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Fitz’s Fantasy Football Rankings, Tiers & Start/Sit Advice (Week 11)

Fitz’s Fantasy Football Rankings, Tiers & Start/Sit Advice (Week 11)

People ask me a lot of start/sit questions. Like, hundreds of questions every week.

Obviously, I’m not batting 1.000 with my advice. This has not been a banner year for me so far in the FantasyPros rankings accuracy contest, so I’ve probably been dispensing a higher percentage of bad advice than usual.

Most of the folks who ask me start/sit questions are cool about it whether or not my advice is helpful. Some people circle back to thank me if my advice was good. Very few circle back to call me out if my advice was faulty — although there are always a few.

Occasionally, I’ll get a start/sit call wrong, and the person who posed the question will message me to let me know that they didn’t listen to my advice and were thus spared from a bad result.

Uh … yay?

This all comes with the territory, of course. I’ll accept the arrow piercings from the people I do wrong, and I don’t need bouquets from the people I do right.

As someone who’s been playing fantasy football since the Barry Sanders era, it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of fantasy punditry and the ever-increasing reliance on advice from people who study fantasy football for a living.

When I first started playing this silly little game, there were few sources of fantasy football content. In the mid-’90s, I would duck out of my office every Tuesday morning and walk to the mini-mart across the street to buy a copy of Pro Football Weekly, which had a fantasy column in addition to the other great NFL content. Little did I know that a few years later, I’d be working at Pro Football Weekly myself, and that the magazine’s fantasy columnist, a gifted writer named Michael Lev, would become a good friend.

Lev’s columns and the handful of other weekly fantasy football columns that existed at the time were less about dispensing advice than about getting the lay of the land and chronicling the changing values of players. I wasn’t drawn to those articles because I wanted help managing my teams; I was drawn to those articles because they further indulged my enjoyment of a beloved hobby.

Drinking wine and reading about wine are very different experiences, but there are a lot of connoisseurs who read Wine Spectator magazine to further enrich the experience of wine collection. Like fantasy analysts, the staffers at Wine Spectator offer advice. I wonder if they ever get angry tweets from people who disagree with their recommendation of a 2014 Meritage that’s too heavy-handed on the black currant notes.

It’s not my place to tell people how to consume fantasy content. If you seek it out for direct advice on how to manage your team, best of luck. I enjoy gathering fantasy football information and consuming a wide variety of opinions, but I want to play the game for myself, just as I do when I play Risk or Monopoly. I don’t seek out advice on whether to attack Kamchatka or erect a hotel on Marvin Gardens.

It’s inevitable that some of the advice I provide will be lousy. My friend Rich Hribar of Sharp Football Analysis has compared fantasy football analysis to meteorology. There will be times when I tell you it’s going to be sunny, and you end up getting soaked by a sudden downpour. All I can do is apologize and offer a towel.

There will be times when I recommend starting a certain receiver, but he ends up putting up poor numbers because (pick one) he drops three passes, his QB has an off day, the defensive backs covering him play brilliantly, the offensive line falls apart, he just broke up with his girlfriend, or he had wisdom teeth pulled two days earlier.

If you want to be mad about getting bad fantasy advice, fine. You are within your rights to go on social media to grouse about how you were misled by a fantasy “analyst.” (Don’t forget to use scare quotes for maximum disrespect.)

When I answer a start/sit question, I’m telling you what I would do if faced with the same dilemma. I often get things wrong when setting my own lineups, so it’s inevitable that I’ll get things wrong when advising you on how to set yours.

I want you and your team to win, and I’ll make an earnest attempt to help. But if I predict blue skies, you might want to pack an umbrella, just in case.

As always, feel free to use these tiered rankings as a tiebreaker for your difficult lineup decisions. Beneath the tiers, I’ll offer a few brief thoughts on some of the borderline start/sit guys and some other interesting cases.

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Fitz’s Fantasy Football Week 10 Tiers & Rankings

QUARTERBACKS

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What a difference a week makes. With Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Matthew Stafford on bye last week, there were seemingly few safe harbors at quarterback. The QB landscape looks much lusher this week. Not only do we get a handful of top passers back from bye, but Dak Prescott and C.J. Stroud are so hot that they’re emitting flames a la NBA Jam, and Kyler Murray looked sharp last week in his long-awaited return from a torn ACL.

Deebo Samuel sustained a shoulder injury in Week 6 after playing just nine snaps and then missed the next two games. In Weeks 6-8, Brock Purdy threw three TD passes and was QB19 in fantasy points per game (14.6) over that stretch. Deebo was back in action last week coming out of San Francisco’s bye, and Purdy lit up the Jaguars in an ultra-efficient performance, completing 19-of-26 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Start Purdy with confidence this week against the Buccaneers and their pass-funnel defense, which is giving up 19.3 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, fifth-most in the league.

