Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 4
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 Kyler Murray (vs. Seattle): Kyler Murray has hardly been perfect from a real-life perspective, and that's been reflected in his poor Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 passes this season, Murray is one of just three to average negative NEP per drop back (-0.03) along with Jameis Winston (-0.07) and Baker Mayfield (-0.09).
That's hardly encouraging, but where Murray still has fantasy value is his straight-up volume. Sure, we don't typically think of quarterbacks when it comes to volume as we do with running backs and wideouts, but at the extreme levels, racking up pass attempts will often lead to more fantasy points. In Murray's case, Arizona's fast-paced offense has led to at least 40 pass attempts in each of the first three weeks, and no other quarterback has attempted more passes in 2019.
The other encouraging trend is that Murray finally busted out his wheels in Week 3. Despite an all-around ugly passing day against the Panthers -- compiling a mere 173 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 picks on 43 attempts (4.0 yards per attempt) -- Murray salvaged his fantasy day by rushing 8 times for 69 yards. Should he keep those rushes in his arsenal moving forward, Murray will see the added floor we've seen from someone like Josh Allen, helping him stay afloat even when he doesn't take advantage of his high passing volume.
The Cardinals are home underdogs to the Seahawks, which isn't particularly ideal, but it's worth noting that Seattle's typically stout pass defense has been more middle of the road thus far, ranking just 17th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
Despite being owned in 94% of CBS fantasy leagues, Murray is only getting the start on 35% of those teams. Between Murray's passing volume, rushing ability, and a better matchup than many may think, he deserves to be more starting lineups in Week 4.
Start Daniel Jones (vs. Washington): Daniel Jones was a popular waiver wire pickup following his pleasantly surprising NFL debut against Tampa Bay, tossing 336 yards and a pair scores while also adding 4 carries for 28 yards and 2 more touchdowns. He earned a promising 0.17 Passing NEP per drop back, putting him squarely between what Philip Rivers (0.20) and Carson Wentz (0.15) have done this year and well above 2018's league average (0.11).
And while Jones only carried the ball four times, his two rushing scores came on red zone touches, and he did his share of running in college. The Giants talked up his ground game over the summer, and particularly with Saquon Barkley sidelined, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jones get more chances to utilize his legs.
Although it might seem bit point chasey to immediately thrust Jones into your starting lineup, it just so happens he draws a fantastic follow-up matchup this week against Washington. This pass defense ranks 29th by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics and has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The Giants are 2.5-point home favorites, and it also doesn't hurt that their defense is pretty shoddy, too, giving this game a 49.0 total with shootout potential.
Sit Baker Mayfield (at Baltimore): As noted above, Mayfield has really struggled this season, with his Passing NEP per drop back ranking last among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. He's only completed 56.9% of his passes and has already been sacked 11 times (fourth-most) with both questionable play-calling and offensive line play contributing to his underwhelming start.
As a result, Cleveland is just numberFire's 29th-ranked passing offense and 30th-ranked offense overall. Baltimore's defense hasn't been as scary as years past -- they rank just 19th against the pass -- but with their offense humming along behind Lamar Jackson, they're favored by a touchdown at home. The Browns are showing a middling 19.00 implied total, and this hardly looks like the spot for them to get back on track.
Start Devonta Freeman (vs. Tennessee): Devonta Freeman was a "sit" candidate in Week 3, but he finds himself on the other side of the equation this time around, with Ito Smith potentially sidelined in the concussion protocol this week.
As noted last time, Freeman hasn't exactly been effective with his touches, posting an ugly -0.25 Rushing NEP per carry and 28.6% Rushing Success Rate. For context, the league averages in those stats last year were 0.00 and 41.2%, respectively.
But we know volume trumps all for running backs, and with Smith going down after just 3 snaps against the Indianapolis, Freeman would go on to play 90.0% of the snaps after rates of just 62.1% and 48.6% the prior two weeks. That would help him to a season-high 16 carries for 88 yards while also grabbing 3-of-4 targets for another 7 yards. And while he failed to score, Freeman also received all three of the Falcons' red zone carries.
Ultimately, last week's stat line wasn't anything amazing, and we're not expecting vintage Devonta Freeman to walk through that door any time soon, but if Smith remains out (he practiced in a non-contact jersey on Thursday), Freeman checks all the right boxes as a volume-based play. He's a 4.0-point home favorite against the Titans, and while backup running backs Brian Hill and/or Qadree Ollison might enter the mix, neither one has played a snap yet this season, leaving Freeman as the clear lead back.
Start Wayne Gallman (vs. Washington): Along with Daniel Jones, teammate Wayne Gallman was another hot waiver wire pickup this week, and he too deserves immediate starting consideration.
