Fantasy Football Week 10 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em

Michael Beller
Sports Illustrated

Jordy Nelson should be on your bench this week.

That would have been baffling, unthinkable, bewildering, inconceivable with Aaron Rodgers under center for the Packers. Of course, Rodgers is not healthy, and that has completely warped the Green Bay offense. In two games with Brett Hundley under center, the Packers have scored 34 points, seven of which came in garbage time in a loss to the Lions in Week 9. Green Bay had a bye before that game, giving Hundley a cushion of time to get ready before that game, and they still turned in their worst offensive showing of the season. This is a vastly different offense and it’s not good for anyone involved.

Nelson has a total of five catches for 48 yards in Hundley’s two starts. From 2011, the year Nelson emerged as a standout receiver, through last season, he had a total of 19 games with fewer than 48 yards, including contests in which he left early due to injury. Hundley’s two starts mark the first time Nelson posted consecutive games with fewer than 40 yards since Weeks 14 and 15 of the 2010 season. Rodgers missed those games, too, after getting injured early in the first of the two.

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As great as Nelson still is technically, he’s a different receiver than he was before he tore his ACL during the 2015 preseason. He was one of the most dangerous deep-ball receivers in the league before his injury. He remains a precise route runner who’s as lethal on back-shoulder throws as any receiver in the league, but he’s not the deep threat he once was. He averaged 12.95 yards per catch last year, his lowest mark since 2010, the year before his breakout season. He remained an elite fantasy receiver, but that was largely thanks to his 14 touchdowns.

Nelson’s touchdown upside and rate were unimpeachable with Rodgers on the field. Even with Rodgers this season, though, he was living almost entirely on touchdown value. Nelson played four games with Rodgers this year, not including the ones either left with injury (Nelson against the Falcons in Week 2, Rodgers against the Vikings in Week 6). In those four games, Nelson had 19 catches for 230 yards. That translates to a 16-game pace of 76 receptions for 920 yards, which isn’t exactly WR1 territory. He had six touchdowns in those games, however, which put him at 11.75 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues, which certainly is WR1 territory. Nelson deserves plenty of credit for converting his red-zone targets into touchdowns, but those targets wouldn’t have existed without Rodgers. For proof of that, look at the Packers’ last two games.

To recap, at this stage of Nelson’s career, he is an incisive route runner who makes an art out of getting open in tight spaces, and enjoys a mind meld with a once-in-a-generation quarterback. Put those two traits together, and you get an elite fantasy receiver, so long as the quarterback who can make use of those traits is healthy. If he isn’t, as is now the case, everything falls apart. Benching Nelson is no longer inconceivable. It’s advisable, especially against a Bears defense that ranks seventh against quarterbacks and fifth against receivers in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA).



Josh McCown, Jets (at Buccaneers)

McCown keeps on getting the job done, accounting for at least two touchdowns in five straight games. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s hard to argue with the results. McCown is now the 10th-ranked fantasy quarterback in standard-scoring leagues (four points for a passing touchdown, one point for 25 passing yards, minus-two points for an interception). We’ve seen this before with McCown, and we know chances are it won’t last. Chances are even better, though, that it will continue at least through this week. The Buccaneers are 29th in quarterback aFPA, and have been burned this season by Case Keenum (369 yards and three touchdowns), Eli Manning (288 yards and two touchdowns) and Carson Palmer (283 yards and three touchdowns).

Marcus Mariota, Titans (vs. Bengals)

This isn’t as bad a spot as it might seem for Mariota. The Titans are favored by 4.5 and have an implied team total of 23 points. The Bengals are ranked 14th in quarterback aFPA, which essentially makes it a neutral matchup, based on their schedule-adjusted performance this season. For just the second time all season, Mariota will have his full complement of pass-catchers at his disposal, and two of those players, Corey Davis and Delanie Walker, were shaking off some injury rust last week. I wouldn’t bet on Mariota turning in top-five numbers at the position this week, but I do think he’s a good bet to churn out low-end QB1 production.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (at Colts)

Everyone is well aware of Roethlisberger’s road woes at this point. We don’t need to go over them in detail. Understand that they are ghastly, and they’ve only gotten worse with time. Still, this is too good a matchup to ignore. The Colts rank 25th in quarterback aFPA this season. Given the blowout potential of this one—the Steelers are 10-point favorites—you do not want to let historical trends steer you away from Roethlisberger. Even if he doesn’t have a perfectly clean game, and chances are he won’t, there’s too much scoring upside for the Steelers offense as a whole to bench Roethlisberger. In addition to being big favorites, the Steelers have an implied total of 27 points.

