With every new offseason comes hope for teams that did not get the job done the year prior. Heading into 2019, there are specific teams that are on the right trajectory for a successful 2019 season. Some obvious and some…not so much. Things can change quickly in the NFL through free agency, coach signings, and the NFL draft so this article may need to be revisited as we go through the offseason. As it stands now in January, here are seven teams that are trending upwards for the 2019 season.
2018 Record: 7-8-1 | Pick 17 in upcoming NFL Draft
In what universe would we have figured that the Browns’ head coaching job would be the most sought-after position. The universe that we indeed live in. They have a superstar quarterback in the making in Baker Mayfield. Mayfield broke the record for passing touchdowns by a rookie (27) and had the second-highest overall grade by Pro Football Focus by a rookie QB since 2006 behind just Russell Wilson. They have stars in the making at cornerback and running back with Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb. They also have resources to improve. The Browns have the 4th most salary cap space of all NFL teams allowing even more room for improvement to align with their new head coach Freddie Kitchens. They also do not have many impending free agents. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman, left tackle Greg Robinson, and defensive lineman Carl Davis seem like the most likely to be retained.
Getting back to the coach, the Browns recently promoted OC Freddie Kitchens to be their head coach going forward. It makes sense that the Browns kept Kitchens as Mayfield’s numbers with Kitchens’ at OC were utterly impressive. In the last eight games of the season with Kitchens at the helm, the Browns went 5-3. Mayfield compiled a 108.1 passer rating with 19 TDs and 8 INTs. That was the fifth highest QBR of all QBs during the last 9 weeks of the season. Mayfield also averaged 19 fantasy points per game over this time span ranking him as the number QB10 over that timespan. He was just sacked five times under the Kitchens’ offense compared to the 20 sacks in the Todd Haley offense. So Mayfield benefits tremendously, but how about the other offensive pieces?
In Haley’s offense in Weeks 1-8, Jarvis Landry had 85 targets and over 30% target market share. The next closest leaders in targets were David Njoku with 47 targets (17% market share) and Antonio Callaway with 43 targets (15.5% market share). Landry averaged 14.2 fantasy points per game during this time good for WR20. In Week 9-17, Mayfield spread things out much more. Landry led the team in targets still with 52 targets, but his market share dropped to 20%. Callaway and Njoku saw slight decreases with 35 targets each good for 13.67% market share respectively. Duke Johnson Jr. and Rashard Higgins both saw plus 11.5% market share over the latter half of the season. Obviously, things can always shake out differently, but one thing seems to be certain for Cleveland in 2019. This team will have playoff aspirations.
Baker Mayfield Fantasy Points Per Game W/ Freddie Kitchens in 2018: 19.0
Jared Goff Fantasy Points Per Game W/ Sean McVay in 2018: 19.0 pic.twitter.com/tTtUOCU8kX
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) January 8, 2019
New York Jets
2018 Record: 4-12 | Pick 3 in upcoming NFL Draft
Similar to the Browns’ job there is a young stud quarterback in the making in Sam Darnold. Since making his return to the starting lineup in Week 14, Darnold compiled a 99.8 quarterback rating with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. During this time frame, Darnold also averaged 20.56 fantasy points per game. The Jets will continue to build around there franchise quarterback with the second-most cap space in the NFL.
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown rumors have surfaced to being connected to the Jets. New York has already locked up wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a long-term deal, and expect them to do something similar with receiver Robby Anderson who is a restricted free agent. Rookie tight end Chris Herndon showed potential and the defense has young playmakers like Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams. Of course, after Herndon serves his two-game suspension from pleading guilty to DWI. I am also personally an Elijah McGuire truther who I love in fantasy drafts next season if the Jets do not sign any marquee free agent running backs. McGuire through the Weeks 14-16 averaged 18.3 fantasy points per game ranking him as the RB10 in PPR format during the fantasy playoffs. My biggest excitement for him was his dominance of touches during that time. During the last four weeks of the season, McGuire saw 20,19, 22, and 21 combined rushing attempts and passing targets. Worth noting that the Jets have a potential out in Isaiah Crowell’s contract with just a $2 million dead cap hit.
