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The start-or-sit dilemma is part of managing a fantasy football team.
Having the foresight to start the wide receiver who goes for 100 yards and a touchdown in a matchup while sitting a receiver against a shutdown cornerback is one of the keys to victory.
For this version of a start-or-sit, I’m going to be listing all relevant fantasy football players each week and placing them into tiers.
And to take some of the guesswork out of it, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based in 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.
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 start-able).
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.
Start with confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.
— Josh Allen vs. IND (74%)
— Patrick Mahomes vs. DAL (72%)
— Lamar Jackson at CHI (67%)
— Dak Prescott at KC (65%)
— Aaron Rodgers at MIN (59%)
— Justin Herbert vs. PIT (56%)
— Tom Brady vs. NYG (55%)
— Jalen Hurts vs. NO (54%)
— Ryan Tannehill vs. HOU (51%)
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Tua Tagovailoa at NYJ (48%)
— Cam Newton vs. WSH (46%)
— Joe Burrow at LV (45%)
— Derek Carr vs. CIN (45%)
— Russell Wilson vs. ARI (45%)
— Justin Fields vs. BAL (37%)
— Mac Jones at ATL (36%)
— Daniel Jones at TB (36%)
— Kirk Cousins vs. GB (35%)
— Jimmy Garoppolo at JAC (35%)
With only two teams on byes, it’s a week without a huge need for streaming. For those of us who do need streamers, the options — in theory — should be better than usual.
Tua Tagovailoa fits as a traditional streamer against a New York Jets defense that ranks 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play allowed. Tua, in three games against defenses ranked outside the top 20 in adjusted pass defense, has averaged 21.1 fantasy points per game by way of 259.3 yards and 2.0 touchdowns per game.
The simulations are back on Cam Newton, who had a strong goal-line role in Week 10 that led to touchdowns on his first two plays. He’s “trending” toward starting, according to Carolina coach Matt Rhule. He’s a long-term option in addition to a Week 11 streamer.
Joe Burrow has had a pretty easy schedule this year and has faced six pass defenses outside the top 20, via numberFire’s metrics. In these games, Burrow has averaged 19.6 fantasy points, stemming from 297.2 yards per game and 2.2 passing touchdowns. He gets another easy matchup this week: the Las Vegas Raiders are 25th.
Derek Carr is also in play in that game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are stingier against the run (seventh by numberFire’s metrics) than against the pass (20th). Notably, he has still gotten to 278.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game in his past two (without Henry Ruggs) albeit with worrisome passing efficiency. He’s not a top priority, but is in the conversation if needed.
The simulations definitely don’t treat Russell Wilson as a must-start. He struggled mightily in his Week 10 return. Wilson generated only 161 yards on 43 drop backs. His Passing NEP per drop back of -0.38 was abysmal (NFL average is 0.11). The Arizona Cardinals are third in adjusted pass defense, as well.
Since 2012, quarterbacks facing divisional opponents that are also top-six adjusted pass defenses have thrown for 300 yards in just 18% of their games (compared to a full-sample average of 26%).
Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (19th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
Trevor Lawrence vs. SF (33%); Tyrod Taylor at TEN (32%); Taylor Heinicke at CAR (31%); Matt Ryan vs. NE (28%); Carson Wentz at BUF (28%); Joe Flacco vs. MIA (26%); Jared Goff at CLE (17%); Kyler Murray at SEA (12%)(asterisk); Trevor Siemian at PHI (11%); Baker Mayfield vs. DET (7%); Case Keenum vs. DET (4%); Colt McCoy at SEA (4%); Mason Rudolph at LAC (3%); Ben Roethlisberger at LAC (3%); Taysom Hill at PHI (1%); Trey Lance at JAC (1%).
— Kyler Murray’s status is undecided but looks promising.
Start with confidence: These running backs are at least 60% likely to finish the week inside the top 24, according to the slate simulations. You’re starting them.
— Christian McCaffrey vs. WSH (88%)
— Austin Ekeler vs. PIT (81%)
— Najee Harris at LAC (80%)
— Dalvin Cook vs. GB (80%)
— Jonathan Taylor at BUF (76%)
— D’Andre Swift at CLE (74%)
— Leonard Fournette vs. NYG (73%)
— James Conner at SEA (71%)
— Ezekiel Elliott at KC (69%)
— Nick Chubb vs. DET (68%)
— Michael Carter vs. MIA (67%)
— A.J. Dillon at MIN (66%)
— Joe Mixon at LV (66%)
— Saquon Barkley at TB (65%)
— Myles Gaskin at NYJ (65%)
— Josh Jacobs vs. CIN (62%)
Consider if needed: This tier is sitting between 35% and 59% for an RB2 week, and you’re probably starting some of them even if they’re shy of that top tier.
