In our Week 7 fantasy football start ’em and sit ’em, we let the data give you another perspective that likely varies from the expert consensus.
For the second straight week, let’s do an intro that we’ve previously done before.
Why? Because Sunday is National Tight End Day. Oh you didn’t know? Do your duty and read on as we highlight some players deserving of the spotlight, starting with a few tight ends all from the same college attended by the inventor of the holiday.
George Kittle, of course, is the creator of this holiday, and as a proud Iowa alumnus, it’s fitting that he played football at a program that can credibly identify itself as Tight End University. Kittle, as maybe the premier all-around tight end in the game – and definitely as the NFL’s premier wrestling fan – owns the championship belt for best tight end performance so far this year with his three-touchdown, 27.7-point outing in the San Francisco 49ers commanding Week 5 showing over the Dallas Cowboys. TEU prepares you well for primetime.
Kittle’s second touchdown drew eyes around the league, because fellow Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta scored on a nearly identical play for the Detroit Lions earlier in the day.
LaPorta has vaulted himself almost immediately into a must-start situation, entering Week 7 as the TE2.
However, the most consistent Iowa tight end, the one currently leading NFL tight ends in targets (47), is T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson is one of only two tight ends in the NFL with double-digit PPR points in at least five games this season, and this week, he’ll attempt to continue that consistency with a matchup against Kittle’s 49ers on Monday Night Football.
Evan Engram is one of three Jacksonville Jaguars with at least 44 targets on the season, but he’s unquestionably been Trevor Lawrence’s security blanket so far. There are 51 players with at least 35 targets this season. Engram’s 93.2 open percentage is the best mark of anyone in that group.
Engram has at least five receptions in five of the six games he’s played this season (he had four in the other) and is looking to continue his impressive start to 2023 tonight against the New Orleans Saints.
Kyle Pitts is not from TEU, but he did – wait for it – score a touchdown last week! His first since Week 8 of last season. It’s been a difficult relationship between Pitts and his fantasy managers for essentially his entire career (he only has four touchdowns) so we can only hope, along with Atlanta Falcons fans, that they keep feeding him the ball.
Since Week 9 of last season, a span of 15 games, Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet is averaging 11.9 PPR points per game – the fifth best mark among tight ends. He’s been aided by some explosive performances, having posted three games with multiple touchdowns during that stretch.
Two of the tight ends averaging more points per game than Kmet’s mark are Kittle and Hockenson. Another of those tight ends is Baltimore Ravens star Mark Andrews. Since entering the league in 2018, Andrews is fourth among tight ends in receptions, third in receiving yards, and second in touchdowns.
He’s been one of the league’s best tight ends for five years, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down any time soon – his 14.3 fantasy points per game are the second highest among tight ends this season.
Which brings us slowly meandering to the NFL’s best fantasy tight end. Fantasy football managers already knew he was maybe the single most advantageous player to roster each season. Case in point, here are his finishes among tight ends in PPR points since 2016. TE1, TE1, TE1, TE1, TE1, TE2 (good job Mark Andrews!), TE1 and yes, he’s currently TE1 this season.
Football junkies and nerds have known for some time that he is on a direct path to the Hall of Fame. Need some more numbers? There have been 27 seasons in which a tight end has recorded at least 1,125 receiving yards. He is responsible for six of those seasons, including reaching that mark in each of the last five.
And now, he hosts the NFL’s most popular player-podcast with his brother, he’s appearing on Saturday Night Live, and if we buried the lede, he’s dating Taylor Swift. And all the Swifties can take comfort in the fact that their idol is dating someone who is as good at their craft as Taylor is at hers.
So, here’s a hat tip to the sensational Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who probably in his wildest dreams never thought he’d not only be the most popular player in the NFL, but that he’d have a legitimate argument to be the best tight end in NFL history.
The Yays: Week 7 Fantasy Plays Projected Higher Than Expert Consensus
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 Thursday). Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Aidan O’Connell, QB (LV) vs. CHI (ECR: 27, Our Rank: 16, PP: 14.38)
Yeah, you weren’t expecting us to come right out of the gate with that, were you?
