Sun. Apr 11th, 2021

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Before we get into specific players to upgrade or downgrade, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups:

Note: Discussion below mostly is limited to players that are being started in less than 80 percent of lineups on Yahoo. There are plenty of other players with good or bad matchups, but we’ll focus our energy on the guys most likely to be involved in difficult start/sit decisions. Unless otherwise noted, references to ‘fantasy points’ are based on scoring with 25/10 yardage, 4/6 TDs and 0.5 PPR, a.k.a. standard settings on Yahoo and FanDuel.

Thursday Night Special

Michael Pittman vs. TEN — UPGRADE ⬆️

3% started on Yahoo, 1% on ESPN

This is for deep leagues only, which you may have been able to surmise by the single-digit start percentages (or just by using common sense). Sure, T.Y. Hilton is back in the lineup this week, but it could be Marcus Johnson rather than Pittman who is the odd man out. Pittman certainly made his case last week, catching four of seven targets for a team-high 56 yards while Johnson produced only 14 yards on the same number of chances.

There’s also some chance we see a four-man rotation, with Pittman, Johnson, Hilton and Zach Pascal each handling something slightly less than a full-time role. That may not be ideal, but it’s less of a problem with TE Jack Doyle (concussion) ruled out, a factor that could lead to heavier use of three-wide formations. While none of the Indy wideouts can be deemed reliable, Pittman is the one I’d want to roll the dice on this week.

The rest of the Indy offense is similarly confusing, with Philip Rivers a bottom-10 QB play even in good matchups like this one, while the backfield committee remains a huge source of frustration. Things are at least a little easier on the Tennessee side, where A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry are no-brainer, every-week starters for their fantasy managers.

Ryan Tannehill, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith are likely to be involved in a lot of difficult start/sit decisions, and a lot of people will lean toward ‘sit’ when they look at how the Colts defense has shut down production from opposing passing attacks. However, the Colts also have received a lot of help from the schedule, and their past four games weren’t nearly impressive as the first four.

Davis is averaging 7.0 targets and 61.5 yards per game even after last week’s goose egg, and Smith could repeat Sunday’s season-high 95 percent snap share with No. 3 WR Adam Humphries (concussion) and No. 3 TE MyCole Pruitt (knee) both out for TNF. That’s not to say this is a favorable matchup for Davis, Smith and Tannehill, but it’s also not quite as bad as some of the stats suggest.



37% started on Yahoo, 27% on ESPN

Seattle remains the optimal fantasy opponent for quarterbacks, combining a quick-strike offense with a pass-funnel defense (9th in DVOA against the run, 29th against the pass). No team has allowed more fantasy points (27.9 per game) to the position, with seven of eight opponents getting 20-plus from their quarterbacks. The Rams are a more run-oriented team this year, but the upcoming matchup with Seattle should place more of the burden on Goff’s shoulders, especially if Darrell Henderson (thigh/quad) is absent or limited.


Running Back

67% started on Yahoo, 63% on ESPN

The surprising blowout loss to New Orleans showed us how tenuous Fournette’s rushing workload (one carry) can be, but it also gave a nice example of his solid floor now that he’s replaced LeSean McCoy as the passing-down specialist. Uncle Lenny is working on three straight games with at least six targets and 56 percent snap share, averaging 9.0 carries, 5.0 catches and 69.7 total yards in that stretch. A matchup with Carolina should allow the Bucs to reignite their rushing attacks, as the Panthers rank 24th in run-defense DVOA (-0.5%), 24th in YPC (4.6) and 28th in fantasy points allowed to RBs (25.1). Fournette is the safer option here, but Ronald Jones is also startable.

42% started on Yahoo, 32% on ESPN

McKissic handled season-high 83 percent snap share last week, rotating with Antonio Gibson (shoulder) in the backfield and also getting a bunch of work as a slot receiver when the rookie was lined up at tailback. While we shouldn’t expect him to come close to last week’s career-high 14 targets, it is worth noting that McKissic has accounted for 18 of Alex Smith‘s 47 pass attempts (37 percent) this year. Plus, his former team has been helpless defending passes to running backs, allowing a league-worst 8.3 YPT and five touchdowns. This is also a good matchup for Gibson, assuming his shoulder injury isn’t serious.


