The NFL season never really ends, does it? The offseason sometimes feels like a post-post season and this year is no different with big-time trades for superstars like Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland Browns) and Antonio Brown (Oakland Raiders).
But, what about some former fantasy darlings that seem to be forgotten, left on the bench, and tossed in the lost-and-found bin?
Where will they land and will they maintain, or even gain fantasy value? As the free agency frenzy winds down, we find there are still pieces available as possible additions for teams in need. Let’s review.
Last summer everybody wondered if T.J. Yeldon would break out in his contract year. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone talked about how strong and explosive he looked. It seems like he was primed for a productive season and subsequent deal or extension. We find Yeldon unsigned and looking for the right situation.
Yeldon was a top 50 RB in 2018 with 901 yards from scrimmage and five total TDs. He received some extra touches with Fournette out with a leg injury for a significant portion of the season, and he was quite productive when in the lead role.
If we look at Yeldon’s 2018 game splits with and without Fournette (via RotoViz Game Splits app), we see he only carried the ball 1.5 fewer times a game and found the end zone more while in the split then out of the split. So he was as, if not more productive on the ground with Fournette in the lineup. Yeldon’s in split rushing yards and receiving targets dipped with Fournette playing. He saw 3.5 fewer targets and 12 fewer rushing yards in the split, but that’s to be expected when receiving less playing time and fewer rushing attempts.
Even when Fournette was active, Yeldon provided consistent fantasy value with a low weekly volatility rating, averaging 12.4 fantasy points per game for the season according to playerprofiler.com. Yeldon managed to thrive without Fournette though, averaging 15.23 PPR points-per-game. That is within two points-per-game of Fournette in his full 2017 season.
Yeldon is coming off a career-high in receptions (55), and there are certainly several teams in need of a pass catching back. The Packers, Cowboys, and Ravens have been popular prospective landing spots.
The Packers and Cowboys make the most sense especially in light of the Ravens signing Mark Ingram. The Cowboys could use a third down back to take some pressure off Zeke, and the Packers need all the help they can get at the position. We may have to wait until the dust settles and teams have more roster clarity after the NFL draft to find out where Yeldon finally falls. We saw him produce consistent fantasy numbers even when playing in a committee RB system, so it is worth keeping an eye on where he lands as he is still only 25 years old.
I feel like every fantasy player has the same glorious vision of what Duke Johnson could be in the perfect situation. Thinking back to his final season with the Hurricanes, Johnson finished with almost 1,700 yards on the ground, over 400 yards receiving, and 13 total touchdowns. He was a stud and primed to produce in the NFL. Then, in 2017 he showed us what he can do amassing 1,041 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns for the Browns. I admittedly have that same vision and fully expected it to come to fruition last season with the Cleveland backfield wide open, but, boy was I wrong. I rostered him thinking I would have a plug-and-play, yet he was virtually droppable.
It really couldn’t have been much worse. The 2018 season was the first year he found himself under 50 receptions, 100 touches, and 500 yards receiving since he entered the league in 2015. In PPR leagues he finished RB 11 in 2017 and dropped all the way to RB 37 in 2018.
With Nick Chubb and the Kareem Hunt signing, the backfield seems a bit too crowded for Duke Johnson to come back to the Land. Considering all that, it seems appropriate Johnson has demanded he be traded.
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) April 2, 2019
Rumors are the Eagles, Jets, and Texans may be interested. The Jets would be a surprise, but they could use a third down back behind Bell. Jordan Howard‘s value could take a nosedive if he ends up in a messy Philly backfield. The Texans might be the best fit for Johnson, though; they need someone useful behind Miller, and he would excel in an offense with a mobile quarterback like Watson.
Looking back to 2017 Duke Johnson’s DVOA (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) for receiving was 6.7%. For comparison, Christian McCaffrey held 5.7%. In a down year, Duke maintained a DVOA above 7%, but only averaged eight fantasy points a game. Johnson averaged almost 14 fantasy points a game in 2017, his best season. If Johnson lands in Philly or Houston, he could regain some of the fantasy value we all fell in love with in 2017 (74 receptions for 693 yard).
When you hear Spencer Ware, all you think of is that monster 2016 season; I know it’s true. 1,368 yards from scrimmage is nothing to joke about and usually requires some talent. He was in line to fill KC’s starting RB role until his season ended in the preseason from a torn PCL and additional knee damage. Before the injury Ware averaged 14.1 fantasy points-per-game with a 70% opportunity share, proving he could handle a starting workload. He also managed a 78.6% catch rate displaying his ability to not only catch the ball and be an all-purpose back but do so with high efficiency.
After that he found himself stuck behind emerging star Kareem Hunt who topped his yards from scrimmage with 1,782. Ware made a comeback in 2018 with Hunt being released but was injured late in the season allowing Damien Williams to take hold of the starting role.
Ware has proven he can do it all with 922 rushing yards and 447 receiving yards in 2016 while averaging 14 fantasy points per game. He just needs another opportunity to prove he can still be a productive back in the NFL.
Thank you for reading. If you have any thoughts or would like to discuss, you can find me on Twitter @Willi3Beamen.