Early Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em Week 15: As playoffs begin, where do Melvin Gordon, Hunter Renfrow, and Courtland Sutton land in start/sit decisions?

With the NFL in full swing and fantasy football lineups being set, who makes the list of the top start 'em and sit 'em options for Week 15?

As we head into the fantasy football playoffs, every start ’em or sit ’em decision carries more weight than ever and can become the difference in a win-or-go-home scenario. With not all matchups being equal, here are our top start ’em and sit ’em plays for Week 15.

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NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for Week 15: Quarterbacks

While the focus in the majority of fantasy leagues falls on skill positions, quarterbacks — in most cases — consistently bring the highest weekly total. Which QBs are must-starts, and who should remain on the bench in Week 15?

Start ‘Em | Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings (@ CHI)

If you just look at his stats without context, it looks like Kirk Cousins had an awful game in Week 14. He completed a season-low 14 of 21 passes for 216 yards and had his first multi-interception game of the season. However, the Vikings were up 23-0 at halftime and let their foot off the pedal. Both of Cousins’ interceptions came in the second half when the Steelers were forced to play ultra-aggressive.

While this was not a great day, it continued Cousins’ streak of having finished outside the top-15 QBs just once since Week 5. The prolonged absence of Adam Thielen will be felt. Still, as we saw Thursday against a porous Steelers passing defense, the combination of Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, and Tyler Conklin can be more than enough to produce for fantasy and keep Cousins at the top of the QB2 options for the week. In Week 15, Cousins faces a Bears defense that surrendered 45 points to Aaron Rodgers and is 30th in points allowed to QBs at 19.38 per game.

Sit ‘Em | Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (@ BUF)

Early on in Week 14, it looked like we were about to get a vintage Cam Newton game. The Panthers came out of their bye and seemed to have something going. Newton got the scoring started with a 12-yard TD in the first quarter, and that’s about where this happy story ends. The next four series for the Panthers went punt, interception (Newton), punt, interception (P.J. Walker), and culminated with Newton and Walker splitting reps.

Beyond Newton’s rushing TD, he was abysmal Sunday, completing 15 of 23 passes for 178 yards and an interception while rushing 10 times for 47 yards with the score. You can only start Newton if you are betting he scores a rushing TD. That’s it.

Head coach Matt Rhule stated on Monday the Panthers will continue to rotate Newton and Walker at QB, further complicating matters. Even after allowing 33 points to Tampa, Buffalo is still the No. 1 defense vs. QBs at 11.31 points per game. I would steer clear of Newton with playoffs on the line.

Running Backs

While these RBs found themselves with adjusted roles following injuries to surrounding players and poor play from others, they are on opposite sides of start/sit debates for Week 15. Let’s look at the top start and sit options from RB committees around the league for Week 15.

Start ‘Em | Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos (vs. CIN)

Last week, we all tiptoed around the massive elephant in the room that was Melvin Gordon. If he played (which he did), was he going to demolish the upside of Javonte Williams and end the momentum the rookie had coming into Week 14?

Although Gordon did not take away all of Williams’ role/upside, his return made it seem like the previous week never happened, at least in the coaching staff’s eyes. Gordon led the Broncos with 24 rushes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns while playing in a 50/50 split of snaps with Williams (34 to 33).

Both players found plenty of success against the Lions, with Gordon the RB6 on the week (23.1 PPR) and Williams the RB8 (21.3). Barring an injury, Denver is going to continue to deploy an even backfield split. Gordon will receive more carries, while Williams will see a portion while running more routes. Both backs will continue to have value and come into Week 15 against the Bengals as RB2s for the fantasy playoffs.

Sit ‘Em | Royce Freeman, Houston Texans (@ JAC)

Never did I think in 2021 I would be sitting here talking about Royce Freeman as a starting back, but here we are. With Rex Burkhead and David Johnson inactive, Freeman was the last man standing in Houston’s backfield. He played 44 offensive snaps and saw 19 opportunities. His 6-of-8 receiving for 51 yards even helped propel him inside the top-20 for RBs on the week. However, he averaged just barely over a yard per rush on his 11 carries for 15 yards. That’s … well … not great.

