By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Drew Brees setup for success
And then there were four. Yes, we are down to just four teams in the playoffs. And the four teams are the top two seeds in each conference. It normally doesn't play out this way in the NFL, but it has fallen this way this season. This should make for a highly entertaining Sunday of games. Well, it shows that way on paper. We know things haven't been great the first two week of the playoffs, but here is to hoping this week's games are top notch viewing. I know I'm excited. Now for my random thoughts for the week. . . . .
It will be interesting to see what the Chiefs do at running back next season. Damien Williams is sure making it a hard decision for them. He just keeps getting it done as a starter and producing big in that role. He is a dual threat with great moves in the open field. Williams just seems a great fit for the offense. I wouldn't be surprised if they keep Williams as the starter and draft a back in the middle rounds to become the eventual starter. We'll see.
It is amazing to see what good coaches can do with that extra week to prepare for a game. This was on full display last weekend, especially in New England and Kansas City. Those two offenses put on a clinic against their opponents. And both those defenses were much maligned throughout the season, but did a great job last week. It was quite the impressive display of game planning. You can underestimate the value of having a great coach in the NFL.
I like the hiring of Adam Gase for the Jets. I think he'll be good for the development of Sam Darnold and that offense. Gase did do a few peculiar things in Miami while head coach, but he knows offense and has done well developing quarterbacks in the past. Darnold should continue to grow with Gase at the helm.
One hire I'm not so sure about is Kliff Kingsbury going to the Cardinals. This seems a really risky hire for the Cardinals. Kingsbury had a losing record as a head coach in college and has no NFL coaching experience. He had some top offenses at Texas Tech, which is why the Cardinals went this direction. He is going to need to surround himself with some proven coaches on his staff if this is going to work. I really think this hire was a swing and a miss for Arizona, but I have been wrong before. We'll see.
Another hire I wanted to mention, but didn't involve a head coach, was the hiring of Mike Munchak by the Broncos to be their offensive line coach. Munchak is considered the best offensive line coach in the game and done a great job with the Steelers the past few seasons. He gets a chance to coach up the Broncos unit and improve a running game that already was decent last year. This could really help the value of the entire offense of the Broncos going forward. And on the flipside, the Steelers lose a great coach, which could adversely impact that team's offense.
So Kyler Murray declared for the NFL draft. It will be interesting to see where he gets picked. He obviously has a ton of talent, but his size (5-9) is going to hurt his stock. That is really small for an NFL quarterback. Plus, he was a top-10 pick in the MLB draft and could end up playing baseball instead. There is going to be a lot of talk swirling around Murray in the coming months. It should be fun to watch.
News and Notes: The Eagles stated in their season-ending press conference Tuesday that Carson Wentz is the team's starting quarterback going forward. . . . .The status of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a bit up in the air. The team stated they aren't sure if he will need surgery on his shoulder or what a possible time recovery might be if he has surgery or doesn't have surgery. There were even reports Newton has a chance to sit out all of next year.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints. Brees did miss on some throws last week but had a solid game overall, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints playoff opener. He has two straight 300-yard games. Brees is setup for big things this week, playing the Rams. He threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns against this same Rams team in Week 9. The Rams have been middle of the pack against the pass much of the season. Los Angeles allowed 31-passing touchdowns during the regular season.
Sony Michel, RB, Patriots. Michel had a career high 129-rushing yards and three touchdowns last week. He has 100-yard games two of his last three. He also has at least 50-rushing yards seven straight games. The Patriots could have a similar game plan against the Chiefs this week, rushing the ball and using a short-passing attack. This bodes well for Michel, playing a rush defense that allowed the third most fantasy points to running backs during the regular season.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs. Hill has three touchdowns his last two games and at least four receptions five straight games. He continues to get a workout on a weekly basis as the top receiver in the Chiefs potent passing game. Hill had his only three-touchdown game of the season against the Patriots in Week 6. You can expect him to get plenty of chances to make big plays in this one. He should do well against the Patriots, a team that was just 22nd against the pass during the regular season.
