A quick note on the Saints: it's still early enough in the season to utilize the offseason beliefs we formulated for months, while mixing in a little reconceptualization of the current data. I thought all offseason that the Saints passing offense would take a big step backwards, and none of the main players would meet season-long ADP value. I should have let that take guide me into fading Drew Brees and Brandin Cooks as daily plays, instead of going with what seemed like the obvious pull of the crowd believing they would tear apart a bad Bucs secondary. It didn't hurt my lineups too badly, because I didn't go all in on those Saints, but if it did to yours, I'm sorry. We're learning, contextualizing data as we go, but don't forget to stick to the takes you spent months building. Adam Harstad, one of the writers I respect the most, loves to point out that a player's value ends up leveling out to preseason expectations from Week 5 and beyond. It is okay to stick to your guns, and use the valuable information gathered in the long offseason.
One thing you'll notice in this week's column, as opposed to the previous two editions is that less players are in consideration than before. There's a two-fold thought process in work here. First, obvious plays are becoming just that. You shouldn't need help from anyone to know players like Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski are optimal plays on a week-in-week-out basis. Follow the flow of the tide to see they have the ultra-sweet combo of an undeniable weekly floor and week-winning upside. Also, the site is tightening up. There will be fewer intersections of value/great matchup/workload as the season goes on, if previous seasons are any indication. Anyway, that's enough, let's get to it.
Top quarterback plays and values
Andrew Luck -- Look, the public follows trends blindly, and Andrew Luck is currently the QB27 in fantasy. A ghastly start to Luck's 2015 will scare off many. However, after duels with the grueling Bills and Jets defenses, Luck draws an inter-division matchup with the Titans, who let up 11.5 yards per attempt to the Johnny Manziel-led Browns. Luck is historically more efficient in divisional contests since 2013. He scores fantasy points at a near identical rate, but throws four fewer passes and .5 fewer interceptions in division games. His value is still in the same range as the Aaron Rodgers/Tom Brady tier, and the public will be all over those more recently prolific passers. You're getting a big advantage by shifting back to Luck in a great matchup.
Carson Palmer -- The Cardinals starting quarterback has been a feature in the Roundup every week, and for good reason: He's currently the QB3 in fantasy leagues. His value on FanDuel, however, still sits in the Ryan Tannehill (QB11) and Joe Flacco (QB31) range. We'll have to take advantage of Palmer every week as long as his value doesn't reflect the fact he's earning the designation of a weekly top quarterback play. This week, he'll welcome a secondary into Arizona that gave up 13.7 yards per pass attempt and a 77.8 percent completion rate to the Steelers in Week 2.
Cam Newton -- The Panthers have no choice but to run their offense entirely through Cam Newton. The star quarterback is averaging 12 rushing attempts per game, which would add up to a 192-carry season total. Whether that is sustainable or not is irrelevant for daily fantasy, we only care about this week. In line with his streaky ways, Newton followed up a 12.5-point snoozer in the opener with an explosive 27.4-point Week 2 to level off at a QB8. We're betting on this being one of his bigger weeks. He's at home facing the league's worst secondary -- the Saints surrender a league worst 9.5 yards per pass attempt. This is setting up for one of Newton's high scoring weeks, with a healthy combination of his air and ground skills. Newton also offers great lineup flexibility, because his rushing ability dictates you don't need to stack him with a pass catching option.
Ryan Fitzpatrick -- The Jets' offense is playing very well under Chan Gailey. The team is currently 12th in yards per offensive play. Ryan Fitzpatrick's history with Gailey has a positive effect felt throughout the entire offense. He draws a great matchup against the Eagles defense this week at home in a game where the Jets should be favorites to win. Philadelphia's secondary allows quarterbacks to complete passes at a 70.6 percent rate, and top cornerback Byron Maxwell looks unable to get the job done as the Eagles' main pass defender (to put it kindly).
Top running back plays
Le'Veon Bell -- He's back for the Steelers, and back into your DFS lineups. In 2014, Le'Veon Bell averaged 23 combined rushing and receiving touches per game. That kind of volume at the running back position is impossible to deny in our daily lineups. DeAngelo Williams took advantage of some pristine blocking on his way to finishing as the top scoring running back through the first two weeks. Now, just imagine Bell is taking the reps. It's not as if Bell is coming off an injury, so the Steelers will have no problem throwing him into the fire of their elite offense with plenty of touches. A big dose of volume, mixed with an attachment to a great offense, and just a dash of elite playmaking ability is the perfect daily fantasy running back stew.
