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.
Note: Graham will be in our Discord channel every Thursday at Noon ET and on Sunday mornings answering all of your start/sit questions. Make sure you come hang out!
Start: Aaron Rodgers vs. Lions
Over the past three seasons, Rodgers has finished 5th (24.2), 16th (17.7), and 11th (19.7) in fantasy points per start. It’s certainly possible Rodgers turns back into a pumpkin following his MVP-winning 2020 campaign. But it’s far more likely this was just a random down-game people are massively overreacting to because it came in his first game of the year. (Rodgers was similarly disastrous in Week 6 last season, but was otherwise almost perfect.) If you drafted him, you probably have no choice but to start him and hope for the best. But we’re actually extremely optimistic, and so is Vegas (3rd-highest implied point total on the week). Against the woeful Lions, we’re projecting 25.1 fantasy points from Rodgers, good for a top-3 finish. (SB)
Start: Jalen Hurts vs. 49ers
Hurts was one of our top QB targets all offseason — and maybe even the 2019 Lamar Jackson of the 2021 season — for reasons explained here. And Week 1 couldn’t be anymore encouraging. On Sunday, Hurts was unsurprisingly awesome from a fantasy perspective, scoring 28.8 fantasy points. But, more importantly he was awesome from a real-NFL-perspective, and incredibly efficient as a passer. On the week, Hurts ranked best in adjusted completion percentage (90%) and 2nd-best in PFF pass grade (87.9).
Hurts will always have a massive guaranteed floor thanks to his hyper-mobility; a true fantasy cheat code. But he didn’t lean too heavy on that aspect of his game on Sunday (just 6.2 fantasy points on the ground), and he didn’t need to. And that speaks to his massive upside. He was a top-6 fantasy QB last year, despite being bottom-5 as a passer. So, what’s his upside if he’s just a mid-level passer this year, with everyone healthy, including a new key weapon in last year’s Heisman winner? It’s sky high.
In a much more competitive game this week, look for Hurts to continually type in the Konami Code cheat code. But, also, expect decent efficiency as a passer. Jared Goff finished Week 1 as the overall QB3, dropping 29.9 fantasy points on the 49ers. San Francisco came into the season with PFF’s (projected) 20th-best secondary, but lost top CB Jason Verrett (PFF’s 8th highest graded CB last year) to a torn ACL. CB2 Emmanuel Mosely and LB Dre Greenlaw are both Questionable. We like Hurts as a top-10 QB this week. (SB)
Sit: None of note. This is an amazing week for QBs – so, you’re likely starting who you drafted in shallower 10-team leagues. Even the fringe QBs for 1-QB leagues like Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield are in phenomenal spots.
Start: Matthew Stafford at Colts
The Rams only needed 51 plays to score 34 points on the Bears as Stafford ripped the Bears for multiple chunk gains en route to a QB9 scoring week (20-for-26, 321 yards, 3 TDs). The Colts offer stiffer competition than the Bears, but Indianapolis just gave up a QB7 scoring week to Russell Wilson (18-of-23 for 254 yards and 4 TDs) and will likely be down CB Xavier Rhodes (calf) again. It’s a tiny sample because the game wasn’t really competitive, but HC Sean McVay was way more pass-heavy when the game was within a score (+/- 8 points) on SNF. On their 19 plays when the game was within a score, the Rams passed a whopping 14 times (74%) compared to just 5 runs. As expected. I don’t think L.A. will lean that heavily on the passing attack over the course of the season, but make no mistake: This is a pass-first team now since McVay doesn’t have to babysit his quarterback every time he walks up to the line of scrimmage. Stafford doesn’t offer rushing upside like Hurts or Jackson or Murray and is capped as a low-end QB1 because of that, but the Rams – led by their passing attack – could cruise to another 30+ point outing here against a Colts team that is searching for an identity. (GB)
Sit: Trevor Lawrence vs. Broncos
Lawrence was thrown into the fire out of the gates as the Jaguars inexplicably went 78% pass-heavy in Week 1, which, for reference, was on-par with Brady’s Bucs’ as the most pass-heavy team on Opening Day (79%). I have no idea why Urban Meyer thought it was a good idea to not give Lawrence some help with the ground game, especially against a very weak Texans run defense… but here we are. Lawrence was up-and-down and threw three picks in his debut as he dropped back to pass a whopping 55 times, but still finished the week as the QB15 thanks to our old Jaguars friend, Garbage Time. This week, he’ll face a much stiffer test in Denver’s secondary and front-seven and will have to get it done with volume. He’s still a fine QB2 in SuperFlex, but his floor is too low for 12- and 14-team, 1-QB leagues this week. We have T-Law at QB24 this week. (GB)
Start: David Montgomery vs. Bengals
Even though Chicago predictably struggled in L.A. on SNF, Montgomery looked fantastic and muscled out an RB8 finish on the back of 17 touches, 118 scrimmage yards, and a score. The Bears will likely be able to rely even more on David Montgomery this week as home favorites against a far easier Bengals front-seven, and Montgomery has done his best work in similar spots. Over the last two years, Montgomery has averaged 6.48 more fantasy points per game when the Bears are favored compared to when they are underdogs. Chicago is a 3-point home-favorite over Cincinnati. (GB)
Start: Najee Harris vs. Raiders
In Week 1, Harris scored just 5.9 fantasy points. As expected, the offensive line didn’t do him any favors. But concerns over the offensive line should be far outweighed by the usage he saw.
