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Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football: Players to avoid in the AFC West

Antonio Brown Fantasy Football
Photo Credit: USA Today

In the eighth and final part of the 2019 Fantasy Football Players to Avoid series, I head out West and tackle the AFC West in preparation for the 2019 fantasy football season.

Fantasy owners looking for the first seven parts of the Player to Avoid series can click below:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

The Case

Every fantasy football owner wants a piece of the pie in an explosive offense. The biggest blowup occurred with the Kansas City Chiefs. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in his first season as a starter, joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterback to throw for 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 passing yards in a season. Unfortunately, one Chiefs player did not thrive in a Chiefs offense that finished the 2018 season with the best percentage of drives ending in an offensive score.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins finished with just three scores last season along with 40 receptions for 519 receiving yards. His quarterback had one of the best seasons ever in NFL history. However, Watkins only scored double-digit fantasy points in just three of his nine games in standard leagues last season.

Patrick Mahomes accomplished plenty of astonishing feats, but even he couldn’t keep Sammy Watkins healthy. The foremost concern regarding a fantasy commitment to Sammy Watkins is his injury history. Watkins hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2014. Last season, he missed six games with the same foot/ankle injury that has bothered him throughout his career.

The former Clemson standout has missed three-plus games in three seasons with a total of 18 lost games during that time frame.

To his credit, Watkins was a factor in the 2018 NFL Playoffs for the Chiefs. He caught ten passes for 176 yards in the two postseason games against the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.

The Verdict

Watkins skyrocketed in fantasy boards with the uncertainty of wide receiver Tyreek Hill‘s availability. Fortunately for the Chiefs, he will not be suspended. Regrettably, for Sammy Watkins, the current pecking order places him behind Hill, all-world tight end Travis Kelce, and running back Damien Williams. Additionally, he will battle rookie Mecole Hardman and camp standout DeMarcus Robinson for target share.

Presently, Watkins is being drafted as the WR38, and it’s only hard to justify that selection. He has yet to top 41 catches or 600 yards in the last three seasons. The fifth-year receiver has only topped the 1,000-yard milestone once in his career.

It seems that every season fantasy owners want to believe that Watkins reaches his potential, but his chronic injury history derails any optimism.

With receivers such as Geronimo Allison, Sterling Shepard, and sleeper Dede Westbrook being drafted with similar ADP, buyer remorse will rear its ugly head if fantasy managers select Watkins in the single-digit rounds for their 2019 fantasy football rosters.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

The Case

The obvious question is where do you feel comfortable drafting Melvin Gordon?

Gordon is threatening to holdout into the season as he is seeking a new contract. There is no guarantee that Gordon will be in camp before the start of the regular season. He can even regrettably miss the entire season similar to what LeVeon Bell did last season. Fantasy football managers need to be cautious on using a first or second-round pick on Gordon.

His fantasy stock continues to dip as the holdout continues. The Los Angeles Chargers have a solid contingency plan if Gordon does not play this season.

The running back duo of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson combined for 1,299 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns last season.

Austin Ekeler will serve as the passing back. He averaged 14 touches and eight targets and even has stand-alone fantasy value, finishing with 958 scrimmage yards last season.

Justin Jackson looked to be rushing back and projected to get 15-20 carries per game. He averaged eight rushing attempts per game and three targets last season, producing 341 scrimmage yards on his 65 total touches.

This combo is reliable but not the exceptional talent of Melvin Gordon. Only Todd Gurley averaged more standard fantasy points per game (FPPG) among RBs than Gordon’s 18.8 last season. Gordon was on pace for his best season as a pro. That was most evident by his 5.1 yards per carry, which was the first time in his career he was over 3.9.

Gordon has scored 12, 12, and 14 total touchdowns in the past three seasons. He is an elite running back that was initially projected to be the RB5 in fantasy drafts. He has also been a point per reception stud by catching at least 40 passes in each of the last three seasons.

On the negative side of the fantasy ledger, Gordon has a career average of 4.0 yards per carry and has produced only one 1,000 yard rushing season in his career.

However, the most worrisome trend is that he has missed games in three of his four NFL seasons. More importantly, he has missed precious time during the fantasy playoffs in those seasons.

The Verdict

Melvin Gordon is an elite every-down back and has totaled a tremendous 38 touchdowns in the last three seasons, which ranks among the NFL’s best over that period.

The looming contract standoff is a dark cloud over Melvin Gordon. He is currently being drafted as RB15, and he continues to dip on draft boards. When is taking Gordon worth taking the risk? Ideally, fantasy football owners will want to hold off until the fourth or even fifth round to take him. It’s incredibly doubtful that fantasy managers will allow him to dip that low in the drafts. The arrogance of believing that Gordon will be back and producing like a top-five back will force managers to take him while breaking their arm as they pat themselves on their back.

His injury history and a possible trade to an offense adverse to utilizing backs in the passing game will drop his value significantly. Fantasy owners should stay away from Melvin Gordon in the early rounds unless he signs with the Chargers and eligible to start Week 1. Otherwise, fantasy owners should avoid Melvin Gordon.

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Denver Broncos

The Case

Phillip Lindsay won a lot of fantasy leagues for owners last season. Lindsay was picked up off the waiver wire and then went out and produced 1,037 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 35 passes for 241 yards and another score.

Lindsay was not initially the starter but ended up starting eight of the 15 games he played. The undrafted rookie was one of nine backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark and one of 12 to score double-digit touchdowns last season.

