Friday, January 25, 2019

Never Too Early 2019 Fantasy Football Rankings

We haven't even officially wrapped up the 2018 season, but we all know how this is going down in Atlanta, right?  The Patriots start off slow.  All of the non-New England people get their hopes up.  Then Goff starts screwing up, the Patriots get a couple of calls and probably a wild/lucky play, and they win by a Vinatieri field goal.  Or Gostkowski.  Whatever.  Same thing.

Image result for sony michelYes, I'm reverse-jinxing the HELL out of the Patriots.  We'll see if it works.

The FantasyPros Expert Tool has 2019 draft rankings available, so I'm taking full advantage.  It's never too early to start thinking about next season, and the FantasyPros tool even has rookies available to rank.  I put a few in as placeholders for now, and I'll talk about some of them along with some notes about each position.

Let's get right to it, shall we?

While I did put Mahomes in a QB tier of his own, I did not rank him in my top-24 overall.  That means I'm likely not drafting him until after I've taken a RB and/or WR (or another RB) in the first two rounds.  I realize the kind of season he had, but it's also going to be very difficult to replicate.  Aaron Rodgers always feels like a sure thing...until he isn't.  With guys like Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger available late in 2018 fantasy drafts, there will be so much value at this position later in 2019 drafts that I can't justify Mahomes in the first two rounds.  I'd much rather wait and get someone like Wentz, Winston, or Baker Mayfield (all of whom I believe have top-5 upside).  In fact, I have Wentz in my top-10 for next season while the ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) has him at #15.  I'm lowest versus the ECR on Cam Newton (me QB15, ECR QB7) because I'm worried about that throwing shoulder of his.  Whenever there's talk in January about a guy potentially missing the entire next season, he moves down my draft board.Image result for baker mayfield

A guy you won't even see on my QB list is Alex Smith.  Sadly, I don't think he'll play this season.  But we'll see.  I think the Redskins will make a run at guys like Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles, but I fully expect them to end up signing someone like Tyrod Taylor.  Or maybe we'll offer the Ravens a 3rd rounder for Flacco if they throw in a side of RGIII.  NOTE: I hope that doesn't happen.

A couple of rookies expected to be drafted highly in April are Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray.  It's also possible guys like Daniel Jones and Drew Lock are first rounders too, but they don't excite me for fantasy this season.  Haskins and Murray could each be interesting if drafted highly and thrust right into starting gigs, so they both crack my top-30 QBs.

While Todd Gurley is the obvious #1 RB (and #1 overall player) in fantasy, I have Alvin Kamara hot on his heels at #2.  I expect Mark Ingram to go elsewhere in free agency, and Kamara has a good shot at ending up as the best player in fantasy in 2019.  Most experts have Saquon and a few others above Kamara, but not me.  I'd be thrilled to get him in the middle of the first round.  Le'Veon Bell barely sneaks into my top-12 RBs, but I'll end up moving him up if he lands in a good fantasy spot.  But if he ends up with a team like the Jets, he might fall down my rankings ever so slightly.

Image result for le'veon bell kareem huntOne guy to keep an eye on in the coming weeks/months is Kareem Hunt.  I have him easily in my top-30, while the ECR has him as the #41 RB.  I just think some team will take a chance on him sooner rather than later.  And while he might miss a few games due to a certain league suspension, if you get 10 games out of Kareem Hunt in a starting role, he'll probably be a top-12 RB those weeks he plays.  Of course he also might not play a snap in 2019, but I don't see that happening.  Time will tell.

The guy I'm lowest on versus the ECR is Damien Williams (ECR RB25, my rank RB45).  The Chiefs extended Williams toward the end of the 2018 season, and he played well down the stretch and in the playoffs.  However, I think he's an insurance policy with Spencer Ware likely gone in free agency.  I fully expect Andy Reid to draft the next Kareem Hunt on April 25th or 26th.  While Josh Jacobs will likely be off the board by the time the Chiefs make a selection, Darrell Henderson or David Montgomery might be available, and I'd be all over either one in fantasy drafts if they end up in KC.