Harris ranked 11th in XFP on the week (16.5), earning 16 carries, 3 targets, and a league-high 4 opportunities in Week 1. (He would have scored an additional 7.6 fantasy points had Ben Roethlisberger not overthrown him near the end zone.) And, more impressively, Harris played on 100% of the team’s snaps, handling 100% of the team’s touches out of the backfield.
Rookie #Steelers RB Najee Harris played 100% of the team's offensive snaps in Week 1. The full list of RBs that played 100% of snaps in a game from 2018-20: McCaffrey (14 times), Le'Veon Bell (2), Elliott (1), Gurley (1), Barkley (1), and Fournette (1).— Scott Spratt (@Scott_Spratt) September 15, 2021
That sort of uber-bell cow usage is exceedingly rare and exceedingly valuable. Brighter days no doubt lie ahead, and I’m expecting Week 2 to be blindingly sunny and bright. The Raiders had PFF’s (projected) 7th-worst rated defensive line heading into the season. Last season they ranked 6th-worst in YPC allowed (4.78) and 4th-worst in FPG allowed (28.8) to opposing RBs. And they didn’t look much better in Week 1. (SB)
Sit: Mike Davis at Buccaneers
Quietly, oh so quietly — a funeral held in a library levels of “quietly” — Davis might be a screaming buy in season-long leagues. He led all RBs in XFP in Week 1, earning 25.9 on 17 carries, 8 targets, and 4 opportunities inside the 10-yard-line. Although it didn’t result in much fantasy production in a 32-6 beatdown, and Cordarrelle Patterson looked better, Davis still commanded 75% of the team’s snaps (7th-best) and 81% of the XFP out of the backfield (8th-best). And if that sort usage stays consistent, Davis could be an every-week mid-range RB2 or better.
Of course, if we’re buying on Davis, it’s best to wait until after this week. As 12.5-point underdogs, against the league’s best run defense, which just held Ezekiel Elliott to 5.9 fantasy points, don’t expect much more than mid-range RB3-levels of production. (SB)
We saw a near-perfect 50/50 committee in Denver, though it might not have seemed like it after Melvin Gordon scored 13.0 fantasy points on one play in garbage time. Williams and Gordon both played on exactly 33 of 66 snaps. Williams out-carried Gordon 14 to 11, though Gordon out-targeted him 3 to 1.
If that sort of usage remains consistent in Week 2, expect low-end RB2 production from both backs. Last season, the Jaguars ranked bottom-5 in YPC allowed (4.84) and bottom-3 in FPG allowed (30.4) to opposing RBs. And they were even worse, an abject dumpster fire, last week, losing 21-37 to the supposedly tanking Texans. A 31-year old Mark Ingram saw 26 carries. In total, Texans RBs saw 40 touches, gaining 138 yards and scoring three times.
