Injuries happen, we’re all familiar with the pain of a lost season, but as we enter the doldrums of the off season, it’s as good a time as any to talk about the players who didn’t finish the 2018 season due to injury, and what we can expect for 2019.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
When the Rams lost Kupp for the season due to a torn ACL, it was a big blow to owners who were enjoying the solid fantasy season Kupp had posted to that point. His 40 receptions and 550 yards, not to mention 6 TDs through 8 games, looked like it was the start to a potential WR1 season. Instead, the Rams plodded on, the strength of its run game, and its depth at WR keeping Kupp’s loss from being too big a liability.
Until it wasn’t.
You saw how much Kupp was missed in the super bowl, and with the recovery going well, it’s only a matter of time before we start speculating on his return. With a 10 month window between the surgery and week 1, I’d expect his availability to start the season to be in doubt, but just how long we’ll have to wait will determine how far he falls in drafts. If he were to play the bulk of the season, I’d have no qualms with ranking him as a mid level WR2 knowing full well that if he’s 100% he’s got WR1 ability in an offense that gets him in the red zone.
The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 100 Targets, 75 Receptions, 1,050 yards, and 8 TDs
Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
The Dr. was certainly high on Marvin Jones coming into the season. After his breakout 2018 saw him turn 61 receptions into 1,100 yards and 9 TDs, we expected him to resume his role as the top outside option for the gunslinger Matthew Stafford. Instead, we saw him struggle to perform consistently before a knee injury ended his season.
Even when he was on the field, though, he’d taken a back seat to youngster Kenny Golladay, who came on strong in his second year. You may expect a large portion of Golden Tate’s vacated targets to benefit him, but the truth is that Jones’ ability to command outside targets will certainly take a hit this coming season. Currently ranked in the 25-28th on the WR rankings, he’s a tough projection. Unlike last year, we’re not sold on Marvin Jones as a consistent fantasy producer.
The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 50 receptions, 700 Yards, 6 TDs
Will Fuller, Houston Texans
It never ceases to amaze me how a player like Will Fuller can consistently be heralded as a top fantasy options despite not really putting together a season that screams “fantasy stud.”
With his season cut short last year, Fuller has now missed 17 games in his brief three year career. That’s not just a red flag, it’s an inevitability. Expecting him to be healthy is a bit insane, but beyond that, it’s his reliance on the endzone for fantasy scoring that scares me.
With only 32 receptions in 10 games last year, it’s obvious to me that he becomes a gameplan option for Bill O’Brien. Let’s face it, DeAndre Hopkins is option #1 at all times, and Fuller benefits from Watson’s big arm, but it’s unpredictable and unsustainable. With the injuries piling up and his health no better guaranteed in 2019 than it’s ever been, I’ll be avoiding him unless his price fall precipitously. He’s a fine talent, and he has a nose for the end zone, but I’d rather any number of talented guys being selected behind him on draft day.
The Dr.’s EARLY Predictions: 35 receptions, 560 Yards, 4 TDs
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
It was hardly the ideal situation for Kirk to be starting his NFL career, as the quarterback battle in Arizona was between Sam “Glassjaw” Bradford, and Josh “Oops, he’s on the other team” Rosen. Still, Kirk managed to demand targets, seeing six or more, 7 times over his 12 games.
With 2019 bringing with it another year of NFL experience for both he and Rosen, and the continued decline of future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald, and it’s easy to see a path to 100+ targets for the 2nd year pro. If he can command a few extra redzone targets, he’s a safe bet to outperform his current ranking.
The Dr.’s EARLY Prediction: 72 receptions, 950 yards, 5 TDs
Honorable Mentions: It feels like A.J. Green is included in these lists every year, and he’ll likely be considered a high profile bust candidate again in 2019. The thing is, when he’s on the field he’s getting targets. If he falls in drafts, he’ll be a steal. Unlike Green, Marqise Lee had been hyped despite never really performing like a #1. With Keelan Cole failing to live up to his own hype, you may be expecting Lee to walk back on the field in 2019 and resume his role as the WR1. Don’t expect it. This is Dede Westbrook’s job to lose, and as long as Blake Bortles is throwing the football, there isn’t much to get excited about when you look down the depth chart.
