Fantasy News  

 

AFC East fantasy team previews

Print

After spending all summer analyzing teams, player situations, and tracking news to get prepared for the 2019 season -- it's time to get down to the fun stuff. To get you prepared to draft your squads this season, my fantasy team previews discuss every fantasy-relevant skill player, positional strategy, and where I have players ranked versus their NFL.com average draft position (ADP). Let's get to it!

Buffalo Bills


Quarterback: Josh Allen ended his 2018 season on a tear, finishing as the fantasy QB1 in his final six games upon returning to the lineup in Week 12 from an elbow injury. The bulk of Allen's fantasy stats were earned on the ground. Because he was blitzed at the league's highest rate among quarterbacks last season (33 percent), it forced Allen to scramble on an NFL-leading 11.9 percent of his dropbacks. Per SharpFootball's Rich Hribar, Allen's scramble rate ranked second-highest among all QBs over the past decade. Not only was Allen breaking the pocket to run often, but he was also throwing the ball deep more than any passer did last year. The Bills asked Allen to throw deep -- over 20 yards in the air -- on 18.1 percent of his pass attempts. Patrick Mahomes was second in deep ball rate at 15.2 percent. Allen was badly inconsistent throwing deep, ranking fourth-from-last in completion rate (28 percent) while tossing the league's highest INT rate (11.1 percent) on throws 20 or more yards downfield. Allen is never going to be the most accurate passer in the NFL, but in fairness, Buffalo's supporting cast rarely did him any favors. Last year's Bills' suffered from the NFL's second-highest drop rate while their OL gave up the eighth-most pressures per dropback. Buffalo's front office promptly addressed their issues this offseason, giving Allen noticeably improved weaponry and protection. They added another deep threat in John Brown while slot-man Cole Beasley will nicely complement Brown and Robert Foster's perimeter speed. The Bills also added five offensive linemen this offseason, notably inking C Mitch Morse and G Quinton Spain in free agency and drafting RT Cody Ford in the second-round. Allen has a wide range of outcomes in 2019 -- let alone a single game or series. Buffalo's opening schedule makes for a potentially appetizing start, though. Five of the Bills first six opponents ranked 19th or worse in pass defense efficiency last season. We want our high variance late-round QBs to have an easy runway early, and Allen has a chance to continue his white-hot finish from 2018 with a soft opening schedule.

-- Allen (Rk: QB21 vs. ADP: QB22)


Running Back: Buffalo made it clear that they are rethinking their run game this offseason after LeSean McCoy (3.2 YPC) and Chris Ivory's (3.3 YPC) ineffective 2018 seasons. Iron Born Frank Gore, former-Jag T.J. Yeldon, and third-rounder Devin Singletary form the NFL's least predictable backfield alongside McCoy -- who is entering the final year of his contract at 31-years-old. McCoy's snap rate was cut from 68 percent in 2017 to 53 percent last year thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness and his playing time may be cut further this year. The Bills' OL shake-up and modifications to their run game will hopefully yield more success, but finding projectable fantasy points in this backfield is difficult. At OTAs, McCoy, Gore, and Singletary split first-team reps while Yeldon nursed a groin injury. McCoy enters 2019 as the slight favorite to lead the backfield in touches, but Singletary and Gore are both threats for early-down snaps while T.J. Yeldon is quietly sixth among all RBs in third-down receptions over the last two years. It's likely Buffalo rolls into 2019 with a true hot-hand, RBBC approach.

-- McCoy (Rk: RB47 vs. ADP: RB42); Singletary (Rk: RB52 vs. ADP: RB50)


Wide Receiver: Finding targets to carry weekly floors for potentially four receivers on a run-centered offense is a tough task. The Bills were the league's third-most run-heavy team in the NFL in Allen's starts last season, as the rookie attempted just 27.7 passes per game (third-fewest). Volume will be hard to come by, but free-agent addition John Brown is a perfect fit for Allen. Fully recovered from a balky hamstring, Brown led the NFL in deep targets per game (2.6) and posted a career-high 17.7 YPR before Lamar Jackson took over as the Ravens QB in 2018. Robert Foster was Allen's preferred receiver deep last year -- his 22-yard average depth of target downfield easily led the team in Allen's starts -- while Zay Jones led the unit in target share (21 percent). The Bills should open up their pass offense with Brown and slot-man Cole Beasley adding much-needed talent here, but a low volume offense and Allen's accuracy are concerns for 2019. For what it's worth, Robert Foster is now the Bills No. 5 wideout, apparently. This preseason, Foster has played behind Brown, Beasley, Jones, and Andre Roberts with the first-team offense. John Brown remains my favorite Bills receiver to draft by far while Cole Beasley and Zay Jones are desperation, PPR-only punts in 2019.

