Fantasy football lessons from Week 3: Is Christine Michael’s lead role in Seattle safe?
If and when Christine Michael is ready for a nickname, I want to submit The Inventor for consideration. Just like Thomas Edison, Michael didn’t fail 1,000 times; he just found 999 ways that didn’t work for being a successful NFL running back. He broke through in what seemed like his 1,000th try on Sunday, and now he may never look back.
Michael got his second start of the year in Week 3, though this time he didn’t have to share carriers with Thomas Rawls. Michael took full advantage, running for 106 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career on 20 carries in the Seahawks’ 37–18 win over the 49ers. He looked the part of a workhorse, handling 20 of the team’s 27 running back carries. He showed breakaway ability, rumbling for a 41-yard score on the opening drive. He flashed his strength in short-yardage, powering into the end zone from four yards out for his second touchdown. Michael did everything you’d want to see from a running back you’re going to count on as a bell cow all season. All that’s up for discussion is whether or not he’ll get that chance.
Rawls wasn’t officially ruled out until Sunday. He’s still nursing the calf injury he suffered last week, but it’s likely he’ll be healthy enough to play within the next few weeks. Rawls was a revelation for this team last year, and it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks completely relegating him to the sidelines in favor of Michael. At the same time, Michael has been one of the most effective backs in the league this year, running for 232 yards on 45 carries, good for 5.16 yards per tote. In short, Michael is demanding a large role in the offense. Should he retain it when Rawls returns, he’ll project as an RB1 for the remainder of the season.
With that, let’s turn to the rest of the fantasy takeaways from Week 3.
Where were you when Terrelle Pryor broke out?
I was in my apartment on the north side of Chicago, watching Pryor do a little bit of everything—and a whole lot of receiving—for the Browns. The Browns fell to 0–3 after an overtime loss to the Dolphins, but Pryor cannot be held responsible. He caught eight passes for 144 yards, completed three of five passes for 35 yards, and ran the ball four times for 21 yards and a touchdown. That made him the second player in NFL history with 100 receiving yards, 30 passing yards and 20 rushing yards in the same game. The first? David Patten, who achieved the feat for the Patriots in a win over the Colts on Oct. 21, 2001, the fourth start of Tom Brady’s career.
While it was fun to watch Pryor turn in a uniquely multi-faceted performance, he’s going to have to make his way as a receiver. He proved himself perfectly capable of doing that on Sunday. Pryor created matchup problems all over the field. He showed that he’s more than just a deep-ball threat, turning a simple slant into a 40-yard play thanks to a perfectly executed route that created plenty of separation for him to do damage after the catch. It’s easy to forget when watching Pryor that he’s still learning how to be a receiver. The fact that he’s already as good as he showed against the Dolphins on Sunday should have Browns fans excited amid what looks like another lost season. Pryor is going to be part of the fantasy landscape for the rest of the year.
The R-E-L-A-X Game, 2.0
Aaron Rodgers didn’t explicitly come out and give everyone a lesson in first-grade spelling this week like he did two years ago when the Packers were in the midst of a struggle. Rodgers went on to win the MVP and lead the Packers to the NFC Championship Game that year. Whether or not that happens again will be determined over the next four months, but we do know that the demise of the Green Bay offense was, again, overstated.
Rodgers carved up the Lions right from the jump on Sunday. He marched the Packers 75 yards on eight plays in less than four minutes on the first possession of the game, finishing it off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams. On Green Bay’s next play from scrimmage, he hooked up with Jordy Nelson for a 49-yard strike and found Nelson three plays later for an eight-yard score. Green Bay had three more possessions in the first half, and two of them ended with Rodgers touchdowns. By time the Packers and Lions headed into the locker room at halftime, Green Bay led 31–10 and all was right at Lambeau Field.
Detroit put the clamps on Rodgers and the Green Bay offense in the second half, though that was partly Mike McCarthy’s doing, as he called an incredibly conservative game with the Packers in command. All told, Rodgers finished with 205 yards and four touchdowns. Just as importantly, he totaled 8.54 yards per attempt after posting 5.89 YPA in Green Bay’s first two games. In Rodgers’s monster fantasy seasons, most notably 2011 and ’14, he was a ruthlessly efficient scorer. Last year, when the offense sputtered without Nelson, Rodgers finished with 6.68 YPA. To see him back above 8.0 YPA on Sunday is a sure sign that the offense is headed in the right direction.
The Packers are still in search of a reliable second pass catcher, with Randall Cobb non-existent for the ninth straight game dating back to last season. Still, with Rodgers and Nelson humming once again and Eddie Lacy unleashed on the ground (he ran for 103 yards on 17 carries Sunday), fantasy owners invested in the Green Bay offense can, you guessed it, relax.
