At some point every summer, I rip open the notebook and basically give out my highlighted names. It’s time to do that for 2019.
This isn’t a strict “What’s In My Wallet” piece, though there is some of that. A lot of Wallet pieces tend to come out right before the season, and what’s the value in that? Every league has drafted by that point. If we don’t release those pieces early enough to be actionable, we’re missing the point.
I look forward to having this list held against me in various leagues to come (no, I don’t, but it comes with the gig). And please remember two evergreen rules: Of course, everything is contextual (you know your league better than any outsider ever can); and my list of targets and fades is an ever-evolving one, sensitive to league news and second looks at players and situations.
I guess you could call this list a mix of “My Guys” and “What’s In My Wallet.” I’m not hung up on names and branding. Call it whatever you want. And if your list looks vastly different, that’s fine. That’s why we play. And there are dozens of guys I like who I didn’t include — I refuse to do the “Bottomless Cup” article that lists 79 players. That’s the easy way out. You can’t like everyone.
So here are some of My Guys. Throw your snark into the comments below, and I welcome your thoughtful disagreement on Twitter: @scott_pianowski.
(Please remember to throw some common sense into this exercise. I know that if, say, I have the first overall pick, Nick Chubb almost certainly won’t be on my roster. This is simply a list of guys I like at their expectant prices. The goal is not to decide you must have these players no matter what, and then subsequently overpay for them.)
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Cam Newton
On some level, it feels like a cheat to include any quarterbacks on a list like this. It’s the deepest quarterback pool in fantasy history. Right answers are abundant here.
Nonetheless, we are going to have our favorites, and these are three of mine.
Ryan is mostly on the list for his boring-veteran status; there’s nothing buzzy about the guy these days, no matter that his supporting cast is loaded and he’s regularly been a star (2016 MVP, last year’s No. 2 quarterback). The lack of buzz is baked into his draft value. You also love the Falcons playing 13 of 16 games indoors this year, and the offensive line getting refurbished (if you’re in on Devonta Freeman, I’ll sign off).
Newton’s had a few messy seasons, but he’s also been the QB4 or better in five of his eight campaigns. The willingness to run the ball provides a healthy backboard, and he has at least three significant pass catchers in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel. On some Sundays, Newton won’t play well but those teammates will fix the bottom line.
Wentz was basically the MVP-elect in 2017 before the late injury. Now he gets all sorts of new toys to play with — DeSean Jackson to stretch defenses, Miles Sanders to upgrade the backfield, the second season of Dallas Goedert. Zach Ertz is still a star, of course, and Alshon Jeffery at least offers touchdown deodorant. The crowded usage tree is a concern for many of these players, but not for Wentz — he’s at the center of the food chain.
Again, I want to reiterate, so many quarterbacks will make us happy this year. If you prefer one of the young, aggressive runners at the position, knock yourself out. Patrick Mahomes has everything you’d want in a modern QB. Deshaun Watson’s upside is MVP and 2020 cover-boy. You can do well at any price point.
Running Backs: Nick Chubb, James Conner, Chris Carson, Matt Breida
Chubb has a second-round tag on many boards, but I’ll often consider him in the first. I like where this offense is headed, and I think Chubb could have some sneaky receiving upside. The previous Browns regime didn’t have any clue how to adequately use him, and his pass-catching efficiency was solid. And obviously, Duke Johnson is finally out of the building.
The presence of Kareem Hunt does not push me off a Chubb selection. Perhaps Chubb will be so dominant in the first half of the year, Hunt will return to a lesser role. Most of the time, I prefer to play fantasy football with a microscope, not a telescope.
I try to take most offseason coach-speak with a heavy grain of salt, and I didn’t buy that Conner was headed for a notably-downgraded role. Rookie Benny Snell Jr. is just a guy, Jaylen Samuels more of a hybrid player. It’s interesting to note that Conner ran all 14 first-team reps in the second preseason week.
Carson and Rashaad Penny can co-exist and both return fantasy profit, especially with Seattle as run-heavy as any NFL team. Mike Davis has departed, taking some touches to Chicago. A messy “backfield by committee” basically meant two backs a decade ago; these days, we can survive with two. It’s when a team goes to three backs that it becomes too congested for our purposes. Carson has slipped into a value pocket.
