The NFL’s league leader in touchdown passes is 44 years old. The league leader in touchdown catches is 32.
No, we’re not talking about a local recreational league. This is the NFL, where the Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski combination seemingly has altered the time-space continuum. But if anyone were able to generate 1.21 gigawatts and make a flux capacitor work, it would be Gronk, right?
Brady (nine TD passes), Gronk (four TD receptions) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) figure to face their stiffest challenge of the young season on Sunday when they travel to meet the Los Angeles Rams (2-0) at SoFi Stadium.
Can Gronk keep it up? How will the Rams divvy up carries in their backfield? These are just a couple of the questions our 32 NFL Nation reporters will tackle this week, as asked by ESPN fantasy sports researcher Kyle Soppe.
The slate includes a few key division matchups, too, such as the Indianapolis Colts at the Tennessee Titans, the Philadelphia Eagles at the Dallas Cowboys, and the Los Angeles Chargers at the Kansas City Chiefs. The winners will establish themselves as the likely division favorites.
The time has come for the questions and answers for Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season. Let’s go!
I’m not sure I would refer to it as a slump after two games. Allen had eight rushing touchdowns last year and could still meet that mark. While he signed a big contract this offseason, and the Bills have plenty of reasons to want to limit his hits, Allen is actually averaging seven rushing attempts per game, more than last year (6.4). Singletary and Moss will be key parts of the team’s rushing attack, but Allen is still a threat to score with his legs. — Alaina Getzenberg
Who will lead this team in targets when all is said and done?
The Dolphins quarterbacks’ 2.6-second average time to throw is the eighth-quickest in the league, and they’ve been pressured on a league-high 41.8% of dropbacks. The point is — whether it’s Jacoby Brissett or Tua Tagovailoa — whoever is throwing passes for Miami will have to make quick passes, and that makes Jaylen Waddle the prime candidate here. He’s second to DeVante Parker in targets through two games but has been far more efficient with his opportunities (10-of-13 vs 9-of-16). — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Could James White finish the season with the team lead in receptions?
Yes! One need only look at the 2018 season for confirmation that it’s possible, as White’s 87 catches led the Patriots that year (Julian Edelman was next with 74). Consider that Mac Jones has already thrown seven checkdowns to running backs, the second most in the NFL behind the Titans’ Ryan Tannehill, according to ESPN Route Metrics/NFL Next Gen Stats. — Mike Reiss
Braxton Berrios now has 18 targets this season: Is the volume here to stay?
It depends on Jamison Crowder (groin), who likely will miss his third straight game. When Crowder is out, Berrios gets most of the snaps in the slot. He’s becoming an underneath option for Zach Wilson, but it’s too soon to label Berrios a long-term fantasy option. He’s on a week-to-week basis right now. — Rich Cimini
Can we count on Marquise Brown to sustain the eight targets per game he’s averaging through two weeks?
It really depends on whether defenses continue to focus on taking away tight end Mark Andrews, which leaves Brown open on slants and allows him to get behind the defense. But this isn’t just a two-game outburst by Brown. His production increased toward the end of last season, and he’s looking like a legitimate No. 1 receiver. It will be interesting to see how much his targets will be affected when first-round pick Rashod Bateman soon gets activated off injured reserve. — Jamison Hensley
No. If anything, Chase provides the highest upside of any Bengals wide receiver. Chase leads the rest of the team in air yards per target by such a wide margin that he’s proven to be a big-play threat. — Ben Baby
Oh boy. Because of the way Baker Mayfield spreads the ball around out of a run-first offense, this isn’t easy to answer. But I’ll go with one of the tight ends — either Austin Hooper or David Njoku, who are tied for the team lead with eight targets apiece. From a fantasy perspective, while they do somewhat cancel each other out, at least they’re consistent options for Mayfield. That said, of the two, I might lean Njoku. He has been getting downfield more, whereas Hooper has been more of a short-yardage option. — Jake Trotter
Field Yates and Daniel Dopp detail why they see Austin Hooper as the only Browns player to possibly make a fantasy starting lineup besides Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
What are your impressions of Najee Harris through two career games?
