Answering the Biggest Fantasy Football Questions of 2019
It's about one week before the 2019 NFL regular season begins—and with it another year of fantasy football.
There's one more big weekend of fantasy drafts, and then it will be go time. We've learned some valuable lessons already, but there are still numerous questions hanging over the heads of fantasy drafters.
What impact does Andrew Luck's stunning retirement have on the rest of the Indianapolis Colts skill-position players?
Hint: It ain't good.
What should fantasy drafters do about the continuing holdouts of tailbacks Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon?
Who are the potential breakout candidates? The busts-in-waiting? The late-draft lottery tickets most worth targeting?
It just so happens that's why we're here—to answer the biggest fantasy question marks of 2019.
Convenient, isn't it?
Matt Camp answers your fantasy football questions live on B/R Gridiron's new show, Your Fantasy Fire Drill. Submit your questions and tune in every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET.
What's the Fantasy Impact of Andrew Luck's Sudden Retirement?
The season hasn't even started and the fantasy football landscape has already been rocked.
This time, it wasn't an injury, though—it was something more stunning: the retirement of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
It's not just that drafters lost a quarterback some doofus wrote in June could be the No. 1 fantasy asset at the position. It's that Luck's absence has a huge impact on the rest of the Indianapolis offense.
With Luck gone, Jacoby Brissett will take over. This team does have better offensive weapons and a stouter offensive line than the squad he went 4-11 with in 2017.
But while Brissett is one of the better backups in the NFL, he's at best a low-end QB2 in 12-team fantasy leagues.
A week ago, tailback Marlon Mack was a high-end RB2 with breakout potential after averaging 4.7 yards a carry in 2018. With Luck gone, Mack's usage may increase as the Colts lean more heavily on the run, but he's also going to see stacked fronts with regularity. And he isn't a factor in the passing game (just 26 targets last year). He's a low-end second starter now, although depending on how far he falls in drafts, he could have some value.
We have a pretty good idea of what T.Y. Hilton's numbers might look like with Brissett—and it ain't good. In 2017, he recorded his second-lowest receptions total (57) and failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards.
Per Danny Heifetz of The Ringer, Hilton was fantasy's No. 20 receiver from Week 2 to Week 16 that year, but it's worth pointing out that over half of his yards came in three games. He went from a borderline top-10 wideout to a high-variance, low-end WR2—although again, he could have value if his average draft position (ADP) free-falls.
Indy's other pass-catchers—wide receivers Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell and tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle—all take sizable hits and are relegated to dart-throw status late. Of the bunch, Doyle may be the best flier. He was the second-most targeted Colt (108) in 2017, and he finished that season seventh in fantasy points at his position in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
If this dark cloud has a silver lining, Doyle is likely it.
What Should Drafters Do About the Superstar RBs Holding Out?
Before Luck's retirement turned the NFL (and fantasy football) on its ear, the biggest question mark facing drafters was what to do about the Los Angeles Chargers' Melvin Gordon and Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott—two backs who would normally be top-five picks but are embroiled in contract holdouts.
Elliott has led the league in rushing yards twice in three seasons and was a top-five PPR fantasy option in 2018. He told Keith Gordon of Maxim that he wants to be a "Cowboy for the rest of [his] life," and according to ESPN's Ed Werder, Dallas offered him a contract that would make him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL.
But Elliott wants a deal that exceeds Todd Gurley II's four-year, $60 million pact with the Los Angeles Rams.
Gordon, on the other hand, was offered an extension worth approximately $10 million per year, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He balked, and with no progress in negotiations, the belief is that Gordon's holdout will extend into the regular season.
The fantasy community appears to be much more confident that Elliott will report sooner than Gordon, whose ADP has fallen to late in the third round of a 12-team draft, per Fantasy Pros. Elliott is at No. 4 overall.
Using a top-five pick on a back who could miss time at the beginning of the season is a risk, but Elliott has little leverage—the Cowboys control his rights through 2020. The consensus belief is that he'll sign a deal and report at some point in the not-too-distant future. Getting a back with Elliott's potential anywhere outside of the top five would be larceny.
