Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 7
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 Jared Goff (at Atlanta): Jared Goff is coming off an abysmal 78-yard passing performance, but he can be at least partially forgiven for stinking up the joint against the 49ers, who rank second in terms of Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- numberFire's schedule-adjusted pass defense metric -- and rank first in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate. Well, it just so happens Goff gets a near perfect get-right spot on the road against the Falcons, a defense that's practically the polar opposite, ranking second-to-last in adjusted pass defense and dead last in adjusted sack rate. The contest also has all sorts of shootout potential, with a 54.5-point total on FanDuel Sportsbook -- easily the week's highest.
Start Gardner Minshew (at Cincinnati): Similarly, Gardner Minshew is also coming off his worst start of the season (versus New Orleans), but a shoddy Bengals defense should help him turn things around in a hurry. Cincinnati is numberFire's 27th-ranked pass defense and sits just 29th in adjusted sack rate. According to numberFire's projections, Minshew checks in as the QB13, making him a solid back-end starting quarterback in most fantasy formats.
Sit Kirk Cousins (at Detroit): After looking downright pitiful at times to begin the season, Kirk Cousins has been on quite the roll lately, posting back-to-back games with 300-plus passing yards and multiple scores. He's finally showing some upside, but those performances came against the Giants (numberFire's 23rd-ranked pass defense) and Eagles (21st), and he gets much tougher opposition in Week 7 against the Lions (5th). At its core, this is still a run-first team, ranking 31st in passing play percentage, and even in those two big performances, Cousins threw fewer than 30 passes both times. Detroit doesn't get a ton of pressure on the quarterback, so there's theoretically still a path to success, but expectations should be tempered this week. Our models peg Cousins as just the QB19.
Sit Philip Rivers (at Tennessee): Although Phillip Rivers somewhat salvaged his Week 6 fantasy bottom line with some garbage time points against Pittsburgh, he's had a rough go of it the last couple weeks, due in no small part to a struggling Chargers offensive line missing two of its starters. Things won't get any easier at Tennessee, up against a defense that ranks seventh against the pass by numberFire's metrics and eighth in adjusted sack rate. This contest figures to be an ugly one all around for fantasy, with a paltry 40.0-point over/under.
Start Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida (at Washington): The 49ers are 9.5-point road favorites over a hapless Washington squad, and as far and away the league leaders in rushing play percentage, they sure aren't afraid to run the ball, giving both Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida a chance to shine. Not only will an expected positive game script benefit the duo, but Washington ranks just 18th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.
With eight red zone carries already since returning in Week 5, Coleman gets the edge over Breida as the clear red zone back, and he led all San Francisco backs in total opportunities (20) and snaps (55%) last week. But both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are now afterthoughts in this backfield (Wilson hasn't even played the last two weeks), so Breida is still getting a solid share of the pie himself, averaging 12.0 rushes and 3.5 targets since Coleman's return.
Start Frank Gore and Devin Singletary (vs. Miami): In a rather similar situation, the Bills should be able to run all over the even-more-hapless Dolphins, who couldn't even muster a home win over Washington in Week 6. Buffalo is predictably a massive 16.5-point favorite, and pretty much all their relevant skill players are on the table this week. That naturally must include Frank Gore, who continues to defy the odds at his age, averaging a solid 15 carries a game while sprinkling in 7 total targets over Buffalo's five contests. His main rushing competition in the red zone is actually quarterback Josh Allen, but he's still the lead man in close, with six rushes inside the five-yard line compared to Allen's two.
Devin Singletary is practicing in full, so he should resume his complimentary early-season role. In his lone fully healthy game in Week 1, he earned 10 opportunities (4 carries and 6 targets) and was incredibly efficient with limited touches in both his games. Obviously, we're not talking about a robust prior workload, and he's coming of a multi-week injury, so Singletary remains a deep league play at best, but there could be plenty of scoring chances to go around against the league's worst team. Miami ranks 28th in schedule-adjusted rushing defense and 32nd in Target Success Rate to running backs.
