Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 3

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 Josh Allen (vs. Cincinnati): Josh Allen has been getting a lot of love lately -- including in this space last week -- but he's still rostered in only around 60% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.

He's a bonafide QB1 even in shallow leagues this week, with his rushing upside giving him a floor your typical quarterback simply doesn't have. He's logged 10 and 7 carries over the first two games -- including red zone touches -- punching in a rushing score twice. And while the yardage hasn't been amazing (38 and 21 yards), keep in mind that he averaged over 50 rushing yards per game under similar volume last season (7.4 carries per game), so don't rule out the occasional spike week on the ground.

Toss in over 250 passing yards in back-to-back weeks, and it's easy to see Allen's clear path to fantasy points. Interceptions figure to be a part of the equation -- his two passing scores have come with a pair of picks -- but you'll gladly take that to get his rushing upside. Allen now faces a Bengals team that just got roasted by Jimmy Garoppolo and allowed multiple scores to Russell Wilson.

Start Jameis Winston (vs. New York Giants): It's been a frustrating couple weeks if you've been relying on Jameis Winston, who's compiled a combined 402 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions so far. That's not what fantasy drafters had in mind for this Bruce Arians-led offense entering the season, and there's no question that Winston has been bad, accounting for -0.27 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, one of the worst marks in the league. That's right, more often than not, Winston has actually been hurting his team when he drops back to pass.

Despite all that, we should give Winston one more chance to redeem himself. That's because he's at home against the Giants, a team that ranks second-to-last in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play through two games, and Tampa Bay checks in with a 27.25 implied total, the fourth-highest mark of the week. If Winston can't succeed here, then it's time to really get worried.

Sit Kirk Cousins (vs. Oakland): On paper, Kirk Cousins has the type of matchup that ought to lead to a big fantasy day. The Vikings have a robust 26.50 implied total as 9.5-point home favorites over the Raiders, who just got shredded by Patrick Mahomes. Oakland ranks 17th against the pass by numberFire's metrics and were dead last in 2018.

However, even in this spot, it's hard to see Cousins having much upside here. It's no secret Minnesota prefers to run the ball when they have the lead, and that's exactly what happened in Week 1's win over the Falcons, when Cousins attempted all of 10 passes the entire game.

Cousins' sorry Week 2 performance probably didn't have his coaches questioning that run-heavy strategy, either. After falling behind the Packers, Cousins was forced to air it out 32 times but managed to complete only 43.8% of his passes for a measly 230 yards and a score. He was picked off twice, including this questionable throw in the end zone.

Even with that negative game script last week, the Vikings still rank 32nd in passing play percentage to start the season. Minnesota could get out to a big lead this time, so expect them to ride Dalvin Cook as much as they can, leaving Cousins with scraps for fantasy points.

Another quarterback to consider sitting is Andy Dalton, in spite of his hot start to 2019. He draws a tough matchup on the road against Buffalo, numberFire's ninth-ranked pass defense this year and the fourth-best in 2018.

Other quarterbacks to start: Kyler Murray (vs. Carolina), Philip Rivers (vs. Houston), Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. Pittsburgh)

Running Back

Start David Montgomery (vs. Washington): Following a worrisome Week 1 in which David Montgomery saw only 7 touches, he jumped up to 19 last week against Denver, tallying 18 carries and catching 1-of-3 targets.

It's worth noting he only saw 45.0% of the snaps alongside Tarik Cohen (36.7%) and Mike Davis (25.0%), so it's hardly a perfect scenario, but at least it looks like Montgomery should be the main guy in positive game scripts. So far, Montgomery has garnered 24 of the 36 carries between the three running backs and is the only one to get any red zone carries (5).

A positive game script is exactly what we should see this week, with Chicago traveling to Washington as 4.0-point road favorites. Washington's rush defense hasn't been anything to fear so far (16th), and a repeat of last week's workload could be in the cards for Montgomery.

Start Peyton Barber (vs. New York Giants): Peyton Barber heads another backfield that isn't terribly easy to trust, but after racking up 23 carries and a reception in Week 2's win over the Carolina Panthers, we have another situation with a running back who should see high workloads when his team has the lead. Barber logged 66.7% of the snaps in Week 2, out-snapping both Ronald Jones (11.7%) and Dare Ogunbowale (23.3%), and he also received all three of Tampa Bay's rushes in the red zone. So much for Jones seeing an increased workload as was reported before Thursday's game.

While there's still some risk that the Bucs switch around things on us again (Barber played just 36.2% of the snaps in Week 1), this week's game script against the Giants should more closely align with how Tampa's Week 2 game unfolded, so we ought to get another heavy dosage of Barber. The Bucs are favored by 6.5 points at home.

Sit Devonta Freeman (at Indianapolis): With the Colts ranking 27th against the run by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics in a game that should be close (the Falcons are favored by a point), this is theoretically a get-right spot for Devonta Freeman.

