Fantasy Football Start/Sit Week 18: Start Jerick McKinnon, Evan Engram; Sit Saquon Barkley, Diontae Johnson
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: Jerick McKinnon.
A number of shocking things have happened over the first 17 weeks of the season, and setting fantasy lineups might be a serious chore with the sheer number of injuries and befuddling situations.
Below are some players at each position you should start in your Week 18 championship game, as well as some players you should consider sitting based on matchups, injuries and trends.
Week 18 Start ‘Em
Quarterback to Start
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (at Bears)
The Packers defense, remarkably tough of late, ranks first in defensive DVOA in the last four weeks. In that span, they also rank top-three in pass DVOA.
Luckily for Cousins, he gets a much easier matchup in Week 18 against the Bears. Their pass defense ranks 31st in DVOA and has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this year.
The last time these two teams met, Cousins threw for 296 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and was the QB5 for the week. He should bounce back and finish as a QB1.
Editor’s note: Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell reportedly plans to open with his starters, but there’s a possibility they don’t play the entire game.
Brock Purdy, 49ers (vs. Cardinals)
I keep expecting Purdy to look like he was the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and he keeps proving me wrong.
Since taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who suffered a broken foot in Week 13, Purdy has finished as the QB18 (not a complete game), QB8, QB14, QB13 and QB9. He took advantage of a soft Week 17 matchup in Las Vegas and completed 22-of-35 attempts for 284 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the effort.
Purdy get another plus matchup at home against the Cardinals to close the regular season. Arizona ranks 20th in pass DVOA and has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Purdy is a low-end QB1 for Week 18.
Wide Receivers to Start
D.J. Moore, Panthers (at Saints)
There is little to get excited about on this sad Panthers team that was officially eliminated from playoff contention after last week’s loss to the Buccaneers.
Moore is the exception, however, and has been phenomenal of late, scoring in three consecutive games. In Week 17, he caught 6-of-10 targets for 117 yards and a touchdown and was the WR5 in half-PPR scoring.
This week’s meaningless matchup against the Saints is fairly tough, as New Orleans has been stingy against the pass and ranks top-seven in pass DVOA.
Moore struggled the first time these teams met in Week 3, though that was opposite a different quarterback with whom he had much less chemistry. Since Sam Darnold took over, Moore has finished as a top-13 receiver in four of five games. He is a solid WR2 for Week 18.
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers (vs. Cardinals)
Aiyuk is coming off of a monster game against the Raiders. He caught 9-of-12 targets for a season-high 101 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 16 yards. He finished as the WR4 in half-PPR scoring and seems to be unaffected by the quarterback switch.
Aiyuk is the overall WR15 this season and should take full advantage of this matchup against the Cardinals. Arizona ranks 20th in pass DVOA and allowed Aiyuk to make two trips to the end zone back in Week 11.
He is a fantasy WR2 as the 49ers vie for the 1-seed in the NFC.
Chris Olave, Saints (vs. Panthers)
Quiet of late, Olave has not broken double-digit fantasy points in half-PPR scoring since Week 11. He struggled — as expected — against the Eagles, catching 4-of-5 targets for 42 yards. He was also outshined by Rashid Shaheed, who caught all six of his targets for 79 yards.
Olave and Shaheed should both have nice fantasy games against a hapless and banged-up Panthers secondary without cornerback Jaycee Horn.
Carolina ranks 27th in pass DVOA and has allowed the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers. Olave is a high-end WR3/flex option in this positive matchup.
Christian Watson, Packers (vs. Lions)
Watson has been on a cold streak of late after his midseason breakout. In Weeks 10-13, Watson was the WR2 in half-PPR scoring behind only Davante Adams (quite the irony).
Since the Packers’ Week 14 bye, the rookie has finished as the WR51, WR41 and WR91. In Week 17, he was held to just one catch on five targets for 11 yards.
A game against the Lions could be what the doctor ordered for Watson to snap out of this slump. Detroit ranks 22nd in pass DVOA and has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
Watson is a high-risk, high-reward WR3/flex in this consequential Week 18 showdown.
Running Backs to Start
Cam Akers, Rams (at Seahawks)
Congratulations to any fantasy managers who survived the Cam Akers Experience this season and are still alive for the championship round.
Since Week 13, Akers is the RB4 in half PPR and has finished as a top-24 back in all five games. He exploded in Week 17 against the Chargers and rushed 19 times for 123 yards. He also caught a pass for 10 yards and was the RB14 for the week.
Akers has 280 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns over the last two weeks. I expect him to finish out the season strong against the Seahawks, who ranks 24th in rush DVOA and has allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs.
Akers is a high-end RB2 with a clear path to RB1 status.
Jerick McKinnon, Chiefs (at Raiders)
McKinnon seems unstoppable right now.
