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Beginner's Luck? Chase Claypool, Travis Fulgham, Other WR Breakouts

It sometimes takes rookie wide receivers a season or two to reach their full potential. Davante Adams averaged 465 receiving yards in his first two NFL seasons. Michael Irvin had a total of 78 receptions in his first three NFL seasons.

The 2014 season was a special one for rookie WRs. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Sammy Watkins all finished the season with at least 800 receiving yards. All of those receivers, except Benjamin, are still in the NFL and playing at a high level.

Several young WRs have had breakout games and enjoyed fantasy success so far this season. Is their early-season success truly reflective of their talent or can we chalk it up to beginner’s luck?  Can we count on them for the rest of this season and beyond? The following are five young receivers who’ve been lighting it up as of late. Let’s try to determine if it's legit or if there’s a Kelvin Benjamin in the group.

 

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

After a seven-catch, 110-yard, three-touchdown Week 5 performance, Chase Claypool was one of this week’s hottest fantasy football waiver wire adds. The Steelers selected Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, and with their reputation for developing top wide receivers, the rest of the league took notice.

The six-foot four-inch Claypool is an explosive receiver with a knack for being able to bring down contested catches. With his special teams experience and above-average blocking skills, it wasn’t surprising when he saw significant playing time to start the season. However, as detailed in the chart below, Claypool’s playing time seems tied to how many snaps second-year WR Diontae Johnson plays on a weekly basis. Johnson, who leads the Steelers with 26 targets, saw limited action in Week 3 (concussion), and Week 5 (back injury) and that’s when Claypool saw a significant uptick in playing time.

 

Steelers WR

Week 1
Snaps %
Week 2
Snaps %
Week 3
Snaps %
Week 5
Snaps %
Chase Claypool 30 37 76 69
Diontae Johnson 86 83 24 8
James Washington 58 48 61 71
JuJu Smith-Schuster 86 91 73 76

Claypool is currently second among WRs with 9.2 Yards After The Catch Per Reception (YAC/R) and has the type of skillset that can eventually help him become one of the NFL’s top receivers for years to come. Although he deserves to be rostered in all league formats, fantasy managers should temper their expectations. There are many mouths to feed in the Steelers passing game and that can lead to some inconsistency in Claypool’s fantasy production moving forward. Fantasy managers should expect Claypool to have some very good weeks, like when he’s got a favorable matchup, and some small weeks, like when he plays against the Ravens in three weeks.

Claypool can be a significant contributor to your fantasy team’s success for the rest of the season, but you’ll need to make strategic decisions as to when to put him in your starting lineup and when to leave him on your bench. Claypool’s talent is for real, but it may not be evident on a weekly basis early in his career.

 

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Shenault hasn’t exactly lit the fantasy world on fire, but he’s gradually developing into a reliable fantasy WR. According to Fantasy Football Today, he’s fantasy football’s WR32, averaging 12.3 Fantasy Points Per Game (FPPG) in PPR scoring formats. That means that in a 12-team league, he’s a fringe WR3 or flex option.

Breaking tackles was his specialty in college. He broke 46 of them over his last two college seasons, so it makes sense that he’s tied for fourth in receptions per broken tackle among NFL WRs this season. With his combination of size, strength, and speed he has the potential to further develop into a big-time playmaker. Shenault’s outstanding running skills make him a versatile offensive force who has already had nine carries for 53 yards (5.9 YPC) through Week 5.

As part of a Jaguars team that surprisingly leads the NFL in passing play percentage (66.56%), he should continue to grow as a receiver as the season progresses. Shenault already leads the team with 23 receptions and averages 62% offensive snaps played per game. He’s still a bit of a work in progress, but Shenault deserves to be rostered in all fantasy league formats. Shenault may not have Claypool’s high ceiling, but at least for this season, he should provide fantasy players with a bit more consistency in weekly production than the Steelers WR.

 

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

With the Vikings a little thin at the WR position after Stefon Diggs shuffled off to Buffalo, many fantasy players and analysts (myself included), expected Justin Jefferson to be widely used in the Vikings’ passing game. However, asking a rookie WR to regularly put up significant fantasy numbers when he plays for a team that has the fourth-lowest passing play percentage dating back to the 2019 season is asking for a lot.

So far, the receiver who has benefited the most from Diggs’ departure has been Adam Thielen. He’s fifth in FPPG among NFL receivers. Like many rookie WRs who have come before him, Jefferson has had his ups and downs to start his career. He’s tied for fourth among WRs with 19.5 yards per reception. In Week 3, he caught seven passes for 175 yards, including a 71-yard TD reception. He followed that up with a four-catch 103-yard game. However, in his other three matchups, he’s averaged just under three receptions and 31 receiving yards per game.

