FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 1

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 right 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 Jonathan Taylor.

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

— Patrick Mahomes at ARI (67%)

— Josh Allen at LAR (63%)

— Lamar Jackson at NYJ (61%)

— Kyler Murray vs. KC (58%)

— Jalen Hurts at DET (56%)

— Justin Herbert vs. LV (56%)

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

— Joe Burrow vs. PIT (49%)

— Tom Brady at DAL (47%)

— Derek Carr at LAC (45%)

— Russell Wilson at SEA (44%)

— Dak Prescott vs. TB (44%)

— Aaron Rodgers at MIN (44%)

— Trey Lance at CHI (41%)

— Tua Tagovailoa vs. NE (41%)

— Matthew Stafford vs. BUF (38%)

With the elite passers and the rushing quarterbacks taking up the top six spots this week, we’re left with a long list of appealing names at the lower end of the QB1 conversation.

Frankly, this tier will make up a lot of our starters this week (and most weeks).

An interesting pair of names tie for 13th in top-12 odds: Trey Lance and Tua Tagovailoa.

In two full games last season, Lance averaged 17.8 half-PPR fantasy points on the back of 12.0 rushing attempts for 60.0 yards with a 37.5% red zone rushing share. The rushing upside is phenomenal here. If you have him, feel good to start him in most scenarios.

In 2021, Tagovailoa played largely to expectation and had an EPA per drop back over expected of +0.01. However, Tua will have Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to throw to against the New England Patriots this year, and the Miami Dolphins have a sturdy 25.0-point implied team total, tied for 10th best on the week.

Matthew Stafford is another intriguing name on the list. He sits 15th in top-12 odds at 38% despite playing in a game with a total of 52.5 points. Despite that, his Los Angeles Rams are 2 1/2-point home underdogs against the Buffalo Bills, and they’ve got the same total as the Dolphins (25.0 points).

The game environment is largely good, yet the matchup against a good pass defense should give us pause about plugging in Stafford if we have a name available to us higher up on the list. Of course, simply calling him a “sit” is misguided because he’s still a cut above the names in the tier below him.

Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (16th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.

Trevor Lawrence at WSH (34%); Ryan Tannehill vs. NYG (33%); Kirk Cousins vs. GB (32%); Daniel Jones at TEN (32%); Carson Wentz vs. JAC (32%); Jameis Winston at ATL (29%); Matt Ryan at HOU (29%); Mitchell Trubisky at CIN (28%); Marcus Mariota vs. NO (28%); Justin Fields vs. SF (27%); Davis Mills vs. IND (27%); Jared Goff vs. PHI (24%); Mac Jones at MIA (23%); Baker Mayfield vs. CLE (23%); Geno Smith vs. DEN (19%); Jacoby Brissett at CAR (18%).

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 at HOU (88%)

— Christian McCaffrey vs. CLE (85%)

— Derrick Henry vs. NYG (82%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. LV (80%)

— Alvin Kamara at ATL (71%)

— Joe Mixon vs. PIT (71%)

— D’Andre Swift vs. PHI (68%)

— Dalvin Cook vs. GB (67%)

— Najee Harris at CIN (67%)

— Aaron Jones at MIN (66%)

— Saquon Barkley at TEN (64%)

— Javonte Williams at SEA (63%)

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.

— Nick Chubb at CAR (59%)

— Antonio Gibson vs. JAC (59%)

— James Conner vs. KC (59%)

— Leonard Fournette at DAL (57%)

— Travis Etienne at WSH (56%)

— Ezekiel Elliott vs. TB (54%)

— Chase Edmonds vs. NE (54%)

— J.K. Dobbins at NYJ (52%)

— Cam Akers vs. BUF (47%)

— David Montgomery vs. SF (45%)

— Elijah Mitchell at CHI (45%)

— Dameon Pierce vs. IND (44%)

— Josh Jacobs at LAC (43%)

— Miles Sanders at DET (40%)

Antonio Gibson went from sliding down the draft board during most of the offseason to being a pretty sturdy Week 1 start due to unfortunate news of teammate Brian Robinson’s injuries. Gibson is now slotted for an elevated early down role as a slight home favorite (-2.5) over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gibson is actually ranked sixth in projected carries (17.8) for the week, based on our fantasy football projection model.

