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June 5th: Best Ball Strategy
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New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones held up quite well under pressure behind a porous offensive line in his rookie season. His numbers under pressure were comparable to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, which is incredibly impressive. Jones had an 8:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and nearly 1,000 passing yards while under pressure in 2019. The 23-year-old from Duke also posted two of the top-10 single performances by a quarterback last year, which demonstrates the kind of upside he possesses heading into his first full season as the Giants starter under center. With an excellent offensive cast on his side, Jones has a bright NFL future, in 2020 and beyond. Draft him as a high-end QB2 with QB1 upside.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was the only player on NFL.com's Nick Shook's list of top-10 QBs under pressure to have a negative completion percentage above expectation in 2019, but his passer rating under pressure (80) and TD-to-interception ratio of 5:2 land him at No. 9. He took three and a half seconds on average to get rid of the football when under pressure, something he faced 125 times while completing 87 passes. Allen's legs give him considerable fantasy upside at his position, but if he can improve his decision-making and accuracy down the field, he has realistic top-five upside in 2020. Gaining wide receiver Stefon Diggs as his new No. 1 target certainly won't hurt.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott completed exactly the amount of pressured passes as was expected in 2019, but he also attempted the third-most pressured passes (144) of anyone on NFL.com's Nick Shook's list of top-10 QBs under pressure. He's also one of just two passers on the list to break 1,000 passing yards under pressure. Prescott's 7:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio while under pressure looks pretty good. The young passer is tied with Philip Rivers for the fourth-most TD passes completed under pressure since 2016, with 19. He also has the highest single-season completion percentage above expectation under pressure in a single season since 2016. With or without a long-term contract extension in Dallas this summer, Prescott will likely be the third QB off the board in fantasy drafts behind Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
Nobody in the NFL faced more pressures last season than Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with 216. And despite all that pressure, he still managed to post a passer rating under pressure that was more than 12 points higher than the league average of 66.2. Ryan's passer rating under pressure of 87.9 is the highest among QBs in every season combined since 2016. Only Tom Brady has thrown more touchdown passes while under pressure (30) than Ryan (27) since 2016. His 104.9 passer rating from 2016 sits third in the top-five passer ratings under pressure since 2016. Ryan also tied for the third-most TD passes thrown under pressure in a single season with nine in 2018. If Atlanta's offensive line can actually give him more time to throw, the consistent 35-year-old should have top-five QB1 upside in 2020.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played in just eight games last season because of injury, but he remained consistent under pressure when he was on the field. His passer rating of 84.2 while under pressure and his plus-2.2 percent completion rate above expectation are impressive considering that he threw more than 30 percent of his under-pressure throws into tight windows. Stafford's combined passer rating under pressure of 83.8 is the third-best mark of any qualified quarterback since 2016, trailing just Matt Ryan and Alex Smith. The 32-year-old was on pace for a great finish in 2019 if he hadn't gotten hurt, and many expect him to pick up right where he left off in 2020. Stafford is a borderline QB1 and makes for a great fantasy backup.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has mostly been successful in the NFL when pressured. While he doesn't face as much pressure as he once did, Cousins remains a top-five QB when under duress. His passer rating (91.5) was fifth-best in 2019, his completion percentage under pressure (58.1) was fourth-best and his completion percentage above expectation (plus-3.8) was in the top five. The 31-year-old is often overshadowed by some of the league's stars at the position, but he also lost his No. 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs and his offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski. He could take a step back in 2020 in an offense that will lean heavily on the running game. Target Cousins as a midrange QB2 with a low ceiling.
Not only did Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson set a new single-season rushing record for QBs in 2019, but he also ranked No. 4 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's list of best quarterbacks under pressure. He had a touchdown-to-interception ratio under pressure of 8:3, which means almost a quarter (22 percent) of his 36 touchdown passes came while under pressure. Jackson had less than 470 passing yards under pressure while also completing 49.2 percent of his 65 pressured attempts. His dual-threat abilities as a passer and runner are what made Baltimore's offense so explosive in 2019, and will for years to come. Jackson is an explosive runner and thrives under pressure as a passer. What else do you want as the No. 1 fantasy QB?
