Welcome back to the Rookie Report! We're just a week away from Championship Week in most leagues, so hopefully your team is still standing (both literally and figuratively). Week 14 was a brutal one for injuries. I was bounced from 3 different league playoffs with teams that each started one of Andy Dalton or Thomas Rawls, and one of them also had Tyler Eifert. It didn't help that I got horrible efforts from Calvin Johnson, Travis Kelce, Mike Evans, Jeremy Maclin, Larry Fitzgerald and Brian Hoyer (2 separate 2-QB leagues), but that's neither here nor there. TJ Yeldon also went down in last week's carnage. After last week, the running back position is getting mighty thin, so expect a lot of RB insight in this week's write-up. There is only one rookie that I feel confident in telling you is a must-start this week, but plenty more who could and should make an impact. Let's dive in....
Rookies to Start:
RB David Johnson, ARI (Wk. 15: @Phi.): Yes, David Johnson is the only rookie that I can say with total confidence that you should be starting this week. He's thrived in the starter's role the past two weeks, putting up 120+ scrimmage yards in in each contest and scoring a TD in one. The Eagles rank 21st in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA (measures defensive efficiency), and they've allowed 100 RB rushing yards and or a running back TD in 5 of the 6 games played since their bye. Arizona should control the game, which should keep Johnson running all day. He has an RB2 floor and RB1 ceiling.
RB Todd Gurley, STL (Wk. 15: vs. TB): Gurley had a monster bounce-back game last week, but that doesn't mean he's out of the woods just yet. He's still a boom-or-bust option, albeit one with overall RB1 upside when he booms. The key last week was that the Rams were able to play from ahead, keeping the run game in play long enough for Gurley to wear down the defensive front and start ripping off chunk plays in the 2nd half. That's been his MO all season, and keeping this game close will be critical to him having another big day. Tampa does rank 5th in run DVOA, and the Rams have almost no passing game to speak of, but I like the chances that the St. Louis defense keeps this game close and allows Gurley to return at least RB2 value. My only hesitation is the low floor we've seen if the Rams fall behind.
RB Matt Jones, WAS (Wk. 15: vs. Buf.): Jones has finally appeared to emerge as the lead back in Washington, out-touching Alfred Morris 39-17 over the past 2 weeks. Buffalo ranks 28th in run DVOA, and every team that has had 17 RB carries against Buffalo has picked up at least 85 rushing yards on them. Jones has 18 carries on his own in each of the past two games. The Bills have also allowed 7 RB rushing scores in their past 8 games. Despite Jones's inefficiency, with RB so thin this week he's a decent flex play and boasts high RB2 upside.
RB Ameer Abdullah, DET (Wk. 15: @NO): Ameer had his worst game in 3 weeks last Sunday, and still managed 44 scrimmage yards against a defense that ranks 12th in run DVOA. The Saints rank 27th. The Saints have been giving points to RBs almost as freely as they do to QBs, allowing the 2nd most RB points in the league. I expect Abdullah to get back to double-digit carries this week, and in this matchup that could make him an upside flex in leagues with 12 teams or more.
WR Amari Cooper, OAK (Wk. 15: vs. GB): Cooper will be happy to be rid of Aqib Talib this week after Talib held him catchless on 8 targets, but the Packers are no cakewalk either. They've allowed just one WR to reach 70 yards in the past 5 games (Alshon Jeffery), and they've allowed just 4 top-20 weekly WR finishes all year. The Raiders should funnel Cooper targets early to get him back on track, but he's definitely more of a WR3 option than locked in WR2. I'd feel much more comfortable starting him if Green Bay's top corner Sam Shields misses this game with the concussion he suffered last week.
WR Tyler Lockett, SEA (Wk. 15: vs. Cle.): The bump in volume for Tyler Lockett in week 13 proved to not be a fluke. After seeing a season-high 7 targets in the first game after Jimmy Graham went down, he saw another 7 this past Sunday. With those 14 targets, he pulled in 13 of them for 194 yards and 2 TDs. He now boasts a ridiculous 41 catches on 47 targets for the year (87.2% catch rate, best of any WR targeted at least 10 times). As long as that volume holds up, and I expect it to, Lockett should remain a decent WR3 option.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN (Wk. 15: @NE): Dorial has flashed great potential at times this season, especially over the past 2 weeks, but he was back to being inconsistent last Sunday following his breakout game vs. Jacksonville. The good news...he was targeted 7 times and got open consistently. He'll remain a volitile weekly option, but his talent and role give him WR2 upside, even versus the emerging New England secondary.
