Crockett Gillmore vs. Cincinnati
Someone at one of the offensive skill positions has to stand up and become a viable target behind Steve Smith. While Smith has been a dynamo out of the gate, we can’t expect him to make it out of his final season alive garnering as many looks as he’s received. It seems Marlon Brown isn’t up to the task and Breshad Perriman is still stuck in the starting blocks. Justin Forsett is having a hard enough of a time helping on the ground, never mind chipping in mightily in the passing game.
That leaves just the tight end position, and Gillmore could answer the bell. Rookie tight end Maxx Williams isn’t commanding many, if any, looks from Joe Flacco so Gillmore should, conceivably, handle all that he can. Last week’s 88 yards and two touchdowns could be a foreshadowing of what could be his workload moving forward. A meek game against Cincinnati would relegate Gillmore back into the abyss of low-end tight end options.
Cam Newton vs. New Orleans
You’ve got to give it to Newton through two weeks. He’s made his way without his best wide receiver and has handled two of the tougher defenses in the league. With two of the less-appealing defensive matchups of the season out of the way, the sailing looks to get smoother for Newton starting this week. We should expect his passing numbers to increase and for his rushing yards per carry to rise. New Orleans is vulnerable to both of those aspects on defense so this is “thank you for your patience” reward game for owners who have suffered through all the turbulence. If Newton were to suddenly turn in his Superman cape for a “Poor me, Cry Baby” routine, he’d lose all the ground he’s regained as a QB1. Newton has go for about 250 in the air with two touchdowns while also padding around 50 rushing yards into the mix to avoid a regression.
Amari Cooper vs. Cleveland
Cooper has played very well very early in his career. It’s rare for a rookie wide receiver to do what he’s been able to in just his first two games. He clearly has an elite chemistry with Derek Carr and is able to take any catch to the house. Week 3, however, offers up an SAT-style of test for us to gauge exactly where Cooper is in his growth. He’ll face a top-5 corner on every snap as Joe Haden will be shadowing him all game long. It’s going to be tough sledding, so if Cooper can handle his business here, he can do it anywhere. If Cooper were to finish with 100 yards and a score he’d quickly find himself just outside the top-10 of the wide receiver rankings. With all the injuries that have been suffered by wide receivers to this point, added to the sudden plague suffered by mid-level quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler), Cooper could end up inside the top-10 ranks for the remainder of the season. Getting served up by Joe Haden for four full quarters will result in him still lingering in around the 20th wide receiver position.
Julio Jones at Dallas
Quick review for those who haven’t been paying attention at home – Jordy Nelson is out for the year; Dez Bryant is out for eight weeks; T.Y. Hilton is playing hurt; Calvin Johnson could end up playing catch with a 60-percent healthy Matthew Stafford for a few weeks; Alshon Jeffery is still hurt and without Jay Cutler for a few weeks; Brandin Cooks has started slow and is dealing with both injuries to himself and Drew Brees; Peyton Manning’s age is affecting Demaryius Thomas; and Kelvin Benjamin is out for the year. Now that you’re all caught up on the sudden downfall of the elite wide receivers, we can see that Julio Jones has the chance to be king of the mountain. As of right now, it comes down to Antonio Brown and Jones going shot for shot as the top dog at the position. Jones could lose positioning though if he were to come up short against Dallas. Dallas’ defense has played well enough for the first two weeks but is still soft, with the exceptions of Sean Lee and Barry Church. Jones has to keep the bus rolling if he wants to be viewed as the No. 1 WR for the rest of this year and heading into 2016.
Le’Veon Bell at St. Louis
Welcome back! Hope you learned your lesson. If not, St. Louis is here to finish the lecture. Nothing could be worse than serving a two-game suspension only to find yourself facing a top-end defense while you attempt to get your feet wet. Bell is a no-brainer starter in any and all formats but coming out as the top-ranked running back looks to be setting the bar too high to start with. If Bell were to come out looking like his 2014 self while only surrendering a few breather plays to DeAngelo Williams, he’d be nothing short a top-3 ranked runner for the rest of the year. The flipside to that is if Bell comes up rusty and Williams not only steals valuable plays but entire series and touchdowns, Bell’s 2015 stock could take an even further hit. Bell owners can’t afford to sit back and watch him lose two touchdowns to Williams and finish with something around 60 yards against St. Louis. Tons of value on the line for Bell.