Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield celebrates as running back Kareem Hunt scores a 29-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield celebrates as running back Kareem Hunt scores a 29-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
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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.


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 at PHI (71%)

— Josh Allen vs. HOU (69%)

— Lamar Jackson at DEN (55%)

— Dak Prescott vs. CAR (55%)

— Jalen Hurts vs. KC (55%)

— Matthew Stafford vs. ARI (54%)

— Kyler Murray at LA (54%)

— Justin Herbert vs. LV (53%)

— Tom Brady at NE (50%)

— Russell Wilson at SF (50%)

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

— Derek Carr at LAC (42%)

— Kirk Cousins vs. CLE (40%)

— Joe Burrow vs. JAC (40%)

— Aaron Rodgers vs. PIT (40%)

— Baker Mayfield at MIN (39%)

— Ryan Tannehill at NYJ (39%)

— Taylor Heinicke at ATL (36%)

Kirk Cousins plays a Cleveland Browns team that is just 16th in adjusted fantasy points per drop-back against quarterbacks and is playing in a dome, which is more conducive to big games. Since 2018, passers have gotten to the 300-yard mark 32% of the time when playing indoors compared to 24% when playing outdoors.

Baker Mayfield plays on the other side of that game, and he’s off to an efficient enough start for the matchup and game environment he’ll have against the Minnesota Vikings.

Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (17th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.

Matt Ryan vs. WSH (32%); Sam Darnold at DAL (31%); Teddy Bridgewater vs. BAL (30%); Trevor Lawrence at CIN (30%); Daniel Jones at NO (26%); Jimmy Garoppolo vs. SEA (25%); Mac Jones vs. TB (25%); Jacoby Brissett vs. IND (25%); Zach Wilson vs. TEN (23%); Jared Goff at CHI (23%); Jameis Winston vs. NYG (22%); Ben Roethlisberger at GB (21%); Carson Wentz at MIA (21%); Davis Mills at BUF (17%).


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 NYJ (83%)

— Alvin Kamara vs. NYG (78%)

— Joe Mixon vs. JAC (73%)

— Aaron Jones vs. PIT (71%)

— Najee Harris at GB (71%)

— David Montgomery vs. DET (70%)

— Ezekiel Elliott vs. CAR (70%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. LV (69%)

— D’Andre Swift at CHI (66%)

— Nick Chubb at MIN (65%)

— Antonio Gibson at ATL (64%)

— Chuba Hubbard at DAL (63%)

— Saquon Barkley at NO (61%)

— Jonathan Taylor at MIA (60%)

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.

— Chris Carson at SF (58%)

— James Robinson at CIN (57%)

— Clyde Edwards-Helaire at PHI (56%)

— Myles Gaskin vs. IND (52%)

— Miles Sanders vs. KC (51%)

— Mike Davis vs. WSH (48%)

— Leonard Fournette at NE (45%)

— Michael Carter vs. TEN (42%)

— Chase Edmonds at LA (42%)

— Dalvin Cook vs. CLE (41%)(asterisk)

— Melvin Gordon vs. BAL (41%)

— Javonte Williams vs. BAL (40%)

— Sony Michel vs. ARI (40%)(asterisk)(asterisk)

A few injury notes here. Dalvin Cook is currently partially projected because of his uncertain status. If he plays, you play him. If he doesn’t you play Alexander Mattison if you have him. Cook has averaged 21.0 carries and 5.0 targets when healthy. Last week, Mattison took over that role with 26 carries and eight targets.

The same goes for Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson with partial projections. When Henderson has played, Michel has had a difficult time getting on the field. That may have changed after his 20-carry, four-target game while playing 73.0% of the Los Angeles Rams’ snaps.

If Henderson is healthy, we can trust him. If you’re really in a bind, Michel’s potentially increased workload could keep him in the low-end flex mix in such a promising game.

Keep an eye on the status of Giovani Bernard, who was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ lead back last week. He played 45.1% of the team’s snaps and had 10 targets with no carries. If he’s good to go, we should bump down Leonard Fournette.

