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FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 3


Another season of fantasy football, another group of start-or-sit scenarios to answer.

It’s not just enough to draft the right team and make the right moves off the waiver wire. We all know that. We also have to make sure that we are starting the right players each week.

Of course, we have our studs, anchors, and the players we’re starting virtually no matter what. We don’t need anyone to tell us to start Jonathan Taylor.

But, the further down the lineup we go, the more those questions trickle in.

Then again, no player is a “must-sit” in every scenario, and perhaps the WR3 you’ve been plugging in each week may have a better alternative.

To answer the question, “Should I sit Player X,” depends on the answer to the question, “Who can you start instead?”

That’s why I like to switch up the typical start-or-sit column format. I’m going to be listing out all relevant fantasy football players each week and bucketing them into tiers.

Take some of the guesswork out of setting our lineups weekly, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based on numberFire’s player projections with dynamic measures for variance, such as quarterback rushing, running back receiving, and receiver target depth.

The results will boil down to three tiers: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider starting whenever we don’t have better alternatives but who aren’t must-plays, and players we should try to bench whenever we do have better alternatives (i.e. players listed above them on the list).

These players are listed in order of frequency of hitting the stated threshold (i.e. QB12, RB24, WR24, and TE12 performances), and higher on the list means more able to start.

The groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench or the waiver wire, should I start this player this week?

Players not listed should be presumed sit-worthy in a shallow or standard-sized league, and all fantasy points references and rankings reflect half-PPR scoring.

QUARTERBACKS

Start with confidence:

— Josh Allen at MIA (71%)

— Jalen Hurts at WSH (64%)

— Patrick Mahomes at IND (63%)

— Lamar Jackson at NE (60%)

— Justin Herbert vs. JAC (56%)

— Kyler Murray vs. LA (55%)

— Kirk Cousins vs. DET (53%)

— Joe Burrow at NYJ (52%)

Consider if needed:

— Matthew Stafford at ARI (48%)

— Russell Wilson vs. SF (40%)

— Derek Carr at TEN (38%)

— Aaron Rodgers at TB (38%)

— Justin Fields vs. HOU (37%)

— Marcus Mariota at SEA (37%)

— Jared Goff at MIN (35%)

Bench if possible:

Tua Tagovailoa vs. BUF (33%); Carson Wentz vs. PHI (32%); Tom Brady vs. GB (32%); Daniel Jones vs. DAL (31%); Trevor Lawrence at LAC (30%); Mac Jones vs. BAL (30%); Jameis Winston at CAR (29%); Jimmy Garoppolo at DEN (29%); Matt Ryan vs. KC (26%); Ryan Tannehill vs. LV (25%); Davis Mills at CHI (25%); Geno Smith vs. ATL (25%); Mitchell Trubisky at CLE (24%); Cooper Rush at NYG (24%); Joe Flacco vs. CIN (22%); Baker Mayfield vs. NO (22%); Jacoby Brissett vs. PIT (17%).

The Strong Start tier, Tier 1, has eight passers this week. Odds are that you aren’t relying on streamers too often this week.

However, if you don’t have one of those top eight or are considering streaming, you’re in good shape for Week 3.

Justin Fields is a strong fantasy option, given his potential on the ground. Fields has averaged 9.5 rush attempts for 24.0 yards, and the Houston Texans haven’t been tested on the ground yet.

They have faced just six rushes by quarterbacks through two games while going against Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.

Another rushing quarterback option is Marcus Mariota, who faces the Seattle Seahawks on the road. Seattle has faced Wilson and then, effectively, Jimmy Garoppolo, and thus have faced only eight carries so far by opposing quarterbacks.

Mariota has averaged 44.0 yards on 8.5 rushes per game — and 6.0 red zone rushes per game (a 40.0% team share).

Jared Goff has the Detroit Lions off to a hot start offensively. Detroit ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to numberFire’s metrics, through two weeks. The Minnesota Vikings’ pass defense ranks outside the top 20 at the moment, and they’ll be playing on a short week after being dominated by Jalen Hurts on “Monday Night Football” in Week 2.