While you may see the word “beginner” in the title and deem this beneath you, but the truth is that we should always be learning; honing our skills and getting better at the game. The PPR format has exploded in years past, and like any non-standard scoring format, it presents fantasy drafters an extra wrinkle in their quest for greatness.
Of course, it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you’re a point per reception veteran, skip this section; we’ll see you down below when we highlight some PPR strategies for the 2018 season. For those of you who aren’t familiar, buckle up and we’ll take you on a crash course.
PPR leagues differ from standard leagues in one very easy to understand facet; they award points to any player who records a reception. Whether it’s one full point, or a half a point, a player who has a higher volume of receptions becomes far more valuable than his standard league counter parts.
The first thing one should do is adjust your rankings. If you’re using a fantasy football magazine, or printing them off the internet, make sure you’re using PPR rankings. We always suggest doing the research and ranking your own players, but if you neither have the time nor the desire, ensure you’re not using rankings that don’t address your format.
A great example would be Duke Johnson as he’s primarily an after thought in standard, non-PPR leagues; and for a good reason. His highest single season rushing attempts total was 104 in his rookie year. Last year his 83 carries was good for 55th in the NFL, which we shouldn’t have to tell you isn’t enough volume to warrant much excitement.
In PPR leagues however, his 74 receptions was the 26th highest total in the NFL, and 4th highest among running backs. When you consider that he finished as the 11th highest scoring running back despite his average draft position of 97th overall in PPR leagues last year (data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.com) then it’s painfully clear that recognizing these pass catching backs can be fantasy gold in the right format.
Of course, that’s not to discount how it affects the wide receiver position either. Most of the elite players (regardless of position) are elite in either format. Volume and opportunity trump much of what you can dredge up in an argument, but in those middle rounds there’s plenty of players who have higher floors thanks to a larger share of targets.
Last year, Jarvis Landry was being ranking as the WR27 and was selected with the 78th pick on average. The value there was undeniable, especially considering that his 260 PPR points finished for 5th most at the WR position and 12th overall among skill position players. While his situation may require re-evaluation of his opportunity, the example rings true nonetheless. These players, who many discount because they build their rankings based off of the wrong data, are the targets that will help you win your league.
Players to Target
As always, we’ll use the ADP data compiled over at Fantasy Football Calculator to make our analysis. Finding these PPR gems isn’t as easy as it seems, though. Simply targeting player A because he led the position in receptions last year doesn’t ensure success this year. There is far more subtly when highlighting players to target in the middle and late rounds.
In the early rounds, you’ll ignore PPR vs. Standard debates; Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon are still elite fantasy commodities even if they don’t catch the ball a ton. It’s in the middle rounds we can start the shopping list.
- Kareem Hunt (ADP 11): Unlike the Gordon/Howard example, Hunt has legitimate regression concerns after a monster rookie season. With Spencer Ware returning and pass catching specialist Charcandarick West still on the roster, there’s going to be fewer opportunities for the game breaker. While he’ll still be valuable, I don’t expect him to factor into the passing game as much this season, damaging his ability to be the top 10 player he’s being projected as.
- Derrick Henry (ADP 36): While Henry has never been the most adept pass catcher, the signing of Dion Lewis pretty much relegates him to a 1st and 2nd down role. Without the benefit of the passing game, Henry’s 200 carries won’t do much to support a RB2 finish, and with his talent, drafters are still betting that he’ll break out. While Lewis certainly is an injury risk, he’s also good enough between the tackles to keep Henry from being elite.
- Jay Ajayi (ADP 45): I really like Ajayi’s talent, but I don’t like his situation in Philly. With Darren Sproles returning, and Corey Clement still on the roster, the idea that he’ll continue to the be the bell cow is a bit misleading. He will likely lead the team in rushes, but his involvement in the passing game will be minimal barring any major injuries.
