We all know what the term “Deja Vu” means. It’s the feeling you experience when you have the nagging belief that you’ve lived through a precise situation previously. It’s also the name of a middling Denzel Washington movie from 2006 that somehow grossed over $180 million, but that’s less important right now. It would stand to reason that one is more likely to confront the sensation of deja vu if they were living a monotonous and repetitive life; pretty much the description of anyone who’s obsessive about fantasy football. Admit it, after doing this stuff for a couple of years, the patterns that emerge become pretty clear. Sleepers, busts, out-of-nowhere surprises; at a certain point, nothing really shocks the system anymore.
So, today, let’s attempt to get out in front of deja vu. Let’s predict the players that will be making most say “this seems familiar…” in . three months time. Let’s pinpoint fantasy options that are following a very similar path to notable NFL players from 2018.
2019 JAMES CONNER: JUSTIN JACKSONAlso Known As: “Holdout Handcuff RB Lottery Ticket”
Despite the premise of this article, it would be foolish to think that any two holdout situations are exactly the same. However, if there was ever a team in the NFL that I was positive could make this contract dispute last all year – much like the Le’Veon Bell holdout from last season – it’s the notoriously cheap Chargers. Really, that’s the most crucial element of this whole scenario. While James Conner was fortunate to be rostered under a coaching staff that had a clear history in favoring a bell-cow running back approach, the real reason for his fantasy relevance was game volume; just like pretty much any other running back in the league. Still, that’s not to say that Jackson might not find himself garnering upwards of 18-to-20 touches per contest if Melvin Gordon is traded or continues to sit on the sideline. Gordon saw at least 70% of Los Angeles’ offensive snaps in seven of the nine games prior to his injury in 2018, while he was also third in the NFL in carries (284) during a full campaign of work in 2017. The framework is there for Jackson to become one of the more involved RBs in fantasy, even with Austin Ekeler maintaining a similar role to the past season. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t seen Jackson outperform Ekeler, either.
After Gordon’s MCL injury popped up in a Week 12 victory over the Cardinals, Ekeler was given an opportunity to be the lead-back in a matchup with the Steelers. The 24-year-old proceeded to gain just 21 yards on 13 attempts. Jackson, on the other hand, rattled off 63 yards on eight carries, including an 18-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to give the Chargers the lead. Now, to be fair, Ekeler was the better running back in next week’s win against the Bengals; but an ailment to Ekeler freed up Jackson to take on a majority of the snaps in a Thursday night meeting with the Chiefs – proving the rookie had the ability to produce with that type of workload. Again, with Ekeler in the fold, it’s unlikely we see Jackson monopolize Los Angeles’ backfield in a similar vein to what Conner was able to do; yet I’d be floored if we didn’t at least see a committee approach where Jackson leads the team in carries and receives the goal-line chances. That’s about all you can ask for with a player that you’re not spending a lot of draft capital on.
The other ingredient to Conner’s success last year was environment. Pittsburgh was one of the league’s more high-octane offensive systems, with established offensive line play and a willingness to involve the running back in the passing attack. Does that sound like another team you know? It should. While the Steelers averaged 26.8 points per game in 2018, the Chargers sat just .02 of a point behind them at 26.6 – good for the sixth-most in football. Additionally, Los Angeles sported the fifth-best run-blocking offensive line by adjusted line yards (4.80) and, over the past two seasons, Philip Rivers has checked-down on a whopping 8.7% of his passes; the third-highest rate for a quarterback with a starting job heading into 2019. Yes, the Russell Okung injury could affect the unit’s overall potency, but, in terms of situation, they don’t come much better than Los Angeles. If Gordon isn’t around to reap the benefits, you can be sure Jackson will be more than willing.
2019 MATT RYAN: JARED GOFFAlso Known As: “Late-Round QB That Finishes Top-5 at the Position”
In retrospect, we all should have seen Matt Ryan’s 2018 bounce-back coming. I mean, in a way, we’d already seen the script play itself out. Ryan, who was being drafted as QB13 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, was coming off a season where he’d thrown for 4,000 yards for the seventh time, but possessed a microscopic 3.8% touchdown rate to show for his troubles. However, this was not the first occasion where a low touchdown rate had crippled Ryan’s fantasy value. In 2015, the veteran managed just 21 touchdown passes – at the time, the lowest output since his rookie year. Yet, how did he fare in 2016? He’d only lead the NFL in QB rating (117.1) and yards per attempt (9.3), while putting up a career-high 38 TDs. Not surprisingly, Ryan was also named First-Team All-Pro that season. Though the accolades weren’t quite as lofty last year, Ryan was still able to finish as QB2 in standard formats, with Patrick Mahomes the lone pivot to outscore him. This underlies a common trend in fantasy football when dealing with quarterbacks. With so little often separating the league’s third-best QB from its fifteenth, there’s usually no reason to spend up at the position. Heck, Ben Roethlisberger finished as QB3 and he was being taken right behind Ryan in drafts. There’s always someone who infiltrates the top 5 by season’s end.
That’s where Goff comes into the conversation; however, unlike Ryan, it’s not even like the former first-overall pick has anything he needs to rebound from. After breaking out in 2017 in his initial season under the tutelage of Sean McVay, Goff only continued to grow in 2018. He finished fourth in passing yards (4,688), second in 300-plus yard games (8), and sixth in passing touchdowns (32). He was a legitimate MVP candidate for most of the year, wound up as QB6 in fantasy, and helped lead his team to the Super Bowl. Yet that seems to be where things get a little dicey. Goff completed just half of his 38 attempts against the eventual Champion Patriots on that February evening, while also throwing an awful and costly interception late in the game. That effort – against one of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history – along with a winter full of jokes at McVay’s expense, appear to have colored people’s perception of what exactly this Rams offense is capable of. Sure, it was funny when anyone who’d shared a drink with McVay got hired as a head coach this offseason; but, while teams around the league search for the “Next McVay,” Los Angeles has the real deal. They have the guy who engineered an attack that led the NFC in points (30.8) and red-zone scoring attempts (4.6) per game last season. Ryan had to find his way back up the mountain without the aid of Kyle Shanahan. Goff still has McVay. Nothing’s changed expect for how much the team seems willing to utilize Todd Gurley; a philosophy wrinkle that should impact Goff’s volume in a positive manner.
I guess the most interesting aspect of Goff’s current ADP is how we seem to be collectively treating him in comparison to his stable of receivers. Despite the fact that Goff isn’t, on average, one of the first 10 QBs off the board in 2019, all three of his top wideouts are being taken within the first 50 selections. Correlation is a complex thing, but I’d imagine the path to Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp all reaching value this coming season involves Goff playing at an incredibly high level. That, or we’re all expecting a ton of Johnny Hekker trick plays. Kupp, by himself, is such an important piece to Goff’s ceiling. Consider that in the six games the slot receiver was able to play at least 60% of the Rams’ snaps, Goff produced an eye-popping 83.2% adjusted completion percentage to go along with an average of 352.5 passing yards per contest. That type of production – or even the possibility of that type of production – deserves to be thought of in a more glowing regard. Goff doesn’t have to improve to be a top-5 quarterback this year, he was already there. For a man entering his fourth professional campaign with Sean McVay at his side, that’s a pretty tantalizing proposition.
Put your knowledge to the test. Sign up for DraftKings and experience the game inside the game.
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.