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The defensive puzzle is complete


As we head into Week 4 of the NFL season, injuries are mounting, depth chart changes are looming, and the bye weeks are one week in front of us. Wendell Smallwood is stepping into Darren Sproles' role for the Eagles;

Marqise Lee has stepped up in his new No. 1 WR role, and is becoming a PPR factor; Chris Thompson is refusing to go away with the Redskins checking down more than using their WRs; finally, new OC Bill Lazor in Cincinnati is putting Joe Mixon squarely into the RB2 mix moving forward if he continues to feature him as he did in Week 3.

While there are plenty of good things to chase, you also have to know when it's time to hold 'em, and when it's time to fold 'em with certain players. Players like Cam Newton, Adrian Peterson, Thomas Rawls, Marvin Jones, and Austin Hooper just aren't cutting the mustard and I'd consider cutting them.

The early word is Andrew Luck is targeting Week 6 for his return, so I would hold or add Donte Moncrief and Jack Doyle. It will likely take Luck a few games to get the rust knocked off, so don't truly count on them until around the fantasy playoffs. Doyle is owned in about 77 percent of leagues, while Moncrief is closer to 55 percent owned.

Start 'em

Russell Wilson – Seahawks: The Seahawks offensive line has done the offense absolutely no favors this season, putting Wilson on many benches when he exploded for 373 passing yards and 4 touchdowns against the Titans last week. This week he draw a Colts defense currently giving up the 8th-most fantasy points to QBs at 22.4 PPG.

I consider Wilson a threat to equal his numbers from last week, making him a must-start in all formats unless you also own Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Matt Ryan.

Carson Palmer – Cardinals: With David Johnson out after wrist surgery, and the running game looking anemic, Palmer has attempted 132 passes this season, 2nd only to Aaron Rodgers (134). And it's not just sheer passing attempts that makes him worth starting either; his 925 passing yards ranks 3rd in the NFL. He does have 4 INTs this year, but 3 of them came in the first game against the Lions.

The Cardinals take on a 49ers defense that gave up 292 yards and 3 TDs to Jared Goff last week. Goff looks more confident than he did last year, but 292/3/0 is still a lot to give up to a QB when you consider Todd Gurley also ran the ball 28 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Look for Palmer to have similar numbers to his Week 3 line of 325/2/0.

Mike Gillislee – Patriots: Gillislee came out of the gate white-hot, scoring 3 touchdowns in the Patriots opener and adding another in Week 2. Then, in Week 3, Gillislee showed the danger in owning a Patriots RB when he ran the ball just 12 times for 31 empty yards. Gillislee is a touchdown-dependent player who will be prone to high highs and low lows, thanks to the Patriots' unpredictable offense.

The Panthers have been one of the better defenses against the run this season, giving up just 196 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground. The thing to consider in that is through 3 games, they have faced the 49ers, Bills, and Saints. The 49ers ran the ball just 15 times total, while the Bills ran the ball 23 times, 8 of which was by their QB.

I'm looking for the Patriots to move the ball down the field, then pound it into the endzone with Gillislee at least twice. If he can score a couple of touchdowns, he will give you back those RB2 numbers I am projecting for him.

Joe Mixon – Bengals: After managing just 21 touches for 65 total yards through the first two weeks of the season, Mixon racked up 21 touches and 101 total yards in Week 3. OC Bill Lazor is clearly looking to feature Mixon more in the offense, which is exactly what fantasy owners were hoping for when they drafted him at the tail-end of the 5th round.

Rookies always have their ups and downs, but Mixon's value is on the rise. The Bengals go on the road to take on their intrastate rivals, the Cleveland Browns. Given the state of the Browns defense this season, I am looking for nothing less than RB2 numbers from Mixon. His stock is still somewhat on the low side, so try and buy low while you still can.

Sammy Watkins – Rams: Watkins had his coming-out party last week against the 49ers, reeling in 6 of 7 targets for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. You have to take it with a grain of salt, because it was against the 49ers. However, the Cowboys defense is no better, giving up 776 passing yards, 6 TDs, and taking away just 2 INTs through the first three weeks.

The Cowboys are giving up 24.1 PPG to fantasy WRs this season, and both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have been spotty with their production. I'm looking for Watkins to give back WR2 numbers, with upside into the WR1 rankings if he can reach the endzone once again.

Emmanuel Sanders – Broncos: Sanders has 29 targets this season, accounting for 29 percent of the total passes thrown by Trevor Siemian. Demaryius Thomas has been involved, but if you watch the Broncos games, you can see that Siemian clearly trusts Sanders as his go-to option when he needs to move the chains.

The Raiders have given up 38 receptions, 427 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns to WRs this season, which should mean there will be enough catches for Sanders and Thomas to both have good games. I am betting on Sanders until Siemian shows me he can find Thomas for big plays.

Jason Witten – Cowboys: The Rams have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to fantasy TEs this season, but other than Jordan Reed, they haven't really faced a TE in an offense that would worry NFL teams.

Witten had a strong Week 2 performance when he hauled in 10 of 13 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown. He fell flat in Week 3, accounting for 1 catch for 3 yards. I could see him bouncing back this week given the Rams defensive line is likely focused on stopping Ezekiel Elliot. He is more of a low-end TE1, but a solid streaming option for those going that route.

Jacksonville Jaguars defense: The Jaguars have been one of the most dominant defenses through the first 3 games of the season, ranking out as fantasy football's No. 3 overall defense. Myles Jack is tied for 15th in the NFL with 24 tackles, Calais Campbell is 3rd in the NFL with 4.5 sacks, and A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, and Tashaun Gibson all have an interception on the books.

