Fantasy Football Start, Sit, Stream, or Fade: Week 7
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.)
Matthew Stafford (at Atlanta) - Stafford was a recommended start here last week, and he ended up finishing as the QB21. Yeesh. However, in the wise words of Michael Scott, "Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice... strike three." In other words, I'm going right back to the Stafford well for Week 7. A date with the Atlanta Falcons is the vaccine for any quarterback's struggles. To date, the Falcons have surrendered 3.9 fantasy points more per game to passers than any other team in the league. They've allowed 188 yards and 3 touchdowns more than any other squad. Atlanta is also a team that epitomizes funneling to the pass -- they rank fourth-best in Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and dead last in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. This game has the second-highest projected total on the Week 7 slate, which means Stafford's in a great position to drop a huge performance for the first time in 2020.
Justin Herbert (vs. Jacksonville) - Despite Stafford's dud against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6, this is still a matchup we want to target. Jacksonville isn't a "funnel" defense --- they basically just suck all around. However, the Jags are particularly bad against the pass, ranking second-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Now, let's forget about the matchup for a second and talk about Herbert. In four starts, Herbert has recorded at least 23.2 fantasy points three times -- that includes matchups with the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the teams that rank second- and third-best in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. That's impressive. Now, in a game where the Los Angeles Chargers have the sixth-highest implied total on the slate, Herbert should be a lock in most lineups. Fire him up as a QB1.
Joe Burrow (vs. Cleveland) - Am I done with the rookies? Heck no! Burrow is one of my favorite streamers in Week 7. A matchup with the Cleveland Browns -- who he dropped 24.5 fantasy points on in his second career game -- is what makes the rookie so enticing. On the season, Cleveland ranks eighth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and them having allowed just the 17th-most fantasy points to opposing passers is quite deceiving. In Weeks 3 and 5, the Browns went up against Dwayne Haskins and Philip Rivers -- that'll make your defensive stats look better by default. In Week 6, Cleveland got their butts handed to them by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which resulted in Big Ben not having to do much at all. But that shouldn't be the case in a game where the Browns are favored by 3.0. Burrow will likely be forced to throw quite often, which should result in Cleveland allowing at least 24.5 fantasy points to a signal-caller for the fourth time this season.
Carson Wentz (vs. NYG) - After starting out as the QB24 through the first two weeks, Wentz has picked up his play (at least, from a fantasy perspective) considerably. A lot of the damage Wentz has done has come on the ground, as he's managed a rushing tuddy in four of his last five and has had at least 37 rush yards in three of his last four. In Week 7, Wentz will take on the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. New York's allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, but that shouldn't automatically deter us from streaming Wentz. To date, the Giants rank fourth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play -- it helps that they've gone up against Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Mullens, only one half of Dak Prescott, and Kyle Allen. Wentz has averaged 21.1 fantasy points in his last three games against the San Francisco 49ers, Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens, so this matchup should feel like a cakewalk for him.
Drew Brees (vs. Carolina) - If you'd have told me at the beginning of the season that I'd be fading Drew Brees in a home matchup with the Carolina Panthers, I'd have thought you were nuts. Alas, here we are. It's not that Brees can't have a big performance against Carolina -- it's that he might not need to. Carolina is as run-funnely as run-funnely gets. Through six games, Carolina has allowed the fourth-fantasy points per game to opposing passers and the fourth-most points to opposing running backs. The Panthers rank seventh-best in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and ninth-worst in the rushing counterpart of that metric. They've held Derek Carr, Brady, Herbert, and Ryan to an average of 11.7 fantasy points per game. Kyler Murray and Nick Foles did combine for 42.4 points against Carolina, though more than a third of that production came on the ground -- Brees isn't exactly a runner.
