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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em

Week 17 Fantasy Starts

Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is over with after 99.9% of fantasy leagues held their Super Bowls in Week 16. But daily fantasy (DFS) is still alive and kicking and will continue to do so throughout the playoffs. There’s no need to continue to list “sits” — that would be a waste of my time and yours. Instead, this week, I’ll hit on some cost-friendly options in the DFS world, trying to stay away from obvious stud plays like Saquon Barkley, Antonio Brown, etc. Below are 14 guys I have my eyes on as bargain-priced plays, especially at FanDuel, which is where I get my daily fantasy exposure.


Lamar Jackson vs. Browns: Since taking over as the starter in Week 11, Jackson is the overall QB14 in fantasy points per game with weekly finishes of QB13 - QB15 - QB11 - QB12 - QB9 - QB17. He’s been steady for sure, but Jackson just hasn’t had that huge game where he runs for one and throws for multiple scores or vice versa. The rookie has just two rushing touchdowns and none since Week 13, though he is providing a stable foundation to build upon with 77.3 yards per game on the ground. His 39 yards last week as a runner against the Chargers were Jackson’s fewest in six weeks as the starter and his first game with fewer than 67 yards rushing. He made up for it by throwing for 204 yards, his first game with more than 200 yards through the air. The Ravens are averaging a crisp 73.2 plays per game since Week 11. This week, they get a Browns team that is dead last in opponent plays per game, obviously inflated a bit by early-season overtime games, but they’ve remained at No. 32 throughout the year in that department. Cleveland is 20th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and has faced the most passing attempts. The Browns haven’t faced a ton of mobile quarterbacks this year. An injured Cam Newton had five carries for 23 yards in Week 14. Deshaun Watson went 7-30 as a runner the previous week. But back in Week 7, Jameis Winston peeled off 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts as a runner. The Ravens are playing for the AFC North crown in this one, while the Browns are trying to get to 8-7-1 and knock Baltimore out of the playoffs. This should be a spirited game despite its low 41-point total. The Ravens are 6.5-point home favorites, but nobody is writing off the Browns in this spot. Jackson has shown he has a reliable floor in fantasy. He’s a safe cash-game play and has the skill set to be a top scorer at the position.

Josh Allen vs. Dolphins: Allen is the guy we want Lamar Jackson to be from an upside standpoint. Since taking over after the Week 11 bye, Allen is the overall QB3 in fantasy points per game, which includes his dreadful QB22 afternoon in Week 16. Only Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are outscoring Allen over the last month. And Allen’s Week 16 could have been so much bigger if not for Robert Foster losing a long touchdown in the sun and dropping the ball and Jason Croom losing a fumble deep inside New England territory. Allen has thrown five of his seven touchdowns for the season over the last five weeks and has also ran for three in that span with 381 rushing yards total. Allen might actually be good, which would be bad news for the draft community which spent all of last offseason slamming him and the Bills. Allen now gets to end his year at home against a Dolphins team that is 21st in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins bounced back against Miami in Week 15 to complete two-thirds of his passes with a couple scores. Tom Brady turned back the clock to 2018 and hung 358 yards and three touchdowns in Week 14. And Allen had his best game of the season against Miami in Week 13, throwing for 231 yards and two scores while running for a season-high 135 yards. Allen was the QB2 that week behind Mahomes. The Dolphins are bottom-10 against both the pass and the run and 24th in opponent plays per game. Buffalo ran 72 plays in Week 13, their second-most of the season with Allen under center. This game’s 38.5-point total is the lowest on the board with Allen coming off a down game, but he has immense upside.

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Nick Mullens at Rams: I don’t expect the Niners to really compete to win this game, but Mullens is going to play the whole thing with no reason to go back to C.J. Beathard. San Francisco is a significant 9.5-point road underdog facing a Rams team that is third in the league in offensive pace. The Niners will be paced up in this spot and playing from behind, which should lead to more volume for Mullens. When punting at quarterback, which Mullens would classify as, we just want a guy who is going to fire off a bunch of passes and maybe rack up some garbage-time stats. In the three losses Mullens has been involved in, he’s attempted 32, 48, and 38 passes. He even mixed in 414 pass yards and two touchdowns in the Week 13 loss in Seattle, finishing as the week’s QB7. The Rams have been better against the pass in recent weeks since getting Aqib Talib (ankle) back, but they were lit up by Nick Foles in Week 15. They’ve otherwise handled Matthew Stafford, Mitchell Trubisky, and Josh Rosen with relative simplicity. Mullens may not be any better than those other guys, but he plays in a system that is extremely friendly to quarterbacks and has shown an ability to put up numbers. At his rock-bottom price, you’re already looking fine if you just get two touchdowns from him. This game has a 50-point total, and the Rams could take the foot off the gas in the second half if they build a significant lead, giving Mullens a chance to work against some non-Talib defensive backs. Mullens is obviously best left for tournaments, but it can work in cash games. The Mullens to Geroge Kittle connection should be strong as Kittle eyes the tight end receiving yards record.