Not all starting running back jobs are created equal, and there’s little upside to be found in Houston. Texans RBs have accounted for just 5 touchdowns all season, and the only players with multiple touchdowns are WR Brandin Cooks and TE Brevin Jordan (3 each).

I understand Houston is facing the Jaguars (who they beat in Week 1), but I am staying away from this situation. Freeman is a fringe low-end RB3 despite the matchup (No. 25 vs. RBs over the last four games), and I would not bet my fantasy future on him.

NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for Week 15: Wide Receivers

The WR position is the deepest in fantasy football, with a plethora of quality starting options to choose from every single week. As matchups can be the final deciding factor, here are some of our start ’em or sit ’em recommendations for Week 15.

Start ‘Em | Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders (@ CLE)

If you had any trepidation when I stated Hunter Renfrow was a must-start WR2 last week, I hope Week 14 put those doubts to rest. Renfrow had a sensational game in which he was heavily utilized while the Raiders were in garbage time for virtually three quarters. On Sunday, Renfrow had a career-high 14 targets. He hauled in 13 passes for 117 yards and a TD, finishing as the WR2 on the day with 28.7 PPR points.

He has now seen 7 or more targets in 10 games and 9 or more in his last six. Since Week 9, Renfrow has finished inside the top-12 WRs and scored 18+ PPR points in five of his six games. He is one of the best short-to-intermediate route runners in the NFL and is the focal point of Las Vegas’ passing game. He should keep his role even once Darren Waller returns from a knee injury.

Cleveland has been a problematic matchup for WRs, sitting No. 6 over the last four weeks (25.67). But Renfrow’s usage should keep him well inside WR2 range, and he remains a must-start for Week 15.

Sit ‘Em | Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (vs. CIN)

Less than a month ago, the Broncos signed Courtland Sutton to a four-year extension that pays him $15 million annually and guaranteed him nearly $20 million. That seems like a pretty hefty commitment, right? Yet, Sutton has been largely invisible on the field since inking that deal.

Despite playing on 59 of 68 offensive snaps, Sutton ran just 25 routes and was targeted twice while recording zero receptions. Sutton isn’t just unstartable — he’s droppable. He has not scored double-digit fantasy points since Week 7 or finished as a WR2 or better since Week 6. Since Jerry Jeudy returned in Week 8, Sutton has yet to finish inside the top-60. Those in the fantasy playoffs looking to add the hot waiver wire name in Week 15 can drop Sutton to pick them up.

Tight Ends

It’s notoriously hard for fantasy managers to find consistent production from the tight end position. In Week 15, start ’em or sit ’em decisions could mean the difference between a win or loss as the margins are razor-thin.

Start ‘Em | Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins (vs. NYJ)

With the Dolphins coming out of the bye and seeing the Jets on their schedule, the whole team should be excited about this matchup — as should fantasy managers. In Week 13, Mike Gesicki was a massive contributor to the Dolphins’ passing game, catching 7 of 11 targets for 46 yards while finishing inside the top-12 TEs for the sixth time this year.

There is no reason to suspect anything different in Week 15 against a Jets defense that is No. 28 in points allowed to TEs (15.78). Gesicki joins Jaylen Waddle as must-start Dolphins in Week 15.

Sit ‘Em | Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams (vs. SEA)

Whenever you are starting a tight end in fantasy, you need touchdown upside more than you do at any other position. That is why I am hesitant to start Tyler Higbee despite a matchup against Seattle, who has allowed 4 touchdowns to tight ends over the last four games.

Higbee had a solid outing in Week 13 against the Jaguars, where he caught 5 of 6 targets for 48 yards and finished as the TE12. But he has found the end zone just once since Week 5 and finished with single-digit points in 10 of 12 games (before Monday Night Football).

Even without Robert Woods, the Rams have multiple other options ahead of Higbee, and he lacks the upside I want in a tight end. I doubt Higbee will crack my start ’em list for the remainder of the season as he closes the year out against Minnesota, Baltimore, and San Francisco.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.

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