Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 6
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. Atlanta): Kyler Murray has been a regular entry in this column, but with just 63% of teams starting him in CBS leagues and under 50% in ESPN fantasy leagues, he still has too many doubters. Murray is coming off a QB5 finish in Week 5 and is one of just three quarterbacks who's produced at least 16 fantasy points in all five weeks. He should keep that streak going against a woeful Falcons pass defense that ranks 31st in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Add in an appealing 51.0 over/under with shootout potential, and it's easy to see why numberFire's model projects Murray as a top-six quarterback in Week 6.
Start Baker Mayfield (vs. Seattle): Baker Mayfield hit rock bottom on Monday night, inexplicably producing negative fantasy points, and there's no doubt that many are abandoning ship this week for anyone else they can slot in at quarterback. But it's worth noting that crippling performance came against a 49ers defense that ranks first overall in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, so perhaps Mayfield deserves somewhat of a pass.
There's no question that Mayfield and this offense has struggled behind a suspect offensive line (Mayfield is tied for the sixth-most sacks), but in softer matchups against the Ravens (numberFire's 29th-ranked pass defense) and the Jets (18th), Mayfield threw for over 300 yards in both games, so we shouldn't write him off completely just yet. Cleveland is back home against the Seahawks, and this once feared Seattle defense actually ranks just 23rd against the pass. Despite the obvious risks, this could be a bounce-back spot for Mayfield, who's projected as this week's QB12.
Sit Carson Wentz (at Minnesota): Up until last week, Carson Wentz had scored over 17 fantasy points in four straight games, but an expected blowout against the Jets put the Eagles' offense in cruise control early, leaving Wentz with just 189 yards passing and a touchdown. While it's easy to write off that one performance, he's actually averaged just under 210 yards per game over his last four and hasn't sniffed anything close to 300 since Week 1 -- the only game DeSean Jackson was healthy.
Eight scores (including one rushing) have helped keep Wentz's fantasy scores stay afloat over this span, but the lack of yardage is a concern, particularly in an upcoming road matchup against the Vikings, where touchdowns could be hard to come by for the Eagles (20.50 implied total). Minnesota ranks eighth against the pass when adjusted for schedule, and they've also allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Wentz is projected for a modest QB17 finish.
Sit Philip Rivers (vs. Pittsburgh): The Steelers may only have one win on the resume, but at least their defense seems to be coming around, as they now rank sixth against the pass by numberFire's metrics and have tallied the third-most sacks. Philip Rivers is another guy coming off a disappointing result, throwing for 211 yards and 2 picks at home against Denver, who rank just 17th against the pass. It's the only time Rivers has been been held below 290 yards this season, but he'll have a tough time bouncing back with this tough Pittsburgh defense on tap and losing starting center Mike Pouncey shouldn't help matters. Rivers ranks 16th in numberFire's projections this week.
Start Kerryon Johnson (at Green Bay): Although Green Bay's defense presents a difficult overall task for Detroit, there's a stark contrast between their pass defense (3rd) and rush defense (32nd). Following C.J. Anderson's release, Kerryon Johnson has now seen 20 or more carries and at least 70% of the snaps in back-to-back weeks. He's only notched four targets over that span, though, which could prove troublesome if Detroit gets down early as 4.5-point home underdogs. Still, it's otherwise hard not to like this spot against a defense that's allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
Start Damien Williams (vs. Houston): Damien Williams didn't have a particularly noteworthy performance in the Chiefs' surprise upset loss to the Colts -- except that he out-snapped LeSean McCoy by a significant margin (35-14), suggesting he could be the back to own moving forward. Although it's hard to trust the weekly workload for anyone in this ever-changing backfield, McCoy's drop in snaps was due in part to struggling in pass protection, an issue that could keep the pendulum swinging in Williams' favor. If that remains the case, the matchup is right against the Texans in a game with a week-high 54.5 total. Houston ranks 29th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and 26th in Target Success Rate allowed to running backs.
