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: Kirk Cousins at Lions
Cousins actually flopped for his second-lowest scoring game of the season back in Week 5 with just 13.4 FP, but I’m not concerned at all about his outlook here. By the numbers, the Lions secondary looks better but that’s simply because they haven’t played anyone that scare you as of late. Over their last four games, they’ve played the run-heavy Eagles, Mason Rudolph, an injured Baker Mayfield, and Andy Dalton (who ended up with 317 yards). This is still the same old Lions secondary that leads the league in YPA allowed (8.25). The Vikings have been incredibly up-and-down all year, but Cousins really hasn’t been for fantasy. He’s finished top-12 in weekly scoring in 7-of-11 games and is the QB11 in FPG (19.8), which is just a hair behind Dak Prescott (19.9). Fire up Cousins confidently here. [GB]
Start: Taysom Hill vs. Cowboys
Taysom got four starts last season and was the antithesis of why we always want to chase running quarterbacks. Hill finished as the QB3, QB12, QB6, and QB11 while dominating on the ground as he turned in 11.2 fantasy points per game solely as a runner. For reference, Jalen Hurts has averaged 9.8 FPG as a runner this year while Lamar Jackson is at 8.3 FPG. So, even though Taysom won’t have Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, or Jared Cook as his main pass catchers now – he still has one of the safest floors among QBs because he’s such a highly productive runner. I’m immediately going to Taysom as a back-end QB1 start here. [GB]
Sit: Russell Wilson vs. 49ers
We faded Wilson last week and that looked great until he back-doored his way to a QB9 finish (19.5 FP) thanks to a 96-yard final drive in the two-minute drill. This Seahawks offense is absolutely abominable and has gone three-and-out on a whopping 14 of their 30 possessions since Wilson returned three weeks ago. Not only is Seattle’s scheme broken, this is by far the worst Russell Wilson has played in his career. Per SIS, Wilson ranks dead last in on-target throws (58.3%) over the last three weeks while owning the highest aDOT (average depth of target) in this span at 10.3 yards downfield. So, the problem is two-fold: 1) Seattle isn’t scheming up enough easy throws and 2) Wilson is missing too many throws to begin with. That’s a deadly combination, and we saw it play out like a slow-moving horror movie on MNF vs. Washington a few days ago. Now Wilson has a short week to get it figured out against a 49ers secondary that has given up just 11.2 passing points per game (fifth-fewest) over the last eight weeks. If you’re starting Wilson this week, it’s ideally in 2-QB / SuperFlex only. [GB]
Start: Elijah Mitchell at Seahawks
Each week in my DFS content I’ve used Mitchell as the poster boy to express the limitations of median projections, and why some players are too risky for cash but are perfect for GPPs.
All season I’ve been viewing Mitchell as essentially this: 50% chance he gets 90 rushing yards and nothing else (9.0 fantasy points), 50% chance he scores twice (or once with the 100-yard bonus) and drops ~22.0 DK fantasy points. He averages 16.3 DK FPG this season. But that’s better expressed this way — he averages 23.2 DK FPG in his top-50% of games and 9.4 DK FPG in his bottom-50% of games.
Essentially, he’s a terrific high-risk/high-reward play for tournaments, but is too risky for cash. But, for season-long leagues, if you own Mitchell, you have to be feeling pretty good. Mitchell went undrafted in 99.999% of leagues, but I’m viewing him as a solid low-end RB1 for the remainder of the season.
Mitchell earned a season-high 70% snap share in Week 12. He finished the week 3rd among RBs in both XFP (24.8) and fantasy points scored (28.0). He earned a bell cow-like, 28 of 30 carries and 6 of 8 targets out of the backfield (minus Deebo Samuel, who is out this week).
Mitchell was a bell cow in Week 12, and even in a worst-case scenario is an extremely high-end workhorse. He’s seen at least 27 carries in back-to-back games, and at least 18 carries in 4 of his last 5. And, encouragingly, it seems he’s finally being used in the passing game. He’s seen 5 or more targets in 2 of his last 3 games, though he had just 4 total targets through his first 5 games. (Granted, JaMycal Hasty’s absence last week might have been a factor there.)
