Heading into Week 4, and the NFL is still shifting and refining teams. There are five 3-0 teams, and the Rams are the only ones that went to the playoffs last year. The Chiefs and Steelers won their divisions but are currently in their divisional cellars. Not only can things still change, but there is an extra game for every team.
After three games, we’re starting to get comfortable with how players and teams are shaking out for 2021. We’ve got plenty of injuries left to see, unfortunately, but new opportunities for every replacement player. And with only three games to measure, we’ll later realize how several players opened with an easy spot in their schedule and will decline. And more than a few others who will still come to life once they clear a dark stretch of games that began their year.
Here are six things I am thinking about heading into Week 4 of the NFL season.
1.) James White (NE) – He’s expected to miss the season with a hip injury. He is a locker room leader and a popular player, so his absence impacts more than just his production. He started the season with six catches per game as he reprised the same role that saw him rank in the Top-20 in the final two seasons with Tom Brady. White was replaced by Brandon Bolden, who led the backfield with four targets for three catches and 23 yards. But that was just the response to the situation with the current players on hand. The Saints crushed the Pats 28-13, so there are few assumptions that should be drawn.
Damien Harris is the primary rusher with never more than two catches in any game. Bolden has never caught more than nine passes in a year since 2015. J.J. Taylor has three career receptions over his two years. The rookie Mac Jones has shown that he likes that relief valve of a third-down back, so the passes will continue. Bolden and Taylor are just depth. Rhamondre Stevenson looked great in the preseason, lost a fumble in his first game, and hasn’t been seen since. I expect that either Stevenson steps up and carves out a role as the No. 2 back. Or there will never be anyone that consistently serves as the third-down back. Bolden and Taylor are not new, and the Pats know what they have in them. Stevenson has the upside that at least we cannot know for sure that he won’t matter. Until next week, anyway.
2.) WR David Moore (DEN) – The Broncos were already thin at wideout with Jerry Jeudy out for 6-8 weeks. Then KJ Hamler tore his ACL and is lost for the season. Tim Patrick subbed for Jeudy with solid results. Now the Broncos are replacing Hamler and grabbed David Moore off the Raider’s practice squad. He spent three years with the Seahawks and scored six times on his 35 catches for 417 yards last year before being released and landing in Las Vegas. The Broncos have already burned through two starting wideouts – never a good sign – and lacked enough talent on the roster to replace Hamler. Moore isn’t yet worth grabbing, but worth watching.
3.) WR Robby Anderson, WR Terrace Marshall (CAR) – The Panthers made Marshall their 2.27 pick, and the LSU product has some jets with a 4.38 40-time. He’s been the No. 3 wideout since Week 1 and peaked last Sunday with four catches for 48 yards in the win at Houston. Anderson started the year with only five catches for 103 yards and a score, including the 57-yard touchdown in Week 1 as his only catch. Week 3 saw Anderson with only one reception for eight yards at the Texans. Marshall has been the more productive receiver, but why?
In September, Anderson signed a two-year, $29.5 million contract extension, so he is very much in their plans. And HC Matt Rhule spoke about looking into what has happened. In some cases, Sam Darnold is just not looking to the right side. He’s locked onto D.J. Moore and also focused on McCaffrey, who is no longer an option. The important part is that Rhule realizes that there is a problem that needs to be addressed because they are ignoring their 1,000-yard receiver from last year that they are paying $29.5 million. This week in Dallas should get Anderson involved again, and the following month contains all softer secondaries.
4.) WR Josh Reynolds, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (TEN) – A.J. Brown and Julio Jones both have not practiced this week with hamstring issues and are likely to miss their matchup with the Jets, who just lost one of their safeties. That would make starters out of Westbrook-Ikhine and some combination of Chester Rogers and Cameron Batson. But – Josh Reynolds may see the field. He had missed time with an Achilles injury that healed a week or two ago, but he’s been inactive on game days. Westbrook-Ikhine led the receivers in their win over the Colts when he caught four passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Reynolds has no health limitations anymore, and this is why they acquired him in the offseason. He was the de facto No. 2 wideout until Julio Jones was signed. There is no certainty that he is active or has a meaningful game, but this is a situation where they need help. Rogers could remain ahead in targets, but this is Reynolds’ opportunity to get involved if they let him.
5.) WR Stefon Diggs, WR Emmanuel Sanders (BUF) – The Bills wide receivers have not been contributors as they were in 2020. Stefon Digs caught just one touchdown over three games and has yet to gain more than 69 yards. He averaged 96 yards per game last season. Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to take over the flanker and was held to around 50 yards each week until his five-catch, 94-yard Week 3 that notched two scores on Washington. Cole Beasley also turned in 11 catches for 98 yards in that matchup.
Diggs still averages over ten targets per game. Facing the Steelers, Dolphins, and Washington Football Team went against top cornerbacks, though the same happened last year. These next three games of the Texans, Chiefs, and Titans are all softer secondaries. Diggs has to show up big this week. This is the perfect set-up for him to rebound and Sanders to maintain his higher-volume role.
6.) Laviska Shenault (JAC) – Last nights’ matchup of the Jaguars and Bengals sadly saw DJ Chark break his ankle before he even had a catch. Trevor Lawrence only threw for 204 yards, but Shenault stepped up with six catches for 99 yards. No other receiver had more than three receptions or 29 yards. After being shut down by the Broncos’ secondary in Week 2 when he netted a three-yard loss on two receptions, he was turned back onto many waiver wires and needs to be back on fantasy rosters.
The loss of Chark should benefit Marvin Jones, but he was held to only three catches for 24 yards. The passing offense will improve, and is home for Week 5 hosting the Titans. Shenault should be a popular waiver wire add next week.
After three weeks, it is interesting to see how teams rate in different categories.
Highest and lowest rushing attempts – CLE (101), TEN (99), BAL (97) … NYJ (61), PIT (50), TB (48)
Highest and lowest rushing yards – BAL (556), CLE (524), TEN (478) … GB (239), TB (169), PIT (159)
Highest and lowest pass attempts – TB (141), LVR (136), PIT (130) … CLE (80), CIN (75), NO (64)
Highest and lowest pass yards – LVR (1,203), TB (1,087), LAR (1,006) … MIA (599), CHI (400), NO (390)