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.
— Kyler Murray vs. HOU (83%)
— Patrick Mahomes at TEN (82%)
— Matthew Stafford vs. DET (74%)
— Lamar Jackson vs. CIN (74%)
— Tom Brady vs. CHI (66%)
— Jalen Hurts at LV (65%)
— Aaron Rodgers vs. WSH (64%)
— Derek Carr vs. PHI (59%)
Consider if needed: This tier has odds between 35% and 49% to post a top-12 week.
— Ryan Tannehill vs. KC (49%)
— Daniel Jones vs. CAR (49%)
— Matt Ryan at MIA (49%)
— Jimmy Garoppolo vs. IND (49%)
— Tua Tagovailoa vs. ATL (48%)
— Joe Burrow at BAL (45%)
— Mac Jones vs. NYJ (44%)
— Sam Darnold at NYG (41%)
— Jameis Winston at SEA (37%)
Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans are in a great spot against the Kansas City Chiefs, though he could have to play without tackle Taylor Lewan and possibly without receiver Julio Jones. Tannehill has basically played to the level of opponents this season, but that’ll work because the Chiefs defense ranks 29th against the pass, according to numberFire’s opponent-adjusted metrics.
Tua Tagovailoa returned to a strong outing in London when he threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6 (32nd in adjusted pass defense). That was about the expectation against such a weak defense, but Tua can do that again and be fine because the Atlanta Falcons rank 30th against the pass.
Sam Darnold’s hot start has cooled off drastically over the past three games, a stretch during which he has accrued -0.20 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop-back (the NFL average is 0.13). That has led to just 228.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game. He’ll draw the New York Giants’ 25th-ranked adjusted pass defense in Week 7, however, so he remains in the streaming conversation for sure.
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.
Teddy Bridgewater at CLE (32%); Zach Wilson at NE (32%); Justin Fields at TB (32%); Case Keenum vs. DEN (31%); Carson Wentz at SF (30%); Jared Goff at LA (28%); Geno Smith vs. NO (27%); Davis Mills at ARI (19%).
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 vs. KC (86%)
— Alvin Kamara at SEA (86%)
— Darrell Henderson vs. DET (78%)
— Aaron Jones vs. WSH (77%)
— Chuba Hubbard at NYG (75%)
— Leonard Fournette vs. CHI (73%)
— Jonathan Taylor at SF (69%)
— D’Andre Swift at LA (68%)
— Joe Mixon at BAL (67%)
— Josh Jacobs vs. PHI (67%)
— Darrel Williams at TEN (64%)
— Devontae Booker vs. CAR (61%)
— Cordarrelle Patterson at MIA (60%)
— Miles Sanders at LV (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.
— D’Ernest Johnson vs. DEN (59%)
— James Conner vs. HOU (55%)
— Damien Harris vs. NYJ (54%)
— Mike Davis at MIA (54%)
— Elijah Mitchell vs. IND (53%)
— Damien Williams at TB (50%)
— Javonte Williams at CLE (49%)
— Chase Edmonds vs. HOU (47%)
— Melvin Gordon at CLE (46%)
— Myles Gaskin vs. ATL (45%)
— J.D. McKissic at GB (45%)/Antonio Gibson at GB (35%)
— Michael Carter at NE (44%)
D’Ernest Johnson will ostensibly slot into a starting role while the Cleveland Browns are without running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The opportunity should be robust, but the team will also be starting Case Keenum against a Denver Broncos defense that ranks a viable 15th in adjusted pass defense. Their implied team total is still a viable 21.75, though, and if you snagged Johnson from waivers, you’re starting him over a lot of names.
Elijah Mitchell returned in Week 5 to a 67.8% snap rate and handled 9 of 11 running back carries while also getting two targets. It’s a strong role, and he’s back in the RB2/FLEX conversation despite a matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, who have been great against running backs thus far.
I’m listing J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson together because their status is dependent on one another. Gibson didn’t practice Wednesday. If Gibson plays, you can play him. If not, then we can easily consider McKissic a low-end RB2/high-end FLEX play in a game that should feature plenty of passing for Washington's primary receiving back.
Michael Carter keeps popping up as a viable, process-based play. This is despite low expectations for the New York Jets’ offense (their implied team total is just 17.75 points) and matchup against the New England Patriots. Carter has played on 47.6% of the team’s snaps since Week 2 and has a 43.8% red zone rushing share to go along with an average of 10.8 carries and 3.0 targets per game.
Bench if possible: These backs are under 40% likely to net a top-24 result.
Khalil Herbert at TB (39%); A.J. Dillon vs. WSH (36%); Jamaal Williams at LA (35%); Mark Ingram at ARI (35%); Demetric Felton vs. DEN (34%); Latavius Murray vs. CIN (34%); Kenneth Gainwell at LV (28%); Sony Michel vs. DET (28%); Alex Collins vs. NO (27%); Rhamondre Stevenson vs. NYJ (27%); David Johnson at ARI (25%); Trey Sermon vs. IND (24%); Nyheim Hines at SF (23%); Salvon Ahmed vs. ATL (23%); Kenyan Drake vs. PHI (21%); Devonta Freeman vs. CIN (21%); Jaret Patterson at GB (20%); DeeJay Dallas vs. NO (20%); Jerick McKinnon at TEN (20%); Malcolm Brown vs. ATL (20%); Le’Veon Bell vs. CIN (20%).
Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league.
— Cooper Kupp vs. DET (86%)
— Tyreek Hill at TEN (81%)
— Davante Adams vs. WSH (79%)
— Deebo Samuel vs. IND (74%)
— DeAndre Hopkins vs. HOU (72%)
— Calvin Ridley at MIA (68%)
— D.J. Moore at NYG (65%)
— A.J. Brown vs. KC (64%)
— Robert Woods vs. DET (63%)
— Ja’Marr Chase at BAL (57%)
— DeVonta Smith at LV (55%)
— Chris Godwin vs. CHI (54%)
— Terry McLaurin at GB (53%)
— Brandin Cooks at ARI (52%)
— D.K. Metcalf vs. NO (50%)
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.
— Courtland Sutton at CLE (49%)
— Antonio Brown vs. CHI (48%)
— Jaylen Waddle vs. ATL (47%)
— Jakobi Meyers vs. NYJ (47%)
— Sterling Shepard vs. CAR (46%)
— Tyler Lockett vs. NO (45%)
— Tee Higgins at BAL (44%)
— Michael Pittman Jr. at SF (43%)
— Mike Evans vs. CHI (42%)
— Allen Robinson at TB (40%)
— Julio Jones vs. KC (39%)
— Marquise Brown vs. CIN (39%)
— Corey Davis at NE (36%)
— Tim Patrick at CLE (36%)
— Robby Anderson at NYG (35%)
It’s time to plug in Courtland Sutton each week if you haven’t been already. Sutton has averaged 188.3 air yards per game over the past three weeks, making him one of two receivers in that span to average more than 135.0 per game across multiple games (Terry McLaurin at 177.9 is the other).
Jaylen Waddle’s workload in Week 6 was pretty phenomenal. Waddle handled 13 targets for 70 yards (with 120 air yards) and two touchdowns. That worked out to be a 27.7% target market share, and he also drew a third of the team’s red zone targets (2 of 6). The Falcons rank 32nd in adjusted fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.
Sterling Shepard faces a tough pass defense, one that ranks fifth in overall adjusted pass defense, but they’re only 21st against receivers after adjusting for opponents faced. Shepard’s role should be secure in Week 7 after he ran 96.4% of the New York Giants’ routes and drew a 29.2% target share (plus 33.3% of the team’s red zone looks (2 of 6).
Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 30% of the time.
Odell Beckham vs. DEN (33%); Darnell Mooney at TB (31%); Henry Ruggs vs. PHI (30%); Nelson Agholor vs. NYJ (30%); Hunter Renfrow vs. PHI (29%); Christian Kirk vs. HOU (27%); Van Jefferson vs. DET (27%); T.Y. Hilton at SF (25%); Darius Slayton vs. CAR (24%); Brandon Aiyuk vs. IND (24%); Tyler Boyd at BAL (24%); A.J. Green vs. HOU (24%); Jamison Crowder at NE (23%); Rashod Bateman vs. CIN (23%); Kalif Raymond at LA (23%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. WSH (22%); Mecole Hardman at TEN (22%); Rondale Moore vs. HOU (22%); Jarvis Landry vs. DEN (21%); Jalen Reagor at LV (21%); Marquez Callaway at SEA (20%).
Start With Confidence:
— Travis Kelce at TEN (90%)
— Darren Waller vs. PHI (84%)
— Mark Andrews vs. CIN (74%)
— Kyle Pitts at MIA (63%)
— Mike Gesicki vs. ATL (57%)
Consider if needed: You’ll likely be starting these options if you don’t have a top-tier tight end.
— Tyler Higbee vs. DET (55%)
— Noah Fant at CLE (53%)
— T.J. Hockenson at LA (51%)
— Hunter Henry vs. NYJ (49%)
— Evan Engram vs. CAR (45%)
— Ricky Seals-Jones at GB (42%)
— Jonnu Smith vs. NYJ (40%)
— Zach Ertz vs. HOU (37%)
— Dallas Goedert at LV (35%)
Tyler Higbee has all the right peripherals we want at tight end — an 89.4% snap rate, a 78.8% route rate, and a 27.3% red zone target share — but really hasn’t hit his ceiling at all. That could change this week against the league’s worst defense against tight ends.
Noah Fant is up to fifth at the position in target market share (19.7%) and is one of seven tight ends to average at least one downfield target (16-plus air yards) per game. The high-leverage workload is really strong for a tight end.
Ricky Seals-Jones is a locked-in play at this point. He has run a route on 90.2% of Washington's drop-backs in two games without Logan Thomas, a rate that leads the position in that sample and that would lead over the full season, as well.
Bench if possible: These tight ends aren’t in the starting conversation in 12-team leagues unless you’re desperate.
O.J. Howard vs. CHI (34%); Ross Dwelley vs. IND (33%); Cole Kmet at TB (32%); Robert Tonyan vs. WSH (31%); Cameron Brate vs. CHI (31%); Ian Thomas at NYG (29%); Tommy Tremble at NYG (28%); Anthony Firkser vs. KC (27%); Austin Hooper vs. DEN (26%); Jordan Akins at ARI (23%); Jason Croom at LV (23%); Mo Alie-Cox at SF (21%); Gerald Everett vs. NO (20%).