Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9

Ryan Tannehill has struggled this year in fantasy football, but that could change in Week 9.

When you think your team can't come back from a big deficit, remember the Cubs.

Sure, it might have taken them 108 years to get a World Series championship. But it happened. It finally freaking happened.

Hopefully you don't have to wait that long for a fantasy football championship. Hopefully you don't even have to wait that long divided by 10.

Hell, let's just win it this year, just like the Cubs. It takes baby steps, as you know, though. You've got to win Week 9 first.


Start Ryan Tannehill (vs. New York): Tannehill hasn't been much of a fantasy quarterback this season, but he's also been a little unlucky. On the year, he's thrown a touchdown pass for every 246.9 passing yards. The NFL average last season was a touchdown pass for every 156.8 passing yards. Regression is going to hit eventually.

And, hey, maybe that'll come this week. The Dolphins will face a Jets secondary that ranks third from the bottom according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric and one that's allowed 18.5 standard fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. And that's against some below-average competition -- Russell Wilson (yes, he's considered a below-average quarterback right now) scored almost 24 fantasy points against the Jets, Tyrod Taylor torched them for his only three-touchdown game of the season, and even Josh McCown, coming off an injury, ended as a top-10 passer against the Jets this past week.

Everything is really coming together for a potential big Tannehill game. Of course, given the way he's played this year, there is still some risk.

Sit Matthew Stafford (at Minnesota): Jay Cutler looked like a different quarterback against the Vikings last week, which may make you feel like this Vikings secondary is easily beatable. It's not. He still finished as the 18th-best quarterback in fantasy during a huge bye week, scoring under 15 fantasy points. That adds onto a year where the Vikings have surrendered an average of 12.2 fantasy points per game to opposing passer, which is the second-best rate in the league.

Stafford is coming off a mediocre performance against the Texans where he threw just one touchdown pass. Expect more of the same for Stafford moving forward: on the year, based on his yardage totals, he's thrown more than two touchdowns than he should have, which includes last week's game where he had only one with a decent 240-yard total. Combining that with the matchup, it's very difficult to trust Stafford in Week 9.

Start Colin Kaepernick (vs. New Orleans): We all know to target the Saints with pretty much anyone, so let's get past the "they're bad at stopping the pass" information (they're ninth-worst, per our numbers) and get to the real reason to like Kaepernick this week: his rushing.

Over his career, Kaepernick has averaged 18 more rushing yards in losses than in wins. That makes sense intuitively, as negative game scripts force more throwing which, in turn, allows for more scrambling. So not only is the matchup a great one -- as is the 52-point over/under -- but Kaepernick could continue to do work on the ground. That wouldn't be shocking when you consider he's rushed for 150 yards in two games under Chip Kelly. That's an additional 7.5 fantasy points per game strictly from the ground.

Sit Russell Wilson (vs. Buffalo): You know who's not running the football this year? Russell Wilson. Through seven games, Wilson has 44 rushing yards. He averaged 34.6 rushing yards per game last year. That's translated to poor fantasy performances: he's finished as the 22nd-ranked quarterback or worse in five of his seven games played this year. Regardless of the matchup (remember, he had a sweet one last week against the aforementioned Saints), I have no idea how you'd feel good about using Wilson.

Other quarterbacks to start: Dak Prescott (at Cleveland), Sam Bradford (deeper play, vs. Detroit)
Other quarterbacks to sit: Derek Carr (vs. Denver), Eli Manning (vs. Philadelphia)

Running Back

Start Theo Riddick (at Minnesota): On paper, Minnesota looks scary against any position. And that's not entirely incorrect. But just because the matchup is tough doesn't mean the unconventional Theo Riddick is off limits this week.

What does Riddick do best? Catch the football out of the backfield. In his return last week, he saw a crazy-high 11 targets, catching 8 of them for 77 yards and a score. He's yet to see fewer than five targets in a single game this year, which is actually great news against the Vikings because, on the year, Minnesota has surrendered the sixth-most receiving yards to running backs. It also doesn't hurt that Riddick has run the ball 10 or 11 times in each game since Week 1, coinciding directly with teammate Ameer Abdullah's long-lasting injury. There will be volume for Riddick, and the work he does through the air should benefit him most in this particular matchup.