Gus Edwards vs. Browns: Edwards entered the lineup at the same time as Lamar Jackson in Week 11 and has seen no fewer than 14 carries in a game while averaging 18.3 in his six games atop the depth chart. He has four 100-yard games, including 105 yards against the Chargers last Saturday in an upset win. Kenneth Dixon’s return to the lineup has stolen snaps from Edwards, but this offense runs the ball so much that it can support all three of Edwards, Dixon, and Jackson as runners. Edwards has been extremely steady with no fewer than 67 yards in a game; the key for him is scoring a touchdown to unlock any sort of upside. He has two of those, and both have come at home. The Browns have allowed the seventh-most rushing yards and fourth-most ground touchdowns to running backs this year while being an extreme run-funnel defense. Cleveland is No. 6 in pass-defense DVOA but 21st against the run. The Browns are also dead last in opponent plays per game, setting up extremely nicely for Edwards to maybe flirt with 18-20 carries as 6.5-point home favorites. Edwards has been going overlooked in the fantasy world for the better part of the last month. He’s a far better play on FanDuel where it’s half-PPR as opposed to full-point PPR over at DraftKings. Edwards has just one catch on one target in the pass game since becoming the Ravens’ lead back.

C.J. Anderson vs. 49ers: Todd Gurley missed last week’s easy win over the Cardinals with a knee injury and again didn’t practice on Wednesday. He’s not a guy who needs to practice to play on Sundays, but after how easily the Rams handled the Cardinals last week, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to push Gurley in what should be another simple win at home against the Niners. Anderson was with the Rams for less than a week but immediately took over as L.A.’s lead back and piled up 172 yards and a touchdown on 21 touches while playing 75% of the snaps. This is an offense that likes to use one back and just keep rolling through the playbook. Arizona has one of the league’s worst run defenses, and San Francisco’s isn’t much better. The Niners are 25th in run-defense DVOA and 20th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. With the Rams as 9.5-point favorites, this is another game script that should favor Anderson via the ground. The Niners surrendered 13-53-1 to Jordan Howard last week, 22-119-1 to Chris Carson in Week 15, and 20-66-1 to Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman the week before. Rams RBs ran the ball 28 times against San Francisco back in Week 7, totaling 128 yards and two touchdowns. Anderson will again be a staple if Gurley sits.

Jeff Wilson at Rams: Opposite Anderson will be Wilson, who is again back in the saddle as the Niners’ No. 1 running back following Matt Breida’s aggravated ankle injury in Week 16. He’s already been ruled out for the finale, and it’ll be Matt Dayes behind Wilson. Breida missed all or most of Weeks 13 and 14. In those two games, Wilson played 78.4% of the snaps and touched the ball 47 times as a true workhorse. Breida played just 10 snaps before leaving last week, and Wilson was in on 69% of the downs while touching the ball 13 times in a really tough spot against the Bears. He seems like a near-lock for 18 touches at minimum in this one, especially with Dante Pettis (knee) out and Marquise Goodwin (calf) not practicing Wednesday and in danger for the finale. Wilson and George Kittle should be the centerpieces. The Rams have struggled in run defense much of the year, giving up 4.78 YPC to running backs and checking in at No. 29 in run-defense DVOA. At least for the first half of this one, Wilson should get plenty of chances to run the ball. And if the Niners are somehow able to keep this close, Wilson would be in even better shape. L.A. just gave up 67 yards and a touchdown on 11 touches to David Johnson last week. Wendell Smallwood appeared out of this air to hang a 10-48-2 rushing line on the Rams the week before with Josh Adams also scoring and Darren Sproles averaging 10.0 YPC. Jordan Howard had 101 yards on the ground in Week 14, and teammate Tarik Cohen got his as well with 89 total yards. The Rams play to stop the pass.

