Week 15 Start/Sit

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Week 15 Start/Sit

Every week, Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett provide their most and least favorite plays for shallow (10-teams) and deep (12- and 14-teams) leagues.

Please note that the “sit” calls in this column are not universal but are more recommendations to consider if you have options that project similarly. As always, our projections should be used as the final call.

These are our start/sit calls ahead of the fantasy semifinals:

Quarterbacks

Shallow leagues

Start: Jalen Hurts at Cardinals

Even though Hurts isn’t a refined passer at this very early stage of his career, that doesn’t matter for our game. His rushing upside is too difficult to ignore and it was on full display in his first start. He only completed 57% of his throws, but Hurts’ athleticism provided the spark the Eagles needed as he ripped the Saints for 18/106 on the ground. Per SIS, Hurts gained 60 yards on his 10 designed rushing plays and added 46 yards on eight scrambles. The Saints play man coverage at the league’s highest rate (54%), which is much easier for mobile quarterbacks to break contain and scramble against. This week? Hurts gets the Cardinals, a team that is playing man coverage at the second-highest rate (48%) and has allowed plenty of success to mobile QBs this season like Teddy Bridgewater (6/32/1 rushing), Russell Wilson (18/126 in two meetings), Josh Allen (7/38), Tua Tagovailoa (7/35), and Cam Newton (9/46). Hurts is a locked-in QB1 with top-8 upside for the semifinals. (Graham Barfield)

Sit: Ben Roethlisberger at Bengals

It’s not that this matchup is bad by any means — the Bengals are last in the league in pressure forced (24%) and bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed per pass — it’s that we’re looking for a ceiling at quarterback in the semifinals and Big Ben’s might not be all that high this week. Despite the fact the Steelers are third in the NFL in passes per game (40.0), Big Ben is only the QB14 in fantasy points per game (17.8) and has topped 20+ fantasy points just three times in his last 10 outings. Plus, how much will the Steelers really have to throw this week to beat up on the Bengals? Since Joe Burrow went down, Cincinnati’s offense ranks second from last in yards gained per drive (22.2) and last in drives ending in a score (13%). There is a real chance the Steelers defense completely smothers Brandon Allen in this spot. Roethlisberger is still a fine play in deeper formats and in SuperFlex, but in shallower leagues, you hopefully have better options. (GB)

Deep leagues

Start: Philip Rivers at Texans

The Colts have enjoyed one of the NFL’s easiest schedules over their last five games with dates against the Titans (twice), Packers, Texans, and Raiders. Indy has gone 4-1 over this stretch with at least 26 points scored in every game due in large part to how well Philip Rivers is playing. Over their last five games, Rivers has gone over 285 yards four times, owns a 10:2 TD-to-INT ratio, he has a stellar 106 passer rating, and is the QB9 (18.5 FPG) in this span. Now Rivers gets to face the Texans for the second time in three weeks in the fantasy semifinals. Houston’s defense has completely collapsed in recent weeks and is even worse without Bradley Roby. If we remove the one game where they played in Cleveland in hurricane-like conditions, the Texans are giving up 308 yards per game, an 18:3 TD-to-INT ratio, and 21.6 fantasy points per game over their last eight contests. Rivers is an amazing option if you’ve made it this far streaming the position. (GB)

Sit: Jared Goff vs. Jets

QB is very straight-forward this week. You know who you’re riding with at this point. Besides Big Ben, the only other quarterback inside of the top-18 in our projections that I’m a little worried about is Jared Goff. Sure, it’s the Jets. But, just like with Roethlisberger, I’m concerned that the Rams offense might not have to do much to put the Jets out of their misery. And you know that Adam Gase won’t have an answer (or a plan) for the Rams defense either. Goff has been game-script dependent in the sense that he’s been far better in tight games and losses compared to wins. In his career, Goff averages just 13.2 fantasy points per game when LA wins by seven or more points, and the Rams are massive 17-point favorites this week. (GB)

Running Backs

Shallow leagues

Start: Jonathan Taylor vs. Texans

I spent a lot of time breaking down Taylor in the Week 14 XFP Report. I wrote a lot of words talking about how I was concerned that his recent upsurge in production wasn’t sustainable because he was still being capped at around 50% of the team’s snaps and 50% of the team’s backfield XFP. And then I concluded with the fact that, ultimately, none of that matters this week. Taylor is on an unreal heater, feasting in back-to-back-to-back pillow-soft matchups. And this week’s matchup is even softer than any of those. This week, favored by 7.5-points, the Colts take on a Houston defense that ranks worst in FPG allowed (31.6), worst in rushing FPG allowed (21.2) and worst in YPC allowed (5.38) to opposing RBs. Over the last 3 weeks, Taylor is averaging 18.3 carries, 3.0 targets, 6.02 YPC, 138.0 YFS, and 22.8 FPG. Start him with confidence as a mid-range RB1. (Scott Barrett)

