Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 3
On a plane ride last night, I witnessed a guy continuously dozing off from his aisle seat, falling limp onto the poor soul sitting next to him. Over and over again, his eyes would roll back, and his body would slowly collapse forward and to the side, resting on top of this woman. And, over and over again, that woman sitting next to him would gently shove his body back into an upright position without saying a word.
It went on for at least a half hour.
Look, that man has no self awareness bone in his body, but at some point, the polite woman needed to refine her process. Maybe -- just maybe -- instead of treating this dude’s body like he’s deceased, you could, I don’t know, talk to him? Maybe you could tell him that he’s got to shift his butt weight to the other side of the seat so that he leans the other way?
To change the results -- for better results -- you have to change the process.
The same goes for fantasy football (cute segue).
Your start-sit decisions might have been horrific over the first two weeks of the regular season, and if you keep judging players based on what you saw last season and how you evaluated them in the preseason, those poor results aren’t going to change.
If you’ve started 0-2, it’s time to fix up your process. Feel free to use the following recommendations to get you started.
Start Matt Ryan (at New Orleans): It's not Cam Newton who's leading all fantasy quarterbacks in scoring to start the year. It's our boy Matt Ryan, who now has two top-six performances over the first two weeks of the season, something he did just once last year (he ranked fifth in Week 3).
This year's Week 3 contest could also bring a high-end performance, as the Atlanta Falcons are visiting the New Orleans Saints. Last season, New Orleans was historically bad at stopping the pass according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, and they're currently without up-and-coming cornerback Delvin Breaux. Despite the fact that they more or less shut down Eli Manning last week -- which may scare folks off -- the team's personnel isn't tough for opposing quarterbacks, and this contest will be played in a dome. Vegas also is giving this game the highest over/under of the week at 53.5 -- there's shootout potential, and points will be scored. Considering Ryan is our top quarterback to start the year with a 35.83 Passing NEP, it'd be surprising if the Falcons score points without his help.
Sit Tyrod Taylor (vs. Arizona): As noted in this week's 15 Transactions column, Tyrod Taylor is going to be hard to trust this season. It's true that he pulled together a decent fantasy performance in Week 2, but he also accumulated over 58% of his yards on his 3 touchdown passes. This reliance on the big play was the biggest fear for Taylor entering the season -- he ranked in the top-10 in efficient last season according to our numbers, but 22nd in Success Rate, showing he was boosting his rates through splash plays. And it looks like things are continuing down that path.
Start Ryan Tannehill (vs. Cleveland): The start to 2016 hasn't been overly kind to Ryan Tannehill, as he's gotten the majority of his 38.2 fantasy points in garbage time (coming last week against New England). This week, though, Tanny could see himself in a positive game script, which is good news for any fantasy quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns have surrendered four passing touchdowns in two games to Carson Wentz and Joe Flacco, two replacement-level passers in fantasy. The Miami Dolphins are a strong 9.5-point favorite at home, both things that are favorable for quarterback scoring. And because of that high spread, Miami's projected to score nearly 26 points. If those points are indeed scored, it's hard to imagine Tannehill isn't involved in some way considering Arian Foster is out and the team's running game was already entering Week 3 as a very average unit according to our schedule-adjusted metrics.
After stifling the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, the new-look Giants looked great against Drew Brees and the Saints -- Brees scored fewer than 15 fantasy points, ranking as the 21st-best quarterback of the week.
While Kirk Cousins is seeing volume in a pass-heavy offense -- he's tied with Blake Bortles for the most attempts through the first two weeks of the season -- there's a good chance those passes are going to be inefficient against what could be a top-10 pass defense this year (the Giants' pass defense currently ranks 11th, per NEP).
Whether this is noise or not -- we have to remember that DeSean Jackson helped Cousins severely last year -- Cousins has also struggled on the road throughout his career. At home last season, he averaged a pair of touchdowns and an 8.73 yards per attempt average. On the road, those numbers dropped to 1.62 and 7.44.
Washington has a low implied team total according to Vegas as well, which is another reason to give Cousins some time on your bench.
Start Theo Riddick (at Green Bay): It's hard to imagine an ex-college receiver seeing consistent 15-plus carry games, which is why a bigger-bodied runner like Dwayne Washington makes a lot of sense off the waiver wire after Ameer Abdullah's injury in the Detroit Lions' backfield. With that being said, the Lions are 6.5-point underdogs in Green Bay this week. And a negative game script with more volume on the ground for Riddick is great news, as he secured 51 of his 80 receptions last year when the Lions lost. There may be some time for the team to get acclimated without Abdullah, too, and given that, Riddick could also see more rushes than he will in Weeks 4, 5, 6, and so on. He makes for a great PPR play.
