Fantasy Football Start/Sit: Week 15 (2020)
Nobody is going to throw a perfect game when it comes to making fantasy football lineup decisions. Not all managers who started Giovani Bernard or sat Miles Sanders last week (…. oops) will get a chance at redemption in Week 15.
But sometimes the good moves we make offset the bad. Other times, we just get lucky when the opposing team also leaves dozens of points on the bench. Whatever the case, you must have something to play for if driving down this neck of the woods. Whether it’s the semifinals or an inconsequential consolation matchup, let’s put aside past chaos and make the soundest lineup calls possible.
The Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) cited below were taken on Tuesday evening and apply to half-PPR formats.
Start: Justin Herbert (LAC) at LV: QB9 ECR
Saying you have to start Herbert will often not apply. Since most managers scooped him off the waiver wire in re-draft leagues, some may roster another marquee passer. Those who can play anyone else in the ECR’s top 10 can sit the struggling rookie, who has registered a putrid 5.2 yards per pass attempt in his last three games. He’s finished those contests as the week’s QB14, QB30, and QB17, respectively, after previously boasting a top-11 performance in each of his previous eight matchups. Herbert remains seventh in fantasy points per game at the position– a fraction of a point above Lamar Jackson — despite the Week 13 dud against New England, so forgive him if the alternative is scouring the waiver wire. He threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns when last facing the Raiders, who rank 25th in passing defense.
Start: Jared Goff (LAR) vs. NYJ: QB15 ECR
Some will worry that the Rams — fresh off giving Cam Akers 29 carries in Week 14 — will stay on the ground all day as a heavy home favorite against their 0-13 adversary. That fear hasn’t materialized for the Jets’ past opponents; each opposing quarterback has placed QB8 or higher since the start of Week 8. The NFL’s worst team has surrendered the second-most passing yards and fantasy points to quarterbacks. They’ve served up 17 passing touchdowns (and two Cam Newton rushing touchdowns) over their last six games. Staying home in sunny California rather than traveling to the east coast in December cements Goff’s opportunity to have a massive showcase.
Sit: Jalen Hurts (PHI) at ARI: QB13 ECR
Maybe I’m just a Cautious Carl, but I’m not thrilled about using Hurts in his second career NFL start in a must-win fantasy playoff matchup. The Cardinals rate 11th in passing defense and 14th in opposing fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, so you’re mostly hoping the newcomer replicates the 106 rushing yards from his debut. Philip Rivers is a safer streamer in single-quarterback leagues while Goff is more likely to reach a week-winning ceiling.
Sit: Baker Mayfield (CLE) at NYG: QB23 ECR
The experts either turned in their rankings early Monday or aren’t buying into Mayfield’s late-season resurgence. The QB26 through 11 weeks is now second only to Aaron Rodgers in fantasy points over the last three weeks. He hadn’t reached 300 passing yards all season before doing so twice in consecutive contests. Managers can ride that hot hand when he stays in the Meadowlands to oppose the Jets in Week 16, but the Giants are a far tougher opponent. Big Blue’s defense has taken massive strides throughout the season, allowing an average of 19.75 points in eight games since losing 34-31 to Dak Prescott’s Cowboys. Only four squads have permitted fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks, leaving Mayfield in QB2 territory despite his sizzling form.
Start: J.K. Dobbins (BAL) vs. JAC: RB15 ECR
This isn’t entirely Dobbins’ backfield, but let’s not get too greedy. The rookie has notched 77 touches in his last six games — drawing double-digit carries all but once — after mustering just 36 in the first six. In Monday night’s shootout victory over Cleveland, he led the way with 37 snaps and crossed the end zone for the third straight game. His Ravens are 13.5-point favorites against the Jaguars, who rank 30th against the run. With Mark Ingram seemingly fazed out of the offense altogether, this is another spot where Dobbins and Gus Edwards could both delight investors.
