Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett are here to help you out with all of your Start / Sit needs with a deep rundown of their favorite- and least-favorite plays every single week. This article will be continually updated with news throughout the week, so make sure you keep it locked on our projections and on this column all the way through to kickoff on Sunday.
For the context of this article, any Start / Sit recommendation for “Shallow” leagues refers to 10-team leagues while “Deep” is 12- or 14-teamers.
Start: Jalen Hurts at Washington
Hurts currently ranks 5th in FPG (22.0) and averages 22.4 FPG in career starts, hitting at least 19.0 fantasy points in 13 of 18 games (72%). Hurts is still dealing with an ankle injury, but it’s unclear how much this might cap his upside. Last week, Hurts ran only twice for 7 yards, but Philadelphia never needed to keep their foot on the gas against the Giants, winning by 24 points. In his first game back, the week prior, and against this same Washington defense, Hurts rushed for 38 yards and 2 scores on 8 carries.
But Hurts needs to be started as no less than a mid-range QB1 this week, given this near-perfect matchup. Washington is the league’s top pass funnel defense (+6.0% over expectation), and the most favorable matchup for any QB, ranking: worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+5.6), worst in total FPG allowed (23.9, +16% more than next-closest), worst in passing FPG allowed (19.4), worst in rushing FPG allowed (4.5), worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.505), and worst in opposing passer rating (104.7).
Against Washington last week, Dallas QBs Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush combined to drop 38.1 fantasy points in a 56-14 beatdown. And the week prior, Hurts scored 28.6 fantasy points, while averaging 11.4 yards per pass attempt. [SB]
Start: Matthew Stafford at Ravens
Stafford is coming off his worst start of the season, posting season-lows in FP (6.7) and yards (197) while he struggled with mistakes all game long against the Vikings. His poor game is part of a smaller sample trend as of late with lower scores than normal after a hot start. Stafford has now scored fewer than 16 FP in four of his last 7 games after never dipping below 16.5 FP once in his first eight games. Well, this is an ideal bounceback spot in perfect time for championship week against a Ravens secondary that is in shambles. Obviously, Joe Burrow’s gaudy 525-yard performance is burned into everyone’s brains but this secondary was showing signs of cracking even before that. Over the full season, only Washington (22.9) has given up more FPG to QBs than the Ravens (19.8) and this secondary has allowed multiple passing scores five times in their last six0 games with the lone passer failing to do so being Baker Mayfield. I’m going back to Stafford as a top-5 play for Week 17. [GB]
Start: Trey Lance vs. Houston
This offseason (here), I compared Jalen Hurts (2021) favorably to Lamar Jackson (2019). But, even more brazenly, I compared Lance (2021) to Patrick Mahomes (2018). That was no doubt at least a little too bold, but it’s not hard to see why I was so bullish:
Lance — who averaged 77.0 rushing YPG and 13.3 rushing FPG throughout his career at North Dakota State — has massive Konami Code-upside. And he’s perfectly set up for success, with an elite offensive mind in HC Kyle Shanahan calling plays, and surrounded by three of the NFL’s best YAC monsters.
#49ers Receivers— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 30, 2021
Brandon Aiyuk averaged 9.9 career yards after the catch per reception when at Arizona State. That ranks best by any Power-5 WR since at least 2014
Since entering the NFL,
- Deebo Samuel leads all WRs in YAC/R (9.8)
- George Kittle leads all TEs in YAC/R (7.9)
And what have we seen from Lance thus far? Through six quarters of play, Lance is averaging 232.7 passing yards, 15.3 rushing attempts, 86.7 rushing yards, and 22.6 fantasy points per four quarters. That’s 4.2 more carries and 22.8 more rushing YPG than Lamar Jackson. And 22.6 FPG would rank behind only Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.
Lance gets a perfectly neutral on-paper matchup against the Texans. But the 49ers also have a 28.5-point implied total (4th-most) and a 12.5-point spread in their favor, implying terrific field position and plenty of opportunities for vultured rushing touchdowns.
We like Lance as a fringe-QB1 this week, assuming Jimmy Garoppolo sits. [SB]
Start: Taysom Hill vs. Panthers
After missing last week (COVID), Taysom is back for championship week. His last time out was a painful primetime game against Tampa where Taysom only scored 9.5 FP, which marked the first time he’s dipped below 17 FP in his 7 career starts. That was a bizarre game, though, and I think there is still plenty of runway for Hill to jump back in the low-endQB1 conversation immediately. The floor fell out against the Buccaneers, but the Saints didn’t really have to do all that much offensively because their defense shut down Brady. On that same token, while Taysom still has a long way to go as a passer, he’s obviously not getting much help from his destitute WR/TE corps.
