Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 8
On Slack yesterday, a conversation erupted about the best Halloween candies. There were takes.
The whole thing stemmed from this particular study, which featured four Reese's variations in the top eight (of nearly 100). While some argued against that, nobody really seemed to argue against Reese's, in general, being a top-tier candy even though it may be overrated to them.
The nature of the study, though, was really what I found interesting. The results were generated from an either-or test, so you could vote on Reese's Cups versus Snickers, which is probably tough for a lot of us. Or Reese's minis versus ... Pixy Stix or Super Bubble or Nik-L-Nip. That one isn't so tough, so even if we think Reese's are overrated in general, it's still pretty clear that it's the right pick over some not-so-great options.
It's literally almost the same scenario as making weekly start-sit decisions in fantasy football: it all depends on the alternatives.
In a 14- or 16-team league, you're probably stuck with a Twix, a 3 Musketeers, and a few root beer barrels or Runts. Your choices are easy. But in the smaller, 8-, 10-, and 12-team leagues you're effectively choosing between Reese's, Snickers, Twix, Kit-Kats (in a great matchup), and Milky Ways.
In a fantasy football context, that's like the difference between deciding on Cam Newton against the Baltimore Ravens versus Alex Smith against the New York Giants in a deep league, or Cam versus Jameis Winston against the Cincinnati Bengals. One choice is a little easier than the others.
For many reasons, I like to bucket players into groups when deciding who we should start or sit in a given week. To me, no player is ever a must-sit, but there are players you should want to sit if you have other, more viable options. That's the goal here, as well as to show why we should feel certain ways about players.
So, based on market shares, snap counts, betting lines, and defensive matchups, I'll be grouping players into three tiers to help with start-or-sit decisions: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider playing 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 confidence and preference (so higher on the list means more startable; these aren't rankings, but they're close), and the groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench, should I want to 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
- Patrick Mahomes vs. DEN: Mahomes faces a tough test this week at home, as the Denver Broncos are third against the pass, via numberFire's numberFire's adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics. Still, Mahomes has averaged 28.0 fantasy points per game and has produced at least 17.8 in every game, just once dipping below 16.2 points from passing (10.2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5).
- Jared Goff vs. GB: Goff's Los Angeles Rams opened as 8.5-point favorites in a game with a 57-point total against the Green Bay Packers, a bottom-eight pass defense by our metrics. Goff has had three passing touchdowns over his past three games, averaging just 13.8 fantasy point in that span, but he has produced at least 16.3 fantasy points in all but one game. The floor is as safe as can be.
- Drew Brees at MIN: Brees hits the road but stays indoors against the Minnesota Vikings, the 18th-ranked pass defense by numberFire's metrics. Brees has averaged 9.12 yards per attempt in domes this year, compared to 6.92 on the road. That's worked out to be a difference of 360.3 yards in domes and just 214.5 yards on the elements.
- Kirk Cousins vs. NO: Cousins faces a New Orleans Saints defense that's been shredded this year. They're 31st in adjusted yards per attempt and 29th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The results for Cousins haven't been there of late (QB23, QB6, QB23, QB17, and QB14), but four of those defenses were top-10 against the pass by our metrics. He's averaged 28.8 fantasy points in three games against pass defenses not in the top-10.
- Andrew Luck at OAK: Luck's fantasy finishes have put him in top-flight territory the past four weeks, as he's been the QB3, QB4, QB8, and QB4. The Oakland Raiders ranked 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play entering their Week 7 bye, so even though Luck's elevated touchdowns (4, 3, 4, and 4) of late scream regression, it's not a week to be overly concerned.
- Aaron Rodgers at LAR: Rodgers had a bye week to prep for the Rams, who have let up production to most passers because of the way their offense scores points (they let up an average of 21.4 passing fantasy points over four weeks entering a C.J. Beathard dud). Rodgers has been just about league average based on our passing metrics despite a neutral schedule overall, yet he's still averaged 22.3 fantasy points per contest.
- Jameis Winston at CIN: Winston travels to face a better-than-advertised Cincinnati Bengals pass defense (22nd in adjusted yards per attempt but 12th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play) and has averaged 8.0 yards per attempt with a 55.4% Passing Success Rate (above league average). He has averaged 7.5 rushing attempts and 43.0 yards as a starter to help elevate his fantasy floor.
- Russell Wilson at DET: Wilson's rushing totals have been up and down (5, 17, -1, 21, 0, 20 yards), but he's produced at least 15.7 passing fantasy points in every game but one this year. The Detroit Lions' pass defense ranks 30th, and has been generous on deep throws (25th in Passing NEP per attempt allowed), making this a post-bye week where we can buy into Wilson.
