One of the oldest and most often used tropes in sitcoms are the episodes when a character — or many characters — run into someone who is almost their double in every single way, but for a few minor differences. Usually we coin these people as “Bizarro” versions of said character; a term created by DC Comics and more recently baked into the mainstream consciousness by the aptly named Seinfeld episode, “The Bizarro Jerry.” Anyway, if we’re to glean anything from this writer’s tact it’s that life is a series of repeating patterns and that no one is special or unique at all. Remember that before you go to sleep each night, kids.
I bring all this up because being successful at fantasy football is all about the ability to identify similarities between players on a season-to-season basis. Now, that’s not to say that the next Patrick Mahomes is around every corner; however, if you look close enough, we can certainly pick out a few individuals entering familar territory in 2019.
2019 ANDREW LUCK: CAM NEWTONAlso Known As: “Previously Injured and Undervalued QB”
Past accomplishment can only be used to justify so much in fantasy — especially when severe injury is involved — but if we learned anything from the case of Andrew Luck last season, a solid track record shouldn’t simply be overlooked. Despite missing all of 2017 due to a right shoulder ailment, Luck was able to finish 2018 as QB5 in standard scoring formats; a result that delighted the many who were able to draft the quarterback well outside the top-10 at the position. Sure, Luck’s ADP rose incrementally with every completed preseason pass in August, yet this was still a player thought to carry major risk and someone who was to be avoided by those looking for a steadier presence at QB. Still, one quick look at his career numbers should have quelled some of that hesitation. The Stanford product had been QB4 in 15 games of action as recently as 2016 and had outscored every other pivot on the strength of 40 touchdown passes in 2014. The ceiling was evident at a position where it’s often best not to reach early in drafts, anyway. Not to mention a position where most of any risk is diminished by a stable of viable streaming options for any given week.
Luck’s prior circumstances are extremely reminiscent of how prospective owners are currently treating Cam Newton. Another former first overall pick from earlier this decade, Newton was forced to miss the final two games of the Panthers’ 2018 season after suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder. The issue also effected the quarterback in the final few starts he was physically able to make. However, unlike Luck, Newton won’t be sidelined for long. In fact, the 30-year-old has already been medically cleared to throw and is expected to be a full participant when Carolina’s training camp opens up on July 25. Newton finished as a top-10 QB in eight of his 14 starts this past season — an output that bested Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Lest we forget that Newton was the league’s second-highest scoring quarterback in 2017, too — a campaign where not a single man to line up behind center scored more fantasy points per drop back than the Auburn product (0.57). The fact that Kyler Murray is being picked before Newton makes my head hurt. It’s truly nonsensical.
Newton won’t benefit from some of the same luxuries as Luck did in his return to the field. The Panthers won’t run the league’s highest tempo offense, his weapons at receiver and tight end aren’t as proven and he won’t have football’s second-best pass blocking line by adjusted sack rate keeping him upright. However, on that last point, Carolina definitely took steps to keep their franchise quarterback better protected in the near future. The team brought in Matt Paradis as a free agent and selected Mississippi’s Greg Little in the second round of this April’s NFL Draft. They’ll also get the services of right tackle Daryl Williams back after the 26-year-old was only able to play in a single game during 2018. Considering Newton’s usually operated with an offensive line that ranks in the lower-half of the league in pass protection, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with some time in the pocket. It’ll be equally interesting to see when Newton’s draft stock starts to rise as people collectively come to their senses.
2019 DEMARYIUS THOMAS: ALSHON JEFFERYAlso Known As: “Big-Bodied WR That Suddenly Loses Viability”
While its easy to suggest that Demaryius Thomas’ production just fell of a cliff without notice last year, the writing was a little on the wall back in 2017. Coming off a fifth-consecutive campaign of at least 1,000 yards receiving, Thomas finished his age-30 season with a mere 949 yards on 83 catches. However, instead of placing the blame on Thomas himself, justification for the underwhelming output was put squarely on the shoulders of Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler. The thing about scapegoating those two individuals is that I completely understand doing it. Neither is particularly good at throwing a football at a professional level; which, if I’m being honest, is about the lone job requirement for being the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Still, Thomas’ numbers in a vacuum weren’t pretty at all, especially from an efficiency perspective. In fact, of the the 23 receivers to compile at least 100 targets that season, Thomas’ 6.98 yards gained per target was the third-lowest mark of the group. It was a figure that bettered only Jarvis Landry, whose 6.28 aDOT was one of the smallest rates in the NFL, and Dez Bryant, who was playing in what might amount to his final year in the league. In retrospect, this is not the kind of company you want a man expected to be a WR1 keeping.
There was one other wideout in 2017 with over 100 opportunities in the passing game and a yards per target of under 7.00 yards. That person was Alshon Jeffery. Playing in his first season with Philadelphia, Jeffery turned 113 targets into an identical 6.98 yard rate; the direct result of the one-time Pro Bowler converting an anemic 50.4% of those chances into actual receptions. It probably goes without saying, but that was the lowest catch rate of any receiver with 75-plus targets that year. This wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon, either. Jeffery had hauled in fewer than 60% of his targets in each of the three seasons prior to 2017, with his highest yield in the category for his entire career coming during 2013 at just 60.1%. Essentially, what you have to understand about Jeffery is that he’s never been an efficient WR. Well, except for this past year when his catch rate suddenly jumped up to 72.2%. A clear outlier when juxtaposed to his NFL resume. That hyper-productivity also translated to Jeffery’s performance in the red zone, where only Calvin Ridley and Cameron Brate were able to score as many touchdowns as the 29-year-old (6) on fewer targets (14). So, even if you don’t think Jeffery’s about to slow down in his eighth season, understand that normalization is on the horizon, anyway.
Efficiency is important in general when dealing with who to draft in fantasy, but its an extra-crucial element specific to Eagles wide receivers. With Zach Ertz the clear No. 1 option within Philadelphia’s passing attack, WRs on the team’s roster are somewhat left fighting for the scraps. Consider that a paltry 48% of the Eagles’ targets in 2018 were directed at wideouts – the lowest rate in the whole league. Additionally, factor in that that figure drops even lower to just 44% when Philadelphia found itself lucky enough to be in the red zone. Nelson Agholor finished last season with more targets than Jeffery, JJ Arcega-Whiteside was drafted in the second-round a couple months back, and DeSean Jackson was signed as a free agent. Between roster surplus, regression, and inefficiency, there’s a lot of hurdles standing in Jeffery’s path to a productive 2019. He’s currently being drafted as a WR3 – and that’s a relatively fair price – but my confidence in Jeffery is minuscule. Is it all that crazy that we view him in a similar vein to Thomas by year’s end?
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.