In our Week 4 fantasy football start ’em and sit ’em, we let the data give you another perspective that likely varies from the expert consensus.
Fantasy Football Start ‘Em/Sit ‘Em Quick Hits
- Week 4 Yays: Russell Wilson (QB8), Rachaad White (RB11), Brandon Aiyuk (WR12), DeAndre Hopkins (WR26)
- Week 4 Nays: Joe Burrow (QB15), Raheem Mostert (RB21), Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR18), DK Metcalf (WR25)
- Wonder how we get our projections or how they differ from the market? This explains our model
Setting your fantasy football lineup each week isn’t as simple as starting your best players and moving on.
Sure, if you have either of the Kansas City Chiefs’ stars Patrick Mahomes or Travis Kelce or a Justin Jefferson, you can do that. But for most of the non-stars on each of your rosters, other factors should come into consideration.
We’ve in the past talked about the role weather should play in your lineup decisions. We’ve also stressed the importance of considering a player’s opponent’s offense each week, as it’s much more fantasy relevant for most players to play in a 35-31 game as opposed to a 17-14 game.
So, let’s talk about a third factor that should be at the forefront of the decision-making process that’s at least on the surface a bit more obvious… the defense your player is facing.
Sometimes, that presents itself in the form of a player in a matchup against a defense’s direct strength. For example, take any running back facing the Tennessee Titans over the last two seasons. In 2021, the Titans finished second in rushing yards allowed per game and fourth in yards allowed per carry. In 2022, the Titans finished first in the NFL in both categories, and for good measure only allowed six touchdowns to running backs all season.
So far this season, the Titans are fourth in rush yards allowed per game and first in the NFL in yards per carry.
Which means that if you choose to start a running back against Tennessee, you need to be able to count on production in the passing game. This week, it’s Joe Mixon’s turn to face Mike Vrabel’s defense, and with only eight catches in three games, Mixon is a risky start.
Other times, it’s a player’s individual matchup. The most famous one-on-one battle in the NFL over the last couple years is happening this week, as Mike Evans and Marshon Lattimore are scheduled to battle for the 12th time in their careers.
Here are Evans’ averages in games against the New Orleans Saints when Lattimore plays: 2.6 receptions, 44.8 yards, 0.36 touchdowns. Those numbers include one game in which he was ejected for fighting Lattimore. In another, he was suspended for a future game for a cheap shot on Lattimore. Meanwhile, here are Evans’ career averages: 5.0 receptions, 76.6 receiving yards, 0.6 touchdowns.
In general, if your player is scheduled to see a lot of shadow coverage from a top cornerback, like Sauce Gardner or Pat Surtain, that can be a critical tiebreaker.
Finally, there’s also the simplest of cases. What if your player is just facing an awesome defense? What if your decision is coming down to two players, and one of those players is a Baltimore Raven? Well this week, the Ravens are traveling to Cleveland to face the Cleveland Browns, and there’s been no more dominant defense during the early part of the season than Myles Garrett’s Browns, who we were high on coming into the season.
Get this, the Browns have allowed 21 first downs all season. That is 20 first downs fewer than the number two team has allowed.
There are 12 teams allowing 21 or more first downs per game!
If you don’t give up first downs, it means as a unit, you’re not allowing many yards. Or, in theory, drives that allow for high-percentage scoring plays. The Browns are second in rushing yards allowed per game (52.0), first in passing yards allowed per game (111.7) and allow 90 yards fewer per game than the Buffalo Bills’ second-ranked defense.
And if you don’t give up yards, you don’t give up points. The Browns are first in the NFL in offensive touchdowns allowed (one, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2) and offensive points allowed (18).
From a fantasy perspective, the best weekly finish for a QB through three weeks against the Browns is Kenny Pickett’s QB29 performance in Week 2. Derrick Henry is coming off a finish as RB67, only one wide receiver has surpassed 50 receiving yards in a game, and tight ends have combined to catch seven passes for 26 yards against Cleveland through three weeks.
