If you are an avid fantasy football player and you want to stay ahead of your league mates, a great exercise to perform is to see which teams have the biggest target/carry voids to fill from last season. No worries, as I have already scoured the league to give you the top voids to fill and which player(s) will get the first opportunity to gain additional targets or carries and help catapult your fantasy team(s) to the championship.
Oakland Raiders – 359 targets
The Raiders revamped their receiving core from last season by first trading away Amari Cooper and then letting Jared Cook and Seth Roberts walk in free agency. Add the retirement of Jordy Nelson to the mix and you have 359 targets unaccounted for from last season. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock addressed their receiver need by giving up crumbs to acquire All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and spending $44 million for Free Agent receiver Tyrell Williams. The former Chargers receiver, Williams, has had a decent career thus far peaking in 2016 for 1059 yards, 7 touchdowns on 69 receptions. I consider those numbers attainable for Williams in 2019 as he has a huge opportunity to produce as the second option in the Raiders passing offense. The biggest winner in all of this is Derek Carr as he gets an opportunity to play with a future Hall of Fame wide receiver that’s regarded as one of the best in the game. Some folks believe that Brown will take a huge fantasy hit because of his lack of statistical production with quarterbacks other than Ben Roethlisberger, but I believe even if he doesn’t produce 15 receiving touchdowns like in 2018, Brown can easily catch more passes and gain more receiving yards than his 104/1297 stat line from a season ago. The biggest sleeper of the Raiders’ pass catching unit is former receiver turned tight end Darren Waller. Cook’s 101 targets are available for someone between the numbers and considering Waller’s skill-set and the hype he is receiving in Oakland he is in line to benefit the most from Cook’s departure.
Baltimore Ravens – 296 targets
Although there are nearly 300 vacated opportunities (296 targets) from last season, the Ravens pass catchers do not offer consistent fantasy value due to their run heavy approach with second year quarterback Lamar Jackson. To put that last statement in perspective, Joe Flacco attempted 379 passing attempts in his nine starts (42 attempts per game) compared to Jackson’s 158 passing attempts in his seven regular season starts (22 attempts per game). The Ravens are understandably prioritizing winning football games over putting up fantasy production for the receivers on their roster. The Ravens drafted Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the first round and doubled down with another receiver in Miles Boykin in the third round. The pass-catching core with those two rookies in fold along with Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, and their plethora of tight ends led by Mark Andrews will be competing for around 400 targets this season. Not much volume to make a huge fantasy impact. If I were to take a risk on drafting a Ravens’ pass-catcher, it would be either Brown or Andrews. Hollywood Brown offers the Ravens a Tyreek Hill like weapon that can rack up fantasy production outside of running routes and catching footballs. He is a threat to take it the distance in the run game, creative backfield touches, and designed wide receiver screens. Andrews on the other hand is a hot name to target as he seem to have surpassed Hayden Hurst on the depth chart and built a great rapport with Jackson down the stretch last season.
New England Patriots – 233 targets (without Josh Gordon)
The reports of Tom Brady working out with Josh Gordon this offseason raised some eyebrows for a possible Gordon return in 2019 but the league has stated they have no update on his suspension as of yet. Therefore, for now, I’m approaching the Patriots’ vacated targets/touches as if Gordon will not be available which opens up 233 total targets from last season. Whom will Brady throw footballs to this season with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the Gordon suspension, and Chris Hogan in Carolina? The obvious answer is Julian Edelman and his running backs but let’s take a deeper dive to see who else benefits from Brady’s expected 550-600 pass attempts in 2019. The two names on the depth chart to keep an eye on are rookie receiver N’Keal Harry and veteran Phillip Dorsett. Last season Dorsett turned his 42 targets into 32 receptions for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns. The first thing that jumps out to me with that stat line is Dorsett’s mere 9.1 yards per reception which is well below his 16 yards per reception avg. during his previous two seasons. Let’s do some math giving, doubling Dorsett’s targets from last season at 84 targets. With his 73% catch rate in New England coupled with that 16 yard reception mark, I can see Dorsett putting up a 61/976/6 stat line in 2019 which should put him in the WR3 territory. Harry on the other hand was my third ranked receiver in the draft class who ended up in a great fantasy situation to thrive with the G.O.A.T throwing him passes. Sounds great on paper but Brady is a perfectionist that demands his receivers be exactly where they should be at all times. I see some growing pains initially for Harry but once he gets on track, the sky is the limit. I would stash him on my roster if I can for some late season fireworks sans Josh Gordon.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 229 targets
