Growing up, my family never had a move that necessitated me changing schools. So, from kindergarten to eighth grade I was in one place and then, just like most of my classmates, I moved over to the local high school for the next four years of my life. The importance of this fact is small, but it’s also in stark contrast to the three football players we’ll be focusing on in this article. They didn’t change schools this offseason, yet, they did swap teams. New coaching staffs, new environments, and, crucially, new offensive systems. Sometimes a new destination in free agency or a trade can have a subtle impact on a player’s fantasy relevance and other times it can be a more jarring transition. Today, let’s zero-in of the latter. Player movement specifically within extreme positional target shares from last season.
JARED COOK, NEW ORLEANSPPR ADP: 76.8 (TE8)
To be absolutely clear, there really isn’t any way to spin leaving the Raiders for the Saints as a net negative. However, it should be noted that New Orleans’ pass distribution in the red zone in 2018 was unique. No team in the NFC targeted their tight ends on a lower percentage of throws inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line than the Saints at just 10%. Still, there’s much more to unwrap than a single ratio. First and foremost, the red-zone volume in general was elite for New Orleans. Drew Brees’ 93 attempts in these scenarios was the fifth-most in football and he completed those passes at an efficiency of 72.0% – the highest mark in the NFL among qualified QBs. Additionally, the Saints were one of three teams averaging more than four red-zone possessions per game (4.2). Still, despite ranking as possibly the most economical pivot in the history of the sport, we might have to account for a tiny step back in Brees’ output heading into next season. Though he remained with the league leaders in red-zone volume, Brees’ total number of throws has dropped off propitiously the past two seasons since leading the NFL in pass attempts back in 2016. He mustered just 489 last year, his lowest total in almost a decade-and-a-half. Because of this, Brees had to rely on an unstable touchdown rate of 6.5%. With New Orleans having clearly switched to a more run-heavy approach, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see Brees below 30 passing touchdowns in 2019.
The question would then become: who’s sacrificing high-leverage opportunities for the benefit of Cook? Internally, the veteran should have little competition from the blocking-oriented Josh Hill or the likes of Dan Arnold; but, the Saints basically ran a targets duopoly in 2018. Michael Thomas (146) and Alvin Kamara (98) were on the receiving end of nearly half of Brees’ intended passes last season and that hierarchy was only amplified in scoring situations. Thomas and Kamara were the lone set of teammates to each finish inside the top 5 in red-zone targets with 29 and 26, respectively. Sure, Tight Ends coach Dan Campbell has spoken hypothetically about breaking out the “Jimmy Graham” playbook for the incoming Cook; however, he’ll always be the clear third option in whatever scheme New Orleans trots out. That’s also not even taking into account that Kamara sat second in the NFL in red-zone carries, either. Should Cook be considered a top-flight, mid-tier option at usually shallow position? Of course. Yet, I’d be careful getting too excited about his prospects next year.
DESEAN JACKSON, PHILADELPHIAPPR ADP: 120.0 (WR48)
To be fair, by this point in most drafts you’re really only selecting high-upside fliers, but let’s delve a little deeper into the homecoming of Jackson; who will turn 33 years old by the end of next season. At this stage in his career, it’s very obvious what archetype of receiver Jackson is. Despite his relatively advanced age for the position, Jackson led all qualified WRs in yards per reception in 2018 (18.9), the third time in the past five seasons that the then Tampa Bay Buccaneer accomplished the feat. Jackson also possessed the highest average depth of target for any receiver with over 30 catches to his name (19.6), besting the second-place Robby Anderson by over two full yards. It doesn’t appear that he’s losing any burst, either. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 20-plus mph on 15.4% of his 52 touches last year, a figure that represents the highest rate in the league among skill position players. He can still go and get it, it’s just a matter of how consistently can we expect that trait to be utilized back in Philadelphia?
The first thing to consider is that Carson Wentz has been pretty pedestrian when it comes to throwing the deep ball throughout his career. As it pertains to passes that have exceeded 20 yards, Wentz has completed a mere 34% of his attempts and the former first-round pick has a modest 1.0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Now, the presence of a legitimate down field threat will surely assist those bland numbers; yet, it’s also not as if we have a track record of Wentz leaning too heavily on his WRs – at least not in 2018. In the 11 games Wentz was behind center for the Eagles, Philadelphia was the lone team in the NFL that targeted its receivers on fewer than 50% of intended throws.
Conversely, from Week 3 to Week 14, no squad saw a higher percentage of passing attempts directed at tight ends. Zach Ertz is simply everything in the Eagles’ offensive attack. He was the only Philadelphia player with more than 100 targets, the only player with more than 70 receptions, and the only player with more than 850 receiving yards. Heck, even back-up tight end Dallas Goddert finished fourth on the team in catches by year’s end (33). Jackson’s game is already one of high variance. He’s not someone who’s likely to see consistent targets in a vacuum. However, in a system so centered around a single player, I’m having a difficult time seeing Jackson as anything more than a best-ball option.
DONTE MONCRIEF, PITTSBURGHPPR ADP: 136.2 (WR53)
When it comes to draft board helium, we’re generally talking about players who rise up through the ranks in August. Taking advantage of a strong preseason or possibly a teammates’ injury in camp. Yet, when it comes to Moncrief, we’re already seeing the impact that simply donning the black and gold can have on a player’s fantasy outlook. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Moncrief has already made the jump from 14th-round pick as of mid-June to 12th-round selection on June 25. It’s understandable as to why, too. Last week, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote the Moncrief “looks like a slam-dunk No. 2 receiver” while Ben Roethlisberger has also gone out of his way to praise the Ole Miss product’s integration into the Steelers’ offense. If to be believed, this would be massive news for Moncrief’s viability, as Pittsburgh has consistently run an attack focused on volume at the receiver position. In fact, no receiving corps could claim to have seen more targets than the Steelers’ group in 2018. These are the types of things that can happen when your quarterback drops back an NFL-high 713 times and directs his passes at WRs at a whopping 66% rate.
Sure, no one is going to confuse Moncrief for Antonio Brown, but I’m hard-pressed to find a reason that Pittsburgh would suddenly drastically alter an offense that led the AFC in pass ratio a season ago (67.4%). Roethlisberger’s affinity for utilizing his wideouts isn’t a one-year blip on the radar, either. Prior to ranking first in WR targets in 2018, the Steelers sat second in the category in 2017 and fourth by the metric back in 2016 – a setting that predates JuJu Smith-Schuster. As you might imagine, Roethlisberger doesn’t seem to care who he’s throwing to outside the hashmarks as long as he’s the one throwing; a philosophy I’m confident he’s eager to showcase now that a certain former teammate is now California-based. Moncrief still has work to do in significantly separating himself from James Washington, Diontae Johnson and Ryan Switzer; however, any way you slice it, 168 targets and 24 red-zone looks just opened themselves up. With Roethlisberger under center, that volume isn’t simply going to disappear.
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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.