- Kenyan Drake (ADP 47): There is a lot of buzz after Drake finished 2017 strong, but Frank Gore should eat into his carries, and rookie Kalen Ballage is a far superior pass catching back who should eat targets up early an often. While he’s a safe bet for him to finish at the top of the committee for rushes, like Ajayi, he’ll figure into the scoring far less than his ADP provides for.
- Duke Johnson (ADP 97): Mentioned above, Johnson still figures to make an impact in the passing game, but with Carlos Hyde also a capable pass catcher (88 targets last year were only 5 fewer than Johnson), there’s reason to be concerned that the volume could dip. His ADP is beginning to represent this, but don’t swing early on Johnson and expect 70+ catches again.
- Dion Lewis (ADP 61): I’m not predicting him to completely overtake Henry in the rushing game, but his floor his immensely high. In the 7th round, he’s the kind of back that can secure you 50 receptions and 1,000 total yards without impacting the incumbent start too much. His ceiling is far better than that, creating a wonderful target to return heavily on his investment.
- Chris Thompson (ADP 81): Not to discount the effect that Derrius Guice will have on the Washington Backfield, but Thompson was on pace for 1,200 total yards, 60+ receptions, and 9 TDs last year before missing the final 6 games due to a broken leg. Even given a reasonable amount of regression, he figures to be one of the most valuable 3rd down backs in fantasy.
- Ty Montgomery (ADP 111): He’s not going to impress anyone on the ground, but the converted wide receiver has the pass catching ability to provide plenty of value; especially in the 12th round. Prior to his injury, Montgomery was targeted heavily in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 targets and 6 receptions a game. Expect a return to the third down role for the sure handed Montgomery, and reap the rewards this late in the draft.
- James White (ADP 165): The forgotten man in New England, White continues to fly under the radar despite securing 90 targets and 56 receptions last year in an over crowded backfield. With Sony Michel still a rookie, and Dion Lewis leaving for greener pastures, Tom Brady’s safety blanket is in line for another big year in terms of PPR production. At 165, I’ll take the chance that the 26 year old continues to produce in the passing game for one of the best QB’s of all time.
- Kalen Ballage (ADP 213): I’ll continue beating my drum for Ballage who enters the season firmly behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the depth chart. But the speedy big man possesses the kind of silky smooth mitts that coaches game plan around, and while Drake was effective down the stretch in 2017, the moves made in the off season scream of available opportunity for the guys they brought in. If he carves out a portions of first and second downs, Ballage could be a monster for basically a waiver wire stab.
- Adam Thielen (ADP 29): With an upgrade at QB, you’d think Thielen is in line for the same kind of statline that saw him win leagues in 2017, but think again. History shows that Cousin’s is a bit of a gunslinger, and while Thielen will probably continue to be a contributor, he’s primed for regression yet being drafted as though he’s regression proof.
- Golden Tate (ADP 48): You may look at the bottom line and suggest that he’s a PPR gold mine; after all he’s recorded 90 receptions for 4 straight years. I’d implore you to dig a little deeper. Aside from the emergence of Marvin Jones, it’s important to note that Tate was wildly inconsistent last year. In 6 games last year, Tate failed to record more than 4 receptions, and in four of those games he had less than 6 PPR point. That amounts to nearly 40% of the season that Tate is a bust player.
- Brandin Cooks (ADP 53): Don’t get me wrong, Cooks is a nice little player. The issue is that with the Rams being a run first team, there’s about 10% or more opportunity lost in targets (550 pass attempts in LA to 600 in New England). Cooks is a deep threat that won’t command the kind of target share that other elite PPR receivers will. With Robert Woods returning as the slot man, Cooks is in line for major regression, especially in the PPR format.
- Jarvis Landry (ADP 59): This isn’t a knock on Landry the player, but expecting the kind of volume that he had in Miami is to ignore the fact that he’s not the most talented receiver on his current team. With Josh Gordon figuring to command the highest percentage of targets, Landry’s expectations should be limited, even if his ADP suggests otherwise.
- Julian Edelman (ADP 69): It pains me to include the New England slot receiver, but the reasons for his inclusion here are fairly straight forward. On top of missing 25% of the season due to suspension, he’s 32 years old and coming off a major knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season. With real competition for the slot position, it’ll be very difficult for Edelman to be more than a spot start, and at his current price, there’s a ton of other guys I’d rather have.