What I was most eager to see in Kyler Murray‘s return last week was how much running he’d do on his surgically repaired knee. He ran six times for 33 yards and a touchdown in the cardinals’ 25-23 win over the Falcons. And if there were any doubts about Murray’s mobility post-surgery, check out this cool overhead view of one of Murray’s scrambles last week, courtesy of the Cardinals’ social-media team. It should remove any doubts about whether Murray has lost any of his mobility.

Justin Fields is expected to return from a thumb injury that’s kept him sidelined for four games. Fields’ running ability gives him a high weekly ceiling, but the floor is never entirely safe for a quarterback who’s averaged 169.1 passing yards over 31 career starts. I’m not telling you to bench Fields (and in fact I’ll be starting him in multiple leagues this week), but recognize that he’s far from a sure thing in a road game against a Lions defense that has allowed the 11th-fewest rushing yards to opposing QBs.

Whether or not Justin Jefferson is able to return from a hamstring injury this week — his status was still uncertain of this writing, but he got in a pair of limited practices on Wednesday and Thursday — Josh Dobbs is a viable Week 11 option. Over his last five games (three for the Cardinals, two for the Vikings), Dobbs has averaged 45.2 rushing yards, and he’s had a TD run in each of his last four games.

RUNNING BACKS

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The season-ending injury to Browns QB Deshaun Watson might make some fantasy managers fearful about starting anyone from the Cleveland offense. The Browns also have starting tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin on injured reserve, and Browns-Steelers has an anemic Vegas total of 33 points, suggesting that we aren’t going to see offensive fireworks. But with the Browns playing rookie fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback and starting a pair of backup offensive tackles, it makes sense to do more with your running backs — more carries, more easy throws to your RBs in the flats — rather than letting your rookie QB air it out against a Steelers defense that can generate a fierce pass rush with T.J. Watt and Co. Jerome Ford has logged a 64% snap share in each of his last two games, with 25 and 18 touches in those contests. Expect Ford to be busy this week, with the heavy workload giving him midrange RB2 value.

Since 2021, 65% of the running backs who sustained a concussion in a game have been sidelined the following week. (Hat tip to Dr. Edwin Porras for that bit of data.) There’s a good chance that Ty Chandler is Minnesota’s lead RB when the Vikings take on the Broncos on Sunday. The 5-11, 204-pound Chandler is probably too small to get 20 or more touches and is likely to share some work with Kene Nwangwu and/or Myles Gaskin. But Chandler has big-play speed, and he’ll be facing a flawed Denver run defense that just let speedy Bills RB James Cook run for 109 yards on only 12 carries.

There’s been a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh, with Jaylen Warren replacing Najee Harris as the starting RB. The change might not mean significant changes to the workloads of these two backs, but after putting Warren and Harris next to each other in my rankings for weeks, I now have Warren ranked six spots higher (although they’re both on the same tier). Both are playable this week even though the matchup against the Browns is a daunting one. The Cleveland defense ranks No. 1 in DVOA against the run and has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to RBs. But Pittsburgh’s RBs have been much more productive lately than they were earlier in the season. In Weeks 1-5, Warren was RB26 in fantasy scoring (0.5 PPR), and Harris was RB37. In Weeks 6-10, Warren was RB24 in fantasy scoring and Harris was RB18. Warren is the better Week 11 percentage play, but Harris is playable in a pinch.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh expressed regret this week that Keaton Mitchell didn’t get more than 13 snaps and four touches in the Ravens’ Week 10 loss to the Browns. That would seem to bode well for Mitchell’s usage going forward. It seems unlikely that the Ravens would drastically reduce the snaps of early-down thumper Gus Edwards, but it’s possible that the Ravens marginalize RB Justice Hill in order to get Mitchell more work. Not only did Mitchell have a 32-yard TD run last week, but he nearly had a touchdown on a ball that may have been slightly underthrown by Lamar Jackson but probably should have been caught.

Bears RB Khalil Herbert is expected to return from an ankle/shin injury this week. It’s hard to tell what Chicago’s RB pecking order is going to be vs. the Lions this week. My best guess is that D’Onta Foreman will lead the backfield in touches, with Herbert second and rookie Roschon Johnson bringing up the rear. But with three RBs sharing work in an offense that hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard this season, this is a situation to be avoided — particularly in a bad matchup against a Detroit defense that has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to RBs.

When we last saw the Rams in Week 9 before they went on bye, Darrell Henderson led the backfield with a 59% snap share against the Packers, but Henderson and Royce Freeman each had 12 touches. There’s still one more week before Rams RB Kyren Williams is eligible to come off IR. I have Henderson ranked RB28 this week, Freeman RB36. Neither is a sexy option, but both are tolerable lineup options in a week with four teams on bye. Henderson gets the edge over Freeman because of his pass-catching potential. In three games this season, Henderson has 6-75-0 receiving on seven targets. Freeman doesn’t have a single catch in six games and has drawn just one target.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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Last week in this space, I warned that Tank Dell might not be as safe a fantasy option as he seemed following a 6-114-2 performance against the Buccaneers in Week 9, since his target totals had been somewhat inconsistent all season. Well, C.J. Stroud fed Dell a season-high 14 targets last week, and Dell finished with 6-56-1 in the Texans’ upset victory over the Bengals, so what the hell do you know, Fitzmaurice? The anticipated return of Nico Collins from a calf injury could cut into Dell’s target count, but at this point, the diminutive rookie is a weekly must-start.

When rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson was forced to make his starting debut for the Browns in Week 4 after Deshaun Watson was a late scratch, DTR was 19-of-36 for 121 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions against the Ravens, and Amari Cooper caught 1-of-6 targets for 16 yards. Watson is now out for the year, leaving Thompson-Robinson as the starter once again. I suspect that DTR will fare slightly better with more time to prepare, but Cooper goes from a relatively safe WR2 with Watson as his quarterback to being a dicey WR3.

We haven’t gotten many ceiling games from perennial stalwart Chris Godwin this season. He has just one top-12 positional finish. Godwin is currently WR41 in fantasy points per game (0.5 PPR) among receivers who have played at least four games. But Godwin offers a reasonably sturdy floor, with at least 50 receiving yards in 7-of-9 games this year. I’m slightly optimistic that Godwin’s usage could be enhanced this week against the 49ers and their fierce pass rush. If Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield is forced to get rid of the ball quickly, that could favor Godwin and his 8.7-yard average depth of target rather than Mike Evans and his 14.3-yard aDOT. I’m ranking Godwin as a midrange WR3.

In the five games Diontae Johnson has played this year, George Pickens has averaged 5.8 targets, 4.0 catches and 41.8 yards. Pickens’ weekly fantasy finishes in those five games in half-point PPR scoring: WR51, WR19, WR45, WR103, WR45. Not great, Bob. Despite only one top-40 positional finish in games he’s played with Johnson, I still have Pickens ranked as a top-40 receiver because of his exceptional ball skills and undeniable big-play potential. Just realize that Pickens comes with a wide range of potential outcomes, including a rock-bottom floor.

A favorite draft target for a lot of fantasy managers over the summer, Christian Watson is now being dropped in some leagues. With his lackluster 2023 numbers, it’s easy to forget that Watson scored eight touchdowns over a four-game stretch last season. He’s had only one touchdown in six games this year, and that TD came way back in September. Watson has topped 37 receiving yards in a game only once this year. The production has been undeniably disappointing, but we’re still talking about a 6-foot-4 receiver with sub-4.4 speed who’s demonstrated that he’s capable of being an impact player. Watson also gets a Week 11 matchup against a Chargers defense that’s given up the sixth-most fantasy points and fifth-most receiving yards to wide receivers this season. I’m not telling you to play Watson this week, but I wouldn’t be aghast at having to use him as a WR3 or flex player.

Brandin Cooks detonated last week, turning a season-high 10 targets into a 9-173-1 day. It was the first time since Week 3 that Cooks had seen more than four targets in a game. Can we trust Cooks? Uh … maybe? There’s no guarantee Cooks’ target total against the Panthers in Week 11 will leave his investors satisfied. But I would still feel pretty good about starting a proven veteran receiver who’s playing with a red-hot quarterback. The Cowboys’ offense has gone into full-scale aerial assault mode of late. Dak Prescott has averaged 36.7 pass attempts and 360.7 passing yards over his last three games.

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TIGHT ENDS

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Welcome to must-start status, Trey McBride. The Cardinals’ second-year tight end had already become a viable fantasy option with Josh Dobbs temporarily serving as Arizona’s quarterback. But with Kyler Murray returning to action last week, McBride went ballistic, dropping 8-131-0 on the Cardinals. McBride now gets a juicy matchup against a Texans defense that has given up the third-most fantasy points to TEs.

Evan Engram has been a top-12 fantasy scorer at tight end in 7-of-9 games this season. Mr. Consistency was atypically quiet last week, with 4-12-0 against the 49ers on seven targets. San Francisco has been stingy against tight ends this season, and Engram has another difficult matchup this week against a Tennessee defense that has yielded the second-fewest fantasy points and fourth-fewest receiving yards to TEs. The Titans haven’t given up a TD catch to a tight end this season.

Tyler Conklin isn’t a bad option this week if you don’t have a premium tight end on your roster. Conklin has become a security blanket for struggling Jets QB Zach Wilson. Over his last two games, Conklin has turned in stat lines of 6-66-0 and 7-70-0, catching all 13 of his targets. He gets a neutral Week 11 matchup vs. the Bills.

Lest you think David Njoku is an unplayable fantasy option this week with the Browns starting Dorian Thompson at quarterback, consider that when DTR was forced to make a Week 4 start against the Ravens on short notice, Njoku had six receptions on seven targets and accounted for 46 of Cleveland’s 121 receiving yards that day.

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