This article is part of our Start vs. Sit series.
In looking at the Week 7 slate, one thing becomes glaringly obvious: we've been spoiled by the last few weekends. Though the cupboard is relatively bare in terms of marquee matchups outside of Wisconsin-Ohio State and Tennessee-Alabama, there are still plenty of games out there with heavy fantasy implications. Without further ado, let's take a peek at the matchups to exploit and the matchups to avoid in Week 7.
PLAYERS TO START
Dontrell Hilliard, RB, Tulane (vs. Memphis): Hilliard has established himself as the clear lead back for the Green Wave this season and he's answered the bell by averaging 5.4 YPC through his first five games. He'll be fresh coming off a bye against Memphis on Saturday. Hilliard has gotten at least 16 carries in each of his last three games and he's found pay dirt twice in that stretch. The fact that Memphis just held Temple to a 3.0 yards/carry could scare some people off, but Hilliard and the Green Wave have one of the more effective rushing offenses in the nation, ranking in the top 20 in yards per game on the ground. Although things change from year to year, it's also worth noting that Hilliard ran for 97 yards and a pair of scores against Memphis last year as well. Hilliard should be in line to see plenty of touches, and he should be able to convert those touches into solid chunks of yardage and perhaps a trip to the end zone.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina (@ Miami): Trubisky looked mortal for the first time all season last week, slowing his hype train a bit, and going down to Miami to face an athletic and opportunistic secondary may scare people off this week. However, I'm not going to overreact to one bad game that was played against a strong Virginia Tech team in awful weather. He went 13-for-33 for 58 yards while tossing his first two picks of the season Saturday. That said, in addition to the weather issues Saturday, the Hokies quietly lead the nation in passer rating allowed. Although the Hurricanes don't rank far behind in that category, Trubisky should still have a much easier time moving the ball this weekend with a slightly better matchup in much more favorable weather conditions.
Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State (@ Texas): Despite all the media posturing coming out of Texas about fixing the defense, the promises have yet to translate to on-field results. Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, who didn't have a 100-yard game to his name through the first month of the season, went off for 214 yards and a pair of scores against the Longhorns last weekend and saw twice as many carries as he had in any other game in the process. Iowa State could easily follow suit this week and lean heavily on the run game, especially after seeing how abandoning the run game against Oklahoma State turned out. With that, Warren should be in line for a hefty amount of carries Saturday, and with no other running back on the roster truly presenting a threat to his workload, no one is going to vulture Warren's red-zone looks. Texas has allowed 11 rushing touchdowns on the season and that number figures to increase Saturday.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (@ Wisconsin): This might be as tough a matchup as Barrett will face all season, and with his relatively underwhelming showing through the air against the Hoosiers (9-for-21, 93 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) last weekend, it wouldn't be completely off base to consider benching him this week when the Buckeyes head up to Madison. Hold that thought. Yes, the Badgers have one of the best defenses in the country. Yes, the Badgers are coming off a bye week and will be at home for a night game. Yes, Wisconsin held LSU, Michigan State, and Michigan to a combined 34 points. However, Wisconsin hasn't faced a quarterback like Barrett or an offense like Ohio State's. If Wisconsin takes away Barrett's running lanes, he can burn the Badgers with his arm. If Wisconsin goes with exotic coverages and stifles Barrett through the air, he can tuck it and run for huge chunks of yards. Ohio State's collective speed at all skill position spots will be an issue for Wisconsin, and that's where the Buckeyes' edge lies. In the end, Ohio State will be able to create mismatches with its play calling and exploit those mismatches with speed.
Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech (@ UMass): This is a powder keg of a matchup, and I am looking forward to the fireworks show. Louisiana Tech will be well-rested coming off last week's shootout win over Western Kentucky, and they'll be facing a UMass team that's several notches below them in terms of talent. The Bulldogs have a pair of great receivers in Trent Taylor and Henderson, and while Taylor gets the volume (66 receptions to Henderson's 30), Henderson is the explosive deep threat that averages 18.6 yards per catch. This may be a bit of a prisoner-of-the-moment pick, but the show that Henderson put on last week (8-232-3) coming off an ankle injury was too good to ignore. While expecting him to do that again is probably a little unrealistic, he should be in line for 100+ yards and at least one trip to the end zone against a subpar UMass defense.
Anthony Maddie, QB, Northern Illinois (vs. Central Michigan): Maddie has made just two starts this season, but he already has NIU looking like a totally different team. Maddie might have his shortcomings as a passer, as evidenced by his poor completion rate last week, but that was against a Western Michigan defense that is the class of the MAC, and he was still able to throw for 224 yards and rush for 111 with a TD. In looking at Central Michigan's schedule, I'm not convinced that the Chippewas have faced a quarterback with comparable mobility to Maddie. Even if Maddie cedes a turnover or two through the air, he should be able to more than make up for it on the ground. If you have any further hesitations on Maddie as a runner, take note of this: he's at 312 rushing yards on the season, which is 100 fewer than team leader Joel Bouagnon in 31 fewer carries. Maddie should be a fine starting option against a CMU defense that may not be equipped to defend his skill set.
