What fun is fantasy football without prognosticating? Well, I’ve decided to have some fact-based fun and made five bold predictions for the coming 2019 season. Only time will tell how strong my predictive powers are, but I’ll be sure to revisit this article after the season concludes to see how I fared.
1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the overall dynasty WR1 and a top three dynasty asset in ADP at this time next offseason.
With only two years of NFL experience under his belt, JuJu Smith-Schuster has already strung together an impressive resume consisting of 169 catches, 2,342 yards receiving, and 14 total touchdowns. Lining up opposite Antonio Brown and with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, a fantastic per season stat line of 85/1,172/7 has vaulted JuJu into the tier of elite dynasty wide receivers.
Due to the recent turmoil in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster will now be lining up opposite James Washington as opposed to the previously mentioned Hall-of-Fame-bound Antonio Brown. This will result in an increase in the amount of attention JuJu will receive from DBs and defensive coordinators. Many individuals in the fantasy community are fearful that JuJu won’t be nearly as effective this upcoming season simply because he’ll now be blanketed by the opposing team’s top cornerback. After taking a deeper look, I’m confident his dynasty stock will do the exact opposite of what most expect.
When examining the three-game sample in which Antonio Brown was inactive over the previous two seasons, I found that JuJu Smith-Schuster averaged 23.17 PPR points in each of those contests. This is undoubtedly a rather small sample size, but no matter, this data cannot be overlooked.
It may be a bit optimistic to project an average of 23-plus fantasy points per game from JuJu, so let’s journey towards the more pessimistic end of the spectrum. Assuming Smith-Schuster regresses as the sample size increases, a per-game average of 15.45 PPR points (two-thirds of 23.17, his original per-game average) would still put him on the fantasy WR1 borderline.
Even if JuJu proves to be less efficient as the main option in the Pittsburgh passing attack, he will certainly see an increased target share due to Brown’s 168 vacated targets from last season, making up for any minor struggles he may face against top cornerback competition. Antonio Brown’s career high for targets in a single season is 193 in 2015, exceeding 1,800 yards receiving. If JuJu could somehow reach this target total as Big Ben’s new number one receiver, fantasy owners should be in for a record-breaking season.
Lastly, Ben Roethlisberger recently signed a three-year extension to remain in Pittsburgh, so Smith-Schuster will now officially be catching passes from Big Ben for the remainder of his rookie contract, putting any potential quarterback concerns to rest. If JuJu is able to prove that he can still produce top 12 WR numbers in fantasy without Antonio Brown in town (the sample size states that he certainly will), the 22-year-old should have no problem surpassing the other top dynasty receivers as they slowly approach the ominous age of 30.
No receiver in NFL history produced WR1 numbers during their age 22 season and failed to match those numbers at some point later in their career, so unless JuJu becomes a historical outlier, fantasy owners should be expecting many more years of elite fantasy finishes for the new top option in the Pittsburgh passing attack.
2. Derrius Guice will lead the NFL in rushing during the second half of the 2019 season.
Coming off an ACL tear sustained during last year’s preseason, Derrius Guice hasn’t had the smoothest recovery. There were complications with his surgery as the procedure led to an eventual infection in his knee, resulting in more surgical operations. Fantasy owners tend to see the word “surgery” and panic immediately, but there’s no need. Guice’s clean-up procedures for the infection were entirely separate from the torn ligament and do not hinder the healing process of the ACL in any way.
By the time the 2019 NFL season kicks off, it will be over a calendar year since Guice sustained his injury, which exceeds the typical 9-12 month recovery period. While it may take him a few games to fully gain his confidence back, I’m certain that the rest of the league will take notice once he does.
Coming out of LSU, Derrius Guice was one of my favorite running back prospects in years. He was such a powerful, downhill runner in college, but still able to appear graceful in his movements. His vision, contact balance, and burst through the hole were all eye-popping traits on film. Despite his underutilization in the passing game, he proved to be a solid receiver out of the backfield when given the opportunity.
If 33-year-old Adrian Peterson could rush for over 1,000 yards last season with a constant rotation of starting quarterbacks in Washington, Guice should have no problem topping those numbers with Dwayne Haskins under center. Rookie quarterbacks tend to rely heavily on the run game during their first season, and if Guice is given the opportunity to carry the football 20-plus times per game once he gets comfortable in the offense, I see this prediction as one that could definitely come to fruition. The Redskins’ backfield does seem a bit crowded at first glance, but when Guice is finally able to show what he can do on the field, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he immediately takes control of that running back rotation and provides fantasy owners with top tier RB1 numbers by mid-season.
3. Stefon Diggs will surpass 1,300 yards receiving this upcoming season, finishing as a top five WR in total PPR fantasy points scored.
Many might question this prediction, thinking to themselves that Diggs isn’t even the top receiver on his own team. Taking a look at the stats from last season, it may appear that these individuals would be correct. Adam Thielen out-produced Stefon Diggs in terms of total fantasy points for the year.
