If we wait until August to start preparing for the NFL season, we’ll be behind. There’s plenty to be gained by following the league closely through free agency, the draft and minicamps. Teams tell us what they’re thinking by actions, not merely words.
Here are five situations I’m watching closely this offseason due to fantasy implications:
1. Who will quarterback the Bucs?The offensive environment in Tampa Bay last season was nothing short of ideal for fantasy. The Bucs had a broken running game which ranked 27th in DVOA, a non-existent TE and RB target share, opponents ran the 4th-most plays per game against them and Tampa was 8th in pass/run ratio. It should have surprised no one that Chris Godwin and Mike Evans took turns breaking the slate on a weekly basis.
All that said, the key to this environment was the relentless vertical aggression of Jameis Winston and his DGAF attitude when it comes to turnovers. It’s not often we’ll find a quarterback who can start all 16 games while throwing 30 interceptions and taking 47 sacks. So while Bruce Arians’ scheme and the Bucs’ lack of run game will be in place no matter what in 2020, losing Winston to free agency would sting Godwin and Evans. It will be impossible to find another quarterback willing to be as risky.
2. What will the Chargers do at running back?Melvin Gordon is an unrestricted free agent. If the Chargers are smart, they’ll let Gordon walk and install Austin Ekeler as a new-age feature back. In today’s NFL, Ekeler’s pass-catching skillset is what wins – as we’ve seen with players like Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and even Dalvin Cook. Even if Ekeler cedes some early-down work to Justin Jackson and gets a downgrade in QB from Philip Rivers, he’ll be an exciting fantasy player in that “pass-catching plus” role. Ekeler easily led all RBs at 1.44 DraftKings points per touch last season, more than CMC’s 1.23 and Aaron Jones’ 1.17.
3. Can Kevin Stefanski fix Baker Mayfield?Baker Mayfield went from a wildly impressive rookie year in 2018 to one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments in 2019. That’s going to create a discount in pricing ahead of 2020. So the question is how much of Mayfield’s woes last season were related to the Freddie Kitchens regime which in way over its head? I suspect that Kevin Stefanski, a very sharp passing-game coach, will help Baker. So will getting more time with Odell Beckham, who played through a groin injury throughout his first season as a Brown. It will be worth watching how Mayfield adapts to this new scheme closely as there’s still a ton of talent in this offense.
4. Will the Chiefs commit to Damien Williams?As we saw in the playoffs (again), Damien Williams can be special in this offense. Of course, we thought the Chiefs realized that after the 2018-19 playoffs. Then they added LeSean McCoy off waivers just before the season and Williams frustratingly devolved into a timeshare back for most of the year. So after Williams went berserk during the 2019-20 Super Bowl run, are they now prepared to ride him for a full regular season? We’ll know based on what kind of personnel moves they make. Andy Reid clearly thought LeSean McCoy was out of gas and didn’t trust Darwin Thompson. Will they add another back this offseason?
5. Can the Cardinals get Kyler Murray help?Kliff Kingsbury wants to run the Air Raid offense. That means shotgun, four wide receivers and no tight ends as a base formation. It also typically means a ton of fantasy points for the quarterback. However, Kingsbury tried to execute this scheme with horribly insufficient personnel last season. Christian Kirk, the corpse of Larry Fitzgerald, Damiere Byrd and KeeSean Johnson were the primary wideouts for most of the year. Andy Isabella could barely get on the field. Still, Kyler Murray was able to finish as fantasy’s No. 12 QB in points per game thanks to the scheme and his rushing ability. If the Cardinals prioritize speed and quality at the wideout position this offseason, Kyler’s ceiling will be unlocked.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) 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.