The 2019 NFL season is officially one game old. While that one game won’t live long in the memory of many, we have no reason to be angry. There will be plenty more in the weeks to come to satiate our desire for the game.
With the majority of the teams still to take the field, here are some bold yet plausible predictions for the upcoming season. Too hot for you? Or not spicy enough? Let us know.
Neil Dutton – O.J. Howard Will Finish as the Overall TE1
Most people will be expecting the Holy Trinity of Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz to sit proudly atop the tight end fantasy points chart come the end of the season. But these people will be astounded … well, maybe amazed … OK, mildly surprised when Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard outscores the entire trio in 2019.
Howard, and the Bucs TEs, in general, don’t have the easiest schedule in the coming season.
However, Howard is an absolute beast who leads all TEs in yards per reception over the last two seasons with 16.6. He can go downfield, or he can get the yards himself. This is evidenced by his finishing No.11 in terms of air yards AND yards after the catch last season.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will earn much of the acclaim, and therefore most of the targets for the Bucs in 2019. But Howard will be able to siphon off some of the production left in the wake of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries departures. Plus, if anything were to happen to either Evans or Godwin, the world will be his oyster.
Matt Wispe – Neither Odell Beckham nor Jarvis Landry Finish as a Top-12 WR
This prediction feels slightly blasphemous because it feels like a bet against Baker Mayfield, but, in reality, it’s a bet on the Browns not needing to pass as frequently. Following the firing of Hue Jackson and installation of Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator, the Browns attempted five fewer passes per game.
During that stretch, they were a more efficient offense and averaged a one-point win. The 16 game pace of 534 pass attempts would have ranked 20th in 2018. Because of the lowered volume and the addition of new receiving talent, neither Odell Beckham nor Jarvis Landry will receive enough targets to crack the top 12 in scoring.
John Solis – Wispe Wrong as Usual, OBJ the Overall WR1
You gonna listen to Wispe? C’mon man. OBJ! O-B-J! O-B-J!
John Lapinski – Derrius Guice finishes as an RB1
Before getting injured as a rookie, this prediction wouldn’t feel so bold, but here we are in 2019 and Derrius Guice’s ADP for the offseason has him as RB32.
To be fair, there were legitimate reasons for concern with Guice. There were complications with his recovery from ACL surgery that set back his timetable, and then a mild hamstring issue at the end of training camp. Guice got back on the field for preseason Week 3 though and looked like the explosive player everyone expected when he came out from LSU.
I’m heavily invested in Guice this season at his depressed price based on the hope that he would be healthy and a coaching-for-his-job Jay Gruden would do the rational thing by running the offense through him. The Washington depth chart at the offensive skill positions is full of role players and cast-offs, and Guice is the only player there with first-round talent.1
And despite all the hand-wringing about a 34-year-old Adrian Peterson, and the constantly-injured 29-year-old Chris Thompson, this has always been the upside case for Guice; that he’s good enough to force his way into a workhorse role. He wasn’t a flawless prospect, but Guice’s age-adjusted production was among the best we’ve seen, and he checked the size and speed boxes at the NFL combine. Now we have Jay Gruden publicly saying that the running game will go through Guice, and even implying Peterson may not be active on game day.
Sure, the Washington offense projects to be bad, and the holdout of Trent Williams won’t do the run game any favors, but the offense was pretty bad last year too, and a washed-up Peterson still managed to rush for over 1,000 yards. If Guice is as talented as his prospect profile suggests, he should be able to beat that number and even add in more receptions to go along with it. Peterson finished 2018 as the RB19 with 193 PPR points. Guice would need to improve on that by 40 points to match last year’s RB12, and I think he’ll be able to do that in 2019.
Blair Andrews – D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel Will Both Break Out in 2019
Neither D.J. Moore nor Curtis Samuel is currently being drafted inside the top-24 WRs. Moore is just outside at WR26, while Samuel’s ADP is WR38. But in the final six weeks of the fantasy season, both were getting the opportunity you’d expect from a top-24 WR.
Both Moore and Samuel averaged over 13 expected points per game to close out the fantasy season. And this was with Christian McCaffery seeing some of his biggest workloads of the season too.
McCaffrey’s three busiest games in terms of expected points all came during this stretch. Moore and Samuel’s opportunity increase didn’t come at McCaffrey’s expense — the offense just got a lot more concentrated.
Moore’s breakout is all but guaranteed at this point, and Samuel looks like the prototypical third-year breakout as well. But these outcomes needn’t preclude each other. Carolina made few significant additions to their receiving corps, so expect 2019 to resemble the end of 2018, and for both Moore and Samuel to put up WR2 numbers, with upside for more.