Since his late-season breakout, which started in Week 13, he is the RB2 in half PPR behind only Christian McCaffrey. In that span, McKinnon has tallied eight touchdowns — he scored just one in the 12 weeks prior.
McKinnon sees much of his usage in the passing game, which is good news considering the Chiefs will be facing off against the Raiders.
Las Vegas is last in pass DVOA and has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs. McKinnon should be regarded as a RB2 with RB1 upside in any PPR scoring.
Jamaal Williams, Lions (at Packers)
Williams snapped out of his three-game slump in Week 17 against the Bears. He rushed 22 times for 144 yards and a touchdown and also tacked on a catch for 13 yards to finish as the RB4 in half PPR.
He should capitalize on a soft Week 18 matchup in Green Bay, whose defense ranks 31st in rush DVOA and has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs. Despite splitting time with D’Andre Swift, Williams is a fringe RB2.
Zack Moss, Colts (vs. Texans)
Moss has been the Colts’ workhorse back since Jonathan Taylor went down in Week 15. Since then, Moss has averaged 17 carries per game with a 65% snap participation rate.
This has not translated to fantasy production, however, as he has finished as the RB38, RB32 and RB32 in those three weeks.
Still, I have hope for a big Moss game against the Texans, who are atrocious against the run. Houston ranks 26th in rush DVOA and has allowed the most fantasy points to running backs. Moss is a RB3 and viable flex play.
Tight Ends to Start
Evan Engram, Jaguars (vs. Titans)
Engram has been quite the late-season bloomer.
Since Week 13, the former Giants tight end is the TE1 in half-PPR scoring, ahead of George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson and Travis Kelce. He had a bit of an off week against the Texans in Week 17, when he caught one pass for 16 yards.
I expect Engram to bounce back big time against the Titans, who rank 28th in defensive pass DVOA and has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends.
The first time these two teams met (Week 14), Engram exploded for 11 catches on 15 targets for 162 yards and two touchdowns. He is a locked-in TE1 with a limitless ceiling in Week 18.
Taysom Hill, Saints (vs. Panthers)
Hill has seen an uptick in usage — and fantasy production — since Week 13. He has scored in four consecutive games and has finished as a top-12 tight end in each of those contests.
He finally caught a pass last week against the Eagles, but was once again used primarily as a rusher. He logged a season-high 14 attempts for 46 yards and a touchdown and was the TE6 for the week.
Hill should capitalize on a favorable matchup to finish out the season against a Carolina defense that ranks 26th overall in defensive DVOA. He should be considered a safe, low-end TE1.
Defense to Start
Jaguars D/ST (vs. Titans)
The Jaguars defense struggled through the first 13 weeks of the year. The unit was the DST21, but has improved of late and is the DST2 behind only the Patriots in the last four games.
They held the Jets and Texans to three points apiece and get another nice matchup against the Titans, who will be starting third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs again.
The Jags held the Titans to 22 points and logged three fumble recoveries, one interception and four sacks in their first meeting. They are a top play in this battle for the AFC South.
Week 18 Sit ‘Em
Quarterback to Sit
Tom Brady, Buccaneers (at Falcons)
I take full responsibility for absolutely whiffing on this one last week.
Brady, who had not crested the 20-point threshold since Week 5, exploded against the Panthers to clinch the NFC South. He completed 34-of-45 attempts for a season-high 432 yards and four touchdowns and was the QB1 for Week 17.
I am less confident starting him this week. Atlanta’s pass defense is 30th according to DVOA, but Tampa Bay can’t improve its playoff seeding as the next closest division winners are 12-4 (San Francisco and Minnesota) — the Bucs only stand to risk players to injury in this meaningless game.
Brady could still do damage early, but with no guarantee of his actual playing time, he is a very risky start.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Marquise Brown, Cardinals (at 49ers)
Brown was mediocre in a juicy matchup in Atlanta. He caught 6-of-9 targets for 61 yards, finishing as the WR26 in half-PPR scoring. He has not scored double-digit fantasy points or finished as a top-24 receiver since his injury in Week 6.
This tepid production is due in no small part to the game of musical chairs at the quarterback position for Arizona, who lost Kyler Murray to an ACL injury. Colt McCoy is in the concussion protocol, Trace McSorely is awful and the team has now turned to fourth-stringer David Blough.
I expect Blough and company to struggle against the 49ers’ No. 1 defense, per DVOA. Brown is a WR3 with a low ceiling.
Jahan Dotson, Commanders (vs. Cowboys)
Dotson disappointed at the exact moment I was ready to put my faith in him. He had scored 14 or more half-PPR fantasy points in three straight games, but came back down to Earth in Week 17 against the Browns. The rookie was held to three catches on seven targets for 37 yards and finished as the WR46.
Dotson could struggle again with rookie quarterback Sam Howell being named the starter for the season finale against the Cowboys.