-- Brown (Rk: WR47 vs. ADP: WR56)


Tight End: The Bills offseason roster sweep didn't spare the tight end room, either. After cutting Charles Clay in February, Buffalo added former-Bengal Tyler Kroft in free agency and nabbed Ole Miss' Dawson Knox at 96 overall in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Kroft broke his foot at OTAs -- leaving only Knox and blocking TE Lee Smith on the depth chart entering 2019. Knox never saw enough targets while playing with D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown to produce huge college numbers at Ole Miss, but he is an intriguing dynasty stash on a team that is searching for contributors. Knox will certainly get his opportunity for snaps as a rookie.

Miami Dolphins


Quarterback: The Dolphins are in the middle of a full rebuild with their eyes on 2020 and beyond. As a part of this transition phase, Miami wisely flipped the 62nd pick (ARI took Andy Isabella) and a 2020 fifth-rounder to have an open tryout for Josh Rosen. Rosen's rookie season was a disaster -- but it was no fault of his own. Arizona's offense was predictable, poorly designed, and their rookie passer lacked protection. No quarterback was pressured more often (37.2 percent), threw into a tight window more often (21.6 percent), or had a lower expected completion percentage (59.4 percent) -- based on the difficulty of the throw -- than Josh Rosen did in Arizona in 2018. Rosen's chance at redemption won't be easy, either. Miami's OL allowed the league's second-highest sack rate last season and their trenches are riddled with question marks entering 2019. In fact, no team has allocated fewer cap dollars to their OL this season than Miami. Outside of letting 2018 leading receiver Danny Amendola walk, the Dolphins didn't do anything to bolster their receiver corps -- leaving Rosen and venerable veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick with little to work with. Outside of 2-QB leagues, the Dolphins QB situation is one to avoid in fantasy.

Running Back: If there were ever a season where Kenyan Drake could finally see 250 or more touches, this would be it. Frank Gore is gone, leaving behind 42 percent of Miami's carries from last season (156 total). Gore also gobbled up 39 percent of the Dolphins snaps, leaving Kenyan Drake with a 59 percent snap rate. This year, only Kalen Ballage and seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin are behind Drake on the depth chart. Drake won't escape the Dolphins run-blocking woes -- but that isn't anything he isn't accustomed to. Over the past two years, Miami ranks 28th in yards before contact per attempt (per PFF). Despite the poor run-blocking, Drake has excelled at generating yards on his own and making defenders miss in space, ranking third-best in both missed tackles forced and yards after contact per attempt on his 265 carries in 2017-18. Drake was also under-utilized in Miami's passing game under Adam Gase, something new OC Chad O'Shea will hopefully fix in 2019. O'Shea has spent the last 10 seasons with the Patriots (as the WR coach) while New England literally revolutionized the way RBs are used as receivers. Neither of these backs offer a bunch of touchdown upside on a bad team behind a bad offensive line, but Ballage is far too cheap in drafts. Plenty of big, athletic running backs with questionable vision have failed in the NFL before, but Ballage certainly has the opportunity to either cut into Drake's role or even lead this tandem in touches on a razor-thin depth chart. Drake's minor foot injury that he suffered this preseason opens Ballage's opportunity further.

-- Drake (Rk: RB32 vs. ADP: RB26); Ballage (Rk: RB38 vs. ADP: RB55)


Wide Receiver: The Dolphins don't have a single receiver being selected inside of the top-60 receivers on NFL.com. While it's possible no Miami pass catchers are picked in some 10-team leagues this season, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson both have faint upside as Miami's slot wideouts. Rosen was more efficient when he targeted his slot wideouts (6.8 YPA and 50 percent success rate) versus his boundary receivers (6.1 YPA and 44 percent success rate) in Arizona while no quarterback has thrown to his interior receivers more often than Fitzpatrick over the last decade, per PFF's Scott Barrett. Stills and Wilson will both get their fair share of slot reps in 2019 -- as both wideouts were used in the slot on over one-third of their routes last season. While my leaguemates chase DeVante Parker hype (again), I'm pivoting to Stills and Wilson to get my fix of Dolphins pass catchers as my WR6/7 in deep leagues and best ball formats. However, no receiver here is a particularly exciting play in 10- or 12-team redraft leagues.