If you roster both, give the slight edge to Williams for out-carrying Gordon last week (as 6-point favorites, that matters more than their target totals), and for being the more talented player. (SB)
Start: Darrell Henderson at Colts
Anyone who heavily invested in Henderson after the team signed Sony Michel was rewarded mightily in Week 1. Henderson played on a whopping 94% of Rams’ snaps with Michel only mixing in for a few plays late in the fourth quarter with the game against Chicago already salted away. Henderson turned his bell-cow usage into a nice RB14 scoring week (16/70/1 rushing | 1/17 receiving) and gets another great draw here against a Colts front-seven that just gave up 19/104 (5.47 YPC) on the ground to Chris Carson and the Seahawks backfield. I still think Michel is one of the most valuable stashes out there, but because he is still learning the playbook this is Henderson’s backfield for now. Henderson is a strong RB2 start with RB1 upside. (GB)
In what ended up being the highest-scoring affair of the week, the Lions made a valiant second-half comeback attempt after going down 31-10 at the half. Detroit ran a ridiculous 92 plays, which allowed Swift (11/39 rushing | 8/65/1 receiving) and Williams (9/54/1 rushing | 8/56 receiving) to both go off. In fact, pending MNF, Williams is the RB3 on the week (25.0 FP) while Swift is the RB4 (24.3 FP). Two teammates finishing inside of the top-5 RB scorers rarely happens and obviously the Lions won’t run over 90 plays every week (average is about 65 plays/game), but this duo is going to continue to co-exist together with these types of roles. Swift ended up getting more snaps than Williams by a wide margin because the Lions were in hurry-up mode (68% to 35%), but both backs got snaps on the field at the same time and Williams got 17 touches on his 32 total snaps. So, when Williams was on the field, he got the rock 53% of the time.
Perhaps most encouraging was Swift’s usage. He ran a route on 65% of Jared Goff’s dropbacks, which is a massive change in his role compared to his rookie season when he went into a pass route on just 48% of the Lions pass plays. While this is a true 1A / 1B committee, Swift playing in a high-volume receiving role is going to offset losing carries and goal-line totes to Williams. Further helping this backfield’s outlook is the fact that Williams, Swift, and T.J. Hockenson are the Lions only good weapons until Amon-Ra St. Brown or one of their receivers breaks out. Swift is a high-end RB2 while Williams is a low-end RB2. Both are going to get tons of touches against a Packers front-seven that just yielded 31/133 on the ground and 5/16/1 through the air to Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones. (GB)
Sit: James Robinson vs. Broncos
Make no mistake: the Jaguars backfield is a committee. James Robinson played on 64% of the snaps while Carlos Hyde was at 34% in Week 1, which is a stark contrast from last season where Robinson played on 75% of Jags’ snaps. This is just another notch in the belt for anyone who believes in following and watching the preseason for actionable takeaways as HC Urban Meyer went with a clear 1A / 1B committee in August. Robinson got just 5 carries in Week 1 while Hyde got 9, and most gross of all, three of Robinson’s 5 totes came on just one drive in the second quarter against Houston. Especially after Denver’s front-seven held the Giants backfield to 14/33 rushing (2.36 YPC) last week, there is no way you can trust Robinson in your lineups this week. (GB)
Start: Ja’Marr Chase at Bears
After a sluggish preseason, I ended up with Chase on way more teams than I expected as he slipped into the 7th and even 8th rounds of drafts. Anyone who wisely bought low at the best price of the offseason was immediately rewarded in Week 1 as Chase went HAM for 5/101/1 and a WR15 finish against the Vikings. Chase got open at will against the Vikings secondary and his rapport with Joe Burrow was on full display as Chase led the team in targets (7) and routes run (31). Even though the Bengals played it safe and let Joe Mixon wear down the Vikings in Burrow’s return, Chase earned 26% of the team’s targets – which tied for the 11th-highest rate among WRs on Opening Day with CeeDee Lamb and DeVante Parker. With this type of alpha usage already, Chase could explode once again in a more pass-heavy environment and we have that on tap here. After unceremoniously letting Kyle Fuller walk this offseason, Chicago is very thin in the secondary and was immediately exposed for multiple big plays in Week 1 by Matthew Stafford (20-for-26, 321 yards, 3 TDs). I’m trusting Chase as a strong mid-range WR2. (GB)
Start: D.J. Moore vs. Saints
The Panthers are still getting into the flow of this new offense, but D.J. Moore looks like he is the clear alpha. After getting peppered with targets from Sam Darnold in the team’s final preseason game, Moore got out of the gates hot – leading their receiver trio in targets (8), routes (34), and yards (80). One other thing we saw spill over from the preseason is that Moore’s role has changed. Last year, Moore was the deep threat in this offense (13.1 average depth of target) while Robby Anderson (9.5 aDOT) was the shallow / intermediate target. That flipped in Week 1, as half of Moore’s targets traveled less than 10 yards in the air while all of Anderson’s targets were over 10 yards. What this means is that Moore will have access to more high-percentage, easy catches than last year and give him a higher floor than last season. This week, Moore gets the benefit of CB Marshon Lattimore (thumb) missing another game in a matchup he has historically crushed (4/81, 6/126/2, 4/93/2, and 5/101 in his last four vs. Saints). Moore is a great WR2 in PPR this week with a WR1 ceiling. (GB)
Sit: Sterling Shepard at Football Team
Shepard seemed like the forgotten man in 2021 fantasy drafts, being drafted as the WR63 on average, 7.5 rounds behind Kenny Golladay. (Though we had him much higher in our rankings.) He exploded for 24.3 fantasy points in Week 1, and I don’t see that as a fluke. At least not with all of Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney banged up and missing a significant portion of training camp. Shepard has now scored at least 22.0 fantasy points in each of his last three games, and averages 8.1 targets per game over his last 11.
