Fantasy Football: Staff Bold Predictions for 2019
At numberFire, we love the data.
We rely on it to inform our decisions, and we -- for the most part -- let it guide us. In a game like fantasy football, letting the stats and numbers dictate decisions makes sense: you don't get points for anything other than production.
But sometimes there's a little more to it. Nobody sticks to the data 100% of the time, and neither do we. Nobody sticks to mild takes 100% of the time. That applies to us, too.
Our editor-in-chief, JJ Zachariason, released a whole set of bold predictions already this offseason, but now it's time for some other members on staff to give us their hottest take for the 2019 fantasy football season.
Jim Sannes, Senior Writer and Analyst
Prediction: Aaron Jones will return first-round value in 2019
When you're looking for a running back who can return top-end totals in fantasy, there are several boxes you should look to check.
You want someone who is a bell-cow within his offense, is on a good team capable of bathing in touchdowns, and will get respectable work in the passing game. That's why guys like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey are so coveted.
But Aaron Jones has the potential to check those same boxes, and you can get him in the third round.
Jones is tied to Aaron Rodgers, one of the most efficient quarterbacks in NFL history, meaning trips to the end zone are assured. Jones also showed he was capable of a monster role, playing at least 73% of the snaps in three straight weeks last year, scoring 16.8 or more points in each of those contests.
As for the passing-down work, new head coach Matt LaFleur has said repeatedly that he values throwing to backs out of the backfield, and if Jones is on the field, he'll be the one who benefits from that thought process.
Jones averaged 5.3 targets per game in his time as a bell-cow last year, and although he may not duplicate that number for all of 2019, it shows what his potential looks like. If LaFleur commits to Jones as his lead back, it shouldn't be hard for Jones to end the year close to that top tier at the position.
Austan Kas, Editor
Prediction: Jack Doyle Will Score More Fantasy Points Than Eric Ebron
Not only is Eric Ebron due for some serious negative touchdown regression after his 14-score campaign, he was a bit-part player last year when Jack Doyle was healthy. Only once last season (Week 12) did Ebron get more snaps and more targets than Doyle did in a game in which they both played. In his six games, Doyle finished as the PPR TE14 or better four times, including single-game outings of TE2 and TE7. On the filpside, Ebron averaged just 3.7 targets per game when Doyle was active. Maybe Ebron played himself into a larger role, but Doyle should continue to be a big part of Indy's offense.
Kenyatta Storin, Editor
Prediction: Nick Chubb will be a bust at his first-round ADP
Since Duke Johnson was shipped out of town by the Cleveland Browns in early August, we've seen Nick Chubb's ADP rise across the board, and he's now pretty much universally considered a mid-to-late first-rounder. After all, despite being inexplicably ignored by former head coach Hue Jackson over the first six games of his rookie campaign (16 rushes), Chubb still managed to tally 10 total touchdowns and came just short of 1,000 rushing yards in 2018. Bell-cow running backs don't grow on trees, and following last year's promising debut, Chubb begins 2019 with the keys to the backfield of a rising Freddie Kitchens offense with little to no competition.
Well, "begins" is the key word here, as many seem to have written off Kareem Hunt as some nobody coming back in Week 10, rather than 2017's RB4 in half-PPR leagues and a guy who averaged 19.7 fantasy points over 11 games last season. Chubb should excel over the first half of the season and is expected to keep his starting job even when Hunt returns, but it's hard to imagine that the Browns rolled the dice on Hunt to have him just sit on the sidelines -- particularly after already moving on from Johnson. A dreaded committee will form just in time for your fantasy playoffs, which sure doesn't sound like a winning formula from your top draft pick.
Tom Vecchio, Editor
Bold Prediction: Jameis Winston and Chris Godwin both finish in the top-10 in fantasy at their positions
There has been plenty of talk this offseason surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their new head coach, and what the future holds for them, but one thing is clear: they have some amazing fantasy options.
Over the past two seasons, the issue for Jameis Winston has been staying on the field, and if he is able to do so for all 16 games, he -- according to our projections -- will have a career-high in pass attempts, yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points. Their offense doesn’t pose much of a threat on the ground, and with their pass defense still ranked among the bottom-five in the league, they will be playing from behind in most cases.
