2019 Bold Take for Every Team: NFC
Here we go again. As we are on the precipice of a new season, analysts throughout the industry start to present their hot/bold takes. And here I am, doing the same thing as so many others, just adding to the pile. Many present their takes for attention and/or with very little evidence to support their theses. This is where I separate myself. With the help of FFStatistics (@FFStatistics_), I can defend my bold takes, making them actionable advice. Previously I wrote about the AFC here. Now, here are my 2019 bold takes for every NFC team.
David Johnson will disappoint… again
“Disappoint” is a relative term here. After all, David Johnson did finish as the RB9 last season. However, DJ was being drafted second overall last season. So many who drafted DJ felt he was a disappointment last season. Currently, DJ is going seventh overall, as the RB4. While there is a little less risk of disappointment, he is still going fairly high in drafts.
There are two issues with Johnson this season. First, he is now in a brand new offensive system with a brand new coach to the NFL and a rookie quarterback. A lot of things can go wrong here. New head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, ran the Air Raid offense at Texas Tech. The Air Raid offense emphasizes short passes instead of running the ball. In the five seasons that Kingsbury was the head coach at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders passed the ball nearly 65% of the time. While DJ is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, this limits his upside. Also, there were only two running backs that caught 30+ receptions under Kingsbury, DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams.
Rookie quarterbacks generally do not fare well. Since 2000, there have been six rookie quarterbacks out of 38 to play in 13 or more games that have finished as a QB1. Four of the six ran for over 450 yards. Only two of them threw for over 4,000 yards. Kyler Murray has a legitimate chance at finishing as a QB1 because of his rushing upside, having run for 1,001 yards in his final season at Oklahoma. However, how Murray will fair passing the ball is still up in the air, as only three rookie QBs have thrown for over 4,000 yards since 2000 and only 15 have thrown for over 3,000.
Second, the Cardinals defense is poor. They allowed the 13th most yards last season and seventh-most points. Now they are without superstar cornerback Patrick Peterson for the first six weeks and lost the other starting cornerback, Robert Alford for a significant chunk of the season to a leg injury. So now the Cardinals are starting a rookie and journeyman at CB for the first six games. Add that to the fact that the Cardinals gave up the most yards on the ground last season and you have a perfect storm for falling behind early and often. What this means is the Cardinals are likely going to be throwing a lot in 2019, which also caps Johnson’s upside.
So, while DJ can and likely will finish inside the top-12 are RB in 2019, this is not where he is being drafted and therefore will disappoint.
Devonta Freeman will finish as an RB1
People seem to have forgotten who Devonta Freeman is. He is the running back who finished as the RB1, RB6, and RB13 in three straight seasons from 2015-2017. People have forgotten because he sustained multiple concussions in 2017 and then dealt with injuries in 2018, effectively missing the entire season. Find a more in-depth article about Freeman here, by Phillip Caldwell (@DumpsterDiveFF).
In 2019, Freeman is healthy and on fresh legs. The Falcons drafted two offensive linemen in the first round. They also hired a new offensive coordinator yet old face in Dirk Koetter. Koetter has led his RB1s to five top-12 fantasy seasons and seven top-24 seasons since 2007 as an offensive coordinator and head coach.
Tevin Coleman is also gone. Coleman took increasingly more touches every season, which helps explain Freeman’s decreasing fantasy finishes. The new Falcons RB2, Ito Smith, is not Tevin Coleman. While Smith, and to a smaller extent Brian Hill and Quadree Ollison, will siphon carries from Freeman, it will not be near the extent that Coleman did.
With the combination of health, offensive line upgrades, a new OC, and Tevin Coleman gone, Freeman is looking at a bounce-back season. Thus, Freeman will finish as an RB1in 2019.
Cam Newton will support two top-36 WRs
This may not seem much like a bold take until we take a look at Cam Newton’s history. Since he entered the league in 2011, Newton has never helped a WR2 to a top-36 fantasy finish. In fact, he has only supported one top-12 WR in his career.
A major reason for this is Newton’s propensity to throw to his tight ends. However, Newton’s favorite target, Greg Olsen, has not been healthy over the last two seasons, dealing with multiple injuries to his foot. It is unknown whether Olsen’s foot will hold up in 2019, but it is a bad bet that he will remain healthy throughout the season.