RUNNING BACKS

Start with confidence:

— Christian McCaffrey vs. NO (80%)

— Dalvin Cook vs. DET (80%)

— Jonathan Taylor vs. KC (80%)

— Derrick Henry vs. LV (79%)

— Joe Mixon at NYJ (77%)

— Saquon Barkley vs. DAL (75%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. JAC (70%)

— Nick Chubb vs. PIT (68%)

— Leonard Fournette vs. GB (64%)

— David Montgomery vs. HOU (63%)

— Najee Harris at CLE (60%)

Consider if needed:

— James Conner vs. LA (59%)

— D’Andre Swift at MIN (57%)

— Josh Jacobs at TEN (56%)

— Aaron Jones at TB (54%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson at SEA (54%)

— Antonio Gibson vs. PHI (53%)

— Jeff Wilson at DEN (52%)

— Javonte Williams vs. SF (52%)

— Ezekiel Elliott at NYG (49%)

— James Robinson at LAC (46%)

— Michael Carter vs. CIN (44%)

— Rashaad Penny vs. ATL (42%)

— A.J. Dillon at TB (41%)

— Miles Sanders at WSH (41%)

Bench if possible:

Chase Edmonds vs. BUF (39%); Damien Harris vs. BAL (39%); Kareem Hunt vs. PIT (38%); Dameon Pierce at CHI (37%); Clyde Edwards-Helaire at IND (37%); Tony Pollard at NYG (35%); Devin Singletary at MIA (34%); Jamaal Williams at MIN (33%); Breece Hall vs. CIN (33%); J.K. Dobbins at NE (32%); Melvin Gordon vs. SF (32%); Darrell Henderson at ARI (32%); Raheem Mostert vs. BUF (32%); Jerick McKinnon at IND (30%); Cam Akers at ARI (30%); Rhamondre Stevenson vs. BAL (29%); Rex Burkhead at CHI (29%); Travis Etienne at LAC (27%); Alvin Kamara at CAR (27%); Mark Ingram at CAR (25%); J.D. McKissic vs. PHI (20%).

How likely are you to bench Aaron Jones after a two-touchdown game? Not very. We can say that we need to scale back expectations against a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive front, but let’s contextualize it for this week. Tampa Bay ranks well overall against the rush, but is actually 31st in rushing success rate allowed, meaning some consistent plays can still be had for Jones. Jones also has averaged 123.0 scrimmage yards and can have a floor even without scoring.

Jeff Wilson was a hot waiver wire addition entering last week’s matchup. His role was solid. He played on 50.0% of the San Francisco 49ers’ snaps and had 103 scrimmage yards on 20 total opportunities (carries plus targets). Tyrion Davis-Price played 40.0% of the snaps but will now miss multiple weeks. The Niners will still find ways to get Jordan Mason and possibly Marlon Mack involved, but the arrow is up on Wilson’s opportunity.

The optimism on Javonte Williams has to be scaled back a bit, given the Broncos’ offensive struggles. Denver ranks 13th in overall offensive efficiency still — yet 30th on the ground. Williams’ value has primarily come through the air, as he has 12 targets through two games thus far. Denver is a slight home underdog against the 49ers this week. That could lead to an elevated target workload once again.

Week 2 saw an extended role for James Robinson, who played on 62.7% of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive snaps and handled 23 carries and two targets. He also had five red zone carries. The Los Angeles Chargers have allowed 5.79 yards per carry to opposing running backs and rank 25th in success rate allowed, as well.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Start with confidence:

— Cooper Kupp at ARI (86%)

— Justin Jefferson vs. DET (79%)

— Ja’Marr Chase at NYJ (71%)

— Davante Adams at TEN (70%)

— Stefon Diggs at MIA (67%)

— Deebo Samuel at DEN (66%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown at MIN (65%)

— Tyreek Hill vs. BUF (60%)

— A.J. Brown at WSH (55%)

— Jerry Jeudy vs. SF (53%)

— Mike Williams vs. JAC (51%)

— Brandin Cooks at CHI (51%)

— Courtland Sutton vs. SF (50%)

Consider if needed:

— CeeDee Lamb at NYG (47%)

— Jaylen Waddle vs. BUF (46%)

— Tee Higgins at NYJ (46%)

— Marquise Brown vs. LA (45%)

— Michael Thomas at CAR (45%)

— Diontae Johnson at CLE (44%)

— Tyler Lockett vs. ATL (43%)

— Gabe Davis at MIA (42%)

— Terry McLaurin vs. PHI (41%)

— Christian Kirk at LAC (41%)

— D.K. Metcalf vs. ATL (40%)

— D.J. Moore vs. NO (39%)

— Julio Jones vs. GB (38%)

— Rashod Bateman at NE (33%)

— Drake London at SEA (33%)

— Amari Cooper vs. PIT (32%)

— Allen Robinson at ARI (32%)

— DeVonta Smith at WSH (31%)

