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: Trey Lance at Cardinals
Earlier this offseason (here), I compared Jalen Hurts (2021) favorably to Lamar Jackson (2019). But, even more outlandishly, 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 happened last week? In just two quarters of play, whilst running the Jimmy Garoppolo offense (and not the Lance offense), Lance totaled 20.4 fantasy points. He rushed 7 times for 41 yards. In other words, he’s on pace to average 40.8 FPG and 82 rushing YPG.
While, of course, that shouldn’t be his expectation this week, we are expecting low-end QB1 production right out of the gates. And despite this neutral to slightly below average matchup. He’s ranked QB9 in our projections, just ahead of fantasy stalwarts Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. (SB)
Start: Kirk Cousins vs. Lions
After starting the season with QB12, QB6, and QB6 scoring performances, Cousins backed up to QB28 with just 10.1 FP in Week 4. Granted, that game completely fell apart and didn’t provide much for fantasy – the Browns offense wasn’t any better. Well, you couldn’t ask for a better rebound spot here at home against Detroit. You don’t need me to tell you that the Lions are a terrible defense, but the numbers they’re allowing are truly staggering. Through the opening month, Detroit is giving up a league-high in YPA (10.7) and the second-most fantasy points per pass attempt (0.668) because opposing offenses are absolutely roasting their secondary no matter what coverage the Lions play. Detroit plays man coverage about a third of the time and zone two-thirds of the time, but it doesn’t matter because opposing offenses are pushing the ball downfield on them at will. Against man, the Lions are giving up an average depth of target of 15.8 yards (!!) and against zone it’s 14.2 (!!) which easily leads the league in both coverages. Cousins, Thielen, and Jefferson should go off here. (GB)
Sit: Baker Mayfield at Chargers
Baker has started the opening month not even scratching the surface of fantasy relevance after QB28, QB16, QB18, and QB32 scoring weeks. Granted, Mayfield played extremely well in Week 1 (he just didn’t throw any touchdowns) and then didn’t have to do much to knock off the Texans and Bears in Weeks 2-3. However, Mayfield completely flopped last week in a primo matchup against the Vikings by completing just 15 passes for 155 yards and taking 3 sacks. Making matters worse, Mayfield missed Odell Beckham for what would have been at least 3 completions, over 100 yards, and multiple scores. This is not the week to believe Mayfield will get it going, either. The Chargers have allowed the fewest YPG (166) through the air and just 9.1 passing fantasy points per game (third-fewest) as a result. Mayfield is only in play in SuperFlex leagues. (GB)
Mayfield playing with partially torn labrum in non-throwing shoulder https://t.co/bppDaUUq4L— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 7, 2021
Sit: Justin Fields at Raiders
We saw signs of life from this Bears offense last week as Matt Nagy came to his senses and let Bill Lazor call the plays. Even though Fields still didn’t run often, Lazor was much more imaginative than Nagy and dialed up a number of deep shots to Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. While I’m cautiously optimistic that the change in play callers will benefit Fields long-term, he’s still just a QB2 stash in 1-QB leagues until we see Chicago finally institute some designed runs. This is the first week you can play Fields with a modicum of confidence in a SuperFlex league, though. (GB)
Start: James Robinson vs. Titans
After a slow start in the Jags’ opening two games where Urban Meyer insisted on grinding Carlos Hyde between the tackles and danced around the fact that Robinson is better, we finally saw Robinson separate some in Week 3. Against Arizona, Robinson broke out for a 15/88/1 rushing, 6/46 receiving line as Hyde took a step back. Last week, Hyde was ruled out before the Bengals game with a shoulder injury and Robinson completely took over going 18/78/2 on the ground while playing 95% of the Jaguars snaps. Hyde is due back this week, but Robinson has completely separated from Hyde by now… right? There is enough going in Robinson’s direction to immediately go back to him as a borderline RB1 play against a floundering Titans defense. (GB)
Sit: Myles Gaskin vs. Buccaneers
Gaskin played on just 24% of the team’s snaps last week, earning only 2 of 13 carries and 0 of 3 targets out of the backfield. And, well, given his production and efficiency last season, especially in contrast to the other RBs on this team, this sort of usage doesn’t make any sense to me at all. But I suppose it doesn’t even matter in this matchup. Gaskin (and all other Miami RBs) are easily benchable this week, as 10.5-point underdogs against the league’s best run defense (Tampa Bay). (SB)
Start: Damien Harris at Texans
Over his past two games, Harris averages 5.0 carries, 2.0 targets, 18.5 YFS, and 3.9 FPG. Yeah, so, that’s the bad news. The good news is that, I’m pretty sure this is outlier-usage. Harris just had back-to-back worst-possible matchups against the league’s best (Tampa Bay) and second-best (New Orleans) run defenses. These were also back-to-back negative gamescript games, with New England’s offense trailing 81% of the time. And HC Bill Belichick is smart enough to know you’re better off fully abandoning the run in these games.
