Can NFL offenses support a top fantasy player at every position?


Every year during the offseason we start to project the fantasy production of players and teams in the coming season. We tend to get over excited when a new potential offensive juggernaut is formed in free agency and the draft, and we predict lofty, often unsustainable fantasy numbers generated by one team. This year, three teams fit that description: The Kansas City Chiefs, who added Sammy Watkins to their arsenal of receivers, the New York Giants, who drafted Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick and now have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., and the Minnesota Vikings, who signed Kirk Cousins to a huge three year deal in free agency.

These are three exciting teams with a plethora of offensive weapons, but there’s a limit to how much fantasy production can be supported by one offense.

Chiefs ECR (expert consensus rankings): Kareem Hunt – RB 6, Tyreek Hill – WR 12, Sammy Watkins – WR 32, Travis Kelce – TE 2

The Chiefs supported a top 12 running back, receiver, and tight end last year, why won’t they be able to repeat that? First of all, Alex Smith had a career season last year and was considered an MVP candidate. He was Pro Football Focus’ second highest graded quarterback and had a QB rating of 131.4 of deep passes, 20 points higher than the next best quarterback. This year they have Patrick Mahomes under center. He’s thrown 35 total passes in one career game in the NFL. Do we actually think he can support a top-12 fantasy player at each position? Secondly, Tyreek Hill is going to regress. In 2017 he averaged 10.1 yards per target, the highest rate of any receiver over the last five seasons. That efficiency is not sustainable, and even less so when playing across from Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs gave Watkins $30 million in guaranteed money. They will likely use him more like the X receiver he was drafted 4th overall to be than the decoy the Rams used him as last year to draw the top opposing cornerback’s attention.

The Chiefs’ offense will be fun to watch, but I imagine Hill will regress to the second option/gadget player he was as a rookie. I still think he’ll end up in the top 24 wide receivers, but a lot closer to 24 than to 12.

Giants ECR: Saquon Barkley – RB 7, Odell Beckham Jr. – WR 3, Evan Engram TE 4

In the last ten years, only three times has a single team produced a top-7 running back, receiver, and tight end: the Broncos and Cowboys in 2013 with Peyton Manning and Tony Romo at quarterback respectively, and the Texans in 2008, surprisingly, with Matt Schaub. Last year, Eli Manning was ranked 28th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, had the lowest passer rating in the league on deep passes, and was 22nd in throwing under pressure. Yes, his top three receivers were injured and he had little help from the offensive line, but Eli will be 38 at the end of this season and has been steadily declining for a few years now. The odd man out here will be Engram. His rookie success was a result of multiple injuries to the Giants receiving corps. It generally takes a couple years for a tight end to develop, but the Giants had no other option than to get Engram the ball.

Vikings ECR: Dalvin Cook – RB 9, Adam Thielen – WR 11, Stefon Diggs – WR 15, Kyle Rudolph – TE 8

Of these three teams, the Vikings at least have a quarterback in place that could potentially support high end fantasy production from all three positions. Kirk Cousins has thrown at least 540 passes in all three of his seasons as a starter, racking up at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns per year. The issue here is the Vikings defense. Their defense was first in the league last year in both total yards and total points given up and they only got better during the offseason. The Vikings don’t figure to be playing from behind in many games, and I’m not convinced that Cousins will need to throw the ball enough to produce two top 15 receivers and a top 10 tight end.