After dominating sports media since training camps opened in July, there is finally some downtime in the NFL schedule. The Super Bowl is [mercifully] over, and we’re still a month away from the start of free agency and two and a half months before the NFL Draft. But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the NFL will look different when teams return for training camp this summer. A year ago, we didn’t know where Kirk Cousins would be playing next, Baker Mayfield was still trying to convince teams he was franchise quarterback material, and Alex Smith was still technically in between Pat Mahomes and a starting job. Clearly a lot changed in the offseason, and with it so too did the fantasy football landscape. So before this offseason kicks into high gear, let’s look at the moves that could potentially define the 2019 fantasy football season.
How Does the Antonio Brown Saga End?
Say what you want about Antonio Brown being a bad teammate and/or generally a bad guy – the dude is an absolute stud when he’s on the field. No wide receiver has been as consistently dominant in recent seasons as Brown, both in terms of fantasy and actual football. Since 2013, he has averaged (yes, averaged) 114 receptions, 1,524 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Even in you take his lowest totals in each category over the last six seasons, you still get 101 catches, 1,284 yards, and 9 touchdowns (which would’ve been good enough for WR7 status in 2018).
Players like Brown usually don’t switch teams in their prime, but it now looks like he is definitely on his way out of town. Even if he is a massive headache, this is definitely bad news for Ben Roethlisberger, and any Roethlisberger owners in 2019. Logic would dictate that JuJu Smith-Schuster becomes an even more appealing fantasy option, but after going for 111 catches and over 1,400 yards, there really isn’t much room for improvement. In Pittsburgh, the real beneficiary of any Brown trade figures to be James Washington, a 2018 2nd round pick who should see a substantial uptick from his 38 targets last season.
The most intriguing part of all of this is naturally where will Brown end up next. The San Francisco 49ers have been floated around as a potential destination, which makes sense given their lack of a top wide receiver and $75M+ in cap space. The Indianapolis Colts are another candidate, as they lead the league with over $100M in cap space and only have one pass catcher on the roster that scares opposing defenses (T.Y. Hilton). And you can’t discuss the possible trade of a disgruntled star wide receiver without mentioning the New England Patriots, although there’s no chance that Pittsburgh would complete a trade that helps one of their biggest rivals.
Whichever team is lucky (or maybe unlucky, if Brown’s bad attitude persists) enough to land Brown should be able to create a much more dynamic passing attack. That’s good news for his new quarterback, whether that be Jimmy Garoppolo, Andrew Luck, or someone else (Sam Darnold? Derek Carr? Aaron Rodgers…?). And even though they might see few targets, other skill position players will likely benefit as well, with Brown becoming the focal point of every opponent’s defensive gameplan. As for Brown himself, regardless of where he ends up, expect to find him near the top of the 2019 WR rankings.
Our best guess: Brown is traded to the 49ers for their 2019 2nd Round Pick. If you thought the preseason Jimmy G hype was intense last season, you haven’t seen nothing yet.
Who Will Pay Le’Veon Bell?
Ah yes, Le’Veon Bell. The player who single-handedly torpedoed millions of fantasy football seasons in 2018. If you had the misfortune of drafting him last year, hopefully you don’t hold grudges because it looks like Bell might actually play next year! That is, assuming he gets paid…
After holding out all of last season, it’s clear that Bell’s number one priority is money. Which
unfortunately means that he’ll likely end up on some mediocre team that has a lot of cap space. Leading contenders for Bell’s services include the likes of the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, and if he does end up on either team don’t expect Bell to return to his top-3 status in fantasy (although he’d still likely be in the RB1/2 mix).
There is still some hope that Bell might find his way into a competent NFL offense. The Indianapolis Colts and their truckloads of cap space are an interesting option, although to us spending $750k on Marlon Mack sounds a lot better than paying Bell $15M+ per year. Staying in the AFC South, the Houston Texans could be a good fit. They have the cap space (almost $75M), they could use an upgrade at running back (sorry Lamar Miller…), and the rest of their offensive (offensive line excluded) is dynamic. Imagine Bell, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and trendy sleeper pick Keke Coutee all in the same offense. That would be fantasy gold, and just generally very fun to watch. Despite the ill-will we hold towards Bell, that’s the outcome we’re rooting for, but…
Our best guess: Bell turns down a competitive offer from Houston and decides to join the Gruden circus in Oakland – or wherever they end up playing in 2019. Hopefully Le’Veon likes his money, because he won’t be getting many W’s anytime soon.
Is This the End of Eli?
For good teams, people commonly say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For the 2018 New York Giants on offense, you could say the exact opposite. How does a team that features Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard field a mediocre offense? Simple – they have a completely washed quarterback who collapses into a ball whenever a pass rusher comes within two yards of him.