As a small positive, Harris' route share jumped to a season-high 38%. And, as a big positive, this is a near-perfect matchup. Or, a matchup that’s at least as soft as his first two games of the year (when he averaged 21.0 touches and 14.6 FPG). The Patriots are favored by 8.5-points, and the Texans rank 3rd-worst in YPC allowed (5.00) and 8th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (15.9) to opposing RBs. Start him with confidence as a mid-range RB2 this week. (SB)
Start: Damien Williams at Raiders
Williams put together a full practice on Wednesday, which means he’s this week’s Chuba Hubbard. Or, in other words, he’s maybe an RB3-level talent who is likely to see fringe-RB1 levels of volume. And as such, should be viewed as a mid-range RB2 for fantasy this week.
David Montgomery exited early in the fourth quarter last week, with a knee injury, and will be out 4-5 weeks. Williams earned 8 carries and 2 targets last week, and was effective, totaling 70 YFS. Round 6 rookie Khalil Herbert had three carries on the day, but those carries came on the last three plays of the game (before kneels) when the game was out of reach. And Williams out-snaps him 70 to 9 on the full season. He’s a threat to mix in, but I’d expect Montgomery-esque usage for Williams moving forward.
He gets a great matchup this week, against a Raiders defense that has surrendered the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs (+9.1). They also rank bottom-12 in YPC allowed (4.60), rushing FPG allowed (15.4), and receiving FPG allowed (11.5) to enemy RBs. Projected gamescript isn’t great (+5.5), but Chicago has leaned heavier on the RBs with Justin Fields under center, and Williams is seeing enough usage in the passing game (16 carries to 10 targets) and has long seen good usage in the passing game (310 career carries to 186 career targets) that I think he can rise above it. (SB)
Start: Josh Jacobs vs. Bears
The start to Jacobs’ season has been sketchy at best as he battled through turf toe to get there in Week 1 (10/34/2 rushing), then he missed two games, and didn’t exactly look like his normal self in his return on MNF against the Chargers. The usage Jacobs got, however, was amazing. Jon Gruden immediately re-installed Jacobs as his featured runner last week as Jacobs played on 63% of the snaps, handled 13-of-15 carries, and even got 5 targets. Well, this is the ideal spot where Jacobs usually does his best work. For his career, Jacobs averages 21.1 FPG when the Raiders win as a whopping 19 of his 21 career TDs have come in victories. The Raiders are 5.5-point favorites over the Bears. With Jacobs getting borderline bellcow usage, he’s a RB2 start with RB1 and multiple TD upside in this spot. (GB)
Sit: Miles Sanders at Panthers
All of my offseason fears of Sanders losing precious passing down work to Kenny Gainwell has come to fruition, but the situation surrounding Sanders has gone from bad to worse in recent weeks. In the last two two games, Philly lost by double-digits and Sanders totaled just 2 (vs. Dallas) and 7 carries (vs. Chiefs). Now the Eagles have to travel to Carolina as 3.5-point underdogs. Sanders has fallen from grace as a bell cow last year to a game-script dependent option running behind a banged up offensive line. The Cowboys showed us that the Panthers run defense is not one to fear just yet last week, but the Eagles seem incapable of running the ball effectively right now. And, as a side note, their inability to run just gives Jalen Hurts more upside as a passer and scrambler. (GB)
Start: Keenan Allen vs. Browns
Allen totaled only 36 receiving yards last week, and now ranks just 21st in FPG (15.9), 14 spots below Mike Williams (19.4). And yet, I’m still adamant he shouldn’t be viewed any differently from the Keenan Allen we saw last year. You know, when he averaged 20.5 FPG (3rd-best) in non-injury games with Justin Herbert under center.
Allen disappointed last week, but again saw terrific volume. He earned 11 targets, and has now seen 11 or more targets in 5 of his last 6 full games. Allen ranks 4th among all WRs in XFP per game (21.0), well above Williams (17.0). And he’s had some brutal luck this year, seeing a league-high 5 targets and 62 receiving yards called back due to penalty. If those plays counted, Allen would rank 1st in total targets, 7th in receiving yards, and 9th among WRs in total fantasy points scored.