— Eli Mitchell at JAC (58%)
— James Robinson vs. SF (57%)
— David Montgomery vs. BAL (57%)
— Antonio Gibson at CAR (52%)
— Mark Ingram at PHI (42%)(asterisk)
— Darrel Williams vs. DAL (40%)
— Mike Davis vs. NE (38%)(asterisk)(asterisk)
— Alvin Kamara at PHI (37%)(asterisk)
— Rhamondre Stevenson at ATL (36%)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)
— Wayne Gallman vs. NE (35%)(asterisk)(asterisk)
— Damien Harris at ATL (35%)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)
I had to drop the parameter a bit from usual for this tier: to 35% from 40%.
We see 16 running backs tagged with at least a 60% chance to finish as a top-24 performer this week. Again, it’s a light bye week, and the state of running backs is pretty solid overall with Christian McCaffrey back and Leonard Fournette, James Conner, Michael Carter, A.J. Dillon, and Myles Gaskin no longer mired in total committees for one reason or another. That leaves little room for the next tier to get into the top 24 at a consistent rate within the slate simulations.
David Montgomery wouldn’t have surprised me if he had made it into the upper crust of the sims. He returned in Week 9 to play on 84.5% of the Chicago Bears’ snaps and handle 13 of 17 running back carries and 2 of 2 running back targets. The main concern here would be the matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, which profiles to be extremely run-heavy. That can grind clock and reduce plays. However, after the elite role in Week 9 and a bye week to get healthier, Montgomery is not someone to bench because of the matchup unless you are flush at running back.
(asterisk) Mark Ingram’s RB1 status might have been short-lived, as Alvin Kamara returned to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday. Overall, if Kamara plays, you’ll be playing him. Even at a half projection, Kamara and Ingram are in the RB2/FLEX tier.
(asterisk)(asterisk) We could get replacement-level production from Wayne Gallman and Mike Davis, as Cordarrelle Patterson is unlikely to play. We’ll know early in the week, as the Atlanta Falcons play the New England Patriots on Thursday to kick off Week 11.
(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) If you added Rhamondre Stevenson within the past two weeks or if you’re awaiting for Damien Harris' return, you’ll find out Thursday, which helps for lineup preparation. Similar to the New Orleans Saints’ backs the simulations like both backs even at half projection well enough to consider unless we’re flush with running backs at the top tier. The Atlanta Falcons rank 22nd in rushing success rate allowed to running backs.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 35% likely to net a top-24 result.
Zack Moss vs. IND (30%); Adrian Peterson vs. HOU (29%); Kenyan Drake vs. CIN (29%); David Johnson at TEN (29%); Devin Singletary vs. IND (27%); Devonta Freeman at CHI (26%); Tony Pollard at KC (24%); Jeremy McNichols vs. HOU (23%); J.D. McKissic at CAR (23%); D’Onta Foreman vs. HOU (22%); Boston Scott vs. NO (22%); Nyheim Hines at BUF (21%); Latavius Murray at CHI (20%); Ty Johnson vs. MIA (20%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Davante Adams at MIN (80%)
— Tyreek Hill vs. DAL (80%)
— Deebo Samuel at JAC (77%)
— A.J. Brown vs. HOU (72%)
— Stefon Diggs vs. IND (71%)
— Ja’Marr Chase at LV (62%)
— Chris Godwin vs. NYG (60%)
— CeeDee Lamb at KC (58%)
— Justin Jefferson vs. GB (56%)
— Keenan Allen vs. PIT (56%)
— D.J. Moore vs. WSH (53%)
— Marquise Brown at CHI (51%)
Consider if needed: These players are more matchup dependent for this week than the tier above, but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.
— DeVonta Smith vs. NO (49%)
— Amari Cooper at KC (49%)
— D.K. Metcalf vs. ARI (48%)
— Mike Evans vs. NYG (48%)
— Tyler Lockett vs. ARI (47%)
— Brandin Cooks at TEN (47%)
— Tee Higgins at LV (46%)
— Diontae Johnson at LAC (46%)
— Terry McLaurin at CAR (43%)
— Mike Williams vs. PIT (43%)
— Adam Thielen vs. GB (43%)
— Jaylen Waddle at NYJ (39%)
— Michael Pittman Jr. at BUF (36%)
— Jakobi Meyers at ATL (35%)
— Jarvis Landry vs. DET (35%)
— Hunter Renfrow vs. CIN (35%)
— Emmanuel Sanders vs. IND (34%)
— Cole Beasley vs. IND (32%)
— Christian Kirk at SEA (31%)
— Allen Robinson vs. BAL (31%)
There’s a big tier for Week 11 of start-able receivers who are under 50% to finish as a top-24 wideout. With few byes, we don’t have to get too cute, so our start/sit decisions will come down to stronger options than usual. This also led to a change of the usual cutoff of 40%.
