- An early look at 2019 fantasy football bounceback candidates.
Not everyone enjoyed the 2018 season the way Patrick Mahomes, Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins and George Kittle did. Luckily for these players, past results—in these cases, the most recent ones—do not guarantee future performance. Don’t let what happened with these five in 2018 cloud your judgment next season. All of them are primed to bounce back in 2019.
David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
Johnson actually didn’t have a terrible season, ranking 10th at his position in total points in half-PPR leagues, and 12th in points per game. Still, it felt like a struggle with him every single week during which he had to use maximum effort to wring every drop of value out of what Arizona’s anemic offense could provide. Johnson ultimately had 258 carries for 940 yards, caught 50 passes for 446 yards, and scored 10 touchdowns. Among players eligible for flex spots in standard leagues (backs, receivers and tight ends) he finished the year ranked 22nd. Again, that’s not a bad year. And yet, it was a disappointing one.
When it became clear that Le’Veon Bell’s holdout was going to drag into the season, Johnson rose one spot up draft boards, ending the summer second in average draft position to Todd Gurley. With that in mind, being the No. 10 back and No. 22 flex player simply was not enough from Johnson. In fact, he was a value bust, falling further short of expectations than any consensus first-round pick who did not suffer an injury.
Don’t let this season sour Johnson for you. First, he remains the outrageously talented, do-it-all back who racked up 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 2016. Second, he’s just 27 years old and has zero significant leg injuries in his history. Third, the Cardinals will have an entirely new offensive brain trust next year, led by Kliff Kingsbury who should have as a primary goal to get Johnson back to his 2016 ways. His draft stock will slip understandably, but he should still be considered a first-round pick with the ceiling to be fantasy football’s No. 1 overall player.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football MVPs
Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
Henry missed the entire 2018 regular season after tearing his ACL in an OTA workout in May. Henry had to play alongside Antonio Gates during the first two years of his career, but he was still among the most productive tight ends in the league, totaling 117 catches for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns in 29 games. With Gates set to retire, Henry was a popular breakout pick at this time last year, and could have placed his name alongside George Kittle’s had he remained healthy. That was not to be the case, but the injury just delayed the inevitable. Henry is a wildly talented 24-year-old tight end who is going to have a significant role in one of the league’s best offenses. Henry has averaged just more than four targets per game in his career. By comparison, Zach Ertz got 9.8 targets this season, Travis Kelce got 9.4 targets, and Kittle had 8.4. Henry should be in their neighborhood next season, and could jump into the elite at the tight end position.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears
From a purely fantasy perspective, it was a frustrating first year in Chicago for Robinson. He was the 21st receiver off the board in a typical draft, going at the end of the fourth round in 12-team leagues. He finished the season with 55 catches for 754 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games, which had him ranked 40th among receivers in total points and 35th in points per game in half-PPR leagues. The Bears are headed in the right direction offensively, and there’s good reason to believe Mitchell Trubisky will be better in his second season under Matt Nagy. Remember, this was almost a rookie year for Trubisky, who played in a comically limited offense under John Fox and Dowell Loggains when he was actually a rookie. As Trubisky gets more comfortable, everyone around him will benefit. The Bears’ greatest needs are on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s a good bet that Robinson will enter the 2019 season as the team’s top receiver.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins
Drake brought breakout potential into 2018, and that was reflected in his draft stock. He ranked 16th among backs and 33rd overall in ADP, coming off the board late in the third round of a typical draft. Someone forgot to tell Adam Gase, which was unfortunate for Drake backers considering Gase designed and controlled Miami’s offense. Drake took a backseat in the running game to Frank Gore, getting just 120 carries despite playing all 16 games. He was more active as a receiver, catching 53 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns, but it was hard to trust him as a fantasy starter all year. That’s not what you want out of your third-round pick.
Gase is gone, which brings new hope for Drake. It’s impossible to look at this roster and not identify him as the team’s primary playmaker. Add his rushing numbers to his receiving stats, and he finished the year with 1,012 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns on 177 touches. That comes out to 1.03 fantasy points per touch in half-PPR leagues. For sake of comparison, the top-three backs in half-PPR leagues—Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey—averaged 1.08, 0.96 and 1.01 points per touch, respectively. If Drake is Miami’s primary back in 2019, he’ll rebound in a big way.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football LVPs
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
Baldwin hurt one knee in training camp, admitted that it would likely prevent him from being 100% all season, and then hurt the other one in Seattle’s first game of the year. It’s a credit to his toughness and commitment that the two knee injuries cost him just three games, but it was easy to see that he was not himself for most of the season. He showed flashes of his previous brilliance, notably—and not surprisingly—when he was far removed from both injuries. During a three-game stretch from Week 14 through Week 16, Baldwin pulled down 13 of 22 targets for 225 yards and three touchdowns. With a full offseason ahead to rehab both knees, he should enter 2019 at 100%. Tyler Lockett’s emergence and the memories of a down season will push him down draft boards some, making him a good bet to be one of next season’s biggest draft-day bargains.