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Fantasy Football’s 2019 High-Risk, High-Reward Players

2019 NFL Season (100th Season)

2019 NFL MVP Odds: Patrick Mahomes, +400

2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Odds: Kyler Murray, +250

Cover the Spread 365 Fantasy Football’s High-Risk, High-Reward Players

By the end of the 2018 NFL season, second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes from the Kansas City Chiefs led all other players in fantasy points, with a total of 417 points in 16 games played. From the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan finished in 2nd place overall, earning a total of 354 points in 16 games as well. In 3rd place, in one full season played, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger wrapped up his season with 341 points. Now that Big Ben is without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, these offseason player departures will potentially affect the team’s offense next season. As for running backs, the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley concluded his 2018 season with 313.1 points. Likewise, Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing yards, totaling 1,435 yards and 4.7 yards per attempt. However, he scored only 6 rushing touchdowns last season. In the end, ranking 20th, he finished the season with 252.2 fantasy points. Based on accumulating 1,677 yards, Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones finished 1st in the receiving yards ranking, but he only had 8 receiving touchdowns.

While some players overachieved last season, there were a few that left fans feeling puzzled and disappointed. On another subject, besides Patrick Mahomes, the big surprise last season in the AFC was quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Cleveland Browns. Despite not playing until week 3 versus the New York Jets, ranking 22nd in fantasy points, Mayfield ended his 2018 season with 240 points. Additionally, Aaron Rodgers ranked 7th for fantasy points at 312.5, but his fantasy production did not show his underlying issues. Last season, for good news, Rodgers passed for 4,442 yards and had a passer-rating of 97.6. The 2018 season was his lowest interception-percentage performance of his NFL career, finishing the regular season at .3%. Nevertheless, statistically, the 2018 season was also Rodgers’ worst season in his professional football career. His completion percentage was 62.3%, which was the lowest on record, and his quarterback-rating (QBR) was 56.8. Until last season, Rodgers’ QBR had never dropped below 60 in a single season. Down below, the high-risk, high-reward players will be analyzed and discussed leading into the 2019 NFL season.

Ben Roethlisberger

According to FantasyPros‘ fantasy football draft rankings, entering the 2019 NFL season, Ben Roethlisberger ranks 13th for quarterbacks, 99th overall, and has an average rating of 108.8. While referencing Fantasy Football Calculator, Big Ben ranks 131st overall and his average draft position (ADP) overall rating is 125.5. Roethlisberger is about to begin his 15th season of his NFL career. In 2018, he passed for 5,129 yards, had a completion percentage of 67%, threw 34 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, and had a passer-rating of 96.5. Needless to say, Big Ben had an above average season in 2018. Until last year, Roethlisberger had never thrown 34 touchdown passes in a single season. However, the Steelers’ player departures in the offseason cannot go ignored. On March 10, 2019, WR Antonio Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders. Then, on the first official day of free agency on March 13, RB Le’Veon Bell signed a 4-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets. Although players come and go from the Steelers all the time, Roethlisberger threw passes to Antonio Brown for the last nine years!

There is an exceptional chance that Roethlisberger will regress this season. It remains to be seen that WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, as WR1, can help carry the Steelers’ passing game without Antonio Brown’s presence on the field. Not to mention, Ben is not getting any younger. With a now 37-year-old quarterback behind the center, Head Coach Mike Tomlin will have to continue to do everything in his control to protect Roethlisberger. In the 2018 Pro Football Focus final offensive line rankings, Pittsburgh’s offensive line was the best in the league. Just so long as he has the weapons and available protection, Big Ben can rack up stats game-by-game that might compare to other quarterbacks’ statistics, such as from Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. Whether the No. 2 receiver becomes Donte Moncrief or James Washington, it is still unlikely that Roethlisberger will have a similar performance to last season. Next, the Steelers are ranked 19th for their 2019 strength of schedule, with an opponents’ win percentage of .496. Then, there is inconsistency to think about.

