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 at NYJ (78%)
— Lamar Jackson at MIA (75%)
— Patrick Mahomes at LV (67%)
— Dak Prescott vs. ATL (67%)
— Justin Herbert vs. MIN (64%)
— Tom Brady at WSH (59%)
— Matthew Stafford at SF (53%)
— Aaron Rodgers vs. SEA (50%)
— Jalen Hurts at DEN (50%)
— Russell Wilson at GB (50%)
— Kyler Murray vs. CAR (50%)
Just at the bottom of the top tier are some injured stars in Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, as well as Aaron Rodgers, who tested positive for COVID-19 but would start if cleared by Sunday. If they’re starting, you’re going to start them over just about anyone. This does, however, speak to the depth of the quarterback position on a week where minimal starters are on bye. That’s a theme for the week.
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Derek Carr vs. KC (49%)
— Carson Wentz vs. JAC (46%)
— Matt Ryan at DAL (43%)
— Ryan Tannehill vs. NO (40%)
— Kirk Cousins at LAC (39%)
— Teddy Bridgewater vs. PHI (37%)
— Tua Tagovailoa vs. BAL (36%)
While we’ve got 18 quarterbacks with at least a 35% chance to finish as a top-12 passer, we’ve got 11 at 50% or greater. Again, it’s probably not a week where you need to dig deep to stream unless teams in your league are hoarding quarterbacks (or if you’re in a superflex or two-quarterback league).
Matt Ryan is a notable name for sure. He ranks second behind only Dak Prescott, his opponent this week, in adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back since Week 4. This game between the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys is primed for plenty of fantasy points; the total is 54.5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Teddy Bridgewater is perhaps the top prototypical streaming option this week (as in someone available on a lot of waivers to start the week who sets up well for fantasy output). He has played well this season, generating 0.12 expected points more than anticipated on a per-play basis once adjusting for opponents. That ranks him eighth among starting quarterbacks.
Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. DET (34%); Mac Jones vs. CLE (34%); Trevor Lawrence at IND (33%); Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. TB (31%); Jimmy Garoppolo vs. LA (27%); Baker Mayfield at NE (24%); Mike White vs. BUF (18%); P.J. Walker at ARI (17%); Jared Goff at PIT (16%); Trevor Siemian at TEN (13%).
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.
— Najee Harris vs. DET (87%)
— Jonathan Taylor vs. JAC (83%)
— Christian McCaffrey at ARI (81%)
— Dalvin Cook at LAC (78%)
— Alvin Kamara at TEN (76%)
— Austin Ekeler vs. MIN (75%)
— Aaron Jones vs. SEA (74%)
— Ezekiel Elliott vs. ATL (73%)
— D’Andre Swift at PIT (72%)
— Cordarrelle Patterson at DAL (70%)
— James Conner vs. CAR (69%)
— James Robinson at IND (66%)
— Leonard Fournette at WSH (62%)
— Darrell Henderson at SF (62%)
Consider if needed: This tier is sitting between 40% and 59% for an RB2 week, and you’re probably starting some of them even if they’re shy of that top tier.
— Myles Gaskin vs. BAL (59%)
— Michael Carter vs. BUF (56%)
— Eli Mitchell vs. LA (54%)
— Josh Jacobs vs. KC (54%)
— D’Ernest Johnson at NE (54%)(asterisk)
— Melvin Gordon vs. PHI (52%)
— Devin Singletary at NYJ (51%)
— Chris Carson at GB (49%)
— Javonte Williams vs. PHI (48%)
— Damien Harris vs. CLE (45%)
— Darrel Williams at LV (43%)
Myles Gaskin had great peripherals in Week 9: a 73.6% snap rate (via NextGenStats), a 57.4% route rate (also via NexGenStats), 20 carries, and six targets. That included four red zone opportunities. Sure, the Baltimore Ravens do rank top-10 in both Rushing NEP per carry and rushing success rate allowed to running backs, but are 28th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to backs. But we can go back to Gaskin this week if the workload is that great again.
Eli Mitchell latched onto a 66.1% snap rate and actually had targets (five) on his routes (27 routes), pass-game work that he had not had in recent weeks. That included a red zone target, too. It’s a great RB2 or high-end FLEX role right now.
(asterisk)D’Ernest Johnson could be slotted for waiver-wire glory this week, given the health of the Cleveland Browns’ running backs. In Week 7 when he got a spot start, Johnson played on 68.7% of the Browns’ snaps and generated 146 rushing yards on 22 rushes. He also added 22 yards on two targets while running a route on 15 drop-backs (44.1%).
Both Broncos backs have been viable in recent games, and they face an Philadelphia Eagles team that is just 29th in rushing success rate allowed to opposing backs. This season, Melvin Gordon has a 54.8% snap share, besting Javonte Williams’ 44.7% rate, and they’re each averaging at least 17.3 adjusted opportunities (carries plus doubled targets) over their past three games. Those are top-24 rates among healthy, relevant rushers right now.
Devin Singletary should be considered an RB2/FLEX start, too, if Zack Moss (concussion) is deemed out this weekend. In Week 1 with Moss inactive, Singletary had 72 yards on 11 carries while also seeing five targets on 33 routes. In Week 2, he out-snapped Moss 42 to 18 and had another 13 carries for 82 yards and three targets for 9 yards.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 40% likely to net a top-24 result.
