Adam Inman @adamfantasyFB
Coming off the 4th of July holiday weekend, I’d like to take some time to shine a light on a few players that I believe could be fireworks this upcoming season. A firework in the sense that they have the chance to absolutely destroy their current ADP (for those who want to be even more technical, I looked at their positional ranks/ADP and was shooting for an increase of at least 10 spots by season’s end). The awesome thing about “firework” players is the investment is generally minimal. They are often comprised of players who may still be in questionable situations, are nearing the end of the fantasy usefulness, or are labeled as injury prone or brittle. Let others cast those labels on them and make sure you earmark some of these fellas in an effort to steal a top contributor.
This is one that I feel very confident about. Winston has always had a gunslinger mentality, and he now gets to work with a coach in Bruce Arians that coined the phrase “no risk it, no biscuit”. Translation, the deep shots are going to be there for the big-armed Winston, and he does not have the specter of Fitzmagic lurking over his shoulder. Bruce Arians’ teams have been near the top of the league in passing historically, and he now gets a dynamic young quarterback and elite options at both receiver and tight end. Couple with this the fact that Tampa’s defense still shouldn’t be owned in most fantasy leagues and you get a player who is going to fall into volume (as his team’s running game is pretty awful) that is surrounded by elite playmakers at both WR and TE.
This is simply a case of people forgetting what the addition of Amari Cooper meant to that offense. I am the first to acknowledge that extrapolating sample sizes across an entire season is dangerous for projections. But, in the case of Dak, the addition of his first legitimate receiving threat makes it safer to do so in my opinion. Simply look at Dak’s numbers after the addition of Cooper and it is clear that when Cooper is on the field Dak is a starting fantasy QB. Cooper is an elite talent and every defense they face is still going to begin meetings with how to stop Ezekiel Elliot, add in the return of his safety valve in Jason Witten and you have an ascending quarterback on an ascending offense with a coach that knows he is playing for his job. In a season that will see Dak, Zeke, and Cooper looking to get extended this offense could sneak up on people and be scary good.
Let me start this off by saying that I don’t think Kirk Cousins is anything more than an average quarterback. In fact, I think when the lights are on him he becomes a slightly below-average player. That said, he is surrounded by an absolutely loaded skill position group (I challenge you to think of 5 teams that have a better starting skill group). And, he plays in a division that sees he matching up with two bad defenses and one overrated quarterback twice a year. Minnesota, which on balance disappointed last year, still ranked in the top half of the league in passing yards and completions. And, they were top 6 in completions and pass attempts. This isn’t a team that forgot to throw the ball, this is a team that suffered due to Dalvin Cook‘s injuries and an offensive coordinator that just didn’t fit. Cousins has the opportunity to see similar volume in an offense that will use the RBs in a much smarter fashion, the team as a whole is a more complete unit and Cousins is going undrafted in the majority of fantasy leagues.
Freeman has really struggled to stay healthy over the past few seasons, and it isn’t difficult to see why. He is a smaller RB that handled just south of 850 total touches between 2015 and 2017. That is a bell cow level workload for a player that simply may not be built to handle that anymore. Coming off a season that saw Atlanta as a whole take a step back as an organization, and Freeman carry the ball a total of 14 times across the two games he played in, both Freeman and Atlanta will be looking to establish themselves as the offensive juggernaut that we knew only a few years ago. It’s easy to forget that prior to last season Freeman had averaged just over 14 fantasy points a game in .5 PPR leagues and he also had averaged 15 games played a year at a position that is notorious for missing games. Losing a player like Tevin Coleman can also presents itself as an addition by subtraction piece, you’ve got a rested a rejuvenated 27-year-old on an offense that is still made up of some of the best pieces in the league. Freeman could be one of the steals of the draft if Atlanta’s high-flying offense returns to form.
Jordan Howard has been one of the steadiest fantasy commodities in recent years, and he achieved that without being able to catch at all. David Montgomery possesses all the traits that Howard has, but is quicker, faster on tape, and led the nation in broken tackles despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in all of college football. Another huge plus for Montgomery is that he shares a backfield with a player in Tarik Cohen that has perhaps the most clearly defined role in NFL. Cohen is electric in space and is a phenomenal receiver, these are both things that are a huge plus for Montgomery. While Cohen chews up some of the yardage between the 20’s you’ll rest easy knowing the Montgomery has a stranglehold on almost every valuable carry that Chicago has to offer.