Shawn Siegele – Patrick Mahomes will eclipse Peyton Manning’s 2013, break the passing TD record, and again finish as the QB1 by more than 50 points.
Patrick Mahomes posted a 5,000/50 season in his first year as a starter. The numbers were so gaudy that the consistency of the explosiveness is no surprise.
Although the QB1 has historically performed very poorly in terms of win rate and points implied by ADP, Mahomes has several points in his favor. He should make the natural progression in his second year as a starter. In this case from “best QB in the NFL” to demigod. The Chiefs have upgraded the weapons around him with the addition of Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson. They’ll be better able to weather an injury to Sammy Watkins, and should Watkins stay healthy …
Mahomes already posted these finishes, after all.
Barring an unexpectedly quick turnaround, the Kansas City defense is still a year away from competency. Arrowhead will be shootout central all season.
Matt Jones – Travis Kelce Becomes the First TE to Score 350 PPR Points and Outscores the WR1
The Chiefs are laughing at all of your talk of regression. With the Legion of Zoom now completed by Mecole Hardman, they have all of the weapons necessary to clear out space for Travis Kelce. Let’s look at last year’s performance by Kelce to get a picture of what would need to happen for him to clear 350 PPR Points.
Kelce was a TE1 in 81% of his games a season ago and averaged 18.4 PPR Points. He averaged 1.95 PPR points per target. Kelce had fewer than eight targets on just three occasions last season for an average of 9.4 per game. He scored his 10 TDs in bunches, with three multi-TD games. Even with this solid production, Kelce was held below his fantasy scoring expectation in seven games!
The defense in Kansas City is offensive. That likely won’t change, so the Chiefs will continue to air it out. If he can bump up his targets to 10 per game and increase his FPOE by a small margin2, we’d be looking at 352 PPR Points. That would break Rob Gronkowski’s record of 330.9 in 2011.
Jack Miller – Lamar Jackson Finishes as a Top-Three QB
“Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A.”
Over the last few years, the term “Konami Code” to describe running quarterbacks has become a regular part of the fantasy football vernacular.
We’ve never seen a Konami Code quarterback like Lamar Jackson. The Louisville product started only seven games for the Ravens last year, but he still had the most rushing attempts of any quarterback in NFL history. In his seven starts, he ran 17 times per game.
Seventeen. That’s RB1 rushing volume. He’s not going to run 17 times per game this year – Jackson himself has said as much – but he doesn’t need to run that often to still have elite rushing volume. If he runs even half as much as he did last year, he would be on pace for 136 rushing attempts throughout a 16-game season, which would be the fourth-most rushing attempts of any quarterback in NFL history.
Yes, he wasn’t good as a passer last year, but he doesn’t have to be in order to be a valuable fantasy asset. Since 2000, there have been 34 quarterbacks to start at least 12 games and attempt 5.5 rushing attempts per start. Thirty of them have finished as a QB1 in fantasy. On average, they ranked 28th in the league in passer rating. If he can put it together as a passer – which, considering he finished inside the top-20 in yards per attempt in his final two collegiate seasons, isn’t that far-fetched – he could finish as the QB1. Not a QB1. The QB1. Unfortunately, the Ravens’ receiving corps still isn’t anything to write home about, although they did add Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Justice Hill this offseason.
Still not convinced? Consider this: Before Jackson, the last quarterback to average at least 10 rushing attempts per start was Tim Tebow in 2011. That year, Tebow started 11 games and completed 46.5% of his passes for 1,729 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six picks. Put simply, he was woefully inefficient throwing the football. He still finished as the QB8 in fantasy on a per-start basis.
Jackson has a simple path to a top-three QB finish: Keep running, and improve slightly as a passer. That’s it.
Stefan Lako – Tyler Lockett Finishes as a Top-12 WR
Opportunity plus efficiency is a recipe for production in fantasy football. Hell, most of us don’t even care too much about anything beyond volume. This season the planets have aligned for Tyler Lockett – the departure of Doug Baldwin, Mike Davis, and Brandon Marshall equates to 157 vacated targets from last season.
Furthermore, Lockett is more than capable of filling in as the wide receiver one for the Seahawks. In games without Baldwin, Lockett has increased his production by more than five points per game.
Again, the volume is great, but it rarely provides an elite ceiling on its own. Observing the efficiency of the connection between Russell Wilson and Lockett is where things get super exciting. One method to observe this is through looking at adjusted yards per attempt (AYA). Ever since Lockett entered the NFL, only two WR-QB combos have a higher AYA than Wilson to Lockett’s 10.95. Last year the AYA was an insane 16.41, four yards more than the 2nd highest tandem.3
This combination of increased opportunity and elite efficiency will lead to an absolute monster year for Lockett. I have him projected for 85 receptions, 1,241 yards, 9 TDs and 60 rushing yards. These 269 PPR points would have landed him as WR10 in 2018.