In step young WRs DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. Moore was generally thought of as the WR1 of the 2018 class. Samuel had a rough start to his career with a broken ankle requiring surgery ending his 2017 season. In 2018, they both had strong seasons. After Samuel came back from surgery for a heart palpitation in Week 5, Moore and Samuel were the WR23 and WR26 through Week 17 respectively.
With the injury-prone Greg Olsen likely missing games this season and the way Moore and Samuel ended the 2018 season, both will finish inside the top-36 in 2019.
David Montgomery will not meet his ADP
This is mostly not a dislike of David Montgomery as a football player, though there are questions. This is largely about the situation Montgomery finds himself in. Many will disagree with me because people are reminded of Kareem Hunt (which Montgomery is not) under Matt Nagy, formerly the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator now Bears head coach.
However, many like to conveniently forget that Montgomery has to compete for touches with two talented running backs in their own right. Tarik Cohen, of course, finished as an RB1 in 2018. In 2017, he finished as a top-36 RB despite being held back by his coaching staff. In each of his first two seasons, Cohen has over 150 touches.
The RB that people seem to forget or downplay the most is Mike Davis. Davis finished as the RB36 despite only 154 touches or opportunities. When given the chance at significant touches, Davis finished as a top-12 back three times and as a top-24 back six times. Now, that is not to say that Davis will continue to garner more touches. The point is to say that Davis is a productive running back that will likely siphon touches from Montgomery.
The Bears offensive line was bad last season. They ranked 28th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards.
With a relatively poor offensive line and two talented RBs siphoning touches away, Montgomery will be a disappointment and not meet his RB19 ADP. It is likely he finishes outside of the top-24 RBs in 2019.
Dak Prescott will finish as a top-five QB
Dak has finished as a QB1 in all three seasons of his career, including the QB6 in 2016. So, it is safe to say that is Dak’s floor.
Now, he did all of this without a true WR1 to throw to, until the second half of 2018. The Cowboys acquisition of Amari Cooper for a 2019 first-round pick kicked the Cowboys offense and Dak into high gear. With Cooper, Dak’s attempts, completions, yards, and TDs all increased while his interceptions decreased. With Cooper, Dak was on pace to finish as the QB2.
There is an argument to be made that the potential holdout of running back Ezekiel Elliot could affect Dak. In the eight games without Zeke in his career, Dak projected as the QB13 versus QB2 with Zeke. But, the flip side of that argument is that Dak did not have the WR duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup to throw to. The absence of Zeke could also result in Dak having to throw more.
With Amari Cooper for a full season, Michael Gallup entering his second season, and the potential absence of Zeke causing him to throw more, Dak will finish as a top-five QB in 2019.
Kerryon Johnson will finish as a top-10 RB
Kerryon Johnson was one of the more exciting rookies in 2018. Despite coaches choosing to give less talented running backs touches, especially early on, Kerryon excelled. Up until his season-ending injury in week 11, Kerryon consistently increased in his PPR fantasy points output.
Now Kerryon enters the season as the lead back. He also has a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell. Bevell has a reputation as a run-heavy OC. Since 2006, Bevell’s RB1s have finished as a top-12 fantasy RB eight times in 12 seasons. Before 2015-2017, when Bevell’s RBs dealt with a multitude of injuries, the RB1 averaged nearly 300 carries.
Theo Riddick is also gone. Riddick was the primary pass-catching back for the Lions over the last five seasons. Over the last four, he has averaged nearly 62 receptions per season. This opens up a lot of targets, most of which theoretically can and should go to Kerryon. 70 or more targets are in Kerryon’s range of outcomes.
After proving himself in his rookie season, Kerryon is the Lions top RB. Now in a more run-heavy offense and with the primary pass-catching back out of the way, Kerryon will finish as a top-10 RB in 2019.
Green Bay Packers
Jimmy Graham will be a top-10 TE
A lot of people do not seem to realize that Jimmy Graham was a TE1 in 2018. Is it because he was a relative disappointment compared to his past self? Is it because Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have a reputation for not throwing to tight ends? Regardless, Graham was the second-highest targeted pass catcher for the Packers in 2018.