Some college scouts cite Jefferson’s lack of speed and poor separation skills and consider him a career WR2, at best. Those alleged weaknesses haven’t been an issue thus far this season. He’s NFL’s WR11 when it comes to YAC/R (6.7). Maybe the scouts will end up being right and in the long term, Jefferson’s lack of speed will limit his ability to stretch the field. However, for the short term, the Vikings’ run-first offensive scheme (and maybe some typical rookie growing pains) will be his biggest hurdle to providing fantasy players with consistent fantasy production on a weekly basis. His ceiling isn’t as high as Claypool’s or Shenault’s, but he’s another rookie who deserves to be rostered. Just don’t consider him an automatic start on a weekly basis…yet.

 

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Tee Higgins is averaging 12.7 FPPG in PPR scoring formats. That makes him a WR30 in fantasy football. If you start three WRs in your fantasy league Higgins should be one of them. He’s got it all. He’s a talented receiver who’s a deep-ball threat and can play all three receiver spots. Higgins doesn’t have blazing speed but he’s quick off the line of scrimmage and has excellent ball tracking and ball-handling skills.

Higgins finds himself in a perfect situation. Not only does he play for a team that loves to throw the ball, but because they’ll be playing from behind for much of the season, they’ll need to throw the ball.  He’s already become an integral part of the Bengals’ passing offense and averages close to eight targets per game. With future star QB Joe Burrow slinging the ball his way you’re going to want to find a way to get Higgins on your dynasty team’s roster. A.J. Green’s time has come and gone. Start Higgins every week.

 

Travis Fulgham, Philadelphia Eagles

Travis Fulgham has TDs in each of the last two weeks as the Eagles, who’ve been decimated by injuries to their WRs, desperately look for anyone that QB Carson Wentz can throw the ball to. Conventional wisdom tells us that Fulgham will find his way back to the Eagles’ practice squad once Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are healthy enough to return to the football field.

Fulgham played his college ball for the lightly regarded Old Dominion and will probably never have a regular starting job as an NFL receiver, but he’s obviously formed a bit of a connection with Wentz over the past couple of weeks. Nevertheless, even if he gets one more week as a starting Eagle WR, this isn’t the time to put him in your lineup. He’ll be facing the Ravens who’ve given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to fantasy WRs. Chalk up his brief time in the Eagle’s spotlight to beginner’s luck. We’ve found our Kelvin Benjamin doppelganger.



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Can James Robinson Be the Next Phillip Lindsay?

When Leonard Fournette was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, there was a lot of speculation about whether Ryquell Armstead, the second-year back from Temple, would be elevated to the starting position on a run-heavy offense. However, Armstead is still battling with COVID-19 and is not ready for game action, so the Jaguars' first depth chart had James Robinson listed as the starter.

Who??? While many were not familiar with James Robinson, the Illinois State product put himself on the map with a strong four-year career and a solid postseason showcase at the NFL Combine and East-West Shrine Bowl. So now the question becomes: do we want to roster James Robinson?

I've tried to consume as much James Robinson content as I could over the past few days and succinctly put together a document that addresses that question. Below we'll look at who Robinson is, what his athletic make-up suggests, how he can contribute on the field, and what his role might realistically be in the Jacksonville offense. Hopefully, after we've covered all of that, it will be clear how we reached the decision that comes at the end of the article.

 

Who is James Robinson?

First of all, it might be fruitful to start with an introduction to James Robinson. Robinson is a 5'9" 220 pound all-purpose back from Illinois State who finished his career 2nd in school history with 4,444 rushing yards, 44 rushing touchdowns, and 5,218 all-purpose yards. In his senior season, he racked up 1,899 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on 364 carries. He only caught 16 passes for 80 yards, but we'll get into more later about why that doesn't concern me too much.

 

Athletic Profile

What I keep coming back to in his athletic profile is the explosion. Take a quick look at his Combine percentiles:

His 4.64 40-yard dash makes people think he's slow or a plodder, but that's not the case. Yes, Robinson doesn't have elite straight-line speed or the sharpest cuts; however, he hits holes hard and has the athleticism to plant his feet and drive when he needs to. The Vertical Jump and Broad jump numbers above are both evidence of the explosion that he gets from his strong lower body, which helps him rip off chunk plays, even if he's not taking carries 70 yards to the house.

To put it in another visual form:

Again, the straight-line speed is subpar, but a 92nd-percentile burst score and 69th-percentile agility score are evidence of a broader skillset than simply a physical bruiser between the tackles. In fact, his Combine metrics put his athletic profile most closely compared to Ryan Williams, Alfred Morris, Alexander Mattison, Kenneth Dixon, and Rex Burkhead.

While not a sexy list of names, those are running backs who proved (or we assume, in Mattison's case) they can be successful as a team's workhorse. The College Dominator Ranking, which is a measurement of a runningback's ability to dominant the workload and control of a team's offense is also a clear indication of the way that Robinson's athletic profile, while not drool-inducing, allows for him to be an asset in all areas.

