Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 7
You could argue that the reason I have the job I do today is because of quarterbacks being devalued in fantasy football. No, really, it's true.
About four years ago, I ended up publishing an e-book -- on a whim -- called The Late Round Quarterback. That turned into a blog, which turned into other writing opportunities, which turned into this.
To the Ryan Fitzpatricks of the world -- thank you.
Over the last few seasons, we've seen the typical quarterback performances in fantasy football. You generally have an elite tier of a couple of guys, and then a middle-of-the-road group who are usually replaceable with late-round, streaming options. It's more or less been the same each season.
Not in 2015, though. Things are different this year. Things are good for the late-round quarterback #brand.
Andy Dalton, a 13th or 14th rounder in most 12-team leagues this season, is the best fantasy signal-caller through six weeks. Blake Bortles, after failing miserably his rookie year, has four top-10 performances over his last five games. Tyrod Taylor, a backup for four years in Baltimore, got the starting gig in Buffalo during the preseason and has three top-seven performances in five starts, which is more than Aaron Rodgers.
I mean, Brian Hoyer -- yes, that Brian Hoyer -- has three straight games with 17 or more standard fantasy points scored. And he's started just one of those games.
The quarterback position is wild this season, and while it's a position that's annually overrated in fantasy football, the notion is exaggerated here in 2015. Will things continue that way in Week 7?
Quarterbacks to Sit
Josh McCown (at St. Louis): When Josh McCown went out with a concussion against the Jets in Week 1, fans and fantasy owners alike were excited for what was perceived to be a better quarterback under center for the Browns.
Josh McCown would like an apology.
Through six weeks, only 11 quarterbacks have been better than McCown, per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. And prior to last week against the best defense and secondary in the NFL, McCown had rattled off three straight top-10 fantasy performances.
Unfortunately for McCown truthers, he's got a matchup this week that isn't so favorable. The Rams' secondary ranks fifth in the NFL according to our numbers, and no quarterback has scored more than 16 fantasy points against them this season. There are better options than McCown this weekend.
Alex Smith (vs. Pittsburgh): At the beginning of the season, I would've surely thought this would be a decent matchup for Smith. After all, the Steelers' secondary struggled hard at the end of 2014 and into 2015, and Smith himself carved it up for 311 passing yards last year, the second highest passing total of his career.
But Keith Butler has his defense playing well above expectation, and the pass defense is actually now 14th best in the NFL, per our numbers. Since Week 2, only Philip Rivers has ranked higher than 17th in weekly quarterback scoring against Pittsburgh, while Nick Foles and Joe Flacco combined for fewer than 15 points.
Without Jamaal Charles by his side, Smith isn't worth the risk, even if your quarterback has a bye.
Start These Quarterbacks Instead
Carson Palmer (vs. Baltimore): Palmer's a near plug-and-play quarterback -- if not an automatic play -- but he could be in store for huge numbers in Week 7.
The Ravens' secondary hasn't been bad this year. It's been dreadful. The unit has only stopped Michael Vick and Peyton Manning from scoring fantasy points, and each of those quarterbacks have some of the worst Passing NEP totals in the league so far this year. Vick's total is actually lowest -- by far -- in the NFL.
Aside from those two contests, the Ravens have faced Andy Dalton, Josh McCown, Derek Carr and Colin Kaepernick. Nothing overly difficult, right? Well, each of these passers finished with at least 22 fantasy points against Baltimore, with McCown ending his day versus the Ravens as the top fantasy passer of the week. Please, I beg you -- start Carson Palmer.
Ryan Tannehill (vs. Houston): It's been a rough ride for Tannehill and the Dolphins, but the reality is, his fantasy numbers haven't been dreadful. His lowest output was about 12 fantasy points in Week 1, and he's scored 15 or more points in three of his five games played.
The entire offense looked a lot better coming off their bye a week ago, and they'll face a Houston secondary that's surrendered three top-six performances to fantasy quarterbacks this season. Even Matt Hasselbeck finished with over 16 fantasy points against the Texans.
With bye weeks hitting hard, Tanny is in a good spot to be a fill-in for your squad.
Zach Mettenberger (vs. Atlanta, Deeper Play): No, don't trot Mettenberger -- who's subbing for an injured Marcus Mariota -- out over proven starters, but as insane as it sounds, there's a chance that he ends up as a good play this week.