— Jakobi Meyers vs. BAL (30%)

Bench if possible:

Adam Thielen vs. DET (29%); Garrett Wilson vs. CIN (28%); D.J. Chark at MIN (27%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling at IND (26%); Darnell Mooney vs. HOU (25%); Robbie Anderson vs. NO (25%); JuJu Smith-Schuster at IND (25%); Russell Gage vs. GB (25%); Chase Claypool at CLE (25%); Brandon Aiyuk at DEN (24%); Elijah Moore vs. CIN (24%); Sterling Shepard vs. DAL (24%); Marvin Jones at LAC (22%); Robert Woods vs. LV (22%); Curtis Samuel vs. PHI (20%); Michael Gallup at NYG (20%).

The most consistent role among the New Orleans Saints’ pass catchers belongs to Michael Thomas. Week 1 was the Jarvis Landry week, and last week, we saw Chris Olave obtain more than 300 air yards. But Thomas has had eight targets for 57 yards and two touchdowns in the opener and then nine targets for 65 yards and a score in Week 2. He’s had three of five end zone targets, too, helping explain the touchdown total.

Diontae Johnson hasn’t produced a lot, but has a really strong role. Johnson has run a route on 94.7% of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ drop-backs and is averaging 11.0 targets per game. His expected fantasy point output (half-PPR) of 14.7 is 5.9 points above his actual return (8.9). That’s the third-largest discrepancy among any receiver in the NFL so far. The Cleveland Browns rank 30th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing receivers through Week 2. The “Thursday Night Football” matchup means we need to decide on Johnson soon, but don’t bail out just yet unless you have someone else close in the simulations.

Speaking of expected workloads, Christian Kirk ranks top 20 in expected fantasy points among all receivers on a per-game basis, and he is the clear No. 1 option on a passing offense that is currently ranked sixth in adjusted passing offense. The Chargers are 19th defensively, so don’t get too cute with Kirk unless you have better choices.

Drake London’s snap rate climbed from 73.2% to 80.4% in Week 2 after an injury-impacted preseason, so it was very promising to see that role increase in his second game. He drew 12 targets for 86 yards and a touchdown. That worked out to a 48.0% target share and a 47.0% air yards share. Of those 12 targets, five were at least 10 yards downfield, and two were in the red zone. He’s a confident Tier 2 play if needed.

TIGHT END

Start with confidence:

— Travis Kelce at IND (85%)

— Mark Andrews at NE (71%)

— Darren Waller at TEN (56%)

— Kyle Pitts at SEA (55%)

— Tyler Higbee at ARI (50%)

Consider if needed:

— Dallas Goedert at WSH (49%)

— Zach Ertz vs. LA (45%)

— T.J. Hockenson at MIN (44%)

— Dawson Knox at MIA (41%)

— Gerald Everett vs. JAC (40%)

— Pat Freiermuth at CLE (36%)

— Mike Gesicki vs. BUF (34%)

— Logan Thomas vs. PHI (34%)

— Irv Smith Jr. vs. DET (33%)

— Evan Engram at LAC (31%)

Bench if possible:

Tyler Conklin vs. CIN (29%); Noah Fant vs. ATL (28%); Hunter Henry vs. BAL (28%); Cole Kmet vs. HOU (26%); Robert Tonyan at TB (26%); Austin Hooper vs. LV (26%); Hayden Hurst at NYJ (24%); Mo Alie-Cox vs. KC (24%); David Njoku vs. PIT (23%); George Kittle at DEN (22%); Albert Okwuegbunam vs. SF (22%).

Although the results for T.J. Hockenson haven’t been great, the role has been there. He holds a 19.7% target share, fifth best among all tight ends so far this season, and he has one red zone target per game. The Vikings have allowed 11 catches for 149 yards on 14 tight end targets this season.

Not many tight ends have yardage upside, but so far, Gerald Everett has flashed it by clearing 50 yards in each game (54 and 71). The 54 yards on four targets in Week 1 led to a jump to 10 targets in Week 2 as well as a route rate increase from 58.8% to 70.0%.

As mentioned with Christian Kirk, Evan Engram is involved in a top-six adjusted passing offense for the moment. Engram’s role in Week 2 was noteworthy: 8 targets, 7 catches, 46 yards. That came with only a 4.0-yard average depth of target, which isn’t what you want to see. However, he is holding a 17.6% target share in a solid offense right now and ranks seventh among tight ends in route rate (79.7%). That’s a good streaming combination if needed.

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