Week 12 is the penultimate in most fantasy football regular seasons. As such, it is increasingly important to pay attention to matchups to make the correct decisions come gameday. Another factor to consider is that there were several big performances on Thursday night. Three players (Jonathan Williams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller) put up 20-plus PPR points. If you have one or more of these players in your lineup, you may choose a more conservative approach with some of your lineup decisions, as you are likely already ahead of the curve. On the other hand, if you are facing these players in your head-to-head matchups, you may be more inclined to swing for the fences to try to make up some ground. With that in mind, I present to you my Week 12 sleepers and busts.
As always, these are players I am considerably higher or lower on that the Expert Consensus Rankings, and I generally gear these comments towards players who are fringe starters in a given week. For example, I am higher on Russell Wilson than most this week, but you don’t need me to convince you to start him. Nobody in the ECR has Wilson lower than seventh, so we can all agree that you should start him this week. But the players on my lists below are ones that many fantasy players are on the fence about, making them worthy of discussion. So enjoy and best of luck this week. I will also be updating my Week 12 rankings on Sunday before kickoff, and you can comment below with any specific questions you may have.
Week 12 Sleepers and Busts
Derek Carr (My rank: QB8; ECR: QB13)
The New York Jets have allowed three top-five fantasy performances to enemy signal-callers in the last four weeks. Here is the Murderer’s Row of quarterbacks who have reached that threshold: Gardner Minshew, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Daniel Jones. The Jets have become more of a pass funnel defense as the year has gone on. In that same four-week span, they have allowed a total of 238 rushing yards. The Raiders will have to move the ball through the air to have success in this game. Derek Carr has been quite efficient over the last five weeks. He has averaged 9.24 yards per attempt during that stretch. However, he has averaged less than 30 attempts per game which has limited his ceiling. I think this is a game in which he approaches 40 pass attempts, making it likely we see his first 300-yard passing game of the season.
Tom Brady (My rank: QB15; ECR: QB10)
While the New England Patriots still have the AFC’s best record, their passing offense has gone in the tank of late. Tom Brady has finished outside of the top 12 in fantasy points among quarterbacks in each of his last four games, including three games outside the top 18. I would not expect that to drastically change in Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas has allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in the NFL and has surrendered just 11 touchdowns through the air this season. Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett are questionable to suit up on Sunday, further muddying Brady’s outlook. I think the Patriots will rely on their defense and running game to secure the victory in this game. Brady will not be relied upon to push the ball down the field. There are better fantasy options this week.
Sleeper Running Backs
Kalen Ballage (My rank: RB27 in Standard; ECR: RB35)
Patrick Laird (My rank: RB38 in PPR; ECR: RB47)
I must admit – having these two players as Week 12 sleepers in what is a pivotal week for most fantasy players kind of makes me want to eschew all preseason draft prep. We all know that Kalen Ballage is not #good at football. He has gained just 122 yards on 64 totes this season. For reference, Jonathan Williams, who had essentially done nothing until last week, now has 221 rushing yards this year. However, Ballage does have 38 touches in his last two games and should continue to be featured against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have been solid against the run, but the suspensions of Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi mean more snaps for Chris Smith and Devaroe Lawrence, who are downgrades in run stoppage. Ballage certainly tests the “chase volume” theory with his lack of production, but he could be a serviceable Flex play this week.
As for Patrick Laird, he has seen just 24 snaps this year, all coming in the last two weeks. He already has eight receptions in that limited action. I believe the Dolphins would be best served to give Laird more work, particularly in the passing game. If Laird can secure 10-12 touches, he should be able to produce solid results and likely outperform Ballage. I am inclined to bump Laird up a little knowing how ineffective Ballage is, but it is no certain thing that Laird gets enough work to be fantasy-relevant in this matchup. That ultimately is why he falls a tad short of starter range, but he can be a desperation option for those needing to navigate injuries and players on bye. I also like him as a punt play in DFS this week.