Jared Goff (vs. Chicago) - Since 2020 has been "opposite" year, it makes sense that Goff's home/road splits have done a complete 180. Usually far better at home than on the road, Goff is averaging 11.3 fewer fantasy points at home than on the road this season. Granted, the sample size is tiny, but it's still an interesting factoid. Now, that doesn't really have anything to do with why I'll be sitting Goff in Week 7 -- I'll be sitting him due to his matchup. Goff will be going up against the Chicago Bears this week. Ya know, the team allowing the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. In their last two full seasons worth of games, the Bears have allowed just one quarterback to total 20 or more fantasy points. Let Goff ride the pine for this one.
Derek Carr (vs. Tampa Bay) - Any time a team intercepts Aaron Rodgers twice and holds him to a 45.7% completion percentage, you have to start paying attention. This Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is the real deal. So far in 2020, they've held Brees to 14.4 fantasy points, Bridgewater to 10.7, and Rodgers to 5.8. Herbert's 24.0-point performance is seeming more and more like an aberration. Tampa ranks as the third-best team in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and while Carr seems to be having a resurgent year, this is not the game to trot him out there.
Todd Gurley (vs. Detroit) - Gurley looks like a shell of himself these days, but he's averaging 18.3 touches per game, so frankly, who gives a damn? With that kind of volume, a matchup with the Detroit Lions is all a back can ask for. In 2020, the Lions ranks second-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and they've surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing backfields. Two backs have already scored multiple times against Detroit this season, and they've allowed seven scores in total to the position through five games. Scoring just so happens to be Gurley's forte. Since 2018, Gurley has scored at least twice in more than 30% of his games and has scored at least once in more than three-fourths of his contests. In a game where the Falcons have the third-highest implied total on the entire slate, fire up Gurley as a borderline RB1.
David Johnson (vs. Green Bay) - If we're going to go with one 2015 breakout star, we may as well go with the other -- David Johnson. DJ has garnered at least 15 touches in four straight outings, but he hasn't topped 13.4 half-PPR points since Week 1. That could change in a matchup with the Green Bay Packers. This season, Green Bay has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, including four performances of at least 17.3 half-PPR points through five games. The Packers rank seventh-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. This game has a slate-high 57.5-point total, which means DJ should be in a great position to rack up stats.
D'Andre Swift (at Atlanta) - It's tough to overstate just how incompetent Detroit's coaches are -- but I'll give it a shot. Among the 64 running backs with at least 20 carries this season, Swift ranks first in Rushing NEP per carry and second in Rushing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense). Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson rank 35th and 41st, respectively, in Rushing NEP per carry. They also rank 57th and 41st in Rushing Success Rate, respectively. Yet, despite all that, Swift has played more than 38% of the snaps once and has received just 21.3% of the team's backfield rushes. So, after an explosive Week 6 performance, can we count on Detroit's coaching staff to give their best back more touches? No. Bad teams are bad for a reason. All that said, Swift is still an excellent streaming option in Week 7. So far in 2020, the Falcons have allowed 79.8 half-PPR points to running backs just through the air -- that's 16.9 more than any other team in the league. They've allowed at least 12.5 half-PPR points through the air to four different backs this season. Fire up Swift as an RB2 this week.
Antonio Gibson (vs. Dallas) - Despite his coaching staff's best efforts to feature J.D. McKissic ahead of him, Gibson should be able to take advantage of a mouthwatering Week 7 matchup. The Dallas Cowboys have allowed at least 70 total yards to six different backs this season, and they've surrendered seven scores to the position. To date, Dallas ranks fourth-worst in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. The Cowboys have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs despite allowing the fewest fantasy points to the position through the air. This matchup favors Gibson far more than the pass-catching specialist McKissic. Gibson has garnered at least 12 touches in each of his last five, and he could see an even larger workload in this one.
Josh Jacobs (vs. Tampa Bay) - After finishing the 2019 season first in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, the Bucs rank as the best team in that category once again in 2020. On 104 carries, Tampa has held opposing back to a teensy 2.8 yards per carry. While touchdowns have saved the fantasy days of some backs facing the Bucs, both Melvin Gordon (5.8 points) and Aaron Jones (11.6 points) struggled in this spot. Jacobs is a mere mid-level RB2 for this matchup.
