Fantasy Football Start, Sit, Stream, or Fade: Week 3
2020 has been a year of chaos and discombobulation -- whatever the norm was, it's long been thrown out the window. However, despite all the pandemonium, the one thing that's bound to be a constant is the need to make fantasy football lineup decisions.
Imagine spending months searching for a vacation destination, finally finding one, and having absolutely no plan for when you arrive -- that would be all of us after weeks and months of researching for drafts and then not having a plan of action for when the season actually arrives.
If you had a good draft, you should have some tough lineup decisions to make on a weekly basis. If you don't have any tough lineup decisions, there's a good chance that your bench is thinner than LeBron James' hairline. The goal of this piece is to assist with some of those decisions.
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 league.
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.
We'll break down players into four categories:
Start: These players are good starts in any format unless you have one of the elites.
Stream: These will be players with either good matchups or higher-than-usual projected volume that can be streaming options in many formats.
Fade: This category will be reserved for higher-end fantasy studs who find themselves in a bad spot on that given week. Fade these players in DFS or if you have a loaded roster, but don't get too cute.
Sit: This category will feature players that should ride the pine unless you truly have no better options.
Without further ado, let's get to it!
(When I reference fantasy points allowed, it is Yahoo settings for quarterbacks and half-PPR for the other positions.)
Aaron Rodgers (at New Orleans) - The New Orleans Saints seemingly had no answer for Derek Carr of all people, as Carr completed 73.7% of his passes against them in Week 2 for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Saints did look better against Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, but their pass defense has been middle-of-the-road this season. Through two weeks, the Saints have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Then there's the "Aaron Rodgers in a dome" aspect. In 28 career dome games, Rodgers has averaged 267.5 passing yards to go with a 58-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. So far this season, Rodgers is second in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and seventh in fantasy points. However, keep an eye out for the status of Davante Adams, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Gardner Minshew (vs. Miami) - Minshew's been one of fantasy's most pleasant surprises so far. He's the QB9 through two weeks and has posted more than 20 fantasy points in both contests. While Minshew is 12th in Passing NEP per drop back, he's third at the position in Passing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of drop backs that lead to positive NEP). Meanwhile, his opponent, the Miami Dolphins, rank second-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play this season, picking up right where they left off last year.
Justin Herbert (vs. Carolina) - Despite getting thrown into the fire on last minute's notice last week against a respectable Kansas City Chiefs defense, Herbert performed admirably. The rookie totaled 311 passing yards, 18 rushing yards, and 2 scores (one rushing and one passing) -- that resulted in an impressive 23.2 fantasy points. In Week 3, he'll face a Carolina Panthers defense that's been right about average against the pass, coming in 15th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Los Angeles Chargers have an implied total of 25.3 points on Sunday, so we'll want a piece of that action. The only concern is that Carolina will continue to funnel toward the run, but unlike the previous two passers they've faced (Tom Brady and Derek Carr), Herbert can actually make plays with his legs.
Mitchell Trubisky (at Atlanta) - I touted Trubisky as a streamer last week, and while he didn't bust, he managed only 15.2 fantasy points. That's the risk we take with a player this volatile. However, this week, Trubisky gets the tastiest matchup on the slate. Through two games, the Atlanta Falcons have surrendered 772 passing yards, 5 passing tuddies, 47 rushing yards, and 3 rushing scores to opposing passers -- that's good for an average of -- wait for it -- 35.8 fantasy points per contest. Now, Atlanta has gone up against Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, but they've shown absolutely no resistance. Their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play mark of 0.39 is third-worst in the NFL. The Bears aren't going to be involved in many games with a pre-game total above 47, so this is an ideal time to stream Trubisky.
Matt Ryan (vs. CHI) - While I understand the temptation to rank Ryan very high given his production, I'd caution to temper expectations. Dating back to Week 8 of the 2018 season (a stretch of 28 games), the Chicago Bears have surrendered 20.0 or more fantasy points to just one quarterback -- Patrick Mahomes in Week 16 last year. So far this season, Chicago ranks ninth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Ryan's first two opponents -- the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys -- are both bottom-10 at the moment.
Baker Mayfield (vs. Washington) - On paper, this may appear to be a great matchup for Baker. After all, Washington has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. However, in reality, this is not a matchup to trifle with. Through two weeks, Washington ranks second in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Meanwhile, they rank 10th-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Which part of the offense do you think notoriously run-heavy Kevin Stefanski will lean on?
Deshaun Watson (at Pittsburgh) - For the second consecutive week, it might be best to keep Watson on your bench. While Watson is seemingly still trying to adjust to life without DeAndre Hopkins, his first three matchups are not conducive to that. Watson is just the QB15 through two weeks, and he gets a brutal matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. While Pittsburgh hasn't looked as impenetrable as they were last year, they have allowed more than 20.0 fantasy points to a quarterback just once since Week 2 of last season -- that includes limiting each of Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen to 17.4 fantasy points or fewer.
