There will be plenty of fantasy content released over the next couple of days (including unlocked draft rankings and Week 1 rankings tomorrow), but the draft version of “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” will give you a general idea of some of the players I am higher on or lower on than the consensus based on FantasyPros consensus rankings.
Now, I don’t have a million Twitter followers or claim to be “the preeminent analyst in the fantasy football industry,” but I will say our work via Fantasy Consigliere is put to the test; we finished with the No. 4 most accurate draft rankings last season (including No. 1 for running backs) in our first year on FantasyPros, which ranks all the “experts” in the world.
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Thumbs Up of the Year: Jared Goff, LAR
If you need proof that fantasy owners and football fans in general have a really short memory, look no further than Goff. Through the first three months of the 2018 season, the former No. 1 overall pick was on pace for 5,159 yards and a 38:9 touchdown-interception ratio, but the offense skid a bit in December, which led to disappointment in the fantasy playoffs. It’s foolish to hold grudges, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Goff be the QB1 after the first month of the season with potential shootouts against the Panthers, Saints, Browns, and Buccaneers. He’s my No. 3 signal-caller behind just Patrick Mahomes and Matt Ryan.
Thumbs Up: Josh Allen, BUF
Last year’s top fantasy quarterback after Thanksgiving, Allen averaged 24.2 fantasy points over his final six starts as a rookie, but you don’t hear him getting the hype of other young signal-callers because almost everyone foolishly labeled him a “bust” before he was even drafted. I compared Allen’s rushing ability to Cam Newton’s, but he has even more upside as a passer with extremely underrated natural accuracy. Playing in a variant of New England’s offensive system, the sky is the limit.
Thumbs Up: Lamar Jackson, BAL
Local preseason broadcasts don’t collaborate with the team they cover, but they do get a better feel than the national media might, so it’s notable that the Ravens broadcast projected 336 carries for Jackson this year. Now, I don’t think anyone really expects that kind of workload for a quarterback, but it is a sign that Baltimore wants to implement a run-heavy ground attack centered around the former Heisman Trophy winner. Plus, while the passing production could be a bit volatile, vertical threats Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin should hopefully lift Jackson’s weekly ceiling to pair with a rare floor.
Thumbs Up: Derek Carr, OAK
Football fans know that Jon Gruden is a demanding head coach with a very complex offensive system, but that didn’t stop Carr from finishing as top-20 fantasy quarterback while throwing to 33-year-old Jordy Nelson and free agent pickup Brandon LaFell as his top wide receivers last season. Now much more comfortable in Year 2 under Gruden, Carr should have complete control of an offense that added Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, Trent Brown, and others. Carr should easily top industry expectations.
Others: Carson Wentz (PHI), Kyler Murray (ARI)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Drew Brees, NO
The quarterbacks in the “Thumbs Down” section aren’t necessarily players you should completely avoid, but at their ADPs, you are probably better off looking elsewhere. Brees—who turned 40 in January—is coming off a season in which he had the fewest attempts (489) and passing yards (3,992) since joining the Saints in 2006, and his 1.0% interception rate was easily a career-low (so it’s almost certainly going to shoot up after 14.6 interceptions per year in the previous 12 seasons with New Orleans). Not everyone will seamlessly play at an elite level forever like Tom Brady, and Brees’ efficiency dropping even a little could make him more of a QB2.
Thumbs Down: Cam Newton, CAR
I completely understand the reasoning for Newton as a high-upside QB1 option, as he’s surrounded by the best supporting cast of his career and was on pace for milestone passing numbers in the first half of the season before shoulder issues started impacting him. That said, Cam’s fantasy greatness is largely built around his abilities as a runner, but injuries are starting to take their toll entering his ninth season, including a foot sprain that could have him less than 100% for the opener. Newton will want to continue being himself (“Superman”), but I’m not sure how long that can last. Go with the young guns like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray in the same range.
Thumbs Down: Jameis Winston, TB
Winston’s 5,000-yard potential in Bruce Arians’ offense shouldn’t be ignored, but it might be too generous to rank the former No. 1 overall pick as a QB1 based on what we’ve seen so far in his career. Winston has more interceptions (58) than starts (56) through four seasons, and it’s not like he hasn’t been surrounded by awesome skill-position players or an offensive-minded head coach in the past. We will probably see some monster weekly performances, but they will be unpredictable and paired with big-time disappointments.