It feels weird not having Antonio Brown in my top-5 WRs, but he's been weird himself lately.  His actions are going to make him hard to trust, especially if he's with a new team/quarterback.  If he's back with Ben in Pittsburgh for another season, I might bump him up.  We'll see how it all shakes out though.  I'm really high on Tyrell Williams versus the ECR (me WR46, ECR WR77).  I think he's a talented receiver, and he'll likely be on a different team next season.  A fresh start doesn't always work out for WRs, but in his case, he could go from a third option to a first or second option. 

Image result for tyrell williams chargersAs for rookies, I haven't really dug into this group much yet.  The names I've consistently seen in the first round of mocks are: Marquise Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and N'Keal Harry.  If any of those guys get drafted by a WR-needy team with a good QB, that would be very interesting.  I'm thinking...Packers, Patriots, Colts, and Texans.  Maybe even the Steelers if AB leaves town.  Also if the Browns draft a WR in Round 1, I'd really like that for Baker.  For now, I've ranked those 3 in my WR50-60 range.

I don't have much to say about my tight end rankings versus the ECR, but one guy to keep an eye on in the offseason is Gronk.  I owned him for the first time I think ever this season, and he was so frustrating.  If Brady plays another year, I have to think Gronk does too.  But even if he doesn't retire, he'l be hard to trust as a top-5 tight end.  I don't have him anywhere near that right now.
Image result for rob gronkowski

I've actually seen a couple of tight ends in the first round of mock drafts, and they're both from the same team!  T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are both leaving Iowa for the NFL, and if either lands in a good spot, I might consider them at the very end of a fantasy draft.  Rookie tight ends usually don't produce right away though, so neither guy is likely to be much of a fantasy asset in 2019.

Image result for nick bosa cardinalsThe Cardinals should immediately get better on defense, assuming they take Nick Bosa with the #1 overall pick.  So I've bumped them up a couple spots higher than I originally had them.  If the Jags and Ravens also go defense in the first couple of rounds of the draft, I might move them up with the Bears in my overall rankings.  But ranking defenses in January is a pretty boring topic, isn't it?  At least I won't talk about kickers though.  I promise!

That's it for my early rankings.  I'll post an update in a month or two if there are any big changes before the draft.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Fantasy Football 2018 End of Year Review

Image result for tom bradyIf you read my Week 16 rankings (a month ago), you know I lost in the semifinal in both of my leagues (one of which by less than a point!).  I finished 3rd in one of my leagues, but not in the one that would've scored me some dollars.  Better luck next year, right?  Well, before we talk about next year's rankings, I thought I'd look back at my big preseason article and see what I got right and what I got wrong.  This will be a long article, but I still like to do this review to both pat myself on the back as well as keep myself honest.

Side note: My wife and I went to the Ravens/Browns game in Week 17 with a couple of friends, and that was...awesome!  I don't think I'd ever experienced such a big game like that (outside of a playoff hockey game), but an NFL game to win the division was pretty cool.  With the NFL playoffs nearly over at this point, let's start by taking a look back at my REAL football predictions for the 2018 season: 

AFC East: New England Patriots
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans
AFC West: Denver Broncos
AFC Wild Card1: Jacksonville Jaguars
AFC Wild Card2: LA Chargers
[Patriots over Steelers in AFC Championship Game]

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
NFC West: LA Rams
NFC Wild Card1: Green Bay Packers
NFC Wild Card2: Detroit Lions
[Rams over Falcons in NFC Championship Game]

Super Bowl Prediction: Patriots over Rams

In 2017, I actually had my worst year ever with my real football picks, as I only got two out of eight division winners right.  This year, I still only got 3 right!  I feel like there's finally a little parity in the NFL again, with teams like the Chiefs and Bears having great seasons that were mostly unexpected and the likes of the Ravens and Cowboys winning their divisions when everyone had the Steelers and Eagles penciled in during the preseason.  I love it.  This year felt wide open for the Super Bowl.

That being said, of course the Patriots somehow found a way to reach the Super Bow.  That was my prediction before the season began, and I have no reason not to stick with it.  I'd obviously love to see the Rams win this game, but since my Super Bowl prediction is still spot on, I'll roll with it.

