Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Offseason headlines star Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, coaching changes
Heath Cummings gets you up to speed on the biggest offseason headlines and what they mean for Fantasy, from Antonio Brown to major coaching changes and everything in between.
We talk every year about how the term 'offseason' is a misnomer in the NFL. Is there ever a time when this league doesn't have the spotlight? 2019 has been no different. We've got coaching changes, monster trades, and one offensive juggernaut falling apart while a new one forms. We lost the greatest tight end of all time and an offensive genius came out of retirement. Did another come out of college?
The 2019 'offseason' has been a blast. Now it's time to figure out what it means for Fantasy.
The Killer B's Broke Up
This didn't come as too much of a surprise, but it's shocking when you put it in perspective. From 2013 through 2018, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown accounted for 15,195 yards and scored 109 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2019, they'll both be in different uniforms. The Fantasy implications are massive and far-reaching, in Pittsburgh and beyond.
For the first time in years, it's tough to trust Ben Roethlisberger as a surefire No. 1 quarterback. In the past six years he's only played one game without either Brown and/or Bell on the field.
At the same time, this presents an opportunity and a challenge for both James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. They both have the potential to finish in the top five at their position this season, but they'll both see more attention than they ever have. Smith-Schuster will have to deal with consistent double teams for the first time in his young career. Conner will either have to do more in the passing game or face more eight-man boxes, something teams wouldn't have dared to do with Brown on the field.
Brown heads to Oakland to try to prove he can continue to be the most productive wide receiver in the NFL without an elite quarterback. He should elevate Derek Carr, though not to the point you'd consider starting him week in and week out. We'd also expect Brown's efficiency will suffer, which could easily drop him outside of the top eight receivers in Fantasy.
Bell landed in New York and there are far more questions about him. New head coach Adam Game has a history of using a committee at running back and has talked about how they'll use Bell heavily in the passing game but may limit his carries more than the Steelers did. Bell will be in a worse offense, with a worse line and. He could still be a No. 1 running back but he's no longer in contention to be the No. 1 running back.
The Browns Win the (Offseason) Super Bowl!
While the Steelers were dismantling their star-studded offense, the Browns were building one of their own. We'd already seen how exciting Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb could be with Freddie Kitchens running the offense, but the addition of Odell Beckham sent expectations through the roof.
Mayfield will enter 2019 with arguably the best set of weapons in the league. Beckham has averaged 92 receiving yards per game in his career and scored double-digit touchdowns three times already. And he did that with a declining Eli Manning throwing him the football. If he sees the same target share he did in New York, he could be the best receiver in Fantasy.
Jarvis Landry is an excellent secondary option who should have no trouble getting open with Beckham drawing attention. He may see his target share dwindle, but that already happened when Kitchens took over in 2018. An increase in efficiency could put him squarely in the top 20 receivers.
Chubb topped 1,000 total yards and scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie despite not starting until Week 7. Opposing defenses are going to be so terrified of this passing game they won't dare stack the box to stop Chubb. If that's not enough, the Browns signed Kareem Hunt, who will be available after his eight-game suspension is served. All Hunt has done is average 110 yards per game and score 25 touchdowns in his first 27 NFL games.
With these weapons (plus David NJoku!) Mayfield is a consensus top-five quarterback entering the year and could challenge Patrick Mahomes for No. 1 overall if things go right. He was outstanding in his final 10 starts of 2018 and looks like a future star.
Arians, Kingsbury Arrive to Save The Day
There are always a lot of coaching changes in the NFL offseason, but this year felt different with how Fantasy-relevant the moves were. We'll break these down one by one, leaving out the Browns because you already know how I excited I am about them. I'll start with the moves I find most encouraging and move towards the less certain. We'll finish with a couple I have a hard time imagining will have a positive impact for Fantasy.
Buccaneers hire Bruce Arians
This is by far the most exciting change of the season. The weird thing is, the Buccaneers were fantastic for Fantasy in 2018 and they might be even better now. That will mostly center around how quickly and how well Arians meshes with Jameis Winston. Winston has put up enormous numbers in games he's started and finished but he's never quite put it all together for a full Fantasy season.
Six times in his 14-year career Arians has led a top-three offense in total yardage, and his last two seasons in Arizona the team was in the top five in pass attempts. A lot of those attempts went to David Johnson and the Buccaneers don't have an obvious running back to fill that role. But they do have something Arians never had, an elite tight end in O.J. Howard. Don't expect a great mind like Arians to be too stuck in the past with how he distributes the ball; he'll get the ball to his best playmakers.