Thumbs Down: Baker Mayfield, CLE
There has been a lot of talk about Cleveland’s offensive line being a concern for the running game, but I think the fear is misplaced, and it might actually be the passing game that’s most impacted. Overall, Mayfield has the talent and weaponry to take the next step and toss 35 touchdowns this season, but the Browns will be a run-first team that wants to control the clock, so I have a difficult time putting Baker in the high-end QB1 tier with Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers.
Others: Mitchell Trubisky (CHI), Kirk Cousins (MIN)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Nick Chubb, CLE
Not even a 105-yard, two-touchdown performance on just three carries was enough to get Chubb on the field last year before Carlos Hyde was traded, as he didn’t see more than three touches in a game over the first six weeks of the season. After that, though, the 2018 second-round pick proved he’s one of the league’s best runners with a 16-game pace of 1,634 total yards and 14 total touchdowns when Freddie Kitchens took over for Hue Jackson as the team’s play-caller. Chubb is my No. 4 player in 0.5 PPR leagues, and it’s a mistake to let him fall out of the first round in any format.
Thumbs Up: Derrick Henry, TEN
Last season, we recommended holding onto Henry while he was splitting time with Dion Lewis and the rest of the industry was saying he shouldn’t be rostered, and the former Alabama standout rewarded the loyalty of those who stuck with him by averaging 26.03 fantasy points per game in the fantasy playoffs—which would have made him the No. 2 overall fantasy player behind just Patrick Mahomes in 2018. Henry finished last season with 1,059 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on just 215 carries, and he should be a high-end, high-upside RB1 if he’s given the workload he deserves.
Thumbs Up: Kalen Ballage, MIA
A lot of people have suggested Ballage is a replacement-level talent, but I completely disagree. When he was entering the league out of Arizona State, I thought Ballage was comparable to former Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter—who averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception for his career but never got a featured role due to injuries—as a bigger back that can do a bit of everything. His outlook takes a hit with Laremy Tunsil now in Houston, but Ballage should remain a high-upside FLEX if he handles 12-15 touches per game and the interior of the offensive line can open running lanes.
Thumbs Up: Justice Hill, BAL
My guy to draft and stash last year was Nick Chubb, and Hill is undoubtedly the guy in 2019—but you might not even need to wait around for him to have impactful fantasy value. Baltimore projects to be the most run-heavy team in the NFL, and Hill may immediately see eight or so touches per game with a chance to work up into the 12+ range as a highly-involved change-of-pace option to Mark Ingram. An explosive back with 4.40 speed and a 40-inch vertical, Hill has the ability to run inside (including on triple-option plays) or outside.
Others: Kerryon Johnson (DET), Jordan Howard (PHI)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Aaron Jones, GB
Running back is absolutely loaded this year, so I’m struggling to rank Jones any higher than a low-end RB2/FLEX option. A lot of people say to not pay attention to schedules, but if you evaluate based on more than just last year’s numbers, you should be able to use it as a real factor—and Jones’ entire season looks brutal, including an unforgiving stretch (@ CHI, v MIN, v DEN, v PHI, @ DAL) to start the year. Plus, the third-year back has already had two season-ending knee injuries, could be splitting work in a committee, and might not have the individual upside of other RB2 options like Sony Michel, Chris Carson, or Kerryon Johnson.
Thumbs Down: James White, NE
White caught 87 passes for 751 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 425 yards and five scores on the ground last season to finish as a top-eight fantasy running back, but will that volume continue? In the previous four seasons, White had never surpassed 717 total yards or six total touchdowns, and even his 2018 numbers may have been boosted by a hot start (18.6 fantasy points per game through first nine games; 9.2 fantasy points per game over final seven games). The team added Damien Harris and has plenty of options at receiver, so I don’t anticipate White coming close to his 2018 production.
Thumbs Down: Miles Sanders, PHI
You may have noticed that Jordan Howard was listed in the “Thumbs Up” section, as he should be the preferred option in short-yardage/goal-line situations for what projects to be one of the league’s best offenses. So, with Howard taking a large chunk of work on early downs, Darren Sproles getting some snaps on passing downs, and Corey Clement also mixing in, what’s left for Sanders? The rookie is measuring up as a volatile FLEX that will be dependent on getting the hot hand from week to week. The price is way too way high considering his ADP.
Thumbs Down: Le’Veon Bell, NYJ
I list Bell last here because similar to Mayfield for the quarterbacks, he can be a great option, but it’s all about expectations and the players you might be able to draft in the same range. Perhaps the Jets will end up feeding Bell like he was fed in Pittsburgh with nearly 25.0 touches per game, but it sounds like they want to get Ty Montgomery and others involved. More importantly, New York’s offensive line will be a significant downgrade compared to what Bell played behind with the Steelers, so there’s just a bit of uncertainty that would make me more comfortable with him in the second round.
