Dynasty Trade Targets
After the NFL’s newest championship squad has been crowned and the lavish Super Bowl parade has ended so begins my favorite part of the year for dynasty fantasy football. The offseason. In dynasty, there is no such thing. Before the NFL draft and free agency set the rumor mill ablaze now is the time to capitalize on players that are being undervalued in trades.
Before 2018, Matthew Stafford had cemented himself as the perennial late-round quarterback to target. From 2011-2017, Stafford had finished outside the top 12 at his position only once (QB15, 2014). Stafford’s run of dirt cheap draft capital production came to a screeching halt as he finished as the QB19 this past season. In 2018, Stafford passed his lowest yardage total (3,777), second lowest touchdowns (21), and tied his lowest yards per attempt mark (6.8) since becoming a starter. At first glance, with the hiring of Darrell Bevell as the Lions new offensive coordinator, Stafford looks primed to repeat his dismal 2018. This knee jerk reaction stinks of shallow statistical assessment.
In Darrell Bevell’s 12 seasons as offensive coordinator (OC), his quarterbacks have only finished in the top 10 in passing attempts only twice despite supervising Russell Wilson for seven seasons. While Stafford is unlikely to see a bounce back in his passing attempts, after finishing with his lowest number as a starter (555), Bevell’s history provides hidden hope. During Bevell’s last seven seasons as OC for Seattle, Wilson finished top ten in net yards per attempt four times. Bevell’s propensity to dial up deep shots for his quarterback plays immediately into Stafford’s strengths. In each of the last two seasons, Stafford has finished top five in deep ball completion percentage per Playerprofiler.com. The last time Stafford finished in the top 10 in net yards per attempt (2017) he also finished fourth in passing touchdowns. Last season the Lions pass catching core was decimated losing Golden Tate to trade and Marvin Jones to injury. With Jones back and Kenny Golladay continuing his ascension, Stafford is poised to pay off on Bevell’s scripted downfield deep bombs.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s magical stretch run of 2017 feels like a distant memory. Harkening back to the flash and sizzle of weeks 13-17 of 2017, Garoppolo was the QB10 over that stretch. In three of his final four starts during that season Garoppolo surpassed 292 passing yards and 8.85 passing yards per attempt. Fast forward to this past season and the shine on Garoppolo’s newly minted, Fort Knox worthy contract, began to fade. Jimmy G did not pass for more than 261 yards in any of his three starts limping to QB21, QB16, and QB11 finishes. All this sounds like I should be advising everyone to trade him away as quickly as possible. That Jimmy like so many quarterbacks before him, ie. Matt Flynn, Josh McCown, etc. can catch fire for a handful of games only to never recreate that former hot hand. Only that’s not what I think at all. Stop what you are doing right now and craft an offer for Jimmy GQ. It’s ok I’ll wait…
(Insert long awkward pause)
Ok now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. What a difference another year makes. Gone is the ghost of receivers past in Pierre Garcon and in steps an emerging all-around talent that I’ll go more in depth later in Dante Pettis. George Kittle quickly body slammed any growing pains that young tight ends face when entering the league. Also returning from injury is pass catching dynamo Jerick Mckinnon who should quickly reassert himself as a blistering playmaker with the ball in his hands. With this wealth of talent at his disposal and Kyle Shanahan in his ears, Jimmy is primed to put together a full season of top end play. Shanahan has coaxed stellar fantasy seasons out of quarterbacks of all shapes, styles, and sizes. Shanahan has helped Matt Ryan (QB2, 2016), Robert Griffin III (QB3, 2012), and Matt Schaub (QB4, 2009) all enjoy top five quarterback seasons.
After an uninspiring rookie season, Marlon Mack proved to be the future of this backfield. With free agent rumors swirling regarding the Colts abundant cap space and the ball carriers on the market, Mack’s value is severely depressed considering his production. After Mack’s abbreviated cameo in week 2, when he returned as the primary back in week 6, he was the RB 14 in point per reception (PPR) leagues for the remainder of the season. The Colts trusted Mack where it counts most, the red zone, and in only 12 games played he was still top 10 in goal-line carries (ranked 9th, 10 carries) and red zone touches (ranked 10th, 39 touches). Over Mack’s final 11 games of the season, he racked up the volume and showed explosive play ability with it. Over that span, Mack had the 10th most carries (160) in the NFL and was tied for fifth in 20 plus yard runs with six. Marlon Mack enters his third year in the NFL with three seasons left of team cost control certainty.