Start: James Robinson at Ravens

You might be tempted to bench Robinson because of this matchup, which I get. Baltimore should have no issues rolling over Jacksonville, but bad game-script doesn’t mean that the Jaguars are going to shy away from getting James Robinson the ball. Despite losing their last seven games by an average margin of 9.4 points, Robinson has still managed to go over 80 scrimmage yards on 16 or more touches in every outing with the entire backfield to himself. You can’t go away from his locked-in, safe floor now. (GB)

Sit: Ezekiel Elliott vs. 49ers

Between losing Dak Prescott and his entire offensive line, this season has been a disaster for Zeke. We’ve only been playing him in fantasy these days for his touches and now that well is starting to dry up. Elliott was limited because of a calf strain last week and it resulted in him splitting carries (12 to 11) with Tony Pollard in a game that Dallas dominated from start to finish. This week, Elliott faces one of his toughest matchups of the season as the 49ers are allowing the second-fewest yards per carry (3.61) and the third-fewest rushing fantasy points per game (7.1). It’s possible we see Dallas take it easy on their star running back as the season winds down since they are drawing dead towards the playoffs. Hopefully, you have two other RBs you feel comfortable starting over Zeke this week. (GB)

Deep leagues

Start: Cam Akers vs. Jets

Well, it only took 13 weeks but the Rams are finally unleashing Cam Akers. Last week, Sean McVay made Akers his bell-cow back and, unsurprisingly, Akers went off for 194 scrimmage yards on 31 touches. Akers played on 79% of the Rams snaps in Week 14, which was the second-highest RB snap rate of the week behind only Miles Sanders (81%). Barring McVay going rogue and randomly going back to the plodding Malcolm Brown, Akers enters the semifinals as a high-ceiling RB1 play against a Jets team that just gave up 164 scrimmage yards and a score to Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde a week ago. (GB)

Start: J.K. Dobbins vs. Jaguars

Has Dobbins finally been unleashed? I think so. Well, at least sort of. Dobbins – who ranks 3rd among all RBs in YPC (5.25) – has led the backfield in snaps, carries, and XFP in 3 straight games, averaging 13.7 touches, 69.7 YFS, and 13.6 FPG over this span. Dobbins has played on 63% of the team’s snaps over his last 2 games, compared to Gus Edwards’ 24%, Justice Hill’s 11%, and Mark Ingram’s 5%. This is a far-cry from a workhorse role or bell cow usage, but it is good enough to rank him as a low-end RB2 in this soft matchup. Baltimore is favored by 13.0-points against a Jaguars defense that ranks 5th-worst in rushing FPG (17.3), 7th-worst in receiving FPG (11.6), and 4th-worst in total FPG allowed (28.9) to opposing RBs. (SB)

Sit: Giovani Bernard vs. Steelers

Last week, Bernard was out-snapped by Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams 55 to 17. He averages 6.9 FPG over his last 5 games with a high of just 9.5 fantasy points. Pittsburgh is favored by 13.0-points, Cincinnati has the lowest implied point total of the week (13.5), and the Steelers rank best in FPG allowed to opposing RBs (17.2). This one’s easy. Bench Bernard unless you’re desperate for low-end RB4-level production. (SB)

Wide Receivers

Shallow leagues

Start: Terry McLaurin vs. Seahawks

McLaurin has struggled over the past 2 weeks, averaging just 6.0 targets, 2.0 catches, 19.0 yards, and 3.9 FPG. You can chalk this up to tough matchups, Alex Smith getting hurt (last week), or the fact that Washington won both of these games and were able to play more conservative throughout. But none of these factors are significant concerns this week. Seattle ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+3.8). Though they’ve been better in recent weeks, they also haven’t really faced any WR1s of note (NYJ, NYG, PHI). Washington is optimistic Smith will play again this week, and even if he doesn’t, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Dwayne Haskins would draw the start in his absence, and McLaurin actually averages +4.0 FPG more with Haskins under center this year. Seattle is favored by 5.5 points, so there’s little concern Washington will have the luxury to play conservative against Seattle’s pass-funnel defense. But most importantly, McLaurin is awesome, and very good at football. He ranks 12th in XFP per game (14.7) and 11th in YPG (77.0) despite being dealt one of the toughest CB schedules in football, drawing shadow coverage in 6 of 13 games this year. (SB)