Superflex Special

Eli Manning, Giants (at 49ers)

If you’re a Carson Wentz or Alex Smith owner looking for a spot starter this week, Manning is a great choice. Even if you aren’t, you could talk me into Manning in one-quarterback leagues. He’s an easy starter in superflex formats, especially when you consider the flotsam that will be under center this week. Nothing has gone right for the Giants this year, but Evan Engram has emerged as a top-flight tight end, and Sterling Shepard is a capable No. 1 receiver in a pinch. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank 23rd in quarterback aFPA. There won’t be many great fantasy spots for Manning the rest of the season, but this is one of them.


Kirk Cousins, Redskins (vs. Vikings)

We saw how vulnerable the current iteration of Washington’s offense can be against a defense with a strong pass rush last week in Seattle. The Redskins pulled out an impressive win, and Cousins did his job from a real-life standpoint by throwing for 247 yards, 7.97 YPA, and protecting the ball, but he did not deliver for his fantasy owners. It’s hard to imagine things going much differently this week with the Vikings in town. Cousins is my QB14, so I don’t think he’s a terrible play by any means. A quarterback as good as he is can only be so bad from a fantasy perspective. Still, I’d try to go in another direction if possible. Some quarterbacks not mentioned here that I’d play over him include Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers (vs. Jets)

I know people want to get excited about Fitzpatrick this week. If you’re considering him, you’re likely working the stream, and he’s admittedly one of the better, widely available quarterback options this week. Still, even if you’re on the stream, I think you can do better. Tampa Bay’s offense looks listless, and it’s hard to imagine them finding any rhythm without Mike Evans, who’s serving a one-game suspension for his cheap shot on Marshon Lattimore last week. Other stream candidates I’d consider over Fitzpatrick include McCown, Manning, Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles.

Philip Rivers, Chargers (at Jaguars)

The Jaguars are first in quarterback aFPA this season. They’ve yet to allow a quarterback to score 15 fantasy points. A list of quarterbacks they’ve shut down includes Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Andy Dalton. They’ve forced two quarterbacks into negative fantasy points, and while no one is making MVP cases for Tom Savage or Joe Flacco, dominating any quarterback so thoroughly is impressive. The Chargers travel across the country for a 1 p.m. ET game, which has regularly been a challenge for West Coast teams. This is a bad spot for Rivers.

Running Backs


Dion Lewis, Patriots (at Broncos)

Yes, the Broncos have a great run defense. The Eagles just showed us how much that matters when you blow them out. Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood combined for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in the Eagles 51-23 thrashing of the Broncos last week. The Patriots should also have their way with the Broncos, and Lewis is comfortably atop the depth chart, at least when it comes to running the ball. New England has an implied total of 27 points this week, so there should be plenty of touchdowns to go around. The bet here is that Lewis gets at least one of them.

Kenyan Drake, Dolphins (at Panthers)

Drake looked great in the Dolphins' first game without Ajayi, running for 69 yards on nine carries and catching six passes for 35 yards. Damien Williams got the touchdown, but Drake was the more effective runner. He also played more snaps and got more touches, and stats like that are more predictive than touchdowns. The Panthers rank first in running back aFPA, but we’re long past the point of the season where fantasy owners don’t necessarily trust all the players in their starting lineup. Byes and injuries will do that. Drake showed enough last week, both in terms of ability and his role, to earn a starting spot this week, even with the tough matchup.

Matt Forte, Jets (at Buccaneers)

The Forte resurgence is very relevant to my interests. Over the last four weeks, he has 311 total yards and two touchdowns on 57 touches. He really broke through last week, running for 77 yards and both his scores on 14 carries in the Jets 34-21 win over the Bills. This is a long week for him and the Jets, the importance of which cannot be overstated for a running back who is less than a month from his 32nd birthday. The fact that he has outplayed Bilal Powell since the latter returned from injury is good news for his fantasy prospects the rest of the season. The Buccaneers are nearly as terrible against running backs as they are against quarterbacks, ranking 26th in aFPA at the position.

Orleans Darkwa, Giants (at 49ers)

Darkwa deserves some sort of medal for the numbers he put up while the Rams were decimating the Giants last week. That the fourth-year back out of Tulane managed to run for 71 yards on 16 carries was a minor miracle. Since emerging from Paul Perkins’s shadow in early October, Darkwa has 292 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries across four games. He has had fewer than 10 carries in two of those games, and has still managed to post 8.8 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. The 49ers, meanwhile, rank dead last in the league in running back aFPA.


