The 10 Most Important Players in Fantasy Football in 2019

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 10, 2019

The 10 Most Important Players in Fantasy Football in 2019

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The NFL calendar is about to heat up, as training camps will get underway at the end of July.

    And with that, fantasy draft season will kick into high gear.

    Drafters far and wide are already knee-deep in preparation, and that means it's time to identify the players who will win leagues in 2019.

    The most important players in fantasy football.

    This isn't a list of the 10 best fantasy assets. That would just be a ton of running backs, with a wideout and maybe a signal-caller thrown in. A couple of these guys are high-end options who will be drafted early, but the edge they provide is worth that cost.

    And then some, in one case.

    The rest have elite potential without the price tag to match. They're bargains. Values. 

    All are names to bear in mind once your draft begins.

           

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    First off, a caveat. I'm not a proponent of drafting a quarterback early in leagues with just one weekly starter. It's a poor use of draft capital.

    But two-QB and "Superflex" leagues are growing in popularity, and after Patrick Mahomes tore up the NFL last year, more and more drafters are hitting the position early.

    So here you go: fantasy's No. 1 QB in 2019. And it ain't Mahomes. 

    Yes, the Chiefs superstar is coming off a historic season—5,097 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and the No. 1 spot among fantasy quarterbacks by a wide margin. But there has never been a 5,000-yard passer who threw for more yardage the following season. The two 50-touchdown campaigns before Mahomes' were followed by a drastic drop-off in scores the following year.

    Mahomes will regress statistically in 2019. The only question is how much.

    However, the ingredients are there for Andrew Luck of the Colts to not only back up last year's QB5 finish in NFL.com default fantasy scoring but to also improve on it.

    Luck's 4,593 passing yards last year ranked fifth in the NFL. His 39 touchdown throws trailed only Mahomes. And while Tyreek Hill's status casts a pall of uncertainty over the Chiefs offense, the Colts have gotten better.

    Indianapolis added a big-bodied red-zone target in free-agent wide receiver Devin Funchess (6'4", 225 lbs) and a dangerous downfield threat in rookie Parris Campbell. Luck also gets back one of his favorite underneath targets in veteran tight end Jack Doyle after hip and kidney injuries marred the latter's season.

    Add them to a skill-position group that includes the great T.Y. Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron (who caught 13 touchdowns in 2018), and there's no shortage of passing-game weapons at Luck's disposal.

    He also plays behind arguably the NFL's best offensive line.

    If you have your heart set on an elite fantasy quarterback, Luck is the player to target.

    That his average draft position is upward of two rounds later than Mahomes' is a nice bonus. 

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    All that Ben Roethlisberger did in his 15th NFL season was have one of the best statistical years ever. He completed 67 percent of his passes for a career-high (and league-leading) 5,129 yards and a career-best 34 touchdowns.

    Only Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Mahomes posted more fantasy points than Roethlisberger in NFL.com default fantasy scoring among QBs.

    Despite those gaudy numbers, Roethlisberger's not getting a lot of love from the fantasy community. His average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator is 16th among quarterbacks—behind the likes of Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and rookie Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals.

    Yes, the Steelers lost two important pieces when tailback Le'Veon Bell bolted for the New York Jets in free agency and star wideout Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders. But Pittsburgh still has 24-year-old running back James Conner and a receiving corps that includes a rising star in 22-year-old JuJu Smith Schuster.

    Hoping for another top-three fantasy finish out of the 37-year-old Roethlisberger is likely asking a bit much. But we're talking about a quarterback with potential top-five fantasy upside who is coming off the board in the 11th round of 12-team drafts.

    If he can come anywhere close to last year's numbers, Big Ben will be an even bigger steal.

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Finding value at running back in fantasy drafts isn't easy. Of the top 12 players in average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator, eight are running backs.

    Whether you're one of those trend-bucking types who likes to take a wideout in Round 1 or you want to get one of the Big Three tight ends who are being drafted inside the first three rounds of most drafts, landing a tailback a bit later who has the potential to become a top-10 fantasy producer can make all the difference.

    It's the kind of pick that wins leagues.

    In 2019, Kerryon Johnson of the Detroit Lions is that sort of running back.

    Partly, it's a matter of the talent Johnson flashed as a rookie last year before he sprained his knee in Week 11. He gained 641 yards on the ground on just 118 carries—a robust average of 5.4 yards per tote. He topped 100 rushing yards twice, 150 rushing yards once and added 32 receptions.

