I decided to do my rankings entirely from scratch. I went through each team and developed a projection for each player, then assigned each player a value given their projected fantasy points relative to their position. The results were, well, interesting. Several players came out surprisingly high in my personal rankings, and several others were much higher or lower than the rest of the staff. Many of these are guys I didn’t think I was particularly high or low on, but even after I took a second look at my projections I felt compelled to keep them where they were in my rankings. With that, here are 5 of my targets and 5 busts for 2019.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers (My Rank: 7, Staff Rank: 27)
Aaron Jones has now played in 24 NFL games. In the 12 games where he’s received just the majority of the snaps, Jones averages 17.9 PPR points per game. In the 8 games where he’s played 60% or more of the snaps, he’s averaged 20.3 PPR points per game. As a Packer fan, I’ve seen just about every carry of Jones’s short career and I can tell you this production is not a fluke. Jones has the elusiveness and quickness that pop off the TV screen at times, leaving you asking, “how did he do that?” His 4.56 for time is nothing special, but he shows a good burst when a hole opens. If you don’t believe me, take a few minutes to watch some Aaron Jones highlights. For the first time, Jones is healthy entering the season and has the starting RB role all to himself. Aaron Rodgers is healthy, and the new offensive scheme should provide a boost as well. Remember, at this time two years ago Todd Gurley was being drafted in the same neighborhood as Jones is in 2019. Sean McVay usually gets most of the credit for designing an offense to unlock Gurley, but Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was the offensive coordinator that presided over the Gurley breakout. I think we could see something similar in Green Bay in 2019.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (My Rank: 19, Staff Rank: 32)
There are 8-10 RB’s with a clear #1 role and Leonard Fournette is the only one going later than the 2nd round. I understand the injury concerns, but outside of the top 5 guys, what RB doesn’t come with those concerns? Todd Gurley has chronic knee problems. Ezekiel Elliot and Melvin Gordon may miss 4 games, 8 games, even the whole year with a holdout. Why is Dalvin Cook, who missed 10 games in 2017 and 4 games last year, considered a safer bet? One of the knocks on Fournette has been his lack of involvement in the passing game, but I think we may see that change this year. When Blake Bortles was the QB of this offense, he typically took off running when he felt the pass rush rather than make the easy dump-off pass. Nick Foles is as immobile as Bortles is unskilled at the position, so many of the Bortles scrambles from 2016-2018 should translate into Fournette targets. We saw that play out in the Jaguars week 3 preseason game, the only one Foles appeared in. Fournette received 3 targets in just over a quarter of play. If Fournette can just match his 2017 total of 13 games played, he’s a lock for 300 touches, all the goalline work, and 40+ targets in an offense that projects to be better in 2019.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns, (My Rank: 49, Staff Rank: 90)
Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and O.J. Howard are all talented young tight ends being drafted around the 5th or 6th round. I can see the upside of all 3 and wouldn’t fault anyone for taking them, but why not just wait and draft David Njoku in the 8th round instead? He’s not quite as quick as Engram, not quite as big as Henry, and night quite the athletic freak that Howard is, but the fact that he’s close in all 3 categories should get more people excited. He’s the youngest of the group, the only one who hasn’t missed time due to injury, and you could make the case that he plays in the best offense. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. should make the entire offense more efficient, which means Njoku’s relatively low 63% catch rate and 11.4 yards per catch will increase. I’d say 60 catches, 800 yards, and 6 TD’s is a reasonable projection for Njoku, which would make him a mid-level TE1, but his potential as a redzone target gives him a 10+ TD ceiling. If I had to pick someone to be this year’s Eric Ebron, Njoku would be it.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (My Rank: 57, Staff Rank: 91)
This is the QB I’m targeting in all drafts. He’s the best dual-threat QB to enter the league since Robert Griffin III and will immediately be plugged into an offense that aims to run 70 plays per game. If they can achieve that type of pace, Kyler Murray could become the first QB to attempt 600 passes and 100 rushes in the same season, in which case he’s going to score points even if the offense is as woefully inefficient as last year. As long as he can stay on the field, he has a back-end QB1 floor and the upside to be this year’s Patrick Mahomes. His alleged struggles in the preseason (remember when Cam Newton had a terrible preseason in his rookie year?) should help keep his ADP low, at least for now.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos, (My Rank: 58, Staff Rank: 94)
Courtland Sutton sat behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to start the 2018 season and then spent the second half attempting to build a rapport with Case Keenum. Of Sutton’s 84 targets, only 72.6 % were catchable, making his 2018 stats look far less impressive than he looked (at least to me). I’m not a huge believer in Joe Flacco, but it’s worth noting that, even though it feels like he’s been in our lives forever, he’s only 34 and he’s never really had a WR with Sutton’s combination of size and speed. Flacco doesn’t need to be elite, just decent, and this will be a much better situation for Sutton, who is also likely to play at a higher level in his second year.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (My Rank: 38, Staff Rank: 15)
I don’t want to cover too much of the same ground from my ADP Trap article, but my ranking on Conner was low enough that it bears mentioning here as well. Conner just isn’t an elite talent. He’s a solid between the tackles runner with moderate receiving skills, on the same level of guys like Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman, and Kerryon Johnson. Those guys are all the clear #1 starters on their team without a real threat to lose their job, yet they’re all going in the 3rd or 4th round. I think Conner should be valued the same way. People who take him in the 1st round are drafting an RB2, not the RB1 we saw last year when he was the only viable RB option on the roster.