While the Browns defense is performing this well, steering clear of players who face the Browns might be the prudent move.
Friendly reminder before we get to our Yays and Nays this week: Bijan Robinson and the Atlanta Falcons are squaring off against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London this week in an early Sunday morning start time.
Week 4 Yays
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week (we pulled these numbers from Wednesday). Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Russell Wilson, QB (DEN) vs. CHI (ECR: 15, Our Rank: 8, Projected Points: 18.21)
Is this a matchup between the two fanbases that are most upset at their organizations? Or maybe it has already moved from anger to resignation? Regardless, what we’re almost certainly looking at here is a matchup of two of the worst defenses in the NFL. Let’s just say this: the Chicago Bears are home underdogs to a Denver Broncos team that just gave up 70 points.
Why is that the case? Because for as poor as the Broncos have been all season, Russ has actually been alright. He’s eighth in the league in passing yards, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, and through three weeks is QB9 in fantasy. Meanwhile, the Bears have allowed the third most passing touchdowns, allowing three in both weeks 1 and 3, which coincides with Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes respectively finishing as top-five quarterbacks for the week.
And worst of all for the Bears? Last week’s dismal outing occurred in front of Taylor Swift. Well, Russ is a top-10 QB for the model this week, and it’s going to be even harder after this week to tell Bears fans to “Shake it Off.”
Rachaad White, RB (TB) vs. NO (ECR: 24, Our Rank: 11, PP: 15.76)
Along with the Titans, the New Orleans Saints have been the other team that’s consistently been extremely tough to run against over the last few years. That’s continued through the early portion of this season, limiting starting running backs to 139 rushing yards through three games.
But, the Saints have allowed 15 catches to running backs, and White is not only seeing a large number of snaps but an overwhelming majority of the passing snaps for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – including a staggering 92.6% rate in Week 3.
It’s that volume and opportunity that the model expects White to see that has him soaring up our rankings. White is projected for fewer than four yards per carry and has the fourth lowest touchdown projection among our model’s top 14 running backs. However, a solid output through the air has our model expecting a borderline RB1 performance out of White this week.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR (SF) vs. ARI (ECR: 25, Our Rank: 12, PP: 15.92)
A shoulder injury robbed Aiyuk of most of Week 2 and all of Week 3, but for any further proof why the model might be enamored with Aiyuk, look no further than his scintillating Week 1 performance, good for a weekly finish as WR2, after a promising 2022.
On top of that, he faces an Arizona Cardinals team that despite hammering the Dallas Cowboys last week, has allowed the most red-zone drives (15), the sixth most yards per play in the red zone, and has surrendered the second most drives of 10+ plays (8). Which are not encouraging signs against a San Francisco 49ers team that is fourth in yards per game, but only 20th in turning red-zone trips into touchdowns (53.8%).
Those struggles for the Cardinals on defense inside their own 20-yard line are one of the main reasons why Aiyuk is the second most likely wide receiver to score a touchdown this week – behind only Tyreek Hill. Aiyuk has WR1 potential this week.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR (TEN) vs. CIN (ECR: 38, Our Rank: 26, PP: 13.65)
When we included Hopkins as a Yay in Week 1, we highlighted the number of targets he saw as a main reason to continue trusting him despite being on a new offense with a new quarterback.
Through three weeks, Hopkins’ target percentage (31.6%) is the fourth highest among the 24 players with at least 25 targets. In a similar vein, his 79 routes run are the second fewest among all players with at least 22 targets. When Hopkins runs a route, Ryan Tannehill is throwing him the ball.
Against a tough Cincinnati Bengals defense this week that just held the Los Angeles Rams to one garbage-time touchdown, Hopkins profiles as Tannehill’s best option through the air. To outperform his ECR, Hopkins doesn’t even need to get in the end zone. As long as he capitalizes on the opportunities he’s been receiving, he’s definitely in consideration as a flex play this week.
