FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 16

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The start-or-sit dilemma is part of managing a fantasy football team.

Having the foresight to start the wide receiver who goes for 100 yards and a touchdown in a matchup while sitting a receiver against a shutdown cornerback is one of the keys to victory.

For this version of a start-or-sit, I’m going to be listing all relevant fantasy football players each week and placing them into tiers.

And to take some of the guesswork out of it, I’ll be leveraging thousands of slate simulations that are based in 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.

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 start-able).

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.


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

— Justin Herbert at HOU (62%)

Dak Prescott vs. WSH (57%)

— Aaron Rodgers vs. CLE (57%)

Matthew Stafford at MIN (57%)

— Kyler Murray vs. IND (57%)

Patrick Mahomes vs. PIT (57%)

— Josh Allen at NE (53%)

Jalen Hurts vs. NYG (52%)

Tom Brady at CAR (52%)

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

Russell Wilson vs. CHI (49%)

— Joe Burrow vs. BAL (44%)

Kirk Cousins vs. LA (38%)

— Justin Fields at SEA (37%)

With all teams in play this week (and the rest of the season), streamers are less needed than usual. That’s why we have nine quarterbacks in Tier 1.

But if we need streamers, a small tier stands out above the rest.

Russell Wilson struggled in Week 15 without Tyler Lockett and against a solid pass defense. The Chicago Bears are weaker in the pass defense department, and Lockett is trending toward playing. The sims still like him at a near-coin flip to finish as a top-12 performer in Week 16.

Though Joe Burrow’s cold streak is also long, there are reasons to like him for a bounce-back against the Baltimore Ravens, who rank 23rd in adjusted pass defense, via numberFire’s metrics. Burrow has played five opponents who rank in the bottom 12 in adjusted pass defense and in pressure rate (the Ravens fit). In those games, he has averaged 20.5 fantasy points, 300.2 passing yards, and 2.6 passing touchdowns. He’s been matchup-dependent this season, and the matchup is right for him in Week 16.

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

Cam Newton vs. TB (34%); Carson Wentz at ARI (34%); Ryan Tannehill vs. SF (34%); Trevor Lawrence at NYJ (34%); Derek Carr vs. DEN (33%); Matt Ryan vs. DET (32%); Jimmy Garoppolo at TEN (32%); Zach Wilson vs. JAC (31%); Taylor Heinicke at DAL (31%); Tua Tagovailoa at NO (31%); Mac Jones vs. BUF (28%); Ben Roethlisberger at KC (23%); Baker Mayfield at GB (22%); Davis Mills vs. LAC (20%); Jared Goff at ATL (19%); Drew Lock at LV (18%); Jake Fromm at PHI (15%); Lamar Jackson at CIN (11%)(asterisk); Tyler Huntley at CIN (06%)(asterisk).


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 ARI (79%)

— Najee Harris at KC (72%)

— James Robinson at NYJ (68%)

— Austin Ekeler at HOU (68%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson vs. DET (68%)

— Nick Chubb at GB (65%)

— Alvin Kamara vs. MIA (68%)

— D’Andre Swift at ATL (65%)

— Joe Mixon vs. BAL (63%)

— Josh Jacobs vs. DEN (63%)

— David Montgomery 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.

— James Conner vs. IND (58%)

— Ezekiel Elliott vs. WSH (57%)

— Saquon Barkley at PHI (58%)

— Antonio Gibson at DAL (59%)

— Aaron Jones vs. CLE (57%)

— Miles Sanders vs. NYG (58%)

— Javonte Williams at LV (52%)

— Ronald Jones at CAR (50%)

— Melvin Gordon at LV (51%)

— Jeff Wilson at TEN (47%)

— Tony Pollard vs. WSH (43%)

— Darrell Henderson at MIN (45%)

— Michael Carter vs. JAC (45%)

— Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. PIT (43%)

— Devin Singletary at NE (43%)

— A.J. Dillon vs. CLE (40%)

— Rhamondre Stevenson vs. BUF (40%)

We saw James Conner’s usage slip in Week 15 with Chase Edmonds back and in a negative game script. He out-snapped Edmonds 31 to 29 (or 42.5% to 39.7%), but handled just eight carries and two targets while seeing fewer red zone carries (one) than Edmonds (two). He’s still a low-end RB2 option with touchdown odds, but he’s not the same guy he has been in recent weeks.

I’d assume Ronald Jones’ projection ticks up throughout the week. He is set for a big workload, and when he had a good role last season, he was great. In seven games during which Jones played at least 50.0% of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ snaps, Jones averaged 16.9 half-PPR points on 18.0 carries, 3.4 targets, and 115.3 yards per game.

Devin Singletary’s role has been quite defined lately. In his past two games, he has had an 82.7% and a 92.3% snap rate while averaging 13.0 carries, 4.0 targets, and 92.5 yards per game with a strong 55.6% red zone rushing share. The New England Patriots are tougher against the pass than the run, so we could see a high baseline workload for Singletary in Week 16.

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

Devonta Freeman at CIN (39%); Rex Burkhead vs. LAC (38%); Chuba Hubbard vs. TB (30%); D’Onta Foreman vs. SF (31%); Sony Michel at MIN (30%); Myles Gaskin at NO (27%); Darrel Williams vs. PIT (30%); Mike Davis vs. DET (29%); Rashaad Penny vs. CHI (27%); David Johnson vs. LAC (25%); Brandon Bolden vs. BUF (25%); Chase Edmonds vs. IND (25%); Duke Johnson at NO (25%).


