Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 8 (2020)
The Revenge Game narrative takes center stage in Week 8’s Start/Sit dilemmas.
By pure coincidence, three of the players discussed below are clashing with a former team this Sunday. That could draw more fantasy managers to those big-name veterans who dominated at those old stomping grounds. Favorable matchups provide even more motivation to take a trip down memory lane in hopes of reliving their glory days.
In one instance, it’s not a bad idea. Two others, meanwhile, could lead to disappointment unless expectations are significantly tempered. Let’s take a look at some difficult Week 8 lineup decisions. The following Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR), updated as of Tuesday evening, are for half-PPR formats.
Start: Carson Wentz (PHI) vs. DAL: QB5 ECR
The experts have Wentz pegged not only as a start, but a top-flight option under center. That’s certainly aggressive for a quarterback missing his starting running back, two of his top receivers, and his two premier tight ends. He also might play without star tackle Lane Johnson, who sprained his MCL in his Week 7 return. Wentz also has 10 interceptions and ranks 30th in completion rate (58.6%) among all qualified quarterbacks.
Wait, come back! Despite all of these impediments, Wentz is the QB7 this season, posting at least 22 fantasy points in four of his last five games with 19 in the outlier. It may not be pretty, but he’s getting the job done by attempting 39.7 passes per game and scoring five rushing touchdowns in 2020. Of course, facing the Cowboys helps his Week 8 outlook as well. While Dallas is far more vulnerable against the run, Boston Scott isn’t built to carry the ball 20-plus times in place of Miles Sanders. Despite his depleted supporting cast, Wentz is a top-10 play for Sunday night. Just don’t follow the ECR to a tee and play him over Lamar Jackson (QB7 ECR) or Josh Allen (QB8 ECR).
Start: Joe Burrow (CIN) vs. TEN: QB12 ECR
Burrow hasn’t finished as a top-12 quarterback outside of two shootouts against Cleveland. However, he’s reached 300 passing yards five times and leads the NFL in both passing attempts (293) and completions (193). The opposing Titans rank 26th in passing defense while allowing 25.5 points per contest despite their 5-1 record. Vegas expects another high-scoring affair at Tennessee; this bout currently matches Green Bay-Minnesota for Week 8’s highest consensus over-under line (54.5).
Sit: Matthew Stafford (DET) vs. IND: QB15 ECR
Stafford keeps falling short of expectations in golden opportunities. Each of Detroit’s last three opponents is now among the bottom six of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. He averaged a passable 18 fantasy points in that span, which isn’t as impressive during a season in which 20 signal-caller have at least 19 points per game. Stafford would have finished outside the week’s top-20 QBs for the second straight week if Todd Gurley didn’t accidentally score a touchdown. Following the least fruitful fantasy output any passer has offered against Atlanta all season, Stafford goes from facing the NFL’s second-worst passing defense to the second-best in Indianapolis. You’re better off streaming Teddy Bridgewater (vs. ATL) or Derek Carr (at CLE).
Sit: Baker Mayfield (CLE) vs. LV: QB19 ECR
Riding high off a five-touchdown explosion, Mayfield now faces a Raiders defense that has tied the Chargers for the third-most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks per game. Before Week 7’s stellar outing, however, the former No. 1 pick had not finished a week at QB15 or higher, placing QB20 or worse all but once. He started last Sunday’s clash with his seventh interception of the season, prompting Twitter to flood with regrettable calls to bench Mayfield for Case Keenum. And although it certainly didn’t hamper him against the Bengals, losing Odell Beckham Jr. for the season doesn’t help his long-term prognosis.
Start: Darrell Henderson (LAR) at MIA: RB18 ECR
The last time I told you to start Henderson, Sean McVay made him magically disappear. Even at the risk of getting burned again, the talented running back has since stayed on the field and earned back our trust as an RB2. Henderson’s snap rate has risen (43%, 53%, 56%) in each of the last three weeks, and that’s despite briefly leaving Monday night’s game with an injury. Outside of that disappointing Week 4 against the Giants, he’s received at least 14 touches (and registered at least 68 yards) in every other game since Week 2. It was reassuring — for both his health and role — to see Henderson re-enter the game to run out the clock against the Bears. He’ll now face a Miami defense yielding 5.0 yards per carry.