Todd Gurley

Retrieved from FantasyPros’ fantasy football draft rankings for the 2019 season, Todd Gurley ranks 11th for running backs, 18th overall, and has an average rating of 18.9. For ADP, his current number is 17, ranking 18th as well. In the 2018 season, he rushed for 1,251 yards, scored a career-high 17 touchdowns, averaged 4.9 yards per attempt, averaged 89.4 rushing yards per game, and had 89.4 rushing attempts per game. For receiving, Gurley was targeted 81 times, he made 59 receptions, earned 580 yards, and scored 4 touchdowns. As hinted earlier, he was the highest rated running back in the 2018 season. With 313.1 points, he finished his season in 6th place behind only five quarterbacks. Unfortunately, numerous variables come into play for this upcoming season. On March 4, it was reported from CBS that Gurley’s knee injury could later develop into long-term issues, if he ever has arthritis.

On June 11, Gurley mentioned the three games he missed in 2013 and his torn left ACL in Nov. of 2014. Considering this news and his poor, underwhelming performance in Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots, it would be a wise decision for fantasy bettors to not place all their eggs in one basket. RBs Malcolm Brown, Matt Colburn, Justin Davis, John Kelly, and Darrell Henderson are there to help carry the load. One should never depend on running backs to stay healthy in the NFL. They are a dime a dozen. Plus, Gurley’s performances are oftentimes determined by his offensive line production. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive line 6th overall. If Gurley stays healthy and his linemen continue to remain competent, this running back is a keeper.

Le’Veon Bell

From FantasyPros’ fantasy football draft rankings, Le’Veon Bell is ranked 7th for running backs, 9th overall in the league, and has an average rating of 11.7. As for ADP, his number is currently 9, ranking 9th as well. The New York Jets signing Le’Veon Bell to a 4-year deal is a serious venture. It goes without saying that Bell did not play a single snap last season in Pittsburgh, which was all over a contract dispute. On Feb. 21, it was reported that Bell had gained over 35 lbs. of extra bodyweight, placing him at approximately 260 lbs. Of course, he is now back down to 225 lbs. To put further emphasis on the aforementioned information, Le’Veon Bell has been out of professional football and out of shape for an entire season. Also, in the AFC East, he will now be playing against the defending super bowl champs New England Patriots twice per season.

This does not bode well for a me-first type of player. Bell is a talented running back, but a slight regression in his game could be imminent. In the 2017 NFL season, he rushed for 1,291 yards on 321 rushing attempts, scored 9 touchdowns, averaged 4 yards per attempt, and averaged 86.1 yards per game. As for the team’s 2019 strength of schedule, the New York Jets rank 27th overall, with an opponents’ win percentage of .473. Not to mention, offseason predictions for quarterback Sam Darnold are up in the air right now. If the team has to over rely on Bell, it will spell disaster for his fantasy fans. Bell had 4 fumbles in 2016 and 3 fumbles in 2017. In the grand scheme of things, fans may have to rely on the Jets’ offensive line and Head Coach Adam Gase on this one. Having this running back on a team stretches the words “high-risk” and “high-reward” to above and beyond.

Aaron Rodgers

Wait, why is Aaron Rodgers here? Good question. According to FantasyPro’s fantasy football draft rankings for 2019, he is ranked 4th for quarterbacks, 55th overall in the NFL, and has an average rating of 55.2. Based on ADP, his number is 52.2. and he ranks 54th. Despite this data, he has not played as well as he did throughout the 2014 and 2016 seasons. Having said that, NFL enthusiasts should prepare for a solid year from Aaron Rodgers. In spite of the Green Bay Packers finishing 6-9-1 (.406), the coaching slate has been wiped clean. Matt LaFleur is the new head coach. This season will be the make-it-or-break-it year for Rodgers. Evident by his 62.3 completion percentage, he struggled completing passes in the 2018 season, but the Packers still had a decent draft. They drafted a few offensive players, such as TE Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M and RB Dexter Williams from Notre Dame. With little to no effort, NFL analysts could cherry-pick the negatives from this Packers’ team left and right, for the next few hours.

