8 Guys Who Can Win You a Fantasy Championship
We spent countless hours building the 2019 rankings and projections. We’ve hit you with undervalued players, overvalued players, busts, breakouts, sleepers — and we’ve got lots more league-winning analysis and strategy coming over the next couple of weeks.
But who are the guys you GOTTA have on your team?
We asked each member of the Draft Sharks staff for 3 guys that they’re targeting in every draft.
8 guys who could win you a 2019 fantasy championship (with 1 guy appearing twice!).
Highlight these dudes on your cheat sheet.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
Smola: I’ve talked all summer about my lust for the 3rd-round RBs. And while I still like Kerryon Johnson and Aaron Jones in that range, both guys have some durability and volume concerns.
Freeman has emerged as my top target in the 3rd — and 1 of my favorite targets at any point of fantasy drafts.
We’ve already seen this guy produce elite fantasy numbers. Twice. Freeman led all RBs in PPR points in 2015 and ranked 6th in 2016. (His RB13 finish in 2017 wasn’t bad, either.)
Freeman’s 2018 was wiped out by injuries. But everything we’ve heard and seen this offseason suggests that he’s back to 100%. And the guy is still only 27.
Some folks are concerned about Ito Smith cutting into Freeman’s workload. But word out of Atlanta is that Smith is just trying to hold off Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison for the #2 job. Translation: Freeman is set to play a feature role in the Falcons’ high-scoring offense.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned in his 3rd career top-6 fantasy finish this season.
Darwin Thompson, RB, Chiefs
Smola: We know there’s tons of fantasy goodness to be had in Kansas City’s backfield. This is the most explosive offense in the league. And Andy Reid has produced a top 16 PPR RB in 16 of his 20 seasons as an NFL HC.
Thompson is a cheap way to get a crack at that production.
This kid was 1 of my favorite RB sleepers in the 2019 rookie class. Thompson racked up 1,044 yards and 14 scores on 6.8 yards per carry last year and added another 351 yards on 23 receptions. He led the entire RB class in Pro Football Focus’ 2018 Elusive Rating, which measures a RB’s productivity beyond the blocking he receives. Then the 5’8, 198-pounder registered a 70th percentile SPARQ score at his Pro Day.
Thompson has impressed throughout the offseason and flashed in preseason action, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and scoring this 29-yard catch-and-run TD. His play has reportedly boosted him ahead of Carlos Hyde on the depth chart and earned him 1st-team reps in practice.
So all that’s standing between Thompson and the lead job is Damien Williams, a guy who’s topped 13 carries in just 1 NFL game and already dealt with hamstring trouble this summer.
With an ADP still sitting in the double-digit rounds, Thompson brings league-winning upside at a dirt-cheap price.
Schauf: Are you like me in that you’ve wanted to buy into the Chiefs backfield but don’t feel comfy with how high you have to take Damien Williams? If so, then Thompson is your answer.
Carlos Hyde was never the comfier alternative, coming off an inefficient season that saw him fade into the background for both the Browns and Jaguars. Thompson has been the exciting option since back before the NFL Draft in April, when Jared and I each singled him out on the podcast as a potential sleeper among the incoming RBs.
Now Thompson has reportedly already worked past Hyde on the depth chart, and he’s still going in the double-digit rounds.
If you are a Williams buyer, then Thompson just might be 1 of the few actual “must-have” handcuffs. And if you’re not the Williams owner, then Thompson is just a fun piece in 1 of the league’s most explosive offenses.
He has already generated much more buzz than Williams had by this point a year ago.
Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers
English: What’s not to like here?
Godwin hasn’t missed one college or NFL game.
At Penn State, he tallied 128-2,083-16 over his last 2 seasons.
He ran a 4.42-second 40 time at the Combine at 6’1, 209 pounds. Godwin added an elite 4.00 20-yard shuttle time.
In the pros, he improved from 34-525-1 in year one to 59-842-7 in year two. Now he’s poised for an even bigger role following the departures of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.
We have Godwin slotted at WR18. But with another year alongside Jameis Winston, a top-12 season isn’t unimaginable.
Josh Gordon, WR, Patriots
Schauf: Does the imminent threat of an indefinite suspension hanging over this guy make you too queasy to draft him at all? That’s fair. But whether you’re a Gordon fan or not, no one can argue his ultimate ceiling.
Gordon finished 2013 as the #2 PPR wideout and top-scoring non-PPR receiver. He did so at age 22, in just his 2nd pro season, despite missing 2 games and with legendary QBs Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer each stepping in for 3+ starts.
