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.
With six teams on bye (Bills, Cowboys, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers, and Chargers), this is going to be the most difficult week of the season for start / sit decisions. Let’s get to it.
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: Joe Burrow vs. Browns
Burrow has hit at least 20.0 fantasy points in each of his last five games, averaging 23.1 FPG over this span (QB5). This week, he gets a Cleveland defense which ranks 6th-worst in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt (0.54) and 3rd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing QBs (+4.1). And, Burrow’s two best games of the 2020 season both came against Cleveland, when he scored 34.6 and 24.5 fantasy points.
That’s why we have Burrow top-5 among QBs this week, and (crucially) Ja’Marr Chase top-3 among WRs. The Browns are giving up the 2nd-most FPG schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WR1s (+7.1) and the 6th-most FPG to opposing WRs on deep passes (10.5). [SB]
Sit: Jalen Hurts vs. Chargers
Hurts isn’t an outright sit, but I would temper your expectations this week — we have him ranked 10th among QBs.
Heading into last week, Hurts had hit at least 19.0 fantasy points in 10 of 10 full starts, averaging 25.2 FPG. (For perspective, only Josh Allen averages more fantasy points per start over the past two seasons.) Of course, Hurts finally flopped last week, scoring just 11.2 fantasy points. But that’s not why we’re worried this week. In fact, I’m still highly confident Hurts is no-worse than a mid-QB1 throughout the remainder of the season. But this week’s matchup is absolutely brutal.
The Eagles finally committed to the running game last week, giving their RBs 37 carries, after averaging just 10.6 across the team’s prior five games. And they’ll probably elect to do that again this week, as the Chargers are far-and-away the league’s top run-funnel defense. Opposing offenses have elected to run on Los Angeles a league-high 5.3% more often than their expectation (based on down and distance plus gamescript). And it’s not hard to see why. The Chargers rank 2nd-worst in YPC allowed to opposing RBs (5.00) but rank 7th-best in passer rating allowed (88.0). They rank worst in rushing FPG allowed to opposing RBs (20.9) but 2nd-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing QBs (-4.7). [SB]
Start: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Texans
We were on Tua back in Week 7 against the Falcons and he came through for the second-most FP of his career (26.5) with a 291 yard / 4 TD passing line. And then last week we got off of Tua in a brutal spot on the road against the Bills. Well, this is the spot to get back on as one of the best streaming plays of the Week 9 slate. The Texans have given up 20 or more FP to a wide range of QB talents – Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Matthew Stafford – and have allowed 8.62 yards per pass (fourth-most) to their opponents this season. Plus, Tua has been a quarterback we want to target in fantasy in easy matchups for him in his career. In six career starts against bottom-12 pass defenses, Tua averages 23% more FPG above his baseline. Treat Tua like a QB2 with a high-end QB1 ceiling here. [GB]
Start: Josh Jacobs at Giants
Jacobs suffered a chest injury in Week 7, causing him to sit out for the entirety of the second-half. But he’s off the injury report following the bye, and should be started this week as a high-end RB2.
Since returning from a separate injury (ankle) in Week 4, Jacobs has averaged 15.1 carries, 4.3 targets, 16.8 XFP (RB10), and 16.7 fantasy points per four quarters (RB14). From Week 4 until his final touch of Week 7, he’s handled a bell cow-like 81% of the carries and 70% of the targets out of the backfield (on 68% of the team’s snaps). And he’s run a route on 48% of the team’s dropbacks (up from 38% last year). All of this is especially impressive considering the Raiders trailed on 61% of their offensive plays over this stretch. And Jacobs has long been one of the most gamescript-sensitive players in fantasy. Throughout his career, Jacobs averages 20.0 FPG in wins but only 10.5 FPG in losses.
