Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 15
The entire premise of this article, more or less, was meant to be about expectations for fantasy football leagues. Most fantasy leagues (I think it's safe to say) aren't overly intricate, 16-team, deep-roster formats. That means only a small handful of players are getting started week after week in our 10- and 12-team home leagues.
Conversely, in the deeper leagues, we don't have the luxury to wade through matchups and select the player with the absolute best role. Sometimes any role at all is enough, especially at tight end.
We can get excited about a tertiary receiver seeing a snap and route boost over a three-game sample for a mid-level passing offense (I sure do), but are Courtland Sutton and Dante Pettis really players we're optimistically starting in 10-team office leagues? Not really -- or I would hope not. This all gets magnified in Week 15 and beyond, when our start/sit decisions matter the most.
That's not to say that we should just start our "best players" (whatever that means) but that we need to get a little extra stingy about the situations our players are in before we let our fantasy fortunes fall in their hands.
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, even if these players are actually likely starts in our lineups anyway.
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. LAC: Mahomes leads the league's best adjusted passing offense, based on our Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric. The Chargers rank eighth in adjusted pass defense by that same metric, but Mahomes has at least 20 fantasy points in eight straight games while averaging 28.9 per game in that span. He's proven to be matchup proof each and every week.
- Russell Wilson at SF: We don't talk much about Wilson, but he leads the seventh-best adjusted passing offense by our metrics. The San Francisco 49ers are just 26th defensively and are 31st in adjusted yards per attempt allowed on deep throws. Wilson has 13 touchdowns and 1 pick on deep attempts this season and averages 10.32 yards per attempt in three road games against non-top-four pass defenses.
- Drew Brees at CAR: Brees draws the 28th-ranked Carolina Panthers' pass defense this week while commanding the league's 2nd-best offensive passing attack by our numbers. Yes, he's worse on the road (0.23 Passing NEP per drop back versus 0.55 at home; league-average is 0.12), but he's still great, and in four road games against bottom-half pass defenses, Brees has averaged 7.88 yards per attempt and 0.38 Passing NEP per drop back (7 touchdowns to 1 pick).
- Ben Roethlisberger vs. NE: The Patriots are just 18th in adjusted pass defense, and Roethlisberger has the Steelers sitting 6th offensively. He's averaged 9.44 yards per attempt en route to 14 touchdowns and 2 picks against bottom-half pass defenses this season in five games (0.56 Passing NEP per drop back).
- Tom Brady at PIT: Brady's team is getting healthier, and he already holds the reigns to the fourth-best passing attack in football, despite all the issues throughout the season. The Patriots still run the ball at the fifth-highest rate in the red zone, but Brady is a two-point road favorite against a mid-level Steelers pass defense (15th in adjusted passing defense).
- Jared Goff vs. PHI: Goff's struggles against the Bears were understandable, but he did also fail to take advantage of a matchup with the Lions in Week 13. The Eagles are 29th in Passing NEP per drop back allowed since Week 8, and Goff's Rams are 5th in adjusted passing offense. He's a solid QB1 in this bounce-back spot.
Consider If Needed
- Andrew Luck at DAL: The Cowboys' pace hasn't been quite as soul-devouring this season (they are 22nd in situation-neutral pace, via FootballOutsiders), but they have limited passing production for much of the year with the 14th-best pass defense while facing the 3rd-fewest plays in football and the fewest over their past five. Until Carson Wentz last week, no passer had more than two touchdowns against them, noteworthy for Luck, who has had at least two passing scores in all but two games. Overall, Luck has posted just 6.43 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and 4 picks in four games against top-half pass defenses.
- Cam Newton vs. NO: The Saints' defense is trending up and ranks fourth in Passing NEP per drop back allowed since Week 8, and Newton has not looked like or performed like his usual self throwing the ball. Newton historically has better splits at home, which has been the case again this year (0.22 Passing NEP per drop back at home versus 0.10 per drop back on the road). The bottom line is that, in a 12-team league, you probably don't need to start him in the playoffs because there are viable streamers while few teams are snatching them up, but he can likely bounce back to relevancy after four road games in his past five.
- Baker Mayfield at DEN: Mayfield has surged since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, averaging 0.30 Passing NEP per drop back, 9.19 yards per attempt, and a 56.4% success rate. The Broncos' pass defense stifled Jeff Driskel in Week 13 without Chris Harris but allowed Nick Mullens to throw for 10.1 yards per attempt and 0.23 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 14.
