Last 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 less than the consensus. Click here for the companion piece on players we’re higher on than the rest of the industry.
Note that these are not the only players on whom we differ in a negative direction. You can also check out our bust candidates (as well as sleepers and breakouts), and stay tuned for more analysis as we get closer to draft time.
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals (SI: Overall 18, RB11; ECR: Overall 10, RB8)
There’s no doubt about Mixon’s upward trajectory or his ceiling. If everything falls into place for him, he could be a top-five fantasy player. In his draft-day neighborhood, though, risk is more important than reward. And with a consensus ranking of 10th overall, the industry is not putting enough weight on the risk tied to Mixon as a first-round pick.
Drafting strictly by ECR, grabbing Mixon means passing on Julio Jones, James Conner, Odell Beckham (No. 1 on our list of players we like more than their value), Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas, just to name the five players who slot immediately after him in the rankings. There’s nearly zero risk that any of those players fail to live up to that draft-day price tag, which attaches a significant opportunity cost to Mixon considering his potential downside.
The over/under for the Bengals’ win total is listed at 6, according to Odds Shark, with only the Cardinals and Dolphins lower. Every other team in the AFC North is listed at 8 or more. The Bengals returned much of a team that went 6-10 last year, and first-round pick Jonah Williams, who was supposed to significantly improve the team’s offensive line, is likely out for the season after shoulder surgery. In other words, the Bengals could be very bad, and it takes a special set of circumstances for a running back on a bottom-feeding team to return first-round value.
In short, a back on a bad team typically needs extreme volume or to be a major part of the passing game to transcend his environment. We saw that last year from Saquon Barkley, who rode 261 carries and 121 targets to be the No. 2 back in all scoring formats last year, trailing only Todd Gurley. Mixon certainly could dominate Cincinnati’s backfield on the ground this year the way Barkley did last year, but he’s never been a huge part of the aerial attack. Mixon had 34 targets as a rookie and 55 last year, and has a career receiving line of 73 receptions for 583 yards and one touchdown. The new coaching staff could increase his role in the passing game, but Giovani Bernard is still in the fold, and the Bengals have a couple of high-volume receivers in A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. Mixon’s too good and has too large a presence in the offense to be a bust, but there’s serious risk in treating him as a no-doubt RB1, and that’s what his ECR and ADP ask you to do.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders (SI: Overall 55, RB27; ECR: Overall 45, RB21)
Jacobs was the first back off the board in this year’s NFL draft, and will open training camp as Oakland’s starter. It would almost certainly take an injury for him not to open the season as the starter, as well. Jacobs is a good bet for 200-plus touches, and that’s not something you find all too often toward the end of the fourth round in a 12-team draft.
Yet, there’s something about Jacobs’ pricing that still feels off. Even with free agent signee Isaiah Crowell already ruled out for the season because of torn Achilles, Jacobs will not have the backfield all to himself. Jalen Richard, one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, will reprise a role in which he excelled last year. Richard got 81 targets in 2018, catching 68 of them for 607 yards. He ranked seventh among backs in targets and receptions, and sixth in receiving yards. Jacobs’ has yet to take an NFL snap, and his receiving upside is already nil.
Of course, Jacobs wasn’t the only big addition the Raiders made this offseason. The team traded for Antonio Brown, and while he may not be a direct drag on Jacobs’ touches, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Raiders orient their offense more toward the pass this season. Oakland backs got 347 carries last year, compared with 381 pass attempts for Derek Carr. That balance will likely lean more toward the latter this season.
Additionally, Jacobs faces the same potential team issues in Oakland that Mixon does in Cincinnati. The over/under for the Raiders’ win total is 6.5, with the under a comfortable favorite. They share a division with the Chiefs and Chargers, expected to be two of the best teams in the AFC. It could be another ugly season in Oakland, and that could make Jacobs’s rookie year tougher than expected, at least from a fantasy standpoint.
Mike Williams, WR, Chargers (SI: Overall 75, WR33; ECR: Overall 63, WR28)
Williams was a touchdown machine last year, finding the end zone 10 times despite just 66 targets and 43 receptions. On one hand, it would seem that Williams should be in line for a larger role in the offense this year. On the other, more logical hand, it’s likely that the Chargers ask Williams to do much of the same this year, which means he’d be largely dependent on sustaining an anomalous touchdown rate to preserve his fantasy value at 2018 levels.
The argument against Williams as a top-30 receiver starts with Keenan Allen. The Chargers’ No. 1 option in the passing game had a 26.8% target share last year, good for fourth in the NFL behind Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins. In 2017, Allen’s target share was 25.9%, which ranked ninth in the league. We can lock in Allen for a 26% target share this season, and we have seen time and again how hard it is for a second receiver to establish fantasy consistency alongside a clear No. 1.
