Bears

Fantasy Football: 11 waiver wire targets for Week 3 and beyond

chris_carson_fantasy_waiver_wire_week_3_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Fantasy Football: 11 waiver wire targets for Week 3 and beyond

Well it appears we have another injury-riddled fantasy season on our hands this fall.

Studs like David Johnson and Greg Olsen are already down while Odell Beckham Jr. has missed a game and made almost no impact in the one contest he did appear in. Then on the other hand, Ezekiel Elliott has had hardly any positive effect on fantasy even though he's surprisingly been active for the first two weeks.

All told, it's a mess.

When three of the consensus Top 6 picks in a perfect, suspension-free world (Johnson, Elliott, Beckham) are struggling or injured to this magnitude, no doubt the waiver wire comes into play in a far more impactful way than usual at this time of year (aka, pre-Bye weeks).

Here are 11 guys to target entering Week 3 and beyond:

1. Chris Carson, RB, SEA

Carson may be the Tarik Cohen of Week 3, as a must-add pick of the week. (Note: If Cohen is somehow available in your league, make sure to rectify that immediately. Dude is a stud and a huge part of the Bears offense.) Carson is owned in less than 10 percent of ESPN leagues, but it appears all the hype he generated in preseason is legit. This is no Christine Michael/Robert Turbin situation in Seattle with guys who had a big preseason and failed to make a fantasy impact. Carson had 21 touches in the Seahawks' win over the Niners last week while Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch and Thomas Rawls (5 carries) continues to nurse an injury. C.J. Prosise did not get a carry and looks to be a factor only in passing games. Carson — a 7th-round rookie — is the only Seattle back with his arrow pointing up and he could take the job and run with it — literally.

2. J.J. Nelson, WR, ARI

Most fantasy owners know who Nelson is and I would bet some have even owned him or thought about picking him up in the past. The third-year speedster is certainly worthy of a spot on your roster now, possibly even as a starter moving forward. With John Brown out in Week 2 and Larry Fitzgerald looking like Father Time is catching up to him, Nelson exploded for 5 catches on 7 targets and a TD. He has caught 10-of-13 targets this season with a TD in each game and has been the Cardinals' most worthwhile player in fantasy this season, to the surprise of everybody but maybe Nelson's mom. 

3. Coby Fleener, TE, NO

With Olsen going on IR with a broken foot, fantasy owners need to replace him STAT. Unless you had a backup tight end on your roster (which typically isn't the best strategy, you guys), Fleener should be available, as he's only owned in about 31 percent of ESPN leagues. He's scored a TD in back-to-back weeks and is a good bet to do so again in Week 3 given he scores basically every week the Saints are without Willie Snead (who's suspended until Week 4). But even when Snead returns, Fleener is clearly a factor in this Saints offense that will have to THROW every single week. I was apparently a year too soon on Fleener's big breakout.

4. Chris Thompson, RB, WAS

Thompson is owned in 70 percent of fantasy leagues, but that should be 100 percent, especially in PPR. He has 3 TDs this year and is a dynamic, consistent force in a Washington backfield that still has some question marks. His coach is talking about expanding his role, but be warned, Jay Gruden also said he doesn't want to give Thompson 20-25 carries a game because he's too small to take the beating.

5. Samaje Perine, RB, WAS

Owned in only 2 percent of leagues, Perine went from a goose egg in Week 1 to 22 touches in Week 2. The 4th-round rookie was expected to make an impact at some point this season, but after the first week of action, nobody thought it'd come to this level in Week 2. Rob Kelley still received 12 carries and averaged 6.5 yards per carry (compared to Perine's 3.2), so the situation is muddled right now. But Perine should be owned and stashed, at the very least.

6. Chris Johnson, RB, ARI

With David Johnson out, many turned to Kerwynn Williams immediately as a fill-in. But Williams was ineffective early in Week 2 and Chris Johnson — who was released by ARI before the season started and signed immediately after David's injury — took over and had 11 carries in Week 2. He's 31 and hasn't been a fantasy factor in two years, but Chris Johnson could be the Cardinals back worth owning in David Johnson's absence.