Graham actually underperformed last season with only three touchdowns. This equates to a 3.5% TD%, well below his career average of 7.5%.
With some questions around the wide receivers behind Davante Adams, Graham is arguably the second pass-catcher for the Packers. After an 89 target season, look for Graham to be top-10 in 2019.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff will finish as a top-five quarterback
Considering that Jared Goff finished as the QB7, this take should not be as bold as it is. A lot of people are down on Goff after the second half os 2018 and his Super Bowl performance. What people seem to have forgotten is that Goff was the QB3 for the first 10 weeks of the 2018 season.
Why through Week 10, you may be asking yourself? Because that is the week that wide receiver Cooper Kupp tore his ACL. Cooper Kupp played in eight games in 2018, missing the other eight due to multiple knee injuries. In the first five games of the season, Kupp was the WR4 before going down with an MCL sprain in Week 6. Kupp played an additional two games in Weeks 9 and 10, tearing his ACL in Week 10, in which he produced 19.9 and 8.9 PPR points.
After Week 10, Goff struggled. Before Kupp’s injury, Goff only produced one fantasy fame under 15 points, in Week 6 when Kupp went down early and he had to play a vaunted Denver Broncos defense. That was in 10 games. After Kupp’s injury, Goff produced three games under 15 fantasy points in six total games. Ultimately, Goff produced over four PPR points fewer without Kupp in 2018.
Kupp seems to be ready for week 1. While you should be cautious as it generally takes a year to return to 100% from an ACL tear, this is promising for Goff in 2019. The Rams have arguably the most explosive offense in the league. With Kupp back along with Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, and rookie Darrell Henderson, Goff will finish as a top-five quarterback.
Adam Thielen will not finish as a WR1
Adam Thielen has finished as the fantasy WR8 and WR7 in each of the last two seasons. Thielen tied Calvin Johnson record of eight straight 100-yard games to start the 2018 season. Everything went downhill from there. Through Week 8 of 2018, Thielen was the WR1. Weeks 9-17, Thielen was the WR23.
This is in large part due to the return of running back Dalvin Cook. Cook struggled with hamstring issues for the first eight weeks of the season while fully recovering from an ACL tear in 2017. After Cook came back in Week 9, Thielen only out produced him twice according to PPR points and their general trends were opposite, with Cook’s three-week rolling average going up and Thielen’s going down.
The Vikings have also indicated that they want to run the ball more. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired because they were throwing the ball too much to the tun of the fourth-highest pass to run ratio on the season, second-highest under DeFilippo. The last three weeks of the season after DeFilippo was fired, the Vikings had the 9th-lowest pass to run ratio.
The Vikings retained interim OC Kevin Stefanski, who called plays the last three games of the season. They also hired Gary Kubiak as an offensive consultant and Rick Dennison as the offensive line coach. Kubiak and Dennison have been together for years, starting with the Broncos in the 1990s to now and they have only been away from each other two years in that period. Since 2000, RB1s under Kubiak have averaged 235 carries, RB2s 105. On the flipside, Kubiak’s starting QBs have averaged 417 passing attempts, which is considered low.
With the Vikings retaining Stefanski and hiring Kubiak and Dennison, they will run the ball more in 2019. This will, in turn, take opportunities away from Thielen, resulting in him finishing outside the top-12 WRs.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees will finish outside of the top-12 QBs
No one can deny that Drew Brees is a future hall-of-famer. He currently ranks first overall in career passes completed and passing yards and second in touchdowns. In terms of fantasy, Brees has finished as a QB1 in every year since 2004.
However, Brees’ last two seasons have been his “worst” since 2004-2005. This really has nothing to do with a decline in ability from Brees, but more about a shift in the Saints offense. In each of the last two season, Brees has thrown fewer passes than the previous six seasons, and it seems to be on a downward trajectory. In 2018, Brees threw the fewest passes of his career in a full season.
Meanwhile, the rushing offense has been emphasized more in the last three seasons in New Orleans. After several seasons of finishing in the high-teens at most in terms of rushing offense, the rushing offense has ranked higher in each of the last three seasons, including first overall in 2018.
Finally, Brees had one of the most efficient seasons of his career. Last season. His TD% was 6.5%, 1.2% higher than his career average and the highest since 2011. He also had the highest yards per attempt since 2011 and adjusted yards per attempt of his career. These are candidates to regress.