Because the offensive line has struggled so much, it’s hard to get a good read on Harris’ running ability through two games. In the small bursts where he has gotten the ball in space, he has shown flashes of the skill set that made the Steelers take him in the first round — like the violent stiff-arm to shake Johnathan Abram vs. the Raiders. Right now, Harris figures to be most effective in the passing game. He can’t get any room to run behind the line, but as a pass-catcher, he can make things happen. The five catches on five targets for 43 yards — including a 25-yard touchdown — is a good blueprint for his usage until the offensive line can gel enough for a productive run game. — Brooke Pryor
Miller, who was active for the first time this season on Thursday, had a solid debut for Houston, catching four passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. While he might have a larger role with Collins on injured reserve, the bigger reason he was active in Week 3 was that Danny Amendola was inactive after injuring his thigh against the Browns. Amendola now has 10 days to prepare for Buffalo, and if he’s active, I don’t expect Miller to have more of a consistent role. — Sarah Barshop
Which version of Michael Pittman Jr.’s usage is closer to what we can expect the rest of the way: Week 1 (4 of 35 targets) or Week 2 (12 of 34)?
The Pittman in game two (8 catches, 123 yards) is the present and future version of that player for the Colts. There’s no doubt that Pittman is the Colts No. 1 receiver regardless of whether TY Hilton is playing. The Colts will lean on Pittman even more if they don’t have quarterback Carson Wentz against the Titans. — Mike Wells
Should we be considering Marvin Jones Jr. the clear-cut WR1 in this offense?
Absolutely. He was Lawrence’s favorite target throughout OTAs and training camp, and that has continued in the first two games. He leads the Jaguars with 20 targets and 11 catches. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll continue to get the most targets. — Michael DiRocco
Are you reading into the slow/inefficient start to the season for A.J. Brown?
No. Brown is still one of Ryan Tannehill‘s favorite targets. He had multiple drops last week against against the Seahawks and said it was a result of letting the first drop roll over into more. As the play-action passing game continues to take form, Brown will get more opportunities to make plays like he has done in the past. Mike Vrabel says he has high expectations for all players, but Brown especially. — Turron Davenport
Yes, as long as Sutton feels good enough to keep the snap count high as well. After two games he leads the team’s receivers in playing time with 78.5% of the offense’s snaps as well. He has quickly developed on-field chemistry with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos have been effective moving him around the formation to give him some room to work. — Jeff Legwold
Clyde Edwards-Helaire doesn’t have a 10-yard carry this season. Do you think the Chiefs could abandon the run all together, or will they work to get him going in the coming weeks?
When Andy Reid is calling the plays, it’s never ridiculous to think the Chiefs could throw on every down. But the Chiefs don’t seem ready to give up on their running game, which they believe will improve as their rebuilt offensive line continues to work together. This is particularly true against the Chargers, who are allowing a generous 5.6 yards per carry so far. Edwards-Helaire is averaging just 3.3 yards per rush on 27 carries in two games. — Adam Teicher
Is this a new Derek Carr/offense we are seeing, or just a two-game flash in the pan?
This is the real deal. Or at least, with Carr now in his fourth season in Jon Gruden’s system, it better be, right? Carr has never looked so comfortable in an offense — granted he’s only been in the same playcaller’s scheme in consecutive seasons one other time — and it is paying off, as his 817 passing yards lead the league. Small sample size, sure, but he is looking more like Rich Gannon, circa 2001 under Gruden, than Carr circa 2016 under then-OC Bill Musgrave. — Paul Gutierrez
Field Yates and Matthew Berry discuss Derek Carr’s stellar start to the season and whether fantasy managers should consider starting him.
Are you buying the increased versatility of Mike Williams (in terms of depth of target) as sustainable?
He was targeted 10 times on Sunday vs. the Cowboys and had a 31-yard reception wiped out by (what else) penalty. He had seven receptions for 91 yards, and Justin Herbert trusts him. “He really stepped up and knows what he’s doing,” coach Brandon Staley said. “This guy shows up on game day. We’ve been able to feature him within the plan.” — Shelley Smith
Is this now a backfield committee, or do you still view Ezekiel Elliott as the clear feature back?
