Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Robert Burns' To a Mouse (On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785) may well be about accidentally ruining a mouse's nest before winter, but we can all relate to the bit about the best laid schemes gang aft agley. Or going awry often. Like when half of your fantasy football teams are on a bye or hurt entering Week 9.
It's a bleak time for most fantasy footballers, and we're all in pretty tough spots this week. Unless you're in a shallow, 8- or 10-team league, pickings are very slim this week for startable plays (even at quarterback and tight end), and nitpicking with matchups is unrealistic in most situations. Even in 12-team leagues, this is a week where it's more about fielding a full roster of healthy bodies than it is avoiding tough matchups.
Therefore, writing a start/sit column this week is tough because these are somewhat dire times for us. Still, we can dig into the key pieces in fantasy leagues to see how their recent usage impacts their Week 9 outlook.
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
- Cam Newton vs. TB: Newton has produced at least 18 fantasy points in every game, with 29 or more rushing yards in all of those, and now faces one of the worst pass defenses in football. The Buccaneers rank 30th in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play this season.
- Jared Goff at NO: Goff's floor has been 16.3 fantasy points outside of one game, and he bounced back with 295 yards and 3 touchdowns on 35 attempts in Week 8. Goff's per-drop back efficiency (0.24 expected points) is twice that of the league average, and he now faces a Saints defense that ranks 28th in adjusted pass defense -- in a dome in a game with a 60-point over/under.
- Patrick Mahomes at CLE: Mahomes draws the top-ranked pass defense in football but enters with a sky-high 0.43 Passing NEP per drop back and a 54.2% Passing Success Rate. He has yet to finish with fewer than 17 fantasy points, despite playing five of eight matchups against top-nine pass defenses.
- Tom Brady vs. GB: Brady gets a crack at the 22nd-ranked pass defense this week, the Packers, and he had been a top-12 quarterback in three straight weeks before netting a scoreless 324 yards on Monday night in Week 8 against a tough defense.
- Aaron Rodgers at NE: Rodgers gets the mid-level pass defense of the Patriots, who will be on a short week of preparation after playing Monday night. Rodgers has gotten his Passing NEP per drop back up to 0.20 over his past three games (well above league average of 0.12). He's yet to finish with fewer than 15.94 fantasy points, his Week 8 tally.
- Kirk Cousins vs. DET: Cousins has been a top-10 quarterback in just one of his past four games, the most recent one on Sunday Night Football in Week 8. He's faced tough pass defenses overall but now gets the Lions' 31st-ranked pass defense at home.
- Drew Brees vs. LAR: Brees' efficiency remains top-flight (0.35 Passing NEP per drop back and a 58.8% Passing Success Rate). The Rams' pass defense is solid (ranked 12th by our metrics), but the total here is 60 points, and Brees will almost assuredly have to throw to keep up with LA's offense.
Consider If Needed
- Philip Rivers at SEA: Rivers enters off a bye to face a top-rung pass defense (the Seahawks are third by numberFire's metrics) on the road. Rivers has gotten 20-plus fantasy points in five of seven games and has some of the best efficiency in the game (0.39 Passing NEP per drop back and a 53.7% Passing Success Rate -- on par with Mahomes' marks).
- Deshaun Watson at DEN: The Broncos are a top-two pass defense based on numberFire's metrics, and Watson has struggled against top defenses, posting fewer than 11 fantasy points against the Jaguars and Bills, but that also coincided with a chest injury that limited him. In Week 8, he got back to his efficient ways, throwing 5 scores on 20 attempts. He goes into it without Will Fuller, though, so the pros and cons balance out to make him an if-needed option this week.
- Russell Wilson vs. LAC: The Chargers ranked 26th against the pass entering their bye and are 21st in deep ball defense, yet Wilson has had some volume concerns of late. He's attempted 26 or fewer passes in five straight games and has maxed out at 21 rushing yards this season. That caps the ceiling and removes the floor. However, with three touchdowns in three straight games, Wilson is as efficient as ever and, at home, can come through again against a low-level pass defense.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick at CAR: Fitzpatrick gets a shot against the Panthers' 18th-ranked pass defense this week. He averaged 33.8 fantasy points in his three full games. There's also the risk of benching, but as far as streamers go, Fitz makes the cut this week.
- Matt Ryan at WSH: Ryan comes into this one off a bye but has had a limited record on the road this year, playing just two games and throwing 80 passes (522 yards; 6.5 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, and 1 pick. We don't need to avoid him against a mid-level Washington pass defense, but a ceiling game may not be in the cards outside of his home dome.
