Each week of the regular season in "Fantasy Audibles" I'll use the SAP Player Comparison Tool to help you make the right decisions when it comes to difficult lineup dilemmas. The tool uses several factors to help make an educated suggestion, including past performance, matchup, consistency, upside and intangibles. It finally appears as if the tool is fully operational (though not 100 percent reliable), so I'll use a combination of the tool and old-fashioned fantasy methods to help make a determination on four difficult Week 3 matchup decisions below. Let's take a look at the start/sit questions haunting some of our fantasy readers and try to help them set a winning lineup.
Who should I start at QB: Matt Ryan or Carson Wentz?
Matt Ryan is a surprising MVP candidate through the season's first four weeks and leads all players in fantasy scoring, while Carson Wentz is 3-0 as a rookie and providing a sneaky amount of fantasy value. But with Ryan heading into a dreadful matchup against the Broncos, should we really consider benching him for Wentz? Let's take a look.
Ryan has been magnificent this season, leading the league in nearly every major statistical quarterback category. However, he's racked up those gaudy statistics against four of the most porous pass defenses in the league. His first four opponents rank third, fourth, fifth, and sixth in in yards per attempt allowed, and only Carolina has a sack rate above seven percent. The Broncos, meanwhile, allow the fewest yards per attempt in the league and sack opposing quarterbacks on 12.2 percent of their pass attempts against them. Now, Ryan's offensive line is playing better with the addition of Alex Mack, but how will this group hold up against it's first real test of the season? That's the question fantasy owners have to ask themselves when considering starting Ryan. Since the start of 2015, Denver has allowed just two 300-plus passing yard performances, and both were to Ben Roethlisberger in 2015. To date in 2016, the Denver defense has held every offense it has faced to under 200 passing yards and 20 points or fewer.
While playing the matchups has been proven to be a difficult and inaccurate proposition, Wentz sure seems to have a lot more in his favor than Ryan this week. The Eagles allow the second-lowest pressure rate in the NFL, while the Lions defense has the 21st-ranked pressure defense, per Football Outsiders' metrics. Wentz welcomes back Zach Ertz this week at a perfect time, as the Lions have already given up six touchdowns to opposing tight ends in four games. The Lions will also likely be without Ezekiel Ansah and DeAndre Levy once again and will field a defense that just let Brian Hoyer -- yes, thatBrian Hoyer -- walk all over them to the tune of 302 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Wentz, as proven by Jimmy Kempski's deep film dive, is not just a dink-and-dunk passer and can stretch the field. With his line providing him ample time in the pocket and a full complement of weapons to target in the passing game (Zach Ertz should be back after missing a few weeks), the former North Dakota State bison should be able to produce in Detroit.
Wentz's upside is certainly reflected in the Player Comparison Tool's analysis, though the tool surprisingly favors Ryan's matchup rather inexplicably. If it were up to me, I'd chase the upside with Wentz rather than carry the risk of Ryan laying an egg going up against the league's best defense. The Broncos have the personnel to erase the complementary players that have helped Ryan thrive in 2016, meaning he'd need another Herculean effort from Julio Jones to likely live up to the standards of fantasy owners. Go with the rookie for Week 5.
Who should I start at RB: Lamar Miller or Isaiah Crowell?
This is the state of the running back position in 2016. A second-round draft pick's starting status is in question thanks to the emergence of a late-round, committee back on an 0-4 team. But let's dive in and see who is actually the better start, shall we?
Lamar Miller, despite not finding the end zone yet in 2016, has been one of fantasy's most consistent backs. He's had double-digit fantasy points in three of his four games, with a season-low of just 9.7 in Week 2. He's able to keep his fantasy value afloat on the back of a league-high 106 touches. Unfortunately, Week 5's date on the road against the Minnesota Vikings doesn't have the sunniest forecast in terms of Miller's touchdown drought ending. The Vikings allow just 3.38 yards per carry and have conceded a single touchdown on the ground to an opposing running back through the first four weeks of the season. Miller has seen 36.4 percent of the team's red-zone opportunities come his way, but he hasn't been able to convert yet. The touchdowns will come for Miller, but this week he'll once again be facing an uphill battle in terms of scoring.