Start: Melvin Gordon (DEN) vs. LAC: RB20 ECR
Gordon could have the backfield largely to himself against his former squad. Philip Lindsay is in the league’s concussion protocol, putting his Week 8 availability in peril. In three full games without Lindsay, Gordon totaled 240 yards and three touchdowns on 60 touches. Since Lindsay left Week 7’s blowout loss early, Gordon contributed 80 yards and a touchdown despite coughing up two fumbles. The former Chargers running back suffered his only unproductive outing against a tremendous Tampa Bay rushing defense. He’s a higher-grade RB2 if Lindsay sits, but still a strong flex play if sharing reps.
Start: Jerick McKinnon (SF) at SEA: RB27 ECR
When encouraging managers to bench McKinnon last week, I had no idea Kyle Shanahan was planning to do the same. McKinnon played just 12 snaps, only entering the game after Jeff Wilson Jr. got hurt on his third touchdown. Even with Raheem Mostert out, the 49ers had planned to rest McKinnon, who didn’t play at all in 2018 or 2019.
Assuming there are no murmurs of more load management during the week, McKinnon could now be in a position to explode in a pivotal NFC West showdown at Seattle. Wilson joins Mostert on the IR, so the pass-catching dynamo should at least share backfield reps with JaMycal Hasty (or a potentially returning Tevin Coleman). When playing without Mostert in Weeks 3 and 4, McKinnon collected 174 total yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries and 10 catches. Any game involving the Seahawks (first in total offense, last in defense) promises points, and Chase Edmonds just presented McKinnon a blueprint to success when catching seven balls for 87 yards last Sunday night.
Sit: D’Andre Swift (DET) vs. IND: RB17 ECR
Even when touting Swift as a “Start” last week, I cautioned that it’s “not a permanent stamp of approval.” He made good on a cushy matchup against Atlanta because of a touchdown, but none of the warning signs vanished. A modest 45% snap rate represented a season-high for the Detroit neophyte, who posted just 48 total yards on 13 touches. He ran for 116 yards against the Jaguars, but has tallied 69 rushing yards in all other games combined. Swift is unlikely to do much on the ground against the NFL’s third-ranked running defense, and he’s not positioned to contribute significantly as a receiver either. Unlike the Falcons, the Colts have ceded just 27 catches for 178 yards to running backs in six games.
Sit: Le’Veon Bell (KC) vs. NYJ: RB23 ECR
I get it. This is the ultimate Revenge Game following an ugly breakup with Adam Gase’s Jets, and Bell’s Chiefs are demonstrative favorites at home. There could be enough opportunities for both Bell and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, so Andy Reid might let his new acquisition pay back his old squad in a lopsided second half. But how confident can fantasy gamers be in that outcome? Despite making his team debut in a 43-17 rout over Denver, Bell received just six carries on 17 snaps. Despite the high-reward potential, the former fantasy phenom is still a risky play who will likely need a touchdown to satisfy backers. Don’t let a juicy narrative trick you into sitting a stable option for Bell.
Sit: Joshua Kelley (LAC) vs. DEN: RB28 ECR
Seventeen touches should be plenty against the Jaguars, but Kelley produced just 53 yards. The rookie has done little since Austin Ekeler went down, delivering 100 total yards in the last three games. Furthermore, he hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 1. Neither Kelley nor Justin Jackson is anything more than a flex play while sharing responsibilities. That’s especially the case against the Broncos, who have contained opposing running backs to the second-fewest fantasy points per game.
Start: Brandon Aiyuk (SF) at SEA: WR23 ECR
Even at full strength, Aiyuk would merit consideration against a Seattle defense siphoning an unseemly 368.7 passing yards per game. With Deebo Samuel now expected to miss this game due to an ankle injury, starting the rookie is an easier call. Aiyuk exploded for 70 receiving yards, 31 rushing yards, and a score on eight touches (five catches, three carries) when Samuel was last sidelined in Week 3. Last week, Aiyuk manufactured 115 receiving yards and 73.4% of San Francisco’s targeted air yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He’ll now get plenty of opportunities to burn the NFL’s worst passing defense downfield.
Start: Diontae Johnson (PIT) at BAL: WR24 ECR
Health is the only thing that can stop Johnson. Injuries cut both his Weeks 3 and 5 games short. He also injured his ankle in Week 7, but not until catching nine of 15 targets for 80 yards and a touchdown. In three relatively complete games, Johnson has 23 receptions for 229 yards and three touchdowns. He’s seen double-digit targets every time.
While their reputation remains in check, the Ravens have already permitted strong showings to Terry McLaurin, Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, and Travis Fulgham this season. When on the field, Johnson is Ben Roethlisberger‘s premier wide receiver. Just be sure to confirm his availability before locking Johnson into your starting lineup.