Gordon is a tougher call because it's harder to tell when this impasse will be resolved. If he doesn't appear in at least six games this year, he won't get credit for his fifth-year option and become a free agent in 2020. So he's going to play this season—the question is when and possibly where.
It's an exercise in your tolerance for risk. Gordon had the sixth-most points per game among running backs in PPR leagues a year ago. If he plays 10-plus contests, getting that sort of production in Rounds 3-4 can win leagues. If he waits until the last minute to report and/or is rusty when he does, that wasted early pick could sink a team.
I'm gambling on both. At the King's Classic at the Pro Football Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago, I made Elliott and Gordon my top two tailbacks in the auction draft.
Of course, I also selected Luck.
Can't win 'em all.
If Ezekiel Elliott Isn't the No. 4 Pick, Who Is?
I've been asked this question a number of times by drafters who have the No. 4 pick and are wary of risking the selection on Elliott.
For my money, Elliott's still the guy, as I expect to see him on the field before October. However, if you're the "play it safe" type, there are a few contenders.
Among non-running backs, Houston Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins has the highest average draft position at Fantasy Pros at fifth overall. He led the AFC with 115 catches for 1,572 receiving yards and was the No. 1 fantasy option at his position in PPR formats.
Tailback Lamar Miller is done for the year with an ACL tear, so the Texans may be forced to lean on Hopkins and the passing game even more.
If eschewing running backs that early gives you the willies, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals is the consensus No. 5. His upside is undeniable—he topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage and was the No. 1 PPR running back in 2016 by a massive margin. But a wrist injury wiped out his 2017 season, and he struggled somewhat in Arizona's putrid offense last year.
Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams had the second-most targets (169) in 2018, and he posted top-five fantasy production even though it was a down season for the Packers. Le'Veon Bell will have gone more than 600 days between games when he takes the field in Week 1, but the 27-year-old tailback ranked second at the position in PPR fantasy points two years ago.
Is Travis Kelce Worth a 1st-Round Pick?
The concept of positional scarcity is one of the most important in fantasy football—and one that's too often ignored.
In a nutshell, the value of a player isn't tied to how many points he scores. It's tied to how many points he scores relative to the other players at that position. The more depth there is, the less relative value the higher-end starters have.
It's why the smart play at quarterback is to be patient on draft day. It is the deepest offensive position in fantasy, with upside players available outside of the top 12.
It's also why so many drafters are investing an early pick in one of the top three tight ends.
And why the king of the position is worth a pick inside of the top 12.
It's not just that Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs piled up career highs in receptions (103), yards (1,336) and touchdowns (10) last year en route to finishing as the No. 1 tight end by nearly a fantasy point per game. It's also that it was the third straight year he's scored the most total points at a position in which dependable starters run out with alarming quickness.
Kelce's worth a look at any point in Round 2. But if you're sitting at the back end of Round 1 and aren't in love with the available backs and receivers, it's a sound strategy to grab an edge at tight end and then circle around for one of those players you didn't want so high.
Which RB Being Drafted Outside of the Top 20 Will Crack the Top 12?
Finding value at running back is the important on draft day. Getting a tailback in low-end RB2 territory (or beyond) who later cracks the ranks of the RB1 is the stuff deep playoff runs are made of.
There are a few options who stand out with that kind of upside, and they are available outside of the top 20 in Fantasy Pros aggregate ADP.
Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks has pulled away from Rashaad Penny and established himself as the No. 1 back for one of the most run-heavy teams. Tevin Coleman is tailor-made for what 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan does in San Francisco, and he had success in the scheme when the two were together in Atlanta.
But a rookie is the one with the best chance of tier-jumping in the backfield. From the moment David Montgomery arrived in Chicago, there's been one glowing report after another about the Bears' third-round selection.
According to Terez A. Paylor of Yahoo Sports, the team is over the moon about the multitalented runner from Iowa State: "Offensively, the Bears are in love with RB David Montgomery, who brings a professional approach that is rare for a rookie. He's a no-nonsense guy who takes football very seriously. The Bears love that, plus his receiving skills [and] make-you-miss. He will help this team immediately."