Fortunately for future owners of Barkley or Beckham, it appears that this might be the year where the Giants actually acknowledge that they can no longer win with Eli. Whether it’s drafting a quarterback with the 6th pick, or signing a free agent like Teddy Bridgewater, the Giants should have another legitimate option at quarterback in 2019. All that’s left to be decided is who that will be, and when will they be handed the keys to the car (yes, we’re ignoring the option that the Giants wait for the better QB class in the 2020 Draft, because we cannot stomach another full season of Eli at the helm).
Our best guess: They pick Dwayne Haskins with the 6th overall pick in April. By the end of the preseason, it becomes obvious to anyone who’s ever watched football that Haskins is the better quarterback. So naturally, Eli will be starting until at least Week 10…
Do the Chiefs Add a Running Back?
Initially the question was “Will Kareem Hunt Get a Second Chance?”, but the Cleveland Browns already answered that one with an emphatic yes. So let’s turn our attention to Hunt’s old team. The Chiefs had and will likely continue to have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. Consequently, their lead back should be firmly entrenched in the RB1 conversation. The problem is we don’t know who that will necessarily be.
When Hunt was first released, Spencer Ware was thought to be the successor, however he got injured and was replaced by Damien Williams. Even when Ware was healthy again in the playoffs, Williams maintained control of the Kansas City backfield, and you can see why based on his play. In the five games he started, Williams averaged 72 yards rushing, 42 yards receiving, and had 8 total touchdowns. That’s remarkably similar to the 11 games that Hunt played to start the season, where he averaged 75 yards rushing, 34 receiving, and had 14 touchdowns.
Williams is clearly in poll position for the starting job, but it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why Kansas City was able to pick him up as their 3rd-string running back before last season. Before 2018, Williams was really little more than a change-of-pace receiving back. He never had more than 46 carries, and never averaged more than 4 yards per carry over the course of a season. And while the Chiefs did sign him to a contract extension, $5 million over 2 years is hardly a significant investment in today’s NFL. It’s still a safe bet that Williams will have a significant role in 2019, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he has some company.
Our best guess: Look for the Chiefs to add a rookie running back in the middle rounds of the draft. I’m sure from a talent perspective they’d be happy with Kareem Hunt 2.0, but let’s hope they focus a bit more on character this time around. Assuming they do add someone in rounds 2-4, look for them to be taking the bulk of the Chiefs’ carries by midseason, with Williams functioning as the primary receiving option out of the backfield.
Will Aaron Rodgers Get Some Weapons?
We gave Rodgers the #2 spot in the “wow, he ruined my season” rankings (behind our friend Le’Veon), until we realized that he still somehow ended the season as QB4. It’s pretty remarkable that’s where he ended up, given all the criticism that he (rightfully…?) endured during the season. Still, when you draft a quarterback as early as Rodgers was likely drafted in 2018, you expect better and hopefully better things are ahead for Rodgers in 2019.
There are some signs pointing towards an Aaron Rodgers Redemption Tour next season. He presumably won’t suffer a mysterious knee injury again during the first game of the season and Mike McCarthy is gone, meaning the Packers should hopefully have a little more creativity on offense. The unanswered question, however, is will Rodgers will better players to throw the ball too in 2019. Davante Adams is a stud, but after that there is a steep dropoff. No other Packer had more than 2 receiving touchdowns, and a washed-up Jimmy Graham was their second leading receiver with 636 yards. An optimist from Wisconsin would say that Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison will be healthier next season, but if you’re relying on those two players you clearly have some issues on your WR depth chart.
Fortunately, there looks to be some potential avenues for improvement. Green Bay, armed with two first round picks, could potentially enter the Antonio Brown sweepstakes. A wide receiver tandem of Brown and Adams would be borderline unfair, however it seems fair to worry whether Brown and Rodgers would be able to coexist for an entire season. If the price tag on Brown is too high or the character concerns too overwhelming, Green Bay could explore other trade candidates, including a potential reunion with Jordy Nelson after one forgettable season in Oakland. Alternatively, the Packers could use one of their first rounders to draft another pass catcher, whether that be a wide receiver (apparently there are some big targets in the draft…) or a tight end. And in terms of free agency, Green Bay has enough money to go after someone like Golden Tate, who could serve as an ideal WR2. No matter how they do it, Green Bay needs to improve Rodgers’ supporting cast if he wants to return to top QB status (and he’d also probably need some serious regression from Patrick Mahomes…).
Our best guess: Green Bay ends up snagging Golden Tate in free agency, and Jordy Nelson via trade (at the cost of a late-round draft pick). In the draft, they manage to grab their tight end of the future with their second first rounder, whether that be T.J. Hockensen, Noah Fant, or Irv Smith Jr..