Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9
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 Gardner Minshew (vs. Houston): Gardner Minshew has now exceeded 20 fantasy points in three of the last four games, and there's little reason not to fire him up again for this week's matchup against the Texans in London. Minshew is coming off his best passing performance since Week 5 -- racking up 279 yards and 3 scores over the Jets -- and he continues to add points on the ground, tallying at least seven rushes in each of those 20-point performances. Meanwhile, Houston just lost J.J. Watt for the season and has been a mediocre defense as is, allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
Start Jameis Winston (at Seattle): As is often the case with Jameis Winston, it wasn't the prettiest performance against the Titans in Week 8 -- turning the ball over a whopping four times -- but he still posted his fourth 300-yard passing game of the season with a pair of scores (and even 53 rushing yards) for another solid fantasy day. Despite all the turnovers, Winston has made up for it more often than not through sheer volume, and he gets a much easier matchup this week in a potential shootout against Seattle (51.5 total). The Seahawks rank 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- numberFire's schedule-adjusted metric for pass defense -- and they're also just 27th in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders. According to our projections, Minshew and Winston are tied as the QB9 for this week.
Sit Kyler Murray (vs. San Francisco): Kyler Murray has had a real rough go of it lately, scoring under 11 fantasy points in back-to-back games and failing to account for any touchdowns over that span. Worse yet, he didn't even run much in Week 8, rushing just twice -- his first game with single-digit carries in four weeks. One figures he gets back to running more moving forward, but the matchup doesn't get much worse than the 49ers, who rank first in both Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and adjusted sack rate. Those marks have helped San Francisco allow the second-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers. Better days should be ahead for the dual-threat quarterback, but this looks to be one to sit out.
Sit Carson Wentz (vs. Chicago): Carson Wentz has been held under 200 yards passing in four of the last five games and will have a tough time righting the ship against the Bears, who rank sixth against the pass by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics. Wentz projects as just the QB16 in Week 9.
Start Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler (vs. Green Bay): With the Chargers moving on from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, this backfield is difficult to project this week, but Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler both exceeded 50% of the snaps in Week 8, and this is a matchup where both could find some success. Green Bay ranks 30th in Rushing Success Rate allowed to opposing running backs and has given up the sixth-most fantasy points to the position. The split backfield should keep expectations in check, but the appealing spot places both backs inside the top-20 in numberFire's PPR projections.
Start David Montgomery (at Philadelphia): The Eagles are a decidedly tough matchup for David Montgomery, as they rank sixth in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing backfields. Throw in a potential negative game script for the Bears as 5.0-point road underdogs, and there are plenty of things working against Montgomery this week. But volume trumps all, and Montgomery piled up a season-high 32 opportunities (27 rushes and 5 targets) and 73% snap rate in Week 8. We've seen his workload fluctuate wildly this season, so there's no guarantee he sees similar usage this week, but that volume spike is too big to ignore, giving Montgomery the potential to overcome this tough spot. According to numberFire's projections, he's a top-20 back in all formats.
Start Mark Walton (vs. New York Jets): In his first game as the Dolphins' lead back, Mark Walton didn't make much noise in the box score against Pittsburgh, but he did notch 11 rushes and 6 targets off an 87% snap rate. That snap rate was especially encouraging in a losing effort and is the type of usage we typically only see from fantasy's elite backs -- just Christian McCaffrey, Le'Veon Bell, and Leonard Fournette have averaged a snap rate of 90% or better. Of course, playing for Miami hardly puts Walton anywhere close to those guys, but this kind of workload should keep him in play as a slight home underdog against the Jets. Our projections peg Walton as the RB21 in standard leagues and RB19 in PPR formats.
Sit Tra Carson and Ty Johnson (at Oakland): Those who shelled out FAAB dollars and started Ty Johnson in Week 8 immediately had buyer's remorse as they instead saw Tra Carson go on to lead the Lions in touches (12) against the Giants. Johnson still saw 11 opportunities and the highest snap rate in the backfield (40%), but neither of those marks are particularly reassuring. Add in J.D. McKissic and even Paul Perkins getting touches, and we have ourselves a full-blown committee -- every fantasy manager's worst nightmare. Unless one of these backs emerges with a lead role, or this committee narrows down to a two-way split, this is a situation to avoid entirely if possible.
Start Tyrell Williams (vs. Detroit): Tyrell Williams returned from a two-game absence in Week 8 and found the end zone yet again, meaning he's scored in all five games in which he's been active. While that's obviously required a bit of luck, he's clearly a primary target for the Raiders in the red zone. Despite the missed time, Williams is only one behind Darren Waller in red zone targets (six) and leads the team in targets inside the 10-yard line (four). In his five games, he's also garnered a solid 19% target share and whopping 41% air yards share, per AirYards.com. This week's game against Detroit has an appealing 50.5 total, and Derek Carr should have time to throw against a defense that ranks just 26th in adjusted sack rate.
Start Michael Gallup (at New York Giants): Michael Gallup entered the Cowboys' Week 8 bye coming off a pair of clunkers, but he's still put together a 23% target share and 27% air yards share in the five games he's been active, so more lucrative fantasy days are coming. That could very well start this week against the Giants, who rank 25th against the pass by numberFire's metrics and have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Dallas' 27.50 implied total is the second-highest of Week 9.
Start Chris Conley (vs. Houston): Still widely available in many leagues, Chris Conley gets a plus matchup against a Houston pass defense that ranks 26th in Target Success Rate allowed to wide receivers and has given up the second-most fantasy points to the position. Dede Westbrook was forced out of last week's game with a shoulder injury and has been limited in practice this week, leaving the door open for Conley to see more volume in London. Conley's season numbers don't jump off the page, but he's now seen 15 targets over the last two weeks with a 21% target share and 39% air yards share.
Sit Terry McLaurin (at Buffalo): Not only does Terry McLaurin gets a tough matchup as is against a Buffalo defense that has the fifth-lowest Target Success Rate allowed to wide receivers, but he could be without starting quarterback Case Keenum (concussion), which could mean a start for rookie Dwayne Haskins. Washington has a pitiful 13.75 implied total -- easily the lowest of the week.
Start Darren Fells (at Jacksonville): Darren Fells hasn't had the most consistent usage, but that's hardly unusual at fantasy's weakest position. That being said, he's now seen at least six targets and 89% of the snaps in two of the last three games, which is a trend we'll happily take a shot at. Fells is tied with DeAndre Hopkins for the team lead in red zone targets (eight), and he could continue to see more looks with Will Fuller out.
Start Jonnu Smith: As of Thursday, Delanie Walker still isn't practicing, so Jonnu Smith should be line for another solid outing in his place. Smith has now logged over 70% of the snaps in back-to-back games and saw a season-high (and team-high) seven targets against Tampa Bay last week. He also gets a promising matchup against Carolina, who rank 29th in Target Success Rate given up to tight ends.