Well, sometimes the stars align for a backup quarterback to immediately become fantasy relevant. It could mean that the backup is more mobile or better suited to run the offense or more willing to just grip it and rip it (think Ryan Fitzpatrick). And sometimes, it just means a matchup against the Chicago Bears.
Everywhere you look, the stats are not favorable for the Bears defense. They are 29th in passing yards allowed (267.3), 31st in passing touchdowns allowed (13), 31st in opponent’s completions of 20-plus yards, and worst of all, they can’t get off the field on third down. The Bears are the only team that are allowing opponents to convert third downs at a clip of higher than 50%, meaning that even when the defense has a chance to get off the field, they can’t.
With Jimmy Garoppolo looking like he’ll be sidelined this week for the Las Vegas Raiders with a back injury, O’Connell, who won’t have the jitters of a debut thanks to starting in Week 4, becomes a viable alternative with a real chance at providing QB2 value, in the same tier this week as Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Alexander Mattison, RB (MIN) vs. SF (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 9, PP: 15.02)
The 49ers have been dominant this season, and while that number can be displayed multiple ways, it’s most apparent in their point differential of plus-97, 13 points better than the Buffalo Bills and 30 points better than the next closest team after that. The 49ers are second in both points for and fewest points allowed. Put simply, this is a brutal matchup for the Justin Jefferson-less Minnesota Vikings.
With that said, there’s one area where the 49ers have been vulnerable this year, and that’s on the ground. The 49ers defense has allowed over 100 rushing yards in two of its last three games, including 160 to the Cleveland Browns last weekend. If the Vikings have any shot of defeating the 49ers, it starts on the ground.
And while he hasn’t been the most efficient running back, Mattison has at least 17 carries in three of the last four games and has averaged over three receptions per game from Kirk Cousins during those three games. He is unquestionably the lead back on the offense, and only Josh Jacobs and New York Giants star Saquon Barkley are projected to receive more touches. His final stat line won’t look good, but he has a solid chance of riding a huge amount of volume into a top-10 finish.
D.J. Moore, WR (CHI) vs. LV (ECR: 17, Our Rank: 7, PP: 18.77)
Here’s the entire list of players with more receiving yards than Moore this season: Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Puka Nacua.
Moore’s ECR is likely lower than normal because of Justin Fields’ injury, but in limited pass attempts last week, backup QB Tyson Bagent impressed. Sure, it’s a limited sample size, but of any QB with at least 10 pass attempts this season, his well-thrown percentage (92.9%) is tops in the league. Better yet? Six of Bagent’s 14 attempts went in Moore’s direction.
Especially with a backfield that’s banged up, Moore is the elite playmaker on this offense. He is a must-start in lineups until proven otherwise.
Diontae Johnson, WR (PIT) vs. LAR (ECR: 30, Our Rank: 19, PP: 15.16)
There are only eight receivers projected to see more targets than Moore this week, and Johnson is one of them. Yes, he’s been out hurt since Week 1, but he finished seventh in targets last season and this Pittsburgh Steelers offense can use all the help it can get.
Of course, there’s a reason he’s still just barely a top-20 receiver in our model. Johnson hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 17 of 2021. He’s played 19 games since then without a touchdown, which helps explain why he’s 31st among our wide receivers this week in projected touchdowns.
This week in a dome against the Los Angeles Rams – a game in which the Steelers will likely have more fans in the stands than the Rams will – Johnson is still a worthy start because he’s likely going to receive enough volume to make up for his inability to find the end zone. And if he can finally get that elusive touchdown, a WR1 type of week isn’t out of the question.
The Nays: Week 7 Fantasy Plays Projected Lower Than Expert Consensus
Justin Herbert, QB (LAC) vs. KC (ECR: 6, Our Rank: 10, PP: 17.47)
Justin Herbert is awesome at football (you’re welcome for the hard-hitting analysis!). There are very few quarterbacks that even attempt the throws that he makes regularly. And when he faces the other guy in his division who can, he tends to raise his level of play. There have been some classic Herbert vs. Patrick Mahomes showdowns since Herbert came into the league.
