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2019 NFL Predictions: Fantasy Studs and Duds at Every Position

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2019

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 18: Kerryon Johnson #33 of the Detroit Lions runs for a first down during the second quarter of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field on November 18, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

One draft pick, whether it be great or horrific, could make the difference early on in the fantasy football season before you can hit the waiver wire in search of impact players. 

There are plenty of fantasy studs and duds littered across the NFL, and part of the preparation before sitting down to select your team is to sort players into those categories. 

Some of the top potential difference-makers are in line for improvements after strong rookie seasons, while others are looking to bounce back from injury layoffs. 

The players to avoid may have intrigued you at points of the 2018 regular season, but overall trends suggest they can't be trusted over the course of a 16-game campaign. 

                                   

Studs

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Since he entered the NFL in 2014, Jimmy Garoppolo has made 10 starts between the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.

Even though he has not appeared in a ton of contests, the 49ers gunslinger carries a ton of intrigue because of the performances he put in during his brief span on the gridiron. 

The hype remains around Garoppolo because he threw for over 200 yards in each of his eight starts for the Niners, and in four of the last five, he produced multiple touchdown passes. 

In preparation for his return from injury, the 28-year-old is spending extra time with his offensive targets to build up chemistry ahead of Week 1, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury-News. 

"It's an opportunity when the coaches aren't there for us to talk the same language and see the defense the same way," Garoppolo said. "It's good so they know what I'm thinking and they know what I'm thinking."

San Francisco contains a handful of explosive targets for Garoppolo to hit, with tight end George Kittle leading the charge. 

Kittle is one of the four top pass catchers from 2018 returning for this season alongside wide receivers Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne, and they can all take advantage of Garoppolo's presence in the pocket. 

When he has been healthy, Garoppolo showed he can sling the ball around the field with relative ease, and with more chemistry developing between him and his teammates, they should be able to hit the ground running in September. 

As long as he stays off the injury report, Garoppolo should be in line to put up the numbers we have seen in spurts over 16 games. 

                  

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit 

Rey Del Rio/Associated Press

In his rookie season with the Detroit Lions, Kerryon Johnson led the team in rushing yards in just 10 games. 

The second-year tailback out of Auburn scampered for 641 yards and three touchdowns in 2018, and he is expected to play a larger role alongside Matthew Stafford in the Lions backfield. 

While Stafford has been a consistent figure in the pocket, he has not had the proper support at running back, as the team has gone without a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush achieved the feat in 2013. 

If Johnson played in all 16 contests a year ago, he would have come close to four digits because of the numbers he produced. 

Johnson racked up a pair of 100-yard rushing games versus New England and Miami and carried the ball over 10 times on six occurrences. 

The addition of offensive coordinator Darren Bevell and the recent release of Theo Riddick could allow Johnson to break out in a major way. 

With tight ends Jesse James and T.J. Hockenson in the fold along with veteran running backs C.J. Anderson and Zach Zenner, Johnson believes the Lions are set for a large volume of carries, per AL.com's Mark Inabinett:

"We've got a lot of good running backs, an offensive coordinator who likes to run the ball. I mean, we're just trying to play to our strengths. We've got a lot of good receivers to keep the defense honest. Obviously, we have a great quarterback, so I'm sure Bev is sitting there like, 'We have a lot of options.' But it's on us to do it at the end of the day. Scheme is great, plans are great, but at the end of the day, we're the players, we've got to play."

If that is the case, Johnson will be a must-draft player in the opening rounds of any fantasy draft, especially if you miss out on the marquee players at the position. 

                    

Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago

Nam Huh/Associated Press

Anthony Miller is another sophomore in the NFC North poised to make a bigger impact on his team in 2019. 

The Chicago Bears wide receiver is coming off a rookie campaign in which he hauled in 33 receptions for 423 yards and seven scores. 

The catches and yards do not stand out as significant numbers, but the touchdowns do, and if Mitchell Trubisky continues to target Miller in the red zone, he could be in for a higher scoring total. 