Here was my preseason commentary on my predicted standings with one BOLD prediction for each division.  Let's see where I was right and where I was wrong...

AFC East
Prediction: The Patriots easily win the division again, and the other teams all compete for the #1 pick in next year's draft.
BOLD Prediction: The Dolphins, Bills, and Jets fail to combine for more wins than the Patriots.
Result: While the Patriots won the division, the Dolphins were actually way better than I thought they'd be.  I don't really understand how they won so many games this year.  I really don't.  I can't wait for Tom Brady to retire so these other teams can start winning this division again. I really think Sam Darnold or Josh Allen could help their team win the AFC East as early as next year.

AFC North
Prediction: The Steelers are the only team out of the North to make the playoffs.
BOLD Prediction: Last year I said the Bengals would miss the playoffs for the second year in a row (I was right), and Marvin Lewis would lose his job after 15 seasons and zero playoff wins (I was wrong). This year I think the Bengals will finish last in the division (NOT Cleveland).  As for whether or not Marvin Lewis keeps his job?  Who knows with this team?!?
Image result for lamar jackson brownsResult: Believe it or not, this was a bold prediction in the preseason.  But the Browns were a field goal away from having a winning season for the first time in forever.  They were also a couple of bad calls away from potentially winning the division.  Yes, really.  Well, I was right about the Bengals finishing last in the AFC North, and Marvin Lewis is finally gone.  I'm so glad I was wrong about the Steelers winning the division though, and it's so nice to see them miss the playoffs.

AFC South
Prediction: The Jags will regress slightly, and part of that will be due to Indy and Houston being better.  In fact, I think Watson will lead the Texans to the division title, and Jacksonville should get a wild card. 
BOLD Prediction: All 4 QBs in this division will finish the season in the top-15 in fantasy.
Result: I was right about the Jags regressing, but I didn't think they'd be this bad.  I was also way off with my bold prediction about the QBs, but whatever.  I was right about the Texans and Colts being good, and they both made the playoffs.  Andrew Luck is a fantasy force to be reckoned with once again, but Mariota and Bortles?  Not so much.

AFC West
Prediction: Denver goes from last to first in the division, clinching it with a win over the Chargers in Week 17.  However, the Bolts still secure the second wild card spot with 9 wins and a tiebreaker over the Chiefs.
BOLD Prediction: Mahomes is good but not great, and Travis Kelce finishes outside of the top-5 fantasy tight ends.
Result: Wrong on all counts.  I thought Denver still had a chance to make a run at the division a couple months ago, but then they went on to lose their last 4 including games against the Niners, Browns, and Raiders!  Yikes!  Vance Joseph could've used a decent QB in his two years in Denver, but it's tough to argue with Elway firing the guy.  The Chargers got a Wild Card spot, but I didn't think Mahomes and the Chiefs would be this good.  Man, they're fun to watch.
Image result for patrick mahomes

NFC East
Prediction: I was so wrong about the Giants last year, but I do think they'll be better this season.  Most of this division will be pretty average though, and the Eagles will win the NFC East again.
BOLD prediction: Ezekiel Elliot rushes for over 2000 yards.
Result: Technically I was right about the Giants being better this season (based on their record), but they still stunk.  My bold prediction on Ezekiel Elliot was slightly off (ha!), but he did lead the league in rushing (1,434 rushing yards).

NFC North
Prediction: I think this is going to be the best division in football this year, and the Vikings will win the North while the Bears continue to improve. 
BOLD Prediction: Like the NFC South last year, three teams will make the playoffs in this division.
Result: Some people had the Bears as a sleeper pick this year, but I thought they were still a year away.  I was wrong about this division, as the Bears kept the Vikings out of the playoffs by beating them in Week 17, and the Packers and Lions both finished under .500.  I still feel like this is a good division, and I'll have a hard time not picking a couple teams from it to make the playoffs in 2019.