This leads to a clear path for Winston to have a career season in terms of real-life and fantasy production.
That production can directly impact Chris Godwin, who has been the talk of the fantasy football town, so to speak.
Entering his third season in the league, Godwin has a strong claim on the number-two receiver role due to Adam Humphries moving to the Tennessee Titans in free agency. Lining up across from Mike Evans, Godwin is projected to also set a career-high in targets, receptions, and yards.
With Bruce Arians at the helm this season, there is no doubt the Buccaneers will be airing the ball out, which should come as a delight for fantasy owners.
Brandon Gdula, Managing Editor
Prediction: Allen Robinson finishes as a top-15 fantasy receiver
Could I get spicier? Sure, but getting the WR32 in average draft cost to produce a top-15 season is still a league-winning type of purchase. In 2018, Allen Robinson led the Chicago Bears in air yards market share (29%) in the regular season, and in their playoff loss, he accrued 13 of 43 targets for 143 yards.
Of his 13 targets, four of them were at least 20 yards downfield, and six of his 13 (nearly half) were at least 11 yards downfield. That's promising usage for a wideout growing accustomed to his first season in an offense.
In 2019, we project him to clear 112 targets this season, and in my projections, he's at 109, so the volume is a bit concerning. However, Robinson also scored just 4 touchdowns on 741 receiving yards (about one touchdown every 185 yards). Typically, that number hovers around a touchdown per 100 receiving yards. Things are pointing up for Robinson's second season as a Bear.
Chris Allen, Writer
Prediction: Lamar Jackson will finish as a top-10 quarterback
Lamar Jackson, in 7 starts, totaled 695 rushing yards, a quarterback tally that has only been eclipsed by Cam Newton in 2017 (754) and Russell Wilson in 2014 (849) within the last five seasons. We just need to see more from him as a passer.
He has Greg Roman and James Urban, and both have worked with dual-threat quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick to help him improve. This, along with positive developments from his pass-catchers Mark Andrews, Miles Boykin, and Marquise Brown make Lamar a candidate to finish the season in the QB1 conversation.
Neil Dutton, Writer
Prediction: JuJu Smith-Schuster Breaks Antonio Brown's Single-Season Reception and Yardage Records
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s first season as the go-to guy for the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t a good one...it’s a great one. Smith-Schuster more than meets the challenge of filling the shoes of Antonio Brown, as he not only beats his own career highs in receptions and receiving yards, but he beats Brown’s too.
Brown had 136 receptions back in 2015, a year after his career best of 1,698 yards. Only a shortened snap count in Week 17 robs him of a chance to beat Marvin Harrison’s all-time single-season record of 143 catches, leaving everyone connected to the Steelers asking the same question: Antonio Who?
Sam Factor, Writer
Prediction: Tyler Lockett will finish as a top-five wide receiver
Prior to 2018, no receiver had ever finished as high as WR16 in PPR leagues with fewer than 95 targets. Tyler Lockett achieved that feat with only 71 targets. Lockett's insane 80% catch rate and 14% touchdown rate are bound to regress in 2019. However, Doug Baldwin's retirement leaves behind 73 vacated targets and leaves Lockett as the number-one option for Russell Wilson.
It should also lead to more snaps in the slot for Lockett (Baldwin played 62% of his snaps in the slot last season). Seattle wants to run the ball, but if their defense struggles, they will be forced to air it out. Do not be shocked when we see Lockett on championship fantasy rosters in 2019.
Sam Hoppen, Writer
Prediction: Two of the top three drafted TEs will finish outside of the top five in fantasy points
Don't get me wrong: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle are fantastic tight ends. But fantasy players are investing far too much into three players who posted historical stats in 2018. Kelce is definitely the least likely of this group to fall out of the top five based on his history of success. However, his 1,336 receiving yards last year were the second-most by a tight end ever, and his 10 touchdowns were a career high.