Still, Taysom is the antithesis of why we want to chase running QBs in fantasy. Hill now has 10 or more carries in 6-of-7 career starts and is averaging 59.4 yards with 6 TDs on the ground in those games. While this matchup doesn’t seem great on the surface, the Panthers are going through massive COVID problems this week and could be down studs Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, and Haason Reddick. Depending on how bad the Panthers situation gets, Hill is a high-upside QB2. [GB]
Start: David Montgomery vs. Giants
Several weeks ago, we asked, “What’s wrong with David Montgomery?” And the answer was, “He’s not seeing the same target-volume he saw last year.” But that’s no longer the case. Now, in fact, he’s seeing the best target-volume of any RB in the league. Despite the handicap of a hyper-mobile QB — hyper-mobile QBs typically neglect their RBs in the passing game — Montgomery leads the position and leads his team in targets over the last four weeks (averaging 8.3 per game, up from 2.6 targets per game).
Over this stretch, Montgomery leads all RBs in fantasy points scored, averaging 19.5 FPG. He also ranks 6th in carries per game (18.3), 1st in targets per game (8.3), and 1st in XFP/G (25.2, +34% more than next-closest).
He’s finished 1st, 9th, 3rd, and 1st among all RBs in XFP over this span. And his 35.7 XFP in Week 16 was the 2nd-most by any RB in any week this season.
So, Montgomery is seeing the best volume of any RB in fantasy, and by a wide margin. And now he gets one of his softest matchups yet. The Bears are favored by 6.0-points against the Giants, who rank 8th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (+2.3), and 9th-worst in YPC allowed (4.47). Start Montgomery this week as a top-3 option. [SB]
Start: Ronald Jones @ Jets
In the five games Leonard Fournette missed over the past two seasons, Jones has averaged 20.0 carries, 3.6 targets, 114.6 YFS, and 18.3 FPG. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that’s both high-end RB1 usage and production.
Last week, Jones played on only 52% of the team’s snaps, handling 20 of 29 carries and 3 of 4 targets out of the backfield. And those numbers are slightly skewed by the lopsided nature of the victory (32-6), as he ceded 4 carries and 1 target to his fellow RBs on the last few drives of the game, after his day had ended.
Given his pillow-soft matchup this week, against the Jets, we like Jones as a low-end RB1. Tampa Bay is favored by 13.0-points, behind a 29.25-point implied total (2nd-most). Against RBs, the Jets rank: worst in total FPG allowed (32.7), worst in rushing FPG allowed (20.3), 3rd-worst in receiving FPG allowed (12.5), 5th-worst in YPC allowed (4.54), and worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+12.1). That final stat is 49% more than the next-closest defense, 310% more than the defense ranking 5th-worst, and is the highest stat I’ve ever seen allowed by a defense this far into a season. [SB]
Sit: Antonio Gibson vs. Eagles
Gibson came into SNF last week questionable with a toe injury that is similar to the one he had at the end of last season and ended up barely playing in their blowout loss to Dallas. Gibson saved you with his touchdown, but he only had eight touches for 58 yards before Washington basically gave him the night off. Gibson’s 37% snap rate easily marked a six-week low. With Washington now effectively eliminated from the playoffs, we could see Washington scale back Gibson’s workload again as he’s trying to play through multiple injuries. This isn’t a great matchup, either, considering that the Eagles have given up just 3.14 YPC over their last four games. Gibson is an extremely low-floor RB2 play in Championship week. [GB]
Start: Darrel Williams @ Cincinnati
If Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) sits out, Williams should be started as a high-end RB2. If he plays, you can drop Williams back down to the high-end RB3-range.
When Edwards-Helaire last missed time (Weeks 6-10), Williams played on 64% of the snaps, handling 72% of the carries, 63% of the targets, 85% of the opportunities inside the 10-yard-line, and 67% of the XFP out of the backfield. (Jerick McKinnon who handled 6% of the carries and 33% of the targets over this span has been designated to return from I.R.).
Over this stretch, Williams averaged 14.2 carries, 5.4 targets, 94.0 YFS, 17.5 XFP/G, and 18.0 FPG. If over the full season, those numbers would rank 16th-, 7th-, 10th-, 10th-, and 8th-best.