Philip Lindsay was the only player in the NFL last season to rush for over 1,000 yards on less than 200 attempts. He also became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to make a Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, his season ended early when he suffered a wrist injury late last season and was forced to undergo wrist surgery to repair ligament damage. Lindsay just started to practice with the team as he continues to recover and get back into football shape.

Despite Lindsay’s success, the Denver Broncos suffered their second losing season in a row. The entire coaching staff was fired. General manager John Elway brought in Vic Fangio to take over as the head coach. Rich Scangarello, the former quarterbacks’ coach for the San Francisco 49ers, is the new Broncos offensive coordinator. He is a Kyle Shanahan protege and is a proponent of the zone run game.

The most underrated offensive add was Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who turned the Pittsburgh Steelers into one of the elite pass-blocking units in the league over the past five seasons. The line will be protecting a new player under center. The new Broncos brass brought in former Baltimore Raven quarterback Joe Flacco to take over as their quarterback for the 2019 season.

The Verdict

The Broncos will have four legit options at running back with Lindsay, surging Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, and the newly acquired Theo Riddick will return from his shoulder fracture after Week 4. Lindsay still looks to be the main guy, but his opportunities will be shared and limited.

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has compared using Royce Freeman and Lindsay similar to the Devonta FreemanTevin Coleman combo. Both backs should have a shot of 175 carries each this season.

The new coaching staff doesn’t have the same loyalty to Lindsay. Currently, Lindsay is missing valuable reps as he is still recovering from wrist surgery and has just started practicing with the team. Royce Freeman has taken all the reps and is working with new quarterback Joe Flacco.

The dreaded running back by committee will limit the fantasy potential of Lindsay and Freeman. It’s difficult to imagine that Lindsay’s numbers will improve from last season. His regression is inevitable.

Lindsay is a smaller running back at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds. Last season, he was able to stay healthy until late in the season. The timeshare should help Lindsay in keeping him healthy while maintaining fantasy potential. Lindsay is being drafted in the fourth or fifth round with limited upside and going into a committee. A combo that fantasy owners should avoid in their upcoming fantasy football drafts.

Antonio Brown, WR, Oakland Raiders

The Case

Everyone knows the drama regarding Antonio Brown with his foot and helmet issues. No reason to dive into that here. Let’s get straight into discussing fantasy football.

The fantasy world was shaken up by the Antonio Brown trade to the Oakland Raiders. The writing was on the wall with the spectacle created by Brown and his now-former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The soap opera led to Antonio Brown moving west to the Raiders. Regrettably, his fantasy status takes an enormous hit.

Antonio Brown has been the consensus number one wide receiver in fantasy football for the past several seasons. He owns six consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards and surpassed the 1,500-yard plateau in three of those seasons. He had also scored double-digit touchdowns four times in his career including the league-leading 15 touchdowns last season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers typically have a high-powered offense and the 2018 season was no different. They ranked second in passing yards and scored the sixth-most points in the league last season. All of this offensive explosion was without perennial Pro Bowl running back LeVeon Bell. At the helm of this dangerous offense was quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for over 5,000 yards this season for the first time in his career. He also beat his personal-best in touchdown passes with 34. He has previously thrown 32 in both 2007 and 2014 seasons.

Now Antonio Brown trades the Steelers prolific offense and Ben Roethlisberger for Derek Carr and a shaky supporting cast on offense with the Raiders.

The Raiders have only one winning season since 2002. Since 2014, the Raiders have been led by Derek Carr who is coming off a career-best 4,049 yards last season. Also, Carr has never finished above QB14 in fantasy points even though he had seasons with two legit threats at wide receiver with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.

The Verdict

General manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden are emphasizing on running the ball and being balanced on offense. They drafted Alabama running back Josh Jacobs in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In addition to obtaining Antonio Brown, the Raiders went out and signed former Charger receiver Tyrell Williams. The team brass has surrounded Carr with some formidable offensive weapons, but will the offensive line keep him from running for his life?

Last season, the Raiders offensive line finished as the 25th ranked offensive line in pass protection. The team did attempt to improve the line this past offseason with the additions of Trent Brown and Richie Incognito, who will miss the first two games of the season due to violating the league’s conduct policy.

There are plenty of questions concerning the Raiders offense. Can Derek Carr continue to improve to be a proficient quarterback? Is Josh Jacobs a bell-cow back? Will Derek Carr be running for his life every game? However, the most crucial question that needs to be addressed is what the heck is going on with Antonio Brown?

Brown has always been known as being eccentric, but his latest behavior has to make the Raiders and fantasy managers concerned. During a segment of The Fantasy Fixers, my co-host Travis Yates and I discussed the spectacle that is now Antonio Brown. The drama in Pittsburgh was frustrating enough for football fans, but fantasy geeks were okay with it because Brown always produced elite receiver stats. Fantasy managers have to be troubled with possible scenarios in which Brown goes off the deep end once again. Should fantasy owners take the chance with a top 10 wide receiver selection on Antonio Brown?

Brown will face regression in 2019 but to what end. Carr is no Roethlisberger. The offenses are entirely different, and defenses will key on stopping Brown and not let him beat them. Even if he plays for the entire season, Brown will not produce up to his draft capital. Fantasy owners should not utilize an upper round selection on such a behavior time-bomb waiting to explode and blow up your fantasy football roster.

Dennis Sosic is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the Cleveland Browns and Fantasy Football. Dennis is also a co-host of the Fantasy Fixtures podcast for PFN. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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