All but the luckiest fantasy owners at some point need to find the proverbial diamond in the rough—a waiver wire or bench player capable of putting up some points in a pinch. This weekly feature is dedicated to that part of fantasy football. It's not pretty, but it's part of the game.
A good way to identify a potential spot start is to leverage 4for4’s signature strength-of-schedule metric, adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA). Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. If a defense has seen a murderer’s row of running backs, it will be reflected in the defense’s aFPA. As a ranker, I use this metric weekly when putting together our award-winning projections.
This week, it’s the Byepocalypse (hat tip to friend of the site, Pat Fitzmaurice, who to my knowledge first used the term), with six teams—the Packers, Titans, Rams, Giants, Cardinals and Jaguars—all on bye. I don’t blame owners who didn’t consider byes during the draft—I’m one of you—but this is one of those weeks when the proverbial chickens come home to roost.
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With that in mind, let’s see if we can find a few Sneaky Starts to help owners get through Week 8.
Josh McCown, Jets (vs. Falcons)
The Falcons are a mediocre matchup for McCown—Atlanta is No. 17 in quarterback aFPA—but Matt Ryan and Co. should bounce back with a better offensive effort in Week 8, and that will force McCown to air it out to stay in the game. For his part, McCown has accounted for eight total touchdowns in the last three games, including four scores last week against the Dolphins.
Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, Raiders (at Bills)
With Marshawn Lynch suspended, Richard and Washington will likely form a committee against the Bills. It’s not a great matchup, but Oakland running backs have averaged 25.3 touches through the first seven weeks, so there should be 10-13 touches for both backs. In three games splitting the primary duties—last week after Lynch got the boot, and the two games last year without Latavius Murray—Washington averaged 12 touches while Richard averaged 11. In PPR formats, Richard would get the nod, since he averaged four catches in those three games compared to 2.7 catches for Washington.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers (at Lions)
In this week’s press conference, Mike Tomlin didn’t seem particularly sympathetic to Martavis Bryant’s public complaints about his role in the offense, and the team has since informed Bryant that he’s going to be inactive in Week 8. Smith-Schuster should be the primary beneficiary. He has two touchdowns and 176 receiving yards in his last four games, and has a pretty good matchup against Detroit’s slot corner, Quandre Diggs.
Josh Doctson, Redskins (vs. Cowboys)
Starting Doctson would take a leap of faith, but there are signs that Washington intends to give him a lot more run down the stretch. First, he played 84% of the snaps in Week 7, a season high, while Terrelle Pryor played a season-low 47%. Jay Gruden said that the team drafted Doctson “to be the No. 1 guy,” and that now that Doctson is healthy, the Redskins want to see what he can do.” Given how unproductive Pryor has been thus far, it makes sense to give Docston more snaps. The matchup isn’t bad, either.
Tyler Kroft, Bengals (vs. Colts)
Since taking over as the starter in Week 3, Kroft is fifth in fantasy points per game at his position. Most of that stems from his two-touchdown effort against the Browns in Week 4, but he caught another touchdown last week against the Steelers, and has seen at least four targets in each of the last four games. The Colts are 26th in tight end aFPA.