Whether you like it or not, Adam Gase simply didn’t know how to run Miami’s offense. From his snail’s pace approach to play calling (Arizona had a historically slow offense and only ran 902 total plays, Miami ran 24 fewer plays at 878 for the year). Gase also never seemed to get on board the Kenyan Drake train, this despite Drake never having missed a game in his three-year career and making an impact both as a rusher and as a receiver. Drake has only received double-digit carries in 1/3 of his NFL games, he managed to churn out a top 14 PPR finish last season despite only seeing double-digit carries in 4 of the 16 games he played in. An incredibly underrated pass catcher (Drake has averaged 42 receptions a season over his last two years as a starter), we still don’t know how good he can be as a player. Insert new head coach Brian Flores and the ceiling for this 25-year-old stud is almost unknown, he’s a guy that you’ll draft as your RB 3/4 that certainly has the talent to be a top 12 guy.
He doesn’t fumble, he doesn’t miss games, and…..he doesn’t score enough touchdowns. So what, for a player that is a virtual lock for 220 – 1000 – 4 on the ground before chipping in 30 grabs for 250 yards and another score you can do a lot worse than Miller and his RB30 pricetag. Truthfully, at 28 and in an ascending offense, we may just get a glimpse of 2014 Miami Lamar Miller where he accounted for nearly 1,400 total yards and 9 total scores. And that was on a team that went 8-8 and was spearheaded by the human khaki in Joe Philbin. He’s now looking at a full offseason with Deshaun Watson and a backfield partner that is returning from an injury that almost no running back has ever returned from successfully. Either Devonta Foreman is going to be one hell of an outlier, or Miller is about to be the lead back in an incredibly prolific offense.
Admittedly the impending suspension of Tyreek Hill made projecting Watkins for 2019 difficult initially. But now that we are hearing it’ll be a maximum of four games we can begin to speculate on what this new Kansas City offense is going to look like. Not new in the sense that they’ve shifted philosophy entirely, but new in the sense that Watkins is healthy and the Chiefs are entering their first full season without incredible receiving option Kareem Hunt in the fold. Watkins owners are looking at potentially a month of the season where Watkins will be the top receiving choice outside of Travis Kelce, and he will also be coming off his first full offseason where Patrick Mahomes and Watkins had the chance to work heavily together (especially since Hill has been absent from all team activities thus far). We have seen Watkins be elite (and I mean top 10 WR in the league Elite) and that was with the trash they were running out in Buffalo. Imagine what Andy Reid will be able to scheme up this year when Mahomes look to spread defenses and Watkins looks to again establish himself as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
The lanky burner caught only 27 passes for 467 yards and 5 scores as a rookie, those numbers on their own are mediocre at best. But, when you account for the fact that guys like Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard were the ones throwing him the ball it becomes semi-impressive. Pettis was a rookie that was supposed to come in and learn the game and buy seasons end he was very clearly the Niners go-to receiver when they needed to make a play. Averaging a massive 17.3 YPC (a figure that would have put in the top five among WRs had he caught 50 passes) it is abundantly clear that Pettis possesses that rare explosive ability to take any ball he catches to the house, and that is a trait that is prized among fantasy owners and NFL coaches alike. The fact that San Francisco did little to bolster their wide receiving corp this offseason further tells us that they are content with the prospect of Pettis being their WR1. With a backfield that can be described as murky at best, it is clear the Pettis and ascending superstar George Kittle are the pieces of this offense that have the highest ceilings. Don’t forget that Pettis averaged 11 receiving TDs a year in his final two seasons at UW, and as an added bonus he returns kicks occasionally as well.
This one seems like a no-brainer. You have one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game and are now coupling him with an offensive guru and a quarterback that may be the next dual-threat superstar. How is this guy falling into WR4 territory? The answer is simple, fantasy (perhaps more than any other game) is constantly at the mercy of recency bias. Owners forget that the 2018 Arizona Cardinals were captained by a coach who forgot how to use David Johnson, a Quarterback who was either awful/or a rookie that was in over his head and a team that basically looked as if it had given up. In a season that saw him set a career low in yards, he still managed to reel in 69 catches and 6 scores, and he did this on a team that would have been one of the slowest-paced offenses on record if not for the aforementioned terrible Dolphins. The Cardinals’ brass saw the 902 plays run and immediately set out to fix it. They brought in a relative unknown in the NFL ranks in Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury was fired from the college ranks and essentially broke a contract with USC to take the job in Arizona, and Fitzgerald was a large part of why he came.
Aaron Rodgers has offered his stamp of approval this offseason, and if we are honest with ourselves it is easy to see how MVS could be the benefactor of a ton of targets next year. Losing Randall Cobb and the implementation of a new read-based offense should have MVS owners chomping at the bit to roll him out next season. He is bigger, faster, and overall simply a better receiver than Geronimo Allison, and that makes him a target in all fantasy football drafts. The focus of the defense will always be stopping Davante Adams, and as that’s the case the role of volume snatcher is wide open for MVS. He possesses the elite size-speed combo and showed last year that he could win in a contested catch scenario as a rookie. MVS may very well be the number two receiver that Green Bay, and Aaron Rodgers, have been targeting for nearly a decade. MVS quietly put together a strong rookie season that saw him account for 38-581-2 while rotating with several other rookies. With Rodgers spending much of the offseason stumping for MVS and praising his growth as a player he should be a target of yours in every draft this season.
