Below I’ve listed my early 2019 deep sleeper players with their player profile for their team’s outlook page which can be found in this page: Fulltime Fantasy Draft Kit. I also added a secondary comment about each player, which has more value after finishing the early projections for 2019.
Note: All players will be drafted after round 15 in the high-stakes 12-team leagues.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Over the last three seasons, Mariota has a 24-19 record while averaging just over 28 passes per game. In 2016, Marcus played well leading to 26 TDs and only nine Ints. In 2017, Mariota struggled to throw TDs (13) while making more mistakes (15 interceptions). Last year his passing output (2,528) had more fade despite a career-high completion rate (68.9). He finished with only 11 passing TDs and eight Ints. Mariota passed for 300 yards in two games while never tossing more than two TDs in a game. Marcus had nine games with one TD or fewer. His legs can still offer upside in the run game (64/357/1). Last year he missed two games while battling multiple injuries on the year.
Outlook: In 2019, Mariota may have two elite WRs if Corey Davis finally reaches his expected value and A.J. Brown hits the ground running. Tennessee added a possession receiver (Adam Humphries) who has some scoring ability in the red zone. If Delanie Walker regains his previous form, Marcus should have the best season of his career. Excellent gamble as QB2 as he could gain 4,000 combined yards with a chance with 30+ TDs.
If Mariota has an injury, Ryan Tannehill has enough talent to be a viable handcuff. The combination of Mariota and Tannehill has top 12 upside if the Titans’ WR core makes a step forward and Tennessee commits to the passing game.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Over his last eight seasons has with the Lions, Stafford hasn’t missed a game with a 63-65 record. Matthew has 218 TDs and 108 Ints over his previous 128 games. His completion rate (66.1) moved into an elite area over the last four seasons, but his passing yards (3,777) slipped to an eight-year low. Stafford passed for 4,000 yards in each of his previous seven seasons. His passing attempts (555) were league average while being well below his last seven years (625 per season). Last year Matthew threw for over 300 yards in three games, and he had only one game with three TDs. In 2019, Detroit added an upside pass-catching TE while owning two viable options in the passing game at WR. I expect a rebound to 4,200+ passing yards with a push toward 28+ TDs. Stafford should be drafted as backend QB2 in the Fantasy market with matchup value.
Outlook: There’s something to be said for a QB that stays healthy for 16 games while having job security. Stafford finished 20th in QB ranking in four-point TD leagues, which came after a sixth place finish in 2016 and 2017. His receiver core should be better with growth expected from Kenny Golladay and an improvement in the TE position with T.J. Hockenson. Detroit has a developing RB as well, which will help the overall scoring of the Lions. Upside QB2 who should exceed expectations in 2019.
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Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Memphis primarily used Pollard as a pass-catching back over the last two seasons with minimal chances in the run game. In 2017, he gained a combined 766 yards on 66 touches with most of the damage coming in the passing game (36/536/4). Even so, Tony averaged 7.7 yards per rush and 14.9 yards per catch that year. In 2018, his touches pushed to 117, which delivered 1,010 combined yards with nine TDs and 39 catches. His explosiveness (7.1 yards per carry and 11.7 yards per catch) is why the Cowboys were interested in him as a change of pace type RB. Pollard has work to do in his route running along with questions in his pass protection skills. At the very least, he’ll improve the return game thanks to averaging 30.1 yards per kickoff in his college career with seven TDs. Tony should be drafted as the top handcuff for Ezekiel Elliott even with a short college resume on early downs.
Outlook: The holdout of Ezekiel Elliott will create a buzz for Pollard in the Fantasy draft season in August. Even with a rise in draft value, a Fantasy owner has to be careful not to overprice Tony in the 2019. His role will be minimal if Elliott plays all season. More of a handcuff with upside than a most own, but a Fantasy owner has to know the opportunities for a possible starting RB after round 15 in 12-teams drafts are limited. Pollard’s pass catching ability does intrigue if he can handle his pass projection responsibilities.
Jay Ajayi, Free Agent
Heading into August, Ajayi remained unsigned while being cleared to step up his rehab to practice. Each season there are many injuries to RBs in the preseason plus a few teams in the NFL that could use a veteran RB on their roster with youth and upside. In 2016, Jay was the 11th highest scoring RB in PPR leagues when he gained over 1,400 yards with eight TDs and 27 catches for the Dolphins despite minimal action over the first four games of the season. Three times over the last 11 games of the year, Ajayi rushed for over 200 yards.