Brandin Cooks’ role keeps him relevant. In Week 9 with Tyrod Taylor back under center, Cooks saw 13 targets (a 33.3% target share) with 144 air yards (46.2% of the team’s air yards). That also included awesome leverage (three downfield targets and four red zone targets), ultimately leading to just 47 yards, however. The process still keeps him very start-able in Week 11.
From Week 5 onward to help account for Tee Higgins’ return and Ja’Marr Chase’s breakout, we still see Higgins accrue 23.7% of the Cincinnati Bengals’ targets while clearing 100 air yards per game. The game against the Las Vegas Raiders profiles as a back-and-forth shootout. The total is 50.0 points, and the spread is only 1.0 points in favor of the Bengals, via FanDuel Sportsbook.
Michael Pittman Jr. has a tough matchup this week. The Buffalo Bills are numberFire’s second-ranked adjusted pass defense overall, and they rank second in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing receivers. In three games against top-12 adjusted pass defenses, Carson Wentz, Pittman Jr.‘s quarterback, has averaged just 191.7 yards and 1.7 touchdowns with worrisome passing efficiency. But in these games, Pittman Jr. has a 28.2% target share with per-game averages of 10.3 targets, 6.7 catches, 86.3 yards and 1.0 touchdowns.
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.
Marvin Jones vs. SF (29%); Michael Gallup at KC (28%); Darnell Mooney vs. BAL (27%); Corey Davis vs. MIA (27%); Nelson Agholor at ATL (27%); Rashod Bateman at CHI (27%); Kenny Golladay at TB (25%); Bryan Edwards vs. CIN (24%); Brandon Aiyuk at JAC (24%); Kendrick Bourne at ATL (24%); A.J. Green at SEA (23%); Quez Watkins vs. NO (23%); Sterling Shepard at TB (23%); Amon-Ra St. Brown at CLE (20%); Robby Anderson vs. WSH (20%); Jamison Crowder vs. MIA (20%); Marcus Johnson vs. HOU (20%); Kalif Raymond at CLE (20%).
Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Six now.
— Travis Kelce vs. DAL (81%)
— Darren Waller vs. CIN (78%)
— George Kittle at JAC (68%)
— Kyle Pitts vs. NE (63%)
— Mark Andrews at CHI (62%)
— Mike Gesicki at NYJ (59%)
Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Dalton Schultz at KC (49%)
— Pat Freiermuth at LAC (43%)
— T.J. Hockenson at CLE (42%)
— Dan Arnold vs. SF (41%)
— Hunter Henry at ATL (40%)
— Jared Cook vs. PIT (39%)
— Tyler Conklin vs. GB (37%)
— Cole Kmet vs. BAL (36%)
— Zach Ertz at SEA (35%)
— Austin Hooper vs. DET (31%)
With six of the slots inside the will-be top 12 considered more-likely-than-not accounted for, we see a pretty fast drop for the rest of the tight ends in top-12 odds.
Dalton Schultz is part of the game of the week against the Kansas City Chiefs, who rank last in the NFL in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends. With Michael Gallup back in the lineup last week, Schultz saw just two targets for 14 yards, but still ran 25 routes (71.4%) in a lopsided win. We don’t have to bail on Schultz yet, as this game shouldn’t be a blowout on either side.
Pat Freiermuth remains in play even with Eric Ebron back. Ebron played just 33.3% of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ snaps in Week 10, allowing Freiermuth to play on 61.7% of the snaps. Freiermuth carved out an 18.4% target share while playing alongside Mason Rudolph, who may get the start again this week. The Los Angeles Chargers are stingy against receivers (first in adjusted fantasy points per target), but soft against tight ends (30th).
Since Week 5, Dan Arnold has been a key cog in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense. He has averaged 7.4 targets per game (19.8%), targets which are generally close to the line of scrimmage (his average depth of target is 6.3 yards). Despite this, few tight ends have such a strong role; he’s eighth in target market share among the position since Week 5.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
Dawson Knox vs. IND (25%); Dallas Goedert vs. NO (25%); Hayden Hurst vs. NE (25%); Evan Engram at TB (24%); Jonnu Smith at ATL (23%); Adam Trautman at PHI (22%); David Njoku vs. DET (22%); Rob Gronkowski vs. NYG (19%); Cameron Brate vs. NYG (19%); Gerald Everett vs. ARI (19%); C.J. Uzomah at LV (18%); Anthony Firkser vs. HOU (17%); Geoff Swaim vs. HOU (15%); Josiah Deguara at MIN (13%); Ricky Seals-Jones at CAR (13%); Jordan Akins at TEN (13%).
Brandon Gdula, The Associated Press