- Kirk Cousins vs. MIA: The Dolphins sit 29th in adjusted pass defense on the year, a good sign for Cousins, who has carved up the four bottom-12 pass defenses he's faced this year (0.30 Passing NEP per drop back for 8.16 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns, and 2 picks).
- Philip Rivers at KC: Rivers' leads the 3rd-best adjusted passing offense this season but does head to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs' 16th-ranked pass defense. The Cheifs let up just 0.276 points per play at home, the fourth-fewest in football. Rivers, a high-floor play this year, is just off the solid QB1 radar on a short week in a possible shootout.
- Matt Ryan vs. ARI: Ryan returns home, where he has posted elite efficiency marks (0.38 Passing NEP per drop back, a 58.9% success rate, and 9.17 yards per attempt) in seven games. The Cardinals do rank 10th in adjusted pass defense, yet Ryan has 7 touchdowns to 1 pick (0.19 Passing NEP per drop back in three home games against top-half pass defenses, including a disaster against the Ravens).
- Josh Allen vs. DET: We can't look at Allen's passing metrics because he's been bad against all teams, but he's averaged 111.7 yards rushing in his three games since taking back over the Bills' offense to rank him as the QB1 since Week 12. The Lions are just 23rd in adjusted rushing defense and 31st in adjusted passing defense.
- Aaron Rodgers at CHI: Rodgers faces the league's second-best passing defense on the road this week, not a strong recipe for a ceiling game. He's been just league-average this year regardless of situation, and that's shown as he has averaged 17.5 fantasy points over his past seven.
- Dak Prescott vs. IND: The Colts haven't faced many stout passing offenses and are just 25th in adjusted pass defense. Prescott has posted 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back, 8.08 yards per attempt, and 20.0 fantasy points per game since the Amari Cooper trade.
Bench If Possible
- Mitchell Trubisky vs. GB: Trubisky struggled in his return (-0.44 Passing NEP per drop back) last week, enough to give us pause in a crucial fantasy week with a lot of strong options at quarterback. The Packers are 24th in adjusted pass defense this year, but Trubisky is clearly a priority bench with the red flags we saw in Week 14.
- Deshaun Watson at NYJ: Watson finally threw extra last week (38 attempts) after 24.6 per game in seven leading in but didn't generate a lot of passing production. Watson has averaged 31.6 rushing yards on the season, but has been either the QB1 (twice) or outside the top-10 over his past eight games.
- Carson Wentz at LAR: Wentz has been pretty average this season (0.16 Passing NEP per drop back, 50.9% success rate, 7.60 yards per attempt), so we can't really expect touchdowns to come magically against the league's sixth-best adjusted pass defense, which has Aqib Talib back and running (97.2% of snaps last week, via FantasyData).
- Jameis Winston at BAL: The Ravens are the top adjusted pass defense in football, and Winston is on the road after his first down game since returning as a starter. They're letting up a bit down the stretch and have let up some solid rushing games to quarterbacks, but Winston is well outside the QB1 tier with everything on the line.
- Marcus Mariota at NYG: The Giants haven't faced the toughest schedule but have let just four quarterbacks throw multiple touchdowns and just one get to three scores. Overall, they're 21st in adjusted pass defense, but Mariota's boom-bust ways (21.8 or more fantasy points in four of six games but fewer than 6.8 in the other two) due to low pass volume keep him a priority bench in this road tilt.
- Derek Carr at CIN: Carr actually has gone over 20 passing fantasy points in two straight games and faces the league's 23rd-ranked adjusted pass defense this week. He's not a terrible play, though he is playing early (10:00 a.m. PST), and we don't need many reasons to avoid him in 12-team leagues.
Start With Confidence
- Todd Gurley vs. PHI: Gurley has had two "down" games in his past three (10.9 and 7.3 fantasy points) but had 30.0 in between. He's a nine-point home favorite over the Eagles' 22nd-ranked adjusted rush defense and should be back on track as a locked-in RB1 with his heavy snap rate (85.0%, 94.2%, 98.4% the past three games).
- Christian McCaffrey vs. NO: McCaffrey has been a top-10 performer in six of the past seven games and has played 100.0% of snaps in four straight. The Saints are 9th in adjusted rush defense but 26th in target success rate allowed to backs. McCaffrey has averaged 7.6 targets per game.