 

Fantasy Skill Set

Despite being a little on the shorter end at 5'9," Robinson plays much closer to his 220-pound frame. He runs low to the ground, with good balance, which allows him to withstand contact and pick up extra yards. Obviously, it's the same skillset that makes him a solid short-yardage or goal-line back since he can get below the defenders' pad levels and drive piles with his strong legs.

As a runner, Robinson's best trait is likely his vision. He has the patience to allow his lineman to open up holes and has the vision and decisiveness to hit them when they appear. The video below is a good example of that:

His feet are quick enough initial to avoid the one defender in the backfield but when he cuts upfield, he takes one or two extra chop steps because he lacks the nimble footwork of a much smaller or more explosive back. Still, he avoids the tackle, has the intelligence to shift his positioning enough to avoid any real contact from the defenders, and then has enough speed to finish the run. It's not a "Wow" play, but it's a smart run by a good football player.

Despite a limited role in the passing game, Robinson has shown soft hands and the ability to gain yards after the catch.

He has soft hands - which he also showed in postseason workouts - and here his vision comes into play again as he sees the first defender before his head is really fully turned around. He is able to run through the ensuing ankle tackle and mediocre body bump from the safety before seeing the cut back lane and his blockers. Another instinctive play that leads to a big gain and a score.

It's important to keep in mind that, when you have a record-setting running back, who is averaging close to six yards per carry, you may not feel the need to have him catch passes that often. It's that old adage, "if it ain't broke..." However, Robinson's tape and his postseason workouts suggest that he can absolutely be a factor out of the backfield. He's not going to be Austin Ekeler, but remember that Fournette caught 76 passes for 522 yards last season, and there is nothing in Robinson's profile that suggests he isn't capable of doing the same.

Lastly, Robinson has proven himself to be reliable in pass protection, approaching his blocks with a low based and the same aggressiveness that he runs with. While this doesn't seem like a fantasy trait, it's good news because it will help him to stay on the field in all downs, except for third-and-long (which we'll discuss more later).

 

Team Rushing Usage

Doug Marrone likes to run the ball. It was true when he was in Buffalo and has remained true since he took over as the Jaguars head coach in 2017. That first season, the Jaguars ran the ball 517 times. In 2018, that number dropped to 416 times, which was just about league average. However, that season Leonard Fournette played only 8 games. In the first six games that Fournette played, the Jaguars were in the top-10 in the league in rushing attempts.

However, there was a shift last year as the Jaguars were 23rd in the league in rushing attempts. Part of the reason for that is Gardner Minshew. The rookie ran for 344 yards on 67 carries, none of which count towards the team's total that earned them the 23rd overall ranking. Another factor was the decline of the Jaguars' defense. In particular, the once-vaunted secondary dealt with injuries and departures and rose to 17th in passing yards allowed after being a top-10 unit prior; they also only intercepted 10 passes, which was 7th-worst in the league.

As a result of this, the Jaguars threw the ball 589 times, 12th-most in the league, after throwing it 536 times in 2018 and 527 times in 2017. As a result, the Jaguars overall have become a slightly less run-heavy team.

Which might also be because of their weakness up front. Coming into the 2020 season, Pro Football Focus names the Jaguars as the 26th best offensive line in the league. Based on Football Outsiders' metrics, the Jaguars were fifth-worst in the league with 3.88 adjusted line yards (team yards per carry based on what was blocked). They were 20th overall in Power Blocking and had 20% of their runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage, which was good for 23rd in the league. Right Guard A.J. Cann seems to be a particular weak point and the team needs more from Left Guard Andrew Norwell, who was the fifth-highest lineman in the league but earned the 17th-best grade among guards.

The team isn't trending in the right direction, but, based on Marrone's track record, I believe he wants to be able to run the ball. If the defense and the offensive line can take a step back in the right direction, I think it's feasible that the Jaguars' passing attempts go back closer to 2018 levels.

 

Potential Workhorse Role

However, when the Jaguars run the ball, Marrone tends to feature one back. They ran the ball with a non-QB 315 times last year, and Fournette toted 265 of those carries, which was good for 84.1%. He was on the field for 844 snaps, which was third-most in the league for an offensive player, and his 82.5% of the team's overall snaps was good for fifth-most. He was the definition of a workhorse.

In 2018, Fournette was only active for eight games. In the six games where he was healthy and completed the entire game, Fournette took 71.4% of the team's carries. In 2017, Fournette played only 13 games but carried the ball on 268 of the team's 459 carries; yet, in weeks 1-6 (before he got hurt), he handled 130 of the team's 179 non-QB rushes (72.6%).

All of which is to say, the Jaguars under Marrone have historically operated with one main back. Now, it would be foolish to assume that Robinson takes Fournette's 82.5% snap share, but the only other backs who are competing with him for snaps are similarly unproven Devine Ozigbo and third-down back Chris Thompson. To top it off, Ozigbo didn't even practice on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury which would all but ensure that Robinson is the starter and main ballcarrier for week one. If he comes out of the gates hot, there is no reason he couldn't take on the 71-72% of the team's carries that Fournette totaled in 2017-18.

