We are three weeks into the season and the fantasy landscape is starting to take shape. This week I'll take a look at the top 10 quarterbacks and top 15 running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends by fantasy points (PPR scoring) from each skill position, and provide my take on which players belong and which are destined to decline.
The top quarterbacks are taking shape
There are currently two tiers of quarterbacks in the top 10 - the elite (90 fantasy points or more) which includes Tom Brady, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes II. Tier two is everyone else with 80+ fantasy points.
The biggest surprises in the top are Tom Brady at #1 overall, Derek Carr #5, Kirk Cousins #7, Matthew Stafford #8, and Jalen Hurts #9. Tom Brady, we may have been able to predict a possible top spot, but Derek Carr's three consecutive games of 380+ passing yards and at least two touchdowns is quite the shocker. Carr has always been an efficient and accurate passer but the consistent high yardage has not. His supporting cast of Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, and Hunter Renfrow are performing well and are a big reason why the Raiders have a 3-0 record with wins against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Miami.
Kirk Cousins at #7 isn't that much of a surprise if you look back at last year's stats. From Week 10 to Week 17 Cousins was the #3 fantasy quarterback. His success inside the red zone thanks to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson is a big reason why he has been able to find fantasy success over the last year or so.
Matthew Stafford sitting at #8 is somewhat of a surprise when you look at where he finished in the last two years (with Detroit), 25th and 41st. Granted, the Rams offense, as well as Sean McVay's guidance and play-calling, is far better than what he had with the Lions. He is outperforming his draft ADP and he doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon. Injuries have plagued Stafford in the past, which could be an obstacle as the season wears on, but it's not an immediate concern.
Jalen Hurts is second in the league in rushing yards (179) among quarterbacks which is a key factor in his place in the top 10. As long as he continues to reach 8-10 carries per game and keep the pass attempt numbers up, he'll have a place in the top 10, if not higher.
Some additional unexpected results after three weeks include:
Which players are on the way up and which ones are on the way down?
Needle pointing up:
- Justin Herbert, LAC - The Chargers quarterback is one of the league's better, younger stars, but so far, he is ranked 13th after two lackluster one-touchdown games to begin the season. He tossed four touchdowns against Kansas City in Week 3 and he has a healthy crew of weapons at his disposal including perhaps the biggest fantasy surprise of the early season, Mike Williams. Herbert has topped 300 yards passing or thrown for 3 touchdowns in 15 of 18 games as a pro. That...is astonishing! His rise to the top 10 is imminent.
- Dak Prescott, DAL - After three games, Prescott is 14th among quarterbacks. He has two three-touchdown games with a zero-score game in between. His passing yardage is 300 yards less than it was at this time last season and his rushing yards and rushing touchdowns are also down. Those should come in time as he gains confidence in his surgically repaired ankle. It may take a few weeks to return to form, but he should be back in the top 10 by Week 8 at the latest.
Needle pointing down:
- Daniel Jones, NYG - Jones has been a rather nice surprise in the first three weeks, but that could start to fade, especially with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton facing injury issues that may shelve them for a few weeks. Jones ranked 11th is largely due to his rushing abilities and less his passing prowess. Jones has not thrown for 300 yards in 17 consecutive games and he has seven games of zero passing scores in his last 15 games. Take away the rushing yards and he's struggling to be a top 20 quarterback.
- A few things come to mind immediately - D'Andre Swift and Cordarrelle Patterson are among the top 10 with Jamaal Williams right there behind at #11. Najee Harris at #6 may be a surprise to some, but others were high on him from the beginning. His 14-catch game in Week 3 due to injuries on the wide receiver front, and Ben Roethlisberger's lack of a down-field arm is a feather in his cap. If that game plan resumes for the foreseeable future, Harris could be a mainstay inside the top 10.
- A common staple among backs in the top 10 is the propensity to have high-volume targets and catch passes. The average running back in the top 10 to date has 4.1 receptions per game. That number drops to 3.0 for backs in the 11-20 range.
