11 Must-Have Players (2019 Fantasy Football)
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If you’ve participated in fantasy drafts, you’ll know that each year, there happens to be a player or two you gravitate toward. Whether it’s just a gut feeling, or you listen to the FantasyPros podcast and have heard Bobby Sylvester gush about a player like David Moore, there’s probably a reason why you’re targeting these specific players.
We’ve asked our writers for that one player they’re hoping to end up with in a majority of their leagues. Here’s what they had to say.
Who is your must-have player for 2019 fantasy football?
Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN)
When you talk about a must-have player, it has to be someone that is going no later than the last pick in the first round. Obviously, I would like to have Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey on every roster, but unless I have the first or second pick in a fantasy draft, that will likely not be in the cards. I could have the 10th pick in all my leagues and have no chance to draft either player. A must-have player is someone that I will have the opportunity to draft in every league, and the only way that can happen is if he is consistently going outside the top-10. The player I really like at his current ADP in the second round that I could see taking anywhere in the second round is Cook. He has an ADP of 19.2, which means he should be there for me in the second round, regardless of my first-round position. He is as gifted as any running back in the league, and the Vikings are making an effort to feature him this year. Gary Kubiak is their offensive advisor, and his zone-blocking scheme helped Arian Foster break out in Houston and Justin Forsett in Baltimore. Cook has averaged over 90 yards from scrimmage in 15 games since the 2017 season. He has had durability and usage issues, but with the departure of Latavius Murray and the emphasis on running the ball, the opportunity will be there for him to be a bell-cow back. I would feel comfortable taking him anywhere between the 10th and 22nd pick, which gives me a lot of flexibility to take him at many different points in the second round. He is a player I could see owning in a lot of my leagues this year.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Christian Kirk (WR – ARI)
I don’t think it is possible to be in a worse offensive environment than Christian Kirk was as a rookie in 2018. Despite the bottom of the barrel circumstances, he still managed 590 receiving yards in just 12 games. He was a starter from Week 1 and posted an 85.9% season snap share. Kirk enters his second year entrenched as a starter alongside Larry Fitzgerald. I don’t know if Fitz is done, but at 36 years old, I fully expect Kirk to contend for the team lead in targets. While there is no guarantee that Kliff Kingsbury will be able to run as many plays as he wants to, the increased tempo and exponential improvement from Josh Rosen to Kyler Murray makes Kirk a prime breakout candidate. All of the signs are there. He has the talent. He has the college production. He is now in the right offense and situation. I do not want to leave the sixth round without Kirk.
– Jason Katz (@jasonkatz13)
Josh Gordon (WR – NE) & Dexter Williams (RB – GB)
“Must-Have Player” to me means a player that you’re willing to reach for, and a player that you will be in a position to get in every draft. Therefore, it cannot be a player going in the first round, as it’s unwise to reach too far early in a draft. What I am looking for in “must-have players” is either a middle-round player who is criminally undervalued (e.g., Christian Kirk, Marvin Jones), or a late-round player that is in a prime position to break out, and also has the ability to become an every-week starter. There’s no sense in rostering a player who has no clear path to a breakout or no real ceiling even if they get opportunity (e.g., Theo Riddick, Chris Thompson). That means potential target hog WR/TEs, or potential bell-cow RBs, and being in a good offense is a significant factor. I couldn’t pick just one, as Josh Gordon appears to be on the redemption path and may return to the NFL. With an ADP of WR62, the risk is negligible, and the upside is tantalizing. Gordon finished in the top-30 WRs in weekly scoring in six of his 12 games last season with a pedestrian 16.2% target share. With no established weapons in the offense outside of Julian Edelman and James White, Gordon could walk into a ton of targets in one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses (one that coincidentally now has no Rob Gronkowski in the red zone). Dexter Williams fits the bell-cow-in-waiting profile in a strong offense with no established workhorse back. As much as I (among others) love Aaron Jones, the Packers are bending over backward this offseason to not publicly commit to him. It’s an easy world to imagine where Williams (a 5’11”, 212 lb. back with strong athleticism) starts to siphon away work and assumes the lead role. He accounted for about one-third of Notre Dame’s offense, and while he wasn’t heavily used in the passing game, he did average 8.3 yards per catch in his final season, so the ability could be there. At RB76, it’s hard not to jump on this in every draft.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)
