Welcome back to the Rookie Report! The fantasy playoffs are upon us. Hopefully you've managed to survive this long and are ready to roll your way to another victory. The rookies are taking over lately. Jameis and Mariota look like legitimate future stars, and week 13's top 7 RBs included 4 rookie backs. If you want to work your way to the title, the rookies should play a big role. Let's take a look at what the rooks have on tap this week...
Rookies to Start:
QB Jameis Winston, TB (Wk. 14: vs. NO): Jameis put on a show in leading the Bucs to victory over the Falcons last week, particularly on a long 3rd down conversion run where he 'truck-sticked' several Atlanta defenders. What does he win for his efforts? A showdown with the worst pass defense in the league. The Saints have allowed 23 or more points (all point totals in ESPN standard scoring) to opposing QBs in 5 of their past 6 games and 4+ passing TDs in 4 of their last 5. On the season, the Saints have allowed 7 more TD passes than any other team in the league (only the Eagles are closer than 10 behind). The only thing to fear here is the Bucs' run-happy offense if the Saints don't score enough to force a shootout. Jameis should be a top-10 QB this week.
RB Thomas Rawls, SEA (Wk. 14: @Bal.): Three straight starts, three straight games of at least 14 fantasy points and a touchdown. The Ravens are 14th in Football Outsiders' run DVOA stat (measures defensive efficiency), and in the two starts he's had vs. teams with a better ranking (Pittsburgh & Cincy), Rawls has tallied 230 yards and 2 TDs. You have to start him again this week, regardless of matchup. In his past 4 starts, he hasn't ranked lower than the RB8 in any week.
RB TJ Yeldon, JAX (Wk. 14: vs. Ind.): Jacksonville finally started using Yeldon in the red zone last week, and it paid dividends for his owners as TJ found the end zone and finished as the RB2 overall for the week. He has a flex-worthy weekly floor based on volume alone, and there is still an outside shot that the Colts start Charlie Whitehurst this week at QB, which should give Yeldon a very positive game script to work with. Even if Hasselbeck is able to start, the Colts have allowed over 250 RB rush yards in the past two weeks and Yeldon should provide RB2 value against them.
RB David Johnson, ARI (Wk. 14: vs. Min.): Johnson didn't disappoint in his first start, finishing right behind Yeldon as the RB3 for the week, and he faces a Vikings defense that ranks 25th in run DVOA and 27th in pass DVOA on throws to RBs. Minnesota is also struggling with injuries, as starting nose tackle Linval Joseph, starting linebacker Anthony Barr, and starting safety Harrison Smith will all miss this game. Johnson shouldn't struggle to finish as a top-20 RB this week.
QB Marcus Mariota, TEN (Wk. 14: @NYJ): Don't be afraid of the Jets' defense this week. On the year New York ranks 8th in pass defense DVOA and allows the 11th fewest QB points in the league, but Darrelle Revis might be out again and the Jets have allowed 330+ yards and 20+ points to QBs in 4 of their past 7 games. They've allowed those days to New England, Oakland, Jacksonville and Miami, not exactly all elite offenses. Mariota is really putting the pieces together lately, and the emergence of Dorial Green-Beckham will only help going forward. Don't expect another 87-yard TD run, but Mariota will be a solid QB2 this week and is a top-15 overall option at the position.
RB Javorius Allen, BAL (Wk. 14: vs. Sea.): The Seahawks are one of the toughest draws in the league for opposing RBs, allowing a league-low 10.8 fantasy points per game to them. With the way the Seahawks are scoring lately, this sets up as a game where the Ravens will be playing from behind, and Allen showed his pass game chops with 12 catches in week 13. The Seahawks allow 5.3 RB catches per game, and Allen should continue to see the heavy workload he's seen of late. That should be enough to get him into the lineup in leagues that have a flex spot rather than just 2 RBs, especially PPR leagues. In 2-RB leagues w/o a flex spot, you might have two safer options, but Allen should be in or near the top-20 PPR backs this week.
Matt Jones, WAS (Wk. 14: @Chi.): I'm not going to pretend to know what to expect from Jones this week. Every time it seems like either Jones or Morris has taken a stranglehold of the early down role, the team seems to totally go the other direction the next week. It's about as frustrating as the Patriots' running backs from last season. This is a plus matchup, with the Bears ranking dead last in run DVOA and allowing at least 11 RB fantasy points in every single game this season, and Alfred Morris didn't play a snap for the last 3 quarters on Monday night. That points to Jones being a strong flex play this week, but there is always the risk that Morris gets right back in his way. Head coach Jay Gruden said Morris's disappearance was due to game-flow, and I doubt Jones sees 18 carries again, but he certainly has upside.
