Fantasy Football Mailbag: Thursday 12/8/16

Fantasy football research never stops, and roles change drastically from one week to the next. That's where our fantasy football mailbag comes into play.

Have a question about a certain player, team, strategy, or anything football? Shoot us a question on Twitter or send an email to, and we can talk anything fantasy football related -- even daily fantasy football.

Don't forget to check out our NFL remaining yearly projections, weekly projections, and our brand new DFS tools, which are available to all premium subscribers.

Now, let's answer some questions.

Email submission from Emily Kay:

I want to start Mariota but of course Denver DST is a major deterrent. Alternatives are lousy because after getting totally burned by Kap last week I just don't trust he'll even play a full game , even though NYJ DST seems enticing. Other options off the scrap heap include Alex Smith (on my bench), Brock, RG3, Siemian - you get the picture. Our playoffs start next week and I'm in danger of going into them with a 3-game losing streak but if I win I'll have a bye. What would you do?

It's hard to blame anyone for wanting to use Marcus Mariota after the nastiness he has unleashed on the league the past few months. But Emily's instinct is correct in that starting any quarterback against the Denver Broncos is a losing proposition, forcing us to look elsewhere. From the available options, the best two would be Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, and they both can fill different roles for you.

If you're looking for floor (and a lower likelihood of being benched), Smith would be the choice. The Kansas City Chiefs have an implied team total of 24.25, and they're facing the league's 22nd-ranked pass defense, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. The Oakland Raiders' offense will likely keep the Chiefs from being able to grind out clock on the ground, helping give Smith a bit of a volume boost.

Kaepernick's allure is totally based on upside. He's still averaging 7.4 carries for 56.1 yards per game as a rusher, giving him a solid floor in most situations. The New York Jets are numberFire's 29th-ranked passing defense, meaning Kaepernick could move the ball through the air, too. If you need some upside and are willing to inherit the risks Kaepernick carries, he could be a fun option again this week.

Email submission from Matt Pittman:

Please help me decide on 1 WR and 1 FLEX from these options: Demaryius Thomas, Donte Moncrief, Tyrell Williams, Sammy Watkins and Doug Martin. Thanks!

If Matt had asked this question last week, Doug Martin would have been a lock for the lineup. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the highest implied team total of the week at 26.75, and they're facing a largely weak New Orleans Saints defense. Things change quickly in the NFL, though, and Martin may be a guy we want to avoid this week where we can.

The Buccaneers' backfield is suddenly very muddy. Jacquizz Rodgers is expected to see an expanded role going forward, and Charles Sims will come off of injured reserve and be back this week. That's three mouths to feed, and that's not good news for Martin. The team has said that Martin is still the lead back, but that doesn't mean he'll be seeing a heavy workload, and this Saints defense isn't as bad as it used to be.

After their first seven games of the season, the Saints ranked dead last against the rush, according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. That was the week they activated their first-round pick -- defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins -- off of injured reserve. In the five weeks since, the Saints have moved all the way up to 17th against the rush, and no team has run for more than 103 yards against them over that time. This is why we're avoiding Martin this week and instead firing up Demaryius Thomas and Tyrell Williams out of this selection.

Email submission from Rocky:

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm struggling with my decision at TE. .5 ppr, I have Rudolph and McDonald. I'm sure this ranking differs slightly across scoring systems, but per info on my league's points against page, Jax giving up 6th fewest points to TE. Meanwhile the Jets nearly gave up 4 TDs to the position last week. I know numberfire's projections have Rudolph ranked quite a bit higher. Please convince me why I should be starting Rudolph over Vance. Thanks.

If we're playing this just based on matchups, loving Vance McDonald over Kyle Rudolph would be the right play. As mentioned above, the Jets are 29th against the pass, and they bleed points to opposing tight ends. That doesn't mean we should ignore the floor that Rudolph brings with his involvement in the passing game, likely explaining why the algorithms prefer him this week (and why we should, too).

Using numberFire's premium trends tools, we can see that Rudolph's 21.18% target market share this year ranks third among all tight ends, trailing just Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce. Things have been even a bit better recently, too, with his market share up to 22.94% the past three games. The Minnesota Vikings can't run the ball due to offensive line injuries, forcing them to air it out regularly, adding extra weight to Rudolph's hefty market share. That's why he's a pretty solid option most weeks.

This isn't to speak ill of McDonald because he, too, is a player we can use both in season-long and DFS. He has an 18.87% target market share over the past five games, and it's 20.00% over the past three. With his wide availability and low price tag for DFS, you could do a lot worse than McDonald in Week 14.

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