This week the Jaguars get a Jets offense that looks as bad as any in the NFL, and which will be without Matt Forte on top of that. Robby Anderson is a big-play threat, but Bilal Powell is sporting a pedestrian 2.6 YPC on 28 carries. I'm ranking the Jaguars as a top-tier fantasy defense this week, rivaled by only the Seahawks due to their juicy matchup.

Sit 'em

Derek Carr – Raiders: Carr was good the first two weeks of the season, racking up 492 passing yards and 5 touchdowns. But in Week 3 he failed to come through on the road against the Redskins when he put up just 118 passing yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. It isn't all on Carr though, as drops have been a problem for Amari Cooper this season.

Denver's defense has been up and down this season, giving up 20-plus points in two of their three games, but they have also notched 7 sacks, 3 interceptions, and scored a defensive touchdown. However, you don't bet against Denver at home against the rival Raiders. I'm sitting Carr outright, and starting someone like Palmer, Siemian, or even Alex Smith instead.

Cam Newton – Panthers: Cam Newton's days as a viable fantasy QB option appear to be over. Through 3 games this season, Newton is averaging a meager 188.7 YPG passing, and has thrown 4 INTs to just 2 TDs. It certainly doesn't help that the status of his #1 WR, Kelvin Benjamin, is as muddy as swamp water after he hurt his knee in the 1st quarter of Week 3.

Even if Benjamin tries to play this week, he is clearly going to be doing so at less than 100 percent. Newton is averaging under 200 yards with him in, so it is anyone's guess what he does if Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, and Curtis Samuel are his top 3 WRs this week. Don't forget, Newton is also without safety net TE Greg Olsen, so his passing options are bleak at best.

Jacquizz Rodgers – Buccaneers: With Doug Martin suspended for the first three games of the season, Rodgers was a hot draft option for owners hoping he would take the job and run with it. However, he has done nothing to suggest that Martin won't regain his job when he returns next week after averaging 3.4 YPC and being a non-factor in the passing game.

The Giants have been pretty generous with running backs' fantasy production this season, giving up the 10th-most PPG to fantasy RBs at 19.1. Maybe the Bucs give him 20-plus touches to see if he can split carries with Martin, but Rodgers has a history of being a passing-down back, not an early-down guy who can pick up tough yardage. This game could be more passing oriented with Lavonte David likely out, and Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, and Brent Grimes dinged up and questionable for the Bucs.

Derrick Henry – Titans: Henry is well worth owning as a handcuff to DeMarco Murray, but he is clearly the No. 2 option in the Titans backfield. The carries have been fairly evenly split between the two, with Murray logging 35 carries and Henry handling 33.

The problem is far too many people are playing Henry as a RB2, when he is much more of a flex/RB3 option as long as Murray is healthy enough to start. If Murray were to miss time, Henry would instantly become that RB2 with upside. But until then, expect him to see only 13-15 carries per game.

Jamison Crowder – Redskins: Crowder has been getting better each week, but that isn't hard to do when you set the bar at 3 receptions for 14 yards in Week 1. With Jordan Reed out in Week 3, Crowder managed to see 6 targets, which he turned into 52 yards. Reed looks like he should be back for Week 4, so some of those targets will go back to Reed.

With the Redskins seemingly ok with checking down to Chris Thompson 20 percent of the time, it doesn't leave much room for Crowder when you factor in Reed and Terrelle Pryor. On top of that, Ryan Grant is stealing some targets as an additional short-yardage option in the passing game. It is looking a lot like a bust year for a WR many were hoping would break out.

T.Y. Hilton – Colts: Hilton finally came through for owners in Week 3, posting 7 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown against the Browns at home. But after managing just 7 catches for 106 yards through the first two games, and with the Colts QB situation as bad as any in the NFL, Hilton was sitting on a lot of benches while he put up those numbers.

Hilton has never played the Seahawks in Seattle, so there is that to consider. On top of that, the weather forecast for Seattle on Sunday evening calls for mid-to-low 50's, with a slight chance of rain. If the field conditions are wet, which they are likely to be considering it will be raining leading up to the game, I could see this game being more of a ground-based attack for the Colts under running QB Jacoby Brissett.

Austin Hooper - Falcons: Tight end is one of those positions in fantasy football that is all-or-nothing, so finding a sleeper at this position is as hard as finding a four leaf clover. Hooper entered the season as one of my sleepers, and came out of the gates strong with 128 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 1.

However, those numbers came from just 2 catches, a number he seems to be settling into. Through three games this season, Hooper has seen just 2 targets in each contest, and has hauled in reception totals of 2, 2, and 1 in those games. With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, and Taylor Gabriel all in the mix for targets, Hooper is, at best, the 5th option in the passing game.

Unless someone like Jones were to miss time, Hooper is looking like a player with talent that just never managed to grab a share of a small pie. It's time to cut your losses with him and see what else is out there.

Buffalo Bills defense: The Bills defense has been better than most expected under new DC Leslie Frazier. Through three games the Bills have racked up 10.0 sacks and 4 INTs, and have allowed just 37 points to opposing teams. The numbers are good enough to rank them as fantasy football's No. 10 overall defense heading into Week 4.

With that said, the Bills go on the road to take on the Falcons and their high-powered offense. The Falcons are 4th in the NFL with 388.0 YPG on offense, and 5th in the NFL with 87 total points scored. The Bills have done a good job so far, but asking them to shut down the Falcons in their home stadium is asking too much from a 1st year Defensive Coordinator. Consider the Jaguars, Bengals, or Packers instead if you need a streaming option this week.

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