Others: Phillip Lindsay (DEN), Derrius Guice (WAS)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Chris Godwin, TB
Coach speak and preseason hype can get crazy at times, but I believe Bruce Arians when he says Godwin can catch 100 passes this season. Despite splitting time between the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver with two quarterbacks rotating in and out of the lineup last year, Godwin finished with 842 yards and seven touchdowns on less than 65% of the snaps played. Now, he will almost never leave the field and can dominate on short/intermediate routes out of the slot as Arians looks to reign in Jameis Winston.
Thumbs Up: Mike Williams, LAC
I expected Williams to be one of the league’s premier touchdown threats coming out of Clemson, and after a lost rookie campaign, he showed his ability last year with 11 total scores on just 50 touches. That pace almost certainly won’t continue, but the former No. 7 overall pick will be a full-time player in 2019, and Philip Rivers should trust him to make plays downfield and in scoring territory. Especially with Melvin Gordon (38 touchdowns over the past three seasons) away from the team, Williams has a real chance to lead the league in receiving touchdowns.
Thumbs Up: Curtis Samuel, CAR
Again, camp buzz can often lead to disappointment, but Samuel was apparently uncoverable in August, and everyone may have the wrong Carolina receiver (D.J. Moore) pegged for top-20 status. Last season, Samuel flashed the electric playmaking ability that made him an exciting prospect coming out of Ohio State, and having just turned 23 not even a month ago, he should be even more polished as a pure receiver to compliment his natural talent. Samuel’s role in September—where the Panthers could have four shootouts (v LAR, v TB, @ ARI, @ HOU)—will be telling. I’m optimistic.
Thumbs Up: James Washington, PIT
You should draft based on talent more than situation, which is why I’m currently higher on Washington than anyone else. The second-year receiver has home-run speed, is an exceptional ball-tracker, possesses underrated leaping ability, and—most importantly—has much more confidence entering the season than he did as a rookie. In Pittsburgh’s high-powered passing attack, Washington could quickly return WR2 value if he forces his way into a full-time role. The talent is too good to leave on the waiver wire (available in 29% of ESPN leagues, 60% of NFL Fantasy leagues, and 63% of Yahoo leagues).
Others: Antonio Brown (OAK), A.J. Brown (TEN)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., CLE
The Browns are suddenly the hot ticket in town, so a lot of fantasy owners are really excited about Beckham going there to team up with Baker Mayfield—even causing some people to call him a worthy top-five pick. However, Cleveland is going to be a run-first team under Freddie Kitchens (Mayfield’s attempts per game with Kitchens as OC dropped 17.75% compared to Hue Jackson’s time in charge), and Odell—who is coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries—missed much of camp with a hip injury, which could lead to the chemistry lacking a bit early on. Beckham is a definite WR1 with plenty of upside, but I wouldn’t take him until the mid/late second round.
Thumbs Down: Adam Thielen, MIN
Straight from the Fantasy Consigliere draft guide: “Everyone remembers the record-setting streak in which Adam Thielen had 100 yards in eight consecutive games to start last season, but the second half—when Minnesota reigned in the passing attack—wasn’t quite as encouraging for his 2019 outlook. During Thielen’s scorching stretch to start the year, he was on pace for a season-long line of 148/1,850/12, but in the eight games after that, the numbers dropped to 78/896/6. The soon-to-be 29-year-old will almost certainly fall between those two splits, but we would lean towards the lower end.”
Thumbs Down: Robby Anderson, NYJ
Anderson should have some big games in 2019, but will he provide reliable fantasy value? First of all, the Jets are expected to feature Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, and Chris Herndon (when he returns from a four-game suspension)—which could relegate Anderson to a field-stretching role. Last year, Kenny Stills filled the same spot in Adam Gase’s offense, and that led to just a WR50 finish on an offense with much less talent. Furthermore, Anderson will face the loaded group of AFC East cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore, Tre’Davious White, and Xavien Howard) six times scattered across the schedule, and he’ll also have to contend with Jalen Ramsey, Byron Jones, Denzel Ward, and others. I’m staying away at his low-end WR2/FLEX price.