So, in addition to seeing what looks like the best usage of his career, Jacobs also gets a top-10 matchup this week. The Raiders are favored by 3.0-points, and the Giants rank 6th-worst in YPC allowed to opposing RBs (4.53) and 9th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs (+2.4). [SB]
Start: Michael Carter at Colts
After getting a big role increase last week coming out of the bye, Carter’s role continued to grow in the Jets' shock win over the Bengals. Carter set season-highs in carries (15) and targets (14) as Mike White checked the ball down relentlessly in his 405-yard performance. Carter had 77 yards and a score on the ground and added 9 catches for 95 yards through the air en route to finishing as the RB1 on the week (32.2 FP). Jets fans don’t want to hear this, but White gives them a better chance to win than Zach Wilson right now. Credit OC Matt LaFleur for coming up with a great game-plan against the Bengals, but the fact of the matter is that White provides a big boost to the Jets entire offense for fantasy. Obviously, the Jets will have to go back to the No. 2 overall pick when Wilson is back healthy – but for the time being, those that held Carter are going to be treated to a high-end RB2 with White at the controls. Through seven quarters, Carter has gotten 22 targets from White. Meanwhile, Carter got just 14 targets from Wilson in Weeks 1-5. [GB]
Start: Elijah Mitchell vs. Cardinals
Coming off two back-to-back 100 yard performances, this is a great spot for Mitchell to stay hot. Arizona hasn’t allowed a ton of total fantasy points because they’ve only been scored on twice on the ground, but make no mistake: This is not a good run-stopping front seven. The Cardinals have allowed a healthy 4.77 YPC (fourth-most) and are dead-last in explosive runs allowed (16%) and Mitchell is perfectly positioned to take advantage. In his five starts, Mitchell has handled a whopping 81% of the 49ers carries and, for reference, that is the third-highest carry share among RBs behind only Derrick Henry (95%) and Najee Harris (88%). The role and matchup both align. Mitchell is a fantastic RB2 play this week. [GB]
Start: Myles Gaskin vs. Texans
I know, I know. It’s been worse than pulling teeth with Gaskin and this Dolphins backfield all year. But if you’ve been holding Gaskin on your rosters all year and aren’t going to start him here in this spot as home-favorites against the Texans, well, when are you? Gaskin wasn’t particularly effective last week against the Bills – which wasn’t a surprise – but he did handle the clear-cut lead role with Malcolm Brown (quad, IR) out. Gaskin led the team in carries (12) over Salvon Ahmed (7) and easily led the backfield in routes (21) over both Ahmed and Patrick Laird (both backs ran 8 routes apiece). With game-script, matchup, and the lead role on his side in this spot… this has to be the week. [GB]
Sit: Mike Davis vs. Saints
For whatever reason, the Falcons wanted to come out and establish Mike Davis early in their Week 8 loss against the Panthers. It didn’t go well! Cordarrelle Patterson got his first touch in the second quarter after Davis plodded along with the first five RB touches of the game in the backfield. Patterson, once again, ended up making way more use of his opportunities and turned in another good game while Davis ended his day with 14 empty calorie touches going for 66 scrimmage yards. This isn’t the week to be optimistic, either. The Saints front-seven has been one of the stiffest tests on the ground and are allowing league-lows in YPC (3.14), first downs per carry (16.4%), and the second-fewest YPG (62.9) to opposing backfields. Davis is an entirely TD dependent fantasy option this week and moving forward. [GB]
Sit: Kenneth Gainwell vs. Chargers
Hopefully you didn’t go overboard on Gainwell with your FAAB budget last week. With Miles Sanders (ankle, IR) on the shelf, the Eagles went with a full-blown committee at running back as Boston Scott and Jordan Howard – not Gainwell – split the lead role against Detroit. In fact, Gainwell was only utilized in mop-up duty in the Eagles blowout win as Scott (13) and Howard (12) handled the lion's share of the touches while Gainwell got one (1!) touch in the first three quarters. Even though this is a great matchup against a spotty Chargers run defense, there is no way you can trust Gainwell in your lineups after last week’s showing. [GB]
Start: A.J. Brown at Rams
I think most still instinctually panic when they see their WR1 is set to face off against the Rams, but that is probably a mistake. Jalen Ramsey hasn’t shadowed once this season, and he’s spending over 50% of his coverage snaps lined up against slot WRs. The Rams, understandably, rank 6th-best in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs, but they’ve given up the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WR1s (+5.0). And that’s undoubtedly Brown, who, also, may be in line for a much larger workload, as Derrick Henry leaves behind a whopping 28% XFP market share (3rd-most among all players).
