In Part 3 of my eight-part series into fantasy football’s breakout stars for 2019, I would like to formally welcome everyone to the wild-wild NFC WEST, where as the old saying goes, “times they are a changing.” This saying has never been more revealing about the state of an NFL division than it is right now. In this week’s edition, I will shine the fantasy spotlight directly upon some of the youngest rising stars in the division today (the average collective age of the eight players studied this week comes in at the ripe old age of just 23). Due to the stellar coaching that exists throughout the NFC West, there is a really great chance the players listed below will very soon become household names across the NFL landscape for years to come. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for potential breakout stars in points per reception (PPR) formats from the NFC West in 2019.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Dante Pettis, WR
Where to begin with this very young and rapidly improving player? The most logical place would be his time at the University of Washington, where he appeared in all 52 games as a four-year player at the wide receiver position and punt returner. Pettis’ emergence started his freshman year as a punt returner and naturally progressed to an elite wideout in the PAC-12 by the time his senior year was finished. Pettis had his breakout during his junior campaign, when he posted career highs in receiving yards (822), yards per catch (15.5) and touchdowns (15) – he also posted impressive numbers in the punt return game that season as well, adding another 287 yards and two touchdowns to his already dominant wide receiver numbers. But, what does this mean and how does it translate to the pros and specifically the 49ers this season?
The second-round draft choice by the 49ers in 2018 really just scratched the surface of his immense potential as a rookie. In all actuality, it really wasn’t until the last five games of 2018 that fantasy owners got a preview of just what Pettis brings to the table for future purposes. In those last five appearances, Pettis posted 20 receptions on 31 targets for 359 yards and four touchdowns, all the while doing this as a first-year player under head coach Kyle Shanahan’s notoriously difficult to learn offense and without the services of 2019 starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Will Pettis be able pick up where he finished down the stretch last season and help this extremely young, but very talented 49ers offense become one of the best in the NFC West? If the indications of how Pettis progressed during his four years in college are translatable to this question, then I’d venture to say yes, his best is yet to come.
Tevin Coleman, RB
The speedy running back comes to the 49ers in 2019 and reunites with head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive genius responsible for his best all-around season from my perspective as a professional. The fifth-year standout formally of Atlanta clearly saw his opportunity to solidify his name with some of the best at the position, when in the offseason the 49ers offered him a team friendly two-year, $10 million dollar deal – to which Coleman did not waste any time accepting. Obviously, I can see why some might think that I may be a bit too high on Coleman here, considering the financial commitment that the 49ers gave to running back Jerrick McKinnon just one season earlier and not to mention the stable of impressive running back talents already in house with players such as Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert.
Given all the jumbled aspects currently available for fantasy owners to cipher though as it relates to the 49ers running back situation, let me explain why it is Coleman owners should be looking at to emerge as a breakout player for this season. Back in 2016 when then-offensive coordinator Shanahan was wielding the gauntlet for the high-powered Atlanta offense, he was doing so with a two-running back timeshare that involved current Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Even in his standby role, Coleman was able to carve out 941 total yards on 118 carries and 31 receptions, to go along with a fantasy-relevant 11 total touchdowns. This performance was good enough for a Top 17 finish in PPR leagues, while his teammate Freeman locked in a Top 6 running back season as the starter. Now it appears that the role in San Francisco has seemed to flip in favor of Coleman as the projected starter in 2019. This can only mean big things should be coming Coleman’s way this year.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Robert Woods, WR
Robert Woods got a fresh start in 2017, after four up-and-down years in football’s equivalent of purgatory in Buffalo. Once a free agent, he quickly accepted an offer from his hometown Los Angeles Rams. The deal itself was not anything to brag about by today’s wide receiver standards,; however, over the last two seasons he has made every bit of it worth it with his play on the field. Beginning with last year’s Top 10 wide receiver PPR finish. Woods compiled career numbers in all the major wide receiver categories in his second season under offensive mastermind head coach Sean McVay. McVay’s offense gives Woods the opportunity to showcase just how valuable and versatile the seventh-year pro from the University of Southern California is to this Rams offense.
Woods’ emergence should have been easy to spot going into last season for fantasy owners, but, in most cases, it wasn’t. Woods average draft position in 2018 was well above 100 on many of the most popular fantasy platforms. Looking back, I believe missing out on Woods eventual breakout was due to him missing four games during the 2017 season, coupled with his inconsistent play in Buffalo. His numbers in 2017 finished middle of the pack amongst his peers (56 receptions, 781 yards, 5 TDs). But, if you took the time to extrapolate his numbers over 16 games it becomes a much more appealing (72 receptions, 1,041 yards, 6 TD). Had I done the research myself, I would have had Woods on my draft board ahead of many other players in 2018, especially given the type of offensive efficiency that the Rams possess. Needless to say, most fantasy owners are fully aware of his value now, with a current average draft position in PPR in the low-to-mid 40’s.
OK, I’m not going to sit around and sugarcoat this for fantasy owners. Any chance you get this season draft the former Memphis Tiger, do so at all costs for the simple reason that no one who participates religiously in fantasy football wants to be sitting there at the end of 2019 shaking their head and saying to themselves, “how did I not see this coming?” I’m framing it this way because I believe many fantasy players are still reeling from what has been termed the Alvin Kamara effect. Stop me if you have heard this one before. A lightning fast player from an SEC school, drafted in the third round to a high-powered offense, who started off behind formidable veteran running backs for touches, sound familiar? Well if it does it’s because this was the case for one Alvin Kamara in 2016.
Kamara came into the league behind former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson on the New Orleans depth chart, and in only two years has seen his stock rise into a perennial Top 5 pick the last two draft seasons. Point blank, Henderson has this same type of ability and opportunity sitting in front of him. Read the tea-leaves people, Rams head coach Sean McVay didn’t go out of his way to trade up and take a running back in the third round with All-Pro Todd Gurley already on the roster, just for the sake of doing it. McVay understands offense and how to utilize talent and he sees something electrifying in Henderson. Maybe it’s the 9 yards per carry average, or it could be the 2,204 total yards from scrimmage, or possibly the 25 total touchdowns he posted his junior year? Whatever the reason might be, if you’re reading this and don’t draft Henderson, you can’t say you weren’t warned when history repeats itself.