Fantasy football: Lessons from the 2019 NFL season’s first month

From Christian McCaffrey’s dominance to the Dolphins ineptitude against fantasy defenses, September revealed plenty of vital information.

Four weeks of the 2019 NFL season has taught the fantasy football community plenty of lessons.

Some of those lessons were more painful than others, but we learned them nonetheless. 

What’s important is to make sure the events of September, both good and bad, inform the way we manage our respective teams. We’re roughly one third of the way though the fantasy regular season, which is plenty of time for most struggling teams to turn things around or for competitive teams to stay that way.

Read on for a few observations from the first month of the season and how they can help you going forward.

QB is incredibly deep

While there are four quarterbacks who stood out in September — Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys) — the bulk of the league’s passers have been just about as valuable as one another in any given week.

Thirteen QBs are averaging between 16 and 21 standard points. Of that group, five were available in more than half of ESPN leagues as of Tuesday afternoon: Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions), Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis Colts), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans) and Gardner Minshew II (Jacksonville Jaguars). This doesn’t include Daniel Jones, who has averaged 23.3 points in two games as the New York Giants starter after taking the reins from Eli Manning.

Even with injuries to preseason Top 10 QBs Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers), fantasy managers have had no trouble finding replacements. As such, don’t feel the need to give up much in a trade for a QB if things go south.

And, for the future, this serves as a reminder not to take a quarterback early. I selected Newton in Round 13 then signed Jackson before Week 1. I most certainly regret nothing.

Run CMC is a beast

In August, the consensus was that any of Saquon Barkley (Giants), Alvin Kamara (Saints) or Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) would be a perfectly excellent No. 1 overall selection. With the benefit of hindsight, there was only one right answer.

McCaffrey currently stands as the overall leader in PPR scoring with 27.9 points per game. His current statistical pace would have him finish the season with 2,516 yards from scrimmage (which would be a new NFL record), 100 receptions and 16 touchdowns. He’s likely to fall off that pace to some degree, but clearly his production holds up even amid Newton’s struggles and absence.

The other two are a different story. Barkley’s high ankle sprain in Week 3 was an unforeseen circumstance, putting a damper on a strong start to the season in which he averaged 20.2 points through two games.

Kamara, meanwhile, has been a mixed bag. The Saints RB is averaging a sturdy 19.9 points through four games, but he’s been boom or bust with 61 points between Weeks 1 and 3 and 18.9 points between Weeks 2 and 4. Evidently, he’s way more productive in odd numbered weeks, but let’s not read into that one.

Surely, Kamara can find consistency and perhaps make a run at McCaffrey. Perhaps Barkley will be as strong as ever when he finds his way back to the field near the end of the fantasy regular season. Regardless, McCaffrey’s investors have to be feeling pretty good right now, especially if they took him with the top overall pick.

Maybe we got TE wrong

Only one among the top tight end trio before the season is among the top seven scorers at his position. That’s all well and good for those who acquired Travis Kelce (Chiefs), but things haven’t been quite so rosy for anyone who went with Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles) or George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers).

That’s not to say either has been poor. Both are heavily involved in their team’s offense and rank among the Top 10 in points per game. With 75% of the season left to play — more in the case of Kittle, whose Niners had a Week 4 bye — don’t be surprised to seem them surge and make good on expectations.

More importantly, maybe this is the year that TE becomes more than just a two- or three-man top tier and then a bunch of also-rans. Eight have averaged at least seven targets per game, and bountiful targets often correspond to plenty of PPR points. The likes of Evan Engram (Giants), Austin Hooper (Atlanta Falcons), Mark Andrews (Ravens), Darren Waller (Oakland Raiders) and Greg Olsen (Panthers) have been terrific thus far, and most of them look to be sustainable sources of production from the position.

Keep an eye on the TE position as a whole, because we might be entering a new era at the position from a fantasy perspective.

Best defense is a bad offense

Streaming a defense isn’t just a desperation move. It’s not even merely a solid option. No, going with a different defense each week is legitimately one of the best ways to handle the position.

No team’s defense has posted double-digit points in all four weeks this season. However, the Miami Dolphins have allowed at least 10 points to be scored against them in all four games this season. If you streamed against them each time this season, you would have nearly as many points (72) as if you always started the top-scoring defensive unit, the New England Patriots (79). No other defense has more than 50 points this year.

The Dolphins aren’t the only team to pick on with this strategy. The New York Jets surrendered double-digit points in each of their three games. The Cincinnati Bengals and Washington, both winless like the Dolphins and Jets, have been serving up 10-plus points in each of the last two weeks. In particular, Washington’s quarterback situation looks like a mess, and they’ve allowed 20 or more fantasy points to defenses each of the past two weeks.

When streaming, I like to plan a week ahead. Rather than scoop up the Los Angeles Chargers only a few days before they faced Miami last week, I picked them up before Week 3. It’s a worthwhile roster investment now that the season is in full swing and we have a better idea of which NFL teams are terrific or trash.

Scott Fontana