- Tom Brady at BUF: Brady's New England Patriots opened as 13-point favorites in a road tilt with the Buffalo Bills, who had been the third-best adjusted pass defense in football until Andrew Luck took advantage of them in Week 7. Brady has finished as a top-12 quarterback each of the past three weeks, and without Sony Michel, we could see a heavy dosage of Brady via short passes in Week 8 on Monday Night Football.
Consider If Needed
- Andy Dalton vs. TB: Dalton has purged himself from the safe tier, as he has been the QB24, QB18, and QB23 the past three weeks despite some promising matchups and point totals. He generated just 13.3 fantasy points per game in those outings. However, he faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 32nd-ranked pass defense as a touchdown favorite at home. Tampa has let up 10.19 adjusted yards per attempt this season, 32nd in the NFL.
- Ben Roethlisberger vs. CLE: Roethlisberger is at home post-bye to face a Cleveland Browns defense that has largely stifled opposing passing games this year. They're first against the pass via our NEP metrics and first in fantasy points per attempt allowed. The heavy total and spread in his favor helps, but the only two quarterbacks to finish with a top-12 week against the Browns needed overtime to do it.
- Cam Newton vs. BAL: Newton has had at least 18 fantasy points in every game this year, a mark that just two passers have gotten to against Baltimore (Andy Dalton in Week 2 on a Thursday night and Baker Mayfield barely got there (18.98) in Week 5). The Ravens have let four different quarterbacks rush for at least 20 yards, including Mayfield, Marcus Mariota, and Taysom Hill (if he counts) the past three weeks. Still, Newton had just 68 passing yards on 17 attempts through three quarters in Week 7 against a not-as-tough Eagles defense. A floor is still there, given the rushing, but he's the type of quarterback you should try to bench if you can help it, given the low ceiling. It's not the most robust week for quarterback streamers, though, and Newton is only a bench option if you have the luxury of a steady replacement.
- Mitchell Trubisky vs. NYJ: Trubisky has been red hot of late, throwing for at least 300 yards in three straight games while averaging 60.3 rushing yards in that stretch. The New York Jets' pass defense has been reeling, and they've let up four straight top-14 performances to passers, thanks to 326.8 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game.
- Deshaun Watson vs. MIA: Watson has a short turnaround to face the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. He's had just 9.1 and 9.6 passing fantasy points the past two games against tough opponents and low volume (25 and 24 attempts), but the Dolphins are 30th in Passing Success Rate allowed since Week 3. It's a bounce-back spot for Watson, yet he's not in must-start territory if you have a better option.
Bench If Possible
- Matthew Stafford vs. SEA: Stafford faces a Seattle Seahawks team that has limited opposing passers to four touchdowns over the past four games. They've had a pretty soft schedule to date, but adjusted for schedule, their pass defense ranks fifth. Stafford has averaged 19.3 fantasy points over his past five games with at least 15 fantasy points in each of those. The floor is okay here, but the lack of ceiling keeps him out of the "want to play" category.
- Baker Mayfield at PIT: Mayfield's upside is always tantalizing, but he's been below 15.0 fantasy points in three of his five starts, has hit 300 yards passing just once, and has maxed out at two passing touchdowns. With just one top-14 week to his name (in overtime last week against the league's worst pass defense), Mayfield isn't yet a 12-team-league option against Pittsburgh's sixth-ranked pass defense.
- Carson Wentz vs. JAC: Wentz has had a fine floor, finishing as the QB16, QB12, QB9, and QB11 over his past four games with no picks in that span. He's actually averaged 21.5 passing fantasy points in that stretch. But he heads to London to face the Jaguars, who have let just two quarterbacks surpass 11.0 passing fantasy points (Tom Brady in Week 2 and Dak Prescott in Week 6).
- Case Keenum at KC: The matchup is enticing against the Kansas City Chiefs, but Keenum was the QB26 against them in Week 4, completing 21 of 36 passes for 245 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He hasn't thrown for more than two touchdowns since Week 1, and he's not someone to look to in a 12-team league but is in play as a deeper-league streamer if needed.
- Alex Smith at NYG: Smith has been the QB16 or worse in every game since Week 1 (when he was the QB13), so he is yet to have a top-12 outing. He's not rushing much anymore, maxing out at 20 yards and averaging 14.0 yards per game. Even against a torchable New York Giants secondary (25th by our metrics that just traded Eli Apple) on a short week, Smith is best left as a deep-league play at best.