- Cooper Kupp (ADP 94): I was wrong about Kupp last year, and while I think Cooks and Woods eat up a lot of targets, it’s important to note that Kupp quietly led the Rams in targets last year with 94. With a floor around 60 catches and 800 yards (tack on around 5 TDs), and you’re looking at fantastic value in the 10th round.
- Marquise Goodwin (ADP 104): Goodwin looked great in the five games that Garoppolo started, averaging nearly 9 targets a game. With Jimmy G as the every day starter, I expect Goodwin to continue to elevate his game, and a WR2 ceiling (65 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 4 TDs) is well within reach.
- Kenny Stills (ADP 148): Many expect Danny Amendola to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry, but I find myself coming back to Stills as the perfect candidate to inherit those targets. Already one of the Dolphins most targeted receivers, his familiarity with the system and quarter back Ryan Tannehill are great catalysts for an increase in production. Perennially Stills has inhabited the 80-100 target mark, so bumping him to 130-150 feels right, and puts him firmly in the break out column on draft day.
- Keelan Cole (ADP 174): I don’t typically get excited about guys with as small a sample size as Cole has, but the 25 year old out of Louisville was impressive when called upon late in the season, and seems to continue to be overlooked with Marqise Lee and Donte Moncreif sitting above him in the depth chart. Neither of those players has done anything over their careers to keep Cole from taking their jobs, and with a solid rapport developing between he and Bortles, he’s a breakout candidate you can have for pennies on the dollar.
- Michael Gallup (ADP 212): I don’t expect Gallup to come out of the gate blazing, but with a mediocre group of receivers ahead of him, he’ll likely carve out a large share of the targets in Dallas. With much of the buzz surrounding him positive, I expect 100+ targets for the rookie, and a floor that most players in the 200’s don’t have.
Every year I run an article where I examine the what I consider to the be the most rewarding same team pairings in fantasy football. The idea, if you’re not familiar, is that by adding high tier quarterbacks with elite wide receivers or running backs you give yourself a larger share of the available points. Of course, this works best with high scoring offenses.
Last year I missed the mark a little bit with my go to; Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, as both disappointed. Luckily I planned well enough that it didn’t impact me too much (I won the league after all), but the same risks exist for any strategy as some guys just don’t show up.
But this year presents a different challenge, as the number of elite quarterbacks have dropped precipitously and the number of sure fire fantasy studs is at a questionable level. Let’s begin:
Earl Round Pairs ( Most Difficult To Manage)
Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams: Adams is finally getting the respect he deserves, ranking 7th among wide receivers. Pairing the #7 WR with the #1 QB is a healthy strategy regardless of what team they play for, but getting extra point for yards and touchdowns shared has this pairing at the top of list. Still, it’ll cost you two of your first four picks to assemble this pairing.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown: While the jury seems to be out on Roethlisberger every year in the off season, Big Ben grinds his way to a top ten finish at the position. What’s NEVER a question is how good Brown will be when he’s on the field. The easy answer is that Brown is the safest pick in fantasy, but it will require you have a top 3 or 4 pick.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas: Despite still playing at a high level, Brees has sort of slipped behind Thomas and Alvin Kamara as the top targets in the New Orleans offense. That in no way diminishes his ability to produce in fantasy, and I’d argue is a better option than both Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but that’s a different article all together. Getting Michael Thomas, though, is the hard part. His ADP of 15 will mean drafting 1-5 will preclude you from drafting him unless you get lucky. If you do get lucky, a 6th or 7th round pick will land you Brees, who’s ADP of 69 is criminally low.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: Draft Brady at your own risk, but if you’re confident that the off season malaise in New England won’t affect Brady’s ability to perform then have at it. The truth is that Rob Gronkowski could set records this year as the only reliable pair of hands left for Brady to chuck it up to. Sure, Edelman will be back in 4 games and Hogan has shown he can play with Brady, but Gronk should see the end zone 10-15 times this year on top of a ton of yards. Grabbing him in the 3rd round to pair with Brady in the 7th gives plenty of time to add skill players besides.
