Fantasy Football Week 9 sit-start: Can Jeremy McNichols fill void?

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Sit and start is relative and league dependent, so consider some of these suggestions more “fliers” and “fades” (note that some are targeted for DFS).

Good luck with your Week 9 lineups.

Houston Texans @ Miami Dolphins

Start: Tyrod Taylor, Tua Tagovailoa

Miami’s secondary is healthier and playing better than their season-long stats may suggest, but they still allowed Josh Allen to be fantasy’s QB1 last week (albeit holding him to 5.9 YPA). Taylor is a bit of a risk having not played since Week 1, but if you need QB help, he’s an option in this matchup. He’s gotten 9.5 YPA with four total touchdowns and no turnovers (just one sack) over six quarters this season; he was playing extremely well before going down. Taylor starting over Davis Mills is also huge news for Brandin Cooks’ fantasy value, making him a top-20 WR this week.

Tagovailoa had been playing well before last week’s tough matchup in Buffalo, and this week he gets a Texans defense allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to QBs and the most yards per play on the road this season. The Dolphins don’t run the ball much, and Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki should be available Sunday. Assuming Tagovailoa’s finger injury is fine, he’ll be a top-12 fantasy QB this week.

Denver Broncos @ Dallas Cowboys

Start: Albert Okwuegbunam, Dalton Schultz

With Noah Fant unlikely to play, Albert O becomes a legitimate top-12 fantasy tight end this week. Okwuegbunam recorded both his 40-time and Speed Score in the 99th percentile, and Denver should have to throw more than usual as double-digit underdogs.

Dallas ranks last versus tight ends in DVOA by a wide margin this season.

Schultz has a real argument as fantasy’s No. 1 tight end this week with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup all dealing with injuries and Blake Jarwin likely out. Dak Prescott returns, and he’s gotten 9.1 YPA with a 10:1 TD:INT ratio over three home games this season. Facing a Denver defense decimated by injuries that just traded away Von Miller, Ezekiel Elliott ($29) is also a strong DFS play in Week 9.

Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens

Start: Kirk Cousins, Rashod Bateman

Cousins is coming off yet another poor performance in primetime, but he’s averaged 323 passing yards with an 8:0 TD:INT ratio over three road games this season; Baltimore isn’t typically thought of as a favorable place to play, but the Ravens have allowed the second-most yards per play (7.2) at home this season. With no Danielle Hunter on defense and facing a potent Ravens offense, the Vikings should also be forced to pass more than usual. Expect a huge bounce-back game from Justin Jefferson too.

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It would be less ideal for Bateman if Sammy Watkins returns this week, but the rookie is intriguing either way against a Minnesota defense allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to receivers this season. Coming off a bye and without any viable running backs, Baltimore’s passing attack could go nuts in the second half of the season with Bateman now fully healthy.

Lamar Jackson is averaging 10.8 intended air yards this season; the next highest is 9.1.

New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers

Start: Patriots D/ST

Sit in DFS: DJ Moore ($22)

New England just made Justin Herbert struggle and now gets either a floundering Sam Darnold (4.9 YPA over his last four games) coming off a brutal concussion or undrafted P.J. Walker making just his second career start behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. The Pats are a top-three fantasy D this week.

The Panthers don’t have a great fit for this sit/start exercise without being obvious, so let’s instead temper expectations for Moore this week while acknowledging he remains a fine start in season-long leagues given the volume. Carolina’s quarterback play has been a real killer to his value, as he ranks No. 4 in expected fantasy points yet No. 44 in actual fantasy points over the last month. Moore will also either see fewer targets if Christian McCaffrey returns this week, or if he gets the Bill Belichick shutting-down-opposing-team’s-top-offensive-player treatment. Play Amari Cooper ($22) at the same DFS salary or Brandin Cooks for $4 less this week instead.

Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Start: Emmanuel Sanders

Sit: Marvin Jones

Sanders is coming off a goose egg last week but still ranks 11th in air yards this season and could see more targets Sunday with Cole Beasley dealing with a rib injury. The Bills were the most pass-heavy team over the last month and face a Jacksonville pass defense that ranks last in DVOA.