Keenan Allen (WR – LAC)
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has been quarterback Philip Rivers’s number one target for years, and that shouldn’t change in 2019. He’s one of my favorite value picks with a current ADP at 24th overall as WR10. While I do agree that he should be WR10 and the guys ahead of him represent higher upside, that is in no way a knock on Allen. Over the last two seasons, Allen has averaged over 147 targets per year which would have been good for eighth overall in 2018. He turned those 295 targets into 199 catches. That’s an 67% catch rate which is a very impressive number for any wide receiver, let alone one who sees as many targets as Allen does. The biggest criticism of Allen has been his lack of touchdown production which is somewhat warranted as he’s never exceeded eight touchdowns in a single season. While you’d like to see that number go up, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary. Allen has managed to be a top fantasy wide receiver throughout most of his career even without the high touchdown numbers thanks to his reception and yardage totals. In the three seasons in which Allen has played at least 15 games, he’s recorded at least 1,046 yards in each of them. I want to quickly present the scenarios in which I’m most targeting Allen so you can apply that to your own drafts. If you are someone who likes to get yourself a couple of top-tier running backs early, I think Allen is the perfect wide receiver to target in the third round as your top wideout. Conversely, if you want to go with the “zero RB” strategy, grabbing Allen in the third round would give you a huge advantage at the wide receiver/flex positions. Overall, I see Allen as a safe and consistent wide receiver who is only going as late as he is because of how deep the position is. He’s definitely someone who is going to be on a lot of my rosters in 2019.
– Eli Berkovits (@PTTF_Eli)
Carlos Hyde (RB – KC)
I have been one of the biggest Carlos Hyde truthers you will find in the fantasy community this season. Hyde is one of the most polarizing players at the position right now with a large following of people who simply think he is just straight up not good. That is not entirely true, however. I understand where it comes from based on simple glances at stats like his sub-4.0 YPA the last two years, but if you dive a little deeper, he has been much more efficient than that would lead you to believe. Looking at Carlos Hyde’s advanced metrics at FantasyData.com from last season, Hyde saw the second-highest stacked box percentage last year at 40.7% behind only Derrick Henry. Despite the high stacked box rate, Hyde managed a 24.7% juke rate which was right below Ezekiel Elliott (24.9%) and above guys like James Conner (22.2%), Kerryon Johnson (20.7%), and Aaron Jones (20.1%) to name a few. This led Hyde to a total of 200 yards created, which was also more than Kerryon and Aaron Jones, and 1.1 yards created per attempt that was even right above the likes of Alvin Kamara (1.07). These numbers were consistently positive for Hyde in 2017 where he registered a 21.4% juke rate with 64 evaded tackles, 13th most amongst RBs which was above Zeke and Mark Ingram to name a few. This led to 336 yards created (18th amongst RBs). Hyde ranked 12th amongst all RBs in fantasy PPG in both 2016 and 2017 and was on his way to similar success last season, on the still terrible version of the Browns mind you, ranking top-eight at the position through the first quarter of last season. There is so much upside with Hyde potentially taking the starting running back duties in KC. With the ability to grab him at an ADP of RB46 around the 11th round of drafts is a value I just can’t pass up.
– John Ferguson (@FantasyFerguson)
Aaron Jones (RB – GB)
One player I find myself taking in the third round of a ton of mock fantasy football drafts is Aaron Jones. The 24-year-old is one of the most explosive backs in the league playing for what should one of the premier offenses — a combination that often results in a breakout season. The two obstacles that Jones faced in the past were health and Mike McCarthy. McCarthy is gone, and while injuries are a valid concern, he’s no more of a risk to miss games than Dalvin Cook, Melvin Gordon, or Leonard Fournette — all of whom are going ahead of him. Jones has scored in all but two of the 12 games where he has seen double-digit touches and totaled 85 yards and/or a touchdown in all but one of those contests. His averages during those 12 games: 95.2 yards and one touchdown. Multiplied out to a full season, he would have finished as the RB6 in 2018 … on just 16.3 touches a game.