Devonta Freeman (at Philadelphia) - Freeman has recorded at least 15 touches in each of his last three games, but that doesn't mean he needs to be in your lineups for Week 7. So far this season, the Philadelphia Eagles have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. While Philly has an above-average mark in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, they are fifth-worst in the passing version of that metric. This is a team that has held Joe Mixon and James Conner to under 50 rushing yards in their last four games. The Giants will need to throw if they want to have any success moving the ball against Philly, so I'm sitting Freeman here.
Adrian Peterson (at Atlanta) - Remember all that stuff about this being a great matchup for D'Andre Swift -- for many of the same reasons, it's an equally bad matchup for AP. Last week, the Falcons held Alexander Mattison to 26 yards on the ground on 10 carries. The Lions are 2.0-point 'dogs in this one, which means that they're likely going to be throwing more than running, especially given the funnel-nature of this defense. While Peterson has totaled at least 15 touches in three of his five games, this could be a contest where he fails to reach double-digits.
Terry McLaurin (vs. Dallas) - In half-PPR formats, six receivers have already topped 16.0 fantasy points against Dallas -- eight have scored at least 13.6. Given his quarterback situation and matchups, it should come as no surprise that Scary Terry has had three games with fewer than 11.0 fantasy points, but he does have two outings with 22.0 and 16.8. Consider this a salivating blow-up spot for the second-year wideout.
Chase Claypool (at Tennessee) - Claypool has officially graduated from "streamer" to a full-fledged high-end "start". Among wideouts with at least 20 targets this season, Claypool ranks second in Reception NEP per reception and first in both Reception NEP per target and Target NEP per target. As for fantasy -- he's totaled more than 16 half-PPR points in three of his five games. Through five games, five different wideouts have totaled at least 14.8 fantasy points against the Tennessee Titans, and Claypool -- who led all Pittsburgh receivers with a 78% snap share in Week 6 -- could easily change that number to six.
Tee Higgins (vs. Cleveland) - Higgins has quietly been an excellent fantasy asset in recent weeks. Over his last four games, Higgins has garnered at least seven targets in each contest and has posted at least 11.0 half-PPR points in three of them. Against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6, Higgins exploded for a career-high 125 receiving yards on 6 receptions. Among the 45 wideouts with at least 30 targets this season, Higgins ranks 10th in Reception NEP per reception and 6th in Reception Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of receptions leading to increases in NEP). Meanwhile, the Browns have ceded the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts, and they're tied for the seventh-worst mark in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Seven receivers have posted at least 14.4 fantasy points against Cleveland, and 11 have managed at least 9.9. Stream Higgins with confidence this week.
Christian Kirk (vs. Seattle) - The Seattle Seahawks have already had their bye, and yet they've still somehow surrendered the most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Through five games, Seattle has allowed at least 20 half-PPR points to six different wideouts, at least 15.9 to eight receivers, and double-digit to 11 players at the position -- for those who failed math class, that's more than two per game. Now, you don't need me to tell you to start DeAndre Hopkins -- if you do, pick a different hobby because fantasy football ain't for you. However, I am here to tell you to stream Christian Kirk this week. Kirk garnered just three targets last week, but he turned those into 86 yards and 2 money-makers -- not too shabby. On the season, Kirk is averaging 4.8 targets per game -- a number that should see a bump in what is likely to be an explosive shootout. Kirk's posted at least 57 yards or a score in each of his last four games, and his ceiling in this one is salivating.
Allen Robinson (at LAR) - Due to his absurd volume (12 targets per game in his last four), benching ARob is not recommended, but it's entirely possible that we see another floor game from him as we did in Week 6. The Los Angeles Rams have allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Of course, having two top-20 corners certainly helps. Dating back to last year, we've seen Amari Cooper, McLaurin, Tyler Lockett, and a few other notable wideouts struggle in this spot. Lower your expectations for ARob in Week 7.
