Early Bold Predictions
What’s better than fantasy football predictions for the 2019 season? Bold Predictions.
I’m laying it all on the line here with some hot take predictions based on my own personal projections/outlooks for next season. Remember for all you degenerates out there…life is too short to bet the under
1. Royce Freeman Emerges Over Phillip Lindsay
Running back Lindsay broke out of nowhere in 2018, finishing as the RB12 in PPR formats through 16 games. Lindsay ranked first in the NFL in yards per carry (5.4) with any player who had a minimum of 190 carries. Not only effective as a runner, but he also saw work in the passing game with 47 targets and a 9% target market share. It did end on a more sour note as he stumbled by finishing with just 2.63 yards per carry over the last three, weeks of the NFL season. He then was placed on injured reserve after Week 16, due to a wrist injury.
So what are realistic expectations for Lindsay specifically entering 2019, assuming he is 100% healthy? Regression in the yards per carry department is almost certain. At such a high number of 5.4, it is extremely difficult to duplicate year over year. Nobody in 2017 had more than 5 yards per carry with a minimum of 190 carries. In 2016, LeSean McCoy averaged 5.4 yards per carry and that dropped to 4 yards per carry the following season, and then all the way down to 3.2 in 2018. Now I am not necessarily comparing McCoy to Lindsay, but rather highlighting the extreme volatility of yards per carry and how it is not extremely predictive. Yards per carry is much more of a summarization rather than anything else. Hell, Alvin Kamara rushed for 6.1 yards per carry in 2017, and that fell drastically back to 4.6 in 2018. Now the argument could be made that with more carries in 2018 that would ultimately cause a dropoff in efficiency. Well over the first ten weeks of the 2018 season Kamara had 123 rushing attempts. That was almost identical to his total rushing attempts from 2017 (120). The only difference is his yards per carry in 2018 in his first 123 attempts being 4.4. It’s this exact regression will create an opportunity for Royce Freeman.
Many (myself included) believed that it would be Royce Freeman the third-round pick out of Oregon putting up these impressive numbers as the Denver bell-cow back. It never came to fruition in 2018, but that’s why I am double-downing on Freeman entering 2019. He has the ability to be a bell-cow back and showed that in Week 17 where he flashed. In the last game of the season with Lindsay out of the lineup, Freeman rushed for 60 yards on 17 carries and had a total of eight receptions on ten targets for 43 yards. And that was with Devontae Booker still getting seven targets of his own in the passing game.
Freeman was also effective as a runner in 2018, when given opportunities and was an excellent red zone back. He rushed for 30 1st downs, which was the highest of any running back with only 130 carries. He actually converted just over 23% of his runs into first downs which ranked top 20 in the NFL. In the red zone, Freeman saw 17 opportunities within the 20-yard line, 5 of those opportunities being within 6 yards of the goal line. He scored on four of his five carries. Freeman on the season according to Pro Football Focus also ranked in the top ten in yards after contact per attempt with a minimum of 130 carries. In comparison, Lindsay ranked outside the top 30 in yards after contact per attempt. Lindsay scored five times on five carries within being 6 yards of the goal line. Lindsay ranked 10th in the NFL with converting 25% of his runs on first downs. Lindsay saw just three games in which he saw more than 15 carries. Freeman did not play in two of those games. Lindsay was great in 2018 and deserves credit for Denver’s offensive rushing attack, but Freeman had a very underrated rookie season.
The Broncos running attack as a whole in 2018 was utterly impressive. In 2018, Denver ranked 3rd in YPC (4.9), 11th in rushing yards per game (119.2), 5th in rushing TDs per game, 19th in rushing attempts (24.6), and 10th in rushing 1st downs per game (6.7). Now many believe that the Broncos offensive running attack is destined to improve with Mike Munchak taking over as offensive line coach and on the surface that makes sense. He is the coach in Denver after spending multiple years in Tennesse and Pittsburgh. However, it will be extremely difficult to do because of how good the Broncos rushing offense was last season. Also, Denver offensive linemen Matt Paradis, Jared Veldheer, Max Garcia and Billy Turner will all be unrestricted free agents in 2019, so the Broncos have some big decisions to make within the next 60 days.
The true new wrinkle in the offensive scheme is the new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello whom most recently worked as quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers under Kyle Shanahan from 2017-2018. What does Scangarello think about Freeman? Well in an interview with the Broncos media when talking about offensive weapons he mentioned, “…or a bigger runner who did a really nice job last year that kind of got lost in this and they’re all young players and that’s exciting to work with.”
So what’s my overall verdict here inline for 2019? Regression for Philip Lindsay in a new offense that will feature the run-zone blocking scheme equals amble opportunity for Freeman to thrive. Did I forget to mention Oregon heavily utilized a run-zone blocking scheme where Freeman played in college? Don’t get me wrong Lindsay was great in 2018, but I think the margin productivity between him and Freeman based on the stats is closer than perception may entail. Freeman was drafted to be the bellcow in 2018, and in 2019 he regains control of the job. Under a coaching regime, Lindsay and Freeman both have an equal opportunity to go out and win the job outright. For me, my money is on Freeman.
