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Fantasy Football: AFC East Divisional Preview; Sleepers, Breakouts, More

Kevin Hanson

This week, I have previewed one AFC and one NFC division from a fantasy football perspective. Check out the the NFC EastNFC NorthAFC North, NFC South, AFC SouthNFC West and AFC West.

Each divisional preview will have a consistent structure—highlighting two each of the following: (1) undervalued players compared to average draft position (ADP), (2) overvalued players compared to ADP, (3) sleepers, (4) breakout candidates and (5) bold predictions.

With that said, let's get to the AFC East divisional preview.

Undervalued Players

James White, RB, New England Patriots (ADP: 66 overall, RB28)

Even if he’s a better option in full-PPR formats, White is one of my favorite backs to target out of those currently being drafted in the flex range (RB25+). In half-PPR formats last year, White scored the eighth-most fantasy points (233.1)—just behind Melvin Gordon (250.5, seventh) and in front of Joe Mixon (221.9, ninth) and David Johnson (221.7, 10th).

Shattering previous career-highs, White had 181 touches including 87 receptions, 1,176 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Even if both Sony Michel and rookie Damien Harris see more carries than White, it’s reasonable to expect him to be as involved in the passing game as last year with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Draft him as your flex and get RB2-level production (or better) in 2019.

Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets (ADP: 173, WR62)

My projections are an iterative process and the most updated version of my projections for Crowder calls for a 66/818/4 line, which will push him up to a borderline top-40 receiver in my next rankings update. But is it possible that my projections are still too conservative?

The Athletic’s Connor Hughes described the instant chemistry between Crowder and second-year quarterback Sam Darnold as being similar to that between Russell Wilson and now-retired Doug Baldwin. He went on to boldly say that it’s possible Crowder “creeps near or past 100 catches” in 2019.

While I wouldn’t go that far, I do concede that 66 may not be enough given his chemistry with Darnold, who should take a big step forward in 2019, and how much slot receivers have flourished within Adam Gase’s offense in the past.

Note: Josh Gordon is incredibly undervalued based on his current placement in the ADP data (136th overall, WR52). That is only due to the fact that the numbers haven’t caught up to the reality of his conditional reinstatement so I left him off this list. (Looking for a more accurate measure of where experts are drafting a certain player? FullTime Fantasy has an Advanced ADP, based on the 10 most recent high-stakes fantasy football drafts. Check out Advanced ADP at FullTime Fantasy.)

Overvalued Players

N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots (ADP: 106, WR42)

Before news broke of Josh Gordon’s reinstatement, Harry was going to appear on this list. After all, newcomers—including high-profile veteran receivers—typically struggle to make an immediate impact in New England’s passing offense given its complexity.

As NFL.com’s Graham Barfield notes, the trio of Julian Edelman (27% target share), Gordon (25%) and running back James White (22%) all exceeded more than a 20% target share in the three games that Rob Gronkowski missed last season. Provided that Edelman and Gordon can stay on the field, Harry will be fourth in line, at best, for targets in New England’s passing attack.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (ADP: 126, QB16)

Before the Gordon news, I had Brady listed here. After the news, I considered removing him. That said, there are still a few quarterbacks—Dak Prescott, Mitch Trubisky, etc.—that I’d prefer over Brady (in fantasy football). The return of Gordon helps to diminish the effects of losing Rob Gronkowski, but Brady had Gordon for 11 games last season as well.

With a less-productive Gronk, Brady ended 2018 as fantasy’s QB14 (or not a fantasy starter). Perhaps Gordon will play a full season, but the risk of missed games is abundantly clear. Perhaps Julian Edelman will play a full season. But since 2011, Edelman has missed multiple games in six of eight seasons.

It’s a passing league, but running quarterbacks have the upper hand in terms of fantasy production. As an example, Buffalo’s Josh Allen was fantasy’s top-scoring fantasy quarterback after his team’s Week 11 bye through the end of the season. Allen averaged only 207 passing yards per game over that stretch. The 42-year-old Brady offers much less upside than he has in previous seasons.