Damien Williams, Dolphins (at Panthers)

Williams looked nearly as good as Drake last week, totaling 61 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches. He had the better fantasy day, thanks to the touchdown, but Drake was the more effective real-life player. While both backs should have similar roles this week, Miami’s offense isn’t one that can support two fantasy starters at running back. Drake should get more touches and play more snaps, just as he did a week ago, and that makes it hard to trust Williams.

Robert Kelley, Redskins (vs. Vikings)

Kelley scored a pair of touchdowns last week, but he had an otherwise terrible game. He had just 18 yards on 14 carries, his fourth straight game with fewer than 25 yards. Kelley has a grand total of 184 yards on 58 carries this season, which comes out to 3.2 yards per carry. The three touchdowns he has scored in his last two games are descriptive of his past performance, not predictive of what’s to come. The Vikings are third in running back aFPA, and have quieted the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Jordan Howard this season. Kelley isn’t going to break through against this brand of defense.

Isaiah Crowell, Browns (at Lions)

Here we are again. Crowell scored a 26-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Vikings last week, so fantasy owners are letting themselves believe in him once again. Take that carry out of the mix, and he had 38 yards on 10 carries. Now, I usually hate when someone does that. You can’t be selective with the stats you count, and Crowell did run for that 26-yard touchdown. However, when a player had exactly zero 20-yard runs or touchdowns, let alone a touchdown of 20-plus yards, in the first seven games of the season, I think we can rightly look askance at a 26-yard TD run that comes out of nowhere. Crowell is not a good fantasy option, and the Browns' offense is unlikely to put him in scoring position against the Lions.

Frank Gore, Colts (vs. Steelers)

It was another tough week for Gore, who ran for 51 yards on 17 carries. What’s so discouraging is that the Colts beat the Texans 20-14, and the script allowed for those 17 carries, which was the second-highest total for Gore this season. The big play is gone from his repertoire. He’s entirely dependent on volume and touchdowns for his fantasy value, and it’s hard to see him getting either this week. Not only are the Colts 10-point underdogs, but the Steelers defense ranks 10th in running back aFPA.

Wide Receivers


DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers (vs. Jets)

It has been a relatively quiet first season for Jackson with the Buccaneers. He has 27 catches for 422 yards and two touchdowns, and a noted lack of big plays down the field. With Mike Evans suspended this week, though, he should have all the targets he can handle against a Jets defense that ranks 27th in wide receiver aFPA. Given the way Josh McCown and the Jets passing game has played of late, and the way it matches up with Tampa Bay’s porous defense, Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely have to uncork plenty of downfield throws to Jackson to try to keep the Buccaneers in this one.

Mohamed Sanu, Falcons (vs. Cowboys)

Cowboys-Falcons has an over/under of 50.5, the highest on the board in Week 10. There’s almost no bad way to invest in this game, even with the understanding that this isn’t last year’s Atlanta offense. Sanu has been productive in three straight games since returning from injury, totaling 15 catches on 20 targets for 162 yards and two touchdowns in that span. The Cowboys feature an elite offense that will be matched up with Atlanta’s mediocre defense, but are also ranked 24th in wide receiver aFPA. That’s a great formula for Sanu, as well as Julio Jones. You don’t need anyone to tell you to start Jones, but let this be the push you need to get Sanu in your lineups.

Corey Davis, Titans (vs. Bengals)

Davis played last week for the first time in nearly two months, catching two passes for 28 yards. The numbers obviously don’t jump off the page, but the fact that he was healthy after dealing with a hamstring injury speaks volumes about where he stands. Davis is off the injury report for the first time this season, so it’s time to see what the fifth pick in this year’s draft can do. The Bengals are ninth in wide receiver aFPA this year, but don’t let that sway you. Davis is the game-breaking receiver the Titans needed to help push Marcus Mariota to another level. There’s enough reason to believe that will be on display this week to feel good about him as a fantasy starter in all formats in Week 10.

Robert Woods, Rams (vs. Texans)

With the way Jared Goff is playing individually, and the Rams offense is performing collectively, it’s a good bet that at least one of the team’s receivers will show up every week. Figuring out which one can be a headache, though. The surest bet a fantasy owner can make is to go with the one who leads the team in receptions, targets and yards. That’s Woods, who has 31 grabs on 49 targets for 451 yards this season. He scored his first two touchdowns of the year last week, and that has helped make him less popular in fantasy circles than Cooper Kupp or Sammy Watkins, both of whom have more touchdowns than him. Receptions, targets and yards, however, are predictive stats, and suggest that Woods is the most important receiver in the Rams' offense. He’s a worthy play—as is Kupp—against a Texans defense that ranks 30th in wide receiver aFPA.


