With another week of NFL action behind us, and another week of fresh data to analyze and consider, I’m here to help you with some of your toughest fantasy football start/sit decisions.
If you’re ever stuck between a few players, please feel free to reach out to me on twitter (@ScottBarrettDFB) early in the week, and I’ll try to do my best to fit them into that week’s column. Here were some of your most frequently mentioned players for Week 7:
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Baltimore) – McKinnon’s usage last week has since cured me of my initial pessimism. Since Dalvin Cook’s Week 4 injury, McKinnon leads Latavius Murray in snaps (91 to 55), carries (32 to 27), targets (12 to 3), and carries inside the 10-yard line (2 to 1). Over this stretch, he ranks sixth among all players in fantasy points and second among running backs in PFF grade. Baltimore’s run defense gets a significant boost with DT Brandon Williams returning, but McKinnon still makes for an easy start.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (vs. LA Rams in London) – Peterson looked fantastic for his new team, earning our fifth-highest rushing grade of the week, and totaling 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Look for Arizona to lean heavy on Peterson this week, rather than the pass, against a Rams defense ranking 11th-best in opposing passer rating (84.1), but sixth-worst in yards per carry allowed (4.72). Really the matchup couldn’t be any better for Peterson, as Los Angeles is allowing the most rushing fantasy points per game (19.2) to opposing running backs.
James White, RB, New England Patriots (vs. Atlanta) – White feels like a somewhat sneaky, but certainly strong play against the Falcons this week. He’s seen 28 targets over the past three weeks, which ranks sixth-most among all players. This week he gets set to face an Atlanta defense that has allowed a league-leading 14.4 receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs – and that’s not even including White’s 16-target, 43-fantasy-point, near-MVP-winning performance against them in the Super Bowl.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins (vs. NY Jets) – Prior to Parker’s Week 5 injury, he ranked eighth among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game, 14th in actual fantasy points per game, eighth in targets per game, and second in air yards per game. Given that kind of immense volume, if he plays this week, you’re starting him. Jarvis Landry is a mid-range WR2 if Parker plays, and gets a significant bump if he does not.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Baltimore) – Prior to his Week 5 injury, Diggs was our highest-graded wide receiver and led the position in fantasy points per game. I understand he has a history of underperforming when injured in the past, but I can’t ever recommend benching that kind of upside if he’s active on Sunday. Adam Thielen is a mid-range WR2 if Diggs plays, and gets a bump if he does not.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos (@ LA Chargers) – Anderson must be one of the more frustrating players to own for fantasy, totaling three games with at least 20 carries and two games under 10. Last week he saw just nine carries and was out-targeted by Jamaal Charles three to zero. Still, you have little option but to start him this week against a Los Angeles Chargers defense ranking second-worst in yards per carry allowed (5.19) and allowing the third-most rushing fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans (@ Cleveland) – 21 percent of Mariota’s career fantasy production has come on the ground. This ranks fourth-most among all 32 quarterbacks to attempt at least 600 passes since 2015. A nagging hamstring injury likely robs Mariota of some of his upside, but he is still a very strong start against a “funnel defense” in the Browns, who rank third-best in yards per carry allowed (3.09) and last in opposing passer rating (111.0). By two different opponent-adjusted metrics, Cleveland is easily the best defense to stream quarterbacks against.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills (vs. Tampa Bay) – If you still have that link open from the previous blurb, the Buccaneers are also either our second- or fourth-best defense to stream quarterbacks against. Tampa Bay is also a funnel defense in their own right, ranking fourth-worst in opposing passer rating (104.0) and 10th-best in yards per carry allowed (3.70).
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (vs. Dallas) – Kittle has totaled 17.4 and 17.0 expected fantasy points over the past two weeks, ranking 10th-most among all players over this stretch. During this span, he’s seen 17 targets, two deep targets, four of his team’s six targets inside the 5-yard line, and two of his team’s four end-zone targets. He is also, arguably, bolstered by the team’s move to replace Brian Hoyer with rookie C.J. Beathard. Beathard and Kittle played together for four years in Iowa, and Kittle accounted for 10 of Beathard’s 34 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Baltimore) – Rudolph has served a much more valuable role for fantasy following Dalvin Cook’s injury and the team’s shift to pass-catching threat Jerick McKinnon as the team’s primary back. Over the past two weeks he’s averaged 9.0 targets per game, 33.0 routes run per game, and has blocked on only 8.3 percent of his passing snaps. Prior to Cook’s injury, he averaged only 3.8 targets per game, 25.5 routes run per game, and blocked on 20.3 percent of his passing snaps. He draws a Baltimore defense allowing the second-most fantasy points over their expectation.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets (@ Miami) – Seferian-Jenkins ranks third among tight ends in expected fantasy points per game (12.4), third in targets per game (7.0), first in targets inside the 10-yard line per game (1.0), and fifth in actual fantasy points per game (12.3). He draws a soft matchup this week against a Miami Dolphins defense allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends over their expectation.
Bennie Fowler, WR, Denver Broncos (@ LA Chargers) – Emmanuel Sanders is out for Week 7, and leaves behind 8.4 targets per game in his wake. He played on just 62 percent of the team’s snaps last week before suffering a sprained ankle. Fowler and Demaryius Thomas capitalized on his absence, recording season-highs in targets with eight and 14, respectively. Thomas draws a tough matchup this week, in shadow coverage against Casey Hayward. Fowler, meanwhile, has a much softer draw, running 77.4 percent of his routes from the slot, where the Chargers are allowing 16.3 fantasy points per game (third-most).
Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins (vs. NY Jets) – Ajayi totals 51 carries and six targets over his last two weeks. Miami is favored by 3.5-points at home, and coincidentally Ajayi has averaged 3.5 fantasy points per game more at home over the past two seasons. The Jets are allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, despite including Ajayi’s 11-carry dud against them in Week 3, when dealing with a knee injury.
Oakland wide receivers (vs. Kansas City) – If you want to bench Amari Cooper because he’s averaging fewer receiving yards per game than names like Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Hall, Deonte Thompson, T.J. Jones, Seth Roberts, and Danny Woodhead, that’s fine – and I’d agree with you. However, you should not be benching him (and especially not Michael Crabtree) based on a concern that Marcus Peters might shadow. Peters never shadows, and neither wide receiver is projected to run more than 35 percent of their routes against Peters. I have Crabtree as a low-end WR1 and Cooper as a high-end WR3 this week.
Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers (@ Chicago) – Funchess ranks eighth among all players in targets (35) since Greg Olsen’s Week 2 injury. He disappointed last week in a soft matchup, but draws an equally attractive matchup this week. Chicago is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers lined up to their quarterback’s right (13.7), which is where Funchess runs the plurality (46 percent) of his routes.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Washington) – Jeffery ranks 16th among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game, but has severely disappointed, ranking just 35th in actual fantasy points per game. Much of this is due to brutal cornerback schedule to start the year – Jeffery leads the league with 68 percent of his routes lined up against cornerbacks who graded out among our top-30 a season ago. Luckily for Jeffery, he has a much softer matchup this week against a Washington defense likely without shutdown cornerback Josh Norman.
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins (@ Philadelphia) – Teams are passing on Philadelphia 71 percent of the time, which leads the league. However, teams are also passing on Washington 64 percent of the time, which ranks second-most. In the second-highest game total of the week, with clear shootout potential, this could be the week where Bust-Of-The-Year-Candidate Pryor gets back on track. The Eagles are allowing the most fantasy points per game to wide receivers lined up to their quarterback’s left (19.8, 3.5 more than next-closest), which is where Pryor runs the plurality of his routes (44 percent). If Pryor disappoints this week, he becomes borderline droppable.
Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints (@ Green Bay) – Snead has an attractive matchup against a Green Bay defense surrendering the 10th-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers out of the slot. Unfortunately, his usage last week was too concerning to keep him in contention this week. Three New Orleans wide receivers played on more snaps and saw more targets than Snead last week. I’m going to wait until he reclaims a full-time role before I consider starting him again.
Dion Lewis, RB, New England Patriots (vs. Atlanta) – Lewis is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and ranks third-best in PFF Elusive Rating (among all 52 running backs with at least 30 carries). He was our single-highest-graded running back last week. He led all New England running backs in carries and snaps, while Mike Gillislee sat on the bench following a fumble. I get what you’re thinking, and Lewis makes a great waiver wire pickup or stash-and-hold, but he’s too risky of a play for me to start this week.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys (@ San Francisco) – Opposing tight ends are scoring 5.4 fantasy points per game fewer than their expectation against San Francisco, which ranks best in the league for any defense. Safety Jaquiski Tartt primarily covers the tight end for the 49ers, and ranks fourth-best at the position in coverage. After the 49ers shut down Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, and Jordan Reed, I’m not optimistic for Witten.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders (vs. Kansas City) – Lynch ranks 26th in carries per game and 53rd in targets per game. He averages just 38.5 total yards and 0.25 touchdowns over his previous four games. He’s at home against a Chiefs defense allowing the sixth-most rushing fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Despite the matchup, the volume just isn’t there to make him anything more than a RB3.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (vs. Jacksonville) – Hilton unforgivably saw just four targets in a two-score loss to the Titans last week. This highlights a serious issue with Hilton, who ranks 32nd among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game. He’s just not seeing a lot of targets, nor especially valuable targets. Things look worse for Hilton this week, in shadow coverage against our third-highest-graded cornerback, Jalen Ramsey. On 35 targets this year, against some of the league’s best wide receivers, Ramsey has allowed just 15 catches for 178 yards and no touchdowns, while intercepting two passes.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cincinnati) – Over the past four weeks, JuJu Smith-Schuster has played on 35 more snaps and has recorded 50 more receiving yards than Bryant. This week, he’s up against a Bengals defense allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. Bryant is our 16th-worst-graded wide receiver this year, and I don’t think the “squeaky wheel narrative” qualifies for wide receivers who ask to be traded.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders (vs. Kansas City) – Carr did not look right returning from injury last week, totaling 171 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions on 30 attempts against the Chargers. In six career games against the Chiefs, Carr has never topped 13.3 fantasy points or a passer rating of 81.1. He’s an easy avoid for me this week.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams (vs. Arizona) – Don’t start wide receivers expected to be shadowed by Patrick Peterson. Especially don’t start wide receivers expected to be shadowed by Patrick Peterson when they have just 28 total yards over their prior three games.