In victories, Mitchell is averaging 21.6 carries and 101.4 rushing YPG. And, good news! The 49ers are favored this week, by 3.5-points, against a Seattle defense that ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (+8.4). He’s an easy RB1 this week. [SB]
Start: Antonio Gibson at Raiders
Could it be? Might all of our offseason dreams finally be coming true?
Gibson has been dealing with a stress fracture in his shin since Week 4. Per Virginia Zakas of The Athletic, “This is an injury that isn’t going to heal until he takes time off, and it is an injury that can get worse the more he plays on it. Gibson needs to be shut down for at least a month, and even then it won’t be 100%." He’s still listed on the injury report, and is only practicing in a limited capacity. But…
Since the team’s Week 9 bye, Gibson has played on 60% of the team’s snaps, averaging 24.0 carries, 3.0 targets, 106.3 YFS, and 17.6 FPG. And this culminated in career-best usage for Gibson in Week 12, earning 29 of 37 carries (4 of 4 inside the 10-zone) and 7 of 12 targets out of the backfield (on 68% of the team’s snaps).
It’s worth pointing out that all 3 games since the team’s bye were wins, and he’s historically been very gamescript-dependent. Plus Washington is projected to lose this week, as 2.5-point road underdogs traveling across the country on a short week. But that probably shouldn’t be too big of a concern if J.D. McKissic (concussion protocol) sits out. In fact, if that happens, I think we’ll finally see Gibson as the gamescript-immune McCaffrey-like bell cow we’ve long dreamed he might one day become. Jaret Patterson is averaging just 7.0 snaps, 4.0 carries, and 0.0 targets per game since their bye. But McKissic leaves behind (over the same span), 5.3 carries, 3.7 targets, and a 41% snap share.
And minus the negative gamescript, the on-paper matchup is just about perfect. The Raiders rank bottom-7 in both rushing and receiving FPG allowed to opposing RBs, and 4th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+5.4) — and, 3rd-worst over the last 5 weeks (+5.9). We have him ranked as a top-5 RB this week, and keep in mind, that’s with McKissic expected to play. [SB]
Sit: James Robinson at Rams
This of course comes with the caveat that you might not have any better options – especially in such a brutal year at the position – but there are some red flags around James Robinson right now. J-Rob is probably the most underrated runner in the league and has bell cow ability, which is what has made him a weekly RB1, but his role has really started to decline as of late likely because of a nagging ankle/heel injury. Robinson got it done again last week with 115 scrimmage yards on 20 touches against the Falcons, but his 52% snap rate was a season-low. In fact, Robinson ran fewer routes (17) than Carlos Hyde (21) in a game that the Jaguars trailed and chased throughout. That’s a concern for Robinson considering we need him on the field in garbage time – which is all of the time in Jacksonville. This matchup isn’t easy, either, as the Rams run defense has tightened over the last eight weeks (3.55 YPC allowed; third-fewest). Robinson’s health, declining role, and tough matchup make him a lower-end RB2 this week. [GB]
Start: James Conner at Bears
With Chase Edmonds active, Conner was just a touchdown-or-bust (49.0 YFS) mid-range RB3 (11.5 FPG). Without Edmonds, he’s proven to be one of the highest-end bell cow RBs in fantasy. Over the last 4 weeks, he averages 18.0 carries, 5.3 targets, 20.7 XFP (RB4), and 25.1 FPG (RB3), on 80% of the snaps (RB2).
This week’s matchup looks somewhere between neutral and above-average. The Cardinals are favored by 8.0-points, and Chicago ranks 10th-worst in YPC allowed (4.43) and 11th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (14.1) to opposing RBs. Chicago also ranks top-7 in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs, but somewhere between bottom-10 and bottom-15 over the last 6 weeks (depending on whether or not you want to strip out last week’s game due to the D’Andre Swift injury).
The return of Kyler Murray should be a net positive as well. The threat of vultured touchdowns is much less of a concern now, due to Murray’s ailing ankle, and should in any case be offset by improved gamescript, more sustained drives, more red zone drives, etc. He’s a fringe-RB1 this week. [SB]
Start: Jamaal Williams vs. Vikings
Undoubtedly, the Lions are a hapless disaster. And Jamaal Williams hasn’t been particularly productive this season. But, with D’Andre Swift out (shoulder), he feels like a near-lock for mid-range RB1 volume at worst, which makes him worthy of a start as (at least) a fringe-RB1.