Here’s another truth though: Herbert played well below his standards on Monday night in the Los Angeles Chargers’ loss to the Cowboys, missing Keenan Allen twice on wide-open deep balls that had touchdown written all over them. Chances are, he’s going to bounce back in a big way. But unfortunately for Herbert, this isn’t a normal Chiefs team either.
This is a team beating teams like the Denver Broncos 19-8, being led by its defense, not by a high-powered offense. The Chiefs are sixth in yards allowed per game (284.0), tied for third in total points allowed (88), and no defense has been better at limiting explosive plays than the Chiefs, who have only allowed 14 plays of 20+ yards all season. If you have Herbert, you’re still likely to start him, but expectations should be lowered. He’s a borderline QB1.
D’Andre Swift, RB (PHI) vs. MIA (ECR: 3, Our Rank: 21, PP: 10.56)
With six teams on bye and potentially as many as six backup quarterbacks in line to start this week, our Sunday morning and afternoon slate is going to be littered with poor quarterback play, and likely, some rough fantasy scores.
But for football nerds and fantasy managers alike, we won’t have to wait too long to have it made up to us. Because Sunday night, the Miami Dolphins are heading up the eastern seaboard to square off with the Philadelphia Eagles in a dynamite matchup between two teams with high-profile fantasy players and season-long aspirations.
It’s a game full of stars. And this season, behind that excellent Eagles offensive line, Swift has been just that. While Christian McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing yards, among the 15 players with at least 80 carries this season, Swift’s 5.26 yards per carry is the best mark. Of course, his problem is that Jalen Hurts is the ultimate touchdown vulture.
Swift only has two rushing touchdowns this season, Hurts meanwhile has four “tush-push”/ “brotherly-shove” touchdowns. Those numbers are reflected in our rankings, where Hurts is our model’s fifth most likely player to score a rushing touchdown this week. Swift, without the benefit of scoring a touchdown, will likely finish the week as a lower tier RB2.
Marquise Brown, WR (ARI) vs. SEA (ECR: 15, Our Rank: 29, PP: 12.67)
Let’s start with the positives. Brown has four games with at least 10 targets, three games with a touchdown, and has either tied or been the leading receiver for the Arizona Cardinals in every game since Week 2.
The negatives are that he’s yet to score a touchdown, he’s only recorded more than 61 receiving yards in a game once this season, and because of that, he has more weekly finishes outside the top 20 than he does inside that select group.
This week, against a Seattle Seahawks defense whose strength is their cornerback play, led by rookie Devon Witherspoon, our model projects Brown will struggle to receive the production necessary to make up for his lower likelihood of scoring a touchdown. Unless he finds a way to notch his first of the season, Brown may be best placed on your bench unless your team is decimated by players on their bye weeks.
Michael Pittman Jr, WR (IND) vs. CLE (ECR: 21, Our Rank: 32, PP: 12.14)
Pittman entered the year with an ADP much lower than his talent would suggest, due in large part to uncertainty of his role in an Indianapolis Colts offense that was supposed to be led by Anthony Richardson. However, he’s been sensational this season, ranking eighth in receptions and fourth in targets.
Furthermore, with Gardner Minshew taking over what will likely become an offense that’s a little more passing-friendly, there’s a chance Pittman’s numbers could actually improve. Players that receive lots of targets, and more specifically, reads within an offensive ecosystem are our model’s most preferred type of player. But not when you’re playing the 2023 Cleveland Browns.
They have only surrendered four passing touchdowns so far this season and their unit is allowing a historically low 200.4 yards per game.
The Browns lead the NFL in defensive EVE and only one wide receiver has recorded five receptions against them in a game so far. Pittman has been impressive, but the Browns have been significantly more so, and because of that, the model thinks Pittman is a risky flex play this week.
Looking for more on trending players like Deebo Samuel, Daniel Jones and Deshaun Watson? 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.