Fantasy: 7 risky picks to gamble on in 2019

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Gambling with your fantasy picks can be stressful, but it can also be exhilarating. If you’re willing to take some chances, here are the players who could deliver league-winning performances in 2019 – as long as they don’t sink your team first.

Average draft position (ADP) data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team leagues with standard scoring.

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Cam Newton, QB, Panthers

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Newton underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder for the second time in two years, muddying his timeline. At one point in January, Panthers owner David Tepper even acknowledged the possibility that Newton could sit out the 2019 season, as Andrew Luck did a couple of years ago, but the team quickly walked that statement back.

The good news is that Newton wisely began his recovery immediately this time around, sitting out the final two games of the season and going under the knife two months earlier than he did in 2017.

That year, he didn’t start throwing again until training camp. He noticeably struggled as a passer during the season, recording just 22 touchdowns through the air and his highest interception total since his rookie campaign. Newton salvaged his 2017 fantasy stats with 754 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground, but entering his age-30 season, we can’t count on another monster performance as a runner.

Recent quotes from Newton and head coach Ron Rivera have been overwhelmingly positive, with the Carolina quarterback saying he already feels like he has full strength back in his arm.

When healthy, Newton has MVP upside and he appeared to be comfortable during his first year in Norv Turner’s system; he tossed multiple touchdowns in 11 straight games before re-injuring his shoulder and was the QB3 in fantasy heading into Week 14.

With a young emerging receiving corps, a veteran tight end, and one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, Newton’s only obstacle to reaching top-seven fantasy QB numbers will be getting his arm right before Week 1.

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ADP: 9th round (QB12)

Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

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Gurley’s knee issues have been one of the NFL’s biggest stories since late last season. He missed his team’s last few regular-season games and then had his playoff workload dramatically scaled back in favor of a timeshare with C.J. Anderson.

Offseason reports suggested Gurley might have arthritis in the knee and that he may consider stem-cell treatment, but the Rams’ rusher has been as elusive off the field as he is on it, refusing to provide clarity on the situation.

When the Rams matched the Lions’ offer sheet to running back Malcolm Brown, it seemed to indicate a desire to maintain their depth at the position – just in case. When they moved up in the third round to select Darrell Henderson, one of the best RB prospects in this year’s draft, alarms sounded for fantasy owners.

As is often the case with offseason headlines, though, concerns about Gurley’s 2019 outlook might be overblown. The presences of Henderson and Brown suggest Gurley’s days as a workhorse back are likely over, but that doesn’t mean he’s an untouchable fantasy asset.

Gurley is still extremely valuable as a pick near the end of the first round or early in the second. The Rams have an elite offense that allowed him to accumulate 3,924 yards from scrimmage and score 40 touchdowns in two years. That’s not a typo: Gurley has averaged over 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns per season since Sean McVay arrived. Even half that production would keep him in the RB1 conversation, though I suspect he’ll see more of a 60-40 split, reducing the grind on his knee and keeping him fresh for a postseason run.

Dynasty owners are right to be worried since this could affect his career longevity, but Gurley should settle in as a mid- to low-end RB1 in re-draft leagues.

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ADP: 1st round (RB6)

Damien Williams, RB, Chiefs

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Williams is the quintessential high-risk fantasy option.

Prior to last season, he was viewed as a career backup and spent most of the year in that role behind Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware. But like most NFL-caliber running backs, all Williams needed was opportunity.

When Hunt was suspended and Ware sidelined, Williams handled the bulk of the touches and instantly emerged as a fantasy star. He managed 572 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns over his final four games, including the playoffs. That performance earned him a two-year extension and he now enters 2019 as the Chiefs’ lead back.

The team’s offseason additions of Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson should give Williams’ supporters confidence that the job is his to lose, a sentiment general manager Brett Veach expressed a few months ago. Hyde has disappointed in each of his last two stops and has a yards-per-carry average that’s dropped in three consecutive seasons. Thompson is a more intriguing option and could see some work as a pass-catcher, but his sixth-round draft capital lowers his odds of challenging for major touches as a rookie.

If Williams can hold up to a starter’s workload over the course of a full season, he has top-15 upside in one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. His late second-round ADP will force fantasy owners to assume a lot of risk in the process though.

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ADP: 2nd round (RB13)

Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins

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The Dolphins project to be one of the worst teams in 2019, so investing in their rushing attack might not seem like the savviest fantasy decision. One could have said the same thing a year ago – and one would have been wrong.