Start: Kareem Hunt (CLE) at NYG: RB24 ECR
Along with their stingy passing defense, the Giants have also relinquished just 3.9 yards per carry. Yet according to NFL.com, no team has seen more opposing targets to running backs (107). That bodes well for Hunt, who finally snapped out a funk to record 77 of his 110 yards and one of two Monday Night Football touchdowns as a receiver. He has accumulated 75 touches in five games since Nick Chubb’s returns, so Hunt maintains plenty of flex appeal as Cleveland’s supplementary back.
Start: Jeffrey Wilson Jr. (SF) at DAL: RB27 ECR
Recommending Giovani Bernard just because he was facing the Cowboys didn’t work last week. Yet Kyle Shanahan’s rushing offense is far more potent. Averaging 5.0 yards per carry, Raheem Mostert is his most talented runner with matchup-shattering upside if he can play. However, the oft-injured starter is once again uncertain to play after undergoing an MRI on his ankle Monday. If he’s ruled out, Wilson is a must-start against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. When last playing without Mostert, Wilson ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns before leaving in the third quarter. He’s still a reasonable flex option even if Mostert is also active.
Sit: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) at NO: RB22 ECR
Anyone who sat Miles Sanders against the Saints is probably boycotting this article, so managers could similarly rue the day they bench Edwards-Helaire against the same opponent. Although people will shout on Twitter without actually reading the analysis anyway, note that this is not a call to bench the rookie at all costs. It’s likely many managers won’t have two or three better options at running back. He’s just not a slam-dunk start, as there’s a clear path to him falling well short of expectations. The Saints still rank second against the run despite allowing their first 100-yard rushers since 2017 in Sanders (on the strength of an 80-yard touchdown run) and Hurts. When facing the only superior rushing defense, CEH produced 37 yards on 11 carries against Tampa Bay. Kansas City has abandoned the run before, and the first-round pick has just 2.9 yards per rush in his last five games. You could bench him for any of the running backs above (if Mostert sits).
Sit: Devin Singletary (BUF) at DEN: RB29 ECR
Buffalo punished Zack Moss after he fumbled in Week 13, leading to an 85% snap rate and 21 touches for Singletary. The next week, Moss played more snaps (44) than Singletary (30) while amassing 13 touches to his teammate’s eight. It’s one thing when two running backs are splitting duties with defined roles, but this backfield distribution changes on a whim every game. Don’t trust either of them until seeing more consistent usage.
Sit: Todd Gurley (ATL) vs. TB: RB33 ECR
The decision at least carried some risk last week. Now, even the most forgiving managers have no other choice. Gurley now has 80 total yards in his last three games combined, playing just 34.6 of Atlanta’s offensive snaps. Ito Smith has handled as many or more rushes in each of those contests. Gurley isn’t playable against Tampa Bay’s NFL-best rushing defense. He wouldn’t even muster any confidence in a highly favorable matchup, so feel free to drop him altogether.
Start: T.Y. Hilton (IND) vs. HOU: WR23 ECR
Hilton had 327 receiving yards and no touchdowns through Week 11 before exploding for 277 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games. Isn’t fantasy football fun? A pariah for three months is now emerging as a league-winner; don’t let sour grapes over his maddening start rob you of the better-late-than-never rewards. He just burned these same Texans for a season-high 110 receiving yards on eight catches in Week 13 while leading the Colts in targets each of the last two games. He has 1,647 yards and 11 touchdowns in 17 career meetings against the AFC South foe.
Start: JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) at CIN: WR26 ECR
This spot could have feasibly gone to any of Pittsburgh’s top-three wide-receiver. The ECR has Diontae Johnson (WR24), Smith-Schuster (WR26), and Chase Claypool (WR27) jammed together, as playable, but not top-shelf options following a subpar stretch. They last truly clicked back in Week 10, when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 333 passing yards and four touchdowns — two to Claypool, and one each to Johnson and Smith-Schuster — against the Bengals. While Smith-Schuster has endured a few blunders this season, he’s averaging 9.1 targets and 57.6 receiving yards over his last eight games. Johnson is usually the safest option because of his high target share when healthy, but his recent drop woes could give JuJu the safest Week 15 outlook of this trio.
