Eight fantasy football storylines that will define the 2024 season

NFL

Hey, Field! It’s me, your best pal Michael Clay.

When we last did one of these roundtable things, the goal was to examine eight non-rookie fantasy football breakout candidates for 2024. And that’s exactly what we did. Well…sort of. You broke the rules and pretty much just did whatever you wanted.

Since you’re clearly an unpredictable force that can’t be controlled and no one knows what you’ll do next, we decided to make this roundtable a bit broader: 10 storylines that will define the 2024 fantasy football season.

This could be anything. Fantasy MVP candidates, breakout stars, busts, players who are loose cannons and completely mess up your column, err, I mean fantasy team.

You get the point, so let’s do this thing.


Mike Clay: I’ll kick this thing off with perhaps my favorite fantasy-related topic of the offseason: the potential of the Falcons’ offense. There are two major changes here: offensive scheme and quarterback. The former relates to the firing of run-heavy Arthur Smith and the hiring of Zac Robinson (of the Sean McVay coaching tree) as the team’s new playcaller. This will almost certainly lead to substantially more passing and a better commitment to the team’s top skill players. That’s good news for the offense, but the even larger impact will come from the signing of Kirk Cousins, who provides a massive upgrade over Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke.

The new-look offense, which includes one of the league’s top lines, should finally allow recent first-round picks Drake London (outside the top 20 in targets, receptions, yards and TDs during each of his first two seasons), Bijan Robinson (2 carries inside the 5-yard line in 2023) and Kyle Pitts (6 career TDs and 1 top-12 fantasy season) to reach their fantasy potential.

Forget everything about the Atlanta offense of the past few seasons. This has the potential to be an elite unit in 2024.

OK, Field. Here’s your opportunity to explain why you have Jake Bobo ranked as a top-five WR.

Field Yates: A top-two WR. And not No. 2. I’ll stand by that take any day of the week.

But in the interest of more expansive topics, I’ll turn my attention to another team’s offense: the New York Jets. Specifically, what the return of Aaron Rodgers means for all involved. We can start with Rodgers himself, as while he does not crack the top 12 in my quarterback rankings going into the season, his health puts another potentially elite quarterback back on the board.

Though he averaged just 14.1 fantasy points per game in 2022, Rodgers put together back-to-back seasons prior to that with more than 20 fantasy points per game while rushing for a total of 250 yards. Rodgers is an elite enough passer that even if his legs are a nonfactor for fantasy, he can score 20-plus in a given week.

But perhaps more importantly is what it’ll mean for Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. Wilson led our breakout player picks in the column we did before, as he has somehow managed consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards despite horrid quarterback play. His touchdown upside should soar and I’d be surprised if he lasts past pick 15 in most drafts.

Meanwhile, Hall emerged as one of the league’s stars last season, particularly down the stretch when he was the central hub of the Jets’ running and passing game (or at least close on the passing game front, as he had at least nine targets in five of the final seven games). But there were two issues to plague Hall that had little to do with his own ability: defensive attention and porous offensive line play.

Even after Hall’s workload was not mitigated by his ACL recovery (the team wisely increased Hall’s role throughout the season), teams took the approach against Gang Green of “Let someone besides Hall beat us.” There was a nine-game stretch when Hall did not surpass 50 rushing yards or 4.0 rushing yards per attempt in a game.

With Rodgers available, teams must respect the Jets’ passing game. Factor in a much-improved offensive line and Hall is my second-ranked running back coming into the season.

Back to you, superstar (I’m playing the nice-guy game).

Mike: You’re doing a terrible job of talking smack … but a great job tagging along on the Jets’ bandwagon. I expect you to join me in the city when they win the Super Bowl.

If you want to win your fantasy football Super Bowl, one place to turn may be second-year quarterbacks. This is a topic I bring up annually, as I think it’s still an overlooked potential edge. Targeting second-year quarterbacks (specifically ones drafted in the first round) doesn’t always work out (I submit my 2023 late-round Kenny Pickett fliers as evidence), but it’s usually a strong bet (Carson Wentz in 2017, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2018, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in 2019, Kyler Murray in 2020, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow in 2021, and Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields in 2022). None of the 10 quarterbacks I just listed finished better than eighth in fantasy points as a rookie (only Murray and Herbert were even top 20), but all 10 finished eighth or better in Year 2.

