5 Names To Target for Early 2019 Best Ball Drafts
With the NFL season almost in the rearview mirror, prep for the 2019 is about to begin. In the fantasy football world, the offseason had previously been a darker time, focused primarily on free agent movement and draft prospects.
These leagues involve no in-season maintenance and simply start the team’s optimal lineup each week. Drafts last 18-20 rounds and rosters consist of 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, and a flex (Fanball includes defenses), with no waiver pick-ups. This means injured players count as zeros the rest of the way.
With drafts opening almost immediately after the regular season, here are a few players presenting value early in the offseason.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
In an injury-plagued season, Fournette will surely find himself drafted below Todd Gurley and the other top-tier feature running backs in 2019. However, multiple signs point toward a potential Fournette bounce back in 2019.
Already predicated on the run, the Jaguars will likely continue with a similar strategy in 2019. With Fournette in the lineup, the Jags ran at the fifth-highest clip in 2018 after running more than any other team in 2017. To further boost Fournette’s outlook, both T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant will be free agents after this year, potentially putting him in position to be a three-down back.
The Jags heavily invested in offensive line last season, but injuries torpedoed the unit’s overall effectiveness. Brandon Linder, Andrew Norwell, Jeremy Parnell, and Cam Robinson all began the year as starters, but ended on injured reserve. The situation turned so desperate that Jacksonville signed turnstile Ereck Flowers in relief. However, each of those starters remains under contract for 2019, which should create more space for Fournette to run.
Jacksonville could be in for a tumultuous offseason. They may choose to move on from Blake Bortles after benching him midseason, despite $16.5 million in dead cap money. They could also look for a new head coach, with Doug Marrone showing clear regression in 2018. How that plays out remains to be seen, but it wouldn't be surprising if it increased the focus on the run as the stablest foundation they've built.
Volume drives fantasy production, and Fournette has averaged 21.9 touches in 20 games in his career. As a potential late second-round pick, Fournette’s volume could make him a staple of winning best ball teams.
Antonio Callaway, Cleveland Browns
Despite a tumultuous rookie season, Callaway quietly carved out a significant role for himself in the ascending Cleveland offense. Since the Week 11 bye, Callaway finished second among Browns’ receivers in snaps, targets, and routes behind only Jarvis Landry.
Heading into 2019, the Browns receiver room could thin out considerably with Rashard Higgins headed for restricted free agency and Breshad Perriman carrying no future guarantees.
Callaway plays a critical downfield role in the Browns' offensive attack. Excluding Perriman, who received only 21 targets, Callaway led the Browns with a 13.5 aDOT. That meshes nicely with Baker Mayfield’s preference for throws down the field. In 2018, Mayfield finished with the eighth-highest average intended air yards (8.8).
After missing his entire last year in college, Callaway showed growth in 2018. A full offseason with Mayfield should benefit the second-year receiver, making him an ideal mid- or late-round best ball pick.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Similar to Mitch Trubisky a season ago, underperforming rookie quarterbacks make solid targets in best ball drafts the following season. With Mayfield and Lamar Jackson already breaking out, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen look most likely to benefit from a full offseason of work
The first thing to like about these rookies is job security. All of these players were selected in the top 10 and remain highly unlikely to come off the field without an injury.
Second, a full offseason to work with coaching staffs/player personnel can make a big difference for a second-year signal caller. With coaches on each of these teams on the hot seat and potential departures in the receiving corps (Larry Fitzgerald – UFA, Robby Anderson – RFA), the offseason will likely cause movement among these three signal callers.
To this point, Allen has showed the most fantasy upside among the three and remains in the most stable offense. Despite missing four games, Allen ranks second in quarterback rushing yards (536), dwarfing both Rosen (138) and Darnold (110).
Additionally, Buffalo began the offseason purging process early by cutting Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes. Moving forward with Zay Jones, Isaiah McKenzie, and Robert Foster, Allen should benefit from an offseason to work with each of these receivers.
Already showing upside for spiked weeks, Allen could improve in his second year in Buffalo and help fantasy owners in early best ball drafts.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens
Plagued by injuries and off-field issues to start his career, Dixon looks poised to play a larger role for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019.
The Ravens’ backfield should thin out considerably heading into the offseason. Ty Montgomery and Buck Allen will enter 2019 as unrestricted free agents, while Alex Collins will head for restricted free agency. With only Gus Edwards, an exclusive rights free agent, remaining to compete, Dixon has the potential to rocket to the top of drafts in the offseason if the Ravens don't bring in additional competition.
While Edwards and Dixon have split the load recently, volume has increasingly moved in Dixon’s favor. His snaps have reached 52% and 47% in Weeks 15 and 16, while Edward’s snaps fell to 43% and 37%.
This recent usage trend likely has to do with Dixon’s three-down skillset. Despite only appearing in five games this season, Dixon has out-targeted Edwards 6-2.
While it remains possible the Ravens target an RB in free agency or the draft, the Ravens may decide to give their former fourth-round pick a longer look in 2019. The Ravens have also not selected a running back in the top two rounds of the NFL draft since they obtained Ray Rice in 2008 with the 55th overall pick.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Already popping off for 728 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns in 2018, Godwin looks ready to take the next step in 2019.
Entering the offseason, the Bucs’ receiver room could immediately lose a few bodies. Adam Humphries will be an unrestricted free agent and both DeSean Jackson and Cameron Brate can be cut with zero dead cap hit.
Godwin has shown the ability to produce big games when given the opportunity, recording over 100 receiving yards on multiple occasions without Mike Evans and Jackson over the past two years.
This offense remains in flux, with Jameis Winston’s future in question and head coach Dirk Koetter likely to be fired. However, opportunity reigns supreme in fantasy football, and hitting Godwin before his ADP rises looks like a winning strategy.