Cleveland is a tough on-paper matchup for opposing WRs, but Allen has the more vulnerable matchup (in contrast to Williams). Allen runs 61% of his routes from the slot… and 61% (8th-most) of Cleveland’s total WR production allowed has come out of the slot. (SB)
Start: Diontae Johnson vs. Broncos
Some things never change. Diontae Johnson either gets 10 targets and scores over 15 fantasy points or he spends the afternoon in the medical tent / on the sideline with an injury. There is no in between. After missing Week 3 with a knee injury, Johnson immediately got back into his high-volume role, taking his 13 targets for 9/92/1 against the Packers on a season-high 92% of the snaps. Johnson now leads all receivers in targets per game (11.7) and is the WR8 in FPG (19.4). Denver has started strong on defense, but Sterling Shepard (24.3 FP), Marvin Jones (17.5) and Marquise Brown (19.1) have all found success against this secondary. Johnson is a high-end WR2 in PPR and carries a WR1 ceiling if the Steelers continue their streak of getting down early and having to throw a ton to catch up. (GB)
Sit: Terry McLaurin vs. Saints
Don’t actually sit McLaurin this week, but do temper your expectations.
McLaurin is expected to draw shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore — PFF’s 9th-highest graded CB this year. From 2019-2020, a shadow matchup against Lattimore was typically worth shaving off about 19% from a WR’s FPG average. In this case, McLaurin would fall from 19.6 FPG (5th-best) to 15.9 FPG (22nd). In the only other game Lattimore has shadowed thus far (Week 1), he held Davante Adams to a season-low 10.6 fantasy points. McLaurin, meanwhile, rose above a similarly tough matchup in Week 2 (James Bradberry’s shadow coverage), but he also flopped in Week 3 against Tre’Davious White’s shadow coverage.
Anyway, he runs about 25% of his routes from the slot, and so he will at least avoid Lattimore a quarter of the time. And, again, don’t actually sit him. But we’re bumping him down to WR15 this week due to the tough matchup. (SB)
Start: Marquise Brown vs. Colts
Even though those three Week 3 drops are still burned in all of our minds, Brown continued his stellar play with 19.1 FP (4/91/1) against the Broncos last week. Dating back to last year, Hollywood is averaging 71.6 yards and 16.5 fantasy points per game over his last 12 starts and has gone over 12.5 FP in 11-of-12. Now, Brown gets a quietly soft matchup against this Colts secondary that has hemorrhaged 17.5 yards per target (fourth-worst) on throws beyond 15 yards this year. Lamar Jackson is throwing deep more often than any QB in the league – his aDOT is 11.9 yards – which plays perfectly into the hands of this trend of the Colts getting beat deep by receivers. Brown is a high-end WR3 who could spike for 20+ FP in this spot. (GB)
Start: Tee Higgins vs. Packers
WR Ja’Marr Chase appears to have fully stolen Higgins’ thunder. He ranks 14th in FPG, with 17.6, which is good for the 9th-best start for any rookie WR since the 1970 NFL Merger. Chase is no doubt getting all of the headline attention, but it’d be a mistake to rank him well above Higgins this week, who is expected to make his return from a minor shoulder injury.
Higgins isn’t far behind Chase in terms of production, ranking 17th in FPG (16.9), and he’s seen far better volume, ranking 22nd in XFP per game (15.7) — well above Chase (who ranks 53rd) and Tyler Boyd (who ranks 48th).
Both wide receivers have an excellent matchup this week, against the Packers, who are expected to be without their CB1 Jaire Alexander. But downgrade SWR Tyler Boyd, as the Packers are giving up the 10th-most FPG to opposing outside WRs (25.0) but the absolute fewest to opposing slot WRs (6.3). Even if Alexander plays he’s unlikely to shadow, but if he does suit up, we’ll bump Higgins down a few spots and he’ll spend roughly 60% of his snaps lined up on his side of the field.
As 3.0-point underdogs against Green Bay’s potent offense, and with Joe Mixon “day-to-day,” we’re expecting Cincinnati to lean far more pass-heavy this week than they’ve been all year (54%, 27th). And that should be good news for the team’s three WRs. We like Chase as a low-end WR1, Higgins as a low-end WR2, and Boyd as a low-end WR3. (SB)
Start: Robert Woods at Seahawks
I’m staying the course with Woods because his usage has been strong after he randomly ran behind Van Jefferson in Week 1. Since then, Woods has run a route on 92% of Matthew Stafford’s dropbacks in Weeks 2-4, but he just hasn’t seen the targets yet. Kupp is definitely going to see more looks than Woods and probably by a wide margin at the end of the season, but Woods’ 18.5% target share is bound to go up some because he’s playing so much. You guys know I’m always very skeptical of coach-speak, but I can buy a squeaky wheel narrative from HC Sean McVay trying to get Woods more looks. Seattle has given up 17 or more FP to five different receivers already, so even if Woods’ target share remains fairly tame, there is plenty of matchup appeal to keep him in the high-end WR3 territory. (GB)
Robert Woods has just 25 targets in 4 games compared to Cooper Kupp's 40. Sean McVay wants to get Woods involved, and he's not worried about the WR's demeanor or possible frustration https://t.co/kgTHJsbnlp— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) October 5, 2021
Sit: Kenny Golladay at Cowboys
In Week 4, with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton both out, Golladay finally posted a “start”-worthy performance, catching 6 of 7 passes for 116 yards. But he’s a fairly easy “sit” this week.
