The first week of the season was anything but predictable, from last-minute healthy scratches to solid offenses underperforming, and everything in between. If your fantasy season didn’t start as you had hoped and you need to cover some ground in the form of lost points, I have some players who could be difference-makers this week — or they could totally bust.
We call this column the wild card picks for a reason, and here they are.
Van Jefferson, WR - Rams
We all thought DeSean Jackson would be the deep-threat guy for LA this season, and I actually expected him to show up in this column at some point. However, Jefferson’s usage in the Rams offense tells a different story — and one that I’m here for. The 25-year-old was on the field for 34-of-52 snaps compared to Jackson’s 14 and he appears to be the current WR3 in this offense.
Jefferson will face a Colts’ secondary in Week 2 that allowed Seattle wideouts to post 38.5 half-PPR points last week, which included a 69-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett. The sophomore Ram also happened to find the end zone on a long 67-yard shot last week from new QB Matthew Stafford, so here’s to hoping for a repeat performance.
Baker Mayfield, QB - Browns
You may have Mayfield parked on your bench as a backup or he’s sitting on the waiver wire in your one-QB league, but this is a great week to give him the starting nod. The Browns’ signal caller did not find the end zone in Week 1 which is certainly not ideal, but things should change for the 26-year-old at home this week against Houston.
Despite not throwing a touchdown, Mayfield posted 321 yards on 21 passes with a 75-percent completion rate, the fifth-highest of the week. This high-level production was sans his best target Odell Beckham Jr., who has a chance to return for this Week 2 contest. Even if OBJ is still out, Mayfield should put up some healthy numbers against a defensive unit that just let rookie Trevor Lawrence post a 28-332-3 line in his first NFL game.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR - Packers
Last week was as ugly as it gets for Green Bay and all their offensive pieces. The Packers are in the perfect bounce-back spot on Monday night, however, against a porous Detroit secondary, and Valdes-Scantling could be the undervalued beneficiary. MVS has been the focus of adoration from both the coaching staff and QB Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks, which played out in his varied usage in Week 1. We’re used to seeing the 26-year-old involved in mostly deep-ball situations, but he was also privy to some intermediate passes against New Orleans which is promising for an uptick in volume for the wideout.
If you grabbed MVS ahead of the season or he’s fresh off the waiver wire this week, it may not be a bad idea to throw him into your WR3 or flex spot on Monday night as he and the Packers seek to right the shipwreck that was Week 1.
James Conner, RB - Cardinals
Stay with me here before your eyes roll all the way into your collective heads.
Conner’s number was called four times inside the 20-yard line last week, which was 66.7% of the Cardinals’ red-zone rushing attempts. Sure, Kyler Murray is always a threat to take that work away, but if Arizona is leading this contest against the Vikings — which they are favored to do so, by 4.5 points — then we may see plenty of dump-offs to Conner in the second half.
It may be tough to pull the trigger on Conner as your RB2, but he could be worthy of a flex start this week in the hopes he gets to dance in the end zone once or maybe even twice — if the fantasy gods allow.
Pharaoh Brown, TE - Texans
Waiting for a fantasy-relevant TE for the Texans seems to be a perennial activity, but we may have found one — at least for this week. Houston ran a plethora of TE-heavy plays last week against the Jaguars; in fact, their 17 snaps out of 13 personnel (one RB and three TEs) comprised 23% of their plays which was the highest in the NFL before kickoff on Monday night.
Up next for the Houston TE is the Cleveland Browns, who yielded 76 yards and two touchdowns to Travis Kelce in Week 1 for a whopping 22.6 half-PPR points. While Brown is no Kelce, there is a chance he could best his five looks from last week and put up a nice total against a Cleveland defensive unit that was 30th against TEs in 2020 and didn’t appear to have made a big jump thus far in 2021.