Week 1 Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Jalen Hurts Is a Full-Go in Atlanta
The start-or-sit dilemma is virtually synonymous with managing a fantasy football team.
Having the foresight to start the wide receiver who erupts for 100 yards and a touchdown in a cakewalk matchup while sitting a receiver against a shutdown cornerback feels so good.
And that's why hundreds of fantasy articles each week are dedicated to start-or-sit scenarios. But answering the question of, "Should I start Player X?" is hard. Context matters.
Mostly, when it comes to answering the question of, "Who do I start?," the real answer is, "Well, who else is available?"
That's why for this version of a start-or-sit column, I'm going to be listing out all relevant fantasy football players each week and bucketing them into tiers.
No player is ever a must-sit. I mean, sure, your tight end might have a terrible matchup and be playing in a game with a low over/under, but what if the only option left is second-stringers who see no run?
However, we also know that, yes, there are players you should want to sit if you have any other viable options. That's my overall goal with this start-or-sit column.
And to take some of the guesswork out of it, I'll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based in numberFire's player projections with dynamic measures for variance, such as quarterback rushing, running back receiving, and receiver target depth.
The results will boil down to three tiers: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider starting whenever we don't have better alternatives but who aren't must-plays, and players we should try to bench whenever we do have better alternatives (i.e. players listed above them on the list).
These players are listed in order of frequency of hitting the stated threshold (i.e. QB12, RB24, WR24, and TE12 performances and higher on the list means more startable).
The groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench or the waiver-wire, should I start this player this week?
Players not listed should be presumed sit-worthy in a shallow or standard-sized league, and all fantasy points references and rankings reflect half-PPR scoring.
Start With Confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.
- Patrick Mahomes vs. CLE (69% to finish as a top-12 QB)
- Kyler Murray at TEN (61%)
- Josh Allen vs. PIT (60%)
- Lamar Jackson at LV (56%)
- Russell Wilson at IND (53%)
- Jalen Hurts at ATL (52%)
- Dak Prescott at TB (51%)
Look, six of these seven names are locked-in starters, and it's Jalen Hurts who is certainly the outlier in this group. The others have had a top-six average draft position in NFC drafts since the start of September. Hurts is the QB11 in that timeframe, so he's not necessarily clearly in everyone's lineup. He's got a 48.0% start rate and a 90.3% roster rate in ESPN leagues.
Hurts, though, will go up against an Atlanta Falcons defense that ranked 25th across the board in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, passing success rate, and adjusted fantasy points per attempt to opposing quarterbacks last season. They're also 32nd in ProFootballFocus' preseason secondary rankings and 31st in their front-seven rankings.
Hurts also projects for 5.4 rushing fantasy points (6.6 attempts for 33.1 yards and 0.3 touchdowns), which historically raises a passer's floor and ceiling and helps him get into this top-tier of Week 1 passers.
Consider If Needed: This tier has odds between 40% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
- Tom Brady vs. DAL (48%)
- Ryan Tannehill vs. ARI (45%)
- Matthew Stafford vs. CHI (43%)
- Aaron Rodgers at NO (43%)
- Trevor Lawrence at HOU (42%)
- Justin Herbert at WSH (42%)
- Matt Ryan vs. PHI (40%)
Tom Brady just barely missed out on lock territory, but that definitely doesn't mean you're likely to sit him in any circumstance. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked as the second-best offense from Week 9 through the Super Bowl last season, according to our offensive NEP per play metric.
Notably, Trevor Lawrence draws an elite matchup in his debut, and he -- largely due to a stellar matchup -- is 12th in top-six finish odds. The Houston Texans, last year, ranked 32nd in passing success rate allowed to quarterbacks and 27th in adjusted fantasy points per attempt.
The passer closest to the cutoff -- and ranking 14th in top-12 rate -- is Matt Ryan. Again, we're looking at 12-team expectations with one quarterback started per team, so Ryan isn't exactly someone we should be clamoring to start anyway.
