Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 9 (2020)
The injuries keep multiplying. Four teams have a Week 9 bye, and plenty of healthy players on teams participating this weekend simply haven’t gotten the job done. As the fantasy postseason rapidly creeps into view, managers will need to make some tough decisions.
Can waiver-wire adds immediately be trusted in starting lineups? How about the early-round picks suddenly receiving fewer opportunities? A hectic season likely won’t get much calmer, but let’s try to pinpoint some players to deploy and others to demote to the bench.
As usual, the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR), taken as of Tuesday night, apply to half-PPR leagues. These are also early calls; a lot can change by Sunday.
Start: Justin Herbert (LAC) vs. LV: QB9 ECR
At this rate, Herbert might already be a set-and-forget starter. The rookie has offered at least 23 fantasy points in five of his six career starts, registering 303.3 passing yards and nearly three touchdowns per contest. Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray — fittingly ranked No. 1 – 3 in this week’s ECR — are the only active signal-callers posting more fantasy points per game. Herbert gets another smash spot against the Raiders, who have relinquished the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. It might seem crazy, but a disappointed Lamar Jackson (QB7 ECR at IND) investor could bench the reigning MVP for Herbert this week
Start: Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. DEN: QB12 ECR
In the six games when he’s had a healthy Julio Jones, Ryan is averaging 333 passing yards and 22.5 fantasy points. The two games without Jones were among his four against defenses in the top 12 of fantasy points ceded to quarterbacks. The Broncos have permitted the 10th-most. While Ryan has Jones back, all eyes are now on his other star receiver. The 2016 MVP could round out the week’s top-10 quarterback plays if also has Calvin Ridley at his disposal. If a foot injury keeps Ridley sidelined, Ryan is still on the precipice of low-end QB1 territory in a favorable matchup.
Sit: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) at DAL: QB10 ECR
Even in a seemingly spectacular matchup, Roethlisberger doesn’t inspire much confidence. Averaging just 232.6 passing yards per game, he’s yet to finish a single week higher than QB11. Despite moving the ball efficiently for the undefeated Steelers, he’s not taking the deep shots necessary for fantasy stardom. And for all of their defensive foibles, the Cowboys now rank eighth against the pass and 17th in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Expect a busy day for James Conner and another 15-20 fantasy points from Big Ben. He’s a playable floor option, but not a must-start on the road.
Sit: Cam Newton (NE) at NYJ: QB16 ECR
Newton coughed up the game-clinching fumble in a tough Week 8 loss for the Patriots, but he satisfied fantasy backers with 54 rushing yards and a score. While quarterbacks who can run are often a fantasy cheat code, it’s nice when they also pass a little. Newton has attempted just 60 throws in three games since returning from the COVID-19 list, accumulating a putrid 429 yards through the air with five picks. He only eclipsed 175 passing yards when plastering 397 on Seattle’s NFL-worst aerial defense.
You’re going to be let down without a rushing touchdown, and even then you’re likely just hoping he replicates last week’s QB12 finish. The Jets could certainly cure his woes, but New England is more likely to grind out an ugly 16-6 victory than decimate them with passing fireworks like Patrick Mahomes.
Start: Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) vs. PIT: RB11 ECR
Antsy managers can’t be blamed for thinking about benching Elliott. Since Dallas lost Dak Prescott, the star running back has finished the ensuing three games RB28, RB40, and RB32, totaling 204 yards and no touchdowns. And don’t forget about the five fumbles he’s lost this season. Even after getting gashed by Baltimore, Pittsburgh still ranks fifth against the run. Also, the Cowboys are 13.5-point home underdogs with Andy Dalton officially ruled out.
Jeez, sitting Elliott is actually fairly defensible. This timid writer, however, can’t advise it. He’s received 20 touches in all but one game and at least one red-zone opportunity in every bout. Downgrade him to RB2 territory, but you’d have to be stacked at running back to make Elliott ride the pine.
Start: David Montgomery (CHI) at TEN: RB16 ECR
Ranked as this week’s 16th running back, Montgomery has only once finished above that mark (RB7 in Week 7) this season. Last Sunday’s 89 rushing yards marked a season-high for the second-year back, so his managers have often been left wanting more. There’s nevertheless too much volume to drop him beyond RB2 territory. Since losing Tarik Cohen for the season, Montgomery is averaging 14.8 carries and 4.2 catches per game. He’s received at least five targets in each of those contests, further elevating his floor despite depositing just two touchdowns this season. That limited end-zone production could soon change; he’s handled 14 red-zone carries over Chicago’s last three games. The Titans, who rank 25th in total defense prior to hosting the Bears, permitted two touchdowns to Giovani Bernard and another to Samaje Perine last week.