With the Saints emphasizing the run and throwing less along with Brees likely to regress from last season, Brees will finish outside of the top-12 QBs for the first time since 2003.
New York Giants
Evan Engram will be a top-five tight end
The Giants are likely in for a rough season. First, they traded away their star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Second, they are starting decrepit QB Eli Manning, who is in the twilight of his career.
OBJ has been one of if not the most productive WRs in terms of fantasy points per game since he entered the league, including being as good as or better than superstars like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
However, OBJ has been injured each of the last two seasons, missing 16 total games. In his absence, someone had to step up. That someone is tight end, Evan Engram. While Engram was productive with OBJ in the lineup, he stepped it up when OBJ did not play. In the last two season, Engram has averaged over two more targets, over 20 more yards, 0.13 more TDs, nearly 8% higher target share, and 4.5 more fantasy points per game without OBJ.
Manning has been… not great in the last few seasons. He has not finished as a QB1 since 2015. However, he is better with Engram in the lineup than without.
Manning may not last the entire season as the starter, though. If that is the case, nobody knows how rookie Daniel Jones will use Engram. Regardless, Engram will have a role, no matter the quarterback. Engram gains more of a roll in this offense without OBJ. This is why he will be top-five in 2019.
Alshon Jeffery will be a top-18 WR
Alshon has not been healthy for the last several seasons. After missing 12 games in 20115 and 2016, Alshon played with a torn rotator cuff in all of 2017 and then missed the first three games of 2018. He has still been productive the last two seasons, finishing as the WR21 and WR26 respectively.
Alshon’s quarterback, Carson Wentz, has not been healthy in the last two seasons either. He missed the last three games of 2017 with a torn ACL. then he missed the first two games of 2018 recovery from said ACL tear and the last three games with a back injury.
Together, Alshon and Wentz make up a great duo. Alshon is the WR16 with Wentz and the WR22 without.
With both Alshon and Wentz healthy entering 2019, expect them to connect once more and for Alshon to be a top-18 WR.
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo will finish outside the top-20 WRs
A lot of people are still grasping onto the home Jimmy G gave them in the last five games of 2017. In those games, Jimmy G threw for over 1,500 yards en route to five straight wins. In terms of fantasy, Jimmy G was the QB7.
However, a deeper look at his numbers as a 49er shows us that Jimmy G has not been great. His TD/INT ration is just 12/8. His INT% increased from 2017 to 2018 and his COMP% decreased. Jimmy G’s 3.4% INT% would have finished among the bottom of the league. Of course, this is a small three-game sample size from 2018, so this could all be a fluke.
News out of 2019 training camp was that Jimmy G was struggling. He threw five straight interceptions in camp one day. His first preseason action he went 1 for 6 with an interception. Meanwhile, Nick Mullens, the 49ers backup, has been as good as Jimmy G in his games as a starter. In terms of fantasy, Mullens has been better.
The quarterback position is deep right now and Jimmy G has been mediocre as a 49ers QB. If Jimmy G struggles, he may lose his job to Nick Mullens. If he plays the entire season, he will still finish outside the top-20 QBs.
Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson will finish top-12 at their position
Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson were a special pair of teammates in 2018. Lockett had arguably the most efficient season for a WR since 2000. Carson finished fifth in rushing yards in only 14 games. They will be even better in 2019.
As was mentioned, Lockett had an extremely efficient season. He produced the highest points per opportunity among WRs since 2000. He also produced the eighth-highest TD% since 2000 for WRs with 50 or more targets.
Lockett was only targeted 70 times last season, producing 965 yards and 10 TDs. He is a prime candidate for regression. However, Doug Baldwin retired this offseason, which should lead to more targets for Lockett and mitigate the regression in efficiency. Baldwin, before last season’s injuries, garnered over 20% target share in every season from 2014-2017. In the last three, he finished as the WR14 or better. For reference, Lockett was only targeted 16.6% of the time last season. While we cannot expect all of Baldwin’s vacated targets to go to Lockett, we can expect a significant portion to go to him. This is especially true because Lockett looks to take over the primary slot receiver position, where Baldwin played most of his snaps.
