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Dynasty Stockwatch 2019
The NFL offseason may represent some much-needed time off for the players, but front offices are active year round. The seven months between the Super Bowl and Week 1 contain frantic flurries of activity in free agency, the draft, and the annual coaching carousel as GMs scramble to improve their teams. Most fantasy analysis tends to focus on skill players who are on the move – and rightly so, since they are the guys who start for our teams on a weekly basis. The savvy manager, however, knows that there are important factors at play beyond roster shakeups at the skill positions. Skill players need opportunity to be effective, and more often than not that opportunity is dictated by two things: the offensive scheme and the quality of the offensive line. Significant changes to either in the offseason could mean significant changes in production for your fantasy players, which means that both are essential to study before the 2019 season gets underway. These types of moves are particularly significant in dynasty formats, as their consequences typically play out over several seasons.
As the old saying goes, games are won and lost in the trenches. Offensive line may not be the sexiest position in football, but the quality of a team’s big men plays a large part in determining what they can do on offense. A good O-line creates opportunity for everyone, while a subpar offensive line can throw an entire offense out of rhythm in spite of talent at the skill positions. They dictate opportunity on both sides of the ball (in the passing game by determining how long a quarterback has in the pocket), but they are most directly impactful acting as the primary means of opening holes for the rushing attack. This offseason saw many teams dramatically reshuffle their offensive fronts, and there are a few players in particular who I could see significantly benefitting or suffering from this. I’ve listed them below in descending order of dynasty value.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers: Last season McCaffrey took his game to the next level, catching roughly a thousand passes and finishing as the overall RB3 (a mere ten points behind RB1 Todd Gurley). Though he could come back to earth this season based either on volume regression or Cam Newton vulturing more touchdowns, I am of the opinion that the improvements made to the Carolina offensive line far outweigh either of those factors. The retiring Ryan Kalil was replaced by a fairly substantial upgrade in Matt Paradis, starting tackle Daryl Williams will be returning after going down for the season in Week 1 of 2018, and tackle Greg Little was added in the second round of the NFL draft. McCaffrey obviously has no problems creating space for himself, but look for him to be even more dangerous with a significantly improved offensive line paving the way.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 275-375 points, RB1-RB6 finish
At the start of the offseason McCaffrey was already an unquestioned first-round startup pick in dynasty drafts. This offseason’s improvements along his offensive line, coupled with the imminent retirement of Drew Brees and the continuously troublesome behavior of Ezekiel Elliott, have propelled him past Kamara and Zeke in my rankings and landed him at No. 3 overall (behind only Saquon Barkley and DeAndre Hopkins). If you can find an owner who values him much lower than that, shoot your shot and buy now.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams: Last season Gurley’s considerable talents were on full display behind an absolute monster of an offensive line group, but sadly for him a full 40 percent of that group has gone elsewhere in free agency. Though they were lucky enough to hold onto left tackle Andrew Whitworth (who mulled retirement), the Rams still lost two starters on their offensive line in Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan. The Rams’ hope is that two unproven replacements from the 2018 draft (third-round pick Joseph Notebloom and fourth-round pick Brian Allen) are able to step up and fill the gaps, but they are far from a sure bet.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 225-325 points, RB4-12
Dynasty enthusiasts are much more concerned with Gurley’s arthritic knee (and rightfully so), but the departure of 40 percent of his offensive line is no cause for celebration (especially with Whitworth almost certainly retiring following this season). Between the continuing degeneration of both his knee and his offensive line, Gurley could be looking at a fairly steep decline from the unquestioned RB1 throne he occupied just eight months ago.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: Last season the Colts had one of the most injured offensive line groups in the NFL, starting a total of eleven different players over the course of the season (second most in the NFL). Despite this apparent handicap, however, they consistently performed at an extremely high level and gelled increasingly as the season went on. Led by the human bulldozer Quenton Nelson, the Colts opened massive holes for their RBs and from Week 6 onward averaged over 125 rushing yards per game. Another year to gain chemistry should only make the line – and consequently the man running behind it – more dangerous.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 200-275 points, RB8-16 finish