Start: Brandon Aiyuk at Cowboys

Few receivers are as hot as Aiyuk is right now. Over his last five games, Aiyuk has cleared 75 yards and/or scored in every game while seeing a monster 30% target share in this span. For fantasy, that has equated to five-straight top-20 WR performances and Aiyuk has another amazing spot here in the semifinals. With George Kittle still on I.R. and Deebo Samuel out again, we should expect another high-volume target share against this Cowboys secondary that stays getting shredded. Even A.J. Green (6/62/1) did something against them last week. Aiyuk is a high-end WR2 with a top-5 ceiling. (GB)

Sit: D.J. Chark at Ravens

Even with Gardner Minshew back under center, it’s impossible to trust Chark in a lineup with the finals on the line. The Ravens have limited opposing boundary receivers to just 12.8 fantasy points per game, which is the seventh-fewest in the league. Chark runs 77% of his routes on the outside. The hope here is that Chark and Minshew’s connection shows signs of life and we can maybe play Chark in an easier matchup in Week 16 when the Jaguars play the Bears. (GB)

Deep leagues

Start: T.Y. Hilton vs. Texans

T.Y. Hilton is back? Maybe! Hilton is by no means a sexy start, but you could do a lot worse if looking for a desperation flex-play. After being a total non-factor through the first 11 weeks of the season, Hilton has been on quite the hot streak, averaging 7.7 targets, 92.3 receiving yards, and 22.9 FPG (low of 18.1) over his last 3 games. He also draws a top-3 matchup this week, against a Bradley Roby-less Houston defense he shredded in Week 13 (25.0 fantasy points) and has historically dominated throughout his career (19.9 FPG over his last 8 games against them). In games without Roby this year, opposing WR1s have averaged 31.1 FPG against Houston – Davante Adams (44.6), D.J. Chark (27.6), Hilton (25.0), and Allen Robinson (27.3). Again, he’s far from a must-play, but I’d feel comfortable starting him as a low-end WR2 this week. (SB)

Start: Amari Cooper vs. 49ers

It definitely hasn't been exciting to watch, but Andy Dalton has basically been what we expected. Not great! But able to keep the Cowboys offense afloat. In seven starts, Dalton has certainly kept Amari Cooper alive for fantasy, as he's gone for 7/79/1, 7/80, 6/81, 6/112/1, 5/43/1, and 4/51/1. San Francisco is far more vulnerable out wide than through the slot, which is good news for Cooper's outlook too. 48% of the production that the 49ers have allowed has come from receivers that lineup outside, which is the fifth-highest rate. We have Cooper ranked as a safe WR2. (GB)

Sit: Marvin Jones at Titans

Since Week 7 (8 games), Jones is averaging 8.1 targets (19th-most) and 15.4 FPG (19th-most). This week he’s up against a Titans defense that’s giving up the 13th-most FPG to opposing outside WRs (22.7). All that sounds great, and Jones very well could have made this list as a start, but with Matthew Stafford very likely to sit out this week, he’s plummeted down – from a high-end WR3 to a mid-range WR4. (SB)

Tight Ends

Shallow leagues

Start: Robert Tonyan vs. Panthers

With Aaron Rodgers chasing the MVP and 50 TDs, not just Davante Adams is feasting. Robert Tonyan has now scored in four-straight games and clearly elevated himself above Marcedes Lewis and Jace Sternberger as the Packers No. 1 tight end in the process. Tonyan played a somewhat limited role early in the season prior to breaking out, but Green Bay has trusted him way more over the last month Tonyan has ran 107 routes to Lewis' 35 and Sternberger's 17. And with Sternberger in concussion protocol, Tonyan will be relied on once again as the Packers only legitimate threat at tight end. With the Panthers giving up 59.6 yards per game to TEs (fifth-most), Tonyan is a borderline top-5 tight end this week. (GB)

Sit: Hayden Hurst vs. Buccaneers

Tight end is a nightmare this week. Outside of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson, you're playing the TD-or-bust game at tight end. And right now, about 20 TEs have a better chance at a score than Hurst. Over the last month, Hurst's season has completely fallen apart as he's caught 6 balls for a lowly 64 yards. Keep in mind, the Falcons have been without Julio Jones twice in these four games, too. The matchup might catch your eye because the Buccaneers are allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, but it's likely just a trap. Russell Gage (32) has nearly twice the amount of targets as Hurst (17) over their last four games. (GB)

Deep leagues

Start: Cole Kmet at Vikings

If you need a streamer this week, Kmet is still widely available and draws a good matchup this week against a Vikings defense that might be without LB Eric Kendricks (calf) again. Rob Gronkowski scored in this matchup last week while the Jags TEs combined for 10 catches and 87 yards against the Vikings two weeks ago. Kmet has been playing ahead of Jimmy Graham over the last month, out-targeting him 20 to 11 and running 95 routes to Graham’s 63. (GB)

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