Second, Chargers tight ends got just 74 targets last year, which ranked 30th in the league, ahead of only Detroit’s and Miami’s tight ends. That’s not going to be the case this year with a healthy Hunter Henry in the fold. Henry should take the position to the opposite end of the spectrum and will almost certainly end the year among the 10-most targeted tight ends in the NFL. That takes opportunity directly away from Williams.
Williams’s 66 targets had him tied for second on the Chargers last year with Melvin Gordon. The workhorse back has become a key part of the team’s passing game over the last two seasons, reeling in 108 of his 149 targets for 966 yards and eight touchdowns. Gordon got 5.2 targets per game in 2017 and 5.5 per game last year, and that number’s not likely to budge this season. Just like that, Williams could go from being the second-most targeted Charger to the fourth, and that would make it nearly impossible for him to justify his draft-day price tag.
D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers (SI: Overall 77, WR35; ECR: Overall 57, WR24)
Moore’s ECR has him ahead of Allen Robinson, Calvin Ridley, Robby Anderson and Tyler Boyd among receivers, and Lamar Miller, Hunter Henry and Tevin Coleman at other positions. All this is based on the assumptions that, A) Moore will be the No. 1 receiver and clear top option in Carolina’s passing game, and B) that he’ll make the most of that opportunity. Those are two bridges too far, saddling Moore with significant bust potential.
Moore had a fine rookie season, catching 55 of 82 targets for 788 yards and two touchdowns. Nothing he did jumped off the page, but he wasn’t granted major opportunity, either. He had 42 fewer targets than Christian McCaffrey, and his 14.9% target share ranked 57th in the league. Moore certainly deserves credit for essentially making the most of his volume, but that credit shouldn’t be driving him into the WR2 class during draft season.
Even if Moore is the No. 1 receiver in Carolina—which is no sure thing with fellow ascending talent Curtis Samuel—he’s unlikely to secure a No. 1-style target share. McCaffrey is a sure thing for 100-plus targets, Samuel could challenge him for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and newcomer Chris Hogan will have a role to play, as well. On top of that, a healthy Greg Olsen could approach 100 targets, as well.
Finally, there’s Cam Newton’s health to consider. Newton missed the final two games of 2018 with a shoulder injury that eventually required arthroscopic surgery. He’s expected to be ready for Week 1, but we can’t be sure what sort of passer he’s going to be when he does return. He had a relatively pedestrian season throwing the ball last year, totaling 3,395 yards, 7.21 yards per attempt and 24 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 14 games. To be fair, the shoulder injury limited his effectiveness for at least part of the season, but there’s no guarantee that he returns as the same guy that he was before the injury. Add it all up, and Moore’s ECR looks like the top end of his realistic range of outcomes. Buying into that is almost always a recipe for fantasy disaster.
Latavius Murray, RB, Saints (SI: Overall 89, RB36; ECR: Overall 73, RB30)
Murray signed with the Saints in the offseason, ostensibly to take over the role vacated by Mark Ingram, who will now be doing his thing in Baltimore. In some ways, this will indeed be the case. The Saints aren’t suddenly going to ask Alvin Kamara to handle 350 touches, and Murray certainly shares some traits with Ingram. In other, more important ways, though, there may not be as much overlap as the fantasy community is expecting.
Ingram rose to stardom over the last three seasons in New Orleans, even if he was overshadowed by Kamara during their time sharing the backfield. What Kamara mostly obscured was Ingram’s receiving chops. He caught 175 passes for 1,310 yards over the last four years, ranking eighth among backs in catches and 14th in receiving yards in that span. Those marks are even more impressive when you recall that he missed eight games over the previous four seasons, which likely cost him a few spots in the standings in both stats. Add in that he played alongside one of the most dangerous pass-catching backs in the league the last two years, and you get an idea of how effective Ingram was as a receiver, and just how much that added to his fantasy bottom line.
Murray has plenty of charms, but catching the ball isn’t one of them. He has 128 catches for 883 yards in 77 career games, which comes out to an average of 1.7 catches and 11.5 yards per game. Realistically, that’s as little as possible a back could contribute to the passing game while getting regular playing time. Murray’s unlikely to take over Ingram’s full role in the passing game, which means less production in the aggregate, and possibly less overall time on the field, as well.
Murray would seem the better fit at the goal line, but it’s not as though Kamara is ineffective in short-yardage situations. During Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension last year, Kamara scored three rushing touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line. He has 11 such touchdowns in his career, and four more from between the 6- and 10-yard lines. Add in how deadly he is as a receiver near the goal line, and he could take over a slice of Ingram’s production and usage inside the 10. Murray needs all of that to be a top-30 back, but there’s plenty of risk that he won’t get it.