Sit Jerick McKinnon (at Carolina): McKinnon profiles as an outstanding back, with Player Profiler comping him closest to the great LaDainian Tomlinson. But let's be as objective as we can here: Matt Asiata was given the rock at the end of Monday night's game against Green Bay when Adrian Peterson went down, and we should expect him to be involved -- if not more involved -- in the Minnesota Vikings' ground game than McKinnon in the short term.
But even if he's not, let's not pretend like a road game against a top-notch Carolina Panthers front-seven is what McKinnon owners want to face. There could be big days ahead, but if you have reasonable options, there's no need to force McKinnon in your lineup this week.
Start Darren Sproles (vs. Pittsburgh): The Philadelphia Eagles have benefited from not really trailing in contests to start the year, and despite this, the pass-catching Darren Sproles has played 53% of the team's snaps, which is 14% higher than early-down back, Ryan Mathews. This week, Sproles gets the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first tough matchup the Eagles have faced this year. That means Sproles could see more action through the air, on top of the already decent floor (volume-wise) he's seen to start the year (8.5 carries and 3.5 targets per game). He's a strong PPR option this week.
Sit Matt Jones (at New York): Matt Jones' Success Rate -- the percentage of positive runs made by a running back -- is actually third-best at the running back position right now, behind only Latavius Murray and Spencer Ware. He hasn't been nearly as bad as folks think to start the year.
But let's be real: he's a touchdown-dependent, two-down back who may be a fantasy nightmare throughout the season. And anytime there's potential for a negative game script -- Washington is a 4.5-point underdog this week -- Chris Thompson has a higher chance of seeing the field. And, in this particular matchup, Jones will face a defensive line that's surrendered just 2.79 yards per carry to Ezekiel Elliott and Mark Ingram. He needs to score to really make for a worthwhile start -- I'd rather bank on someone with a higher floor.
Kenyan Drake (vs. Cleveland, deeper play): In last week's loss to the Patriots, Kenyan Drake saw 28% of the team snaps, seeing the field a whole lot more after a Jay Ajayi fumble. (Ajayi was in the game for an injured Arian Foster.) In fact, Drake didn't even touch the field in the first half, while Ajayi's fumble occurred in the third quarter.
The Dolphins invested a third-round pick in Drake, while Ajayi wasn't a pick the current regime made. Ajayi was also inactive (a healthy scratch) for the team's Week 1 game against the Seattle Seahawks, making it seem as though they're not fully on board with him being a legitimate horse in the backfield.
As mentioned above, the Dolphins are huge favorites in a plus matchup against the Browns this week. That means a lot of running. I'd fully expect a committee approach from Miami, so don't get your hopes up, but Drake is an interesting option. Perhaps he shows his third-round talent and becomes the guy for them.
Start Tajae Sharpe (vs. Oakland): Through two weeks, the Oakland Raiders' pass defense ranks as the absolute worst in the NFL according to our metrics. Some of this has had to do with the horrible play of Sean Smith, who's allowed number-one wide receivers to run circles around him.
Tajae Sharpe certainly isn't Brandin Cooks or Julio Jones, but he is the Tennessee Titans' top receiver. While non-Sharpe wideouts in the Titans' offense have seen fewer than 60% of the team's snaps in each of the first two games, Sharpe has been on the field for 100% and 96% of the snaps during Week 1 and Week 2, respectively. He's seen 18 targets as a result, but hasn't found the end zone, which has suffocated his fantasy ceiling. Perhaps this week that changes in what has a good chance of being the highest-scoring Titans game of the season to date.
Sit Steve Smith (at Jacksonville): Steve Smith has been a starting wideout for the Baltimore Ravens to start the year opposite of Mike Wallace, and Smith has actually seen a higher market share (18.99% versus 15.19%) through two games. The problem, though, is he's been wildly inefficient, with fewer than 90 yards on 15 targets. Yes, the Ravens have a good matchup this week, but where's the upside for the 37-year-old wideout?
Start Sterling Shepard (vs. Washington): Reports are saying that Josh Norman will shadow Odell Beckham when he's not in the slot this week, which could open things up for the rookie Sterling Shepard on the other side of the field. On the year, Shepard's seen 95% of New York's snaps, playing ahead of Victor Cruz. He's also had WR35 and WR12 rankings in PPR formats at the position during Weeks 1 and 2, respectively -- he's been productive. He's a strong play in Week 3 -- and Victor Cruz is, too.
Sit DeSean Jackson (at New York): Like I said with Cousins above, the Giants have been stout against the pass. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, an offseason acquisition, has been really good, allowing just 66 yards on 16 targets towards him this season. He also hasn't allowed a 15-plus yard reception this year. If he sees a lot of DJax, that doesn't bode well for Washington's receiver, a player who makes a living off the big play.
Start Doug Baldwin (vs. San Francisco): Last week's stinker for Seattle's offense -- really, you could include Week 1 in here, too -- is going to push folks away from them. But don't let it get to you if you're a Doug Baldwin owner.
The San Francisco 49ers' fast-paced offense creates opportunity for opposing offenses, as there are more plays run, in total, throughout the game. (They're currently top-10 in plays against.) At the same time, Baldwin, despite a poor Week 2 showing, has seen 22.37% of his team's targets this year, ranking 32nd in the league. More plays and a good market share equate to volume.
And that volume could be pretty efficient against this 49ers defense this week. San Francisco just watched number-one wideout Kelvin Benjamin go HAM on their secondary last week for two scores and, in Week 1, Kenny Britt had a solid-enough 67 yards on 4 catches.
Baldwin should be fine, and it shouldn't shock anyone if the offense plays much better in Week 3 versus how they looked in Weeks 1 and 2 given the matchup.
Start Jamison Crowder (at New York, deeper play): I've been down on Washington so far -- I'm avoiding Cousins, Jones, and Jackson. But I do think a sneaky play could be Jamison Crowder, who leads the team in targets through the start of the season and is tied for second in the NFL in red zone targets. The matchup for Crowder, a slot receiver, is specifically interesting against the Giants -- the Cowboys attacked New York via the slot in Week 1 with Cole Beasley (12 targets), while Willie Snead scored his touchdown last week versus the Giants from that area of the field. In a game where Washington could throw a lot of passes, Crowder makes for an intriguing deep play.
Start Dennis Pitta (at Jacksonville): The leader in targets on the Ravens through two weeks isn't Steve Smith or Mike Wallace. It's Dennis Pitta, whose 20.25% target market share ranks sixth in the NFL among tight ends. This week, he gets a plus matchup against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that's been porous in the secondary this season and one that allowed the sixth-most points to tight ends a season ago. Given Pitta's overall work within the offense, he makes for a nice start this week.
Sit Zach Miller (at Dallas): I'll more than likely say this every week: one of Dallas' main goals is to control the clock and limit possessions for their opposition, perhaps more than any other team in football. That's already been the case this year, as they've seen the seventh-fewest plays run against them on defense. Combined with Jay Cutler more than likely sidelined this week and Miller's mediocre nine targets through two games, Miller has a scary low floor this week.
Start Jared Cook (vs. Detroit, deeper play): OK, I get it. Cook isn't a reliable fantasy starter right now, having scored fewer standard fantasy points than Stephen Anderson to start the year. But he was more involved in Week 2 against Minnesota, securing six targets for four receptions. And he's seeing the field a relatively decent amount, having played 59% of the Packers snaps so far.
But the matchup, man. The matchup is so good this week. Detroit surrendered 12 tight end touchdowns last season, which was the most in the NFL, and they've already given up four to start this season. Maybe this is the week Cook finally breaks out? Probably not, but in desperate situations, he's not an awful upside play.
Start the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Los Angeles): The Rams have yet to score an offensive touchdown this year, mostly because Case Keenum is their starting quarterback, but also because relying so much on the run without a superior defense (like Denver last season) is a recipe for disaster in today's NFL. And the matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not allow them to do much offensively, as the Bucs' defense ranks fifth at stopping the run in the NFL, per our metrics. It could get ugly in Tampa Bay this week.
Sit the Minnesota Vikings (at Carolina): The Vikings' defense has been great to start the year, but they'll face the Panthers in Carolina this week. Not only are the Vikes on the road, but Vegas has the Panthers as seven-point favorites -- a negative game script could cripple what's going to be a good defensive play throughout the season.
Other defenses to start: Miami Dolphins (vs. Cleveland), Dallas Cowboys (vs. Chicago)
Other defenses to sit: Los Angeles Rams (at Tampa Bay), Oakland Raiders (at Tennessee)