Teammate Tarik Cohen is still going to get his after topping 1,100 yards from scrimmage last year. But Montgomery is a featured-back-in-the-making with talents that mesh well in head coach Matt Nagy's offense.
He could wind up as the offensive MVP for a playoff team in 2019.
Who Is This Year's Patrick Mahomes?
Let's be clear: There isn't going to be another Patrick Mahomes in 2019—not exactly. Even Mahomes himself doesn't have a great chance of backing up last year's 5,000-plus-yard, 50-touchdown season. It was only the second one in league history.
However that doesn't mean a quarterback drafted as a backup won't become a weekly starter—or maybe even crack the top five. Mahomes wasn't the fantasy MVP in 2018 because he had more points than any other signal-caller by a wide margin.
While he averaged the most fantasy points per game—just four more per contest than Matt Ryan, the next-leading QB—he did that despite being selected outside of the top 12 at his position in most leagues. That's what really helped win drafters championships.
Arizona Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray has been a trendy pick to outperform his ADP in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense—so much so that he has climbed inside the top 12 at QB in some leagues.
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens is another mobile passer some fantasy pundits believe could significantly exceed expectations. But while Jackson may serve as a viable weekly starter, it would take one heck of a leap to get the second-year pro inside of the top five.
If there's a quarterback outside of the top 12 with a real chance at a top-five finish, it's likely a familiar face.
Frankly, it's a bit strange that Ben Roethlisberger's ADP is 13th at the position. All the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers starter did in 2018 was lead the NFL with 5,129 passing yards, toss 34 touchdowns and finish third among quarterbacks in NFL.com default fantasy scoring.
Other than that, he was just OK.
Who Are the Top Breakout Candidates at Wide Receiver in 2019?
In 2019, many fantasy drafts seem a touch nostalgic. Teams are looking back as they move ahead, hitting the running backs early and often.
Of course, the flip side is missing out on elite receivers, and drafters may need to look for upside players at the position who are good bets to significantly outperform their draft slots.
Here are a few in particular that merit targeting.
Robby Anderson, New York Jets (ADP: WR30)
From Weeks 14-16 last year (otherwise known as the fantasy playoffs), Anderson posted 20 receptions for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Over that stretch, only DeAndre Hopkins had more PPR fantasy points among wide receivers. If the exhibition season is any indication, Anderson's rapport with quarterback Sam Darnold has carried over to the 2019 campaign.
Will Fuller V, Houston Texans (ADP: WR32)
The problem with Fuller has never been talent. Or his relationship with Deshaun Watson—the two have combined for 11 touchdowns in 11 games together. The 25-year-old wideout has just been unable to stay on the field. But that risk means Fuller is available at a discount, and his per-game production last year slotted him in the thick of WR2 territory.
Josh Gordon, New England Patriots (ADP: WR33)
It's no surprise Gordon is going in WR3 territory given his numerous suspensions and just 17 games played since the 2014 season. But the NFL reinstated the 28-year-old receiver, and in 11 games with the New England Patriots last year, Gordon averaged 18 yards per catch and was on a 1,000-yard pace. With tight end Rob Gronkowski gone to retirement, Tom Brady needs a new go-to weapon in the red zone.
Gordon could be that guy.
Which 2nd-Tier TE Stands the Best Chance of Party-Crashing the Big Guys?
The tight end position is the most challenging in fantasy in 2019.
There are essentially two groups. The big guys are Kelce, Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles and George Kittle of the 49ers, and they are typically drafted in that order.
Then there's everyone else.
The thing is, there are tons of fantasy owners desperate to find a player who has a legitimate chance to work his way into that top tier.
The tight end with the best odds of making that leap is being drafted over two rounds after Kittle in 12-team leagues.
As a rookie in 2017, Evan Engram of the New York Giants posted 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns, and that was good enough for a fifth-place PPR finish among tight ends, per FFToday. His production tailed off in a 2018 season in which he missed five games, but he was still seventh in PPR fantasy points per game at the position.