There will be plenty of fantasy goodness in Tampa Bay this season with Bruce Arians’ aggressive mindset now leading the Buccaneers. Arians will not be calling the plays this upcoming season but his fingerprints will be all over the game plan as he mentors Byron Leftwich, the new offensive coordinator. One thing Arians should improve is the Bucs 29th ranked rushing attack, which in turn should improve Jameis Winston’s decision-making and the play of the offensive line. Although the Bucs finished third in total offense and first in passing yards, they also led the NFL with 26 interceptions thrown, the reason why they were 12th in points scored despite the amount of yards gained. A balanced offense will surely alleviate the turnover issue and improve an offensive line that did not improve from a personnel standpoint. With all that said, let us get back to fantasy and the 229 targets up for grabs in the offense with the departure of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson. Winston will be targeting the Bucs big 3 early and often this season. Mike Evans will continue to do Mike Evans things and become the first receiver in NFL history passing Randy Moss and A.J. Green (5), to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his first six season in the NFL. The only knock one can bring up about Evans’ fantasy production is his up and down touchdown totals throughout his career (12,3,12,5,8) but I strongly believe he gets back to double digits in 2019. Next up from the big 3 is third year receiver Chris Godwin. A breakout candidate to start last season, Godwin put up a respectable 59/842/7 line but the consistency wasn’t there each game as he didn’t get to start in two receiver sets with Jackson and Humphries on the roster. Godwin is the biggest beneficiary from the departure of those two receivers and will be a fantasy breakout star in 2018. Godwin has a fifth round ADP (WR21) and should be targeted in your drafts as he can return a top 12 status. Finally, another breakout candidate in tight end O.J. Howard. We all know how frustrating owning a tight end in fantasy can be if you don’t have Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Zack Ertz, but Howard is in a prime spot to join the elites at the tight end position. Injuries cut short Howard’s 2018 season but a healthy 2019 Howard can be a league winner as his athleticism and yards after the catch prowess will put defenses in a bind.
Pittsburgh Steelers – 226 targets
Antonio Brown’s 168 targets (2nd most) last season is heading to Oakland in 2019. The Steelers led the NFL in passing attempts in 2018 so his void will provide an interesting fantasy opportunity for a couple of pass catchers in Pittsburgh. The obvious beneficiary is JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he received 166 targets (4th most) in 2018 so although he is my favorite to lead the NFL in targets this year, JuJu’s target numbers should not be inflated to the point where he catches much more than his 111 passes from a year ago. What I do think he improves upon though is his seven receiving touchdowns (Brown had 16). I strongly believe that touchdown number can double in 2019, the reason for my bold prediction (see here). I am very aware that A.B. affects opposing defenses with double coverage his way, which opens up JuJu to eat but the sheer volume alone in the Steelers’ offense will make JuJu a fantasy must grab this year. Now that we got the obvious out of the way, let’s get to the other guys who will be relishing the opportunity to snag some of those 226 targets from Ben Roethlisberger. Although Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers have been somewhat decent security blankets for Roethlisberger in the past, the three receivers to keep an eye on are Donte Moncrief, James Washington, and for dynasty guys Diontae Johnson. Johnson is a rookie receiver that will take time to make an impact, as he was a high school quarterback and is still trying to master the nuances as a route runner and getting off press coverage. This leaves one of the biggest debates in Steelers’ camp, who will win the number two spot, Moncrief or Washington? I believe Moncrief’s experience edges out Washington as the starter in two-receiver sets but I also believe that the Steelers will have both players on the field together a lot, which will provide fantasy owners great value in their fantasy drafts. If Washington improves upon his abysmal 41% catch rate and Moncrief stays healthy (which he has done over the last 2 seasons), both players should smash their 11th round ADP, #SleeperAlert. Another pass catcher that should evolve and breakout in 2019 is tight end Vance McDonald. The departure of Jesse James gives McDonald a leg up in improving upon his career year in 2018 (50/610/4) and makes for a sneaky selection if you miss out on one of the big name tight ends earlier in the draft.