Elliott is still RB1 but the disparity in carries will not be as great as it was in Tony Pollard‘s first two seasons, when Elliott had 545 carries and Pollard had 187. This could be more like the Mark Ingram II–Alvin Kamara combination in New Orleans early on in Kamara’s career. It might not be the most cost-effective approach considering Elliott’s salary, but Pollard has proven he can make plays. It will be interesting to see how things change when Michael Gallup returns from a calf strain because Pollard can line up as a receiver with Elliott also on the field. — Todd Archer
Daniel Dopp details how Tony Pollard doesn’t quite get the volume to start but is the reason why Ezekiel Elliott’s fantasy ranking has lowered.
They’re part of the playbook. And they should be. Jones’ legs are a weapon the Giants want to use. He has averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his career. It’s a bonus that they ease the pressure on Barkley. As long as they are working, the Giants are going to use the designed runs to Jones. Only they might not always have the same success as they did against Washington. — Jordan Raanan
Two games, two very different game plans. Do you expect the cautious Jalen Hurts from Week 1 or the risk-taking version from Week 2 to be the norm moving forward?
I’m expecting a roller-coaster ride with Hurts in the passing game, filled with plenty of highs and lows. The approach will change slightly each week based on the matchups, but I think we’ll see the Week 1 version of Hurts more often. The offense is at its best when Hurts is firing quick, short-to-intermediate passes, allowing the playmakers to create in space. Coach Nick Sirianni strayed too far from that Sunday against the 49ers with a number of designed shot plays. Hurts does have a pretty good deep ball and these receivers can burn, but Hurts probably will be more selective moving forward. — Tim McManus
Maybe, but I know how much they love McKissic in this role so it makes sense to keep using him. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner considers McKissic one of the smartest players he has coached, so he trusts him implicitly in these situations. McKissic showed his value against the Giants; he’s a terrific route runner out of the backfield, and has good hands and quickness. I think the goal would be to use Gibson in an increased role, but more so during early-down situations to expand the playbook — not in two-minute situations or on third downs. — John Keim
Possibly. Mooney is a deep threat, and Fields throws the best deep ball on the team. The Bears have not stretched the field much over the first two games, but Fields changes the equation. Mooney has been productive, but the Bears want explosive plays from the second-year receiver. My best guess is that Fields helps in that department. — Jeff Dickerson
Nothing has changed. Swift will continue to get the edge on touches moving forward despite the team continuing to limit his workload in practices while managing his groin injury. Although Williams actually leads the team in total rushing yards through two weeks, with 79 to Swift’s 76, the Georgia product had the better overall game in Week 2 at Green Bay, pairing eight rushes for 37 yards with four receptions for 41 yards. He is RB1 in the Lions’ backfield for a reason. — Eric Woodyard
Will the Packers expand Robert Tonyan‘s role in the pass game, or is his “low volume, red zone” job description here to stay?
He will get more targets, but the first thing the Packers need to do is get their play count up. They ran only 52 plays in the opener against the Saints and 61 against the Lions. Coach Matt LaFleur would like that to be well into the 70s. That means converting more third downs. Through two games, the Packers’ 31.6% conversion rate ranks 29th in the league. — Rob Demovsky
Matthew Berry and Field Yates question whether fantasy managers can rely on Robert Tonyan week-to-week.
Are the three-WR sets here to stay, keeping K.J. Osborn viable in the volume department?
Yes. The Vikings are relying on their tight ends to help frequently in pass protection and run blocking, although they should probably get more than 12 snaps from Chris Herndon considering they gave up a fourth-round pick to trade for him. That factor has paved the way for more three-receiver sets with Osborn firmly in the WR3 role. His consistent production has kept him ahead of Dede Westbrook on the depth chart, and if he continues to play the way he did vs. Cincinnati and Arizona, the targets will continue to come his way. — Courtney Cronin
Do you think we can count on 10-plus touches for Cordarrelle Patterson moving forward?
