Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 4
Remember when teachers used to give you a handful of essay prompts before a test, telling you that only some of them would appear on the exam? You'd study, you'd do research, and then, when you were handed the test and you flipped to the back page to see which essays were selected, you were bummed out. Because every single time -- without fail, it seemed -- the essay question you knew least about was on the freaking test.
That situation is not unlike fantasy football. You can put hours and hours of work into a single start-sit decision, just to see it fail to come to fruition. You can study and understand everything there is to a matchup in football, just to see it not matter, whether it's because of an injury, a poor game plan, or just a flat-out awful performance.
The fact is, none of us control what happens on the football field. And none of us controlled which essay prompt our teacher would put on a test.
What we do control, however, is our process. And a good, sound process -- one that's consistently been successful -- is more important than a one-off situation where things don't go your way.
Remember that when you make your fantasy football decisions this week.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Ryan Tannehill (vs. New York): The Dolphins are over in London this weekend to face the Jets, and it doesn't seem like we should be all that optimistic about the once highly-touted Tannehill. So far this year, Tannehill has just one start-worthy, top-12 (QB1) performance, and it came in Week 2 against Jacksonville, a team that ranks 29th against the pass according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
The Jets aren't the Jags. New York ranks fifth against the pass, forcing a sub-20 point team total -- according to Vegas -- for Miami this week. A low number in the points scored column means fewer fantasy points for the quarterback, which is just part of the reason Tannenhill should be on your bench this weekend.
Alex Smith (at Cincinnati): Smith has two top-12 performances already this season, so it's not as though he shouldn't be on your radar each week, especially with weapons like Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin. But against the Bengals in Cincinnati, I'll pass. The Bengals' secondary ranks a mediocre 16th so far this season according to our numbers, but they've allowed just two top-12 performances since Week 9 of last season. Like the Dolphins, the Chiefs are expected to score fewer than 20 points this week, which makes Smith an obvious guy to leave on the bench or the waiver wire.
Quarterbacks to Start Instead
Tyrod Taylor (vs. New York): The hesitation with Taylor in fantasy football is that he's faced three teams -- Indianapolis, New England and Miami -- who rank 20th or worse in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. In other words, the matchups have been pretty solid for the inexperienced starter.
But he's thrived, ranking as a top-10 passer in terms of Passing NEP. And he gets another easy opponent in Week 4. The Giants are averaging 18.4 standard fantasy points against per game so far this year, and one of the three passers they've faced was Kirk Cousins. According to NEP, when adjusted for strength of opponent, the Giants have the eighth-worst secondary in the NFL. Everything is lining up for Tyrod in this one.
Derek Carr (at Chicago): Only seven passers have been more efficient than Derek Carr this year according to our Net Expected Points metric. He's been really good, far exceeding his poor performance last year where only Blake Bortles was worse among all starting quarterbacks.
This has translated to the fantasy gridiron -- he's ranked fifth and eighth in weekly scoring over the last couple of weeks after leaving Week 1 early with a hand injury. Week 4 pegs the Raiders as road favorites in Chicago, against a secondary that ranks 27th in the league. The Bears have faced tough quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson, but that ranking is a schedule-adjusted one. They've got holes, and Carr should be able to put together a nice performance as a result.
Running Backs to Sit
Lamar Miller (vs. New York): Miller owners want the nightmare to end, but it's more than likely not going to here in Week 4. The Jets appeared weaker last week against the run, allowing both Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews to be top-20 running backs in PPR leagues. But those Eagles' backs scored on special teams and through the air, respectively.
The truth is, they still weren't overly efficient on the ground. As a result, the Jets still rank first within our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP metric, making them a tough opponent for a struggling Miami rushing attack.
Doug Martin (vs. Carolina): Among all NFL running backs, none have lost more points -- expected points, of course -- than the Muscle Hamster has this season. The Bucs' offensive line is somewhat of a mess, and Martin is heading towards a fantasy football wasteland, having scored no more than 9.8 PPR points in any game so far this year. Even though Carolina has seen injuries on the defensive side of the ball, there's no reason you should be trusting Martin.
Justin Forsett (at Pittsburgh): Speaking of injuries, the Ravens have already declared tackle Eugene Monroe out for Thursday's tilt against the Michael Vick-led Steelers, and tight end Crockett Gillmore will miss the game as well. Those are two pieces to an already-poor rushing attack that will be gone. Though the Steelers' defense hasn't been great this season -- and probably won't be all season long -- they do stop the run much better than the pass, ranking eighth in the league according to our metrics. There may be a time where Forsett and the Ravens turn things around on the ground, but it probably won't be this week.
Running Backs to Start Instead
Melvin Gordon (vs. Cleveland): This week really sets up as Melvin Gordon's big breakout. The Chargers are at home as strong 7.5-point favorites, meaning game script should be positive for them throughout the game. What that means is they'll be running the ball in order to grind out some clock. And doing that against Cleveland is no difficult task -- our numbers say Cleveland has the worst rush defense in the NFL. In fact, at least one running back from each team they've faced this year has put together a top-10 PPR performance. Gordon's in a very good spot this week.
Karlos Williams (vs. New York): No team is running the ball at a higher rate than the Bills so far this year, and LeSean McCoy is looking like a long shot to play against the Giants. This season, no running back with 10 or more carries has a higher Rushing NEP per rush than Williams, and no back in the entire NFL has put together a higher Rushing NEP total than the Bills' rookie. With no significant running back behind him on the depth chart, Williams makes for an awesome play given his probable workload.
Lance Dunbar (at New Orleans): If you're looking to dig a little deeper, Dunbar could be your dude, especially in PPR leagues. Last week, Joseph Randle failed to touch the ball after the clock hit 4:39 in the third quarter. That coincided with the Cowboys losing the lead to the Falcons. In came Lance Dunbar, the team's passing down specialist at running back, who caught 10 passes for 100 yards.