Start: JaMycal Hasty (SF) vs. GB: RB21 ECR
No team has served up more fantasy points to running backs than the Packers. The position has produced 14 touchdowns against them in seven games. Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Tevin Coleman are all out Thursday, and San Francisco won’t have much of a passing offense with Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle also inactive. This could be the perfect opportunity for Jerick McKinnon to swing some matchups — particularly in PPR leagues — from the flex spot. Hasty, however, is a safer play likely to assume the bulk of the 49ers’ rushing workload. He won’t match Mostert’s 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns from last season’s NFC Championship Game, but Hasty could easily eclipse last Sunday’s 12 carries and find the end zone for the second straight game.
Sit: J.K. Dobbins (BAL) at IND: RB15 ECR
Injuries and bye weeks make running back a brutal beat this week. Based on his ECR and the alternatives, many managers will have to swing for the fences with Dobbins. With Mark Ingram nursing an ankle injury in Week 8, the second-year back had his best showing of the season, pounding a stellar Pittsburgh defense for 113 yards on 13 carries. In order for lightning to strike once more, he’d once again need to produce against a top-shelf run prevention unit while splitting touches with Gus Edwards. Dobbins is a solid flex play or low-end RB2, but far from a sure thing after bookending two disappointing months with one big game.
Sit: Ronald Jones (TB) vs. NO: RB25 ECR
Shakes first at TV … Arians! Remember when Jones exceeded 100 rushing yards in three consecutive games? That was fun. Then Leonard Fournette came back, and Tampa Bay somehow reverted back to a timeshare. An early fumble Monday night (his first of the season) led Jones to play just 17 snaps to Fournette’s 51. Including Jones as a “Sit” means he’ll almost certainly get 20 carries this week, only to get benched for tying his shoe halfheartedly during next week’s practice. But it’s still not worth the risk against the Saints’ third-ranked rushing defense.
Sit: Jonathan Taylor (IND) vs. BAL: RB26 ECR
Much like Tampa Bay, Indianapolis has a suddenly murky backfield to avoid in a difficult matchup. Only the Buccaneers have bestowed fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Ravens, who have yielded just two rushing touchdowns to the position all season. It’d be one thing to trust one bell-cow anyway, but the Colts embarked on a three-man mix last week. Taylor logged a season-low 34% snap rate. Wilkins, meanwhile, seized 20 carries after getting 29 all year prior to Week 8. In a change-of-pace role, Nyheim Hines also caught a pair of touchdowns.
Expected to ride a wave to instant stardom after Marlon Mack tore his ACL, Taylor has instead averaged 3.8 yards per carry. He’s broken two tackles all year while toting a troublingly low 44% success rate. Colts head coach Frank Reich expressed a desire to keep all three running backs involved, so stay away from the trio in Week 9.
Start: JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) at DAL: WR24 ECR
Sit Roethlisberger, but start Smith-Schuster? The energetic wideout has suffered from his quarterback’s more conservative style, recording a 5.6-yard average depth of target. At least he’s getting targeted again. Targeted just 24 times through Week 5, Smith-Schuster has seen 22 throws his way over his last two games. Per Pro Football Focus, he and Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis have each spent 82% of their plays in the slot. Its matchup chart gives the Steelers receiver a 21% advantage, one of Week 9’s most notable edges. Even as a volume-based WR3, Smith-Schuster has worked his way back into the starter’s mix.
Start: Jerry Jeudy (DEN) at ATL: WR30 ECR
Don’t judge Jeudy based on two lackluster performances in Weeks 6 and 7. He faced two upper-echelon passing defenses in New England and Kansas City (played through a snowstorm) with a rusty Drew Lock, who had missed three weeks with a shoulder injury. Jeudy got back on track by converting 10 targets into 73 yards during last Sunday’s comeback win over the Chargers. That marked the fifth time the rookie reached at least 55 yards. He should best that benchmark against Atlanta’s 31st-rated pass defense, making him an intriguing WR3.
