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.
Start with confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.
— Patrick Mahomes vs. LV (65%)
— Josh Allen at TB (63%)
— Kyler Murray vs. LA (62%)
— Lamar Jackson at CLE (60%)
— Aaron Rodgers vs. CHI (59%)
— Tom Brady vs. BUF (59%)
— Justin Herbert vs. NYG (58%)
— Matthew Stafford at ARI (52%)
— Dak Prescott at WSH (52%)
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Cam Newton vs. ATL (49%)
— Russell Wilson at HOU (49%)
— Ryan Tannehill vs. JAC (48%)
— Joe Burrow vs. SF (45%)
— Teddy Bridgewater vs. DET (44%)
— Derek Carr at KC (43%)
— Kirk Cousins vs. PIT (43%)
— Jimmy Garoppolo at CIN (39%)
— Taysom Hill at NYJ (38%)
— Taylor Heinicke vs. DAL (35%)
In four games since his return, Russell Wilson has averaged just 12.6 fantasy points per game on 33.5 passing attempts. Those attempts have led to only 211.5 yards passing and 1.0 touchdown per game with worrisome efficiency. However, if you adjust his completion rate for drops, Wilson has been about the NFL average, and he’s overperformed that mark in his two most recent games. The Seattle Seahawks face the Houston Texans’ lowly 27th-ranked adjusted pass defense. The arrow might be up on Wilson and this entire offense, which has ranked fifth in adjusted pace and sixth in pass rate over the past four games, according to my data.
Joe Burrow’s hand injury could cause him to stumble, but he got in a limited practice on Wednesday, which is a good sign for his throwing potential come Sunday. Burrow has averaged 290.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns in two games against top-half adjusted pass defenses. It’s been a weak schedule for him, yet this game shapes up well for fantasy points.
Speaking of hand injuries, Taysom Hill will have had 10 days to rest his injured hand. In Week 13, Hill ran 11 times for 101 yards and got more than 20 fantasy points despite four interceptions. The New York Jets are a good matchup for quarterbacks from a passing standpoint. While they have had some success in limiting rushing from quarterbacks, they haven’t really faced any rushing threats other than Josh Allen, who ran only twice against them.
Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (19th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
Baker Mayfield vs. BAL (33%); Justin Fields at GB (32%); Zach Wilson vs. NO (31%); Ben Roethlisberger at MIN (30%); Trevor Lawrence at TEN (30%); Matt Ryan at CAR (28%); Jared Goff at DEN (21%); Davis Mills vs. SEA (17%); Mike Glennon at LAC (5%); Jake Fromm at LAC (0%).
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.
— Austin Ekeler vs. NYG (80%)
— Eli Mitchell at CIN (80%)
— Alvin Kamara at NYJ (78%)
— Najee Harris at MIN (77%)
— Javonte Williams vs. DET (76%)(asterisk)
— Joe Mixon vs. SF (75%)
— Cordarrelle Patterson at CAR (73%)
— Leonard Fournette vs. BUF (72%)
— Antonio Gibson vs. DAL (72%)
— Josh Jacobs at KC (70%)
— Aaron Jones vs. CHI (67%)
— Ezekiel Elliott at WSH (65%)(asterisk)(asterisk)
— James Robinson at TEN (64%)
— David Montgomery at GB (63%)
— Nick Chubb vs. BAL (62%)
— Saquon Barkley at LAC (62%)
— Javonte Williams’ workload was phenomenal in Week 13 without Melvin Gordon, who got in a limited practice on Wednesday. Bump Williams down to the second tier if Gordon is cleared.
— Tony Pollard did not practice on Wednesday. Ezekiel Elliott’s snap rate has been great despite all the buzz. Without Pollard, he shapes up for a healthy workload. What he does with it while far from 100% is another conversation, but he’s a Tier 1 start without Pollard and still a Tier 2 play with Pollard.
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.