Wide Receiver

65% started on Yahoo, 54% on ESPN

This is partially a matchup upgrade, but mostly it’s just a reminder that Cooks has become an every-week starter for all but the most loaded of fantasy teams. He has a four-game streak with nine or more targets and 60 or more yards, averaging 93 yards and 0.75 TDs in that stretch.  Cooks will have to face Browns LCB Denzel Ward when he’s in his most common alignment (wide right) this weekend, but the Texans move him around enough that he’ll also get plenty of chances to run routes against lesser cornerbacks like Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson

According to PFF, Cooks has taken 42 percent of his snaps wide right, with 31 percent in the slot and 27 percent wide left. We should get another solid week from both him and Will Fuller, facing a Browns defense that’s given up the fifth-most fantasy points to WRs (36.8). Just keep an eye on the weather in Cleveland, as it appears rain and wind could impact Sunday’s game. For what it’s worth, Cooks has seen plenty of short passes during his four-game hot streak, with 21 of his 39 targets traveling less than 10 yards downfield.

33% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN

Landry got 11 targets in Cleveland’s first game without Odell Beckham, accounting for 44 percent of the team total while no other player saw more than three. Unfortunately, Baker Mayfield threw for only 122 yards during a game played in ugly weather, so Landry’s massive target share didn’t lead to a big stat line. 

Coming out of a bye week, the veteran receiver should have better luck, though it appears he might have bad weather working against him again — just not quite to the same extent. Anyway, Houston ranks 23rd in pass-defense DVOA (15.1%) and 26th in fantasy points allowed to WRs (34.7), so Landry should do damage on short throws even if Mayfield struggles with the downfield stuff again.


Tight End

67% started on Yahoo, 72% on ESPN

If you’re playing in a rotisserie league where rate stats matter, Engram undoubtedly is messing things up with his 56.3 percent catch rate and 5.2 YPT. In terms of the fantasy games we actually play, his 29 targets over the past three weeks have allowed for solid production even as the efficiency struggles continue. The Eagles held Engram to six catches and 49 total yards three weeks ago, but they’ve otherwise had trouble against tight ends, allowing 7.8 YPT and the fourth-most fantasy points (13.4).



48% started on Yahoo, 65% on ESPN

Carlson has scored seven or more points in every game this season, benefitting from an efficient Raiders offense combined with his own impressive accuracy (17 of 19 on FGAs, 23 of 24 on PATs). He should be in for another productive outing, as the Raiders are tied for the fifth-largest implied total (28) of Week 10.




64% started on Yahoo, 65% on ESPN

Last week, I put Herbert in the first tier of quarterbacks, recommending him as a starter over the likes of Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers. This week, the standout rookie is more of a second-tier option, making a cross-country trip to face a Miami defense ranked eighth in DVOA against the pass (-5.0%) and 14th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks (19.5). 

Kyler Murray had a huge game against the Dolphins last week, but prior to that they’d held Gardner Minshew, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff to worst-of-the-season stat lines. It doesn’t help that the Miami offense is 31st in pace and 30th in neutral-situation pace, potentially creating a scenario where Herbert has only eight or nine drives to spin his magic. 


Running Back

47% started on Yahoo, 44% on ESPN

McKinnon got 12 carries and four targets on 74 percent snap share last Thursday in Green Bay, finishing with 68 yards and a touchdown in a 34-17 loss. That type of workload seemingly would lock him in as a fantasy starter, but the split between McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty prior to last Thursday suggests the situation could still be somewhat fluid, as the rookie had a 30-12 advantage in carries Weeks 6-8. 

That type of uncertainty is tough to stomach when the Niners are 10-point ‘dogs against a Saints team ranked fifth in run-defense DVOA (-32.0%) and third in YPC allowed (3.5). New Orleans has even done a nice job shutting down running backs in the passing game, allowing only 44-249-2 on 55 targets (4.5 YPT).

49% started on Yahoo, 36% on ESPN

This isn’t necessarily a bad matchup, but it isn’t a good one either, with the Cardinals sitting 16th in run-defense DVOA (-13.2%) and 16th in fantasy points allowed to RBs (21.4). Singletary’s workload is the bigger problem, following back-to-back weeks in which Zack Moss had a slight advantage in snaps and a huge advantage in red-zone work. Looking at the past two weeks, Moss has a 23-16 advantage for carries and a 9-3 advantage for snaps inside the five-yard line. They split work regardless of game script, so it’s not like we can expect a ton of targets for Singletary if the Bills fall behind.


Wide Receiver

63% started on Yahoo, 39% on ESPN

Chark had his best game of the year in Jake Luton‘s first start, hitting paydirt from 73 yards out on the opening drive and then adding six more catches for another 73 yards. It’s possible the huge performance will kickstart an impressive second half of the season, but even if that ends up happening, Chark won’t necessarily thrive this weekend. 