It would seem that dealing with Luck’s injury has finally caused the Colts’ brass to see the light and begin focusing on the men who protect him. This focus on the offensive line (and particularly on depth) seems to be the new way in Indianapolis, and this can only be good long term for Marlon Mack. Many still have doubts about his ability to take the next step, but the opportunity is unquestionably there so if you’re at all a believer in his talent this is the time to buy.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons added more new linemen than any other team this offseason. In free agency they signed veteran starting guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown as well as a few other depth pieces, and in the draft they selected guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary in the mid and late first round, respectively (it is worth noting that the two draft picks are both run-blocking specialists). Though it is difficult to project exactly what the 2019 Falcons’ unit will look like, there is little doubt that it will be improved.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 200-275 points, RB8-16 finish
The Falcons are clearly building their offensive line for the future, and with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter preaching a newly balanced running/passing attack, the future looks fairly rosy for Freeman. Though not an elite talent, Freeman has always been one to take full advantage of what he is given – and opportunity is king in fantasy football. Look for the Falcons to give him a lot more opportunity and for him to do a lot with it.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Wilson is an extremely talented quarterback who has led his team to multiple Super Bowls. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, however, he plays for a team that (despite having awarded him a massive contract) seems determined to limit his passing volume as much as possible by focusing on the run game. Pete Carroll has shown no signs of a change in philosophy this offseason, replacing departing guard J.R. Sweezy with massive run-blocking specialist and mediocre pass-blocker Mike Iupati.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 250-325 points, QB4-12 finish
Carroll’s firm commitment to a run-first offense doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and it doesn’t speak well for Wilson’s long-term value. He is a talented enough quarterback that he will always be a capable starter with decent upside, but owners will likely demand a price commensurate with his talent while ignoring his situation, resulting in him being generally overvalued. At anything close to market value I am steering clear.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen spent most of last season running for his life in incredibly entertaining fashion, and yet somehow still managed to put up half-decent numbers. The Bills have taken steps to protect him in the offseason, adding several free agents including stud pass-blocking center Mitch Morse from Kansas City, and drafting second-round tackle Cody Ford out of Oklahoma. With a little added time in the pocket, we may get to see more of the massive arm that convinced the Bills to draft Allen in the first place.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 175-275 points, QB14-24
Wisely or not, the Bills invested heavily in Josh Allen, and they are now investing heavily in providing him with protection. I see it as a massive positive for Allen that his team’s management has their head in the right place, and both this and his new teammates along the line bode well for his future in dynasty formats (although he is really only viable in Superflex or 2QB).
Offensive Play Calling
When a team underachieves offensively, the first person management looks to is the guy calling the plays. Franchises looking to rebuild will often bring in a new coaching staff, usually with a different offensive philosophy and scheme, and this is almost always significant for the fantasy-relevant players on that team. Different players have different strengths and play styles that lend themselves variably well to the spectrum of offensive schemes, so sometimes a change in play calling can be exactly what a team needed. Determining how a player is likely to fit into a new offensive scheme is more art than science, of course, but we can make educated guesses based on the strengths of the player and the history of the coach. There is no shortage of teams in 2019 with new coaches/coordinators, and there are a few fantasy standouts in particular who could see their opportunity affected significantly (listed in descending order of dynasty value).
