Earlier this week, SI unveiled our fantasy football top 300 for the 2019 season. Those rankings show where we differ from industry pros on specific players by comparing our ranks to the expert consensus ranking, or ECR. The ECR reflects every player’s average ranking among the industry members who submit their rankings to FantasyPros.
Now that our rankings are on the record, we thought it would be helpful to explain why we differ from the industry consensus on certain players. In this column, we’ll do so for players we like more than the consensus. On Tuesday, we’ll flip the switch and discuss players we like less than the consensus.
Note that these are not the only players on whom we differ. You can also check out our sleepers and breakouts candidates (as well as busts), and stay tuned for more analysis as we get closer to draft time.
Odell Beckham, WR, Browns (SI: Overall 5, WR1; ECR: Overall 13, WR4)
This may not be a huge divergence based on raw numbers, but it’s a significant one in draft position. Beckham projects to be available at the turn in 12-team leagues, but I’m willing to take him with the fifth overall pick, leapfrogging him ahead of eight players the fantasy community believes will be superstar performers this year. Put simply, I believe we’ve yet to see the best from Beckham, and that Baker Mayfield and this Cleveland offense is poised to bring it out of him.
Despite Eli Manning’s obvious deficiencies over the last five years, Beckham has averaged 6.6 catches, 93 yards and 0.7 touchdowns per game in his career. That translates to 105 catches, 1,485 yards and 12 touchdowns across a 16-game season with a quarterback who was, at his best, barely a top-20 passer in the league. Now imagine what he can do with Mayfield, a 24-year-old No. 1 overall pick who threw for 3,725 yards, 7.66 yards per attempt, and 27 touchdowns as a rookie. Remember, too, that Mayfield’s play improved significantly when new Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator halfway through last season. In eight games with Kitchens calling the shots, Mayfield threw for 2,254 yards, 8.91 YPA, 19 touchdowns and eight picks.
There may be more mouths to feed in Cleveland this year than there ever were in New York, but no team trades for a player like Beckham to mix him in with the rest of the skill players. Beckham will be the centerpiece weapon in the offense, with Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Antonio Callaway mixing in around him. There’s a familiar adage in the fantasy world that you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it. The first part of that saying may not be true with respect to Beckham this year. He’s shaping up to be a league-winner at his average draft position.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions (SI: Overall 27, WR11; ECR: Overall 39, WR18)
Golladay’s ranking, especially at his own position, suggests that the fantasy community at large doesn’t realize what a season he had last year. Golladay ended the year ranked 21st among receivers in half-PPR leagues, catching 70 passes for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns. He was 16th in the league in targets and 14th among receivers in yards, despite the fact that he missed one game, started only 13, and spent the first half of the season clearly behind Marvin Jones on the depth chart, while also dealing with Golden Tate’s presence.
Golladay took off in the second half of the year, after the team dealt Tate to the Eagles, racking up 71 targets, 37 receptions, 540 yards and two touchdowns over his final seven games. That owes in part to Marvin Jones missing six of those games due to injury, but Golladay started to take over as the team’s No. 1 before Jones went down. In the two games they played together after the Tate trade, Golladay had a 95.9% snap rate to Jones’ 90.2%. Jones may be back fully healthy to start this season, but the 25-year-old Golladay should be Detroit’s top receiver.
What’s more, there’s reason to believe Golladay will find the end zone more often this season. Last year, 25 receivers had at least 60 receptions and 100 targets. The 24 other than Golladay scored touchdowns on 5.6% of their targets and 8.4% of their receptions. Golladay hit paydirt on 4.2% of his targets and 7.1% of his receptions.
The major concern is the expected pace of Detroit’s run-based offense, which may put a cap on Golladay’s ceiling. Still, if he was able to total 119 targets as a No. 2 receiver in a slow-paced offense that leaned on three receivers last year, imagine what he can do as a No. 1 receiver in one that will likely only feature two as key players.
David Montgomery, RB, Bears (SI: Overall 51, RB24; ECR: Overall 71, RB29)
Much has been made about running back fits in Matt Nagy’s offense. Specifically, Tarik Cohen is seen as an ideal piece in Nagy’s scheme, while the jettisoning of Jordan Howard was driven largely by the fact that he wasn’t. While Cohen is indeed in line for a large role in Chicago’s offense this year, it’s Montgomery who’s the Bears back the fantasy community should be prioritizing in drafts and auctions.
For all the talk of Howard’s terrible fit in Nagy’s offense, he still got 250 carries last year, totaling 935 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked 13th in the league with 12 carries inside the 5-yard line, and tied for 14th with 19 carries inside the 10. Those carries aren’t being phased out of the Bears’ offense, and they aren’t going to Cohen. Montgomery, whom the Bears traded up to draft early in the third round, is the favorite for those lucrative totes. He’s a better overall fit for Nagy’s offense considering what he showed off as a pass-catcher during his time at Iowa State. In his final two years in Ames, he had 58 receptions for 453 yards.