— Jamaal Williams at DEN (57%)
— Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. LV (54%)
— Devonta Freeman at CLE (53%)
— Rex Burkhead vs. SEA (52%)
— Chuba Hubbard vs. ATL (51%)
— James Conner vs. LA (51%)
— Kareem Hunt vs. BAL (48%)
— A.J. Dillon vs. CHI (47%)
— Tevin Coleman vs. NO (45%)
— Tony Pollard at WSH (44%)
— Alexander Mattison vs. PIT (41%)
— Sony Michel at ARI (40%)
Jamaal Williams did not get feature back treatment with D’Andre Swift out last week. Though Williams did handle 17 carries (two in the red zone) and had a target, his snap rate was just 47.9%. He’s a second-tier option but not a locked-in fantasy starter.
Devonta Freeman played on 68.1% of the Baltimore Ravens’ snaps last week, a high-water mark for that backfield. He saw 14 carries, but more importantly eight targets on a 56.8% route rate. Freeman’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns is promising: they’re 27th in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry allowed to opposing running backs.
Alexander Mattison did get feature back treatment, unlike Jamaal Williams, without the starter playing. Dalvin Cook was limited in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we’ve got Mattison’s workload pared down as a result for now. If Cook sits, then Mattison is a plug-and-play Tier 1 option. If Cook is active, Cook vaults to Tier 1 with Mattison a desperation option only.
The buzz around the Los Angeles Rams’ backfield seems to imply that Sony Michel is the 1A option over Darrell Henderson as the 1B. Michel had a 97.0% snap rate with 24 carries and four targets a week ago with Henderson active but not playing. That workload will scale back but still should be better than Henderson’s.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 40% likely to net a top-24 result.
D’Onta Foreman vs. JAC (38%); Devin Singletary at TB (37%); Dontrell Hilliard vs. JAC (37%); Darrel Williams vs. LV (36%); Chase Edmonds vs. LA (34%); Darrell Henderson at ARI (32%); Dalvin Cook vs. PIT (31%); Alex Collins at HOU (30%); Mark Ingram at NYJ (29%); Matt Breida at TB (27%); Mike Davis at CAR (25%); Ty Johnson vs. NO (24%); Ameer Abdullah vs. ATL (21%); David Johnson vs. SEA (20%); Melvin Gordon vs. DET (20%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Cooper Kupp at ARI (85%)
— Davante Adams vs. CHI (78%)
— Justin Jefferson vs. PIT (75%)
— Tyreek Hill vs. LV (71%)
— Chris Godwin vs. BUF (69%)
— Ja’Marr Chase vs. SF (62%)
— Diontae Johnson at MIN (61%)
— Stefon Diggs at TB (60%)
— Tyler Lockett at HOU (57%)
— Brandon Aiyuk at CIN (54%)
— DeAndre Hopkins vs. LA (53%)
— CeeDee Lamb at WSH (52%)
— Marquise Brown at CLE (51%)
— Brandin Cooks vs. SEA (51%)
— D.K. Metcalf at HOU (50%)
— Mike Evans vs. BUF (50%)
The Seahawks’ duo is in the top tier. I think they’re set for a bounce-back week.
Consider if needed: These players are more matchup dependent for this week than the tier above but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.
— Elijah Moore vs. NO (49%)
— Tee Higgins vs. SF (49%)
— D.J. Moore vs. ATL (47%)
— Hunter Renfrow at KC (47%)
— Mike Williams vs. NYG (47%)(asterisk)
— Terry McLaurin vs. DAL (45%)
— Julio Jones vs. JAC (42%)
— Jarvis Landry vs. BAL (41%)
— Jerry Jeudy vs. DET (37%)
— Chase Claypool at MIN (36%)
— Amari Cooper at WSH (35%)
— Russell Gage at CAR (35%)
— Mike Williams and Keenan Allen may miss this week because of COVID-19 protocols.
Elijah Moore has a tough matchup with the New Orleans Saints, who rank 12th in adjusted pass defense, but a more agreeable 19th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing receivers. Moore’s role with Corey Davis undergoing season-ending surgery seems safe. Moore has a 17.7% target share and a 23.2% air yards share in three games without Davis.