- Ezekiel Elliott at IND: Elliott is a road underdog but has averaged 7.3 targets per game since the Amari Cooper trade to make him game-script agnostic. Elliott has been the RB7 or better in five straight games and has averaged an 89.2% snap rate in that span.
- Saquon Barkley vs. TEN: Barkley has been the RB1, RB2, RB8, and RB2 in his past four games while averaging 24.5 opportunities (carries plus targets) in that span. The Titans are 18th in adjusted rush defense and 17th in rushing success rate allowed to backs, so he's set to be a top-five option yet again.
- Alvin Kamara at CAR: Kamara has played between 62.9% and 67.3% of snaps the past four games but has just 17.3, 10.3, 11.2, and 13.2 fantasy points in those (RB11, RB26, RB26, and RB18). That's a high floor, but the ceiling has been capped. Regardless, he has been the RB26 (and scored at least double-digit fantasy points) or better in all but one game this season.
- Joe Mixon vs. OAK: Mixon's snap rate has been mostly up of late (71.6%, 57.4%, 70.1%) while finishing as the RB12, RB27, and RB5 in those. He's been the RB33 or better in every game and has been leaned on more with Driskel under center. The Oakland Raiders are 30th in adjusted rush defense and success rate allowed to running backs, so Mixon is slotted in as a safe start this week.
- Leonard Fournette vs. WSH: Fournette busted last week with just 5.1 fantasy points but played a season-high 77.5% snap rate and still had 17 opportunities (after 29, 30, and 21 since returning). He had been playing around half the snaps, so that was a big jump, and he is a 7.5-point home favorite.
- Nick Chubb at DEN: Chubb has been the RB12 or better in five straight while scoring at least 14.7 fantasy points in all of those. Chubb's snap rate has been kind of all over (49.3%, 79.2%, 71.9%, 47.4%, and 63.5% the past five. He's averaged 21.3 opportunities since taking over as the starter, which would rank him seventh among backs on the full season. The Broncos are 25th in rushing success rate allowed to backs.
- Phillip Lindsay vs. CLE: Lindsay's floor remains high with at least 9.4 fantasy points in games from which he wasn't ejected. The Browns are just 23rd in rushing success rate allowed to running backs, Lindsay has been above a 60% snap rate in two of his past three, even with Royce Freeman back, and he's a home favorite.
- David Johnson at ATL: Johnson's had a rough go but has still been the RB31 or better in all but two games. He's averaged just 8.9 fantasy points over his past three despite averaging 22.3 opportunities per game. The matchup with the Falcons, who are 32nd in adjusted rush defense, 28th in rushing success rate, and 30th in target success rate allowed, should allow Johnson to parlay those chances into production.
- Dalvin Cook vs. MIA: Cook has been steady over the past three games (15.1, 14.6, 16.8 fantasy points) and has had elite snaps in his past four (88.1%, 58.6%, 77.0%, 84.5%). He is a seven-point home favorite over the Dolphins' 23rd-ranked adjusted rush defense and has seen 17 targets over his past two outings, making him a high-floor, high-upside play.
- Jaylen Samuels vs. NE: Samuels played on 80.0% of snaps last week, seventh-highest among all backs, and saw 18 opportunities (including 7 targets) to finish as the RB20 (12.7 fantasy points). That's a fantastic workload. The Patriots are just 25th in adjusted rush defense and 20th in target success rate allowed to backs.
Consider If Needed
- Aaron Jones at CHI: Jones' snaps went back up under Joe Philbin (51.3% to 64.6%) last week, and he's been the RB16 or better in five straight and the RB26 or better in all seven post-bye games. The issue is that he's a 5.5-point road underdog against the league's top adjusted rush defense, making him more of an RB2/3 than a top-tier start.
- Damien Williams vs. LAC: Williams played 50.0% of snaps last week and saw a strong workload that featured five targets. We can't know for sure how much Charcandrick West or Darrel Williams mix in, but if you have Williams, you can plug him in as a solid RB2 option for Thursday, assuming Spencer Ware sits.
- Tarik Cohen vs. GB: Cohen's snaps were just 42.3% last week, but he still saw 4 targets, giving him at least that many in five straight games, and he's been an RB3 or better in five straight games given the receiving work.
- Chris Carson at SF: A 6.0-point road favorite, Carson runs into a top-10 rush defense and has just 6 targets over his past four games. He's posted at least 12.3 fantasy points in those but no more than 15.0. He's a high-floor play without much of a ceiling.