I landed Breida on a bunch of my earlier teams — man, do I love drafting early before ADPs crystalize and dots are connected for everyone — but it will be harder going forward. I never saw Jerick McKinnon as a threat in this backfield, and now he’s clearly out of the way. Tevin Coleman is a mouth to feed, but it might be more in a satellite role. Breida’s durability is an open question, but last year’s efficiency leaps off the page. He’s a favorite middle-round target.
Receivers: Mike Evans & Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Christian Kirk, Kenny Stills
Everyone wants a piece of the Tampa Bay passing game — Bruce Arians is our friend, the running game looks awful, and even the defense could be leaky. Maybe Jameis Winston isn’t good, but he’s good enough. Evans is probably being drafted at his floor right now, but his upside is the WR1.
Godwin is a tricky commodity because he’s everybody’s pet player, and now you have to price in another bump to break even (let’s be fair, he did bust out last year). But I believe Arians when he says Godwin is going to be on the field in all packages, and I also believe Evans when he says he has a legitimate rivalry with Godwin as to who this team’s No. 1 receiver really is. Godwin was more fun at the spring prices and I hate to pay up for helium guys, but sometimes you can’t help yourself.
Robinson was at the top of my 2018 fade list and for the most part that held up. But his game started to round into form in the second half, and he was Chicago’s best player in the January loss to the Eagles. Now it’s Year 2 for Robinson in Chicago, and Year 2 of Matt Nagy. The Bears have a crowded usage tree, but Robinson is still a clear favorite to lead the team in targets. Now two years removed from an ACL blowout, I’m eager to invest.
Rookie wideouts went crazy in 2014, and it came with a hangover effect. Pro football isn’t that easy, especially for freshman receivers, and we’ve seen few of them have splashy debuts over the last four years. With that in mind, I’m thrilled anytime a first-year wideout simply keeps his head above water, and that’s what Kirk did last year, despite a nightmare setup with Arizona.
I can’t promise you Arizona’s video-game offense will work in the NFL. I can’t be sure Kyler Murray is an instant star, or Kliff Kingsbury is a long-term solution. But there’s a chance all the changes are significant upgrades over the banana convention the Cardinals had last year, and let’s not miss the point that Kirk was productive last year despite that constant uphill path.
Stills is one of my heaviest best-ball investments, though I can’t be positive it will carry over to my seasonal leagues over the next two-three weeks. It’s still not clear how much slot time Stills will receive (versus the also-intriguing Albert Wilson). But someone on this offense could be sitting on a stealthy 800-7 type of season, especially if Ryan Fitzpatrick is forced to start a chunk of games.
Tyler Boyd probably would have been on this list had A.J. Green not gotten hurt. I’m still in on Boyd, it’s just more obvious now.
The Rest: Austin Hooper, Seattle/Philly/Dallas DST
Improvement isn’t always linear in sports, but Hooper has shown steady growth in his three seasons. Last year’s YPC wasn’t much, but he did snag 80.7 percent of his targets, reeling in 71 catches. He’s never scored more than four touchdowns in a year, but with Atlanta using Hooper regularly on two-point plays, I see some latent touchdown upside. If you’re going budget at the position, Hooper has a tangible floor and a theoretical upside.
The DST hack has always been simple — whenever possible, roll a big favorite playing at home. We want our defenses — specifically, our pass rushers — pinning their ears back in the fourth quarter and taking dead aim at the pocket. Philly hosts Washington in Week 1, Seattle welcomes Cincinnati, and Dallas invites the Giants. If you’re willing to invest on the road, Baltimore could be appealing at Miami.
I totally get it if you choose to ignore kickers and defenses in mid-summer drafts, looking to pick another lottery ticket at the critical positions. Just remember that idea is a lot less valuable as we get closer to the start of the season. If you’re drafting a mere handful of days before the start of the year, you might as well fill all fringe positions. The chances of getting lucky with a surprise injury or news item are slim by that point, especially since so many key players will be bubble-wrapped for the final preseason game.