FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 8

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The start-or-sit dilemma is part of managing a fantasy football team.

Having the foresight to start the wide receiver who goes for 100 yards and a touchdown in a matchup while sitting a receiver against a shutdown cornerback is one of the keys to victory.

For this version of a start-or-sit, I’m going to be listing all relevant fantasy football players each week and placing them into tiers.

And to take some of the guesswork out of it, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based in numberFire’s player projections with dynamic measures for variance, such as quarterback rushing, running back receiving, and receiver target depth.

The results will boil down to three tiers: players we should be confident about starting, players we can consider starting whenever we don’t have better alternatives, but who aren’t must-plays and players we should try to bench whenever we do have better alternatives.

These players are listed in order of frequency of hitting the stated threshold (i.e. QB12, RB24, WR24, and TE12 performances and higher on the list means more start-able).

The groupings reflect a 12-team, single-quarterback league with the following hypothetical in mind: if I had other viable options on my bench or the waiver-wire, should I start this player this week?

Players not listed should be presumed sit-worthy in a shallow or standard-sized league, and all fantasy points references and rankings reflect half-PPR scoring.

QUARTERBACKS

Start with confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.

– Josh Allen vs. MIA (79%)

– Patrick Mahomes vs. NYG (69%)

– Jalen Hurts at DET (69%)

– Matthew Stafford at HOU (64%)

– Kyler Murray vs. GB (61%)

– Justin Herbert vs. NE (57%)

– Dak Prescott at MIN (57%)

– Tom Brady at NO (50%)

Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.

– Daniel Jones at KC (49%)

– Joe Burrow at NYJ (48%)

– Kirk Cousins vs. DAL (46%)

– Aaron Rodgers at ARI (44%)

– Ryan Tannehill at IND (43%)

– Carson Wentz vs. TEN (42%)

– Matt Ryan vs. CAR (35%)

Daniel Jones has a great matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, who rank 30th in adjusted pass defense based on numberFire’s metrics. Jones has played two below-average adjusted pass defenses this season, and in those games, he has averaged 22.0 fantasy points, 257.5 yards, and just 0.5 passing touchdowns. In total, he has put up league-average efficiency against these beatable defenses, so he’s a viable streaming option for Week 8.

Joe Burrow, likewise, has faced five top-half defenses and just two below-average pass defenses so far. The New York Jets are 25th, by numberFire’s metrics. In two matchups with comparable defenses, Burrow has averaged 23.1 fantasy points, 309.5 yards, and 2.5 passing touchdowns with a per-drop back efficiency of 0.56 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back.

For context, only Matthew Stafford (0.49) has a mark above 0.37. So, Burrow has dominated in these games.

Ryan Tannehill and Carson Wentz are playing against one another in a spot where they could pile up points. The perception of both passers seems to be rather low, but they’ve both averaged at least 17.8 fantasy points per game with above-average adjusted efficiency. Neither pass defense in that game is an above-average unit.

Through Week 3, Matt Ryan had accrued a -0.09 Passing NEP per drop back, but in three games since, he has improved that to a 0.36 rate. There’s been a clear difference with his downfield passing: his average target depth was 4.2 to start the season and 9.1 in the three most recent games.

Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.

Teddy Bridgewater vs. WSH (34%); Trevor Lawrence at SEA (34%); Taylor Heinicke at DEN (33%); Sam Darnold at ATL (32%); Jameis Winston vs. TB (30%); Tyrod Taylor vs. LA (29%); Jared Goff vs. PHI (29%); Justin Fields vs. SF (28%); Geno Smith vs. JAC (28%); Mac Jones at LAC (27%); Tua Tagovailoa at BUF (24%); Ben Roethlisberger at CLE (23%) Jimmy Garoppolo at CHI (17%); Mike White vs. CIN (14%).

RUNNING BACKS

Start with confidence: These running backs are at least 60% likely to finish the week inside the top 24, according to the slate simulations. You’re starting them.