On Thanksgiving, Swift played on 20% of the team’s snaps (suffering an injury early in the second quarter), and Williams walked away with 15 carries and 5 targets. Following the Swift injury, he played on 81% of the snaps, earning 79% of the carries and 83% of the targets out of the backfield.
The Lions rank 3rd in team RB FPG (29.3) and 7th in XFP/G (26.7). Which means if Williams can be just 60% of what the backfield has been as a whole, he’d be a top-10 fantasy RB (17.6 FPG). And if 70%, then he’d rank behind only Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, and Austin Ekeler in FPG (20.5).
The matchup is a little tricky, though I don’t think it matters too much if Williams gets the high-end bell cow workload we’re expecting. Minnesota ranks 8th-worst in YPC allowed (4.50) and 9th-worst in rushing FPG allowed to RBs (14.5). But the Vikings are favored by 7.0-points, and rank middle-of-the-pack in receiving FPG allowed and 14th-best by schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (-1.3). [SB]
The good news? Harris and Stevenson both look awesome as the Patriots have switched to a very run-heavy approach.
The bad news? You are playing for a touchdown with both.
The Patriots are moving the ball extremely well and scoring a ton as of late, but the problem for our game is that none of their guys are trustworthy. This offense is a total sum of the parts. Over their last two games, Damien Harris (38% snap rate), Rhamondre Stevenson (33%), and Brandon Bolden (29%) have formed a true three-man rotation with Harris and Stevenson sharing the early-down work and Bolden mixing in on passing downs. In fact, Harris and Stevenson both have 22 carries while Harris (10 red-zone snaps) leads the way over Stevenson (5) and Bolden (5) on their 20 plays inside-the-20 in their last two games. Gross. I don’t think the matchup is overly difficult – we’ve seen great running teams like the Titans and Colts roll against the Bills – but the lack of passing down work and shared red-zone snaps make both Harris and Stevenson TD-dependent FLEX plays. [GB]
Start: Jaylen Waddle vs. Giants
This season, Waddle has been the intended target on 25.6% of Tua Tagovailoa’s throws. That ranks well ahead of the next-closest Miami receiver (Mike Gesicki, 15.4%), and would rank 10th among all receivers. Clearly, their rapport has carried over from the Alabama days.
Waddle now ranks as the overall WR2 since Week 6, averaging 9.6 targets and 18.1 FPG over this span. In Tagovailoa’s 5 full games, Waddle is averaging 9.4 targets and 19.3 FPG. And, without DeVante Parker, that jumps to 10.0 targets and 23.5 FPG in a 4-game sample. So, any way you want to look at it, that’s either WR7-, WR5-, or WR2-levels of production.
It looks likely Miami will be without both Parker and Will Fuller again this week. And so, as the team’s clear WR1, he’ll get a Giants defense that ranks 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+2.5). And New York’s greatest vulnerabilities are where Waddle does most of his damage. He’s run roughly 50% of his routes from the slot over the last four weeks. And the Giants are a top-10 slot funnel matchup, ranking 11th-worst in FPG allowed to slot WRs (13.8), but 13th-best against outside WRs (20.1). They also sell out to stop the deep ball and funnel their production to the short and intermediate portions of the field (86%, 3rd-most), where Waddle does most of his damage.
