Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Josh Gordon
- Ryan Collinsworth is here to answer those tough "start or sit" questions for the Week 9 NFL slate.
- Should you play Josh Gordon over Sammy Watkins? Courtland Sutton or Demaryius Thomas? Read below to find out.
In this article, I compare fantasy football players with similar ESPN fantasy projections based on our Action Network Consensus Rankings and projections. In doing so, I advocate starting players with higher upside and fading comparable players with downside risk.
All rankings and projections are based on PPR scoring. Reported player projections are based on median expected outcome. For a complete breakdown of all players, check out our FantasyLabs Models powered by “The Oddsmaker,” Sean Koerner.
Start Russell Wilson over Ben Roethlisberger
Despite playing in the most run-heavy offense in the NFL, Wilson has found a way to produce. He’s thrown for three passing touchdowns in three consecutive games, ranking as fantasy QB7 during that span.
His opposing defense this week, the Los Angeles Chargers, hasn’t lived up to its preseason hype, in part due to an injury to the talented Joey Bosa.
The Chargers rank middle-of-the-road in both Pass and Run Defense DVOA. While I’m not thrilled with Wilson’s upside in a low Vegas total, slow-paced matchup this week, his floor still elevates him to starting status.
The argument against Roethlisberger is pretty straightforward: He simply doesn’t play well on the road. Since 2016, he has averaged a whopping 9.52 fantasy points less on the road than at home. On top of that, the Ravens have been one of the top defensive units in the NFL this season, ranking top 10 in both Pass and Run Defense DVOA.
Start Kerryon Johnson over Lamar Miller
The Lions have finally found a reliable running back in Johnson. The talented rookie ranks 12th in rushing yards per game despite ranking only 29th in rush attempts per game. He boasts a league-leading 6.1 yards per carry and has exhibited explosive initial burst and lateral quickness this season.
Moreover, he has also picked up valuable receiving volume over the last several weeks as Theo Riddick has been injured. After trading away Golden Tate on Tuesday, the Lions may provide Johnson with even more touches to offset the loss of Tate’s short-yardage production.
Miller’s public opinion is at a season high after two straight 100-yard rushing games. However, it’s important to note that Houston controlled both of those contests early on and favored the run game to kill clock down the stretch. In fact, in games with a margin of seven points or less this season, Miller has averaged only 14.6 rushes for 54.2 yards. His upcoming tilt against the Broncos has a current line of Denver -1, which doesn’t bode well based on Miller’s rushing splits.
Start Dion Lewis over LeSean McCoy
Did I intentionally pair two former Pittsburgh Panthers running backs? You bet I did.
The Titans are coming off a Week 8 bye, so maybe the public has forgotten his most recent fantasy output. Against the Chargers in Week 7, Lewis racked up 91 rushing yards and 64 receiving yards on six receptions. Meanwhile, backfield mate Derrick Henry has seen his carries dwindle in recent weeks, and he has failed to exceed 60 rushing yards in any game this season. Lewis draws a matchup against a Dallas defense that is conceding on average 6.6 receptions to running backs.
McCoy’s stock is pointed in the opposite direction. Shady has been inconsistent and inefficient this season, averaging a miserable 3.4 yards per carry and failing to score through seven games of action. He now has to contend with the Chicago Bears, who are Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 rush defense in 2018.
Start David Njoku over Jimmy Graham
Njoku has one of the most favorable tight end matchups this week against the Chiefs. Fantasy players may be put off by his most recent zero-target, zero-reception performance against the Steelers, but he should return to form against a mediocre Kansas City pass defense. The Chiefs have given up on average 8.3 targets and 76.0 receiving yards to tight ends this season.
The Packers signed Graham to be one of their premier red zone targets, but he has failed to deliver. He has just one touchdown this season on six red zone targets. More importantly, he shares the field with star wide receiver Davante Adams, who has earned the third-most red zone targets (15) in the NFL. With limited touchdown opportunities in a crowded Packers receiving corps, Graham offers more downside risk than upside this week.
Start Josh Gordon over Sammy Watkins
Gordon fantasy owners have been impatiently waiting for him to break out for New England, but they may not have to wait much longer. Gordon has earned 22 targets in his last three games, which suggests the Patriots and Tom Brady are beginning to trust him in the passing game.
He draws a nice matchup this week against the Packers, who just traded away their best safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. This game boasts the second-highest Vegas total on the slate, which could translate into additional touchdown upside for Gordon.
Fantasy players may be reveling in Watkins’ recent 8-107-2 receiving performance against the Broncos, but there’s reason to temper expectations this week. His opponent, the Cleveland Browns, boast the No. 1 Pass Defense according to Football Outsiders. The Chiefs are big road favorites and could favor a more conservative offensive game plan while playing with a comfortable lead. Both of those factors could limit Watkins’ ceiling this week.
Start Courtland Sutton over Demaryius Thomas
Man, the storylines in this game are off the charts. The Broncos made waves Tuesday by trading Thomas to the Texans, and Denver and Houston face off in an immediate revenge game for Thomas this week.
Denver presumably felt comfortable trading Thomas due to the upside they’ve seen in rookie Courtland Sutton, and I’m in agreement with the Broncos’ front office. Sutton ranks in the 84th percentile in average depth of target (aDOT) this season, which has resulted in a catch rate below 50%. However, the absence of Thomas should afford Sutton more intermediate targets, thereby improving his catch rate and elevating his fantasy floor.
Meanwhile, it’s difficult for me to make an argument for Thomas’ improvement on a new team. He’s seen his targets, receptions and receiving yards decline for four straight seasons, he doesn’t boast elite speed or quickness and he’s stepping into a new offensive scheme with less than a week to prepare.
Thomas was a necessary addition for the Texans, but his primary role in their offense may be to liberate DeAndre Hopkins from bracket coverage. Hopkins is still the Texans receiver to watch — not Thomas.