FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 15

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.

QUARTERBACKS

Start with confidence: These players are at least 50% likely to finish the week as a top-12 quarterback, according to the slate simulations.

— Josh Allen vs. CAR (69%)

— Kyler Murray at DET (69%)

— Patrick Mahomes at LAC (60%)

— Justin Herbert vs. KC (59%)

— Tom Brady vs. NO (56%)

— Dak Prescott at NYG (54%)

— Jalen Hurts vs. WSH (53%)

— Aaron Rodgers at BAL (52%)

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

— Tua Tagovailoa vs. NYJ (48%)

— Matthew Stafford vs. SEA (44%)

— Cam Newton at BUF (40%)

— Kirk Cousins at CHI (40%)

— Justin Fields vs. MIN (40%)

— Russell Wilson at LA (39%)

— Jimmy Garoppolo vs. ATL (37%)

— Taysom Hill at TB (37%)

Tua Tagovailoa draws a top-level streaming matchup against the New York Jets, who are 32nd in numberFire’s adjusted pass defense metrics. Tagovailoa had 273 yards and two touchdowns against them in a Week 11 matchup. He has had only two other full games against bottom-10 adjusted pass defenses. Across that full three-game sample, Tua has averaged 297.7 yards and 2.7 touchdowns with elite efficiency.

I don’t agree with how high Cam Newton is in the simulations. He has been benched at times in favor of P.J. Walker and now faces the NFL’s second-ranked adjusted pass defense. If taking a chance on a tough pass defense and a run-first quarterback, give me Taysom Hill against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (sixth in adjusted pass defense).

We continue to see Russell Wilson’s underlying efficiency improve. He ranks top 10 in expected completion rate over his past three games while posting expectation-level passing efficiency.

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.

Ryan Tannehill at PIT (33%); Teddy Bridgewater vs. CIN (33%); Derek Carr at CLE (32%); Carson Wentz vs. NE (32%); Joe Burrow at DEN (31%); Trevor Lawrence vs. HOU (30%); Ben Roethlisberger vs. TEN (28%); Mac Jones at IND (27%); Taylor Heinicke at PHI (27%); Matt Ryan at SF (24%); Zach Wilson at MIA (21%); Davis Mills at JAC (19%); Mike Glennon vs. DAL (18%); Jared Goff vs. ARI (18%); Case Keenum vs. LV (17%); Lamar Jackson vs. GB (13%)(asterisk); Tyler Huntley vs. GB (05%)(asterisk).

— If Lamar Jackson starts, you can start him even though the efficiency has waned. He’d rate out as a high-end Tier 2 play.

RUNNING BACKS

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 vs. NE (80%)

— Dalvin Cook at CHI (77%)

— Leonard Fournette vs. NO (73%)

— Najee Harris vs. TEN (71%)

— James Conner at DET (71%)

— Josh Jacobs at CLE (70%)

— Alvin Kamara at TB (70%)

— Nick Chubb vs. LV (68%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson at SF (67%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. KC (65%)

— Joe Mixon at DEN (63%)

— Ezekiel Elliott at NYG (62%)

— David Montgomery vs. MIN (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.

— Myles Gaskin vs. NYJ (57%)

— Sony Michel vs. SEA (56%)

— James Robinson vs. HOU (55%)

— Melvin Gordon vs. CIN (54%)

— Devonta Freeman vs. GB (54%)

— Saquon Barkley vs. DAL (53%)

— Javonte Williams vs. CIN (53%)

— Aaron Jones at BAL (51%)

— Michael Carter at MIA (48%)

— A.J. Dillon at BAL (47%)

— Antonio Gibson at PHI (47%)

— Clyde Edwards-Helaire at LAC (43%)

Sony Michel has played 97.0% and 100.0% of the Los Angeles Rams’ snaps the past two games and has become a feature back in the offense.

Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams remain a potent 1-2 combo for the Denver Broncos. They played identical 49.2% snap rates in Week 14. Gordon, last week, had 24 carries and no targets while Williams had “just” 15 carries with both of the running back targets. Each found the end zone twice. The offense runs through them, so both remain RB2 plays.

Devonta Freeman maintained his feature-back role in Week 14. He now has a snap rate of 68.1% and 66.7% in the past two games, respectively, marking the two highest single-game rates for the team all season.

There might be some concerns about Clyde Edwards-Helaire after a three-man split in Week 14, but he was the go-to back in the first half for the Kansas City Chiefs before a blowout. Edwards-Helaire saw 8 of 14 opportunities in the first half in Week 14.

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

David Johnson at JAC (38%); Tony Pollard at NYG (34%); Chuba Hubbard at BUF (33%); Devin Singletary vs. CAR (33%); D’Onta Foreman at PIT (31%); Rhamondre Stevenson at IND (30%); Darrel Williams at LAC (30%); Jamaal Williams vs. ARI (29%); D’Andre Swift vs. ARI (27%)(asterisk); Darrell Henderson vs. SEA (26%); D’Ernest Johnson vs. LV (25%); Dontrell Hilliard at PIT (25%); Eli Mitchell vs. ATL (23%)(asterisk); J.D. McKissic at PHI (22%); Brandon Bolden at IND (21%); Rashaad Penny at LA (20%); Jeremy McNichols at PIT (19%); Miles Sanders vs. WSH (19%); Kenneth Gainwell vs. WSH (19%); Mike Davis at SF (19%); Jeff Wilson vs. ATL (18%); Boston Scott vs. WSH (18%); Carlos Hyde vs. HOU (17%); Ameer Abdullah at BUF (17%).