We can get an indication of what Lockett will look like without Baldwin from last season. In three games without Baldwin, Lockett was targeted 28% of the time. This would have amounted to 101 targets on the season.
The only reason Carson did not finish as an RB1 last season is that he was not used much in the passing game. The minimum targets an RB1 received last season was 35. Carson was only targeted 24 times.
There is hope, however. Carson will continue to receive a healthy number of rushing attempts next season in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. Schottenheimer’s RB1s have received an average of 249 carries per season. Schottenheimer has also stated that Carson should get 50 targets this season. This would have been more than enough to finished as an RB1 in 2018.
With the retirement of Doub Baldwin, Lockett will receiver more targets. While he is bound to regress in efficiency, the increased targets should mitigate the regression. Schottenheimer indicates that he wants to use Carson more in the passing game. Both of these things will allow Lockett and Carson to finish in the top-12 at their respective positions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dare Ogunbowale will lead TB RBs in fantasy points
Is this a bold take? I don’t really know. The Tampa Bay backfield is not good, to say the least. The current RB1 on the depth chart, Peyton Barber, has not been effective running the ball with a 3.82 yard per carry average in three seasons. He also has only 41 catches on 52 targets.
2018 second-round pick, Ronald Jones, was disappointing in the 2018 preseason and only carried the ball 23 times and was targeted nine times in his rookie season. He has not been noteworthy this offseason except for the news that he was catching the ball using odd angles with his hands. Jones only had 32 receptions in three seasons at USC. Jones also has been a liability in pass protection with some busted blitz pickups.
Dare Ogunbowale is the darkhorse in this backfield. He currently sits third on the depth chart but can easily overtake the other two. Though Dare has been in the league two seasons already, this will be the first time he will get to see touches on offense. In college, Dare was largely used as the pass-catching back at Wisconsin, though he did have a season of 194 carries and over 800 yards on the ground. In his last two season, Dare recorded 36 and 24 receptions.
Dare has a chance to supplant Barber and RoJo because of his pass-catching ability. While Arians does not have a history of using RBs in the passing game outside of David Johnson in 2016, his RB1s and RB2s average a combined 70 targets per season.
The Bucs defense finished last in the league in Football Outsiders DVOA. They allowed the second-most points in the league. This offseason, they did not do much to upgrade that defense, which means they will be giving up a lot of points again. The more points they give up, the more they need to score, which means throwing the football. Dare is the most competent pass-catcher in the Buc backfield and therefore he will have the most fantasy points among Bucs RBs in 2019.
Washington Football Club
Derrius Guice will be the only player to finish top-24 at his position
The Washington Football Club’s offense is bad. They are starting a journeyman at quarterback in Case Keenum who likely will not hold onto the starting job with rookie Rookie Dwayne Haskins looming. The WR1 is either Paul Richardson, whose best season was 703 yards and 6 TDs in 2017 with the Seahawks, or rookie Terry McLaurin, whose best season in college was a sub-15% market share. Their TE1, Jordan Reed, is in the concussion protocol, his seventh documented, and has never played in a full season in his career. Finally, their star left tackle, Trent Williams is holding out for a new contract. The Washington Football Club’s offense is in shambles.
There is some good news, however: Derrius Guice is healthy. After tearing his ACL in the 2018 preseason and suffering some infection setbacks in his recovery, Guice received his first carries in a real game situation in a year. And he looked pretty good too. Guice ran for 44 yards on 11 carries in Washington’s Week 3 preseason game.
Guice was named the starting running back for Week 1. The time Guice carried the ball in a meaningful game was in college. The last two seasons of Guice’s college career, he eclipsed 1,350 yards from scrimmage and had double-digit total TDs. He also caught 27 balls in the last two seasons, so he does have some pass-catching chops. Suffice it to say, Guice is extremely talented.
While there are some roadblocks to Guice realizing his full potential with Chris Thompson being the primary pass-catching back and Adrian Peterson coming off of a 1,000-yard season in 2018, Guice is the best RB in Washington D.C. Keep in mind, Thompson has played one full season in his career and missed 12 games in the past two seasons. Peterson is 34-years-old. Guice could very easily become the bellcow for Washington.
Regardless, Guice will get enough work to finish as a top-24 RB. And he will be the only offensive player to finish top-24 at their position.