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr posted the third-best passer rating (103.7) while under pressure in 2019, and his completion percentage of 66.7 under pressure was the best of any qualifying signal-caller in the league last year. Carr's completion percentage above expectation of plus-5.9 had to do with the fact that he targeted open receivers at a rate of 56.9 percent, which was tops in the NFL. There are a lot of knocks on Carr as a passer and his leash might be short in 2020 with Marcus Mariota behind him, but he did find open receivers in the face of pressure last year with regularity. Not many fantasy owners will be targeting him, even as a QB2, but Carr could surprise and hold off Mariota with some new weapons that the Raiders gave him in the draft, mainly wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' 105.9 passer rating under pressure in 2019 is the second-best mark in a single season since 2016, trailing only Ryan Tannehill from last season. The future Hall of Famer found success under pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly (3.01 second on average per pressured throw) to nearby targets, averaging 9.6 air yards per pressured attempt. Brees led all quarterbacks on NFL.com's Nick Shook's list with a 41.7 percent success rate on pressured pass attempts. While the 41-year-old is still good despite his age and now has Emmanuel Sanders to lean on, he isn't taking as many deep shots as he once did. Brees' ceiling just isn't as high as it once was, making him more of a low-end QB1 in what will likely be his final season.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones flashed big potential in his rookie season but was plagued by one key issue: He led the NFL with 18 fumbles. Limiting turnovers will be key if Jones is to take the next step in his development, and he has been working since the season ended with David Cutcliffe, his coach at Duke. If Jones can hold onto the ball, he has big upside for fantasy owners. He averaged 233 yards per game last season and threw 24 touchdowns in 13 games (12 starts). He is currently the 13th QB off the board but has the upside to finish as a top-10 fantasy passer with the weapons he has in New York.
Although Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't play a full season in 2019, NFL.com's Nick Shook has him ranked No. 1 on the list of the top-10 QBs under pressure last season. The former first-round pick had the only passer rating above 110 in the league while being pressured in the pocket among those with a minimum of 250 total pass attempts. Tannehill also did so while targeting receivers in tight windows on 23.9 percent of such attempts. He became the only qualified passer to average 10-plus yards per attempt under pressure in a season since 2016. It all helped Tannehill become the NFL Comeback Player of the Year while leading his team to the AFC Championship. Tannehill has been efficient as a passer, but the problem is that the Titans don't throw the rock enough to make him anything more than a passable fantasy backup.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard comes in at No. 10 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019, and he's the only linebacker on the list. Not only does he consistently stop the run, but Leonard is expected to stay with receivers, running backs and tight ends in coverage. His five interceptions led all linebackers last season, as well as his 58.6 passer rating allowed as the nearest defender in coverage. Leonard finished with seven passes defensed and even took an interception back for a touchdown. The 24-year-old (25 in July) has 284 tackles (182 solo), 19 tackles for loss, 14 QB hits, 12 sacks, seven interceptions, 15 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in just two seasons for Indy. Leonard is the No. 1 IDP linebacker for a reason.
Kansas City Chiefs free safety Tyrann Mathieu's average separation yards of 3.4 leaves something to be desired in coverage, and so does his catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-7.5), but he was crucial in the Chiefs Super Bowl run from a year ago. He had a passer rating allowed of 57.6, but his ballhawk rate of 17.1 percent is an indication of how effective he is in KC's secondary. The Honey Badger compiled 75 tackles (63 solo), two sacks, four interceptions and 12 passes defensed on his way to his second first-team All-Pro selection in his seven seasons in the league. Mathieu may not have the best numbers from a pure analytical perspective, but he gets it done nevertheless and is a fringe starter at defensive back in IDP leagues.
Seattle Seahawks strong safety Bradley McDougald comes in at No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men from the 2019 season. His coverage success rate of 62 percent really stands out. Only three other players on Shook's list -- Justin Simmons (65.9 percent), J.C. Jackson (65.5) and Eddie Jackson (62.8) had better success rates than McDougald last year. He also allowed a passer rating of just 54.4 when targeted and a tight-window percentage of 12. The 29-year-old has really started to come on the last two years with Seattle. McDougald had 70 tackles (52 solo), two interceptions, half a sack and a fumble recovery in 2019. He won't be an every-week starter in IDP leagues, but he might be worth a look when you need a bye-week replacement.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has stuck by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo through all the criticism and believes the signal-caller has the ability to become an all-time great at the position. Garoppolo does have an advantage this offseason because he's not rehabbing an injury like he was before 2019. He ranked in the top five in touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) during his first full regular season last year, helping the team to a Super Bowl appearance. However, the 49ers are a team that leans more on the run and defense, making Garoppolo a glorified game manager. The 28-year-old has a low ceiling as a QB2 in Shanahan's current offense.
New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a group of six teammates recently gathered at a private football field to work out together. Stidham has been the catalyst for the throwing sessions, according to sources. Veteran QB Brian Hoyer has been at the throwing sessions, as have been wide receivers Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski. Stidham, a fourth-round pick last year, looks to be the team's starting solution in the post-Tom Brady era entering the 2020 season. Head coach Bill Belichick seems totally comfortable rolling with the unknown 23-year-old, and we wouldn't bet against Belichick. So if Stidham is indeed the starter under center in Week 1, he'll be a midrange QB2 for fantasy owners.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.
Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.
The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.
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