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: Matthew Stafford or Andrew Luck?
A solid question to start this week's column, featuring two road quarterbacks near the top of the league in terms of fantasy production. Let's see who wins out when we dive into the matchups.
Matthew Stafford is enjoying a bit of a career renaissance under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, as he's currently fantasy's QB3, is tied for second in the league with seven touchdown passes, and ranks third in passing yards. He's found a true No. 1 threat in Marvin Jones and is moving the Lions' offense with precision. Next up for Stafford is a date with the Chicago Bears, who just put their top cornerback, Kyle Fuller, on injured reserve. The Bears defense is falling apart at the seams, making them ripe for the picking by Stafford and company on Sunday. The Bears boast semi-decent passing defense numbers simply because their stop unit is in such disrepair right now that teams can pick their poison with how to beat them. In the case of the Lions and their pass-happy offense (62.4 percent) that will be through the air. Stafford is coming off a road performance in Lambeau Field where he put up 385 yards and three touchdowns, though some of that was in garbage time, against a stout Green Bay defense.
After a stellar start to the season against a porous Detroit pass defense, Andrew Luck has struggled in back-to-back weeks posting 10.08 and 13.24 fantasy points against the Broncos and Chargers, respectively. The loss of Donte Moncrief could be hurting Luck, as he lacks a second dynamic wide receiving option behind T.Y. Hilton. Case in point, Luck was having a miserable fantasy day against the Chargers (6.72 points) prior to his game-winning 63-yard touchdown toss to Hilton. Those big plays could be hard to come by against the Jaguars in London, as Jalen Ramsey has been outstanding thus far in his rookie career. Per Pro Football Focus he's allowing 6.3 yards per catch, the lowest total among cornerbacks targeted at least 10 times. Per Next Gen Stats, Ramsey has been lining up all over the field, so there's a chance he could be locked up with Hilton for good portions of this contest. While that doesn't spell disaster for Luck's fantasy outlook, it doesn't help. The Jaguars are desperate at 0-3 and the defense is starting to make plays after a big outing against the Ravens in Week 3.
All told, it's safer and smarter to stick with the quarterback with a full complement of weapons playing on U.S. soil, and that's Stafford in this case. The travel, lack of Donte Moncrief, and presence of Jalen Ramsey all work against Luck this week, while Stafford seemingly has an easy path to solid production.
Who should I start at RB: Jordan Howard or Dwayne Washington?
Two rookie running backs set to assume potentially massive workloads squaring off in a divisional clash. So who's the better fantasy option? Let's find out.
Jordan Howard saw his first NFL action in Week 2 before being thrust into a big role in Week 3 when Jeremy Langford suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out for several weeks. Howard entered last Sunday's game against the Cowboys with a bang, taking his first carry for 36 yards in a display of explosion and power. However, after that, his next eight carries went for a grand total of nine yards. That's partly due to Chicago's ho-hum run-blocking at the moment, but that also doesn't figure to change in Week 4. Howard can catch passes out of the backfield (four receptions for 47 yards on six targets in Week 3), helping raise his weekly floor and keep him from being game-script dependent if the Bears start losing big (which they likely will). He has the look of a solid flex play for Week 4.
A cursory look at the box score from Dwayne Washington's first significant NFL work (Week 3 at Green Bay) won't inspire a lot of confidence (10 carries, 38 yards, one catch, -3 yards). However, Washington was actually quite impressive against one of the best run defenses in the league. He showed good patience and vision behind the line, as well as solid burst and the power to finish tackles. His 3.8 yards-per-carry average might not look like much, but when you consider the other 61 carries against the Packers have gone for 90 yards (1.48 yards per carry), that figure looks a bit better. Even before Ameer Abdullah went on injured reserve, Washington was looking like the team's favored goal-line back, receiving both of the carries inside the 10-yard line in Week 1 (and another in Week 3). Finally, the Lions figure to be playing with a lead in this contest, setting up Washington for a healthy amount of clock-killing work that should only help him pad his stats.
