Post-Hype Sleepers (2019 Fantasy Football)
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The world of fantasy football is known for its overreactive, results over process, “what have you done for me lately” attitude. Established veterans are often dropped by Week 3 thanks to impatient owners, but moving on from a player quickly during the season can sometimes be better than holding on too long. For redraft leagues, this is specifically the case, but the offseason is the time to move on from any grudges and give every player a clean slate when it comes to ranking production.
Different seasons bring different coaching staffs, different rosters, and different opportunities. The four players I’ve chosen to profile are all players who were widely respected talents (three former first-round picks) within the last couple years. These players weren’t put in the proper positions to thrive in 2018 and most analysts still like their tape, but the hype is gone so grab these players in the middle to late rounds and reap the benefits.
Rashaad Penny (RB – SEA)
The Seahawks led the league with over 2,500 rushing yards in 2018, and sole possession of this backfield can be owned for two picks in Rounds 5 through 7. Chris Carson is deservedly going first of the two, as he finished the year averaging 90 rushing yards per game after his Week 3 breakout. There’s so much production in this backfield, both players can provide independent value, and if one goes down, the other turns into a fantasy superstar. Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny combined for about 84 total yards per game last season, and Penny figures to assume both their roles this season as Davis is out the door. The 207 fantasy points scored by Penny and Davis would have ranked as the RB14, two spots ahead of Chris Carson, if it were a sole player’s output.
Carson already has a hefty workload to carry and Seattle wants to see what their young talent can do, so expect most of Davis’ carries to wind up in Penny’s hands. Penny was the Seahawks’ first-round pick last season after rushing for over 2,200 yards at San Diego State and running a 4.46, 40-yard dash at 220 pounds. Penny offers an advantage over Carson when it comes to outside runs and making defenders miss in space.
On carries off the edge, Penny led the trio with an incredible 8.55 YPC as opposed to 5.78 for Carson and 4.0 for Davis. Pete Carroll has stated that neither of these running backs are labeled the one or the two, leaving the door open for last year’s number one pick to possibly take over with a couple big games. With over 2,500 total yards going to the running back position last year in Seattle, Carson and Penny will have a chance to form a Kamara-Ingram type duo in 2019.
Royce Freeman (RB – DEN)
A talented every down back out of Oregon, Freeman was drafted by the Broncos in the third round and was the projected starter heading into 2018. Everyone was shocked to see a tiny undrafted speed back out of Colorado as the one to rush for 1,000 yards in Denver. Phillip Lindsay almost exactly doubled Royce Freeman’s rushing total, on 1.4 more YPC. Is Phillip Lindsay really that much better than Freeman? The advanced numbers say that the jury is still out.
Lindsay rushed against an eight-man front on 14% of his carries, a rate 22% lower than Freeman. Freeman was second in the league at 36% and was one of only seven runners who ran into an eight-man front on at least a third of their carries. Of those seven, only Nick Chubb and Royce Freeman ran for at least 4.0 YPC. He’s 6’0″ and 230 pounds, runs a 4.54 40, and proved that he could catch the ball out of the backfield at Oregon.
At 5’8″ and 190 bounds, Lindsay may have simply caught lightning in a bottle last season, as he is very far from the typical physical profile required to successfully run between the tackles in the NFL. Lindsay took 38 carries for just 100 yards in his last three games to finish off 2018, so defenses may be finding out that Lindsay can be stopped if you limit his chunk plays. Freeman only took 3.5 fewer carries per game than Lindsay last season despite being greatly outproduced and physically he is far more suited for an every-down role. Considering that he is the RB40 and Lindsay is the RB21, opt to wait in the draft if going after Denver’s backfield.
Corey Davis (WR – TEN)
Corey Davis is a player who has a lot going right for him, but a lot working against him also. Entering his third season, 2017’s fifth-overall pick seems to be in a “make or break” case scenario. He was seventh in target share percentage at nearly 26%, and sixth in percentage of team’s air yards at nearly 36%. There were only two players with more targets than Davis last year who failed to reach 1,000 yards, and they’re checkdown specialists Golden Tate and Jarvis Landry.
Marcus Mariota was never close to 100% last season, with nagging injuries to his throwing elbow and hand along with other ailments. He still completed 69% of his passes, but only 58% to Davis. Completion percentage will never be as high to the outside or deep targets, but this low percentage is partially since the Titans have been lacking complimentary weapons for years. Trusted veteran Delanie Walker is back from injury, and they just drafted gifted possession receiver A.J. Brown in the second round, the best WR2 Mariota’s ever had. The two changes that will lead to a useful Corey Davis next season are increased volume from less three and outs, and less defensive attention due to more supporting weapons.
The magic numbers are 500 passing attempts from the Titans and a 63% completion percentage to Davis. These numbers in 2019 plus everything else remaining equal would put Davis at 81 receptions for 1,113 yards. 500 passing attempts would still put them in the bottom five this past year, so if they’re anywhere near average in terms of passing volume Davis will be a virtual guarantee to breakout.