    Even with his inconsistent usage as a rookie, Johnson was a top-20 PPR fantasy option from a points-per-game perspective.

    The Lions have a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell, who leans heavily on the run game. Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, that won't change in Motown.

    "We'll always be about running the football," Bevell said. "We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team. We want to be able to exert our will on our opponents."

    C.J. Anderson and Theo Riddick will see some touches, but this is Johnson's show. If he can come close to repeating his per-touch effectiveness, a top-10 season's a real possibility.

Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    There may not be a more undervalued player in fantasy football than Kenyan Drake.

    Despite seemingly vanishing from Adam Gase's offense for long stretches last year, Drake was the 14th-ranked PPR running back. And with a new regime in town, Drake told Alain Poupart of the team's website that he expects 2019 to be his best season yet:

    "The offseason has been very productive, just getting into the groove of getting the playbook, meshing with the new coaching staff, the new players who came in. It's honestly a great challenge for me, this being going on my fourth year, drafted by this organization. Every year I've continued to get better, learn, made mistakes along the way, but that's a part of growth. I'm definitely to kind of step into that leadership standpoint and continue to grow from there."

    Yes, the Dolphins will be a bad team. Maybe the worst in the NFL. But with all due respect to 23-year-old Kalen Ballage, Drake's an excellent bet to lead that bad team in backfield touches by a sizable margin. And Drake finished last year inside the top 15 at his position while playing second fiddle to Frank Gore's corpse on a Miami team that wasn't exactly good.

    (For the record, I like Gore.)

    Drake could easily match last year's fantasy production and quite possibly better it. And yet he's barely being drafted inside the top 25 at his position.

    That's not value. It's larceny.

Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Houston Texans tailback Lamar Miller is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy running backs: There's no stampede to secure the 28-year-old's services, as evidenced by an ADP that lands the seven-year veteran in RB3 territory.

    Miller's also a lifesaver for fantasy drafters who hit the wide receiver spots hard early on draft day or spend an early pick on a quarterback or tight end.

    Is Miller an electrifying talent with a sky-high ceiling? Nope. But he has peeled off five straight seasons with over 1,100 total yards—including all three of his years with the Texans. Playing behind arguably the NFL's worst offensive line last year, Miller averaged 4.6 yards per carry and came up just shy of 1,000 yards on the ground.

    He's been durable throughout his career, with just seven missed games over seven seasons. He's also been consistent—in each of the last five years, he's finished inside RB2 territory in 12-team PPR leagues. He's posted four finishes inside the top 20 and two inside the top 10.

    He probably won't hit that last benchmark in 2019. But the Texans did little to bolster the backfield in the offseason, and 23-year-old D'Onta Foreman barely played last year as he rehabbed an Achilles tear.

    Miller will be Houston's lead back again. He'll also be a cheap source of RB2 production.

    Yet the poor guy just can't get no respect.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    For the most part, the players listed in this piece aren't important because they are high-end, early-round picks.

    They're important because of their potential to become high-end weekly starters—and what that potential means for your team. Want to load up on a killer wideout duo of Davante Adams (Packers) and Julio Jones (Falcons)? You should target the running backs on this list.

    Conversely, if you like rocking it old-school and going RB-RB over the first two rounds, then you're going to have to find value later at wide receiver. Pass-catchers capable of vastly outperforming their ADP.

    Receivers like Christian Kirk and Robby Anderson.

    Per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Anderson has his sights set on a lofty goal: being the NFL's best receiver.

    "I know my capabilities," Anderson said. "I know what I want to become…and that's the best receiver in the NFL."

    Toward the end of the 2018 season, Anderson showed signs of being able to reach that goal. From Week 14 to Week 16, Anderson posted an impressive 20-catch, 312-yard, three-touchdown stat line. Among wide receivers, only DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans had more PPR fantasy points over that span.

    Anderson and Jets quarterback Sam Darnold have had an entire offseason to improve their rapport. If Anderson can produce anything resembling that three-week stretch over a sustained period, he could be the steal of the year at his position.

Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk was finding his stride last year before a broken foot ended his rookie season in early December. He told Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic that he's been champing at the bit to get back out there:

    "Oh man, I think about it every single day. I'm definitely super excited just to be able to realize what I can do in this league. I got on a roll there and obviously it was unfortunate that it ended short for me, but I know what I can do and I know what I need to work on this offseason to feel like I can put myself in position to be one of the top receivers in this league."