Jordan Hoover – Cam Newton Finishes As A Top-Three QB
After finishing as the overall QB2 in 2017, Cam Newton came back down to earth last season, ending as the QB14. Now being drafted as the QB11 in FFPC redraft leagues, there’s evidence pointing to a return to his previous heights by the end of 2019.
Few WRs have been hyped more this offseason than Curtis Samuel, while D.J. Moore is one of the most universally-liked WR prospects in RotoViz history. If both of the breakout as many expect, Newton will be the primary benefactor. Greg Olsen is reportedly healthy giving Newton back the third-most efficient target of his career.
And of course, there’s Christian McCaffrey who is perhaps the next receiving RB in the league, ranking second in receiving yards among RBs (1,518) over the last two seasons.
Newton’s schedule is another reason to believe in his high range of outcomes. The Panthers face the seventh easiest schedule in the league according to the RotoViz SOS Streaming App.
QB Strength of Schedule Rankings – Weeks 1-16
The Panthers’ secondary looks to have its share of deficiencies, only increasing the potential for multiple shootouts.
But for Newton to return to the elite tier of fantasy QBs, a bump in rushing production is likely needed. Panthers’ coaches talked this offseason about limiting McCaffrey’s touches. I doubt we see a dramatic shift in his usage, what if Newton sees an increased opportunity, particularly near the goal line? Last season Newton scored on just 3.9% of his rush attempts, a noticeable decrease from his career average (6.2%). If we see increased rushing volume in high-leverage areas, coupled with a better group of skill position options, Newton could once again approach the fantasy mountaintop.
Tyler Loechner – Corey Davis Finishes as a Top-12 Fantasy WR
Corey Davis finished last season with a 25.6% target market share and 13.2% opportunity market share in Tennessee. This ranked 11th-best among all WRs. The company he kept — in terms of opportunity — makes up the bulk of fantasy WRs:
Davis has a less-than-desirable range of outcomes for 2019. But some of his higher-performing comps are attractive. Davis’ high-end range of outcomes is 14.2 fantasy PPG, which should be enough competing for tail-end fantasy WR1 positioning.
The Titans have a new offensive coordinator, and, despite the late-season rise of Derrick Henry, Tennessee’s offseason moves — such signing Adam Humphries and spending a second-round pick on WR A.J. Brown — suggest they are going to rely more on the pass more in 2019.
Ryan Collinsworth – Kenyan Drake and Austin Ekeler Finish as Low-End RB1s
Both Kenyan Drake and Austin Ekeler fit statistical profiles that signal RB1 upside due to their excellent receiving production. Drake’s 2018 rushing vs. receiving usage most closely mirrors Saquon Barkley, and Austin Ekeler’s career touch-distribution resembles Alvin Kamara.
Both players report the style of production we want to target in PPR, but each of them has been stymied by inconsistent opportunity to begin their careers. However, there’s a reason to believe that will change this season.
Melvin Gordon’s holdout and trade request have already vaulted Ekeler into RB1 status entering Week 1. Even though he’ll still split touches with Justin Jackson, Ekeler should dominate RB receiving targets. QB Philip Rivers has encountered a similar backfield scenario before: In 2015, Ryan Mathews left the team (signing with Philadelphia), and Rivers force-fed Danny Woodhead 106 targets on his way to a PPR RB3 finish.
Drake’s path to RB1-style opportunity is less obvious given his timeshare with Kalen Ballage. Nonetheless, Drake earns a Week 1 starting designation as the team’s RB1. He’s in the final year of his four-year deal and still in his athletic prime at 25-years old. So, the tanking Dolphins have every financial incentive to run him into the ground before he becomes a UFA in 2020. Ballage is an athletic freak but a bad football player, which opens the door for Drake to finally seize the No. 1 RB role and flirt with fantasy RB1 status this season.
George Fitopoulos – Miles Sanders Is the League-Winning RB1 and Wins Rookie of the Year
It’s all about the offensive line, and the Eagles’ line is the cream of the crop. They will make life pretty easy for whoever is running the ball for the Eagles this season. While the backfield is a bit crowded for now, someone could emerge as the clear RB1 in that offense. Miles Sanders will be that guy.
His main competition is Jordan Howard. Howard averaged 3.7 yards per and just 15 carries per game in what was a conservative Bears offense last year. Let us not forget to mention he’s a non-factor in the passing game. This is an area where Sanders can contribute. If Sanders can grab hold of the lion share of RB snaps early in the season, which is definitely in his range of outcomes, he could be in for some big production. Currently, his odds to win offensive rookie of the year are in the 18:1 to 20:1 range, which is some nice value.
