Dynasty leagues are a year-round commitment. Barely a month after a Super Bowl champion is crowned, the NFL Combine ushers in a new rookie class hoping for their chance at a ring and a Lombardi trophy. Just a month after the combine is the NFL Draft, followed closely by the start of OTAs and training camp. We’re in peak offseason mode, with rookie drafts having started or about to start for many dynasty leagues. But as rookie hype builds, it’s important to remember that the dynasty endgame is winning championships, not having the sexiest roster.
*** Warning: major spoilers ahead if you haven’t yet watched Avengers: Endgame. ***
As September and the start of the regular season loom, don’t get too caught up in the rookie hype if your team is poised for a title run. After all, as Tony Stark said, part of the journey is the end. While many Marvel fans expected the newly-introduced and incredibly powerful Captain Marvel to play a huge role in taking down Thanos, the original Avengers and some of their less-heralded members in actuality contributed more toward their victory over the Mad Titan.
In the same way, while there are some extremely talented players in the 2019 rookie class with fascinating potential, there are many more veteran players who have equally-high potential to produce in fantasy and contribute toward a championship. Here are some veteran players with Avenger-like qualities to target in dynasty trades and start-up drafts.
Iron Man / Patrick Mahomes
The Marvel cinematic universe began with Tony Stark donning the Iron Man suit, and so it’s only fitting to begin here as well. While Iron Man is strong and wields formidable weapons, that alone isn’t enough to defeat Thanos. More important for the de facto leader of the Avengers are his intelligence and adaptability. Likewise, though Patrick Mahomes has been gifted with enormous arm talent and mobility, his most esteemed traits are his football intelligence and adaptability.
Mahomes was adept at reading the field and making accurate throws in his first year as a starter, and while he did run with the ball at times when pressured, he was also able to make plays downfield through the air under duress. Watching the film from his 2018 season, there is every confidence that Mahomes has the amalgam of intellect and arm talent to keep him among the elite quarterbacks for the next decade, both in the NFL and for fantasy leagues.
Of course, there’s the issue of Tyreek Hill. Without entering the realm of speculation, the fact is that Hill is a dynamic receiving threat for Mahomes and the entire Chiefs offense. That said, there are two reasons not to be concerned about Mahomes despite the Hill situation. First, regardless of personal feelings on Hill’s behavior and legal standing, there is no guarantee of a forthcoming suspension from the league. While it’s still prudent to project for missed games, there is a decent chance that Hill will play this coming season. Second, even if Hill is suspended for the entire season, Kansas City preemptively added wide receiver depth by signing Sammy Watkins last offseason and drafting Mecole Hardman this offseason, not to mention that a certain Travis Kelce is still there as well.
Additionally, Andy Reid has always adapted his offensive scheme to his players’ strengths, and his offense should be productive with or without Hill. While any missed time by Hill will detract from the offense as a whole, elite quarterbacks often elevate the play of their receivers, not the other way around. How proficient would Julian Edelman have been without Tom Brady, or Lance Moore without Drew Brees? Kelce, Watkins, and Hardman still compose a formidable receiver group for Mahomes to rely on, and it may even be worthwhile to look into acquiring Demarcus Robinson or Byron Pringle on the cheap.
There have already been countless articles and tweets this offseason calling to “sell high on Mahomes”, and there’s a modicum of truth to them if a potential trade partner is offering a king’s ransom. But there’s no need to sell Mahomes just to sell. Regression is as inevitable as Thanos, and it’s unlikely that Mahomes will throw another 50 touchdowns in 2019. However, it’s possible to regress and still remain an elite fantasy asset if you believe in the talent and situation. Aaron Rodgers was touted by many to be a sell-high candidate primed for regression after his historic 2011 season in which he threw for an astounding 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns. He threw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns the following year and remains an elite fantasy quarterback when healthy even eight years later. If league mates buy into the sell-high narrative on Mahomes, it may instead be prudent to buy at a relatively depressed cost. If the cost is only an early first-round rookie pick, Mahomes is well worth that price, even in 1QB leagues. The only real concern with Mahomes is the Madden curse, if you believe in that sort of thing…
The Hulk / Derrick Henry
The Hulk may be the strongest Avenger, at least if you believe the quinjet computer. While Thanos may have broken Hulk’s jaw and spirit in Avengers: Infinity War, Bruce Banner / Hulk came back with a vengeance in Avengers: Endgame, having finally discovered a way to combine his vision and intelligence with his brute strength. This was foreshadowed ever so slightly toward the end of Endgame, when Banner said, “Hulk, we got a lot to figure out, pal.” Similarly, we saw flashes of Derrick Henry realizing his potential toward the end of last season with a string of impressive performances, averaging 146 yards and 1.8 touchdowns on the ground from Weeks 14 to 17.
Henry’s late-season production was in stark contrast to his mediocre showing in the first half of 2018. According to the Titans, Henry credited his burst and renewed effort to Eddie George:
“He shot me straight, and told me I needed to finish runs, that I needed to be more physical, and make the defense pay. He told me I wasn’t playing to my potential, and I could play better. That’s the stuff I needed to hear. It gave me a different outlook moving forward.”