The Packers have used top cornerback Jaire Alexander in shadow coverage (per PFF) against Adam Thielen, Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans and Will Fuller, so it’s likely Chark gets similar treatment. Alexander has PFF’s No. 1 grade (88.3) among cornerbacks, allowing only 16 catches for 139 yards across 27 targets and 260 cover snaps. Chark is benchable this week if you have other good options, especially if the game in Green Bay is affected by wind and rain.

Editor’s Note: Alexander is recovering from a concussion. If he misses Sunday’s game, Chark will move back toward even on the matchup meter.

42% started on Yahoo, 33% on ESPN

It’s tempting to start Jones whenever Kenny Golladay (hip) is unavailable, which likely will be the situation for a second straight week. The results from that approach haven’t been terrible this year, but they also haven’t been exciting, with Jones scoring 9.5, 12.3 and 13.3 PPR points in the games Golladay has missed. 

More worrisome than the middling production, Jones has accounted for only 16 percent of Detroit’s targets in those contests, with his 6.0 per game falling well short of Danny Amendola‘s 8.0. Jones appears to be past his prime, while Washington’s defense is on the rise, leading the league in both pass-defense DVOA (-17.0%) and fantasy points allowed to WRs (20.8).


Tight End

61% started on Yahoo, 46% on ESPN

For all their other issues, the 49ers mostly have remained respectable on defense, and they’ve been especially tough on tight ends, giving up the sixth fewest fantasy points (6.9) and only 6.4 YPT. We didn’t really need to worry about matchups when the Saints’ injury situation locked Cook in for at least three or four targets, but that’s no longer the case now that Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are healthy. 

Furthermore, the team has given Adam Trautman a little more playing time the past three weeks, with the rookie taking four targets and 21 routes off Cook’s plate. Cook has run routes on 74 of 118 QB dropbacks (63 percent, per PFF) during that time, down a little bit from 68 percent in his three healthy games (Weeks 1-2, 5) earlier this year. None of these factors are catastrophic on their own, but the sum of them could be a difference-maker if you already were on the fence about Cook this week.



47% started on Yahoo, 46% on ESPN

The Tampa Bay defense has been a little inconsistent, but the stretches of dominance have been more pronounced than the struggles, making it easily a Top 10 unit overall. Slye was limited to five points in his matchup with the Bucs earlier this season, and he could have another slow day with the Panthers carrying a modest implied total of 22.5.


Streaming Picks

For Shallow Leagues (30-69 percent rostered)

QB Cam Newton vs. BAL

QB Tua Tagovailoa vs. LAC

RB Duke Johnson at CLE

RB J.D. McKissic at DET

RB Phillip Lindsay at LV

WR Sterling Shepard vs. PHI

WR John Brown at ARZ

WR A.J. Green at PIT

WR Cole Beasley at ARZ

TE Austin Hooper vs. HOU

TE Jimmy Graham vs. MIN

K Daniel Carlson vs. DEN

K Mason Crosby vs. JAX – check weather

K Jason Sanders vs. LAC

K Ryan Succop at CAR

D/ST Packers vs. JAX

D/ST Vikings at CHI


For Medium-depth Leagues (10-29 percent rostered)

QB Drew Lock at LV

RB Malcolm Brown vs. SEA

RB Rex Burkhead vs. BAL

RB Jordan Wilkins at TEN

WR Darnell Mooney vs. MIN

WR Nelson Agholor vs. DEN

WR Jalen Reagor at NYG

WR Anthony Miller vs. MIN

WR Randall Cobb at CLE

TE Trey Burton at TEN

TE Jordan Reed at NO

K Jake Elliott at NYG

K Tyler Bass at ARZ

D/ST Browns vs. HOU


For Deep Leagues (under 10 percent rostered)

QB Nick Mullens at NO

QB Alex Smith at DET

RB Troymaine Pope at MIA

RB Chris Thompson at GB

WR Michael Pittman at TEN

WR KJ Hamler at LV

WR Josh Reynolds vs. SEA

TE Tyler Eifert at GB

TE Gerald Everett vs. SEA

K Cody Parkey vs. HOU – check weather

K Graham Gano vs. PHI

D/ST Lions vs. WAS

D/ST Raiders vs. DEN


Crowd-sourced Lineup Decision

Each week I post a twitter poll with one of the toughest start/sit decisions from my own lineups. The process will be truly democratic, which means I’m required to start the player who gets the most votes, unless there’s relevant injury/virus news late in the week.

And please, feel free to drop you start/sit questions in the comments below, or you can ask me on twitter – @JerryDonabedian.

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