A lot of backfield ambiguity clouds the mid-week projections. It’ll be vital to track our actual projections throughout the week and weekend to adjust for changes.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

— Cooper Kupp vs. SEA (85%)

— Deebo Samuel vs. ATL (83%)

— Davante Adams at BAL (81%)

— Justin Jefferson at CHI (72%)

— Chris Godwin vs. NO (68%)

— Stefon Diggs vs. CAR (65%)

— Tyreek Hill at LAC (62%)

— Diontae Johnson vs. TEN (59%)

— Keenan Allen vs. KC (56%)

— Ja’Marr Chase at DEN (53%)

— Tyler Lockett at LA (52%)

— Mike Evans vs. NO (52%)

— CeeDee Lamb at NYG (52%)

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.

— Tee Higgins at DEN (48%)

— Hunter Renfrow at CLE (46%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. vs. NE (45%)

— Brandin Cooks at JAC (44%)

— D.J. Moore at BUF (44%)

— Christian Kirk at DET (42%)

— DeVonta Smith vs. WSH (41%)

— Brandon Aiyuk vs. ATL (41%)

— Jaylen Waddle vs. NYJ (40%)

— D.K. Metcalf at LA (39%)

— Marquise Brown vs. GB (39%)

— Van Jefferson vs. SEA (38%)

— Mike Williams vs. KC (37%)

— Amari Cooper at NYG (35%)

Since a Week 8 bye, Hunter Renfrow leads the Las Vegas Raiders with a 24.5% target share, an elite mark that is tied to a lowly 5.7-yard average depth of target, but comes with leverage in the red zone (a 34.5% red zone target share). It’s hard to find many roles better than that.

It’s been a while since we have seen Michael Pittman have a breakout game, but he remains the go-to option for the Indianapolis Colts. In five games leading into their bye, Pittman had accrued a 23.3% target share, and against a New England Patriots team that could key in on limiting Jonathan Taylor, Pittman sets up well for a solid fantasy outing.

Christian Kirk and the rest of the Cardinals’ pass catchers face an elite matchup against the Detroit Lions, who rank 31st in adjusted pass defense at numberFire. They are also 31st in passing average depth of target allowed, 32nd in yards per target on downfield attempts, and 31st in pressure rate generated. Everything sets up well for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals to have a big game.

Brandon Aiyuk’s resurgence puts him into great position for fantasy points against the Atlanta Falcons, who rank 30th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to receivers. Aiyuk has been targeted on 24.7% of the San Francisco 49ers’ passes since George Kittle returned in Week 9. Aiyuk also leads the team in that span with 1.8 downfield targets per game and still has a 17.4% red zone target share in this split.

Bench if possible: These players finished as a WR2 or better under 35% of the time.

Chase Claypool vs. TEN (34%); A.J. Green at DET (34%); Marvin Jones vs. HOU (31%); Julio Jones at PIT (31%); Donovan Peoples-Jones vs. LV (31%); Darnell Mooney vs. MIN (30%); Jerry Jeudy vs. CIN (30%); Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. ARI (28%); Russell Gage at SF (28%); Michael Gallup at NYG (26%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling at BAL (25%); DeVante Parker vs. NYJ (25%); Nelson Agholor at IND (25%); Allen Robinson vs. MIN (25%); Cole Beasley vs. CAR (24%); Kenny Golladay vs. DAL (24%); Sterling Shepard vs. DAL (23%); Will Fuller vs. NYJ (22%); Jakobi Meyers at IND (22%); Gabriel Davis vs. CAR (22%); Rondale Moore at DET (22%); Robby Anderson at BUF (20%); Jamison Crowder at MIA (20%).

TIGHT END

Start with confidence: You’re playing them.

— Travis Kelce at LAC (79%)

— George Kittle vs. ATL (76%)

— Rob Gronkowski vs. NO (57%)

— Mark Andrews vs. GB (57%)

— Dallas Goedert vs. WSH (53%)

— Kyle Pitts at SF (51%)

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

— Zach Ertz at DET (47%)

— Mike Gesicki vs. NYJ (39%)

— Tyler Higbee vs. SEA (38%)

— Dawson Knox vs. CAR (36%)

— Jonnu Smith at IND (36%)

— Jared Cook vs. KC (33%)

— Tyler Conklin at CHI (32%)

— Darren Waller at CLE (32%)(asterisk)

— Noah Fant vs. CIN (32%)

We should anticipate a volume bump for Zach Ertz this week. The Lions rank 18th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing tight ends, which is just a middling matchup. But the Cardinals’ elite implied total (a week-best 29.75) gives Ertz plenty of touchdown equity.

Mike Gesicki maintained a great role even with DeVante Parker back in Week 13 before the Miami Dolphins’ bye. He had 11 targets in that game (26.8%), tied for a team high with Jaylen Waddle. That also included a downfield target and two red zone targets for Gesicki.

An indirect beneficiary of Emmanuel Sanders’ injury is Dawson Knox. Knox has had at least an 83.3% snap rate in all five games since he returned from an injury and at least 90.3% in each of the past four. In that five-game sample, Knox (16.7%) trails only Stefon Diggs (27.6%) in target share on an elite offense, and he has averaged 1.0 downfield targets and 1.6 red zone targets per game.

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

Cole Kmet vs. MIN (28%); Hunter Henry at IND (27%); Foster Moreau at CLE (26%); David Njoku vs. LV (25%); Ricky Seals-Jones at PHI (22%); Dalton Schultz at NYG (22%); Brevin Jordan at JAC (20%); Gerald Everett at LAR (19%); T.J. Hockenson vs. ARI (19%)(asterisk); C.J. Uzomah at DEN (19%); Evan Engram vs. DAL (19%); Pat Freiermuth vs. TEN (19%); James O’Shaughnessy vs. HOU (17%).

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