Probably around that number, yeah. Some weeks will depend on game situations — for instance, if Atlanta is ahead late it might rely more on Mike Davis — but Patterson is a do-multiple-things option Arthur Smith can line up almost anywhere. So they are going to find ways to get him involved as a rusher and a receiver. The Falcons carry only two backs on the roster (three if you count fullback Keith Smith), so as long as he’s healthy, he’s going to have a decent amount of work each week. — Michael Rothstein
Most likely yes on Hubbard, but don’t forget Royce Freeman. While Hubbard will start, I can see a scenario in which the duties are split with Freeman, who because of his experience may be a better blocker. Regardless, the 3-0 Panthers seem better equipped to be without McCaffrey than last season. — David Newton
Was the Marquez Callaway preseason breakout more smoke than fire?
Obviously yes, considering he has just three catches for 22 yards. But he has also been the victim of two extremely unusual game scripts (a 38-3 win over Green Bay where the Saints barely had to throw and a 26-7 loss at Carolina where the entire offense gained a total of 128 yards while suffering from protection issues). Callaway is still New Orleans’ WR1 until Michael Thomas returns from injury, and he’ll eventually have games that generate more optimism (just maybe not this week against a stingy pass defense at New England). — Mike Triplett
Daniel Dopp breaks down why he thinks it’s time to drop Marquez Callaway from your fantasy team.
Who will lead this team in touchdown receptions by season’s end?
Rob Gronkowski already has a league-leading four through two games. It’s possible that if he stays healthy — and he did last year, playing all 16 regular season games and four postseason games — that he could lead the team this year. But given his responsibilities as a blocker and the natural ebb and flow of a season, I think things will level out, and that the leader is more likely going to be Mike Evans. He had a quiet first week, but this coaching staff feels this is the best he has looked and his greatest asset is his availability. — Jenna Laine
Did Rondale Moore‘s big Week 2 (7-114-1) lock him in as the WR2 in terms of targets moving forward?
I’ve been asked this question a lot this week. The thing with Moore is that defenses will try to take him away as a receiving target pretty quickly because of how much he can open the field for the Cardinals. In turn, that’ll leave DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green more open than usual, so when teams have to return to covering those two more, Green will be open. It’s a vicious cycle for defenses that could literally change every week. Will Moore get his touches this week? Yes. Will they be mostly be as a receiver? Probably not. — Josh Weinfuss
Rams coach Sean McVay has continuously endorsed Darrell Henderson Jr. as the lead running back. When both are healthy — which isn’t entirely likely in Week 3 after Henderson suffered a rib cartilage injury against the Colts, expect Henderson to still receive a majority of the carries. However, Michel proved in a three-point victory over the Colts, when he came on in Henderson’s absence, that he is more than capable of moving the ball. So, Henderson will get the majority when he is healthy, but watch for Michel’s workload to steadily increase. — Lindsey Thiry
Field Yates and Matthew Berry react to Darrell Henderson’s injury and whether Sony Michel could be a good waiver pick up.
Was the lack of running success (38 carries for 117 yards) a product of the matchup or a legitimate concern moving forward?
It seemed to be more matchup-related than anything else. The Eagles were aggressive up front and paired it with soft coverage, which was an invitation for the Niners to throw a lot of short passes, especially screens. That the Niners still had 38 rushing attempts should actually be encouraging. And they won’t see many fronts as stout as the Eagles’ moving forward. The real question is who is going to be available at running back this week with Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), JaMycal Hasty (ankle) and Trey Sermon (concussion) all dealing with health issues. Mitchell and Sermon have a chance to play, but the Niners might again have someone new in the mix as injuries mount. — Nick Wagoner
Will the Seahawks continue to #LetRussCook past September?
That depends on your definition of cooking. The Seahawks actually rank 18th in dropback rate through two weeks at just under 62%. That’s much closer to where they were in the second half of last season, after Pete Carroll reined in the offense, than when they led the league at around 69% over the first 10 weeks. But they can let Russell Wilson cook in other ways. Among them: continuing to go hurry-up outside of end-of-half situations, which gives Wilson freedom to call plays. — Brady Henderson