7. Rashard Higgins, WR, CLE

Higgins was a complete unknown to the fantasy world 72 hours ago. But after playing 54 of the Browns' 71 snaps in Week 2 and garnering 11 targets with 7 catches and 95 yards, the second-year receiver is one of the hottest adds on the waiver wire this week. Corey Coleman is likely headed to injured reserve for the second year in a row and Higgins is now listed as a starter in Cleveland and clearly has some rapport with DeShone Kizer. Higgins sure looks like the top Cleveland receiver to own right now. The best news? He's owned in just 0.4 percent of fantasy leagues. 

8. Marqise Lee, WR, JAC

Allen Robinson went down and Marqise Lee stepped up. Lee had 7 catches for 76 yards, corralling a team-high 12 targets. Allen Hurns had more yards (82) and scored but only had 7 targets. There's still much to be decided in the Jacksonville passing game, but Lee is the best bet to receive the top share of targets right now and he actually had 851 yards and 3 TDs last season, so he's already been a low-end fantasy factor for a little while now. 

9. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, NYJ

More Olsen insurance. ASJ returns from a two-game suspension this week and will immediately slot in as one of the only weapons on the Jets offense. He's still only 24 and has flashed enormous fantasy potential in the past. It's worth taking a chance if you're in desperate need for a TE.

10. Jermaine Kearse, WR, NYJ

Kearse's trade from Seattle to New York was one of the more under-the-radar moves of the preseason, but he's been a factor with the WR-thin Jets already  15 targets, 11 catches, 123 yards, 2 TDs in two games. Kearse could be a good target for those Jordy Nelson owners looking for a one- or two-week option or any fantasy team needing a low-risk long-term option.

11. D'Onta Foreman, RB, HOU

Let's end this week's waiver picks with a strictly long-term option on the market. Right now, Lamar Miller is the guy in Houston, but he's had 18 games in a row without much of an impact and all the whispers have turned into a roar suggesting the Texans need to make a RB change. It's looking like a near-certainty Foreman unseats Miller at some point this season and that point could even be in Week 3. The 235-pound rookie back only had one carry in Week 1 but had 12 carries in Week 2 and clearly ate into Miller's touches in a game Houston won, so consider it a harbinger of things to come. Scoop Foreman now with the possibility of him making an impact at some point this fantasy season, possibly as early as Week 3.

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

12-15mattstaffordnickkwit.jpg
USA Today

Prediction: Can the Bears carry over what they did in Cincinnati to Detroit?

The question was posed to Mitchell Trubisky at Paul Brown Stadium following the Bears’ 33-7 destruction of the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend: Was the offensive more aggressive today?

“Sure, it’s fair to say,” Trubisky said with a confident, wry grin. “Everyone’s got opinions.”

The follow-up: Is it accurate to say that?

“It’s accurate,” Trubisky said. 

Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with both a passing and rushing touchdown in Cincinnati, but more importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over while operating a more aggressive and expansive gameplan. The effectiveness of the Bears’ ground game — led by Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and, as heading an excellent showing by the offensive line, Cody Whitehair — helped make sure the passing game was going to open up against a depleted and downtrodden Bengals defense. 

The Detroit Lions have a lot more to play for on Saturday at Ford Field than the Bengals did last weekend: At 7-6, they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive NFC. Detroit didn’t have standout defensive end Ziggy Ansah for its 27-24 win over the Bears at Soldier Field in November; Ansah is officially questionable for Saturday but seems likely to play. 

As my colleague John ‘Moon’ Mullin pointed out, though, the biggest key for the Bears on Saturday will be not turning the ball over: The Lions have been losers in three of the four games in which their defense didn’t generate a takeaway. But since squeaking by the Bears in Week 11, the Lions lost by seven at home to the Minnesota Vikings, were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens and — despite forcing five turnovers — beat the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers by only three points last week. 

So even though the Lions have something to play for, this is a team that’s beatable. Expect another close game; if the Bears play close to as well as they did against Cincinnati, they very well could leave Michigan with their fifth win of the season. 

Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 23

Why historical context for Mitchell Trubisky's 2017 is encouraging for 2018

12-15mitchelltrubisky.jpg
USA Today

Why historical context for Mitchell Trubisky's 2017 is encouraging for 2018

In the last decade, 22 quarterbacks have started at least 12 games in their respective rookie years. If Mitchell Trubisky finishes out the 2017 season, he’ll hit that dozen-start mark as well. 

So with that in mind, where do his numbers stack up against that group with three games remaining? His stats could still fluctuate in these final weekends against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, of course. But if what he’s done in his first nine starts remains largely unchanged, he’ll have put up numbers that represent a decent foundation on which to build in 2018. 

