“It’s a rebirth. There’s people that think of January 1st as being the start of the new year. People that espouse to Christianity, Catholicism, talks about the birth of Christ. We talk about training camp.” — Jim Harbaugh on Pardon My Take
As the years pass, and seasons continue to change, only one thing remains true for us on planet Earth — August. The smell of fresh cut grass and the glow of the rising sun simply hit us differently in August. The grass clippings and morning dew that stick to our feet remind us of those memories we created in high school with teammates. The build up of collegiate and professional teams remind us of the cherished times with family and friends spent watching and discussing God’s greatest game. August is the most beautiful month of the year and it shows through the anticipation that arrives at the start of each training camp.
With August, comes fantasy football. The offseason rankings, breaking down of film, and mocking comes to a culmination as us washed up players and want-to-be coaches use the early weeks of this month as our personal training camp for our gambling/competition/football addiction before asserting our knowledge to a legitimate draft.
With that said, use this article as my first “open practice” of my training camp with more to come here and there. Below are a handful of impactful players who I feel I’m higher on than the general public. Read through and see where you can take advantage in each of your upcoming fantasy drafts.
Each player is discussed through the lens of a 12-team, PPR scoring system. Average Draft Positions are from Fantasy Football Calculator, ESPN rankings are from Matthew Berry’s updated Top 200, USF ranking is from me, duh.
Devonta Freeman — Running Back — Atlanta Falcons
2018 Finish — Running Back 105 (injured)
Current Average Draft Position — 3.09, Running Back 18
ESPN Ranking — Running Back 17
USF Ranking — Running Back 11
The case for Devonta Freeman is simple — healthy volume. Since becoming a starter, Freeman has been a RB1 each season with the exception of two campaigns. One of which, he was the 13th overall running back. The other was last season when he was ruled out for the year after only 14 rush attempts.
Since 2015, when playing a full season, Freeman has received 299 intended touches per season — 229.3 rushing attempts and 69.7 targets.
Since then, Freeman has also seen his intended touches decrease from 362, to 292, all the way down to 243. Coincidentally, his finish at the position decreased from 2, to 7, to 13. After barely getting out of the gates last season, Freeman is looking for a monster bounce back season.
The largest reason for the decrease in Freeman’s volume was the increase in Tevin Coleman’s role within the offense. With Coleman moving out to San Francisco, there is a huge opportunity for Freeman to steer his career back towards being one of the league’s best duel threat running backs.
Coleman averaged 165.5 intended touches per season during his time in Atlanta. Even with Freeman out, his volume only saw a small rise from what he was used to. While the running back depth in Atlanta will soak up some of the rush attempts and targets that are available, the vacancy of Coleman will naturally allow Freeman to return to the usage he was receiving before last season and raise his team’s horrendous rushing offense back towards what we’re accustomed to seeing from a potent Atlanta offense.
Freeman is being drafted at his absolute floor. If taken at his current ADP, or even a little before, he will have a significant impact on your roster when considering his draft value. He is a proven running back that is going to see a ridiculous amount of work for one of the league’s top offenses. Don’t overthink on Freeman because you got burned from an injury.
Tarik Cohen — Running Back — Chicago Bears
2018 Finish — Running Back 13
Current Average Draft Position — 5.11, Running Back 28
ESPN Ranking — Running Back 30
USF Ranking — Running Back 20
After finishing as the 11th (1/2) or 13th (full) overall running back in PPR leagues, Cohen is being drafted as if he is incapable of repeating that success. Cohen is going two picks before the sixth round, which is wildly disrespectful to one of the most electric players in football.
Cohen has yet to have a season where he goes over 100 rushing attempts, but he isn’t a threat to lose his role within the offense because such few players in the NFL have his elite speed, elusiveness, and pass catching ability. The departure of Jordan Howard leaves 250 rush attempts on the board for Chicago, which means there is a potential increase for Cohen. Anything over 100 attempts is playing with house money, especially in a creative Nagy offense.
Sure, the David Montgomery truthers are knocking down my door right now screaming about his upside. But even if Montgomery completely fills the carries left behind from the ghost of Jordan Howard, his pass catching ability isn’t in the same stratosphere as Cohen. There will always be a reason for Cohen to be involved in this offense. The uncertainty of Montgomery only makes the drafting of Cohen slightly mysterious.
The only reason Cohen isn’t ranked higher than 20 for me is that I do expect his ridiculous 10.2 yards/reception to come down a little.
Cohen should crush his 2019 ADP. My projection is his floor. His ADP is regression. Besides, having a talented running back do more with the same amount of touches that Howard got will only help Cohen and the Chicago offense. They were an explosive offense littered with Cohen chunk plays, despite Howard’s 3.7 yards per carry.
Drafting Cohen not only gives you one of the most consistent, explosive players in the game, but he is a potential league winner if for some reason Montgomery struggles in his rookie season.
Kenny Stills — Wide Receiver — Miami Dolphins
2018 Finish — Wide Receiver 49
Current Average Draft Position — 14.06, Wide Receiver 61
ESPN Ranking — Wide Receiver 57
USF Ranking — Wide Receiver 34
Currently, Stills is being drafted in the 14th round — Wide Receiver 61. He’s legitimately free in some drafts. I get it, Stills isn’t the sexy pick. He doesn’t have the upside of a top 15 wide receiver, but he has a real case to become a top 25-35 wide receiver and impact your fantasy team on a week-to-week basis. Maybe there is even a chance for him to become Miami’s number one receiver and puts up some performances that win a week for you.