Atlanta's been a top-10 team in terms of fantasy points against to the quarterback position, so that'll probably scare a lot of people off of Mett. But let's not pretend the Falcons have faced overly difficult competition -- Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, Ryan Mallett, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins and Brandon Weeden. The truth is, according to our schedule-adjusted numbers, the Falcons have struggled against the pass this year, ranking 25th.
Mettenberger has proven in the past to be a DGAF, Jay Cutler-esque quarterback, which is great for fantasy. He's thrown an interception in all six games he's ever started, sure, but he's also hit the two-touchdown mark in half of those contests. With decent weapons at receiver for him -- as long as Dorial Green-Beckham keeps seeing more snaps -- Mettenberger is actually a really sneaky play this week.
Running Backs to Sit
Charcandrick West (vs. Pittsburgh): As I mentioned with Alex Smith above, the Steelers' defense has been pretty strong in 2015. Especially on the ground. No running back has scored more than Dion Lewis' 15 PPR points against the Steelers this year (which came in Week 1), and when adjusted for strength of opponent, our numbers actually rank Pittsburgh first -- first! -- against the run. West may have decent days ahead of him, but this week's game doesn't look like a good spot for him.
Andre Ellington (vs. Baltimore): I was kind of baffled when I saw that Andre Ellington was being started in nearly one-quarter of ESPN leagues, and even if that number is inflated due to stranded teams, the fact that it would be over even 15% is surprising. Since returning from injury, Ellington's seen a total of four carries, and while he had 47 yards receiving last week, it still came on just two targets. The volume just isn't there in a crowded backfield to be a trustworthy start.
Carlos Hyde (vs. Seattle): It makes sense if you can't bench Hyde this week, but if you're in a shallower league, I'd consider it. Sure, Jonathan Stewart had a nice game against Seattle last week, but the rush defense still ranks third according to NEP, while the team is allowing the third fewest points to the position. Hyde himself hasn't been overly effective, either, hitting RB2, top-24 status in PPR leagues just twice this season.
Start These Running Backs Instead
Chris Ivory (vs. New England): Some of you will see the Patriots' fantasy points against and be turned off by Ivory this week, but a lot of that has to do with volume. Teams are continuously trailing against New England, forcing the pass -- only five teams have a higher pass-to-run ratio against than New England.
Our numbers peg the Patriots with the 28th best rush defense in the NFL. In other words, we should probably expect the Jets to try and pound the rock consistently against them, using their strength (the Jets are seventh in schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP) against the Pats' weakness. That'll also control the clock, keeping Tom Brady off the field.
While it's easier said than done, don't be completely turned off by the matchup.
Christine Michael (at New York): UPDATE: Given recent reports, Michael should only be a desperation play. Michael probably doesn't need to be started in 10-team leagues, but larger ones may want to consider him with the number of teams on bye. We've seen commentary surrounding Michael's leap into becoming the team's starter -- or at least getting more opportunity -- which makes sense considering Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden have average -0.05 Rushing Net Expected Points per rush this season, which is a below average rate. Behind that offensive line, that can't cut it.
The Giants have been above average against the run this season per NEP, but didn't look great this past week against Philadelphia. And don't forget that, in Week 1, Lance Dunbar and Randle combined for 28.7 PPR points against the G-Men.
Dexter McCluster (vs. Atlanta): If you want to dig even deeper than Michael this week, you could look McCluster's way, who's continuing to see the most snaps among all Tennessee running backs. What's especially interesting about McCluster this week is that the Titans are underdogs and are expected to lose the contest, meaning they could be playing from behind. If that game script occurs, McCluster will be on the field. And the matchup is right -- so far this season, no team has allowed more receptions to the running back position than Atlanta. If you're in a PPR league and need a dart throw running back, I don't mind McCluster.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Anquan Boldin (vs. Seattle): Boldin's been fine this season for owners who spent a later-round pick on him, but I'd be wary about using him against Seattle. We all know, even if the defense hasn't been as strong this season, that the Seahawks can ball in the secondary. So far this season, only one wide receiver has ranked as a WR2 (top 24) or better in PPR formats -- Randall Cobb -- and he finished 21st. The fact is, Seattle gets attacked down the middle of the field, which is why tight ends have found success. I'd really try and find a Boldin replacement for this week.
