Surprises this week, both good and bad, will likely emerge from a passer facing a dilapidated secondary, a rookie quarterback who should remain comfortable in the pocket and a highly-touted running back who finds himself in a three-way battle for rushing opportunities.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
The entire Minnesota Vikings looked pedestrian on Sunday, falling victim to a historic upset at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. Cousins was pressured 32 times in that matchup, ultimately turning in a dismal performance that would win the team just 10 percent of its games over a full season (10.0 QBR) according to historical averages.
This week the Vikings will face the 3-0 Los Angeles Rams, which normally would trigger an automatic “sit” for any passing attack, but the Rams, on short rest, will be without cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. As a result, slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, as well as Sam Shields and Troy Hill will be called on to defend Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, arguably one of the best wideout tandems in the NFL.
That’s a tall task for any secondary, especially one that will be without Talib, who was allowing less than a yard per cover snap in 2018 (0.5, 6th-lowest among 76 qualified corners).
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, was impressive in his debut against the New York Jets. The rookie completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards in relief of Tyrod Taylor, and while he didn’t toss a touchdown pass he didn’t throw an interception, either, leading him to a 100.1 rating in his first game as a pro.
On Sunday he will face an Oakland Raiders team that ranks last for its ability to pass rush and was 22nd in pass coverage per the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
Added bonus: Mayfield is rostered in only seven percent of fantasy football leagues, so if you are looking for a bye-week or injury replacement he should be available on this week’s waiver wire.
Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Arizona Cardinals
Seals-Jones caught 1 of 3 targets for 35 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Bears but the 49ers, this week’s opponent, have allowed 202 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends this season for a whopping 142.1 passer rating against, the second-highest rating in the NFL.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders
Lynch has rushing touchdowns in three straight games but the Browns' run defense could bring that to a halt.
The five-time Pro Bowler is averaging over three yards per carry after contact, however, Cleveland’s front seven, led by Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi and Joe Schobert, have combined for 27 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage this season.
Teams have also scored 20 points fewer than expected against Cleveland this season on rushing plays after accounting for the down, distance and field position of each attempt, the third-best mark behind the Minnesota Vikings (23 fewer) and New Orleans Saints (21 fewer).
Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
Enunwa has caught 17 of 29 targets this year for 212 yards and a touchdown but will face the Jaguars' fearsome secondary. Ranked No. 1 by PFF this preseason, Jacksonville’s defensive backs have allowed just one wideout, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants, to break the 100-yard mark this season. Teammate Sterling Shepard has the second-most yards against Jacksonville, a mere 48. New England’s Chris Hogan is the only wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass against the Jaguars this season.
Through three weeks, the Jaguars are allowing 8.7 fantasy points per wide receiver, two points fewer than the league average.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
On Sunday, Jones, in his first game of the season after serving a two-week suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, played six run snaps. Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams each played five. Normally it wouldn’t be too much of a concern — you’d expect the team to ease Jones back in before loading him up with carries — but Packers Coach Mike McCarthy told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky this may be the norm going forward.
“I really like the rotation of having all three guys because they’re distinctly different, but all three can play all three downs, and that says a lot,” McCarthy said. “We’ve never had this situation where you have three guys that can play three downs like that, so this will really help us moving forward.”
It might help the team, but it won’t help fantasy owners. Jones managed just 47 yards from scrimmage in his 2018 debut, not nearly enough to warrant a spot in this week’s lineup.
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