- Derek Carr vs. IND: Carr has average an okay 7.65 yards per attempt but just 0.03 Passing NEP per drop back, well off the league-average rate of 0.12. He has more picks (8) than touchdowns (7) and has just one game with multiple touchdown passes. The matchup with the Indianapolis Colts isn't enough to bite unless you must, and he just lost his most capable receiver.
Start With Confidence
- Todd Gurley vs. GB: Gurley has been a top-10 back in every week and has yet to score fewer than 22 fantasy points. He has 43 red zone carries; just two other backs have more than 20. The Rams are expected to score more than 30 points again, based on the betting odds, and the Packers are 26th in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs.
- Saquon Barkley vs. WSH: Barkley's worst finish is the RB13, and his floor has been 17.8 fantasy points. Washington is 3rd in fantasy points allowed per target but 28th in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs.
- Kareem Hunt vs. DEN: Hunt's receiving game usage has spiked to help elevate his floor (16 or more opportunities in every game), and he's had at least 14.5 fantasy points in every game since Week 2. Denver has been getting wrecked on the ground and rank 30th in Rushing Success Rate allowed and Rushing NEP per carry allowed to backs.
- James Conner vs. CLE: Conner gets at least one more week of bellcow usage. The matchup with Cleveland is best exploited on the ground (17th in rush defense but 1st in pass defense, based on our metrics), and Conner has handled 22.0 opportunities per game over the past four.
- Joe Mixon vs. TB: Mixon's usage was there last week (18 opportunities), but the results weren't in a blowout loss to the Chiefs. Mixon has averaged 20.7 opportunities per game and a 74.5% snap rate since returning. Tampa Bay is 23rd in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs.
- Christian McCaffrey vs. BAL: You have to take what he gives you here against the Ravens, who are sixth in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play allowed. CMC has played 100% of snaps in three games this year, including his past two games, and he's yet to return single-digit fantasy points.
- David Johnson vs. SF: Johnson could break out this week against the 49ers, who are top-12 in rushing defense by our metrics. He ran a season-high six snaps from the slot last week and now has a new coordinator to scheme him free. Even while being used to run into the back of the center, DJ finished with at least 12 fantasy points in four of seven games, and he's played at least 72.7% of snaps every week.
- James White at BUF: White should see a boost with a dinged-up Sony Michel. White has been a top-24 back in every game and has returned at least 11.7 fantasy points in all of those. He also has a 26.5% target share, making him a fantasy football cheat code, and the Bills are 25th in fantasy points per target allowed to backs.
- Alvin Kamara at MIN: Kamara was still the RB15 last week while playing 54.9% of the snaps and seeing 19 opportunities against the Ravens. It's not his early-season usage by any means, but that workload is enough to trust Kamara against a team that is 2nd in fantasy points per carry allowed to backs but 32nd in fantasy points per target.
- Tarik Cohen vs. NYJ: Cohen owns a 28.2% target share and 13.8% of the team's air yards (5.8 average depth of target) since Week 4, making him more a slot receiver than pure running back. The Bears are solid home favorites on the Jets, which could mitigate the targets, yet Cohen has been a top-10 back in three straight games.
- Phillip Lindsay at KC: Lindsay has been a top-27 back in every game, save for an ejection-shortened Week 3, and saw his snap rate spike to 59.3% while Royce Freeman missed time with an ankle injury in Week 7. The Chiefs are 32nd in Rushing Success Rate allowed and 29th in fantasy points per target allowed to backs.
Consider If Needed
- Mark Ingram at MIN: Ingram has played 54.5% and 49.3% of snaps in his two post-suspension games, seeing 19 and 14 opportunities in those. Minnesota has let up the 22nd-highest Rushing Success Rate but the 6th-lowest per-carry Rushing NEP, meaning they limit explosive rushes. Ingram has just five targets, though, and that's the best way for backs to beat the Vikings.
- Adrian Peterson at NYG: Peterson has been the RB24 or better in three of his past four games, thanks to 19, 7, 18, and 26 opportunities in those games. In four games with positive script, he has played half the snaps and averaged 23.0 opportunities. Washington is a one-point favorite against the Giants.
- Marlon Mack at OAK: The Colts are three-point favorites over the Raiders, who are 26th in adjusted rushing efficiency, via our metrics. In his two games back from injury, he saw 14 and 22 touches and played 34.8% and 56.1% of snaps. The expected script points to another Mack game in Week 8.
- Latavius Murray vs. NO: All indications are that Dalvin Cook is out, so Murray gets a crack at the top rush defense by Rushing Success Rate. He's played 74.2%, 81.7%, and 84.1% of snaps the past three weeks, twice finishing as a top-seven back, though. You don't bench that workload unless you're blessed with elite backs.