- Baker Mayfield vs. KC: Mayfield has been okay from a fantasy standpoint, scoring at least 14.3 fantasy points in four straight games. He now faces a Chiefs pass defense that is actually 15th in adjusted efficiency. With so many byes, Mayfield is in the streaming conversation, despite the tougher-than-expected matchup.
- Mitchell Trubisky at BUF: Trubisky brings some elite efficiency (0.39 Passing NEP per drop back and 8.99 yards per attempt since Week 4) on the road against a Bills team that ranks seventh against the pass when adjusted for schedule and "limited" Tom Brady to 324 yards and no touchdowns in Week 8. Helping matters, though, Trubisky has averaged 58.0 rushing yards per game over his past four outings.
Bench If Possible
- Ben Roethlisberger at BAL: With heavy byes, it's hard to nitpick at quarterback, but again, we're looking at 12-team leagues for context. Roethlisberger was the QB20 at home against the Ravens in Week 4, despite 47 pass attempts. It was Ben's only game with negative Passing NEP this year (-9.05, compared to an average of +12.14 outside that game). He's now on the road.
- Matthew Stafford at MIN: Stafford has been the QB14, QB15, QB19, QB15, and QB15 the past five weeks, throwing two touchdowns in each of those games. The matchup with the Vikings isn't terrible (they're 16th in adjusted pass defense), yet Stafford is, at best, a high-floor option despite his above-average efficiency (0.22 Passing NEP per drop back).
- Dak Prescott vs. TEN: Dak has maxed out at 35 attempts and 273 yards this year (both in Week 7, his most recent game). He's run 6, 11, and 6 times in his past three contests, though, for 34, 82, and 33 yards, elevating his floor. Prescott has produced at least 18.4 fantasy points in three of his past four games, a span during which he's maintained league-average passing metrics. Against the Titans' bottom-eight pass defense, he's a potential replacement, but even with six teams on bye, we likely don't need Dak in a 12- or even 14-teamer.
- Case Keenum vs. HOU: The Texans enter this one off a mini-bye, having played on Thursday in Week 7. They're 25th in adjusted pass defense by our metrics, yet Keenum has been unreliable even in great spots. He's a viable desperation streamer but not a 12-team option.
- Derek Carr at SF: The 49ers are a mid-level pass defense, ranking 21st, but Carr has produced multiple passing scores in just two of seven games this season. When he hits, he hits (QB4 and QB3 in ceiling games), yet he's been the QB18 or worse in every other outing. On a short week, it's not advisable to chase Carr, even with a thin streaming pool.
- Marcus Mariota at DAL: In a game where both teams will try to control the clock, Mariota's value should be sapped -- if he had any to begin with. He's had 3 touchdowns to 5 picks this year, generating -0.03 expected points on a per-drop back basis. Even against a bottom-half Cowboys defense, Mariota is a bench-first option until we see otherwise.
- Alex Smith vs. ATL: Smith has yet to get to 20 fantasy points and has been below 180 passing yards in three straight games. Smith also has lost his rushing floor, failing to net more than 20 in a single game. Even against the Falcons' leaky pass defense, Smith is a 2QB option at best.
- Joe Flacco vs. PIT: Flacco has failed to score 13 fantasy points in three of his past four games and has averaged 5.89 yards per attempt and just 0.04 Passing NEP per drop back in that split. The Steelers' pass defense is no pushover, ranking ninth.
- Sam Darnold at MIA: Darnold hits the road to face a Dolphins team off a mini-bye. They've tailed off a lot in pass defense since a hot start and rank 27th on the full season, yet Darnold has finished, at best, as the QB14 because he has surpassed 300 yards once and had multiple passing scores in three of eight games. It's worth noting that he had 334 yards against Miami in Week 2, yet he has averaged 195.5 yards per game since.
Start With Confidence
- Todd Gurley at NO: Gurley has had at least 20 opportunities (carries plus targets) in every game and has finished as the RB5 or better in all of those but one (when he was the RB9). The total in this spot got up to 60 points by Monday morning.
- Ezekiel Elliott vs. TEN: The Titans were 22nd in adjusted rushing defense entering their bye, while Dallas was 5th, offensively. Elliott has had at least 19 opportunities in every game, averaging 24.0 per contest. His elite workload keeps him an RB1 in any matchup.
- Alvin Kamara vs. LAR: Kamara's snap rates since Mark Ingram's return: 47.0%, 54.9%, 71.7%. His opportunity count: 10, 19, 21. Outside of a very positive script in Ingram's debut, Kamara has been mostly his usual self, finishing as the RB15 and RB6, and he has had 10 red zone touches the past two games.