Tee Higgins, in games with Ja’Marr Chase, has actually out-targeted Chase with both circling 100 air yards per game. Though the roles are extremely similar, Higgins gets put a tier below Chase in terms of discourse (and the sims, to be fair), but it’s really close. Both are great.
Julio Jones could be a forgotten man in Week 14. Though Jones has no sample with the Tennessee Titans without A.J. Brown, there are WR1 workload expectations for him this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones has a 12.0-yard average depth of target this season (around 1.5 yards longer than the position average). The Jaguars are 29th in yards per target allowed on downfield passes.
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 35% of the time.
Darnell Mooney at GB (34%); Marvin Jones at TEN (33%); Christian Kirk vs. LA (33%); Van Jefferson at ARI (33%); Odell Beckham at ARI (30%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. CHI (29%); Amon-Ra St. Brown at DEN (28%); Laviska Shenault at TEN (27%); Michael Gallup at WSH (25%); Courtland Sutton vs. DET (25%); Jamison Crowder vs. NO (23%); Robby Anderson vs. ATL (23%); Tim Patrick vs. DET (22%); Tyler Boyd vs. SF (21%); Tre’Quan Smith at NYJ (21%); Nick Westbrook-Ikhine vs. JAC (20%); Denzel Mims vs. NO (20%); Josh Reynolds at DEN (19%); Emmanuel Sanders at TB (19%); Marquez Callaway at NYJ (19%); Cole Beasley at TB (18%); K.J. Osborn vs. PIT (17%); A.J. Green vs. LA (17%); Donovan Peoples-Jones vs. BAL (17%); Olamide Zaccheaus at CAR (17%); Bryan Edwards at KC (16%); Keenan Allen vs. NYG (15%); Kenny Golladay at LAC (15%); Jalen Guyton vs. NYG (15%).
Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Six this week.
— George Kittle at CIN (81%)
— Travis Kelce vs. LV (80%)
— Mark Andrews at CLE (69%)
— Rob Gronkowski vs. BUF (62%)
— Kyle Pitts at CAR (61%)
— T.J. Hockenson at DEN (52%)
Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Darren Waller at KC (40%)(asterisk)
— Tyler Conklin vs. PIT (39%)
— Tyler Higbee at ARI (38%)
— Pat Freiermuth at MIN (37%)
— Jared Cook vs. NYG (35%)
— Dalton Schultz at WSH (35%)
— Foster Moreau at KC (34%)(asterisk)
— Zach Ertz vs. LAR (33%)
— Dawson Knox at TB (33%)
— Cole Kmet at GB (33%)
— Gerald Everett at HOU (31%)
— Noah Fant vs. DET (30%)
— Darren Waller is projected partially. If he starts, you start him. If not, you can still consider Foster Moreau, who played on 83.9% of the Las Vegas Raiders’ snaps and ran a route on 62.5% of their drop-backs. He had only three targets, but all three were downfield targets, meaning his workload was actually more comparable to 5.9 targets’ worth of expected fantasy points.
Jared Cook could be set for a volume bump, depending on how the Chargers’ wide receiver room breaks. His snap rate hovers around half (52.2%) since their Week 7 bye, but is more involved in the passing game with a 61.8% route rate. His 11.6% target share and 18.2% end zone target share could lead to an elite streaming week at the position.
The big takeaway from this tier is how closely ranked the streaming options are this week. Starting Dawson Knox over Tyler Higbee is extremely justified, and that’s why the simulation view can help us with those start/sit decisions. Speaking of Knox, he has a 16.3% target share and 24.0% red zone share in four games since returning. He’s a great option this week.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
David Njoku vs. BAL (28%); Ricky Seals-Jones vs. DAL (27%); Austin Hooper vs. BAL (26%); Brevin Jordan vs. SEA (23%); C.J. Uzomah vs. SF (23%).