Nick Chubb at NE (37%)(asterisk); Antonio Gibson vs. TB (37%); A.J. Dillon vs. SEA (35%); J.D. McKissic vs. TB (34%); Devonta Freeman at MIA (34%); Mark Ingram at TEN (33%); Nyheim Hines vs. JAC (33%); Mike Davis at DAL (33%); Tony Pollard vs. ATL (33%); Kenyan Drake vs. KC (31%); Boston Scott at DEN (29%); Adrian Peterson vs. NO (29%); Jordan Howard at DEN (26%); Jamaal Williams at PIT (25%); Le’Veon Bell at MIA (25%); Jeremy McNichols vs. NO (23%); Rhamondre Stevenson vs. CLE (21%); Sony Michel at SF (21%); Ty Johnson vs. BUF (20%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Cooper Kupp at SF (84%)
— Davante Adams vs. SEA (79%)
— Tyreek Hill at LV (75%)
— Deebo Samuel vs. LA (72%)
— Mike Evans at WSH (71%)
— Diontae Johnson vs. DET (67%)
— A.J. Brown vs. NO (65%)
— Keenan Allen vs. MIN (63%)
— Marquise Brown at MIA (60%)
— Stefon Diggs at NYJ (60%)
— Justin Jefferson at LAC (58%)
— Amari Cooper vs. ATL (58%)
— Robert Woods at SF (57%)
— Michael Pittman Jr. vs. JAC (56%)
— D.K. Metcalf at GB (55%)
— Mike Williams vs. MIN (54%)
— Tyler Lockett at GB (54%)
— Terry McLaurin vs. TB (53%)
— CeeDee Lamb vs. ATL (53%)
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.
— DJ Moore at ARI (49%)
— DeVonta Smith at DEN (46%)
— Adam Thielen at LAC (45%)
— Jaylen Waddle vs. BAL (44%)
— Jerry Jeudy vs. PHI (43%)
— Courtland Sutton vs. PHI (39%)
— Jarvis Landry at NE (37%)
— Jakobi Meyers vs. CLE (37%)
— Marvin Jones at IND (36%)
— Hunter Renfrow vs. KC (35%)
— Emmanuel Sanders at NYJ (35%)
DJ Moore has fallen into the second tier of receivers at this point. The workload is phenomenal (a 28.9% target share and a 40.8% air yards share), but the results are mediocre (12.9 half-PPR points per game). Don’t bail on him yet. He’s at the high end of the second tier.
Jaylen Waddle had a 25.6% target share with two downfield targets last week within the Miami Dolphins’ offense, and with DeVante Parker on injured reserve, we could see a similar workload each week moving forward. The Ravens do rank ninth in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to receivers, yet the near-guaranteed volume makes him a likely start on Thursday night.
Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton might have some market share concerns, but one side of that duo is in a better spot. In two weeks with Jeudy back, he leads the team with a 24.0% target share (6.0 targets, 2.0 downfield targets, and 1.0 red zone targets per game). Sutton is down at just a 12.0% target share with 3.0 targets per game and 1.5 downfield targets per game. The anticipated efficiency against the Eagles keeps them in start territory this week, particularly Jeudy.
Emmanuel Sanders has not produced in two games out of the bye: he’s averaged just 32.5 yards on his 6.0 targets. This is despite 100.0 air yards per game in that span, 39.5% of the Buffalo Bills’ air yards. He’s had 3.5 downfield targets per game the past two weeks, so the opportunity for splash plays has been there. He just hasn’t converted. A matchup with the Jets could solve that issue.
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.
Cole Beasley at NYJ (33%); Michael Gallup vs. ATL (33%); Russell Gage at DAL (31%); Julio Jones vs. NO (30%); Corey Davis vs. BUF (30%); Christian Kirk vs. CAR (28%); Nelson Agholor vs. CLE (28%); Van Jefferson at SF (26%); Brandon Aiyuk vs. LA (25%); A.J. Green vs. CAR (25%); Rashod Bateman at MIA (25%); Zach Pascal vs. JAC (22%); Jamison Crowder vs. BUF (21%); Bryan Edwards vs. KC (21%).
Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Five now.
— Darren Waller vs. KC (78%)
— Travis Kelce at LV (77%)
— Mark Andrews at MIA (68%)
— Kyle Pitts at DAL (68%)
— George Kittle vs. LA (62%)
Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Mike Gesicki vs. BAL (55%)
— Dallas Goedert at DEN (52%)
— Rob Gronkowski at WSH (52%)
— Dalton Schultz vs. ATL (50%)
— Pat Freiermuth vs. DET (48%)
— T.J. Hockenson at PIT (46%)
— Jared Cook vs. MIN (42%)
— Tyler Higbee at SF (42%)
— Dan Arnold at IND (40%)
— Noah Fant vs. PHI (36%)
— Logan Thomas vs. TB (35%)(asterisk)
— Zach Ertz vs. CAR (32%)
— Hunter Henry vs. CLE (31%)
The length of the viable tight ends list, like with quarterback, is longer — given a light bye week. Of course, some of us still need some streaming-level options to decide between.
Pat Freiermuth has a 21.3% target share in two games without Eric Ebron, along with a 68.6% route rate. He’s also been targeted on a third of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ red zone attempts in that span. The Detroit Lions rank 22nd in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to the position.
Since a Week 5 role expansion with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dan Arnold has averaged 7.5 targets and 54.8 yards per game. That’s equal to a 19.7% target share within this offense. Given that Arnold’s average depth of target is just a lowly 6.1, there’s a higher floor of projections for him — just not a huge ceiling. The Indianapolis Colts are 31st in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends.
Noah Fant has been activated and is back in the fantasy landscape. The tight end has a 19.6% target share in his healthy games with a hefty 25.6% red zone target share and 33.3% end zone share in those contests.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
Hayden Hurst at DAL (30%); Tyler Conklin at LAC (28%); Austin Hooper at NE (25%); Jonnu Smith vs. CLE (21%); O.J. Howard at WSH (19%); Cameron Brate at WSH (17%); Mo Alie-Cox vs. JAC (15%); David Njoku at NE (15%).
Brandon Gdula, The Associated Press