Welcome back to the Rookie Report! The long slog through the regular season is finally almost over. For most fantasy leagues, week 13 is the finale. You should know where you stand in your playoff pecking order. If your playoff spot or a bye week is on the line, there is some extra weight on the lineup decisions you make this week. Do you play it safe, or swing for the fences with a boom-or-bust option? At the end of the day, you have to make the final call on that, but I can at least offer a little help figuring out what to do with your rookies. A lot of rookies have been playing larger roles as the season has gone on, and it's likely that a rookie will play a part in determining the outcome of your week 13 matchup. Let's dive in and talk about what to expect this week...
Rookies to Start:
RB Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (Wk. 13: @Min.): Zeke is just too good to sit regardless of matchup, and this matchup isn't all that daunting. The Vikings have allowed 95+ rushing yards to opposing backs in 5 of their past 6 games, allowing 4.7 yards per carry to RBs over that stretch. They also rank a middling 16th in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA stat, which measures efficiency. Elliott remains a locked-in RB1 this week.
RB Jordan Howard, CHI (Wk. 13: vs. SF): Howard demonstrated last weekend that he's still able to produce despite having Matt Barkley under center. The 49ers appeared to show improvement vs. the run on Sunday as they were able to slow down Jay Ajayi a bit, but they've still allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing RBs and rank 30th in run defense DVOA. Howard has RB1 upside this week.
WR Michael Thomas, NO (Wk. 13: vs. Det.): Thomas got back on track in a big way in week 12 with over 100 yards and 2 scores, and the Saints are at home again this week. The Lions secondary is hardly a group to be afraid of, and no defense has been able to slow down Brees and company in Nola. The squeaky wheel should get the grease this week, so Brandin Cooks is likely to see some extra targets after his goose egg last weekend, but Thomas is a safe WR3. He's shown a very respectable floor with at least 4 catches and 40 yards in all 11 games this season, and he leads the team in targets, catches, receiving yards and TD grabs.
WR Sterling Shepard, NYG (Wk. 13: @Pit.): As I just mentioned above, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Shep wasn't targeted once last weekend after seeing at least 6 targets in each of the previous 9 games. Eli Manning apologized to Shepard this week, and I'd expect an overcorrection this weekend. The Steelers are nothing to sneeze at as a defense, allowing the 4th-fewest WR points per game on the year. Still, I expect Shep to see at least 8 targets this week and see him as a solid WR3, especially in PPR formats.
QB Dak Prescott, DAL (Wk. 13: @Min.): Prescott has been rock solid all year, but this week should be a real test. The Vikings rank 4th in pass defense DVOA, and have allowed fewer than 17 fantasy points to the opposing QB in all but one game (all point totals are in ESPN standard scoring). Dak, meanwhile, has scored at least 17 in 10 straight games. There is a chance for a decent day since Minnesota has allowed 2 passing TDs 3 times in the past 4 games, but I think this is the first time since week 1 that Prescott comes up short of the 17-point threshold. He's a borderline QB1 in 12-team leagues.
RB Devontae Booker, DEN (Wk. 13: @Jax.): I'd lean toward starting Booker this week, but his recent track record has been less than stellar. He has seen 24 carries in each of the past 2 games, the Jaguars rank 23rd in run defense DVOA, and Denver is a 5-point road favorite. The matchup and game script should work in Booker's favor, which gives him a great chance to finish as at least a low-end RB2.
RB Kenneth Dixon, BAL (Wk. 13: vs. Mia.): Dixon continues to see his share of the snaps and touches rise each week, and he's scored 7 fantasy points in 2 of the past 3 games. Miami ranks 19th in run defense DVOA and has allowed between 10 and 20 fantasy points to opposing RBs each week. Terrance West is more likely to get the goal line opportunities, but Dixon should get enough volume to finish right around where he did last week. He's a flex option with a decent floor, but a low ceiling.
