by Nick Ercolano
January 14, 2019
Here we are. The 2018 NFL season hasn't finished, but we're onto 2019. We're the Bill Belichick of fantasy football. Myself, Snacks and Animal put together a 2019 first round fantasy football mock draft. The analysis below are only for my picks, but the full breakdown of all 12 players can be found in the video below:
Todd Gurley - 1.01
So, I guess 2019 is finally the year I stop fading Gurley. There's not a conceivable argument as to why he's not the 1.01 in 2019.
For the second straight year, Gurley finishes as the #1 overall fantasy RB in 0.5 PPR, despite missing a game in 2017 and two games in 2018. Barkley was on his tail this year, but Gurley still edged him. And in fantasy PPG, Gurley was a full 3.1 FPPG better than Barkley. He finished with 1,831 YFS (131/game) and would've crushed 2,000 for the 2nd straight year if he played the full slate, but the TD numbers were what did it again from him. 21 total TDs for Gurley this year, 1.5/game, insanity. It looks like these aren't fluky. Not in this offense.
In 2017, they led the NFL scoring 29.9 PPG. This year, they boosted that number by a full 3 PPG to 32.9, which ironically moved them back from 1st to 2nd thanks to Patrick Magawdhomes. But this offense is clearly not going anywhere, which means neither are Gurley's scoring opportunities. The reason he's sitting with 21 TDs in 14 games is his GL, and 10zone carries. He finished this year with 18 GL carries, first in the NFL, exactly the same as the year prior. He led the NFL in RZ, 10Z and GL carries for two straight years.
The Rams also have the number one ranked RBing line in the NFL per both FO's and PFF. 4 of their 5 starters are under contract through next year, Roger Saffold is the only guy not under contract, Saffold is PFF's 3rd highest graded RBing guard in the NFL, so as a Gurley owner, you, of course, want him back under center, but I'm not sure how big of an impact it'll make altogether.
With Cooper Kupp back in 2019, this offense should be back rolling in full force, ready to zominate, led by Gurley.
The only way he moves out of the 1.01 for me is if this offseason Sean McVay talks about lightening his workload, because he's getting so many touches and they want him rested for the playoffs, and they bring on a legitimate pass-catching back. Like they're talking about "we wanna make sure he's rested for the playoffs", scale back his workload, etc, and they go out and sign a guy like T.J. Yeldon, Ty Montgomery, Darren Sproles, Bilal Powell/Corey Grant, you know, all UFA this offseason. Otherwise, Gurley is the 1.01.
Ezekiel Elliott - 1.02
Saquon Barkley - 1.03
Christian McCaffrey - 1.04
The question coming into 2018 was whether or not C-Mac would take over that workhorse role, right. Does he get the GL carries, can he get better in the run game after averaging 3.7 ypc during his rookie year. We had no questions about his involvement in the passing game, but JFC, even those numbers saw a heavy boost.
C-Mac set the NFL record for most receptions in a single-season by a running back with 107, the first RB to hit the Benjy Franklin mark since Matt Forte set the record at 102 back in 2014.
But in terms of play time, it was ridiculous, he played on 91% of the Panthers offensive snaps this year, compared to just 70% from 2017. And he received 95% of the Panthers RB touches this year, despite not really playing in Week 17. Sheesh.
He finished with 1,965 YFS, 35 shy of 2,000 and 13 total TDs, 7 by ground, 6 by air. That does actually hit 2,000 and 14 including his 50-yard TD pass against the Saints in Week 15. Iz I know that one holds in a place in your heart near and dear. So, he doubled his TD numbers YoY, saw about 130 more touches, more importantly, were his touches near the EZ. He finished 4th in the NFL with 46 RZ carries, 5th with 29 10Z carries, and 7th with 12 GL carries. Those 12 GL carries were 57% of the teams GL carries, he converted 6-of-12 into TDs, better than the 5-of-12 J-Stew did in the previous year. In 2017, C-Mac saw literally just 2 GL carries, 9.5% of the teams GL carries.
The last thing is that o-line. They were bad in 2017, which was a part of the reason he struggled running the ball on an efficiency basis, they lose their All-Pro LG Andrew Norwell in FA to Jacksonville, and they actually improved, by FO's DVOA, they were the 25th ranked RBing unit in 2017, but 11th in 2018.