Provided he's healthy, at the least, Engram gets you a solid mid-range weekly starter at a position where depth is nonexistent.
But his ceiling is quite a bit higher than that. Yes, the Giants aren't scaring anyone offensively this season, but with Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland, Engram is both New York's most athletic pass-catcher and its best passing-game option in the red zone.
It's not difficult to imagine Engram with new career bests in targets, receptions and yardage, even if many of those numbers come in garbage time when the Giants are playing catch-up.
And fantasy drafters couldn't care less where the stats come from.
Who Are the Best Late-Round Value Picks?
Fantasy football doesn't have a more overused term than "sleeper." Most of the players who get the label are talked up so much over the summer that they can't possibly qualify for any reasonable definition of the word.
There's a reason for that, though. Everyone's looking for late-draft values: low-cost lottery tickets who could pay off big once the season starts.
They're looking for players like these, all of whom have an ADP outside f the 10th round at Fantasy Pros.
Dak Prescott – QB, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: 124)
The Cowboys have a reputation as a running team, and Prescott's passing numbers aren't jaw-dropping. But thanks in part to his scrambling ability, Prescott has posted three consecutive top-10 fantasy finishes in NFL.com default scoring.
Darwin Thompson – RB, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: 129)
Thompson has been impressive in training camp and the preseason—so much so that he's vaulted past Carlos Hyde on the depth chart. Damien Williams might be the lead back in Kansas City, but he's also never carried the ball more than 50 times in a season. If Williams falters at some point and Thompson becomes the No. 1 tailback for the league's most dangerous offense—jackpot.
Tyrell Williams – WR, Oakland Raiders (ADP: 138)
In the only season in which Williams received more than 100 targets (2016), he topped 1,000 yards and finished inside the top 20 among wide receivers in PPR fantasy points. Williams is playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown in Oakland for now, but given the past few weeks Brown has had, that may not last.
Delanie Walker – TE, Tennessee Titans (ADP: 120)
Yes, Walker is 35 years old. And yes, he's coming off a 2018 season in which he suffered a season-ending injury in the opener. But as recently as the 2017 season, Walker posted 74 receptions for 807 yards and three touchdowns and finished fourth in PPR fantasy points among tight ends.
Who Are the Biggest Bust Risks of 2019?
There's an old saying in fantasy football: You can't win your draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it.
Nothing can potentially sink a squad faster than investing substantial draft capital in a bust.
As things stand before the 2019 regular season begins with Thursday Night Football on Sept. 5, here are some players at each position who are in serious danger of failing to live up to their draft slots.
Deshaun Watson – QB, Houston Texans (ADP: QB2, Round 4)
I love Watson's athletic ability and the weapons available to him in Houston's passing attack. But I am terrified of the Texans' Swiss cheese offensive line, which allowed an alarming 62 sacks in 2018. And if that line blocks the way it did in the preseason, there's no way Watson is going to make it through all 16 games in one piece.
Damien Williams – RB, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: RB13, Round 2)
The long touchdown catch that Williams had in Kansas City's dress rehearsal against the Niners likely allayed some concerns about his role in 2019. But again, we're talking about a player who has never attempted more than 50 rushes in a season. There's no indication he's capable of handling a 250-carry workload—or that the Chiefs plan to give him one.
A.J. Green – WR, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: WR24, Round 5)
Green's draft slot has dropped markedly since the veteran wide receiver suffered an ankle injury that required surgery. But he's still coming off the board in fantasy WR2 territory despite there being no definitive timetable for his return. Let someone else roll the dice this season.
O.J. Howard – TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: TE4, Round 5)
There's no denying Howard's athletic ability. However, there's also no denying that in 2018, he was a more productive fantasy asset with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center than Jameis Winston. Also, new head coach Bruce Arians has never featured the tight end in his offense (although in fairness Arians has also never had one like Howard).
Fantasy point information courtesy of Fantasy Pros unless otherwise noted.