Michael Crabtree (at San Diego): The Chargers' secondary ranks 12th according to our metrics, so the matchup for Crabtree -- at a high level -- is no cakewalk. I mentioned this last week, but the team has also allowed just one top-24 performance to a wideout in PPR formats this year, and it came against Markus Wheaton, who caught one pass. Considering that statistic still holds true tells you that they held Packer wide receivers to modest totals last week as well. Though Crabtree's seeing volume, I wouldn't have him in my lineup this week.
Allen Robinson (vs. Buffalo): The Bills have done a good job on the outside against top receivers this year. A.J. Green had just 4 catches for 36 yards on 7 targets last week, Odell Beckham caught only 5 passes on 12 targets against Buffalo in Week 4, and Kendall Wright had a week against the Bills where he ranked 60th in fantasy scoring at the position. Really, the only receivers who have found success against Buffalo either played in the slot or were just peppered with targets (Buffalo has faced the highest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL this year). While A-Rob could see a decent amount of volume -- and should be in your starting lineups -- just temper expectations in Week 7.
Start These Wide Receivers Instead
Donte Moncrief (vs. New Orleans): Moncrief now has three top-20 wide receiver performances on the year in PPR leagues, and in two of the other three contests where he didn't finish that way, he scored over 13 fantasy points. Really, the only time Moncrief hasn't been reliable was that wacky Thursday night game where Andre Johnson decided to be a thing again.
This week, Moncrief and the Colts face a Saints' secondary that's been decent in terms of fantasy points again, but they rank 30th against the pass according to our numbers. There's no reason to be afraid of Moncrief.
Pierre Garcon (vs. Tampa Bay): The Buccaneers have consistently been a lower-end team against the pass over the last couple of seasons, and they're sitting in 23rd this season, per NEP. The thing to like about this matchup for Garcon is two-fold: top wideouts against the Bucs have done serious work -- four of the five number-one wide receivers they've faced have put up at least 16 fantasy points in PPR leagues -- and Garcon should continue to be one of the only reliable options in the passing game with DeSean Jackson sidelined.
Robert Woods (vs. Jacksonville): Percy Harvin didn't make the trip to London for Buffalo's game against Jacksonville, and Sammy Watkins missed practice again on Wednesday with an ankle injury. That makes Woods the de facto top target for whoever the quarterback ends up being. And that's not a terrible thing against a Jags' secondary that's worse than any other in the league so far this year, having surrendered roughly 50 more points -- real points -- than an average NFL secondary would have this season.
Tight Ends to Sit
Crockett Gillmore (at Arizona): We used to target the Cardinals with our fantasy football tight ends, but not anymore. No team has been better against the position this year, as the Cardinals have yet to allow a tight end to rank higher than 20th in a given week in PPR formats. Though their competition hasn't been overly difficult, the unit did stop Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett and Heath Miller. It's not looking great for Gillmore this weekend.
Start These Tight Ends Instead
Antonio Gates (vs. Oakland): Gates should be started in most leagues regardless of matchup, but it's necessary to mention him here this week given his opponent. So far this year, the only tight end to not rank first or second in weekly scoring at the position in PPR leagues has been Owen Daniels, who's a far less important piece to his offense when you compare him to Gates. Since returning from suspension, Gates has 27 targets (absurd), and if that sort of volume continues against the Raiders, he should be this week's top tight end.
Coby Fleener (vs. New Orleans): Even with Dwayne Allen active this past week, Coby Fleener played 62.5% of the Colts' snaps, out-targeting Allen six to three. He didn't light the world on fire with that volume, but this week, he gets a much better matchup against a Saints' defense that's been fourth worst against tight ends in terms of fantasy points against. If you need a dart throw, waiver wire tight end, Fleener could be it.
Defenses to Sit
New York Jets (at New England): The Patriots have played five games this year, and only the Colts were able to rank higher than 20th in fantasy scoring as a defense, thanks to a defensive touchdown. While the Jets have been good -- they rank third in our schedule-adjusted metrics -- there's no reason to trot them out against arguably the best offense in the league.
Other defenses to sit: Baltimore Ravens (at Arizona), Philadelphia Eagles (at Carolina)
Start These Defenses Instead
Washington Redskins (vs. Tampa Bay): The Redskins' defense has been fickle this year, so it's hard to say confidently that they make a great streaming defense. But you can't deny the matchup. They're at home, they're favorites, and they're facing a Bucs' offense that's allowed two top-five defensive performance in five games this year. Jameis Winston has been a turnover machine, and that could continue this weekend.
Other defenses to start: New York Giants (vs. Dallas), Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tennessee)