Emmanuel Sanders #1 of the Buffalo Bills
Expect a bounce back from Emmanuel Sanders. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

Carlos Hyde would become a flex option should James Robinson miss Week 9, but alternatives should be exhausted before trusting Jacksonville’s passing “attack” in this matchup versus a Buffalo pass defense that ranks first in DVOA and has yielded the fewest YPA (5.6) and fantasy points to QBs and WRs this season. Jamal Agnew led the Jaguars with 12 targets last week, and Trevor Lawrence hasn’t thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 1.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals

Sit: All Browns but Nick Chubb

Start: Tee Higgins

The departure of Odell Beckham Jr. could help Cleveland’s offense, as there’s a real sample now of extreme splits with him on and off the field for Baker Mayfield. But this is a run-heavy offense that will be missing RT Jack Conklin, and Mayfield is clearly playing compromised. Jarvis Landry isn’t the worst PPR option, but he remains limited by a knee injury and hasn’t topped 7.0 fantasy points in a game since Week 1 (versus KC’s bottom defense). The Bengals have allowed just 6.9 YPA this season and should be fired up while returning home for the first time in a month and after getting upset by Mike White last week. Both teams also rank bottom-four in situation-neutral pace this season.

Higgins still hasn’t exploded but has the exact same target share (24.5%) as Ja’Marr Chase over the last four weeks (and well ahead of Tyler Boyd’s 16.5%). Remarkably, Higgins is averaging more expected PPR points per game than Chase this season. The Browns are a pass-funnel defense that ranks third against the run and 25th versus the pass in DVOA, having allowed the third-most touchdowns through the air (17) this year.

Las Vegas Raiders @ New York Giants

Start: Hunter Renfrow, Kadarius Toney

The horrible Henry Ruggs news will likely result in more targets for Renfrow, who should be extra busy Sunday with Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller both returning from injuries as well. Renfrow should remain primarily lined up in the slot, where the Giants have ceded the second-most fantasy points over the last month.

With Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley compromised by an injury or unlikely to play this week, Toney should see a bunch of targets in a fast-paced matchup. Toney is also battling a thumb injury but is expected to be fine and has really impressed while ranking top-15 in yards per route run as a rookie. The Raiders’ pass defense has played well this season, but given the expected volume combined with talent, Toney has serious fantasy upside this week.

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

Start in DFS: Kyle Pitts ($21), Alvin Kamara ($33)

Pitts was a huge bust last week; many pivoted to him Sunday morning in DFS after news broke Calvin Ridley was out. Atlanta struggled against a solid Panthers defense that added Stephon Gilmore to the mix, but the tight end saw a season-high in targets (10) when the team last had time to prepare for Ridley’s absence. Given Pitts’ talent and projected volume with Ridley out, he has a real argument as fantasy’s No. 1 tight end moving forward (especially with Travis Kelce showing his age), yet his DFS salary is just the TE5 and not even that of a top-15 WR this week. Pitts may not be overly rostered after burning so many DFS players last week too. New Orleans has surprisingly allowed the most yards per play in the NFL at home this season.

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Kamara ($33) is truly the center of New Orleans’ offense with the team turning to its backup quarterback and with no Michael Thomas for the season. With Trevor Siemian named starter, Kamara should see a ton of targets Sunday and doesn’t have to worry about Taysom Hill stealing any goal-line touchdowns. The Saints have arguably the league’s best offensive line and are near-TD home favorites against a Falcons defense that’s bottom-three in DVOA. Kamara is in line for a monster game Sunday.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Start in DFS: Austin Ekeler ($30)

Sit: DeVonta Smith

Ekeler isn’t a bargain at this salary in a 0.5-PPR format, but he’s plainly become one of fantasy football’s most valuable backs while seeing so many targets and getting goal-line carries. He has the third-most targets among running backs (despite getting none in Week 1 and LAC having a bye) and already has more than doubled the number of carries inside the five this year (five) compared to last (two). This week Ekeler gets an Eagles defense that’s allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs this season yet forces a low aDOT and shuts down wide receivers (third-fewest fantasy points), so he’s a strong DFS play.

Smith has a bright future that includes positive touchdown regression, but he’s in a tough spot this week versus a Chargers defense that ranks last against the run in DVOA but has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to receivers this season. Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s three-headed backfield also makes it tough to start any Eagles RB with confidence despite the favorable matchup this week.