Last season, in games with Julio Jones healthy, Ryan put up 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back, basically the same level as Patrick Mahomes. In games where Jones was limited or out, his mark fell to 0.05 -- Andy Dalton levels.
Bench If Possible: These quarterbacks are under 40% likely (15th or worse) to net a top-12 result and aren't in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
- Jameis Winston vs. GB (37%)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. LAC (36%)
- Joe Burrow vs. MIN (35%)
- Tyrod Taylor vs. JAC (35%)
- Kirk Cousins at CIN (33%)
- Baker Mayfield at KC (33%)
- Zach Wilson at CAR (32%)
- Derek Carr vs. BAL (32%)
- Sam Darnold vs. NYJ (30%)
- Ben Roethlisberger at BUF (27%)
- Tua Tagovailoa at NE (26%)
- Teddy Bridgewater at NYG (25%)
- Mac Jones vs. MIA (25%)
- Carson Wentz vs. SEA (25%)
- Daniel Jones vs. DEN (23%)
- Jared Goff vs. SF (21%)
Start With Confidence: These running backs are at least 65% likely to finish the week inside the top 24, according to the slate simulations. You're starting them.
- Christian McCaffrey vs. NYJ (89% to finish as a top-24 RB)
- Dalvin Cook at CIN (84%)
- Derrick Henry vs. ARI (82%)
- Alvin Kamara vs. GB (80%)
- Saquon Barkley vs. DEN (72%)
- Aaron Jones at NO (70%)
- Austin Ekeler at WSH (69%)
- Jonathan Taylor vs. SEA (68%)
- Joe Mixon vs. MIN (67%)
- Najee Harris at BUF (66%)
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. CLE (66%)
- Ezekiel Elliottat TB (65%)
- Nick Chubb at KC (65%)
I mean, this checks out, and none of these players need significant words spent on their cases for starts.
Consider If Needed - This tier is sitting between 40% and 64% for an RB2 week, and you're probably starting some of them even if they're shy of that top tier.
- Chris Carson at IND (64%)
- Antonio Gibson vs. LAC (64%)
- Miles Sanders at ATL (63%)
- D'Andre Swift vs. SF (62%)
- James Robinson at HOU (62%)
- David Montgomery at LA (59%)
- Josh Jacobs vs. BAL (57%)
- Mike Davis vs. PHI (53%)
- Darrell Henderson vs. CHI (51%)
- Gus Edwards at LV (49%)
- Javonte Williams at NYG (45%)
- Damien Harris vs. MIA (45%)
- Chase Edmonds at TEN (44%)
- Raheem Mostert at DET (42%)
- Myles Gaskin at NE (40%)
- Trey Sermon at DET (40%)
- Melvin Gordon at NYG (40%)
This tier is full of the options that we would be considering as our RB2s, RB3s, and flex choices.
One name I'd call attention to is Miles Sanders, who gets love from numberFire's model (again, the basis of the simulations) but who could find himself in an early-season committee of sorts. The matchup and game environment should be enticing overall, yet I'd be personally bumping him down the list if this was a more subjective start-sit approach.
D'Andre Swift and the Detroit Lions boast the lowest implied total of the week (18.75 points), and they are 7.5-point home underdogs against a team that ranked top 12 in Rushing NEP per carry, rushing success rate, and adjusted fantasy points per rush to opposing backs in 2020. He's someone that I'd normally be looking to cover as a juicy "sit" option in a more traditional column, but let's not overreact: he's still projected for 14.0 carries and 4.7 targets with 88.7 scrimmage yards and 0.6 touchdowns. That's hard to top for players significantly below him, even if his matchup is less than ideal. Just make sure he's healthy for Sunday.
Notably, both Denver Broncos backs -- Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon -- find themselves in this tier in a game at the New York Giants. The over/under is only 41.5 points, yet both rank top-28 in projected adjusted opportunities (targets times two plus carries to account for the value of targets at the position). They'll eat into each other's ceilings, but the floor seems relevant enough to put them above the priority sits for Week 1, according to the simulations.
