Hopefully you played it safe in the first two rounds and picked up both an RB1 and a WR1 to build your team around (if not, you better plug those holes in round 3). Now’s the time to take chances on players with potential and some strings attached.
Several players in this tier have a history of injuries and volatile production. That type of inconsistency is known to drive fantasy owners insane, but it’s fairly easy to predict. You have no right to complain about a 2-point performance from Amari Cooper or Derrick Henry — you should know it comes with the territory. You also can’t be surprised when Keenan Allen goes down with an injury in Week 15, as he’d only finished one of the last four seasons healthy. You should know the risks and possible range of outcomes associated with each player before deciding to invest in them.
Personally, I’m willing to take chances on talented players who seem due for healthy, bounce back seasons (Cook and Green stand out to me). Every football player can be injured at any time, so you have to accept the risk and invest in guys who have the potential to be league-winners.
21. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR8
JuJu Smith-Schuster did the impossible and looked like the best receiver on the Steelers for stretches of 2018. He and Brown worked perfectly as a tandem, as they took turns drawing coverage away from each other. Smith-Schuster finished the season with more receptions and receiving yards, but what really differentiated the two receivers was their TD production—Brown scored 15 TDs to JuJu’s 6. Expect those numbers to even out next season and for Smith-Schuster to contribute more in the 2019 Steelers offense. Of course, his fantasy value stands to rise even higher if the Steelers choose to trade Brown this offseason.
22. Dalvin Cook, RB12
Dalvin Cook was one of the most frustrating fantasy assets in 2018. He missed the better part of 6 games with a hamstring injury and received 20+ touches only twice. Once healthy, Cook reminded owners why they drafted him early in the second round by finishing as the RB6 from weeks 12-16. His skillset as a receiver kept his production steady amid significant struggles along the Vikings offensive line. If the team can improve that unit during the offseason, the Vikings could field a high-octane offense in 2019. Cook is capable of being a top-5 RB, but he has a troubling history of shoulder, knee, and hamstring injuries.
23. Zach Ertz, TE2
Zach Ertz is about as reliable as reliable gets at the TE position. Last season, he finished 2nd in the league with 113 receptions and matched his 2017 total of 8 TDs. Ertz is clearly the go-to target in the Philly passing game, but he has serious competition for targets in the middle of the field with Goedert, Agholor, and Tate operating out of the slot. The Eagles also lack the speed on the outside to threaten the deep ball—their leading player in Y/R, Alshon Jeffery, ranked 44th in the league in 2018. With little room to operate, Ertz is a target monster with TD-upside, but his yardage production is capped by his offense. If the Eagles add a healthy, effective version of Mike Wallace in the offseason, it could unlock their offense in 2019.
24. Aaron Jones, RB13
After taking over the starting job in week 6, Jones averaged 15 fantasy points/game (RB6) and a league-leading 5.5 YPC before suffering a sprained MCL in week 15. It will be worth monitoring whether Matt LaFleur and his staff tab Jones as the starting running back for next season, or if they elect to deploy another committee approach with Jamaal Williams. If his job is secure, Jones has RB1-potential in what should be a high-scoring Packers offense.
25. Mike Evans, WR9
Mike Evans quietly produced WR8 numbers in an offense that finished as the #1 passing unit in 2018. This offseason, the Bucs doubled down on their strengths by hiring Bruce Arians, known advocate of the downfield passing game. Arians should be a perfect fit for the Bucs offense and Evans, who posted the third-highest yards/reception in the NFL last season. However, any improvement on the defensive side of the ball could limit Evans’ garbage time production and overall ceiling.
26. A.J. Green, WR10
Before suffering a toe injury in week 8, Green was the WR6 and well on his way to another Pro Bowl season. Unfortunately, he’s been bitten by the injury bug repeatedly over the past five years—Green has played a full season only twice in that span. With the emergence of Tyler Boyd in 2018, the Bengals would be wise to scale back Green’s target share in 2019. He’s never missed games in back-to-back seasons, so bet on Green to stay healthy next season and finish as a fringe-WR1.
27. Leonard Fournette, RB14
Fournette let fantasy owners down last season with an injury-riddled first half, a suspension in week 13, and general ineffectiveness in a terrible offense during the fantasy playoffs. It turns out he also let his GM down, as Tom Coughlin had some harsh words for Fournette after the season and removed the guaranteed money from his contract. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong for Fournette in 2018. The good news is that a new quarterback is headed to Jacksonville and the offensive line cannot possibly be as banged up as it was last season. There’s nowhere to go but up! There will always be availability concerns with Fournette, but he still has the talent to produce RB1 numbers in 2019.
28. T.Y. Hilton, WR11
Apart from a down year in 2017 without Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton has been a fantasy superstar for the past 6 seasons. It helps that his QB can get him the ball deep, as Hilton finished top-10 in yards/reception yet again. T.Y. was a consistent fantasy producer in 2018 and his connection with Andrew Luck gives him guaranteed production going forward.
29. George Kittle, TE3
George Kittle had the king of all breakout seasons in 2018, more than doubling his receptions, yardage, and TD totals from the previous year. He was far-and-away the top target in a San Francisco passing attack that should only improve next year with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo. The Niners will likely add another receiver in the offseason, but Kittle’s role in the offense is secure and he should improve his TD numbers is 2019. You really can’t go wrong with any of the top-3 TEs, but there should be a bit more depth in next season’s TE pool with a few key players returning from injuries.
