For those of us who love fantasy football, this time of year feels like the holiday season. Our fantasy draft days and the joy that comes with it has arrived.
You’ve studied rankings, and you’ve done some mock drafts. You’ve followed all the reports out of training camps and preseasons.
But before you draft, consider these bold fantasy predictions for each NFL team heading into the 2019 season:
Quarterback Josh Allen will finish the season ranked as a top-12 quarterback, despite all of the fantasy world discounting his rushing ability. Allen is being drafted in the 14th round as the 21st QB selected in drafts. From Weeks 12-17 last season, Josh Allen was the highest-scoring QB in fantasy football, averaging 79 rushing yards per game. Even with negative regression coming, his rushing floor gives him a path to fantasy prominence.
New York Jets
Running back Le’Veon Bell will be considered a bust for fantasy owners who spend a first round pick on him in drafts for all the reasons I’ve written about all offseason.
New England Patriots
Josh Gordon will help return Tom Brady to a weekly starting option among fantasy quarterbacks. In weeks last season where Josh Gordon saw at least three targets with the Patriots, Tom Brady was QB10, averaging more than 18 fantasy points per week. Tom Brady’s average draft position is QB17.
Despite his preseason injury and Kalen Ballage getting most of the first-team reps, Kenyan Drake will again finish as a top-20 running back in fantasy football. Miami is going to suck this year, which means they will be throwing a ton. That will put Drake on the field far more than Ballage, as Drake is a superior pass catcher. Plus, with how terrible the offensive line is for the Dolphins, that will help Drake in two ways. First, Ballage will not have enough success rushing the ball to warrant keeping him on the field. Secondly, with poor protection, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen will need to get rid of the ball quickly, and that’s where Drake comes in as a pass catcher. Drake has fallen to the 33rd RB off the board in drafts, on average, despite finishing as a top-15 RB last season with Frank Gore still stealing touches. Frank Gore is gone.
Kansas City Chiefs
Darwin Thompson will be the Chiefs running back with the most fantasy points at the end of the season. The sixth-round rookie has already leaped Carlos Hyde on the depth chart, and only a career back-up in Damien Williams stands in his way to be the starter. Thompson is also getting work in the red zone with the first team in practice.
Los Angeles Chargers
Receiver Mike Williams will be a bust. Yes, he scored double-digit touchdowns last season on less than 70 targets, but that is not a repeatable feat. Tight end Hunter Henry is fully healthy to steal targets and red zone opportunities that otherwise would have been vacated by Tyrell Williams’ departure to Oakland. Williams is being drafted inside the top-30 receivers this season but will finish outside the top 40.
No player on the Raiders will finish among the top-15 at their position in fantasy football. Not receivers Antonio Brown or Tyrell Williams. Not rookie running back Josh Jacobs. Not quarterback Derek Carr. Maybe tight end Darren Waller, but who cares because being a top-15 tight end is worthless week to week unless you are in the top five.
Royce Freeman will become one of the most successful post-hype sleepers in recent years and finish as an RB2. Nothing went Freeman’s way last season due to playing through injury and negative game scripts keeping him off the field in favor of Philip Lindsay. However, new offensive line coach Mike Munchak is one of the best in the league and comes over from Pittsburgh. Munchak and head coach Vic Fangio will utilize Freeman more this season, including near the goal line. Unlike last year, when his ADP skyrocketed as a rookie, he will return value this year as the 38th RB off the board in drafts.
James Conner will finish as a top-four running back this season in fantasy football and be drafted in the top five in 2020 fantasy drafts. Conner was fourth in routes run per game among running backs last season, giving him the passing game volume necessary to reach that level. Prior to his ankle injury last season, he was fourth in touches, sixth in scrimmage yards per game, and sixth in PPR fantasy points per game. With Antonio Brown gone, the Steelers will utilize Conner even more than last season, as their second best weapon behind JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Running back Mark Ingram will be a bust. Yes, the Ravens offense will be run heavy, probably the most run heavy in the league. However, quarterback Lamar Jackson will be the primary goal line rusher, and Ingram must also split touches with back-ups Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill, who is emerging as an explosive third down back. There are too many cooks in the kitchen for Ingram to return value on his average draft position as the 23rd RB off the board in the 4th round.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd will finish the season as a top-15 option at his position, ahead of names like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Amari Cooper, Tyler Lockett and Kenny Golladay. What Sean McVay did for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, Zac Taylor will do for Boyd. In an offense with only A.J. Green to contend with for targets (if he’s healthy) on a team that will be playing from behind quite often, Boyd will see at least 120 targets, making him one of the best values at the position in the 5th round. Don’t think he can finish top 15? He already finished 15th among WRs last year in half PPR.