Washington is the more complete back attached to the better offense in a more favorable game script and is the much better start of these two rookies. While Howard could see a larger share of the backfield touches than Washington (Theo Riddick isn't going away), the young Detroit rusher is set up to do far more with his touches and ultimately produce a higher fantasy score.
Who should I start at WR: Brandon Marshall or Travis Benjamin?
The fact that we have two vastly different wide receivers in this start/sit question speaks to what a weird year 2016 has been for fantasy so far. Nevertheless, Brandon Marshall is battling injury and heading into a tough matchup with the Seahawks, while Travis Benjamin has been up-and-down since becoming the "No. 1" wide receiver in the wake of Keenan Allen's season-ending injury. Let's figure out which makes for the better Week 4 start.
Marshall played through injury last week against the Chiefs and saw eight targets, but only managed to bring in three of them for 27 yards in what was overall a dismal display by the New York offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick turned back into a pumpkin after his shining moment at the ball on Thursday Night Football against the Bills, throwing six interceptions against the Chiefs. Now, Marshall returns home but must face the Legion of Boom at less than 100 percent. To make matters worse, Eric Decker aggravated a shoulder injury in Week 3 and his status could be in question too. Given Fitzpatrick's inconsistencies and the matchup in front of him, it's understandable why Marshall might seem like a player worth sitting.
Meanwhile, Benjamin caught all six of his targets in Week 2 for 115 yards and two touchdowns but managed just four of seven for 82 yards against a leaky Colts defense. His big-play nature is evident, but his market share of the passing game (20.3 percent) isn't quite up to par with more locked-in WR1s. However, working in Benjamin's favor is a home date with a Saints defense decimated by injuries currently allowing the second-most total points (32) and total yards (448.3) per game in the league. Philip Rivers will continue to spread the ball around, but if there were ever a defense for Benjamin to pop off a big play against, it's the Saints. The team allows 8.5 yards per pass attempt and has already conceded 13 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
While it might feel wrong moving Marshall down to the bench spot, for this week it's the right play. The combination of injuries to the New York passing game and a brutal matchup against Seattle tilts this one in favor of Benjamin. Despite his average target share, he has a good chance for a big play or two at home against the Saints' struggling defense.
Who should I start at TE: Dennis Pitta or Kyle Rudolph?
Pitta's resurgence in 2016 is no joke, as he's one target behind Steve Smith (25) for the team lead, and currently leads the team in receiving yards with 188. He's yet to find the end zone, though, but that could change this weekend against an Oakland defense whose struggles containing tight ends have carried over from last year. The Raiders have only allowed one tight end to find the end zone but are currently allowing a league-worst 17.5 yards per reception to the position. Pitta owns over 20 percent of the team targets, a sizeable amount for a tight end, and plays on 71 percent of the team snaps so far in 2016. Slowly but surely Pitta is morphing back into the weekly TE1 he became back in 2012.
Rudolph seemed to believe he'd see a larger role in the offense with Teddy Bridgewater out, and so far that's come true on the field in 2016. Rudolph has posted a 14-166-2 line through three games on 26 targets, versus a 12-97-1 line on 19 targets back in 2015. Granted, he's also playing more snaps (95 percent to 88 percent) from last year as well. Whatever the reason for Rudolph's increased role, it's one fantasy owners need to start recognizing. Boosting Rudolph's value has also been a shift in red-zone philosophy for the Vikings with Sam Bradford under center and Adrian Peterson injured. In Week 1, the team ran the ball on 100 percent of their red zone plays, versus just 30 percent of the time in Weeks 2 and 3. Rudolph scored a red-zone touchdown in each of those games, too. The Giants haven't been victimized as much by tight ends in 2016 as they were last year (just 10.75 yards per reception, 53.3 percent catch rate, zero touchdowns allowed), but that's also because Coby Fleener dropped chance after chance for big plays against them in Week 2. Bradford knows where his bread is buttered on offense and will likely look Rudolph's way plenty on Monday night, especially in the red zone.
While Pitta's is the better comeback story at the moment, it looks like we agree with the Player Comparison Tool here in thinking Rudolph is the better start. His role in the offense combined with a better-than-advertised matchup makes him a top tight end start for Week 4.