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots. Hogan was targeted five times last week but caught just three passes for 13 yards. If there is a positive for Hogan, it is he has 16 targets his last two games. He is getting more chances to make plays. The bad news is Hogan isn't making many plays with those chances. At this point, Phillip Dorsett is easier to trust than Hogan despite Hogan having a better track record overall.
Jared Goff, QB, Rams. Goff has not played bad by any means down the stretch, but he hasn't been called on to do as much. He has fewer than 30-pass attempts three straight games. He also has fewer than 200-passing yards three of five. He is always capable of the big game in this offense, but you have to worry about him on the road in such a big game for the first time in his career. We wouldn't be surprised if he has some struggles this week, especially with the Saints defense playing much better than earlier in the year.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams. Cooks is getting some decent reception totals lately, but his yardage numbers have been pretty poor down the stretch. He has 65 or fewer yards six straight games. The big game has been nonexistent for Cooks, which is normally his calling card. We aren't sure he suddenly emerges this week despite a favorable matchup. He could draw Marcus Lattimore in coverage, which wouldn't be a good thing for Cooks.
Ted Ginn, WR, Saints. Ginn was on Injured Reserve much of the season because of a knee injury but returned late in the year. He has been a big part of the offense since his return, having eight receptions for 118 yards in two games. Ginn also has been targeted 15 times those two games, which is very encouraging. He might have the best matchup of the Saints receivers this week, getting the Rams No. 2 or 3 cornerback, so don't be surprised if the Saints exploit this favorable matchup.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Rams. Unfortunately, we had Anderson on our cold list last week. He proved us wrong, continuing to get plenty of chances in the Rams suddenly run-heavy offense. It really looks like this is the formula for the Rams offense right now, dominating the line of scrimmage with a powerful running back. Anderson should get his chances even in a backup role. He has three straight 100-yard games and four touchdowns during that stretch. Remember, he led the Rams in rushing last week, producing better than starter Todd Gurley.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots. Dorsett did little much of the season but is getting more chances this days, especially with Josh Gordon gone. He has touchdowns two straight and nine receptions in those two games. He is a good fit for the slot and can make plays with the ball in his hands. Dorsett is never a sure thing in this offense, but with Rob Gronkowski doing little right now, Dorsett could benefit with more targets. He is worth a flier for fantasy teams.
High/Low Scoring Games
Each week we will take a look at some of the high and low scoring games for the coming week. In high scoring affairs, get your marginal players on those teams in your lineup to take advantage of the possible points barrage. And in the low scoring games, keep those marginal players on the bench and make sure to have your defenses involved in those contests.
High Scoring Games: Saints/Rams, Patriots/Chiefs.
Low Scoring Games: None.
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams burst onto the scene last season with his team-leading 10 touchdowns, but he's just getting started. Williams and teammate Keenan Allen were named the third-best receiver duo by NFL.com analyst James Jones, and Jones pointed out that 2019 might be a huge year for Williams thanks to a bit of subtraction. Tyrell Williams departed for Oakland, and his 65 targets from last season will now be spread out amongst those who are left, most likely Mike Williams. Assuming Melvin Gordon returns to the lineup, Williams could be one of the very best "third" options in the league this year and could easily turn into an undercover superstar.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon clarified over the weekend that even though he is pushing for a new contract, he still wants to stay with the Chargers if he can. Gordon spoke out because he was upset that people were saying that he didn't want to go back to the Chargers, but he still reiterated, "You know, I want to get paid." Gordon is entering the final year of his five-year rookie contract, and his agent has already openly expressed that Gordon will hold out and demand a trade if he is not given a new deal. Gordon's got some leverage as the team's primary running back, but the recent drop in value amongst running backs and cross-town troubles between the Rams and Todd Gurley will likely play a major role in the offers made to him. It would be surprising if this issue was solved before training camp.