- Derek Henry sitting atop the running back ranks is not much of a surprise, however, his 12 receptions in Todd Downing's offense is a change from the norm of what we've seen from Henry in the past in Arthur Smith's offense. With A.J. Brown nursing a hamstring injury and Julio Jones giving us inconsistent production, Henry may continue to see use as a receiver, which is more than ok for those who have him on their roster.
- D'Andre Swift is the new shiny toy that teams are gravitating to. We've seen teams have success with Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, etc in the last few years. Swift is a graduate of their school of running back weaponizing, meaning getting the most out of your running back as a rusher and receiver. These players aren't just running backs, they are weapons and we're witnessing Swift be utilized as such. He is good for at least four catches per game in his career, and on any given game day it can be more than that.
- Could Cordarrelle Patterson be the dual-threat running back that Atlanta has been seeking? The answer is maybe, but they also have Mike Davis. Between the two, Davis has had a leg up on Patterson in snap count % each of the three games played, but Patterson has been the winner in terms of production with two scores to Davis' zero. Davis leads in rushing yards, but Patterson leads in receiving yards. This looks like a committee approach for the foreseeable future.
- Alvin Kamara, NO - Kamara is 13th and has fewer receptions (10) than Derrick Henry (12). Raise your hand if you predicted that one. The Saints offense has struggled and it's affecting Kamara's numbers. Only Seattle (52.3) has had fewer plays per game than New Orleans (55.0). If you don't have the ball, you can't make a play. That's how it's been for the Saints in the first three weeks. We need to re-examine the Saints as a team to target for fantasy production. They are struggling in multiple areas aside from the lack of plays. They are 29th in first downs per game with 15.7 and 31st in total yards per game (234.0). If those areas don't rebound, Kamara's production will be less than desired.
- Saquon Barkley, NYG - Barkley is not in the top 10, but that was expected in his first year recovering from an ACL tear. We've seen it time and time again, it just takes time for running backs to regain that form, confidence, and health. Barkley has had one fantasy-relevant game in three weeks so far. That should improve as the weeks go on, but if he doesn't crack the top 10, it won't be that much of a surprise.
- Dalvin Cook, MIN - Injuries have slowed him down. He should bounce back, but it may take a few more weeks to do so.
- Antonio Gibson, WAS - He has one big play, which went for a touchdown. Despite performing well as a rusher and receiver, Washington isn't feeding him enough to justify what he can provide the offense. It took a few weeks for him to gel with the offensive line last season. Maybe he's a perennial late starter? We'll see in the coming weeks. He has also been dealing with a shoulder injury.
- Jonathan Taylor, IND - The Colts have one rushing touchdown in three games and it went to Nyheim Hines. Taylor may have the clear edge in carries but like the offense in general, he has yet to hit his stride. The offensive line is banged up, which doesn't help matters. Taylor has elite back potential, but the pieces need to come together and they just haven't so far. Carson Wentz and has not been effective and it's slowing the offense, Taylor included. Can he and the Colts turn things around? Yes, they still have two games against Houston, plus Miami, New York Jets, Jacksonville, Tennesse, etc still on the schedule.
- David Montgomery, CHI - The Bears are another offense that is struggling to find their way, much in part to an offensive line that has not come together. It doesn't help when two of your opponents have been the Rams and Browns. Montgomery had a promising Week 1, but it has slowed down since then. Perhaps he can get his feet under him this week at home against Detroit?
- Javonte Williams, DEN - The Broncos' two-headed approach at running back is running at full steam. Both Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams are finding success and it looks like both could have fantasy appeal moving forward. An injury to either one would mean a big uptick in usage and production.
- James Robinson, JAC - Is Jacksonville finally realizing what they have in Robinson? Maybe so, if Week 3 has any say in the matter. Robinson rebounded with a 130-yard game with a touchdown and his carry share percentage is trending up. The Jaguars may have trouble finding the win column but they have a favorable schedule which is better than facing a stone wall every week.