Start: A.J. Green (CIN) vs. TEN: WR31 ECR
Last week, I advised readers to make Green prove his Week 6 restoration. He did just that, posting 82 yards on seven catches. After collecting 14 receptions and 119 yards through Week 5, he has 15 catches for 178 yards in the last two games. Green has also received a massive 24 targets in those pair of bouts. Burrow is airing it out enough to support three viable fantasy receivers. Even if Green now places third on the Bengals’ pass-catching hierarchy behind Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, he jumps back into WR3 territory for a savory matchup with the Titans.
Sit: CeeDee Lamb (DAL) at PHI: WR27 ECR
Lamb had blossomed into a weekly must-start alongside Dak Prescott. Even in a full game with Andy Dalton, the rookie snagged seven of 11 targets for 64 yards in Week 6. Last Sunday, however, he suffered a goose-egg in an embarrassing 25-3 loss to Washington. Andy Dalton suffered a concussion on a late hit, so he’s unlikely to suit up this Sunday night. Despite Lamb’s commendable start to a promising career, it’s tough to trust anyone catching passes from Ben DiNucci.
Sit: Darius Slayton (NYG) vs. TB: WR29 ECR
Sterling Shepard‘s return didn’t bode well for Slayton, who settled for a season-low 23 receiving yards. He’s caught just two of four targets in consecutive games, and that tame involvement may not elevate against a shutdown cornerback. Pro Football Focus gives Jamel Dean the highest grade (91.3) at his position. The second-year pro has allowed a 58% catch rate and .2 fantasy point per route run. Based on Slayton’s 6.9 targets and 35.7 routes run per contest, that would yield four catches and 7.14 fantasy points. He’ll need one big play to exceed expectations against Dean, but Daniel Jones will likely have better luck finding Shepard or Golden Tate from the slot.
Sit: DeVante Parker (MIA) vs. LAR: WR33 ECR
Parker was far from a set-and-forget option in tandem with Ryan Fitzpatrick, so let’s not gamble on any instant rapport with Tua Tagovailoa. Making this an easier choice, the Rams have relinquished the second-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers. No opposing wideout has exceeded 70 receiving yards since Week 3.
Start: Rob Gronkowski (TB) at NYG: TE6 ECR
Since he was a frequent resident of the “Sit” section early in the season, it’s only fair to acknowledge Gronkowski’s rejuvenation. In addition to finding the end zone in back-to-back games, he also caught five of eight targets each time. Through Week 5, the unretired veteran was averaging 2.4 catches on four targets per contest. He also received two red-zone targets apiece in Weeks 6 and 7 after previously drawing two all year. Gronkowski worked off the rust just as O.J. Howard went down with a season-ending injury, and Tom Brady has even more incentive to seek out his long-time safety valve now that Chris Godwin (finger) won’t be available Monday night.
Start: Jonnu Smith (TEN) at CIN: TE7 ECR
Now is not the time to bail on Smith, who submitted just one reception in each of his last two games. The Titans limited his snaps in Week 6 after injuring his ankle the previous week. While his playing time resurfaced last Sunday, he simply had a dud against a stingy Steelers defense. His fortunes should change against the Bengals, as only the Falcons have permitted more fantasy points to tight ends. In Cincinnati’s last three weeks, Mark Andrews, Trey Burton, and Harrison Bryant have respectively finished as the TE3, TE3, and TE1. This should be a major bounce-back spot for Smith, who trailed only George Kittle (by 0.1 point) in fantasy points per game among tight ends through Week 5.
Sit: Robert Tonyan (GB) vs. MIN: TE11 ECR
In four games with Davante Adams in Green Bay’s lineup, Tonyan has a combined seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. His two monster performances came when not vying with the star wideout for Aaron Rodgers‘ attention. Tonyan also blossomed against the Falcons and Saints, who have respectively relinquished the most and second-most (tied with the Bengals) fantasy points to tight ends. While his undeniable upside makes him worth the risk over a placeholder TE2 like Jimmy Graham or Eric Ebron, Tonyan needs to get involved alongside Adams before locking him in as a top-12 choice.
Sit: Jimmy Graham (CHI) vs. NO: TE16 ECR
Facing his former squad could pay dividends for Graham, as the Saints have surrendered 12.6 fantasy points per game to tight ends. However, you’re ultimately just crossing your fingers for a touchdown. Despite drawing a healthy six targets per game, Graham has yet to record more than six fantasy points in a game without reaching pay dirt. He’s been boringly consistent lately, hovering between 30-35 receiving yards in each of his last four contests. The matchup merely elevates Graham to the higher range of the touchdown-dependent TE2 scale.
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