Kittle broke the record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377 yards in only his second year, but most of that was done without Jimmy Garoppolo. In the eight games Kittle has played with Garroppolo, he's only recorded 27 receptions for 415 yards and one touchdown. Finally, Ertz's 116 receptions last year broke the record for receptions by a tight end, and he never had more than 112 targets in his five seasons before 2018.
Not to mention, both Ertz and Kittle are facing increasing competition for targets in 2019 as both the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers brought in a pair of wide receivers through the draft and free agency. Regression is the key for all of these players, and it will likely hit owners hard.
Ryan Kirksey, Writer
Prediction: Chris Carson finishes as a top-three running back in PPR formats in 2019
Among all running backs with at least 150 carries in 2018, Carson ranked eighth in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry and ninth in total NEP. That was better than Saquon Barkley, James Conner, and Nick Chubb, among others. After only earning 48% of his team's rushing attempts and 24 targets in 2018, a healthy Carson's usage explodes to 65% of his team's rush attempts and 50 targets.
On a Seattle team with the league's highest run-to-pass ratio, Carson's 2019 numbers replicate Shaun Alexander's 2003 season: 326 rush attempts, 1,435 rushing yards, 59 targets, 42 receptions, and 16 total touchdowns.
Mark Leipold, Writer
Prediction: Marvin Jones finishes as a WR1 and leads the Lions in receiving
Just one year removed from a season (2017) in which he totaled 1,101 receiving yards (ninth among all wide receivers) and 9 touchdowns (third-most among wide receivers), Marvin Jones enters 2019 on an offense bound for positive regression as a no-doubt starter opposite Kenny Golladay. The Detroit Lions will feature the coveted consolidated passing attack where targets funnel to a few players, as they have an old and ineffective third receiver, a rookie tight end, and Kerryon Johnson as their top running back (who is adequate in the passing game but not elite).
Jones is destined (assuming health) to see a significant target share from Matthew Stafford, who is coming off of really the only down year of his career (he had more than 4,250 yards in all other seasons since 2011). Jones led the league in air yards on his completed passes in his 2017 boom season with 915 total, and studies have shown that air yards are stickier year-over-year than yards after the catch. Even without a Golladay injury, it's easy to imagine a world where Jones connects on a lot of deep balls with Stafford and posts very strong fantasy numbers in 2019. Also, 13 end zone targets in 9 games in 2018 and 15 end zone targets in 16 games in 2017 are also highly encouraging marks.
Gus Logue, Writer
Prediction: Alvin Kamara will not finish as a top-10 fantasy running back
Mark Ingram was suspended for the first four weeks of the 2018 season. After Ingram returned from suspension, Kamara saw 18.0 fewer snaps, 6.1 fewer touches, and 5.9 fewer red zone looks per game. He averaged 34.02 PPR fantasy points per game from Weeks 1 through 4 (an average that would have ranked first at the position) and 19.83 PPR fantasy points per game the rest of the season (which would have ranked ninth).
Ingram signed with Baltimore this offseason, but the Saints added running back Latavius Murray and tight end Jared Cook, who are both expected to have significant roles in New Orleans. Workload has always been a fantasy concern with Kamara, and he may not get enough touches to be considered a consensus top-five fantasy pick at this time next year.
Justin Manuel, Writer
Prediction: Tevin Coleman is a top-10 running back by the end of the season
Tevin Coleman has a lot going for him, including an above-average run-blocking offensive line and a super soft run defense schedule. Jerick McKinnon's injury allows for a clearer path to RB1 numbers, especially at the start of the season, making Coleman a virtual lock for the starting job. The 49ers' defense is also improved from last season, which should equate to improved game-scripts for Coleman to play from ahead.
Adam Nessel, Writer
Prediction: Nick Chubb will finish as top-four running back
Chubb averaged 18.9 PPR points per game and 20.6 touches per game from Weeks 7 through 16 last season, and Chubb is a back with huge-play ability on every touch. Now with Duke Johnson gone, he has a chance to increase his receiving role. The Browns' offense should be one of the top in the league, and Chubb could have extremely high touchdown equity. Kareem Hunt could be rusty after missing nearly a year, and it remains uncertain how the Browns' coaching staff will use him upon his return.