Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Oakland Raiders Buying Guide

With the preseason here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Oakland Raiders…

Wistful that the Ringling Bros. no longer tour, Antonio Brown brought the circus to the Raiders’ training camp in Napa Valley this summer. Give Brown credit for originality. Contract-related holdouts are so passé. Damaged foot skin from cryotherapy? A walkout to protest not being able to wear an outdated, unsafe helmet? Now THAT is some truly original material.

It’s been a continuation of the Brown drama from last year, when he had a midweek quarrel with Ben Roethlisberger days before the Steelers’ final regular-season game, skipped a walkthrough and a team meeting, was deactivated for the game and then walked out at halftime.

Let’s not speculate about Antonio Brown’s mental health. It seems disrespectful when there are so many people dealing with serious mental health issues. Let’s assume (and hope) it’s just a diva performance.

If only it were just the diva stuff we had to factor in when assessing Brown’s 2019 fantasy value. There’s the change of venue to consider, too, which further complicates things. Brown goes from a healthy offensive ecosystem in Pittsburgh to a less functional one in Oakland. There’s a perceived QB downgrade, and then there’s the matter of Brown not getting a full camp’s worth of cohesion time with his new teammates.

But the numbers … oh my, the numbers. Over the last six seasons Brown has averaged 114 catches, 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns. Brown’s six-year run eclipses the best six-year run by the greatest WR diva of them all, Terrell Owens – and A.B. might be providing better original drama than T.O. did, too. 

Maybe the Brown-Owens comp is relevant when we consider the possible effect of a QB change on Brown’s numbers. Owens started to break out in 1997, his second season (60 catches for 936 yards and eight TDs), then fully broke out in 1998 (67-1,077-14). Those were QB Steve Young’s last two good seasons. Young sustained a concussion in the third game of the ’99 season and never played again. Owens’ numbers suffered that year (60-754-4) while he tried to establish chemistry with backup Jeff Garcia. But then from 2000 to 2002, with Garcia still quarterbacking the 49ers, Owens had the best three-year run of his career, averaging 1,388 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Garcia was considered close to a league-average quarterback after settling in as a starter. Owens had a better run with Garcia than he had with Steve Young, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo, but – and this is a big “but” – that 1999 season where T.O. and Garcia were working together for the first time was rough.

That’s where I see a possible parallel to Brown’s situation: Brown can still thrive with Derek Carr, who’s probably close to a league-average quarterback. But maybe there’s going to be a rocky adjustment period in their first year together.

The diva thing is trickier for fantasy owners to contend with. Brown is a future Hall of Famer, so at some point in a draft he starts to look pretty enticing if everyone else has cold feet. Maybe he goes through the season without much commotion and plays all 16 games. But what if we get a season’s worth of Brown’s training camp drama? What if the Raiders fall several games under .500 and Brown checks out the way he checked out on the Steelers last December? What if there are weeks when Brown’s status is in limbo on gameday morning for a West Coast team that will have a lot of late-afternoon kickoffs?

I can’t bring myself to rank Brown higher than WR12. That seems disrespectful of such an obscenely talented player, but I’m willing to let someone else take a perceived discount and run the risk of myriad headaches.

During his five NFL seasons, Carr has posted fantasy finishes of QB20, QB14, QB10, QB19, QB17. It’s nice that he now gets to play with a Mount Rushmore-level receiver, but Carr’s pass-catching corps isn’t appreciably better than when he had Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as his top two wideouts. And if Brown were to miss time during the season, Oakland’s pass catchers would look pretty thin.

Carr is my QB24. Maybe that seems too low considering that he’s never finished worse than QB20, and maybe you could make a case that Carr should be closer to QB18, but you’d have to squint awfully hard to see top-10 upside here.

Brown isn’t the only new receiver in Oakland. The Raiders also signed ex-Charger Tyrell Williams to a four-year, $44.3 million contract. Williams hasn’t been able to come up with a suitable encore to his 2016 season, when he had 68-1,059-7. The former undrafted free agent from Western Oregon was a designated field stretcher for the Chargers, and his career average of 16.3 yards per catch attests to the vertical nature of his game.

But I worry that Williams and Carr will go together like cheese and fish. It’s not that Carr is bad at throwing downfield; he just doesn’t throw deep as often as most other quarterbacks, partly because he’s always been sensitive (oversensitive?) to the pass rush. And even if Brown were to miss time, I’m not sure if Williams could morph into more of a possession guy. Williams isn’t expensive at an ADP of WR48, but I’ve been passing on him nonetheless.

Hunter Renfrow could become waiver-worthy in PPR leagues. A fifth-round rookie, Renfrow is small (5-10, 184 pounds) and not particularly athletic, but he was a mainstay of some powerhouse Clemson offenses, and if you’ve been watching “Hard Knocks,” you’ve seen how Renfrow has a way of endearing himself to coaches.

Darren Waller is an intriguing late-round possibility at tight end. He’s caught only 18 passes over three NFL seasons, but he’s a freak athlete with the catch radius of a willow tree. Waller has a 6-6, 255-pound frame and sub-4.6 speed. He’s twice been suspended for violating the NFL policy on substance abuse, but with an ADP of TE22, Waller isn’t too risky. He’s been one of my favorite late-round TE targets.

Josh Jacobs was a committee back at Alabama, averaged only 5.3 yards per carry last season and has athletic testing numbers befitting an undrafted free agent. Why are people getting so excited about this kid?

Well, have you seen Jacobs cut? I love the way the dude plants his foot in the ground and explodes. He made a cut against Clemson in the National Championship Game that had me picking up my jaw off the floor. Jacobs also has a little bit of Le’Veon Bell in him, patiently waiting for his blockers to do their thing before bursting through small holes. Jacobs is ultra-tough, and he’s good in the passing game.

Thing is, I don’t really trust my own scouting ability, especially when it comes to running backs. (I thought Montee Ball was going to have a nice NFL career.) But even if your concerns about Jacobs’ pedestrian testing numbers override the rosy scouting reports, you have to admit that the setup for Jacobs looks pretty sweet. Although he never had more than 140 touches in a single season at Alabama, Jacobs might be stepping into a workhorse role in Oakland. At the very least he figures to start and get most of the snaps on early downs, and the pass-catching ability gives Jacobs a seemingly sturdy floor.

I wish he were playing in a better ecosystem, and admittedly there are some reservations about investing in a college committee back transitioning into a lead role at the pro level, but I still rank Jacobs as a mid-range RB2.

Former undrafted free agent Jalen Richard had a career-high 68 receptions last season and has become a valuable contributor to the Raiders three years into his career. He’s only scored six TDs in 48 career games, so there isn’t vast upside here. But Richard is still useful in PPR leagues, and he’d probably be startable in fantasy leagues if anything happened to Jacobs. (Third-stringer Deandre Washington would become interesting, too.)

Derek CarrQB24QB24QB22Superflex only
Josh JacobsRB18RB20RB17Risky but tempting
Jalen RichardRB55RB65RB62Late value
Antonio BrownWR12WR10WR9Too much drama
Tyrell WilliamsWR55WR51WR48Pass
Darren WallerT23TE29TE22Late-round target

ADP = Average Draft Position   ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)