Brenden Schaeffer’s 5 Bold Predictions for 2019

Vance McDonald will be a Top 3 TE this season

Coming into the season, there seems to be a clear-cut tier break when it comes to the tight end position in fantasy football. Travis Kelce (294.6 PPR points), Zach Ertz (280.3) and George Kittle (258.7) lapped the field at the TE position with their scoring output last season. Eric Ebron, buoyed by an insane touchdown rate, finished fourth with 222.2 PPR points. After him came Jared Cook at 193.6 points. Beyond those five players, no TE eclipsed the 163 points Austin Hooper compiled in what was a dark season for depth at the position for fantasy players.

If you didn’t land one of the big three or manage to strategically stream the position with wizardly premonitions on which tight ends would pop each week last season, you probably had a tough time thriving in your fantasy league. It’s for that reason that the trio of Kelce, Ertz and Kittle are entrenched as the top three tight ends and going among the top 30 players off the board overall in fantasy drafts this season. But I’d advise using those top picks to stack up valuable RBs and WRs, while waiting on a TE who could end up showing out in a breakout season: Vance McDonald.

Would I draft McDonald before the big three are off the board? Of course not. A major advantage to targeting McDonald in your draft is the value he presents. In most drafts, you’ll see a handful of mid-tier tight ends including OJ Howard, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry and Jared Cook being taken ahead of Vance. While those players are all fine bets to have solid seasons, I think McDonald is just as likely to do so⁠—and at a cheaper draft-day cost⁠—in a Steelers offense that will collectively replace Antonio Brown’s 168 targets from 2018. Another feather in Vance’s cap, even before we get into his actual on-field and ability, is the departure of Jesse James from the Pittsburgh offense. James was present on the field for 50.36% of offensive plays last season; McDonald’s rate was virtually identical, at 50.54%.

Now, let’s talk about McDonald on the field: He’s really good.

We all remember him for the greatest stiff arm of all-time, but that wasn’t a one-off deal for Vance McDonald. It’s… kind of what he does!

 

Among all WRs and TEs, only George Kittle and Evan Engram compiled a better YAC per reception last season than McDonald’s 7.9. He clearly doesn’t steer away from contact, and with an expected increase in opportunity, he’s athletic enough to turn an intermediate play into a highlight a few times a year. 

Kelce and Kittle are both primed to continue their momentum after sensational seasons last year, but Ertz may not get the volume in Philly that has made him a consistent fantasy star in recent years. Meanwhile, McDonald should hook up with Ben Roethlisberger in a more prominent role in Pittsburgh, leading to the possibility that he shocks the world to burst into the top tier at the tight end position this season.

 

Both Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny will finish the season among Top 20 RBs

 

The Seattle backfield is primed for a monster year.

In 2018, Seattle led the NFL in rushing yards at 2,560. No team came within 100 ground yards of the Seahawks, and only three (Ravens, Rams, Panthers) came within 500 yards. The running game was clearly a huge emphasis for the Seahawks last season, and there’s no reason to believe that 2019 will be any different. And with Mike Davis’ 146 touches–including a backfield-high 34 receptions–vacated for this season, it seems clear that Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are set to reach new heights.

Carson was the team’s primary back a year ago, handling the bulk of the early-down work on his way to becoming the league’s fifth leading rusher (1,151 yards) for the season. Pair that with the preseason buzz that Carson is expected to be implemented more heavily in the passing game, and his value in PPR formats is extraordinary at his current ADP as the 53rd overall player off the board at RB24. 

As an elite fantasy asset, Carson checks all the boxes. Proven talent? Absolutely. Playing in a good offense? That’s certainly the expectation, with Russell Wilson still running the show in Seattle. An offensive game plan that caters to his skill set? You bet. What’s not to like? Sure, he has struggled with injuries in his career, but that’s true of many players at the position, and Carson logged 14 starts last year. And physically, he can just do things that other people can’t.

My expectation is that Carson lands “on his feet” within RB1 territory in 12-team leagues in 2019.

But that doesn’t mean I’m sleeping on Penny! He stands to gain the most from Mike Davis’ departure to the Bears, as Seattle will likely want to keep Carson’s workload in check as they did a year ago. Perhaps even more capable as a pass-catcher than Carson, Penny represents the finesse side of what should be a dynamic two-headed attack out of the Seahawks backfield. Though they’re currently being drafted as RB24 (Carson) and RB34 (Penny), I predict both Seahawks running back will finish the 2019 season within the Top 20 RBs in fantasy scoring.

 

Jaylen Samuels catches 50 passes, finishes as an RB2 in 12-team leagues

 

The Steelers are about to get creative with Jaylen Samuels. Even with James Conner likely commanding the bulk of the workload in the running game, I predict Samuels is going to have an emphasized role in 2019, which could make him a fantasy football value on draft day. And given his skill set, a breakout season in the PPR format is definitely plausible for the second-year man out of NC State.

