The injury bug is cruel and plays no favorites. David Johnson, Danny Woodhead and Allen Robinson are some of the fantasy starters who have been bitten. Next man up. As Week 3 arrives, continue to focus on the best matchups. Sometimes it’s wise to bench top-end talent when the odds aren’t in their favor.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland (at Indianapolis)
Twenty years ago, Detroit Lions back Barry Sanders had 53 yards through two games before gaining 100 yards or more in 14 straight games to finish the season with 2,053 yards. Crowell’s talent isn’t comparable to one of the greatest players of all time, but a slow start doesn’t mean his production is doomed. Enter Indianapolis’ inferior defense. Crowell gained 33 yards on 17 carries against Pittsburgh in Week 1 and recently struggled at Baltimore with 37 yards on 10 carries. Pittsburgh and Baltimore allowed an average of 74 yards and 85 yards in two games, respectively. Indianapolis is even better at 73 yards per game. Don’t believe the ruse. The Los Angeles Rams torched Indianapolis for 46 points in Week 1. Indianapolis gave up two rushing touchdowns to a below-average offense, then shut down Arizona backups Chris Johnson and Kerwynn Williams for 66 yards on 20 carries. It’s a mirage. In 2016, Indianapolis had the third-worst overall defense and eighth-worst rushing defense at 120.4 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game. Crowell runs behind one of the best offensive lines and left tackle Joe Thomas. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer cannot be counted on, meaning all signs point to Cleveland’s RB1 getting the lion’s share of the work.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City (at Los Angeles Chargers)
Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true. After torching New England for a debut record 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, the 22-year-old was elite against Philadelphia, gaining 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Now Hunt faces the Chargers, which allowed 140 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 1 and 122 yards to Miami’s Jay Ajayi. Some head coaches punish their rookies too harshly for an early mistake. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis benched wide receiver John Ross after he, on the first touch of his NFL career, gained 12 yards on an end-around and fumbled when Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson dislodged the ball with his helmet. Hunt also coughed up the ball on his first carry in Week 1 but Kansas City coach Andy Reid stuck with him. Coming into the season I thought Hunt would be an afterthought behind running back Spencer Ware because Reid likes to have a lead runner. As it turns out, Hunt will probably never relinquish the starting job unless he gets injured. The Chargers won’t stop him from posting RB1 numbers. Start Hunt every game from here on out regardless of the opponent.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland (at Washington)
The Washington secondary allows 269 yards passing and 1.5 touchdowns per game headed into Week 3. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr averages 246 yards passing, 2.5 touchdowns and 125.5 quarterback rating in that same time span. Crabtree is in for a treat. Amari Cooper is a stud, but since Washington cornerback Josh Norman will be in his hip pocket for much of the game, Crabtree has an opportunity to shine – again. Crabtree caught six receptions for 83 yards in the opener and six receptions for 80 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2. In the past two seasons with Oakland, Crabtree averaged 962.5 receiving yards, 87 receptions on 145.5 targets and 8.5 touchdowns. Cooper’s going to get more looks but the 23-year-old may also occasionally be double-teamed when facing Norman, while Crabtree, 30, gets man-to-man coverage against less-talented defenders. Look for Crabtree to excel inside the 20-yard line. In 2016, Crabtree either tied or ranked No. 4 outright in targets (21), receptions (12), touchdowns (six) and yards (96) in the red zone, per Pro Football Reference. Cooper caught five receptions on 13 targets and zero touchdowns, and Crabtree also had a 57.14 catch percentage compared to Cooper’s 38.46 percentage. Carr has said he wants to feature Cooper more in the red zone this year. That sounds logical, but history and the juicy matchup is why Carr may continue to lean on Crabtree and stick to what works best for the highest point-scoring potential.
Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans (at Carolina)
Remember when Fleener went from Indianapolis to New Orleans last year and everyone thought he would post monster numbers with quarterback Drew Brees? Fleener finished as TE12 and averaged 5.5 fantasy points per game. The 6-foot-6, six-year veteran might never reach the fantasy community’s expectations. What he can do, however, is exploit a Carolina defense that allowed the second-most fantasy points (209.7) and touchdowns (12) to opposing tight ends in 2016, per Pro Football Reference. Of the tight ends’ 78 receptions, 6.5 percent of the time it went for a touchdown. Maybe that number would have lessened had Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly not suffered a concussion in Week 11 and been lost for the season. In Week 13 Fleener caught six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown against Carolina; in Week 7 at Carolina, Fleener caught three receptions for 17 yards and a score. Brees’ home/road splits are telling, which is one reason Fleener’s production improved inside the comfortable confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. I don’t like Brees on the road but Fleener, in his second year with New Orleans, is a sneaky start.
Other players to like
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington (vs. Oakland)
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams (at San Francisco)
Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay (vs. Cincinnati)
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland (at Washington)
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota (vs. Tampa Bay)
Golden Tate, WR, Detroit (vs. Atlanta)
Chris Hogan, WR, New England (vs. Houston)