Kansas City is favored by 5.0-points against a Cincinnati defense that ranks 10th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (+1.4). [SB]
Start: Boston Scott @ Washington
If Jordan Howard (stinger) sits out, joining Miles Sanders on the bench (hand), you can start Scott as a high-end RB2. If Howard suits up, drop Scott to the high-end RB3-range.
Philadelphia didn’t seem to miss Sanders when he last missed time (Weeks 8-10), as Scott and Howard combined to put up Derrick Henry-type numbers in his absence. Across those three games, Philadelphia’s RBs averaged 30.3 carries, 142.3 rushing yards, 2.0 rushing touchdowns, and 26.2 rushing FPG. Scott and Howard split the work evenly (both averaging 9.0 XFP/G), but Howard was the more productive RB, averaging 13.0 FPG to Scott’s 11.5.
This isn’t a great matchup on paper, as Washington is the league’s top pass funnel defense, ranking worst in passing FPG allowed to QBs (19.4) but 4th-best by rushing FPG allowed to opposing RBs (10.2). Though, Philadelphia’s RBs did tag them for 200 rushing yards (on 33 carries) just 2 weeks ago. [SB]
Sit: Dare Ogunbowale at Patriots
Look, I get it – injuries and the constantly changing COVID landscape have ravaged everyone’s roster and you might be down bad in your RB slot even in your championship game. That said, I’d avoid Ogunbowale at all costs this week unless you can’t completely avoid him. Ogunbowale ended up being the top waiver add after James Robinson’s unfortunate Achilles tear. Dare came in relief and got 17 carries and 4 targets but I’m not convinced we see Ogunbowale get the same exact workload here. The Jaguars brought Ryquell Armstead back last week after Carlos Hyde (concussion) was placed on season-ending I.R. and Armstead may get some more burn here. Jacksonville is completely dead once again after losing to 2021 basement-dwellers in the Texans and Jets in back-to-back weeks.
I don’t want to trust any Jaguars on Championship week, especially considering how badly the markets view this offense this week against the Patriots. Vegas has the Jaguars implied team total down at 13.25 this week, which is easily the lowest total we’ve seen all year. The Jags’ could be down multiple linemen, too, with LG Andrew Norwell, C Brandon Linder, and RG Ben Bartch all in the league’s COVID protocols. Ogunbowale is a weak FLEX. [GB]
Start: Antonio Brown @ Jets
Brown leads all players in targets per route run (0.32) and ranks behind only Cooper Kupp in fantasy points per route run (0.66). He’s seen at least 11 targets in three of his last four games, and has reached at least 90 yards in each of his last three games. He now ranks 5th among all WRs in FPG (19.3).
And it still seems as though there’s room for more. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both played in five of Brown’s six games, forcing him into a diminished role, running a route on only 66% of the team’s dropbacks. But that number jumped to 84% last week with both WRs out. And Godwin is out for the rest of the season, while Evans is on the COVID-19 list and is not yet fully recovered from the hamstring injury which sidelined him last week.
In their absence, last week, Brown earned a 45% target share (10th-most by any player in any week this season), catching 10 of 15 targets for 101 yards. Most impressively, 71% of his targets came against Stephon Gilmore’s shadow coverage — Gilmore currently ranks as PFF’s 9th highest-graded CB in coverage.
This week, Brown faces a Jets defense that ranks 4th-worst in PFF coverage grade. They have no player of Gilmore’s caliber in their secondary. So, I suspect Tom Brady and Brown can and will do whatever they want this week. And, hopefully, that means winning you a championship.
Start Brown this week as a mid-range WR1. [SB]
Start: Jaylen Waddle @ Tennessee
Waddle has been nothing short of a revelation this season, on pace for the most receptions and the 6th-most fantasy points by any rookie WR all-time.
Waddle has caught at least 8 passes in 4 straight games, averaging 23.1 FPG over this span (low of 18.0). And, since Week 6, he averages 10.8 targets, 17.8 XFP/G, and 18.9 FPG. Those numbers rank 6th-, 8th-, and 6th-best over this span. Clearly, he’s not just “good for a rookie”, but he appears to be a dependable mid-range WR1 for fantasy.
Waddle runs 61% of his routes from the slot, and gets a best-possible matchup this week against the Titans. Tennessee ranks worst in FPG (17.4) and YPG (77.7) allowed to opposing slot WRs.
Waddle should be started as a top-7 option this week. [SB]
Start: Brandin Cooks @ San Francisco
I can’t ever seem to get Cooks right. He flopped in four straight pillow-soft matchups (Weeks 9-13), and then smashed against Seattle (Week 14).