Brown has seen at least 9 targets and reached at least 90 receiving yards in each of his last three games, averaging 9.7 targets, 126.3 yards, and 25.0 FPG over this span. And, keep in mind, that’s with Brown playing on just 78% of the team’s snaps over this span (though he was back up to 91% last week.) Despite the perceived tough matchup, Brown should be started as a WR1 this week. [SB]
Start: Jerry Jeudy at Cowboys
After missing the last six weeks with a badly sprained ankle and being “sore” in practice on Friday last week, Jeudy was unsurprisingly somewhat limited in his return to the field in Week 8. He was third on the team in routes run (24) behind Tim Patrick (30) and Courtland Sutton (29) and lined up almost exclusively in the slot as he spent 88% of his routes lined up on the interior. Well, with a game under his belt with no setbacks this could be the spot where we see Jeudy unleashed. The Broncos are massive 10-point dogs to the Cowboys as the markets are weighing that Dak Prescott most likely starts. If that happens, Denver is going to be throwing all day long to keep up with the Dallas offense and it should lead to plenty of volume for Jeudy. The Cowboys haven’t been particularly good to full-time slot wideouts this year, yielding 9/105/1 to Chris Godwin, 4/108 to Keenan Allen, and 10/198 to Kadarius Toney. Pats’ slot man Jakobi Meyers would have hit Dallas for a big day, too, if he didn’t have a TD called back due to a penalty. I’m playing Jeudy as a WR3 with a high-end WR2 ceiling here. [GB]
Sit: Jakobi Meyers at Panthers
Meyers is a massive regression candidate, falling 2.4 touchdowns (2nd-most) and 30.6 fantasy points short (2nd-most) of his volume-based expectation. His volume has been excellent, but the production hasn’t quite been there. He ranks 20th in targets per game (8.9), 25th in XFP per game (14.8), but just 50th in FPG (11.0).
If he were perfectly average in touchdown luck, rather than nearly worst in the league, he’d rank 36th in FPG (12.8). (Note: I say “unlucky” rather than “inefficient” for a reason, explained here. Essentially, touchdown efficiency is far more driven by “luck” than skill.) But, even then… Even if we spot him those missing touchdowns, there’s still another 2.0 FPG missing from his XFP per game average. So what’s going on?