Start: Marquise Brown (BAL) vs. JAC: WR37 ECR
Brown still comes with more than enough risk to eschew in shallow 10-team leagues. In plenty of other formats, however, the upside and matchup merit the gamble. While it hasn’t been pretty because of drops and misconnections, the second-year wideout has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games. After generating just 17 targets in four November games, he already has 22 in three bouts this month. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, only Terry McLaurin accounts for a higher percentage of his team’s air yards than Brown (41.1%). That could lead to a massive payday against a Jaguars defense capitulating an NFL-high 8.2 yards per pass attempt.
Sit: D.J. Chark Jr. (JAC) at BAL: WR33 ECR
Once again, I’ll risk missing a huge game to avoid yet another letdown from one of this year’s biggest busts. Chark has exceeded eight half-PPR fantasy points in one of his last eight games. Despite drawing nine targets in an appetizing Week 14 matchup against the Titans, he finished with 16 yards on two catches. Jacksonville’s revolving door of mediocre quarterbacks is killing his fantasy worth. Making matters worse, he’ll likely line up often against Jimmy Smith this Sunday. Per Pro Football Focus, the Ravens cornerback has gotten targeted on just 9% of routes.
Sit: Antonio Brown (TB) at ATL: WR35 ECR
Thirteen targets in Week 11 created hope, but Brown has caught seven of just eight targets for 60 yards in the past two games. He’s the WR68 since debuting for Tampa Bay in Week 9. Only the Vikings and Cowboys have allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers than the Falcons, so this could be the week Brown breaks out alongside Tom Brady. Someone is going to have a big game for the Buccaneers, but that wheel has yet to land on Brown. Marquise is the better Brown to bet on as a risky WR3.
Sit: CeeDee Lamb (DAL) vs. SF: WR38 ECR
Lamb has finished five of eight weeks without Dak Prescott as the WR50 or worse. That’s especially troublesome when paired with a low ceiling; 71 yards represents his single-game high post Prescott. It’s not a worthwhile swing against San Francisco’s fifth-ranked passing defense.
Start: Rob Gronkowski (TB) at ATL: TE6 ECR
The Falcons rank 30th in passing defense and have given up nine touchdowns to tight ends this season. Given the state of this position, that’s enough to keep Gronkowski in the lineup even after garnering just two yards (a touchdown) in Week 14. His floor is as low as can be, but the former WWE champion also went off for 106 yards in Week 12.
Start: Evan Engram (NYG) vs. CLE: TE10 ECR
Engram has been endlessly infuriating this season. He’s only once posted top-12 finishes at his grim position in back-to-back weeks. But despite the trials and tribulations, his 88 targets tie T.J. Hockenson for third among tight ends. Kudos to managers who roster another attractive option such as Robert Tonyan or Eric Ebron, but good luck finding anyone better on the waiver wire. It helps that the Browns have allowed 5.7 receptions per game to tight ends, per NFL.com.
Sit: Dalton Schultz (DAL) vs. SF: TE15 ECR
Schultz’s targets over the last six games follow a clean, but unflattering pattern: 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. He has one touchdown over that stretch while averaging just 38 yards per game. Further damaging his Week 15 stock, he’ll face a 49ers defense that has ceded the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. They held Logan Thomas to 43 yards despite receiving seven targets a week after delivering the best performance of his career.
Sit: Jordan Akins (HOU) at IND: TE18
Akins eventually actually has to catch one of those potential touchdowns to earn our trust. Even in a barren Texans offense, he has 30 yards over a three-week span that’s seen three end-zone miscues. Factor in the Colts permitting just 5.6 fantasy points per game to tight ends, and desperate gamers are better off rolling the dice on Cole Kmet (TE17 ECR) or Tyler Higbee (TE19).
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