Backup Quarterbacks Are Shaking Up Fantasy Football

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Between Daniel Jones and Kyle Allen, Luke Falk and Josh Rosen, changes under center have the potential to completely alter NFL offenses—and your fantasy league. Here’s how to take advantage.

An unusually large number of backup quarterbacks and first-time starters dominated highlights (and a few lowlights) on the NFL Sunday slate in Week 3. That group was headlined, of course, by Giants rookie Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones and Panthers backup Kyle Allen—but also featured the Saints’ Teddy Bridgewater, the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph, the Jets’ Luke Falk, and the Dolphins’ Josh Rosen. Together, that group made a massive mark on fantasy matchups and most of those players should continue to create fantasy waves for the foreseeable future. In some cases, those backup-turned-starting signal-callers bring the potential to score big points week in and week out while boosting their teammates fantasy ceilings. In other cases … not so much.

Jones in particular impressed. The sixth overall pick in April’s draft is not only a must-add on the waiver wire this week (with the rushing upside that makes him startable in even one-QB leagues), but looks capable of changing the entire complexion of the Giants offense. Jones posted an outstanding debut performance while leading New York to a come-from-behind 32-31 win over the Buccaneers, completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks while adding 28 yards and another two scores on the ground. His 34.2 fantasy points was the most by a rookie quarterback in his first start, ever, and he became the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to tally 300-plus passing yards with two-plus passing touchdowns and two-plus rushing touchdowns in a game. Paired with what looked to be a serious ankle injury for superstar running back Saquon Barkley (more on that later), the Giants’ near-term fantasy outlook shifted dramatically on Sunday: Instead of the run-heavy, conservative, and maddeningly inefficient offense that ran through Barkley’s legs and Eli Manning’s over-the-hill skill set during the first two weeks, the team now shifts its scheme to one centered around Jones’s thus-far accurate arm and dynamic mobility. The 22-year-old was calm and decisive for most of the game and helped unlock what had been a mostly dormant air attack, all while keeping Tampa Bay’s defense honest with his ability to make plays with his legs. Tight end Evan Engram was a primary pass-catching beneficiary, hauling in six of his eight targets for 113 yards and a touchdown, including this 75-yard house call in the third quarter.

Receiver Sterling Shepard was another favorite target for Jones, and caught seven passes for 100 yards and this third-quarter score—a brilliant pass by the rookie quarterback in the face of pressure.

Jones also helped put fellow rookie Darius Slayton (five targets, three catches, 82 yards) on the fantasy map, and should boost Golden Tate once the wideout returns from his four-game suspension. For the first time in what feels like forever, Jones makes a few secondary and tertiary Giants pass catchers—Tate (rostered in just 37 percent of Yahoo leagues) and Slayton (0 percent)—worth looking for on the waiver wire. The rookie wasn’t perfect; he still needs to speed up his internal clock in the pocket and show better ball security (he lost two fumbles). But it’s hard not to get excited about Jones’s performance from a fantasy point of view: He simply brings the potential to open up new scoring opportunities for Giants skill players, especially considering the team’s terrible defense can’t seem to stop anybody. Expect plenty of high-scoring, back-and-forth affairs going forward.

Allen’s sterling performance in the Panthers’ 38-20 win over the Cardinals, meanwhile, gives Carolina some much-needed breathing room as it awaits Cam Newton’s uncertain return from a foot injury, and, thankfully, gives the team’s skill players some fantasy relevance in the meantime, as well. Allen carved up Arizona’s hapless secondary, completing 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns. He spread the ball around, tossing dimes to Greg Olsen (seven targets, six catches, 75 yards, two touchdowns), Curtis Samuel (seven targets, five catches, 53 yards, one touchdown), and D.J. Moore (two targets, one catch for 52 yards and a touchdown). Allen’s efficient outing also boosted Christian McCaffrey, who was able to find a little more room to run this week (24 rushes, 153 yards, one touchdown). Allen won’t be facing the Cardinals’ sieve-like defense every week, but combined with his late-season start last year (16-for-27 for 228 yards, two TDs), he’s done enough to convince me to keep the team’s fantasy stars in my lineup going forward.

Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t asked to do a whole lot in the Saints’ 33-27 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. He simply played the role of point guard in the team’s scheme while finishing 19-for-27 for 177 yards and two touchdowns. But while Bridgewater remains irrelevant in most fantasy formats, it was clear on Sunday that the offense still runs through fantasy stalwarts Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Kamara rushed 16 times for 69 yards and a touchdown while catching nine passes for 92 yards and a score. Thomas caught five of seven targets for 54 yards and a touchdown. Both remain plug-and-play options.