Outlook: With no job, the price point for Ajayi is free. He’ll enter 2019 at age 26 with decline in 2017 (1,031 combined yards with seven TDs and 27 catches) and a torn ACL in 2016. The RB pool dries up quickly after round 12, which makes the dart here worth the price of admission.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
Brown can’t match the speed of the top WRs in the 2019 draft class, but his game looks the most NFL ready. His movements with the ball in his hands seem to be uncanny creating yards after the catch, which is somewhat surprising for his size (6’0” and 226 lbs.). A.J. has the wheels to have success in the NFL (4.49 40 yards dash). His route running is advanced helping his value at the goal line and the deep passing game. Over the last two seasons at Ole Miss, he caught 160 passes for 2,572 yards and 17 TDs highlighted by his junior year (85/1320//6). He played along D.K. Metcalf in college. Fantasy owners have been searching for the next impact 100-catch WR to replace the loss of Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, or Calvin Johnson. Brown fits the WR1 mold in his rookie season, but he landed on a team with a weak passing game. I’m excited about his upside, but I have to temper my expectations based on the WR structure and the expected passing opportunity in Tennessee. I’ll start his initial prediction with about 50 catches for 750 yards and a handful of TDs. If he hits the ground running, Brown will make the players around him better.
Outlook: Brown isn’t gaining any momentum in drafts in late July due a lingering hamstring issue. His opportunity will be limited early in the year, but his movements in his route running and after the catch command the ball. I loved his tape, which makes him an ideal WR6 in PPR league as the draft calendar turns to August.
Gary Jennings, Seattle Seahawks
In 2017, Jennings worked as a possession receiver for West Virginia leading to 97 catches for 1,096 yards and one TD. Last year his usage had a complete flip where he became more of a threat in the deep passing game with scoring ability (54/917/13). His movements and hands point to him seizing/developing into the Doug Baldwin role in Seattle’s offense. Gary needs to work on his overall route running, but his hands projects as assets. His combination skill set (possession/deep passing) points to 60+ catches for 750+ yards with a chance to surprise in TDs. Right kind of flier with his draft valued expected to gain momentum over the summer.
Outlook: The press has been minimal about Jennings in July pushing his ADP over 250 in PPR leagues. His skill set does make a lot of sense in the Seahawks’ passing game, and I expect him to outplay David Moore in the preseason. Player to follow, but he may not be draftable in 12-team leagues with 20 man rosters. Worth a flier while possibly being an attractive waiver wire option early in the year in deeper leagues.
Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
After a great career, Olsen lost his way over the last two years due to multiple foot injuries.
Heading in 2017, Olsen had this player profile at Fulltime Fantasy: If a Fantasy owner is looking for a player to show up every Sunday, Greg is that guy at TE. He’s never missed a game in his career while setting a high floor over his last three seasons. Olsen has three straight years with over 1,000 yards receiving while averaging just over 80 catches over this span. His targets have grown in each of his last six seasons (69, 89, 104, 111, 123, 124, and 129). The weaker play of Newton led to a career low in TDs (3) in 2016. Greg scored over 200 Fantasy points in PPR league in his last three full seasons (84/1008/6, 77/1104/7, and 80/1073/3). In 2016, his best success came over the first six games of the season (39 catches for 610 yards and two TDs on 60 targets) highlighted by Week 2 (5/122/1) and Week 5 (9/181). Olsen only scored one TD over the last 12 games of the season.
Well, the safe bet at TE in 2017 and 2018 ended up missing 16 games with minimal success over his other 16 games (44/482/5 on 76 targets). With Olsen out the Panthers’ line most of 2018, the TE position had 65 catches for 671 yards and seven TDs on 91 targets. At age 34, Olsen has become only a wild card at TE due to his foot concerns.
Outlook: In most cases in Fantasy football, veteran player don’t tend to be sleepers. In this case, Olsen lost his value due to injuries while age is now a factor in his expected play. As I mentioned earlier in the sleeper article with LeSean McCoy, Greg has a resume with a high level of success. The backend inventory at TE has to prove they have the talent and opportunity to produce playable stats. Almost a free shot as of early August with the downside being an early season cut for the hot TE in 2019. Each year over the recent history in Fantasy football a TE or two emerges for the pack as a top 12 player.