FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 17

Another season of fantasy football, another group of start-or-sit scenarios to answer.

It’s not just enough to draft the right team and make the right moves off the waiver wire. We all know that. We also have to make sure that we are starting the correct players each week.

Of course, we have our studs, anchors, and the players we’re starting virtually no matter what. We don’t need anyone to tell us to start Travis Kelce.

But, the further down the lineup we go, the more those questions trickle in.

Then again, no player is a “must-sit” in every scenario, and perhaps the WR3 you’ve been plugging in each week may have a better alternative.

To answer the question, “Should I sit Player X,” depends on the answer to the question, “Who can you start instead?”

That’s why I like to switch up the typical start-or-sit column format. I’m going to be listing out all relevant fantasy football players each week and bucketing them into tiers.

Take some of the guesswork out of setting our lineups weekly, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based on 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 (i.e. players listed above them on the list).

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 able to start.

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:

— Patrick Mahomes vs. DEN (74%)

— Josh Allen at CIN (74%)

— Jalen Hurts vs. NO (63% as starter; 21% at half)

— Joe Burrow vs. BUF (57%)

— Justin Fields at DET (56%)

— Justin Herbert vs. LA (55%)

— Lamar Jackson vs. PIT (55% as starter; 15% at half)

— Dak Prescott at TEN (52%)

— Jared Goff vs. CHI (50%)

Consider if needed:

— Aaron Rodgers vs. MIN (49%)

— Kirk Cousins at GB (49%)

— Trevor Lawrence at HOU (48%)

— Brock Purdy at LV (45%)

— Daniel Jones vs. IND (43%)

— Geno Smith vs. NYJ (41%)

— Gardner Minshew vs. NO (41% as starter; 6% at half)

— Deshaun Watson at WSH (41%)

Bench if possible:

Russell Wilson at KC (34%); Tom Brady vs. CAR (34%); Mac Jones vs. MIA (34%); Mike White at SEA (33%); Derek Carr vs. SF (29%); Kenny Pickett at BAL (29%); Carson Wentz vs. CLE (26%); Desmond Ridder vs. ARI (24%); Colt McCoy at ATL (24%); Teddy Bridgewater at NE (24% as starter); Tyler Huntley vs. PIT (22% as starter; 8% at half); Nick Foles at NYG (22%); Sam Darnold at TB (20%); Baker Mayfield at LAC (20%); Davis Mills vs. JAC (19%); Malik Willis vs. DAL (18%); Andy Dalton at PHI (18%); Jeff Driskel vs. JAC (1%).

Some quarterback rooms are initially projected for split workloads, which will impact the projections. Those three quarterback duos are Jalen Hurts and Gardner Minshew for the Philadelphia Eagles and Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley for the Baltimore Ravens.

Thankfully for the overwhelming majority of leagues still in action, competition for quarterback pickups is scarce. Because if you are in championship week without a surefire quarterback, it’s going to be a tough week.

Not many quarterbacks have better than a 40% chance at a top-12 week — especially before adjusting for the uncertain starters.

Brock Purdy has managed his way to weekly finishes of QB8, QB14, and QB13 in his three starts despite maxing out at 26 attempts and 217 yards in any of them. This week, he faces a Las Vegas Raiders pass defense, a unit ranked 31st in adjusted pass defense here at numberFire. Purdy has now played 0.37 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop-back over expectation, so he should be able to take advantage of this matchup for those of us in need of a championship answer.

Geno Smith gets a revenge game against the New York Jets, who drafted Smith in the second round in 2013. Last week without Tyler Lockett, Smith generated only 215 passing yards on 40 attempts against the Kansas City Chiefs and he now faces a team ranked third in adjusted pass defense by numberFire’s metrics. Lockett’s status is unclear early in the week. In five games against top-eight pass defenses (all with a healthy Lockett), Smith has averaged only 15.4 fantasy points and 223.0 passing yards per game. You can do worse, but don’t stick to Smith simply because he helped you out earlier in the season— unless you have no place else to go but down the list.