Mason Rudolph made his first start for the Steelers in place of Ben Roethlisberger, and produced an up-and-down performance in the team’s 24-20 loss to the 49ers. Rudolph was jittery in the pocket and inaccurate early before settling in a little in the second half, eventually finishing 14-for-27 for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. He rarely pushed the ball downfield (only two of his completions were beyond 5 yards), but when he did, it produced a few highlight moments: Rudolph hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a big 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter, and later found rookie Diontae Johnson for a go-ahead score early in the fourth. But the second-year pro is clearly still working to get on the same page as his receivers and there’s bound to be some wild swings in performance this year, even for a fantasy star like Smith-Schuster, who salvaged what could’ve been an awful day by getting all but five of his receiving yards on that big play. Still, there’s some potential value to be had on the waiver wire this week, with second-year receiver James Washington (rostered in 26 percent of leagues) and rookie Diontae Johnson (4 percent) now elevated to the starting lineup in front of Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer. Washington, who caught two of his four targets for 14 yards, had a quiet day, but Johnson grabbed three of six targets for 52 yards, including that fourth-quarter TD and a catch on a crossing route in the second quarter where he showed off some jukes in the open field. Johnson brings some Emmanuel Sanders vibes and the potential to see more volume as the year goes on.

Elsewhere, things didn’t go according to plan for a pair of other new starters at quarterback. Josh Rosen completed 18 of 39 passes for 200 yards with no touchdowns and no picks as he took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the Dolphins’ 31-6 loss. But while those numbers weren’t encouraging, he was a pair of drops away from posting two touchdowns on the day. Overall, the Dolphins offense found basically the only semblance of rhythm we’ve seen all year, and if there’s anyone who’s fantasy relevant in that passing game, it’s rookie Preston Williams, who caught four of 12 targets for 68 yards.

Finally, Luke Falk’s first start for the Jets went about as well as you’d expect a third-string quarterback’s first start to go. The New York offense posted just 105 total yards of offense in the 30-14 loss to the Patriots, the fewest yards any Bill Belichick–coached Patriots team has given up. Obviously, that kind of offensive implosion makes the Jets a fantasy wasteland: Even Le’Veon Bell, who carried the ball 18 times for 35 yards, was kept in check. The lesson? Avoid all Jets pass catchers until Sam Darnold gets back.

OK, on to the rest of the happenings around the league.

Risers and Sliders

Riser: TE Darren Waller, Raiders

Waller built on his shocking breakout for Oakland, posting a 13-catch, 134-yard line in the team’s 34-14 loss to Minnesota on Sunday. The 27-year-old former receiver has now racked up 26 catches through three weeks, second only to Antonio Gates (2007) since 1950 for a tight end’s first three games. Waller had some preseason hype, but I’m not sure anyone expected these types of numbers. He’s a must-start every week.

Slider: RB Josh Jacobs, Raiders

Jacobs, on the other hand, has struggled to keep pace after his outstanding Week 1 debut. After battling a head cold all week (which caused him to lose 10 pounds and receive IV treatment for 48 hours before the game), the first-rounder played just 25 snaps in the game against the Vikings, finishing with 10 carries for 44 yards and zero catches on two targets. Jacobs’s illness was surely part of the reason for his fantasy dud, but it’s a bad sign that the Raiders have used the rookie so little in the passing game, too. Through three weeks, he’s caught just one pass. The lack of utility in that area means Jacobs’s production is tied to positive game scripts. On a bad Raiders team that’s bound to be trailing a lot this year, that is troubling.

Riser: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Packers

Valdes-Scantling found pay dirt early in the Packers’ 27-16 win over the Broncos, on a free play courtesy of Aaron Rodgers’s legendary hard count prowess. The 24-year-old receiver snuck behind the Broncos defense to reel in a 40-yard touchdown and finished the game with six catches for 99 yards and that score. MVS’s 10 targets easily paced all pass catchers for Green Bay this week, an indication his usage in the offense is on the upswing (he had 11 targets in weeks 1 and 2 combined). The 6-foot-4 speedster has notched 40-plus-yard catches in six of his 18 career games, and offers big-play ability opposite Davante Adams.

Slider: WR Stefon Diggs, Vikings

Diggs posted his third straight disappointing fantasy performance in the Vikings’ 34-14 win over the Raiders, catching just three passes for 15 yards. After finishing last season with 102 catches for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns (the PPR format WR10), Diggs now has six catches for 101 yards and one touchdown on the year (putting him on pace for 32 catches, 538 yards, and five touchdowns). That is likely to trend up slightly (the Vikings jumped out to a big early lead in both Week 1 and on Sunday), but it’s clear that Minnesota (which has attempted just 63 throws all year, dead last) is intent on making the ground game the central focus of its offense.

