As we inch closer to the NFL draft, this column details the biggest changes in fantasy value from 2019 trades and free agency.
I’m in a weird draft.
Having access to the coaches and decision-makers is a great way to gather information and answer some of the fantasy questions we have during the offseason.
Your guide to each NFL team’s most valuable offensive players from a fantasy standpoint for the 2019 season.
To clarify, the draft isn’t about weird things. No one is selecting, like, mutated animals or Al Yankovic.
No, it’s a fantasy football draft.
To further clarify, there’s nothing odd about the process, either. There are 12 of us, an order was selected at random and we’ve been drafting, snake style, for the past few weeks via email. As I write this, we are just finishing up Round 19.
Round 19, you say? Yes, I say, because I like to answer the tough questions.
Round 19 of 33, to be exact. Followed by a four-round rookie draft. It’s March 26.
And that, my internet friend, is the weird part.
Because, you see, this is a dynasty league. Twelve teams, 33-man rosters and you can keep all 33 forever. Following the startup draft, the only draft each year is a four-round rookie draft for the incoming rookies. We use PPR scoring, start 1 QB/2RB/2WR/1TE with four flex spots. One flex can be a QB (these are called super flex leagues, for the uninitiated). Also, tight ends get 1.5 points per reception, so it’s tight end premium. No kickers, no defenses and did I mention 33 players? That you keep? Forever?
So that’s the weird part. Trying to predict what will happen in September is challenging in March, but try predicting what will happen three years from now. Or five. Or 10.
And the rookie draft happens before the rookies are actually drafted. In other words, someone will take Josh Jacobs or D.K. Metcalf before knowing his NFL team, which, you know, is pretty important.
The league was started by my friend Scott Barrett, it’s filled with a bunch of really smart fantasy analysts and DFS players — names you know well if you follow fantasy and/or DFS Twitter — so it’s as challenging a draft as I have been in. I’ll post a link to the draft on Twitter once it’s done for those interested.
Fantasy value changes all the time. Just the other day, it was widely quoted that, at the owners meetings in Phoenix, Bruce Arians said Chris Godwin will see a lot of action in the slot and “could catch 100 balls.” And just like that, Godwin (already scheduled to be a trendy sleeper) just saw his ADP shoot up at least three rounds.
Especially during the early offseason, player value changes on a dime, with every tweet, beat reporter musing or Instagram video. And perhaps nothing changes a player’s value more than switching teams. Moves are not made in a vacuum, so when one player changes teams (either by trade or free agency) it affects the player moving, the players on the new team and the players left behind.
Which brings us, meandering slowly, to the first Love/Hate of 2019. As always, there are caveats:
THIS IS ONLY ABOUT CHANGE IN FANTASY VALUE.
Players whose fantasy value, whatever it is, increased because of offseason moves are “loves” and players whose value decreased are “hates.” Nick Foles is a love, not because I feel he will have an amazing fantasy season, but by going to a full-time starting role after being a backup, obviously, his fantasy value has increased. Got it? Good. Here we go:
Offseason quarterback moves I love
Baker Mayfield, Browns: Starting in Week 9 last season (when new head coach Freddie Kitchens became the offensive coordinator and took over playcalling), Mayfield was the 10th-best QB in fantasy at 19 points per game. His 8.57 yards per attempt was second-best, his 69 percent completion percentage was 10th-best, his deep completion percentage was fifth and he led the NFL in deep completions per game.
And he just added Odell Beckham Jr.
He also has Todd Monken as an offensive coordinator. Monken, if you remember, helped get amazing fantasy stats out of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston as the playcaller for the Buccaneers last season. He’ll get Kareem Hunt after eight games, which should also help, but maybe most important (after Beckham) is that he now gets a full offseason to work with Kitchens and tailor the playbook to his liking. Last season as a rookie, Mayfield sat behind Tyrod Taylor all offseason and dealt with a relationship that clearly didn’t work with then-head coach Hue Jackson. Sky’s the limit for Baker.
Derek Carr, Raiders: He lost 32-year-old Jared Cook and 34-year-old Jordy Nelson, but added Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams. That’s a trade you’d make in fantasy and real life. Since 2015, Carr ranks fourth in percentage of deep passes that are on target (70.8 percent), so he CAN throw it deep. He just hasn’t recently (lowest average air yards per throw in the NFL last season). But AB (league-high nine deep touchdowns last season) and Williams (fifth in yards per catch since entering the NFL in 2015) give him legit downfield threats. With a defense that likely gets him into shootouts, Carr is now in the QB2 conversation.