RUNNING BACKS

Start with confidence:

— Christian McCaffrey at LV (87%)

— Saquon Barkley vs. IND (79%)

— Josh Jacobs vs. SF (75%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. LA (75%)

— Derrick Henry vs. DAL (73%)

— James Conner at ATL (70%)

— Nick Chubb at WSH (68%)

— Alvin Kamara at PHI (68%)

— Ezekiel Elliott at TEN (67% without Pollard; 59% with Pollard at half)

— Rhamondre Stevenson vs. MIA (67%)

— Kenneth Walker III vs. NYJ (65%)

— Travis Etienne at HOU (64%)

— Dalvin Cook at GB (63%)

— Joe Mixon vs. BUF (61%)

Consider if needed:

— Miles Sanders vs. NO (57%)

— Aaron Jones vs. MIN (57%)

— Leonard Fournette vs. CAR (56%)

— David Montgomery at DET (55%)

— Tony Pollard at TEN (55% at full; 12% at half)

— Tyler Allgeier vs. ARI (54%)

— Najee Harris at BAL (47%)

— Cam Akers at LAC (44%)

— A.J. Dillon vs. MIN (42%)

— J.K. Dobbins vs. PIT (41%)

— Brian Robinson vs. CLE (41%)

— Zonovan Knight at SEA (40%)

— Devin Singletary at CIN (39%)

— Jamaal Williams vs. CHI (38%)

— Latavius Murray at KC (38%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson vs. ARI (37%)

— D’Andre Swift vs. CHI (37%)

— D’Onta Foreman at TB (37%)

— Jeff Wilson at NE (37%)

Bench if possible:

Raheem Mostert at NE (35%); Zack Moss at NYG (35%); Antonio Gibson vs. CLE (34%); Jerick McKinnon vs. DEN (33%); Isiah Pacheco vs. DEN (32%); Royce Freeman vs. JAC (32%); Chuba Hubbard at TB (31%); Michael Carter at SEA (30%); Rachaad White vs. CAR (25%); Deon Jackson at NYG (24%); Khalil Herbert at DET (23%); Dare Ogunbowale vs. JAC (23%); Samaje Perine vs. BUF (23%); Chase Edmonds at KC (21%); Damien Harris vs. MIA (20%); Gus Edwards vs. PIT (18%); Marlon Mack at KC (17%); James Cook at CIN (15%).

Tony Pollard did not practice Wednesday. With his projection down, Ezekiel Elliott is shaping up as a slam-dunk play.

Tyler Allgeier is surging at just the right time. Allgeier logged a season-high 60.3% snap rate in Week 16, and he handled 18 of 29 running back carries and five of eight running back targets within the Falcons’ offense. Allgeier racked up 117 scrimmage yards and now faces a Arizona Cardinals team that ranks 25th or worse in both adjusted fantasy points per carry and per target allowed to running backs.

Cam Akers probably carried a lot of us into the fantasy football championship after a three-touchdown game in a rejuvenated Los Angeles Rams offense. Akers made the most of a 76.6% snap rate by turning 23 carries and two targets into 147 scrimmage yards and the aforementioned three scores. He had all eight red zone carries and ran a route on 53.6% of the team’s drop-backs. This week, he faces the Los Angeles Chargers, who allow 1.48 yards over expectation per carry to opposing running backs. No other team is allowing more than 0.98 per carry.

Those of us who drafted D’Andre Swift got to see a promising role in Week 16. Swift played on 55.7% of the Lions’ snaps — yet he had just four carries and five targets for 25 total yards. The potential absence of Jamaal Williams might be enough to get Swift into starting lineups. However, he’s still a low-priority option with Justin Jackson lingering to take high-leverage work away from him.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Start with confidence:

— Justin Jefferson at GB (79%)

— Tyreek Hill at NE (69%)

— Ja’Marr Chase vs. BUF (69%)

— CeeDee Lamb at TEN (65%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. CHI (65%)

— Davante Adams vs. SF (64%)

— DeAndre Hopkins at ATL (59%)

— A.J. Brown vs. NO (59%)

— Stefon Diggs at CIN (59%)

— D.K. Metcalf vs. NYJ (52%)

Consider if needed:

— Tee Higgins vs. BUF (47%)

— Chris Godwin vs. CAR (47%)

— Christian Kirk at HOU (45%)

— Garrett Wilson at SEA (44%)

— Jaylen Waddle at NE (44%)

— Keenan Allen vs. LA (43%)

— Brandon Aiyuk at LV (43%)

— Amari Cooper at WSH (43%)

— Mike Williams vs. LA (43%)

— Tyler Lockett vs. NYJ (42% at full; 15% at half)

— DeVonta Smith vs. NO (42%)

— Gabe Davis at CIN (42%)

— Christian Watson vs. MIN (42% at full; 6% at half)

— Mike Evans vs. CAR (42%)

— Jerry Jeudy at KC (41%)

— Chris Olave at PHI (41%)

— Allen Lazard vs. MIN (40%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. at NYG (40%)

— Diontae Johnson at BAL (40%)

— Terry McLaurin vs. CLE (39%)

— Brandin Cooks vs. JAC (39%)

— D.J. Moore at TB (38%)

— Zay Jones at HOU (36%)