Royce Freeman vs. Chargers: By the time the weekend rolls around, there are going to be a number of cheap running backs that start popping up as Week 17 plays whether it’s due to injuries ahead of them or teams resting studs. Freeman falls into the former category, as Phillip Lindsay injured his wrist on Christmas Eve night against the Raiders and needs surgery. Third-round rookie Freeman has an opportunity to end his first season on an upswing. He’s seen double-digit carries in a game just once since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 7 and hasn’t scored since Week 11 after accruing four rushing touchdowns the first seven weeks. Lindsay had taken control of this backfield. But it’ll now be left to Freeman and Devontae Booker to close out another lost season for coach Vance Joseph’s group, a staff that’s going to want to win as it heads out the door. This is an offense that prefers to run the ball. It figures to be Freeman handling the early-down and goal-line opportunities with Booker staying involved in the pass game and two-minute role. With this game being in Denver, perhaps the Broncos can hang around a little bit longer and keep this one close. They’re currently 6.5-point underdogs but will be getting up for this one since it’s at Mile High. The Chargers are No. 21 in fantasy points allowed to running backs on the season but 28th over the last three weeks after getting run over by the Ravens last Saturday. Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon totaled 120 yards on 22 carries, including a 43-yard dash for Edwards on the game’s opening play. In Week 15, Damien Williams found the end zone twice on the ground. And Joe Mixon had a 26-111-1 day as a rusher in Week 14 against these Bolts. When these two clubs met in Week 10, Lindsay had 11-79-2 on the ground, and Freeman even got in on the fun with a 7-23-1 line in a win. Freeman should flirt with 12-15 carries at minimum, and he’s always a threat for a short touchdown plunge. Both the Chargers and Broncos are in the top half of the league in offensive pace as well.


Robert Foster vs. Dolphins: Foster has progressed into an every-down receiver the last three weeks after going 3-105 in Week 10 against the Jets and 2-94-1 the next game against the Jaguars. Foster is now getting volume with 20 targets Weeks 14-16. He answered with back-to-back 100-yard games against the Jets (7-104) and Lions (4-108-1) and should have had another one last week against the Patriots (4-52) but lost what would have been an easy 82-yard touchdown in the sun. He also had an opportunity for a 25-yard score but couldn’t come down with a tough grab. Foster now gets a home date with a Dolphins Defense that has simply given up, especially after losing top CB Xavien Howard to a knee injury a couple weeks ago. Miami is 24th in pass-defense DVOA and 23rd in fantasy points allowed to receivers over the last five weeks. Stefon Diggs and Aldrick Robinson had touchdowns against Miami in Week 15. Josh Gordon went 5-96 and fellow outside receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went 2-51-1 in Week 14. The Bills still employed Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes when these teams met in Week 13, but Zay Jones (4-67-2) and Isaiah McKenzie (4-46) had strong games. T.Y. Hilton went 7-125 against Miami in Week 12. This defense is very susceptible to coverage busts on the back end, especially against deep threats like Foster.

DaeSean Hamilton vs. Chargers: Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles’ in practice ahead of Week 14. In the three games since, Hamilton has seen target counts of 9, 12, and 9 with receiving lines of 7-47-1, 7-46, and 6-40-1. Hamilton has played all but seven snaps in that span and has taken over as the Broncos’ slot man. It’s a convenient spot in an offense quarterbacked by Case Keenum, who likes to get the ball out quick. The yardage totals could obviously be better for Hamilton, but the volume is definitely there, especially with him getting work in the red zone. Individually, Hamilton gets a tough draw against Chargers slot CB Desmond King, who is Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 cover corner out of 120 qualifiers, but volume is the draw here. And if the Chargers see the Chiefs crushing the Raiders on the scoreboard at halftime, they could draw back and rest important players like King in the second half. Hamilton is simply still too cheap to ignore his volume with the Broncos also set up as 6.5-point underdogs at the moment. Hamilton has shown a bankable floor since Week 14.

Chris Godwin vs. Falcons: DeSean Jackson returned from this thumb injury last week against the Cowboys only to get hurt again after having the back of his foot/Achilles’ area stepped on. His sock was torn on the play, and Jackson was in and out of the game the rest of the afternoon, ceding snaps to Godwin and Bobo Wilson. Godwin popped back up for a 3-39 day in Dallas after totaling just one catch for 13 yards on 13 targets the previous two weeks against the Saints and Ravens. If Jackson sits, Godwin should be an 80-85% clip player against Atlanta, which is a much easier matchup than he’s had in the three previous contests. The Falcons are 29th in pass-defense DVOA and 24th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. The last time these two teams met back in Week 6, Godwin went 6-56-1 despite playing just over 56% of the snaps. Jameis Winston had arguably his best statistical game of the season that day with 414 total yards and four passing touchdowns. Jackson doesn’t have a future in Tampa Bay. Godwin does. He should get plenty of run in a game with a 51.5-point total that pits two of the eight fastest-paced offenses against one another. The Falcons are also 26th in opponent plays per game and 29th in that category since Week 14.