-- Stills (Rk: WR58 vs. ADP: WR63); Wilson (Rk: WR67 vs. ADP: WR65); Parker (Rk: WR73 vs. ADP: WR69)


Tight End: After a quiet rookie season on a bad offense and poorly coached team, Mike Gesicki is an intriguing buy low in dynasty leagues and deep redraft formats. Gesicki was rarely used last season, as he played on 44 percent of Miami's snaps and saw five or more targets just twice. When he was on the field, Miami oddly asked the rookie to block on 45 percent of his total snaps played -- despite being a below-par blocker coming out of Penn State. At 6-6, 247lbs with a 4.5 forty and a 97th percentile SPARQ score -- Gesicki is one of the most athletic TE prospects of the last decade and would be best used as a vertical threat in Miami's attack. Instead, Adam Gase asked Gesicki to block on a substantially higher rate of his snaps than Zach Ertz (39 percent), George Kittle (36 percent), Travis Kelce (33 percent). Hopefully, Miami's new staff will recognize this coaching malpractice and unleash Gesicki's talent with more optimal usage in 2019. There were some concerns this July from beat writers that Gesicki still has a long way to go in his development, but Dolphins coaches have given him a near full-time role in the preseason. Gesicki has played on 16-of-24 first-team snaps (67 percent) in Miami's first two exhibition games after seeing a lowly 43 percent snap rate as a rookie.

-- Gesicki (Rk: TE25 vs. ADP: TE27)


New England Patriots


Quarterback: There are a few factors working against Tom Brady's fantasy outlook in 2019, and none more important than Rob Gronkowski's impact on the Pats' offense. Since Gronk joined the Patriots in 2010, Brady has averaged 4.1 fewer fantasy points, 0.4 fewer touchdowns, and 37 fewer yards per game without his star tight end on the field. Brady's YPA with Gronk is 8.0 versus 6.9 without him in this span. The Patriots offense may work against Brady in 2019, too, as New England transitions further into a run oriented team without Gronk. The Patriots were the seventh-most run-heavy team in the regular season (45 percent) and OC Josh McDaniels doubled down in the playoffs, calling a run on 48 percent of Patriots' plays during their Super Bowl run. The Pats also went 56 percent run-heavy inside of opponents' 10-yard line (red-zone) -- which tied the Panthers for the sixth-highest clip. Josh Gordon's return helps elevate Brady's ceiling some -- he averaged nearly 100 more yards per game in Gordon's starts last year -- but Gronk's loss combined with the Patriots run-first attack makes Brady one of the lowest upside late-round QB options in a year where the position is loaded.

-- Brady (Rk: QB20 vs. ADP: QB15)


Running Back: Another year, another Patriots' backfield controversy. This season's headache centers around Sony Michel's degenerative left knee and what third-round pick Damien Harris' role may be. Michel originally tore his left ACL in 2011 while in high school and has since strained that same knee twice, he needed to have it drained last preseason, and he reportedly underwent another cleanup knee surgery in May -- causing him to miss Patriots OTAs. Michel averaged 19.6 carries, 90.8 yards, and 0.9 touchdowns per game when he played his usual allotment of snaps in 13 regular and postseason games, but he saw just six targets in these contests. Michel's 2019 range of outcomes includes leading the league in rushing scores, but his knee and zero usage as a receiver have me looking elsewhere in the fourth or fifth-round in PPR leagues. However, Michel's knee troubles are worth the risk if the price is right in non-PPR systems where yards and touchdowns are all that matters. Unlike Brady, James White has positive splits without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup -- averaging 13.9 PPR points and 6.6 targets per game without Gronk versus 11.4 PPG and 5.5 targets with Gronk over the past four seasons. New England has the ninth-most targets available in the NFL and White is a sure bet to take over a good chunk of them. Only the Saints have thrown more passes to their RBs than the Patriots have over the last two combined seasons. Damien Harris is a bit of a wildcard in this backfield, but there aren't many better Zero-RB picks in 2019 than the Pats' newest addition. Harris struggled to create on his own at Alabama, but New England's offensive ecosystem combined with Michel's fragile left knee makes him an intriguing RB4/5 selection in the double-digit rounds.