NFC South
Prediction: This division had three teams with 10 or more wins last year, but I don't see that happening again.  In fact, I think just the Falcons make the playoffs out of the NFC South in 2018.
BOLD Prediction: The Saints defense/special teams finishes as a top-5 fantasy unit, but they don't make the playoffs.  I know, that seems impossible.  That's why it's a BOLD prediction!
Result: Well the Saints didn't miss the playoffs, and my bold prediction about the defense was wrong too.  The defense took a while to get going, but if you played them in Weeks 10-16, you got a ton of production.  I guess I was at least right about just one team making the playoffs out of this division.  I just picked the wrong team!

NFC West
Prediction: The Rams will continue to do well in this division, and I think the 49ers will finish 2nd but miss the playoffs.  This feels like a one bid least for another year.
BOLD Prediction: In what is thought to be one of the best home field advantages in professional sports, the Seahawks will finish with a losing record at CenturyLink Field.
Result: Never doubt Russell Wilson I guess.  I really thought the Seahawks would fall off this year with all of their losses on the defensive side of the ball.  Wrong.  Also they were 6-2 at home.  The Niners lost Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3, so it's tough to say how their season might've gone with him as their QB.  I guess we'll have to wait and see how 2019 plays out.

As for fantasy football, let's take a look back at what I predicted for the 2018 season when I wrote my long preseason article back in August.  Before the season started, I asked several hypothetical questions and gave my answers.  Below will include those along with the actual answers now that we're at the end of the regular season...

Q: Who is this year's Alfred Morris (2012), Zac Stacy (2013), Tre Mason (2014), David Johnson (2015), Jordan Howard (2016), or Alvin Kamara (2017)?
[Description: A rookie NOT taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft who is UNDRAFTED in virtually all fantasy leagues.  He's not expected to be the Week 1 starter, but he could really help your fantasy squad by mid-year.]

My preseason Answer: Kalen Ballage
Image result for phillip lindsayActual Answer: Phillip Lindsay
The Broncos drafted Royce Freeman early in the third round, and everyone expected him to have the clear path to be the guy in Denver with C.J. Anderson out of the picture.  But it was undrafted Phillip Lindsay who was the big story of 2018, and he ended up as a top-12 fantasy RB.

Q: Who is this year's Knowshon Moreno (2013), Mark Ingram (2014), Darren McFadden (2015), or Carlos Hyde (2017)?
[Description: Former early round NFL draft pick, career plagued by injuries, but finally finds himself as the feature running back and scores a TON of fantasy points.]

My preseason Answer: Ameer Abdullah
Actual Answer: N/A
This one was always a long shot anyway, but no one really fit this profile in 2018.  If he's still with the Raiders next year (or some team who could use a veteran running back to lead them), I think it's possible Doug Martin finds himself in a position for a fantasy rebirth. 

Q: Who is this year's Danny Woodhead (2013), Darren Sproles (2014), Danny Woodhead (2015), Theo Riddick (2016), or Chris Thompson (2017)?
[Description: Shifty veteran who sneakily finishes in the top-20 overall fantasy RBs.]

My preseason Answer: Bilal Powell
Actual Answer: James White
It seems strange now, but Rex Burkhead was actually getting drafted in Rounds 3-5 (and Sony Michel shortly after Burkhead based on ADP).  As a result of those preseason expectations, White went undrafted in most leagues, but he finished as a top-12 RB this season.  He had some quiet games during Weeks 10-15, but he was one of the most consistent fantasy RBs in the first half of the season.

Q: Who is this year's Keenan Allen (2013), Odell Beckham, Jr. (2014), Tyreek Hill (2016), or JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017)?
[Description: Rookie WR with playmaking ability and a solid QB, who is a late-round fantasy pick or even undrafted in most leagues but ends up being a top-20 fantasy WR.]

My preseason Answer: D.J. Moore
Actual Answer: Calvin Ridley
Image result for calvin ridleyRidley had some big games early on, but then he cooled off down the stretch.  Still, he was involved enough in the game plan and scored enough touchdowns to end up as a top-20 fantasy WR in his rookie season.  If the Falcons decide to move on from Mohamed Sanu this offseason, Calvin Ridley could end up in the top-12 next year.  Of course a lot of that could also depend on what offensive coordinator Atlanta brings into the fold.