Bust Running Back
Ronald Jones (My rank: RB31 in PPR; ECR: RB24)
Just when we thought Ronald Jones was starting to become a trustworthy option, he drops an RB60 on us. He had just six touches for 14 yards in Tampa’s Week 11 loss. The Bucs immediately gave up on the run game once they fell behind. Jones had just four carries in the game, while Peyton Barber had none. Jones’ eight catches from the week before did little to procure him a role out of the backfield in this one, as he had just two catches for one yard. He will now be tasked with facing the suddenly hot Atlanta Falcons defense. Atlanta has allowed just 106 scoreless rushing yards to opposing backs in consecutive divisional victories. With an uncertain touch count and facing a better-than-advertised opponent, Jones could be in for another rough outing this week.
Sleeper Wide Receiver
Robert Woods (My rank: WR35 in PPR; ECR: WR43)
Robert Woods has disappointed this season following his breakout 2018 campaign. He has yet to catch a touchdown pass this year and has failed to score 10 PPR points in five of nine games. Still, I suspect that my relatively high ranking of Woods is based more on others being a bit more skeptical regarding his Week 12 status than his relative lack of production this season. Woods missed last week’s game due to a personal matter and did not return to the club until Thursday. It seems like Woods will play this week. He does have a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens and their secondary. But I think Sean McVay has seen enough of Marcus Peters to know how to beat him (hint – double move). Woods could be in line for a big play or two, making him a solid WR3 in this matchup.
Bust Wide Receiver
Taylor Gabriel (My rank: WR46 in PPR; ECR: WR39)
My two biggest busts based on my rankings relative to ECR were T.Y. Hilton (my WR29 to ECR’s WR18 in Standard) and Will Fuller (My WR46 to ECR’s WR32). Both played on Thursday night, and I went 1-for-2. My only other Week 12 bust is Taylor Gabriel. Gabriel had an eye-popping 14 targets last week, which has boosted the community’s faith in the sixth-year pro. But I think his large target share had more to do with Jalen Ramsey covering Allen Robinson than any sustainable increase in Gabriel’s role. Gabriel is helped by the matchup this week, as the Giants have struggled to contain receiving production all year long. However, I cannot trust Mitchell Trubisky to keep multiple receivers afloat at once, and I expect Robinson to have a big game. Gabriel could be worth a flier this week, but I would temper expectations a bit.
Sleeper Tight End
T.J. Hockenson (My rank: TE11 in PPR; ECR: TE16)
T.J. Hockenson has been a popular pick for me in the bust section of this column. However, this week he finds himself on the right side of the ledger. Hockenson put up yet another dud last week, but I believe his fortunes will change in Week 12. That is because he is going up against Washington and their suspect defense. Last week, they allowed Ryan Griffin to finish as the overall TE2 on just five targets. Griffin ran free on multiple occasions. I expect Darrell Bevell to exploit that and get Hockenson some open looks in this game. Hockenson has exhibited a low floor, but so have a dozen other tight ends. He has enough upside to warrant starting consideration this week, especially given the matchup and the relative state of the tight end position.
Bust Tight End
Noah Fant (My rank: TE13 in PPR; ECR: TE10)
Noah Fant has totaled 175 receiving yards in Brandon Allen’s two starts. Under normal circumstances, that would result in an instant top-10 ranking. However, Fant’s Week 12 matchup is quite daunting. The Buffalo Bills have allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends of any team in the league. Conversely, they have also struggled to stop the run in recent weeks. Since Week 8, Buffalo has allowed 451 rushing yards to opposing backs, good for a 5.24 per carry clip. I expect Denver to feature running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman in this matchup. I would not be surprised to see the pair approach 40 combined touches in this game. If that is the case, Fant would have precious few opportunities to make a play against a tough pass defense. Fant is a touchdown-or-bust Week 12 option.
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