- Kareem Hunt at CLE: Hunt has continued to see a receiving usage spike, with six targets in three straight games. Hunt also enters off a season-high snap rate (84.5%) and has been a top-15 back every week since Week 2, thanks to an average of 20.6 opportunities in a high-octane offense.
- Christian McCaffrey vs. TB: McCaffrey has played at least 94.0% of snaps in every game since Week 2 and has been the RB22 or better in all of those. He now faces the Buccaneers, who have let up 1.48 receiving fantasy points per target to backs, second-most in the league.
- James Conner at BAL: Conner has finished with single-digit fantasy points just once: Week 4 against the Ravens. That's who he draws this week, but you still can't find many better workloads, as he's averaged 24.0 opportunities and an 84.0% snap rate this season.
- Melvin Gordon at SEA: If Gordon is a go, then he's an easy start, as he averaged a 70.2% snap rate and 22.2 opportunities per game when healthy this year. That's despite a road matchup with the sixth-ranked defense.
- James White vs. GB White has been a top-24 back in every week and a top-12 back in four of his past five games. He's 11th in target market share in the entire league, regardless of position. He's got 14.4% of the Patriots' air yards, best among all backs (nobody else has more than 8.0%).
- Tarik Cohen at BUF: Cohen finally outsnapped Jordan Howard in Week 8, though barely. Cohen saw his fewest opportunities in four games, however (just eight), after averaging 17.7 in three games prior. We can chalk that up to positive script, something that could happen again against the Bills. However, the Bears travel to face a tough defense in Buffalo, though they'll be coming off a short week against the Patriots.
- Kerryon Johnson at MIN: Johnson is a road underdog here, but he played 81.4% of snaps last week and has been the RB28 or better each game since Week 2. Plus, he had eight targets last week, suggesting he can be a three-down back. That means he's a confident start provided Theo Riddick remains out.
- Phillip Lindsay vs. HOU: Without Royce Freeman in Week 8, Lindsay played 56.2% of snaps, after a season-high 59.3% in Week 7 while Freeman was limited. Now, he's a home favorite over the Texans and has only finished with fewer than 9.6 fantasy points when he was ejected in Week 3.
Consider If Needed
- Latavius Murray vs. DET: Murray has been a top-13 back in three straight weeks, thanks to a snap rate of at least 80% and an opportunity count of at least 17 in all of those. Detroit's a bottom-rung rush defense, too, ranking 30th by numberFire's metrics. Murray has been proving gamescript agnostic of late, but with Dalvin Cook expected to play a few snaps, Murray is bumped from a firm start to more of an RB2 play, even with the addition of Damon Harrison for Detroit.
- Adrian Peterson vs. ATL: Peterson will never be a full-on trust, but Chris Thompson is out again, and in five games with a majority of the snaps, Peterson has averaged 23.8 opportunities because Washington wants to run the ball and milk the clock. As a one-point home favorite, Peterson should be featured again, though against a capable Falcons offense, he could lose snaps if they fall behind.
- Aaron Jones at NE: Jones played a season-high 61.5% of snaps in Week 8 and now sheds Ty Montgomery from the backfield. He's still a road underdog, which could lead to lost touches and snaps to Jamaal Williams, who played just 25.0% of snaps last week.
- Chris Carson vs. LAC: Carson has had 34, 20, 14, and 27 opportunities as a starter, playing 72.5%, 58.3%, 42.2%, and 66.7% of snaps in those. The Seahawks have stuck with a run-heavy gameplan, running 52% of the time in one-score games since Week 4, meaning Carson will get fed until the game gets out of hand.
- Nick Chubb vs. KC: Chubb played 66.2% of snaps in his first start and then 48.4% in his second game without Carlos Hyde. He saw 18 carries in each with 5 targets added on. It's a great workload, and he should be featured yet again. The problem is that, against the Chiefs, he could fall shy of 50% of snaps again in a negative script.
- Mark Ingram vs. LAR: Ingram has been fine since his return: RB7, RB38, RB25. He's played a declining snap rate (54.5%, 49.3%, and 43.4%) but has had 19, 14, and 16 opportunities. Tied to an offense in game with an over/under of 60 points, Ingram is viable, though it's worth noting that he had none of the five red zone opportunities in Week 8.
- Kenyan Drake vs. NYJ: Drake has played at least 56.1% of snaps in all but one game and has averaged 16.0 opportunities over his past four, finishing as the RB6, RB32, RB10, and RB7 in those. The Jets are 10th in rush defense by numberFire's metrics, yet Drake has had 11, 6, 8, and 2 targets in his past four. That boosts his floor, and the snaps are still better than the Frank Gore timeshare would have us think.