 

Red Zone Opportuities

What makes Robinson's potential role even more attractive is the red zone usage. Marrone's preference for running the ball also showed up a lot once the Jaguars got inside the 20-yard line. Fournette was 6th in the NFL in red zone carries last year with 46 carries inside the 20-yard line. He was also 6th in the NFL with 68.7% of his team's red zone carries.

Despite no longer being as run-heavy as they had been in the past, Jacksonville threw the ball 70 times in the red zone in 2019 and ran the ball 67 times, which equates to 51.1% pass and 48.9% run. As mentioned above, Fournette saw 46 of those carries, Gardner Minshew had 10, and Ryquell Armstead had 8, mostly, when Fournette was injured. Ozigbo had the other three, totaling five yards and no score.

Ozigbo is also a bigger back at 6'0" 225 pounds, but he had only 77.8% positive runs last season and gained only 44.4% of yards after contact, both of which are well below average.

Obviously, last season was an incredibly small sample size, and Ozigbo does have the power to move the pile, but his height (6'0") might actually be a disadvantage there since Robinson is just as strong but runs lower to the ground and can get beneath the opponents' pad levels. If the rookie proves that he can be effective in short-yardage situations, the red zone role on this team could add even more value to his fantasy profile.

 

Limited Passing Game Role

With all the positive information we've given about Robinson, it's time to call out a glaring negative: the addition of Chris Thompson. Jaguars' offensive coordinator did not bring his Chris Thompson with him from Washington if he wasn't planning to use him.

The 29-year-old has averaged 4.0 yards per carry over his career but makes his money in the passing game. He's caught at least 35 passes in every NFL season where he's been a member of a committee, totaling 350 yards or more in three of five. He has an elite drop rate (0 last year) and saw 12.5% of Washington's targets, which was among the best at the running back position.

Thompson has some of his own weaknesses, the most important of which is that he can't seem to stay healthy. However, when he's on the field, he also uses his elusiveness far more than strength or vision. In fact, Thompson only broke 10.8% of tackles last year, which was a below-average number, a surprise for an athlete as dynamic as he is. Still, he is going to remain a consistent part of the Jaguars' passing game as long as he is healthy, which will cut into Robinson's potential snaps and workload.

 

Final Verdict

Overall, there is a lot to like here, if you keep your expectations in check. Robinson is an undrafted rookie from an FCS school on a team with a mediocre offensive line. If the blocking in front of him isn't good, Robinson isn't going to consistently make guys miss in the backfield and put together big gains. He's smart and instinctive enough to avoid taking big losses, but he's going to need some help.

Where I believe Robinson has value is that he will consistently drive the ball forward and pick up those extra yards. He will take the right angles and make the right decisions to avoid big lost yardage, and he has good enough hands to chip in a few receptions each game and keep a defense honest. When you pair that with his potential role as a goal-line back and Jacksonville's trend towards using one main running back, I think you could be looking at 12-15 carries and 2-3 receptions a game plus goal-line work.

That's a great running back to have on your bench and deploy in the right matchups where his share of the carries could mean that the total rushes climbs up closer to 20. If I come out of drafts with Robinson has my RB5 (or RB4 in deeper leagues), I would be extremely happy.



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Why Noah Fant Will Be This Year's Breakout Tight End

Every year in fantasy football, the tight end position is, for lack of a better word, mediocre.

There are a few stars at the top and then a group of indistinguishable players in the middle. Sometimes though, there is one who waded through the muck and rises to the top of the heap. Last season, we had Darren Waller finishing as TE4 after going mostly undrafted in fantasy. Before this, it was Eric Ebron with 13 TD in 2018 and George Kittle exploding on the scene, Evan Engram's rookie year in 2017, etc. So who is the likely candidate to make the jump this season?

There are a few contenders. Mark Andrews pretty much broke out last year and has an ADP to match, so he is out. A great choice is Hayden Hurst. After being traded from Baltimore to Atlanta to replace Austin Hooper, he will join an offense who threw the ball 80 more times in 2019 than any other team. But there is another gentleman who has a better path to success. A player who is athletic like Engram, on a good offense and young. Oh, and like Kittle, he comes from the tight end factory which is Iowa.

 

A New Mile High Offense

The Denver Broncos took Fant in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, adding him to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton in the passing game. Emmanuel Sanders was gone halfway through the season and the Broncos reloaded on offense during the off-season. With the addition of Melvin Gordon III to the backfield alongside Phillip Lindsay, the run game will be far better than it was a season ago. Gordon is a major upgrade over Devontae Booker who is now in Las Vegas. With the pass-catching potential in addition to his rush work, Gordon could be a bell cow, or a committee leader.