Trubisky has an interception rate of 1.87; only two quarterbacks have gone through their rookie years in the last decade with an interception rate lower than 2 percent: Dallas’ Dak Prescott (0.87, 2016) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III (2012, 1.27 percent). Injuries derailed Griffin’s career, while Prescott has been outstanding while playing next to Ezekiel Elliott and struggled without his running back.  

But the point here: Quarterbacks have to learn ball security at some point, and Trubisky may be ahead of the curve in that regard. That the Bears opened up their offense on Sunday, having Trubisky throw 32 passes in a blowout win, was a signal this coaching staff trusted him to operate a more expansive scheme and not turn the ball over (which he did). 

Trubisky, though, is only averaging 6.7 yards per attempt — 25th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in 2017. Of the 22 rookie quarterbacks in the last decade, though, 13 averaged fewer than seven yards per attempt as rookies:

Quarterback Rookie Year Y/A 2nd year Y/A +/-
Blaine Gabbert 2011 5.4 6.0 +0.6
Derek Carr 2014 5.5 7.0 +1.5
Sam Bradford 2010 6.0 6.1 +0.1
DeShone Kizer 2017 6.0 N/A N/A
Blake Bortles 2014 6.1 7.3 +1.2
Carson Wentz 2016 6.2 7.5 +1.3
Mike Glennon 2013 6.3 7.0 +0.7
Brandon Weeden 2012 6.6 6.5 -0.1
Andy Dalton 2011 6.6 6.0 +0.3
Mark Sanchez 2009 6.7 6.5 -0.2
Ryan Tannehill 2012 6.8 6.7 -0.1
Geno Smith 2013 6.9 6.9 0.0
Joe Flacco 2008 6.9 7.2 +0.3

That's an average gain of 0.5 yards per attempt from Year 1 to Year 2 isn’t exactly significant, and the names on this list (save for Wentz) aren't exactly inspiring. But here’s a more encouraging comparison: How the 17 quarterbacks in the last decade who’ve started at least 12 games in both their first and second seasons in the league improved in terms of passer rating:

Quarterback Rookie Year Rookie PR 2nd year PR +/-
Dak Prescott 2016 104.9 91.6 -13.3
Robert Griffin III 2012 102.4 82.2 -20.2
Russell Wilson 2012 100.0 101.9 +1.9
Marcus Mariota 2015 91.5 95.6 +4.1
Matt Ryan 2008 87.7 80.9 -6.8
Teddy Bridgewater 2014 85.2 88.7 +2.5
Cam Newton 2011 84.5 86.2 +1.7
Jameis Winston 2015 84.2 86.1 +1.9
Andy Dalton 2011 80.4 87.4 +7.0
Joe Flacco 2008 80.3 88.9 +8.6
Carson Wentz 2016 79.3 101.9 +22.6
Derek Carr 2014 76.6 91.1 +14.5
Andrew Luck 2012 76.5 87.0 +10.5
Ryan Tannehill 2012 76.1 81.78 +5.6
Blake Bortles 2014 69.5 88.2 +18.7
Geno Smith 2013 66.5 77.5 +11
Mark Sanchez 2009 63.0 75.3 +12.3

Trubisky, entering Saturday’s game against the Detroit Lions, has a passer rating of 80.0. 

Most quarterbacks made at at least incremental gains from Year 1 to Year 2, with Ryan probably the biggest outlier here given he was fine as a rookie, then took a step back in Year 2. Prescott and Griffin both had passer ratings over 100 as rookies and regressed as sophomores. 

Nine of the quarterbacks above had a rookie passer rating between 75-85: Winston, Wentz, Tannehill, Newton, Luck, Flacco, Dalton, Carr and Bridgewater (we’re including Bridgewater in here, because 85.2 is close enough). Those nine quarterbacks averaged a passer rating gain of 8.3 points from Year 1 to Year 2. Overall, these 17 quarterbacks saw, on average, their passer ratings increase by 4.8 points from Year 1 to Year 2. 

So beyond the encouraging signs we’ve seen from Trubisky on and off the field this year, the numbers point to the Bears’ franchise quarterback improving in his second season in the NFL. An that’s a good start to answering the question of how far the Bears can go in 2018, no matter who he’s throwing to or who’s coaching him.