We’re now 6 years removed from that season, and Gordon has spent a lot more time disappointing than delivering since then. But he’s still just 28, he ranks 12th among all WRs in yards per target since he entered the league, and he’s about to play with the best season-opening QB of his career.
Gordon played with Tom Brady from Week 4 through Week 15 last season. Over that span, he ranked top-28 across fantasy formats. He finished 7 of those 11 weeks among the top 36 PPR wideouts. The 3 games he played without TE Rob Gronkowski found Gordon tallying 28 targets and posting receiving lines of 4-100, 5-130-1 and 4-81.
He’s going in low-WR3 range in drafting right now. If Gordon stays on the right path -- and thus on the field -- he should pretty easily beat that ADP.
More importantly, Gordon has showed us he has the tools to smash it.
Will Fuller, WR, Texans
English: It would be wrong to exclude Fuller from this list.
He’s gained 20+ yards on 25 of 107 career catches. That’s a rate of 23.3% —ahead of big-play poster boy Tyreek Hill’s mark of 22.4%.
Of course, there’s some injury risk. He hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season and tore his ACL last October. The good news? Fuller’s reportedly made a smooth recovery. He’s on pace to play Week 1.
The 25-year-old retains a boom-or-bust outlook, but that’s baked into a mid-Round 7 ADP. His fantasy prospects could even improve a bit if Keke Coutee is limited by his ankle injury.
Keke Coutee, WR, Texans
Schauf: I began the offseason wanting Coutee to qualify for a spot in this category … but so did a bunch of other people. He climbed inside the top 40 in WR ADP and seemed headed for the top 30.
But then an ankle sprain stalled his climb and has pushed him back down. This week’s best-ball drafting on Draft.com has found Coutee going in the middle of Round 11, as the 50th wideout.
That bakes in the risk that his ankle issue slows his start. The upside, though, is that Coutee proves to be the guy he was in last year’s small sample: a PPR demon and red-zone weapon.
His 4 full games in 2018 found him grabbing a huge 26.5% target share and racking up 5 red-zone targets (according to Pro Football Reference). He won’t sustain those rates over a full season, but he doesn’t even need to come close to be a revelation as your 4th or 5th receiver.
O.J. Howard, TE, Bucs
Smola: I’m a big believer in the value of an elite TE and the massive weekly edge 1 of them can give you over your competition. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle all qualify — but will cost you 1 of your first 3 picks.
O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry all have the potential to jump into that “elite” category this season. And I think all 3 of them are nice picks anywhere in Round 5 or later.
But it’s Howard who gets my juices flowing.
This guy looked like a stud coming into the league. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch at Alabama, tested as an 84th percentile athlete and was pick #19 in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He’s continued to look like a stud through 2 NFL seasons. Check this out: 100 TEs have run 100+ routes since 2017. Howard ranks 4th among those 100 in yards per route run, behind only Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle and Travis Kelce. Nice company.
We got a quasi-breakout from Howard last year, when he sat 6th among TEs in PPR points and 5th in non-PPR through Week 11. But foot and ankle injuries ended his season there.
Howard is healthy now and finds the biggest opportunity of his young career. The departures of WRs DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries leave behind 179 targets from a year ago. And Howard looks like a near full-time player in new HC Bruce Arians’ offense. Through 2 preseason games, he’s been on the field for 20 of QB Jameis Winston’s 22 snaps.
Don’t be surprised if we’re drafting Howard right alongside (or even ahead of) Ertz and Kittle next summer.
Mark Andrews, TE, Ravens
English: The Ravens lost 298 targets from 2018 in offseason departures. Their top WRs now include Willie Snead, Chris Moore and Seth Roberts — plus rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.
The rookies pack promise, but for 2019 … that’s ugly.
I see Andrews, a unanimous training camp standout, as the main beneficiary. He’s a 6’5, 255-pounder with excellent speed (85th percentile Speed Score, per Player Profiler). He showed it last year with a 34-552-3 line alongside declining vet Joe Flacco and raw rookie Lamar Jackson.
Now, a healthy Hayden Hurst complicates the situation. But Andrews beats him across the board when you look at athleticism, college production and rookie-year production. After such a promising rookie campaign and a strong summer, OC Greg Roman would be foolish to underutilize this ascending talent.
Interestingly, Andrews is coming off the board as the TE11 in DRAFT.com best balls. On My Fantasy League, however, he’s going at TE19. My guess: In “home leagues” — at least the ones outside of Baltimore — he’ll last a bit longer than in high stakes or industry setups.