Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Jones 55, and Jordan Hicks 58
Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Jones 55, and Jordan Hicks 58, in action during their game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Sept 19, 2021, in Glendale, AZ. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)


Mike Shara

Remember now – I’m talking about sneaky fantasy starters for this weekend – guys who you might be debating leaving on your bench or who might not even be on someone’s fantasy team yet. Any ham-&-egger can tell you that starting Christian McCaffrey vs. Houston on Thursday is probably a good idea. I’m here for nuance – and for the free oatmeal cookies.

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Here is one player at each key position I’d hate for you to overlook in Week Three:

Anyone else find it curious that Daniel Jones has been the starting quarterback for an NFL team in the biggest market in America for the last few years and yet you wouldn’t recognize him standing right beside you in line at Chipotle? I bet you also haven’t noticed that he’s racked up over 500 passing yards with 2 TD’s (and no INT’s) and over 120 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs in his first two games this season. Well, he did – and that was in games against Washington and Denver, two of the NFL’s better defenses. This week he faces Atlanta, who currently are leading the NFL in points allowed and are safely in the bottom half of the league in both rush and pass defense. You may have a bigger name QB on your fantasy roster, but it’s unlikely that QB will have a better matchup this week.

Speaking of guys, I wouldn’t know at Chipotle. Now emerging in Green Bay after going undrafted out of football powerhouse Indiana State in 2018 and being released by the Lions (!), Tonyan caught over 50 passes last year and already has a touchdown and is lining up in about 50% of the Packers’ offensive sets in 2021. The 49ers’ secondary/linebacker corps is already injury-wracked again this year and Aaron Rodgers may be looking for a few efficient checkdown targets against San Francisco’s formidable defensive line on Sunday night. Tonyan might have more space to operate this week than you’d think.

I don’t know if anyone would want to be the starting tailback for the Ravens right now. They’ve already had two RB’s suffer season-ending knee injuries, so this could end badly for Williams if that trend continues, but there’s lots to like so far. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry and has already caught 5 passes for 45 yards out of the backfield as well. Admittedly he’s only lining up in about half the Ravens’ offensive plays, and he will undoubtedly continue to share playing time with Latavius Murray (at least until one of them blows a knee, too), so there is a cap on his upside. The Ravens run the ball more than most teams, though, and they may have to keep running it with so many of their receivers injured this week. On Sunday he faces the Lions – a phrase every fantasy owner loves to read. You saw what Aaron Jones did on Monday night against Detroit, right? Due to his reputation and experience, Murray could eventually nudge Williams out as the Ravens’ #1 back, but this week I’d bet Williams gets enough action to make him a valuable RB play, or certainly at least as a FLEX.

Another phrase fantasy owners love to read: this week my guy faces the Texans! However, it’s not just the matchup vs. Houston that makes me like Moore, especially this week. Ok…it’s mostly the Houston thing. However, the former first round pick out of Maryland is now in his fourth season and finally coming into his own, becoming a touchstone for a re-jigged Panthers’ offense. He has clearly established a quick rapport with new quarterback Sam Darnold – he was targeted 11 times last week vs. New Orleans, made 8 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown and he appeared in almost 90% of Carolina’s offensive plays. With Curtis Samuel’s 77 catches from 2020 gone to Washington (and their Injured List), Moore has been given more runway. I think last week was just the start of him really starting to use it.

I have the Cards’ defense in one of my Yahoo leagues and as of Wednesday night it appears that only 44% of fantasy owners are starting Arizona’s D this weekend vs. Jacksonville. I have to assume that number is going to rise steadily as Sunday approaches. The Cardinals are second in the NFL in pass yards and in total yards allowed per game, and their first two games were against Tennessee and Minnesota – teams that are, you know… somewhat competent offensively. The Jags, on the other hand, remain conspicuously Jags-like. New Head Coach Urban Meyer is already fielding questions about leaving to take the job at USC and complaining about how tough the NFL schedule is, saying it’s “like facing Alabama every weekend”. He may wish it was the Crimson Tide instead this week as his struggling Jags defense (25th vs. the run and 27th vs. the pass) face Kyler Murray and company. If Jacksonville falls behind early, it could resemble a fun day for their defensive players to really peel back their ears and really get after rookie QB Trevor Lawrence, who has struggled early.

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