Sammy Watkins, Rams (vs. Texans)

Watkins, on the other hand, should be on your bench. The 67-yard touchdown last week may get the lights flashing and the sirens ringing, but it’s akin to when a cop fires up his lights and siren just so he can go through a red light. The touchdown was one of Watkins’s two targets in the game. He has just 31 targets on the season, and has had two or fewer targets in four games this season. Antonio Brown couldn’t make a living on Watkins’s target share. If you’re hurting at receiver this week, I could see going with Watkins based on the Rams' offense and the great matchup, but he’s no more than a top-45 option at the position.

Will Fuller, Texans (at Rams)

Fuller has played 15 games in his career with someone other than Deshaun Watson at quarterback. He has 49 receptions for 667 yards and two touchdowns in those games, which comes out to 5.25 points in standard-scoring leagues. Conversely, he has played five games with Watson under center. In those games, he has 13 receptions for 279 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 13.98 points per game. Unfortunately for everyone who isn’t a fan of the Titans or Jaguars, Watson will not be under center this week. Fuller is un-startable until further notice.

Josh Doctson, Redskins (vs. Vikings)

Doctson has come up with a few big plays since taking Terrelle Pryor’s starting job, and he does seem to be just a few ticks away from establishing a real rhythm. The Redskins could certainly help him by funneling more targets in his direction, as he still hasn’t had more than five looks in a game. Despite those contextual factors in Doctson’s favor, this is not the week for fantasy owners to believe in him. Given his newfound status in the Washington offense, he’ll likely see a healthy dose of Xavier Rhodes, one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans, among others, have spent time lined up across from Rhodes this season. They combined for 15 catches for 174 yards against him. Those are decent numbers, but far below what’s expected of them in most matchups. Rhodes should have his way with Doctson on Sunday.

Tight Ends


Hunter Henry, Chargers (at Jaguars)

Like the Broncos before them, the Jaguars excel in pass defense by completely shutting down options outside the numbers, forcing everything to the inside. That’s a successful strategy in real football, and it creates an opportunity for tight ends in fantasy football. The Jaguars are 24th in aFPA against tight ends, surrendering touchdowns to Ben Watson, Jonnu Smith and Gerald Everett, and a 79-yard game to Tyler Kroft. Henry’s usage can be maddening, but there’s no question that he’s one of the three best weapons at Philip Rivers’s disposal, along with Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen. He needs to have a role in this game if the Chargers are going to have any chance at pulling off the upset.

Vernon Davis, Redskins (vs. Vikings)

Jordan Reed has missed two games this season and was banged up in a third. In those three games, Davis has a total of 13 catches on 17 targets for 219 yards and a touchdown. That comes out to 9.3 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, and 13.63 points per game in PPR formats. That makes him an automatic starter, regardless of opponent, any week that Reed is out.

Tyler Kroft, Bengals (at Titans)

Kroft has been among the more regularly useful tight ends of the non-elite class this season, which is about as strong an endorsement as you’re going to get in a terrible season for the position. He took over the starting gig in Week 3, and since then has 24 catches for 282 yards and three touchdowns in six games. His 7.7 points per game in standard leagues, and 11.7 points per game in PPR formats ranks sixth and seventh, respectively. Again, that makes him a starter, regardless of opponent, in the current tight end landscape.


Austin Hooper, Falcons (vs. Cowboys)

People want to force Hooper into that Davis-Kroft group, too, but he just doesn’t belong. He hasn’t been nearly as consistent as either on a per-game basis, totaling 5.6 points per game in standard leagues, and 8.8 points per game in PPR formats. What’s more, he did about half of his total damage in Week 1, when he had 128 yards and a touchdown against the Bears. Almost all of those points came on an 88-yard touchdown on what was a horribly blown coverage by the Bears secondary. Quite frankly, Hooper doesn’t even belong on the fantasy radar.

Eric Ebron, Lions (vs. Browns)

I know, I know. Every tight end scores against the Browns. They rank 31st in tight end aFPA and have allowed big games to Jesse James, Ben Watson, Kroft and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Basically, if you’re a fringy TE1, you’ve enjoyed your time playing against the Browns. Having said that, Ebron is wholly unreliable, no matter the matchup. The fact that he has played his way back onto the fantasy radar by catching five passes for 93 yards in his last two games says all you need to know about him. He’s a matchup-based desperation play, and nothing more, this week.

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