You have lineup questions, we have lineup answers -- at least we hope so. Start 'Em, Sit 'Em is here to help fantasy managers make difficult roster decisions. And you know what is a good move? Starting Christian McCaffrey (unless he's on bye). But that's too obvious, so you won't see such simple analysis here. Instead, we're exploring more debatable situations. And if you can't find a player you are looking for, please check out the latest NFL Fantasy lineup rankings.
Every week, fantasy managers wonder if they should trust Cooper (especially given the Cleveland QB situation of late). But Cooper just keeps reminding them why they should. Last week in a tough matchup against the Seahawks, he put up 14.9 fantasy points. He has topped 14 fantasy points in four of his last six games. There is a dangerously low floor that crops up now and then, but he has been good for fantasy more often than not. Now he gets the Cardinals, who have allowed the fourth-most yards and 11th-most fantasy PPG to WRs. They also run zone coverage 78 percent of the time, and Cooper is by far the most productive Browns receiver against zone. Start him again this week.
Downs has scored more than 13 fantasy points in four straight games. Downs is averaging 16 fantasy PPG in those contests. To put that into perspective, some other WRs averaging around 16 fantasy PPG are Mike Evans, Brandon Aiyuk and Jordan Addison. You’re starting those receivers without question and you should start Downs as well. Especially against the Panthers, who run zone coverage 83 percent of the time, third-highest in the NFL. Downs leads the Colts in yards against zone. He also leads their receivers in passer rating when targeted, yards per route run and catch rate against zone. Downs needs to be started this week.
Wilson deserves a ton of credit for managing to produce despite the Jets' QB play. He’s been the first read on a league-high 46 percent of passes and has scored at least 17 fantasy points in two straight games, while reaching 15 points in three of his last four. Even his down games are in the range of 8 to 10 points, so the floor is reliable. The ceiling might not be what it would be with Aaron Rodgers, but the output still keeps him in play weekly. Especially this week against the Chargers, who have allowed the third-most fantasy PPG to WRs. That includes the sixth-most yards to the position. And there’s a good chance the Jets will have to throw more when the Chargers' offense puts up points. Wilson is definitely in play this week.
Flowers was a start last week and was a big disappointment. My bad. But I’m willing to double down. Flowers has scored double-digit fantasy points in all but two games, so the floor is still safe. While the Seahawks have been stingy to WRs of late, they do run zone coverage at the fourth-highest rate in the league (82 percent). So far this season, 35 of Flowers’ 44 catches, 400 of his 461 yards and his lone touchdown have come against zone. Plus, if Seattle is limiting the Ravens downfield, we could see them go back to the screen game, which bodes well for Flowers, especially since Seattle has shut down opposing rushing attacks. I would give him another shot in a game where Baltimore is likely to turn to the passing game early and often.
Rice had a down game and still scored 9.6 fantasy points last week. And it wasn’t like Rice was the only Chiefs player with a down performance. Patrick Mahomes was clearly not himself, playing with flu-like symptoms, and all the receivers suffered. We know the offense will be fine in the future. And in the meantime, Rice did lead the wideouts in snaps, routes, targets, catches and yards. The snaps and routes are particularly huge, because he had never led the Chiefs in either category prior. He is their WR1 now, not just in production but in usage as well. He is very much in play in what could be a high-scoring game in Germany against the Dolphins. Get Rice into your lineup this week.
IF YOU NEED A DEEPER OPTION ...
Full disclosure, I had already written up Kendrick Bourne for this slot when the news broke of his ACL tear. But I’ll pivot to another strong option. Shaheed has been a favorite of mine this season and a favorite of my colleague Patrick Claybon’s since he burst onto the scene last year. Shaheed is as boom-or-bust as they come. He has four games with more than 10 fantasy points, and in three of those he topped 18. He also has four games with fewer than eight fantasy points. Shaheed has been the Saints’ deep threat with nine of their 14 receptions of 20-plus air yards. He has 368 of their 516 yards and all three of their touchdowns on deep passes. The Bears are not a matchup to avoid -- if you’re diving a little deeper this week, take the upside swing with Shaheed.
It’s been a disappointing season for Watson. He has not reached 12 fantasy points in any game and has been held to fewer than seven fantasy points two weeks in a row. He has been held to fewer than 40 yards in three of his four games. He has really struggled against zone coverage, catching just half of his targets against zone. Jordan Love has thrown three interceptions when targeting Watson in zone and has a 42.1 passer rating on those targets. Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed have both been more efficient against zone coverage. The Rams run zone 76 percent of the time (league average is 71 percent). Watson is always a big-play threat, but those plays have been too few and far between with Love at the helm. I would get away from Watson if possible.
Palmer toughed it out last week and played through a knee injury. He was held to just three catches for 24 yards. That injury might still linger into this week’s matchup against the Jets, one of the toughest for fantasy receivers. They have allowed the fewest yards and touchdowns and by far the fewest fantasy PPG to receivers. Palmer runs two-thirds of his routes out wide, which means he will see plenty of Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed. And it’s not like you can count on one long play to salvage his day. The Jets have more interceptions (four) against deep passes than completions allowed (three) this season. Absurd. Palmer has been very useful in fantasy football, but this is a week to get away.
EDITOR'S UPDATE: Palmer has been ruled out for Monday's game against New York due to a knee injury, the team announced Saturday.
Osborn had his best game of the year last week, but there is no way I could comfortably start him this week with Kirk Cousins now out for the season. Likely starter Jaren Hall completed three of his four passes last week but he would be a fifth-round rookie QB making his first NFL start. If recent trade acquisition Joshua Dobbs gets the starting nod instead, things might be better down the road, but I wouldn’t feel great starting his pass-catchers mere days after he joined the team. The Vikings will be on the road against a Falcons team that had been pretty stingy to receivers before DeAndre Hopkins burned them last week. T.J. Hockenson can be started because he’s a safety blanket type of target and tight end is shallow. Jordan Addison has been too good and is too much of a big-play threat to avoid. But Osborn has one game with double-digit points in his last five outings. That’s the type of player you get away from in this situation.
Wilson has been a productive player and popular fantasy streamer at times. With the possibility of Kyler Murray returning this week still out there, people might get excited and want to stream Wilson. Not so fast. He faces the Browns, who have been stingy against receivers, allowing the third-fewest yards to receivers and just five receiving touchdowns this season. They use man coverage at the third-highest rate (45 percent) in the league. Wilson has just one catch for eight yards against man coverage this season. Granted, he scored a touchdown on that catch, but still. The matchup makes this iffy regardless, and rookie fifth-round pick Clayton Tune will get the start if Murray can't go. An all-around nope from me this week.