Josh Allen, Bills: From Week 12 on (through to Week 17), no quarterback scored more fantasy points than Allen. While I’m not sure all his amazing rushing continues at that level, his prospects are definitely better after the Bills spent a good portion of this offseason trying to get some help for their franchise QB. A very good run-blocking RB (and strong veteran presence) in Frank Gore, offensive-line help (center Mitch Morse and tackle Ty Nsekhe) and some upgrades at receiver with Cole Beasley and John Brown. Brown is particularly interesting given that Allen ranked second in air yards per attempt last season.
Others receiving votes: Carson Wentz was already going to be a top-10 fantasy pick at QB, but considering he’s eighth in air yards per pass attempt the past two seasons, adding a speedster like DeSean Jackson only helps. The Eagles haven’t had a consistent deep threat since, well, DeSean Jackson. … Speaking of Wentz, his former backup, Nick Foles, got paid a lot of money and will now start in Jacksonville. I still expect it to be a run-heavy offense, but being reunited with Jaguars offensive coordinator John DiFilippo (who was his QB coach during the Super Bowl run in Philly) certainly improves Foles’ fantasy stock. … Sam Darnold added the underrated Jamison Crowder and, as you might have heard, pass-catching running back Le’Veon Bell. Darnold, who averaged more than 16 points per game in his final four games last season, could find himself in QB2 consideration sooner than later.
Offseason quarterback moves I hate
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: You just don’t lose Antonio Brown and not see it affect your fantasy value. Since 2014, 35.7 percent of Roethlisberger’s fantasy points have come from AB. Think about that. Almost 36 percent. Yes, the Steelers signed Donte Moncrief and there are expectations that James Washington takes a big step forward, but come on. However they replace AB, it’s a downgrade. The question is how much? Let’s be super-optimistic and say they fill 90 percent of AB’s production. Roethlisberger’s PPG since 2014 would dip to 17.3, which last season, on a points-per-game basis, would have been QB21.
Tom Brady, Patriots: Even before the Rob Gronkowski retirement news, Brady wasn’t going to be an easy sell going into 2019, as he was just QB14 in total points last season and QB18 on a per-game basis. And now he’s lost Gronk. And Chris Hogan. And Cordarrelle Patterson. Regardless of your opinion of those final two players (who didn’t do much last season), the fact remains there are more changes in store for Brady this season, and that’s before we know what’s going on with Josh Gordon. Since 2010, in games without Gronk, Brady’s completion rate is 7 percent worse (58.6 percent, compared to 65.7 with Gronk), he averages almost 30 fewer passing yards per game, almost a touchdown less per game and goes from averaging 20 fantasy points with Gronk to 16.3 without. It’s hard to ever bet against Brady, but the numbers don’t paint a great fantasy picture.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens: Yes, we know he’s a running QB and the Ravens will be among the run-heaviest teams in the NFL this season, but still. He’s going to have to throw sometimes. But with Michael Crabtree and John Brown gone, you’re looking at a current receiving corps of Willie Snead (eight career receiving TDs in 57 games), Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Quincy Adeboyejo and Jaleel Scott. I’m pretty sure I made up two of those names. You’re drafting Jackson for the rushing, but the lack of pass-catchers caps his upside.
Offseason running back moves I love
David Johnson, Cardinals: Three of the past four years Kliff Kingsbury was a head coach in college, his teams were top 15 in the country in terms of running back receptions, including sixth-most in 2018. The jury is still out on Kingsbury as an NFL head coach, but the offense will be a lot more fantasy-friendly, and make no mistake, DJ will be used much more as a pass-catcher than he was last season.
Mark Ingram, Ravens: Goes from playing backup to Alvin Kamara to being the lead dog in what will be one of (if not the) league’s most run-heavy offense. And it’s not all Lamar Jackson. In Weeks 11-17 last season (the “Lamar Jackson era”), the Ravens ranked third in RB carries per game (27.6), first in RB rush yards (149.0) and first in yards per carry (5.40). During that stretch, Baltimore averaged a league-high 70.9 offensive snaps per game. And the recipient of the majority of those RB carries will be Ingram, who will have enough value even in PPR to be a solid RB2, with RB1 upside in non-PPR.