Bench If Possible: These backs are under 35% likely to net a top-12 result.
- Kareem Hunt at KC (31%)
- Leonard Fournette vs. DAL (28%)
- Zack Moss vs. PIT (26%)
- Sony Michel vs. CHI (26%)
- Ronald Jones vs. DAL (25%)
- Kenyan Drake vs. BAL (24%)
- Ty Johnson at CAR (23%)
- Devin Singletary vs. PIT (23%)
- David Johnson vs. JAC (23%)
- James White vs. MIA (22%)
- A.J. Dillon at NO (22%)
- Tony Pollard at TB (22%)
- Jamaal Williams vs. SF (20%)
- Nyheim Hines vs. SEA (19%)
- J.D. McKissic vs. LAC (18%)
- Tevin Coleman at CAR (17%)
- Mark Ingram vs. JAC (16%)
- Damien Williams at LA (15%)
- James Conner at TEN (15%)
- Alexander Mattison at CIN (15%)
- Giovani Bernard vs. DAL (13%)
- Malcolm Brown at NE (12%)
We're looking at secondary and tertiary running backs in this tier. The most natural name to give us pause is Kareem Hunt in a game against his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, where his current team, the Cleveland Browns, are 6.5-point underdogs. That should lead to relevant target numbers for him, sure, but the data is keener on sitting Hunt wherever possible.
Start With Confidence: You're starting these guys in a 12-team league.
- Tyreek Hill vs. CLE (73% to finish as a top-24 WR)
- Calvin Ridley vs. PHI (66%)
- Davante Adams at NO (65%)
- DeAndre Hopkins at TEN (65%)
- Stefon Diggs vs. PIT (63%)
- DK Metcalf at IND (56%)
- AJ Brown vs. ARI (54%)
- Justin Jefferson at CIN (53%)
- Terry McLaurin vs. LAC (48%)
- Mike Evans vs. DAL (48%)
- Tyler Lockett at IND (47%)
- Amari Cooper at TB (46%)
- Keenan Allen at WSH (44%)
- Allen Robinson at LA (43%)
- Chris Godwin vs. DAL (43%)
- Robert Woods vs. CHI (43%)
- Tee Higgins vs. MIN (43%)
- Julio Jones vs. ARI (42%)
- Odell Beckham at KC (42%)
- CeeDee Lamb at TB (40%)
The two names that probably jump off as a little peculiar when it comes to "must-start" territory would be Tee Higgins and Odell Beckham, both of whom have average draft positions outside the top 20 (23 for Higgins and 28 for Beckham).
The Chiefs, Beckham's opponent, rank 18th. And Beckham, for all his shortcomings last season, held an elite workload that featured a 38.4% air yards share and 3.40 air yards per route (around 160% of the receiver average), according to NextGenStats, in his healthy games.
Consider If Needed: These players are more matchup dependent for Week 1 than the tier above but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.
- Adam Thielen at CIN (40%)
- Chase Claypool at BUF (39%)
- Kenny Golladay vs. DEN (38%)
- Cooper Kupp vs. CHI (38%)
- DJ Moore vs. NYJ (36%)
- Marvin Jones at HOU (35%)
- Brandon Aiyuk at DET (34%)
- Ja'Marr Chase vs. MIN (33%)
- Jerry Jeudy at NYG (33%)
- Corey Davis at CAR (33%)
- Diontae Johnson at BUF (31%)
- Tyler Boyd vs. MIN (30%)
- Henry Ruggs vs. BAL (30%)
- Robby Anderson vs. NYJ (30%)
- Tre'Quan Smith vs. GB (29%)
- DeVante Parker at NE (28%)
- Marquise Brown at LV (28%)
- Brandin Cooks vs. JAC (28%)
- DeVonta Smith at ATL (27%)
- Laviska Shenault at HOU (27%)
- Tyrell Williams vs. SF (26%)
- Michael Gallup at TB (26%)
- Jaylen Waddle at NE (26%)
- Marquez Callaway vs. GB (25%)
- Deebo Samuel at DET (25%)
I'm a big fan of DJ Moore in Week 1 against the weak New York Jets defense, which sits 28th in PFF's preseason secondary rankings. Moore has constantly over-performed in relation to his peers regardless of his quarterback situation, and he will likely be a primary tournament play for me on FanDuel in Week 1, as well.
