The story of the 2019 fantasy football season is Lamar Jackson. There’s no other player to talk about at the start of our 2019 All-ValueTeam than Jackson. He’s been otherworldly. Many of the players who have made this team could be called sleepers or breakouts, but a few were guys we thought were known commodities who stepped up and now have brighter futures.
We’ve broken down the roster into a usual fantasy team alignment, with a fourth receiver essentially functioning as a FLEX. The spot that stands out the most is running back, where aside from a weirdly awesome season from Austin Ekeler, we haven’t had any huge breakouts in the vein of James Conner or Chris Carson last year or even Alex Collins in 2017 (remember him?). Wide receiver had several strong candidates, and we couldn’t even include Marquise Brown or Terry McLaurin after productive starts that eventually hit the rookie wall.
You’ll also find our preseason All-Sleeper Team picks, which was a fun thing to put together in the summer but turns out to have provided little season-long helps. If only we’d chosen Jackson, we’d have looked like geniuses.
RELATED: 2019 All-Bust Team
Top 2019 Fantasy Football Values and Breakouts
Note: Everyone below but Austin Ekeler was selected outside of the top 100 of FantasyPros consensus ADP.
QB: Lamar Jackson, Ravens
There’s no one way to do justice to the season Jackson has had. In our preseason quarterback rankings, we acknowledged the high floor he had thanks to his rushing ability, with Jackson never going below 15 points in a week as a starter last season. It just seemed that the passing could limit him and teams would catch on to Baltimore’s scheme (not to mention the injury concerns that comes with running as much as he does).
Jackson has just been too good, though. Even with sitting out Week 17, Jackson is officially the highest-scoring fantasy QB in a single season — ever — passing Patrick Mahomes’ 2018 campaign. If you drafted Jackson, maybe you missed out on his dominant Week 1 against the Dolphins, but you probably followed him right to the fantasy playoffs.
Let’s just say Jackson will go a lot closer to 10th overall than 100th overall next season.
Preseason All-Sleeper QB: Kirk Cousins, Vikings
It just felt like Cousins was a safe pick who was going too low (and he did finish 13th among QBs, making him more valuable than his draft position), but the Vikings embraced Dalvin Cook too much for Cousins to have a truly standout season, especially after a slow start.
RB: Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Ekeler’s overall offseason ADP was 56th overall, much higher than anyone else on this list. That’s because Melvin Gordon was holding out, and as time passed, it became obvious the L.A. job would be Ekeler’s to start the season. But I don’t think anyone quite expected the points he’s provided, especially once Gordon returned to the field.
The only time Ekeler has topped 100 yards on the ground was in Week 14, but it hasn’t mattered. He’s rushed for touchdowns and caught touchdowns. He’s had games where he dominated on backfield dump-offs, and other games where he’s lined up and succeeded as a wide receiver. It’s been unconventional and maybe harder to project than most RBs on a week-to-week basis, but when you look at it heading into Week 17, Ekeler’s been a top-10 back in both standard and PPR scoring.
Assuming Gordon signs elsewhere in the offseason, it’s easy to see Ekeler as a top-10 fantasy pick next season.
RB: Carlos Hyde, Texans
Hyde was everyone’s favorite whipping boy in August, even before he was traded by the Chiefs. But the Texans were desperate for an RB once Lamar Miller tore his ACL in the preseason, so Hyde got a crack at a starting job.
The irony is that even when Hyde was atop the depth chart in Houston, we didn’t want to believe in him. We tried to talk ourselves into Duke Johnson, or wondered if youngsters whose names have already been forgotten to history could make their mark. But in stepped Hyde, and even in a timeshare with Johnson, he’s produced.
Hyde has averaged 70.5 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry through 16 weeks, and he’d rank higher among backs if not for a relatively low six rushing touchdowns. It hasn’t been flashy or stood out above the pack, but Hyde has just chugged along week in and week out, something the two RBs we wanted to be sleepers in the preseason can’t say.
Preseason All-Sleeper RBs: Tevin Coleman, 49ers | Ronald Jones, Buccaneers
Remember that Tevin Coleman four-TD game, or the countless times it seemed like Ronald Jones was taking over the Tampa Bay backfield? That’s why they were sleepers to us in the preseason, but injury, inconsistency, and lack of opportunity held them back from achieving truly great seasons.
WR: DJ Chark, Jaguars
If someone in your league drafted Chark, they knew something the rest of us didn’t. Chark was one of the early season’s most popular waiver claims, as he went for 146 yards and a score in Week 1, then followed it up with another touchdown in Week 2…then another touchdown in Week 3…then two more scores in Week 5.
Defensive adjustments came and slowed down Chark some weeks, but he still entered Week 15 as a top-10 fantasy wideout in standard scoring. Chark caught just 14 passes and no touchdowns as a rookie, but maybe he’s just one of the lost generation of talented LSU receivers who couldn’t shine in college because of a lame offense. Chark certainly looks like the real deal.
Chark’s almost surely earned a spot as a preseason top-20 receiver next season, and if people feel confident enough in Jacksonville’s QB situation, some will clamor for him as borderline top-10. That’s a far cry from a player who had us all saying “Who?” in the season’s first few weeks.