    The excitement surrounding the Arizona offense has grown steadily all offseason. First, there was the hiring of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who brought an Air Raid offense. Then came the selection of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.

    Then there were the reports that Kirk and Murray, former collegiate teammates at Texas A&M, were both taking well to Kingsbury's wide-open offensive scheme.

    The quarterback's fantasy ADP has climbed into the top 10 at his position, but Kirk is still coming off the board outside the top 30 among wideouts.

    Since he has the best chance of emerging as the team's No. 1 receiver in 2019, that's a bargain.

    For the record, the venerable Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: WR36) is undervalued too.

Golden Tate, WR, New York Giants

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    From a fantasy perspective, Golden Tate needs a hug. His average draft position is in Round 10, where he's being taken as a low-end WR4.

    There are a couple of reasons fantasy drafters are turning up their noses at Tate. First, he's coming off a relatively disappointing season split between Detroit and Philadelphia. Second, he's on the wrong side of his 30th birthday. And third, he plays for the New York Giants.

    However, bad though the Giants may be, someone has to fill the massive void in targets left by Odell Beckham Jr. And while most are putting their faith in young wideout Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, Tate's the play.

    While Tate's 74-catch, 795-yard, four-touchdown stat line last year wasn't good by his standards, it also wasn't awful. Tate finished 28th among PPR wide receivers—in a season where he had to learn a new offense on the fly.

    That's 16 slots higher than where he's being drafted.

    The likeliest scenario in New York is that Shepard will kick outside while Tate mans the slot—an area in which he's excelled in recent years. Before 2018, Tate posted four straight seasons with 90 or more receptions, averaging 1,056 yards per year in the process.

    Tate will lead a bad Giants team in targets. And receptions. And quite possibly receiving yards. And most assuredly fantasy points.

    Get your hug on.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce bucks the trend of undervalued middle-round picks listed here. In the vast majority of drafts, he will be the first tight end selected.

    Kelce is included here because not only should he be drafted before any other tight end, but he's worthy of first-round consideration.

    By virtue of a ridiculous 103-catch, 1,336-yard, 10-touchdown stat line (on 150 targets), Kelce was fantasy's No. 1 tight end last year by about a point per game over runner-up Zach Ertz. He outscored third-place finisher George Kittle by almost 40 fantasy points and fifth-place finisher Jared Cook by over 100.

    It marked the third straight season that Kelce has been the No. 1 PPR tight end. He has assumed Rob Gronkowski's mantle as the no-doubt top dog at the position.

    Tight end is a hot mess this year. Outside of the Big Three, most of the supposed weekly starters at the position have as many questions as answers. Ertz and Kittle do as well—the former's yardage totals were lower than Kelce's and Kittle's, and Kittle has to acquaint himself with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and has more competition for targets.

    Kelce put up twice as many PPR fantasy points last year as the No. 8 tight end (Chicago's Trey Burton). That's a massive edge. Kelce is likely to be the least-affected Chiefs pass-catcher by a Mahomes regression, as demonstrated by his three-year stint atop the position.

    Actually, if Tyreek Hill is suspended for a significant part of the season, Kelce's numbers could get better.

Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    As mentioned, the tight end position is a mess in 2019. There are the three amigos of Kelce, Ertz and Kittle. A few second-tier options like Cook and Hunter Henry with a measure of upside. And then a whole lot of ifs and maybes.

    Many fantasy drafters will find themselves frozen out of the top three. Some others might not find the ADP of the second-level options appealing. That leaves waiting until late and going with a veteran dart throw.

    And that means targeting Tennessee's Delanie Walker.

    Given that he's a 34-year-old who's coming off a severe ankle injury, Walker's not an easy sell. He told Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB that he may start camp on the PUP list. But Walker also said his rehab is progressing well: "Just stepping on the field, running routes and doing drills, that was the biggest [hurdle]. I had only been running for two weeks, and being able to run routes against guys, and beating them."

    Yes, Walker's no spring chicken. But before last season, the 13-year veteran had played in at least 14 games since 2007.

    From 2014 to 2017, Walker caught at least 63 passes and reached 800 receiving yards in four straight seasons. As recently as two years ago, he was a top-five PPR tight end.

    Starting camp on the PUP list might even be a blessing in disguise, in that it could drive Walker's ADP (TE13) down even more.

                    

    Average Draft Position (ADP) data courtesy of Fantasy Football CalculatorFantasy scoring data courtesy of FFToday.