The Saints are four-point favorites against the Cowboys this week, meaning Dallas could -- and should -- be behind in the contest. That means Brandon Weeden will be looking for his check-down security blanket, Dunbar, often.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Allen Robinson (at Indianapolis): The Colts secondary has been crushed with injuries, but I'm afraid to play Allen Robinson this week for one simple reason: Vontae Davis. Davis completely shut down Sammy Watkins in Week 1, and if he shadows Robinson, he could do the same here in Week 4. The hope for Robinson owners would be that there's a very pass-happy approach for Jacksonville if and when they lose a lead, but if I could avoid using Robinson this week, I certainly would.
Kenny Britt (at Arizona): Don't look at Britt's Week 2 and 3 performances as anything sustainable. He scored a long touchdown in Week 2 to help pad his stats, and in Week 3, he faced a struggling Steelers secondary, seeing 10 targets. Arizona ranks second against the pass according to our metrics, and considering Nick Foles is Britt's quarterback, well, you know what to do.
Doug Baldwin (vs. Detroit): On paper, a matchup against the Lions doesn't look bad for Baldwin. And it's really not. But Baldwin really is just a fringe starter in fantasy football, despite being started in over 22 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
There's also the fear that, as heavy favorites, the Seahawks won't be as pass-happy as they would otherwise be. The first two games of the season saw Baldwin snag 8 and 9 targets, respectively, but both contests were Seahawks losses. In other words, they faced a negative game script where they had to throw a ton. In Week 4, it's tough to feel confident about the volume being there for Baldwin -- who saw just three targets in a win last week -- as a result.
Wide Receivers to Start Instead
Michael Crabtree (at Chicago): Everyone should be all over Amari Cooper this week in a matchup against the Bears, but don't write off his wide receiving teammate. So far this season, only four NFL wide receivers have more red zone targets than Crabtree, and Crabtree's actually out-targeted Cooper, regardless of field position, by two. As mentioned with Derek Carr above, the Raiders' passing game is in a really good spot this week, so don't be surprised if Crabtree exits the week -- given all of this -- with start-worthy numbers.
James Jones (at San Francisco): Davante Adams had a boot on his injured left ankle on Wednesday, and it's not looking promising for him this week. Enter Jones, who's the de facto number-two wideout in an offense that's supposed to score the most points this week, per Vegas, led by Aaron Rodgers.
San Francisco's secondary has been torched the last two weeks, and the unit now ranks 26th according to our metrics. In just three games, four different wide receivers have posted top-30 PPR numbers against San Francisco, while two, Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald, have been top-six weekly options. Jones saw an increased role on Monday night with Adams sidelined, seeing eight targets, and there's no reason to believe that type of volume won't be there in Week 4.
Donte Moncrief (vs. Jacksonville): Moncrief keeps making this column, but it's only because his percentage started on the major fantasy sites is far too low. He's playing over 57 snaps per contest, which is the highest among Indianapolis wide receivers, and he's now scored in each of the first three games of the season. Moncrief's seen no fewer than seven targets in a game this year, too, and he gets a date with the aforementioned Jaguars, who rank 29th against the pass according to NEP. Yes, please.
Tight Ends to Sit
Heath Miller (vs. Baltimore): What's the Pittsburgh offense going to look like without Ben Roethlisberger? That's what you need to ask when you think about slotting Miller into your lineup, especially considering he's seen just a total of five targets over his last two games. A run-heavy approach from Pittsburgh on Thursday shouldn't surprise anyone, and even if they do throw more passes than expected, the Ravens have actually been the best team at defending tight ends during this new season, so the matchup is no cakewalk.
Tight Ends to Start Instead
Charles Clay (vs. New York): Clay saw seven targets against his former team last week, and turned them into the fourth-best tight end performance of Week 3. As it stands, things aren't looking good on the injury front for Sammy Watkins entering Week 4, which means Clay could see an uptick in volume. Match that with the fact that the Giants have been lost when it comes to defending the tight end this season (fourth most points allowed to the position), and you've got yourself a great streamer.
Martellus Bennett (vs. Oakland): In Week 1, it was Tyler Eifert. In Week 2, it was Crockett Gillmore. In Week 3, Gary Barnidge. The Oakland Raiders can't stop the tight end position...at all. Every starting tight end that's faced them this season has finished as either the best or second best tight end of the week, and it's not as though they've faced Rob Gronkowski three weeks in a row. Even if Jay Cutler isn't under center, Bennett is a great option in Week 4.
Defenses to Sit
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Houston Texans): There may be an urge to play the Falcons defense against the Texans this week because Houston's got an inexperienced quarterback under center with zero weapons aside from DeAndre Hopkins (and Arian Foster if he's healthy, of course). But, so far this year, Houston hasn't exactly been the offense to pick on. Only the Chiefs have scored double-digit fantasy points on them, and even then, they were the 13th-ranked defense that particular week (Week 1). And let's not pretend the Falcons have a lock-down defense -- according to our numbers, they rank 22nd in the NFL so far as a unit.
Other defenses to sit: St. Louis Rams (at Arizona), Houston Texans (at Atlanta)
Defenses to Start Instead
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars): Over the Jaguars last 18 fantasy relevant games (excludes Week 17 of last year), 12 defenses have scored double-digit points against them. That means that 66.7% of Jacksonville's games since the start of the 2014 season have resulted in at least fringe start-worthy D territory. The Colts are big favorites at home this week, which means Blake Bortles will be playing from behind. And when that happens, you know turnovers become more likely.
Other defenses to start: Green Bay Packers (at San Francisco), San Diego Chargers (vs. Cleveland)