RB Todd Gurley, STL (Wk. 14: vs. Det.): It's getting tough to trust Gurley as the offense crumbles around him. The Rams will go back to Case Keenum at QB this week, a move that brings with it the risk that the offense will implode once again. The Lions seem like an unimposing matchup on paper, ranking in the middle of the pack in both fantasy points allowed to RBs (15th most) and run DVOA (rank 13th), but over their past 4 games they've allowed just 48 RB rush yards per game. Gurley is probably best left on the bench this week despite the massive upside his talent brings with it. If you own him in dynasty, you should still be excited for the future.
RB Ameer Abdullah, DET (Wk. 14: @StL): This is an interesting spot for Ameer. The Rams' run defense has been collapsing as his play has improved and his role has grown. Abdullah set a career-high in single-game rushing yards in each of the past 2 games, and the Rams have allowed at least 96 RB rush yards in each of the past 5 games, and 22 fantasy points per game in that stretch (they averaged allowing 14.6 prior to those games). The only concern here is that the Lions have a tendency to abandon the run even when the game script is positive and they are running well. They did it last week against GB, and hopefully they learned from that mistake. Abdullah is a flex option with solid upside this week.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN (Wk. 14: @NYJ): With Revis questionable for this week, Dorial has a chance to build on his breakout game from week 13. What was especially promising was that Green-Beckham bounced back beautifully after making an early mistake that resulted in an interception. He showed all of the skills that make him such a tantalizing talent in piling up 119 yards and a TD on 5 catches. The Jets' pass defense has been gashed for 28+ points by opposing WRs in 5 of their past 6 games (35+ in 4 of them). It's hard to rely on DGB just because he showed us what he was capable of for one game when he's regularly disappointed this season, but the ceiling this week is huge, especially if Revis sits again.
WR DeVante Parker, MIA (Wk. 14: vs. NYG): Parker put up his second consecutive strong performance in place of the injured Rishard Matthews last week, and Matthews will be out again this week. The new offensive coordinator relied heavily on Lamar Miller and the run game against Baltimore, as Tannehill threw just 19 times, but 5 of them went in Parker's direction. That passing volume is scary low as a team, and you'd hope it comes up this week, but the matchup is a positive one. The G-Men have allowed the 2nd most WR yards in the league, and have given up 200+ yards to them in 4 of their past 5 games. There is a somewhat scary floor based on the pass game volume, but I think Parker is a strong bet to top 50 yards again and he should have WR2 upside this week.
TE Will Tye, NYG (Wk. 14: @Mia.): Tye has been extremely steady over the past 3 weeks with Larry Donnell out, averaging 67 yards on just under 5 catches per game in that stretch, and there is a good chance he posts a similar line again this week. He's a reasonable low-end TE1 this week and a name to know in case Eifert is out again or you have a starter you don't trust.
Rookies to Sit:
RB Jeremy Langford, CHI (Wk. 14: vs. Was.): Langford was finally kept out of the end zone in week 13 after scoring in 4 straight games prior to that. What’s more concerning is that Langford was out-touched 26-14 by Matt Forte and even ceded some of the backup work to Ka’Deem Carey, who scored a 4th quarter TD. He managed just 5 fantasy points in a very good matchup on 14 touches and this week gets to face a Washington defense that has allowed 97 RB rushing yards total in the last 2 weeks. The uncertain volume and tougher matchup make Langford a tough guy to trust in playoff matchups this week.
RB Melvin Gordon, SD (Wk. 14: @KC): Gordon was benched after fumbling yet again last week, and he's still failed to score a touchdown or put up double-digit fantasy points in any game this year. The Chiefs rank 7th in run DVOA and have allowed the 7th fewest RB fantasy points on the year. This isn't the week that Gordon breaks the 10-point barrier.
RB Duke Johnson, CLE (Wk. 14: vs. SF): Johnson has a great matchup this week with the 49ers, who have allowed the 2nd most receptions to opposing RBs in the league, and have been awful vs. RBs on the road (Allow 28.3 RB points per game on the road, 7.5 more than any other team averages for the season). The problem is that the quarterback merry-go-round in Cleveland is making the entire offense a wild card. Manziel gets the nod this week, and despite the great matchup there's a real chance that Duke doesn't hit 5 points. He's just too hard to trust for my liking in the playoffs.
RB David Cobb, TEN (Wk. 14: @NYJ): Cobb worked his way into a bigger role last week, garnering double-digit touches for the first time in his career, but he still averaged under 4 yards per carry and gets the best defense in the league in terms of run DVOA this week. Cobb is at best a TD dart throw this week.
RB Tevin Coleman, ATL (Wk. 14: @Car.): Not much explanation necessary here. Coleman went right back to being a backup to Devonta Freeman last week. Feel free to avoid him again. He only really has value if something happens to Freeman.
RB Jay Ajayi, MIA (Wk. 14: vs. NYG): With the new offensive coordinator in Miami, the team seems to have recommitted to Lamar Miller as the feature back. Ajayi played just 8 snaps last week, and while that number may go up this week, there's no reason to be confident it will. Ajayi is a Miller handcuff for now.
