2019 Fantasy Football Opportunity Index: Damien Williams, David Montgomery and Marquise Brown among leaders in 2019 opportunity
Heath Cummings looks at positional opportunity rates to determine which teams have the biggest holes to fill in 2019.
There are plenty of ways to go about targeting players for your Fantasy team. Talent certainly matters, as well as the talent of the surrounding players. System matters too, though less for players with elite talent. But I've not found anything that matters more than opportunity. This is especially true when you're talking about redraft leagues. In a Dynasty league, you may be willing to bet on talent winning out eventually, and it often does. But in redraft, give me the guys with the touches.
Of course, no two years are the same in terms of opportunity. Not with the level of turnover we see in the league. So I put together a chart to show every team's rush attempts and targets by position from 2018, as well as how many of those targets are returning. This shows us just how much opportunity there is around the league.
The full chart is below, but here are teams with the most touches up for grabs in 2019:
Kansas City Chiefs
RB Opportunities: 305
We'll start off with what may just be the most profitable situation in Fantasy Football in 2019. All you have to do is correctly select who will get the lion's share of the 305 targets-plus-carries available in Kansas City. Playing running back for Andy Reid with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback would make just about anyone a top-12 back, regardless of talent.
So why wouldn't it be Williams? His 50 carries in 2019 were a career-high and the Chiefs were busy in the offseason. They signed Carlos Hyde and drafted Darwin Thompson. Hyde profiles as the type of back who could steal touches (and touchdowns) from Williams on early downs while Thompson may just be a younger, fresher version of Williams.
Of course, the reason this position could be so profitable is because we haven't seen Reid employ full-blown committees often in the past. If his history is any indication, one of these backs will see most of those 305 opportunities, barring injury. Williams' value will depend entirely on his draft stock, but Hyde and Thompson are both excellent lottery tickets late in Fantasy drafts.
RB Opportunities: 305
Jacksonville's offense isn't near as good and their case as a leader in opportunity isn't as solid either. While they do have the same number of opportunities available as Kansas City, that's largely because Leonard Fournette missed so much time with injury. The other part of the equation is what T.J. Yeldon did in the passing game, but the Jaguars didn't bring in a true third-down back.
It's possible they see Alfred Blue filling that role, but mostly this looks like a situation where Fournette has a true opportunity to become a star. Yes, there are concerns about his health and attitude, but if he plays 16 games in 2019 he has top-five upside. If he does fall flat, both Alfred Blue and Ryquell Armstead could be waiver wire darlings.
RB Opportunities: 280
With Jordan Howard jettisoned to Philadelphia there's room for a new feature back in Chicago. And I don't think it will be Tarik Cohen. Word coming out of Chicago is the Bears would like to keep Cohen's carries in a similar range, or possibly even decrease them. But they would like to throw him the ball more. That means Mike Davis and David Montgomery have an enormous opportunity.
Howard touched the ball 270 times in 2019 and scored nine touchdowns each of the last two seasons. I'm betting on Montgomery taking the role and running with it in camp but we have to be aware of what happened with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny in 2018. Davis is a capable back who coaches love. Montgomery would be wise to observe why this summer and try to replicate the elder back's effort.
As it stands in May, Montgomery is the rookie running back I'm targeting in redraft, but I'll be watching Davis' ADP and trying to snag him in the double digit rounds. If Montgomery stalls in camp, Davis could be one the best buys in the draft.
New York Jets
RB Opportunities: 269
There may be no more simple opportunity equation than the one in New York. The Jets have so much opportunity precisely because they cleared the path for Le'Veon Bell. If anything, they didn't clear quite enough room for him.
Bell has averaged 26 opportunities per game in his career, or 420 per 16-game season. So if he gets 269 he's going to be a massive disappointment at a first-round price tag. Head Coach Adam Gase has talked about using Bell extensively in the passing game but possibly limiting his work as a running back. That combined with Gase's history of low play totals (and reports he didn't want to spend as much on Bell as the Jets ultimately did).
I don't believe 420 is a realistic number, but I'm not willing to drop Bell below 300 either. He should be a solid No. 1 running back with around 330 opportunities.
RB Opportunities: 254
The Ravens are going to run the ball a ton. The question comes in how many carries any one running back can be expected to see. Once Lamar Jackson took over they were the most run-heavy team in the league, but Lamar Jackson averaged 17 carries per game himself. The rest of the carries were chopped up with Gus Edwards averaging 17 carries and Kenneth Dixon pitching in another eight-to-12 on a weekly basis. Now, they've got company.
Mark Ingram was signed to presumably fill the lead back role and they drafted Justice Hill, who could be a fantastic scat back. And, of course, Dixon is still there. I've projected Ingram to gobble up most of the available opportunities, but I still expect Dixon and Hill to be involved. Even with that clarity, questions about the Ravens defensive dominance, Jackson's rush volume, and a new offensive coordinator leave this situation a bit more murky than we'd like.