30. Damien Williams, RB15
In the absence of Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams immediately outperformed Spencer Ware and took over as the starter in week 14. Williams ended up tallying 293 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs in the fantasy playoffs, winning many people their leagues. His performance down the stretch earned him a 2-year extension with the Chiefs mid-season, guaranteeing him a role in the offense next season. The Chiefs were the #1 scoring team in 2018 and Andy Reid-led offenses are historically a gold mine for fantasy RBs, so Damien Williams could not be in a better position to succeed if he remains the starter.
31. Chris Carson, RB16
Chris Carson is a difficult player to project going forward because there’s a good chance he won’t be on the Seahawks roster in 2019. He won the starting job in training camp and clearly outperformed Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis during the season, but it doesn’t make sense for Seattle to keep all three considering the draft stock they invested in Penny. Assuming Carson stays put in Seattle, he projects as a solid RB2 in a run-heavy offense.
32. Amari Cooper, WR12
Amari Cooper owners rejoiced when their patience was rewarded with a monster performance on Thanksgiving Day, and then another two weeks later against the Eagles. However, it’s worth noting that Cooper is still a boom-or-bust WR. He put up huge numbers against struggling secondaries in the Redskins and Eagles, but Cooper tends to fade when matched up against an above-average CB—he’s scored 13+ fantasy points only five times in the last two seasons. Cooper’s production hasn’t been as volatile since his insertion in the Cowboys offense, but he remains a volatile WR2 in a run-heavy offense.
33. Brandin Cooks, WR13
Brandin Cooks has taken advantage of playing in three of the most prolific offenses in the league—the Saints, Patriots, and Rams—and he’s had four consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. He looked right at home as a deep threat in Los Angeles last year, putting up WR11 numbers through ten weeks. The Rams offense regressed following Cooper Kupp’s injury, but Cooks should return to his role as a deep-ball receiver next season in the high-powered Rams offense. With some positive TD-regression, Cooks is primed for another high-end WR2 finish in 2019.
34. Stefon Diggs, WR14
Stefon Diggs has been on an upward trend his entire career, recording his first 1,000-yard season and scoring a career-high 9 TDs last season. He’s been a very consistent fantasy producer when on the field, but Diggs has yet to play a full 16-game season in his career. Fantasy experts tend to overlook injury histories when ranking players, but it’s an important factor to consider when injuries can single-handedly derail your season. That said, Diggs has the talent and chemistry with Cousins to virtually guarantee WR2 production, even if he misses a couple games along the way.
35. Aaron Rodgers, QB2
Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like the same player in 2018, even when healthy. He seemed unwilling to take chances, throwing the fewest TDs and INTs in his career. Rodgers was the all-time leader in TD% going into 2018, throwing a TD pass on 6.2% of his attempts, but he posted a dismal 4.2% last season. He looked like a guy fed up with running the same vanilla offense with only one reliable target at his disposal—Davante Adams. And yet, Rodgers still managed to finish as the QB4 in 2018. More practice with his receivers and a change in offensive philosophy should help Rodgers return to form next season.
36. Marlon Mack, RB17
Mack finished as the RB19 last year despite missing 4 games to injury. He was a touchdown-machine in the high-powered Colts offense, scoring 10 TDs over the final 10 games of the season. The Colts offensive line has quickly become a top unit in the NFL, making their starting RB a valuable commodity. Assuming he retains the starting position in 2019, Mack has legit RB1-upside with the only cause for concern being his injury history.
37. Sony Michel, RB18
The Patriots drafted Sony Michel to support their transition to a run-heavy offense as Tom Brady continues to decline with age. The Patriots ran the ball on 44.5% of their plays in 2018 (7th-most in the league) and Brady had his fewest pass attempts in a full season since 2010. This changing-of-the-guard bodes well for Michel, who should improve upon his modest rookie campaign next season. He started the season nursing an injury and never really got an opportunity to showcase his skills as a receiver. If the Patriots put more faith in Michel to key their offense in 2019, he could finish as a high-end RB2.
38. Adam Thielen, WR15
Adam Thielen started 2018 on a torrid pace, going 8 consecutive games with 100+ receiving yards. He then finished with only one 100-yard game after Dalvin Cook returned in week 9, producing WR29 numbers down the stretch. The Vikings offense has yet to prove it can get consistent production from its three fantasy stars, so Thielen may be the odd-man out again in 2019. On a more positive note, he has never missed a game in his 5-year career, so availability is not a concern for Thielen.
39. Keenan Allen, WR16
Keenan Allen is an elite receiver when on the field, but he just can’t seem to stay there. He’s played one full season in his 6-year career and missed 9 of the last 14 games during the fantasy playoffs. Even if you’re willing to roll the dice on Allen staying healthy in 2019, he will have new competition for targets in Mike Williams and Hunter Henry, both tremendous red zone threats. Allen has the talent to be a fringe-WR1, but he has some significant factors to overcome next season in order to reach his potential.
40. Derrick Henry, RB19
Derrick Henry is the biggest enigma in fantasy football right now. He spent 2.75 ineffective seasons toiling around in the Titans backfield before absolutely exploding in week 14. Henry was the RB1 in the fantasy playoffs, which is truly a beautiful redemption story. It’s possible he’s finally put the pieces together and become a workhorse back, but it’s more likely he’ll return to the mean of his career production. The range of outcomes for Henry vary from RB1- to RB3-level production, making him the most volatile fantasy asset heading into 2019.