- Alex Collins at CAR: Collins has yet to hit a 50% snap rate and now faces a Panthers team that ranks 11th in Rushing Success Rate allowed. However, he has still averaged 16.2 opportunities per game since Week 2, a workload not easily benchable in season-long formats, finishing as the RB37 or better in each of those.
- Nick Chubb at PIT: Chubb played 66.2% of the snaps in Week 7 and handled 20 opportunities, which would normally put him in high-end RB2 status, but the Browns are heavy underdogs against the Steelers, a top-eight rush defense.
- Kerryon Johnson vs. SEA: Johnson played a season-high snap rate of 59.4% last week, netting a season-high 22 opportunities. He's been the RB28, RB24, RB24, RB28, and RB7 since Week 2 but will always be at risk of losing goal-line touches. Detroit is a home favorite against the Seahawks, a top-five adjusted rushing defense.
- Jordan Howard vs. NYJ: Howard has led the Bears' backfield in snaps every week but has averaged a 53.7% snap rate the past three weeks. His opportunity average split is stark over his six games: 21.3 in the first three but just 13.3 in the past three. Still, the Bears are favorites, and
- Lamar Miller vs. MIA: Miller has been a flex-worthy play all year, finishing as the RB38 or better in every week, while playing half the snaps in every game and at least 67% in all but one outing. As a touchdown favorite against his former team, a mid-level rush defense, Miller is in play in Week 8.
- Kenyan Drake at HOU: Drake has played at least 60% of snaps in six of seven games this year and has been a top-10 back in two of his past three outings, thanks to 17, 19, and 14 opportunities in that span. The Houston Texans have been top-four against the rush, but Drake leads Miami in target share.
- T.J. Yeldon vs. PHI: Yeldon has been a top-34 back in every week and a top-24 back in four of his past five. The snap rate has been high (92.8%, 64.6%, 82.4%), and that can drop with Carlos Hyde in the mix, but Yeldon's receiving role (6.3 targets per game) keeps him in the RB2 conversation for fantasy purposes against the Eagles.
- Chris Carson at DET: Carson's snaps have fallen each week since his breakout (72.5%, 58.3%, 42.2%), and so have his opportunities (34, 20, 14), but the Lions are the second-worst rush defense in football, and we know the Seahawks want to run as much as possible, starting with Carson.
- Wendell Smallwood vs. JAC: Smallwood had 11 opportunities last week (after 20 in Week 6) on a 52.2% snap rate (after 62.0% in Week 6). He's the best bet to produce out of this Eagles backfield, but Jacksonville is seventh in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs. Smallwood is best viewed as an if-you-must flex, as he's still a majority playing snaps.
- Jalen Richard vs. IND: He's averaged a 45.0% snap rate the past two weeks and now figures to mix in even more without Marshawn Lynch. Richard has averaged 7.4 targets in games with at least 10 snaps played.
Bench If Possible
- Aaron Jones at LAR: Jones hasn't emerged yet, playing 24.6%, 38.2%, 27.2%, and 26.8% of snaps since returning from his suspension. It's a good spot against the Rams' 28th-ranked rush defense, but the thin snap count and his low target upside (1, 1, 3, 1) causes enough concerns with game script where we need to bench him unless we can't afford to.
- Carlos Hyde vs. PHI: There's no way to know how involved Hyde will be early on in the week, but even still, the Jags are underdogs, and the Eagles are third in Rushing Success Rate allowed to backs.
- Doug Martin vs. IND: You can buy the ticket and take the ride if you want, but Martin hadn't cracked a 26.2% snap rate while Marshawn Lynch was healthy, and the truth is that he could be a workhorse in Week 8 -- but the Raiders are underdogs with a modest-at-best total.
- Duke Johnson at PIT: If we couldn't turn to Johnson last week (51.5% of snaps but just 5 opportunities), then we can't trust him in our season-long lineups, even though the Browns are heavy road underdogs, a script that should lead to targets his way. He's had nine targets the past two games, but even at his best, he's totaled 12.9 fantasy points.
- Corey Clement vs. JAC: Clement has played 36.6% and 37.3% of snaps the past two weeks and has been a clear secondary option behind Wendell Smallwood. With a low-ish implied team total, he's not a viable option.
- Isaiah Crowell at CHI: Crowell's Jets have a total below 20 points in a road tilt against the Bears' third-ranked adjusted rushing defense. Crowell has not yet played at least 50% of snaps in a game but has averaged 15.0 opportunities over his past three. You could do worse, but even with Bilal Powell out, Crowell's touches could be empty.
- Javorius Allen at CAR: Allen's hot start is a thing of the past, and he's averaged 9.5 opportunities since Week 4 and has totaled just 10 the past two weeks.