In the end, it will be up to the fans and fantasy experts to decide which player or coach was more responsible for Green Bay’s past few disheartening seasons. Contrary to popular belief, Aaron Rodgers does have fuel left in his football tank. Though, he is injury-prone at this point in his career and is turning 36-years-old on Dec. 2. If he sustains one more serious injury, like a torn ACL, his professional football career will be over. Furthermore, Rodgers is the 11th most sacked quarterback in NFL history, with a total of 412 sacks. Adam Stenavich, who is the team’s new offensive line coach, has to do what he can to protect Rodgers if fantasy gamblers want to keep their season alive. One thing is for certain, Green Bay needs at least one more playoff appearance with Rodgers. He is projected to throw between 26 to 37 touchdown passes in the 2019 season. For the team’s 2019 strength of schedule, with an opponents’ win percentage of .504, Green Bay ranks 14th overall. The Packers are preparing to play against the AFC West and NFC East.

Patrick Mahomes

While referencing FantasyPro’s 2019 fantasy football draft rankings, Patrick Mahomes ranks 1st for quarterbacks, ranks 34th overall in the league, and has an average rating of 35. For ADP, his number is 32.3. Mahomes was only the second quarterback all-time to surpass 400 fantasy points (Peyton Manning had 410.1 points in the 2013 season). Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes is also another payoff that comes with a major risk. If he has a sophomore slump season, which is feasible based on WR Tyreek Hill’s inevitable suspension, fantasy football participants would have missed out on the opportunity to select other key position players. There is a fighting chance his 2018 season was more of an undisputed anomaly than the norm. Last season, he passed for 5,097 yards, had a completion percentage of 66%, threw 50 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and had a passer-rating of 113.8.

He was only the third player in NFL history to have thrown at least 50 touchdown passes in a single season. Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes in 2013 and Tom Brady threw 50 touchdowns passes in the 2007 season. These stat-pad performances do not come along as often, even in today’s game. Duplicate seasons with touchdown percentages over 7% are simply improbable. For the Chiefs’ 2019 strength of schedule, they ranked tied for 5th with the Chicago Bears, with an opponents’ win percentage of .520. Once again, Mahomes’ 2019 season will depend greatly on his offensive line protection too. From Pro Football Focus, his offensive line was ranked 13th in the league last season. Picking Mahomes is an attention-getter, yet, reasonable gamble. The Kansas City Chiefs are playing the AFC South and NFC North next season. Most folks are looking forward to their Dec. 8th matchup versus the New England Patriots.

Antonio Brown

As referenced from FantasyPros’ 2019 fantasy football draft rankings, Antonio Brown is ranked 8th for wide receivers, ranked 22nd overall in the NFL, and has an average rating of 22.8. His Half-PPR ADP, retrieved from Fantasy Football Calculator, is 19.8, ranking 20th. Well, Antonio Brown is now officially a hit-or-miss player. No one knows what to expect in this upcoming 2019 season. Brown spent the last nine seasons catching passes and winning games on the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was selected First-Team All-Pro four times (2014-2017) and Second-Team All-Pro in 2013. In 2018, he ranked 25th for fantasy points, totaling 219.7 points in 15 games. Last season, while being targeted 168 times from Ben Roethlisberger, he made 104 receptions, earned 1,297 yards, earned 12.5 receiving yards per receptions, scored 15 touchdowns, and averaged 86.5 receiving yards per game.

He is predicted to regress a bit in the upcoming 2019 season, catching passes from quarterback Derek Carr. On the other hand, perhaps, he will have a season that rivals his memorable performances from 2015 and 2016. His stats depend entirely on the health and well-being of Derek Carr. On Oct. 14, 2018, while playing against the Seattle Seahawks, Derek Carr injured his left arm. The Raiders’ offensive line allowed six sacks in this one game alone. Not to mention, prior to that in week 15 of the 2016 season, Carr broke his leg against the Indianapolis Colts. In 2018, Pro Football Focus had Oakland’s offensive line ranked 28th in the league. If Carr cannot stay healthy, this will also wreck Antonio Brown’s season. For the 2019 strength of schedule rankings, the Raiders have the most demanding schedule in the NFL, with an opponents’ win percentage of .539. All things considered, use caution when contemplating on a potential selection. Brown can play anywhere, but will he accumulate the same receiving yards and touchdown statistics? This remains to be seen. It is unknown on whether or not Brown can maintain, and strive to exceed, his projected fantasy points without Roethlisberger.

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