Seattle looked like a brutal on-paper matchup as they ranked top-4 in FPG allowed to outside WRs, but bottom-4 against slot WRs. Cooks had run just 30% of his routes from the slot at that point, but that jumped to 62% against the Seahawks. And that, in turn, flipped this from a bottom-4 to a top-4 matchup. He took advantage, scoring 21.1 DK fantasy points (most since Week 3), with 83% of his receiving yards coming from the slot.
Week 15 was also tricky. If we knew he would be moved to the slot, it’d be a top matchup, as the Jaguars rank 11th-worst against slot WRs. If not, it would be fairly tough (well below average), as he’d be drawing shadow coverage from CB Shaquill Griffin on the outside. But Houston again (smartly) moved Cooks around the formation to take advantage of more favorable matchups. And it worked again; he scored 32.2 DK fantasy points. Only 59% of his routes came from the outside, and 72% of his total receiving yards came from the slot.
This decision to move Cooks around the formation has definitely helped to bolster his numbers and helped to make him more matchup-immune. But Cooks is also benefiting from Davis Mills’ return. Cooks has been targeted on 25.7% of his routes with Mills under center, as opposed to just 19.5% with Tyrod Taylor under center. And Cooks averages 16.0 FPG (~WR12) and 15.8 XFP/G in Mills’ full games started and finished, as opposed to just 11.7 FPG (~WR40) and 12.8 XFP/G with Taylor.
After sitting out Week 16 (COVID), Cooks returns to get a favorable matchup no matter where Houston decides to line him up. San Francisco ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+3.0) and 2nd-worst over their last five games (+6.7). The 49ers rank 10th-worst by FPG allowed to slot WRs (14.4), and 6th-worst by fantasy points allowed per target (1.98). And, over the last 8 weeks, the 49ers rank 2nd-worst in FPG allowed to outside WRs (23.5), starting backups on the perimeter after losing starters Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley.
We like Cooks this week as a high-end WR2. [SB]
Start: Amon-Ra St. Brown at Seahawks
St. Brown is on fire as of late and is shredding defenses for a ridiculous 21.6 FPG over the last four weeks, which makes him the WR5 in this span. He’s seen at least 11 targets in four-straight contests and is averaging 8.8 receptions and 85 yards per game in this hot streak and catches a fantastic matchup here. The Seahawks are allowing 21.7 FPG (sixth-most) and 8.9 receptions per game (second-most) to slot WRs, which is where St. Brown runs the majority of his routes. St. Brown is a strong WR2. [GB]
Sit: Terry McLaurin vs. Eagles
McLaurin is the new Allen Robinson – cursed by erratic quarterbacks. Taylor Heinicke was downright awful on SNF as he completed just 7-of-22 passes for 121 yards, threw 2 INTs, and took 4 sacks. Kyle Allen came in relief of Heincke in the second half. HC Ron Riveria left the possibility of Allen starting Week 18 open as Washington was effectively eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to Dallas. After catching just 3 balls for 40 yards last week, Terry McLaurin’s fantasy season is ending with a whimper. Over his last five games, McLaurin has 12 catches, 164 yards, and 0 TDs. Things aren’t looking much better this week against an Eagles secondary that has allowed just one wide receiver (Elijah Moore) to score over 12 FP since Week 10. [GB]
Start: Odell Beckham Jr. @ Baltimore
Beckham and Van Jefferson can both be started this week, as high-end WR3s, but I strongly prefer Beckham.
Jefferson has seen at least 6 targets in 7 of his last 9 games, averaging 6.1 targets and 10.6 FPG over this span. But twice over the last three weeks he’s failed to hit that mark, and his least productive outings have come over his last two games, where he’s averaged just 3.0 FPG.
Beckham has now out-targeted Jefferson in three straight games, and he’s averaging 6.6 targets and 13.0 FPG (WR22) over his last five games. And he’ll get the best of this drool-inducing matchup, as he runs 79% of his routes from the perimeter, in contrast to Jefferson’s 53% and Cooper Kupp’s 45%.
Baltimore ranks middle-of-the-pack against slot WRs, thanks to the tough coverage of Tavon Young. But they rank worst in FPG allowed to opposing outside WRs (25.5). And they’re considerably worse now on the outside than even these numbers imply.