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

Kareem Hunt at MIN (38%); Devin Singletary vs. HOU (37%); Alexander Mattison vs. CLE (36%)(asterisk); Cordarrelle Patterson vs. WSH (36%); Kenyan Drake at LAC (34%); Jamaal Williams at CHI (33%); Tony Pollard vs. CAR (33%); Trey Sermon vs. SEA (31%); Zack Moss vs. HOU (30%); Damien Harris vs. TB (29%); James Conner at LA (28%); J.D. McKissic at ATL (27%); Nyheim Hines at MIA (26%); Darrell Henderson vs. ARI (22%)(asterisk)(asterisk)


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

— Cooper Kupp vs. ARI (71%)

— Tyreek Hill at PHI (70%)

— Davante Adams vs. PIT (67%)

— Stefon Diggs vs. HOU (65%)

— Justin Jefferson vs. CLE (64%)

— DeAndre Hopkins at LA (61%)

— Amari Cooper vs. CAR (60%)

— Calvin Ridley vs. WSH (59%)

— D.K. Metcalf at SF (58%)

— CeeDee Lamb vs. CAR (57%)

— D.J. Moore at DAL (56%)

— Ja’Marr Chase vs. JAC (56%)

— Tyler Lockett at SF (56%)

— Keenan Allen vs. LV (55%)

— Deebo Samuel vs. SEA (54%)

— Chris Godwin at NE (50%)

— Terry McLaurin at ATL (50%)

— Adam Thielen vs. CLE (47%)

Consider if needed: These players are more matchup dependent for Week 1 than the tier above but are likely where we are looking for a lot of our WR2, WR3, and FLEX plays this week.

— Marvin Jones at CIN (44%)

— Odell Beckham at MIN (44%)

— Mike Williams vs. LV (44%)

— Allen Robinson vs. DET (44%)

— Robert Woods vs. ARI (44%)

— Tyler Boyd vs. JAC (43%)

— Brandin Cooks at BUF (43%)

— Mike Evans at NE (42%)

— DeVonta Smith vs. KC (42%)

— Courtland Sutton vs. BAL (40%)

— Chase Claypool at GB (38%)

— Corey Davis vs. TEN (37%)

— Jakobi Meyers vs. TB (36%)

— D.J. Chark at CIN (34%)

— Brandon Aiyuk vs. SEA (33%)

— Kenny Golladay at NO (32%)

— Marquise Brown at DEN (31%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. at MIA (31%)

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

Cole Beasley vs. HOU (29%); Will Fuller vs. IND (27%); Tim Patrick vs. BAL (25%); Henry Ruggs at LAC (24%); Darnell Mooney vs. DET (23%); Jaylen Waddle vs. IND (20%); Emmanuel Sanders vs. HOU (20%); A.J. Green at LA (19%); Christian Kirk at LA (19%); Rondale Moore at LA (19%); Laviska Shenault at CIN (19%); Robby Anderson at DAL (18%); Nelson Agholor vs. TB (17%); DeVante Parker vs. IND (17%); Hunter Renfrow at LAC (17%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. PIT (16%); Marquez Callaway vs. NYG (16%); Mecole Hardman at PHI (15%); Zach Pascal at MIA (15%); Jalen Reagor vs. KC (15%).


Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Five now.

— Travis Kelce at PHI (87%)

— Darren Waller at LAC (82%)

— George Kittle vs. SEA (71%)

— Mark Andrews at DEN (60%)

— T.J. Hockenson at CHI (53%)

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

— Noah Fant vs. BAL (47%)

— Logan Thomas at ATL (47%)

— Rob Gronkowski at NE (45%)

— Kyle Pitts vs. WSH (44%)

— Dalton Schultz vs. CAR (40%)

— Tyler Higbee vs. ARI (39%)

— Dallas Goedert vs. KC (33%)

— Austin Hooper at MIN (32%)

— Mike Gesicki vs. IND (30%)

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

Jared Cook vs. LV (29%); Jonnu Smith vs. TB (27%); Robert Tonyan vs. PIT (26%); Evan Engram at NO (26%); Tommy Tremble at DAL (25%); Hunter Henry vs. TB (24%); Zach Ertz vs. KC (24%); Tyler Conklin vs. CLE (22%); Cole Kmet vs. DET (22%); Dawson Knox vs. HOU (21%)