Jamaal Charles -- If you're pivoting off the sure-to-be popular Bell, Jamaal Charles makes sense. His ownership percentage will be down foolishly due to a game-losing fumble on national television last Thursday. The Packers were able to take advantage of a poor Seattle offensive line to shut down Marshawn Lynch on Sunday night. That will stick in people's minds, causing them to forget that Matt Forte creased them for 5.6 yards per carry in Week 1. We like Charles' chances to cut through them in a similar style to Forte in Week 1.
Frank Gore -- With the Indianapolis offense turning around, as projected earlier, that means Frank Gore should have his best game of the season. He's run well through two really tough matchups. Monday was a rough game for him, but had he held on to what was a strange fumble at the goal line, he'd have posted a near 60-yard, one-touchdown line that would look just fine in fantasy. He's a good bet to actually get in the end zone in a bounce-back game for Indianapolis, and he'll at least meet value.
Latavius Murray -- Contrary to my preseason expectations, the Raiders have used Latavius Murray as a workhorse running back. He's averaged 18 touches per game in the first two. We'd prefer he was playing at home in a game where Oakland was a more slam-dunk favorite, but at least the matchup against Cleveland is right. The Browns currently cede 23.8 fantasy points to the running back position, fourth-highest in the NFL. He's a fine play in the mid-tier range this week, even if game script might cap his upside.
Doug Martin -- I'm somewhat on an island with Doug Martin this week, so I won't blame you for not following me on this one. However, he's a good volume play (currently 16th in the NFL in terms of running back touches), and I expect the Bucs to beat the Texans on the road. Houston's offense can't stay on the field for long. The offense ran more third down plays than anyone in the league through two weeks, but they rank 31st in yards per third down play. Unsurprisingly, the Arian Foster-less, Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett two-headed monster hasn't been able to sustain long drives. That makes Martin's volume secure, and increases the Bucs chances of winning this game, which Martin needs. He's also running better than he has in years. Eventually, the combination of workload and good play leads to fantasy scoring. This is as good a week as any for Martin's points to even out.
Jonathan Stewart -- Despite being healthy and owning the backfield volume, Jonathan Stewart still hasn't been able to get going. The Panthers bell cow is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Despite the Saints' biggest weakness being through the air, this could be the game Stewart takes off running. New Orleans is still a bottom 10 run defense, and Newton's success on the ground should eventually correlate to positive results for Stewart. Week 3 presents a good opportunity to play for that reality.
Devonta Freeman -- Some analysts will be more bullish on Freeman this week, but he's not playing well enough (2.0 yards per carry) to go all in on. However, he does play on passing downs and has caught seven passes this year. He'll also get a good bulk of volume with Tevin Coleman slated to miss this game. Do note that Dallas has the best run defense in the NFL at the moment. Only use Freeman if you need a value play to fit another stud in your lineups.
Top wide receiver plays
Emmanuel Sanders -- The Lions were gashed by the short passing game in Week 1 against the Chargers. Keenan Allen ran countless slants en route to a 15-catch outing. In this tug of war between the Peyton Manning/Gary Kubiak offense, Emmanuel Sanders has found a home in a hybrid of the prolific slot receiver and the outlet receiver a tight end usually is in the Kubiak system. He's been a target hog, and is a reasonable value in relation to the other top receivers.
Julian Edelman -- The current NFL leader in receiving targets was the highest-owned receiver in Thursday FanDuel slates. That's something to monitor when looking to build unique lineups. However, you can't deny the Patriots offense right now, and Edelman is a great play in games where you need reliable point totals.
Mike Evans -- The Bucs primarily used Mike Evans as a decoy last week. He only played 61 percent of the snaps, third among receivers, and saw just three targets. In the long run, it's probably better the Bucs didn't attempt to rush Evans back. The Texans are struggling to defend the pass right now, and Jameis Winston should make good use of Evans in their first true outing together. Evans was owned in 0.7 percent of lineups in the Thursday slate on FanDuel. So this is a situation to take advantage of.
Allen Robinson -- After Allen Robinson blew up against the Dolphins, he's right back in the every week discussion. He owned a 36.3 percent share of the team's Week 2 targets. Given the projected game flow, Robinson should see double-digit targets once again. The Patriots have given up almost 200 yards, multiple touchdowns and 46 fantasy points to opposing number-one receivers through two weeks. Even if the Patriots send more attention Robinson's way, they don't have the horses to totally blot him out.
Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown -- The triple stack with Carson Palmer saw big dividends go to its users in Week 2. We'll keep riding this passing game, especially because the site has not adjusted to the new reality that this is a top offense. Larry Fitzgerald owns the short to intermediate targets running so many routes out of the slot. He's becoming a safer WR2 play by the week. John Brown is averaging 7.6 fantasy points per game, which isn't disastrous, but it's shy of how high summer expectations reached. However, given that the 49ers gave up 40-plus yard receptions to three different receivers last week (two of which were Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton), we like this to be Brown's first bust-out game.