- Justin Jackson at KC: Assuming he's the only healthy back in the backfield, we can probably trust Jackson, though he's played a max of 36.8% of snaps so far (which came last week) and has not yet handled more than 11 opportunities. Jackson does face the league's 31st-ranked adjusted rush defense, which is also 28th in target success rate allowed, but if he starts, he's viewable as an RB2 at worst.
- Lamar Miller at NYJ: Miller has been a solid play all year, finishing as at least the RB38 each week and playing at least 53.5% of snaps. The Jets are 26th in adjusted rush defense, and the Texans are 6.5-point road favorites, putting Miller in the RB2 crop again this week.
- Sony Michel at PIT: Michel has kept his role the same of late (42.9%, 40.5%, 41.5% of snaps over the past three games) with 21, 17, and 20 carries in those. He's a thin, 2-point favorite over the Steelers on the road, which is a top-12 rush defense by Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry and rushing success rate allowed to running backs. With just 7.5 and 5.7 fantasy points in his past two games, he's an option with volume but not guaranteed results.
- Derrick Henry at NYG: Henry's huge island game last week came on just 24 snaps (40.0%). He had played 49.1% and 41.2% the two prior weeks. He could certainly have earned a bigger workload, but we don't know that for sure yet. Either way, he's had a somewhat fine floor of late, with at least 10.2 fantasy points in five of his past seven (but fewer than 4.6 in the other two).
- Doug Martin at CIN: Martin has had at least 6.3 fantasy points in his past seven while averaging 9.7 in those. That's RB32-or-better status for a back playing about half the snaps (45.7% on average in those). The Bengals rank 29th in adjusted rush defense and are 31st in rushing success rate allowed to backs.
- Mark Ingram at CAR: Ingram has averaged a 45.8% snap rate and has played at least 40.4% of snaps in all of his games but has just four RB2 games. A 6.5-point road favorite, Ingram is in the flex conversation with a limited-but-secure role in a stellar offense.
- Jordan Howard vs. GB: Howard has been the RB26 or worse in five straight, maxing out at 10.8 fantasy points in those, and has had zero targets in four of those five. He's a 5.5-point home favorite against the league's 27th-ranked adjusted rush defense, so it could be a Jordan Howard game, but that means a maximum of 16.7 fantasy points we're looking at.
- Elijah McGuire vs. HOU: He played 74.1% of snaps last week, a heavy workload despite playing the league's third-best adjusted rush defense. The implied total is just 17.75 points, so expectations are to be held in check, but the volume alone puts him in the flex conversation.
Bench If Possible
- Matt Breida and Jeff Wilson vs. SEA: With Breida back in the fold, this becomes a fantasy nightmare. The Niners are 3.5-point underdogs. Without Breida, Wilson had a receiving role with the Niners (9 and 2 targets in his heavy snap games while running 63.5% and 69.4% of routes in those two) and has played 72.4% and 86.1% of snaps the past two games. Breida had been playing around 50% of the snaps at most when healthy (for the most part). The most likely scenario is close to a 50/50 split, causing both to be bench-first options if you can swing it. If you have both, Breida should be the favorite.
- James White at PIT: White played a season-low 40.2% snap rate last week and has been getting phased out of the offense. White has 5.1, 8.3, 15.3, and 3.8 fantasy points in his past four games (with just 9, 14, 15, and 8 opportunities), and the Steelers are first in target success rate allowed to backs on the year.
- Marlon Mack vs. DAL: A three-point home favorite over the Cowboys' second-ranked adjusted rush defense, Mack has been reduced to a run-only back, with just eight targets over his past five games. He's also had just two red zone touches in the past three games and is a viable flex play if desperate but not a confident start.
- Josh Adams at LAR: Adams' snap rate has been trending down (61.5%, 54.7%, 40.4%), and his receiving role evaporated last week with Darren Sproles playing 42.3% of snaps.
- Dion Lewis at NYG: Lewis has seen his snap rate dip a bit lately (67.2% on average through Week 10 but 58.3% the past three) and runs the risk of seeing it fall even more with Henry's big game in Week 14. Lewis hasn't surpassed 7.8 fantasy points in five straight.
- Adrian Peterson at JAC: Peterson has played 42.9%, 35.6%, and 30.6% of snaps the past three games, and his team has a 14.25-point implied total. In games where he hasn't scored (a solid bet this week), he's averaged just 6.6 fantasy points. Josh Johnson could open up some rushing lanes, but Peterson is a priority bench no matter how hard you squint.