Green Bay Packers @ Kansas City Chiefs

Start in DFS: Jordan Love ($20), Derrick Gore ($10)

Love didn’t run much in college and carries risk as a total unknown making his first career start. But the first-rounder impressed during the preseason and has real nice potential. Green Bay gets back Davante Adams and Allen Lazard (as well as possibly David Bakhtiari and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) this week and faces a Kansas City defense allowing the most yards per play and the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Love is highly intriguing in DFS at the minimum.

Darrel Williams is still the favorite for passing down work, but Gore looked like the better runner last week when he was given a whopping six red-zone opportunities on just 15 snaps. With Kansas City touchdown favorites at home thanks to Aaron Rodgers being out, game script should be in Gore’s favor Sunday. The Packers run defense is allowing 4.7 YPC and ranks 30th in DVOA, so Gore is another attractive DFS flier in this game.

Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

Sit: James Conner

Start in DFS: Elijah Mitchell ($21)

Conner has scored eight touchdowns while averaging just 12.5 touches/targets over the last six games. While that type of production isn’t sustainable, Kenyan Drake finished among the league leaders in goal-line carries in this same system last year, so Conner will continue to find the end zone. But he’s as TD-dependent as any fantasy player right now, and game script may not be in his favor like usual Sunday, as the 7-1 Cardinals are suddenly underdogs with Kyler Murray either out or badly compromised by a sprained ankle (DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are also questionable). The 49ers enter with the No. 7 run defense in DVOA.

Assuming Mitchell’s rib issue is good to go, the rookie is a strong DFS play this week against a run-funnel Arizona defense allowing the second-most YPC (4.9) yet the second-fewest YPA (6.3) this season. Mitchell has been given 36 of the team’s 42 carries over the last two weeks, with Trey Sermon relegated only to special teams. More targets would be nice, but Mitchell leads all running backs in yards after contact per attempt and explosive carry (10+ yards) rate. The Cardinals recently lost J.J. Watt, and Sunday’s game script could prove favorable for SF given Kyler Murray’s “legitimately” sprained ankle. Mitchell looks like fantasy football’s best waiver wire pickup of 2021.

Tennessee Titans @ Los Angeles Rams

Start: Jeremy McNichols, Van Jefferson

McNichols is a flier undoubtedly with risk, but he has intriguing workout metrics (with a BMI of a feature back) and put up some monster seasons back in college (including his final year in which he totaled 2,183 yards and scored 27 touchdowns over 13 games). Adrian Peterson may be the favorite for early down work once he gets acclimated in Tennessee, but he’s 36 years old with 3,300+ career carries; most running backs start regressing at 1,500 carries! Even if the Titans want to remain a run-heavy team with Derrick Henry out, Sunday night’s game script will likely force Tennessee to throw plenty as TD underdogs. That sets up well for McNichols, who quietly ranks second among all backs in yards per route run. He’s a boom/bust Week 9 option.

Assuming MVP-favorite Matthew Stafford is good to go, Van Jefferson is a flex option while continuing to run the same number of routes as Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods (who’s missed practice time this week with a foot injury). The Rams have this week’s second-highest implied team total and face a Titans defense allowing the most fantasy points to receivers this season.

Chicago Bears @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Sit: All Bears but Khalil Herbert

Start: Pat Freiermuth

Herbert is one of only three backs with a double-digit broken- and missed-tackle rate, as the rookie has impressed enough to be matchup proof while David Montgomery remains out. While Justin Fields certainly flashed last week, he still has the league’s highest sack rate and has managed just 5.0 YPA with one TD pass and five turnovers on the road this season (four games). It’s not an easy matchup Monday night in Pittsburgh against a Steelers defense with the third-highest pressure rate.

Freiermuth saw a nice improvement in usage last week during his first game without JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron, including two targets inside the five-yard line. It may be worth noting the Bears have yielded the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends this season while facing Darren Waller, T.J. Hockenson and Tyler Higbee, but Chicago could be missing Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Alec Ogletree on Monday night. 

The Bears enter with the league’s lowest pressure rate even when healthy, so Freiermuth is a TE sleeper this week.

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