Week 4 Nays
Joe Burrow, QB (CIN) vs. TEN (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 15, PP: 16.54)
The top fantasy scoring quarterback through three weeks isn’t Justin Herbert, or Tua Tagovailoa, or Trevor Lawrence, or Mahomes or the Philadelphia Eagles’ master of the tush push Jalen Hurts. It’s Kirk Cousins, the signal caller for the Minnesota Vikings, who leads the NFL in passing yards (1,075) and passing touchdowns (9).
You know who’s 24th in passing yards, and only has two passing touchdowns so far this season? That’s right, it’s Burrow. With a seemingly debilitating calf injury, Burrow ranks last in air yards per throw and second-to-last in well-thrown percentage among all QBs with at least 100 passing attempts.
There’s no doubt that Burrow has earned all the patience in the world from his organization, but for one week, it might be safer to keep Burrow on the bench until he inevitably starts to turn things around. He’s a QB2 for the model this week.
Raheem Mostert, RB (MIA) vs. BUF (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 21, PP: 13.41)
There are so many jaw-dropping numbers to look at from the Miami Dolphins 70-point outburst last week, but maybe the most eye-opening is that Mostert accounted for four touchdowns, seven receptions, 142 scrimmage yards, yet scored fewer fantasy points than his backup, De’Von Achane.
It was Mostert’s second straight week as a top-five running back after the Dolphins’ Week 2 victory over the New England Patriots. However, after a performance like last week’s, Achane’s claim for more backfield touches is likely to increase.
And that’s no good for Mostert this week against a Bills defense that has yet to allow a touchdown to a running back this season. Mostert has at least 19 touches in each of the last two weeks. Our model is projecting him for three fewer touches, and with a low likelihood of scoring a touchdown, Mostert finds himself as an RB2 entering the week.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR (DET) vs. GB (ECR: 8, Our Rank: 18, PP: 14.79)
St. Brown is a flashy name to include in our Nays list, so let’s add a little bit of needed context before we get into why. His projected points of 14.79 is only 1.63 points behind CeeDee Lamb, who’s 10th in our projections. Which we highlight to explain that this week in particular, there is a huge jumble of WRs in the WR2/3 range and that some of those factors we talked about in our intro could come to the forefront in making final decisions.
Specifically for St. Brown, there are two factors that work slightly against him. All indications are that David Montgomery will be back for the Detroit Lions this week, and with him healthy in Week 1, the Lions ran the ball 34 times, which is five fewer times than what they averaged in Weeks 2 and 3. Furthermore, St. Brown, for all of his volume that he receives, only has one touchdown in his last eight games.
You’re still likely starting him against the Green Bay Packers tonight if you have him, but without a solid chance of finding the end zone, he’s closer to a WR2 than a WR1, right alongside New York Jets’ star Garrett Wilson.
DK Metcalf, WR (SEA) vs. NYG (ECR: 14, Our Rank: 25, PP: 13.65)
Speaking of finding the end zone, Metcalf has only scored one touchdown in his last seven games, and during that stretch he had no games with 10+ targets and his last outing was the first time he recorded more than 81 receiving yards.
But maybe that’s no coincidence, because after a hugely impressive start to last season for Geno Smith, he started to decline a little bit towards the end. From weeks 3-14 last season, Smith had multiple passing touchdowns in every game but one. However, he only has nine in his last seven games, and Tyler Lockett has secured three of those touchdowns.
The one-on-one matchups will be there against a New York Giants team that loves to blitz, but the model thinks Lockett and Ken Walker III are more likely to score touchdowns this week. Metcalf’s a WR2 for our model, with the ability to reach WR1 if he can get back to his touchdown-scoring ways.
Looking for more on trending players like Christian Watson, Aaron Jones, Kirk Cousins and Breece Hall? Don’t forget to check out our weekly waiver wire takes, complete fantasy football rankings and start/sit comparison tool, as well as our NFL predictions and statistical leaderboard. Happy exploring. And follow along on Instagram and X.