Miller is also capable of producing at a rapid clip, as he had six contests a year ago in which he had over 10 yards per reception. 

That statistic suggests Miller does not have to be targeted on a constant basis to make an impact, although that may be a hindrance in points-per-reception leagues. 

Miller is listed as one of the two top wideouts on the Chicago depth chart along with Allen Robinson, who led the Bears in receiving yards last season. 

Since five Chicago players picked up over 400 receiving yards in 2018, the shared production between Robinson and Miller from the flanks should not be a major concern. 

                         

Vance McDonald, TE, Pittsburgh 

Don Wright/Associated Press

Vance McDonald will likely improve on the 610 receiving yards he totaled in 2018. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to replace the 1,297 yards recorded by Antonio Brown, who moved to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason.

The Steelers are relying on McDonald along with wideouts James Washington and Donte Moncrief to have solid seasons beneath JuJu Smith-Schuster in the receiving column.

On eight occasions in 2018, McDonald was thrown to five or more times, and he ended up with 8.47 yards per target. 

Based off last year's numbers and the void Pittsburgh has to fill in the passing game, McDonald should be an active participant in the offense once again.

The one stat column in which McDonald could improve most is touchdowns. He only had four in 2018, but there is a good chance that increases with Pittsburgh trying to replace the 15 scores Brown earned in his final season with the franchise. 

                  

Wil Lutz, K, New Orleans 

Butch Dill/Associated Press

If you are unable to snag Justin Tucker as the first kicker off the draft board, Wil Lutz is the next-best option to go after. 

The New Orleans Saints kicker went 52-for-53 on extra points and 28-for-30 on field goals in 2018 for a Saints team that had no trouble scoring. 

With the Saints expected to advance past midfield on many drives per game once again this season, Lutz is a must-draft kicker if you want to make a splash at the position earlier than most teams in your league. 

Lutz possesses more value than most kickers because of the many opportunities he gets each week. In 11 of his 16 contests in 2018, Lutz attempted three or more PATs, and he tried a trio of field goals in four of those games. 

If the Saints score at a similar rate in 2019 than they did in 2018, when they produced over 20 points in 13 games, Lutz should be one of the most consistent players in your lineup. 

                   

Los Angeles Chargers Defense

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Chargers finished 2018 ranked eighth in team defense, and that listing could get better during the 2019 campaign, especially if they have a healthy Joey Bosa in tow. 

In seven games, Bosa produced nine quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. If he can make a similar impact over a full season, the Chargers should improve their pass rush. 

Any improvements made by Derwin James in his second season will also help the Chargers remain in the top 10 of team defense. 

James led the Chargers with 75 tackles and three interceptions while making 4.5 tackles for loss and earning 13 passes defended. 

The Chargers also brought in defensive reinforcements in the form of linebacker Thomas Davis, who had 46 solo tackles and two fumble recoveries in Carolina last season, first-round draft pick Jerry Tillery and second-round selection Nasir Adderley. 

If the returning stars improve and the additions bolster the squad, the Chargers have a chance to turn into one of the most reliable fantasy defenses. 

                           

Duds

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina 

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Cam Newton has been an intriguing fantasy option for most of his career because he can benefit teams with his arm and legs. 

However, Newton's rushing yards have diminished over the last few years, and with it comes a downturn in fantasy value. 

After running for 754 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, Newton recorded 488 yards and four scores on the ground with 38 fewer carries in 2018. 

In 2016, the Auburn product took off on 90 occasions, the lowest total of his career, for 359 yards and five touchdowns. 

In the two years in which his rushing totals fell off, Newton produced two games with 50 or more rushing yards in November and December, which could be a concern for fantasy players looking for an extra advantage in the playoffs. 

Newton could also be a bit of liability in the passing game, as he ended 2018 with an interception in each of his last six contests, including a disastrous four-pick showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

In the last three seasons, Newton produced the second, third and fourth-highest interceptions totals in his career, and if that trend continues, he might end up costing your teams a win if matchups are determined by slim margins. 