Bench if possible:

Drake London vs. ARI (34%); Courtland Sutton at KC (34%); Jakobi Meyers vs. MIA (30%); Donovan Peoples-Jones at WSH (29%); JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. DEN (29%); Marquise Brown at ATL (28%); D.J. Chark vs. CHI (28%); George Pickens at BAL (26%); Jahan Dotson vs. CLE (26%); Corey Davis at SEA (25%); Adam Thielen at GB (25%); Tutu Atwell at LAC (24%); Michael Gallup at TEN (23%); Van Jefferson at LAC (23%); Darius Slayton vs. IND (23%); Josh Reynolds vs. CHI (21%); Romeo Doubs vs. MIN (21%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. DEN (21%); Richie James vs. IND (20%).

Tyler Lockett, Christian Watson and Mecole Hardman all initially have a half projection.

Mike Evans hasn’t had a top-15 fantasy week since Week 8 and has finished, on average, as the WR48 in seven games since with no outings better than the WR32. Evans has, since Week 9, maintained a 17.9% target share for 8.1 targets per game (19th most among all receivers in that span). But of the 46 receivers averaging at least 6.0 targets in that span, Evans ranks 44th in yards per route run.

Though the results haven’t been there for Amari Cooper in games started by Deshaun Watson, the opportunity has been. Cooper posted his best finish in Watson’s four starts this past week as the WR31. He has averaged 8.0 targets (a 28.3% target share), but for only 53.0 yards per game and no touchdowns. This is despite an average of 1.5 red zone targets (a 27.3% team share) and 1.3 end zone targets (a 55.6% team share). There’s a lot of good underlying data for Cooper, and a breakthrough game against an elite rush defense could be on the way.

Speaking of an opportunity for more, Brandin Cooks’ Week 16 return was very promising. Cooks earned nine targets (a 31.0% target share) yet caught just four for 34 yards and a touchdown. Of note, he had five downfield targets (i.e. targets traveling at least 10 yards downfield) for a 14.7-yard average target depth. Even with the inconsistent quarterback play of the Houston Texans, Cooks has the building blocks to be a fantasy star for those without an answer at the WR3 or FLEX position.

TIGHT END

Start with confidence:

— Travis Kelce vs. DEN (84%)

— George Kittle at LV (66%)

— Mark Andrews vs. PIT (64%)

Consider if needed:

— T.J. Hockenson at GB (48%)

— Pat Freiermuth at BAL (44%)

— Cole Kmet at DET (42%)

— Evan Engram at HOU (40%)

— Darren Waller vs. SF (39%)

— Dalton Schultz at TEN (38%)

— Tyler Higbee at LAC (38%)

— Taysom Hill at PHI (38%)

— Dallas Goedert vs. NO (38%)

— Dawson Knox at CIN (36%)

— David Njoku at WSH (36%)

— Greg Dulcich at KC (36% at full; 12% at half)

— Logan Thomas vs. CLE (35%)

Bench if possible:

Juwan Johnson at PHI (30%); Noah Fant vs. NYJ (29%); Chig Okonkwo vs. DAL (27%); Tyler Conklin at SEA (26%); Jelani Woods at NYG (23%); Hunter Henry vs. MIA (22% at full; 7% at half); Trey McBride at ATL (19%); Gerald Everett vs. LA (19%); Hayden Hurst vs. BUF (19%); Robert Tonyan vs. MIN (19%); Jordan Akins vs. JAC (18%); Isaiah Likely vs. PIT (18%); Austin Hooper vs. DAL (15%).

Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Greg Dulcich initially have half projections.

There’s a hierarchy of around 10 or 11 tight ends who have separated from the rest of the position, and if you are streaming tight ends and made the championship, then congratulations on an good core surrounding a revolving door at this position.

Despite single-game target shares of 21.1% or better in seven straight games, Cole Kmet has not surpassed 74 yards in a game all season and his five touchdowns were clustered over a three-game stretch in the middle of the season. He’s had fewer than 30 receiving yards in three of four games. That being said, it’s still one of the best tight end situations we have in fantasy football. He’s getting targets (albeit in a run-heavy offense), and he now faces a Lions team that he scored twice on in Week 10. Detroit is the worst tight end defense in football by adjusted fantasy points per target.

Logan Thomas didn’t light up the box score in Week 16, but his five-catch, 35-yard line was good enough to make him the TE16. The Commanders are turning the offense over to Carson Wentz, and in four games the two shared to start the season, Thomas averaged 5.0 targets on a 12.0% target share. His catch rate over expectation was only -0.6% in those games; since then, it’s down to -11.3%. This should be a positive swap for Thomas.

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