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 9:
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ New Orleans) – Martin currently ranks 17th among running backs in expected fantasy points per game (13.2), despite losing four straight games and facing three straight teams who rank top-10 in yards per carry allowed. I expect volume and production to improve this week against a New Orleans defense that ranks seventh-worst in yards per carry allowed (4.48). Of course, gamescript is a concern, as New Orleans is favored by 7.0, but I still have Martin penciled in as a high-end RB2 this week.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (vs. Atlanta) – In Week 3, when Kelvin Benjamin played only seven snaps, McCaffrey saw 11 targets. With Benjamin (19.9 percent target market share) now out of the picture, this could mean even more targets for McCaffrey, who already ranks eighth among all players in target market share and 14th in expected fantasy points per game (16.3). It comes at a great time as well. McCaffrey draws a dream matchup this week against the Atlanta Falcons defense that, over the past two regular seasons (not including James White‘s near-Super-Bowl-MVP-winning performance against them), are allowing the most receiving fantasy points per game (14.6) to opposing running backs. Atlanta is also allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to receivers on short passes and passes behind the line of scrimmage this year (37.0), which is where McCaffrey has scored 90 percent of his fantasy points. (Devin Funchess is also an obvious must-start now with both Benjamin and Greg Olsen out of the picture.)
Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (@ San Francisco) – Despite starting a backup quarterback (which in my experience typically means more carries for the running backs), Arizona is still favored by 2.5 points against San Francisco. Peterson draws probably the best matchup of the week for any player, against a San Francisco defense allowing more fantasy points per game over the past two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott has averaged over this stretch. Arians has also promised more work for Peterson as a pass-catcher, which (though unlikely) would be huge this week, considering San Francisco is allowing the most receiving fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (16.1).
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (@ Jacksonville) – Mixon is a mid-range RB2 for me this week against a Jacksonville defense that funnels production to the run. The Jaguars lead the league in opposing passer rating (61.6), but rank dead-last in yards per carry allowed (5.3). Mixon saw a season-high 62.5 percent of the team’s snaps last week and leads all Cincinnati running backs in touches since Bill Lazor took over as the team’s offensive play-caller, with 81 to Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard’s combined 48.
Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens (@ Tennessee) – Of 41 qualifying running backs, Collins leads the league in yards per carry (6.0), while Javorius Allen ranked a lowly 35th (3.6). Although this has still been a committee approach in recent weeks, Collins has since passed Allen on the depth chart and saw a season-high in carries (18) and receptions (two) last week. Allen may still be the better option in PPR leagues, but I have Collins well ahead, and in the high-end-RB2-range, in half-point-PPR leagues.
Marvin Jones, WR, Detroit Lions (@ Green Bay) – In two games against Green Bay last season, Jones totaled 11 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns, or 31 percent of his total fantasy production last season. Green Bay is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to opposing outside wide receivers this season. What has me most-excited about Jones, however, is recent volume. Looking at every wide receiver’s last two games, Jones leads in – takes a deep breath – yards in the air (394), targets (25), red-zone targets (six), end-zone targets (seven), deep targets (eight), and expected fantasy points (58.2). That is some truly absurd volume. Of course, this is due in part to Golden Tate dealing with an injury and playing on only 59 percent of the team’s snaps in two straight blow-out losses, but still, I can’t in good faith ever recommend benching that kind of volume.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (@ Houston) – Hilton has been a near-colossal bust this season without Andrew Luck as his quarterback. Hilton does have a few things working in his favor this week, however. His coach said on Wednesday, “We’ve got to find ways to get [Hilton] the ball.” (I agree.) The matchup is attractive as well, with Houston allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers and the second-most fantasy points per game to receivers on deep passes. The latter statistic is significant, considering Hilton scored 34 percent of his fantasy points on deep passes last season, which ranked eighth-most.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (@ San Francisco) – If I’m a Fitzgerald owner, I wouldn’t panic too much over losing Carson Palmer. Since 2015, Drew Stanton totals 382 passing yards and two touchdowns. Fitzgerald accounts for 40 percent of those yards and both touchdowns. Fitzgerald also runs 65 percent of his routes from the slot, and the 49ers are likely to get back their starting slot cornerback K’Waun Williams this week, who ranks fourth-worst (of 63-qualifying cornerbacks) in fantasy points allowed per route in coverage.
Golden Tate, WR, Detroit Lions (@ Green Bay) – We already talked up Marvin Jones in this space, but it’s easy to like Tate as well. Green Bay has allowed a league-high eight different wide receivers to reach at least 15 fantasy points against them this year. Though not quite 100 percent healthy, Tate should still reach value given an especially soft matchup. Tate runs 82 percent of his routes from the slot, and will see plenty of Green Bay’s starting slot cornerback Damarious Randall. Although Randall has three straight games with an interception, he still ranks as our 10th-worst-graded cornerback (of 114 qualifying), after ranking seventh-worst last year. In 2016, Randall allowed the most fantasy points per snap (min. 350 snaps) of any cornerback this past decade.
DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins (vs. Oakland) – Before his Week 5 injury, Parker ranked eighth among wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (16.2), 14th in actual fantasy points per game (15.7), eighth in targets per game (9.0), second in air yards per game (139.0), and first in deep targets per game (3.0). The latter two statistics are most important to me this week. Oakland is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to receivers on deep passes (13.1). Parker projects to run 43 percent of his routes lined up against David Amerson and 34 percent of his routes lined up against Sean Smith. Among all 210 defenders targeted at least 15 times this season, Amerson is allowing a 30-plus-yard play on 14.2 percent of his targets (the highest rate in the league) and Smith is allowing a 50-plus-yard play on 12.5 percent of his targets (the highest rate in the league). This is also not just a one-season outlier. Last season, Amerson led all defenders in plays surrendered of 30 or more yards (nine), while Smith ranked second in plays surrendered of at least 40 yards (five). If he’s healthy, with Jay Cutler back under center (and workhorse running back Jay Ajayi now out of the picture), Parker is going to lose his mind Sunday night.
