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. DEN (68%)
— Lamar Jackson at PIT (67%)
— Matthew Stafford vs. JAC (63%)
— Kyler Murray at CHI (62%)
— Tom Brady at ATL (61%)
— Jalen Hurts at NYJ (61%)
— Dak Prescott at NO (59%)
— Josh Allen vs. NE (57%)
— Justin Herbert at CIN (55%)
— Derek Carr vs. WSH (54%)
— Kirk Cousins at DET (51%)
Via the simulations, 11 quarterbacks rate out more likely than not to return a QB1 week, which means that, in a 12-team league (which is what this article is geared toward), we shouldn’t really need to be streaming very often. Unless league-mates are hoarding quarterbacks on their rosters.
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Joe Burrow vs. LAC (48%)
— Carson Wentz at HOU (43%)
— Taysom Hill vs. DAL (43%)
— Russell Wilson vs. SF (42%)
— Tua Tagovailoa vs. NYG (39%)
— Taylor Heinicke at LV (38%)
— Tyrod Taylor vs. IND (35%)
But if you need to stream, you’re in a pretty good situation. Joe Burrow profiles for a pretty high floor even against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that ranks 12th in adjusted pass defense and second in pressure rate. Burrow has been solid against high-pressure teams. In three games against teams inside the top 10 in pressure rate, Burrow has averaged 18.0 fantasy points via 281.7 passing yards and 2.0 touchdowns per game.
Taysom Hill may get the starting nod for the New Orleans Saints. Last season as a starter, Hill averaged 208.5 passing yards, 1.0 touchdowns, 0.5 interceptions, 9.8 carries, 52.3 rushing yards, and 1.0 rushing touchdowns. Start him if you need him.
Tua Tagovailoa is one of only six quarterbacks to post a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back rate of at least 0.20 — which is double the NFL average — in at least 70% of his qualified games this season. He’s been good and consistent. The New York Giants are 10th in adjusted pass defense this season but are 30th in pressure rate.
Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (18th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.
Jimmy Garoppolo at SEA (34%); Teddy Bridgewater at KC (32%); Zach Wilson vs. PHI (30%); Matt Ryan vs. TB (30%); Trevor Lawrence at LA (29%); Ben Roethlisberger vs. BAL (28%); Mac Jones at BUF (28%); Jared Goff vs. MIN (25%); Justin Fields vs. ARI (07%)(asterisk); Daniel Jones at MIA (06%)(asterisk); Andy Dalton vs. ARI (03%)(asterisk); Mike Glennon at MIA (03%)(asterisk).
— Some of these quarterbacks have partial projections because of uncertain starters. None are priority starts either way.
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.
— Jonathan Taylor at HOU (88%)
— Alexander Mattison at DET (80%)
— Najee Harris vs. BAL (78%)
— Joe Mixon vs. LAC (78%)
— Alvin Kamara vs. DAL (77%)
— Eli Mitchell at SEA (73%)
— James Conner at CHI (73%)
— Austin Ekeler at CIN (72%)
— Leonard Fournette at ATL (70%)
— Saquon Barkley at MIA (68%)
— Josh Jacobs vs. WSH (68%)
— Antonio Gibson at LV (67%)
— Myles Gaskin vs. NYG (67%)
— Cordarrelle Patterson vs. TB (64%)
— Jamaal Williams vs. MIN (62%)
— James Robinson at LA (62%)
— Ezekiel Elliott at NO (62%)
Similar to quarterback, the running backs with heavy top-24 odds make a long list (17).
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.
— David Montgomery vs. ARI (57%)
— Tony Pollard at NO (49%)
— Javonte Williams at KC (49%)
— Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. DEN (48%)
— Melvin Gordon at KC (47%)
— Devonta Freeman at PIT (46%)
— Sony Michel vs. JAC (46%)
— Darrell Henderson vs. JAC (45%)
— Darrel Williams vs. DEN (42%)
The lengthy list of starters at running back leaves behind a small tier of consider-if-needed backs.
Committees are the name of the game in this tier, but one player to whom that doesn’t apply is David Montgomery. His role is solid. He has averaged 14.7 carries and 2.0 targets per game while playing 87.5% of the Chicago Bears’ snaps in three games since returning from an injury. He’s a true feature back.
There is some confusion on the Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard split. The sims do place Elliott above Pollard, but Pollard is viable as a high-end FLEX option.
Though part of this is related to injury, Javonte Williams has out-snapped Melvin Gordon in two straight weeks in Denver. In that span, Williams has averaged 11.0 rushes, 3.0 red zone rushes, and 3.5 targets; Gordon is at 13.0 carries, 2.0 red zone carries, and 3.0 targets. It remains an even split, yet it’s tilting toward Javonte at the moment. Both remain viable as capped-ceiling season-long starts.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 40% likely to net a top-24 result.
David Johnson vs. IND (38%); Tevin Coleman vs. PHI (36%); Devin Singletary vs. NE (35%); Damien Harris at BUF (35%); Rhamondre Stevenson at BUF (34%); Rex Burkhead vs. IND (34%); Alex Collins vs. SF (33%); Kenyan Drake vs. WSH (33%); Ty Johnson vs. PHI (33%); Matt Breida vs. NE (27%); Godwin Igwebuike vs. MIN (27%); Kene Nwangwu at DET (25%); J.D. McKissic at LV (25%); Mark Ingram vs. DAL (25%); Jeff Wilson at SEA (24%); Boston Scott at NYJ (23%); Mike Davis vs. TB (22%); Miles Sanders at NYJ (19%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Cooper Kupp vs. JAC (89%)
— Chris Godwin at ATL (73%)
— Tyreek Hill vs. DEN (72%)
— Justin Jefferson at DET (71%)
— Keenan Allen at CIN (64%)
— Stefon Diggs vs. NE (63%)
— Mike Evans at ATL (59%)
— Ja’Marr Chase vs. LAC (59%)
— Adam Thielen at DET (58%)
— DeAndre Hopkins at CHI (57%)
— Diontae Johnson vs. BAL (54%)
— Marquise Brown at PIT (53%)
— CeeDee Lamb at NO (52%)
— D.K. Metcalf vs. SF (51%)
— Hunter Renfrow vs. WSH (51%)
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.
