I’ve done this exercise for the last six years, which is wild to think about. Many of the players I picked in the past aren’t even in the league anymore—my first “fun fantasy” team featured C.J. Spiller, Ladarius Green, and Dri Archer (remember Dri Archer?). But the reasons for building this team have remained the same. In an era when fantasy football drafting is analyzed to death, we often forget the reason that we like playing in the first place: It’s supposed to be fun.
With that in mind, I’ve put together what I think is the most fun fantasy roster you can build in a normal auction league in 2019. You won’t find any guys with stat lines like “18 carries for 88 yards” in this group. You won’t find any aging veterans, either. Let someone else draft Latavius Murray. This is the all-fun team, and there’s no room for touchdown-dependent no. 2 backs on this squad.
Like I’ve done in the past, I’m building this team using a standard $200 budget and auction values from FantasyPros. I’m sticking with a non-PPR format.
As always, I won’t guarantee that this is the shrewdest way to build your team, or that this route will lead you to fantasy glory come December. But I can promise you that your football Sundays will always be entertaining.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns: $5
When I was in Cleveland last week for training camp, Mayfield fired a ball over the head of tight end David Njoku and nailed a videographer on the sideline. As I looked to see if the poor guy on the business end of the throw was OK, Mayfield jogged past me and snatched a water bottle out of my hand. Two steps later, he flipped it back to me without breaking stride, and the bottle landed directly in my left hand. It was a small moment, but it was also a reminder that Mayfield is different than most quarterbacks. He enjoys this. Whether it’s goofing on reporters, parrying questions about his mustache, or shotgunning beers at an Indians game, Mayfield seems to always be having a good time. And the more fun Baker has tossing touchdowns, the more fun you’ll have watching him do it.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants: $63
As the priciest player in fantasy football this year, Saquon won’t come cheap—but getting to root for this guy each week is worth every dollar. Barkley cuts like Barry Sanders and runs a 4.4 in a 233-pound body. He is not constrained by the physical laws that govern our universe. Any time he touches the ball, something spectacular is on the table. Having to watch Giants games and relying on the corpse of Eli Manning to move the ball may not sound like a rollicking good time, but Big Blue has three prime-time games this fall. They’re going to be on TV anyway, so you might as well be invested in the only part of this team worth watching.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears: $9
The second tier of fantasy running backs is—almost by definition—a joyless group. After electrifying options like Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey, you’re left mostly with volume-dependent also-rans like Lamar Miller and Mark Ingram. Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve better than Lamar Miller. Say it with me: “I deserve better than Lamar Miller.”
Instead of living that dreary plodder life, go with Cohen. The Bears’ 5-foot-6, do-it-all back is a perfect fit for Matt Nagy’s creative offense. Cohen averaged 6.9 yards per touch last season, he threw a touchdown in Week 13 against the Giants, and he’s a threat to take any punt return to the house. Good things seem to happen nearly every time he has the ball in his hands. Going with Cohen, who averaged 10.6 touches a game last season, rather than a traditional starting back who’s sure to get the ball at least 15 times a game may sound risky, but we don’t worry about risk here. Take a chance. Live a little.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Browns: $38
Beckham hasn’t held back this offseason in expressing his excitement at being a part of the Browns and playing with a QB as talented as Mayfield. And who can blame him? It wasn’t long ago that OBJ was the most thrilling player in the NFL, and for the past couple of seasons, he’s been trapped in a shaky offense with a declining quarterback. Now he steps into a system that lit the league on fire over the second half of last season. Beckham is currently tracking as the ninth-most expensive receiver in fantasy this year, which makes absolutely no earthly sense to me. From 2014 to 2016, the only receiver to score more fantasy points than Beckham was Antonio Brown (711.4 compared with 622.9). And Beckham put together that run with a rotting Eli Manning throwing him the ball. Also, there are few better feelings in fantasy football than getting double-dip points from a QB-receiver stack. Every time Mayfield and Beckham connect, you win. That’s a pairing I want to be a part of.
Chris Godwin, WR, Buccaneers: $18
Tampa Bay traded DeSean Jackson to Philly this offseason, which means it’s finally Godwin’s time to shine as a true no. 2 receiver. Godwin finished last season with 842 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing 222 fewer offensive snaps than teammate Mike Evans. Those numbers should shoot up this year. First-year head coach Bruce Arians recently said that he doesn’t expect Godwin to come off the field in 2019, and back in March, Arians said he believes Godwin can be “close to a 100-catch guy” while playing the Larry Fitzgerald–type slot role in his offense. Just imagine Godwin—who’s a contested catch master—going up for jump balls in Arians’s “no risk it, no biscuit” system. This has fireworks written all over it.
