I won’t get into the car for a long ride these days without a traffic app connected on my phone. I need to know which routes are open and which routes are congested. Knowledge is good. Gridlock is bad.
Fantasy football is much the same way. If there’s a bottleneck with an offense, we need to know about it. And if things are more streamlined in a different city, that’s good to know, too. Knowing the depth of skill-position talent isn’t the complete picture of an offense, of course, but it’s a key component to the puzzle.
When I use the term “Usage Tree,” I’m discussing how concentrated the distribution of touches is expected to be in a given offense. Like most NFL things, evaluating this is an exercise akin to chasing a butterfly. Just when we think we know where things are, the story can easily change, dip, fly away. Players will get hurt, crowded trees will tighten up. Unknown players will emerge, forcing narrow trees into wider ones. We have to be realistic in our conclusions now; this stands merely as a snapshot of the best information I can find at the time.
Nonetheless, lots of Usage Tree analysis will lead to logical conclusions and actionable items and good choices — let’s get you some of those now.
Philadelphia Eagles — Wide Tree
I’m gobbling up a lot of Carson Wentz this year, as he’s going to benefit from the best supporting cast — by far — of his career. But divvying up the usage could be a nightmare.
Jordan Howard and the intriguing Miles Sanders have been added to the backfield. Darren Sproles will outlive us all. DeSean Jackson is around to stretch defenses and catch the occasional bomb, and second-year TE Dallas Goedert is ready for more work. Alshon Jeffery isn’t going away, even if he’s largely a touchdown-deodorant player.
Wentz is the only Eagles offensive player I’m currently drafting proactively, though I am not opposed to Sanders. And as much as it pains me, I have to cool on Zach Ertz, one of my evergreen favorites. He’s coming off an outlier season, but he could easily give 20-40 targets back this year.
Chicago Bears — Wide Tree
This looks like a classic case of an offense with too many good players — not a Bears problem, but perhaps a fantasy problem. David Montgomery was added to the backfield, and Mike Davis is not a zero, either. Anthony Miller steps into a Year 2 season, and Taylor Gabriel will have some plays designed for him. I dare Trey Burton to bust out with all this gridlock around him.
And QB Mitch Trubisky is an opportunistic runner, which siphons from the production of others.
I’m still fairly invested in Allen Robinson, based on career arc and how he finished 2018, but Tarik Cohen could be a week-to-week nightmare with the start-sit decisions.
Cincinnati Bengals — Narrow Tree
All sorts of things have gone wrong for the Bengals thus far this summer. A.J. Green was hurt immediately. The offensive line is a mess. But let’s keep in mind, Joe Mixon thrived despite the chaos last year, and Tyler Boyd’s breakout season already happened.
There’s nothing else on this roster that intrigues me, but Mixon seems capable of winning even in a bad setup, and Boyd is going to be showered with targets. I don’t have high hopes for the 2019 Bengals in total, but I can draft Mixon and Boyd proactively.
Cleveland Browns — Wide Tree
Baker Mayfield looks like a “My favorite receiver is the open guy” quarterback. Let’s exploit weak defenders. Let’s attack all over the field. And Mayfield certainly doesn’t seem like a quarterback who will force it to his alpha dog, no matter the coverage.
With that in mind, I’ve been a little leery on taking Odell Beckham at his ADP. OBJ is also changing teams, of course — often that’s a little bumpy, initially — and he comes with a little bit of ticker risk, given his resume and even his personality. Does anyone really want to bet on Beckham playing the full season?
Jarvis Landry isn’t going away, David Njoku steps into a Year 3 season, and Rashard Higgins has some rapport with Mayfield. There are mouths to feed in this passing game.
Full disclosure, I do not consider the Cleveland backfield cluttered. I expect Nick Chubb to be good right away, and a no-doubt RB1 all season. I am not drafting with any fear of Kareem Hunt.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Narrow Tree
The coaching staff played the rope-a-dope months ago, trying to suggest James Conner wasn’t really a bell cow for 2019. No one believes that now. Ben Roethlisberger is the type of quarterback willing to smother his top wideouts with targets; JuJu Smith-Schuster has overall WR1 reasonably in his range of outcomes, and although this isn’t commonly said, I think Conner has a shot at the RB1 mantle, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Narrow Tree
This frame is different from some of the others, because Jacksonville does have a bunch of ordinary skill players — JAGs, if you will. But Leonard Fournette should have most of the backfield work to himself, and Dede Westbrook looks like the top receiver by far on this roster. Although I do see a socialistic approach to the secondary pieces here, I think it’s possible Fournette and Westbrook get as many touches as they want.
Buffalo Bills — Wide Tree
Most fantasy owners would love to see LeSean McCoy traded (and maybe Frank Gore retired) just so we could tidy up the Buffalo backfield. Devin Singletary will probably come into value at some point this year, but it’s hard to say exactly when that happens. The receiver group has plenty of talent, but it’s filled with moving parts — John Brown and Cole Beasley are new to the team, while Zay Jones and Robert Foster are still on the escalator. Foster, who starred down the stretch last year, looks like the forgotten man in training camp.
At least there’s no tight end of note here — there seldom is in Buffalo. But Josh Allen’s rushing ability is going to take points off the plates of others.
Minnesota Vikings — Narrow Tree
My first instinct was to fade the Minnesota passing game since Mike Zimmer is so insistent on playing 1977 football. But the Vikings only have two targets who command the ball: Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Kirk Cousins will never be an MVP candidate, but he’s been well above the league-average for QB rating in four straight seasons. He’s better than people realize. Meanwhile, Kyle Rudolph is on the decline, Irv Smith is just a rookie, and none of the secondary receivers have spiked yet.
Others Receiving Votes: Arizona (potentially crowded); LA Chargers (potentially crowded); Seattle (potentially narrow; two primary backs is not a kill shot by any means); Tampa Bay (major carnival potential).