In the passing game, Denver drafted Jerry Jeudy as well as K.J. Hamler. Jeudy, who was considered by many the best receiver in the class, is a technician on the level of Keenan Allen and Stefon Diggs. Not the biggest or the fastest, he will run routes precisely which will allow him to get open. Much like Allen with the Chargers and Amari Cooper in his rookie season, Jeudy will find it easier to acclimate to the NFL then receivers who rely on speed or size to thrive.

In K.J. Hamler, we have the opposite. He is small at less than six feet and 175 pounds. He was also injured at the combine which allowed him to slip. This could be an issue early in the season as he and Jeudy try to join Sutton to create an elite receiving group.

With all of this said, Noah Fant will be the forgotten man in the offense. With all the other weapons to concentrate on, Fant, who had 40 receptions for 562 yards and three TD as a rookie will be left open. Not only will opposing defenses be worried about Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler but with the proficient nature of Gordon in the passing game, Fant is likely the fourth or fifth option defenses will plan for. That may not be the case for Lock, who will look to Fant across the middle frequently.

 

Mismatch Waiting to Happen

At almost 15 yards per reception last season, Noah Fant can spread defenses thin. He is too fast to be guarded by a linebacker and with the trio of receivers, there will not be enough defensive backs to control him.

His first season in Denver was solid for a tight end. He is one of a handful of players to have more than 500 receiving yards at the position as a rookie. That's something George Kittle, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce did not accomplish. He may not join that elite group this season but he is well on his way to a successful season and career.

If you are a fantasy manager who waits on tight end, it can be nerve-racking. The comfort of a Kelce or Kittle is nice. It also costs a lot to get such comfort. In this case, it means passing up a high-end RB or WR. Noah Fant is currently going in the 10th round and isn't a sure starter on many rosters. At this price, you can build up a great team before drafting him. If it does not work out early in the season, you can pick up any other of the other tight ends with a chance to finish from six to 12 in the fantasy ranks.

For those who have already drafted, Fant could be someone to target in the trade market early on before he blows up. Take the chance on an athletic TE in a budding offense and ride the wave to fantasy glory.



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Five Must-Have Mid-Round Draft Targets

In many cases championships are not won because of the picks made in the early rounds of fantasy football drafts. Instead, you can often find the fantasy players who’ll fuel your fantasy team’s engine in the middle rounds of your draft. You can typically find the burgeoning WR2s who are just about ready to blossom into WR1s in the middle rounds or that breakout QB that nobody saw coming.

The middle rounds of a draft are also where you’ll also find plenty of RBs who are one injury or slump away from being a lead back. You’ll also find some RBs in those rounds who have skill sets that are best suited for fantasy football leagues that utilize PPR scoring.

In the next few paragraphs we’ll analyze five players typically drafted in the middle rounds mentioned above, and who are likely to provide your team with top fantasy production this season.  You should seriously consider selecting these players in your drafts because we think they’re must-haves. Don’t worry, you can thank us later. For the purpose of this article, we will be referencing the FantasyPros expert consensus ADP for PPR leagues.

 

Tom Brady (QB, TB)

ADP: QB8, 79th Overall

Tom Brady will be 43 years old when Week 1 rolls around, but don’t think of him as the elder statesman of the NFL. Instead, think of him as that excited kid running down the steps on Christmas morning because he can’t wait to rip the wrapping paper off his presents and play with his new toys. Brady has inherited a high-powered offense with lots of shiny toys for him to play with and he still wants to win as bad as ever.

Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are one of the top two WR duos in the NFL. Brady will also be reunited with one of his all-time favorite receiving weapons, Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is not only one of the better receiving TEs, but his blocking skills are often overlooked. He’ll be sure to protect his QB at all costs. Head coach Bruce Arians’ offenses often produce top fantasy quarterback production. Remember Carson Palmer? He scored the fifth-most fantasy points among QBs while running Arians’ 2015 Cardinals offense. Jameis Winston ran the Bucs offense last season and even though he led the league with 30 interceptions, he still scored the second-most overall fantasy points among fantasy QBs.

Brady only scored the 14th most overall fantasy points among QBs last season, but other than Julian Edelman and James White he didn’t have many other reliable receivers to work with. As for those concerned about his arm strength, Brady played much of last season with an underlying elbow injury. He won’t have to throw too many deep balls with Godwin around. He was second among WRs with 577 yards after the catch last season.

Brady is fully healthy heading into the 2020 season and with his diet and workout regimen he’s probably in better shape than a lot of football players half his age. He’s motivated to show the world that he’s not done and that he doesn’t need Bill Belichick in order to be successful. When Brady is motivated the rest of the NFL better watch out!

 

Michael Gallup (WR, DAL)

ADP: WR32, 74th Overall

Michael Gallup progressed nicely in his second season in the NFL. He saw increases in his average receptions per game, yards per game, and catch rate. Gallup’s yards per reception also increased to 16.8 (up from 15.4 in 2018). He finished eighth in the NFL among WRs in that category last season. He’s a deep threat and a trusted target that QB Dak Prescott actively seeks out when he’s under pressure.

