FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 2

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.

— Josh Allen vs. TEN (70%)

— Patrick Mahomes vs. LAC (64%)

— Jalen Hurts vs. MIN (59%)

— Lamar Jackson vs. MIA (56%)

— Joe Burrow at DAL (54%)

— Derek Carr vs. ARI (53%)

— Justin Herbert at KC (52%)

— Russell Wilson vs. HOU (51%)

— Matthew Stafford vs. ATL (51%)

— Kyler Murray at LV (50%)

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

— Trey Lance vs. SEA (47%)

— Kirk Cousins at PHI (46%)

— Aaron Rodgers vs. CHI (46%)

— Tom Brady at NO (41%)

— Carson Wentz at DET (40%)

With 10 quarterbacks comprising a hefty number of top-12 weeks in the simulations, there aren’t many Tier 2 options who stand out. Just five more passers have at least 35% odds to get inside the top 12 in Week 2.

Of course, it’s a pretty nice list.

Trey Lance’s Week 1 was marred by bad weather and a slow pace from the Chicago Bears. He still managed to rush 13 times for 54 yards and had three red zone carries. If you drafted him for the rushing upside, don’t panic yet.

Although last season’s QB3, Tom Brady, didn’t have to do much in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, it is worth noting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked 26th in pass rate over expectation in the opening week. While it’ll be harder to establish the run against the New Orleans Saints this week, if we see run-heavy tendencies from Tampa Bay again, perhaps Brady will be best viewed as a potential avoid in non-elite situations, given that he needs passing volume to accrue fantasy points. We’ll learn a lot this week about the 2022 Buccaneers’ offense.

The most obvious “streamer” candidate in this tier is Carson Wentz. Wentz draws the Detroit Lions, who rank 29th in adjusted pass defense after the opening week of the season, according to numberFire’s metrics. Wentz, last week, ran six times for just 12 yards, but surpassed 300 passing yards and threw for four touchdowns. Wentz should benefit from a matchup with a team that ranked 32nd in pass rush grade, by PFF, in Week 1. The Washington Commanders ranked 10th in pass blocking grade.

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.

Daniel Jones vs. CAR (34%); Tua Tagovailoa at BAL (32%); Mitchell Trubisky vs. NE (30%); Marcus Mariota at LA (30%); Jared Goff vs. WSH (30%); Trevor Lawrence vs. IND (27%); Matt Ryan at JAC (27%); Justin Fields at GB (26%); Jameis Winston vs. TB (23%); Mac Jones at PIT (23%); Cooper Rush vs. CIN (23%); Davis Mills at DEN (21%); Baker Mayfield at NYG (21%); Jacoby Brissett vs. NYJ (21%); Ryan Tannehill at BUF (20%); Joe Flacco at CLE (18%); Geno Smith at SF (14%).

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 JAC (84%)

— Christian McCaffrey at NYG (83%)

— Derrick Henry at BUF (78%)

— D’Andre Swift vs. WSH (77%)

— Austin Ekeler at KC (73%)

— Saquon Barkley vs. CAR (73%)

— Joe Mixon at DAL (71%)

— Nick Chubb vs. NYJ (71%)

— Dalvin Cook at PHI (68%)

— Najee Harris vs. NE (67%)

— Alvin Kamara vs. TB (65%)

— Antonio Gibson at DET (63%)

— Aaron Jones vs. CHI (63%)

— Javonte Williams vs. HOU (62%)

Consider if needed: This tier is sitting between 40% and 59% for an RB2 week, and you’re probably starting them even if they’re shy of that top tier.

— James Conner at LV (56%)

— Leonard Fournette at NO (56%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson at LA (55%)

— David Montgomery at GB (52%)

— Chase Edmonds at BAL (51%)

— Josh Jacobs vs. ARI (49%)

— Ezekiel Elliott vs. CIN (49%)

— Darrell Henderson vs. ATL (45%)

— A.J. Dillon vs. CHI (43%)

— Miles Sanders vs. MIN (43%)

— Jeff Wilson vs. SEA (42%)

— James Robinson vs. IND (42%)

— J.K. Dobbins vs. MIA (41%)

— Michael Carter at CLE (40%)

— Damien Harris at PIT (40%)

Cordarrelle Patterson got off to a hot start to the 2021 season and found Week 1 success this year, as well. Patterson put forth a 59.1% rushing success rate, per numberFire’s metrics, on 22 carries, and he drew five targets. However, Patterson’s 63.4% snap rate is a little concerning. If he can continue to be a high-usage-rate player, then we can consider starting him in fantasy football formats, of course, but this is a bit reminiscent of his hot start last year.