                        

Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City 

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Damien Williams is expected to generate fantasy buzz because of how he closed out 2018 for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The former Miami running back emerged as a key part of Andy Reid's offense with 255 yards and four trips to the end zone in December. 

You would think the late-season production combined with the departure of Kareem Hunt to Cleveland makes Williams one of the top tailback targets, but that is not the case if you dig into Kansas City's situation at the position. 

Reid confirmed to SiriusXM's NFL station (h/t SB Nation's Robert Rimpson) that the Chiefs will use a running back by committee system for the upcoming season. 

"I did a little bit of that when I was in Philadelphia, a kind of running back-by-committee deal, and we had some success with it." Reid said "We'll do that here (in Kansas City)." 

That means Williams will split the load with Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson and will not receive a large amount of carries off the bat that other running backs will. 

The combination of Kansas City's new approach and the fact that Williams has not earned more than 50 carries in a single season since joining the NFL in 2014 should be red flags to his draft status as a marquee tailback. 

                     

Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

It might seem odd to place a wide receiver coming off a 10-touchdown season in the dud category, but that is where Mike Williams belongs after going through his game-by-game performance with the Los Angeles Chargers. 

Although he had 10 scores to go along with his 664 receiving yards, Williams did not eclipse 85 yards in a single game in 2018 and his end zone trips came in bunches, with three multi-touchdown showings. 

Williams let some owners down in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens, when he hauled in one catch for a meager seven yards on three targets. 

That game marked the seventh time in 2018 in which Williams was thrown to three or fewer times by Philip Rivers. 

In fact, Williams picked up one catch in five of his 16 games a year ago, which is far from good enough in PPR leagues. 

Williams is still not Rivers' top target since Keenan Allen had 97 receptions for 1,196 yards a year ago, and unless the top-choice receiver experiences an unexpected downturn, Williams only carries some value in that offense. 

                           

Chris Herndon, TE, New York Jets 

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Chris Herndon will not be able to make an impact on the New York Jets offense until Week 5 due to a four-game suspension that was handed out in July. 

That alone should turn away some drafting teams because he will not carry value in September, and it is hard to justify carrying two tight ends in some leagues. 

Herndon displayed promise during his rookie campaign, as he brought in 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns.

But Herndon's production was a bit too sporadic to make him a must-start tight end, as he picked up 30 yards or less in half of his 16 appearances. 

The four touchdowns and the six-game streak without a trip to the end zone in November and December could also scare fantasy owners away from selecting the second-year man. 

                        

Aldrick Rosas, K, New York Giants

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Simply put, we do not know how often the New York Giants will score with a depleted wide receiving corps and an aging Eli Manning under center. 

The Giants do have Saquon Barkley to rely on, but the second-year player out of Penn State can't be the lone reason why their offense achieves success week after week. 

That is why Aldrick Rosas is a tough sell for any team at kicker, even after he went 32-for-33 on field goals a year ago. 

New York lacks a big-play receiver that can get it in scoring range with Odell Beckham Jr. now with the Cleveland Browns, and finding the end zone could be rough with Golden Tate facing a four-game suspension and Sterling Shepard dealing with a thumb injury. 

Rosas may receive a similar amount of field-goal chances, but there is no guarantee of how many extra points he will get to kick given the concerns surrounding his team's offense. 

                       

Baltimore Ravens Defense

Gail Burton/Associated Press

Baltimore typically has one of the best fantasy defenses, but it could be hard to trust it early on given its offseason departures. 

The Ravens lost C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs, who combined for 149 solo tackles and 21 tackles for loss in 2018. 

Baltimore could end up being fine defensively for stretches of the regular season, but it is hard for any team to replace the production of three veterans like the Ravens have to do.

In addition to their personnel changes, the Ravens face a tougher divisional slate with the Browns improving in most facets of their offense and the Steelers holding enough weapons to try and replace Brown. 

A three-game stretch against Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in Weeks 3-5 could be tough for the Ravens to deal with, as could a Week 7 trip to Seattle, so we suggest shying away from the Ravens with better options, like the Chargers, Chicago and Los Angeles Rams available. 

                        

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.