- Lamar Miller at DEN: Miller is a road underdog but has played at least half the snaps in every game this year and has averaged 22.5 opportunities the past two weeks. He's averaged 18.7 opportunities per game, ranking him 15th among all rushers.
- Tevin Coleman at WSH: Coleman is just an RB2-level option in this spot, as he's yet to post a top-12 week but has been a top-28 back in all but one game. The snap count has been 56.7% and 56.9% the past two games, and Washington is top-five in fantasy points per target allowed to backs.
- Jordan Howard at BUF: Howard's snap rate has been just above 50% for four straight games, after sitting at an average of 68.8% through three weeks. Still, he's getting a majority of snaps and averaging 15.8 opportunities even in that down stretch. The snaps save him from being a priority bench, as not many backs can be penciled in for half of his team's plays.
- Alex Collins vs. PIT: Collins has yet to top a 50% snap rate but lives in the mid-40% range. He's had at least 12 opportunities in every game since Week 2, averaging 15.7 in that split. As a home favorite and with six of eight red zone carries over the past three games, Collins is better than an "if-you-must" option.
- LeSean McCoy vs. CHI: The Bears haven't let up a rushing touchdown to a running back yet, and the Bills haven't scored a touchdown yet this season (don't fact check that). Jokes aside, even with a 14.25-point implied total, McCoy is in play, as he has averaged 22.7 opportunities per game over his past three healthy contests. That'd rank him fifth as a full-season rate.
- Austin Ekeler at SEA: Ekeler averaged 9.7 looks per game before getting 19 pre-bye without Gordon. His receiving role is often overstated, as he's averaged a mere 3.3 targets per game, but as the RB41 or better in every week, he's in the flex conversation during a thin Week 9.
- Jalen Richard at SF: Richard has actually finished as the RB37 or better in every game but one this year and has had an elite target average if we exclude that game (7.5 per contest). He's a road underdog with consecutive eight-target games, keeping him in the high-end flex conversation.
- Doug Martin at SF: Martin played 56.0% of snaps in Week 8 and handled 13 carries (2 targets) to finish as the RB30. He lost a fumble late and was stuffed at the goal line (three scoreless carries from inside the 10), so the results could've been better. Martin is a road underdog without pass-game work, but it's not easy to ignore an early-down back with so many byes.
- Matt Breida vs. OAK: Breida is always scary, given how likely he is to exit early, but he has played at least 47.0% of snaps in two of his past three games and is positioned as a home favorite against a weak Raiders rush defense (31st in adjusted defensive rushing efficiency). With so many byes, it's unrealistic to consider Breida outside the top 36-or-so options available.
Bench If Possible
- Dion Lewis at DAL: Lewis has been better than the RB44 just three times this season (RB12 in Week 1, RB26 in Week 4, and RB8 in Week 7). His snap rate has been at least 63.4% in four straight games, a span during which he's averaged 13.8 opportunities, which would rank him around 30th at the position on the full season. With a low total (41 points), we need to keep expectations in check, though the status as heavy underdogs means Lewis could return a flex-worthy result.
- Isaiah Crowell at MIA: Crowell hasn't experienced a snap spike without Bilal Powell, and he's played between 40.3% and 46.5% of snaps for four straight weeks, in line with his season average of 43.0%. He's averaged just 1.8 targets per game, maxing out at three, and is now a road underdog. Crowell has finished as the RB3, RB34, RB36, and RB35 the past four weeks, but as a flex-at-best option, he's a priority bench given his role and expected game script. You may not have the luxury of sitting him, but that's a different story.
- Peyton Barber at CAR: Barber's been the RB9, RB48, and RB17 the past three weeks despite opportunity counts and snap rates that look similar to his early-season numbers, when he was no better than the RB38 in any of the four games. Now on the road against the Panthers, he's not someone to chase. Of course, you could do worse than someone who can get to 15 looks and a 50% snap rate.
- Frank Gore vs. NYJ: Gore is a home favorite with a formidable 24-point implied team total but faces a top-seven rush defense. He's averaged 13.4 opportunities per game (which would rank 34th on the full season), so he's a flex-if-needed play but certainly a bench-if-possible.
- Devontae Booker vs. HOU: Booker benefited from negative game script last week, playing 43.8% of snaps and seeing 13 opportunities (4 of which were targets).
- Duke Johnson vs. KC: If there's a week for the Browns to trail, it's this one, but Johnson hasn't had double-digit looks since Week 1, maxing out at eight and averaging 6.4 on the full season.