Ultimately, aside from James Conner and Leonard Fournette, this tier is largely made of players with committee roles. That was well known entering the season for some of these names — but not all.

Josh Jacobs played on just 58.9% of the Las Vegas Raiders’ snaps in Week 1 and drew only a single target in addition to his 10 carries. Jacobs was relegated to an early down role (he didn’t play any third down snaps), and it’s Brandon Bolden who was the Raiders’ third down back (72.7% third down snap rate). That’s not what you want to see from a fantasy football starter, but it’s also hard to ignore a heavy claim to the rushing and red zone work. Jacobs played on 8 of 10 red zone snaps in Week 1.

Darrell Henderson’s 81.8% snap rate ranked second at the position in Week 1 behind only Saquon Barkley’s 82.8%, and even if Henderson enters more of a timeshare with Cam Akers as the season progresses, there’s room for him to be solid with a role reduction.

Ezekiel Elliott’s snap rate of just 57.8% is concerning, given that he’s now tied to a subpar passing offense led by Cooper Rush, who was the least efficient quarterback in Week 1 on a per-play basis, according to numberFire’s metrics. Logic dictates that Elliott will be leaned on more with Rush under center, yet low offensive expectations push him well into the middle of the second tier.

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

Travis Etienne vs. IND (39%); Devin Singletary vs. TEN (38%); Rhamondre Stevenson at PIT (37%); Kareem Hunt vs. NYJ (36%); Rex Burkhead at DEN (34%); Cam Akers vs. ATL (33%); Melvin Gordon vs. HOU (33%); Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. LAC (31%); Rashaad Penny at SF (31%); Tony Pollard vs. CIN (30%); Breece Hall at CLE (30%); Dameon Pierce at DEN (28%); Jerick McKinnon vs. LAC (28%); J.D. McKissic at DET (23%); Mark Ingram vs. TB (23%); Jamaal Williams vs. WSH (21%).

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

— Cooper Kupp vs. ATL (83%)

— Davante Adams vs. ARI (82%)

— Justin Jefferson at PHI (74%)

— Ja’Marr Chase at DAL (74%)

— Stefon Diggs vs. TEN (67%)

— Deebo Samuel vs. SEA (66%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. at JAC (60%)

— Mike Evans at NO (59%)

— Mike Williams at KC (57%)

— Tyreek Hill at BAL (56%)

— A.J. Brown vs. MIN (51%)

— Courtland Sutton vs. 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.

— CeeDee Lamb vs. CIN (49%)

— Brandin Cooks at DEN (48%)

— D.J. Moore at NYG (47%)

— Jerry Jeudy vs. HOU (46%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. WSH (45%)

— Marquise Brown at LV (44%)

— Jaylen Waddle at BAL (44%)

— Diontae Johnson vs. NE (44%)

— Terry McLaurin at DET (43%)

— Gabe Davis vs. TEN (42%)

— Christian Kirk vs. IND (41%)

— Michael Thomas vs. TB (41%)

— Tyler Lockett at SF (38%)

— DK Metcalf at SF (37%)

— Amari Cooper vs. NYJ (35%)

— Drake London at LA (35%)

— Darnell Mooney at GB (32%)

— Julio Jones at NO (32%)

— Elijah Moore at CLE (31%)

— DeVonta Smith vs. MIN (31%)

— Chase Claypool vs. NE (31%)

numberFire’s projection model is still pretty high on CeeDee Lamb despite his quarterback downgrade. Lamb ran a route on 97.8% of the Cowboys’ offensive drop backs and played on 96.9% of their snaps in the opener. That led to 11 targets — but just two catches for 29 yards. Lamb, then, accounted for just 3.9 half-PPR fantasy points yet had an expected output of 14.7, via my model. That’s the largest underperformance of any flex player in Week 1, so perhaps a bounce-back is in order in Week 2.