Enter C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young. Stroud and Richardson are getting plenty of respect in early drafts (both were fifth-round picks in our recent 10-team mock), and history suggests that’s a strong strategy. With Stefon Diggs and Joe Mixon added to the fold in Houston, Stroud very well could join the elite fantasy quarterbacks this season. Richardson, who had seven TDs in what was essentially two and a half games of action last season, also has an improved supporting cast, and his elite rushing ability provides plenty to love in fantasy. Don’t overlook Young, who now has Diontae Johnson, Xavier Legette and Jonathon Brooks at his disposal, and can be had very late in drafts. I’ll also submit 2023 second-rounder Will Levis as a late-round flier, as he’ll have Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins and Tyler Boyd (among others) in what will be a pass-heavy Tennessee offense.

He’s no William T. Shirt, but you buying in on Billy Jeans, Field?

Field: You think I won’t take a player who was born in my home state of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and went to high school in the same town that I went to college (Middletown, CT)? You’re nuts if not.

But let’s not talk about the old guys like the second-year players, let’s talk rookie wide receivers, as I see a bunch in spots to produce.

By my count, there are at least four rookie wideouts well positioned to be the top wideout on their respective teams:

  • Marvin Harrison, Jr., Arizona Cardinals: MHJ is a top-10 wideout for me when factoring in his skill set and opportunity. I’m all-in.

  • Malik Nabers, New York Giants: While Nabers’ quarterback play is a little less certain than Harrison’s, his opportunity is excellent as well.

  • Keon Coleman, Buffalo Bills: Buffalo had a massive hole at wide receiver entering the draft and used the 33rd pick on the impressive Coleman. He should thrive as a red zone target.

  • Ladd McConkey, Los Angeles Chargers: No receiver room was thinner entering the draft than the Chargers’, who traded up to make McConkey the 34th overall pick. His speed and route-running give him a chance to make an immediate mark.

But those are far from the only rookies who could or should play a legitimate role within their offense, as Xavier Worthy (Chiefs), Brian Thomas Jr. (Jaguars), Rome Odunze (Bears), Roman Wilson (Steelers) and Xavier Legette (Panthers) are also on the radar.

By the way, thanks again to you, Mike, for trading me Harrison for a 2027 fifth-round pick in our dynasty league.

You’re up!

Mike: Don’t even get me started on how little Daniel gave up to land Harrison in that league. A first-rounder and a jar of pickles? C’mon, man.

Harrison is a future star in this league, and we’ll need him in fantasy considering we could be looking at the end of the line for several star RBs of the past decade. Derrick Henry (30), Alvin Kamara (29), Austin Ekeler (29), Aaron Jones (29), James Conner (29), Mixon (28), Christian McCaffrey (28) and Nick Chubb (28) are among the backs in the “danger” zone. Consider: Since 2017, there have been only seven instances of an age-28 or older RB finishing top 15 in fantasy points. That’s 6.7% of the sample (seven of 105) … and three of them happened in 2023 (Raheem Mostert, Henry, Kamara).

Several of these backs are still well positioned for fantasy success (McCaffrey, Henry, Kamara and Mixon, especially), but history suggests one or more of them will struggle to repeat as top-12 scorers at the position. Should you avoid these backs at all costs because of their age? No, but it’s a variable to consider. You could also factor it in late in your draft by taking fliers on upside backups like Kendre Miller, Trey Benson, Ty Chandler and, once healthy, Keaton Mitchell.

Speaking of people who are extremely old and trending down, I send it back to you, Field … (this is a funny joke, because you, of course, do not age).

Field: Do you recall that Zoom that running backs around the league held last offseason to talk about their contract plights? You might recall it, but there’s no chance you were invited to it given how you consider every running back that isn’t currently in middle school a fossil. RUDE.

I’ll pivot to the tight end position, as something is taking place this offseason in mock drafts that I’ve been a part of that hasn’t happened in years: Travis Kelce isn’t going as the clear-cut first tight end off the board, with Sam LaPorta often leapfrogging Kelce. The top of the tight end heap is more compelling than it has been in a long time, with more viable options for top-end starters than usual.

