Welcome back to the Rookie Report! Week 11 was yet another nightmare week for injuries. Season-ending injuries (or at least potentially season-ending) were suffered by Jay Cutler, Gio Bernard, Zach Miller, Cody Kessler, and CJ Prosise, while less severe injuries befell AJ Green, Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews, Stefon Diggs, Andrew Luck, Mark Ingram and Robert Woods. It's likely creating some messes for your fantasy lineups, but it also is creating opportunity for several members of this year's rookie crop. Your decisions this week are likely pretty important with just 2 regular season fantasy games left in most leagues. Before I dive in to the rookie matchups, I wanted to put out a quick reminder: The players below are listed in the order I would want to play them within each position level. There are several comparable players listed as 'Borderline' this week, so I wanted to make sure to clarify that in this all-important week. With that out of the way, let's take a look at the week 12 slate:
Rookies to Start:
QB Dak Prescott, DAL (Wk. 12: vs. Was.): It's getting hard to not trust Dak at this point. He's had the safest floor of anyone not named Brees or Brady with 17+ fantasy points in 9 straight (all point totals are in ESPN standard scoring). He's been taking his production to another level over the past month. He's been the QB5, QB7, QB10, and QB4 in the 4 games since the Cowboys' bye. Washington isn't a defense to be afraid of. They rank in the middle of the pack in points allowed to opposing QBs and 17th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA stat, which measures efficiency. Prescott should once again be a top-10 option.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (Wk. 12: vs. Was.): Like Prescott, Zeke has proven to have a rock-solid floor, and he's shown an even higher ceiling than his QB. He's gotten to the point where he is a ‘set it & forget it’ option at running back each week. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards and the Washington ranks 29th in run defense DVOA. Zeke is a strong RB1 option once again.
RB Jordan Howard, CHI (Wk. 12: vs. Ten.): Howard should see a ton of volume this week with Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery both out, and he is averaging over 5 yards per carry on the season. His efficiency is likely to suffer this week as the Titans stack the box and pay no mind to Matt Barkley. Tennessee allows the 9th-fewest RB points per game, so the sledding may be tough, but volume should be enough to get Howard to RB2 status.
WR Michael Thomas, NO (Wk. 12: vs. LA): A home game for New Orleans means you should get all of your Saints pass catchers into the lineup. That didn't apply for Thomas vs. Denver, but it should apply here. The Rams' overall numbers vs. WRs have been decent, but they've been vulnerable on the road, allowing over 30 WR points in 3 of their 5 road games. New Orleans should have a great chance to make it 4 of 6. Thomas should be a safe WR3 this week.
QB Carson Wentz, PHI (Wk. 12: vs. GB): The recent implosion of the Green Bay defense makes Wentz tempting, but he’s been pretty hard to trust thanks to his recent track record. The Packers have allowed over 280 passing yards in each of their past 4 games, and 12 TD passes in that stretch, but Wentz has just 4 TDs and 8 turnovers in his past 6 games. He’s also averaged less than 5 yards per attempt in 3 of his last 5. There’s potential for a decent game here, but I view Wentz as more of a QB2 streamer this week. It would be a pretty big leap of faith to trust him as a QB1 this week despite the great matchup.
RB Devontae Booker, DEN (Wk. 12: vs. KC): Booker is flex-worthy this week despite struggling in his last 2 games before the Broncos’ bye. He did play 71% of the offensive snaps in week 10 and handled a robust 26 touches. I’d expect him to still be operating as Denver’s clear lead back this week, and the Chiefs allow the 8th-most yards per carry to opposing backs and rank 21st in run defense DVOA. The only thing stopping me from listing him as a guy to start is his recent inefficient play.
RB Rob Kelley, WAS (Wk. 12: @Dal.): I love the way Kelley is playing lately, and he certainly has a vice-grip on the starting RB job in Washington after his impressive 31-point performance Sunday night, but the matchup this week is a tough one. Kelley isn’t an explosive runner. He gets by on run volume alone and is a non-factor in the passing game. Dallas’s ball control offense has limited opposing running backs to just 16.4 attempts per game (fewest allowed in the league), and only 2 teams have had more than 18 attempts against them. The volume will be a bit thin this week for ‘Fat Rob’ Kelley. The offense is still good enough to set him up for a short TD or 2, but he will likely be a disappointment if he doesn’t find the end zone.