Odell Beckham will be the highest scoring wide receiver in fantasy football. Consider Beckham was WR8 last year in fantasy points per game at the position with Eli Manning and WR3 in 2017. He was WR4 in 2016. Now, he gets Baker Mayfield. The Baker Mayfield that broke the rookie record for touchdown passes. The Baker Mayfield that is coupled with an offensive coordinator in Todd Monken whose Bucs offense led the league in passing yards last year with Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the ball. Whose offense was tied for third in passing touchdowns with 36 with Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the ball.
Marlon Mack will emerge as a top-12 fantasy running back, despite being drafted outside the top 20 at the position at times. Mack, on a per game basis in half PPR last year, was RB12. He’s now seeing three-down usage in the preseason and will run behind one of the three best offensive lines in the NFL. At press conferences this preseason, Frank Reich has already touted stats like the final four teams in the NFL each year are always among the league leaders in rushing yardage. Even if Andrew Luck isn’t fully healthy, that should also lead to the offense relying more on Mack and that elite offensive line.
Derrick Henry will again finish among the top-20 fantasy running backs, and again, help nobody. Henry’s late-season surge last year has him back among the top-24 backs in fantasy drafts, but don’t fall for the small sample size trap. He will be inconsistent weekly yet again in 2019. Why nobody wants to mention his two big games late last year came against the Jaguars and Giants, both of which were mailing it in at that point, I don’t know.
Duke Johnson Jr. will finish as a top-20 running back in PPR leagues this season. Teams don’t trade a potential third round pick for a running back unless they plan on heavily using him. Lamar Miller has just been a guy over the past couple of seasons, compiling stats on volume due to no competition on the depth chart. Johnson’s average draft position has risen from the 14th to the 9th round since being traded to the Texans, but that’s still in range to be a great value in 2019.
Dede Westbrook will to 2019 what Emmanuel Sanders was to 2018, as the best receiver value in fantasy drafts. Westbrook gets a big upgrade at quarterback to Nick Foles, who is among the league leaders in targeting the slot. He also gets an offensive coordinator in John DeFilippo who has done the same. The Jaguars also have the third most vacated targets in the NFL. According to NFL Fantasy’s Graham Barfield, Westbrook earned 3+ yards of separation on 74 percent of his targets (best in the league among receivers). He also gained 5+ yards of separation on a league-leading 51 percent of targets. Westbrook is being drafted as the 35th WR off the board but will finish in the top 20 at his position.
DeSean Jackson will be the highest ranked Eagles receiver at the end of the season, not Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery is being drafted in the sixth round. Jackson is being drafted in the 10th round. No matter. Jackson finished only two spots behind Jeffery among fantasy wideouts last season, despite playing one fewer game than Jeffery on an inferior offense.
New York Giants
Evan Engram will see enough targets to finish as a top-four tight end and be in the same tier as Zach Ertz and George Kittle. In 11 games without Odell Beckham over the past two seasons, Engram scored more than 11 fantasy points per game in half PPR, less than 1.5 points per game behind what Kittle averaged in 2018. A likely midseason upgrade at quarterback to Daniel Jones will only help Engram’s cause.
Amari Cooper will finish as a top-20 fantasy receiver and help nobody. His week-to-week inconsistency in Oakland carried over to Dallas last season, scoring fewer than 10 points in half PPR leagues in five of nine weeks in Dallas. The blow up weeks will be there from time to time, but Cooper will once again leave owners scratching their heads as to whether they should start him each week.
No Washington player will finish among the top 20 at their position in fantasy football. The backfield is too crowded: Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson. The quarterback room is too crowded: Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins. The wide receiving core is too crowded (and terrible): Josh Doctson, Trey Quinn, Terry McLaurin and Paul Richardson. And somebody really needs to advice Jordan Reed to stop playing football, in all honesty, after suffering his seventh known concussion in the preseason.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Breida will be the most valuable running back in this backfield ahead of Tevin Coleman and provide weekly FLEX value with RB2 upside. Per Pro Football Focus, Breida had 27 explosive runs last season to rank top 10 among RBs. As a pass catcher, Breida also had a passer rating when targeted higher than 120.0. Both Coleman and Breida should have fantasy value with Jerick McKinnon suffering another setback in his ACL recovery, but Breida will only cost you a ninth round pick.
