Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 1

The start/sit question is one that many a fantasy football analyst dreads. And yet, it's often the most important one.

As fantasy football enthusiasts, we spend the offseason poring over stats, news, projections, rankings -- whatever we can get our hands on -- all in anticipation of dominating our leagues on draft night.

But while we might agonize over whether Player A will have a better season than Player B as the clock ticks down on our eighth pick, the truth is that once the dust settles and the games actually begin, a good chunk of our roster will be cycling in and out of our lineups all season. At the end of the day, it won't matter that you picked the right guy if you started him in all the wrong weeks.

Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another.

With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week and will hopefully be able to sway you in one direction or another. And away we go!


Start Jameis Winston (vs. San Francisco): With pass-happy Bruce Arians taking over in Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston has been one of the hottest names in fantasy, and if he's on your roster, chances are you're buying in. Well, there's little reason to keep this hype-train parked at the station in Week 1, as Winston draws a fantastic matchup at home against the 49ers.

With a lofty over/under that's already crept up to 50.5 points -- third-highest of the week -- this contest has shootout written all over it, with neither defense expected to put up much resistance to the pass. Both ranked bottom-five in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play in 2018. San Francisco was also tied with Oakland for the most passing touchdowns allowed to opposing quarterbacks (35). Winston already demonstrated plenty of fantasy upside last season and is an elite play in even the most shallow of formats.

Start Lamar Jackson (at Miami): From one breakout candidate to another, Lamar Jackson also draws a favorable spot against what is expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. FanDuel Sportsbook is pegging the Dolphins for just 4.5 wins, and while new head coach Brian Flores comes from a defensive background, he'll have a tough time turning around a defense that struggled against both the pass and the run, ranking dead last in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last year.

We all know that Jackson's fantasy appeal comes from his legs, and it just so happens Miami also allowed the third-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks in 2018. You've probably heard the term "cheat code" associated with Jackson ad nauseum at this point, and It remains to be seen exactly how much Jackson will throw versus run when the games count, but he couldn't ask for a much better matchup to kick things off.

Sit Matt Ryan (at Minnesota): Typically around the fifth quarterback off the board in drafts this season, Matt Ryan would seem like one of those guys you could just plug into your lineup and forget about. After all, he threw for the third-most passing yards in 2018, and on FanDuel Sportsbook, only Patrick Mahomes has better odds of leading the league in passing yards this year.

But a road date with the Vikings is hardly the way you want to start your season, as Minnesota was the second-best defense against the pass in 2018 by numberFire's metrics, and they only allowed 15 passing touchdowns to opposing signal-callers all season. Perhaps it's no surprise then that they also allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. It's hard to see Ryan having much of a ceiling in this one, and barring a deep format with little to no alternatives, you're better off looking elsewhere.

Sit Tom Brady (vs. Pittsburgh): With the Patriots checking in with a robust 27.50-point implied total against the Steelers, there's certainly nothing wrong with starting Tom Brady in deeper formats. That being said, he's curiously rostered in around 90% of both Yahoo and ESPN leagues when he shouldn't be sniffing the lineups of 10- and 12-team leagues.

Brady still had his share of big games last season, but New England transitioned to a much more run-heavy approach, ranking just 26th in passing play percentage. Bill Belichick will likely stick with this balanced approach and be more than happy to salt away the game with the runs if New England gets out to an early lead. If the Steelers make a game of this, maybe we still see some vintage Tom Terrific, but shallow leaguers should be able to find more upside -- and safety -- than a 42-year-old against a pass defense that ranked 13th by numberFire's marks last season.

Other quarterbacks to start: Matthew Stafford (at Arizona), Jimmy Garoppolo (at Tampa Bay), Nick Foles (vs. Kansas City), Josh Allen (at New York Jets)

Running Back

Start Damien Williams (at Jacksonville): There's no question Damien Williams' stock has taken a hit since the Chiefs signed LeSean McCoy, but even with McCoy and Darwin Thompson potentially stealing away work, do you really want to take the chance on missing out on an important piece of this high-flying offense? The Jaguars' defensive reputation precedes them, but the Chiefs are road favorites with a hefty 27.50 implied total, and we shouldn't doubt their ability to put up points in any matchup. Including the playoffs, Patrick Mahomes and friends scored at least 26 points in every game last season.

And while we're only talking about 50 rushes, consider that Williams posted an identical Rushing NEP per attempt as Kareem Hunt in 2018, in addition to a higher Rushing Success Rate. There's no telling how this backfield shakes out over the long haul, but until the time comes, lock in the presumed lead back until we have any reason to doubt him.