Hear me out.
Last season, Stills finished as the 49th best wide receiver in fantasy. According to ESPN, the Miami Dolphins were the 31st ranked offense, 30th ranked passing offense, and 30th in pass attempts.
Chad O’Shea is bringing in an offensive system that is proven to be effective. There is absolutely zero chance that the Miami Dolphins don’t improve those statistics based on the attention to detail from the ex-Patriots staff that now floods the Miami culture.
On top of the new system and play-calling, the Dolphins are going to be using 2 quarterbacks that are capable of boosting Stills far above from where he’s being taken. One of which, and most importantly, is the starter — Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Stills has a very particular set of skills. Skills that he has acquired over a very long career. Skills that make him a nightmare for defensive backs who have routinely allowed him to be one of the best deep route specialists in the NFL. Pairing him with the strong, sometimes over-optimistic arm of Fitzpatrick sounds like a match made in fantasy sleeper heaven.
Not only will Stills destroy this ADP, but a hot start could give you early trade bait in your league if the right trade presented itself (i.e. DeSean Jackson last season).
Chris Godwin — Wide Receiver — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018 Finish — Wide Receiver 24
Current Average Draft Position — 4.10, Wide Receiver 19
ESPN Ranking — Wide Receiver 18
USF Ranking — Wide Receiver 15
Chris Godwin is primed for a breakout season. He’s one of the league’s premier route runners on the bubble of blowing up and gives Tampa Bay a disgusting wide receiver duo for a head coach who always wants to chuck the ball. It is easy to see why so many people have jumped onto S.S. Godwin.
Despite ranking 1st in passing yards, 4th in passing attempts, and 3rd in passing touchdowns, the Buccaneers will have to replace a minimum of 179 targets with the losses of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.
For Bruce Arians, replacing the pass production should be a walk in the park as his last two teams in Arizona ranked 3rd and 5th in pass attempts across the league. In fourteen years of coaching, only five times has an Arians team been in the top half of the league in rushing attempts. Since 2010, this has only happened once and it occurred in a season where Arians has David Johnson, Chris Johnson, and Andre Ellington. The man wants to pass the rock.
For me, the supreme route running and flashes that we’ve seen from Godwin illustrate a future where his 59 receptions on 95 targets jump through the roof. I have Godwin in line for over 120 targets and something in the neighborhood of 82 catches.
Say what you want about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jameis Winston, but they’re going to be bad. They can’t run the ball, have a lousy defense, and will be playing from behind. A tremendous recipe for a big breakout season from Godwin.
Alshon Jeffery — Wide Receiver — Philadelphia Eagles
2018 Finish — Wide Receiver 26
Current Average Draft Position — 6.06, Wide Receiver 28
ESPN Ranking — Wide Receiver 24
USF Ranking — Wide Receiver 19
It has been five seasons since Alshon Jeffery has went over 1,000 yards. After missing 3 games and totaling 843 yards last year, the fantasy crowd is beginning to tilt on Jeffery. However, us Alshon super fans will continue to sharpen our weapons each offseason and go to war for him.
In 2017, Alshon reached the Holy Grail of receiver volume — 120 targets. Okay, not really the Holy Grail, but there are many analysts who suggest the 120 threshold is what top fantasy receivers need to shoot for.
Last season, 15 receivers reached 120 or more targets and the names are about as predictable as you would guess. It would be asking a lot for Jeffery to reach that level with the house of talented playmakers that the Eagles have, but I’m willing to bet he gets close considering his 16 game pace last season would have put him at 113.2.
If he played 16 games and held his pace, Jeffery would have finished as the WR15 — between Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Boyd. It’s tough to project certain players to have an injury free season, which is why Jeffery falls between that 15 spot and the 26 spot he actually finished.
As we know, Jeffery is going to get peppered with targets in the red zone, which give him those boom weeks. With Jackson, Ertz, and Goedert being able to stretch and clear the field, there will be even more chances for Alshon to win the intermediate routes that he is so proficient at.
The Eagles had the 7th most passing attempts and passing yards last season, which should only climb with the return of Wentz and a surplus of players each defense needs to worry about. My feeling is that the Eagles have a top three offense in the NFL and provide Jeffery with plenty of opportunities to play above the rim.
Cam Newton — Quarterback — Carolina Panthers
2018 Finish — Quarterback 12
Current Average Draft Position — 9.06, Quarterback 11
ESPN Ranking — Quarterback 8
USF Ranking — Quarterback 4
The case for drafting Newton is simple and should be done by anyone who reads this — even those who prescribe to the strategy of drafting a quarterback late.
Cam Newton has never missed more than two games in a single season. In his eight seasons as a pro, Cam has filled out five complete seasons. In a year where Cam plays 16 games, his quarterback finishes are 3, 4, 3, 1, and 2.
As if gambling on the durability of Newton wasn’t enough, each season that he has missed a game, he has followed it with perfect attendance the following season. Cam’s average draft position is very low because mockers still have the bitter taste of his shoulder (followed by surgery) in their mouths. Luckily, Cam bounces back STRONG.
If Cam plays a complete season, you’re practically guaranteeing yourself a top three quarterback by throwing out a ninth round pick. Just do it. Draft Cam Newton. Seriously, you’ll be extremely happy.