James Robinson (vs. MIA) - Through two games, Robinson has a 58% snap share, 32 carries, and 5 targets. Robinson has garnered a whopping 94.1% of his team's running back carries to date. While he managed 90 total yards, 1 reception, and no scores in Week 1, Week 2 was a different story. Against the Tennessee Titans, the rookie posted 120 total yards, 3 receptions, and a touchdown -- that was good for an RB8 finish in half-PPR formats. The Miami Dolphins were generous to opposing backfields in 2019, and that has yet to change this season. Through two contests, Miami ranks third-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Miami has played against committee backfields thus far, but that changes this week. Start Robinson.
Mike Davis (at LAC) - Though who roster Davis likely paid a fortune in FAB to get him, and they should feel confident starting him this week. Davis saw eight targets last week, so he's very likely to get a healthy chunk of the passing-down work -- that ups his value tremendously. Additionally, when we last saw him get volume in 2018 with the Seattle Seahawks, Davis finished 7th among the 47 backs with at least 100 carries in Rushing NEP per carry and 4th in Rushing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense). Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers surrendered the seventh-most receptions to backs last season and have also allowed the seventh-most thus far this season. The Chargers have also been just middle-of-the pack in defending the run so far in 2020.
D'Andre Swift (at Arizona) - The Arizona Cardinals have been the sixth-most generous team to opposing backfields so far this season, but how they've allowed those points is what's most intriguing here. A whopping 54.6% of the fantasy points Arizona has allowed to backs has come through the air -- enter Swift. In addition to his 8 carries, Swift has garnered 10 targets through two games -- the rest of Detroit's backs have just four combined. Swift has a clear role as the Detroit Lions' passing-down back, and this could be the matchup where he breaks out.
Darrell Henderson (at BUF) - Henderson filled in for Cam Akers (rib) in Week 2, totaling 12 rushes for 81 yards and a score as well as 2 receptions for 40 yards. Akers looks like he could miss Week 3's contest, while Malcolm Brown will be playing through a pinky injury -- that leaves it open for Henderson to have a big role. Through two games, the Buffalo Bills have been funneling to the run, ranking sixth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and 11th-best in the passing version of that metric. Henderson is an excellent streaming option as long as Akers is not active.
Melvin Gordon (vs. Tampa Bay) - While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been generous to opposing backs on paper -- the reality is something quite different. Tampa allowed just 16 rushing yards on 12 carries to Alvin Kamara in Week 1, and 59 yards on 18 totes to Christian McCaffrey in Week 2. The saving grace has been the fact that they've allowed four scores to the position. The Denver Broncos have an implied total of 18.75 for Sunday, which is third-lowest of the week -- touchdowns may be tough to come by against that ranks third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. With Jeff Driskel starting for Denver, Gordon could see many a stacked box in this game. The only hope is that he can salvage his game with a score or two. I wouldn't bank on it.
David Johnson (at Pittsburgh) - After not allowing a single back to exceed 15.0 fantasy points in half-PPR formats last year, the Steelers have once again come out looking very strong in the run defense department. So far this year, Pittsburgh ranks first in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play -- and if you know math, you know that first is pretty high. DJ struggled in a tough matchup last week, managing just 50 yards on 13 touches and no scores against the Baltimore Ravens. He could scuffle again in Week 3.
All Giants Running Backs (vs. San Francisco) - Even though the San Francisco 49ers have suffered a bombardment of injuries on defense, I wouldn't touch any of the New York Giants' running backs this week. First off, the Niners should still be able to score, so New York will likely be playing from behind. Second, there's a very real chance that each of Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman, and Devonta Freeman receive touches -- that's a mess for a team that struggled to run the ball with Saquon Barkley, one of the best backs in the league. While you may have spent a pretty penny on some of these guys on waivers, I'd keep them on the bench for this matchup.
Cooper Kupp (at Buffalo) - There are a lot of strengths to Buffalo's defense, but it looks like the slot will be one area we can attack. In Week 1, Jamison Crowder went off for 115 yards and a score on 7 receptions, and in Week 2 Miami Dolphins "tight end" (slot receiver) Mike Gesicki went for 8 catches, 130 and a tud on the Bills. Kupp hasn't been fantastic in fantasy this year by any stretch, with totals of just 6.0 and 12.5 half-PPR points in the first two games, but this could be a "boom" week for him. Among the 58 wideouts with at least 10 targets this season, Kupp ranks 3rd in Target NEP per target and 8th in Reception NEP per target. His Target Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense) of 81.8% is good for fifth. A breakout performance is coming.