RB Wendell Smallwood, PHI (Wk. 13: @Cin.): Smallwood wound up being a huge let down last week with Ryan Mathews out, but it wasn't entirely his fault. The Packers dominated time of possession, and the Eagles didn't have a single offensive snap when they were tied or leading. Smallwood and Sproles combined for just 12 carries with the negative game script (9 for Smallwood). The Bengals without AJ Green and Gio Bernard are much less likely to be playing from ahead, and Cincy allows the 12th-most RB points per game. Mathews should be out again, so I would expect Smallwood to lead the backfield in touches and to have more success than he did last week.
WR Tyreek Hill, KC (Wk. 13: @Atl.): Hill put on a show on Sunday night, doing something not seen since Gale Sayers (rushing, receiving, and punt return TD all in one game). He's still a touchdown-dependent player in standard leagues since he averages under 10 yards per catch and is used extensively in the short passing game. Luckily for Hill, the Falcons rank 26th in pass defense DVOA on short throws, and he should see plenty of targets once again with Maclin's status still up in the air. He's a solid WR3 in PPR leagues, and closer to the WR3/4 borderline in standard formats.
WR Tyler Boyd, CIN (Wk. 13: vs. Phi.): Boyd has shown a safe PPR floor over the past two weeks with AJ Green and Gio Bernard being out, as he was targeted 8 & 9 times in weeks 11 & 12. The offense as a whole is less effective without AJ and Gio, so there isn't as much TD upside for Boyd, but he's still an intriguing WR3 option in PPR and standard leagues. The Eagles rank 2nd in pass defense DVOA, but their worst 4 games of the season in terms of WR points allowed have all been in the past 5 games.
WR Will Fuller, HOU (Wk. 13: @GB): Well, it looks like Fuller is finally recovered from the leg injury that has plagued him as he put up a 4-60 line last week and is slated to return punts in place of the injured Tyler Ervin this week. The Packers' secondary had been getting shredded weekly before looking better on Monday night. I'm not convinced that their struggles are behind them...they've allowed the 3rd-most WR fantasy points per game. Fuller is back to being an upside WR3 option this week. He's still a bit of a boom-or-bust play, but the possibility of a boom is back.
TE Hunter Henry, SD (Wk. 13: vs. TB): Henry played more snaps that Antonio Gates in week 12, and this week he faces a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed over 65 receiving yards to opposing TEs in 4 of the past 5 games. Henry is always a TD threat, and the yardage upside this week makes him a passable streamer in 12-team leagues if you're missing Gronk or Delanie.
Rookies to Sit:
QB Carson Wentz, PHI (Wk. 13: @Cin.): Wentz has been pretty consistently bad over the past 7 games, and the Bengals have allowed just 12 points per game to the opposing QBs in their 3 games since the bye. Wentz is just the QB23 on the year, and the Bengals are hardly an enticing matchup. Carson is a low-end QB2 at best this week.
QB Jared Goff, LA (Wk. 13: @NE): Goff has some upside this week against a Patriots defense that ranks just 28th in pass defense DVOA, but he's best left on the pine in most leagues. He's played just one good half of football in his first 2 starts, and Bill Belichick will be licking his chops to game plan for the rookie. I don't like his chances of making good on his upside.
RB Rob Kelley, WAS (Wk. 13: @Ari.): Kelley proved on Thanksgiving that he isn't going to overcome bad matchups unless he scores touchdowns, and he has another bad matchup this week. The Cardinals haven't been great against running backs overall this year, but they have been shutting them down at home. No opposing team's RBs have tallied more than 7 fantasy points in Arizona since the Patriots in week 1. You can do better than Kelley this week.
RB Paul Perkins, NYG (Wk. 13: @Pit.): Perkins has seen an increase in playing time over the past few weeks, but he's still totaled just 12 fantasy points in the past 4 games. The Steelers have allowed 7 fantasy points or fewer to the opposing RBs in 3 of their 4 games since the bye with the exception being the week they got shredded by Ezekiel Elliott. If the Giants get anything going with their backs this week, it'll likely be from Rashad Jennings.