Mack is only 22 and has never exceeded 210 carries in college or the pros. The prerequisite tread on the tires is there for the Colts to cheaply saddle up and ride Mack for the next three seasons as their primary workhorse back behind a vastly improved offensive line and the neckbearded wonder in Andrew Luck. Mack has proven top 20 running back production with RB1 upside throughout a full season.
Mark Ingram is set to test the free agent waters this offseason as a “fresh” 29-year-old running back. Ingram’s age is slightly deceiving as he just turned the corner to 29 in December, so in truth, Ingram played the majority of this past season at age 28. Ingram comes with far less wear and tear than would be expected out of a back with his production history and age. Ingram has finished as a top 25 running back in fantasy points per game in each of the last four years (RB25, RB7, RB16, RB6). Ingram stands at 1,321 rushing attempts for his eight-year career. Ingram has never surpassed 230 rushing attempts in any single season and has only crossed the 200 attempt mark three times.
In 2018 Ingram was still a productive back even in his limited volume finishing as a top 20 runner in yards created per carry (1.62, 14th) and juke rate (28.9 percent, 17th) per Playerprofiler.com. Ingram’s pass game prowess will help him remain a productive back even as he ages. Over the last ten years, 100 running backs have amassed 100 or more career targets, and among them, Ingram’s catch rate ranks tenth (79.7 percent). Ingram’s age and uncertain landing spot will dent his fantasy value only until he signs a new deal. Strike now before his stock trends back up.
Kerryon Johnson enters his second season ready to lift off into the stratosphere. The Lions hire of Darrell Bevell is a boon for a young running back like Johnson. Bevell has been a huge proponent of the run game at every stop as an offensive coordinator. In his 12 years as an offensive coordinator, Bevell’s offenses have been top ten in rushing attempts in seven of them while also finishing in the top ten in yard per rushing attempt in six years. In his rookie season, Kerryon Johnson flashed a dynamic skill that Bevell will look to feed early and often.
After beginning the season, playing limited snaps behind both LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick, Kerryon Johnson flourished down the stretch before losing his final six games to injury. From weeks 7-11, Johnson averaged 17.4 touches per game, ranked sixth in rushing yards (355) and ninth in targets (24). Johnson finished as a top 20 running back in point per reception scoring in four of those five games. Johnson showed that he is superb in the passing game as well. Over the last 10 years, only 51 rookie running backs finished their first seasons with 39 or more targets. Among those 51 players, Johnson’s rookie season catch rate ranks sixth (82.1 percent). Johnson showed in a limited sample set the ability to play all three downs and succeed in doing so.
Golden Tate entered 2018 as one of the premier slot wide receivers in the NFL. During Tate’s four seasons as a Lion, he eclipsed 90 receptions in each season and 1,000 receiving yards in three seasons. Last year through seven games in Detroit, Tate was on pace to sprint past both of those statistical milestones yet again. After Tate’s midseason trade to Philadelphia his fantasy value and on-field production cratered. Tate was thrust into a new offensive system mid-season and then forced to build instant rapport with not one but two quarterbacks. All of these factors culminated in Golden Tate finishing with his lowest full-season receiving yardage (795) since 2012.
Golden Tate is now a free agent at the most inopportune time. Coming off his subpar 2018 from a counting stats perspective, Tate has also crossed the age 30 threshold. Nearly every metric to decipher Tate’s effectiveness in 2018 tumbled, but as previously outlined, Tate’s situation was a difficult one. The one statistical measuring stick that remained constant for Tate was his yards after the catch. After leading the league in this statistical category in 2017, even with the upheaval and turmoil Tate still managed to finish 11th in yards after the catch among wide receivers in 2018. Taking this and his early season success pre-trade into account Tate is best viewed as a player that is not on the decline, but rather a victim of circumstance. With an offseason and full training camp for Tate to assimilate into his next landing spot look for him to bounce back in a big way in 2019.
In a limited sample size, Dante Pettis flashed massive upside in his rookie season with San Francisco. Pettis was a versatile weapon moving around the formation with even 30 percent of his snaps coming in the slot. Per the Quantedge WR/CB tool, Pettis dominated zone coverage with a 149.3 quarterback rating and three of his five touchdowns on the season. Pettis displayed the ability to gain separation easily ranking as the top wide receiver in target separation (2.38 yards) per Playerprofiler.com and with a 97.9 rating versus press coverage per the Quantedge.
