Value Hole (noun) – Your filthy mind could probably define this in an unlimited number of ways. In fantasy football, we use “Value Hole” to describe a seemingly open depth chart spot that should offer significant fantasy value to whoever fills it (via draft or free agency). We judge “Value Holes” by assessing the Available Usage, Surrounding Talent and Coaching Scheme surrounding the hole.
Most often, the open backfields produce the most monstrous fantasy swings. However, many times serious chunks of “Aerial Pie” (open passing yards and targets), dished out by tasty QB chefs, create huge upside.
As the calendar rolls into March, the exciting world of the NFL offseason begins to really get going. The first step: free agency. The “legal tampering” period, when teams are officially allowed to begin negotiations with free agents, begins Monday, March 11, with the new league year coming 2 days later on the 13th. Starting at 4 PM EST on the 13th, expiring contracts are officially over, and players can officially sign deals with new teams. Stars will switch uniforms, hundreds of millions of dollars will be contractually committed, and fantasy outlooks will change drastically in the span of just a few days.
While money and other factors obviously play into free agency decisions, both players and organizations base much of their action off of what is already in place. For example, the Chiefs aren’t going to go out and invest $50 million into a veteran QB with Patrick Mahomes in the fold, while the Rams likely won’t be adding a defensive lineman anytime soon. But many teams still have glaring holes at positions that will have major fantasy implications once those roster gaps are filled, whether it comes via trade, free agency, or the draft in April. Below are the top 10 value holes that figure to be filled before Week 1 of 2019, separated by tier.
Tier 1: Prime Real Estate
1. Kansas City Chiefs: RB1
Update: Chiefs have signed Carlos Hyde
At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be a “hole”, per se; yes, Kareem Hunt is long gone, but Damien Williams filled in spectacularly in his absence and seemed destined to be the next great Andy Reid RB1. But then Thursday came around, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that some teams are expecting KC to make a serious push for… Le’Veon Bell. WOW. Prior to these reports, Bell wasn’t even listed on OddsShark’s odds to sign Bell. The pairing of Bell and Reid would be a match made in fantasy heaven — Reid always leans on a workhorse RB, and Bell is arguably the most talented back in football even after a year away from the game.
In 6 weeks as the starter last year, Williams produced at a pace that would’ve made him fantasy’s top running back in 2018 (over 350 half PPR FPs). And he came in as a relatively nameless guy who went undrafted in 2014 and had never topped 200 yards in a season; now imagine Bell in that role. It gives me chills just thinking about it. It remains a long-shot because of KC’s cap situation and Bell’s high price tag, but crazier things have happened.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB1
Then there’s the Bucs, who should show some improvement on offense after luring offensive guru Bruce Arians out of retirement with a 4-year deal. Arians, who’s long been known around the league as a “QB whisperer,” should assist greatly with the development of Jameis Winston, which directly benefits the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and whoever fills out the rest of Tampa’s WR corps. But the team has lacked a true lead RB in recent years, which is new territory for Arians, who got to mess around with David Johnson for his last 3 seasons in Arizona.
Arians oversaw Johnson’s growth from a 3rd-round pick into one of the best dual-threat backs in the league, and could do the same for Tampa’s lead back, whether it be Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, or (ideally) a new acquisition this offseason. Arians’ complex motion schemes and big-play affinity won’t work for just anyone, but with the right fit, it could mean fantasy fireworks for whoever assumes the role. Johnson went for 2100+ total yards, 20 TDs, and 80 receptions to be a bonafide Cheat Code in this scheme, after all. A similar talent acquisition would drip in the same upside, and even a lesser name could still rip up 1300+ total yards and 10+ TDs. Between the playcaller and overall offensive explosiveness, the Bucs present a “Chiefs-lite” style Value Hole.
3. Cleveland Browns: WR1
Update: The Browns have traded for Odell Beckham, Jr.
It still feels weird to say, but the Cleveland Browns are absolutely on their way towards building a successful franchise. They finally removed the tumor named Hue Jackson from the franchise, they seem to have a legitimate franchise QB in Baker Mayfield, and the rest of their weapons are filling in nicely around him. But despite their growth, the Browns currently lack what they hoped for years Josh Gordon would get his shit together and be: a true WR1. Jarvis Landry is a phenomenal talent and fits well into their offense, but lacks the size and explosiveness to be a true, outside-the-numbers #1 guy.