Middle Round Pairs (Easier To Coordinate)
Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin: This one isn’t as impactful in terms of fantasy because Wilson tends to supplement his passing stats with his legs. Unfortunately for this exercise, his rushing statistics can’t be taken into account. Still, Doug Baldwin is one of the leagues best slot receivers, and as a 4th round pick has a lot of value regardless. Without Jimmy Graham in the red one, he may even see a few more looks there. This one may not be the sexiest pair on the list, but they may be the most effective.
Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz: It may seem strange to see another WR/TE combo, but the fact is Wentz and Ertz seem to share a brain in the red zone, meaning a ton of points are up for grabs between the two of them. While Alshon Jeffrey may be the #1 wide out on the team’s depth chart, the true number one is Ertz. if you miss out on Gronk but you want a stud tight end, pair a 4th round Ertz with a 7th round Wentz and reap the benefits.
Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs: Wait, you say. This should be Thielen and Cousins! I’m here to tell you, not so fast. Now, I can see a scenario like in Denver years back with multiple 1,000 yard receivers, but the guy I’m targeting is Diggs in the late 4th round. He was excellent last year even though he wasn’t the top target for the Case Keenum led Vikings. Now, he has Cousins tossing the ball to him. A classic gunslinger, Cousins’ game best fits the strengths Diggs brings to the table. This is one of the least expensive pairings you can get as a 4th and a 10th gets you both players.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones: You may have to spend a 2nd round pick on Jones, but the wait on Ryan is a bit longer than the other QB’s on this list. As the QB13, he’s being drafted in the 11th round, and I’d argue his value is sky high this year as a bounce back candidate. If you’re like me, and you see more value in grabbing high end skill players to pair with the later round QB, Matt Ryan is a slam dunk. Have him and Julio, and you’ll reap the rewards for all those yards.
Odell Beckham and Eli Manning: If you’re nervous about drafting either of these guys, I’d say you’re hardly alone. Beckham is an otherworldly talent when he’s right, but the combination of recent injury woes and an inability to stay level headed means he may fall towards the end of the first round. What I will say is that if you manage Beckham, Manning is a wonderful pairing if you waited a bit long on your QB. In the 16th round of drafts (current ADP is 152) Manning presents a conundrum. He was awful last year but much of it could be logically blamed on the terrible circumstances around him. With healthy weapons, an upgraded offensive line, and an elite RB to draw the attention, and Manning could be a surprise top 15 QB this year.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen: Allen proved last year that when he’s healthy, he’s every bit the stud we thought he was. Rivers remains one of the most under appreciated QB’s in fantasy, and his ADP of 112 presents tons of value. Without Hunter Henry, even more weight will be given to Allen, meaning these two could hook up for a ton of points.
Honorable Mentions: Derek Carr and Amari Cooper (a new coach could help get these two back on track). Jared Goff and Brandin Cooks (it’s a new look for Goff, but Cooks could be his go to early and often). Jameis Winston and Mike Evans (This requires a bounce back year for both, but not guaranteed). Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis (There’s so much talent between these two, it’s hard to imagine both of them laying duds this year).
While the QB signings have dominated the landscape, the largest amount of quality transactions belongs to the wide receiver position. There were several high profile players changing teams, so buckle up while we take a quick look at the most impactful.
Los Angeles Rams Aquire Brandin Cooks
By now you’ve probably heard some of the absurd statistics surrounding the Rams new wideout. For example, only he and Antonio Brown have had 1,000+ yards and 7TDs for three straight years. What’s even more impressive is that he’s done it as a part of the Saints and Patriots offenses who often eschew consistency in favor of game planning.
Now in LA, he’ll be playing for a coach in Sean McVay that has a history of targetting his home run hitters a ton. In 2014 and 2016, McVay’s game plan included an average of 100+ targets for DeSean Jackson, a similar player to Cooks, while still maintaining a healthy number of targets for other receivers. This means that where Sammy Watkins failed, Cooks could florish. Garish numbers may be a pipe dream, but the ceiling for Cooks in LA could be considered the 60-70 catch and 1200 yards range.