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins: Am I really writing positive things about Kenyan Drake? The offseason comes at you fast. My issue with Drake last year was not about his talent, but rather that he was being drafted as if he wasn’t being coached by Adam Gase, who loves to have a slow pace of play and use multiple running backs. Sure enough, last season Drake was tied for 28th in touches and his fantasy value was largely fueled by hard-to-predict scoring spikes, as Frank Gore ended the season with 36 more rushing attempts despite playing two fewer games than Drake. But Gore is now in Buffalo and the current Miami depth chart at RB is Drake and Kalen Ballage. That’s it. Give Drake just 50 percent of Gore’s touches from last season and he would have ranked 12th in RB touches. More touches will work, because when Drake gets the ball he’s been productive. Since 2016 (when he came into the league), only Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Mark Ingram and Kareem Hunt average more yards per carry than Drake (minimum 260 carries).
Others receiving votes: With Tevin Coleman now in San Francisco, Ito Smith is poised to take on a much bigger role. More than 18 percent of his touches last season came in the red zone, and Devonta Freeman (16 missed games the past two seasons) is no guarantee to stay healthy. Smith is on the flex radar now, with upside for more. … Over the past two seasons, the Saints have been first each season in rushing touchdowns and top 10 in red zone rush percentage, which bodes well for Latavius Murray. This is Alvin Kamara’s job, no doubt, but Murray should get a decent chunk of goal-line work (he’s just one of three RBs to score at least six rushing touchdowns the past four seasons. Only Todd Gurley and the guy he’s replacing, Mark Ingram, can say that. Murray is now worthy of flex consideration and one of the most important handcuffs in fantasy. … Mike Davis is not yet a thing, but if, as rumors suggest, the Bears move on from Jordan Howard, he’s a nice fit for Matt Nagy, averaging 4.6 yards per carry (112 for 514 yards) for Seattle last season along with 34 receptions for 214 yards and a score. He’s a value in early drafts, especially in best ball.
Offseason running back moves I hate
Le’Veon Bell, Jets: OK, sure, he didn’t play last season, so the fact he will play this season means his fantasy value shoots up. But if you’re comparing him to his 2017 fantasy value with the Steelers, he’s taking a big hit. Look, he’s a great player and he’s certainly going to get a huge workload. BUT … there are red flags. He’s been out of football for a year. Remember, this is a guy who missed 18 games in his career prior to last year when he chose to miss the season. I’m not convinced he gets used as a pass-catcher as much as we are used to. Only once has an Adam Gase offense ranked in the top 20 in RB receptions, and that was the 2013 amazing Peyton Manning year. Even when Gase had Matt Forte in 2015, Forte averaged only 3.4 catches per game after averaging 5.5 receptions per game the two previous seasons. Plus, no matter how good the Jets’ offense is, it won’t be what the Steelers were during the Ben-AB-Bell heyday. Bell is no longer the no-brainer top-three pick he was with Pittsburgh and no more than a late-first-round, early-second-round selection.
LeSean McCoy, Bills: McCoy will turn 31 this July, and he comes off a very disappointing season to find the ageless Frank Gore in town and the Bills upgrading their passing-game weapons. You could argue the improved play of Josh Allen, the improved offensive line and more offensive efficiency and scoring opportunities can only help McCoy, and that’s true, but the best argument for McCoy last season was pure volume. That’s not going to be there this season, and it’s worth noting that from Weeks 12 on last season, Allen accounted for more than 53 percent of the team’s rushing yards. He also had more rushing attempts than McCoy. I could see a scenario in which McCoy’s ADP drops so low that he becomes a value in August, but based on offseason moves alone, McCoy’s fantasy worth has taken a hit.
Adrian Peterson, Redskins: Last season’s surprise No. 19 fantasy running back showed he still had quite a lot left in the tank. But last season’s fantasy finish was fueled in large part by volume (he was fifth in total rushing attempts); this season he is, at best, in a timeshare with Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson and at worst, he’s a backup/mentor for Guice, especially toward the second half of the season.