As per Pro Football Focus, Gallup led the NFL with five touchdown receptions when their quarterback was under pressure. Gallup averaged 15.2 fantasy points per game in PPR scoring last season making him WR18 in that category. He finished 15th in DYAR among all NFL WRs (DYAR measures the value of a receiver's performance on plays compared to replacement level, and is adjusted for situation and opponent), as per Football Outsiders. According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he was seventh among WRs in Average Yards After Catch Above Expectation. There will be some extra targets to be claimed in the Cowboys’ passing game with Randall Cobb and Jason Witten no longer on the team. Anticipated rookie sensation Cee Dee Lamb will grab a chunk, but there will be plenty left for Gallup to take advantage of as well. Gallup should also benefit as a result of the Cowboys’ schedule, which FantasyPros considers the fifth easiest for fantasy wide receivers.

The Cowboys have a few talented receivers who’ll vie for Prescott’s attention this season, but Gallup should still be able to post a stat line with close to 80 receptions, 1200 receiving yards, and at least eight TD receptions. Those are borderline WR1 numbers.

 

James White (RB, NE)

ADP: RB31, 80th Overall

If you play in a fantasy football league that utilizes PPR scoring, James White is a must-draft. He’s the only Patriots RB who has a clearly defined role entering the season. A huge part of that role will continue to be catching passes out of the backfield. He’s averaged 4.8 receptions per game over the past three seasons. We all know that Cam Newton, the presumptive starting Patriots QB, is no stranger to throwing the ball to RBs. Just ask Christian McCaffrey.

With White having spent his entire career with the Patriots you know he has to be one of head coach Bill Belichick’s favorite and most trusted players. White led all RBs in red-zone targets (20) and receptions (17). Four of those 17 receptions went for a TD. White offers fantasy football managers consistent fantasy production as a player they can confidently slip into their flex spot or use when one of their starting RBs are on a bye. Look for White to catch another 75 to 85 passes and catch at least another five TDs this season.

 

Zack Moss (RB, BUF)

ADP: RB39, 115th overall

He might not get the typical volume of carries expected from a traditional bell-cow back, but rookie RB Zack Moss will have a regular role in the Bills’ offense this season. In fact, he has a good chance to produce like an RB1A. Josh Allen has a big arm, but as has been well documented, accuracy has been a concern. The Bills executed the seventh-highest percentage of run plays last season, and they should continue to run the ball quite a bit in 2020.

Second-year player Devin Singletary is a slippery back and he had a fine rookie season, but Moss has the skillset of an every-down workhorse back. While Singletary forces missed tackles, Moss absorbs contact and breaks tackles. Moss eats up short yardage, has spin moves which help him change direction easily and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. When the Bills drafted Moss, many presumed that he and Singletary would either be splitting carries or that Singletary would have the slight edge in snaps played.

Singletary will continue to be a major contributor to the Bills’ running game but as the season progresses, Moss might end up being the Bills back who leads lead the team in carries on a weekly basis. At the very least, look for Moss to semi-regularly vulture TDs away from Singletary.

 

Noah Fant (TE, DEN)

ADP TE13, 109th overall

Noah Fant is a former first-round pick who could potentially break out this season. Fant is a good route runner who has above average acceleration for a TE. He has big-play ability, and his speed allows him to break away from defenders and add yards after the catch. His underlying speed and ability to track deep passes sometimes draw comparisons to a big WR instead of a typical TE.

Some analysts are concerned that with the Broncos drafting WRs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler earlier this year, Fant’s targets may be limited this season. However, new Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur loves featuring his TEs in the passing game and will be sure to keep Fant busy this season.



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Late-Round Lottery Tickets and Breakout Candidates

The 2020 fantasy football draft season is finally upon us. One thing fantasy managers should be routinely doing is mock drafting to learn where the players they are targeting might go in their drafts. You can never mock draft too much. Another reason to mock draft is to learn which players are available at the ends of your drafts. This is important because managers should be trying to target players with tremendous upside if things shake out their way, a.k.a. lottery tickets.

Sure, you could play it safe and draft a player like Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (ADP WR74) with the hopes that he produces 10 fantasy points in PPR leagues most of the time, but that is all you are going to get. He may have a two-touchdown game once or twice, but more likely than not, he will be on your bench when that happens. Instead, you could draft Washington Football Team wide receiver Steven Sims, Jr. (ADP WR81) with the hopes that he is quarterback Dwayne Haskins' second-favorite target out of the gate and produces as a reliable WR3 week in and week out.

The beauty of taking lottery tickets late in the draft is that if they do not pan out, it did not cost much to draft them, and the players can easily be cut in exchange for the popular waiver wire additions of the week. However, if they do pan out, a weekly starter was acquired for pennies on the dollar. Last year, two lottery ticket selections that paid off tremendously were Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2019 ADP outside top-300) and Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (2019 ADP TE22). Both of these players probably went undrafted or were taken with the last pick by owners last season, and McLaurin finished as WR29 and Waller as TE2. Managers could have spent a bunch of their free-agent acquisition budget (FAAB) to acquire these studs, or they could have spent nothing and drafted them with their last pick. Be the latter.