No matter the cause of Henry’s resurgent end to the season, he boasts enormous fantasy potential if he can continue that level of play. While D.K. Metcalf was the rookie darling this offseason after photos of his astonishingly muscular frame emerged, it’s easy to forget the various photos of Henry dwarfing Eddie Lacy and Dion Lewis just a year or two ago. The problem was that Henry wasn’t playing to his size and strength. Now that it seems he’s learned to really combine his vision and power into a complete running game, there’s a chance that he can finally usurp Lewis for the starting role.
That said, Henry’s potential will be somewhat dependent on his supporting cast, namely the Titans’ offensive line and quarterback play. Tennessee’s offensive line was middle of the pack in run-blocking last year, coming in as the 17th best per PFF. With the addition of third-round selection Nate Davis likely to fill in at right guard, there’s a chance that this unit could improve upon their 2018 performance. The return of a healthy Delanie Walker, both as a blocker as well as a receiving threat, should also help Henry.
And despite the fact that neither Marcus Mariota nor Ryan Tannehill can be considered true difference makers at their position, both quarterbacks have shown the ability to execute at least a competent offense, which is all Henry needs to have RB1 potential in fantasy. Furthermore, despite limitations in their passing games, both Mariota and Tannehill are mobile quarterbacks who can threaten to gain large chunks of yards on the ground on any given play. Their running ability will help Henry in forcing defenders to hesitate to commit to swarming the running back. A 1,000 yard season with double digit touchdowns isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for Henry. If he can keep up his 2018 late-season form, Henry is worth gambling on at the price of a mid first-round rookie pick on the chance that he truly hulks out this coming season and smashes fantasy expectations.
Captain America / Adrian Peterson
Born on July 4th, 1918, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America is technically over 100 years old by the time the Avengers duke it out once and for all with Thanos. But having spent more than half a century frozen in ice, Captain America’s body is still young and full of vigor, faster and stronger than any normal human as a result of being injected with the super soldier serum. While Adrian Peterson is just 34 years old, to most dynasty owners, he may as well be over 100 years old. But though Peterson might not have the benefit of super soldier serum, his physical abilities are still far superior to those of normal humans, allowing him to perform at above-average levels despite his advanced age.
Many have written off Peterson with Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, and the newly-drafted Bryce Love all competing for touches in what could be a crowded backfield. While Washington’s backfield will be difficult to decipher, Peterson remains a value at his current ADP and market valuation of an early third-round rookie pick. At that price, his potential reward far outweighs his risk.
Last season, Peterson finished as the RB17 in PPR formats. Yes, that was with Guice missing the entire season due to his ACL tear, and yes, Thompson missed six games as well. But neither of these younger running backs are guaranteed to stay healthy either. We have yet to see the extent of Guice’s recovery, and even if he’s healthy to start the season, that alone may not be enough to overtake Peterson’s role as the entrenched starter. As for Thompson, his role has always been primarily as a receiving back playing mostly on third downs, and Thompson hasn’t exactly been a pinnacle of health either, having missed six games in each of the last two seasons. Love should remain an afterthought in rookie drafts too, still recovering from his own ACL tear and a lot of work to do before he climbs the depth chart in Washington.
What about Peterson? Well, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day” applies to Peterson, who missed half a game last year but played all 16 games despite suffering an ankle sprain in September and a shoulder dislocation in October. Prior to that though, he did miss five games in 2017 due to a neck injury and played just three games in 2016 due to a torn meniscus. While he himself is an injury risk, Peterson has the best combination of high potential for production and low price of the options in the Washington backfield. Despite being worn down and beaten by Thanos, Captain America tightened the strap on his shield and got back up. It’s yet to be seen whether Peterson can play back-to-back full seasons for the first time in a decade after being worn down over his career, but if anyone can exceed the physical limits of normal humans, it’s him. For the cost of a third-round pick, he’s worth a leap of faith. At that price, even half a season of RB2 production will have made the acquisition of Peterson worthwhile.
Thor / Allen Robinson
Thor has had an up-and-down journey over the years. He seemingly reached the peak of his power after conversing with his father toward the end of Thor: Ragnarok and then crafting Stormbreaker in Avengers: Infinity War, a new weapon that would allow him to fully channel his powers of thunder and lightning. But after Thanos won, Thor regressed sharply from the sting of defeat, growing fat on beer and Xbox. It wouldn’t be until after speaking with his mother in the past that he would regain his might to fight Thanos again in the future.
In many ways, Allen Robinson‘s career arc has mirrored that of Thor’s journey. Robinson peaked in his sophomore year, totaling 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. He regressed greatly in 2016 and then tore his ACL in the first game of the 2017 season. Since the ACL tear two years ago, Robinson has been a shell of his former self, totaling barely 750 yards last year and scoring only four touchdowns. But looking deeper into these numbers and his 2018 film, is it really the end for Robinson, or is it instead the beginning of his resurgence?