- Tevin Coleman vs. ARI: Coleman's snaps finally fell shy of 50.0% this past week (46.5%), and he's seen an average of just 11.8 opportunities over his past five games (an average of 6.8 fantasy points on those). He's an 8.5-point favorite over the Cardinals, but he's losing too much work to Ito Smith to consider either.
- Frank Gore at MIN: Gore has played at least half of the snaps in two of his past three games but has maxed out at 12.4 fantasy points this year; he's only a desperation play against the league's fifth-ranked adjusted rush defense.
- Kenyan Drake at MIN: Drake's game-winning lateral play masked the fact that he played just 50.0% of snaps and had 7 opportunities, a workload that needs to be out of our lineups in Week 15.
- Theo Riddick at BUF: Riddick has been the prototypical floor play this year, with at least 5.5 fantasy points in six post-bye games but no more than 9.5 in any game.
- Gus Edwards vs. TB: Edwards had 16 of 26 carries last week but has seen his snap rate fall each week since his break out ( 62.0%, 61.4%, 50.6%, 43.7%). With Kenneth Dixon and Ty Montgomery chipping away at his workload, Edwards is a sit-first option, and the whole backfield is too muddied to trust anyone.
Start With Confidence
- Julio Jones vs. ARI: Jones bounced back from a Week 13 dud to notch 2 touchdowns and 106 yards on 11 targets. He does lock up with Patrick Peterson this week, but he's been the RB10 or better in five of six post-bye games while averaging 10.5 targets in that split. Jones has 57.1% of the Falcons' deep targets, too.
- Michael Thomas at CAR: Thomas has a 30.6% target share in eight games since his bye (8.3 per game) and still 27.5% (7.5 per game) over his past four, when he finished as the WR13, WR55, WR56, and WR14. Few receivers have a workload as elite as his, and the Panthers are just 22nd in fantasy points per target allowed to wideouts.
- Adam Thielen vs. MIA: Thielen will probably be a focal point this week after a slow start but hot finish in Week 14, but he has been having floor games of late (12.1, 22.5, 11.3, 10.3 fantasy points in four post-bye games. He's still been the WR29 or better in every game, and Miami just gave up 86 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets to Julian Edelman.
- Keenan Allen at KC: Allen has been on fire lately, averaging 11.0 targets, 94.7 yards, and 0.83 touchdowns in six post-bye games while accounting for 41.3% of the air yards in that span. The Chiefs are very tough on wideouts (2nd in fantasy points per target) but are 20th in fantasy points per target allowed to the slot.
- Davante Adams at CHI: One of the steadiest producers of the year, Adams has at least 7 targets and 12.1 fantasy points in every game. He faces the league's 12th-ranked receiver defense by target success rate, but he has 10.5 targets per game, 26 red zone targets, and elite yards-per-route efficiency to overcome it.
- DeAndre Hopkins at NYJ: Hopkins hasn't had a ceiling game since the Week 10 bye (12.1, 9.9, 12.6, 11.6 fantasy points) and runs into a stout perimeter defense this week, as the Jets are seventh in target success rate allowed to wideouts. Still, he has had a 30.9% target share (8.5 targets per game) and has yet to finish with fewer than 9.9 fantasy points in any game.
- T.Y. Hilton vs. DAL: Hilton played through a shoulder injury to net 199 yards last week, giving him at least 125 yards in three of his past four and at least 77 yards in all five post-bye games. The Cowboys rank 20th in target success rate allowed to wideouts and are 20th in adjusted yards per attempt allowed on deep throws. Hilton has accounted for 45.5% of the Colts' deep throws.
- Antonio Brown vs. NE: Brown's market share is down to 25.0% over the past five games (10.2 targets per game), but he still has 41.6% of the deep targets in that span. Brown has averaged 17.9 fantasy points entering last week's 6.0-point outing but could draw shadow coverage from Stephon Gilmore.
- Tyreek Hill vs. LAC: The Chargers are just 26th in deep ball defense by adjusted yards per attempt and 21st in target success rate allowed overall. In Week 1, Hill generated 169 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 targets against the Chargers.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. NE: JuJu has been the WR2 in two of the past three weeks and has produced at leas 78 receiving yards in five of his past six games. The Patriots are 23rd in slot points per target allowed, where Smith-Schuster still played 39.5% of his snaps last week even with Ryan Switzer playing 46.7% of snaps.