- Jamaal Williams at NE: Williams played a season-low 25.0% snap rate last week. He benefits from the departure of Ty Montgomery but really is just a desperation play in hopes that Green Bay trails and they turn to Williams over Jones for the negative game script work.
- Derrick Henry at DAL: Henry on the road is a bad recipe, and he has played fewer than 40% of snaps in four straight games. He's out of the conversation in 12-teamers and probably shouldn't even be rostered.
- Javorius Allen vs. PIT: Allen has seen 4, 6, and 5 opportunities the past three games and has been phased out in the red zone. He didn't even see a single carry in Week 8, when his snap rate fell to a season-low 33.8%. Now, Ty Montgomery is in the fold.
- Ito Smith at WSH: The Falcons' backs are 29th in Rushing Success Rate collectively. Smith has been a top-36 back in four straight weeks, but with scoring expectations down, he's really just an if-you-must option in this matchup.
Start With Confidence
- Adam Thielen vs. DET: Thielen's been the WR11 or better in every week since Week 2 and owns a 29.9% target share on the year, plus a 39.4% air yards share, via AirYards.com. Detroit is 29th in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers and 31st in fantasy points per target.
- Michael Thomas vs. LAR: Thomas' market share is down to a still-respectable-but-not-elite 22.6% over his past four games, netting just one top-12 week in that span, but the Rams have let up five top-12 receivers this year already, third-most of any team.
- DeAndre Hopkins at DEN: Denver's not a tough enough overall matchup (19th in Target Success Rate and 15th in fantasy points per target) to worry about Nuk, who can avoid Chris Harris in the slot. Hopkins has run a route on all but one drop back this season, via ProFootballFocus, and still has a 29.8% target share over his past three (6, 8, 7 targets).
- Julio Jones at WSH: Washington has stifled top-end receiver production, letting up just two top-12 performances, but eight different receivers posted a top-24 week against them so far this season, third-most of any team. Jones owns a 31.4% target share and 46.8% of the Falcons' air yards, elite rates. This might be a week for Jones to fall shy of expectations, but he's still a confident start.
- Antonio Brown at BAL: AB was the WR23 in Week 4 against Baltimore on 11 targets (5 catches, 62 yards, 1 touchdown) and has scored in six straight games, including five touchdowns in his past three. The Ravens have boasted a top-10 receiver defense, but Brown's target share keeps him a safe start.
- Mike Evans at CAR: Evans generated 111 yards and a score on 3 targets from Fitzpatrick in Week 8, en route to a WR2 finish. He was the WR7, WR17, and WR4 in the first three games of the year with Fitz. Carolina is 18th overall in adjusted pass defense based on numberFire's metrics, and the volume should get Evans to a solid outing.
- Stefon Diggs vs. DET: Diggs is up to a 29.3% target share over the past five games (11.2 targets) and has had his efficiency trend up. He'll face Darius Slay a bit, but Diggs moves around and has the volume to mitigate that concern.
- Robert Woods at NO: Woods has played at least 96.1% of the snaps in every game but one for a top-tier offense and now faces the NFL's 28th-ranked pass defense overall and 30th-ranked pass defense by Target Success Rate.
Consider If Needed
- Davante Adams at NE: The Patriots have let up just two top-12 receivers this year and boast the second-best receiver defense by Target Success Rate allowed. Adams saw a 23.3% target share last week with the Packers getting healthier -- but 43.4% of the air yards to help elevate the floor. He's had at least 132 yards in three straight games but now matches up with Stephon Gilmore. You're playing Adams and taking what he gives you, but the volume isn't as secure as other elite WR1s right now, and the matchup knocks him down a peg, too.
- Emmanuel Sanders vs. HOU: The Texans haven't let up a top-six receiver and just one top-12 receiver -- but they haven't played many good wideouts yet. Their adjusted pass defense ranks them 25th overall. Sanders should build on his four targets from last week without Demaryius Thomas but could get bumped more to the outside, which hurts his Week 9 prospects.
- Keenan Allen at SEA: Allen played a season-high 90.9% snap rate in Week 7 but had a season-low five targets to show for it. Seattle is 28th in Target Success Rate allowed to receivers, and Allen is playing heavy snaps for the second-best passing offense in football. Something's gotta give, but until then, he's a mid-range WR2 type.
- Brandin Cooks at NO: Cooks' low volume has gotten the best of him in recent weeks (WR55, WR16, WR35) the past three games. He's yet to get to 10 targets in a game and has averaged 6.3 targets per game over the past three -- but on those, he's accrued 47.8% of the Rams' air yards with an aDOT of 20.9 yards. It's a revenge game for Cooks, and he's always a firm play in domes.