Arians' arrival, coupled with the loss of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, could mean big things for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Don't be surprised if they're one of the best receiving duos in Fantasy.
Finally, the running back situation could be one of the most profitable on Draft Day. Peyton Barber enters camp as the starter but there has been offseason buzz about Ronald Jones, who has a higher ceiling. Even undrafted free agent Bruce Anderson earned praise during OTAs. If any back grabs a feature role in this offense and holds on to it for 14 games I would expect them to be a top-20 running back.
Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury
This may have been the second most exciting hire of the offseason, but I'm not sure any of us know exactly what to make of it. Kingsbury spent six years as the head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders and ran a very fun spread offense. The offense was pass-heavy, and the targets were receiver-heavy.
Of course, the Cardinals didn't just replace their head coach. They have new weapons everywhere. No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray enters 2019 as a boom-or-bust Fantasy option. He makes big plays with his arm, but his size and experience loom as question marks.
They also drafted a trio of receivers in Hakeem Butler, Andy Isabella, and KeeSean Johnson to go along with Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. If one of these guys could emerge as a true No. 1, they could have instant Fantasy appeal, but it does seem more likely Kingsbury's offense spreads the ball around, limiting everyone's upside.
We'll have to wait and see how Kingsbury affects the value of David Johnson. Johnson was a top-12 back in 2018 by virtue of health and volume. Kingsbury's system could open more holes, but it could also limit Johnson's rushing opportunity.
Packers hire Matt LaFleur
We'd probably have been more excited about the Packers hiring LaFleur before he spent a year as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. But at the very least he should bring more creativity than Mike McCarthy.
LaFleur has talked about wanting to run the ball more and it's true that the last three offenses he's been a part of have been more run-heavy than the Packers were last year. That would be good news for Aaron Jones, who has been extremely efficient when he's been available. It's less clear what that would mean for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams.
Rodgers has attempted at least 572 passes in each of his last three full seasons and Adams broke out last year at least partly because of a career-best 169 targets. Rodgers could make up for a small dip in attempts if his touchdown rate bounces back and he's more efficient on a per-attempt basis with more open targets. It seems more likely to be a small downgrade for Adams, who may have to share more than he did in 2018. He'll still be a top-10 receiver, but it could be tough for him to be top five again.
Bengals hire Zac Taylor
The Sean McVay coaching tree continued to grow when the Bengals tabbed Taylor, who enters this job with a very limited history of calling plays. What we do know about Taylor screams West Coast offense, with a relatively normal run-pass split. The positive is that it shouldn't be much for Andy Dalton and the rest of the offense to pick up what Taylor wants to do.
The only real question I have about Taylor's offense is what the target split looks like between A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon. We've seen Green be an elite receiver before, but his two best seasons came when he saw 164-plus targets. If he's in the 130-140 range he may be more of a high-end No. 2, but if he's a target hog it will be tough for Boyd to match last year's production. And Mixon has elite upside, but not if he sees a downgrade from last year's four targets per game.
Dolphins hire Brian Flores
We're still in the mystery section of the coaching changes, but we've also transitioned into the less-than-optimistic section. Flores has been with the Patriots for the past 15 years, coaching the linebackers for the past three. He may turn out to be a very good head coach, but he does not have a resume that screams Fantasy upside. He doesn't have the roster either.
The biggest decision Flores will make this offseason is whether to use Kenyan Drake like a featured running back. The one time in Drake's career he's been given the chance to carry the load, he was fantastic. In the final five games of the 2017 season, he saw 21 touches per game and picked up 594 yards. Unfortunately, Flores' opening statements on the subject did not sound encouraging.
Normally when we have a first-year coach with no playcalling experience we can look to his offensive coordinator for a clue, but Chad O'Shea has been coaching for more than 20 years and has never been a playcaller himself. The Dolphins are a black box in terms of offensive approach and that box contains few exciting Fantasy options anyway.
Josh Rosen got a raw deal in his first year in Arizona, with very little help from the coaching staff or his weapons. Miami looks like it could be a repeat.