— Brandin Cooks vs. IND (49%)
— Terry McLaurin at LV (49%)
— Tyler Lockett vs. SF (49%)
— Brandon Aiyuk at SEA (48%)
— Elijah Moore vs. PHI (48%)
— Odell Beckham vs. JAC (47%)
— Tee Higgins vs. LAC (47%)
— Amari Cooper at NO (47%)
— Michael Pittman Jr. at HOU (44%)
— DeVonta Smith at NYJ (43%)
— Chase Claypool vs. BAL (42%)
— Mike Williams at CIN (38%)
— Jaylen Waddle vs. NYG (38%)
— Darnell Mooney vs. ARI (36%)
— Jerry Jeudy at KC (36%)
— Van Jefferson vs. JAC (35%)
Brandin Cooks ranks seventh among all receivers in target market share (27.7%). In four games started and finished by Tyrod Taylor, Cooks’ target share is down to 23.7%, yet he still sees 2.0 downfield and 1.0 red zone targets per game in that split. He remains one of the best volume-based bets at the position.
Brandon Aiyuk has gone from mid-round upside selection to droppable to the San Francisco 49ers’ top receiver given that Deebo Samuel is out. Over the past four games — with George Kittle back — Aiyuk actually leads the team in target share (24.3%) while seeing 1.8 downfield targets per game.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson have carved out great roles in an efficient passing offense for the Rams. While their top-24 odds don’t come close at all to teammate Cooper Kupp’s, their Week 12 roles did. Beckham, in his first post-bye game with a new team, tied with Kupp for a team-high 10 targets. Beckham also saw 3 of 10 downfield targets go his way. Jefferson had nine targets a week ago, four of which were downfield.
Sure, Michael Pittman Jr.’s game log was down in Week 12 (four catches for 53 yards), but his role wasn’t for the Colts. Pittman Jr. had 10 targets (a team-high 23.3%) with 149 air yards (37.4%) and four of eight downfield targets. His output (7.3 half-PPR points) was only half as good as his expected fantasy points based on his usage (14.6).
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.
Michael Gallup at NO (34%); DeVante Parker vs. NYG (32%); Marvin Jones at LA (31%); Allen Robinson vs. ARI (27%); Jakobi Meyers at BUF (26%); Courtland Sutton at KC (26%); Kenny Golladay at MIA (25%); Jamison Crowder vs. PHI (24%); Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. MIN (23%); Christian Kirk at CHI (23%); Josh Reynolds vs. MIN (21%); Rashod Bateman at PIT (21%); Nelson Agholor at BUF (21%); Tim Patrick at KC (21%); Cole Beasley vs. NE (20%); Russell Gage vs. TB (20%).
Start with confidence: Tight end is running seven deep this week, per the simulations.
— Travis Kelce vs. DEN (78%)
— Mark Andrews at PIT (66%)
— Rob Gronkowski at ATL (59%)
— George Kittle at SEA (59%)
— Kyle Pitts vs. TB (58%)
— T.J. Hockenson vs. MIN (54%)
— Dallas Goedert at NYJ (52%)
Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Tyler Higbee vs. JAC (44%)
— Mike Gesicki vs. NYG (44%)
— Darren Waller vs. WSH (41%)(asterisk)
— Noah Fant at KC (38%)
— Dalton Schultz at NO (38%)
— Zach Ertz at CHI (35%)
— Pat Freiermuth vs. BAL (34%)
— Dawson Knox vs. NE (34%)
— Hunter Henry at BUF (32%)
— Logan Thomas at LV (32%)
— Tyler Conklin at DET (31%)
— Foster Moreau vs. WSH (30%)(asterisk)
There are a bunch of fringe options at tight end whom we will need to decide between.
I know it’s difficult to trust Tyler Higbee's production at this point. However, with three receivers at the top of the pecking order, his role isn’t any different than it was entering the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars rank 26th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends, and Higbee’s team should move the ball efficiently. That’s a better case than a lot of these tight ends can make.
Logan Thomas returned to play on 77.2% of Washington's snaps last week. He turned six targets (17.6%) into 31 yards. He had a downfield target and an end zone target in that sample. Through his four full games, his target share sits at a viable 16.4%, and he has a 30.8% red zone target share with a 42.9% end zone target share. The Las Vegas Raiders rank 27th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to the position.
— Darren Waller has a partial projection. If he starts, you start him. If not, you can start Foster Moreau. Moreau, in Week 7 without Waller, drew six targets (a 17.6% target share) with two red zone targets (22.2%). Last week with Waller leaving early, Moreau had an 89.5% snap rate and was targeted on 5 of 27 routes. He had just one catch, yes, but the role was there — and should be again if Waller misses.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
Evan Engram at MIA (29%); Jared Cook at CIN (27%); Cole Kmet vs. ARI (24%); C.J. Uzomah vs. LAC (22%); James O’Shaughnessy at LA (22%); Gerald Everett vs. SF (21%); Ryan Griffin vs. PHI (20%); Jonnu Smith at BUF (20%).