Mayfield and head coach Freddie Kitchens showed a real connection on the field for the second half of 2018, and a big-play threat at wideout would only increase the explosiveness these two can bring to the table. The addition of Todd Monken, a master of the Air Raid offense, makes the need for an Alpha WR1 a necessity — just look at Mike Evans’ 86 reception, 1524 yards, and 8 TDs. Plus, under Monken, the Bucs led the league in passing yardage (320) despite a crap-rotation of erratic Jameis Winston and (lol) Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tons of Aerial Pie is here for the taking, without a clear-cut leader in house. Outside of being linked to Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, some mock drafts have linked Cleveland to Ole Miss wideout A.J. Brown, which could address this need. Free agents like Randall Cobb or Golden Tate would suffice as well.
4. San Francisco 49ers: WR1
With Jimmy Garoppolo reportedly doing great in his ACL rehab and well on his way to being 100% by training camp, the Niners offense could boast some serious starpower in 2019. George Kittle enjoyed a breakout season that now has him ranked among the top tight ends in football, and Dante Pettis emerged as a rising young stud at WR. But despite Pettis and Marquise Goodwin under contract for 2019, the Niners still lack a proven and productive true top wideout. The team was previously the favorite to land Antonio Brown in a trade with Pittsburgh, but has slipped down to the 5th best odds (+1200) to acquire him, behind Oakland, Tennessee, Arizona, and Green Bay. And with their first round pick likely being used to nab OSU stud Nick Bosa, the 49ers may need to get creative to fill this need.
Still, the team has reportedly been interested in Odell Beckham Jr. “for over a year now,” and have the ammunition required for a megadeal. If the 49ers able to land a top talent, it could provide a major shake-up to the fantasy WR landscape, especially under young guru Kyle Shanahan, who loves to pepper an “Alpha-X” WR with target after target.
Tier 2: Solid Upside
5. Baltimore Ravens: RB1
Update: The Ravens have signed Mark Ingram
The Ravens have made it clear where their bread is buttered offensively: on the ground. They boasted the 3rd-highest percentage of run plays in 2018 at 49.6%, and made the mid-season switch at QB to Lamar Jackson, who finished with almost as many rushing TDs (5) as passing TDs (6) on the season. Gus Edwards assumed lead back duties for Baltimore in 2018 and performed admirably, including boasting a 5.2 yards per carry average, which was 5th in football.
But assuming the Ravens want to bolster this position with a proven producer (or a draft pick — many mocks have linked them to Alabama RB Josh Jacobs), it could be an incredibly lucrative role. New play-caller Greg Roman has worked 5 seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and has never had a team finish lower than 8th in rushing; when Roman mans the offense, the run game is a priority. Twice his team’s have ranked 1st in Rushing TDs, and never have they fallen below 10th in rushing attempts. When he takes over play-calling duties, on a team that’s already adopted a run-first philosophy, and boasts an above-average offensive line, its lead back spot could be a fantasy goldmine — perhaps at a serious discount considering how “unsexy” the Ravens feel as an offense. Whether Edwards or someone else, there’s sneaky RB1 upside to the Ravens lead back.
6. New England Patriots: WR2
Update: The Patriots have re-signed Phillip Dorsett
Despite worries all season that New England’s weak WR group would ultimately lead to their demise, the crew of Cordarelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, and Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman made great late-season strides and put up big all-around performances down the stretch. But with Edelman currently the only member of that group under contract for 2019, the Patriots once again will likely have to replace some key contributors from a championship team. And especially with the uncertainty that still surrounds Rob Gronkowski‘s future, another strong receiving option for Tom Brady is a key need for the Patriots offseason plans.
Golden Tate has already made it clear he would love to play in Foxborough next season, but whether or not the team would shell out the money necessary to lure him in remains to be seen. A reunion with Danny Amendola after his brief stint in Miami has also been rumored, and mock drafts have even indicated Bill Belichick may use a 1st-rounder on a WR (like A.J. Brown or Kelvin Harmon) for the first time in his Patriots tenure.
7. Oakland Raiders: WR1
Update: The Raiders have acquired Antonio Brown from the Steelers.
Despite the rampant dysfunction that has plagued the Raiders organization over the past couple of years, things could be on their way up heading into 2019. Statements throughout the offseason have indicated a strong bond between Derek Carr, Jon Gruden, and new GM Mike Mayock, with Mayock and Gruden both throwing full support behind Carr as the team’s franchise quarterback in recent weeks. Carr has said he loves Gruden and is thrilled to play for him, but also indicated that the team clearly needs some more weapons. That sentiment rings true at the wide receiver position more than anywhere else — the current top option on the roster is an aging Jordy Nelson, while their remaining WRs combined for just 61 catches in 2018.
