Top Prospects for Your NFL Fantasy League

We’re nearing the end of the summer, which means football season is right around the corner. The NFL is currently in the throes of the preseason, but the games will count for real about a week after the calendar flips to September. Betting on something as unpredictable as the NFL preseason is certainly not recommended, but that doesn’t stop sportsbooks from posting lines, anyway.

August is a hugely important month when it comes to fantasy football. While champions won’t be crowned for several months, fantasy owners typically lay the groundwork for the upcoming season in the month before the season officially begins. Fantasy drafts usually start in August, and some leagues will even draft as soon as the night before the regular season gets underway.

The preseason also affords users the chance to play daily fantasy football. Yes, DraftKings now offers preseason DFS contests, so you can get your football fix well before the games start to count. If you think regular season fantasy football is difficult, just imagine the unpredictability that comes with playing preseason NFL DFS.

DraftKings is also one of the football betting sites that offers lines on preseason action. The DraftKings sportsbook launched shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May of 2018, and it currently operates in a couple of the states that have legalized sports betting.

While DraftKings has dipped its toes into a couple of different pools, daily fantasy sports and sports betting are generally different. While sports betting (and gambling in general, for that matter) is largely viewed as a game of chance, many view DFS as a game of skill. However, the fact that players are playing with real money on the line with both sports betting and DFS has blurred the lines between the 2 entities for some.

Regardless of whether you think daily fantasy sports and gambling are one and the same, you can use DFS/sports betting concepts when it comes to drafting your season-long fantasy team, too. The goal with all 3 is to use logic in order to get the best possible results. There are no sure things when it comes to daily fantasy, season-long fantasy or sports betting, but you can still take steps to ensure that you’re making the smartest possible decisions.

The following are the top-5 fantasy players heading into the 2019 NFL season.

Christian McCaffrey (RB, Carolina Panthers)

CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 17: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Panthers said prior to last season that Christian McCaffrey would carry the load for the offense, and he did just that. The former Stanford Cardinal carried the ball 219 times for 1,098 yards with 7 touchdowns in his second season as a pro. While the rushing numbers were solid, McCaffrey was arguably even more effective in the passing game. He caught 107 passes (124 targets) for another 867 yards with 6 more TDs.

Most running backs in today’s game aren’t as involved in all facts as McCaffrey is in Carolina, which inherently gives him more fantasy value than just about every other player at his position. McCaffrey’s versatility makes him an elite option in standard leagues, but he’s even more valuable in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues.

Barring injury, there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in performance heading into year No. 3. The Panthers don’t have much competition for him in the backfield (Cameron Artis-Payne, Jordan Scarlett and Alex Armah are behind him on the depth chart), so McCaffrey should continue in his every-down role again in 2019. Cam Newton’s effectiveness as a goal-line option does hurt McCaffrey’s touchdown upside a little, but he more than makes up for that with his effectiveness in Carolina’s passing attack.

Saquon Barkley (RB, New York Giants)

All Saquon Barkley did during his rookie season was put up one of the best statistical seasons of any offensive first-year player in NFL history, so it’ll be exciting to see what he can do for an encore. Barkley toted the ball 261 times for 1,307 yards with 11 rushing scores. He also grabbed another 91 passes for 721 yards with 4 more touchdowns. The fact that he managed to put up those kinds of gaudy numbers while playing alongside an aging Eli Manning and an offensive line largely bereft of talent is highly impressive.

Barkley scored more fantasy points than any rookie in NFL history a season ago. Eclipsing 2,000 scrimmage yards on 352 touches is insane volume and efficiency, and there is no reason to believe he’ll take a back seat in his second campaign. Especially now that Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants’ top receiver, is now in Cleveland.

This is really a no-brainer. I’d take Barkley No. 1 if I had the top pick in the draft.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Dallas Cowboys)

Ezekiel Elliott is a complicated case entering the new season. The Ohio State product has been among the most productive players at his position since entering the league 4 years ago, but he is currently in the midst of a contract holdout. He has said that he won’t play for the Cowboys this season unless Jerry Jones offers him a raise. Zeke has 2 years left on his rookie deal, but he wants to be compensated appropriately.

While the risk of Elliott sitting out is obviously greater now that we’ve seen Le’Veon Bell sit out for an entire year, I still believe the Cowboys will come to their senses and give him his money before the season begins. Elliott is too important to Dallas’ offense. The former No. 4 overall pick has amassed over 4,000 rushing yards on 868 career carries with 28 touchdowns. Last year, he totaled 1,434 rushing yards with 6 touchdowns along with 77 receptions.

He isn’t as productive in the passing game as either Barkley or McCaffrey, but his role with the Cowboys as an every-down back makes him a fantasy first rounder. The fact that he’ll likely drop on draft boards due to the contract situation makes him an even more valuable commodity.

David Johnson (RB, Arizona Cardinals)

David Johnson was essentially the consensus No. 1 fantasy player prior to last season. Unfortunately, 2018 turned out to be largely a lost season for him. A year after returning from a torn ACL, Johnson carried the ball 258 times for 940 yards (only 3.6 yards per carry) with 7 touchdowns. It was a far cry from his breakout 2016 season in which he amassed over 1,200 yards rushing with 20 total touchdowns.

With a new coaching staff and the Cardinals expected to be a high-octane offense, Johnson is back on fantasy radars despite an underwhelming 2018. Many are pointing to his potential upside in the passing game. The Cardinals are expected to pass the ball a ton with Kliff Kingsbury now running the show, and Johnson may emerge as a nice safety valve for rookie quarterback Kyler Murray out of the backfield.

Johnson caught just 50 passes last season, but in his aforementioned 2016 campaign he hauled in 80 passes on 120 targets for 879 yards, so he is certainly capable of being a factor in all facets of the game. If Arizona’s offense can rebound after an abysmal 2018, Johnson will be a huge reason why.

Patrick Mahomes (QB, Kansas City Chiefs)

Few knew what to expect from Patrick Mahomes in his first season as a starter in the NFL level, but if last year is any indication, he looks like the clear-cut top fantasy QB heading into the new season. Mahomes and the Chiefs were completely unstoppable last season, as the former Texas Tech Red Raider completed 66 percent of his throws for 5,097 yards with 50 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The 50 touchdown passes were tied for the second-most in league history. For good measure, he also contributed 272 yards rushing with another pair of rushing scores.

Needless to say, expecting Mahomes to match his insane passing touchdown totals from a season ago is a bit optimistic. He’s arguably the most promising young passer in the game, but the fact that Tyreek Hill may miss a chunk of the season hampers KC’s offense to a degree. Hill is the game’s most potent deep threat. That said, the Chiefs’ offense is still expected to be one of the highest-scoring units in all of football, and Mahomes is the top-ranked fantasy quarterback almost by default. Additional question marks in the running game mean Mahomes may have even more responsibility in ‘19.

AFI
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