- Peyton Barber at CIN: Barber's snap rate plummeted to 36.8% last week, and he's averaged 13.0 opportunities per game over his past three. The Bengals' rush defense is 27th in adjusted efficiency, but we can't bank on him to play much more than a third of the snaps, especially with an injury limiting him in practice.
- Nyheim Hines at OAK: Hines, who has totaled 13 opportunities in the past two games, was limited to 25.8% of snaps last week in a positive script that featured Marlon Mack. Indy is again favored over a Raiders team that is fire selling, so Hines is a clear sit-first candidate.
- Frank Gore at HOU: Gore has been below a 50% snap rate in every game but one and has finished inside the top-40 in weekly running back scores just twice all season. Against a tough rush defense, he's not in play.
Start With Confidence
- Adam Thielen vs. NO: Thielen's been a top-12 receiver in every week since Week 2 and commands a 31.9% target share and 40.7% of the Vikings' air yards. The Saints are 29th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and a slot matchup with P.J. Williams awaits.
- A.J. Green vs. TB: Green's target share is up to 35.0%, and his air yards share is up to 45.9% over his past three games, and he now faces the Buccaneers' league-worst pass defense. Green is tied for the league lead with 12 end zone targets, too.
- Antonio Brown vs. CLE: Brown's target share and air yards share have actually dipped the past three weeks, but he's still returned WR23, WR3, and WR12 performances in those as his efficiency as trended up. He faces Denzel Ward's shadow coverage this week, but Brown has still averaged 9.7 targets in his past three games to help make up for any concerns.
- Michael Thomas at MIN: Thomas's targets climbed back up after two down weeks (4, 5, 9 targets) last week in a tough spot against the Ravens. He now locks up with Xavier Rhodes, but Rhodes hasn't been the lockdown corner as he was in years past. Last year in the divisional round, Thomas caught 3 of 9 targets for 46 yards and a touchdown in Rhodes' coverage.
- DeAndre Hopkins vs. MIA: Nuk has been the WR37 or better in every week and has returned four straight top-21 outings despite some tough matchups. He'll face Xavien Howard in Week 8, but he doesn't seem that concerned, and Hopkins' 30.3% target share on the year keeps him in elite status no matter what. Plus, he has 16 targets from within the 10 or in the end zone this year, third-most of any player.
- Davante Adams at LAR: Adams has a league-high 19 targets while inside the 10 or in the end zone, comprising roughly 27% of his overall targets. He carries that high-leverage usage into a game against the Rams' 28th-ranked pass defense in terms of fantasy points per target allowed to receivers.
- Odell Beckham vs. WSH: Beckham is tied with A.J. Green with 12 end zone targets, and he's actually tied for third with 16 targets while inside the 10 or end zone. The low total in this Washington game (42 points at the open) knocks OBJ down to a lower-end WR1 this week.
- Tyreek Hill vs. DEN: Hill's market shares are sky high over the past two games (30.6% target share and 44.7% air yards share), and Denver ranks 30th in Passing NEP per attempt on throws at least 16 yards downfield.
- Robert Woods vs. GB: Woods has nine targets from within the 10 or end zone and has a 32.7% target share while Cooper Kupp has missed snaps the past two weeks. Woods has also been running extra snaps from the slot, where Jared Goff loves to throw.
- Stefon Diggs vs. NO: Diggs has averaged 11.0 targets since Week 3 but has lacked production on those, finishing as the WR1, WR78, WR16, WR14, WR59, and WR49. His matchups haven't been great, and this is a breakout spot against the Saints' bottom-four pass defense.
Consider If Needed
- Mike Evans at CIN: Evans bounced back last week, finishing with 14.2 fantasy points without a touchdown, but he has an 18.8% target share in Jameis Winston's starts and just 25.2% of the air yards, compared to 26.2% and 36.1%, respectively, the first three games. Despite all of that, he's still averaged 8.0 targets per game over the past three and faces a mid-range Bengals pass defense.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. CLE: JuJu has seen 11, 4, and 10 targets over the three games leading into Pittsburgh's bye but had his air yards share spike to 34.2% in that split. Cleveland's pass defense overall is tops in the league, but a 29.5-point implied total for Pittsburgh keeps JuJu as a borderline WR1/WR2 play.
- Brandin Cooks vs. GB: Cooks' volume has dropped the past two games (11 total targets), and he actually hasn't seen 10 targets in a game yet. The Packers rank just 25th in fantasy points per target allowed to receivers, though, and the Rams are expected to put up more than 32 points based on the implied total.