– Derrick Henry at IND (83%)

– Alvin Kamara vs. TB (80%)

– Darrell Henderson at HOU (79%)

– Dalvin Cook vs. DAL (78%)

– Nick Chubb vs. PIT (77%)

– Ezekiel Elliott at MIN (74%)

– Najee Harris at CLE (74%)

– Austin Ekeler vs. NE (72%)

– D’Andre Swift vs. PHI (70%)

– Jonathan Taylor vs. TEN (70%)

– Aaron Jones at ARI (69%)

– Chuba Hubbard at ATL (66%)

– Joe Mixon at NYJ (65%)

– Cordarrelle Patterson vs. CAR (64%)

– James Robinson at SEA (63%)

Consider if needed: This tier is sitting between 40% and 59% for an RB2 week, and you’re probably starting some of them even if they’re shy of that top tier.

– Leonard Fournette at NO (58%)

– Antonio Gibson at DEN (55%)

– Khalil Herbert vs. SF (53%)

– Darrel Williams vs. NYG (51%)

– Michael Carter vs. CIN (50%)

– Kenneth Gainwell at DET (50%)

– Myles Gaskin at BUF (49%)

– Javonte Williams vs. WSH (46%)

– Melvin Gordon vs. WSH (46%)

– Saquon Barkley at KC (45%)(asterisk)

– Alex Collins vs. JAC (43%)

– Damien Harris at LAC (42%)

– Eli Mitchell at CHI (40%)

Khalil Herbert maintained a stellar role in Week 7 when he played on 78.5% of the Chicago Bears’ offensive snaps and handled 18 carries with five targets. The matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, a top-12 rush defense, isn’t enough to trend away from Herbert after such a good role in a run-first offense.

Michael Carter had a season-high snap rate (72.1%) in Week 7 while the rest of the Jets’ backfield was banged up. The Cincinnati Bengals rank in the top 10 in some key rushing metrics, but Carter’s a player to keep in mind for running back-needy teams with such an expanded role.

If you were fortunate enough to snag Kenneth Gainwell from the waiver wire, then you’re in a spot to start him immediately against the Detroit Lions. Gainwell wound up playing on 50.0% of the Philadelphia Eagles’ snaps a week ago, besting Boston Scott’s 33.8% snap rate. Gainwell also scored on a red zone reception before Miles Sanders was hurt.

Eli Mitchell was featured from the onset for the San Francisco 49ers’ offense in Week 7, and he ended up playing on 66.0% of their snaps against the Indianapolis Colts. That workload led to 18 carries and a red zone rush with no targets (despite 14 routes run, via NextGenStats).

(asterisk)Barkley is projected for half of his usual workload; if he plays, you’ll play him against the Chiefs.

Bench if possible: These backs are under 40% likely to net a top-24 result.

Chase Edmonds vs. GB (38%); Zack Moss vs. MIA (38%); J.D. McKissic at DEN (38%); James Conner vs. GB (36%); Devin Singletary vs. MIA (34%); Jamaal Williams vs. PHI (31%); Mike Davis vs. CAR (31%); Tony Pollard at MIN (27%); Mark Ingram vs. LA (23%); Nyheim Hines vs. TEN (23%); Alexander Mattison vs. DAL (23%); David Johnson vs. LA (22%); Salvon Ahmed at BUF (20%).

WIDE RECEIVERS

Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.

– Cooper Kupp at HOU (81%)

– Tyreek Hill vs. NYG (73%)

– Stefon Diggs vs. MIA (68%)

– Deebo Samuel at CHI (67%)

– Justin Jefferson vs. DAL (66%)

– Ja’Marr Chase at NYJ (60%)

– CeeDee Lamb at MIN (60%)

– D.J. Moore at ATL (58%)

– A.J. Brown at IND (58%)

– DeAndre Hopkins vs. GB (57%)

– Chris Godwin at NO (57%)

– Calvin Ridley vs. CAR (55%)

– Mike Williams vs. NE (54%)

– Mike Evans at NO (53%)

– Robert Woods at HOU (50%)

– Terry McLaurin at DEN (50%)

– Amari Cooper at MIN (50%)

Consider if needed: These players are more matchup dependent for Week 8 than the tier above but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.