While we like Shepard a lot long-term, we’re worried about him this week — enough to bump him down to the high-end WR4-range. Running roughly 69% of his routes from the slot, he’ll spend the far majority of his day against an elite slot CB in Kendall Fuller. He’s a big reason why Washington gave up the fewest FPG to opposing slot WRs last year (10.7). (SB)
Start: Brandin Cooks at Browns
With this column, we try to stick to the less obvious names. If you own CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Cooper Kupp, or A.J. Brown, you need to start them. They’re all great bets to go nuclear this week. But not too far behind them is Cooks. A player you likely drafted as your WR4 or WR5. And we like him to finish top-24 this week.
From Week 5 on last season, Cooks averaged 18.9 FPG, which would have ranked 4th-best if over the full season. Of course, losing Deshaun Watson dings him severely. But he was still productive without him in Week 1, earning 7 targets (21%), catching 5 for 132 yards. That’s his 3rd-straight game with at least as many receiving yards. And look for that trend to continue this week. Cleveland’s secondary is terrific, but at the same time, the Texans are 12.5-point dogs. So, expect plenty of volume, and good production, even if nearly all of it comes in 4th quarter garbage-time. (SB)
Start: Mike Williams vs. Cowboys
Chargers OC Joe Lombardi tried to tell us in June that Williams was in line for a massively expanded role. And no one wanted to believe him (ADP WR47). But we saw that play out in Week 1 — Williams saw 12 targets, the 2nd-most he’s seen in 57 career games, catching 8 for 82 yards and a score. Look for Williams to post a similarly impressive line this week, against a Dallas defense that gave up 54.6 fantasy points to Tampa Bay WRs last week. There’s a chance Trevon Diggs (who shut down Mike Evans last week) shadows Williams, but, unless we get confirmation heading into Sunday, chase the upside and start Williams as a mid-range WR3. (SB)
Start: Jarvis Landry vs. Texans
After trading away Bradley Roby, the Texans now field a bottom-10 CB corps. They aren’t bottom-3, because Desmond King is fairly stout in the slot, but Landry will only run about half his routes from the slot with Odell Beckham Jr. out (like he did last week). And Landry has been terrific in games Beckham has missed, averaging 20.3 FPG over the last 8 games he’s been out (including the postseason). Of course, this should be the Nick Chubb Show, but the Browns are projected to score 30.25 points (2nd-most on the week), which still leaves plenty of upside for Landry. (SB)
Start: Corey Davis vs. Patriots
The Jets offense was stuck in mud for much of their debut as their run game struggled to get going, Zach Wilson was sacked 6 times, and they lost T Mekhi Becton – but Corey Davis was the lone brightspot. Davis was Wilson’s main target during the pre-season and that carried over into Week 1 as he tied for the team lead in targets (7) and turned in an efficient 5/97/2 receiving line. Granted, both Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole missed the game, but Davis seems entrenched as Wilson’s go-to receiver. Dolphins WRs just combined for an explosive 8/142/1 against the Stephon Gilmore-less Patriots. HC Bill Belichick is going to make Wilson’s life a nightmare here, but Davis has the role to come through as an underrated WR2 option. (GB)
Sit: Brandon Aiyuk at Eagles