 

Finding a Golden Ticket

There are several factors to look for when trying to find a potential breakout player. The first scenario to look for is players in a new situation. Last season, Waller stepped into the starting tight end role for the first time, as did Baltimore Raven's tight end Mark Andrews (ADP TE16, TE5 finish) and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (ADP WR86, WR18 finish). Houston Texan's running back Carlos Hyde stepped into a featured role due to an injury to Lamar Miller and finished with 1,070 yards and six touchdowns (RB28 finish) despite being the 54th running back off the board.

Next, look for rookies that could have a starting role early on. McLaurin fits this scenario perfectly. Other rookies that fit this scenario last season were, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (ADP QB16, QB7 finish), Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf (ADP WR55, WR30 finish), Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (undrafted, WR21 finish), and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (ADP WR58, WR31 finish).

Finally, look for players that are down the depth chart in a high-scoring offense that could explode if something were to happen to the players in front of them. These players are deeper than the typical handcuff. A prime example of this situation playing out is Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott. He was third on the depth chart and once Miles+Sanders" data-id="20933">Miles Sanders took over lead running back duties due to a Jordan Howard injury, Scott took advantage of his opportunity to be the change-of-pace back and averaged 20.5 PPR points per game in Weeks 14-17. The same situation transpired in San Francisco with Raheem Mostert taking over lead running back duties after starting the season behind Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida on the depth chart.

So who is going to be this year's McLaurin or Waller? Are there any running backs that fall into the lottery ticket category this year?

 

Players with Expanding Roles

Boston Scott (RB, PHI)

Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott enters 2020 as the starting third-down option in the backfield. Miles Sanders is going to be the focal point of the rushing attack, but Scott should have FLEX appeal in PPR leagues.

Head coach Doug Pederson has typically employed a multi-back approach to his run-game, and Scott proved last season that he deserves touches on a weekly basis. Over the last four games of 2019, Scott racked up 82 PPR points, outperforming players like Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler, and yes, even Miles Sanders. He was explosive with the ball in his hands and showed a knack for slipping tackles and evading defenders to gain an extra five yards.

Scott is likely to see a floor of between six to 10 touches every week. His ADP currently sits at RB50 and it is well within his range of outcomes to finish inside the top-25 in PPR leagues.

Steven Sims, Jr. (WR, WAS)

Sims exploded over the final four games of the season last year, racking up 20 receptions for 230 yards and four touchdowns. That was good for fantasy WR9 over that span. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins showed a lot of trust in Sims and their strong chemistry should carry over in 2020.

The Washington Football Team's wide receiver corps is pretty barren behind last year's rookie breakout Terry McLaurin, so Sims should start as the slot receiver right out of the gate. He showed a natural ability to elude defenders and he has excellent game speed which should make big plays routine for him. He saw at least seven targets per game during his four-game tear to close out 2019, and that seems like a relatively safe floor for 2020. His ADP currently sits at WR81, but no one would be shocked to see him finish inside the top-40

Allen Lazard (WR, GB)

In case you haven't heard, the Green Bay Packers did not draft a wide receiver in the NFL Draft this year. Perhaps it is because they may have finally found an answer at wide receiver on the outside, opposite of Davante Adams.

The 6'5" 24-year old Lazard came out of nowhere last season to lead the Packers in catch rate (67.3%), quarterback rating when targeted (115.6/143.3 on third-down), and yards per target (14.2). He has zero competition for the number two role now that Devin Funchess has opted-out of the 2020 season, and most importantly, quarterback Aaron Rodgers can not stop praising him. His ADP currently sits at a startling WR64, but as the number two option for Rodgers, fantasy owners could find themselves a weekly WR3  for the price of pocket lint.

N'Keal Harry (WR, NE)

New England Patriots wide receiver N'keal Harry will look to prove that the Patriots made the right call drafting him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He steps into the starting WR1 role on a team that is desperate for talent. Julian Edelman is still the WR1 for fantasy, especially in PPR leagues, but Harry will get his shot to be the alpha receiver on the outside immediately.

Furthermore, Cam Newton will be the quarterback to start the season, and Harry fits Newton's tendencies perfectly. Newton likes to throw it high and away, and Harry can go up and get it (38.5 inch vertical). He is a physical receiver and a run-after-the-catch connoisseur. The Patriots took a tremendous hit to their defense with the losses of D'onta Hightower and Patrick Chung, who opted-out of the 2020 season, so they could be in catch-up mode more often than they are used to.

Harry's ADP currently sits at WR62, but his big-play ability and projected heavy red zone usage (3 RZ targets in his final two games) should provide a safe floor inside the top-40. A 20% target share and double-digit touchdowns are well within Harry's range of outcomes, and he is free.