But outside of deep formats where you simply may not have a viable alternative, it's really difficult to trust Freeman -- no matter how enticing the matchup -- following his atrocious start to the season. In games against the Vikings and Eagles, Freeman has put up -0.52 Rushing NEP per carry with a 15.8% Rushing Success Rate, both marks that are among the league's worst.

Now, you might look at those two defenses, both top-five against the run by numberFire's ranks, and give Freeman a pass -- except that his teammate, Ito Smith, has put up 0.27 Rushing NEP per carry with a 50.0% Rushing Success Rate. It wouldn't be surprising to see Freeman struggle yet again and perhaps see the touches and snaps begin to tip in Smith's favor.

Other running backs to start: Sony Michel (vs. New York Jets), Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert (vs. Pittsburgh), Frank Gore (vs. Cincinnati)

Wide Receiver

Start Marquise Brown (at Kansas City): Okay, it might seem like a no-brainer to list Marquise Brown here after his hot start, but a lot of weekly rankings out there still have Brown ranked modestly despite another potential spike week upcoming against the Chiefs.

Not only has Brown racked up a bunch of fantasy points, but he's done so with a massive 29% target share and 38% air yards share, per He piled up 14 targets in Week 2 and now gets to face a 22nd-ranked Kansas City pass defense in a potential shootout with a week-high 52.0-point over/under. The volume backs up the production, and you don't want to be on the outside looking in when he posts another big game

Start Randall Cobb (vs. Miami): If you need someone in deeper formats, Randall Cobb is owned in fewer than 30% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues and could work in a pinch with Michael Gallup out for multiple weeks. Gallup leads the Cowboys with a 24% target share, so his absence gives a bump to all other Cowboy pass-catchers. That naturally includes Amari Cooper (23%), but Cobb has the third-highest share at 18%.

The matchup doesn't get much better than at home against the lowly Dolphins, numberFire's worst pass defense through two weeks. Unsurprisingly, Dallas has a whopping 34.50 implied total and is favored by 21.5 points. There's some risk that the Cowboys take it easy on the passing game in the second half if they jump out to a big lead, but they're obviously going to need to score a bunch of points to get there, leaving plenty of room for Cobb to post a big score. After all, Miami gave up 59 points to the Ravens in Week 1, followed by 43 last week against the Patriots.

Sit John Ross (at Buffalo): Like Marquise Brown, John Ross is off to quite the hot start of his own and certainly isn't a must-sit by any means. But as was mentioned earlier regarding Andy Dalton, Ross gets a tough matchup against Buffalo, so expectations should be tempered in Week 3. The Bengals come in with a modest 19.00 implied total.

And while Ross has scooped up 40% of Cincy's air yards, his 22% target share isn't nearly on the same level as Brown's through two weeks, suggesting that Ross might be more boom or bust in tougher spots. Furthermore, as our Brandon Gdula points out in this week's game notes, Buffalo is tough as nails against deep passes, which is particularly bad news for Ross, who leads the Bengals in average depth of target.

Recent "sit" entry Jarvis Landry (vs. Los Angeles Rams) also remains a tough sell after notching a 19% target share so far, and Robby Anderson gets a brutal matchup at New England. Emmanuel Sanders could also be in for a tough day against Green Bay's top-three pass defense.

Other wide receivers to start: John Brown (vs. Cincinnati), Larry Fitzgerald (vs. Carolina), Nelson Agholor (vs. Detroit), Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman (vs. Baltimore)

Tight End

Start O.J. Howard (vs. New York Giants): This one could come back to haunt me, but if ever there was a matchup for O.J. Howard to break out of his recent skid, it would be against this poor Giants pass defense.

Now, if you managed to grab or draft a guy like Mark Andrews or Darren Waller, then by all means sit Howard on the bench. But for most teams with Howard, there's a good chance you're looking at someone like Jason Witten or Vernon Davis (if Jordan Reed remains out) on the waiver wire, and while those two are fine in deep leagues, you're still rolling with Howard in those situations.

There's no question that Howard's zero targets last week are worrisome, but it's hard to see the Bucs completely ignoring their tight end in the passing game moving forward, especially when he was on the field for 91.7% of the snaps against Carolina. Like with Winston, if Howard fails to produce this week -- then we go into full panic mode.

Sit Tyler Eifert (at Buffalo): Even without factoring in the lackluster matchup against Buffalo, Tyler Eifert simply isn't seeing enough usage to keep him interesting in fantasy. Despite Dalton throwing 51 and 42 times over the first two games, Eifert has seen all of 11 targets (12%) for a mere 8 receptions and 36 yards. Really, he needs a score a touchdown to have any value, and while he did get one last week, that's his only red zone target this season.

Other tight ends to start: Mark Andrews (at Kansas City), Darren Waller (at Minnesota), Greg Olsen (at Arizona), Jason Witten (vs. Miami)