Also in that game, we have Travis Etienne set to make his NFL debut after missing all of last season. Teammate James Robinson will play in Week 1 just nine months after a torn Achilles. Indications are that Robinson won’t handle a full workload early in the season, thus leaving a featured opportunity for Etienne to lead the backfield. In what is projected to be a close game, Etienne should see creative snaps and targets, thus boosting his floor and ceiling.

Dameon Pierce’s ascent to the top of the Houston Texans’ unofficial depth chart has him pretty firmly within the start-able tier of running backs in Week 1 despite his status as a 7.5-point home underdog to the Indianapolis Colts. The team parted ways with Marlon Mack, yet Rex Burkhead figures to handle third down work. That does leave some risk in the event Pierce is scripted out of an early blowout, which is why he’s down near the 45% range. The risk is factored into the simulation.

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

A.J. Dillon at MIN (39%); Breece Hall vs. BAL (39%); Clyde Edwards-Helaire at ARI (36%); Tony Pollard vs. TB (35%); Cordarrelle Patterson vs. NO (35%); Rashaad Penny vs. DEN (35%); Damien Harris at MIA (34%); Rhamondre Stevenson at MIA (32%); Kareem Hunt at CAR (31%); Melvin Gordon at SEA (31%); Darrell Henderson vs. BUF (30%); Michael Carter vs. BAL (27%); Devin Singletary at LAR (26%); Raheem Mostert vs. NE (25%); Kenneth Walker III vs. DEN (24%); James Robinson at WSH (23%); Nyheim Hines at HOU (22%); James Cook at LAR (22%); Rex Burkhead vs. IND (20%); Mark Ingram at ATL (20%).

WIDE RECEIVERS

Start with confidence: You’re starting these guys in a 12-team league. They are at least 50% likely to be top-24 receivers this week.

— Cooper Kupp vs. BUF (76%)

— Ja’Marr Chase vs. PIT (67%)

— Davante Adams at LAC (66%)

— Justin Jefferson vs. GB (65%)

— Deebo Samuel at CHI (65%)

— Stefon Diggs at LAR (61%)

— CeeDee Lamb vs. TB (58%)

— Tyreek Hill vs. NE (56%)

— Mike Evans at DAL (53%)

— Marquise Brown vs. KC (52%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. at HOU (50%)

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.

— A.J. Brown at DET (48%)

— Keenan Allen vs. LV (45%)

— Terry McLaurin vs. JAC (45%)

— Mike Williams vs. LV (45%)

— Brandin Cooks vs. IND (45%)

— Tee Higgins vs. PIT (45%)

— D.J. Moore vs. CLE (44%)

— Courtland Sutton at SEA (44%)

— D.K. Metcalf vs. DEN (43%)

— Michael Thomas at ATL (43%)

— Diontae Johnson at CIN (40%)

— Jerry Jeudy at SEA (40%)

— Jaylen Waddle vs. NE (39%)

— Elijah Moore vs. BAL (39%)

— Rashod Bateman at NYJ (38%)

— Allen Robinson vs. BUF (37%)

— Christian Kirk at WSH (37%)

— Chris Godwin at DAL (37%)

— Tyler Lockett vs. DEN (37%)

— Gabriel Davis at LAR (36%)

— Amari Cooper at CAR (36%)

— Darnell Mooney vs. SF (36%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. PHI (33%)

— DeVonta Smith at DET (32%)

Although Terry McLaurin is generally landing around WR20 in weekly rankings, the numberFire projections like him more than that in a matchup against the Jaguars. McLaurin maintained a 93.5% route rate and averaged 103.9 air yards per game last season. His role should remain stable, and although the Washington Commanders offensive output may not be consistent week to week, it’s expected to be decent in Week 1 with an implied total of 23.0 points.