CeeDee Lamb (at Seattle) - Speaking of slot receivers, Lamb is one with an excellent matchup. Through two contests, the Seattle Seahawks have surrendered lines of 9 catches and 114 yards and 8 grabs for 179 yards to Russell Gage and Julian Edelman, respectively. Oh, and they've also allowed a whopping 20.4 more (half-PPR) fantasy points to wideouts than the next closest team. Lamb has a 17% target share this season, but that could easily go up in this juicy matchup. Additionally, this matchup has the highest projected total on the slate. Lamb's an ideal way to get exposure.
DeSean Jackson (vs. Cincinnati) - We've dug in the DJax well before and we've come out quite dry, but let's go back here one more time, shall we? Through two weeks, only A.J. Green has garnered more air yards than Jackson. That means that DJax is getting chances downfield -- he just hasn't capitalized. Despite the fact that they haven't been the most generous team to wideouts, the Cincinnati Bengals are far from a shutdown secondary. Last week, Odell Beckham went for 74 yards and a score on them, and that line could've been much bigger if not a blatant PI that was (obviously) missed by the officials. With Jalen Reagor on IR, Jackson will get all the opportunities to make plays in the backend of Cincy's secondary.
Corey Davis (at Minnesota) - Davis has recorded 13.6 and 11.1 fantasy points in his first two efforts of the season, and he could surpass those outputs in this salivating matchup. The Minnesota Vikings, whose secondary already looked atrocious, could be down two moe cornerbacks on Sunday. To date, Minnesota has surrendered the second-most fantasy points to wideouts on the season. Davis has been very efficient with his targets -- he ranks ninth among all wideouts (min. 10 targets) in Target NEP per target.
D.J. Moore (at LAC) - Moore posted an 8 receptions for 120 yards on 13 targets in Week 2, but he's facing a much tougher task in Week 3. Whether he lines up against Casey Hayward or Chris Harris, Moore will have his work cut out for him. I'm not suggesting you bench Moore altogether, but keep your expectations in check and definitely avoid him in DFS.
Will Fuller (at Pittsburgh) - Starting Fuller comes this week comes with two risks attached -- first, he failed to catch a pass last week, due to a supposed hamstring injury. Second, he's going up against the ever-so-stingy Steelers. Pittsburgh has been the third-toughest pass defense to date, and they should only get better as the rust wears off. Only four wideouts topped 13.6 fantasy points in half-PPR against the Steelers last year, and Fuller could struggle to reach that number this week.
All Las Vegas Raiders receivers (at New England) - While the New England Patriots haven't looked exactly like the shutdown defense they were a year ago, they're still in the top-12 in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. But that's not the only issue. Through two weeks, no Las Vegas wideout has more than eight targets. Whether it's Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, or Hunter Renfrow, it's best to avoid them in both season-long and DFS.
Mike Gesicki (at Jacksonville) - Gesicki is only a tight end by name -- he's actually just a big receiver, and he gets a juicy matchup in Week 3 against the Jags. Jacksonville just allowed 4 catches, 84 yards and 2 scored to Jonnu Smith in Week 2, which means that Gesicki and his team-leading 20.8% target share should be able to feast. Among tight ends with at least 10 targets this year, Gesicki is third in Reception NEP per catch. Start him with confidence this week.
Hayden Hurst (vs. Chicago) - While the Chicago Bears have been solid against wideouts, the same can't be said for tight ends. Through two games, Chicago has ceded 5 receptions, 56 yards and a score to T.J. Hockenson and 6 grabs for 65 yards to Evan Engram. Hurst has seen a very solid 72% snap share, and his 14.3% target share should rise if Julio Jones (hamstring) either can't go or is severely limited.
Logan Thomas (at Cleveland) - The Browns once again appear as if they have no interest in covering tight ends. Through two games, Cleveland has allowed the most fantasy points to the position on the back of 148 receiving yards and 3 scores. Thomas is seeing a healthy 82% snap share for Washington, and his 26.6% target share is tied for the team lead. The former quarterback is a fantastic streaming option this week.
Mo Alie-Cox (vs. NYJ) - This suggestion is contingent on Jack Doyle being out. With Doyle out last week, Cox posted 5 catches for 111 yards on 6 targets. This week, he'll take on a New York Jets defense that just allowed 7 catches, 50 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Jordan Reed's corpse in Week 2.
Darren Waller (at New England) - Waller's hovering between a "fade" and a "sit" for me. It's hard to sit a tight end who currently has the highest target share at the position in the league, but the mind of New England head coach Bill Belichick is what has me worried. Belichick is notorious for taking away the other team's top option, and there is no doubt that the Raiders' top option is Waller. There's some buyer beware here.
Evan Engram (vs. San Francisco) - I'm getting to the point where I want no part of Engram in fantasy. After failing to reach double-digit fantasy points in five of his eight games in 2019, Engram has yet to reach 10.0 fantasy points this season. The 49ers were the fourth-stingiest defense against tight ends last year, and they have surrendered essentially nothing to the position this year (though they haven't faced any legitimate talents at tight end).