Jalen Robinette, WR, Air Force (vs. New Mexico): This is a bit of a risky play, using a receiver on a team that emphasizes running the ball. However, Robinette is essentially a one-man show in the Falcons' passing game with nearly three times as many receptions as the next highest pass catcher on the team (though Robinette has just 14 grabs). Still, those 14 grabs have gone for a whopping 386 yards (27.6 yards/catch) and three touchdowns. He's coming off back-to-back 100-yard outings and now he gets to go against a New Mexico defense that ranks near the bottom in the nation in passing touchdowns allowed (13) and YPA (8.4). Like the Most Interesting Man in the World, the Falcons don't always throw they ball, but when they do, they throw to Robinette.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: (@ Notre Dame): It's odd to write about a preseason Heisman contender as someone I'd need to convince you to keep in your lineup, but that's where we are after the last two weeks, in which McCaffrey has just 20 rushes for 84 yards and six catches for 35 yards. He's gone from Heisman favorite to Heisman afterthought in a matter of weeks. I just don't think we see three straight dud games from a guy like McCaffrey, who is so vital to the Stanford offense in every sense. Fortunately, Notre Dame's defense should be rather accommodating in helping him get back on track. Aside from holding NC State to under 200 yards in hurricane conditions last Saturday, the Irish defense has struggled to stop anyone this season, allowing 417 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play. Stanford will likely try to get McCaffrey as many touches as possible, and with a weak and inexperienced defense opposing him, this matchup reeks of bounce-back game, even if McCaffrey is a bit banged up.
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama (@ Tennessee): Not only has Harris burst onto the scene as one of the SEC's most impressive new backs this season, but he draws a matchup this weekend against a Tennessee defense that lost a bounty of defensive players to injury in a grueling overtime game last week. Last week, Texas A&M freshman Trayveon Williams ran for 217 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries (7.8 yards/carry) and quarterback Trevor Knight ran for 110 yards and three scores. We could see Alabama, who has a freshman quarterback playing a huge game on the road, try to bludgeon Tennessee with the run game the way that the Aggies did in Week 6. With that, Harris should be in for a productive day on the ground. He'll be taking his 8.7 yards/carry mark into Saturday against a defense that will be down several starters. Look for Alabama to lean on Harris and the run game to carry the Tide to victory Saturday.
Jordan Chunn, RB, Troy (vs. Georgia State): Chunn has one of the more bankable workloads in the country, sitting at 20.2 carries per game, which he's converting into 116 yards per game, 12th in the nation. This week is an especially good time to make sure he's in your lineup, as he faces a Georgia State defense that has been a staple of my Sun Belt "start" recommendations as the hapless Panthers are giving up 262.8 yards per game on the ground, good for 122nd in the nation. This is a situation in which you don't need to overthink it: Chunn should be able to put up one of the highest rushing outputs of any running back in the country this weekend.
PLAYERS TO SIT
Dane Evans, QB, Tulsa (@ Houston): This would've been a bad matchup for Evans had Houston entered the week undefeated, but it might be even worse now that the Cougars are looking to avenge a loss that likely dashed their playoff dreams. Houston has one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking fourth in rushing yards allowed and 24th in passing yards allowed despite having played some talented quarterbacks along the way. Furthermore, Houston will be getting its best linebacker, Steven Taylor, back from suspension this week, which makes a scary pass rush all the more intimidating. Evans is going to be under heavy duress all game and could be prone to making mistakes. If there's another quarterback floating on your waiver wire with an easier matchup, it might be wise to slide Evans to your bench this week.
Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse (vs. Virginia Tech): Dungey is at the helm of one of the better offenses in the nation, but this may be a week to avoid using him. Sure, it's not entirely unreasonable to think Virginia Tech may be in for a slight letdown after last week's season-defining obliteration of North Carolina, but I don't see the Hokies taking their foot off the gas. Dungey and the Orange offense were held to a mere nine points against Wake Forest last week, a far cry from the 29 points they were averaging heading into Saturday. Wake Forest has a respectable defense in its own right, but Virginia Tech sports one of the best defenses in the entire country. This is a matchup of strength-on-strength here as Syracuse's up-tempo offense will challenge Virginia Tech's strong defense, but I give Tech the edge in that matchup and believe that Dungey could be in for a long day as a result.
Demarcus Felton, RB, Texas Tech (vs. West Virginia): Look at the numbers and you'd generally think of West Virginia as a defense to target when choosing running backs. However, some of those numbers, including yards/carry allowed and yards allowed per game are inflated due to a game against BYU in which the Cougars ran it 40 times for 280 yards. Otherwise, West Virginia has generally been solid against the run, allowing 3.7 yards per attempt. On the other side of the coin, Felton has surpassed Justin Stockton as the Red Raiders' lead back, having gotten double-digit carries each of the last three weeks and averaging 5.7 yards per carry on the year. It should be much tougher sledding for him this week against the Mountaineers, so even if Felton were a recent addition to your squad, this might be the week to leave him on the bench.