In weeks 12-15 as an every-down player, Pettis was a top 24 wide receiver in every game (WR20, WR3, WR23, WR22). Dante Pettis will be a starter for the 49ers from the onset. Pettis will have a full offseason to digest the playbook further and gain rapport with Jimmy G. This offseason SanFrancisco has been rumored to add an “alpha” wide receiver by either trade or free agency. That player might already reside in the bay area in Pettis. Pettis has shown, albeit in a short stretch, the ability to be a primary target to complement George Kittle and compete for the throne in the target pecking order. Pettis is a value that quickly needs to be mined before the gold rush of fantasy points hits the Bay area in 2019.
After the Bills cut ties with the ineffectiveness of Andre Holmes and the deadweight of Kelvin Benjamin, Robert Foster burst onto to the scene exemplifying that even a franchise like the Bills can hit a home run. Foster’s limited production history to that point is well documented. Foster’s counting stats might have been slim walking into that opportunity but this is also a wide receiver that blazed a 4.41 forty yard dash and per Playerprofiler.com possesses an 84th percentile speed score. Once Foster was given a chance to shine he made sure the spotlight didn’t stray far.
Last season from weeks 10-17, Foster ranked behind only Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and JuJu Smith-Schuster in 90 plus receiving yard games (4). After week 13, Foster played no less than 84 percent of the snaps and responded as the WR15 in fantasy over that span. Per the QuantEdge’s WR/CB Matchup Tool, Foster excelled all over the field. Foster’s highest run route (13 targets) was the go route which he only converted on 15 percent of those targets. Outside of low percentage go routes, Foster proved to be elite by recording an 80.6 percent catch rate on all other combined route types. Foster was also proficient against various coverage types. Foster totaled a 122.3 quarterback rating or higher versus the top three coverage types he saw in his routes (zone, man, and press). Josh Allen is not a refined passer by any stretch of the imagination, but Foster showed down the stretch that he has the prerequisite talent to beat coverage routinely and convert on his opportunities.
Jesse James walks into his age 25 season as an unrestricted free agent on the brink of a breakout. Standing at 6 7″ with an 87th percentile burst score per Playerprofiler.com Jesse James possesses underutilized red zone and downfield playmaking ability. James flashed those qualities last season when called upon by the Steelers. In 2018 James ranked 13th in yards after the catch and third in yards per target amongst tight ends. James has also proven to be a reliable pass catcher not only in 2018 ranking fourth in catch rate (76.9) amongst tight ends but for his entire career thus far. From 2015-2018 among the 29 tight ends with 170 or more targets, James ranks ninth in catch rate (69.4 percent) immediately behind Travis Kelce.
With many tight ends not finding their NFL footing until their second or third seasons, James has all the looks of a player screaming for more opportunity. After splitting snaps with Vance McDonald last season, James has been left as an afterthought. Considering all of these factors and his dirt cheap trade price James is a high upside lottery ticket at a position that overall is lacking them. Acquire him now before the buzz of free agency alerts your league mates to this sleeping giant.
Last year Mike Gesicki carved his face into the Mt. Rushmore of combine performances for tight ends. Gesicki ran a 4.54 forty and posted 95 percentile or above speed, burst, and agility metrics per Playerprofiler.com. The Dolphins devoid of talent at the tight end position drafted him in the second round of last year’s NFL draft only to firmly park him in limbo. Gesicki finished last season with just two games with 70 percent or more snaps played. Gone is Adam Gase and his distaste for anything resembling competent coaching.
Any narrative constructed around two coaches moving from New England to south beach with a freakishly athletic tight end now at their disposal is paper thin on the surface. A notable piece of information is that O’ Shea during his first ever stint as a coach was spent not only coaching receivers but also tight ends coach at the collegiate level. The Dolphins depth chart at first glance is starving for playmakers. DeVante Parker has been rumored to be cut rather than pick up his hefty fifth-year option. Albert Wilson is coming off a hip injury and carries a limited track record as well. Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake have shown well in spurts. Enters Gesicki who has both the size and athleticism to create matchup nightmares all over the field. Gesicki is the latest victim of the rookie year tight end curse. The rookie season has ended. Time to ascend.
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