Mike Tagliere’s Must-Have Players (2019 Fantasy Football)
We’re now at the end of the offseason, meaning only one thing. We need to plant our flags, declare our guys, and stand by our opinions. We can talk about players we like, players we think are values, and players that we’ll take if they fall to us, but what about the players we want to get on as many fantasy teams as possible, no matter what it takes?
Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Reaching too far would be a bad thing, as you’re likely erasing part of the equity built in when getting them close to their ADP (average draft position). But these are the guys who I feel gutted when I lose out on them, as I feel there’s either upside or breakout potential that is unrealized. Let’s talk about who I’m putting my reputation on as we head into the 2019 fantasy football season.
Odell Beckham (WR – CLE)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #11
I know what you’re thinking. “Duh, Mike. Everyone wants Beckham.” Right? Well, then why is his ADP outside the top 12 players? This means everyone has their chance to grab him if they really want him. Did you know that Beckham has been the best fantasy wide receiver in fantasy football over the last 20 years? Based on the results of my series “Boom, Bust, and Everything in Between,” he’s posted WR2 or better numbers in 72.9 percent of his games while no other receiver has hit that more than 64.5 percent of the time (Julio Jones) in their career. He did that with Eli Manning. He now gets Baker Mayfield. There’s record-breaking potential here.
Nick Chubb (RB – CLE)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #10
What in the world is going on when I have two Browns on the “My Guys” list of fantasy players? Despite playing behind an offensive line that generated just 0.85 yards before contact in 2018 (second-worst in the NFL), Chubb performed as an RB2 or better 70 percent of the time once he became a starter. Losing Duke Johnson frees up plenty of work in the passing-game and the addition of Odell Beckham will make life easier on Chubb, who saw eight-man fronts (stacked boxes) on 34.4 percent of his carries in 2018, which ranked as the fourth-most in the league. Chubb is worth a first-round pick, though his ADP sits in the second round.
Aaron Jones (RB – GB)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #30
They say talent wins in the NFL, right? Well, Jones is the most talented running back in Green Bay and it’s not all that close. When Jones took over the starting job from Weeks 8-14 last year, he was the No. 5 running back in fantasy football. Playing alongside Aaron Rodgers has its benefits, as he faced eight-man fronts on just 13.5 percent of his carries last year. Yeah, Matt LaFleur has talked about a rotation at running back, but the reward is greater than the risk. If Jones gets 15-plus touches per game, like I think he will, we could be talking about him as a first-round pick in 2020 drafts.
Chris Carson (RB – SEA)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #40
Do you know how rare it is for a team to run the ball 30-plus times per game? The Seahawks hit 32.8 rush attempts per game last year. Carson wasn’t the starter until Week 3 and from that time forward, he was a top-10 fantasy running back, which includes the Week 9 game when he had to leave early. Pete Carroll doesn’t factor in what they paid for a player when doing player evaluations, which is why Carson stole the job from the perceived starter Rashaad Penny last season. While Penny is going to get some touches, it’s Carson who’ll be performing as an RB1 when on the field. Even if you expect Penny’s role to grow, don’t forget that Mike Davis and his 9.7 touches per game are gone.
James White (RB – NE)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #66
For whatever reason, many are ignoring the fact that Rob Gronkowski retired. Instead of looking where those targets would be allocated, they just assume it means more for the wide receivers, though the correlation between wide receiver targets and running back targets doesn’t exist. The correlation between tight ends and running backs does, however. With the downturn in Gronkowski’s career in 2018, do you believe it’s a coincidence that White saw 7.7 targets per game compared to his 5.3 targets per game the previous two seasons? That was with Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman healthy, so what gives? It took an average of 12.5 PPR points to finish as an RB2 or better in 2018. White hit that mark 12 times. The only guys who did it more? Christian McCaffrey (15), Saquon Barkley (15), Ezekiel Elliott (14), and Alvin Kamara (13). Knowing that you’re able to get White as an RB3/flex in the sixth round is a no brainer.
O.J. Howard (TE – TB)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #55
If you’re looking for the next breakout tight end who could be drafted inside the top two rounds like Travis Kelce and George Kittle, here’s your guy. Howard’s 11.8 yards per target in 2018 ranks as the second-highest mark of all-time among tight ends who saw at least 40 targets. His mark of 11.1 yards per target in 2017 would rank fifth all-time, but he just missed the cutoff with 39 targets. His career mark of 11.5 yards per target is the best of all-time (since they started tracking targets). In short, he’s posting ridiculous numbers and the Bucs don’t have a pass-catching running back who can cap his target numbers. Remember that running back and tight end numbers correlate more than any others.
Alshon Jeffery (WR – PHI)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #52
I’ve never really been a guy who overpays for Jeffery, and I’m not going to start now, but I’m also very confused about why he’s falling near the bottom of the top 30 wide receivers. Despite playing through injuries, missing three games, and playing with a backup quarterback half the time, Jeffery was the WR26 in 2018. He was the WR18 in 2017. The addition of DeSean Jackson should help him see less double coverage, though getting Carson Wentz back is the biggest plus. He’s being extremely undervalued, making one of the better targets in 2019 fantasy drafts.
Jameis Winston (QB – TB)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #95
Depending on who you are drafting with, Winston may be someone you can snag in the 13th round or so. There are far too many people who believe real-life success means fantasy success. Josh Allen legitimately won fantasy owners championships last year; it doesn’t mean he’s a good quarterback. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard at his disposal, Winston may have the best weapons in the league. Not just that, but he now has Bruce Arians calling the plays, very little run-game, and a horrendous defense. Everything stated here equals pass attempts to high-quality pass-catchers. There is no Ryan Fitzpatrick here. This is the year they find out if Winston will be their future quarterback. I have him ranked as a top-eight quarterback who has top-three in his range of outcomes.
Geronimo Allison (WR – GB)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #99
Knowing that Allison has a solidified role in the offense as the ‘big slot’ receiver, you should be buying in at his current cost of WR50. There have been 10 games in Allison’s career he’s played with Aaron Rodgers and been targeted at least three times (you don’t want to count the games he was backing up others). In those games, he’s averaged 4.3 receptions for 64.6 yards and 0.4 touchdowns, which amounts to 11.0 half-PPR points per game, which would have been the WR27 last year. Coincidentally, before he suffered his season-ending injury after quarter of the 2018 season, he was the WR26.
Anthony Miller (WR – CHI)
Overall Half-PPR Rank: #109
When looking for potential breakout candidates, you want to find players who are attached to high-scoring offenses. Seeing the Bears finish No. 10 in points per game last year despite some growing pains from Mitch Trubisky and with it being the first year in the new Matt Nagy-installed offense, there’s room for growth. Miller scored seven touchdowns on just 55 targets while playing through a separated shoulder. In fact, he separated it “five or six times,” according to reports. As a rookie, it’s impressive to see how he performed. He’s a natural separator in his routes and plays the majority of snaps in the slot, which should provide a big target for Trubisky. It’s very possible we see Miller approach the 100-target mark in 2019, making him a late-round sleeper that I want everywhere.