By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Welcome everyone to the start of the 2019 NFL season! Man, this has been a LONG six months. Does anyone even remember that sorry excuse for a Super Bowl in February? Anyone remember who won? No? Yeah, me neither. (Totally false. Joe Zollo, my co-host on No Punt Intended on http://www.dhsradio.com likes to remind me every week. Such a jackass.)
So much has happened since February: We had our annual NFL Draft coverage with Chris Tyler in our Stars of Tomorrow series; I flew up to freakin’ New Hampshire to do a live broadcast of the NFL Draft with Joe for a special edition of NPI (you all should be listening every week. Seriously. Every Thursday on http://www.dhsradio.com); we had our annual A Look Inside series where we previewed EVERY NFL TEAM from a fantasy perspective (I even let Joe tout his IDPs); we’ve added a new writer (give Chris Molina a huge welcome!); and I wrote a freakin’ movie. True story.
If you follow us on any of our social media accounts, you’re probably wondering why you haven’t seen much chatter from us outside the general preview posts. Joe found a new job and moved to Dallas (from New Hampshire), and I was busy writing new projects for my production company in Orlando. I’m sorry. I truly am. One thing I love more than anything is to talk about fantasy football. I’ve tried very hard to make it up to you all the last six weeks or so by inviting some really awesome people in the football — real and fantasy –industry onto our little radio show. Names like- Lauren Carpenter, Kyle Yates, and Ryan Weisse, all writers with The Fantasy Footballers, and Daniel Bragg, who covers the Indianapolis Colts for The Brew, to name a few. We took part in The Fantasy Whisperers live stream 24-hour Mock-A-Thon on their YouTube channel (and we’ll be getting them on our show one of these days, too!) And this year, I was invited into one of the Instagram Experts’ leagues. So I’ll be representing Club Fantasy FFL against some of the best fantasy football fanalyst accounts on Instagram. Be sure to tune in as those guys find out what we’re all about!
So, as you can see, it’s been a busy summer. And it’s all been done with you in mind. This little site is nothing without the people who support us and interact with us. I say it every year and I’ll continue to say it every year — every single one of you are the reason Joe, Chris M., Chris T., Faith, Maggie, and myself do what we do.
With that in mind, this is the first edition of my Confidence Plays column for the 2019 season. This is my fourth year writing this column, and I’m just as consistently inconsistent as ever. Basically, I’m the Derrick Henry of Start/Sit fantasy pundits. Some of the players I liked last year that lived up to the hype included Jared Goff, Melvin Gordon, Kenyan Drake, Adam Thielen, and the Bears D/ST (my column was written before the Khalil Mack trade). Players I liked that did NOT live up to the hype included Carson Wentz, Dion Lewis, Royce Freeman, Alshon Jeffery, and Golden Tate. Players I wasn’t as enamored with that I still hit on, included Jimmy Garoppolo (he wasn’t great even before the injury), Ronald Jones II, Allen Robinson, Michael Crabtree, Jimmy Graham, and Jordan Reed. Players I wasn’t enamored with that made me look hella dumb, included Ben Roethlisberger, Todd Gurley, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and David Njoku. See? Hardly perfect. But it’s cool. I don’t profess to be perfect. I strive to educate and look at every possible outcome when you make your picks. I can’t predict injuries either, so if I like someone and they get hurt, just consider me bad luck and don’t draft them in the future. Because I’m secretly a warlock. Or something.
Instead of doing weekly rankings this year (time constraints), we’re doing a simple Upside/Downside format based on the consensus weekly rankings. They will center around weekly match-ups, and we’ll highlight them on our social platforms. (If you’re not following us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, you should do so now- @clubfantasyffl!) My weekly Confidence Plays will center on players you can and can’t trust week in and week out, aptly dubbed Play and Fade. If you see some of your highly drafted studs in the Fade section, it’s not because I’m telling you to bench them (unless I actually would if I have better options), it’s me telling you not to expect your regularly scheduled 15+ point outings. If you see some of your mid-round picks in the Play section, it’s because I think they’ll outperform where the consensus has them, and they’d make for excellent FLEX plays.
Got it? Awesome. Let’s jump into this week’s Confidence Plays!
