In Part 8 of my 8-part series into fantasy footballs breakout players for 2019, we have finally reached the culmination of efforts designed to unearth who will emerge as this year’s fantasy studs. An indictment that began just two short months ago. In this week’s edition, we tour the final division left on the radar – the AFC East. When examining this division in terms of NFL relevance and fantasy football outlook, it says that the AFC East is made up of four teams, but, it’s really been all about the New England Patriots and their players for the better part of the last two decades. To put what they’ve done into context, the Patriots are a franchise that has produced 6 NFL titles in the last 18 seasons. During this span, they’ve also been responsible for three of the greatest fantasy football seasons by an individual player at their respected positions. QB Tom Brady’s 50 passing TDs in 2007, WR Randy Moss’s 23 receiving TDs in 2007 and TE Rob Gronkowski’s 17 TD receptions in 2011.
In recent years, the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, & Buffalo Bills have all taken measures to gain impact players in an effort to compete with the rulers of the East; adding their own young QB’s and playmakers to combat the dominant Patriots. The question remains for 2019 however, have they done enough to dethrone the Lords of the East?
NEW YORK JETS
Robby Anderson WR – While you’re sitting on the clock in the mid- to late-rounds in your draft rooms this summer contemplating which WR to take, I want you to take a moment and really consider “Mr. Anderson” (said in my Agent Smith voice for all you Matrix fans out there) over the other WRs left available to you for a couple of reasons. To begin with, Mr. Anderson is the undisputed WR1 on a team with a special QB and a Head Coach that is looking to throw the ball all over the yard. Next, he has quietly been a model of production since entering the league in 2016. During those three seasons he has played in 46 games, but, he only started in 32 of them. Thirty-two games just so happens to be the exact number of two full NFL seasons. So, I thought we would perform a little experiment by taking his numbers from the 46 games he suited up in and see what they look like when extrapolated over the 32 games he actually started. By doing this, maybe our view of Mr. Anderson becomes completely different of him as a player.
During those 46 games he suited up for, he amassed 155 receptions on 286 targets for 2,280 yards and 15 TDs. When you average those numbers per season it breaks down to 51 receptions, 95 targets, 760 yards, and 5TDs, which is just about the type of numbers posted by WR3s in fantasy. However, when you run the numbers against only 32 games they become rather fierce to contend with – 77.5 receptions, 143 targets, 1140 yards, 7.5 TDs. Now, with a second season of Sam Darnold at QB and the free agent addition of RB Le’Veon Bell toting the mail, Mr. Anderson has a down-the-field passer he can grow with and an explosive RB that can keep the deep safety away from patrolling the middle of the field. At this time, Mr. Anderson is slotted by most industry ADP’s around WR #28-32 on average. Giving fantasy players a green light to take a young player later in drafts that has the potential to reward their faith with a breakout year.
Sam Darnold QB – When the Jets traded up to the #3 overall pick months before the 2018 NFL draft with the Indianapolis Colts, they surrendered their own #6 pick, two 2nd round picks in 2018 along with a 2nd round pick in 2019. That’s right, they gave up the rights to a grand total of four quality draft picks to move up three spots for a player they weren’t even certain was going to be there. It was a bold move to say the least. At the end of the day it worked out for them, because Baker Mayfield went #1 and Saquon Barkley went #2, leaving them with the player they coveted all along, QB Sam Darnold. The best thing about Darnold isn’t his high football IQ, strong arm, or prototypical size, it’s his age as Darnold just turned the ripe old age of 22 back in June. Meaning he has a chance to play in this division long after the G.O.A.T Tom Brady hangs them up.
How does all of this translate to fantasy success this season though? Well, here is some evidence that will help support Darnold’s breakout candidacy. During his two years as the starter at the University of Southern California, he passed for 7,229 yards and 57 TDs. He also added 132 rushing attempts for 332 yards and 7 TDs. This leads us right into the most underrated aspect of his game, which is throwing on the move. Many of the great QBs of our time and for fantasy purposes are great throwers on the move. Think of guys like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Steve Young, as classic examples of guys that were efficient in the pocket, but, were downright dangerous and unstoppable outside of it. Darnold is built from this same type of cloth. With down field player maker Robby Anderson and a slot-man specialist Jamison Crowder working the middle of the field to pitch it to, Darnold could have big surprises in store for AFC East opponents as well as fantasy players that select him late in drafts.
Josh Allen QB – I’m going to come right out and say this, I was not a fan of Allen’s throughout his college career and into the scouting process of January until draft time. In fact, when I finished my evaluations, I had him as the #6 overall QB behind Mason Rudolph. At the same time, I could easily understand what all the hype was about in NFL circles and obviously so could the Buffalo Bills; as they viewed Allen’s big frame and rocket arm as tools that would set him apart from the other QBs in the 2018 draft. So, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on the clock at #7 overall the Buffalo Bills just couldn’t wait any longer. Trading from their #12 spot, they moved up to Tampa’s #7, giving up their two 2nd round selections in 2018 for the rights to draft the 6’5 – 240 lb. gunslinger from Mountain West Conference. What I obviously missed when scouting Allen was how playing in Laramie, Wyoming’s in-climate weather (which receives double the national average when it comes to snow fall) would prepare him for his time in other cold weather outdoor venues around the league.
Furthermore, once he landed in Buffalo, I was a bit surprised by Allen’s natural ability as a runner after he took over as the full time starter in Week 2 of the 2018 season. Allen showed a real knack for being nimble in the pocket and getting himself out of would be disastrous situations and making the most of them. If it wasn’t for a mid-season elbow injury that caused him to miss 4 games, Allen could have finished the season even better than he did, when he closed out the last four games of the season with two 100-yard plus rushing performances. Needless to say, I think I was wrong about Allen, really wrong. From a fantasy outlook, Allen has lots of upside as a duel threat QB going later in drafts. With the risk being minimal, taking a flyer on a QB that can rack up points with his arm as well as his legs should be worth considering.
Devin Singletary RB – With aging veterans in front of him on the depth chart, it’s just a short matter of time until Singletary gets his chance to add some real juice to the Buffalo Bills offense. Had Singletary been eligible to enter the NFL draft in 2017, there would have been a good chance he would have been taken much higher than his 4th round selection in 2019. I say this because, his 2017 performance as a sophomore at Florida Atlantic University was historic. His 301 rushing attempts and 32 rushing TDs were tops in the country that year. He was also Conference USA’s leader in rushing yards and combined scrimmage yards with 1,918 on the ground and 2,116 collectively. To use the phase “every down back” to describe Singletary would be an accurate assessment, however, it would not be doing him justice. In reality, he is a bell cow workhorse back that thrives as the game gets into the later stages.
So, what’s the best way to draft a guy that has breakout potential who is currently behind three guys on the depth chart you might be asking? That’s easy, spend a late-round pick and make sure to reserve a spot for him on your bench. Then when the time comes (and it will come) you get to insert him into your RB2 or Flex spot and milk the benefits of adding a traditional 3-down back to your roster when other owners are scrambling on the waiver wire looking for him. What makes it even better is they will be extra angry and disappointed when it shows Singletary is already rostered for you. His 6 yards per carry average (YPC) is in the elite category when it comes to RBs that normally make huge impacts for fantasy purposes. Here is a quality list of players that compare pretty evenly to Singletary’s YPC average when they came out of college. Alvin Kamara (6.2), Reggie Bush (7.3), Tarik Cohen (6.5), Giovani Bernard (5.9). If you are or have been a fan of these players in the past or present, there’s a good chance your going to love Singletary.