Demaryious Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos (@ Philadelphia) – Disappointed in Thomas’ performance the past two weeks (75 total yards) with Emmanuel Sanders out of the lineup? It feels really weird to say this, but Brock Osweiler might be the medicine Thomas owners have been hoping for. In games they both played, Thomas accounted for 28 percent of Osweiler's targets, 45 percent of his targets inside the 10-yard line, and 60 percent of his end-zone targets. For Sanders, those numbers were only 20 percent, nine percent, and 10 percent, respectively. Under Trevor Siemian, Sanders led in each of these categories. Thomas also has the superior matchup this week. He runs 52 percent of his routes from the left, while Philadelphia is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing left wide receivers.
- A once-stout Giants secondary is now imploding, allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (22.9). Los Angeles’ head coach and offensive play-caller Sean McVay has experience against the Giants, playing them twice last season and helping Kirk Cousins hit 19.3 fantasy points against them in Week 3 of last season (the most fantasy points the Giants surrendered to any quarterback last year). Our No. 3-highest-graded cornerback last season Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played on just 50 percent and 21 percent of the team’s snaps in his last two games. Our No. 8 cornerback last season Janoris Jenkins is suspended for Week 9.
- For McCown, Buffalo is being passed on 65 percent of the time this season, which is the second-highest rate in the league. McCown also ranks seventh among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game over the previous four weeks of the season.
- Brissett, meanwhile, faces a Texans defense ranking sixth-worst in fantasy points per game to quarterbacks over expectation, and (somewhat surprisingly) ranks 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game since Week 3.
- Griffin faces an Indianapolis defense 10th-worst to tight ends against expectation, and Houston has (by far) the highest-implied point total of the week (31.25).
- Since 2015, Brock Osweiler has targeted his tight ends on 26.3 percent of his passes, which is the fifth-highest rate over this stretch and well above league average (19.3 percent). Derby has seen between four and seven targets in each of his last four games and faces a Philadelphia defense allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.
- Higbee gets set to face a Giants defense allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends over the past two seasons.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (@ Jacksonville) – Jacksonville leads the league in opposing passer rating (61.6) and, by a landslide, fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks over expectation. Dalton is averaging just 0.2 fantasy points per game more than C.J. Beathard this season. Yeah, no thanks.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts (@ Houston) – Marlon Mack has out-snapped Gore for the second consecutive week. The team clearly prefers Mack in games the team is likely trailing, due to being the more capable receiver out of the backfield. As 13-point underdogs this week, Gore should remain on your bench.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos (@ Philadelphia) – Much like Gore, Anderson is declining in usage in favor of a younger, superior pass-catcher. Denver beat writer Cecil Lammey recently reported Denver head coach Vance Joseph said “[Devontae] Booker should get more opportunities [moving forward],” with part of his attraction to the team coming as a receiver. Anderson leads in carries over the team’s past three games, but has seen just three targets, while all other Denver running backs total 24. This is especially important this week up against a Philadelphia defense allowing second-fewest rushing fantasy points per game (6.6), but fourth-most receiving fantasy points per game (14.3) to opposing running backs.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Buffalo Bills (@ New York Jets) – Benjamin might not even play this week, and if he does, he’s likely on a snap count playing on an unfamiliar offense. He’s an easy fade for me this week.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Cincinnati) – Westbrook won the Biletnikoff Award in his final season of college. He also ran a 4.34 40-yard-dash at his pro day. This preseason, he totaled 13 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets. His 157.1 passer rating when targeted was 14 percent better than the next-closest wide receiver, while his 6.5 yards per route run average was 38 percent better than the next-closest wide receiver. If he’s a free agent, scoop him up in your leagues, but I wouldn’t start him until we actually see him produce like a starter.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Denver) – We highlighted Jeffery in this space as a must-start option in Week 8, due in part to his cornerback-sensitive nature and recent string of tough matchups coming to an end. For the same reason we started him last week, he’s an easy fade against a Denver defense ranking third-best against expectation versus opposing wide receivers.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams (@ New York Giants) – Watkins has had a brutal cornerback schedule in recent weeks (Seattle, Jacksonville, and Arizona), and I get the appeal this week up against a Giants defense without their star cornerback Janoris Jenkins. That being said, he ranks third among the wide receivers on his team and 67th among all wide receivers in expected fantasy points per game (8.6). Based on that kind of volume, I do not feel comfortable starting him this week.
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions (@ Green Bay) – Ebron is being out-scored 40.3 to 37.0 by fellow Detroit tight end Darren Fells. He’s much closer to being droppable than startable this week against a Green Bay defense that’s been the toughest in the league against opposing tight ends.
Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons (@ Carolina) – Hooper is averaging 3.3 targets per game when Mohamed Sanu has been active and, despite his productive day last week, is an easy fade against a Carolina defense ranking third-best against expectation versus opposing tight ends.
I don’t feel great about it, but if I’m in a jam, I’d start Alfred Morris if desperate. Jerry Jones said Tuesday, “Morris will be the team’s No. 1 running back with Ezekiel Elliott suspended.” He probably means Morris will lead the committee, but I’ll take his word on it for now. I have Morris penciled in as a low-end RB2 this week. This week I’m benching Darren McFadden and, without any clarity on Miami’s backfield, both of Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams. I will also be avoiding, what looks like (for now at least), a low-upside committee backfield in Philadelphia.