- Jarvis Landry vs. KC: Landry's volume has spiked lately: 15 and 12 targets the past two weeks, a 42.2% target share for 51.6% of the Browns' air yards. The Chiefs are actually a tough receiver defense, ranking fifth in Target Success Rate, but the high-leverage volume fed to Landry keeps him as a WR2-level play.
- Tyreek Hill at CLE: The Browns are the NFL's top-ranked adjusted pass defense, and Hill is dealing with a groin injury that could limit his best asset: his speed. He had just 17.6% of the Chief's air yards in Week 8, pushing him out of trustworthy status this week but keeping him in play because you're not benching him here.
- Julian Edelman vs. GB: Edelman has played at least 91.0% of snaps in three straight games and has run a route on 100% of drop backs in two straight. The Packers are tough on wideouts, ranking sixth in Target Success Rate, but Edelman is netting 23.0% of the targets since his return.
- Kenny Golladay at MIN: Golladay enters with three combined targets over his past two games but saw his snap rate return to 91.5% in Week 8. Without Golden Tate, he stands to see a target boost. In games with at least seven targets, he's been the WR21, WR13, WR24, and WR10.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster at BAL: JuJu had 11 targets against the Ravens in Week 4 but caught 4 for 60 yards, finishing as the WR53. He did have 131 air yards in that game (37.8%). He's been the victim of positive script in two of the past three games (4, 10, 6 targets) and probably won't see that situation in Week 9, keeping him as a low-level WR2 with that volume.
- Josh Gordon vs. GB: In his three games as a full-time Patriot, Gordon has had 9, 7, and 6 targets, while playing 90.8%, 95.3%, and 84.2% of the snaps. New England is up to a 31.5-point total, which helps us with concerns over a tough Green Bay secondary (which did just trade away Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).
- Marvin Jones at MIN: Marv has accrued 56.2% of the Lions' air yards in two games since the bye and now faces a defense that's 24th in Passing NEP per attempt on deep throws, all while shedding Golden Tate's 27.5% target share.
- Devin Funchess vs. TB: Funchess' post-bye target totals are 7, 8, 11, and 3. He's at a 21.8% target share on the full season with 33.4% of the air yards and now faces the league's worst receiver defense.
- Sammy Watkins at CLE: Watkins has had 20.7% of the Chiefs' targets (7.0 per game) since an early exit in Week 4. The matchup with Cleveland is tough, so Watkins is more of a low-end WR2 or WR3 level even though he's tied to a team with nearly a 30-point total.
- John Brown vs. PIT: Brown was the WR13 against the Steelers in Week 4 (3 catches, 7 targets, 116 yards, 1 touchdown, 205 air yards) but has since handled a modest 17.7% target share and 30.0% air yards share. Against a top-10 pass defense, we need to keep expectations in check with Brown's waning target share, but given the byes, he's still more than a bench-if-possible level play.
- Cooper Kupp at NO: Kupp owned a 24.1% target share and 23.5% of the air yards before his injury, finishing as the WR20 or better in four of five contests. He averaged nearly more than two red zone targets per game when healthy, too.
- Tyler Lockett vs. LAC: The Chargers are 21st in Passing NEP per attempt on deep balls, and Lockett has caught 8 of 11 deep throws for 260 yards and 5 touchdowns. That's the upside he brings, despite five or fewer targets in three straight games (WR9, WR44, WR24 finishes).
- Michael Crabtree vs. PIT: Crabtree had 8 of 40 targets in the first matchup, for a season-worst WR75 finish. He owns a 20.0% target share (8.8 targets per game) and 29.4% of the air yards since, keeping him as a volume-based flex option.
- DeSean Jackson at CAR: Jackson -- the WR3, WR8, and WR59 in Ryan Fitzpatrick's starts -- averages 1.61 Reception NEP per target from Fitzpatrick and just 0.53 from Winston this season. Carolina is third in Passing NEP per attempt on deep balls, though, keeping Jackson an if-needed flex gamble rather than an optimistic start.
- Courtland Sutton vs. HOU: It's easy to get ahead of ourselves with Sutton now freed up with the departure of Demaryius Thomas (who averaged 6.8 targets per game, a 19.7% target share). Sutton has seen six end zone targets (Thomas had three), but Sutton has maxed out at six targets and three catches in a single game. Despite that, he's been the WR 39, WR49, WR35, and WR37 in his past four games. There's room for him to grow his snap rate against Houston's 25th-ranked pass defense, but he's still just a flex play until we see him convert more consistently on his high-leverage looks (he's got just 2 touchdowns despite those 6 end zone targets and 7 catches on 14 deep targets for 215 yards and a touchdown).