RB John Crockett, GB (Wk. 14: vs. Dal.): Crockett led the Packers in rushing yards last week. It won't happen again. Eddie Lacy was benched due to issues off the field, but coach Mike McCarthy has talked up Lacy as looking 'rejuvenated' in practice this week. Expect a bounce back from Lacy and a return to obscurity for Crockett.
WR Amari Cooper, OAK (Wk. 14: @Den.): Sitting Cooper might sound like a terrible idea if you've been starting him every week, but this really could be a rough week for him. The Broncos have held 4 of the last 6 opponents they've played to 3 or fewer points from their entire WR groups. Cooper has failed to find the end zone in the past 4 games, and Denver has allowed just 1 WR TD all season long. There is a much lower floor than we typically see from Cooper. When he lines up outside he should see a lot of Aqub Talib. If they move him into the slot he gets Chris Harris. Either way he's facing one of the league's elite cover corners. If he tops 50 yards it would be a win for him this week.
WR Stefon Diggs, MIN (Wk. 14: @Ari.): Things aren't promising for Diggs right now. Even in a 31-point drubbing last week, the Vikings attempted just 28 passes. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson complained about not getting enough carries. I'd expect the Vikings to be committed to the run early, and the pass volume to be low again, even if they're playing from behind. Diggs has come up short of 50 receiving yards in 4 of his last 5 outings, and the Cardinals rank 3rd in the league in pass DVOA. It's hard to bet on Diggs to top that 50-yard mark this week.
WR Devin Funchess, CAR (Wk. 14: vs. Atl.): I was surprised to see Funchess pushed back to the bench with the return of Corey Brown. He failed to come up big in a game with a lot of passing volume for Carolina (despite a TD), so I'd be hard pressed to trust him in a game that sets up to have a lot less of it. Funchess would need to find the end zone to be productive this week, and the Falcons have allowed just 4 WR touchdowns in 12 games. Betting that Funchess scores one this week isn't something I'm prepared to do.
WR Jamison Crowder, WAS (Wk. 14: @Chi.): Crowder made a few grabs and did a few positive things in an ugly Monday night loss for Washington, but 4-for-40 is pretty much his ceiling at this point with the Washington WRs all healthy. The Bears' real issue will be containing DeSean Jackson, not Crowder.
WRs Devin Smith & Quincy Enunwa, NYJ (Wk. 14: vs. Ten.): The Titans have been shredded for 7 WR TDs in the past two games, and the Jets' pass attack is humming right now. There is sneaky shootout potential in this game, and there should be enough passing action to go around for more than just Marshall and Decker. That means there is a chance for Smith or Enunwa to have a nice game, but good luck guessing which one it'll be. Smith has the better shot at a TD, but Enunwa's volume is slightly more consistent. Your best bet is to avoid both.
TE Clive Walford, OAK (Wk. 14: @Den.): Walford set his career bests in catches and yards in week 13, but I wouldn't bank on a repeat this week. The Broncos have struggled to contain TEs the past two weeks, but they faced Gronk and Antonio Gates. Prior to those two games, no team had put up more than 6 TE catches against Denver. Walford is best left on the bench this week.
Deep League Sleepers and Cheap DFS Options:
RB Karlos Williams, BUF (Wk. 14: @Phi.): There is a ton of volatility to Williams. I wouldn't trust him in the fantasy playoffs, but he has some DFS upside as a punt play this week. The Eagles stunned the Pats last week, but they'd been collapsing for weeks prior to that, and this is a good spot for a letdown game. Philly has been forking over 27.5 RB points per game over the past 4 games, and while this has been talked up as LeSean McCoy's revenge game, if the Bills get way up Williams could get some garbage time carries against a collapsing defense. He still has scored TDs in 6 of the 8 games he's played. Keep an eye on the injury report and make sure Williams is active before taking a shot on him, but there should be some opportunity for him and no one else is likely to be on him this week.
WR Tyler Lockett, SEA (Wk. 14: @Bal.): Lockett could wind up on the PPR WR3 radar this week. His role seemed to increase last week with Jimmy Graham out for the season, and the Ravens rank 26th in pass DVOA. His efficiency has been insane this year. He's hauled in 35 catches on just 40 targets, including 7-of-7 in week 13. If he continues to see 6-8 targets, he should return borderline WR3 value in PPR leagues the rest of the way.
WR JJ Nelson, ARI (Wk. 14: vs. Min.): As mentioned earlier, the Vikings' defense will likely struggle while missing an impact player at every level of the defense. The lack of Harrison Smith should make them more vulnerable to the deep ball than usual, and Arizona has been taking a couple deep shots to Nelson each week, even with the top 3 WRs healthy. Nelson has had at least 5 fantasy points in each of the past 4 games, and he could make an intriguing DFS punt play yet again this week.
That's all I've got for this week. Hopefully it helps you make some tough lineup decisions and advance in your playoffs. If you have any specific start/sit questions or feedback, or just want to yell at me about my opinions, feel free to hit me up on twitter (@shawn_foss). As always, good luck, trust your gut, and have fun. It's just a game.