- Emmanuel Sanders at KC: Sanders has been the WR25, WR10, and WR1 the past three weeks (with a passing touchdown baked into the WR1 outing). He boasts a 28.3% target share and 33.7% of the air yards in that split and now faces a Chiefs defense that has actually done well to limit opposing receiver production (just four top-24 weeks and two top-12 weeks). In Week 4, Sanders caught 4 of 7 targets for 45 yards against Kansas City.
- Jarvis Landry at PIT: Landry leads the NFL with 17 targets from inside the 10 or end zone and has maintained a healthy 29.9% target share and 32.6% air yards share this season. He turned 15 targets into 14.1 fantasy points against the Steelers in the opener, a messy game weather-wise.
- T.Y. Hilton at OAK: Hilton played just 53.0% of snaps in his return last week but ran a route on 83.3% of drop backs. He was bailed out with two touchdowns (he had just four targets), but the route rate is enough to buy back in against a non-threatening Raiders secondary.
- Golden Tate vs. SEA: Tate gets a revenge game (if it still counts) against a Seahawks team that ranks 30th in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers. Tate's target totals have dipped (15, 13, 8, 8, 7, 6), but his target share is essentially unchanged. Tate runs the risk of being scripted out a bit if the Lions get ahead.
- Tyler Boyd vs. TB: Boyd's targets have peaked and flowed back down (5, 9, 7, 15, 7, 9, 4), so we have to be a bit concerned, though he's run a route on 97.8% and 97.2% of drop backs the past two weeks, while playing season-high snap counts in those two games. Against the Bucs' dreadful pass defense, Boyd remains a WR2-caliber play.
- Alshon Jeffery vs. JAC: Jeffery's been the WR11, WR74, WR8, and WR8 since returning but now faces the buzzsaw of the Jags, who are second in fantasy points per target and first in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers. The 9.8 targets per game and heavy red zone usage (29% red zone share since returning) keep him in play despite the matchup.
- Julian Edelman at BUF: Edelman has had 9, 7, and 8 targets since his return (a 22.0% target share) and has increased his snap rate every game (69.6%, 91.0%, 98.4%). Further, eight of his targets have from from inside the 10 (two in the end zone). He gets a tough slot matchup with Taron Johnson, but with unhealthy playmakers in the offense, Edelman is a safe start from a floor perspective.
- John Brown at CAR: Brown's targets have yo-yoed (14, 3, 7) of late, but he still owns 37.7% of the Ravens' air yards and has 12 targets while inside the 10 or end zone. Carolina's mid-range defense (overall and on deep balls) keeps him in play in a game with a low 43-point total at the open.
- Kenny Golladay vs. SEA: Golladay faces the league's-best deep ball defense in Seattle (though they've faced some weak opponents), and he's coming off a two-target game. His target totals are concerning of late (4, 9, 2), so it's best to view Golladay as a flex this week -- but he's not a must-sit.
- Will Fuller vs. MIA: Fuller's targets spiked back up to 8 last week (3 in each of the prior two games), thanks to Keke Coutee's absence. Coutee is out in Week 8, and Fuller's snap rate -- 81.2% or more in three straight games -- puts him in position to come through against the 23rd-ranked pass defense.
- Josh Gordon at BUF: Gordon's snap rate has climbed to 8.08% and 95.3% the past two weeks, and he most recently ran a route on 88.1% of drop backs in Week 7. His 16 targets in that span are 24.2% of New England's attempts, keeping him in play despite a tough on-paper matchup against the Bills.
- Sammy Watkins vs. DEN: Watkins exited after 12 snaps in his first matchup with the Broncos, but since that game, he's had a 17.9% target share and 19.7% of the team's air yards. It's not great, but he's tied to an offense expected to score more than 32 points. Watkins has been the WR23, WR16, WR27, WR81, and WR34 in his past five games outside of that injury-shortened Denver outing.
- Doug Baldwin at DET: Baldwin's snap rate has been just okay (75.8%, 88.3%, 75.0%), but he's run a route on 86.7%, 95.7%, and 92.3% of drop backs in his games back from injury. Detroit is 28th in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers this year.
- Demaryius Thomas at KC: Thomas has had 5, 7, 6, 4, and 6 targets over the past five games, a 16.6% target share. When adjusted for volume and opponent, the Chiefs have been tough on opposing pass games, and DT caught 4 of 7 targets for 24 yards against the Chiefs in Week 4. There's a chance he gets peppered to increase his trade stock, but he's more of a floor play than a ceiling play.