Doug Baldwin -- He had a strong game against the Packers, but Doug Baldwin has a great chance to string two consecutive good games together. Slot receivers are absolutely roasting the Bears so far this season, with journeymen nickel corner Sherrick McManis being completely unfit for a major role. Randall Cobb scored a touchdown in Week 1, Larry Fitzgerald put up three in Week 2. Baldwin isn't near the quality level of those two players, but he is a skilled slot receiver, and can take advantage of this favorable matchup. A bargain on FanDuel, a five catch for 70 yards line with touchdown upside for Baldwin is a good play. I also don't mind throwing out Tyler Lockett, who plays on 63 percent of the team's snaps and has big-play ability.
Donte Moncrief - I'm fully on board with Donte Moncrief as top 20 wide receiver the rest of the way. He's played 76 percent of the team's snaps and is currently the WR8 in fantasy through two weeks. He's also playing just as well on film as his stats indicate. This is likely the last week he'll be a value, so take advantage. An Andrew Luck/Donte Moncrief stack is quite appealing. He's the real deal.
Allen Hurns -- In a pass-heavy game, Allen Hurns comes into focus as a sleeper option. The Patriots should get up on the Jaguars in a hurry, and that means they'll need to pass more than usual. Hurns is putting things together as the clear No. 2 receiver for the Jaguars, recording 60-plus yards in back-to-back games while playing on over 80 percent of the snaps. He's the best punt play at receiver this week.
Top tight end plays
Jimmy Graham -- A bit of #NarrativeStreet, squeaky wheel gets the grease in play here. Jimmy Graham is apparently vocally dissatisfied with the 10 targets he's seen in two games. He should be. All the Seahawks should eat against the Bears defense. Graham should find his way into the end zone against this defense.
Greg Olsen -- The Saints secondary is the opposite of stingy. Without a real consistent receiver threat in Carolina, Olsen is the best play to capitalize on that weakness. New Orleans did give up big plays to an unknown Cardinals tight end in Week 1. Olsen still leads this team in targets, and this is the week his efficiency trends toward matching that.
Jared Cook -- If there is a No. 1 receiver for the Rams right now, it's Jared Cook. Rather quietly, Cook is currently a steady TE13 in PPR leagues, catching 10 passes in two games. He's tied with passing down for back Benny Cunningham for a team leading 13-targets. The Steelers currently rank 31st in allowing fantasy points to tight ends. Of course, much of that can be attributed to Rob Gronkowski's three touchdown assault in Week 1, but the 49ers tight ends still put up eight catches for 83 yards in Week 2.
Eric Ebron -- Despite scoring as a top-eight tight end option through two weeks, there's not even a peep about Eric Ebron as a breakout player. There's some garbage time nature to his stats, but he has still scored in back-to-back weeks. Denver has struggled to cover tight ends for the last two seasons, and that has continued into this year with an average ranking in fantasy points allowed. With the strength of the Denver defense lying with their corners and pass rush, Ebron should be a beneficiary on Sunday. He's still going at a bargain on FanDuel.
Gary Barnidge - This is your punt play of the week. Probably 2.7 percent of you reading this know who Gary Barnidge is, but there's some merit to him as a DFS play. He's played on 86 percent of the team's snaps, which dwarfs the next highest pass catcher through two weeks -- Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins are tied at 70 percent. We're really here for the matchup, though. Two of the four highest scoring fantasy games by tight ends so far this year came against the Browns Week 3 opponent, the safety depleted Raiders. They facilitated Tyler Eifert's Week 1 breakout, and brought you Crockett Gillmore in Week 2. Barnidge has displayed some pass-catching ability in his quiet career, and he doesn't have much to compete with for in the way of wide receivers. Remember, thsi is a punt play, so don't anchor your lineups on Barnidge, please. But if we emerge Monday morening and Barnidge is in the top five of tight end scoring with 60 yards and a score, you can't say you were blown away. The aforementioned Gillmore was in my best FanDuel lineup from Week 2, and I promise you I'm throwing a small sprinkling of Barnidge lineups out there for the Sunday slate.
Top defense plays
Seahawks DEF -- The chalk of all chalk plays this week, and maybe of all time. An angry 0-2 Seahawks team in their home opener, who welcome Kam Chancellor back into the fold, facing off against Jimmy Clausen. There will be turnovers. Just remember, everyone will be on this DEF. A bit of differentiation is advised.
Browns DEF -- The Raiders tore apart the Ravens last week, but now they travel east for an early start. The Derek Carr era features zero road wins for Oakland. The Browns defense was a big win last week. They took a big step up after a steady ground game from the Jets sunk them in Week 1. Add in an explosive returner in Travis Benjamin, and this D/ST has a ton of potential.