Offseason pass-catcher moves I love
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns: I’m about to throw some stats at you, but honestly, you likely don’t need me to tell you that going from Eli Manning at this stage of Eli’s career to Baker Mayfield is a massive upgrade. Among players with 315-plus catches since he entered the league, Beckham leads the way by scoring on 11.3 percent of his receptions. And now he gets Mayfield, who just broke the rookie passing touchdown record. Last season, Mayfield threw a touchdown on 5.6 percent of his passes (11th-best). The past three seasons, Manning is 31st in that category. In the Mayfield section earlier, I talked about how good Mayfield is throwing deep. Well, among players with at least 50 deep receptions since he entered the league, Beckham ranks third in points per deep catch (5.52), trailing only Amari Cooper and DeSean Jackson. Believe the hype, Cleveland.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers: Super-small sample size, of course, but in the three games Smith-Schuster has played without Antonio Brown, he had 20 receptions (on 27 targets) for 255 yards and scored in all three games. He averaged 23.1 fantasy points per game, which would have been WR1 last season. From 2013-18, Brown averaged 11.1 targets per game for Pittsburgh. In Smith-Schuster’s six games with 11 or more targets, he has 115-plus yards in five of them and is averaging 25.5 PPG. With AB in Oakland, it’s the JuJu show in Pittsburgh, and he’ll be one of the first WRs off the board in every draft this year.
Evan Engram, Giants: Since he came into the league, Engram has played 14 games without Beckham. In those games, he is averaging almost five receptions per game on 7.8 targets, slightly more than 60 receiving yards and 13.8 fantasy points per game. Last season, that would have been TE5. We’ll talk about Golden Tate in a minute, but neither he nor Sterling Shepard is close to the red zone threat Engram is. In the final four games of 2018 without OBJ, Engram averaged 16.2 points, which would have been TE4 last season.
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers: With DeSean Jackson now in Philly, it is officially #GodwinSZN in Tampa. As mentioned earlier, new Bucs coach Bruce Arians was quoted as saying Godwin will see a lot time in the slot. Well, that’s the Larry Fitzgerald role in Arians’ offense. And obviously, Godwin is not Fitz, but in the final three seasons under Arians in Arizona, Fitzgerald finished as WR7, WR11 and then WR4 in 2017. The Bucs are going to be a pass-first offense, but they have a lot of weapons beside Godwin, so I’ll take the under on 100 catches. But he has shown real flashes of talent and productivity when he has gotten a chance (three games of 98-plus yards in the six games D-Jax has missed), and this season, it’s clear he’s going to get a full-time role in a fantasy-friendly offense.
Others receiving votes: Jared Cook was already a top-five tight end last season, so it’s hard to see how he improves much on that. But going from Derek Carr and the Raiders to Drew Brees and the Saints is certainly an upgrade. Beginning with the season after Jimmy Graham left, Brees is QB11 when targeting the tight end and Cook will be the best one he’s had since Graham. … Over the past two seasons (playoffs included), Nick Foles has completed 70.1 percent of his slot passes with three times as many TDs and interceptions. This should bode well for Dede Westbrook, who was fourth in the NFL in targets from the slot last season and eighth in yards from the slot. … Tyrell Williams will get to be a feature player in what should be a pass-first offense, in which Antonio Brown will draw lots of attention. That helps Williams’ value after having to split time with a lot of other folks for the Chargers. … Speaking of Tyrell Williams, his departure opens up more targets for Mike Williams, who had a bit of a breakout last season for the Bolts. They’re expecting big things from him this season. … Moving from the inaccurate Cam Newton to the much more accurate Andrew Luck is an upgrade for Devin Funchess, especially with no real wide receiver competition beyond T.Y. Hilton. Obviously, they use the tight end a lot, but still, the Colts ranked sixth in pass percentage last season and 10th in red zone pass percentage. This is a nice landing spot for the 6-foot-4 Funchess. … Speaking of Funchess moving on, expect Carolina to feature DJ Moore quite a bit this season. In the two games without Funchess last season, Moore had eight catches for 91 yards and four for 81 (without Cam Newton). … There might not be a player who improved his QB situation more than Donte Moncrief, who goes from Blake Bortles to Ben Roethlisberger and should be a big part of the Steelers’ “replace Antonio Brown” offense this season. … Speaking of the Steelers, Jesse James is now in Detroit. That means good things for Vance McDonald, who didn’t get full-starter snaps last season and still quietly finished as TE10. Meanwhile, James is 6-foot-7 and as you kids know, you can’t teach that. The Lions signed him to a huge deal and it’s not just to block. Detroit is fifth in red zone pass percentage the past two seasons. New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will, no doubt, take a run-heavy approach, but still. Those in deep leagues could do worse than James, who is now the clear starter at TE for Matthew Stafford. … In the past 16 games for Julian Edelman without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, he has 114 receptions for 1,374 yards and three touchdowns. Or, to put in another way, 269.4 fantasy points, which last season would have been WR10, just ahead of Stefon Diggs. … Deep leagues take note: When I was at the NFL combine, I interviewed Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson. I asked him for a sleeper. He mentioned tight end Darren Waller, whom they picked up from Baltimore at the end of last season. And after Cook signed with the Saints, Jon Gruden at the owners meetings seemed pretty high on him as well. Obviously a lot more competition with AB and Tyrell Williams there than last season for Cook, but still. There’s enough buzz for me throw a late-round flyer if I needed tight end help.
