FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit for NFL Week 17

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.

QUARTERBACKS

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

— Josh Allen vs. ATL (71%)

— Patrick Mahomes at CIN (61%)

— Tom Brady at NYJ (59%)

— Lamar Jackson vs. LA (58%)

— Justin Herbert vs. DEN (57%)

— Aaron Rodgers vs. MIN (57%)

— Dak Prescott vs. ARI (55%)

— Matthew Stafford at BAL (55%)

— Kyler Murray at DAL (55%)

— Jalen Hurts at WSH (53%)

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

— Taysom Hill vs. CAR (45%)

— Russell Wilson vs. DET (45%)

— Joe Burrow vs. KC (42%)

— Mac Jones vs. JAC (41%)

— Justin Fields vs. NYG (40%)

— Trey Lance vs. HOU (38%)

— Derek Carr at IND (34%)

Taysom Hill was activated from the COVD-19 list this week, and the simulations have him back as a borderline QB1 for Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers. Hill has run 11 times in each start this season and has rushed for 101, 73, and 33 yards in those games. The rushing upside puts him right back into the streaming mix for Week 17′s championship games.

Joe Burrow is in another potential shootout game after his Week 16 where he had 525 yards and four touchdowns. The Kansas City Chiefs rank eighth in adjusted pass defense, per numberFire’s adjusted metrics. Even against top-12 pass defenses (four games), Burrow has averaged 261.8 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. He’s a viable streamer with upside.

Keep an eye on the news with Jimmy Garoppolo. He has a chance to play this week, but if he’s ruled out, then we can add Trey Lance into quarterback-needy lineups. Lance is nearly 40% likely to return a top-12 quarterback week even with a full slate of games and some good matchups for the league’s best passers. The anticipated rushing workload should also lead to a high floor.

Bench if possible: These quarterbacks are under 35% likely (18th or worse) to net a top-12 result and likely aren’t in the one-quarterback-league conversation.

Taylor Heinicke vs. PHI (34%); Tua Tagovailoa at TEN (32%); Ryan Tannehill vs. MIA (31%); Kirk Cousins at GB (30%); Baker Mayfield at PIT (27%); Sam Darnold at NO (23%); Sam Ehlinger vs. LV (23%); Ben Roethlisberger vs. CLE (22%); Drew Lock at LAC (21%); Zach Wilson vs. TB (20%); Davis Mills at SF (19%); Trevor Lawrence at NE (18%); Jared Goff at SEA (17%); Matt Ryan at BUF (16%); Jake Fromm at CHI (02%); Mike Glennon at CHI (02%).

RUNNING BACKS

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 vs. LV (84%)

— Alvin Kamara vs. CAR (74%)

— Dalvin Cook at GB (69%)

— Najee Harris vs. CLE (69%)

— David Montgomery vs. NYG (68%)

— Austin Ekeler vs. DEN (67%)

— Nick Chubb at PIT (66%)

— Joe Mixon vs. KC (66%)

— Aaron Jones vs. MIN (65%)

— Josh Jacobs at IND (64%)

— D’Andre Swift at SEA (64%)

— Sony Michel at BAL (62%)

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.

— Ezekiel Elliott vs. ARI (59%)

— Darrel Williams at CIN (59%)

— Saquon Barkley at CHI (56%)

— Elijah Mitchell vs. HOU (54%)

— Ronald Jones at NYJ (54%)

— Antonio Gibson vs. PHI (53%)

— Javonte Williams at LAC (52%)

— Rashaad Penny vs. DET (51%)

— Cordarrelle Patterson at BUF (49%)

— Devin Singletary vs. ATL (49%)

— Damien Harris vs. JAC (48%)

— Chase Edmonds at DAL (45%)

— Melvin Gordon at LAC (44%)

With Clyde Edwards-Helaire unlikely to play this week (he missed practice on Wednesday), we can turn to Darrel Williams. Williams, in five games without Edwards-Helaire this season, has averaged 13.8 carries and 5.4 targets for 94.0 yards from scrimmage and 15.4 half-PPR points per game.

Elijah Mitchell returned to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday, a good sign for his chances to return. While he may lose some of his peak role to Jeff Wilson, either a start by Trey Lance or an injured Garoppolo should lead to a strong workload for Mitchell against the Houston Texans, who rank 26th in rushing success rate allowed to running backs.

Ronald Jones didn’t really have the role we had all hoped for, and while that might make him a “sit” suggestion in a more traditional start/sit column, the reality is that he’s in a fine spot to be started in Week 17, provided he’s the best option you have for an RB2 or FLEX play. Jones played on 51.6% of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ snaps and had 20 carries with three targets but did lose a lot of snaps (35.5%) to Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Still, a 50% snap rate with good work on those snaps against the New York Jets is hard to ignore.

Devin Singletary’s role rolled back a little with Zack Moss active in Week 16. However, Singletary still played on 70.7% of the Buffalo Bills’ snaps with 12 carries (five in the red zone) and six targets. The Atlanta Falcons are 28th in adjusted fantasy points per carry allowed to backs.

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

Michael Carter vs. TB (39%); Devonta Freeman vs. LA (38%); A.J. Dillon vs. MIN (38%); Chuba Hubbard at NO (37%); Rex Burkhead at SF (37%); Jordan Howard at WSH (36%); Duke Johnson at TEN (36%); D’Onta Foreman vs. MIA (35%); Myles Gaskin at TEN (31%); Tony Pollard vs. ARI (30%); Mark Ingram vs. CAR (26%); Brandon Bolden vs. JAC (24%); Rhamondre Stevenson vs. JAC (24%); Dare Ogunbowale at NE (23%); David Johnson at SF (23%); Mike Davis at BUF (21%); Jamaal Williams at SEA (21%); Boston Scott at WSH (21%); Devontae Booker at CHI (21%); Justin Jackson vs. DEN (20%).