Cort Smith – Matt Breida Outscores Kerryon Johnson
I’m convinced Kerryon Johnson can be the No. 1 overall RB. He’s always been one of my favorite prospects — last year I called him the discount Dalvin Cook, before calling him a must draft back in April.
But April was a lifetime ago.
The late-summer dip you see is drafters coming to grips with the fact that studly as he may be, Johnson is still coached by Matt Patricia.
After taking over a Lions’ team that ranked eighth in points per game (25.6) and 13th in yards per game (337.8), the Lions finished 25th (20.2 ppg) and 24th (327.2 yards per game) in those categories last year. The addition of C.J. Anderson suggests that the coaching staff isn’t willing to make Johnson a workhorse in the Joe Mixon mold.
The bottom line is I just don’t trust Patricia to play his best players. Yes, this is also a reverse jinx in the hopes that I am very wrong here.
Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan is running an RB-friendly scheme that was laying the groundwork for Zero RB back in the mid-90s, back when expected points were just a gleam in the Fantasy Douche’s eye. The entire 49ers backfield looks like a band-aid, Breida included. But if he can stay healthy, and the 49ers are competitive, he has a legitimate case towards having RB1 upside.
Hasan Rahim – Dalvin Cook Is This Year’s Christian McCaffrey
This isn’t exactly as hot as some of the other takes in this article. Especially since Dalvin Cook has been locked in as a second-round pick for most of this offseason. Dr. Jeff Budoff did a great job dispelling the injury-prone narrative that has persisted around Cook this offseason. Additionally, Dr. Budoff noted that the hamstring issues last season were related to Cook’s ACL tear in 2017.
Cook was forced to miss most of the 2018 season after being hindered by his lingering hamstring issues. After Cook returned from injury, he reached double-digit PPR points from Weeks 12-16. Cook posted three RB1 and two RB2 weeks in the highest leverage weeks of the season. This hopefully carried gamers over the course of the fantasy playoffs. Additionally, Cook flashed his big-play potential in Week 3 of the preseason. He ripped off one of his two carries for an 85-yard touchdown.
Although we shouldn’t be surprised if either Alexander Mattison or Mike Boone earn some work in positive game scripts4 I fully expect Cook to be the Vikings’ primary RB in neutral and negative scripts. My enthusiasm surrounding Cook this season is reflected in my redraft ranks versus the rest of the team.
It’s helpful for Cook’s outlook this season that the Vikings are shifting to a run-heavy philosophy. As Larry Weinhauer mentioned, the Vikings’ offense was more efficient once Kevin Stefanski took over as offensive coordinator.
So how exactly does any of this relate to Christian McCaffrey? I’m not expecting Cook to reprise McCaffrey’s tremendous 2018 fantasy season. I do expect Cook to be selected in the early-to-mid-first round in best ball drafts next season.5 In order to see his 2020 ADP jump a full round, all Cook needs to do is pick up where he left off last season.
TheFFGhost – Marquez Valdes-Scantling Could Impact Davante Adams’ Statistical Production Enough to Drop Him Out of the Top Five Fantasy WRs.
Davante Adams has slowly crept into the conversation as a first-round draft pick for teams focused on wide receiver production, establishing himself as the WR2 in MyFantasyLeague’s 2019 ADP. This is up from 2018 when he was the WR7 and in 2017 when he was WR16. Adams’ production is phenomenal. However, there is a threat to that new lofty ADP. As well as possible future statistical and fantasy production in the form of teammate Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Last season, when both receivers were starters in a game, the Packers saw a reception and yardage split between Valdes-Scantling and Adams of roughly 40/60 respectively when the team won. But only a 25/75 split when the team lost. Assuming Green Bay can figure this out and establish a more balanced attack, and assuming a production level identical to that of last season, Adams would have garnered 1238 yards versus the 1386 yards he actually gained. While Valdes-Scantling would have finished the season with nearly 730 yards. As compared to the 581 he ended the season with. This would have dropped Adams from the seventh-most yards among wide receivers to the tenth-most. That drop in production could also cost several fantasy teams at least a win or two over the course of a season.
One data point doesn’t make a trend. But it is worth noting that in the opening game of the 2019 season, Valdes-Scantling out produced Adams by roughly a 60/40 split. Green Bay ended up winning against the favored Bears.
Image Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Travis Kelce.
- Even though he did drop to the second round, likely thanks to rumored “character concerns” that often unfairly torpedo a player’s value. (back)
- from 1.95 to 2.2 (back)
- Philip Rivers to Mike Williams (back)
- Vikings lead by more than a touchdown (back)
- McCaffrey was a locked-in second-rounder for most of the 2018 offseason, until Ron Rivera tipped his hand regarding McCaffrey’s bell-cow role during the preseason. (back)