Saquon Barkley's injury leaves the door open for a Gallman to take over as the lead back for the Giants, as he would go on to play 62.9% of the snaps in Week 3. It remains to be seen how much they put on Gallman's plate moving forward, but double-digit carries seem like all but a certainty in what should be a positive game script for the favored Giants. Gallman also saw 48 targets over 13 games as a rookie in 2017 (before Barkley was drafted), so he should remain involved in the passing game even if the Giants fall behind.
Best of all, Washington's defense hasn't performed well against the run, ranking 26th by numberFire's metrics.
Sit Sony Michel (at Buffalo): Despite the Patriots putting up 30 or more points in three straight blowouts, Sony Michel has surprisingly underwhelmed, failing to score double-digit fantasy points in two of three weeks.
But last week's usage was especially concerning, even with Michel punching in a score to keep his day from being a total bust. The Pats led comfortably over the Jets for most of the afternoon, and James White (personal) was away from the team, yet Michel saw season-lows in carries (9) and snap rate (22.4%), only managing 11 rushing yards. Instead, Rex Burkhead was the beneficiary of White's absence, registering 73.7% of the snaps while logging 11 rushes and 6 receptions (7 targets). He was much more effective, compiling 69 total yards and a pair of scores.
This Patriots backfield has been a headache all too many times before, so there's no telling if Bill Belichick switches things up again this week when White is back, but there's little question that Burkhead has been the better rusher than Michel through three games. Michel has a paltry -0.28 Rushing NEP per carry and 28.9% Rushing Success Rate, while Burkhead has marks of 0.09 and 45.8%.
Michel still leads the team in red zone carries, so he theoretically remains the best bet to score, but both his lack of effectiveness and suddenly shaky usage makes him tough to trust against the Bills. He only gets back on the radar if Burkhead's foot injury ends up being more serious than expected.
Start Terry McLaurin (at New York Giants): We can also look to the Washington side of the Giants' game, as New York's pass defense has been one of the worst in the league, ranking 31st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and dead last in Success Rate allowed to opposing wide receivers. With numbers like that, it's no surprise the Giants have allowed the most fantasy points to wideouts thus far.
This sets up for a big potential performance from Terry McLaurin, who's emerged as Washington's top wide receiver, leading all their pass-catchers with a 46% air yards share while seeing target totals of 7, 9, and 8 through three weeks.
Start Christian Kirk (vs. Seattle): Larry Fitzgerald figures to already be in most lineups this week, but Christian Kirk deserves to be as well, as both players rank top-10 overall in targets (31 and 32, respectively). Both players have target shares hovering around 24%, which doesn't quite hang with the league's elite, but in this speedy offense, both are threats for double-digit targets on any given day.
Fitzgerald has the clear edge in red zone usage so far, but they're otherwise pretty much 1A and 1B options for Kyler Murray, and the plethora of targets give them especially high floors in PPR leagues. Kirk is owned in 91% of CBS leagues but deserves more love than the 46% of leagues he's getting the start in.
Sit Stefon Diggs (at Chicago): The run-heavy approach of the Vikings has made things especially hard on Stefon Diggs' fantasy prospects, seeing just 12 targets total so far -- Kirk saw 12 targets in last week alone. Minnesota ranks 32nd in passing play percentage and is the only team that throws under 40% of the time.
Normally, we're more concerned about game scripts when it comes to running backs, but in the case of the Vikings, when they take the lead, they're more than happy to let Kirk Cousins just hand the ball off, leaving the pass-catchers with scraps. In Minnesota's two victories, Cousins has thrown the ball just 10 and 21 times.
The Vikings are 2.5-point underdogs on the road against Chicago, so theoretically that means Cousins could be forced to throw more -- he attempted 32 passes in their loss to Green Bay -- but this could very well remain close, and they ought to be able to stick to their run-heavy game plan. After all, particularly after seeing Chicago wreak havoc on Case Keenum in Week 3 -- the Bears rank seventh in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate -- Minnesota surely won't want to put the game in Cousins' hands if at all possible.
The 38.0 over/under is one of the lowest of the week and hardly screams "shootout."
Start Will Dissly (at Arizona): Beginning the season with a knee issue, Will Dissly has seen his targets rise in every game with improved health, going two, five, and seven targets through three games. He's not likely to pile up the yardage any time soon (13% air yards share), but he's converted all three of his red zone targets for scores, a promising sign he'll continue to be utilized in close by the Seahawks.
He has a golden opportunity to get his fourth score this week against the Cardinals. Arizona has already given up five touchdowns to tight ends, allowing far and away the most fantasy points to the position. That falls perfectly in line with numberFire's metrics, as the Cardinals also rank 29th against the position in terms of Success Rate.
And while we could maybe chalk that up to a one-game fluke, it's not like Cook was lighting it up the prior two weeks, nabbing a combined 4-of-10 targets for 62 yards and no touchdowns. For the season, he's now only seen 13% of the targets without a single look in the red zone.
The Cowboys' defense has been susceptible to tight ends -- 28th in Success Rate -- but Cook simply hasn't been involved enough in this offense to be anything more than a desperation play in deep formats.