Start: Cole Beasley (BUF) vs. SEA: WR33 ECR
Think how high Beasley would rank if facing Seattle after Week 7’s outburst instead of Week 8’s dud. Buffalo’s slot receiver went from his best performance of the season (11 catches, 112 yards) to his worst (two catches, 24 yards), shattering a sturdy floor that finally gave him a home in most fantasy leagues. Before Week 8, his lowest PPR output was 9.8 points in Week 1. He should rise back to that level and beyond against a defense hemorrhaging 358.7 passing yards per game.
Josh Allen attempted only 18 passes in windy conditions to beat the Patriots last Sunday, but he’ll need to ramp up the offense to keep pace with Russell Wilson. Beasley should bounce back in what’s currently forecasted to be Week 9’s highest-scoring affair.
Sit: Amari Cooper (DAL) vs. PIT: WR23 ECR
Hold your nose and start Elliott, but don’t bother with any other Cowboys. Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Dallas is expected to start either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush in place of Ben DiNucci, who was filling in for Andy Dalton, who replaced Dak Prescott. A bonafide WR1 with Prescott, Cooper compiled five yards on as many targets in Sunday night’s 23-9 loss to Philadelphia. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of a fourth-string quarterback if you have a half-decent alternative.
Sit: Antonio Brown (TB) vs. NO: WR32 ECR
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bruce Arians wouldn’t commit to giving Brown significant activity in his team debut:
Bucs’ HC Bruce Arians on Antonio Brown’s role Sunday night vs. Saints: “He’ll have his role – it could be 10 plays [or] it could be 35 plays. I wouldn’t anticipate 60 plays, for sure, but we’ll just see how it goes.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 3, 2020
That’s coach-speak from a coach who’s misled us often, but the fact remains that Brown has played just one game since the start of 2019. His immediate value would get even dicier if Chris Godwin returns sooner than anticipated from finger surgery. Per Schefter, he has a “50-50” chance to play against the Saints. Temper immediate expectations and take a wait-and-see approach on Brown, unless needing a home-run option as an underdog.
Sit: Christian Kirk (ARI) vs. MIA: WR36 ECR
Prior to Arizona’s Week 8 bye, Kirk recorded two touchdowns in back-to-back bouts against Dallas and Seattle. It’s a great sign given his discouraging start, but the wideout still has a subpar 18 catches and 32 targets in seven games. He remains a high-risk, high-reward WR3/4 play in another solid matchup versus Miami.
Start: T.J. Hockenson (DET) at MIN: TE6 ECR
Hockenson is quietly inching into the top tier of tight ends, or at least the 1A grouping behind Travis Kelce. He’s fourth in fantasy scoring in standard, PPR, and half-PPR scoring, and the game lost one of its standard-bearers in George Kittle. A touchdown-or-bust option as a rookie, Hockenson has found paydirt or collected over 50 yards in every game this season. Although he snapped a three-game touchdown streak last Sunday, he still caught seven of 10 targets for 65 yards against a Colts defense that’s allowed just 3.2 fantasy points per game to tight ends. That performance helps cement Hockenson as a trustworthy TE1, especially with Kenny Golladay sitting against Minnesota’s 30th-ranked passing defense.
Start: Noah Fant (DEN) at ATL: TE9 ECR
Fant has been far from fantastic of late, amassing 166 yards without a single touchdown since the start of Week 3. Don’t lose hope, as he’s still seen 43 targets in six games. Kelce and Darren Waller are the only healthy tight ends getting more looks on a weekly basis. Furthermore, his end-zone drought could end against the Falcons, who have forfeited an NFL-high eight receiving touchdowns to the position.
Sit: Trey Burton (IND) vs. BAL: TE16 ECR
Is a tight end really going to score a rushing touchdown in three straight games? Burton has emerged as a popular waiver-wire add after scoring three times (twice on the ground) in his last two contests. He still has a pedestrian 14 catches for 116 yards in four games while playing roughly half of Indianapolis’ offensive snaps. Burton is a respectable fill-in for managers scrambling to replace Kittle, but Eric Ebron (TE15 at DAL) makes a better streamer.
Sit: Mike Gesicki (MIA) at ARI: TE11 ECR
After getting held to a donut in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s last start, Gesicki settled for just eight yards in Tua Tagovailoa’s debut. He’s sprouted some tantalizing upside on occasion, posting 130 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 and 91 yards in Week 5. Unfortunately, he’s combined for just 68 yards on six catches in the other five bouts. The floor is too low to bank on him suddenly developing chemistry with his new quarterback.
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