TE Clive Walford, OAK (Wk. 15: vs. GB): Walford has finally started to see substantial volume over the past 2 weeks. He's got 8 catches for 100 yards on 12 targets over the past two games. The Packers are in the bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed to TEs (all point numbers based on ESPN standard scoring) and have allowed a tight end touchdown in 5 of their past 6 games. Despite the presence of Mychal Rivera to steal some TE snaps, Walford is a solid streaming option this week.
TE Will Tye, NYG (Wk. 15: vs. Car.): The matchup is really imposing for Tye, but he's scored at least 5 fantasy points in each of his past 4 games and 7 in each of his past 3. With Josh Norman likely to match up with Odell Beckham a bunch (not sure if Norman will follow Odell to the slot), look for Tye to remain a key piece of the offense in situations where Norman is on Beckham. There isn't a huge ceiling here, but Tye should be a safe bet for 40-50 yards, which is better than taking a shot on someone who may goose egg if you're streaming at tight end. Tye has been returning borderline TE1 production over the past month.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Marcus Mariota, TEN (Wk. 15: @NE): Mariota has been playing excellent football lately, scoring 17+ points in every game except versus Carolina since he returned from injury in week 9. He's found a variety of ways to get to the end zone, even catching a 41-yard TD on trick play last week. He gets a real test this week though. The Patriots do a great job of erasing the opposition's top targets, so look for them to focus primarily on Delanie Walker, and secondarily on Dorial Green-Beckham. The Patriots' secondary has been really coming together of late, seeing standout play from both Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. New England has allowed 12 points or fewer to opposing QBs in 6 of their last 7 (Eli is the exception). I wouldn't be willing to try Mariota as anything more than a low level QB2 this week.
QB Jameis Winston, TB (Wk. 15: @StL): Jameis was a huge letdown last week in an excellent spot, and he gets much stiffer opposition this week. The Rams have allowed a QB to reach 20 fantasy points just twice all year, and the Bucs will be without Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans should spend most of his day squaring off with Trumaine Johnson, who just held Megatron to 1 catch for 16 yards on Sunday. Jameis has proven to have a usable floor in 2-QB leagues, scoring at least 12 points in every game this season, but he's not on the QB1 radar this week.
RB TJ Yeldon, JAX (Wk. 15: vs. Atl.): As of now, Yeldon appears to be a longshot to play with a sprained knee. The Jaguars signed Jonas Gray, and head coach Gus Bradley didn't update the media on Yeldon's status on Tuesday. Typically coaches are eager to share good news on the injury front. Even if Yeldon is able to go, I'd expect him to see a limited workload and split touches with Denard Robinson. Given that he's gotten by all year on volume, a split workload would make him a dicey flex play even in this plus matchup.
RB Javorius Allen, BAL (Wk. 15: vs. KC): Allen showed what his floor looks like last week w/o Matt Schaub in a tough matchup with the Seahawks, and it wasn't god awful (56 scoreless yards on 13 touches). That's not what you're hoping to get out of a starter though. This week he faces a Chiefs' defense that is arguably just as stingy as the Seahawks, and they also boast the best pass DVOA in the league on passes to running backs. If you're okay with about 5 points in standard scoring or 10 in PPR leagues, go ahead and play Allen. There isn't much more ceiling than that this week.
RB Jeremy Langford, CHI (Wk. 15: @Min.): Since Matt Forte returned from injury, Langford has averaged just 14 touches and 57 scrimmage yards/game, and he's been held under 70 yards and without a TD in each of the last 2. Both were plus matchups (home against San Francisco and Washington). This week he faces a Vikings team that has allowed just 2 RB scores in 9 games since their bye, and over 16 RB points just once in that span. Given the time share with Forte, I doubt Langford gets enough volume to make a fantasy impact. He's best left on the pine.
RB Duke Johnson, CLE (Wk. 15: @Sea.): Don't expect a repeat of last week's rushing output for Duke. He still gets by on his passing game work, and he just doesn't get as much of it with Johnny Manziel starting. In the 5 games where Manziel has started or seen extended playing time, Duke has just 7 total catches. Even if you throw out the first 2 games of the year, which were before Johnson had established his passing game role, he's still averaged just 2.3 catches per game in the other 3. Facing an imposing matchup this week, Duke will be hard pressed to return RB3 value in any format.