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: After being the dominant fantasy force of 2016, DJ has had a disappointing past two seasons. He spent nearly the entirety of 2017 sidelined by injury, and in 2018 he suffered from a lack of opportunity due to some of the worst coaching in the history of football. While new coach Kliff Kingsbury is completely unproven at the NFL level and may struggle to win games, there is virtually no doubt that he represents a massive upgrade for Johnson. Kingsbury heavily utilized his running backs in the passing game in college, and has made it very clear that he will deploying DJ in similar fashion. All DJ has ever needed is opportunity, and when he gets it he is going to make people wonder how they ever forgot what he did three seasons ago.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 250-350 points, RB1-6 finish
Even if the Kingsbury experiment goes so horribly wrong that he is canned after a single season, there is almost no way that this can be anything but fantastic for DJ in dynasty terms. He will be given another chance to prove himself, and when he takes full advantage of it (which he will), he will never be doubted again.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings: Offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak is coming to town and bringing with him a cadre of assistants, a history of turning teams with average QBs into offensive powerhouses, and a zone-blocking scheme that just so happens to perfectly complement the running back he will be inheriting. Dalvin Cook ran in a remarkably similar offense to great acclaim at Florida State, and despite injuries has demonstrated that his abilities absolutely translate to the NFL. Offseason chatter is that the Vikings plan to emphasize the run in 2019, and this combination of opportunity and scheme fit could make Cook the breakout star of the year at his position.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 225-350 points, RB1-RB10 finish
This could not possibly be better for dynasty owners of Cook. The team is clearly invested in him as a featured weapon and is committed to building an offense that best utilizes his talents. His only real red flags at this point are injuries, so if he manages to play a full season he could easily find himself as a first-round startup pick next season.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: Everybody loves Baker Mayfield. He absolutely tore it up in the second half of last season following the firing of his nemesis Hue Jackson, and should continue to do nothing less now that his second-half offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has been promoted to head coach (and subsequently hired air-it-out OC Todd Monken, formerly of Tampa Bay). Throw in a ludicrous assortment of offensive weaponry headlined by the arrival of Odell Beckham, and Mayfield could end up being this year’s Patrick Mahomes.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 275-375 points, QB1-8 finish
Not only does everybody love Baker Mayfield, but no quarterback outside of possibly Mahomes has a better dynasty outlook. He is the heart and soul of his franchise, and the Browns have provided him with everything a quarterback could ever want. If he repeats his performance from the second half of last season over sixteen games his price is going to skyrocket, so if you think you’re ever going to want to buy, do it now.
Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals: New Bengals HC Zac Taylor has a lot to prove. It’s too early to say he’s a bad coach, but it seems fairly indisputable that he got his job (despite a huge lack of experience) as a result of NFL teams trying to rush out and find “the next Sean McVay” (spoiler alert – there’s only one Sean McVay). His biggest claim to fame is being the quarterback coach for the most overrated QB in football in Jared Goff, and he will be tasked with turning around a team with a lot of problems. In all likelihood the creativity with which the Rams deployed their receivers is not something Taylor will be able to replicate without McVay to guide him, and Andy Dalton is not talented enough to make up for mediocre coaching.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 150-200 points, WR14-24 finish
This isn’t great for Boyd, but it’s worse in the short-term than it is in the long-term so dynasty owners are advised to hold for now. He has already demonstrated that he has the talent to be a potential fantasy WR2, and if Taylor is as bad as I predict he will be run out of town fairly shortly without really hindering Boyd’s development.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons: Ridley was a surprise breakout last year for the Falcons, but don’t expect a repeat performance this year. Koetter has spent the offseason bemoaning the fact that last season the Falcons were fourth in passing but fifth-to-last in rushing and preaching a return to balance. A transition to a more balanced attack means volume has to come from somewhere in the passing game, and it’s certainly not getting taken from Julio Jones, which means Ridley may be hung out to dry. He was already due for some regression after scoring almost all of his points in four games (and mostly via touchdowns) last season, and this will likely exacerbate that.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 75-150 points, WR24-40 finish
A combination of a balanced offensive attack and a target-hog WR1 generally make it impossible for a team to support another fantasy-relevant WR, and so as long as those two things exist in Atlanta that may be Calvin Ridley’s fate – a good real-life football player who doesn’t make an impact in fantasy. Trade him as soon as possible if you can get decent value (and frankly, probably even if you can’t).
Sam Darnold, New York Jets: Darnold takes the last spot on our list because his new head coach Adam Gase is a fraud. Somehow over the years he has cultivated a reputation as a “QB whisperer,” despite the fact that if you look over his history he has successfully developed a total of zero quarterbacks. His only “glory years” were spent with Peyton Manning, who essentially acted as his own coordinator and who could make a trained monkey (or Jeff Fisher) look like a competent coach. Other than that, Gase’s QBs have either been unmitigated failures that developed into nothing (Tim Tebow, Brock Osweiler, Kyle Orton, Ryan Tannehill) or mediocre veterans who stayed mediocre veterans under his tutelage (Jay Cutler, John Kitna). Bad news for a talented youngster in need of good coaching and development.
2019 0.5 PPR Projections: 175-250 points, QB16-24
Obviously this isn’t great for Darnold in dynasty formats, as poor coaching could stunt his development and prevent him from ever reaching his potential. Owners in Superflex and 2QB leagues where he still has significant value would be wise to sell at market price if possible.