Jerry Jeudy’s workload in Week 1 compared favorably to Courtland Sutton’s. They each had seven targets and two downfield targets, and Jeudy even out-targeted Sutton two to one in the red zone. However, the seven targets work out to just a 17.1% target share, a fairly worrisome tally in what was a pass-heavy script for Denver.

Although that shouldn’t matter too much this week in a game where the Denver Broncos project to score 27.5 points, sub-20% target shares for Sutton and Jeudy would be far from ideal all season.

Michael Thomas returned to fantasy football prominence in Week 1. Thomas scored twice, yes, but also garnered eight targets (a 25.0% target share) and two red zone targets while seeing a healthy 11.0-yard average depth of target.

Let’s check in on DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Metcalf caught all seven targets last week for just 36 yards, and his average depth of target was only 4.6 yards downfield. Even with a 25.9% target share, he posted an expected fantasy point output of 9.4 points. Lockett saw four targets of his own with a below-receiver-average depth of target of 7.7, on average. They’re just borderline top-24 plays in the simulations, but remain integral pieces to the Seattle Seahawks’ offense based on their route rates. Just don’t anticipate huge games if the usage stays so close to the line of scrimmage.

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

Rashod Bateman vs. MIA (29%); Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. LAC (29%); JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. LAC (27%); Hunter Renfrow vs. ARI (27%); Adam Thielen at PHI (26%); Allen Robinson vs. ATL (26%); Robert Woods at BUF (25%); Robbie Anderson at NYG (24%); Tyler Boyd at DAL (24%); Marvin Jones vs. IND (22%); D.J. Chark vs. WSH (22%); Donovan Peoples-Jones vs. NYJ (21%); Michael Gallup vs. CIN (21%); Allen Lazard vs. CHI (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 vs. LAC (86%)

— Mark Andrews vs. MIA (72%)

— Darren Waller vs. ARI (58%)

— Kyle Pitts at LA (54%)

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

— Dallas Goedert vs. MIN (47%)

— Zach Ertz at LV (44%)

— T.J. Hockenson vs. WSH (40%)

— Irv Smith Jr. at PHI (40%)

— Tyler Higbee vs. ATL (38%)

— Dalton Schultz vs. CIN (37%)

— Pat Freiermuth vs. NE (37%)

— Robert Tonyan vs. CHI (35%)

— Gerald Everett at KC (35%)

— Dawson Knox vs. TEN (34%)

— Mike Gesicki at BAL (33%)

— Logan Thomas at DET (32%)

During draft season, Dallas Goedert was part of the second tier at tight end before a tier drop, so he didn’t exactly have top-five expectations. That being said, we should feel a little uneasy about his role in Week 1. Yes, Goedert ran 84.8% of the Philadelphia Eagles’ pass routes, but he generated only four targets for 6.6 air yards. That’s not his average depth of target; that’s total air yards. A 13.8% target share in a run-heavy offense can work if there’s some downfield leverage involved, yet it doesn’t help that red zone usage was concentrated on A.J. Brown and Kenneth Gainwell. Start Goedert but watch for how his role progresses.

Tight end is pretty wide open this week, as we saw very little in the way of convincing roles overall at the position during Week 1.

Given that, we should be open to Tyler Higbee, whose 26.8% target share ranked second best at the position in Week 1 despite weak production on those 11 targets (five catches for 39 yards). Speaking of a second-best rate, Higbee’s 93.9% snap rate trailed only Dalton Schultz’s 100.0% in Week 1 among all tight ends.

Another noteworthy target total belonged to Pat Freiermuth, who had 10 targets in a long overtime game. That still equated to a 27.0% target share. That was the highest target share of any tight end in Week 1. His air yards share (24.1%) trailed only Travis Kelce (31.1%), Kyle Pitts (30.6%) and Mark Andrews (26.9%). That’s great company.

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

Noah Fant at SF (30%); Hunter Henry at PIT (27%); Albert Okwuegbunam vs. HOU (27%); Cole Kmet at GB (26%); Evan Engram vs. IND (26%); Mo Alie-Cox at JAC (23%); Adam Trautman vs. TB (22%); Austin Hooper at BUF (21%); George Kittle vs. SEA (19%); Hayden Hurst at DAL (19%); Brevin Jordan at DEN (19%); Jonnu Smith at PIT (17%); Tyler Conklin at CLE (17%); David Njoku vs. NYJ (17%).

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