WR: Courtland Sutton, Broncos
We knew about Sutton because he flashed in the tail end of last season, showing off big-bodied athleticism that foretold a strong NFL future. There was just a lot of doubt in his quarterbacks for this year. It seemed the best it would get was Joe Flacco, but we’ve seen him catch balls from Brandon Allen and Drew Lock, too.
Sutton’s made it work (and a midseason trade of Emmanuel Sanders didn’t hurt). After being the 44th WR off the board, he’s been a strong WR2 all season long. That’s come despite no more than 10 targets in any week (although he’s had at least five each week). Sutton’s caught between four and six passes in all but three weeks heading into Week 17. So, depending on your given week, maybe you wanted more from Sutton, but in general, you had to be happy with his consistency.
Imagine if Lock is for real. Sutton could be in for an awesome future if he gets above average quarterback play.
WR: John Brown, Bills
Brown seemed like a known commodity heading into this season, his first in Buffalo. Even if he was going to win a starting job, it looked to be as the occasional deep threat and no more. That was reflected in his status as the 54th WR off the board in draft season.
But Brown, while not sacrificing his occasional ability to get in behind defenses, expanded his game and became a true No. 1 wideout. Brown caught at least four passes in each of the season’s first 11 weeks. He finished with strong Weeks 15 and 16, despite tough matchups.
There’s no reason to expect any different in 2020 as Brown again lines up to be an improving Josh Allen’s top target.
WR: DeVante Parker, Dolphins
Before Parker’s Week 14 concussion, he was on a second-half tear. He’d seen double-digit targets in four straight weeks and probably carried teams to the fantasy football playoffs. He delivered with two touchdowns in Week 15 and another in Week 16, too, and it’s been a remarkable season from a player in his fifth NFL year who many considered a bust before this year.
In most leagues, Parker went undrafted. Even with no obvious No. 1 wideout in Miami, people figured it wouldn’t be him filling the void. And it took a little while for him to catch one, but catching touchdowns in three straight games starting in Week 4 was a sign of things to come. By the season’s second half, Parker was cruising and had become Ryan Fitzpatrick’s most-trusted target.
If the Dolphins snag a young QB in the draft, there could be growing pains next season, but it could also be a huge full season for Parker.
Preseason All-Sleeper WRs: Tre’Quan Smith, Saints | Preston Williams, Dolphins | James Washington, Steelers
Smith dealt with injuries too much to have ever gained any value from him. Williams and Washington both showed their values at times,, and maybe Washington would’ve delivered if Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t gotten hurt, while Williams may have been a better combo with Parker if they didn’t play for, well, the Dolphins. A knee injury ended Williams season in Week 9 just as he was really starting to shine, so he’s a name to file away for next season.
TE: Darren Waller, Raiders
Mark Andrews had a good case for this spot, but he got too much hype in the week or two immediately preceding the season and was being drafted as a starting TE in most leagues by early September. That means Waller gets to join this illustrious squad.
There wasn’t a ton of reason to believe in Waller, other than to point at what Jared Cook did in Oakland last year and wonder if Waller could do that this year. However, it wasn’t until Antonio Brown was released after the season technically started that it seemed realistic to expect a lot of consistent targets for Waller. Waller’s been a top-five TE through 16 weeks, though, filling Cook’s role even better than Cook did last season.
It didn’t even matter that much that Waller didn’t catch a touchdown until Week 7. He had been piling up the yardage and receptions enough to be an every-week start despite that. Once a few touchdowns came, too, he cemented his status as a fantasy winner.
Preseason All-Sleeper TE: Benjamin Watson, Patriots
This didn’t work…at all. Taking a shot on some trickle-down Rob Gronkowski production for when Watson came back from suspension was a total whiff. New England didn’t really replace Gronk at all, and Watson actually got cut before eventually rejoining the Pats.
D/ST: Pittsburgh Steelers
Here’s what I wrote in the preseason All-Sleeper team about the Steelers:
We’ve made it clear time and time again that playing matchups is our preferred way of approaching the D/ST slot on your fantasy roster. The Steelers don’t quite fit that bill to start the season, with the Patriots hosting Pittsburgh in Week 1. The Steelers are going undrafted in standard leagues, though, which is silly. They’re a top-10 fantasy defense, easily.
If you want a better Week 1 matchup, fine. You can draft someone else and pick up the Steelers when they fit into your roster. If you don’t care that much about that opener, you can select Pittsburgh after everyone else in your draft has picked a D/ST. There’s certainly no need to be reaching on defense when year-to-year production depends so much on takeaways and touchdowns, which can be somewhat random over the small sample of 16 games.
The Steelers will get docked down on anyone’s board who’s just looking at Week 1. Apparently, they’ve also been knocked down the boards of those looking longer than that, too. They should be cheap wherever you want them, and they should outproduce that low price.
Preseason All-Sleeper D/ST: Pittsburgh Steelers
Kicker: Matt Gay
Gay didn’t get drafted anywhere in the preseason, but he’s been the third-best fantasy kicker through Week 16. He’s made all but three field goals this season and shown off a good leg from distance (four-of-five from 50-plus), so you can probably count on him being a drafted kicker next year.
Preseason All-Sleeper Kicker: Giorgio Tavecchio
I was too excited about Tavecchio, so I guess he was doomed to fail. Oh well, it’s kicker. Fantasy leagues should get rid of them anyway.