A source close to retired tight end Rob Gronkowski places his potential for unretiring at 40 percent in 2019. Gronkowski isn't thinking of football right now and is enjoying his retirement, but he could decide to return once the season starts. If quarterback Tom Brady makes an appeal to Gronk, the future Hall of Famer could come back. Gronkowski has said that he's lost only 18 pounds since retiring, and it's believed that head coach Bill Belichick wouldn't stop Gronkowski if he wanted to return. This is probably still more of a long shot, but it shouldn't be ruled out. Gronk battled injuries throughout his career and seemed to slow down in 2018, but his return would send shock waves through the fantasy industry. He had 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last year. You'd be better off using a roster spot on someone else this fall, even if it's intriguing to think about.
The Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. The contract is expected to be worth $68 million with $38 million guaranteed, according to a source. He was initially set to receive the $15.209 million franchise tag if a deal wasn't worked out by Monday. The team can now move on to extensions for receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons and Deion Jones' representation will meet face-to-face on Wednesday. Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has been a top defender for Atlanta and had 53 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had six sacks, three forced fumbles and a team-high 16 QB hits.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will look to improve after a solid 2018 season. After accruing just 626 yards on the ground during his rookie campaign, Mixon eclipsed the millennium mark last season to finish with 1,168 yards to go along with nine total trips to the end zone. Though it has been argued that he isn't a top-five back, he will begin his first season under the tutelage of new head coach Zac Taylor, who served as an assistant under Sean McVay. Taylor, who will mirror some parts of the Rams' playbook initially, will utilize the same packages that helped running back Todd Gurley become a fantasy success. As a result, Mixon has a better chance than most to have a dominant season despite being behind a weaker offensive line, and as long as he can remain healthy.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Alfred Blue is the 'frontrunner' for the No. 2 spot behind RB Leonard Fournette, in the opinion of The Florida Times-Union's John Reid.
Fantasy Spin: There are some other recognizable names on the depth chart, including Thomas Rawls and rookie Ryquell Armstead, but Blue has been penciled in as RB2 since he signed with the Jags. He remains a decent late-round handcuff for Fournette owners.
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, in the opinion of Titans Online's Jim Wyatt. Tight end Jonnu Smith (knee), whose season ended in Week 14, isn't a lock to be ready after having missed all of the offseason workouts. Walker could be on the Physically Unable to Perform list during training camp, but the veteran should be ready for Week 1. The 34-year-old is more of a risk now than ever as a TE1, but he could come at a nice value later in drafts if he can stay healthy. After all, he has had at least 800 receiving yards since 2014 if you take out last year's injury.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) said he's "definitely not going to be full-go from the jump" at the start of training camp. He will gradually work into full activities and wants "to be ready for Week 1." It's no lock that the 32-year-old will be ready for Week 1, so that definitely makes him a risky fantasy proposition going into the 2019 season. Sanders started his Denver tenure with three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-16, but he's underwhelmed since. He bounced back some with 71 receptions for 868 yards and four touchdowns in only 12 games last season. Sanders hasn't played in a full season since 2016 and will obviously have injury concerns again this year.
Denver Broncos TE Jake Butt (knee) was limited to individual drills for most of the offseason as he continued to recover from surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament. He believes he will do more 'team things' at start of camp while the team slowly works his reps back to where they were, according to Aric DiLalla of the team's website.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been impressed with the tempo of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. The Cardinals ranked 20th in the league in pace (time between plays) in neutral situations last year, but that is expected to change drastically in 2019. Fitzgerald said the new offense contains less verbiage that when Bruce Arians was the head coach, and players are expected to process pre-snap adjustments faster. It means that Arizona's skill players should see more bulk this year, which is good for their fantasy value. The offense will ebb and flow based on how rookie quarterback Kyler Murray fares, but the early returns are very promising.
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, a second-round pick, remains the only unsigned rookie on the team. Offensive guard Drew Risner, who was selected a pick before Lock at 41 overall, signed a deal worth $7.14 million on Tuesday. According to multiple sources, Lock's representatives are seeking a "quarterback premium." There is hope that he'll sign before the team's first meeting on Wednesday and first practice on Thursday, but there's also the chance that Lock isn't present for the start of training camp. The Broncos made assurances to Risner that Lock won't receive a richer contract. Lock has long-term upside in dynasty/keeper leagues, but he won't have much redraft value as the expected backup to veteran Joe Flacco to begin the season.