- Devin Funchess vs. BAL: Since Greg Olsen's return two weeks ago, Funchess has a 25.7% target share (9.5 targets per game) and 40.2% of the team's air yards. Baltimore is third in fantasy points per target allowed to receivers and second in Target Success Rate, but Funchess is a high-floor option despite the tough matchup.
- Tyler Lockett at DET: Lockett hasn't passed 7 targets in a game but does own a 23.1% target share since Doug Baldwin's return in Week 4. The Lions are 25th in Passing NEP per attempt on deep balls, and Lockett has four end zone targets, too.
- Jordy Nelson vs. IND: Nelson has seven targets over the past two games, despite a 90% snap rate in each of those. Without Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch, he could get an elevated target number given his snaps and routes rate, and the Colts are 32nd in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers.
Bench If Possible
- Allen Robinson vs. NYJ: Robinson was limited in Week 7 with a groin injury, seeing a season-low in snap and route rate. The Jets have been letting up plenty of fantasy points to receivers (20th on a per-target basis since Week 4), but we need Robinson to be a full-go before we can trust him, as he still has just one top-30 week on the year.
- Michael Crabtree at CAR: Crabtree has averaged 9.8 targets per game since Week 2 but has been a top-30 receiver just once all season. Still, he's produced at least 8.1 fantasy points in six of seven games and faces a mid-range Panthers pass defense in Week 8. The high floor makes him viable, but he's not a player to chase in this spot.
- Sterling Shepard vs. WSH: Shepard faces Fabian Moreau in the slot, and he's proven a tough test for most of the year, allowing just 1.06 yards per route covered, via PFF. Shepard does have seven or more targets in five straight games, but a 20.5-point implied team total keeps his touchdown upside low (he has just two all year).
- Marvin Jones vs. SEA: Jones has 11 end zone targets on the year, placing him one shy of the league-lead, but the Lions turned to Michael Roberts in the red zone last week, proving that Jones isn't the only goal-line option for this squad. Jones' volume is now a full-on concern (8, 9, 6, 6, 4, 4 targets), and he has maxed out at 69 yards this season.
- DeSean Jackson at CIN: Jackson hasn't scored on a reception in four weeks but has averaged 6.8 targets per game in that split. He owns a 17.7% target share in Winston's starts but surprisingly just 27.6% of the air yards. Against the Bengals' speedy outside corners, he's more of a sit-first option, given the shaky volume.
- Danny Amendola at HOU: Amendola is an if-you-must flex option this week, but he's not someone to try to start, despite a 24.6% target share and 23.2% air yards share over the past two weeks.
- Chris Godwin at CIN: Godwin's route rate spiked to a season-high 71.4% (average of 53.7% prior) last week, and he has a team-high six end zone targets on the year. However, he's got just a 13.3% target share in Winston's starts and only 12.1% of the air yards in that span.
- Larry Fitzgerald vs. SF: Fitz finally scored last week to finish as the WR24, the first time since Week 1 that he was better than the WR54 in a week. The new coordinator for the Cardinals could lead to improved efficiency (it can't get much worse), but Fitz isn't a start in 12-team leagues.
- Taylor Gabriel vs. NYJ: Gabriel's target spike dissipated with Anthony Miller's return, and Gabriel has had just nine targets over the past two weeks, an 11.7% share.
- Donte Moncrief vs. PHI: If you must roster a Jaguars receiver, Moncrief is the one. He's been the WR13, WR30, WR108, and WR26 the past four weeks, earning a 20.5% target share and 29.2% of the air yards in that span.
- Keelan Cole vs. PHI: Cole has had double-digit fantasy points just once all year (back in Week 2) but has had solid target totals of late (10, 5, 7) if you're looking for a bright side.
- Dede Westbrook vs. PHI: Over the past three weeks, Westbrook has had an 11.3% target share and just 12.0% of the team's air yards, with 5 or fewer targets in every one of those. Attached to an offense expected to score fewer than 20 points, he's a priority bench option.
- Nelson Agholor vs. JAC: Agholor has been a top-30 receiver just once all year and has seen his target count fall off the table (4, 5, 7 the past three games). Against the Jaguars, even against a third-stringer in the slot, Agholor can't be trusted anymore.
Start With Confidence
- Travis Kelce vs. DEN: Kelce has been a top-14 tight end in six straight weeks and has a 25.1% target share in that span. Denver ranks 22nd in Target Success Rate allowed to tight ends, and Kelce caught 7 of 12 targets for 78 yards and a score against them in Week 4.
- Zach Ertz vs. JAC: Ertz has nine or more targets in every game and has finished as a top-11 tight end in every week. Jacksonville has been tough on tight ends (seventh in fantasy points per target), but Ertz's volume is essentially unmatched at the position.