Melvin Gordon - 1.05
Alvin Kamara - 1.06
James Conner - 1.07
Conner is going to be an interesting piece of analysis all summer. It seems pretty clear cut to me, though. With Lev Bell elsewhere, and no drama stemming from that to attach itself to this Pittsburgh offense, Conner should open the year as the featured back for the Steelers.
Conner played in 13 games this year, was RB7 in fantasy on a PPG basis, he went for nearly 1,500 YFS and 13TDs in just 13 games, so we're looking at 113 YFS and a TD/game. From Weeks 1-13 when he was healthy, Conner was playing on over 80% of the snaps, and seeing 86% of the backfield touches. And he was really good with them.
He averaged 4.5 YPC on 215 carries, he was 4th in the NFL in runs of 15+ yards, he did that while seeing the 6th highest percentage of his carries against stacked boxes (per PlayerProfiler.com) I could spew out a bunch of these random stats that Conner ranked really high in during 2018.
BUT the most important aspect to me was just how much he was relied upon in the passing game this year for the Steelers. He wasn't necessarily Le'Veon Bell, but the volume almost was. He caught 55 passes for 497 yards and a touchdown on 71 targets. There were certain weeks, whereas an owner, you wish you got a little more from Conner on the ground, right, in 3-of-13 games, Conner saw single-digit carries, however in those three games, you look at his involvement in the passing game, Week 2 - 8 carries, but catches 5-of-5 targets, Week 4 - 9 carries versus a tough BLT front, he sees 7 targets, Week 11 at JAX, 9 carries, he sees 9 targets and catches 6 of them. So, he's not game script dependent and he's never phased out of the game plan. That's what you want in your first round running back.
The other thing that was crazy, and I brought this stat up on a previous episode was his involvement on the GL.
He saw 15 GL carries this year, converted 9-of-15 into scores, those 15 were 3rd highest in the NFL, in just 13 games. Both Ridley and Jaylen Samuels had two GL carries in those three games Conner missed, if he had been healthy, he's getting those 4 carries, and he's leading the NFL in GL carries in 2018. Bell was not used on the GL. Makes sense given Conner's build.
That being said, you know, I keep bringing up 13 games, 13 games, that happens to be the only downside I see here. Two NFL seasons, 3+ games missed in both seasons with lower body injuries. Now, they're not soft-tissue, so I don't want to get ahead of myself and see he's prone, but I do think it's something to consider if you're a risk-averse drafter, early in drafts.
Conner is heading to the Pro Bowl this year, great season by a great player, great story, just a lot of greatness here, he's my #7 pick.
Davante Adams - 1.08
DeAndre Hopkins - 1.09
Julio Jones - 1.10
Bird's eye view Julio Jones 2018 season is great. Leads the NFL in receiving yards, somehow isn't 1st-team all pro, whatever, dumb fucks. Leads the NFL in targets (166), WR3 in fantasy, 1,677 yards, 8 touchdowns, 10 games of 100+ receiving yards, led the NFL we don't need stats to tell you how good Julio is.
Not bird's eye-view Julio, however, is a tale of two halves. Julio didn't catch a touchdown in any of Atlanta's first 7 games, despite seeing 81 targets in that span. Week 8, though, Julio finds paydirt and doesn't know how to stop. Winds up scoring eight touchdowns in their final nine games, going over the 100-yard mark in 6-of-9, scoring more than 17 FPs in all but two of those games. Despite that narrative of Julio never getting in the EZ, he's scored 8+ TDs in 4-of-8 seasons, and he only saw 7 targets in the 10z this year. 2 of them came in their very first game in Philly. Only 5 the entire ROS, and 3 of them were in the CLV game, so he was barely used by the EZ, still wound up with 8 scores.
It was good to see, even in a year where Austin Hooper burst onto the scene, Calvin Ridley did damage, Julio still ate, leading the league in targets and maintaining his elite 28% target share, 1st in the NFL in air yards share.
No reason to think Julio's elite fantasy production changes in 2019. I'm intrigued to see who the Falcons grab as OC, though, that could change something for me.
Michael Thomas - 1.11
Antonio Brown - 1.12
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