– Elisha Twerski (@ElishaTwerski)
Todd Gurley (RB – LAR)
I’m a risk-taker in fantasy football, and it usually does me more good than bad. That’s what this is, as Gurley is one of the biggest boom or bust players this season. The simple fact is, people are letting Gurley drop too far because of these injury concerns. Yes, the knee does worry me, but we’re talking about the best running back in football. This dude carried teams to the playoffs last season and literally lapped the field before his injury. If you’re telling me I can get that sort of potential in the second or even the third round, I’ll take that all day. Losing a second or third-round pick to injury is recoverable, and that’s why I’m willing to take that risk. If he’s there after the first round, he’s on my roster.
– Joel Bartilotta (@Bartilottajoel)
Kalen Ballage (RB – MIA)
When thinking of a must-have player, I am thinking of someone who will most likely end up on my rosters that could have a breakout season and can be obtained in the middle to late rounds of the draft. That player in 2019 is Kalen Ballage. Last year Ballage was stuck behind Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake. When Gore got hurt in the first quarter, Ballage immediately seized his opportunity by erupting for 123 yards and a TD on only 12 carries. He didn’t do too much the final two weeks of the season, but that performance alone let Gore walk. Ballage seems poised for a larger role as he took the first-team snaps in team drills at training camp. The Dolphins are not committed to Drake as the every-down back and did not bring in much competition in the draft or free agency. Ballage also has a nose for the end zone as he scored 29 touchdowns in 45 career games at Arizona State. He has all the tools you want in a feature back and his wheels in the open field are elite. Ballage has a realistic shot at winning the Miami starting running back position, or at least receive the lion’s share of the carries. Ballage is 41 in the ECR rankings out of all running backs, and if he wins the job could provide tremendous value. He is someone I am going to try to snag in every one of my drafts.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)
Joe Mixon (RB – CIN)
The AFC’s leading rusher last season despite playing in only 14 games, Bengals RB Joe Mixon has the potential to take an even bigger step forward this year. Stuck in an archaic offense with one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league, Mixon was able to tally big yardage numbers due in large part to his vision and his elusiveness. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Mixon had the second-most breakaway runs — carries that totaled 15 yards or more — in the league in 2018. Likewise, his true yards per carry — which exclude runs of 10 yards or more — showed that he was more than just a big-play threat. While there’s not much higher to go than the top rusher in the conference, Mixon has a load of untapped upside that new head coach Zac Taylor may be able to unleash. Though he caught 43 passes last season, Mixon’s upside as a pass-catcher was not utilized anywhere close to its fullest potential. His receiving capability was arguably his top trait in college, and if Taylor takes anything over from the Rams offense, it will hopefully be using Mixon in a variety of different ways even out of the backfield. Along with that, the Bengals made some upgrades along the offensive line. Though first-round pick Jonah Williams is out for the season already, they added John Miller and John Jerry through free agency and also selected three-year starter Michael Jordan from Ohio State, a trio of moves which should, at the very least, create competition for interior line spots. Along with the offensive line, they drafted perhaps the best run-blocking tight end in the entire draft with Drew Sample. With the changes made to the coaching staff and the additions to the offensive line, 2019 is shaping up to be an even better year for Joe Mixon.
– Brian Rzeppa (@brianrzeppa)
Evan Engram (TE – NYG)
I drafted Engram on a couple of dynasty teams when he was a rookie and was really happy with his production. Last year was disappointing as he missed five games and only caught three touchdowns, but that is part of the reason he’s a must-have player for me this year. We all want to grab the comeback player of the year late in our drafts, and I feel he fits that profile as he doesn’t seem to be rated very high right now. I understand the quarterback situation is murky, but at least there’s a succession plan from Eli Manning now. That may sharpen his focus somewhat, and Jones may actually be a good quarterback, or at least an upgrade. I think Engram will have more success with both Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate on the field taking some coverage away from him, but TE is such a thin talent pool right now. I’d rather not sacrifice a stud RB or WR for Kelce, Ertz, or Kittle. I’ve been able to scoop up Engram much later in drafts and will keep doing so.
– Sheldon Curtis (@sheldon_curtis)