In terms of coaching, former Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is in for the job. Pairing the offensive mind of Gase with second-year pro quarterback Darnold makes a lot of sense. Gase was the head coach in Miami for three seasons and finished with a 23-25 record. Via Rich Cimini on Twitter, “the Dolphins were 20-6 in games decided by 8 points or less. They also had a +10 point differential in the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter, which ranked 12th in the NFL. The Jets ranked 32nd at -90 point differential.”
Even though Gase is perceived as an offensive guru, his numbers in Miami are underwhelming. 27th in scoring, 31st in yards/game, 19th in yards/play, 28th in Total QBR, 25th in red-zone efficiency, and 29th in point differential in his three-year stint. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Ryan Tannehill missed 24 games (50%) during Gase’s time as a head coach. With Tannehill under center, Gase went 13-11 as a head coach. In 2016, in Gase’s first season Tannehill had a career high in completion percentage (67.1%), yards per attempt (7.7), and quarterback rating (93.5).
It’s very difficult to make a depiction of him as a failed head coach when he has played with backup quarterbacks in over half his games and still put up a just under .500 record. Adam Gase over the past two seasons with Tannehill playing 11 full games: 28th in scoring, 30th in yards/game, 26th in yards/play, 23rd in Total QBR, 27th in red-zone efficiency(TDs only), and -226 net points in his two-year stint. So for myself, I think the jury is still out on Gase and fans should be excited to see what he can do with Darnold in 2019.
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San Francisco 49ers
2018 Record: 4-12 | Pick 2 in upcoming NFL Draft
Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco has gone 10-22 as a head coach to start his career. His offensive numbers in San Francisco so far: 2oth in scoring, 10th in yards/game, 10th in yards/play, 25th in Total QBR, 32nd in red-zone efficiency(TDs only), and -145 net points in his two-year stint. Now a lot of the struggles have to do with inconsistent QB play from guys like C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. But going into 2019, the 49ers should have their franchise quarterback returning in Jimmy Garroppolo. They have the 11th most salary cap space and have only a few impending free agents they need to sign back.
In addition to Garroppolo, they will also be getting back a healthy Jerrick McKinnon at running back to add to an offense that already features great young offensive pieces like George Kittle, Dante Pettis, Matt Breida, and Marquise Goodwin. Kittle led the NFL in Weeks 9-17 in yards per route run (3.20). Pettis in Weeks 10-16 as a starter, was the WR19 in points/game in PPR formats. Matt Breida finished as the RB22 in PPR formats despite playing just 14 games. Dating back to 2008 when in Houston, Kyle Shanahan has helped produce on average the RB18 overall. Five times he has had an RB1 on his team (finishing top 12).
With rumors surfacing also connecting Antonio Brown to SF, especially after a Jerry Rice endorsement, fans in the Bay area are foaming at the mouth to get their season started with their starters back.
2018 Record: 10-6 | Pick 26 in upcoming NFL Draft
Now you might be saying, well aren’t they already good? Well, you’d be right in that assessment. They are good. And they are probably only going to get better. The Colts have the most cap space (Over 120 million) entering this offseason. This team has the potential to be scary good in 2019. Warren Sharp’s 2018 strength of schedule does identify that the Colts had the easiest schedule this season, but because of the current status of the AFC South, their schedule will most likely remain in the top 10 easiest schedules in 2019. Stay tuned.
Behind their beast of an offensive line, Andrew Luck at quarterback, and underrated defense, investing in Colts offensive players will be wise entering the 2019 fantasy football season. And don’t sleep on their defense. Linebacker Darius Leonard led the NFL in tackles as a rookie (119). Malik Hooker graded as a top-ten safety (min 900 snaps) by PFF allowing just 51 yards in coverage this season. Look for the Colts to lock up guys like Pierre Desir to help solidify the defense.