First of all, as mentioned in the Vance McDonald section, the Pittsburgh offense is going to have to look a little different this year. No Antonio Brown means more opportunities to go around for a handful of talented players in the Steelers’ offense, and it’ll be difficult to convince me Samuels won’t be a prime benefactor.

Though the Steelers under Mike Tomlin have historically gone with one workhorse back, there have been numerous reports this summer that Pittsburgh is likely to employ a multiple-back set more frequently. It’s in those situations where you can expect Samuels to pick up a considerable target share as he’s more agile and looks more comfortable as a pass-catcher than Conner.

Another reason to like Samuels? He’s first in line for a big uptick in workload if something should happen to Conner, who was banged up down the stretch late last season. Conner is a special player that will likely help a lot of fantasy teams this season, just as he did in replacing Le’Veon Bell in 2018. But the value pick in the Steelers backfield this season is Jaylen Samuels. At an ADP of RB42 (115th overall), Samuels figures to receive solid third-down work in addition to creative deployment in two-back sets in one of the league’s more fantasy friendly offenses. Look for him to crush his ADP this season.

 

Darwin Thompson leads KC RBs in fantasy points, Mecole Hardman outscores Sammy Watkins

 

When you’ve got two guys with the kind of talent these two freshly-drafted skill players possess, you’ve got to set them loose on opposing defenses. That’s what the Chiefs should⁠—and I predict, will⁠—do with sixth-round running back Darwin Thompson and second-round receiver Mecole Hardman this season.

In fantasy drafts, you’re paying a premium for Damien Williams as the widely-anticipated lead running back in Kansas City’s high-powered offense. But what if Darwin Thompson is better at football?

We all know that Damien Williams has never been a workhorse back. He looked fantastic stepping in for Kareem Hunt last season, but it could be said that most running backs would thrive in a Patrick Mahomes-led attack. It also remains to be seen whether Williams would be able to successfully serve in such a role over the course of a full season, even if Andy Reid intends to give him the chance. For a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, the onus is on that coaching staff to put the most explosive players on the field—and it sounds like Reid could be starting to feel the same way, invoking the ‘running back by committee’ terminology.

I’m not especially worried about Darrel Williams. And Carlos Hyde? Give me a break. If the Chiefs are open to employing a committee approach to their running back corps, that’s the only glimpse of daylight Darwin Thompson is going to need to run away with this job by mid-season. This cat is S-P-E-C-I-A-L.

A play-maker for Utah State last season, the 5-foot, 8-inch, 200-pound Thompson is built sturdy. He’s strong. He’s obviously agile. He knows what to do with the ball in his hands.

If Andy Reid is willing to crack the door open for him this season, Darwin Thompson is going to bust right through it.

 

As for Hardman, he could have some difficulty early in the season finding consistent playing time in the Chiefs receiving corps. But as he showed in Kansas City’s first preseason game, Hardman has the ability to make an impact on the game if you find creative ways to deliver him the football.

As you can see, the dude is fast. That type of speed in Andy Reid’s offense is like a giant gift with a beautiful red and yellow bow on top, just begging to be un-boxed. It’s true, Hardman will have to battle Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson for snaps behind the clear-cut No. 1 WR on the team: Tyreek Hill. But if Reid can get Hardman involved early on the types of plays seen above, a la Curtis Samuel last season for the Panthers, he’ll proceed to earn more opportunities as the year goes along, ultimately leading to the second-highest fantasy point total among Chiefs WRs this season.

 

Cole Beasley connects with Josh Allen, finishes the season as a WR3 or better in 14-team leagues

 

It’s possible I’m breaking some news to you here, but former Dallas Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley is actually a member of the Buffalo Bills now. And if you’re in even a relatively deep PPR league this season, you should be paying attention to this fact. Here’s why.

Josh Allen is an underrated quarterback. After ranking 20th among QBs in fantasy points last season, he’s got a chance to be a strong draft-day value at the position in 2019. Though Allen’s rushing ability will carry a decent portion of his value this season, he’s going to have to throw the ball, too.

Robert Foster had a few big weeks toward the end of last season, but he’s been up-and-down so far this preseason. John Brown, long-known for his penchant for taking the top off opposing defenses, has come over from Baltimore and could be establishing himself as the top option on the outside in this offense. Zay Jones has flashed potential, but seems to underwhelm with his opportunities far too often.

But consistently, Cole Beasley does precisely what you want a slot receiver to do: He gets open, and he catches the football.

I’m not trying to tell you that Beasley is a sexy name entering fantasy drafts this season, but NOBODY is talking about him. That means value; he’s completely free in drafts. If you’re in a league with 14 or 16 teams or in a format that starts three WRs, he merits some consideration as a late-round pick. Currently going as WR80 (!!) in PPR, Beasley’s value is tied to the idea that he could develop a connection with Allen as security blanket in an offense that could be a vast improvement over the fantasy wasteland it was in 2018.

I’d be shocked if Beasley plays a healthy season and doesn’t blow his ADP out of the water. It’s a prediction that probably isn’t relevant to your life if you’re in a 10-team standard league, but in deeper PPR formats, try not to forget that Beasley exists.

(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire)

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