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams (My Rank: 23, Staff Rank: 17)
Count me among those who believe in minimizing risk in the early rounds. Sure, Todd Gurley could stay healthy all year and be the top RB again. I’d rather risk missing out on that than be the one left without an RB1 if/when his knee arthritis flares up. If you’re in a league full of sharks and need to take a risk to get an edge, I get it. But if it’s a league with friends, family, and co-workers, you can win the league by making a few safe bets in the early rounds and hitting it big with late-round picks and in-season waiver wire guys. If Gurley is still on the board in the late 2nd or early 3rd round, I’ll consider drafting him purely in the hope that I can trade him after a nice week.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings (My Rank: 39, Staff Rank: 29)
Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen? I prefer Thielen, but the real answer to this question might be: neither. With John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator last season, the Vikings attempted 40 passes per game on average, the 3rd most in the league. That high passing volume allowed both Diggs and Thielen to function as WR1’s in fantasy and propelled Kirk Cousins to QB1 status. But Mike Zimmer fired Defillipo after a week 14 loss, specifically because Defillipo didn’t run the ball as often as Zimmer wanted. In the final 3 games, the Vikings attempted only 27 passes per game, which would have been the 3rd lowest rate in the league last year. It’s a small sample size and we likely won’t see a The Vikings pass attempts stay that low, but I think Zimmer’s wishes need to be taken seriously. I’ll still gladly draft Diggs if he’s available in the 4th round, but I don’t expect enough passing volume to get a WR1 output from him in 2019.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (My Rank: 170, Staff Rank: 92)
I frankly do not understand the hype with this guy. When I look at the Jaguars depth chart, I see a handful of plausible receiving talents, none of them standing out from the rest. Dede Westbrook is not the most experienced of the group, he’s not the highest paid, he’s not the guy with the highest draft capital, and I could easily make the case that he’s not the most talented (my pick would be D.J. Chark). The only thing Westbrook supporters can point to is that he led the team in receiving in 2018, a lost season with Blake Bortles at QB. The 2019 Jaguars project to be wildly different. Nick Foles is the QB. WR Marqise Lee returns after missing all of 2018 with an ACL tear. Chris Conley was also signed to provide WR depth. Foles has typically clicked with larger targets like Conley and Chark, so it’s reasonable to expect that the target distribution will not be as favorable for Westbrook.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay Packers (My Rank: 300, Staff Rank: 106)
I realize it’s a little outlandish to not even rank the #3 WR in an Aaron Rodgers offense, but I don’t see much upside here. Davante Adams is the only guy on this team with the skills to be a #1 WR in the NFL and he’s going to take 30% of the targets as long as he’s healthy. The Matt LaFleur offense projects to involve running backs and tight ends in the passing game more than the Packers have in years past, so we might see a drop in WR targets across the board. Allison might have some weeks where he puts up points, but they’re not going to be consistent and you’re not going to know when they’re coming. There are too many talented young WR’s with higher upside that can be taken late (Tre’quan Smith, Anthony Miller, and Michael Gallup, to name a few) that I just don’t see a scenario where I’d ever draft Geronimo.
(Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire)
Jaylen Samuels was on the Pitt roster last year – why is the James Conner situation different now? I.e. why can’t Conner replicate the RB1 numbers he put up last year?
Samuels is a bit unusual because he wasn’t a true running back in college. He played RB at times but also lined up as a fullback, tight end, and slot receiver. That being the case, he had more of a learning curve than your typical rookie RB. He only played 2 snaps in the first 6 weeks, but his snaps gradually increased after the Steelers had their bye in week 7.
It’s not clear precisely what Samuels’s role will be this year, but I’ll be shocked if he’s not involved in the offense on some level given how well he played toward the end of the season and the fact that Conner wasn’t able to stay healthy with a full workload. One of the biggest factors in Conner’s RB1 output was the fact that he was the only guy on the field for the first half of the season. If he only gets 75% of the snaps in 2019 instead of the 90% he was seeing in 2018, his fantasy points are going to decrease accordingly. An RB1 year is still possible if things break Conner’s way, but there’s also a risk that Samuels establishes himself as the 3rd down back or change-of-pace option and pushes Conner down to an RB2.
Thanks, those are valid points. I forgot he was a hybrid in college, so he should only improve at RB as he gets more NFL experience. I do expect Conner’s usage to go down, but hopefully not to the point that he becomes a 3rd-roundish type talent.