Cleveland Browns Sign Jarvis Landry
Cleveland seems to be going all in this offseason, bringing in studs like last years receptions leader Jarvis Landry. Averaging 100 catches per year over his 4 year career in Miami, Landry brings crisp route running and a knack for making difficult catches to a team that feature an elite #1 in Josh Gordon, but not much besides question marks beyond him.
While it may be a bit of a stretch to expect another 100+ receptions this year, Landry somehow finds a way to be important every week. He’ll need to do better than last years 8.8 yards per catch if he wants to be more than just a PPR target, but Cleveland could see him finally turn into the elite WR he’d been billed as previously.
Baltimore Ravens Sign Michael Crabtree
One of the NFL’s most underrated receivers, Michael Crabtree seems to be the perfect fit for one of the most underrated NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens. While they certainly weren’t good last year, part of the problem was Flacco’s receiving corps consisted of aging veterans, oft injured disappointments, and draft busts. Crabtree is a grinder who manages to get to footballs that others may not.
While it certainly took a few years for Crabtree to live up to the draft hype he experienced in San Fansisco, Baltimore could be a make or break stop on his NFL journey. As the defacto #1 in this offense, and the strong armed Joe Flacco still hucking it up, it could be a big year for him. Unless Baltimore adds a significant receiving piece, I expect 120+ targets for Crabtree, and the rest is up to him.
Oakland Raiders Sign Jordy Nelson
It wasn’t long ago that Nelson was considered one of the top 5 wideouts in the league. One major injury after another derailed his career and saw him jettisoned from one of the top offenses in football. Queue the free agency period, and Nelson finds himself playing for the Raiders opposite one of the leagues most mercurial slot receivers in Amari Cooper.
What Nelson brings is a red zone threat with reliable hands and the experience to get open and make plays. He won’t wow you with speed, but he’ll be as effective as Crabtree at his worst, or he could excede expectations entirely and see his numbers bounce back to the 1,000 yards and 8 TD range.
New England Patriots Sign Jordan Matthews
On the surface this may not qualify as an earth shattering signing by any stretch, but the truth is that between the departing Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, not to mention pass catching back Dion Lewis, there’s 235 targets up for grabs and no guarantee that Gronkowksi will be back next year. With so much opportunity and an offense that has always passed first, Matthews could be in line for a monster stat line if he can mesh with Brady early.
But what can we reasonably expect from Matthews, who toiled with injuries in 2017 that made for a disappointing year one in Buffalo? The saving grace is he’s never played with a quarterback like Brady. If he can make the roster (which is no safe bet with New England) then I expect something along the lines of his numbers in Philly, around 70 catches, 900 yards and 6-9 TDs.
Chicago Bears Sign Allen Robinson
It may not be the highest profile reciever gig in the NFL, but there’s something to be said about swapping one team for one similarly constructed. They both feature a run first scheme and young, unpredictable quarterbacks. What Robinson has going for him in Chicago is that aside his main competition is a hobbled Kevin White and Atlanta’s #3 guy Taylor Gabriel.
It’s natural for a young QB to latch onto his most talented receiver and Robinson certainly checks off all the boxes for a franchise #1 wide receiver. With plenty of targets up for grabs, and gobs more talent than Meredith or Wright brought to the table, a top 5 season in targets sets Robinson up nicely. Sure, he’ll have to do something with those targets, but his floor is relatively high compared to others on this list.
Honorable Mentions: The Dolphins losing Jarvis Landry forced them to go out and sign two slot receivers in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, with ‘Dola being the more accomplished by far. Injuries will always be a concern with Amendola, but sliding in to the role vacated by the aformentioned Landry should give him plenty of fantasy relevence. Sammy Watkins on the other hand, joins a Chiefs offense that is going to transition from a veteran in Alex Smith, to a 2nd year quarter back in Patrick Mahomes. It’s not an unlikely scenario to see Watkins become a saftey blanket for the young QB, especially given Tyreek Hill’s boom or bust profile, but the truth is the offense is likely to go through the backfield.