Thumbs Down: Dante Pettis, SF
San Francisco still sounds unsettled at receiver entering the regular season, and I’m not sure Pettis will be able to hold off Deebo Samuel as the team’s No. 1 perimeter target. The 2018 second-round pick ended his rookie season with lines of 4/77/1, 5/129/2, 3/49/1, and 5/83 over his final four healthy games, but this wouldn’t be the first time a hot finish didn’t carry over for a Niners wideout; two seasons ago, it was Marquise Goodwin that was on a 1,200-yard pace in the second half, and he caught just 23 passes last year. Pettis has the talent to breakthrough, but I liked Samuel more as a prospect and think he can take over as the No. 1 before long.
Others: D.J. Moore (CAR), Jarvis Landry (CLE)
Thumbs Up of the Year: Dallas Goedert, PHI
We saw what former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich did with the tight ends last season in Indianapolis, and I expect Doug Pederson to try to replicate that in Philadelphia by using more 12 personnel to get Goedert on the field—particularly in the red zone. Not only does the 24-year-old have standalone value as a high-upside, touchdown-dependent option, but he is also a rare handcuff with high-end TE1 potential if Zach Ertz ever goes down.
Thumbs Up: Mike Gesicki, MIA
The Dolphins are going to trail a lot this season, and they should use Gesicki in more of a featured role to see what they have in him for 2020 and beyond. Personally, I viewed Gesicki as a mid-first-round prospect last year, and for what it’s worth, he caught all 22 catchable targets thrown to him as a rookie (according to Pro Football Focus). Ryan Fitzpatrick being under center to start the season is another plus for the Penn State product. I have him ranked as a top-15 option.
Thumbs Up: Noah Fant, DEN
Rookie tight ends rarely make a significant statistical impact, but you should evaluate things on a case-by-case basis, and Fant is set up for immediate success with the Broncos. For one, Joe Flacco loves targeting tight ends, as in his two most recent seasons as a 16-game starter, Benjamin Watson led the team in receptions with 61 catches a couple of years ago, and Dennis Pitta paced all Baltimore pass-catchers with an eye-popping 86 grabs in 2016. Plus, the system will be built around a lot of play-action/misdirection to get Fant in space, and he has plenty of juice to pick up yards after the catch.
Thumbs Up: Darren Waller, OAK
Waller has extremely promising upside as a converted wide receiver with 4.46 speed in a six-foot-six frame, and it will be interesting to see what kind of role Jon Gruden has for him in 2019. The Georgia native is in a somewhat rare position because he caught just six passes last season but was able to learn behind Jared Cook (who had a career year with a 68/896/6 line). Even with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams now on the squad, Gruden should have some plays prepared to isolate Waller against linebackers and safeties in good matchups.
Others: Jared Cook (NO), Greg Olsen (CAR)
Thumbs Down of the Year: Eric Ebron, IND
I was down on Ebron before Andrew Luck’s retirement, so I’m even lower on him now that he won’t have a superstar quarterback throwing him passes after the pair connected for 13 scores in 2018. He will still be an elite weapon in scoring territory, but Ebron will be negatively impacted by the addition of Devin Funchess (another touchdown threat), Jack Doyle being healthy, and the team shifting to more of a run-heavy approach built around Marlon Mack. Consider him a TE2 option despite last season’s top-four finish.
Thumbs Down: Mark Andrews, BAL
Only those in the building are truly prepared for what the Baltimore offense has in store this season, but I do know that Andrews won’t break big plays at the rate he did as a rookie (23.7 yards per reception and 17.1 yards per target with Lamar Jackson under center). Also, if the preseason was any indication, Andrews will split time with both Nick Boyle (the team’s blocking tight end) and Hayden Hurst (last year’s first-round pick). He could be a volatile TE2.
Thumbs Down: Trey Burton, CHI
A groin issue is still lingering for Burton just a couple of days away from the start of the season (Chicago kicks things off on Thursday night), and there doesn’t seem to be enough concern for his status as a season-long asset in fantasy leagues. Aside from the injury concerns, Burton—who is being drafted ahead of all four featured “Thumbs Up” options—may have a lesser role with Chicago relying more on their wide receivers in 2019. Last season, he had zero games above 40 yards in November/December.
Thumbs Down: T.J. Hockenson, DET
I’m not concerned about Hockenson being listed behind Jesse James on the depth chart or his general future outlook with the Lions, but I am worried about the Year 1 expectations leading to disappointment. I even saw someone matter-of-factly say that he should have a baseline of about 80 receptions, which is crazy for a conservative, run-first offense that has two really good perimeter receivers (Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones) and a capable slot man (Danny Amendola). Putting the rookie comfortably in the top 20 might be a little optimistic.
Others: Kyle Rudolph (MIN), Jack Doyle (IND)