Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season starts with Thursday Night Football as the Houston Texans play host to the Carolina Panthers. Here’s a break down the fantasy football starts and sits for Thursday night’s action.
QB Sam Darnold — Through two games, one against the flaccid New York Jets, the other against the stout New Orleans Saints, Darnold is quietly 12th in the NFL in passing yards per game with 292. The passing touchdowns are a bit lacking (3), but he’s registered just one interception so we can forgive him of this trespass. The youthful veteran has also shown a willingness to run the ball when a lane is open, carrying it six times for six yards and a touchdown—not gaudy totals but it’s nice to know he’ll make the plunge in scoring position when the opportunity is there.
Darnold Week 3 quest is aided by the possible absences of starting CB Terrance Mitchell (concussion) and starting free safety Justin Reid (knee). Darnold’s firmly on the Week 3 streaming radar and can absolutely finish in the top-12 at the position this week.
WR D.J. Moore — Moore is the unquestioned X-receiver in CAR this year, taking the vast majority of his reps on the perimeter, going mano y mano with the opposing team’s No. 1 CB. Through two games, Moore has been a target hog, seeing 19 come his way—10 more than any other receiver. As mentioned above, the Texans are likely to be playing without a starting cornerback and their starting free safety. Moore is a locked-in high-end WR2 with easy WR1 upside.
WR Robby Anderson — Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of FS Reid’s potential absence, the Panthers’ field stretcher should make like Gumby this week. Logging a team high, 37.89%, of Carolina’s air yards and a league-leading 21.8 average targeted air yards (TAY), Anderson has a great shot at ripping the cover off for a long score or two this week. Glue him into your lineup as a high-ceiling WR2/3.
WR Terrace Marshall — Marshall’s usage through two games is underwhelming. His nine targets are tied with Anderson for third most on the team but his 5.0 TAY is worryingly close to the line of scrimmage and he’s barely keeping a team lead on slot snaps; 30 for Marshall vs. 29 for TE Dan Arnold and 28 for Anderson, per PFF.com. That said, there’s reason for optimism this week.
Houston’s pass defense NEFF rating (PDNEFF) comes in around the league average but their past two opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns aren’t inclined towards aerial assaults in the way that Carolina is. Don’t be surprised if the Texans’ PDNEFF score drops quite a bit when Week 3’s dust settles. Per SharpFootballStats.com, CAR’s 55% 3-WR mark, a middling rate, jumps to 60% when up by eight or more, tied for 8th in the league with Seattle. One has to squint through the gritty data to see it but Marshall could be a savvy option in deep, deep leagues and DFS.
TE Dan Arnold & Ian Thomas — Arnold is seeing more targets but Thomas is taking more snaps. It’s a tough situation to parse but the match-up is sneaky-strong. Houston is allowing 16.4 .5PPR PPG to the tight end position, fourth most in the league, after facing the deep group TE of Cleveland and the no-name TE group of Jacksonville. Jaguars TEs, James O’Shaughnessy and Chris Manhertz combined for an astonishing 7 catches, 70 yards, and 1 touchdown. It’s ugly but Dan Arnold could actually produce in this one.
RB Christian McCaffrey — CMC trails only Derrick Henry in total RB touches (59 to 61). Center Pat Elflein was unfortunately placed on Injured Reserve this week (hamstring) but his absence isn’t going to be too big of a deal against one of the league’s worst defensive fronts. McCaffrey remains the overall RB1 this week.
RB Chuba Hubbard — It’s the type of match-up where he could find pay dirt but he’d better be nowhere near a starting lineup in redraft formats.
QB Davis Mills — Rookie QB Mills will make the start for Houston this week as starting QB Tyrod Taylor battles a hamstring injury on Injured Reserve. The development elevates Carolina’s D/ST to one being one of the best plays of the week.
WR Brandin Cooks — Cooks’ 21 targets are 15 more than any other Texan, and the team was just forced to place rookie WR Nico Collins on Injured Reserve (shoulder) and list slot receiver Danny Amendola as Doubtful (hamstring). Meanwhile, Anthony Miller has been a healthy inactive for two weeks. Cooks has a good shot at leading the NFL in targets this week. How many of them will be on point is anyone’s guess but that kind of a workload cements his status as a WR2.
WR Chris Conley — Conley is a DFS-only play.
TE Jordan Akins & Pharaoh Brown — DFS-only. Mills could turn to the veteran Akins as a safety blanket option while being pursued by DE Brian Burns all night.
RB Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, & David Johnson — Ingram is the clear-cut lead rusher but David Johnson is dominating the receiving game. Facing a fearsome Panthers’ front-seven that’s allowed the fewest rushing yards on the year—just 93(!)—and one rushing touchdown, Ingram cannot be inserted into starting redraft lineups this week. Same goes for Lindsay. Given that Houston is likely to be trailing all night, DJ could be fired up in very deep, multi-flex, full-point PPR redraft leagues but he is not an advised option.