Sit Todd Gurley (vs. Carolina): The caveat I have to throw out there each week with running backs is that, a lot of times, you can't sit players who are in line to see touches. That's the case with Gurley -- I'm sure his owners, unless you're in shallower leagues, don't have many alternatives.

But if you're between Gurley and another decent option, perhaps this blurb will move you off the Rams' featured back. Carolina's defense has been a lot worse this year compared to last, but many of the woes have come in the secondary. Per our numbers, the Panthers still have the sixth-best rush defense in football.

And if you look at running back performances against the Panthers this year, things aren't looking great for Gurley. They've allowed just four top-30 PPR performances to running backs this year, but one of them was last week to David Johnson (10 carries for 24 yards), one of them came against Jacquizz Rodgers (he touched the ball 35 freaking times that game), and one was against Devonta Freeman (another good opponent). The only player to gash Carolina truly was C.J. Anderson, who did it all the way back in Week 1. And, to be fair, a lot of the gashing came through the air. That's not where Gurley does most of his work -- or at least not consistently yet.

Start Antone Smith (deeper play, vs. Atlanta): The Buccaneers are more than likely going to run out a backfield committee Thursday night, but there are plenty of reasons to like Smith the most of the multiple-headed monster. The most obvious being that Smith ended up playing the most snaps when Jacquizz Rodgers left last Sunday's game, and he out-carried Peyton Barber four to one in the game.

Smith, though, is also a decent pass-catching back. He's shown that in his limited sample size (18 catches on 25 career targets for a crazy 282 yards), and he's played a small pass-catching role for Tampa Bay over the last two games, capturing 4 targets. That aligns well with a matchup against Atlanta, who's given up the second-most yards and receptions to the running back position this year.

Oh, and there's the narrative of Smith playing his former team. That never hurts. (That's not a real thing. Don't make revenge games a thing.)

Sit Isaiah Crowell (vs. Dallas): Like Gurley, it's not easy to bench someone who's expected to see work at running back. But the touchdown-dependent Crowell is in a relatively tough spot this week against Dallas, who rank seventh against the run according to our numbers. Dallas has been pret-tay good against fantasy backs, with Darren Sproles' Week 8 RB14 performance (PPR) ranking as the best one seen versus the Cowboys. Another thing to consider is that the Dallas D has faced the fourth-highest drop-back-to-run ratio in football this year, so opportunities may not be as high for Crowell in this one.

Other running backs to start: Jay Ajayi (vs. New York), Carlos Hyde (vs. New Orleans)
Other running backs to sit: Bilal Powell (at Miami), Ryan Mathews (at New York)

Wide Receiver

Start Donte Moncrief (at Green Bay): There's a chance T.Y. Hilton sits out Week 9, but even if he doesn't, Moncrief is in a fantastic position. He came back from his injury last week and found the end zone, and Week 9 features a beautiful matchup against a Packers secondary that has been beat by wideouts this year, having allowed the 11th-most points per game to the position. The Colts are big underdogs in this game as well, which should result in a lot of passing -- that's more volume for Moncrief. And, on those passes, Crief will be facing an incredibly banged up cornerback crew -- Demetri Goodson and Damarious Randall didn't practice yesterday.

Sit Marvin Jones (at Minnesota): One of the wideouts who went nuts against Green Bay this year was Marvin Jones, but as I mentioned earlier with Stafford, the Lions' matchup this week against Minnesota is rough. Not only is Jones seeing a smaller market share in the Detroit offense of late (just 17.82% of team targets over his last three games), but Minnesota has also allowed just three top-20 performances this season (PPR) to opposing wideouts, with none of those players ranking in the top 15. That's because, again, the secondary is really good, and not one you want to mess with from a fantasy standpoint.