Slider: WR John Ross, Bengals

Ross came into Sunday’s matchup against the Bills with a league-high four dropped passes, according to PFF, then promptly dropped another one on his first target. Things didn’t go a whole lot better from there: He finished with just two catches for 22 yards and lost a fumble in the team’s 21-17 loss. Ross is still a big-play threat for Cincy and should remain fantasy relevant, but his sloppy play through three games puts a limit on his ceiling and could lead to a decrease in playing time. A.J. Green’s return at some point this year could also severely cut into Ross’s role.

Riser: TE Dawson Knox, Bills

It felt like a mini-breakout had been coming for Knox: The rookie tight end had run 48 pass routes for the Bills over the team’s first two games—14th most among all tight ends, according to PFF, but just hadn’t seen the ball a whole lot, catching just two passes for 19 yards. On Sunday, though, the dynamic seam-stretching athlete reeled in three of his four targets for 67 yards and a touchdown (which, by the way, was his first since high school). For good measure, Knox added a monster, beast-mode-style catch and run in the fourth quarter, bowling through a pair of defenders.

Knox is likely to remain a boom-or-bust option at tight end, but he certainly put himself on the fantasy map on Sunday as a potential streamer.

Slider: RB Chris Carson, Seahawks

Carson coughed up another costly fumble for the Seahawks on Sunday, his third of the year (all three of which have led to opponent touchdowns). Seattle’s feature back finished with an underwhelming 15 rushes for 53 yards and one catch for negative-two yards in Seattle’s 33-27 loss to New Orleans, and his lack of ball security could lead to a greater time share with Rashaad Penny and/or C.J. Prosise. Carson is the Seahawks’ best runner and pass catcher out of the backfield, but his margin for error is likely razor thin at this point. Any more mess-ups and head coach Pete Carroll (who voiced support for Carson after the game) may be forced to lean on other options at the position.

Riser: WR Nelson Agholor, Eagles

Agholor had another roller-coaster performance in the Eagles’ 27-24 loss to the Lions, registering a drop and lost fumble in the first half before finishing with an eight-catch, 50-yard, two-touchdown line on a team-high 12 targets. It’s never going to be smooth sailing with this guy, but until DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery return from injuries, Agholor is a fantasy factor.

Slider: RB James Conner, Steelers

Conner struggled to find much room to run in the Steelers’ loss to the 49ers, rushing 13 times for 43 yards with a lost fumble that partly cost Pittsburgh the game. Pittsburgh’s lead back dominated snaps and touches (backup Jaylen Samuels didn’t record a stat), but the production simply wasn’t there. That’s been true all year: Conner (who suffered a knee injury last week but was off the injury report by Friday) has 34 carries for 97 yards (2.9 YPC) with one touchdown through three games. He’s added 11 receptions for 70 yards.

Cutting Up the Pie

Kerryon Johnson Takes a Bigger Piece

The Lions’ decision to cut C.J. Anderson paid early dividends for Johnson, who inched closer to bellcow status. After averaging 56 percent of the teams snaps and 14 carries over the first two weeks, Johnson got 75 percent of the snaps in Week 3 and carried the ball 20 times. Granted, he gained only 36 yards on those totes, but he got red zone looks and punched the ball in for a score in the second quarter. It’s worth monitoring whether Ty Johnson will eat into Kerryon’s workload as the year goes on, but we might’ve seen a glimpse at what’s to come for Johnson on Sunday.

Chiefs Rotation Surprises

Before the game, Chiefs reporters noted that the team was warming up with Darrel Williams as the starter, Darwin Thompson as the backup, and LeSean McCoy (who hobbled into the stadium a few hours earlier) behind them both. Those reports surely led to many last-minute lineup changes, but McCoy still got the start. The veteran carried the ball eight times for 54 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 26 yards and a score. Williams paced the backs with a 55 percent snap share, with McCoy playing on 37 percent of snaps and Thompson barely at all (just 8 percent of snaps). The much-anticipated Thompson breakout did not happen, and based on what we saw today, he remains firmly planted at fourth on the depth chart.

Eagles Backfield Remains a Committee

The Eagles went with a full-on committee approach again this week, with Miles Sanders (24 snaps), Jordan Howard (24), and Darren Sproles (23) all seeing near-identical playing time. Sanders showed some improvement over last week’s dud with 13 carries for 53 yards and two catches for 73 yards, but he fumbled twice (ball security was a major concern for Sanders coming out of Penn State) and was vultured for a touchdown by Howard (11 carries 37 yards and a score). At this point it’s tough to trust any of the three as anything more than a flex option.

