2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Six players worth reaching for on Draft Day
SportsLine Fantasy football expert Matt Franciscovich gives you his list of six players worth reaching for this season.
As part of SportsLine Takeover Day at CBS Sports, here's a free look at SportsLine expert Matt Franciscovich's list of Fantasy players worth reaching for this year. You can get more expert daily and season-long Fantasy help, plus rankings and cheat sheets from the computer model that has simulated the 2019 NFL season 10,000 times, by joining SportsLine right here.
There's obvious and valid hesitation when it comes to drafting Vikings back Dalvin Cook this season. Much of that hesitation is attributed to Cook's injury woes in his two seasons in the NFL. His rookie year was cut to just four games after suffering an early season torn ACL. And last year, Cook seemed to never be 100 percent healthy as he dealt with nagging hamstring issues, and missed five games while splitting backfield snaps with Latavius Murray.
Heading into this season though, the positive drumbeat surrounding Cook has been steady. The third-year pro showcased that he's fully healthy, as evidenced by an 85-yard touchdown run in the Vikings third preseason game. Minnesota's new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who took over late last season, has referred to Cook as a "leader of the offense" and with Latavius Murray out of the picture, Cook has the backfield opportunities to himself. From early down work, to catching passes out of the backfield, to goal-line situations, it's tough to see a scenario where Cook comes off the field.
Right now, the electric back is coming off CBS redraft boards as the RB11 after players like Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon, and Ezekiel Elliott, all who come with major question marks. Cook is a player you won't regret reaching for if you have an early second-round pick and jump a few spots to secure him before your league mates can.
With Ezekiel Elliott still holding out, Tony Pollard has made a name for himself as a preseason darling. Pollard worked exclusively with Dallas' first-team in the Cowboys second preseason game, and capped a 97-yard drive with an impressive touchdown scamper up the middle. A fourth-round draft selection out of Memphis the rookie weighs in at 6-foot-0, 210 pounds, and by all accounts, he's turned heads throughout Cowboys camp.
There is no promising Zeke's holdout will be reconciled by Week 1, which makes Pollard a must-draft whether you end up taking Zeke, or not. Some Dallas beat reporters believe Pollard deserves a significant role in the offense even if/when Zeke returns. And right now, fantasy re-draft managers can look for Pollard at a Round 14-ish ADP, coming off boards super-late as the RB48, making him well worth reaching for a round or two early.
The biggest question with Pollard is, can he handle a bigger workload? He was more of a receiver in college, not a feature back (averaging 46.3 attempts per season) and specialized as a kick-returner. But as NFL.com's Bucky Brooks put it, Pollard's "ability to handle the workload on the kind of smashmouth drive that embodies the Cowboys' preferred style of play certainly eased some of the anxiety associated with an extended holdout from their franchise running back."
It's common knowledge by now that Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is holding out. The latest significant news comes from NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport; an expectation that Gordon's holdout will carry over into the regular season, as Rapoport put it "for the foreseeable future." First of all, Gordon is a big avoid in redraft leagues. But more importantly, Gordon's absence makes way for some incredible draft value for his backups, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Ekeler's current ADP is 68 overall or RB31. That's right. You can snag Ekeler, who with Gordon out has high-end RB2 potential, as the RB31.
Last season, Ekler played in 14 games for the Chargers, and started three. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt on 106 carries, and added 33 receptions on 53 targets, piling up six total touchdowns. He also ranked second among backs with at least 100 attempts in most yards after contact per carry (2.63), per Field Yates of ESPN. The 5-foot-9, 191-lbs back averaged 9.3 FPPG (standard) and 10.7 FPPG (half-PPR) a season ago.
In two 2019 preseason games so far, Ekeler's logged 25 first-team snaps compared to Justin Jackson's 13, according to Adam Levitan of EstablishTheRun.com. At the end of the day, Ekeler brings efficiency, versatility, and the ability to stay on the filed for three downs, for as long as Gordon's holdout lasts. Some may be skeptical of his incrementally rising ADP as the regular season draws closer, but at RB31, he remains worth the reach.
With his arrow already pointing up this offseason, we now have even more evidence as to why Tyler Lockett is set for an even bigger fantasy season and is safe to reach for. Veteran Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin retired, leaving behind an average of about 100 targets per season.
Seattle drafted combine darling D.K. Metcalf, but he's on the shelf recovering from a knee operation. The team's other top WR option, David Moore, went down with a shoulder injury during Seattle's third preseason game, and likely won't be ready for the season opener.
That leaves Lockett as a potential target hog for the foreseeable future, on top of what was already a situation that he was expected to see increased opportunities from his 71 targets in 2018.
Lockett's being drafted at 52 overall, or the WR21 in redrafts per CBS' ADP data. Drafters can feel confident reaching for Lockett as soon as late Round 3 given his ability to produce big numbers both as a speedy downfield target and a PPR-specialist out of the slot.
In the seven games that Lamar Jackson started last season, he averaged 17 rush attempts and 79.4 rush yards per game adding four rushing touchdowns. The rushing yards alone gave Jackson a floor of about eight fantasy points per game, depending on scoring format. Over the course of that seven-game span, Jackson ranked as a top-10 fantasy QB.
As you probably know by now, mobile quarterbacks are a cheat code when it comes to fantasy football. This season, Jackson is a prime late-round quarterback target, as he's the QB15 coming off draft boards. So, if you play in a 12-team league, you can essentially get Jackson for free. And if you add up all of the above, I'm basically saying you can get a top-10 fantasy QB for free in redrafts.
With a year of experience under his belt, Jackson brings an even higher ceiling to the fantasy gridiron this season. He's (hopefully) become a better passer in the offseason, and the Ravens new offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, is a run-first coach and we saw Baltimore lean more into the run in the second half of 2018 as the team climbed back into playoff contention. That's great news for Jackson's fantasy upside, making him well worth reaching a couple rounds for.
The preseason praise for Curtis Samuel has simply not let up. The third-year pro has developed into an impressive and shifty route-runner according to pretty much anyone who has seen him practice in camp or play in a preseason game. And while the preseason hype has rocketed Samuel's ADP into Round 11 in CBS leagues, he's still a player who's worth reaching a round or two for. Especially considering once you get into Round 9 and 10, unexciting names like Jordan Howard and Rashaad Penny start showing up. To get a share or two of Samuel on your squad this season, you're probably going to have to reach for him anyway. The upside is there, just go for it.
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