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

— Cooper Kupp at MIN (87%)

— Davante Adams vs. CLE (78%)

— Deebo Samuel at TEN (76%)

— Tyreek Hill vs. PIT (65%)

— Justin Jefferson vs. LAR (66%)

— Tyler Lockett vs. CHI (57%)

— Keenan Allen at HOU (59%)

— Ja’Marr Chase vs. BAL (55%)

— A.J. Brown vs. SF (57%)

— Diontae Johnson at KC (56%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. at ARI (52%)

— Stefon Diggs at NE (52%)

— CeeDee Lamb vs. WSH (54%)

— Tee Higgins vs. BAL (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.

— D.K. Metcalf vs. CHI (47%)

— D.J. Moore vs. TB (44%)

— Marquise Brown at CIN (43%)

— Antonio Brown at CAR (42%)

— Mike Williams at HOU (40%)

— Terry McLaurin at DAL (41%)

— Jaylen Waddle at NO (42%)

— Brandin Cooks vs. LAC (37%)

— Elijah Moore vs. JAC (39%)

— DeVonta Smith vs. NYG (36%)

— Jarvis Landry at GB (39%)

— Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. CLE (32%)

— Russell Gage vs. DET (37%)

— Odell Beckham at MIN (34%)

— Kenny Golladay at PHI (33%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown at ATL (38%)

— Christian Kirk vs. IND (36%)

— Amari Cooper vs. WSH (35%)

If you have Antonio Brown stashed or were able to add him after waivers cleared this week, you’re pretty set. Brown has played just five games this season and has had a 20.3% target share even while never clearing a 64.0% snap rate. If he keeps the same low-snap, high-target-per-route role, he’s a great play. If his role improves without Chris Godwin and possibly Mike Evans, he’s a fantastic play.

Mike Williams’ role is trending up. In eight games from Week 4 through 12, Williams just once surpassed a 20.0% target share. In his past three games, he has had single-game target market shares of 20.0%, 20.0%, and 24.3%. The Houston Texans rank 24th in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to opposing wide receivers.

I’ve been tracking the usage for Amon-Ra St. Brown for a while, and it’s been worth it. St. Brown’s single-game target shares since Week 13 have been 31.6%, 32.4%, and 42.3%. In that stretch, his overall target share (34.7%) ranks fifth best among all players, trailing just Justin Jefferson (41.5%), Cooper Kupp (39.6%), Michael Pittman (38.2%), and George Kittle (36.3%).

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

Chase Claypool at KC (32%); Hunter Renfrow vs. DEN (39%); DeVante Parker at NO (30%); Jakobi Meyers vs. BUF (29%); Darnell Mooney at SEA (29%); Michael Gallup vs. WSH (28%); Donovan Peoples-Jones at GB (28%); Van Jefferson at MIN (27%); Marvin Jones at NYJ (28%); Brandon Aiyuk at TEN (29%); Robby Anderson vs. TB (23%); Breshad Perriman at CAR (20%); Nelson Agholor vs. BUF (20%); Laviska Shenault at NYJ (25%); A.J. Green vs. IND (21%); Allen Robinson at SEA (22%); Jerry Jeudy at LV (24%); Tyler Boyd vs. BAL (20%).


Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Five for the week.

— Travis Kelce vs. PIT (72%)

— George Kittle at TEN (71%)

— Mark Andrews at CIN (64%)

— Rob Gronkowski at CAR (59%)

— Kyle Pitts vs. DET (56%)

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

— Dallas Goedert vs. NYG (45%)

— Zach Ertz vs. IND (44%)

— Darren Waller vs. DEN (40%)

— Mike Gesicki at NO (39%)

— Dalton Schultz vs. WSH (35%)

— Tyler Higbee at MIN (34%)

— Jared Cook at HOU (31%)

— Evan Engram at PHI (31%)

— Dawson Knox at NE (30%)

I mentioned high-end target shares over the past three weeks, and a player above 30.0% at tight end (again, along with George Kittle at 36.3%) is Dallas Goedert at 31.3% (in two games). That’s led to 7.5 targets per game even in a low-volume passing offense.

In four games without DeAndre Hopkins since Zach Ertz joined the team, Ertz is tied with Christian Kirk for a team-best 21.1% target share (7.8 targets per game). Ertz has a team-best 29.4% red zone target share and half of the end zone targets.

Mike Gesicki is third on the list at tight end in recent target share with a 28.8% target share and a slight underperformance. His catch rate over expectation is minus 4.7%, and he has had 7.5 half-PPR points per game despite an expected output of 12.3, per my model. Keep playing Gesicki, even in a tough spot, if you need him.

Since returning in Week 10, Dawson Knox has a viable 16.6% target share and a 21.6% red zone share. With Cole Beasley on the COVID-19 list, Knox could see more low aDOT targets go his way.

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

Foster Moreau vs. DEN (28%); Noah Fant at LV (28%); Hunter Henry vs. BUF (27%); Tyler Conklin vs. LA (26%); Austin Hooper at GB (25%); Cole Kmet at SEA (24%); Jonnu Smith vs. BUF (23%); Ricky Seals-Jones at DAL (22%); C.J. Uzomah vs. BAL (21%); Gerald Everett vs. CHI (21%); James O’Shaughnessy at NYJ (20%).