The Injury Report

RB Saquon Barkley, Giants: Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He was seen with crutches and in a walking boot on the sidelines in the second half and is expected to miss significant time. Backup Wayne Gallman is expected to get the nod in relief.

WRs Julian Edelman, Patriots: Edelman suffered a rib injury that knocked him out of the game. X-rays were negative, but the 33-year-old veteran could still miss some time. If he does, Josh Gordon (who suffered a finger injury but returned) should get a boost, and Phillip Dorsett will likely get a few more looks. Rookie preseason and training camp star Jakobi Meyers is worth a speculative add on the waiver wire as well, in case Edelman’s injury keeps him out long term.

WR T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Hilton reaggravated a quad injury that landed him on the injury report last week. If the speedster misses any time, it’ll push up Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Chester Rogers, and Parris Campbell in the pecking order, but the team could look to get its tight ends and backs more involved in the passing game as well.

TE Vance McDonald, Steelers: McDonald injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. He’d caught just one pass for 10 yards prior to the injury, and if he is forced to miss time, Xavier Grimble and rookie Zach Gentry are next in line.

Smash the Add Button

Here’s a few must-add players on this week’s waiver wire.

RB Wayne Gallman, Giants (rostered in 4 percent of Yahoo leagues): Gallman got just five carries for 13 yards in relief of Barkley on Sunday, but he slots into the starting role for New York for the foreseeable future. He’s certainly not Barkley, but he’ll get enough volume to make him a flex option in the interim.

QB Daniel Jones, Giants (16 percent): Jones lit up the Bucs in his debut, and while it’d be foolish to expect that type of production week in and week out, his ability to run gives him a solid fantasy floor, and the team will get Golden Tate back in two weeks. Jones has some Josh Allen rookie year vibes to him.

WRs Phillip Dorsett (32 percent) and Jakobi Meyers, Patriots (1 percent): Dorsett posted six catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in the team’s win Sunday and grabbed four catches for 95 yards and two scores in the team’s opener (before Antonio Brown’s short-lived tenure). With Brown gone and Edelman potentially missing time to a rib injury, Dorsett is an obvious target on the wire. Meyers is a little bit more of a deep-league option, but he was the talk of training camp and could work his way into a bigger role going forward. He caught two of his three targets for 38 yards Sunday.

WR Diontae Johnson, Steelers (4 percent): Johnson is a full-time player in the Steelers offense (he played 43 snaps Sunday) and has a clear path to cementing himself as the no. 2 option in the passing game behind Smith-Schuster. He likely won’t be a major fantasy factor unless Rudolph improves, but he’s an excellent stash option with a lot of upside. He caught three passes for 52 yards and a score Sunday.

RB Jeff Wilson, 49ers (4 percent): Wilson is the Niners’ red zone hammer. Shanahan hinted last week that the former practice-squad player would be the team’s designated red zone rusher, and that bore out Sunday. Wilson carried the ball just eight times for 18 yards but scored two touchdowns, pushing his two-game line to 18 carries for 52 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a touchdown-dependent fantasy option, but with the way that San Francisco is using him, those touchdowns are going to come.

RB Darrell Williams, Chiefs (6 percent): Until Damien Williams returns from his knee injury, it’s looking like Williams and McCoy will share the carries in the Kansas City backfield. Pick up any and every player that gets significant playing time in the Chiefs offense.

The Watch List

TE Dawson Knox, Bills (zero percent): Knox is big and fast and runs a lot of routes. He’s not getting many targets quite yet, but that could change as the year goes on and Josh Allen starts to develop more trust and chemistry with him. The third-round tight end is a weekly streaming option going forward.

WR Auden Tate, Bengals (zero percent): A.J. Green’s return is up in the air. John Ross can’t stop dropping passes. The Bengals may need someone to step up in that offense, and Tate flashed that ability Sunday, catching six of 10 targets for 88 yards.

RB Tony Pollard, Cowboys (17 percent): Pollard’s nothing more than an Ezekiel Elliott handcuff at this point, but the more snaps he gets, the more he proves that he can be a difference maker. The rookie fourth-rounder ran 13 times for 103 yards and a touchdown Sunday while adding three catches for 25 yards. He’s a natural playmaker with excellent balance, burst, and agility—so don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Kellen Moore starts trying to get him more involved in the offense, even in games where Elliott is a full go.