Jets DEF -- The Eagles offense is in the tank. The have by far the worst rushing attack in the NFL, and cannot sustain a drive. They rank dead last in time per possession in the league, and that's not because their "up-tempo" attack is scoring quickly. Philadelphia is getting booted off the field with ease. The Jets rank third in allowing fantasy points across all positions. The Eagles stay clipped in this one.
Stack of the week
Tom Brady/Dion Lewis/Rob Gronkowski -- The field will use these players plenty, and it'll soak up most of what you can use to build a lineup, but this projects as a big game for the near unstoppable Patriots. I like swapping out the popular Julian Edelman for Dion Lewis to differentiate your lineup. Many are expecting this to be a heavy LeGarrette Blount game, and it could be, but the Jaguars rank fifth in allowing fantasy points to running backs and give up 2.9 yards per run play (second in the NFL). The game could just as easily call for the shiftier Lewis to continue his dominance of the touches. Lewis has played on 81 percent of the Patriot snaps so far, the second highest rate of any back following DeAngelo Williams, and leads the NFL in running back pass targets with 14.
Sometimes chasing value in daily fantasy leads to mistakes. Assigning studs to anchor most of your lineup can work. Here's a sample lineup I was able to make, that I really like, using this no-bargain stack.
Works for me.
Best contrarian play
C.J. Anderson -- Given the struggles of this player, and his whole offense, C.J. Anderson will have a low FanDuel ownership percentage in Week 3. However, he's admitted to being banged up the first two weeks, and the Broncos rushed him back from a painful toe injury last Thursday. Now he's coming off 10 days of rest to face a team allowing four yards per run play with Ndamukong Suh and DeAndre Levy no longer in the picture. Anderson makes for a fine last ditch effort contrarian play, especially if Peyton Manning is regaining control of this offense. If things don't go well this week, we'll know the offensive line has sunk Anderson's season, and we can officially pull the plug on him as a DFS play until further notice.
Best obvious play
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch -- Neither has blown the doors off for fantasy owners this season, but that's changing this week. We've already harped on why this is a good matchup for the Seahawks, so no need to belabor the point. Just know it's going to be hard to fade the Seahawks mainstays, like Wilson and Lynch at home. Quick advice, if you use Jimmy Graham, don't combine him in a lineup with Lynch. However, I don't mind, and will throw out some lineups with the unique stack of Wilson/Lynch/Baldwin or Lockett as I detailed in the DFS mailbag. It's both a value and contrarian stack that could help you win this week.
My near 100 percent exposure player
Brandon Marshall -- The previously mentioned Byron Maxwell is playing like one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL. Brandon Marshall hasn't lost a step despite being 31 years old. He's currently the WR10 in fantasy and has seen at least nine targets go his way in each of the first two games. Eric Decker is no lock to play this week after suffering a PCL injury on Monday night. When Decker and soon after Vontae Davis exited that game, Ryan Fitzpatrick dialed in on Marshall and pummeled the veteran receiver with targets. We'll see the same thing happen against the Eagles. Every aspect you want in a wide receiver in daily fantasy is lined up for Marshall. I'll have him almost everywhere in Week 3.
Cheat code of the week
Nick Foles -- The stellar 18-point fantasy debut of Nick Foles in St. Louis seems like a distant memory after he turned in a 150-yard dud against Washington in Week 2. His 4.7 yards-per-attempt brought about the painful future his detractors foretold when he left Philadelphia. However, we still have the memory of a strong performance at home in Week 1 to guide us back to streaming Foles in Week 3. We'll feel even better that the public will be too sheepish to throw him out as a DFS asset, despite the fact that he's valued as the 29th best signal-caller on FanDuel this weekend. He was only owned in 1.2 percent of lineups made for the FanDuel Thursday slate.
While there are certainly safer quarterbacks, no one has a better matchup. Through two weeks of the season, no defense has allowed more fantasy points to the quarterback position than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, you can chalk up Week 1 to facing Tom Brady in the first act of his revenge tour, but that seems less excusable when you factor in Colin Kaepernick's big Week 2. Pittsburgh is currently allowing 27.1 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. It's not hard to see when you watch the film that Pittsburgh currently fields one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. This deals an obvious advantage to the opposing quarterback, but so does the influence of a pass-heavy game script. With the Steelers up 29-3 at the half, the 49ers were forced to take to the air. Facing such a poor pass defense, Kaepernick was able to salvage his fantasy day.
Foles is the best bargain (29th-valued) in the quarterback options on FanDuel. He's at home with a pristine matchup against a team that will force him to take to the air. If you stack him with Jared Cook you've made a value lineup with possibilities to get a combination of studs in like Julio Jones or Antonio Brown.