Q: Who is this year's Andrew Luck (2013), Russell Wilson (2014), Derek Carr (2015), Kirk Cousins (2016), or Carson Wentz (2017)?
[Description: A young starting QB ready to jump to the next fantasy QB tier.]

My preseason Answer: Marcus Mariota
Actual Answer: N/A
I considered a lot of different quarterbacks in this category during the preseason.  First I thought about Jared Goff, but he was a top-10 fantasy QB last season, and I didn't think he'd make a leap into the top-5 this year.  I also considered Deshaun Watson, but he was already being drafted like a top-5 fantasy QB.  Then there were the second year guys Trubisky and Mahomes, but both really had no where to go but up.  So there weren't a ton of options left to choose from, but you can certainly make the case that Mahomes and Trubisky both made huge leaps this season (because they did, but that was also completely obvious to occur).  That wasn't really the point of this hypothetical question, so I didn't call out either Mahomes or Trubisky and will just say no one really fit this category in 2018.

Q: Who is this year's Cam Newton & Andy Dalton (2013-2014), Ben Roethlisberger (2014-2015), Carson Palmer & Cam Newton (2015-2016), or Matt Ryan (2016-2017)?
[Description: A top-5 fantasy QB who finishes outside of the top-15 the following year, and not due to a serious injury that season.]

My preseason Answer: Carson Wentz
Actual Answer: Carson Wentz
Wentz was returning from a serious knee injury, and the Eagles had every reason not to rush him back.  They kept Nick Foles for a reason, and I predicted Foles would be the starter Week 1.  That wasn't an obvious call during the preseason, as most people expected Wentz back Week 1 (the same way they expected Le'Veon Bell to play football for the Steelers this year!).  I said it was possible Wentz wouldn't see game action until Week 4, and he came back Week 3 (and didn't look great in his first action back).  He had some solid games this year, but since he also missed a handful of games at the end of the season too, he ended up finishing outside of the top-20 fantasy QBs.

Q: Who is this year's Joique Bell (2013), Giovani Bernard (2014), Devonta Freeman (2015), Tevin Coleman (2016), or Alex Collins (2017)?
[Description: A second year running back (mid to late-round draft pick) who is likely the #2 in a timeshare situation but will still find himself as a top-20 fantasy RB in 2017.]

Image result for tarik cohen touchdownMy preseason Answer: Tarik Cohen
Actual Answer: Tarik Cohen
He had a slow start to the season, and it appeared Nagy was going to continue the same old game plan of giving the ball to plodding Jordan Howard 20 times a game.  But starting in Week 4, Tarik started getting more and more involved.  Cohen is one of the most exciting players in the entire NFL, and he finished with 1,169 scrimmage yards and 8 TDs on the season.  Oh, and he also threw a touchdown for the second year in a row (bringing his total TDs to 9 actually).  All of those numbers easily landed him in the top-20 RBs this season and even ahead of teammate Jordan Howard.

Q: Who is this year's Julius Thomas (2013), Antonio Gates (2014), Gary Barnidge (2015), Kyle Rudolph (2016), or Evan Engram (2017)?
[Description: A tight end who is virtually undrafted in fantasy leagues and ends up being a top-5 TE.]

My preseason Answer: Hayden Hurst
Actual Answer: Eric Ebron and Jared Cook
The tight end position this year was a wasteland.  I think about half of the teams in the NFL had their starting TE injured at some point this season.  Maybe even more.  But if you look at the top-5, there are three guys who were drafted fairly highly (Kelce/Ertz, and to a lesser extent Kittle), and there are a couple of guys who were virtually undrafted: Ebron and Cook.  What a weird year for tight ends...

Q: Who are this year's "guys I probably won't be drafting on my fantasy teams"?
[Description: A list of players who for one reason or another likely won't end up on my rosters.]

