Start 'Em or Sit 'Em
By Isuf Gega
Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is our weekly look into the NFL match-ups and how they will affect your starting lineups. Starting guys like Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Christian McCaffrey are easy decisions and that is not the reason you are reading this article. For the most part, these are borderline starting players you are considering placing in your lineups due to injury, poor play, bye week, etc.
Quarterbacks Start ‘Em
Ben Roethlisberger started off with a very shaky week 1 against the Giants, but was significantly better as the game went on. This was Big Ben’s first game back from his 2019 season ending elbow injury and he completed 21-of-32 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. This week he plays a banged up Broncos defense who is without star pass rusher Von Miller (ankle) and likely cornerback A.J. Bouye (shoulder). Big Ben has also been much better at home than on the road. Over the last 8 full games he played at Heinz Field, Big Ben has been averaging over 20 fantasy points per game. He has the potential to finish as a top 10 quarterback this week.
Tom Brady finished last week with 239 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, good enough for 20.5 fantasy points. The Saints were a tough matchup for Brady as they typically are for most quarterbacks. This may be due to the Saints returning most of their starters on defense from last year. This week Brady plays the Panthers who are decimated on defense after losing 7 starters in the offseason including start linebacker Luke Kuechly. Their top cornerback, Donte Jackson, also suffered an injury week 1. With Mike Evans back to full health, expect Brady to put up QB1 numbers this week.
Philip Rivers had himself a solid game week 1 against the Jaguars, finishing with 363 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. This week he plays the Vikings who’s defense looked horrible in week 1. The Vikings are playing without stud pass rusher Danielle Hunter as well as without 5 of last year’s starters on defense. The Colts offensive line should be able to protect Rivers and provide him ample time in the pocket. My expectation for Rivers is a high-end QB2 finish.
Quarterbacks Sit ‘Em
Carson Wentz was sacked 8 times, fumbled twice (lost one) against Washington last week while also throwing 2 interceptions. Wentz did all of that against an average Washington defense and this week he plays the Rams whose defense is much better. Aaron Donald and that defensive line brought pressure to Dak Prescott all game last week even though that Dallas offensive line is considered to be one of the best in the league. The Rams now face an offensive line that has had multiple injuries to their starters. Besides that, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey will give Wentz nightmares when throwing the ball outside. I have Wentz as a low end QB2 this week.
Drew Lock will undoubtedly have great fantasy value going forward, but not this week. Courtland Sutton is expected to play against the Steelers this week after missing week 1 with a shoulder injury, though he certainly will not be 100% ready. This Steelers defense is legit. In the last 11 games, no quarterback has scored more than 18 fantasy points against this defense. If you are playing the streaming game at QB, this is the week to pivot from Drew Lock and look elsewhere.
Teddy Bridgewater finished with 270 yards and a touchdown in last week's game, good enough for 19.4 fantasy points. However, most of Bridgewater’s points came from a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson. This week he plays the Buccaneers who held Drew Brees to just 160 passing yards. This Bucs defense is significantly better than the Raiders and I expect Bridgewater to have low-end QB2 numbers this week.
Running Backs Start ‘Em
David Montgomery looked very good against the Lions week one with 13 carries for 64 yards and 1 reception for 10 yards. Now he gets to play the Giants who gave up 113 yard to a backup running back in Benny Snell week 1. Montgomery was coming off a groin injury to start week 1 but will be fully healthy going into this week. While Tarik Cohen is a good running back, he is mostly considered to be a pass catching back and will not vulture away Montgomery’s goal-line opportunities. I have Montgomery as a mid-end RB2 this week.
Ronald Jones looked fast and explosive week 1 against the Saints where he totaled 82 yards from 17 carries and 2 receptions. Jones played 33 snaps compared to 9 for Leonard Fournette. Most importantly though, Jones got two carries inside the 10-yard line while Fournette did not get any. This week he plays the Panthers who may have the worst run defense in the NFL. Josh Jacobs torched them last week for 139 total yards and 3 touchdowns. In a game where the Buccaneers are heavy favorites (8.5), expect them to be in a positive game script. Jones should be considered as a RB2 with RB1 upside.
Nyheim Hines had himself a week 1 most people did not expect. Everyone was excited for Jonathan Taylor but it was Hines who stole the show. He finished with 8 receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown as well as 7 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers kept Hines involved all game long. I expect Taylor and Hines to be similar to Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler of last year except Taylor and Hines have a much better offensive line. I foresee Hines finishing as a RB3 with a solid floor this week.
Running Backs Sit ‘Em
Melvin Gordon had himself a great game week 1 with 86 total yards and a touchdown for 14 fantasy points. He looked good throughout but was most productive when Phillip Lindsay went out with an injury. This week he plays the Steelers who completely shut down the Giants run game last week. Saquon Barkley, arguably the best running back in the league, only had 6 yards on 15 carries. Gordon is going to be playing on the road on a short week against one of the best defenses in the league. Benching Melvin Gordon is going to be difficult, but expectations should be lowered on what he can do. I have Gordon as a RB3 this week.
James Robinson was the only running back in week 1 to have 100% of his team’s running back carries. He finished the day with 90 total yards and a reception. While Robinson played well in his first NFL game, the Jaguars ran the fewest plays in the NFL with 47. Robinson will be facing a better defense in Tennessee than he saw last week, which means the Jaguars might be playing from behind. Chris Thompson being the pass catching back also hurts Robinson. I expect him to finish as a RB4 with limited upside.
