From a fantasy lens, dozens and dozens of players being sidelined is already greatly impacting the depth of your league and roster. Starting stars is as justifiable as ever, but I am still here to take a flamethrower to your optimism on a weekly basis, highlighting a handful of upcoming “busts” for the forthcoming slate of games. Let me be clear - I like fun, I prefer to focus on positives and, most of all, do not hate any of these players. I simply believe they will perform below their normal output.
Patriots QB Cam Newton at Chiefs (-7)
Total: o/u 53.5 - 56% Started
Cam Newton currently stands as the QB7 in fantasy points per game - safe to say I’m skittish in telling you to expect a fantasy output below his 25-point average… yet a few points send me in that direction. Through three games, it is clear the Patriots understand their offensive limitations, namely due to the lack of individual playmakers outside of the quarterback. Cam’s average intended air yards is 4th lowest in the NFL (6.4). To expand, 14 of 17 completions last week against the Raiders traveled less than six yards downfield, including eight behind the line of scrimmage. Only Julian Edelman can be trusted to win downfield, so manufactured touches to running backs and receivers closer to the line of scrimmage are the most reliable route to getting the ball into skill position players’ hands. Cam is always a threat to score two touchdowns near the goal line which would eliminate any “bust” label, but his passing game ceiling seems to be closer to Raiders/Dolphins levels than Week 2 versus Seattle.
Also consider what this Chiefs Defense limited Lamar Jackson to on Monday night - 97 passing yards on a team with much more receiving talent. Jackson added 83 yards on the ground to salvage his day, but L-Jax and Cam’s running styles are drastically different - swiftness versus hammer. Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick can make any pessimism look moronic, but I’ll consider Newton a lower end QB1 while facing the best pass defense he’s come across during his time with the Patriots thus far.
Prediction: 24 of 34 for 195 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs. 11 carries for 47 yards and 1 TD.
Bucs QB Tom Brady vs Chargers (+7)
Total: o/u 43.5 - 38% Started
Through three games, Brady is the QB17 in average fantasy points per game despite attempting over 36 passes per contest. That is not Brady’s fault. Yes, the miscommunications with Mike Evans and others stood out in Week 1, but Brady has been quite dialed in and has been let down, especially with drops, by his supporting cast and LT Donovan Smith. Brady’s ineffectiveness when pressured is obvious, dropping to 33rd in yards per attempt when disrupted. This has been a strength of the Chargers this season. As always, LAC continues to deal with a mountain of injuries, namely Derwin James and Chris Harris. In this instance, DE Melvin Ingram and DT Justin Jones, two players who missed last week, are imperative in order for the Chargers to keep a strength strong. This “bust” hinges on their status, with Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery also possessing the ability to create havoc in a game with a projected low-ish total.
Prediction: 23 of 35 for 225 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
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Falcons TE Hayden Hurst at Packers (-7.5)
Total: o/u 57.5 - 48% Started
On paper, Hurst has filled in for Austin Hooper as the team’s top TE. Yet the volume difference is drastic when comparing the two. Through three games last season, Hooper handled 22 targets - compare that to Hurst’s 16, including just three last weekend against the Bears. It’s even more concerning when you consider Ryan has five more attempts this season through three games versus 2019. With Julio Jones out last week and Russell Gage absent for much of the game, you would think the target distribution would never get more narrow for Atlanta. Still, Hurst was not featured. One theory - OL questions and injuries to both tackles is forcing Hurst to help more with protections on passing downs. That question likely remains against a Packers team that tries to attack the quarterback from multiple angles.
Prediction: 7 targets, 4 catches for 45 yards
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Giants WR Darius Slayton at Rams (-13)
Total: o/u 48 - 42% Started
Now a two-time “bust” list contender, Slayton made me look foolish in Week 1 with a signature spiked week performance on the back of 102 yards and two scores against a Steelers Defense with more loose ends than expected, including a 41-yard touchdown. Since? Two games, six receptions and 86 yards while the pieces around him continue to be eliminated due to injury. Daniel Jones has been pressured on over 40% of his dropbacks this season, the most in the NFL. Now the Giants get Aaron Donald and Co. With Sterling Shepard on IR, Slayton stands out as the Giants’ best outside option, meaning he likely draws Jalen Ramsey’s focus this week. A long touchdown is always in the range of outcomes with Slayton, but that is simply not a style I want to rely on in a difficult matchup.
Prediction: 7 targets, 3 receptions for 43 yards
Colts QB Philip Rivers at Bears (+2.5)
Total: o/u 45 - 6% Started
It’s unlikely many of you are starting Rivers at this point with the Colts’ QB averaging 14 fantasy points per game, but with the Falcons scoring 26 last week and the Lions posting 23 points in Week 1, the Bears Defense could easily allow the Colts to reach their projected total of 24 points as road favorites. Through three games, Chicago’s defense has been a true run funnel by allowing the 4th fewest fantasy points in the air this season - compared to 25th on the ground. As Rich Hribar points out, the ceiling for opposing quarterbacks has been two touchdowns for nearly two full seasons. In Rivers’ favor, we have yet to see the best of T.Y. Hilton and Nyheim Hines is a player with a few special spiked weeks in him, but the losses of Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman, two players this team intended to rely on, likely lowers the week to week possibility of a ceiling performance from Phil.
Prediction: 21 of 28 for 234 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT