Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 4

Jeremy Maclin has a nice matchup in Pittsburgh this week, and he should be able to turn things around. Who else should you start?

Week 4 is a big one for fantasy footballers. Not because it's any more significant than Week 5 or 6, or because bye weeks have officially started. And there's no statistic showing that teams who win in Week 4 have a higher chance of making the playoffs compared to a win in any other week during the season.

It's big because the pool of competing football players is about to get a little bit larger.

Le'Veon Bell is back. And he's about to change the outlook for a lot of fantasy teams out there.

You're starting Bell. Even if you're playing fantasy football with just your spouse and your teenage son, you're starting Bell.

He's a start-sit no-brainer, but the following players might not be.


Start Kirk Cousins (vs. Cleveland): Cousins has actually bounced-back a bit fantasy-wise after a disastrous Week 1 performance against Pittsburgh, ranking 14th and 9th in quarterback scoring over the last two weeks, respectively. From a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) standpoint -- our way of quantifying actual on-field performance, which you can read about more in our glossary -- Cousins has jumped to seventh place in the quarterback rankings. Not bad after, again, a dreadful Week 1 display.

He gets the Browns this week, a team that's allowed quarterbacks to rank 11th, 19th, and 10th against them to start the year. That'll give Cousins a nice floor, and if he can fix his red zone issues -- Cousins has a 31.8% red zone completion percentage this year when the league average is 52.5% -- then he'll provide a great ceiling, too.

Sit Ryan Tannehill (at Cincinnati): I'd assume folks who streamed Tannehill last week against the Browns are looking at him in Week 4 thinking he's a strong play. After all, the Bengals rank 29th against fantasy quarterbacks so far this year.

But I'm afraid of Tanny in this one. Cincinnati is at home, they're heavy favorites, and the Dolphins, as a result, have a low implied team total. The Bengals are also getting a key piece to their defense back, Vontaze Burfict, now that his ban is over. Those are all horrible signs for Tannehill's outlook Thursday night.

Start Alex Smith (at Pittsburgh): The last time Smith played in Pittsburgh (not even two years ago), he threw 45 times, completed 69% of his passes and went for 311 yards. That yardage total was the third-highest of his 122-game career. There were some unfortunate turnovers that forced zero touchdowns to be scored that day through the air for Kansas City, which also kept the game lower-scoring despite the passing output.

The Chiefs' game against the Steelers this weekend is one that could end up being fairly high-scoring, though, as the Steelers have averaged over 30 points per game at home since the start of 2014. Ben Roethlisberger tends to run the no-huddle at home, too, which could lead to an increase in plays from the Chiefs' offense. Even still, Smith has averaged over 39 attempts per game -- with a low of 33 -- to start the year, which is far more than last year's 29.4 average. Much of that is due to the Chiefs not constantly being in positive game scripts, as they were a season ago.

Smith, as usual, should give you enough points to get by at the quarterback position this week.

Sit Eli Manning (at Minnesota): Is the Vikings' defense turning into a unit that we fear, similar to Denver? I think that may be the case. They rank third, according to our numbers, defensively to start the season, and they've held Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton to QB2 (outside of the top 12) performances over the last two weeks. With Xavier Rhodes back in the secondary for the Vikings, and given this game is at home, there's no real reason to throw Eli into your lineup this week.

Other quarterbacks to start: Andy Dalton (vs. Miami), Philip Rivers (vs. New Orleans)
Other quarterbacks to sit: Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Seattle), Marcus Mariota (at Houston)

Running Back

Start Jordan Howard (vs. Detroit): The Bears' new starting back saw 75% of Chicago's snaps last week, and that's with Jeremy Langford playing part of the game. Though Ka'Deem Carey may be back to steal carries away, Howard should see the bulk of the workload in the offense. And that may be independent of game script -- he showed last week that he can be a threat in the receiving game, capturing 6 targets and catching 4 for 47 yards.

Howard gets a Lions' defense that struggled against the run last week, as Eddie Lacy rushed for over 100 yards against them. Much of that had to do with Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy, and others within the Lions' front seven being sidelined. With the outlook looking grim for those guys in Week 4, running the ball against Detroit shouldn't be as difficult as it normally would be for Chicago.

Sit Jerick McKinnon (vs. New York): In truth, I don't even think McKinnon is an awful play this week. In today's fantasy landscape, any running back who's slated to see touches should be on your radar. So consider this more of a shallow-league recommendation.

The Giants, McKinnon's Week 4 opponent, have been stout against the run to start the year. No back has ranked higher than 24th in points-per-reception (PPR) scoring against them, and they've faced Ezekiel Elliott and Mark Ingram. Per our metrics, they're a top-10 unit when it comes to stuffing the run.

That's obviously a knock on McKinnon, but in PPR formats, he does have pass-catching upside. A negative, though, is that last week McKinnon saw a positive game script (this could be positive, too, given the Vikings are 4.5-point favorites), and he was targeted just twice out of the backfield.

As I said, he's not an awful play in most leagues because the running back position is about as good as an episode of Dating Naked. But in 8- or 10-teamers, you may have a better option.

Start Dwayne Washington (at Chicago): The Lions inexplicably and relentlessly used Theo Riddick between the tackles to start their game against the Packers, and he rushed 10 times for 9 yards. That's what happens when you use a college wide receiver as your primary running back against a top-notch defense.

Washington is a much better fit to be the early-down back -- he's got size and measurables, and he's the only player in the Lions' backfield who truly fits the role.

It would be shocking if the Lions didn't use Washington more in Week 4. He saw 37% of the team's snaps in Week 3, but he also did so in what was a super negative game script for Detroit. With the Lions being road favorites against a Brian Hoyer-led Bears' team -- one that ranks third-worst in the league against the run, according to schedule-adjusted NEP -- Washington could be in store for a sneaky-good day.

Sit Latavius Murray (at Baltimore): Murray has been under the 50% mark in percentage of team snaps in each of Oakland's last two games, which is something he did just twice all of last year. After having the highest market share of team running back touches last season, he's now seeing 42.11% of the running back touches for the Raiders this year, which is 23rd in the NFL.

The reason he's been relevant in fantasy is because he's found the end zone in every game to start the year. That's not going to continue, and it may end this week against a Ravens team that ranks sixth in the NFL at stopping the run, per our metrics.

Start Cameron Artis-Payne (at Atlanta, deeper play): Without Jonathan Stewart last week, Cameron Artis-Payne played 40% of Carolina's snaps while Fozzy Whittaker was at 46%. That's not exactly a great endorsement, but Whittaker played as the receiving back in the offense, and Carolina trailed for a good portion of the contest. Artis-Payne was actually the guy who saw more touches, out-attempting Whittaker 12 to 5.

The Panthers' game against Atlanta is setting up to be close, which means Artis-Payne may be on the field a little more. And that's good for CAP owners, because the Falcons have the seventh-worst rush defense in the NFL, per our numbers, having surrendered two top-10 performances (PPR) already this season.

Other running backs to start: Isaiah Crowell (at Washington), Spencer Ware (at Pittsburgh, assuming no Jamaal Charles)
Other running backs to sit: Chris Thompson (vs. Cleveland), New York Giants' backfield (at Minnesota)

Wide Receiver

Start Tyrell Williams (vs. New Orleans): The game with easily the highest over-under this week is San Diego versus New Orleans, which puts most offensive players on both teams in play. One of those guys is Williams, who's now played 74% and 85%, respectively, of San Diego's snaps the last two weeks. During this time, Williams has led the Chargers in targets (15), out-targeting teammate Travis Benjamin by 2. Both players are in great spots this week against New Orleans' bottom-10 pass defense, but Benjamin is going to be the guy folks gravitate towards more this week, not Williams.

Sit Tajae Sharpe (at Houston): The Texans' defense looked bad last Thursday night, and now J.J. Watt is sidelined. It may seem like Tennessee players would be sneaky-good options this week, but it's tough to back an offense that's yet to score more than 16 points in a single game this year.

Sharpe saw his snap percentage drop to 75% in Week 3 after it had been 96% and 100% during the first two weeks of the season and, correlating to this, he caught just 3 passes on 7 targets. So far this year, Houston's secondary has yet to allow a performance better than what Eddie Royal did in Week 1 from a fantasy perspective. That week, Royal ranked 23rd in PPR scoring at the position, and Houston has faced Alshon Jeffery, Julian Edelman, and Jeremy Maclin.

Within a conservative offense that ranks 15th in drop-back-to-run ratio despite seeing negative game scripts, and with Kendall Wright expected to be back for Tennessee, Sharpe should be on your bench this week.

Start Jeremy Maclin (at Pittsburgh): Wide receivers have scored the seventh-fewest fantasy points in the league against the Steelers this year, but don't let that fool you: Pittsburgh's secondary is not that good. According to our schedule-adjusted numbers, Pittsburgh's pass defense ranks in the bottom 10. A key reason they've been successful against wideouts is because Kirk Cousins couldn't get anything going in Week 1, it was a sloppy mess in Week 2 against Cincinnati, and the Eagles didn't need to throw many passes after gaining a commanding lead on the Steelers in Week 3.

Maclin hasn't gotten much going this season, performing mostly in WR3 territory in fantasy football. But the plus side is that he's still seeing a lot of volume -- his 25.22% market share is similar to what Doug Baldwin and Marvin Jones have.

The Chiefs are expected to lose this game, according to Vegas, and the Steelers will often run a no-huddle look at home. That means there could be a ton of plays coming for the Chiefs' offense, which would benefit Maclin.

Sit Michael Crabtree (at Baltimore): (Edit: after some consideration, only use this recommendation in very shallow leagues.) In a standard league, you may have a little trouble benching Crabtree. And his cornerback matchup really isn't bad this week. But here's the reason I'm not as high on him this week: secondary receivers have struggled against Baltimore to start the year, and the Ravens' defense has actually been really good.

Last week, we saw Allen Hurns catch 4 of 8 targets for just 40 yards. In Week 2, Corey Coleman stole the show, while backup options Andrew Hawkins and Terrelle Pryor ranked 78th and 75th, respectively, in PPR scoring at the position. And during Week 1 -- well, during Week 1, the Bills' offense just didn't show up.

It's not just how they've done against these number-two receivers, either. Baltimore's defense has played well this year overall, ranking seventh according to our schedule-adjusted numbers. And with Oakland traveling east for the game, there's also the possibility for them to lay an egg.

Crabtree has been good this year, and it's understandable if you can't outright bench him. But perhaps we should temper expectations.

Start Terrelle Pryor (at Washington): Prior to Week 1, If you had told me Pryor would rank ahead of Odell Beckham, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandon Marshall in targets after three weeks, I would've asked you where you hold your Terrelle Pryor truther meetings. But, guys, we're here -- Terrelle Pryor is a thing, and he ranks seventh in the NFL in targets.

That's the thing -- that's the reason you want to use Pryor: volume. He saw 14 targets in last week's loss against Miami and, in Week 4, Cleveland will be in Washington, where they're eight-point underdogs. In other words, Cleveland is going to have to continue to throw the ball in order to maintain any sort of chance of winning, and with Josh Gordon still suspended and Corey Coleman still sidelined, Pryor automatically makes for a volume play, regardless of the cornerback who's covering him.

Other wide receivers to start: Travis Benjamin (vs. New Orleans), Stefon Diggs (vs. New York)
Other wide receivers to sit: Golden Tate (at Chicago), Vincent Jackson (vs. Denver)

Tight End

Start Kyle Rudolph (vs. New York): Rudolph now ranks second in scoring at the tight end position in fantasy football, and he's played 95% of Minnesota's snaps, which is the sixth-best mark in the NFL. This week, he'll face a Giants team that saw Jason Witten capture 14 targets in Week 1, Coby Fleener with 8 in Week 2, and Jordan Reed with 7 in Week 3. The middle of the field is the weakest spot personnel-wise for the Giants' defense, which could result in another big game for Rudolph.

Sit Martellus Bennett (vs. Buffalo): The Bills are a top-10 team against tight ends to start the year, and they ranked 23rd last year against the position. With Martellus Bennett playing primarily as a blocker while seeing just 14 targets in three games, I have no idea how you can trust him. Sure, he may find the end zone, but it's still a risky start.

Start Hunter Henry (vs. New Orleans): With Antonio Gates sidelined, Henry ended up playing every San Diego snap against the Colts last week, seeing 5 catches on 5 targets for 76 yards. It's looking like it could be a shootout in San Diego this weekend, and streaming Henry at tight end is a good way to get a piece of it.

Other tight ends to start: Cameron Brate (vs. Denver), Zach Miller (vs. Detroit)
Other tight ends to sit: Jesse James (vs. Kansas City), Virgil Green (at Tampa Bay)


Start the Washington Redskins (vs. Cleveland): Washington is an eight-point favorite at home against Cleveland this week. So far on the year, opposing defenses against the Browns have ranked 3rd, 9th, and 18th in weekly scoring. That makes Washington mighty attractive.

Sit the Carolina Panthers (at Atlanta): The Panthers could end up with a solid performance this weekend, but the Falcons are playing lights out offensively right now. In fact, they're our top-ranked offense. Considering it's a road game for Carolina and the Panthers defense has looked a little porous at times this year with the inexperienced secondary they have, I'm not against sitting them to avoid the risk.

Other defenses to start: Minnesota Vikings (vs. New York), Detroit (at Chicago), Cincinnati (vs. Miami)
Other defenses to sit: Kansas City Chiefs (at Pittsburgh), Los Angeles Rams (at Arizona)