Start Phillip Lindsay (at Oakland): Phillip Lindsay is another back entering the season with an unclear workload split, as he's expected to be in a timeshare with Royce Freeman. Still, what is clear is his Week 1 matchup against the Raiders is a golden opportunity to get this campaign started on the right foot -- Oakland was numberFire's fourth-worst rushing defense in 2018. While Denver seems committed to an even split in the backfield, Lindsay completely outclassed Freeman in numberFire's metrics last year, so there's always the chance he pulls away again. The Broncos may be on the road, but they're actually favored by one point, suggesting the running game should remain busy in a close one.

Sit Kenyan Drake (vs. Baltimore) and Derrius Guice (at Philadelphia): Aaron Jones draws a brutal matchup against the Bears on Thursday night, but let's face it, he's your RB2 in most formats, so you're still rolling with the punches and hoping for the best from a talented runner who had the second-highest Rushing Success Rate among backs with at least 100 rushes last year.

On the other hand, Kenyan Drake and Derrius Guice don't have nearly as high expectations entering the season, likely sharing workloads on two of the least-talented teams in the league. Miami and Washington will almost certainly be playing catch-up this week, with both teams coming in as underdogs in their respective matchups, and they also have two of the lowest implied totals on the board. Drake's situation is especially dire, facing a tough Baltimore defense while also running behind what is presumed to be one of the league's worst offensive lines.

Sit Devin Singletary (at New York Jets): Devin Singletary's stock may be on the rise with McCoy out of town, but let's not forget that the ageless Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon are still around. This is still expected to be a full-blown committee -- at least to begin the season -- and Gore may in fact be the starter in Week 1. Furthermore, Buffalo has one of the week's lowest implied totals (18.75) as a road 'dog against the Jets. Better days should be ahead for Singletary, but for now, the preferred move should be to wait until he has a more expanded role.

Other running backs to start: Mark Ingram (at Miami), Miles Sanders (vs. Washington), Latavius Murray (vs. Houston), Matt Breida (at Tampa Bay)

Wide Receiver

Start Dede Westbrook (vs. Kansas City): Against a scary Kansas City offense, you know Nick Foles and the Jaguars will have to throw to keep pace, so why not start Foles' favorite pass-catcher? Westbrook received a lot of praise this offseason, and his connection with Foles was on full display in Week 3 of the preseason, with Foles peppering him with seven targets in just one quarter of action. Westbrook led the Jags with a 19.6% target share in 2018, and that number figures to only go up with Foles under center.

Start Will Fuller (at New Orleans): We love starting pass-catchers at the Superdome, and we're expecting quite the track meet between the Texans and Saints (52.5 over/under). Health is the only thing that ever slows down Will Fuller, and he's expected to be ready to go for Week 1 after recovering from last year's torn ACL. Over the seven games he played in last year, Fuller notched a 20.1% target market share and 29.6% air yards market share for Houston. Furthermore, DeAndre Hopkins is expected to be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore, potentially giving Fuller even more freedom this week.

Sit T.Y. Hilton (at Los Angeles Chargers): Already seeing a downgrade in going from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett, T.Y. Hilton also gets a difficult matchup against Chargers in Week 1. Los Angeles proved to be quite stingy against the pass last season -- ranking seventh in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play -- and Hilton could also get the shadow treatment from Casey Hayward. We know Hilton is always capable of breaking away on any given play, so he's by no means a must-sit, but those in shallow leagues may want to look elsewhere if possible.

Sit Robby Anderson (vs. Bills): It may be easy to forget that the Bills were actually quite strong against the pass last season, ranking fourth by numberFire's metrics while also allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts. We're not exactly expecting offensive fireworks in this matchup (40.5 over/under), and while Robby Anderson is evidently over his recent calf injury, we don't know whether it could still hamper him at all in Week 1. Anderson will surely have some big performances in store for us in 2019, but this weekend doesn't look likely to be one of them.

Other wide receivers to start: Tyler Boyd (at Seattle), Marvin Jones (at Arizona), Curtis Samuel (vs. Los Angeles Rams), Tyrell Williams (vs. Denver, Antonio Brown is expected to be suspended)

Tight End

Start Mark Andrews (at Miami): The Dolphins coughed up nine touchdowns to tight ends in 2018 -- tied for the third-most -- and the hope is that Mark Andrews will be one of Lamar Jackson's top targets this season. There's been a lot of buzz over Andrews all preseason, and while he was just fourth on the team in target share once Jackson took over in Week 11 last year, that should rise significantly on a revamped receiving corps with both John Brown and Michael Crabtree no longer around.

Sit Eric Ebron (at Los Angeles Chargers): Many were already skeptical of Eric Ebron repeating his heroics from last year, and that was before Andrew Luck's shocking retirement. Now with Jacoby Brissett at the helm, Jack Doyle healthy, and a mere 19.00 implied total against the Chargers in Week 1, Ebron is looking like an awfully shaky commodity to begin the year. The Chargers were also the toughest defense against tight ends in terms of Football Outsiders' DVOA last season, too.

Other tight ends to start: Delanie Walker (at Cleveland), Darren Waller (vs. Denver)