Fantasy Football 2024: 4 players in make-or-break seasons

2TB38DR December 3, 2023: Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) pulls up on a run from an injury during the NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Darren Lee/CSM/Sipa USA (Credit Image: © Darren Lee/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

• Can Deshaun Watson return to form? The Cleveland Browns have spent the offseason building around Watson and the passing game, which means as long as he’s healthy, he’s out of excuses.

Cincinnati Bengals roll the dice on Zack Moss: The Bengals saved some money against the cap by trading away long-time starter Joe Mixon and signing Moss to a two-year deal.  

• Check out PFF's fantasy football rankings: PFF’s fantasy football rankings include ranks from our experts, projections and our strength of schedule metric.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The National Football League is a fickle business without guarantees, which means every year is a make-or-break season for most players in the league. Though fantasy football managers don’t have quite as much on the line as team executives and players looking to maintain their livelihood, they do have some decisions to make year-over-year regarding who deserves their precious fantasy draft capital. Here are four players with the most to prove to fantasy football managers in the 2024 season.

QB Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns

There might not be a single player with more on the line in 2024 than Deshaun Watson, whose rapidly losing the security once provided by his $200 million, fully guaranteed contract. In his first two seasons with the Browns (each of which was marked short by either a suspension or an injury), Watson has averaged just 184.8 passing yards per game while completing 59.8% of pass attempts. 

Watson stats 2017-2020 2022-2023
Passing grade 90.0 62.2
Yards per attempt 8.2 6.5
BTT% 6.0% 2.4%
Fantasy points/dropback 0.54 0.44

Though Watson has seen a demonstrable dropoff in most statistical categories since being traded to the Browns, the Browns front office has made a concerted effort to upgrade the weaponry around him. They traded to acquire former first-round WR Jerry Jeudy to play opposite veteran Amari Cooper, and slot receiver Elijah Moore is now in his second year with the team. TE David Njoku had a monstrous breakout with 975 receiving yards and six touchdowns in the regular and post-seasons.

Though the Browns’ receiving corps won’t crack any “top 10” lists, they’ve done enough for Watson that he’s out of excuses. If he can’t produce in 2024, he might not make it into any starting lineup – for an NFL team, or for fantasy.

RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams might be one of the most forgotten starting running backs in the NFL ahead of the 2024 season. Coming off a torn ACL suffered in the 2022 season, Williams was thrust back into a lead role for the Broncos, though it was hardly an effective one. He notched career lows with a 3.6 yards per carry average, 2.71 yards per carry and an abysmal 40.0 PFF elusive rating. He paled in comparison to most other high-volume backs in the league, ranking dead last among all 25 running backs with 200-plus carries on the season with a 64.9 rushing grade.

Though the numbers aren’t bound to give fantasy managers much hope on their own, the opportunity to lead the Broncos’ backfield in a Sean Payton might just be enough to bring them back to the well. Another year out from the ACL repair might just be the ticket for Williams to return to the form of his rookie season, where he led all running backs with a 31% missed forced tackle rate (min. 100 carries). If he doesn’t, it’s likely the last opportunity for Williams, both in terms of his fantasy value and his chance to play an integral part in the Broncos’ offense with RBs Jaleel McLaughlin and Audric Estime hot on his tail.

WR Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

After once looking poised to take over the WR1 role in Green Bay absent Davante Adams, it appears that the patience of fantasy managers has worn thin. After starting off his career with a brutal drop from Aaron Rodgers, Watson showed some big-time flashes to help justify his draft capital as the 34th selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Those flashes included a stunning 4-107-3 day back in Week 10 of his rookie season, but since then, the flashes have been fewer and farther between.

Unfortunately, plenty of those inconsistencies have stemmed from a lack of health, between hamstring and knee issues, as well as a concussion. Still, there was no doubt that Watson had a great opportunity to become Jordan Love’s favorite target heading into 2023, given his standing in a very young (and very unproven) receiving corps. Even then, he hasn’t necessarily stood out over his first two seasons in the most positive lights.

There have been eight Packers wide receivers with 25 or more targets over the past two seasons. Among them, Watson ranks:

  • Seventh in completion percentage when targeted (58.7%)
  • First in drop rate (8.6%)
  • Fourth in yards per route run (1.85)
  • Tied for first in yards after the catch per reception (5.4)
  • Third in threat rate (21.3%)

As you can see, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no doubt that his usage as a weapon downfield should pose high upside, demonstrated by his 3.17 fantasy points per touch. The only trick will be getting the ball into his hands, consistently, to maintain any semblance of fantasy value in an ascending offense.

TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

A good chunk of fantasy football managers have already written off Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts as a “bust”, but I’m kindly requesting one more season of patience before we toss him overboard. There are two reasons fantasy managers might consider extending the olive branch to Pitts in 2024, the first being health, and the second being the opportunity for a massive increase in catchable targets. 

Let’s first address the health component. In his second NFL season, Pitts suffered a knee injury that ended a fairly disastrous campaign after just 10 games, where he caught 47.5% of targets for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Though he returned to play a full season in 2023, Pitts eventually announced that he

Pitts has seen a decline in his receiving grade over each of the past two seasons and is coming off a year where he posted career lows with a 12.6 yards per reception average, 2.5 yards after the catch per reception and 1.43 yards per route run – brutal. However, his 82.8 receiving grade and 2.02 yards per route run as a rookie both ranked top-two among rookie tight ends dating back to 2010 (min. 50 targets). 


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