I have no idea what to expect from Howell, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He could struggle against Dallas’ veteran defense that ranks top-three in pass DVOA, which would in turn hurt Dotson’s production.
Dotson is a low-end WR3 as the Commanders have nothing left to play for and the Cowboys attempt to make a last push for the NFC East.
Diontae Johnson, Steelers (vs. Browns)
Johnson has been mediocre all season. He was less than stellar in Week 17 in a tough matchup against the Ravens and caught just 2-of-7 targets for 35 yards, finishing as the WR52 in half-PPR scoring.
I am concerned about Johnson this week against the Browns, who have turned things around defensively since Deshaun Watson took over. Since Week 13, Cleveland ranks top four in pass DVOA.
The unit shut down Baltimore, New Orleans and Washington in back-to-back-to-back weeks and could absolutely be a problem for the Year 4 receiver. Johnson is a low-upside WR3/flex in this AFC North showdown to finish out the season.
Isaiah Hodgins, Giants (at Eagles)
Hodgins has been a pleasant, late-season surprise over the last five games. Since Week 13, Hodgins is the WR11 in half-PPR scoring and has scored a touchdown and finished as a top-24 receiver or better in four of five games.
He even performed well the first time these two teams met back in Week 14, when he caught 4-of-6 targets for 38 yards and a touchdown and was the WR20.
I am wary about starting any member of the Giants, who have nothing to gain and everything to risk this week. They have already clinched a playoff spot and can’t improve their seeding.
While it sounds insane to think that a player like Hodgins could be impacted by this, I am more concerned that we will see little to no Daniel Jones. Hodgins is a no-go in this meaningless game for New York.
Running Backs to Sit
Saquon Barkley, Giants (at Eagles)
Barkley falls into a similar category as Hodgins, but to an even greater extent given his pedigree. Barkley is the team’s best skill-position player and the Giants have nothing to gain and everything to lose by exposing Barkley in this game.
While it seems borderline sacrilegious to fathom sitting the overall RB5 in half PPR, it is definitely something worth considering.
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers (at Falcons)
This is a pervasive theme this week — and why many leagues opt to not play into Week 18.
Fournette is in the same boat as Barkley, Brady, Hodgins, et al. as the Buccaneers have literally nothing to play for. The next closest division winners are the 12-4 Vikings and 49ers, meaning the Buccaneers are locked into the No. 4 seed and will face whichever team clinches the No. 1 wild-card slot.
Zonovan Knight, Jets (at Dolphins)
Knight had a brief, three-game stretch with 12 or more fantasy points in half-PPR scoring. Since Michael Carter has gotten healthy, however, Knight’s role has diminished.
Knight was the RB58, RB66 and RB45 in the last three games, respectively, and could not even capitalize on a mouthwatering matchup last week against the Seahawks. Knight rushed eight times for 27 yards, while Ty Johnson rushed eight times for 46 yards.
This Jets team has taken quite the nosedive with five consecutive losses after starting the season at 7-4. They are eliminated from playoff contention and are unlikely to put up much of a fight against the Dolphins, who now find themselves on the playoff bubble.
Knight is a RB3 with a near-zero floor in this Skylar Thompson/Mike White duel.
Tight Ends to Sit
Cole Kmet, Bears (vs. Vikings)
Kmet bounced back last week in Detroit from two disappointing games. He caught 2-of-3 targets for 27 yards and a touchdown — his first since Week 10 (against the Lions) — and was the TE13 for the week in half-PPR scoring.
Kmet was pedestrian the first time these two teams met back in Week 5 and was held to four catches for 45 yards. I expect more struggles to come with turnover machine Nathan Peterman getting the start in the season finale against the Vikings, who could still make a run at the No. 1 seed with a win. Kmet is a high-risk start opposite in Week 18.
Tyler Higbee, Rams (at Seahawks)
Higbee came crashing down after a monster Week 16. He caught 9-of-11 targets for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Broncos and was the TE3.
In Week 17, he caught 3-of-4 targets for 11 yards and was the TE42 in half PPR.
Higbee, like most tight ends not named Travis Kelce, is unpredictable at best. You will probably never pick the right week to start Higbee, who has more games with three or fewer fantasy points than ones with 10 or more — he struggled the first time these two teams met back in Week 13, when he caught 2-of-5 targets for 14 yards and was the TE33.
Treat Higbee as a high-end TE2 option with a nonexistent floor.
Defense to Sit
Patriots D/ST (at Bills)
The Patriots defense has been rock solid all season long, and even more so of late.
From Weeks 14-17, the unit is the DST1, logging 13 sacks, two fumble recoveries, six interceptions and four touchdowns in that four-game span. In Week 13 against the Bills, however, the unit struggled, recording one fumble recovery, two sacks and 24 points allowed, finishing as the DST21 for the week.
They are a firm sit again as the Bills offense ranks top four in total yardage, top-five in total points and bottom-three in giveaways.