Chicago Bears – 261 carries
This off-season the Bears shipped their starting running back Jordan Howard, who has had at least 250 carries for them in all three of his seasons in Chicago, to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2020 sixth-round pick. There have been rumblings of the Bears shopping Howard for some time now and it finally came into fruition. The move opens up a grand total of 261 unaccounted for carries from last season for the Bears. Therefore, the question now becomes who will take advantage of the early down work as Tarik Cohen’s role as the change of pace, pass catching running back is still intact. The Bears made a shrewd off-season acquisition of bringing in the underrated Mike Davis from the Seattle Seahawks, but the third-round draft selection of David Montgomery is the answer. Davis will definitely get his handful of snaps; however, Montgomery’s all-around skill-set and talent will be hard for head coach Matt Nagy to keep him off the field. A major reason the Bears organization decided to move on from the productive Howard for pennies was his lack of ability to make plays out of the backfield in the passing game. Nagy comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree whose offensive scheme puts a lot of stock in running backs that not only can catch the ball out of the backfield, but can also create additional yardage after the catch (i.e Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams). My RB1 in the 2019 NFL draft David Montgomery fits the bill as his tape at Iowa State highlights his receiving prowess and his ability to make the first defender miss time after time. The way he contorts his body and stay up after contact displaying plus elusiveness, balance, and flexibility is Saquon Barkley-esque. Montgomery is the biggest beneficiary of Howard’s departure and is my favorite to win offensive rookie of the year in 2019.
Kansas City Chiefs – 235 carries
Speaking of Andy Reid, the departure of Kareem Hunt opens up an excellent opportunity for Damien Williams in the Chiefs running back friendly system. The play design of Reid is masterful as he creates mismatches and gets his backs into space out of the backfield. In addition, the emergence of last year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes and his cannon arm will give Williams light man boxes to take advantage of in the run game as defenses will be prepared to slow down the Chiefs’ passing game. After Hunt’s suspension last season, the Chiefs rotated Spencer Ware and Williams, but once Williams took over the majority of the snaps in Week 15 he has been a PPR beast. In his final 5 games of the season, Williams took full advantage of Reid’s system to a tune of 69 carries for 362 yards (5.2 ypc) 5 rushing touchdowns and catching 24 of his 28 targets for 210 yards and 3 additional receiving touchdowns. If you extrapolate those numbers over a 16 game schedule that’s a 220/1158/16 rushing line coupled with a 76/672/9 receiving line. It is highly unlikely Williams gets in the end zone 25 times but you can clearly see the intrigue of drafting an Andy Reid back that can produce in the run and passing game. The Chiefs also brought in Carlos Hyde to help with the backfield load but all indications from the Chiefs’ coaching staff suggest Williams will be the full-time starter and has earned the right to be the guy in KC. Williams is in a titillating spot to smash his middle of the second round ADP.
Miami Dolphins – 206 carries
The ageless Frank Gore continued his illustrious Hall of Fame worthy career by leading the Miami Dolphins in carries last season. However, Gore is now in Buffalo, which opens up a great opportunity for my breakout candidate Kenyan Drake and one of my fantasy sleepers Kalen Ballage. I believe both running backs can succeed in 2019 and have value on your fantasy teams. New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea knows a thing or two about sharing running back workloads from their time in New England. I know the saying “Never trust a Belichick back” and the Dolphins coaching staff should implement the same committee approach like in New England, but their depth chart suggests this will be a two-headed committee in 2019. I give the advantage to Drake this season as he is poised to go over 200 carries for the first time in his career and receive many targets in the passing game similarly to the aforementioned Patriots offense. Drake’s career 4.7 yards per carry average should net him his first 1,000 yard rushing season to go along with a James White-like role in the passing game. With Drake entering his last season under contract for the Dolphins, Ballage is an excellent dynasty stash that can produce for you this season. Ballage is an athletic size/speed combo back that has a similar skill set to Drake as he can get it done in the run and passing game. After Gore’s season-ending injury last year, Ballage displayed his game breaking talent with 123 rushing yards against the Minnesota Vikings in week 15. It is worth the shot to snag Ballage with his 14th round ADP because if Drake goes down with an injury, Ballage can produce RB2 numbers (ceiling) in PPR leagues.