- Eric Ebron at OAK: Ebron's Week 7 letdown (4.6 points) still earned him a TE20 finish. He had 7 targets in that game, giving him 11, 10, 15, 7, and 7 in his past five outings, a 22.4% target share. Ebron also has 11 end zone targets on the year, tying him for third in the NFL.
- George Kittle at ARI: Kittle owns a 24.0% target share and 20.6% of the air yards since C.J. Beathard began starting. He's been the TE6 or better in three of those four games, as well, and the Cardinals rank 30th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position.
- Jimmy Graham at LAR: Graham has had 8.2 targets per game since Week 2, finishing as the TE12 or better in four of those five games. The Rams are most beatable via the tight end in terms of Target Success Rate allowed.
- Rob Gronkowski at BUF: Gronkowski historically dominated the Bills, who have limited tight ends to 6.0 yards per target (third-best in the NFL). Just know that Gronkowski's route rate fell from an average of 92.0% in his first three games to 74.1% in his past three, as he's been needed to block with the shaky offensive line situation. This would normally push him out of "start with confidence" territory, yet he's at least 6.4 fantasy points in five of six games.
- David Njoku at PIT: Njoku has averaged an 86.1% route rate over his past three games while seeing 11, 12, and 6 targets. He has six or more targets in every game but one and has returned three straight top-10 tight end weeks given the volume. Pittsburgh is most generous to the tight end rather than receivers, keeping Njoku a high-floor option.
- Trey Burton vs. NYJ: Burton's targets shot up to 11 last week (23.4% of the team's targets), after averaging 4.6 prior to that (15.2%). The Jets have been good against tight ends (fourth in Target Success Rate) but haven't faced many tough tight ends and did let Eric Ebron catch 4 of 7 targets for 71 yards and a score in Week 6.
- O.J. Howard at CIN: Howard is back to his usual self, seeing around two-thirds of the snaps and just over half of the routes. Ideally, we'd see a better workload, but Howard has been a top-12 tight end in all five of his full games. The 54-point total helps us buy back into Howard again.
Consider If Needed
- Greg Olsen vs. BAL: Olsen has seen 16.2% of the Panthers' targets since returning (7 and 5) and has played 98.3% and 100% of snaps in those games. Baltimore is 2nd in success rate allowed to backs and receivers but 15th to tight ends, keeping Olsen a floor play in Week 8.
- Evan Engram vs. WSH: Engram saw just four targets in his return on Monday night, but he played 81.2% of snaps and ran a route on 88.4% of drop backs. Washington has been tough on tight ends (eighth in Target Success Rate) and have let up just two top-12 weeks (with no top-6 weeks), so he's a low-end TE1 option at best.
- Jared Cook vs. IND: Cook may or may not see a target spike with the loss of Amari Cooper, as Cooper had more than five targets in just two of six games. Still, he's in a matchup with the Colts, who are 27th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position. Cook has either been the TE1 (twice) or TE19 or worse (four times). From a strict rankings perspective, we'd place him higher, but he's not a safe bet.
- Kyle Rudolph vs. NO: Rudolph is a home tight end in a dome with a 26.5-point total, so he's in play for a touchdown, but he's seen 5, 4, and 4 targets the past three weeks, finishing with 41 or fewer yards in each of those. The matchup (and, frankly, a lack of tight end alternatives) keeps him as an option, but the usage keeps him firmly out of confident start territory.
- Vance McDonald vs. CLE: Vance entered the bye off a season-high snap rate (69.9%) and route rate (73.9%), and Cleveland let Tampa's three tight ends combine for 11 catches and 105 yards against them a week ago. McDonald is probably about as risky as you can get in a 12-team league without feeling anxious this week.
Bench If Possible
- Jordan Reed at NYG: The point of this article is to be realistic with expectations, so benching a tight end of Reed's caliber isn't easy. However, he's yet to play 70% of snaps in a game and has been the TE15 or worse each week since the opener. He also has just three red zone targets. Bench Reed if you can.
- C.J. Uzomah vs. TB: Uzomah is a fine deeper-league play and has seen a route on at least 84.4% of drop backs the past two weeks, yet had an unbalanced 7 and 2 targets to show for it. Despite the TE1 role in Cincy's offense, he's been the TE18, TE15, and TE11 the past three weeks with at least a 90% snap rate. He's not a standard-league target, even against the Bucs, with that usage.
- Benjamin Watson at MIN: Watson is in play in deeper leagues, but he's still not a shallow-league target, as he's seen a maximum of six targets this year, and his snap rate has been just 57.0%, 52.9%, 54.5%, and 49.3% the past four weeks after opening up around 80% during the first two weeks of the year.