Offseason pass-catcher moves I hate
Antonio Brown, Raiders: Even if Derek Carr was as good as Big Ben (he isn’t), this would be a downgrade. Roethlisberger and AB had such a connection and so many plays seemed to be of the “playground” variety, where Roethlisberger would extend the play and look for Brown, throwing it near him and then Brown would somehow just make something happen. That connection will take time for Brown to get with Carr. However much Oakland’s offense improves, it won’t be to the levels of the Bell/Brown/Ben heyday. Over the past five seasons, the Steelers rank fourth in number of red zone drives. Meanwhile, over the past two seasons, the Raiders are 30th in red zone drives (and 29th in red zone TDs). Volume and talent still keep Brown in the top-10 WR discussion, but it’s toward the end of the top 10, a definite drop from being the consensus No. 1 WR in fantasy the past five seasons.
Golden Tate, Giants: Tate has never been a big touchdown guy, as his fantasy value has usually come from volume. And I’m not sure he sees it from a Giants team that was 29th in targets and receptions to the slot and 30th in yards. Meanwhile, at this stage of his career, Eli Manning is the worst QB Tate has ever played with. Tate was just WR52 from Week 9 on with the Eagles last season, so I’m sure the volume will increase in New York, but not enough to make him anything more than a WR4/5 type, a far cry from where he was drafted last year when he was in Detroit.
Adam Humphries, Titans: A much better NFL move than a fantasy one. Humphries made nice strides during his four seasons in Tampa Bay, and I don’t doubt that Tennessee will be better for having signed the slot receiver. But I’m not seeing much in the way of fantasy value here. Similar to Tate, the big plays aren’t part of what Humphries brings to the table, so he needs volume to be a reliable fantasy option … volume that, if things are going right for the Titans, doesn’t happen. Over the past two seasons, Marcus Mariota hasn’t ranked better than 20th in any of the key passing stats when targeting the slot (completion percentage, QB rating, touchdowns, etc.) and with the Titans passing at the fourth-lowest rate, this is a downgrade for him after his fantasy breakout 2018 season with the pass-heavy Bucs.
Randall Cobb, Cowboys: A general rule of thumb is that moving away from Aaron Rodgers is never going to be a great thing for fantasy value, and Cobb is not going to be the exception. During the three seasons Dak Prescott has been in the NFL, the Cowboys rank 28th in red zone pass percentage (Green Bay was first in red zone pass percentage during that time frame). It makes sense. When Dallas gets in close, the Cowboys run Ezekiel Elliott or Prescott there. And if they throw, it’s going to Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup before Cobb gets looks. Last season, Dallas was 27th in slot targets and Green Bay was fifth. Similar to Humphries, I thought this was a nice signing for Dallas from a NFL standpoint, but to the extent Cobb had fantasy value last season, it takes a hit with the move to Dallas.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — forgot to mention Trey Quinn of the Redskins, whose value takes a leap now that Jamison Crowder is on the Jets. Quinn could be a nice little PPR guy. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and RotoPassDaily.com. He is also one of the owners of the Fantasy Life App and FantasyLife.com.