RB Wendell Smallwood, PHI (Wk. 12: vs. GB): The Eagles’ backfield is pretty banged up coming out of week 11, and that could make Smallwood the starter this week by default. Early reports have made it sound like Ryan Mathews is unlikely to play with an ankle injury, and Darren Sproles is likely to play through a rib injury. If that situation holds, I still like Smallwood as a streamer in deeper leagues. He would see plenty of early down work on a team that has the 8th-highest percentage of run plays called. Green Bay’s entire defense has been crumbling lately and has allowed 22, 27, 28, and 32 RB points in their past 4 games. They also lost starting inside linebacker Blake Martinez to injury Sunday night. I’d move Wendell to the ‘Start’ section if both Sproles & Mathews are out, and closer to ‘Sit’ if both play, but as things stand, he should be a fine streaming option in leagues with 12+ teams.
WR Tyler Boyd, CIN (Wk. 12: @Bal.): At the very least, Boyd is worth a pickup in just about all leagues. His role moving forward is still a little up in the air since Brandon LaFell seems like a more natural fit for the AJ Green role, but Boyd did have his best game of the year last week after Green went down. Also, LaFell missed practice on Wednesday and his status is in doubt for this week. I’d expect Cincy to lean on Jeremy Hill and the running game a bit more, but Boyd could fill some of the short passing game void left by the Gio Bernard injury. The Ravens rank 21st in pass defense DVOA on short passes, which is an area where Boyd has performed well. He should be a safe WR3 in PPR formats, and will be a little less safe in standard leagues.
WR Sterling Shepard, NYG (Wk. 12: @Cle.): Shep has found the end zone in 3 straight games, has seen 7+ targets in 8 of the last 9 (6 targets in the other game), and faces the hapless Browns this week. The Browns clock in at 30th in pass defense DVOA. It’s hard to fully trust Shepard as a locked-in starter until his yardage output increases. He’s been too touchdown dependent. Still, the number of targets he sees and the plus matchup will make him a borderline WR3 again.
WR Tajae Sharpe, TEN (Wk. 12: @Chi.): Sharpe has bounced back nicely from his early season woes with 58+ yards in 4 of his past 5 games, and 68 yards and a TD in each of the past 2. The Bears have allowed the 3rd-most wide receiver points per game and have allowed 150+ yards to the position in 8 of 10 games as well as 11 total TDs. Sharpe is on the WR 3/4 radar this week.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Jared Goff, LA (Wk. 12: @NO): I’d avoid Goff even in 2QB leagues despite what appears to be a good matchup in the Superdome. The matchup might not be quite as tempting as you’d expect. The Saints do rank a pretty poor 25th in pass defense DVOA, but have allowed just 13.8 fantasy points per game in their past 4 contests (would be tied for 5th-fewest if it was their season average). Goff will be playing with training wheels on during his first few starts. He averaged just 4.3 yards per attempt last week, and while the game script should lead the Rams to be more pass-heavy, Jeff Fisher doesn’t always follow game script.
RB Kenneth Dixon, BAL (Wk. 12: vs. Cin.): Dixon remains a big part of the mix in the Ravens’ backfield as the snaps were almost an even split between he and Terrance West last Sunday. The Ravens did play much of that game from behind, however, and Dixon has been utilized much more on passing downs than in running situations. I would expect them to be in better shape on the scoreboard against the AJ Green-less Bengals. West gets the goal line carries, so there isn’t much TD upside for Dixon, and without it he’s going to be hard to trust this week. He’s had just one usable week thus far, and I don’t expect this to be number 2.
RBs DeAndre Washington & Jalen Richard, OAK (Wk. 12: vs. Car.): It was nice to see Richard find the end zone in week 11. Since DeAndre played just 4 snaps, it appears that there is some clarity in the Raiders' number 2 running back role. We've been down this road before, however. The Raiders have had no problem swapping the roles of these two without warning before, and there is no guarantee they won't do it this time. In any case, neither Washington nor Richard is a good option in a tough matchup with the Panthers, even if Richard remains the clear number 2 back.
RB Dwayne Washington, DET (Wk. 12: vs. Min.): Washington failed to produce against the lackluster Jaguars' run defense, putting up just 6 yards on 13 carries. The Vikings aren't any better at limiting fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Jags, but they rank 12th in run defense DVOA while Jacksonville ranks 23rd. You can't count on Dwayne to produce this week.
WR Tyreek Hill, KC (Wk. 12: @Den.): Hill’s volume should be decent once again if Maclin is unable to play for the 3rd straight week, but the Broncos should be able to limit all of KC’s wide receivers. Denver ranks 1st in overall pass defense DVOA, and also 1st in pass defense DVOA on short throws, which are a big part of Hill’s game. He’s best left sidelined this week.
WR Robby Anderson, NYJ (Wk. 12: vs. NE): Anderson does have a little upside this week as he’s basically been operating as the Jets’ WR2, but he has yet to top 7 fantasy points in a game, has seen his QB change on an almost weekly basis, and faces the defense that allows the 7th-fewest WR points per game. He’s safe for 3-6 points, but not much more.
