2019 Season in Review: Top Values (Fantasy Football)
We hear this word thrown around a lot during the draft season: “value.” Everyone is looking for great value, and rightfully so. Finding value is how you win your league.
With that being said, not all value is created equal. This was a lesson I learned a couple of years ago as I got caught up trying to draft all these value guys while forgetting that I still needed players to win me my leagues.
Every season, there will be plenty of value picks in the mid to late rounds. But drafting a guy in the 10th round that returns a sixth-round value, while helpful, isn’t making a huge difference. You should certainly strive to achieve that, but, and this applies more so to auction than snake, a team full of those type of values is not going to win. We need the 2018 Phillip Lindsays (last round pick that became an RB1) and 2017 Tyreek Hills (fourth-round pick that became a WR1) to truly dominate our leagues. Let’s take a look at the top values of the 2019 season.
*Note that for all fantasy point discussions, I am using average PPR points per game from Weeks 1-16.
Lamar Jackson (QB – BAL)
It is no surprise that Lamar Jackson is the first name on this list (mostly because I start with quarterbacks). Jackson was the top value in fantasy football. He was typically drafted as a fringe QB1 in the double-digit rounds. He gave us one of the most dominant seasons in history. Remember 2010 Michael Vick? Yeah, Jackson was better. Jackson was the most dominant fantasy quarterback in the history of fantasy football. His 28.2 points per game are an all-time record and the disparity between him and the second-best fantasy quarterback, Deshaun Watson, was 6.1 points per game, also a record. If you drafted Jackson, you will be hard-pressed to make a more valuable draft pick for the rest of your fantasy career.
Austin Hooper (TE – ATL)
One of the biggest surprises of 2019 was the breakout of Austin Hooper. For a long stretch this season, Hooper was the best tight end in fantasy. An injury and a middling return ended up dropping him below Travis Kelce and George Kittle, but Hooper was still a tremendous value. Over his first eight games, he finished as the overall TE8 or better seven times. Typically drafted around the eighth or ninth round as a fringe TE1, Hooper returned third-round value and carried fantasy owners through the first half of the season.
Mark Andrews (TE – BAL)
This year’s overall TE5, Mark Andrews, was also incredible value. Despite playing around 50% of the snaps in a low volume passing attack, Andrews led the league in hog rate and benefited from Lamar Jackson’s historic efficiency. Andrews was a double-digit round dart throw in drafts that ended up finishing as the overall TE5.
Darren Waller (TE – OAK)
Sometimes preseason hype trains pan out. Darren Waller is one of those cases. The converted wide receiver that has bounced in and out of the league due to substance abuse issues, Waller finally got his life in order and used his elite athleticism to propel him to an overall TE6 finish. When drafts first started, Waller was largely going undrafted. Hard Knocks and the preseason pushed his ADP up considerably, but he was still nothing more than a last couple rounds hopeful. Waller delivered and while he wasn’t a league-winning player, his performance from an area of the draft that is usually a wasteland made him one of the best values of 2019.
Austin Ekeler (RB – LAC)
The fantasy community was largely in agreement that Melvin Gordon wasn’t going to sit out the entire season, but we knew he was going to sit out part of the season. That pushed Austin Ekeler’s ADP up to about the sixth round, but he couldn’t really go much higher due to concerns about Gordon’s unknown return and how well Ekeler could perform as a feature back. There was also concern about Justin Jackson eating into Ekeler’s touches. All of that proved largely irrelevant as Ekeler, the RB30 in ADP, finished as the overall RB4, above guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Nick Chubb. Ekeler was a dominant force before Gordon returned, winning fantasy owners multiple weeks at the start of the season, but it was Ekeler’s sustainability throughout Gordon’s return that made him such a value. Ekeler had four RB1 weeks after Gordon reported and five RB2 weeks. While he wasn’t as prolific as the guy we saw over the first four weeks, he was still on the RB1/2 border, which is way more than you could ever ask for from a sixth-round pick.
Derrick Henry (RB – TEN)
One of the more divisive players in fantasy football is Derrick Henry. He was so bad for the majority of last season and fantasy owners were reluctant to buy into a late-season surge as the real Henry while ignoring what he did over the first half of the 2018 season. To be fair to his detractors, they weren’t wrong about their concerns. Henry remains at the mercy of his offensive line, offensive productivity, and game script. Fortunately for Henry, all of those things played in his favor this season. The Titans were competitive in almost every game. Henry was 14th in snap share, but fourth in opportunity share. His ADP had fallen to the back of the third round by draft day and he finished as the overall RB7 while putting in his best work from Weeks 9-14.
Chris Godwin (WR – TB)
Outside of Lamar Jackson, this is the most obvious name on this list. Chris Godwin was everyone’s favorite breakout candidate. He was so hyped that it got to the point where people started to wonder if it was too obvious. Is everyone really going to be correct about Godwin? Can he still return value if you have to take him in the third round? Answer: yes. While Godwin was still eons away from overall WR1 Michael Thomas, he was decently ahead of overall WR3 Julio Jones, finishing 1.2 ppg ahead of Julio. Even with Mike Evans also posting mid WR1 numbers, Godwin established himself as a true alpha. The Bucs are allowed to have two alphas. Godwin returned early second-round value from the fourth round.
Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR)
I actually hate having to put Cooper Kupp on this list because of how badly he faded in the second half, but the fact remains that Kupp came into the season with a depressed ADP due to concerns about his recovery from a midseason torn ACL and the “mouths to feed” issue with the Rams. Kupp opened the year as an elite WR1, topping 100 yards receiving in four of his first five games. Kupp followed that up with 11 points or fewer in four of his next five games, including a goose egg and then Sean McVay decided to essentially bench Kupp for Josh Reynolds and the duo of Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt. The move to more 12 personnel came at Kupp’s expense. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Kupp found the end zone despite limited playing time and limited targets in each of his final four games resulting in an overall WR8 finish. He was certainly worth the fifth-round pick it cost to draft him and will be a very interesting case heading into 2020.
Allen Robinson (WR – CHI)
One of my favorite picks heading into 2019 was Allen Robinson. Entering his second year removed from his ACL tear, Robinson was poised to have a bounce-back campaign and was even better than his most fervent supporters could have imagined. ARob finished as the overall WR10 with seven games of over 17 fantasy points. Robinson was heading off draft boards around the sixth round as a mid WR3 and provided low WR1 value with poor quarterback play. I maintain that Robinson is one of the 10 best wide receivers in the NFL. If he switched places with Michael Thomas, we’d be talking about Robinson as a mid-first-round pick.
Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN)
After flopping in his opportunity late last season, the hype surrounding Courtland Sutton, who profiled as a true dominant X receiver, died significantly. Sutton was being drafted around the 10th or 11th round as a mid WR4. The elite prospect showed why he was viewed so highly out of college on his way to a low WR2 finish. Big Sut, as I like to call him, was a WR3 or better in nine games, including six games over 17 fantasy points. If you hit on Sutton, you had an every-week starter that cost next to nothing.
I just wanted to throw these three guys in here because they deserve mentioning. They largely went undrafted, but they were hot Week 1 pickups who emerged into reliable weekly starters for the majority of the season. All three will be mid-single-digit round picks in 2020.