Gerald Holmes, RB, Michigan State (vs. Northwestern): Though Holmes got 12 more carries than any other Spartan last weekend, presumably making him the lead back in that offense for the time being, he's still not someone I'd consider starting this week. The entire Michigan State offense is in complete disarray at the moment, as it has mustered just 41 points over the last three weeks. Even if Holmes takes over as the lead back moving forward, the Spartans are such a mess that it might not even matter. What's more, Michigan State may be making a change at quarterback this week. Generally that'd suggest committing to the run even more than usual, but if it's Damion Terry under center, he's going to start taking some carries out of Holmes' hands. Finally, there's the matter of matchup. Michigan State will be going against a rested Northwestern team that's coming off a bye and is holding opponents under 4.0 yards per carry despite having faced several potent rushing attacks. Michigan State's offense is becoming a fantasy wasteland, so even if Holmes is the bell cow, it still might not pay dividends for your squad.
Anthony Wales, RB, Western Kentucky (@ Middle Tennessee State): This game has all the makings of a shootout, which already puts Wales' workload in jeopardy Saturday. Middle Tennessee should have little trouble putting points on the board against a WKU team that just gave up 55 points on the road to Louisiana Tech. Not to say that Louisiana Tech has a bad offense by any stretch, it's just worth noting that the Hilltoppers can be vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. Wales, the team's leading rusher with a 6.0 YPC and six touchdowns, could be in line to see fewer than his usual 15 carries. What's more, Middle Tennessee is allowing a mere 3.9 yards per carry to opposing backs (not adjusted for sacks), so not only will Wales not see his normal workload in all likelihood, he could struggle to find daylight when he does get the ball.
Riley Neal, QB, Ball State (@ Buffalo): Finding an unfavorable matchup that wasn't glaringly obvious (read: picking a Bowling Green player) was one of the tougher tasks in this week's article, but I think Neal fits the bill here. For how bad Buffalo has been – and the Bulls have certainly been bad – it actually sports a respectable pass defense. In doing some digging, it became obvious that Neal's struggles almost always come on the road, and Ball State will be up in upstate New York this week. All six of Neal's interceptions have come on the road and his completion percentage is eight points lower away from Scheumann Stadium. This sets up for a poor matchup for Neal because, as I mentioned, Buffalo does have a solid secondary. Buffalo is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 5.7 YPA mark at home. Neal recently got the dreaded vote of confidence from his coach, so things are clearly not trending in the right direction for him, and a rough outing this weekend could put his job security into further question.
Aaron Peck, WR, Fresno State (vs. San Diego State): Peck has quietly put together an excellent season for the Bulldogs, as his 479 receiving yards rank him just outside the top 30 in the nation and fourth in the conference despite playing with an occasionally shaky quarterback. This week, he'll face a tough defense that, outside of a Week 2 matchup against Cal, has held each opponent under 250 yards through the air. The Aztecs will likely fluster quarterback Chason Virgil with the pass rush, force some turnovers, and build a lead quickly over the Bulldogs. While that may result in Peck seeing an uptick in targets, it's just difficult to see him reeling off a big day against such a disciplined defense.
Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State (vs. Utah): Nall turned some heads last week with an eye-popping performance against Cal in which he gashed the Golden Bears for 221 yards and three scores on just 14 carries. He's a big back who has the agility and speed to break the big play. As our Nick Grays noted this week, Nall certainly warrants being added in nearly any format, but I'm not sold on him as a starter for this week's contest. His production was middling at best heading into Saturday's cupcake matchup against California, averaging 12.3 carries for 52.8 yards per game through the first four weeks of the season. To run all over Cal is one thing; to run on Utah is a completely different story. Also, Nall has dealt with some lower-leg issues this season and appeared to aggravate the ailment Saturday. Even if Nall practices throughout the week and plays, I wouldn't recommend starting him.
J'Mon Moore, WR, Missouri (@ Florida): There's little doubt in my mind that Moore is one of the best receivers in the SEC right now. He's a big, fast, and physical threat on the outside, and he's largely been able to put up his impressive stats (27 receptions, 450 yards, six touchdowns) by being able to physically dominate opposing secondaries. As we saw with his one-catch performance against LSU, he can be contained by talented defensive backs and proper schemes. Given that Moore is Missouri's biggest threat on the outside, Florida (who is well-rested coming off an impromptu bye week) has had plenty of time to plan for him. With players like Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye in the secondary for the Gators, Moore may have a hard time getting much in the way of separation Saturday. Furthermore, quarterback Drew Lock has improved this season, but showed against LSU that he's not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the SEC's blueblood programs on the road, so there's a chance Moore won't be getting much help from steady quarterback play.
Blake Mack, TE, Arkansas State (vs. South Alabama): Position scarcity makes it difficult to leave a player like Mack on the bench, as he has been one of the more productive tight ends in the nation with 22 grabs for 389 yards. However, the Red Wolves will be facing one of the tougher secondaries in the conference with South Alabama coming to town. The Jaguars are allowing just 152.8 yards per game through the air, which is an impressive mark even if it's aided by the one game they played against run-heavy Georgia Southern. Mack should still see a solid target volume, but it will likely prove difficult for him for him to end his season-long touchdown drought against South Alabama.