Bench If Possible
- D.J. Moore vs. TB: It's easy to want to hop right on the Moore train, but we have to keep in mind that his 90-yard receiving game last week was the first time a Panthers wideout has topped 77 yards (and just the third time a Panthers wideout has surpassed 67 yards) this season. He also had 39 rushing yards to boost his way to a WR18 finish on the week. Moore is still a priority-bench in 12-team leagues, given that he's still at just a 14.8% target share (5.0 targets per game) over the past four contests (though 22.2% last week on 6 targets). Again, he's firmly in play in DFS and not the worst flex plug-in during this thin week with Torrey Smith trending toward not playing, but expectations need to be kept in check until Moore shows that he can outperform the norm for Panthers pass-catchers.
- Amari Cooper vs. TEN: There are really only 26 wideouts I could come up with as viable, safe starts this week, but if you can wait and see with Cooper, that'd be ideal. Dallas' passing offense is trending up, and the matchup is ripe. However, both squads are bottom-five in pass rate in one-score games, making unpredictable volume even less predictable.
- Doug Baldwin vs. LAC: I don't want to overreact to Baldwin's total target numbers because he's had an okay 19.6% target share since Week 5. The problem is that he's had 1, 8, and 3 targets since returning, and we know Seattle wants to run the ball (they're 31st in pass rate within six points either way).
- Chris Godwin at CAR: Godwin was the WR29, WR26, and WR87 in Fitzpatrick's three starts but has averaged 49.8 yards per game and is touchdown-or-bust. Godwin does have 7 of 23 red zone attempts and 6 of 15 end zone targets from Fitz this year, so he's not the worst if-you-must play, but again, in a 12-team league, he's not really an optimistic flex play, given the low yardage totals.
- Corey Davis at DAL: The problem isn't the snaps, routes, or targets but rather the results: Davis has been the WR44 or worse in every game but one, as he's tied to the league's 27th-ranked pass defense.
- Tre'Quan Smith vs. LAR: You can do worse than Smith, whose route rate spiked to 91.7% last week, a career high. He's also played at least two thirds of the snaps in three straight games, most recently netting a 77.4% share. Still, he's not a standard-league start, more of a DFS target and a deep-league play.
- Calvin Ridley at WSH: Ridley has been scoreless in three straight games, giving us just 6.3 fantasy points per game in those. A touchdown-dependent option (having 47 or fewer yards in his down weeks), Ridley is a priority bench in a game where his offense shouldn't operate at maximum capacity.
- DeVante Parker vs. NYJ: Parker stepped in last week to play 100% of snaps and see 27.3% of the Dolphins' targets (9) and 38.7% of the air yards. The Jets are 26th in pass defense since Week 4, per numberFire's metrics, yet Parker is more of a 14-team play than a 12-teamer.
- Danny Amendola vs. NYJ: Amendola has played at least 96.2% of snaps in Brock Osweiler's three starts, seeing 11, 7, and 6 targets in those and finishing as the WR41, WR9, and WR22. He's got a good slot matchup, so you can do worse, but Amendola remains a priority bench in 12-team leagues despite the snaps and production of late, given that he has just once surpassed 60 yards.
- Demaryius Thomas at DEN: Thomas' efficiency has been getting better in recent weeks, and he could have a revenge game boost for a needy team, but there's no way he's not a bench-first guy this week.
- Mohamed Sanu at WSH: Sanu has experienced a snap and route dip the past two games while dealing with a hip injury. He now heads outdoors to lessen his touchdown odds. He's posted 4.0 or fewer fantasy points in three of four games without a touchdown.
- Taylor Gabriel at BUF: Gabriel's short-lived target boost is over with, and he's averaged 5.0 targets over his past three (a 14.2% share).
- Marquise Goodwin vs. OAK: Goodwin is dependent on the status of C.J. Beathard, a sad thought, but he's had a 20.0% target share and 43.3% of the air yards in his past three games.
- Jordy Nelson at SF: Nelson turned 4 targets and 58 air yards into a single catch and 25 yards. Even if he maxed out the results, we can see that this is a benchable situation for Nelson.
- Randall Cobb vs. NE: Cobb returned to run half of the routes and play 46.2% of the snaps, which isn't a bankable recipe even in the Packers' offense. We can't look to Cobb unless it's a deep league with few other options.