- Robert Woods vs. PHI: Woods has secured at least 9.6 fantasy points in every game and has 5, 3, and 3 deep targets in his past three games, high-leverage looks. The Eagles are 19th in deep ball defense and 25th in target success rate allowed on the full season.
- Amari Cooper at IND: Cooper has 8.8 targets and 106.8 yards per game with the Cowboys. That's boosted by two ceiling games the past two weeks (34.0 and 44.7 fantasy points), but he also played a season-high 90.9% snap rate last week and now faces the league's 23rd-ranked receiver defense by success rate allowed.
- Julian Edelman at PIT: The Steelers rank third-best in slot points per target, but Edelman has a 25.9% target share (8.9 per game) since his second game back and has been an WR2 in seven of nine games while seeing at least one red zone target in every outing.
Consider If Needed
- Stefon Diggs vs. MIA: Diggs gets a matchup boost with Xavien Howard's knee surgery, but his target share plummeted the past two weeks (15.3%, 5.5 per game) after being 26.9% (11.4 per game) prior. Back at home, Diggs is a WR2 option, but the volume questions push him out of confident WR1 status.
- Brandin Cooks vs. PHI: Cooks has been more miss than hit in two post-bye games, with 8.2 and 3.7 fantasy points on 13 total targets (4 deep and 1 red zone) and 84 yards. The matchup with Philly is stellar, as they're just 25th in target success rate and 19th in deep-ball defense by adjusted yards per attempt, but Cooks does have lower volume than we need to consider him a full-on trust.
- D.J. Moore vs. NO: Moore has played at least 90.5% of snaps the past three games and has averaged 85.7% since stepping up in Week 8. Moore has been just a WR2/3 the past three games (WR26, WR38, WR36) while scoring 13.8, 8.5, and 9.2 fantasy points, but the Saints are 29th in target success rate allowed to wideouts, and the huge over/under puts Moore firmly in play as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3 this week.
- Josh Gordon at PIT: Gordon has some volume concerns to deal with (5, 3, and 8 targets in his past three, a 16.3% target share in that span), but the matchup with Pittsburgh, where his Patriots have a 26.75-point implied total, keeps him on the list this week. Gordon has been a top-40 performer in five straight, with at least 9.5 fantasy points in all of those.
- Jarvis Landry at DEN: Landry was boosted by rushing last week (he had just four targets), but the Broncos are thinned out at cornerback now without Chris Harris and Isaac Yiadom, and Landry does have 146 and 118 air yards the past two weeks, after 72, 62, and 42 the three games prior. It's worth noting that his red zone role has diminished (one red zone target since Week 9), but he's certainly in the WR3 conversation at worst this week.
- Tyler Boyd vs. OAK: Boyd has been the WR19 and WR52 in Driskel's two starts while seeing 8 and 6 targets in those (for 95 and 104 air yards). Boyd still has five deep targets in that span, and he now faces the league's 25th-ranked slot defense by fantasy points per target.
- Mike Evans at BAL: Evans had a 23.7-yard average depth of target last week (142 air yards on 6 targets) but owns just a 17.9% target share over the past two games. He's getting deep targets, yet the Ravens are eighth-best against deep attempts. He's not a must-sit (nobody ever is), yet expectations need to be limited for Evans, who has been outside the top 24 in four of his past six games.
- Kenny Golladay at BUF: Golladay should see plenty of Tre'Davious White this week, not a promising matchup for him. His elite workload without Golden Tate and Marvin Jones has been lessened of late, and his market share is just 22.5% the past three games (6.7 targets per game), but he still owns 44.1% of the air yards. The 18-point implied team total makes a touchdown unlikely, as well, but through it all, Golladay is still a top-30 bet this week from a predictability standpoint.
- Corey Davis at NYG: Davis has just a 17.5% target share the past two weeks with Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe healthy, working out to 5.0 targets per game in that split (7 and 3) in a low-volume passing offense. Davis actually has averaged just 4.5 targets per game over his past four. His ceiling keeps him in play in a game where the Titans may not run away with it, as a 2.5-point underdog.
- Tyler Lockett at SF: Lockett has maxed out at 7 targets in a game but has averaged 12.4 fantasy points per game regardless. He's averaged just 43.8 air yards per game since Week 6 but does have 9 deep targets since Week 10. The 49ers are 31st in deep ball defense, as measured by adjusted yards per attempt. He's defying logic with his consistency and low volume, but the 49ers aren't a matchup to avoid.