Despite displaying his athletic talent on a few plays here and there last season, Robinson clearly wasn’t back to 100% from his ACL tear. An entire offseason to further regain speed and explosiveness can go a long way toward returning Robinson to the dynamic receiving threat he was in Jacksonville. On top of that, another offseason to study Matt Nagy’s offense and gaining chemistry on timing routes with Mitch Trubisky should be superbly beneficial. Extrapolating Robinson’s per-game averages in the weeks where both he and Trubisky were healthy last year out to a full season would roughly result in 70 receptions for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. Translated to fantasy, that would be 206 PPR points, good enough for Robinson to have finished as a top-20 fantasy wide receiver this past season (I’ve touched on Robinson’s 2019 potential before in this article, which you can reference for more detail).
Bear in mind as well that this projection assumes no improvement in efficiency or volume from 2018 to 2019, and there are plenty of reasons to expect both. Nagy’s offense was a major adjustment from John Fox’s run-heavy offense in 2017, and while Trubisky may not become as good as an ascendant talent like Mahomes, there’s every reason to expect Trubisky to improve as a passer in Year Two of this scheme. There’s also reason to expect more passing attempts overall in 2019 due to regression on the defensive side, which would also translate to more targets for Robinson. Chicago was incredibly fortunate to have most of their defensive players healthy for the majority of last season, and this may or may not remain the case in 2019. Moreover, while new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has experienced success over the course of his career, it’s yet to be seen whether he can replicate what Vic Fangio did last year prior to departing for the head coach job in Denver.
From apathetic Lebowski to reinvigorated God of Thunder, Thor made great strides in Avengers: Endgame and recaptured his former self. Similarly, Robinson can bounce back in 2019 and quickly re-enter the conversation of being among the elite fantasy wide receivers. With his current market value hovering in the range of a mid or late first-round rookie pick, this could be the cheapest price we’ll see for him in dynasty for years to come. Though Robinson may never recreate that magical 2015 season in Jacksonville, he could yet reclaim the title of elite fantasy wide receiver in Chicago catching passes from Trubisky and under the tutelage of Nagy.
Doctor Strange / Will Fuller
In all the 14,000,605 alternate futures and possible outcomes that Doctor Strange saw, the Avengers only won one, leading him to hand the Time Stone over to Thanos so that the snap could later be undone. The odds of Will Fuller staying healthy probably aren’t quite that low, but it can’t be that far off at this point. Hamstring and knee injuries limited Fuller’s play during his rookie year. A broken collarbone, broken ribs, and another knee injury that eventually required surgery sidelined him for much of 2017. And then last year, Fuller started the season strong and was on pace for a career year before tearing his ACL in Week 7. So is there a timeline where Fuller can play all 16 games in 2019?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the Time Stone handy to look ahead, but we can try and project for the remote possibility of a full season from Fuller. Fuller is an inconsistent fantasy receiver, but catching passes from Deshaun Watson‘s strong arm and with DeAndre Hopkins drawing away coverage, his stats have definitely been more boom than bust. With his straight-line speed, Fuller has averaged an incredible 14.6 yards per reception and a nearly 12% scoring rate over the course of his short three-year career, having caught 13 touchdowns on just 107 receptions. If healthy for the entire season, it’s easy to imagine Fuller finishing the year with over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
As with many dynamic players in the league, both past and present, the only limiting factor has been health. In addition to his ACL tear last season, Fuller has suffered from a litany of injuries in the past, including but not limited to shoulder, knee, rib, and hamstring injuries. Of all these maladies though, the multiple hamstring injuries over the years are most concerning. Soft-tissue injuries are the most likely to recur, and they are also one of the most detrimental to a player who relies on speed. But unlike a player like Jordan Reed, who seems past the point of no return in terms of staying healthy, Fuller is still just 25 years old, and it’s far too early to consider him a complete injury liability.
In fact, his injury risk is already factored into his current ADP and dynasty value. Fuller’s market value varies widely from league to league and owner to owner, hovering somewhere between as high as a late first-round rookie pick to as low as a late second-round pick. While ACL injuries are severe, it may affect Fuller less than other NFL players due to his primary usage as a deep threat. Hopefully he will recover fully, but even if not, a decreased ability to cut and change direction won’t impact his most valuable trait, his elite speed. There may only be a one-in-fourteen million chance that Fuller can stay healthy, but Doctor Strange gave away the Time Stone on a gamble that they could defeat Thanos. Any second-round rookie pick would be a cheap price to gamble on Fuller, an explosive play-maker with WR1 upside if he were to play a full 16-game season.
While there are still countless variables that will inevitably throw a wrench into even the best-laid plans and dynasty rosters, assembling these players could be the first step toward the endgame of winning a title in 2019. Even if there is a juggernaut of a team that seems as unbeatable as Thanos, the above list of players are all worth betting on at their current costs. Together, acquiring one or more of these high-potential players can make any dynasty roster a formidable opponent, and one that just might have enough to win a championship this coming season.
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