Drake overcame former coach Adam Gase’s bizarre backfield usage to finish the season as the RB21 in standard leagues and the RB14 in PPR. He showcased his receiving skills with a career-high 53 catches and consistently scored well in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating.

Gase has since been replaced by a New England contingent that features defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea. Given their experience on the Patriots’ staff, it’s possible we see Drake deployed as a pass-catching feature back. Think James White with more carries and goal-line touches.

Miami also brought in well-respected running backs coach Eric Studesville to oversee a backfield that lacks high-end talent behind Drake. Kalen Ballage flashed in his brief opportunities as a rookie but isn’t going to capture a starting role. The Dolphins also waited until the seventh round before they selected a running back in Myles Gaskin.

The volume will be there for Drake, who is eager to prove himself as a three-down back during a contract year. Given his under-the-radar stats from 2018 and what should be a more encouraging environment, another RB2 fantasy season is well within his range of outcomes.

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ADP: 5th round (RB26)

Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs

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As we wait for the NFL to address Tyreek Hill’s situation, the Chiefs drafting receiver MeCole Hardman in the second round suggests they may be preparing for life without their game-changing wideout.

Hardman’s impressive 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash would help replace Hill’s field-stretching speed, but the rookie is far from a polished product.

The Chiefs paid Watkins like a No. 1 receiver when he joined them in free agency a year ago, and now he might be asked to perform like one. Though Hill overshadowed him, Watkins was a top-24 fantasy receiver through the first nine weeks of last season before injuries kept him out until the playoffs.

During that stretch, Watkins was on pace for 69 receptions, 915 yards, and five touchdowns on what projected to be just 96 targets. An increase in volume is guaranteed if Hill is out of the lineup, and we’ve seen Watkins deliver with more looks early in his career with the Bills; he followed up a 982-yard, six-touchdown debut campaign with a 1,047-yard, nine-score effort as a sophomore.

A lack of consistency and a troubling injury history have prevented Watkins from unlocking his true potential as a pro, but becoming Patrick Mahomes’ top receiver may finally help him reach the ceiling many believed he had when Buffalo took him fourth overall in 2014.

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ADP: 6th round (WR28)

Robby Anderson, WR, Jets

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Expectations for Anderson were high last season after he finished as a top-20 fantasy wideout in 2017. Unfortunately, Anderson let fantasy owners down for the majority of the year, topping 50 yards just once in the first 13 weeks.

When Sam Darnold returned as the starter for the final month, however, the rookie quarterback developed a connection with Anderson that helped power many fantasy titles. From Weeks 14-16, Anderson was the top-scoring fantasy option at his position with 20 catches, 312 yards, and three touchdowns – reminding everyone that his 2017 campaign wasn’t a fluke.

The Jets’ offense should be more potent after acquiring upgrades at running back (Le’Veon Bell), slot receiver (Jamison Crowder), and left guard (Kelechi Osemele). Quincy Enunwa will also be healthy, giving Darnold a full complement of weapons. Though Anderson’s target share will be threatened, having Bell in the backfield will draw defensive attention away from the Jets’ downfield attack.

We don’t know which Anderson will show up in 2019. At his best, though, the 26-year-old can be a fantasy week-winner, something we’ve now seen on multiple occasions over the last two seasons.

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ADP: 7th round (WR32)

Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers

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Henry was a second-round selection who immediately made his mark as a red-zone threat.

Playing behind Antonio Gates, who had seven touchdowns of his own that year, Henry scored eight times as a rookie in 2016. He also cracked a star-studded list of tight ends who averaged over 8 yards per target as rookies.

But Gates continued to obstruct Henry’s path toward a full-time role in 2017, and when the road finally cleared in 2018, a torn ACL kept the youngster sidelined for nearly the entire season.

As he prepares to take over as the full-time starter, Henry will return to a pass-catching corps that’s far less crowded. Gates is currently off the books and former Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams inked a deal with the Raiders in free agency. With Travis Benjamin unlikely to command consistent targets, Henry could emerge as the default third option in the passing game behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

It also helps that Philip Rivers has leaned on his tight ends as much as any quarterback over the last ten years, generating a ton of fantasy points for the Chargers’ representatives at the position.

A breadcrumb trail of clues points towards Henry being a fantasy star, but we’ve yet to see him produce as a weekly option, which makes his sixth-round price tag a gamble.

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ADP: 6th round (TE7)

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