Despite how hideous this team may appear, the Raiders WR1 role actually comes with massive upside. Prior to last season’s debacle, Jon Gruden’s No.1 WR had recorded 1,000 yards or more in 11 straight seasons. This included six different names, with four of these setting career bests under Gruden. They currently have the best odds to land Antonio Brown in a trade and also have three 1st-round picks to work with, which prompted CBS Sports’ Will Brinson to say he would bet “any amount of money” that Oakland will take a wideout in the first round (he specifically linked them to Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler). If Carr and Gruden continue to get in sync and start to get Oakland’s offense off the ground, the team’s lead wideout position could prove to be a profitable one for fantasy owners.
8. Indianapolis Colts: WR2
Update: The Colts have signed Devin Funchess.
With Andrew Luck finally at full health and offensive-minded Frank Reich at the helm, the Colts offense was running on all cylinders in 2018, especially as they won 9 of 10 down the stretch to clinch a playoff birth. T.Y. Hilton took advantage of Luck’s return to the tune of 76 catches, over 1,200 yards, and a WR11 finish for the year, but Indy’s next-best fantasy finish from a wideout came from Chester Rogers all the way down at WR76. The Colts are really a 2nd solid WR away from trotting out one of the best offenses in football with Luck, Hilton, Marlon Mack, Eric Ebron, and a consensus top-5 offensive line. Most 1st-round mock drafts have Indy aiming to shore up its defense, so an add at this spot may have to come via a later pick or free agency — and with one of the most favorable cap situations in football, any and all options should be available should the Colts show interest. They also currently hold +1200 odds to acquire Antonio Brown, which is tied with Cleveland and San Francisco for the 5th-best odds. Based on Reich and OC Nick Siriannis Chargers ties, the Colts are also “in strong pursuit” of the 6’4″ blazer Tyrell Williams.
Tier 3: Potential Upside
9. Houston Texans: RB1
This value hole comes with a few asterisks, as Lamar Miller is under contract for 2019 and has been endorsed by GM Brian Gaine as the team’s lead back. Gaine also said at the Combine that the Texans “like the composition of the current depth chart” and that the team’s ideal RB scenario involves a committee (bleh) with contributions from Miller, D’Onta Foreman, and likely others.
But should Miller be pushed out of a starting role and/or deal with more injury troubles, the lead back role in Houston could be a sneaky strong fantasy position for the right player. Their offensive line is near the bottom of the league, but will almost definitely be addressed in the first round of the draft with someone like Andre Dillard from Washington State or Dalton Risner from Kansas State. And the growth of Deshaun Watson and his receiving weapons will only open up more room for a lucrative rushing attack. Bill O’Brien has been unapologetically run-heavy for much of his tenure, so between Usage, Play-calling, and Surrounding Talent, the fantasy upside is sneaky massive if a clear-cut guy not named Lamar emerges.
10. New York Jets: RB1
Update: The Jets have signed Le’Veon Bell
One name has dominated the talk of this position for months now: Le’Veon Bell. Bell has been linked to the Jets since before last season even ended, and they currently hold the best betting odds to grab him at +500. But if the proposition of losing to the Patriots twice a year instead of the one time per year he’s used to isn’t enough to lure Bell to the Meadowlands, this value hole loses a lot of its… value.
The Jets offensive line is near the bottom of the league and may lose 2 starters to free agency, and the rest of New York’s offense isn’t overly impressive. To make matters worse, Adam Gase has typically utilized a 2-back approach, and in his final two seasons in Miami no running back amassed more than 156 carries in a season. It obviously stands to reason that this philosophy would be adjusted should Bell sign there, but if anyone else assumes the lead back spot, they could be cut out for a minimized role in a weak offense. Tevin Coleman, who the team “thinks highly of,” is also heavily linked here.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR2: JuJu Smith-Schuster will assume the top role when AB is finally traded, so who will fill in? Keep an eye on James Washington if they don’t make any other moves.
Update: The Steelers have signed Donte Moncrief
New Orleans Saints WR2: After Michael Thomas, the Saints don’t have many experienced options to catch passes from Drew Brees. Do they trust Tre’Quan Smith, or go make a move?
Washington Redskins WR1: With Case Keenum now the assumed starter and Jamison Crowder headed for free agency, someone has to catch passes in Washington… right?
Jacksonville Jaguars QB: God only knows who’ll lead this offense in 2019. Although they are the clear favorites for “Big Dick” Nick Foles, Blake Bortles still has yet to be cut. If Foles gets a better offer, would they sign Tyrod Taylor or Teddy Bridgewater? Draft Drew Lock or Dwayne Haskins?
Update: As expected, the Jaguars signed Nick Foles.