Fantasy Football Week 3 Preview: Bounce backs and regression to the mean 

Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers scores past Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis during the first half of an NFL football game Dec. 25, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. The run-deficient Minnesota Vikings acquired Akers in a trade with the Rams on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. The Vikings sent a 2026 conditional sixth-round draft pick to the Rams for Akers and a 2026 conditional seventh-round pick in the deal, which was pending Akers passing a physical. Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

With week two of the NFL season in the books, fantasy football managers ought to be asking themselves what to make of the performances and trends that stick out for one reason or another. The Eagles’ offense has been pedestrian, and yet it still looks worlds better than what the Bengals have done through two weeks. The Bills defense bounced back to their elite ways against Las Vegas, but is that enough of an excuse for Josh Jacobs’ minus-2 yard rushing performance?  

Leading the charge in terms of positive surprises are Rams’ breakout stars Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams, who both look like potential league winners. When situations like these present themselves where, early in the season, a player or team is performing starkly different from the year prior, managers can find gold mines in correctly identifying which trends will stick and which will revert.  

A hypothetical fantasy manager that drafted James Robinson last year was presented with a great opportunity to cash in on a player that started hot but was putting up unsustainable numbers. The same fantasy manager could have applied that “sell high” mentality to Cooper Kupp early on in 2021 and gotten burned for it. Let’s take a look at some of the aforementioned names and teams and attempt to gauge how they’ll fare going forward —specifically in week three. 

A.J. Brown vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Brown is a hot-button name when it comes to players that fantasy managers are trying to trade away after a rocky start. This is a good thing for those that do not have him on their team, as it is positively too soon to react this harshly about a superstar. Brown showed us that he’s still a threat for deep shots by catching a long touchdown in week two that was called back due to a penalty. We also know that the Eagles care about getting him involved and making him happy because of their reaction to the spirited exchange that happened between him and Jalen Hurts, in which Brown could be seen demanding more targets. Philadelphia responded by giving Brown two consecutive deep targets in the following drive, including the would-be-touchdown. The Eagles offense also projects to improve drastically from their mediocre start, as they are putting out essentially the same elite unit from last year. The only difference being the personnel losses on defense that will eliminate the run-heavy second half game scripts that limited Eagles receivers so often last year. Philadelphia now faces a Tampa Bay defense that gave Justin Jefferson anything he wanted in week one and made D.J. Moore look like a top tier wide receiver during the Bears’ singular competent drive last week. For all these reasons, Brown will be better in week three and beyond. 

Joe Mixon vs. Los Angeles Rams – Things look bleak for the Bengals’ receiving corps, at least for the next several weeks, as Joe Burrow will be nursing his reaggravated calf injury. Joe Mixon, however, will see an opportunity to capitalize on a great opportunity. He will be facing defenses that will be forced to focus on Cincinnati’s elite receiver room, while playing in an offense that will likely try to preserve Burrow by taking a more run-heavy approach for the near future. No matter how injured Burrow is, have faith that as long as he is playing, he is too good to continue to lead a below average offense. Keep in mind that, in his first four seasons, Burrow has only one win in the first two games of the year. They’ve gotten into the habit of starting slow, and they’ve also gotten into the habit of bouncing back. Their opponents, the Rams, have also given up significant performances to each of the lead running backs they’ve faced this year in Kenneth Walker and Christian McCaffery. A hobbled passer under center, an offensive culture that is too strong to stay stagnant and a favorable matchup are the ingredients for a Mixon master class. 

Josh Jacobs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Raiders offense had 240 yards of total offense against the Bills last week. If you’re reading this, you contributed two more rushing yards to that number than Jacobs did (unless this makes its way to Jimmy Garoppolo, Tre Tucker or Zamir White). After tallying a whopping minus-2 rushing yards last week, owners with Jacobs on their team are justified in being nervous about his value. Although that number is startling, to say the least, he is simply too good–and the Raiders have too much incentive to run him into the ground–-for him to not improve. You don’t lead the league in rushing by accident, and Jacobs proved himself as an elite runner when he did that last year. On top of that, he and the Raiders had very public contract disputes this summer, through which we learned that Vegas does not plan on giving him any sort of significant contract after this year. Thus, it is safe to say that they have every reason to give him the ball as much as possible and make the most out of his talent before he’s gone. They now have a home game against a Steelers defense that just got carved up by Jerome Ford last week. Both the Raiders organization and Jacobs himself will be itching to have the running back rebound in the primetime Sunday night slot this weekend. 

Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua vs. Cincinnati Bengals – There are reasons to be both excited and wary about both of these guys, but in very opposite ways. Nacua has had a historic start to his NFL career, and he’s done it all without getting into the endzone. Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford also built a reputation for scoring the ball through the air; the numbers that Stafford put up with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2021 don’t lie. Nacua will begin to see positive regression to the mean with touchdowns, which will be scary when paired with his monster target share. Williams, on the other hand, has scored four touchdowns in his first two games. That is an unsustainable rate that will have to cool off at some point, likely soon. He has quickly vaulted himself into the RB1 discussion, but realistically is more likely to end up in the high end RB2 range. Despite at least some of his production inevitably waning off as the touchdowns go, he will still be incredibly fantasy relevant because of the Rams commitment to him as their lead back. With Cam Akers now being a Minnesota Viking, Williams owners can be excited about the fact that they landed a season-long lead back for free off waivers. Nacua owners do not share this luxury, however, as they have to worry about Cooper Kupp coming back to what is already a deep list of skill positions. It might be best to let him cook for another week and then get the most of him in a trade before Kupp’s return can hurt his value. 

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