The Player Comparison Tool seems to heavily favor Crowell, but there's reason to buy into his impressive opening quarter of the season. Crowell is second in the NFL in rushing yards on an 0-4 team, a pretty unprecedented achievement. And those yards haven't come easy, either. Per Next Gen Stats, only three other backs have faced as many or more eight-plus man fronts than Crowell, but he performed the best against those stacked boxes averaging 8 yards per carry. He's accomplished all of this despite the Browns having the eighth-highest trail rate (percentage of snaps playing from behind) in the league, per FantasyGuru.com's Graham Barfield. Crowell has proven to be game-script proof thus far in 2016 and there's no reason to suspect he won't get his touches or produce on them against the Patriots in Week 5, even if (or when) the Browns fall behind.
While it sounds crazy, I think we have to side with the Player Comparison Tool here and start Crowell over Miller. His performance thus far against stacked fronts and his scoring potential seems to give him a higher ceiling than Miller. Ride the Crow while he's soaring to new heights each and every week.
Who should I start at WR: Jordy Nelson or Amari Cooper?
Two top-tier wide receivers facing very different matchups. Let's dive in and see which makes for the better start.
With 28.7 percent of the passing targets coming his way, Nelson owns a massive part of a high-end passing offense right now. Helping elevate his fantasy value are the eight red-zone targets he's seen thus far, which remains tied for the league-lead even though Nelson is coming off his bye. The Giants allow just 12.07 yards per catch to opposing wide receivers so far in 2016 (ninth-lowest in the league), but they've yet to face an offensive arsenal like the Packers on the road. Drew Brees played them in East Rutherford, while nobody is going to mistake Kirk Cousins for even a semi-struggling Aaron Rodgers. Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are both battling injuries too, while Nelson gets the benefit of coming fully rested off of his bye week. With the game script in this one looking like a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair (the Packers will be without cornerback Sam Shields again), Nelson should have ample opportunities to rack up fantasy points.
Cooper has been a bit of a disappointment in fantasy thus far, largely because through four games he leads the Raiders in receiving but has yet to find the end zone. That stems largely from Cooper's usage, as he's seen just two targets inside the 20-yard line, but has yet to register a catch. Meanwhile, Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts each have three receptions and three touchdowns in the red zone, on three and five targets respectively. This isn't something new, either, as Cooper was behind both Crabtree (13) and Roberts (nine) in red-zone targets in 2015 as he saw just seven looks -- same as Clive Walford. For these reasons, it's a bit puzzling to see the Player Comparison Tool so heavily favor Cooper over Nelson. While the matchup certainly is tilting in Cooper's favor with Chargers' star cornerback Jason Verrett landing on IR, the upside, consistency and performance should all favor Nelson based on my research.
Cooper is in a great spot to finally get off the shneid and score a touchdown against a Chargers team quite literally falling apart at the seams. However, both the safer and higher-upside choice here is Nelson. He's far and away his quarterback's preferred target, especially near the end zone, which is critical in fantasy. Go with Nelson here.
Who should I start at TE: Rob Gronkowski or Kyle Rudolph?
While Tom Brady's return seems to simultaneously signal the return of Gronk, it seems we need to be more patient and read the tea leaves. There have been numerous reports this week, including this one from NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, that indicate Gronk isn't close to 100 percent yet and needs to give his hamstring more time to heal. This was evident in last week's game, where Gronk ran just 13 pass routes on 41 offensive snaps. While he'll likely play and could find his way into the end zone on Sunday against the Browns, odds are Gronk isn't the same old Gronk fantasy owners have come to expect.
Really, this matchup wasn't at all fair, but I wanted to pick one with Gronk to help get the word out about his injuries and usage. Speaking of usage, Rudolph is currently third in the league at his position in targets (33), red-zone targets (seven), and is tied for first in touchdowns (three). The Texans have been tough on tight ends thus far in 2016, but Rudolph owns such a sizeable portion of his team's passing targets (27.8 percent) he should be able to overcome any matchup-related issues.
This one is pretty cut and dry. As the Player Comparison Tool says, start Rudolph this week. Gronk is getting close, we just need to be patient.