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Dark Horse Fantasy Football Leaders

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Jul 15, 2019

Could Kirk Cousins pull off a 2016 Matt Ryan type of season?

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Patrick Mahomes took the league by storm last year, leading the league in passing touchdowns. Chris Carson, meanwhile, finished top five in rushing yards while Eric Ebron was second in receiving touchdowns. Every year we see this sort of volatility with dark horse candidates surging toward the top of the leaderboard. Today. I’ll tell you which players have a potential scenario that would see them making that leap to finish at or near the top of the league in the most important fantasy stats.

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Passing Yards – Jameis Winston (TB)
When you look at Winston’s 2018 campaign, you’ll see 11 games, which implies 44 quarters played, but let’s not forget that in 3 of those 111, he only played half the game, so rather, Winston only had 38 quarters worth of stats. In that time, he produced 2,992 yards which when translated to a full 64-quarter season, comes to 5,039 passing yards. Only Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes beat that mark last season. One of those threw 675 passes and lost Antonio Brown while the other may be losing Tyreek Hill for an extended time and is surely do for some regression. With Winston now just turning 25 along with getting Chris Godwin on the field every down and adding Bruce Arians, it is possible that Winston may eclipse that 5,000 yard mark if he can stay on the field.

Other candidates: Jimmy Garoppolo, Philip Rivers

Passing Touchdowns – Kirk Cousins (MIN)
Prior to 2016, Matt Ryan had three consecutive lousy touchdown rates in a row at 4.0, 4.5 and 3.4%. Then in 2016, he actually threw 80 fewer passes but somehow tossed out an additional 17 touchdowns. Touchdown rates are fickle so we are looking for that quarterback who throws plenty of passes and could finally see his TD-rate spike like we’ve seen in the last few seasons with Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, Ryan and Cam Newton. Last season, there were only four QBs to throw 600+ passes. Big Ben, Andrew Luck, Ryan and Kirk Cousins. Like Ryan before, Cousins’ TD-rates have sat below 5% for the last three years, even despite having Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to throw to. If Cousins again throws 600 passes and volatility strikes with the TD-rate leaping to 7%, we are looking at 42 touchdown passes. That would have led the NFL in four of the last five seasons.

Other candidates: Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers

Rushing Yards – Justice Hill (BAL)
Yes, I know Mark Ingram is the starter. For now. Everyone is so excited about Latavius Murray because he is going into the perfect scheme for a running back. Why is the reverse not stated for Ingram, who may have been propped up by New Orleans’ offense. He turns 30 years old during the season and may cede his job to the more electric back. Justice Hill is a bigger, stronger, faster and better version of Phillip Lindsay, who as you know, rushed for 1,000 yards last season in a crummy offense. What’s more, is that the Ravens led all of football with 70 offensive snaps per game last season and are expected to throw less than any team this season since Lamar Jackson is under center. It is possible they run the pigskin 35 times per game, and despite his size, we’ve seen Hill handle a workhorse load before.

Other candidates: Marlon Mack, Justin Jackson

Rushing Touchdowns – Latavius Murray (NO)
Over the last two seasons, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have rushed for a combined 40 touchdowns (and they caught 10 more in the air). Ingram was excellent in his role, but Murray may be an even better fit, as he has been the most efficient goal-line runner in all of football over the last three seasons. If he can pick up Ingram’s 12 carries per game and sees the majority of the goal-line work, as expected, it is likely that Murray reached double-digit touchdowns and possible he surpasses 15. Don’t sleep on L-Jax either, as he has 5 in just 7 games last year which comes to 11.4 in 16 games. That would have beat Saquon Barkley for fifth in football.

Other candidates: Lamar Jackson, David Montgomery

Receptions – Dante Pettis (SF)
Kyle Shanahan found a way to get Pierre Garcon 113 receptions in 2013, and while Garcon is a solid possession receiver, he is merely a marginal talent compared to Pettis. The second-year 49ers’ wideout is a superb route-runner who happened to see 37 targets over the final six games of the season. It seems clear that they intend to use him as their number one receiver this season and with Jimmy G back under center, that could translate to a monster season.  Keep in mind, Garoppolo came to San Francisco in 2017, not knowing the playbook and gave deep-play receiver, Marquise Goodwin 29 receptions for 384 yards in 5 games. That translates to a 93 reception, 1,229 yard pace over a full season. Pettis is much more the mold of Garcon and might see 9 targets per game.

Other candidates: James White, Corey Davis

Receiving Yards – Josh Gordon (NE)
Hear me out before your eyes glaze over. Once Gordon started playing the majority of New England’s snaps in Week 6, he went on an 8 week run with 619 receiving yards. Folks, that’s 1,238 over a full season. He did that without training camp or the preseason with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ playbook. Give him that, take out Rob Gronkowski and this 28-year-old freak of nature still has the potential to have a career year. Remember, he was playing drunk when he went for 1,646 yards in just 14 games as a 22-year-old. He did that with Brandon Weeden, folks! Now granted, he has to be reinstated and stay clean, but all of these in this article are lottery tickets and it is, in fact, a scenario that an active and sober Flash goes off for a career year.

Other candidates: Allen Robinson, D.J. Moore

Receiving Touchdowns – Hunter Henry (LAC)
There are plenty more options than the three listed here, as so much of it has to do with the ever-fickle TD-rate. Gimmick receiver, Tyler Lockett caught 10 touchdowns on 70 targets last year. Eric Ebron caught 13 despite playing the majority of the Colts’ snaps in just 10 games. Devante Parker could catch 12 Ryan Fitzmagic passes and no one would blink an eye because that’s football. More likely, however, someone with the size and body control to be a force in the end zone will be the one who emerges. Enter Henry, who at 6’5″, 250 already has 12 touchdowns in just 115 career targets. Sure, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon are there, but no tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski has opened their career quite like Henry.

Other candidates: Chris Godwin, Alshon Jeffery

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro

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