By Rob Mason, PSO President of Sports Operations
Aug 22, 2019

‘The Front Office for Fans’ is continuing to grow into a premier resource for helping fans understand and enjoy the game better. While plenty of fans love rooting for their favorite team on Sundays, there are many that are watching games solely to see how a specific player’s performance will impact their fantasy team. It’s undoubtedly become part of the football fan experience in 2019. 

The only way to be successful in fantasy (or sports betting for that matter) is to have more knowledge and information on the various players and teams that are involved than the competition. That’s where Pro Sports Outlook comes in. Using PSO’s signature grading system, breaking down all of the elements that lead to a successful player in fantasy, here’s the top sleepers for the 2019 NFL Season (Qualified players cannot be ranked in the top-15 at their position, or top-30 for WR, according to ESPN’s 2019 Fantasy Football Rankings). 

These rankings are based on History (a player’s production in recent years), Opportunity (a combination of competition at position, scheme fit, and teammates that affect player’s potential performance; i.e. having Mahomes as QB gives Tyreek Hill a bigger opportunity to succeed than if he had Alex Smith. D/ST opportunity is based on schedule/quality of opposing offenses), Upside (realistic ceiling this season), & Risk (Injuries, holdouts, floor, etc. Essentially the risk a fantasy user is taking by picking him).

1. Sam Darnold, New York Jets (Rank: QB #27 according to ESPN)

Sam Darnold was inconsistent as a rookie, but showed glimpses of why the Jets drafted him 3rd overall in last year’s NFL Draft. Darnold’s arm talent, intangibles, and ability to throw on the run gives him one of the highest ceilings, as a potential future MVP candidate, but he won’t get there overnight. However, it’s very fair to expect a gradual jump in production this year with an entire offseason under his belt, a well-respected offensive mind now running the show, and huge upgrades at RB and on the OL interior. It shouldn’t be surprising at all if Darnold finishes as a top-10 caliber Quarterback in 2019. He has that kind of potential.

2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (QB #19)

The Buffalo Bills haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly, who hasn’t taken a snap in almost a quarter century. While Tyrod Taylor was able to lead Bills Mafia to end the longest playoff drought in professional sports in 2017, he was later traded to Cleveland a few months later. While Taylor was benched by the Browns in Week 3 of 2018 for Cleveland’s own franchise QB, Buffalo has no such veteran-rookie competition. 

This is Josh Allen’s team, and the city is embracing him like the next big thing in Western New York. Allen provides a rushing element to his game (his 335 rush yards over a 3-game span in Nov-Dec surpassed Mike Vick’s all-time NFL record) that provides tremendous value in fantasy. Similar to Darnold, Allen’s future ceiling is sky-high, and with higher quality weapons around him, he could take a big step toward reaching that this season. 

Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford, DET (QB #24)

1. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (Rank: RB #18)

Leonard Fournette may not seem like a traditional sleeper as the 4th overall NFL Draft pick just two years ago. However, it now feels like an eternity ago that Fournette’s rare combination of speed and power were generating prime Adrian Peterson comparisons. After a down year in 2018 that included a lingering hamstring injury and a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct, he’s not even being considered a top-15 RB heading into the 2019 season. 

When healthy, Fournette produced like a solid RB1/RB2 back, and that was with absolutely no intimidating passing attack in Jacksonville, meaning he dealt with more men in the box than almost any RB in the NFL. With Foles now under center and a likely improved O-Line, expect Fournette to start living up to his lofty potential as a top-5 RB.

2. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (RB #37)

A big story during this preseason is the ongoing holdouts of some notable names. One of the more prominent players being Chargers star RB Melvin Gordon. Austin Ekeler’s season outlook is highly dependent on if Gordon’s holdout does in fact extend into the season and cause an absence. Even with Gordon, Ekeler managed to make his presence felt last year with 956 total yards from scrimmage as a NFL Sophomore serving a part-time role. Without Gordon, Ekeler instantly becomes the #1 back for LAC, and his opportunity, upside, and risk would all receive a boost. He could be a true RB1 if Gordon sits out, is traded, or gets injured.

Honorable Mention: LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills (RB #44)

1. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers (Rank: WR #43)

As a rookie, Marquez Valdes-Scantling turned in 581 yards and 2 TDs while learning Green Bay’s offense and sitting behind Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison on the depth chart. With Cobb now in Dallas, the Packers expect MVS to step in as Green Bay’s #3, if not #2 WR behind Adams. With Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, his opportunity is sky-high as a secondary target to get premium production for the position. After training with Randy Moss over the offseason, don’t be surprised if Marquez Valdes-Scantling goes off this year as one of the best WR2’s in the league. 