WR Will Fuller, HOU (Wk. 12: vs. SD): At this point you can’t trust Fuller until he proves he’s operating at full strength. He’s a speed merchant, so his value is being sapped drastically by his leg injury. He just put up a 1-17 line in a plus matchup last week. I would keep him firmly benched until he starts producing again.
WR Braxton Miller, HOU (Wk. 12: vs. SD): Miller played more snaps than Fuller last Monday, but he produced just 5 catches for 25 yards. He did find the end zone for the first time in his young career, but his snap share will drop as Fuller gets healthier and you can’t count on a weekly TD from anyone in this offense.
TE Austin Hooper, ATL (Wk. 12: vs. Ari.): With Jacob Tamme on IR, Hooper should take over as the starting tight end for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, he has a brutal matchup this week. The Cardinals haven't allowed a tight end TD all season, and they allow just 2.9 catches per game to the position. Only two teams have gained more than 50 yards with their TEs against Arizona. Some notable TE stat lines against them: Martellus Bennett 3-14, Jimmy Graham 5-53, Greg Olsen 1-11, and Kyle Rudolph 2-12. I find it hard to believe that Hooper will be the tight end to buck that trend.
TE Hunter Henry, SD (Wk. 12: @Hou.): Henry should be getting healthier and did score a touchdown heading into the bye week, but Antonio Gates is back in the saddle as the Chargers top TE, and the Texans allow the 5th-fewest TE points in the league. You can't trust Henry this week.
Deep League Sleepers, Stashes, and Cheap DFS Options:
RB Paul Perkins, NYG (Wk. 12: @Cle.): The Giants are a touchdown favorite on the road, so Perkins might see some extra work if the G-Men get out in front. The Browns rank just 30th in run defense DVOA. There is a good amount of risk here after Perkins saw just 6 touches last weekend, but he has the upside to have a decent flex-worthy week.
RB Derrick Henry, TEN (Wk. 12: @Chi.): This is mostly a gut call with Henry. He was shelved last week as the Titans were playing catch up right out of the gate after falling into a 21-0 hole, but this week they’re 5-point road favorites in Chicago. The Bears are going to be starting Matt Barkley at QB, so falling way behind in this one seems highly unlikely. I expect the Titans to win easily, and for Henry to see a good amount of work once they get ahead. The Bears have been fairly solid against the run, allowing the 4th fewest RB points per game, but they’ll be missing their leading tackler (Jerrell Freeman) due to a PED suspension. If the Titans win big like I think they can, Henry has a good chance to return RB2 value. He might be worth a roll of the dice in DFS tournaments.
RB Troymaine Pope, SEA (Wk. 12: @TB): Pope is just a stash for really deep leagues at this point as he battles through a high ankle sprain suffered last week. The Seahawks liked Pope enough to cut C-Mike loose to promote him from the practice squad, and the coaching staff has heaped praise on him. He hasn’t been productive yet, but he could have big value if anything happens to Thomas Rawls down the stretch. Keep an eye on his health situation.
WR Corey Coleman, CLE (Wk. 12: vs. NYG): Coleman probably has too prominent a role on his team to be called a ‘Sleeper,’ but I didn’t feel like he fit into the ‘Borderline’ or ‘Sit’ sections either. He hasn’t been very productive since returning from his broken hand, but if he keeps seeing 12 targets like he did last Sunday, he’s bound for a breakout game at some point. The Giants rank 2nd in pass defense DVOA on throws to WR1s, which would be Terrelle Pryor for Cleveland, so there could be some opportunity for Coleman despite the tough matchup. If you want to roll the dice on him in a deeper league, there’s enough of a floor that he won’t kill you if he doesn’t go off.
WR Malcolm Mitchell, NE (Wk. 12: NYJ): This will undoubtedly feel like you’re chasing last week’s points after Mitchell’s 4-98-1 breakout game last week, but he’ll have big upside again if Chris Hogan sits once more. Hogan and Gronk are practicing Wednesday, so they might be able to play, but Brady did heap praise on the youngster and he likely earned himself more snaps going forward. The Jets rank 30th in pass defense DVOA, and have allowed the 10th-most WR points per game, so Mitchell could be a WR3 if Hogan doesn’t suit up.
That's all I've got for this week. Hopefully, it helps with the tough lineup decisions this week. Keep a close eye on the injury report as the week wears on to make sure you don't start anyone who's not playing or anyone who's playing time depended on the starter being out. Also, if you're waiting on injury updates for Sunday, make sure to not use players in Thursday's games in flex spots if you can help it. It can allow for more flexibility with fill-ins if anyone ends up out at the last minute. If you have any specific questions, or just want to yell at me about anything included above, feel free to hit me up on twitter and let me know (@Shawn_Foss). As always: Good luck, trust your gut, and have fun. It's just a game.