Broncos hire Vic Fangio
Like Flores, Fangio is a defensive coach, albeit an older and more experienced one. He's spent 19 years as a defensive coordinator. The only offensive tendencies I'd ascribe to Fangio would be a desire to protect the ball and protect the defense. I certainly wouldn't expect they'll be one of the more pass-happy teams in the league, and that makes sense with Joe Flacco at quarterback, at least until Drew Lock is deemed ready.
What also makes sense is hiring a coordinator who runs a Gary Kubiak-like offense in Rich Scangarello. Flacco and Scangarello have gotten off on the right foot according to early reports. It will be a West Coast offense, and I would assume a fairly conservative one at that. That should be good news for Phillip Lindsay and could be a boon to an underneath route runner like DaeSean Hamilton.
Jets hire Adam Gase
It's weird that Gase is the second-most experienced "offensive coach" hired this offseason and he's the guy I'm most concerned about. It's especially weird when you consider how excited we were for the impact Gase was going to have in Miami. The problem is we haven't seen Gase orchestrate a successful offense that didn't have Peyton Manning at quarterback. Sam Darnold may have a bright future, but he's certainly not Manning yet.
The Dolphins were one of the slowest offensive teams in football the last two seasons in Miami. They never finished in the top half of the league in total points or yards and only once in rushing or passing yards under Gase.
The most important Fantasy piece in New York is Le'Veon Bell. Gase's impact on Bell will come down to how often the team targets its running backs and whether they employ Bell as a workhorse or go with a committee approach like Gase did in Miami. He's implied he wants to throw the ball to Bell often but has also indicated they'll spell him in the running game.
As for Darnold and his receivers, Gase's history is in conflict with the Jets' talent. In Miami, Jarvis Landry was the only consistent Fantasy receiver and it's hard to imagine a receiver less like Landry than deep-threat Robby Anderson.
Dolphins Believe in Josh Rosen
It was a long couple of months for Josh Rosen, but he found a new home in Miami shortly after the Cardinals selected Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in the draft. But the writing for his departure had been written on the wall since the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury. Miami isn't exactly a great landing spot for a young quarterback, but it's certainly better than being stuck behind Murray.
Rosen's immediate competition in Miami will be Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the Dolphins should start the young guy from Day 1 because they need to figure out if Rosen is their franchise quarterback. Rosen will learn a new system, and Miami's lack of talent in the passing game makes Rosen a nonstarter in anything but a two-quarterback league for 2019.
But you shouldn't write him off for the future. We're still talking about a quarterback who was a top-10 pick just a year ago and threw for 3,756 yards his junior year at UCLA. Rosen is an intelligent quarterback with a strong arm and the ability to make all of the throws. In the right system, with the right weapons, he still has starting quarterback upside in Fantasy.
This is exactly the type of quarterback I want to pick up off the scrap heap in Dynasty with the hopes he'll make an impact in a year or two. He won't be free in that format, but he'll be cheap enough you won't feel it if you end up cutting him in the future.
Gronk Rides Off Into The Sunset
First, let's start with the obvious. This is terrible. Gronk is the greatest tight end to ever play the game and football won't be as fun without him. It almost certainly won't be as fun for Tom Brady.
Over the past eight years, Brady has been about 20 percent worse without Rob Gronkowski on the field. He's thrown for fewer yards, averaged fewer touchdowns, and hasn't been as efficient when Gronkowski has sat. That's especially troubling for a QB on the wrong side of 40 who was only a borderline No. 1 quarterback in 2018. He's a fine late-round option to play against good matchups, but don't draft him early based on his name.
The one guy who could benefit is Julian Edelman. He's the only sure thing in this receiving corps and has been a target hog when the team has been without Gronkowski. After his suspension in 2018, Edelman was a top-10 wide receiver in PPR scoring and we'd expect similar production this season if he can stay healthy.
The team also added Demaryius Thomas, N'Keal Harry and Benjamin Watson in the offseason. Thomas has some appeal if he can get and stay healthy. But he's 31 years old and coming off the second Achilles tear of his career. Expectations should be muted until we see him produce. I'll have almost no interest in Watson. Over the past 16 games Gronkowski has missed, the Patriots have mostly ignored the tight end position. Harry is the most interesting of the three, but it still seems likely he's behind Edelman and James White in targets.
So which Fantasy Football busts should you avoid in your draft? And which superstar QB isn't a trustworthy QB1 option? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Allen Robinson's disappointing season, and find out.
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