QB Dak Prescott (DAL) – The Giants made upgrades to their defense this offseason. Two of their three first round picks will help, but they still have nothing in the way of pass rushers, and the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football. Prescott had the seventh highest completion percentage from a clean pocket last year, Amari Cooper is back at practice after dealing with plantar fasciitis, and Michael Gallup looks primed for a big season (and he’ll likely see a ton of rookie corner Deandre Baker). Oh, and Prescott’s favorite safety valve, Jason Witten, is back on the field. And with Zeke back, it’s good to be Dak.
QB Philip Rivers (LAC) – With Melvin Gordon still holding out, it’s The Philip Rivers Show once again for the Chargers. The Colts’ defense was average across the board a year ago. Rivers gets TE Hunter Henry back to go with standout WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and a viable pass catcher at running back in Austin Ekeler. Can the Colts cover everyone? Rivers should easily return low-end QB1 numbers this week.
RB Royce Freeman (DEN) – Yes, I’m back on board the Rolls Royce in 2019. An old school defensive mind as a head coach will want to ground and pound, and Freeman was good last year when he wasn’t hurt. The Raiders have made big strides from a year ago, but they also had one of the worst defenses a year ago. So when I see improvement, I’ll believe it. With a Super Bowl winning QB under center (Joe Flacco), and their top receiving threat back from injury (Emmanuel Sanders), it’ll keep the safeties honest and fewer 8-man fronts for Freeman- he saw second highest percentage of 8-man fronts and still averaged 4.0 yards per carry on the season. 80 yards and a TD aren’t out of the question on Monday night for Freeman.
RB Chris Carson (SEA) – I’m all in on the Seahawks’ ground game in 2019. They had the second most rushing attempts a year ago, and Carson was RB18 from Weeks 1-16- even while missing two games. The Bengals defense allowed the fourth most rushing yards, and just over one rushing touchdown per game a year ago. If reports are true that the Seahawks want Carson to have 50 targets this year, Carson has RB1 upside- not just this week, but this season.
RB Duke Johnson (HOU) – The Texans remade their team during the preseason. The acquisition of Johnson was supposed to be that of a pass-catching compliment to incumbent Lamar Miller. Now, Miller has a torn ACL and Johnson will share the load with recently acquired Carlos Hyde, who’s on his fourth team in just over a calendar year. The Saints allowed the second fewest rushing yards per game to RBs a year ago, but they struggled against RBs out of the backfield, ranking 29th in DVOA. The addition of LT Laremy Tunsil should give QB Deshaun Watson more time to diagnose plays and instead of scrambling, find Johnson for 5+ yard gains on dump offs. Consider Johnson a FLEX this week, but I like his upside on Monday night.
WRs Kenny Golladay & Marvin Jones (DET) – On the road, out of a dome, I’m tempted to fade the Lions as a whole, but they’re facing a Cardinals secondary without Patrick Peterson (suspended six games) and newly signed Robert Alford (leg injury). I don’t think you need much more convincing than that to fill your lineup with Matthew Stafford’s best outside weapons. Golladay will be a target monster and Jones should have at least one 40+ yard TD reception.
WR Dante Pettis (SF) – I’m down on Pettis for the season, but until Deebo Samuel grasps the playbook, Pettis should be the guy. Marquise Goodwin is overrated and brittle, and TE George Kittle needs someone to step up and help him. The Bucs gave up the third most passing TDs a year ago, and because of cap constraints, did little to address the position outside of a few draft picks. Shanahan tested Pettis in the preseason, so let’s see if it worked.
TE Trey Burton (CHI) – This is, of course, contingent on Burton playing Thursday night. In Week 15 last year, Burton had 13.6 fantasy points. The Packers ranked 27th in DVOA versus TEs a year ago. They worked to fix their pass rush and brought in a rookie safety to help cover the back end (and presumably TEs), but I’m not convinced he’ll be great right away. Burton was largely passed over in fantasy drafts this year, but is a great streaming option in Week 1.
TE Mark Andrews (BAL) – My love for Mark Andrews knows no bounds, especially in a lick-your-fingers-kind-of-delicious matchup against the Dolphins. They just traded away their best linebacker, and while they have a solid secondary, Andrews is big and fast and will give them plenty of headaches. Andrews was second among all TEs last year in deep receiving yards and has received glowing reviews from Ravens camp this year. The Dolphins also allowed seven 10+ fantasy point performances to TEs last year. I bet Andrews sees Minkah Fitzpatrick most of the day, but the Ravens’ strong running game will open him up downfield. Top 10 upside this week for Andrews.