Kendrick Bourne at Rams: Dante Pettis injured his knee early in last week’s loss to the Bears and is out for Week 17. Marquise Goodwin came on in relief and hurt his Achilles’ on the final play; he’d already been dealing with a calf issue and didn’t practice Wednesday. Since about Week 10, Bourne has been the starter opposite Pettis, but may now have to take over No. 1 receiver duties by way of default against the Rams. He’s played over 87% of the snaps in four of the last six games, including 94.5% last Sunday. Bourne turned five targets into a 4-73 day against Chicago. He has at least 60 yards or a touchdown in four of the last seven outings and has plus size at 6’1/203 to be a factor in the scoring area. George Kittle should dominate targets for the Niners in this one, but the 49ers are going to be up in pace and likely playing from behind in a game with a 50-point total. There should be plenty of opportunities for the ancillary parts behind Kittle, and Bourne tops the list. Behind him, if Goodwin sits, are slot man Trent Taylor, returner Richie James, and fresh-off-the-practice-squad wideout Steven Dunbar. That’s all the Niners have at receiver. The Rams have put the clamps down in pass defense for the most part since Aqib Talib’s return from ankle surgery, but the opponents haven’t been all that imposing with dates against the Lions, Bears, and Cardinals. The one team to light them up was Nick Foles’ Eagles in an upset win out in L.A. On the year, the Rams are 20th in fantasy points allowed to receivers. C.J. Beathard quarterbacked the Niners when these two teams met way back in Week 7 and Bourne barely played. Nick Mullens took over two weeks later. Bourne should have a floor of roughly six targets Sunday with a chance to flirt with 8-10. The Rams are playing for the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the Niners are playing for a top draft pick.

Tre’Quan Smith vs. Panthers: Ted Ginn returned from I.R. last week, and that resulted in Smith playing his fewest snaps (39.4%) since Ginn went on the shelf while running just 19 routes. He caught his lone target for 11 yards. Smith has 15 yards or fewer in four-straight games. But the Saints have locked up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC, so they have nothing to gain by playing their studs. Drew Brees has already said Teddy Bridgewater will get plenty of run at quarterback. Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas are also unlikely to play much, if at all. Ginn may also be held back, so that should leave guys like Keith Kirkwood, Smith, and Austin Carr at receiver. Smith is not someone to use in cash games, but we’ve already seen what he can do on the fast track of the Superdome with receiving lines of 3-111-2, 2-23-1, and 10-157-1 in the three home games with Ginn sidelined. The Panthers are just playing out the string on their season and have lost seven in a row. Over the last five weeks, only the Jets have given up more fantasy points to receivers, and only the 49ers have allowed more touchdowns to the position in that span. Carolina has tumbled all the way down to No. 26 in pass-defense DVOA. Bridgewater is fully capable of beating this defense, and Smith should serve as his deep threat. Smith is near minimum price on most sites.


Chris Herndon at Patriots: Since the bye, Herndon has seen at least six targets in 3-of-5 games after accomplishing that just once the first 10 weeks. He’s played at least 65% of the snaps in all five games since the open date while running more pass routes than ever. Quincy Enunwa (ankle) remains sidelined, and Jermaine Kearse injured his Achilles’ last week. It leaves Robby Anderson and Herndon as rapidly-improving Sam Darnold’s top weapons along with Elijah McGuire in the backfield. The Patriots have allowed the seventh-most touchdowns and 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends. This is just a relatively slow defense compared to the rest of the league. Herndon caught a season-high seven passes for 57 yards against this same defense in Week 12. Jason Croom of the Bills had 4-55 against New England in Week 16. Vance McDonald caught a touchdown in Week 15. Jonnu Smith went 3-45-1 in Week 10, and Jimmy Graham had 4-55-1 the previous game. Herndon is a nice mid-range tight end play, but most will be paying up for the studs at tight end this week.

Jason Croom vs. Dolphins: Charles Clay was a healthy scratch for the Bills last week. With Clay out, second-year UDFA Croom made his third start in four weeks and played a season-high 72% of the snaps while setting career highs across the board with six targets turned into four catches and 55 yards. The only blemish was a lost fumble as he was fighting for extra yards inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line. Clay figures to be in street clothes again this week before getting his walking papers in the offseason. Croom had a solid preseason with three grabs for 50 yards and a touchdown and has good size at 6’5/246 to be a red-zone factor. The Dolphins have been terrible against tight ends this season, allowing ninth-most fantasy points and third-most touchdowns to the position. Vikings TEs Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Conklin combined for 5-76 against Miami in Week 15. Rob Gronkowski sprang back to life the week before with an 8-107-1 afternoon. Eric Ebron had 5-45-2 in Week 12. Chris Herndon led the Jets in receiving with 4-62 in Week 9. Texans rookie Jordan Thomas had a coming out party with 4-29-2 in a Week 8 barrage. The week before that, Michael Roberts of the Lions caught three balls for 48 yards and a pair of score. If not paying up for one of the studs at tight end, Croom is minimum-priced and is as good of a dart throw as anyone else at the position.

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