Start With Confidence
- Travis Kelce at CLE: Kelce has had at least eight targets in six of eight games and has averaged 7.8 per game (a 23.0% target share) over his past four. That's combined with a receiver-esque 24.7% air yards share. Cleveland has limited tight ends (6.2 yards per target, top-five in the NFL), but few tight ends have a ceiling on par with Kelce's floor.
- Greg Olsen vs. TB: Olsen has played at least 96.9% of snaps in every game since his return with an average of 5.3 targets (a 15.8% target share). He's scored in consecutive games, thanks to end zone targets in each. The Bucs can't stop anyone right now, either.
- Rob Gronkowski vs. GB: We can't overreact to Gronk's poor season, as he has still returned 5.8 or more fantasy points in all but one game. Still, the upside is lacking, with no more than 11.2 fantasy points since Week 2. There's been a noticeable shift in route rate (92.0% in Weeks 1 through 3 compared to 76.4% since then).
- George Kittle vs. OAK: Oakland has let up 2.22 fantasy points per target to tight ends, easily the most in the NFL this year (Tampa Bay is second at 1.80). Kittle has averaged a snap rate of 89.1% over his past five games, including 7.4 targets per game (a 25.2% market share). Even if Beathard sits, you probably can't find a better replacement option for Kittle this week in 12-team leagues.
- O.J. Howard at CAR: Howard has finished as a top-12 tight end in six of seven games this year despite clearing four targets just twice. Carolina has let up 5 touchdowns and 1.67 fantasy points per target (27th) to the position.
- David Njoku vs. KC: Njoku is coming off a donut game in the target column, but he had seen six or more targets in every game but one prior to that. Even last week, he played 84.4% of the snaps and now faces a Chiefs defense that's 29th in yards per target allowed to tight ends and 20th in fantasy points per target. They're tough on receivers but beatable with tight ends. It makes sense for Njoku to see targets this week, given his heavy snap count.
Consider If Needed
- Jared Cook at SF: Sure, Cook was the TE4 without Amari Cooper, but he did that on just five targets and a 62.0% snap rate, a season-low. The 49ers have kept tight ends in check (7.1 yards per target) but have let up four touchdowns.
- Jimmy Graham at NE: Graham had averaged 8.2 targets per game over the five entering a four-target dud in Week 8. The Pats have let up five scores to opposing tight ends already this season, tied for the most in football. We just can't be sure that he's not becoming an afterthought again.
- Trey Burton at BUF: Burton had averaged 13.3 fantasy points from Weeks 2 through 7 before a 3.3-point dud in Week 8, a four-target affair. Buffalo isn't the best tight end matchup, as they're ninth in Target Success Rate and sixth in fantasy points per target.
- Kyle Rudolph vs. DET: Rudolph had three end zone targets and seven total in Week 8 but couldn't find the end zone. He's played at least 80% of snaps in every game and owns a 13.9% target share over his past four games. Still, he's been the TE14 or worse in five straight, keeping him a touchdown-dependent play.
- Jordan Reed vs. ATL: Reed is a home favorite in a game with a heavy total, but he's been the TE15 or worse in every game since Week 2. He played a season-high 77.9% of snaps last week and had 12 targets, giving him a 28.1% target share over his past three games.
- Austin Hooper at WSH: Hooper has played at least 80.0% of snaps in every contest to sporadic results (TE22, TE6, TE25, TE33, TE4, TE1, TE17). He now hits the road to face Washington, who has posted a top-five per-target fantasy defense at the position (thanks to 5.1 yards per target) but has let up three scores.
- Vance McDonald at BAL: Vance was coming off a 69.9% snap game in Week 6, a season high, but the bottom fell out in Week 8, as he played a season-low 38.0% of snaps. He had three targets, down from an average of 5.0 prior. Baltimore, though, is a bit vulnerable via tight ends, letting up 8.3 yards per target, 21st in the NFL.
- Benjamin Watson vs. LAR: Watson is a home favorite in a game with a 60-point total, so he's certainly in play from a process standpoint, but the facts are that he had no targets last week and played a season-low 26.4% of snaps, after finishing as the TE5 in Week 8. He's little better than a gamble -- a good gamble, but a gamble nonetheless.
Bench If Possible
- Six teams are on bye this week, and those teams feature five or six viable tight ends in 12-team leagues. It's nearly impossible to nitpick the position this week by considering matchups too heavily. You should be trying to start one of the above options at tight end. If you can't, then, well consider a flier on Chris Herndon (the Dolphins have let up five tight end scores in the past three games) or Jeff Heuerman (who has six end zone targets this season).