Meyers averages just 9.0 FPG over his last four games, though he averaged 16.7 in the two games immediately prior to this down-stretch, and I think schedule-variance is mostly to blame. This week’s game against Carolina will mark his fifth straight game against a team ranking top-10 in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs. And the Panthers actually rank 2nd-best. His opponent last week (the Chargers) ranks best in the league, and he scored only 7.7 fantasy points on 9 targets. So, he’s a “sit” again this week, ranked as just a fringe-WR3. And although a heavy regression to the mean is coming, it won’t be coming this week. [SB]
Start: Kadarius Toney vs. Raiders
Are the Giants cursed? Because it really seems that way. Joe Judge must have messed with a voodoo doll or with the wrong football god when he got hired because it’s just crazy how they can’t get all of their key guys on the field at the same time. Sterling Shepard is now nursing a quad injury, Kenny Golladay (knee) isn’t likely to play this week, and Saquon Barkley is extremely questionable after being added to the COVID list on Wednesday in addition to his balky ankle. All of this lines up for Toney to be the lone piece healthy for the Giants in Week 9 and even he is dealing with a bad cut on his hand after getting stepped on against the Chiefs on MNF. Whew. This matchup isn’t great, but Toney will somewhat avoid Casey Hayward who has been one of the few cornerbacks to be legitimately afraid of for fantasy. The thing is, Hayward never covers the slot – he is strictly an outside corner. Luckily for Toney, he has moved into the slot on exactly 50% of his routes this season and the Raiders have given up the majority of their production through the interior. Honestly, the matchup may not matter much here because Toney should get fed relentlessly because he’s the lone playmaker the Giants have left healthy. [GB]
Sit: DeVonta Smith vs. Chargers
Last week Dallas Goedert walked away with a 44% target share and a 63% yardage share, while Smith caught just one of three targets for 15 yards. Of course, this was a weird outlierish game, and a 38-point blowout victory, but I’d expect something similar to happen again this week. Well, I don’t envision the Eagles winning in a blowout, but I do foresee them leaning run-heavy, Jalen Hurts underperforming, Goedert smashing, and Smith flopping. Smith is just a mid-range WR4 this week against a Chargers defense that ranks 5th-best in FPG allowed to opposing outside WRs (17.3) and best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (-8.9). [SB]
Sit: Marvin Jones vs. Bills
Coming out of their bye, the Jaguars had the perfect chance to prove that they could hang around and compete against a wounded Seahawks team trotting out Geno Smith last week. Instead, they nosedived further into oblivion. This team is so lost right now and their WR group isn’t doing their rookie QB any favors in terms of his development. Jamal Agnew – who just transitioned from CB to WR in 2020 – has been Trevor Lawrence’s lead target (25 looks) over Jones (22) and Laviska Shenault (17) over the last three weeks. Given his completely boom-or-bust play attached to one of the most combustible offenses in the league combined with a brutal matchup on tap, Jones should not be in any of your lineups as a WR3 / FLEX this week. [GB]
Start: Dallas Goedert vs. Chargers
Dallas Goedert has hit 70 receiving yards in back-to-back games following the departure of Zach Ertz. Over this span, he’s run a route on 86% of the team’s dropbacks, turning a 20% target share into a 41% yardage share. If over the full season, those numbers would rank 2nd-best, 5th-best and best among all TEs, and the latter stat would rank 3rd-best among all receivers. We like him this week as a top-3 option, in a TE-funnel matchup against the Chargers. Los Angeles has given up the 4th-most FPG to opposing TEs (17.3), with a league-high 34.5% of their total receiving production allowed going to TEs. [SB]
Sit: Tyler Higbee vs. Titans
Whereas the Chargers are the league’s top TE-funnel defense, the Titans are something of a reverse-TE-funnel matchup. They rank 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WRs (+8.2), but 7th-best against TEs (-3.3). And just 13.2% of the total receiving production they’ve allowed has gone to TEs (4th-fewest).
So, clearly, the matchup isn’t great. But I think, more than anything, we’re just finally ready to admit defeat on Higbee after he flopped in a best-possible matchup last week. Despite being a full-time receiver — running a route on 81% of his team’s dropbacks (5th-most among TEs) — for the best offense in football, Higbee ranks just 16th in XFP per game (8.4) and 20th in FPG (8.7). He’s just a mid-range TE2 this week. [SB]
Start: Tyler Conklin at Ravens
Conklin earned 7 targets last week, eclipsing 55 receiving yards for the second week in a row. He now ranks 16th in route share (68%), 18th in XFP per game (8.4), and 18th in FPG (9.0). So, he won’t rank much higher than as a mid- to low-end TE2 in our rest of season rankings, but we like him this week as a fringe-TE1. Baltimore has given up a league-high 19.5 FPG to opposing TEs, with 29.7% of their total receiving fantasy points allowed going to TEs (2nd-most). [SB]