Conversely, I'm not particularly high on either Henry Ruggs or Kenny Golladay personally, but given their rolling aDOT numbers and target projections, they sit at the top of this tier in projected air yards for Week 1. That's definitely notable if you're thin at WR2, WR3, or FLEX, as air yards correlate strongly to ceiling potential.
Bench If Possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 25% of the time.
- Curtis Samuel vs. LAC (24%)
- Mecole Hardman vs. CLE (23%)
- D.J. Chark at HOU (23%)
- Jarvis Landry at KC (23%)
- Antonio Brown vs. DAL (23%)
- Mike Williams at WSH (22%)
- Rondale Moore at TEN (22%)
- Jalen Reagor at ATL (21%)
- Courtland Sutton at NYG (21%)
- JuJu Smith-Schuster at BUF (20%)
- Elijah Moore at CAR (20%)
- Michael Pittman Jr.. vs. SEA (18%)
- Nico Collins vs. JAC (18%)
- Darnell Mooney at LA (18%)
- Parris Campbell vs. SEA (16%)
- Russell Gage vs. PHI (16%)
- A.J. Green at TEN (15%)
- Terrace Marshall Jr. vs. NYJ (15%)
Start With Confidence: These guys are the big five.
You didn't spend top-five draft capital on these tight ends to sit them in Week 1, and they actually all have some good matchups for the most part. Only the Las Vegas Raiders -- Mark Andrews' opponent -- ranked better than 12th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to the position a year ago.
Consider If Needed: You'll likely be starting these options if you don't have a top-five tight end.
- T.J. Hockenson vs. SF (46%)
- Tyler Higbee vs. CHI (45%)
- Logan Thomas vs. LAC (43%)
- Dallas Goedert at ATL (42%)
- Noah Fant at NYG (38%)
- Mike Gesicki at NE (38%)
- Zach Ertz at ATL (34%)
- Robert Tonyan at NO (33%)
T.J. Hockenson (6.9 projected Week 1 targets) is a cut above the rest in projected workload (only Mike Gesicki [6.1] and Logan Thomas [6.0] are also at 6.0 or better in this tier), and he should be a featured pass-catcher for Jared Goff and the Lions' offense. Even against a stout San Francisco 49ers defense (which ranked fourth in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends last season), I'm not making the case to sit him based on the other context surrounding the position.
Both Eagles tight ends made the cut here, which is a little peculiar. However, Jalen Hurts has been targeting both of them heavily this preseason. Dallas Goedert projects for the better median outcome (7.9 half-PPR points to 6.6 for Zach Ertz), but Goedert actually has a tier-worst aDOT of 6.9 yards (while Ertz' rolling average is 8.2). In a potential shootout in a dome, the Eagles' duo gets placed into consider territory before the wheels start to fall off at the position.
Bench If Possible: These tight ends aren't in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues.
- Blake Jarwin at TB (29%)
- Jonnu Smith vs. MIA (29%)
- Anthony Firkser vs. ARI (28%)
- Rob Gronkowski vs. DAL (27%)
- Eric Ebron at BUF (27%)
- Jordan Akins vs. JAC (26%)
- Gerald Everett at IND (26%)
- Jared Cook at WSH (26%)
- Hunter Henry vs. MIA (25%)
- Austin Hooper at KC (25%)
- Cole Kmet at LA (21%)