-- White (Rk: RB23 vs. ADP: RB25); Michel (Rk: RB25 vs. ADP: RB21); Harris (Rk: RB48 vs. RB51)


Wide Receiver: Over the past six years, Julian Edelman has averaged 11.4 targets, 7.3 receptions, 85.0 yards per game when Gronk has missed time in the regular and postseason. In Gronkowski's 25 missed games, Edelman has scored double-digit PPR points 24 times while never seeing fewer than seven targets in any of these contests. The Patriots run-heavy attack in scoring position limits his touchdown ceiling some, but Edelman's 11 inside-the-ten targets led the team as he recorded a career-high 28 percent red-zone target share last season. Edelman is set up to be a target vacuum in the absence of Rob Gronkowski this season, and it will give him one of the highest floors in fantasy. He's my WR11, four spots ahead of his ADP on NFL.com (WR15). Josh Gordon was officially reinstated in the NFL, and I've reinstated him as a no-brainer top-32 WR in my rankings. Gordon posted career-highs in yards per target, catch rate, and passer rating (when targeted) on just 68 targets from Tom Brady without an offseason to prepare. Gordon saw 25 percent of the team's passing looks in the three games Rob Gronkowski missed last season, tagging receiving lines of 4/100, 5/130/1, and 4/81. Giddy up. At 19- and 20-years-old, N'Keal Harry posted 82/1,142/8 and 73/1,088/9 in his final two seasons at Arizona State while primarily playing on the left side (and a bit in the slot) of the Sun Devil's formations. Not only does he have early draft capital and production pedigree working in his favor, but Harry is an ideal fit for a Pats' offense that predicates on receivers winning over the middle and with yards after the catch. In his final season at ASU, Harry was first among draft-eligible WRs in contested receptions, he gained the 2nd-most yards per route on targets in the middle of the field (between 10-19 yards per PFF), and finished 7th among draft-eligible WRs in YAC/reception. New England has the ninth-most targets available in the NFL, and even at his advanced age, Brady is more than capable of supporting two fantasy studs. Gordon's return has cooled some of my enthusiasm for Edelman, but I'm aggressively targeting both receivers in all of my leagues. Harry's average draft position has been falling across the industry, and with Gordon back, it's hard to find a big role for the rookie early in the season.

-- Edelman (Rk: WR11 vs. ADP: WR15); Gordon (Rk: WR31 vs. ADP: Not updated yet); Harry (Rk: WR56 vs. ADP: WR55)


Tight End: Without Gronk in the fold (for now), the Patriots have been forced to punt on tight end in 2019. New England carried Austin Seferian-Jenkins on their roster for a few weeks this spring but cut him after the first day of OTAs. New England also signed vet Ben Watson in May, but he'll miss the first four games of the season on a PED ban. The Patriots are forced to turn to former-Bronco Matt LaCosse as their Week 1 starter. Watson or LaCosse make sense as an 18th-round hail mary in best ball formats, but with a possible Gronk Watch on the horizon and little else on the depth chart, Patriots tight ends can be ignored outside of deep redraft leagues.

New York Jets


Quarterback: It should be no surprise that the youngest QB to ever start in the NFL had an up-and-down rookie season, especially when your WRs are injured, your protection is constantly breaking down, and you injure your ankle mid-season. Darnold had a healthy Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa on the field at the same time in 7-of-13 starts last year while the Jets OL allowed pressure on 30 percent of Darnold's dropbacks, tied for the ninth-highest rate in the league. Despite the adversity as a rookie, there is plenty of reason for optimism for Sam Darnold in 2019. The Jets went on a spending spree this offseason, adding workhorse Le'Veon Bell to bolster their backfield while giving Darnold a new weapon out of the slot in Jamison Crowder. With Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa back healthy, the Jets supporting cast will be infinitely better this season and, hopefully, the added talent and new coaching staff will help put New York in some more advantageous situations in 2019. Only the Cardinals trailed more often than the Jets did last season. Unfortunately, it's unlikely Darnold and Co. get off to a hot start. The Jets opening schedule is brutal with dates against the Bills, Browns, Eagles, Cowboys, Jaguars, and Patriots (twice) in their first seven games. It may be a few weeks into the season before we get to comfortably use Darnold in fantasy lineups.