Baltimore lost CB Marlon Humphrey (out for the year) in Week 14, after already losing CB Marcus Peters in training camp. They were forced to start Anthony Averett and Chris Westry on the perimeter, with Young in the slot. But Averett left Sunday’s game with a chest injury and Westry is on the COVID-19 list.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen some monster games from perimeter WRs facing Baltimore: Tee Higgins (43.4 fantasy points), Ja’Marr Chase (19.5), Davante Adams (16.4), and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (20.8). And over their previous four games: Donovan Peoples-Jones (90 yards), Diontae Johnson (30.5 fantasy points), Darnell Mooney (23.1), and Marquise Goodwin (20.4).
Cooper Kupp should have a field day, of course, but there’s still plenty of room for Beckham to hit big. [SB]
Start: Elijah Moore vs. Tampa Bay
Moore is admittedly a little tough to trust, coming off a quad injury and the COVID-19 list. He’s reportedly 50/50 to play on Sunday, per HC Robert Saleh. But if he does play, we like him as a high-end WR3.
Moore has seen at least 6 targets in 7 straight games, and averages 8.1 targets and 17.7 FPG (WR9) over this span. Or, 9.0 targets and 20.1 FPG (WR3) over his last 5 games.
Of course it’s also a little worrisome he’s cracked 10.5 fantasy points just once with Zach Wilson under center. But he did accomplish that feat in their last game together, when he turned 12 targets into 20.6 fantasy points, and despite the handicap of running 58% of his routes against CB Darius Slay — PFF’s 3rd highest-graded CB. And this week’s matchup looks a lot softer; Tampa Bay ranks 6th-worst in FPG allowed to outside WRs (22.8). [SB]
Start: Jakobi Meyers vs. Jacksonville
Meyers has arguably had the most difficult strength of schedule of any WR, facing off against defenses ranking top-12 in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs in 10 of his 15 games. Against those teams, Meyers averages 7.4 targets per game and 8.3 FPG. In all other games he averages 8.2 targets per game and 13.3 FPG. Look for Meyers to put up numbers more in line with that this week, in a favorable matchup against Jacksonville. The Jaguars rank 15th-worst in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs, but also bottom-3 in both fantasy points allowed per target (2.12) and passer rating allowed to slot WRs (113.7). We like him this week as a low-end WR3. [SB]
Sit: Russell Gage at Bills
After a four game hot-streak in Weeks 12-15 where he averaged 7.3 receptions and 86.8 yards per game, Russell Gage came crashing back down to earth in an easy matchup against the Lions with just 4 catches for 39 yards. This is certainly a less-than-ideal spot to get Gage back into your lineups against this Bills secondary that is shutting down opposing WRs to league-lows in yards per game (119) and fantasy points per target (1.0). Gage is a risky WR4 here. [GB]
Start: Gerald Everett vs. Lions
Since Russell Wilson returned in Week 10, Everett is the TE7 in fantasy points per game (11.1). While his target volume is by no means amazing in this Seattle offense that is dead last in plays per game, Everett is still out-scoring DK Metcalf (8.2 FPG) on a per game basis if you need yet another barometer for how bad Metcalf’s season has been. I’m leaving the light on for Everrett as a low-end TE1 here against a Lions secondary that is giving up the fifth-most receptions and fourth-most yards per game to TEs. [GB]
Start: Foster Moreau at Colts
Well, it looked like Darren Waller had a chance at returning after his month-long absence with knee and back injuries – but he landed on the COVID list on Wednesday and his status for this week is now in doubt. If Waller sits, Foster Moreau immediately becomes the top streamer for Week 16. After a rough two starts where he caught just four balls for 47 yards, Moreau has come on a bit as of late with two solid games back-to-back (7/65 vs. Browns and 4/67 vs. Broncos). He gets one of the easiest tight end matchups this week against a Colts secondary that is giving up a league-high 6.5 receptions per game to TEs. In fact, Dan Arnold (5 receptions), Dawson Knox (6), Rob Gronkowski (7), Texans TEs (6), Hunter Henry (6), and Zach Ertz (8) all have tallied at least 5 catches against the Colts over the last six weeks. [GB]
Sit: Mike Gesicki at Titans
After it looked like Gesicki turned a corner in the middle of the season with a nice consistent stretch of performances, he’s turned back into a pumpkin as of late. Over his last six games, Gesicki is averaging just 3.8 receptions, 29.7 yards, and a putrid 6.8 fantasy points per game. With Jaylen Waddle balling and DeVante Parker back healthy, Tua Tagovailoa simply isn’t looking Gesicki’s way much. It also doesn’t help that Durham Smythe is playing way more as of late and is stealing a few targets every week. The matchup outlook is bleak for Gesicki here, too, as the Titans are giving up the fifth-fewest YPG (37.1) to tight ends over the last eight weeks. [GB]