Chicago Bears WR Javon Wims is a player who 'probably deserves more attention' after performing well during offseason workouts and appears primed to compete for a role on offense in training camp, according to Larry Mayer of the team's website.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry ran for 625 yards and eight touchdowns on 97 carries in five December games last season. New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith intends to ride Henry in 2019, according to Jim Wyatt of the team's website.
Fantasy Spin: Henry is entering the final year of his contract and has a solid offensive line in front of him, which may be the two most important reasons why the Titans may not care about running him into the ground. Other reasons may include Smith not knowing if Marcus Mariota can hold up his end of the deal. If Smith stays true to his word, Henry has as good of a chance to lead the league in carries and rushing yards as any back.
Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota needs to earn a long-term commitment from the team as he enters the fifth-year option of his rookie deal in 2019, according to head coach Mike Vrabel. 'I think everybody has a contract, and we're very aware of players who are in the last year of the deal. Marcus is obviously one of those,' Vrabel said. 'When you make a commitment to the QB you want to make sure that this is going to be your guy for the next 7-10 years when you look at the percentage of the cap quarterbacks are driving. Nobody is more proud of what Marcus has done in the offseason than me. He's come back stronger, bigger, with greater understanding of what we're doing offensively, being able to communicate it to players the field. I don't look at the lack of a long-term extension as a negative, though that's what people try to make it. I know Marcus's demeanor and that won't change whether he's on a 10-year contract or its up after the season. He's that type of person. So I know it'll work because of how he is.'
Fantasy Spin: Extra motivation could very well boost Mariota's fantasy numbers in 2019. The 25-year-old has completed 63.2 percent of passes over his 56 games (55 starts) with 69 touchdowns against 42 interceptions. He has scored at least two rushing TDs in each of his four seasons. After receiving plenty of hype last offseason, Mariota is worth a flier for those deploying a late-round quarterback strategy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones 'received only raves' from the new coaching staff, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, who noted his standout spring came without pads.
Fantasy Spin: Jones has been among the most hyped players this offseason and is reportedly tipping the scales at 221 pounds after playing around 208 as a rookie last season. Owners still need to remain skeptical he will break out in 2019, but the talent is there and Peyton Barber isn't the most impossible obstacle to overcome if Jones can carry over his performance from spring workouts to training camp and beyond. For the moment, owners should view him as a high-upside flex option.
Free-agent DE Robert Ayers announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday, July 16.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott "might actually be the front-runner" for the final spot on the Eagles running back depth chart. Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, and rookie Miles Sanders are all locks assuming health, so Scott, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams could all be competing for one final spot. Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia believes that Scott has "a much more complementary collection of skills" including his ability to play on special teams. Scott could be interesting if given a chance to play on offense, but it would likely take two injuries ahead of him for him to earn any significant offensive snaps.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is looking to bounce back to his previous MVP form this season. Last season was the first season since 2008 where the Packers have missed out on the playoffs when he played 16 games. Rodgers played through the season with a significant injury, with a tibial plateau fracture and sprained a medial collateral ligament. Rodgers has been working hard to learn the new offense, the first time in his entire career. Surrounding Rodgers with coaching talent is one thing, but in order to bounce back, he will hope that the surrounding skill players on the roster are able to also be looking to bounce back to being one of the most potent offenses in the league.
Minnesota Vikings running back Roc Thomas has been suspended three games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Thomas had just eight carries during his rookie season and is buried behind Dalvin Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison on the team's depth chart, so the suspension doesn't really mean much for his already nonexistent fantasy stock. Thomas remains at best the team's third back and at worse a preseason roster cut, though in that scenario the suspension will make it harder for me to latch onto another team's roster.
Green Bay Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis is looking to expand on his blocking role this season. Lewis is currently one of the team's most senior players on a young roster and was the only one of the 11 unrestricted free agents the Packers re-signed this offseason. New head coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this offseason that the team wants to expand the role he plays in the offense. Lewis will be unlikely to be a player with fantasy value. However, fantasy owners should monitor the situation as it may impact the value of fellow tight end Jimmy Graham.