RB Opportunities: 234
The Falcons lost Tevin Coleman, but they're getting Devonta Freeman back so this should be pretty simple. For most of the past three seasons this has been a two-headed backfield, even when Freeman and Coleman were injured. I would expect that to continue in 2019, with Freeman leading the team in opportunities but Ito Smith getting a larger share than most backups.
Where this becomes interesting is with Freeman's injury history. He's only played 16 games combined in the past two seasons. Smith is being drafted more like a handcuff than someone who could be useful as a flex when Freeman is healthy and should be must-start if Freeman gets hurt again.
WR Opportunities: 228
In 2018 the Raiders threw the ball to their receivers less than any team other than the Philadelphia Eagles on a percentage basis. And they brought back almost no one. Of course, there wouldn't be much room for those guys anyway with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams now on the roster. The question remains, with more talent at receiver (and no Jared Cook), will Derek Carr look downfield more often?
Brown has seen at least 154 targets every year since 2013 and Williams only has one year with more than 69 targets. That was 2016, when the Chargers were largely without Keenan Allen. So it seems pretty easy to map out how these targets will be distributed.
Of course, Jordy Nelson led the Raiders with a 16.7% target rate on passes from Carr last year, so Carr will have to change for it to be that simple. The most likely answer is a consolidation of targets between Brown and Williams, with a severe drop in tight end targets. But we'll get to that below.
WR Opportunities: 198
This can be a little misleading because there were a lot more targets to go around when Joe Flacco was running this offense. Only 44 of the 166 targets that came from Jackson went to receivers no longer on the team (John Brown and Michael Crabtree). Still, it's hard to imagine the Ravens spent so much draft capital on Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin without a plan to get them involved in the passing game.
The key will be for one of these young receivers to take a firm grip on the No. 1 receiver role. If they both receive 90-100 targets it will be hard for either of them to be reliable Fantasy receivers. Tyler Lockett and Calvin Ridley were the only top-24 receivers last season with fewer than 70 catches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR Opportunities: 184
The Buccaneers were one of the best pass offenses in the NFL last season for Fantasy purposes. Now that Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson have left Tampa Bay, there's an excellent chance for more target consolidation between Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard.
We've already seen what Evans can do with a hefty target share. In 2016 he was the No. 1 receiver in Fantasy. It's no coincidence that was the only year he's ever had more than 150 targets. Godwin and Howard have been highly efficient pass catchers who should both see a bump in volume. While you'd generally expect efficiency to suffer with more targets, the result will be a net positive for Fantasy.
Assuming Jameis Winston stays healthy the Buccaneers are set up to have a pair of top-24 receivers and a top-eight tight end.
WR Opportunities: 183
The Steelers didn't lose a lot of players that contributed in 2018, but the absence of Brown will loom large on this offense. It should elevate JuJu Smith-Schuster to the elite tier of receivers based on volume and still leaves 150-plus targets for someone to step up as a reliable Fantasy contributor.
James Washington, Donte Moncrief, and Diontae Johnson will compete for the role of No. 2 next to Smith-Schuster and the situation is similar to the one in Baltimore. If any one of these three receivers grabs and maintains that role, they'll be vaulted to Fantasy relevance. This has historically been a concentrated offense and my best bet in May would be Washington. But this is a situation we'll catch closely throughout camp. Whoever emerges will be a value on Draft Day.
TE Opportunities: 112
This is one of those situations where the numbers may just be lying to us. Yes, the Raiders do have the most tight end targets available. We just don't know if they're still going to go to tight ends. In fact, I'd bet against it.
Luke Willson, Derek Carrier and Foster Moreau are the current tight ends Carr will be working with and it's just hard to believe he's going to look their way very often with the sudden influx of talent at both receiver and running back.
That being said, quarterbacks do fall into patterns of behavior. I won't be drafting these tight ends but my ears will perk up if one of them is heavily targeted by Carr in the preseason.
New England Patriots
TE Opportunities: 81
This one is a bit odd. On one hand, it's not surprising that the Patriots make the list because they lost Rob Gronkowski. On the other hand, the Patriots were one of four teams to throw the ball to their tight ends less than 15% of the time in 2018. In other words, you'd need to have Gronk-like efficiency to be Fantasy relevant in this offense.
Benjamin Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins do not possess Gronk-like efficiency. If you had to draft one of these guys it would be Seferian-Jenkins, due to Watson's four-game suspension, but I'll be avoiding both in drafts. The Patriots send most of their targets the way of the running backs and any shift away from that will likely be because of N'Keal Harry, not the tight ends.
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