Sleepers

Note: For our purposes, a sleeper is defined as a player with a current ADP of Round 10 or later.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 131, RB44)

First of all, Kenyan Drake is dealing with a foot injury that “will be a while,” although the team hopes he’s ready for Week 1. Even with impressive efficiency (career 4.7 YPC and 8.1 Y/R), Frank Gore leaving South Beach and a new coaching staff coming in, the chances of Drake getting a significant bump in workload seems low. At the beginning of training camp (and before Drake’s injury), ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe tweeted that Ballage had a “real chance to win starting RB job.”

Perhaps Drake is ready for Week 1 and leads the duo in workload, something my projections still expect, but drafting a back (like Ballage) with a legitimate job at either opening the season or emerging as the starter is certainly someone worth targeting in the double-digit rounds.

Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 142, RB50)

If we break down the season into quarters, there are often several waiver-wire types that perform as top-24 fantasy running backs in the final quarter. Of course, the position is so physically demanding that injuries are prevalent. I noted above that James White finished as fantasy’s RB8 in 2018, but he was one of just four running backs out of the top-12 scorers to play a full 16-game season.

At this point, it appears that the Bills could keep three running backs—LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and Singletary—on their 53-man roster with T.J. Yeldon on the roster bubble. For a variety of reasons, it’s easy to anticipate an expanding role for Singletary, a top-75 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, with McCoy and Gore both at least a decade older than the rookie.

Breakout Candidates

Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets

There were some expected ups and downs as a rookie, but Darnold ended 2018 on a positive note. Over his final four games, Darnold threw six touchdowns to only one interception. Even though he’s had to learn a new offense, the benefit of having an entire offseason to learn it puts him a step ahead from where he was as a rookie.

While too much shouldn’t be made of the preseason, Darnold’s first two games in Adam Gase’s offense could not have gone much better—nine-of-12 for 114 yards (9.5 Y/A) and a touchdown. With an infusion of offensive talent (Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder especially), Darnold will have a chance to really build upon his late-season and preseason success.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins

Noted earlier as a sleeper, Ballage had just 45 touches last season and he’s clearly in line for a massive bump in workload whether he’s the nominal “starter” or not. At a minimum, he should average north of 10 touches per game as he shares the backfield with Drake. Perhaps the second phase of his breakout will occur next season as Drake becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season.

Bold Predictions

Note: It may take a best-case scenario for these predictions to become reality, but if that weren't the case, they wouldn't be bold.

Josh Allen will have three QB1 weekly finishes in 2019.

Inconsistent performance as a passer did not stop Allen, Buffalo’s 2018 leading rusher, from outscoring all other quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (24.2) over the final six games of the season. During that stretch, more than half of Allen’s fantasy points (12.93/G) were derived from his rushing production (576 yards and five TDs).

Only one quarterback—Patrick Mahomes, four—had more than two QB1 weekly finishes in 2018. Several others had two each and Allen himself was Week 17’s top-scoring quarterback. (Of course, Week 17 is irrelevant in most fantasy leagues.) Allen has played well so far in the preseason and the team has added reinforcements to its receiving corps and offensive line.

Allen may still be too inconsistent to stomach as your every-week starter in season-long formats, but the strong-armed and mobile quarterback could have a few of tournament-winning outings for those that play daily fantasy.

Chris Herndon will score the eighth-most fantasy points among tight ends from Week 6 on.

Suspended four games and with an early-season bye (Week 4), Jets tight end Chris Herndon won’t be able to step onto the field in a meaningful game until Week 6. From that point on, however, he has a chance to become an every-week starter at a relatively weak position.

Rookie tight ends often fail to make significant fantasy impacts, but Herndon managed to score the sixth-most fantasy points at the position from Weeks 6 to 16 last year. Perhaps that makes TE8 less bold, but he currently has an ADP of 199 (TE23), which means he’ll likely start the season on the waiver wire.

Good luck in your league(s) and stay tuned for more divisional previews!

Kevin Hanson joins SI for the 2019 season. His fantasy rankings have placed him in the Top 20 in each of the past two seasons among all the industry experts tracked by FantasyPros.com, and he has been in the Top 25 in six of the past eight years.