1. Aaron Rodgers: I wasn't about to draft a QB in the first two rounds, and if you look at how Aaron's season ended up, that's exactly why.  He needed a huge game in Week 16 to barely sneak into the top-10, and if you won your fantasy league this year with Rodgers as your QB, it was because of other players on your roster.  The QB position is so deep, you can end up with a top-5 QB in the later rounds.  Guys like Mahomes and Luck were being drafted in the middle rounds this year, and Matt Ryan and Big Ben were drafted even later.  Speaking of Mahomes, someone is going to draft him in the first two rounds next year, and it won't be me.  I understand the upside, and he was certainly a league winner for a lot of people this year.  But I just can't justify drafting a QB in the first couple of rounds.  Maybe I'll change my mind when I get around to my 2019 rankings, but I doubt I'll have Mahomes in my top-25.

2. Allen Robinson: He was being valued as a top-10 to 15 WR in the preseason, and I had him in the 20-25 range.  He didn't even end up as a top-40 WR this year.

3. Tyreek Hill: I didn't have him ranked as a top-12 WR this season, but I was dead wrong.  He was the #1 fantasy WR this year, and I definitely underestimated both Tyreek and Mahomes.

4. Evan Engram: My preseason strategy with tight end was to draft either Gronk, Ertz, or Kelce in the first couple of rounds.  Other than that, I was going to wait a while on TE.  Well, Kelce was a keeper in my money league, and I drafted Gronk over Ertz.  While that was the wrong call, at least Gronk still ended up as a top-12 TE.  In the end, Engram nearly did as well, but he scored almost ALL of his fantasy points in Weeks 14-17.  I don't know how you could have trusted him as a starter after the season he'd had to that point, but you probably could've found him on the waiver wire if you wanted to play him down the stretch.

5. Jimmy Garoppolo: I didn't understand why everyone had him as a top-10 fantasy QB this preseason.  He got injured super early this year, so this is hardly a "good call".  But I pointed out that he only averaged 1.4 TDs and 1 INT in 5 games with the Niners in 2017.  If you extrapolated his stats over 16 games, he easily would've finished outside of the top-12 last season.  In 3 games this season, he averaged 240 passing yards, 1.67 TDs and 1 INT.  I won't be ranking him as a top-10 QB next season either.

Image result for desean jackson bucs hurt6. DeSean Jackson: I felt like DeSean was way over the hill, but most experts had him in their preseason top-100.  I did not.  He actually had a huge start to the fantasy season, but how many people actually had the guts to put him in their lineups the first couple weeks of the season?  After that, he was very mediocre, and he dealt with a hand injury at the end of the year.  Even when he was playing well early on, he was still on the waiver wire in a ton of leagues.  DeSean Jackson will be on this list again next year if the other experts continue to rank him in their top-100 to 150.

7. Martavis Bryant: He was in the top-150 for most experts in the preseason, but I had a hard time buying into a guy who was one mistake away from a lifetime ban from the NFL.  I also pointed out he was likely going to be the 5th or so option after Marshawn, Cooper, Jordy, and even Jared Cook!  That all turned out to be true.

8. Any Jags WR: With Allen Robinson in Chicago and Allen Hurns in Dallas, the only guy I even considered during the preseason was Marqise Lee, but he had a season-ending injury before the regular season even started.  After that, I still didn't have any idea who I would draft out of these Jag receivers.  Keelan Cole was a waiver wire darling early in the season, and then he was terrible.  Dede Westbrook was somewhat consistent, but you couldn't really trust any of these guys this season.  If the Jags sign a guy like Tyrod Taylor or Joe Flacco, I might trust a Jacksonville receiver next season.  But this turned out to be the right call for the 2018 season.

9. Seattle Defense: No Richard Sherman. No Kam Chancellor.  I thought the Legion of Boom was done.  Before the season started, I said this defense would finish in the bottom-10 rather than top-10 fantasy defenses this year.  I was wrong about that.  They've actually had very similar numbers this season versus last season, and they finished in the top-10.

10. Any kicker whatsoever: My money league voted to get rid of kickers starting this year, so I didn't have to draft one.  It was so awesome.  I even named my team "Dead Kickers Society".  It's amazing not having to start a kicker in fantasy football.  I suggest you do the same in your league.  It's liberating.

That's it for my 2018 end of year review.  I'll get out some 2019 rankings soon!