- Larry Fitzgerald at ATL: He's been the WR33, WR16, WR34, WR58, and WR45 since the bye, a span during which he has a 22.8% target share (6.2 per game). The Falcons are 28th in slot points per target allowed, keeping Fitzgerald a low-end WR3 or flex this week, which is better than we can say for a lot of options for one reason or another.
- Curtis Samuel vs. NO: Samuel has been the WR33 or better in five of his past six and has seen 11 and 8 targets over his past two games. He also has played at least 82.9% of snaps in three straight and has accounted for 160 and 127 air yards over his past two games. That consistent usage puts him in play against the league's 29th-ranked wide receiver defense.
- Dante Pettis vs. SEA: Pettis has been the WR19, WR2, and WR22 the past three games, while playing 90.6%, 93.4%, and 84.7% of snaps and running virtually every route. The Seahawks are extremely tough in the slot but are torchable outside, and Pettis has a solid claim to be startworthy, even if you don't need to get there in a 12-teamer.
Bench If Possible
- Chris Godwin at BAL: He had one catchable target last week (but 10 total, 173 air yards, 3 deep targets, and 2 end zone targets). Godwin also has a 25.0% target share in two weeks without DeSean Jackson, but the Ravens have let just 10 wideouts get to even double-digit fantasy points this year.
- Allen Robinson vs. GB: Robinson led the Bears in every category in Trubisky's return last week but still has a lot of competition for usage with a possibly limited quarterback. Either way, he's been a WR2 in just two games and is best suited on the bench in a crucial week if you can manage it.
- Alshon Jeffery at LAR: Jeffery has averaged 96.3% of the snaps and 99.1% of the routes since the bye but now has Nick Foles under center. Foles struggled out of the gate, and Aqib Talib is back to his full workload.
- Golden Tate at LAR: Tate's routes and snaps are trending downward, and he now swaps quarterbacks with his new team. The Rams are 27th in slot points per target allowed, but the entire offense gets bumped out of reliability in Week 15.
- Courtland Sutton vs. CLE: Sutton's snap rate has actually been below 75.0% the past three games, and he's averaged just 5.7 targets in those three. He did have a quad injury last week, but the bigger trend is concerning enough to push him down to priority bench status, as he's been the WR83, WR10, and WR83 in his past three.
- John Brown vs. TB: Brown owns a 19.6% target share (4.5 per game) with Jackson under center. The matchup with the Bucs is elite (32nd in target success rate allowed to wideouts), but the lack of volume keeps Brown a priority bench.
- DaeSean Hamilton vs. CLE: Hamilton's routes shot up to 97.9% last week, resulting in 9 targets, 41 yards, and a touchdown. Problematically, Tim Patrick had 10 targets of his own, and Sutton was limited, so we can't trust the volume entirely, and Case Keenum hasn't generated enough yardage to carry three receivers to relevancy.
- Robby Anderson vs. HOU: There's a case to be made for Anderson, who owns 28.8% of the Jets' deep targets, against beatable corners on the outside (Houston is 21st in adjusted yards per attempt allowed on deep throws), but he's only produced two WR2 weeks all season, and his offense is expected to be held well under 20 points (17.75 implied team total).
- Kenny Stills at MIN: Stills hasn't had many deep targets of late (four over his past three games) but has played at least 83.3% of snaps in three consecutive games (for target totals of 4, 6, and 9). The Vikings have allowed just 10 receivers to post double-digit fantasy points, however, something Stills has done just three times (albeit in two straight).
- Randall Cobb at CHI: Cobb has just a 13.9% target share in two games back (5 and 6 targets), and the Bears are top-12 in target success rate and fantasy points allowed to wideouts.
- Sterling Shepard vs. TEN: Shepard has averaged just 37.2 air yards in five post-bye games and is entirely reliant on run-after-catch production. Even without Beckham last week, he generated just 17 yards on his 6 targets.
- Mohamed Sanu vs. ARI: Sanu is the path of less resistance in the slot, as the Cards are 19th in fantasy points per slot receivers but 8th overall to wideouts. He has 74 air yards exactly in three of his past four, as well as six deep targets in that span, but the floor is just too low, and the ceiling is capped.
- Calvin Ridley vs. ARI: Ridley has just two red zone targets since Week 4 (both coming in Week 12), and in games where he hasn't scored, he's averaged just 4.3 fantasy points.