- Peyton Barber, LSV - Josh Jacobs is out with a toe injury and in the meantime, Peyton Barber has shown that he can be a reliable weapon in the offense that could translate to increased touches even when Jacobs returns. The Raiders are putting points on the board and gaining yards at a high clip. Barber may wind up carving out a role and could be fantasy-relevant all season, especially if Jacobs struggles to come back 100% from his toe injury.
- Elijah Mitchell, SF - The 49ers running game is a hot commodity in the fantasy world. Trey Sermon had a chance to stake his claim in the pecking order with a strong outing on Sunday night against the Packers but he failed to impress, despite scoring a late, short touchdown. Elijah Mitchell may be the better option in San Francisco once he can return from his shoulder injury.
- Michael Carter, NYJ - The Jets may not be the first thought when thinking of fantasy production, however, Carter has been on an upswing lately leading the team in carries over the last two games. He's someone to watch in the next few weeks.
Needle pointing down
- Kenyan Drake, LSV - Peyton Barber, not Kenyan Drake has been the rising talent in Las Vegas' backfield with Josh Jacobs on the mend with a toe injury. Drake has been relegated to mostly receiving duties and has not reached double-digit carries this season while Barber is coming off a 23-carry performance with over 140 total yards.
- Damien Harris, NE - Harris has been dealing with a finger injury that may be the reason for his decrease in production since Week 1. With James White out of the picture, New England will need to rely on another source at running back. That could be Harris, but the diminutive J.J. Taylor may be the better option to replace White's receiving skill set. There is also Rhamondre Stevenson lurking, waiting for his chance to show out. If Harris doesn't start producing soon, we could see someone else start to receive more snaps and touches in the Patriots backfield. The next few weeks are key for Harris' development.
- Ronald Jones II is struggling hard while Leonard Fournette is doing just enough to keep him at bay. Jones has one reception in three weeks while Fournette has 12. Giovani Bernard has started to take more snaps and touches away from Jones, but an MCL sprain may give Jones the break he needs to try to right the ship. The Week 1 fumble decimated Jones' confidence and playing time. It may take time for him to see an increase in usage.
- There are several surprises in the Top 15, most notably, Cooper Kupp #1, Mike Williams #2, Brandin Cooks #6, Deebo Samuel #8, Jamar Chase #11, Marquise Brown #14, Christian Kirk #15. It's unclear how the wide receiver rankings will iron out as the year goes on, but several of these surprises will stay afloat while others will drift away.
- Cooper Kupp has been Matthew Stafford's top target while Robert Woods has had less of an impact. Kupp's five touchdowns have dominated the team. Nobody else has more than one. The volume should continue for Kupp and the scores may as well. Kupp has 29 career touchdowns in 57 games, which is nearly a 50% clip in terms of percentage of scores per game.
- Mike Williams has always been a capable wide receiver but Keenan Allen was always one step ahead of him in production, usage, and reliability. Allen hasn't gone away but Justin Herbert is finding Williams' height and catch radius as an area of exploitation against opponents. He has been red hot in each of the first three games and Herbert is taking advantage of it. Williams' game may slow down some, but as long as Herbert is tossing 300-yard games or topping three touchdowns Williams will have a fighter's chance of having a decent game any given week.
- Brandin Cooks is the only show in town for the Texans receiving corps. His 32 targets with Jordan Akins next in line at 9 targets is a crazy target share percentage that likely won't be sustained. Teams will start to realize that if they stop Cooks, they dismantle the Texans passing game. Ride Cooks for now, but don't be surprised if he is thwarted by Buffalo in Week 4 or New England in Week 5.
- Deebo Samuel has far and away been the top target for the 49ers' passing game. His 30 targets lead the team followed by George Kittle at 18. Samuel's 20 receptions is 15 more than the next closest wide receiver (Aiyuk). For now, Samuel is the top option, but that could change as Brandon Aiyuk begins to emerge from his slump.