He should be started as a fringe-WR1 this week. [SB]
Start: Michael Pitman Jr. at Texans
Pittman has started to cool off considerably as of late with three-straight sub-par finishes (WR31 > WR73 > WR39), but finds himself in an ideal get right spot. The Texans are giving up a league-high 19.6 FPG to wide receivers that line up on the boundary, which is where Pittman runs 80% of his routes. Pittman not going into the slot often has hurt him at times this season, but it absolutely works in his favor here against these over matched Texans’ corners. My only concern is volume – the Colts might only need to throw it 25-30 times if Jonathan Taylor goes off – but Pittman only needs 6-7 targets to do his damage. He is a WR2 with a WR1 ceiling here. [GB]
Sit: Courtland Sutton at Chiefs
Even on a day where Jerry Jeudy was shut down by Chris Harris (for 2/23 receiving), Courtland Sutton was an afterthought in the Broncos passing attack last week. Sutton caught 2 balls for 17 yards against the Chargers and now has just 7 receptions for 95 yards over the last month. In fact, in the five full games Sutton and Jeudy have played together this year, Sutton has managed to earn just 15 targets while Jeudy has 31. Yikes. The Chiefs are playing much better defense as of late and are allowing just 5 catches (ninth-fewest) and 12.9 fantasy points (eighth-fewest) per game to receivers lined up out wide. Sutton is only a dart throw at this point. [GB]
Start: Brandon Aiyuk at Seahawks
Since being let out of the doghouse in Week 8, Aiyuk has seen at least 7 targets in 4 of his last 5 games. And he’s hit at least 85 receiving yards in 3 of his last 4 games, averaging 15.1 FPG over this span (16th-most). And now, Deebo Samuel, who leaves behind a 23% XFP share (6th-most) is expected to sit out the next 1-2 weeks with a strained groin. And Aiyuk averages a whopping 11.3 targets and 21.6 FPG (low of 19.7) in his last 4 healthy games with Samuel out. (Though, granted, George Kittle only played in one of these games.)
The on-paper matchup is absolutely brutal — the Seahawks rank top-3 in both FPG allowed to outside WRs (15.5) and schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (-6.0) — but we still like Aiyuk this week as a low-end WR2.
It’s worth pointing out that the matchup is far more in George Kittle’s favor, as Seattle ranks 4th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to TEs (+3.5). But, for whatever reason (and I’m not sure this means anything), he’s actually been less productive without Samuel, averaging only 9.8 FPG over his last 5 games Samuel has missed. [SB]
Start: Hunter Renfrow vs. Washington
If Darren Waller misses this game, Hunter Renfrow becomes a nails WR2 play in PPR leagues. He’s obviously coming off of his best game of the season (8/134 vs. Cowboys), so it might feel like you’re chasing points here – but you’re really not. It’s no surprise that Renfrow went off in a game that Waller sustained two injuries (back and knee) and it’s no surprise that he led the team in targets (9) and had a solid 7/58 back in Week 7 when Waller was out. Renfrow catches a great matchup here, too, as Washington is permitting the sixth-most FPG (21.8) to opposing slot WRs. [GB]
Sit: Rashod Bateman at Steelers
I always want to play rookie WRs in the back half of the season as they continue to get better each week, especially stud talents like Bateman. Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to trust Bateman’s usage just yet because the Ravens keep playing games with their receivers. Once again, Bateman (23 routes), Sammy Watkins (19), and Devin Duvernay (18) all formed a three-man rotation on the Ravens 40 pass plays last week as Watkins continues to block a late-season breakout for the rookie. Until we see Bateman finally elevated as a full-time player, he’s best left on your bench. [GB]
Start: Rob Gronkowski at Falcons
Gronk is back! Now clearly over the ribs / back injury that caused him to miss Weeks 4-9, he has seen at least eight targets in four of his 5 healthy games. In fact, Gronk is averaging 18.2 FPG in his five full games, which would make him the TE1 over Travis Kelce (16.9 FPG) this season. Whew. Gronk is a set-and-forget guy for the rest of this season – especially against the Falcons this week. We only have two TEs ranked ahead of Gronk: Kelce and Kittle. That’s it. [GB]
Start: Pat Freiermuth vs. Ravens
Since Week 6, Freiermuth ranks 5th in targets per game (6.8), 4th in XFP/G (12.6), and 3rd in FPG (13.6). He’s seen at least 6 targets in 5 of 6 games over this span. He has 5 touchdowns over his last 5 games, and has also hit double-digit fantasy points in 5 of his last 6 games.
Keep in mind, TE Eric Ebron played in 3 of these 6 games, and when he was out, Freiermuth averaged 16.6 FPG, and his route share jumped from 57% to 72%. With Ebron now out for an extended period of time — potentially the remainder of the season — Friermuth needs to be viewed as an every-week mid-range TE1.