Jerry Jeudy (40%) trails Courtland Sutton (44%) only slightly in the simulations. Despite that, you’ll see a bigger gap in consensus rankings for the two in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. In nine games last season during which both played at least half of the Denver Broncos offensive snaps, Jeudy out-targeted Sutton 5.4 to 3.9 (or 20.0% to 14.3%) despite a 90.0% route rate for Sutton and a 78.9% route rate for Jeudy.

Yes, there’s a massive quarterback shift, but don’t treat Jeudy as a Week 1 afterthought if you need receiver help.

DeVonta Smith often finds himself outside the top 30 in the weekly consensus rankings, but is clinging to a 32% chance of a top-24 week against the Detroit Lions. He’ll be the second receiver option behind A.J. Brown in the Philadelphia Eagles’ run-heavy offense, but is still tied to a 26.0-point implied team total and is playing indoors. That’s a nice recipe for a ceiling game for a speedster who now has help to draw coverage away from him.

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

JuJu Smith-Schuster at ARI (28%); Hunter Renfrow at LAC (28%); Robert Woods vs. NYG (27%); Drake London vs. NO (26%); Adam Thielen vs. GB (26%); Julio Jones at DAL (25%); Chase Claypool at CIN (25%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling at ARI (22%); Garrett Wilson vs. BAL (22%); Treylon Burks vs. NYG (22%); Nico Collins vs. IND (21%); Brandon Aiyuk at CHI (20%); DeVante Parker at MIA (20%).

TIGHT END

Start with confidence: These tight ends are at least 50% likely to finish as a top-12 scorer this week.

— Travis Kelce at ARI (79%)

— Mark Andrews at NYJ (75%)

— Darren Waller at LAC (65%)

— Kyle Pitts vs. NO (60%)

— George Kittle at CHI (53%)

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

— T.J. Hockenson vs. PHI (47%)

— Dallas Goedert at DET (44%)

— Dalton Schultz vs. TB (41%)

— Zach Ertz vs. KC (40%)

— Dawson Knox at LAR (39%)

— Albert Okwuegbunam at SEA (37%)

— Hunter Henry at MIA (35%)

— Cole Kmet vs. SF (34%)

— Mike Gesicki vs. NE (34%)

— Pat Freiermuth at CIN (33%)

— David Njoku at CAR (33%)

Dalton Schultz is stepping into a substantial role with the Dallas Cowboys. The team parted ways with Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup will likely miss Week 1. That could leave Schultz as the de facto No. 2 option for one of the NFL’s best offenses. Schultz averaged 6.1 targets per game last season and could see that number climb during the early weeks while Dak Prescott features CeeDee Lamb and Schultz over the rest of the receiving group.

Albert Okwuegbunam finds himself inside the projections’ top 11, and that’s a bit higher than you’ll likely find him ranked elsewhere. Okwuegbunam and the Denver Broncos are road favorites against the Seattle Seahawks in Russell Wilson’s first game with Denver — and against his former team, no less. Positive game scripts are good for tight ends because they rely on touchdowns. Seattle also ranked 27th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends a season ago.

For those who truly waited on tight end (or for those whose TE1 may be injured for Week 1 already), take a look at David Njoku. The Browns no longer have Austin Hooper on their roster, and this offseason, Njoku earned a four-year deal to make him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the NFL.

Additionally, his new quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, has relied heavily on tight ends in his past two extended workloads. In 2021 with Miami, Brissett targeted tight end Mike Gesicki and receiver Jaylen Waddle 43 times apiece to lead the team while he was under center. In 2019 while with the Indianapolis Colts, Brissett targeted tight end Jack Doyle 64 times, just four shy of the team lead.

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

Noah Fant vs. DEN (30%); Robert Tonyan at MIN (29%); Evan Engram at WSH (29%); Irv Smith Jr. vs. GB (28%); Gerald Everett vs. LV (27%); Logan Thomas vs. JAC (27%); Tyler Higbee vs. BUF (25%); Mo Alie-Cox at HOU (25%); Jonnu Smith at MIA (25%).

___

https://www.numberfire.com

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Related Categories:

NFL News | Sports

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up