Many reading this right now will likely clap back and say, “You guys tell us tight end is going to be deeper every year,” which may be partially true. This year feels different, though, as while I still have Kelce as my top-ranked player at the position, he has company near the mountain top: LaPorta will push for 100 catches, Mark Andrews is Lamar Jackson‘s favorite target, Trey McBride was one of the biggest breakout players in fantasy last season, Evan Engram set a single-season record for catches among tight ends, Dalton Kincaid is due for approximately one zillion targets … you get the point.

While in prior years I’ve been an advocate for targeting one of the select few tight ends early — and taking Kelce within the first 10 picks — this is a year in which I am willing to be more patient because I do believe the on-paper depth will translate on the field this year, too.

All right, Mike, we’ve covered a lot of ground and the running backs are about to revolt against you. Any interest in one more storyline apiece?

Mike: Good call on the tight end depth. Just to add to your point: you didn’t even mention the tight end who led the position in receiving yardage last season — the great George Kittle! I believe patience at the position will be the right way to go.

We’ve covered a lot, so we can wrap this up soon, but I’ll give you one more topic that’s on my mind: Panthers rookie RB Jonathon Brooks. Over the past decade, 18 rookie RBs have finished top 15 in fantasy points. That includes at least one in nine of those 10 campaigns.

As you know, Field, this was not a very good rookie RB class, but Brooks was the first one off the board at 46th overall, and perhaps he would’ve been selected earlier if not for the torn ACL suffered late last season. A slow start seems likely, but with Chuba Hubbard and fading Miles Sanders as his top competition, Brooks has the potential to be a league winner. He has the size and skill set (as a rusher and receiver) to emerge as a three-down back in an ascending offense.

There’s risk here, but history likes high-pedigree rookie RBs, so Brooks will be on my radar in the middle rounds.

He’s the highlight of this class, but I’ll also be looking at Benson, Blake Corum, MarShawn Lloyd, Ray Davis and Jaylen Wright as late-round dart throws. Any of them catch your eye, Field?

Field: I’m admittedly a bit more skeptical on Brooks’ impact this season absent the Panthers trimming their depth in the backfield, but he was a really impressive player prior to that ACL tear.

The rookie back I have my eyes on is Benson. While James Conner is the unquestioned starter in Arizona, he has never gone a full season without missing at least one game, and I think Benson will have a pocket of games in which he provides value: He’s a forced missed tackle and big play waiting to happen.

My final storyline puts a bow on this rookie class by discussing the position that dominated the draft cycle: quarterback. An incredible six of the first 12 picks were quarterbacks, including three at the start.

We had an unexpected fantasy star emerge last season from the rookie class in C.J. Stroud, who defied what looked like a ho-hum situation going into the season to sizzle for much of it.

The rookie from this class I’m most focused on in this class is new Commanders quarterback Jayden Daniels, as he is immediately among the five most dynamic rushers at the position and I expect Washington to tap into that heavily. It raises the floor and ceiling for a quarterback, as we have seen with so many recent emergent stars.

Caleb Williams isn’t far behind for me, as he has an excellent core of playmakers to throw to around him. While he won’t run as much as Daniels, he has a chance to put up big-time passing numbers as a rookie.

J.J. McCarthy is also in a great spot, in terms of his surroundings. Beginning your career by throwing to arguably the best receiver in the NFL is quite a way to kick things off. McCarthy has a strong arm, good mobility and always makes the right decision on the field.

And I’ll admit, Mike, while I don’t even think he’ll be the Week 1 starter and he lacks difference-making receivers around him, Drake Maye has me intrigued: his cannon arm and great mobility at his size could lead to some fantasy intrigue — we just likely will have to wait for it. If he winds up as a waiver-wire add at some point this season, I surely won’t be surprised.

That’ll do it for this piece, Mike. I want to congratulate you for making it through another one of these tag-team efforts, in which I did approximately 98% of the work. Your 2% mattered, though (that’s not true, but I’ll be nice and say so).

Do it again sometime soon?

See ya then, pal.

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