– DeVonta Smith at DET (49%)

– D.K. Metcalf vs. JAC (49%)

– Adam Thielen vs. DAL (47%)

– Tee Higgins at NYJ (47%)

– Keenan Allen vs. NE (47%)

– Diontae Johnson at CLE (46%)

– Michael Pittman Jr. vs. TEN (46%)

– Brandin Cooks vs. LAR (42%)

– Courtland Sutton vs. WSH (41%)

– Jakobi Meyers at LAC (41%)

– Tyler Lockett vs. JAC (39%)

– Marvin Jones at SEA (37%)

– Jerry Jeudy vs. WSH (33%)

– Julio Jones at IND (31%)

– Emmanuel Sanders vs. MIA (31%)

– Chase Claypool at CLE (30%)

I know it’s hard to trust DeVonta Smith at this point, but the deep threat gets a matchup with the NFL’s 27th-ranked adjusted defense against receivers and a unit that ranks 32nd in yards per target allowed on downfield attempts. Smith has averaged 7.4 targets per game and has at least seven targets in five of seven games. It’s about as good a spot as we’ll get for Smith this season.

In two games with Geno Smith starting, D.K. Metcalf has a viable 24.0% target share, but that’s just 6.0 targets per game for 8.5 expected fantasy points per game (and 12.7 actual fantasy points per game). Tyler Lockett has a 20.0% target share (5.0 per game). Both have a double-digit average depth of target, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are 30th against downfield passes. You could do worse this week than the Seattle Seahawks’ top duo.

Tee Higgins, in his healthy games, actually has a team-high 27.4% target share and just had 15 targets a week ago. In that game, he had four downfield targets and two red zone targets. He’s very much in the flex conversation; it’s not all Ja’Marr Chase’s offense. The Jets are just 20th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to receivers, as well.

With Jerry Jeudy expected to return, we don’t have to wait to go back there if we need receiver help. We’ve seen just 23 routes from Jeudy this season, but he was targeted seven times (30.4% of his routes). That 30.4% rate ranks fourth among receivers with at least 20.0 routes per game (trailing just Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, and Deebo Samuel).

Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling at ARI (29%); Jaylen Waddle at BUF (29%); Darnell Mooney vs. SF (28%); Robby Anderson at ATL (26%); Allen Robinson vs. SF (26%); Corey Davis vs. CIN (25%); Laviska Shenault at SEA (23%); Marquez Callaway vs. TB (22%); Cole Beasley vs. MIA (21%); Jarvis Landry vs. PIT (21%); Christian Kirk vs. GB (21%); Odell Beckham vs. PIT (20%); Randall Cobb at ARI (20%); Nelson Agholor at LAC (20%).

Tight End

Start with confidence:

– Travis Kelce vs. NYG (82%)

– Kyle Pitts vs. CAR (59%)

– Dallas Goedert at DET (57%)

– T.J. Hockenson vs. PHI (57%)

– Mike Gesicki at BUF (50%)

Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.

– Dalton Schultz at MIN (48%)

– Robert Tonyan at ARI (46%)

– Tyler Higbee at HOU (43%)

– Rob Gronkowski at NO (38%)

– Noah Fant vs. WSH (38%)

– Jared Cook vs. NE (36%)

– Dan Arnold at SEA (34%)

– Jonnu Smith at LAC (33%)

– Zach Ertz vs. GB (33%)

– Ricky Seals-Jones at DEN (32%)

– Hunter Henry at LAC (31%)

Robert Tonyan should be a strong option for tight end streamers this week. Davante Adams is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and so is Allen Lazard. Tonyan’s 11.6% target share should spike up, and the absence of Adams in the red zone should lead to big touchdown equity for the tight end on Thursday night.

Jared Cook’s 13.8% target share ranks him third on the Los Angeles Chargers, and he has seen a bit of a workload shift in three games leading into their bye. His target share was 13.2% through Week 3 and 14.4% from Week 4 through 6. But he has averaged 1.3 downfield and 0.7 red zone targets in the latter half of that sample, compared to 0.0 and 1.0, respectively. The downfield work is rare to find at tight end.

Zach Ertz had a really good role in his debut with the Arizona Cardinals: a 49.3% snap rate and a 59.4% route rate despite minimal prep with the new squad. He had five targets – one downfield and one red zone – for a 10.1-yard average depth of target. The Packers are just 16th in adjusted fantasy points allowed per target to tight ends.

Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.

Tommy Sweeney vs. MIA (30%); Tyler Conklin vs. DAL (30%); Evan Engram at KC (28%); Mo Alie-Cox vs. TEN (23%); Cole Kmet vs. SF (23%); Austin Hooper vs. PIT (22%); Ross Dwelley at CHI (21%); C.J. Uzomah at NYJ (20%).

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