- Ja'Marr Chase has shown that he's worth the hype despite a run-heavy Bengals offense taking center stage. Marquise Brown has been Lamar Jackson's preferred downfield target. Losing Rashod Bateman to a groin injury likely had a say in Brown's production. Once Bateman returns to action, we may see Brown's production drop off some. Christian Kirk has been a surprise in Arizona. DeAndre Hopkins' rib injury and Kirk's place in the pecking order have kept him on the field in 12-personnel while Rondale Moore seems to be present only when the team is in three-wide receiver sets. If this continues, Kirk should see consistent volume going forward.
- Jaylen Waddle, MIA - Waddle is seeing a lot of short-range targets and he's making good on those with 22 receptions and a score in the first three weeks. Jacoby Brissett should be under center for Miami for the next two or three weeks if not longer, while Tua Tagovailoa recovers from broken ribs. So far, Brissett has latched onto Waddle, targeting him 13 times in Week 3.
- Tim Patrick, Denver - The Broncos have been hit hard with injuries to their wide receiver corps losing Jerry Jeudy to a high ankle sprain and K.J. Hamler to a torn ACL. Those unfortunate events have given Patrick an increase in snaps and targets. So far he has come through with scores in the first two games and a 98-yard effort in Week 3. Jeudy may be back by Week 7 or 8 but whether he is effective remains to be seen. Patrick should provide good value going forward.
- Bryan Edwards, Henry Ruggs III, and Hunter Renfrow, LSV - the Raiders have passed for at least 380 yards in each of the first three weeks of the season. In addition to Darren Waller, Las Vegas has received contributions from Edwards, Ruggs, and Renfrow. The Raiders offense is buzzing and all parties are benefiting.
- Antonio Brown, TB - Don't forget about Antonio Brown. He's not injured, he's simply dealing with a COVID restriction. When he returns he'll start to see the benefits of being on the team with Tom Brady and his league-leading 10 touchdown passes.
Needle pointing down
- Other than players with injuries, it's too soon to label a receiver a bust. The difference between the top 50 and the top 30 is about 12 fantasy points. One big game or series of games will put a wide receiver right back on the map. There is still time for Robert Woods, Allen Robinson, Robby Anderson, Brandon Aiyuk, etc to rebound.
What stands out?
20 fantasy points separate the #5 tight end from #23. Any player is capable of taking a jump in the rankings over the next few weeks. Every year we see new names in the top 10 and 2020 is no different. Rob Gronkowski #2, Dalton Schultz #5, Dawson Knox #8, Tyler Conklin #10 are all surprises compared to where they were drafted or ranked preseason.
Players I like moving forward
- Mike Gesicki, MIA - He had 10 catches with Jacoby Brissett in Week 3. The connection is established and the bond has been formed. We could see more of the same in the coming weeks.
- Mark Andrews, BAL - We're seeing decent involvement from Andrews except in the end zone. He has yet to score a touchdown and he's outside of the top 10 as a result. His time is coming.
- Noah Fant, DEN - Fant is averaging 5.7 targets per game and the Broncos need playmakers in the receiving corps. His production should see a spike in the coming weeks.
- Tommy Tremble, CAR - The trade of Dan Arnold to Jacksonville opens the door for Tremble to emerge as an option in Carolina's offense. He already has a rushing touchdown and a 30-yard catch with Carolina. Could more be on the horizon?
Players I'm shying away from
- Mo Alie-Cox, IND - We might as well include Jack Doyle in this group also. The Colts have long been a producer at tight end, but like the offense in general, that appears to be an afterthought in 2021. Alie-Cox's window as a fantasy-relevant tight end is closing fast.
- Eric Ebron, PIT - The Steelers offense is only good if the volume is high, and when Ebron barely sees a look in a high-volume game that should tell you all you need to know. Pat Freiremuth is the one getting looks, not Ebron.
Questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcome. Hit me up on Twitter.