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

— Cooper Kupp at BAL (87%)

— Davante Adams vs. MIN (79%)

— Deebo Samuel vs. HOU (73%)

— Tyreek Hill at CIN (68%)

— Justin Jefferson at GB (67%)

— Stefon Diggs vs. ATL (62%)

— CeeDee Lamb vs. ARI (56%)

— Antonio Brown at NYJ (54%)

— Tyler Lockett vs. DET (53%)

— Ja’Marr Chase vs. KC (53%)

— Tee Higgins vs. KC (52%)

— Mike Evans at NYJ (51%)

— Keenan Allen vs. DEN (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.

— A.J. Brown vs. MIA (49%)

— Diontae Johnson vs. CLE (49%)

— Hunter Renfrow at IND (48%)

— D.K. Metcalf vs. DET (48%)

— Brandin Cooks at SF (44%)

— Amon-Ra St. Brown at SEA (43%)

— Amari Cooper vs. ARI (43%)

— Michael Pittman Jr. vs. LV (42%)

— Marquise Brown vs. LA (41%)

— DJ Moore at NO (41%)

— Terry McLaurin vs. PHI (41%)

— Jarvis Landry at PIT (38%)

— DeVonta Smith at WSH (38%)

— Jaylen Waddle at TEN (38%)

— Mike Williams vs. DEN (36%)

— Christian Kirk at DAL (35%)

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

— Odell Beckham at BAL (31%)

— Michael Gallup vs. ARI (30%)

— DeVante Parker at TEN (30%)

— Jakobi Meyers vs. JAC (30%)

Amon-Ra St. Brown’s role has been growing in recent weeks. Over his past four games, he has had at least 11 targets in each of them with at least 73 yards in each of them and a score in three of the four. In this four-week sample, St. Brown’s target share (34.1%) ranks fifth among all receivers with at least two games played.

Though DJ Moore’s matchup is problematic, the volume lately hasn’t been. Moore’s seen at least 10 targets in his past four games, leading to a 29.0% target share within that split. Moore generated an eight-catch, 11-target, 79-yard, one-touchdown game against the New Orleans Saints earlier this season.

Christian Kirk is looking like a strong WR3/FLEX (and a low-end WR2) this week. In five games since Zach Ertz’s role improved and in games without DeAndre Hopkins, Kirk has a 21.5% target share (equaling 8.0 targets per game in this split) with a team-leading 29.4% air yards share. The Dallas Cowboys rank 19th in passing average depth of target allowed and 23rd in yards per target allowed on downfield attempts. It’s a good spot for Kirk.

Over the past three games with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup all healthy, Gallup has a 16.4% target share (6.3 per game) with 1.0 downfield target and 1.0 red zone target per game while drawing a target on 17.0% of his routes. For context, Cooper is at 19.5% in that split (and Lamb is at 24.0%). He should be on the field plenty and drawing high-leverage targets this week.

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

Jerry Jeudy at LAC (29%); Russell Gage at BUF (28%); Courtland Sutton at LAC (27%); Marvin Jones at NE (26%); Darnell Mooney vs. NYG (24%); Robby Anderson at NO (24%); Kenny Golladay at CHI (24%); Chase Claypool vs. CLE (22%); Van Jefferson at BAL (22%); A.J. Green at DAL (22%); Tyler Boyd vs. KC (22%); Nelson Agholor vs. JAC (22%).

TIGHT END

Start with confidence: These guys are the Big Six this week.

— Travis Kelce at CIN (80%)

— Mark Andrews vs. LA (71%)

— George Kittle vs. HOU (64%)

— Rob Gronkowski at NYJ (60%)

— Dallas Goedert at WSH (59%)

— Kyle Pitts at BUF (53%)

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

— Zach Ertz at DAL (47%)

— Mike Gesicki at TEN (43%)

— Noah Fant at LAC (38%)

— Foster Moreau at IND (35%)

— Dalton Schultz vs. ARI (34%)

— Dawson Knox vs. ATL (33%)

— Jared Cook vs. DEN (32%)

— Hunter Henry vs. JAC (31%)

— Tyler Conklin at GB (31%)

In that aforementioned split for Christian Kirk’s role, Zach Ertz (again, since a role increase and without DeAndre Hopkins over five games), Ertz leads the Arizona Cardinals in target market share (23.7% for 8.8 targets per game) and has had double-digit targets in his past two games.

Though Hunter Henry has been touchdown-dependent this season, his role is a bit better lately. He played at least 81.5% of the New England Patriots’ snaps in each of the past two games, a span during which he has an 18.9% target share (7.0 per game) with a 40.0% red zone target share. The Jacksonville Jaguars are 23rd in adjusted fantasy points per target allowed to tight ends.

With Adam Thielen on injured reserve, opportunity is there for Tyler Conklin. Since Week 13 with Thielen missing time, Conklin has a 14.7% target share (4.8 per game) with a 22.2% red zone share.

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

Gerald Everett vs. DET (29%); Jonnu Smith vs. JAC (28%); Tyler Higbee at BAL (28%); C.J. Uzomah vs. KC (27%); Cole Kmet vs. NYG (25%); Evan Engram at CHI (24%); Ricky Seals-Jones vs. PHI (23%); Austin Hooper at PIT (20%); Adam Trautman vs. CAR (19%).

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