2. Lamar Jackson Is A Top 5 Fantasy Quarterback With The Help Of Breakout Tight End Mark Andrews
From Weeks, 11-17 Lamar Jackson was the overall QB8 on the season. If Lamar Jackson played all 16 games this season he would have finished as the QB8 right above Russell Wilson just shy of 290 fantasy points. He would have averaged 18.6 fantasy points per game. To have been top five in fantasy in 2018 Jackson would have surpassed just 310 fantasy points averaging over 20 points per game, which is not a huge margin.
I love his potential is fantasy because I do not think the Ravens go away from his rushing ability. They are fully embracing it. They promoted Greg Roman to become the offensive coordinator. But this rushing upside does not necessarily mean that this will be a conservative passing attack. Roman is no stranger to working with quarterbacks that fit the Jackson profile. Via the Baltimore Sun, I took a look at a little bit of Roman coaching history.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, The Buffalo Bills under Roman led the NFL with 16, 20+ passing touchdowns, four more than the runner-up Seattle Seahawks. Tyrod Taylor finished third among starting quarterbacks in 2015 in average “air yards. Then again in 2012, Colin Kaepernick was first in air yards among quarterbacks who finished with over 1,500 passing yards, according to Sporting Charts. Alex Smith, whom he replaced midseason, was sixth. The next two seasons, Kaepernick finished fourth and 11th, respectively.
Reports have already turned out this season, on Jackson working on his improving his passing game struggles. John Harbaugh spoke and said they are basically going to build from the ground up. Considering Jackson was a top-8 quarterback and could barely throw makes this an easy bold prediction for me. Even if he just slightly improves as a passer, that could be a huge difference in terms of fantasy points.
I fully expect free agent John Brown to return to the Ravens, to be that air yards monster for Lamar Jackson as he was with Joe Flacco earlier during the 2018 season. I also expect an outbreak from second-year tight end Mark Andrews to fully help Jackson reach his potential. Andrews’ rookie season actually closely compares to that of George Kittle’s. Andrews finished this season with 34-553-3 averaging 16.2 yards per reception (2nd highest in the NFL), 2.01 yards/route run (5th highest in the NFL), and the highest passer rating when targeted (129.9) at the tight end position. Kittle’s rookie season finished with 43-515-2 in 2017.
So what’s my bold prediction? Both Lamar Jackson finishes top five and Mark Andrews finish in the top eight at their respective positions.
3. Hunter Henry Will Finish As A Top 5 Tight End
In 2017, Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Jared Cook, O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, Eric Ebron, and George Kittle all ranked in the Top 14 at the TE position in terms of yards/route run with a minimum of 36 targets. Henry (2.05) had the second-highest yards/route run of all the tight ends with at least 36 targets.
In 2018, all of those tight ends finished within the top nine in points per game except for Henry who missed the entire regular season. In 2018 again we saw similar players dominating yards/route run a predictive statistic. Of the top ten tight ends in fantasy football, eight of them finished with a top ten yards/route run. The only ones who finished outside the top ten in fantasy, but were top ten in yards/route run were Chris Herndon and Mark Andrews.
Henry ended up actually being healthy enough for the Chargers to return in their divisional loss in the playoffs to the New England Patriots. This is extremely encouraging from a health standpoint that there should be no setbacks for Henry entering 2019. We are quick to forget how great Henry was before his injury. In 2017, Henry ranked 7th in yards/reception and was the second highest rated tight end by Pro Football Focus in grades for offense and for pass routes.
Now Antonio Gates wants to come back and Chargers GM Tom Telesco suggested he’d be open to bringing back impending free-agent Gates in 2019. However, we saw the ineffectiveness of the 38-year-old in 2018. If he returns he will surely be brought back to just serve as the backup tight end to Henry. Additionally, the Chargers will also most likely lose Tyrell Williams who is also an impending free agent. He saw 66 targets this season.
Ertz and Kelce saw both 150 plus targets. Kittle saw 135 targets. Jared Cook and Eric Ebron saw 100 targets. Is there a path for Henry to reach 100 targets to theoretically become a top-five tight end? Well yes. Henry saw 60 targets back in 2017. That was right under 13% target market share. Gates saw 46 targets in 2018. Austin Ekeler saw a career-high in targets in 2018 with 56. If Henry, and not Mike Williams sees the 15% target market share (or even achieve the 17% market share that Melvin Gordon saw in 2018), Henry could easily see up to 86 to 98 targets if Philip Rivers pass attempts return to form. Rivers in 2018 actually saw his fewest pass attempts totals (508) since 2009. Touchdowns will again pit Henry against Williams who is coming off a double-digit touchdown campaign. Most likely regression is coming for Williams in the touchdown department especially with Henry making his return. Henry scored 12 touchdowns his first two seasons in the league.
And for good measure, Ken Whisenhunt outside the last season has had a tight end finish in the top 14 in five straight seasons with the Chargers and the Titans. 👐 up for Hunter Henry to enter the land of the elite tight ends.
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