Looking at this year’s first round fantasy picks, there are no surprises since each has produced so well in the past that we can see a similar scenario playing out in 2019. At one point, though, each of those players besides Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley were not even in consideration as first-rounders and in some cases like Davante Adams, James Conner, and Travis Kelce, you would have been laughed at relentlessly for even suggesting there was a path for them to become that type of fantasy asset. Today, I’ll highlight seven players who could make that jump by this time next year. There is, of course, no guarantee, otherwise, we would all be drafting them there already, but each has a realistic scenario that could lead to them becoming a legitimate fantasy stud. I’ll tell you about those scenarios as well.
Beyond this article, I’d encourage you to take a moment to look at all the tools on our website (that some on Reddit have deemed “cheating”) as they will assuredly give you an upper hand over your league-mates. We offer customizable cheat sheets, our auction calculator and the expert consensus rankings that most know our site for. Make sure to quickly import your team for free into MyPlaybook, which is like having a team of experts in your war room, and while you’re at it, give my podcast a listen if you’d like. Thanks for visiting FantasyPros; we look forward to helping you win a few fantasy championships this season! Now let’s get onto the team!
Darwin Thompson (RB – KC)
There is no doubt about it that Damien Williams will open the season as the starting running back for the Chiefs. He was extraordinary, after all, to close the season for Kansas City, but let’s not forget that before him, Kareem Hunt was a fantasy monster and prior to Hunt, Ware was at one point the top running back in fantasy. Going back further, it was Jamaal Charles, and all of this happened in a five-year period. It is possible, then, that Williams is the newest one-year wonder under Andy Reid then the Chiefs move on, be it an injury or what have you. More than likely, though, the Chiefs quickly realize that while Williams is great under Reid (he wasn’t even close to good with Miami) that Darwin would be even better. Williams is by no means a workhorse or three-down back so you can be sure they will get a good look at Thompson on the field with the starters for 10 touches per game to open the year.
Hunter Henry (TE – LAC)
Rob Gronkowski was old and broken down, right? Gronk is just four months older than Travis Kelce. There is a chance that Kelce takes a step back into the second-tier of tight ends this year while George Kittle sees fewer targets with his new starter, Jimmy G and a pair of impressive rookie pass-catchers on his roster. Additionally, Ertz turns 29 this year and the Eagles have spoken clearly that they want to reduce his target share. Enter Henry, who has done this:
Henry has 115 career targets. Check out these TE’s per 115 targets:Ertz: 80 rec, 881 yds, 5.3 TD, 160 fantasy ptsKelce: 81 rec, 1039 yds, 6.4 TD, 183 fantasy ptsGronk: 76 rec, 1138 yds, 11.4 TD, 220 fantasy pts
Henry 81 rec, 1057 yds, 12.0 TD, 218 fantasy pts
Keenan Allen is already banged up again so is it feasible that Henry ends up with 120 targets for 80 receptions, 1100 yards and a dozen scores? Absolutely. If it happens, don’t be shocked when he is in a tight end tier of his own this time next year and being selected at the back-end of the 1st round.
Justin Jackson (RB – LAC)
By the time you are reading this, the Chargers may have ponied up 30 million guaranteed for Melvin Gordon and Jackson would be immediately droppable. Or, perhaps, we could be entering the season with everyone thinking Austin Ekeler was the Chargers’ sure-fire bell-cow back. Let’s rewind to last fall when the Chargers tried that experiment. Ekeler’s hyper-efficiency didn’t translate. Now, he is a quality football player, for sure, but he is best suited as a third-down back. Then there is Jackson has had 30+ touches in SIXTEEN college games. He was excellent in his one start with the Chargers last year and his tape jumps off the page as an agile runner with incredible acceleration. In this offensive, the Chargers might not even realize Gordon was missing if they let Jackson fill his shoes.
Justice Hill (RB – BAL)
So I just mentioned how agile Jackson was. Compared to Hill, Jackson looks like a tortoise. Hill is a bigger, faster, strong version of Phillip Lindsay, who just so happened to run for over 1,000 yards on under 200 carries last season. My podcast co-host said Hill’s tape reminds him of Reggie Bush, minus the all-world hands. While he is stuck behind Mark Ingram right now, Ingram is on the wrong side of 30 years old and you can bet the contrast between the two this year will be stark. If Ingram suffers an injury at any point this year, don’t expect him to get the job back. Hill will take it for himself and never look back. When he does, we might see him end the 2019 season like C.J. Anderson‘s incredible 2014 breakout that led to him being drafted in the first round of 2015 fantasy drafts.
Mike Williams (WR – LAC)
When Williams was a rookie, some chargers coaches were walking behind him and mistook him for a defensive end. The kid has a massive body and excellent athleticism to go with it. Yes, Keenan Allen is there and we did already talk about two other high-upside Chargers, but as Mike Tagliere has commonly said, Williams just might be this decad’s Dez Bryant who consistently hauls in 10 to 15 touchdowns per season. If Allen suffers yet another injury, or is dealt before his contract year, Williams’ unique skill set would be on full display, and as we saw with Mike Evans in 2016, finishing as the surprise fantasy #1 receiver will put you squarely in the first round of next season’s drafts.
Calvin Ridley (WR – ATL)
Williams might be the most physically gifted receiver to come out of college in the past few seasons, but on tape, Ridley appeared to be the best last year. His route-running in grade-A. His body control may not be matched by any rookie I’ve ever seen. His instincts and awareness are both off the charts too, and while all of that may not seem like your prototypical #1, need I remind you that neither Jerry Rice nor Antonio Brown were the world’s most capable athletes? There is a scenario where the 30-year-old Julio Jones deals with a lengthy injury or even takes a backseat to the emerging Ridley. If that happens, Ridley could be the new Reggie Wayne or Jordy Nelson of the NFL.
Brian Hill (RB – ATL)
We are going super deep for the last one. I mean Arian Foster deep or Peyton Hillis deep. Someone who is on no one’s radar, but could legitimately be a top-five fantasy pick if everything falls into place. Look, we don’t like to talk about it, but injuries do happen, and to running backs, they happen quite often. I can guarantee you at least 4 of the 32 starting running backs will suffer season-ending injuries this season, and frankly, the number will likely be closer to 8. Look back at the breakout running backs over the past 20 years and you’ll find one thing in common: they weren’t middling running backs who suddenly became good, they were unheard of backups in great offenses. Atlanta is a great offense. Heck, they produced the #1 fantasy back just a few seasons ago! Hill, meanwhile, seems to have passed Ito Smith on their depth chart and just so happens to be one of the most athletic backs in football.
Some of my other 2019 Fantasy Football articles
- Cheat Sheet for Family & Friends
- QB Rankings and Notes
- RB Rankings and Notes
- WR Rankings and Notes
- TE Rankings and Notes
- 50 Stats for Draft Day
- Top 10 Sleepers
- Perfect Fantasy Football Mock Draft
- Auction Values
- Overall Rankings
- Dynasty Rookie Rankings
- Cheat Code: Don’t Draft a Kicker
- Cheat Code: How to Maximize D/ST Value