WR Stefon Diggs, MIN (Wk. 15: vs. Chi.): The passing volume was finally there last week for Minnesota, with Teddy Bridgewater throwing for nearly 340 yards on 25 completions, but just 11 of them were to wide receivers and only 2 were to Diggs. He still sees a healthy percenage of the Minnesota passing targets, but I don't expect that big volume again this week. Teddy B has thrown for under 200 yards in 5 of the past 7 games, and Minny should lean on AP this week facing a Bears' defense that ranks dead last in run DVOA. I'd be at least a little surprised if there's enough work for Diggs to top 50 yards.
WR Devin Funchess, CAR (Wk. 15: @NYG): With the season on the line, now is not the time to play a low-floor touchdown dart throw wide receiver. In his best game without a TD, Funchess tallied just 4 points. Yikes.
WR DeVante Parker, MIA (Wk. 15: @SD): I can't trust Parker this week after his 2-16 line on Monday Night Football. He may bounce back this week, but I expect him to see quite a bit of Jason Verrett, who has been an elite cover corner. Verrett rarely ventures into the slot, so he likely won't shadow Jarvis Landry, and Parker struggled versus Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last week. This week shapes up for a heavy dose of Landry.
WR Nelson Agholor, PHI (Wk. 15: vs. Ari.): Don't chase last week's points. Agholor has done next to nothing all year, and outside of a 53-yard TD catch last week, he caught just 2-of-5 targets for 9 yards. You can't start him this week.
WR Jamison Crowder, WAS (Wk. 15: vs. Buf): Crowder has shown over the past few weeks that he should only be under consideration if DeSean Jackson misses this game. Even if Jackson is out, Crowder's ceiling has settled in around 5 catches for 50 yards. You should be aiming higher with the season at stake.
Deep League Sleepers and Cheap DFS Options:
RB Melvin Gordon, SD (Wk. 15: vs. Mia.): Gordon continued his disappointing rookie campaign last week, adding a 13th straight game without a touchdown, but his role has been constant and even increasing down the stretch of the season. With this year a lost cause, the Chargers have started to lean on Gordon in situations where they used to go to Danny Woodhead. Gordon has had at least 13 touches in each of his past 6 games, and at least 49 scrimmage yards in each (over 60 in 4 of them). Of the 6 opponents he faced in that stretch, 5 were in the top-11 in run DVOA. Miami ranks 23rd. If he sees 15+ touches, Gordon is a decent bet to top 75 yards and just might find his way to his first TD of the year.
RB Jay Ajayi, MIA (Wk. 15: @SD): On the other side of the Miami-San Diego game, Jay Ajayi isn't a consideration for the fantasy playoffs, but he could be an intriguing punt play in DFS tournaments. The Dolphins are now mathematically out of the playoff race, and Ajayi could see an expanded role down the stretch. San Diego is 31st in run DVOA and has allowed 100+ RB rushing yards in 10 of 13 games this year. There is really nice upside if Ajayi can find his way to double-digit touches.
WR Adam Humphries, TB (Wk. 15: @StL): Admittedly, Humphries would be a hard sell to play in just about any but the most insanely deep fantasy games, but I like this spot for him. He did only haul in one catch last week for a 6-yard touchdown, but with V-Jax out and Evans facing a tough matchup with Trumaine Johnson, the ball has to go somewhere. I still expect 7-10 targets to go to Evans, but Humphries should see a handful as well, and he's topped 50 yards twice this season. I like his chances to put up a career-high yardage day.
TE Tyler Kroft, CIN (Wk. 15: @SF): Ok, you can't trust a guy with just 4 catches on the season in your fantasy playoffs...I get it. But, there is some DFS punt play appeal. 2nd-string QBs tend to have a rapport with 2nd-string pass catchers, and Eifert's status is likely in doubt this week as he suffered a concussion in the week he returned from a neck stinger. Kroft pulled in 2 catches for 31 yards in relief of Eifert on Sunday, and he could see a bigger role in a game the Bengals should win easily. The 49ers rank 23rd in pass DVOA on throws to tight ends.
TE Blake Bell, SF (Wk. 15: vs. Cin.): The Belldozer has put up stat lines of 3-68 and 3-49 in two of his past 3 games, and is in line to start at TE again if Vance McDonald is out once more. Bell actually led the team in receiving last week against the Browns. He's a streaming option in super deep leagues as the starting tight end on a team that likes to utilize the position.
That's all I've got for this week. Hopefully it helps you advance to the title game (or to the semis if your league goes through week 17. If you have any specific questions or want to yell at me about something I wrote, 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.