Lest we forget, the streaming defenses of the week! The Ravens are a must start against the Dolphins, but if you’re streaming (the Ravens have high ownership) the Cowboys make a ton of sense against the Giants.
QB Jared Goff (LAR) – Let the Super Bowl hangover commence. I’m only partly kidding. I think Goff will have a solid season (he wants that Carson Wentz-level contract, after all), but this week against the Panthers will be challenging. They added pass rushers on both the interior (Gerald McCoy) and the outside (Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns), and Jared Goff had the 29th best passer rating when under pressure a year ago. The Rams will need to rely on their running game to win this road game.
QB Cam Newton (CAR) – Yeah, I think this will be a low scoring game dominated by running backs. Newton is back after missing the end of last season with a shoulder injury, and he’s rewarded by seeing Aaron Donald running right at him. Fun times. If you thought Jared Goff’s passer rating under pressure was bad (59.8), Newton’s is worse (48.3, 35th best). After losing losing the Kalil’s (C Ryan to retirement then to the Jets and LT Matt to poor play) along their offensive line, they signed oft-injured C Matt Paradis and drafted OT Greg Little. Needless to say, these guys aren’t stopping Donald. Newton is in for a long game.
RB Kenyan Drake (MIA) – The Dolphins are going to be bad in 2019. Like, historically bad. I like Drake on the season, as he’s really their only legitimate threat on offense, but I want to see the Dolphins play in a regular season game against a defense that schemes to stop them before I advise anyone to start Drake (or Albert Wilson or anyone on that team for that matter). The Ravens lost LB C.J. Mosley, but they usually have no problems overcoming losses on defense.
RB Derrick Henry (TEN) – Henry shed the walking boot, but he’s not traditionally a hammer in September- 111 rushes for 422 yards and 1 touchdown (3.8 YPC) over his first three seasons. Guess what Sunday is? September 8th. The Browns have done a lot to boost their defensive front around star pass rusher Myles Garrett. New DE Olivier Vernon graded as a top 15 DE last year per Pro Football Focus, and new DT Sheldon Richardson… well, he’s a name people know. Unless Marcus Mariota can throw on this defense, Henry won’t be able to get going. I fully expect the Titans to abandon the run early to try and keep pace with the Browns offense, leaving Henry with about 12 carries all game. Not a worthy FLEX this week.
WR T.Y. Hilton (IND) – Call me crazy, but I want to see the Brissett to Hilton connection in action this year before recommending Hilton on the regular. He was more miss than hit in 2017 with Brissett (different circumstances, I’m aware) with 10 games under 10 points. Even without Derwin James in the Chargers’ secondary, I don’t like Hilton’s chances of a 10-15 point outing this week. Casey Hayward is great and Desmond King is arguably the best slot corner in the league.
WR Robby Anderson (NYJ) – Bills’ CB Tre’Davious White typically travels with the opposing team’s best WR. Anderson fits the bill for the Jets. White took on Anderson last year in Week 14, and allowed three receptions for 51 yards and a score. That’s a 14.1 point outing which you or I would take all day from our FLEX spot. But something feels different this year. The Jets have a new offense, and the Bills have an interior pass rush in the form of rookie Ed Oliver. That’s how you get in Sam Darnold’s head. Anderson was drafted as a WR3 in most formats, so I’d be more tempted to find someone with a better match-up and let this week play out minus him in your lineup.
WR Dede Westbrook (JAX) – I’m all in on Westbrook in 2019. New QB Nick Foles will pepper him with targets this year. The Chiefs don’t exactly have a great defense, and Nick Foles led the league last year in passer rating when under pressure, but Foles doesn’t usually look good early in the season (1-1 last year with the Eagles; 451 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT in those games). The addition of Tyrann Mathieu should help solidify coverage in the slot for the Chiefs which will limit Westbrook’s upside. Plus, the Chiefs have Chris Jones rushing from the interior and newly acquired Frank Clark rushing on the outside. The Jaguars’ line is not built for pass protection.
TE Delanie Walker (TEN) – The Browns allowed the fifth most fantasy points to opposing TEs last year, so that’s the good news for Walker owners. The bad news is that Mariota has looked atrocious this preseason, and his starting left tackle, Taylor Lewan, will miss the first four games this year to suspension. You don’t want your LT missing games when Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon are coming at you. Walker may get targets, but in the short to intermediate because Mariota won’t have time to look downfield, but I don’t think he’ll do much with them this week.