- Dede Westbrook vs. WSH: With a tiny 36-point total and as a 7-point favorite, Westbrook likely won't see enough passing volume to get him to fantasy relevancy, though he did account for 15 of Cody Kessler's targets (a 25.0% share).
Start With Confidence
- Travis Kelce vs. LAC: Kelce has struggled against the Chargers overall, including a 6-target, 6-yard Week 1, but we can't have second thoughts about a tight end with a 26.7% target share (9.3 per game) in the league's best passing offense.
- Zach Ertz at LAR: Ertz gets a downgrade with Nick Foles under center, but saw 10 and 13 targets from Foles to start the season. He's the best bet for volume on an Eagles team that's all but guaranteed to trail.
- George Kittle vs. SEA: Kittle has been a top-12 producer in all but four games this season and has a 30.3% target share in Nick Mullens' starts (8.8 per game). Seattle is just middle-of-the-pack against tight ends, as well.
- Eric Ebron vs. DAL: Ebron has 25.6% of the Colts' targets in two games without Jack Doyle, and his snaps have been elevated of late (71.0%, 76.3%, and 67.2%). His situation is one of the best in football among tight ends, and the Cowboys are 24th in target success rate allowed to tight ends.
- Rob Gronkowski at PIT: Gronkowski's routes are trending back up (85.5%, on average, over his past three, after sitting at 76.4% from Weeks 4 through 8), and the Steelers are most vulnerable against tight ends (25th in target success rate allowed to tight ends but top-13 against backs and receivers).
Consider If Needed
- Jared Cook at CIN: Cook has double-digit fantasy points in four straight games and owns seven deep targets in that split. Additionally, his snap rate has climbed to 85.1% last week, and he has a 23.8% target share over the team's past five games.
- Cameron Brate at BAL: The Ravens are most beatable via tight ends (22nd in target success rate), which helps us cling to the low volume for Brate (4.7 targets per game since the O.J. Howard injury).
- That's it. We need to get serious about tight ends.
Bench If Possible
- Ian Thomas vs. NO: Thomas doesn't have the name value of the guys below him here, but he's near consideration, as he has played 75.7% and 82.4% of snaps the past two games (essentially entirely without Greg Olsen, who played 18.6% in Week 13). He also had 5 and 11 targets in those, an 18.3% target share. The Saints, though, are third in fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends and have limited pretty much every option all year.
- Jimmy Graham at CHI: The Bears are fourth against tight ends by success rate, yet Graham does have a 20.3% target share in two games with Randall Cobb back. He has no red zone targets since Week 9 and has more than 5.0 fantasy points in two of seven post-bye games.
- Evan Engram vs. TEN: No team gives up fewer fantasy points per target to tight ends than the Titans, and Engram still played just 51.6% of snaps last week without Beckham (albeit in a blowout). He's been the TE9 at best since returning from injury the first time around.
- Vance McDonald vs. NE: We can bump up Vance in a likely shootout, though he has had just 5.0 targets over his past six games (12.0%). He does have a red zone target in four of his past five, but we're just hoping he cashes in on two-thirds of Pittsburgh's snaps.
- David Njoku at DEN: Njoku's averaging just 4.0 targets since the offensive coordinator changeover (13.4%) with one red zone target in that span. You may have to start him, but he's a priority bench.
- Austin Hooper vs. ARI: Since Mohamed Sanu's return to health in Week 10, Hooper is actually second on the Falcons in target share (17.4%; 7.0 per game), and the Cardinals are just 20th in target success rate allowed to tight ends. His floor is low (fewer than 6.0 fantasy points in four of his six post-bye games), but the workload and matchup are there if you're desperate.
- Kyle Rudolph vs. MIA: Rudolph's heavy snaps and routes have been worthless, as he has scored more than 6.0 fantasy points twice in his past 10 games. Miami gets thrashed by tight ends (32nd in target success rate and 31st in fantasy points per target), which I guess is something, as Rudy has 7, 3, and 5 targets in his past five.
- C.J. Uzomah vs. OAK: Uzomah has been Driskel's safety blanket but has yet to get to 9.0 fantasy points in any game this season. The Raiders, though, are easily 32nd in fantasy points per target allowed to the position (2.16; no other team allows more than 1.87), if you need to grit your teeth and plug him in.
- Trey Burton vs. GB: Burton has been the TE31 or worse in four straight, producing fewer than 3.5 fantasy points in all of those. That's not only bad, but it's also a team-killer. His routes are thinning out, and he's just unplayable if you're this deep into the playoffs.