ offense has gotten away from what worked: quick, rhythm throws and play action anchored into a dynamic run game. Assuming they get back to that, Hurts’ supporting cast should see an uptick in production, namely rookie DeVonta Smith. — Tim McManus
Did we overrate this defense entering the season?
Yes, it was overrated. Based on the schedule and the quarterbacks it was going to face, being a top-five defense wasn’t going to happen, but expecting that unit to be around the top 10 with this front? Not an unreal expectation by any means. The next two weeks might be a good time to pick that defense up with games vs. Atlanta (27th in yards; 27th in points) and New Orleans (31st in yards; 22nd in points). It’s a chance to get some momentum. However, after that it’s buyer beware. Washington plays Kansas City, Green Bay, Denver and Tampa Bay. — John Keim
Just 12 rush yards for Justin Fields in Week 3: By Chicago design, or just a strong showing from Cleveland’s defense?
Definitely not by design! The Bears’ offense was a total mess in Week 3 and Fields got caught in the middle of it. Nothing worked for Chicago. Nothing. Trust me when I say the overall plan is to highlight Fields’ exceptional running ability. The Bears just had a bad day at the office in Cleveland. Look for Fields to run much more in the future. — Jeff Dickerson
D’Andre Swift has 19 catches through three weeks: Can he sustain this volume (100-plus catch pace) in an offense with limited options?
Yes. This is definitely possible, barring injury. And what’s impressive is that he has been able to accomplish these numbers without starting the first three games while being limited because of an ongoing groin injury. Actually, his production could increase as the coaching staff continues to ease him into the mix with more opportunities each week. “He’s a dynamic player and I think he’s just, every week, he’s improving, and the more that he shows, the more we put on him,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. — Eric Woodyard
Field Yates and Matthew Berry discuss how much value D’Andre Swift has in fantasy heading into the Lions’ matchup vs. the Bears.
That’s accurate. Dillon’s playing time has been fairly consistent the first three weeks (ranging from 16 to 19 snaps in each game), and as long as Jones is a) productive and b) coach Matt LaFleur sticks with the run game, then it’s Jones as the A-1 back until he can’t do it anymore. It’s hard to be the “best running back tandem in the NFL,” as Dillon predicted, if one back gets the bulk of the touches. — Rob Demovsky
Do you expect Tyler Conklin to be more involved after the big game?
Unfortunately, Conklin is working through glute and elbow injuries that sidelined him from practice on Wednesday and kept him limited Thursday, so that could impact how much he plays in Week 4. Ben Ellefson, the tight end the Vikings claimed from Jacksonville, has gotten more opportunity than Chris Herndon, the tight end Minnesota traded for when Irv Smith Jr. went down in August. Neither, however, has played a factor in the passing game. This might not be the week to put any Vikings tight ends in your lineup. — Courtney Cronin
Does RB Cordarrelle Patterson‘s versatility make him a good bet for 12 to 15 touches on a weekly basis?
Yes. Atlanta continually likes what Patterson gives — both on offense and as a returner. If you’re in a non-PPR league, Patterson is not an advisable play just because while he’s averaging 4.05 yards per carry, he hasn’t been over 3 yards a carry since Week 1. In a PPR league, though, Patterson is a good play because Matt Ryan continues to use him as a checkdown option. Between rushing and receiving, Patterson will get between 12 and 15 touches a game (although that could lessen if Atlanta gets in put-away mode — which hasn’t happened). If you get return yards in your league, that adds to his value, too. — Michael Rothstein
No. While I expect Marshall to be a big factor in the offense this season, the Panthers haven’t forgotten Anderson. Coach Matt Rhule noted recently that Anderson has been open and the team has to find a way to get him the ball in space more. With Christian McCaffrey out a few weeks, look for Anderson’s role to increase. — David Newton
After a career-high 24 carries in Week 3, should we be expecting a more ‘traditional’ running back role for Alvin Kamara?
Yes, but not quite to this extent. The Saints have always made it a priority to keep Kamara healthy for the long haul, talking about a “pitch count” for him in years past. So I don’t think they want 27 touches to be the norm. But at the same time, they recognize that he is by far their most valuable playmaker while Michael Thomas is hurt, so they’ll do what it takes to win games. And that could mean more rushing attempts since he might not get the same volume of passing targets from Jameis Winston as he did in past years with Drew Brees at quarterback. — Mike Triplett
Should we take anything away from Giovani Bernard seeing 10 targets in Week 3?
Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette have struggled at times with ball security, but the big thing is that the Bucs were playing the Rams from behind and he’s their third-down running back and hurry-up back. He has missed practice this week with a knee injury, though, so I’d consider options elsewhere this week. It’d be risky. — Jenna Laine
Who is the WR2 in this offense for the rest of the season in terms of targets and touchdowns?
On paper, it’s A.J. Green, and rightfully so. But in reality, who’ll be the WR2 in terms of targets, catches, yards, touchdowns and impact will change every week based on the game plan, how defenses play the Cardinals and who’s hot. It’s not ideal for fantasy managers, but then there’s this: The Cardinals’ top four receivers — DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and Green — all have at least 150 receiving yards and at least one touchdown through three games. There’s a lot of balance this year, which, again, isn’t ideal for fantasy owners, but the flip side is that all the receivers will get their targets and their opportunities. — Josh Weinfuss
Is the slow start for WR Robert Woods something to worry about?
The Matthew Stafford-Woods connection throughout training camp was so smooth that it has been stunning how rarely he has been targeted by Stafford through three games. Stafford has targeted Cooper Kupp 33 times, in comparison to Woods’ 19. Woods continues to be the consummate teammate despite not getting the ball as often as he’d likely prefer, but expect at some point for coach Sean McVay to dial up something to utilize Woods’ complete skill set. — Lindsey Thiry
Was Sunday night an indicator that WR Brandon Aiyuk is out of the doghouse and ready to deliver after a strong rookie season?
Well, coach Kyle Shanahan would tell you Aiyuk was never in any sort of doghouse, but whatever he was in the first week, Sunday night was certainly a step in the right direction. Perhaps more important than the production — four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown — was the workload. Aiyuk played 60 of 70 offensive snaps. He’s back to taking on a starter’s reps and with that should come the production that is expected of him in his second season. — Nick Wagoner
What has happened to RB Chris Carson‘s involvement in the passing game the past two weeks?
Carson’s zero targets against Tennessee is head-scratching, but it’s less of a mystery than what happened against Minnesota. The Seahawks had the ball for only 24 minutes, and two of their possessions were end-of-half drives in which Travis Homer took over. Homer was also in on Seattle’s second-to-last possession for reasons unknown. He isn’t going to be a high-volume receiver out of Seattle’s backfield (even though he has the skills to be one), but he should factor more into their passing game than he has of late. — Brady Henderson