But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. During the games Dalvin Cook was inactive due to injury, Diggs averaged a respectable 14.6 PPR points per game while Thielen absolutely blew up, averaging 25.44 points per game. However, with Dalvin Cook in the startup lineup, Diggs’s weekly point average boosted up to 19.33, while Thielen’s plummeted to 16.37.
With an entire offseason to rest his hamstring, Dalvin Cook should be healthy for the upcoming NFL season and ready to handle a workhorse role. Cook brings a form of balance to the Minnesota offense, making it impossible for defensive coordinators to focus solely on stopping the Vikings’ passing attack. If extrapolated to a 16-game season, Diggs’s per-game average of 19.33 PPR points would have placed him as the overall WR7 last season.
Looking at things from this perspective, it’s certainly clear that a top-five finish for Diggs is well within the realm of possibilities. Additionally, after John DeFilippo was fired as the Vikings OC position late last season, Kevin Stefanski took over. Under Stefanski, Thielen only averaged four targets per game while Diggs averaged nearly eight, proving that it’s a main priority for the Minnesota coaching staff to get the ball in the hands of their top playmaker, Stefon Diggs.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously bold to predict that Dalvin Cook will stay healthy for the entirety of a season, but that’s exactly the point of this article! If you have any form of confidence in Dalvin Cook’s hamstrings, you should buy Stefon Diggs in dynasty with expectations for a career year.
4. N’Keal Harry will post double-digit touchdowns his rookie season.
With the final selection in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots made a lot of N’Keal Harry truthers (including myself) extremely happy by drafting him with their pick, providing Harry with highly coveted Day 1 draft capital. The Patriots headed into the draft with some major question marks surrounding their receiving corps, mainly due to the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, multiple suspensions of Josh Gordon, and age/PED concerns related to Julian Edelman. These three options in the receiving game are all unique in their playing styles with Gordon serving as an outside receiver, Edelman as a slot option, and Gronkowski as the main red zone weapon for Tom Brady. One might say that it would be impossible for New England to find a receiver in the NFL Draft that’s able to thrive in each of these three roles, but they always seem to find a way.
Harry was asked to line up all over the formation at Arizona State, and he excelled across the board. On the outside, he consistently beat defenders with his size, speed, and ball-tracking skills down the field. In the slot and on bubble screens, Harry was able to use a lethal combination of strength and underrated short-area quickness to overpower less physical corners, similar to the way the aforementioned JuJu Smith-Schuster operates out of the slot in Pittsburgh.
Lastly, Harry effectively utilized his big-bodied frame and impressive high-pointing ability in the red zone at Arizona State. He sported an impressive 12.3% touchdown rate in college (nine touchdowns on 73 receptions), proving that he was able to consistently out-muscle defenders in contested catch situations.
While Harry will certainly not be able to entirely make up for the loss of Gronk and Gordon, he possesses a well-rounded skill set that will immediately cement him as a favorite of Brady’s. New England has 13 vacated touchdowns from last season, leaving a major opportunity for someone to step up in that offense. Harry should quickly become Tom Brady’s number one red zone target, paving a path for a potential double-digit TD season.
5. Todd Gurley’s dynasty ADP will be outside of the top 10 running backs at this time next offseason.
After the conclusion of the 2018 NFL season, Sean McVay announced to the press that Todd Gurley was perfectly healthy and that C.J. Anderson received an increased amount of touches simply to keep Gurley fresh. If you believed McVay then, you certainly didn’t after the NFL Draft. No team lies on draft day and in the third round of the draft, the Rams selected Darrell Henderson, the home-run-hitting Memphis product. Not only did they select him, however. They traded up for him. The Rams organization knows something that the fantasy community does not, and this mystery is the reason why I expect Gurley’s ADP to drop significantly between now and next offseason.
Soon to be 25, Gurley is still fairly young, even for a running back. However, he has racked up over 1,200 touches thus far in his NFL career, putting an extensive amount of strain on a knee that’s already endured an ACL tear. It’s not uncommon for athletes to suffer from arthritis years after an ACL injury, and it seems that Gurley’s past has finally caught up with him.
Since the last offseason and now, Gurley’s dynasty ADP has dropped from the overall RB1 to RB5, falling behind Barkley, McCaffrey, Elliot, and Kamara. The running back talent does not end there, however, as some of the top options directly below Gurley in ADP are Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Dalvin Cook, David Johnson, Kerryon Johnson, Derrius Guice, Le’Veon Bell, Sony Michel, Josh Jacobs, Leonard Fournette, Aaron Jones, and many more.
If Todd Gurley disappoints fantasy owners by picking up where he left off last season and half of the running backs listed above exceed expectations, it’s entirely possible that Gurley finds himself outside of the top 10 RBs in dynasty ADP. The ongoing arthritis issues, the acquisition of Darrell Henderson, and the influx of running back talent would have me worried sick if I owned Gurley in any of my leagues, as I’d be expecting a slow but inevitable decrease in the dynasty stock of my star running back.
Thanks for reading, follow me on Twitter @dynastyff_kyle for more dynasty content!