Game Theory  

 

2019 NFL season: Who will repeat 2018 success? Who won't?

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This past offseason, I spent a lot of time refining my win-share metric. Basically, I am trying to better quantify a player's value to the team on each snap of every game all season long. Projecting player win-share and performance ahead of this season is based on contextualized past production, personnel, philosophy and opponents faced -- considering the current player with comparable players over the past 10 seasons.

As my individual player projected stat lines are being solidified -- obviously, I am constantly updating these for your (and my own) fantasy drafts -- some of last season's highest producers have shown up as projected 2019 repeat sensations, while some of the banner seasons enjoyed in 2018 are looking more like aberrations. We're going to publish my top-rated fantasy prospects (tease!) shortly, but here are five notes on players who really stood out.

Sensation

1) Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers: While I think we all anticipate Adams will be one of the top wideouts taken in fantasy drafts, this note is mostly about touchdowns. Adams has seen the end zone at least 10 times in each of the past three seasons. His 35 receiving touchdowns since 2016 rank second only to Antonio Brown's 36; the next closest is DeAndre Hopkins with 28. Next Gen Stats shows Adams was targeted in the end zone 18 times (the second-highest rate in the NFL). Last season, the Packers only crossed their opponents' 20-yard line 23.7 percent of the time (ranking 25th), and 15 of Adams' end-zone targets occurred on red-zone drives. The Packers' offseason improvements forecast an increase in red-zone drives, while Adams' use projects to remain exceptionally high. I just wrote an article on projected season stat leaders, but one category that wasn't included was receivers with the most projected touchdowns. My model shows Adams with 12.4 in 2019.

2) George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers: One of the most predictive metrics in my win-share model is a measurement of yards after the catch on plays when defenders came within 5 feet at any point in the route (after the pass catcher caught the ball). Kittle's 870 yards after the catch led the traditional measurement of this stat in 2018, finishing with 300 yards more than the next closest tight end (Travis Kelce earned 569, which ranked ninth overall in the NFL). My YAC adjustment for Kittle shows that for each route run, he was subject to a similar or greater number of defenders entering his 5-foot radius (on a per catch percentage) as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz -- the top four among tight ends last season. Kittle's record-setting 1,377 receiving yards led the team by 890 yards a year ago. With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning from the ACL tear that wiped out most of his 2018, and with other weapons added to the mix, Kittle's projected stat line in my model shows a decrease in his potential yard accumulation but an increase in his touchdown total (he had five scores last season). In 88 percent of my season-long simulations, Kittle earns at least seven TDs, and in 61 percent, he earns eight or more.

3) Eddie Jackson, S, Chicago Bears: No safety projects to increase his team's win-share more than Jackson. This would mean repeating as the highest win-driver at the position for the second straight season, something that has yet to occur in my model. Pro Football Focus had the Bears All-Pro safety allowing a 52.8 passer rating in coverage last season (third among 47 safeties with at least 30 targets). I'll add to that ... If you measure targets defended plus catches allowed that didn't net the opposing offense a first down or touchdown, Jackson ranked first by more than 5 percent (among the same 47 safeties). Despite having a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano, Jackson's ability to operate in this defense remains the same (and thus, so does his fantasy impact on opposing pass catchers).

Aberration

1) Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts: Only twice in the last five NFL seasons has a tight end earned 13 touchdowns -- Ebron did it last season, and Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert did it in 2015. All 10 of Ebron's red-zone receptions in 2018 resulted in a touchdown, which tied him for the second-most total TDs in the NFL. The notion that Ebron's numbers will regress (sustaining these rates has a low probability of recurring) in some way is not uncommon, but I haven't seen many people quantify this. So here's my 2019 projection: 50 receptions, 602 receiving yards, 6.4 TDs.

2) Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos: Like I mentioned above, there is a strong year-over-year tie to contextualized yards earned after contact, which also indicates a negative trend when YAC is low. Last season, PFF logged Lindsay with just 2.4 yards after contact per rush (tied for 42nd among 50 players with at least 100 rushing attempts). Lindsay finished his rookie campaign on injured reserve with a wrist injury but appears to be ready for the season. Here's the good news: The Broncos brought in Mike Munchak, a very strong offensive line coach with a history of run-blocking scheme success. Here's a source of uncertainty: New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is a first-time play-caller, though it should be noted that he came from the 49ers, where he worked with Kyle Shanahan. I have Lindsay as my 29th-ranked preseason running back in PPR.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.

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