RB Dwayne Washington, DET (Wk. 13: @NO): There is some touchdown upside for Dwayne this week against the Saints, but the Lions have proven there is no matchup too soft for the Lions' run game to fail against. The Saints are actually playing improved defense of late, allowing 10 fantasy points or fewer to opposing RBs in each of the past 3 games. Washington is no more than a TD dart throw.
WR Robby Anderson, NYJ (Wk. 13: vs. Ind.): The re-emergence of Quincy Enunwa last weekend limited Robby to just 2 targets against New England. There's no way to know if that number will go back up this week. You can't trust Anderson this week despite a plus matchup with the Colts.
TE Austin Hooper, ATL (Wk. 13: vs. KC): The Chiefs aren't quite as brutal a TE matchup as the Cardinals were for Hooper last week, but they're pretty close. KC has allowed just 2 TE scores, and have only allowed 60+ yards to the opposing tight ends 3 times. They've only allowed 60 yards AND a touchdown once. There are better streaming options available.
Rookies on Bye: QB Cody Kessler, CLE, RB Derrick Henry, TEN, WR Tajae Sharpe, TEN, WR Corey Coleman, CLE, WR Ricardo Louis, CLE, TE Seth DeValve, CLE
Deep League Sleepers, Stashes, and Cheap DFS Options:
RB Jalen Richard, OAK (Wk. 13: vs. Buf.): Richard has finally emerged as the clear RB2 in Oakland as DeAndre Washington was a healthy scratch against the Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills rank just 25th in run defense DVOA. It seems as though Latavius Murray has established himself as the workhorse for Oakland again, but Richard has averaged 7.5 touches per game over the past 4 games. While that type of volume doesn't lend itself to fantasy starter status, Richard has shown the big-play ability to be an interesting DFS tournament punt play. He's also a guy you should consider stashing as a handcuff if you own Murray.
WR Malcolm Mitchell, NE (Wk. 13: vs. LA): People might be expecting Mitchell to come back to earth a bit this week after scoring 3 TDs in the past two games with Chris Hogan and then Rob Gronkowski out. I think he extends the success another week. While it sounds like Gronk has a good shot of playing this week, I think it will be at far less than 100 percent and mostly as a decoy, and it's clear that Mitchell has earned Tom Brady's trust. Mitchell seems a natural fit for the role the Brandon LaFell played the last two years, and LaFell left a ton of big plays on the field last year because of drops. Mitchell isn't doing that so far. It helps Mitchell's outlook that the Rams have really struggled to defend WRs away from home, allowing 30+ fantasy points to the position in 4 of their 6 road games. I'm in on Mitchell this week as a boom-or-bust WR3.
WR Leonte Carroo, MIA (Wk. 13: @Bal.): Carroo's outlook really depends on the status of DeVante Parker this week. Parker left with a back injury on Sunday, and Carroo scored a touchdown on his only target as the fill-in. If Parker is out this week, I'd expect Carroo to assume his role in the offense, and that role has been bigger of late. DeVante has led the Dolphins in targets over the past 3 weeks, and averaged 82 receiving yards per game in that span. If he sits, Carroo becomes a really intriguing cheap option for DFS tournaments and a streaming possibility for the deepest of leagues.
WR Daniel Braverman, CHI (Wk. 13: vs. SF): I only list Braverman here as a gut call for DFS tournaments, or as a stash in deep PPR leagues. The Bears are desperate to find anyone who can catch the ball after suffering through a miserable 10 drops last Sunday, including 2 on the final series that each could have led to a Bears' win. Braverman caught 108 balls at Western Michigan last season, and showed sure hands in the preseason when given opportunities. He could play a prominent role as a slot receiver immediately, and Matt Barkley showed last weekend that he can actually throw it a bit. The weather conditions will be sloppy in Chicago (about 40 degrees and rainy), so the short passing game will be key, and that's an area where Braverman excels. I like his chances of recording 5+ catches.
That's all I've got for this week. Hopefully it helps with your all-important lineup decisions and helps you extend your season into the playoffs. Make sure to keep an eye on the injury reports throughout the week to make sure you don't start anyone who's out or winds up benched because the starter is back. If you have any specific questions or want to yell at me about anything 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.