Freiermuth is currently in the concussion protocol, but practiced in full on Wednesday. If he plays, he needs to be started as a surefire top-5 option given his recent success and the favorable matchup; the Ravens rank 3rd-worst in FPG allowed to opposing TEs. [SB]
Start: Logan Thomas at Raiders
If (just for fun) we include plays later overturned and/or negated due to penalty, Thomas averages 5.5 targets, 9.6 XFP, and 12.2 fantasy points per full game on a 87% route share. Among all TEs those numbers would rank: 13th-, 12th-, 6th-, and 1st-best.
And if, further, we treat Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones as one player, then Washington’s TE1 is averaging: 5.8 targets, 10.4 XFP, 42.7 YPG, and 11.3 fantasy points per start on a 89% route share. Among all TEs those numbers would rank: 11th-, 10th-, 12th-, 8th-, and 1st-best.
So, I was already viewing a healthy Thomas as no-less than a fringe-TE1. But he’s definitely a TE1 this week, against a Raiders defense that ranks 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs (+3.3), with 28% of their total receiving production allowed going to TEs (3rd-most). [SB]
Sit: Evan Engram at Dolphins
Engram had a perfect matchup last week, against an Eagles defense that was giving up a league-high +6.2 schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs. And the Giants had literally no one else to throw the ball to, with TE Kyle Rudolph, TE Kaden Smith, WR Kadarius Toney, and WR Sterling Shepard all out. And so, what happened next? He was out-scored by TE Chris Myarick. Who? Exactly.
Engram is beyond dust at this point. And should be viewed as just a low-end TE2 moving forward. [SB]
Start: Foster Moreau vs. Washington
Pat Freiermuth averages 16.6 FPG without Eric Ebron. Ricky Seals-Jones was at least serviceable in his 4 full starts Logan Thomas missed (9.8 FPG). Dan Arnold was a seamless replacement for James O’Shaughnessy (who we’ll get to in a second). And Moreau, in the one game Darren Waller sat out, played on 100% of the team’s snaps, catching 6 of 6 targets for 60 yards and a score.
And so, handcuff TEs are apparently the trendy new fad in fantasy football. And as such, we like Moreau, the newest incarnation, as a mid-range TE1 this week (assuming Waller sits).
Moreau has been heavily utilized in the red zone (25% of his targets coming there), and draws a matchup that’s potentially top-10 and is at least neutral at worst. Washington ranks 10th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs over the last 5 weeks (+1.9). And, against arguably the league’s worst pass defense (and No. 1 pass funnel defense), the Raiders are projected to score 23.25 points this week, which is +6.5 (33%) more than what they’ve averaged over the last 5 weeks.
And, well, those points have to come from somewhere. So, why not Moreau in the Waller role, feasting in the intermediate-middle portion of the field, while DeSean Jackson works deep, still drawing extra help at the single-highest rate in the league (per PFF). [SB]
Start: James O’Shaughnessy at Rams
If you’re desperate for a TE, and Moreau isn’t available off waivers, you can do a lot worse than O’Shaughnessy. In his only two full games (Weeks 1 and 12), O’Shaughnessy averages 7.5 targets, 11.7 XFP, and 8.4 FPG.
If we combine Dan Arnold (now on IR) and O’Shaughnessy, then Jacksonville’s TE1 is averaging 8.1 targets, 12.7 XFP, 51.9 YPG, and 10.1 FPG on a 76% route share in full games started. If over the full season, those numbers would rank: 4th-, 5th-, 13th-, and 12th-best.
And he gets an especially favorable matchup this week — the Rams rank 7th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs (+2.7), and 3rd-worst over the last 5 weeks (+4.0).
James O'Shaughnessy is just an eager green but albeit somewhat hot-headed young police sergeant in Chicago. And Jack Doyle is just his gruff surly alcoholic thrice-divorced Lieutenant with 20 years on the job. And you can't tell me anything otherwise— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 15, 2021
But of course this is just the best bull-case argument I can make. He’s still James O’Shaughnessy, so you’re only starting him as a high-end TE2. But, again, you could do a lot worse if desperate. [SB]