He’ll get shadow coverage from Trevon Diggs this week, who has shadowed in all four games this season. Through the first three weeks, he held Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, and DeVonta Smith to a combined 6 catches for 96 yards and 0 touchdowns. Of course, D.J. Moore went nuclear last week against (mostly) his shadow coverage, totaling 31.3 fantasy points, but only 39% of that was actually credited to Diggs. And I think that’s more a testament to Moore than anything else, and I don’t yet see Golladay being on that level. Nor do I envision him seeing as much usage in the slot and out of the backfield as Moore saw last week. And, I suspect, given his league-high 5 interceptions, the Giants are a bit less aggressive and more wary of looking his way. And as such, he’s just a WR3 this week. (SB)
Start: Kyle Pitts vs. Jets
Have you started to lose faith? We clearly haven’t, ranking Pitts as our No. 5 TE on the week. And here’s why:
Pitts is currently our top regression candidate at the TE position, falling a position-high 17.9 fantasy points and 2.3 touchdowns shy of his volume-based expectation. And Matt Ryan actually isn’t (at least) totally to blame. Shockingly, Ryan (72.1) ranks above Josh Allen in PFF pass grade (70.1). So, at least, he hasn’t been Ben Roethlisberger-levels of bad (53.2).
Among TEs, Pitts ranks only 20th in FPG (8.5), but 5th in route share (81%), 5th in XFP per game (13.0), 6th in targets per game (7.0), and 6th in air yards per game (54.0). He’s also the top touchdown-regression candidate at the position; an end zone virgin despite 3 targets inside the 10-yard-line (most) and 4 end zone targets (which ranks behind only Darren Waller).
On paper (and despite the Jets not fielding any names of note in the secondary) this is actually a fairly tough matchup, for both Pitts and the WRs. But the volume is good. And, trust me on this, Pitts is also very good. (SB)
Studied all of Kyle Pitts targets. He's still a freak. ATL needs to get him more opportunities down the field. His game speed jumps off screen.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 6, 2021
Start: Dalton Schultz vs. Giants
Last week Schultz earned 7 targets and eclipsed 17.5 fantasy points for the second week in a row. More importantly, his route share jumped from 60% to 76%, while Blake Jarwin's route share dropped from 57% to 36%. Among TEs, he ranks behind only Travis Kelce in PFF receiving grade (89.3), and he could be an every-week mid-range TE1 (or better) if this sort of usage holds.
And that’s where we have him ranked this week, against a Giants defense that’s given up the 4th-most FPG to opposing TEs (17.4). And with CBs James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson both playing well, they’re a bit of a TE funnel matchup, as that represents 27% of their total receiving fantasy points allowed (7th-most). (SB)
Start: Tyler Higbee at Seahawks
Higbee just missed a monster game last week – Stafford overthrew him in the endzone on the opening drive where Higbee was split out wide against a cornerback. Then late in the game, Higbee dropped a tough catch going to the ground. Seattle has been terrible against the pass all year and that extends to their tight end coverage after giving up 20 FP to Tyler Conklin in Week 3 and 5/61/1 to 49ers TEs last week. I’m going back to Higbee as a TE1 play here. (GB)
Sit: Evan Engram at Cowboys
Engram was a fine boom-or-bust pick at cost, betting on 2020 being an injury-outlier year, but he’s certainly looking far more “bust” than “boom” at the moment. Engram has seen good volume since his return (though that’s at least partly a function of Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton missing time due to injury), but the results have not been good.
12 targets, 7 catches, 45 YFS, 0 touchdowns, 1 fumble, 9.5 fantasy points. Yeah, that’s not going to get it done. Not even at the barren wasteland that is the fantasy TE position. And despite New York’s injury-laden WR room, Engram ran a route on just 66% of the team’s dropbacks, which ranked just 21st on the week. He’s just a low-end TE2 this week. (SB)
Start: Jared Cook vs. Browns
Among TEs, Cook ranks 8th in air yards per game (49.3), 9th in targets per game (6.3), 10th in XFP per game (10.7), 12th in FPG (10.0), and 13th in route share (69%). So, any way you want to look at it, and although it’s not too sexy, Cook is producing like a fringe-TE1 on fringe-TE1-levels of volume. And that’s just about how he should be viewed this week, in this neutral matchup, but with Justin Herbert and Los Angeles’ offense fully roaring. (SB)