If Chicago’s offense takes the next step this year, most of their key players are going to out-perform their projections. Montgomery is likely in line for 16-plus opportunities (carries plus targets) per game, which could make him a steal at his ADP.
Derrius Guice, RB, Redskins (SI: Overall 54, RB26; ECR: Overall 68, RB28)
We’re basically in line with the industry consensus in terms of where Guice ranks at his position, but we’ve got him a full round earlier than the ECR in the player pool at large. That owes to two factors, one that matters and one that doesn’t. The former is that we’ve significantly devalued the quarterback position compared with the industry as a whole, with Guice jumping in our rankings ahead of five quarterbacks he trails in the ECR. The latter is that the industry is giving way too much credit to Adrian Peterson as an impediment to Guice reaching his full potential this season, and that’s the one we want to dive into. The sooner we dispel it, the sooner Guice will get the ranking he deserves.
Peterson was surprisingly effective last year, running for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns on 251 carries, making him one of nine backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark last year. Yet, Washington ranked 29th in scoring and 28th in total offense. One thousand yards on the ground simply doesn’t get you as far as it used to if it doesn’t come with some receiving chops, as well. To be fair, Guice may not have those chops, either. What he does have, though, is draft capital and youth.
Washington used the 59th overall pick in the 2018 draft to select Guice out of LSU. He was slated to be the team’s workhorse, with Chris Thompson mixing in as a pass-catching option, before he tore his ACL in training camp. In fact, the team didn’t sign Peterson until August, just weeks before the start of the regular season. There’s little value in dividing a workload between two players like Guice and Peterson, and there’s no doubt as to which one the team prefers to be its lead back. Peterson is insurance, just like he was to Mark Ingram in New Orleans. Guice is going to approach 250 carries, and he comes at the price of an RB3. That’s the sort of bargain that can make a fantasy season.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos (SI: Overall 73, WR32, ECR: Overall 84, WR35)
Demaryius Thomas left Denver in a midseason trade to Houston last year. Emmanuel Sanders is recovering from a torn Achilles, and the early weeks of the season, at the very least, are in doubt for him. Someone is going to catch passes in Denver, and Sutton, the 40th overall pick from last year’s draft, is atop the depth chart.
This isn’t fantasy value by default, though there is some inevitability at play here. Sutton had himself a fine rookie season, catching 42 passes for 704 yards and four touchdowns for a team that ranked 24th in scoring and just below league-average in total offense, passing offense and yards per play. Sutton fought an uphill battle in terms of playing time all year, posing a 69.2% snap rate through the Broncos’ first eight games of the season. He played 83.4% over the second half of the season, tops among receivers on the team.
Denver’s depth chart at receiver is wide open, and we’ve already been beating the drum for DaeSean Hamilton (and will continue to do so). Still, it’s clear that Sutton is not only best-suited to take on No. 1 receiver responsibilities, but that the team believes he is the right player to do so. That, plus a dearth of holdover production and an abundance of available targets, makes him a strong WR3 with easy WR2 upside.
Nyheim Hines (SI: Overall 92, RB38; ECR: Overall 129, RB44)
I’m going to try to keep this one short and sweet because I think the case for Hines is self-evident once the particulars are spelled out. Hines was a rookie last year who played a total of 44% of the Colts’ snaps, and was on the field more than half the time in just four games. Despite that, he had 85 carries for 314 yards, 63 receptions on 81 targets for 425 yards, and four touchdowns. He scored 0.87 points per touch in half-PPR leagues. For sake of comparison, Ezekiel Elliott, the fifth-ranked back in half-PPR formats last year, scored 0.77 points per touch. This is not to suggest that Hines can be a top-five back. If he had the 381 touches Elliott did last year, he’d almost certainly have been exposed as a purely complementary player. What it does illustrate, though, is how effective Hines is in his role. That role may be even more important in the Colts’ offense this year, and thus lucrative in fantasy leagues.
With all due respect to Marlon Mack—and he was, without question, a major part of the Colts’ resurgence last year—Andrew Luck is the engine of the offense. Mack brings nothing to the table as a receiver, whereas Hines ranked eighth among backs in receptions and tied for seventh in targets. Among running backs who are pass-catching specialists, only Tarik Cohen and Jalen Richard had more receptions, and just Cohen had more targets. As the Colts lean even more into their passing game this season, Hines could push up toward 100 targets. Even if that doesn’t happen and he runs back a target share identical to last year’s, he turned that into RB33 numbers in half-PPR leagues. If his role does increase, he could be looking at regular flex usage in all formats, especially half and full PPR leagues.