Here’s the reality. We draft fantasy players based mostly on what happened the previous year. Certainly seems reasonable. But – if there is one area where conventional wisdom falls short it is with players that change teams. They are no longer in the same situation with the same teammates. And often, they are downgraded too much in their new home. There’s nothing to go on when a fantasy star is traded or gets signed elsewhere. That means there is a good chance that there is an unrecognized opportunity. While the risk goes up, their fantasy draft slot falls.
Just as significant is that when a star player leaves a team, how are they replaced? There is an opening for someone else to fill, an opportunity that they didn’t have last year. And with that, a chance they are not yet valued as high as they should be given their new and improved situation. Always embrace the unknown and consider the top player movements.
Antonio Brown (Oakland Raiders) – He hasn’t been worse than the No. 5 best fantasy wideout for the last five years and that included being the No. 1 guy three times. He lands on a Raiders team that has been rebuilt by head coach Jon Gruden. He traded Ben Roethlisberger for Derek Carr but there is no question where the most pass targets will go in Oakland. Brown usually ends up as the No. 8 wideout in fantasy drafts – that could be a steal.
Pittsburgh Steelers – That’s a major hole to fill for the starting split end and the stated plan is to divide up Brown’s 168 pass targets among several receivers. Training camp will decide if Donte Moncrief, James Washington or even the rookie Diontae Johnson gets the biggest boost. The more veteran Moncrief leads going into the preseason but second-year Washington will compete. The No. 2 wideout on the team that threw the most passes in 2018 will be a fantasy factor.
Odell Beckham (Cleveland Browns) – The ex-Giant has been a lock for 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns when healthy. He leaves the aging Eli Manning who hasn’t posted an above-average season since 2015. He lands in Cleveland where Baker Mayfield finished his rookie season with 27 touchdowns over 13 starts with a far lesser cast of receivers. This is an elite wideout playing with a quarterback coming off one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.
New York Giants – They opted to sign Golden Tate to a four-year deal worth $37.5 million to take Beckham’s place. The 31-year-old wideout turned in four straight 90+ catch seasons for the Lions before being sent to the Eagles for half of 2018. Sterling Shepard is the most likely to benefit from Beckham’s departure. He is a lock to improve on the career-best 66 receptions for 872 yards of last season and stands a nice shot at a 1,000-yard year with the Giants likely to be in passing mode in most games. Shepard averages as the No. 33 fantasy wideout drafted this summer while Tate ends up No. 40. Saquon Barkley cannot do it all for the Giants.
Mark Ingram (Baltimore Ravens) – After eight years with the best passing team, the ex-Saint joins the best rushing team. While quarterback Lamar Jackson takes up his share of the carries, there were 382 rushes by their running backs in 2018. And the only returning starter is Gus Edwards who takes a back seat now that Ingram is there. The Ravens have one of the best offensive lines and rushing schedules in the league. And a rushing quarterback prevents the defense from solely focusing on the running back on any play. The Ravens totaled 17 touchdowns from their backfield last season and Ingram also brings a capable set of hands if Jackson does throw. Ingram was already top-12 among fantasy backs in three of the last four years playing for an offense that preferred to pass.
New Orleans Saints – This is the first time since 2011 that the Saints are without Ingram. While they are a great passing offense, these later years of Drew Brees witnessed a new commitment to running the ball. The Saints 428 rushes ranked No. 4 in the NFL last year. Alvin Kamara ran 194 times and won’t see much more given his workload as a receiver. There were nine non-Kamara scores in 2018 and 18 other touchdowns in 2017. Murray scored as many as 12 times in a season in the past and now offers the power rusher in the backfield at 6-3 and 230 pounds. He replaces Ingram who regularly turned in Top-12 seasons while Murray is being drafted around the No. 39 for fantasy running backs. That sounds advantageous.
Jordan Howard (Philadelphia Eagles) – The Eagles are another team that remade their backfield from 2018. Jay Ajayi’s knee and back couldn’t hold up and they spun through five different running backs over the course of the season. Howard produced over 1,000 total yards in all three season with the Bears but could never replicate his success as a rookie. The new coaching staff wanted something different and Howard was traded to the Eagles for a 2020 sixth-round pick. This is one move that isn’t likely to produce a fantasy star on a new team if only because the Eagles are dedicated to their committee approach. That all said, Howard is still a fantasy factor since he’ll take the bulk of the rushing load and goal-line work. No back in Philly has carried more than 173 times while Doug Pederson was the head coach.
Chicago Bears – When head coach Matt Nagy took over last year, it was assumed his two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs would result in yet another workhorse running back. That didn’t happen. Although Howard ended with a respectable 250 carries, most of that came later in the season and he never evolved into a receiver. Tarik Cohen would turn in 71 receptions but only 99 carries and the diminutive back only has the size for a part-time role. Enter the 3.09 pick of the draft – David Montgomery from Iowa State. He is almost the exact size of Nagy’s last workhorse (Kareem Hunt) and with the receiving skills that the offense craves. The Bears offensive line is above average and their rushing schedule is one of the best. And Montgomery is drafted around the No. 22 back this summer.
Le’Veon Bell (New York Jets) – After silently sitting out 2018, Bell ends up with the Jets with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. And more than a little jingle in his pocket. After posting three top-three finishes in the past, Bell moves on from the high-powered Steelers offense and will be rushing behind one of the worst – not best – offensive lines. And he has no feared passing game to draw the defenses attention. But Bell will be a workhorse of the offense and offer a valuable receiving outlet for Sam Darnold. And… he’s pretty fresh this year.
Pittsburg Steelers – They already had to cover for the absence of Le’Veon Bell last year and knew he would not be an option for 2019. That leaves James Conner as the starter that rolled up nearly 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. But, Jaylen Samuels was also effective filling in for three games when Conner was injured. Samuels is at least the handcuff but could evolve into a third-down role and more than a mere change of pace.