Start Mohamed Sanu (at Tampa Bay): While last week's game by Sanu -- he finished with 23.4 PPR points, fifth-best at wide receiver -- was a little flukey (he's ranked higher than 60th in weekly scoring just three times this year), his matchup against Tampa Bay is pretty nice this week. Not only did he have 5 catches for 80 yards and a score against the Bucs back in Week 1, but he'll also probably end up seeing a lot of rookie Vernon Hargreaves III in this matchup in two-wide sets, who ranks as Pro Football Focus' 102nd-best cornerback. When he's in the slot, he'll face Jude Adjei-Barimah, who ranks 90th. Sanu isn't predictable, and he's been bad from a fantasy standpoint for most of the year, but this is a good spot for him.

Sit Sterling Shepard (vs. Philadelphia): Shepard has seen plenty of opportunity this year for New York, but despite hitting the seven-target mark in all but one game this year, he's failed to reach double-digit PPR points in four of his seven games played. This week's matchup isn't going to help, as the Eagles have the second-best secondary in football, per our metrics. Slot receivers haven't fared tremendously well against the Eagles, either, as evidenced by Cole Beasley just last week, who finished with 53 yards on 7 targets. That is as long as Malcolm Jenkins is in the slot and not Jalen Mills.

Start Tavon Austin (vs. Carolina): Only four players have a higher target market share than Tavon Austin this season, which is both frightening and hilarious at the same time. Regardless of how silly it is or not, we know that the volume is real, and he could take advantage of it this weekend against the Panthers.

Carolina's secondary, as I noted earlier, is certainly beatable, ranking in the bottom half according to our numbers. They've also given up more fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position than any other team not named the Chicago Bears. Specifically, Austin should see Robert McClain in the slot -- he ranks as the 104th-best corner according to Pro Football Focus.

It's tough to predict when Tavon will have a strong outing, but this one at least sets up nicely.

Other wide receivers to start: DeVante Parker (vs. New York), Mike Wallace (vs. Pittsburgh)
Other wide receiver to sit: Kendall Wright (at San Diego), Buffalo wide receivers (at Seattle)

Tight End

Start Kyle Rudolph (vs. Detroit): Starting a tight end against Detroit is always an easy call, let alone one who's got the second-highest tight end target market share in football. Detroit vomits tight end points in fantasy football, and Rudolph, who's seen eight or more targets in five of seven games this year, should do work.

Sit Julius Thomas (at Kansas City): Dad-runner Jack Doyle was listed as a sit last week, and it was because Kansas City's defense is legitimately elite against the tight end position. They ranked as the best versus tight ends last year in fantasy football, and to start this season, they're a top-10 defense against them once again -- no tight end has ranked higher than 15th against them this year. Thomas is coming off of two strong weeks, but if you can play someone like Rudolph over him, you should.

Start Austin Hooper (at Tampa Bay): The Falcons will be without Jacob Tamme on Thursday night, which means Hooper, who played 73% of the team's snaps this past week, will get the start. It's a good situation to be in, too: despite the matchup being average, Tamme actually is first in the NFL in red zone targets. Maybe Hooper finds the end zone this week?

Other tight ends to start: Eric Ebron (at Minnesota), Cameron Brate (vs. Atlanta)
Other tight ends to sit: Zach Ertz (at New York), Jesse James (at Baltimore)


Start the Green Bay Packers (vs. Indianapolis): You may be scared off by the thought of this week's Packers-Colts game being high-scoring, but that's not all that matters when choosing a fantasy defense. Sacks and turnovers do, and that's what the Colts can give opposing D's. On the year, Andrew Luck has been sacked at least twice per game, and the Packers are a near top-10 defense in sacks. Meanwhile, you know turnovers can happen at a high rate when a team is a big favorite, like the Packers are this week. Ignore the game total; the Packers are a great play.

Sit the Buffalo Bills (at Seattle): Though Russell Wilson hasn't performed well so far this season, the Seahawks haven't been the best team to play a defense against. In seven games against Seattle, only the Dolphins and Rams were able to rank higher than 15th in defensive scoring. And both of those games came during the first two weeks of the season. With the Seahawks as big home favorites, Buffalo is a risky play.

Other defenses to start: Miami Dolphins (vs. New York), Dallas Cowboys (at Cleveland)
Other defenses to sit: Los Angeles Rams (vs. Carolina), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Atlanta)