-- Darnold (Rk: QB23 vs. ADP: QB25)


Running Back: After taking a year off, Le'Veon Bell enters his age-27 with fresh legs and $27M guaranteed in his pocket. While Bell's workload isn't a concern for fantasy -- make no mistake, he's going to get fed -- the Jets surrounding environment will be far-cry from his days in Pittsburgh. Whereas the Steelers OL ranked inside of the top-8 teams in adjusted offensive line yards in four-straight seasons from 2014-17, the Jets finished 32nd in FootballOutsiders' run-blocking metric last season. New York ranked fourth-from-last in yards before contact last season while a league-leading 26 percent of their runs were stuffed behind the line of scrimmage in 2018. Touches won't be a problem, but fantasy drafters should be moderately weary of how Bell and the Jets OL will jive in 2019. Per Next Gen Stats, no running back has spent more time behind the line of scrimmage on his carries than Bell (3.1 seconds) over the last three seasons. Will his patient style work behind bad blocking? Kelechi Osemele's addition at LG helps bolster the line a bit, but returning starters G Brian Winters (71st-of-81 guards), RT Brandon Shell (66th-of-80 tackles), and LT Kelvin Beachum (77th-of-80) were all near the bottom of the league in PFF's individual blocking metrics last season. When I have found myself picking in the late first round this summer, I'm often letting my opponents draft Bell while I target Travis Kelce, all of the receivers, and James Conner.

-- Bell (Rk: RB7 vs. ADP: RB5)


Wide Receiver: This was Sam Darnold's target distribution on his 414 attempts last season: Robby Anderson (80), RBs (74), Jermaine Kearse (59), Quincy Enunwa (51 in 7 games), and Chris Herndon (38)... With Bell plus Jamison Crowder added and Enunwa back healthy, the Jets have one of the most crowded pass-catching corps in the league this season. As the team leader in targets and air yards (35 percent share), Robby Anderson averaged 12.2 PPR points in Darnold's starts last year, making him the WR30 in per game output. Even with more competition for targets in town, Anderson is an underrated fantasy WR3 with explosive weekly upside. Anderson's average depth of target was a team-high 16.4 yards downfield last season and the additions of Crowder and Bell underneath will hopefully take some defensive attention away from Anderson deep. This tendency is certainly liable to change under Adam Gase, but it's notable that Darnold targeted his slot wideouts at the NFL's fifth-highest rate last season (35 percent). Meanwhile, Jamison Crowder has run over two-thirds of his routes from the slot in each of the last two years and his addition will make Quincy Enunwa a near full-time boundary receiver, where he spent 56 percent of his snaps last year. Even though it's easier to beat interior defenders, Enunwa has actually gained more separation yardage on his targets while split out wide in both of his 2016 and 2018 seasons, per Next Gen Stats. Enunwa averaged 5.3 catches and 70 yards per game in the Jets opening month last year before suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 6, causing him to miss five games the rest of the way. Enunwa is undervalued in all fantasy leagues while Crowder is an attractive PPR punt play in the 13th to 16th round.

-- Anderson (Rk: WR26 vs. ADP: WR30); Crowder (Rk: WR53 vs. ADP: WR59); Enunwa (WR70 vs. ADP: WR74)


Tight End: Considering how effective their connection was last year, Chris Herndon's four-game suspension is slightly disappointing for Darnold's outlook early in the season. Herndon was the Jets most efficient receiver last season, earning team-highs in YPA (9.0), success rate (61 percent), and Next Gen Stats' catch rate above expectation (11.3 percent) on his targets from Darnold. In fact, Herndon became one of just 18 tight ends over the last 30 years to eclipse 500 receiving yards in his rookie season, but a four-game absence combined with the Jets crowded pass-catching corps makes it tough to invest heavily in Herndon in 2019 leagues. Herndon will not be available for fantasy lineup decisions until Week 6. New York's bye is Week 4.

-- Herndon (Rk: TE20 vs. ADP: TE18)

Print