Darius Slayton (at Philadelphia) - The Eagles have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to the position, but that doesn't make Slayton a good start. Slayton will face one of the tougher shadow matchups of the week in Darius Slay. While secondary targets have had their fair share of success against Philly, the top options have struggled. McLaurin was held to 61 scoreless yards on 5 receptions in Week 1, Robert Woods was limited to 14 yards receiving in Week 2, A.J. Green posted 36 scoreless yards in Week 3, JuJu Smith-Schuster managed just 28 yards without a score in Week 5, and Marquise Brown recorded 57 yards and no scores in Week 6. For all the upside he possesses, Slayton has totaled fewer than 7.0 half-PPR points in three of his six games this season -- this is likely to be another floor game for him.
Michael Gallup (at Washington) - Even in an advantageous matchup, it would be tough to justify starting Gallup with Andy Dalton behind center -- and this is not an advantageous matchup. The Washington Football Team has ceded the second-fewest fantasy points to the receiver position this season, and field-stretchers such as DeSean Jackson, Hollywood Brown, and Christian Kirk have struggled in this spot. Gallup has posted fewer than 7.0 half-PPR points in four of his six 2020 outings, and that will likely happen again in Week 7.
T.J. Hockenson (at Atlanta) - The start of the week has to be Hock against Atlanta. The Falcons have yet to face any stud tight ends this season, and yet they've surrendered the third-most fantasy points to the position. Each of Dalton Schultz, Jimmy Graham, and Robert Tonyan totaled at least 19.3 half-PPR points in this spot, and play-by-play announcer Greg Olsen also recorded 10.4. Hockenson has exceeded 10.0 half-PPR points just three times in his young career, but Week 7 should bring about a fourth.
Austin Hooper (at Cincinnati) - Despite somewhat limited production, the last three weeks have been very promising for Hooper's fantasy outlook. During this stretch, Hooper has received 23 looks and has caught at least 5 passes in each game. Unfortunately, two of those three games came against teams that are among the seven-stingiest to the opposition's tight ends. That's not the case in Week 7. This week, Hooper will square off with the Cincinnati Bengals, who have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the position. Cincy has allowed at least 70 yards or a score to five different tight ends this season. In fact, they've ceded 145 yards and 3 touchdowns to tight ends in the last two weeks alone. Hooper is a mid-level TE1 in this economy.
(Hooper has been declared out -- I'd prefer Harrison Bryant to David Njoku if you're desperate.)
Robert Tonyan (at Houston) - Everything about the Packers offense sucked in Week 6, but don't expect a repeat of that in Week 7. So far this season, the Houston Texans rank third-worst in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Through six games, the Texans have allowed the sixth-most receptions and yards to opposing tight ends. Again, this is the team that just surrendered 113 yards and a tuddy to Anthony Firkser. Tonyan received four looks in last week's blowout, and he should garner more in the game with the slate's highest projected total.
Evan Engram (at Philadelphia) - Engram gets one of the tastiest matchups on the slate, and yet he's a fade for me. In the first four weeks, despite seeing 30 targets, Engram averaged just 5.4 half-PPR points per contest. Not great, Bob! In the two games since, Engram has seen just five targets, resulting in duds against the always-generous Cowboys and a Washington team that's as giving to the position as Philly. Among the 67 players with at least 25 targets this season, Engram ranks ninth-worst in Target NEP per target.
Jared Cook (vs. Carolina) - The Panthers have faced off against Darren Waller, Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, Hayden Hurst, and Jimmy Graham so far in 2020, and yet, they have now allowed a single output of double-digit half-PPR points. While Jared Cook possesses solid upside, he has had fewer than 9.0 half-PPR points in two of his four games this season, and he's also seen just three targets in each of his last two games. That's not very encouraging in what is already a tough matchup.
(Update: With Emmanuel Sanders and Michael Thomas declared out, Cook becomes a top-five option at tight end.)