Miller came into last season with an insane amount of hype (admittedly I was pulling that train) and while he didn’t smash statistically (only 33 catches for 423 yards) he did show a knack for finding the endzone scoring 7 touchdowns. For context purposes, he had as many scores as breakout wide receiver Tyler Boyd on literally half as many targets. The Bears’ rookie somewhat predictably ran into the rookie wall after posting nearly 2/3 of his production in the first 8 games, but a full offseason with Mitch Trubisky and a secured role leave the door open for him to become an every week fantasy football contributor (Not for nothing, but Miller was my rookie WR1 last offseason). One of my favorite pieces about Miller is that he was the state champion in HS 110 hurdles and the runner up in the long jump. He plays much larger than his 5’11 stats suggest and he is a very natural catcher of the football making him a premium target in every red zone package. A player who may be more “quick” than “fast”, Miller is poised to break out as a fantasy asset as the only real competition for targets in Chicago are Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, both players who come with a myriad of health and availability questions.
Denver underwent a personnel-wide overhaul over the course of the last calendar year in an effort to clear the way for a younger, more dynamic passing game. The brought in cannon-armed statue Joe Flacco and sent franchise-face Demaryius Thomas packing. Enter a ton of young pass catchers who made the occasional play in 2018, and will look to turn those occasional blips into weekly production this year. Hamilton is going undrafted currently despite averaging 6 catches on 9 targets over the last month of the season. While Courtland Sutton will be the player that will get all the hype this year (and his ADP being nearly 25 spots higher confirms that) Hamilton is the guy who will likely feast on single coverage (and perhaps nickel corners if Emmanuel Sanders can get himself right post Achilles tear). With a plus size-speed blend (Hamilton went sub-4.5 at his pro day in 2018) has the opportunity to be a massive force in the slot for the Broncos this year. And as this will be Flacco’s first season in Denver it is not difficult to draw a line from him to his 24-year-old slot weapon as he acclimates to a new offensive system.
While I am cheating a little with McDonald‘s TE9 position (meaning it is literally impossible for him to jump 10 spots) it is important to know that I am doing so because I think it is critical that you’re aware of just how awesome he could be this year. Pittsburgh will be among the league leaders in targets available this season, and they happen to be quarterbacked by a player who is likely dead-set on showing the world that their passing attack made Antonio Brown, not the other way around. Outside of stepping into perhaps the best opportunity for a tight end this year after Jesse James departed to Detroit, McDonald is an excellent player in his own right. He is big enough to shed arm tackles and fast enough to evade linebackers. He is big, strong, and very fast for his size. At times he can remind of you an early career Todd Heap, so it is not a fluke that this 6’4 270lb monster will look to light the AFC North on Fire this season. In a season that was not overly memorable (outside of stealing Chris Conte’s soul) on Monday Night Football, but he was still a TE1 by yards, receptions, and touchdowns. If I miss on the top tier of tight ends (which is likely as the price tag is steep) McDonald is one of my favorite targets towards the end of drafts.
Reed’s career has been a melting pot of injury-riddled seasons with a dash of top-tier production (see 2015). The case for taking Reed late is relatively simple. Washington is likely going to be chasing points, Washington has no WRs that are any good, and Washington is relatively devoid of talent (outside of a recovering Derrius Guice and an older Adrian Peterson). A healthy Reed has the potential to be the top receiving option for rookie signal caller Dwayne Haskins and his speed and size make his constant mismatches an intriguing safety valve for a quarterback who simply hasn’t taken that many snaps. Look for a healthy Reed to coast in TE1 territory and if he gets injured you can rest easy knowing it costs you virtually nothing to draft him.
Speaking of costing virtually nothing to draft, enter Darren Waller. It’s the prettiest of resumes that Waller brings to the table in what will be his first actual shot at a starting gig, but it is worth noting that Waller has essentially the exact same profile as the player he is replacing in Jared Cook. The height and weight comps are virtually identical and both players ran in the mid 4.4s coming out of college. In an offense that has traditionally favored the check down (see Michael Crabtree over Cooper, and then Jared Cook over Cooper) Waller could have found himself in the unique position of facing defenses that have prepared for the newly acquired Antonio Brown even though he may be the third iteration of the Derek Carr binky. A player who has been comped regularly to successful wide receivers in the league, but has the body and speed to present a mismatch to just about any defender trying to cover him. Just because Waller has been overlooked by NFL teams thus far doesn’t mean he is without skill. This former wideout has the pass-catching ability and speed to be one of the steals of your fantasy draft.