Sit Jordan Howard (at Minnesota): Much like Wentz, the running backs don't get an easy draw in Philadelphia's matchup, either, with Minnesota's defense ranking second against the run. Although Jordan Howard has theoretically emerged as the lead back on this offense and could see even more touches with Darren Sproles out, Miles Sanders isn't going anywhere, and the two saw roughly the same number of snaps in Week 5. Howard hasn't been a consistent factor in the passing game (zero targets last week) and a potential negative game script against the Vikings could actually lead to more work for Sanders instead. numberFire's projections place Howard outside the top-30 running backs in both standard and PPR leagues.
Sit LeSean McCoy (vs. Houston): Last week's surprise drop in volume leaves McCoy on shaky ground as a boom-or-bust play despite such a plum spot against Houston. There's scoring potential for anyone who touches the ball in this offense, so you're probably still considering McCoy as a flex play in deep formats, but two touches in Week 5 is a tough pill to shallow, with nary a single carry. In addition to his pass protection issues, McCoy had a fumble against the Colts, too. He's projected as just numberFire's RB36 in PPR formats.
Start Terry McLaurin (at Miami): This week's toilet bowl between Washington and Miami should actually have some fantasy potential in spite of a lackluster 41.0-point total. These are two of the league's worst defenses, with Washington ranking 28th against the pass by numberFire's marks and 31st in Target Success Rate versus wide receivers in particular. The quarterback situation is a mess, but Terry McLaurin is the one wideout we can have any trust in here, carrying a team-leading 21% target share and 51% air yards share this season, per AirYards.com.
Start Michael Gallup (at New York Jets): When healthy, Michael Gallup has seen a nice helping of targets, garnering totals of 7, 8, and 14 over three games. In fact, if you look at just the weeks Gallup has been active, he actually slightly edges out Amari Cooper in both target share (27%) and air yards share (32%). While there's always the risk of a blowout leading to deflated fantasy numbers against the Jets, the return of Sam Darnold should keep things a little more competitive, and Dallas is favored by "just" 7.5 points.
Sit Stefon Diggs (vs. Philadelphia): We know the talent level is there for Stefon Diggs, and a matchup against an Eagles defense that ranks 22nd versus the pass is theoretically the right spot for a strong performance -- but we could've said the same thing against the Giants last week, and instead it was Adam Thielen who saw all the glory.
At this point, we're five weeks into the season and Diggs has an 18% target share and 36% air yards share -- decent enough numbers on their own but not enough for consistency on an offense that passes at the league's second-lowest rate. While Diggs can pop in a given week, he has just one 100-yard game and one touchdown so far, so hitting that ceiling might not come as often as we would like. Based on the matchup, he's still in play as a flex or third wideout but projects as the WR34 in PPR formats.
Sit Marvin Jones (at Green Bay): As noted earlier, Kerryon Johnson draws the soft part of the Green Bay defense, but the rest of the offense could have a far more difficult time in the passing game. Kenny Golladay sees enough volume to leave in most lineups, but Marvin Jones probably deserves a seat as the secondary pass-catching option. The Packers' D owns the sixth-best Target Success Rate allowed to wide receivers through five weeks.
Start Jimmy Graham (vs. Detroit): Like most tight ends, Jimmy Graham isn't anything exciting, but he's logged at least 69% of the snaps in back-to-back weeks with 12 targets over that span. He leads the team in targets inside the 10-yard line (four) and faces a Detroit defense that ranks 29th in Target Success Rate versus tight ends, giving him a reasonable shot at finding the end zone this week.
Sit O.J. Howard (vs. Carolina): Welp. We're in Week 6 and O.J. Howard has all of 14 targets for the entire season. That comes to a mere 8% target share, and he's simply not an important part of Tampa Bay's offense behind Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Tight end is a wasteland, so perhaps you're stuck rolling him out there again this week, but numberFire's projections aren't optimistic, banishing him into the abyss as the TE20 in all formats.