Green Bay Packers
2018 Record: 6-9-1 | Pick 12 in upcoming NFL Draft
The Packers have got their new head coach to pair with Aaron Rodgers in Matt LeFluer. LeFluer if you did not already know…IS PART OF THE SEAN MCVAY TREE. He knows Sean McVay? This is our guy! Now, the accolades that come from being part of the McVay tree are a tad overrated, but you cannot totally disregard that LeFluer is an offensive mind that could potentially bring a lot to the Packers’ offense. Similar to Gase, the jury is still out on LeFluer in terms of his quarterback changing ways. Marcus Mariota failed to impress this season, but a lot of that had to do with injury. The Titans’ offense finished 25th in yards per game, 24th in yards per play, and 27th points per game. The whole season was inconsistent across the board because there were games where Mariota showed some progression. Mariota had “great” games against the Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots, Texans, and Jets where he threw two touchdowns. Unfortunately, those were the only games he did that. Every other game he played Mariota threw a combined… ONE TOUCHDOWN. He had eight games where he threw zero touchdown passes. But Aaron Rodgers is a different animal.
Despite his perceived downfall this season he still finished as the QB5 on the year in fantasy football. We talk a lot about regression in terms of players performing above expectation, but it goes both ways. For Rodgers in 2018, he saw a career-low 4.2 TD %. His career average is 6.2%. Positive regression is coming for Rodgers in 2019. He has Davante Adams who has joined the conversation has arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL and Aaron Jones has been #freed. I also expect that another year with Rodgers will benefit the several young receivers for the Packers. The Packers will need to address some veterans with expiring contracts such as Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, and Muhammed Wilkerson. At a 10 million cap hit, I cannot imagine Cobb is back with the Packers after his lackluster performance this season.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 Record: 5-11 | Pick 5 in upcoming NFL Draft
Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston…a match made in heaven. Out of all the head coach signings, I believe that this one has the largest impact. Bruce Arians offensive philosophy has always been pushing the ball down the field, something Winston is very familiar with. “No risk it, no biscuit” is apparently one of Arians’ favorite sayings. Hopefully Arians’ can also be harsh with Winston to help him mature from his several off the field antics.
Regardless, Winston is surrounded with not only a coach that fits his skillset now but tons of returning playmakers. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate have all shown playmaking ability. Look for the Buccaneers to also address the RB position as well through free agency and the draft unless Arians find that Ronald Jones II is his guy. Slot receiver Adam Humphries will be a free agent, so there’s a chance he does not return along with DeSean Jackson who has made it quite clear he does not want back in Tampa Bay.
Arians is also bringing Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator whom he had in Arizona. The thing that lacked the most in Tampa Bay in 2018 was stability. These moves are changing that narrative going into 2019.
2018 Record: 7-9 | Pick 14 in upcoming NFL Draft
The Falcons were absolutely plagued by injuries in 2018, especially on defense in 2018. Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen were both lost on IR. Linebacker Deion Jones missed the majority of the season. Expect a big turn around especially now that Dan Quinn the head coach is now taking over the role as defensive coordinator. Quinn was previously DC with Seattle before becoming the head coach in Atlanta.
The Falcons also added Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator who had previously worked with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Via CBSSports.com when Koetter served as the Falcons ‘ offensive coordinator between 2012 and 2014, the team twice finished top eight in scoring, while Ryan commanded an 86:45 TD: INT ratio with over 4,600 passing yards per season. Ryan is coming off another great statistical season where he finished as the QB2 in fantasy football averaging 21.4 fantasy points per game. Ryan is still producing at a top-five level in the NFL, and if the defense can improve under Quinn this team could potentially get back to postseason play.
It is essential that for them to sure up that defense that they get back free agent Grady Jarrett. He was the fifth-highest ranked defensive lineman for Pro Football Focus this season.
What franchises do you think are trending upwards into 2019?
Leave a comment or tweet at me @Andrewerickson_!
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