Christian Kirk, WR, Cardinals: $8
It wasn’t easy for anyone to look good in the Cardinals offense last season, but Kirk still had some promising flashes as a rookie. With Kliff Kingsbury bringing in his pass-happy Air Raid scheme and no. 1 pick Kyler Murray slinging the ball in Arizona, this offense could become a fantasy gold mine this fall. You’ll want in on that action, and Kirk is a reasonably priced way to reap the rewards. Even with Fitzgerald still in the fold, Kirk could still emerge as the Cardinals’ targets leader by season’s end—and given Kingsbury’s history as a play caller, there will be a lot of targets to go around.
George Kittle, TE, 49ers: $30
This is Kittle’s second-straight appearance on this team, and for good reason. He was an absolute monster for the 49ers last season, racking up 870 yards after catch and becoming the first tight end in history to lead the NFL in that metric. Among players with at least 50 targets, Kittle finished second in the league in yards per route run at 2.82. The only player to beat him was Julio f’ing Jones. Kittle is one of the most devastating pass catchers in the NFL, regardless of position, and he’s a perfect fit in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Shanahan delights in creating schemes for nontraditional playmakers, and it seems like every week, he dials up a design that allows Kittle to do damage in open space. Just sit back and watch Kittle go to work.
Chicago Bears, D/ST: $2
Take it from me, a Bears fan: Rooting for this defense is a goddamn blast. There have been a few Bears defensive players in my lifetime that I’ve felt compelled to watch on every single snap. Young Brian Urlacher was one. Julius Peppers was another. Khalil Mack is the latest guy to fit that bill. Every game, he makes a play that incites an audible reaction. Oh, and you also get touchdown machine Eddie Jackson running back picks and world’s strongest man Akiem Hicks grinding 330-pound offensive linemen into table salt. Don’t overthink this. Go with the Bears.
Justin Tucker, K, Ravens: $1
The rules say you need a kicker. Might as well have the best one. (On principle alone, that’s all the analysis I can give here.)
Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals: $1
I wrote in depth about Murray’s fantasy potential earlier this week, but the pitch is pretty simple: He’s a transcendent athlete stepping into a high-volume offensive system he already knows and that should produce immediate fantasy results. And I’ll just leave this here:
Hollywood Brown, WR, Ravens: $1
Brown and Murray formed the primary duo that led Oklahoma’s record-smashing offense in 2018. A Lisfranc injury prevented Brown from running the 40-yard dash at the combine, but he told me in April that his time would have been in the low 4.2 range. Brown is likely the fastest player from the 2019 draft, and he’s devastating with the ball in his hands. The Ravens’ run-heavy, Lamar Jackson–led offense will likely use Brown as a YAC machine on short throws and gimmick plays, and you’ll want your popcorn ready for that.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: $5
Jackson is 32 years old, and he’s still one of the most thrilling deep-ball receivers in the NFL. The Jackson–Carson Wentz connection is reportedly all-systems-go early in its first training camp, and that is truly exciting news. There’s something about Jackson lighting up defenses in an Eagles jersey that just feels right.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Panthers: $6
Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner went on Mike Tice’s new podcast last week—wow, is that a weird sentence—and said he thinks Samuel is the fastest player he’s ever coached. And Turner has been coaching in the NFL since 1985. He’s been around. Injuries and a heart condition have limited Samuel to just 22 games in his first two NFL seasons, but his role within the Panthers offense could explode in a real way this year.
Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles: $8
Early reports out of Eagles camp say that Sanders is the top back on the roster, and he’s expected to emerge as the backfield’s lead man by the start of the regular season. You’ve already got Saquon. You might as well grab the guy that succeeded him at Penn State. Plus, you’ll be able to relish in the moment when Sanders takes off as the Eagles’ top option.
Darrell Henderson, RB, Rams: $5
Henderson’s college numbers are absolutely ridiculous. The Rams rookie averaged 8.9 yards per carry in each of his final two seasons at Memphis. Think about that for a second. His one-cut-and-go rushing style is perfectly suited for the Rams’ zone-running scheme. If Todd Gurley misses any time or sees his workload decrease because of fears about his knee, Henderson should be there to gash defenses.