The 2018 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final 2018 NFL standings.
New York Jets (4-12)
After several years of veteran stopgaps (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Michael Vick) and failed experiments (Geno Smith, Bryce Petty) at quarterback, the Jets made a big splash by snagging Sam Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 Draft. Regarded by many as a “can’t miss” prospect, Darnold largely delivered considering the 21-year old missed three games due to injury, and was playing with one of the NFL’s weaker receiving corps. Darnold’s rookie year road was filled with plenty of potholes and speed bumps, however. Interceptions were a noted bugaboo of Darnold’s coming out of college, and the young quarterback showed those concerns weren’t unwarranted, as his 15 were tied for second-most in the League. Darnold has massive potential to become a major fantasy factor in the not too distant future, though the ascension may not come next season unless the Jets can surround him with a better supporting cast.
What was looking like a three-man running back committee was whittled down to two early during training camp, as Elijah McGuire suffered a broken foot, and was subsequently placed on IR-Return (resulting in 8 missed games). Signed to a three-year/$12 million free agent contract last March, Isaiah Crowell served as the Jets’ lead back, and was as boom or bust as they come. The former Brown tallied 419 rushing yards across Weeks 1, 5, and 13, though failed to eclipse 40 in any of his other 10 games played. Crowell eventually succumbed to a foot injury of his own in Week 14, and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. Crowell’s running mate for the Jets’ first seven games was stalwart Bilal Powell, who strangely saw his pass game usage dialed back for a second season in a row after catching 58 balls in 2016. Unfortunately, Powell suffered a severe neck injury in Week 7, thus cutting the Jets’ longest tenured player”s 2018 season short as well. Once McGuire was eligible to return in Week 9, he took over Powell’s role as the lesser half of a committee for four weeks until Crowell went down. Operating as the lead back during Weeks 14 and 17, McGuire averaged just 44.5 rushing yards per game, failing to top 3.5 yards-per-carry in any of those contests (pretty unimpressive for a guy drawing LaDainian Tomlinson comparisons from the coaching staff during the offseason). McGuire did manage to keep his fantasy value afloat during his run as the starter by scoring four times during that span, and looked good as a receiver, topping 10 yards-per-reception for the second season in a row. As we shift towards the 2019 season, Powell heads to free agency in March, though a new job opportunity may not be imminent depending on his health. Still on a cheap rookie deal, McGuire’s 2019 fantasy outlook hinges on the Jets’ offseason moves. Crowell has two seasons left on his contract, each carrying a $5 million cap hit, though it’s unclear at this time whether the Jets feel he’s worth keeping around at that price. Additionally, the Jets have the second-most 2019 salary cap space of all 32 NFL teams, which has rumors swirling they could be serious contenders in the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes during free agency. What is known is that newly hired head coach Adam Gase has an affinity for players he deems “his guys”, so it’s more likely than not the Jets bring at least one more body in to shake up the Jets’ running back room.
Early in the season Quincy Enunwa looked like the Jets wideout to own after he led the team with a 21-278-1 receiving line over season’s first four weeks. However, Enunwa was hobbled by a nagging ankle injury which cost him five games, and managed just 15-171-0 receiving from Week 5 onward. The Jets must have liked what they saw out of Enunwa, as they just recently rewarded him with a four year/$36 million contract extension. After breaking out with a 63-941-7 in 2017, Robby Anderson spent 3/4 of this past season on a milk carton outside of a 3-123-2 explosion in Week 5. Between Weeks 1 and 13, the aforementioned performance was Anderson’s only with more than 50 receiving yards, and he was limited to no more than four receptions in any of those contests (Anderson also missed two games with an ankle injury. Anderson did managed to come alive over the Jets’ last four games of 2018, becoming somewhat of a fantasy playoff hero with a 23-338-3 receiving line during that hot stretch. Anderson hits restricted free agency this Spring, though it would behoove the Jets to retain the 26-year old (in May) speedster for the sake of retaining some continuity for Sam Darnold. Anderson’s history of off-field issues may make the Jets hesitant to pay him top dollar, however. Like Anderson, Jermaine Kearse also had a career year in 2017, putting up 65-810-5 that season, though didn’t even manage half those numbers in 2018. Also like Anderson, Kearse is a free agent in March, though the soon-to-be 29-year old is likely going to find the market cold after suffering an achilles injury back in Week 16. In a desperation attempt to bolster receiver depth, the Jets signed Rishard Matthews last October just a month after the disgruntled wideout was released by the Titans. Matthews made no impact whatsoever, and heads into free agency this Spring carrying a reputation as a malcontent. With both Kearse and Matthews likely not in the Jets’ future plans, the team will likely have to make do with Enunwa and Anderson (if re-signed) as their top two wideouts for 2019. The Jets have little in the way of developmental prospects at wideout with 2017 draft picks ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen both long gone, so finding more pass game playmakers for Sam Darnold should be an offseason priority.
Taken in the fourth round (107th overall) in the 2018 Draft, Chris Herndon’s 502 receiving yards were good enough for 13th all-time among Jets rookie tight ends (and TE16 on the year for fantasy purposes). Initially projected to start the season in a timeshare with second-year fifth-round pick Jordan Leggett, Herndon really took off starting in Week 6, eclipsing 50 receiving yards six times and scored all of his touchdowns from that point forward. Herndon is candidate to improve on his rookie numbers in year two playing with a promising young quarterback, however, the young tight end is a near certainty to receive League discipline in the likely form of a 2019 suspension due to a recent DUI conviction stemming from an arrest last June. How many games the NFL requires Herndon to sit will determine whether Herndon will be worth drafting this Summer versus waiting to scoop off the waiver wire.