Sony Michel led the Patriots running backs in carries with 10 last week. He had 37 rushing yards and a touchdown to go along with it. While Sony scored 9 fantasy points, he is not to be trusted in your lineups. The Patriots involved multiple running backs and Cam Newton had 15 carries and 2 touchdowns. Sony may have the goal line work locked down, but Cam Newton will surely vulture some away. The entire Patriots backfield should be under a wait and see approach until we see more. Fade Sony this week and consider him as a low-end RB4.
Wide Receivers Start ‘Em
Diontae Johnson saw a team high 10 targets week one and caught 6 of them for 57 yards. He also had a 31% target share. This week he will face the Broncos defense and the expectation is for star cornerback A.J. Bouye to sit out due to a separated shoulder suffered in week 1. The Broncos secondary allowed Corey Davis 101 yards and 7 receptions. Diontae Johnson is much better than Corey Davis and I expect him to finish as a high end WR3 with incredible upside.
T.Y. Hilton had a subpar game against the Jaguars last week. He had a team high 9 targets but finished with only 4 receptions for 53 yards due to two drops in the fourth quarter. The high target count suggests that Rivers is comfortable throwing to Hilton especially when it matters most. Hilton plays the Vikings this week that just got cooked by the Packers. All three of the Packers starting wide receivers scored touchdowns last week and I can see this as a big week for T.Y. and the entire Colts team. Hilton will be a high end WR3 with a safe floor this week.
Michael Gallup had three catches last week for 50 yards against the Rams. It would have been closer to 100 receiving yards for the game if not for a very questionable offensive pass interference call. This week the Cowboys play the Falcons who were torched last week by the Seahawks. This is one of the highest over/under of the week and I am expecting a complete shootout in Dallas. Gallup should be viewed as a high end WR3 with upside.
Wide Receivers Sit ‘Em
Courtland Sutton missed all of week 1 with a shoulder injury he sustained in practice. Sutton has a lot of draft capital as most people drafted him in around the 6th round if not earlier, but this is not the game you start Sutton. Sutton is expected to play this week against the Steelers, but he certainly will not be 100%. Besides that, Sutton does not travel into the slot very often, which means he will be matched up with one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Joe Haden. I am staying away from Sutton this week and would not feel comfortable using him as anything more than a low-end WR3 at best.
Robby Anderson turned 8 targets into 6 receptions, 115 yards and a touchdown last week. Truthfully though, he was less impressive than his stat line suggests. Anderson caught a 75-yard touchdown, which made up for nearly all of his fantasy production. The touchdown was due to the safety undercutting the ball and led to an easy score. The Buccaneers locked Michael Thomas down last week for only 3 receptions and 17 yards before he went down with an injury. I anticipate Robby Anderson being a very boom or bust WR4.
Sammy Watkins has a tendency to show up in games and then disappear for the next few weeks. Do not be fooled by what he did to bottom 10 defenses like the Texans last week. Besides Tyreek Hill, it is nearly impossible to decipher which Chiefs wide receiver will produce in a given week. This week Watkins plays the Chargers who may have the best cornerbacks in the league between Chris Harris Jr., Casey Hayward, and Desmond King. Fade Watkins this week as he is a very risky WR4.
Tight Ends Start ‘Em
Jared Cook should be in everyone’s lineup this week. Cook had a great game last week with 5 receptions for 80 yard. With Michael Thomas expected to be out this week, Brees will lean on the veteran and provide him with more opportunities than before. Cook also has a favorable matchup against the Raiders this week who ranked second last year in touchdowns given up to tight ends. Expect Cook to be a TE1 this week with top 3 potential.
Dallas Goedert was by far the Eagles best player week 1 against Washington. Goedert finished the game with 8 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. While Zack Ertz is the official starter, the Eagles run a lot of 12 personnel (two tight ends). Goedert played 81% of snaps compared to Ertz who played 85%. Both of these tight ends should be started, as the Eagles do not have many other options to throw to. Goedert is a TE1 with upside.
Hayden Hurst turned 5 targets into 3 receptions for 38 yards in last week’s loss to the Seahawks. Even though that is not a good line, Hurst played on 78% of snaps and ran a route on 81% of Matt Ryan’s drop-backs. This week he plays a Cowboys defense who allowed the third most points to tight ends last year and just lost linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone last week. Expect Hurst to be a low end TE1 in one of the highest over/under games of the week.
Tight Ends Sit ‘Em
Rob Gronkowski on paper is the Buccaneers starting tight end, but it did not appear that way week 1 against the Saints. Gronk was out targeted 6 to 3 by O.J. Howard who had his first touchdown with Brady. Gronk has Brady’s trust, but he has not played football in over a year and the last season he played was not a productive one. There are so many mouths to feed in the offense and I predict that Gronk will be the last one to eat.
Jimmy Graham looked every bit his age against the Lions week 1. While he had 25 yards and a touchdown, Graham looked noticeably slower. Graham plays the Giants this week who allowed Eric Ebron just one catch for 18 yards last week. Ebron at this stage in his career is much younger, quicker and faster than Graham. Graham will most likely be covered by safety Jabrill Peppers who plays physical and will not allow Graham to push him around. Peppers has not allowed a touchdown to tight ends since joining the Giants last year. I expect Graham to be a very boom or bust player this week.
Evan Engram has been considered a top 10 tight end ever since his breakout rookie year. Since then, injuries have caused inconsistency and uncertainty even when he is on the field. There were also rumors in the offseason that the Giants were looking to trade him. After last week's game against the Steelers, maybe the rumors were true. Even though Engram was targeted 7 times, he only had two receptions for 9 yards. This week he faces the Bears who allowed just two tight ends over 50 receiving yards last year. Engram has the potential to produce each and every week purely based on targets. But until we see more consistency from him and the Giants offense, he should be sat in your lineups.