2. Marquis Brown, Baltimore Ravens (WR #52)

 “Hollywood” Brown is the most electric rookie WR from this draft class and fills a HUGE need for Baltimore after the departures of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, two of their leading receivers from 2018. Just based off the Oklahoma product’s talent, Brown should be a factor for the Ravens instantly. His ceiling is as high as any rookie WR, but his floor is lowered because of the person passing him the ball.

The reason to be optimistic about Valdes-Scantling is the same logic for being pessimistic about Brown. Despite Jackson’s passing inconsistencies as a rookie, he’s poised to make a big leap in year 2. Knowing the kind of passer Jackson is from the pocket, most of Baltimore’s successful passing plays will come from an athletic, speedy pass catcher like Brown being able to quickly get open and take a short screen or slant pass to the house. Fortunately for Brown’s fantasy owners, he possesses the speed to be one of the few threats in the NFL to go for six at any time in the game.

Honorable Mention: DJ Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars (WR #86)

1. Chris Herndon, New York Jets (Rank: TE #21)

ESPN’s Tight End ADP rankings are pretty straightforward, with realistic expectations heading into 2019. However, one player that could exceed those projections is Chris Herndon, a 2018 4th Round Pick that compiled a solid 500+ receiving yards & 4 TDs as a rookie. With Sam Darnold expected to take a jump in year 2 (see above), Herndon could be a primary beneficiary as he takes his game to the next level in year 2 himself.

He won’t be available during the 1st 4 games due to suspension for a January DUI, pushing his stock down, but rarely are fantasy seasons decided by a backup TE’s availability in weeks 1-4. Riding the starting TE out until his bye week (or a very tough matchup) is usually the way to go regardless of who the backup is. However, when Herndon returns, he could be the player that proves to be a difference-maker by providing great production at the TE position down the stretch.

2. Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins (TE #16)

13897492197 injuries ago, Jordan Reed was an ELITE Tight End after an exceptional 2015 season (87 Rec, 952 Yds, 11 TD). But then, as most Redskins fans know all too well, those 13897492197 injuries happened (possible slight exaggeration), and have hampered him over the past three years. Despite the lengthy health problems in the past, Reed feels more explosive than ever heading into 2019. If he in fact can put those red flags behind him and stay healthy for 16 games, he could get back into that top-tier category of TEs as he’s still just 29 years old. His performance is also dependent on a rookie in Dwayne Haskins, which does create more risk though. Reed is a high-risk, high-reward type of player in 2019.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (TE #17)

1. San Francisco 49ers (Rank: DEF #20+)

The reason San Francisco was left off ESPN’S top-20 D/ST rankings is understandable – they were the 31st ranked defense in 2018. However, the fantasy players that think what happened last year is automatically what’s going to happen this year, are typically the people who “stop trying” in their fantasy league after a 0-5 start. There’s plenty of reasons to believe this year will be different for SF.

First of all, they now have one of the best front-seven’s in football after adding Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and Kwon Alexander to the trifecta of recent 1st round picks DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas. Plus, four of their starters last year missed eight games or more in addition to their #1 QB, RB, & WR, which put more pressure on the depleted defense with the offenses’ reduced time of possession and increased amount of turnovers that put the opposing team in prime scoring position. The 49ers have the talent to be a premier defensive unit. All it takes is Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh’s putting it all together with the most talent he’s ever had to work with in the Bay, by far.  

2. Dallas Cowboys (DEF #17)

Anyone that watched or followed the NFL last year would have considered Dallas’ defense to be one of the best in football. However, from a fantasy perspective, they finished 23rd. Their stingy D held up on the fantasy sheet in fantasy points allowed with a top-10 appearance, but their lack of turnovers or defensive touchdowns was enough to push them down the rankings. Those are both categories that can easily fluctuate from year-to-year, and Dallas should be in prime position to turn that around with elite playmakers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, and the best LB tandem in the NFL Jaylon Smith & Leighton Vander Esch, all causing havoc. 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Eagles (DEF #16)

*Note: Kicker’s weren’t included. The best advice for Kickers is to take the best one available when the last pick in the draft comes around. It’s likely another kicker(s) will be in play come playoff time anyways. 

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