Shane Vereen is a thing
Rashad Jennings was trending in the wrong direction long before he was a surprise inactive on Sunday. That opened the door for Vereen to take over as the primary back in New York, and he didn’t disappoint. Vereen carried the ball 11 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, and caught two of his five targets for 28 yards. He brought a dimension that the offense lacked with Jennings in the starter’s chair, and that could keep Vereen in a prominent role for the rest of the season.
Orleans Darkwa also ran well in the Giants’ loss to Washington, picking up 53 yards and a score on 10 carries. Jennings isn’t simply going to recede into the darkness for the rest of the season, so Vereen owners shouldn’t expect him to maintain workhorse status. What they could get, however, is a reliable RB2.
Vereen outsnapped and outcarried Jennings last week, with the latter woefully ineffective in a win over the Saints. Vereen was much better in that game, and he carried that into Sunday’s loss to Washington. At this point, the Giants can’t afford to turn away from Vereen as a mainstay in the offense, even if he ends up sharing duties with both Jennings and Darkwa. It’s not a stretch to expect him to average 16 carries plus targets per game going forward. With that sort of volume in an offense like the Giants’, Vereen can be a regular starter for his owners, regardless of league size or format.
O.K., Carson Wentz is legit
When he did it against the Browns, a lot of people, myself included, said, “All right, let’s see him do it against a real team.” When he did it against the Bears, those same people, myself included, said, “All right, the Bears are barely realer than the Browns.” There’s no denying it now. After Wentz led the Eagles to a 34–3 drubbing of the Steelers, it’s officially time to believe.
Wentz was better on Sunday than we saw him in either of the Eagles’ previous games, throwing for 301 yards, 9.71 YPA and two touchdowns. He has now attempted 102 passes in his career without an interception. He got plenty of help from his receivers on Sunday, especially Darren Sproles, who did a ton of work after the catch, most notably on a 73-yard touchdown. Still, Wentz and coach Doug Pederson are looking like an excellent match.
To be fair, Wentz hasn’t checked every box in the first three games of his career, despite what the cosmetic stats say. He wasn’t terribly efficient in the Eagles’ wins over the Browns and Bears, racking up 6.59 YPA. He showed that the efficiency is a club in his bag, but regularly posting better than 8.0 YPA is the next step for the Eagles rookie. No matter what, though, he has placed himself firmly on the fantasy radar.
The Buccaneers still have Doug Martin—he just goes by a different name
Week 3 marked the first of what is expected to be a three-game absence for Martin, who suffered a hamstring injury last week. Charles Sims filled in admirably in the Buccaneers’ loss to the Rams, running for 55 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and catching six of his eight targets for 69 yards. In the process, Sims showed that the Buccaneers aren’t going to miss a step without Martin.
Sims may not have Martin’s level of pure talent, but his skill set fits nearly any offense. He proved his pass-catching bona fides last season, hauling in 51 passes on 70 targets for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Unlike some backs who do all their damage as receivers, Sims can also produce on the ground. He got 107 carries last year, running for 529 yards, good for nearly five yards per carry. Sims showed that time and again on Sunday, converting short-yardage plays for first downs and picking up extra yardage after contact.
Martin’s injury isn’t thought to be long-term, and with Tampa Bay’s bye looming in Week 6, there’s a good chance he’ll be back by the middle of October. At the very least, Sims is going to be a locked-in fantasy starter while Martin is out. He also has a chance to carve out a larger role in a timeshare with Martin when the regular starter returns.
Lightning round takeaways
Baltimore’s backfield remains an unproductive mess: Terrance West ran for 45 yards on 10 carries Sunday. Justin Forsett picked up 20 on seven totes. West was a non-factor as a receiver, while Forsett caught six passes—and somehow accumulated just 12 yards through the air. Stash Kenneth Dixon while you still can.
Jacksonville’s running game isn’t any better: Chris Ivory wasn’t a recommended play in his season debut, still working his way into game shape after missing the first two games of the season with an injury. Getting just 14 yards on 12 carries does not portend well for the future, however. T.J. Yeldon had 67 yards on 28 carries in Jacksonville’s first two games, raising questions about the offensive line’s ability to open up holes for its running backs. This could be a serious issue for Ivory and Yeldon the rest of the way.
Trevor Siemian makes a certain SI.com writer look bad: O.K., Siemian, you win. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and I was completely wrong about Siemian and the Broncos’ passing game on Sunday. This performance begs for further review when the replay is available on Monday, but Siemian may not be a disaster for Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both played well and finished on the receiving end of 217 of Siemian’s 319 yards, along with three of his four touchdowns.
Nothing can stop David Johnson: No defense can slow down Johnson. Arizona’s personnel can’t keep him from a huge workload this season. On Sunday, he proved he’s resistant to a bad game script. The Cardinals were in a big hole early against the Bills, and they never climbed out of it. And yet, Johnson ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, hauling in three passes for 28 yards. He and Le’Veon Bell are the ideal backs for today’s NFL.