Los Angeles Rams
If Todd Gurley gets hurt, back-up running back Malcolm Brown will outscore rookie Darrell Henderson. Henderson has struggled in his first NFL training camp and preseason, playing a lot of snaps. Even if Gurley were to get hurt, Henderson’s satellite back role likely wouldn’t change. He’d still get less than 15 touches per game (if he can prove to be productive). It would be Brown who would assume the lion’s share of Gurley’s workload and goal line carries. Brown is largely going undrafted.
Rashaad Penny will be worthless in re-draft leagues unless Chris Carson gets hurt. Carson is locked in as the starter in this run-heavy offense, with coaches even saying they want to get him more involved in the passing game. That means Penny will be impossible to figure out whether to start on a week-to-week basis with Carson healthy.
Christian Kirk will not have the breakout season many in fantasy football circles are predicting. Establish The Run’s Adam Levitan notes Kirk has only been on the field for 13 of quarterback Kyler Murray’s 28 snaps. Kirk has been in the slot for most of them, where Larry Fitzgerald will dominate snaps in the regular season.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones will be a league winner in 2019. Jones finished as RB20 in half PPR last year, but in games where he saw more than 50 percent of snaps, Jones was RB5, ahead of Todd Gurley and James Conner in those weeks. Jones is the 16th RB off the board in drafts in the third round. A new coach and no viable competition will make this prediction come true, as long as Jones can stay healthy.
Neither Stefon Diggs nor Adam Thielen will finish among the top-15 wide receivers in fantasy this season, despite both being drafted inside the top 15. With run-oriented offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski at the helm for the final three weeks of the season, Diggs was WR20 in that span and Thielen was WR45. Stefanski is back.
David Montgomery will be a bust. Just like Royce Freeman did not see enough volume to warrant his average draft position a year ago, the same will happen to Montgomery, who will not see nearly enough passing game usage with Tarik Cohen still round in this backfield. The Bears also are paying running back Mike Davis more than it would have cost to keep Jordan Howard. Montgomery in the late third and early fourth rounds is one of the easiest players to pass on in 2019.
Kerryon Johnson will be a bust at his new average draft position in the late 2nd/early third round. The release of Theo Riddick has many excited about Johnson’s prospects this season with a likely increase in receptions for Johnson, but the offense is still bad. C.J. Anderson is also still in the mix to vulture goal line touches. Even if Johnson stays healthy, it will feel like starting Lamar Miller, until a more progressive offensive-minded head coach is in place in Detroit. Johnson’s year-end numbers if healthy may look more attractive than what he actually provided on a week-to-week basis in 2019.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees will not finish as a top-15 quarterback in fantasy this season, despite still being drafted among the top-10 QBs. Brees finished as QB7 last year, despite only attempting 489 passes, the fewest amount he’s had since 2004. He should see negative touchdown regression after posting a 6.5 percent TD% last season, 1.2 percent above his career average.
Julio Jones will set a career-high in touchdown receptions (11+) with Dirk Koetter back in Atlanta as offensive coordinator. In his first season with Koeeter, Jones scored 10 times. Jones has only 11 touchdowns in his last two seasons combined.
Curtis Samuel will be the highest scoring Panthers receiver, not D.J. Moore, despite Samuel being drafted two-to-three rounds later than Moore. From Weeks 12-17 (the only games Samuel played 50 percent or more of snaps), Samuel was WR26 in half PPR, with Moore only WR44
Tampa Bay Bucaneers
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans will be the only teammates to finish as top-15 fantasy wide receivers. Mike Evans is an annual lock to accomplish this, but here’s why Godwin will do the same. Godwin only played 64 percent of snaps last season. New head coach Bruce Arians has said Godwin will not leave the field, and his preseason usage has indicated just that. Plus, Godwin scored 0.256 PPR fantasy points per snap last season. If he would have played 80 percent of snaps at that rate, he would have scored 228 PPR points, enough to finish as WR15. Imagine if he plays even more snaps, with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries no longer in Tampa Bay.