Sit Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy (at Denver): Trying to figure out this backfield over the last couple weeks has been a fool's errand, with first LeSean McCoy inexplicably getting two touches in Week 5, followed by Damien Williams pulling the same trick in Week 6. With a hobbled Patrick Mahomes not quite looking like himself lately, the Chiefs have suffered two straight close losses to the Colts and Texans, and seeing as Kansas City is already a team that passes at the league's fifth-highest rate, the lack of cushy positive game scripts lately have left the entire running game in the dust. Maybe Mahomes gets back to his otherworldly ways against the Broncos, lifting the entire offense with him, but he doesn't get much time to recover on a short week, and Denver has performed better on defense lately (albeit against the Chargers and Titans). The touchdown potential on this offense leaves Williams and McCoy in play, but with both backs healthy, their floors have plummeted, so don't be surprised if one or both are busts once again.
Sit Austin Ekeler (at Tennessee): Tennessee ranks eighth in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and fifth in Target Success Rate allowed to running backs, so on top of the Chargers' offensive line woes, this is a rough matchup for Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. However, with Gordon seeing 60% of the snaps last week -- up from 46% in his season debut -- and out-carrying Ekeler 20-8 over the last two games, the pendulum seems to be slowly swinging Gordon's way, leaving Ekeler as an especially tough sell. And while Ekeler remains involved in the passing game, he saw a season-low four targets in Week 6, which may not be a coincidence with the return of Hunter Henry. Seeing as Ekeler did have a whopping 16 targets just a couple of weeks ago, we can't rule out a bounce-back in PPR formats, but the added bodies in this offense are working against him, and numberFire's model only projects him as the RB31.
Start Brandin Cooks (at Atlanta): Coming off a three-target game against San Francisco, Brandin Cooks is down to a 15% target share this year with only one 100-yard game and one touchdown. But as noted with Jared Goff earlier, the 49ers are one tough defense, while the Falcons are decidedly not. That's especially been the case against wide receivers, where Atlanta ranks dead last in Target Success Rate, helping opposing wideouts to the second-most fantasy points per game. Despite the modest targets, Cooks still leads the team in air yards share (27%), per AirYards.com, and this is the ideal spot for Cook to get back on track. He's numberFire's WR17 in PPR leagues.
Start Michael Gallup (vs. Philadelphia): Amari Cooper missed practice on Thursday, and it's looking increasingly likely it will be the Michael Gallup show this weekend. Gallup didn't quite capitalize when Cooped for forced out early against the Jets, but he gets a golden opportunity to do so against an Eagles secondary that just got shredded by Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs. In fact, no team has allowed more fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts than Philadelphia. In Gallup's four games this season -- three of which had a healthy Cooper -- he's scooped up a 25% target share, so he could be a target hog against Philly.
Sit Terry McLaurin (vs. San Francisco): Terry McLaurin has been a fun story as one of the only fantasy-relevant players in Washington, seeing at least 7 targets in every game and soaking up a hefty 52% air yards market share. But if the Rams could barely get anything going against the 49ers, then how well can we possibly expect Washington to perform? McLaurin's role keeps him in the discussion, and maybe he can string together a few chunk plays in garbage time, but the most likely scenario is the 49ers puts the clamps down on this poor offense.
Sit Mike Williams (at Tennessee): Mike Williams has seen 10 and 13 targets the last two weeks, but like the rest of this Chargers attack, we shouldn't expect a whole lot of fantasy upside in their matchup on the road against Tennessee. Opposing wideouts are bottom-10 in fantasy points per game against this defense, and Los Angeles has a bottom-5 implied total this week. That recent volume is nothing to scoff at -- particularly in PPR leagues -- so Williams isn't a must-sit, but numberFire's projections are incredibly pessimistic.
Start Gerald Everett (at Atlanta): Naturally, right when Gerald Everett is everyone's favorite pickup at a fantasy-starved position, he goes and puts up a clunker -- but you could say that about pretty much everyone for the Rams last week. Still, Everett actually ranked second on the team in targets (five), and like the rest of the pass-catchers, he should rebound in a big way against Atlanta. The Falcons haven't done anything notable in stopping tight ends, ranking 26th in Target Success Rate allowed.
Sit Jared Cook (at Chicago): As we all know, tight end is mostly a dumpster fire, so Jared Cook coming through with touchdowns in two straight weeks is a huge win. But he's averaging a gross 28 receiving yards per game with a 13% target share and 17% air yards share, so he's simply not doing anything for you without a score. That's not likely to happen on the road against the Bears, who rank eighth against the pass. New Orleans has one of the week's lowest implied totals at 17.50 points.