The most surprising news from the 49ers this weekend wasn’t even Trey Sermon being demoted to No. 4 on the depth chart… it was Aiyuk’s goose-egg. After missing some time during Training Camp with what was a fairly minor hamstring strain, HC Kyle Shanahan played Aiyuk behind Trent Sherfield in Week 1 and said that Aiyuk’s limited role was about “being smart (with his hamstring injury).” That quote leaves plenty of room for hope, but we have seen Shanahan make decisions like this in the past. He doesn’t care where you were drafted, he doesn’t care how well you played in year’s past… if you aren’t ready, Shanahan isn’t going to make you a part of the gameplan. While Aiyuk wasn’t even targeted, his role wasn’t as awful as it probably seemed. Aiyuk ran a route on 15 of Jimmy Garoppolo’s 27 dropbacks, which was third on the team behind Samuel (25) and George Kittle (16). Meanwhile, Trent Sherfield ran 14 routes while Mohamed Sanu ran 11. The only thing you can do with Aiyuk moving into Week 2 is HODL and not overreact. If Shanahan is telling the truth and Aiyuk was limited this week because he missed time with an injury, Aiyuk will be back in our good graces soon enough. For now, Aiyuk should be safely stashed on your bench. (GB)
Start: Tyler Higbee at Colts
Higbee isn’t just a Week 2 must-start, but he could prove to be one of the most valuable picks you could have made in 2021 fantasy drafts. The upside argument was always easy with Higbee: Gerald Everett is no longer on the team, and the only other time Everett wasn’t on the field (2019, Weeks 13-17), Higbee was a fantasy superstar. He led the league (at all positions) in receiving yards (522). He reached 100 yards in 4 of 5 games, averaging 11.2 targets and 21.4 FPG. Both marks would have bested Travis Kelce’s 2020 season.
What happened in Week 1? Higbee scored 11.8 fantasy points. A decent, but not earth-shattering, game. But let’s look at the bigger picture.
Higbee was targeted on 24% of Matthew Stafford’s throws. That ranked 3rd-best among all TEs on the week. He ran a route on 93% of the team’s dropbacks, which also ranked 3rd-best on the week. That’s up from 53% in 2020 — which ranked just 31st at the position — and represents a career-high (besting his prior career high of 79%).
Throughout his 79-game career, there's only 8 instances of him running a route on at least two-thirds of the team's dropbacks. Those 8 games comprise 6 of the 7, or 8 of the 12 highest-scoring games of his career. In these contests, Higbee averages 9.1 targets (22% target share), 7.0 catches, 85.1 receiving yards, and 18.5 FPG. Contrast this to Darren Waller’s 2020 season (93% route share): 9.1 targets, 6.7 catches, 74.8 receiving yards, and 17.5 FPG. So, tied or better than Waller in every stat.
Matchups shmatchups. In fantasy football, you start your studs. And Higbee is now looking every bit the part of a fantasy stud. (SB)
Sit: Mike Gesicki vs. Bills
Yeah, after dropping a goose egg last week, Gesicki is probably closer to a “drop” than a “start” this week. Gesicki ran a route on 73% of his team’s dropbacks last season, but that dropped to 55% in Week 1, with Durham Smythe (52%) and Hunter Long (17%) seeing an expanded role. That’s also about in line with what we saw this preseason, so I don’t think this is “noise”. Rather, I think this is just his new role, and I would, in fact, be very nervous if I drafted him to be my TE. (SB)
Start: Adam Trautman at Panthers
Although the results were better for Juwan Johnson (17.1 fantasy points) than Trautman (4.8) last week, Trautman has the far more valuable role for fantasy. He ranked 9th in route share on the week (75%), running twice as many routes as Johnson (19 to 8). He also out-targeted Johnson 6 to 3. And believe it or not, his 6 targets represented a 24% target share, which ranked 2nd-best at the position in Week 1. In a neutral matchup against the Panthers, he should be viewed as a high-end TE2. (SB)
Sit: Anthony Firkser at Seahawks
Hopefully you weren’t holding out hope on Firkser coming through as a cheap TE1 in drafts, because he is still a part-time player for this Titans attack. Firkser ran a route on just 62% of Ryan Tannehill’s dropbacks in Week 1 – which ranked 21st among TEs. Firkser is a touchdown-dependent streamer, and a poor one at that. Geoff Swaim got one of the Titans 4 end zone targets in Week 1 (A.J. Brown and Julio Jones combined for the other three). (GB)