Ian Thomas (TE, CAR)

Thomas finally gets his shot to prove what he can do as the featured tight end for the Carolina Panthers now that Greg Olsen has joined the Seattle Seahawks. He should be moved all over the field in offensive coordinator Joe Brady's offense, and he has the size and athleticism to take advantage of mismatches on linebackers and defensive backs.

While Brady's offense at LSU did not feature the tight end often, Joe Burrow picked apart college defenses with his stud wide receivers. Teddy Bridgewater, on the other hand, is a methodical quarterback who makes his reads in succession and finds the open man. He does not take chances very often, and he tends to look for his tight end when the play breaks down. Bridgewater also does not take many deep shots as he loves to work the middle of the field within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. This is fantastic news for Thomas, who should be a favorite target for Teddy.

He is currently ranked as the TE21 in ADP, and he can be drafted with one of your very last picks in redraft leagues. Thomas is a prime candidate to be this year's Darren Waller.

 

Late-Round Rookies

Antonio Gibson (RB, WAS)

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson is going to be a popular selection in fantasy drafts in the upcoming weeks due to the team's release of Derrius Guice. He was listed as a wide receiver in college, but he is fully expected to be a running back at the next level. Gibson is an explosive player with incredible athleticism. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash (98th percentile) at 6'0" 228 lbs, which is the same speed as Jonathan Taylor, who is two inches shorter and three pounds lighter.

Last year at Memphis, Gibson accounted for 12 total touchdowns on 94 total touches, 11 touchdowns on 71 touches if we eliminate his 23 kick/punt return attempts. That is an insane rate of one touchdown per every 6.5 touches. The other thing to love about Gibson is his third-round draft capital (3.02) which suggests the team valued him going into the draft. Gibson's current ADP is RB51, so he is still a prime lottery ticket candidate, but if that jumps into the low 40s, then Gibson will jump from a lottery ticket to a sleeper.

Joshua Kelley (RB, LAC)

Joshua Kelley was drafted at pick number six in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Chargers, and he has an opportunity to play a major role on offense from the jump. The expected featured running back in Los Angeles is Austin Ekeler, but he is not built to handle a heavy workload, or short-yardage and goal-line situations on a full-time basis. Ekeler specializes as a receiving running back and the Chargers would be better off limiting his workload so he is just as explosive in the fourth quarter, and he stays healthy for a full 16-game season.

Kelley, on the other hand, is tailor-made for short-yardage and goal-line situations. His is a bigger back at 5'10" and 212 lbs, and he has a physical running style with a preference to lower his shoulder and run a defender over rather than string together cuts to evade the tackle. The other running back on the team, Justin Jackson, has been a disappointment with his touches, and he is the scrawniest out of the three, so his role should be minimal at best. Kelley's ADP currently sits at RB59, and he is a must-draft for Ekeler owners. For non-Ekeler owners, he is the perfect lottery ticket that could earn a full-time role sooner rather than later.

Anthony McFarland (RB, PIT)

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland is lightning in a bottle. He has breakaway speed (4.44 40-yard dash) and is extremely elusive in the open field. James Conner is the RB1 for the black and yellow, but his injury history suggests that he may have a lighter workload than in year's past, or that he may miss time. Either way, McFarland could be the one to benefit from either situation. Benny Snell is the RB2 currently, but he is mainly a short-yardage player. You are never going to see explosive plays from Benny Snell.

The ideal situation would be for McFarland to see between six to eight touches per game, and each one of those touches could be a house call. McFarland's current ADP sits at RB56, and he is a must-own for Conner owners in PPR leagues. It is way too soon to suggest that he might be the next Alvin Kamara, but he is in an identical situation and their skill sets are eerily similar.

AJ Dillon (RB, GB)

The Green Bay Packers shocked everyone in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft when they selected Aaron Rodgers' replacement, Jordan Love, in the first round and running back A.J. Dillon in the second round. Dillon is an absolute juggernaut with the ball in his hands. He is incredibly difficult to bring down, and if he gets a head of steam, defenders should just get out of his way.

It will be interesting to see how the Packers use Dillon in tandem with Aaron Jones, but given Dillon's draft capital and his skill set, he could be the preferred short-yardage and goal-line back. Dillon's best pro comparison is Derrick Henry given his size, strength, and speed (4.57 40-yard dash at 247 lbs), and like Henry, Dillon could be a one-man wrecking crew when he gets the ball. He probably won't see more than six to eight touches to start, but if he gets the goal-line role, he will vastly outproduce his RB53 ADP. If something were to happen to Aaron Jones, Dillon could be a league winner.

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (WR, JAX)

Other than D.J. Chark, Jr., the Jacksonville Jaguars do not have much in their wide receiver room. Enter Laviska Shenault, Jr. Shenault is a versatile wide receiver that can be used in the running game and the return game as well. He is the ideal "Swiss Army knife" receiver and a complete nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme against. He will have an opportunity to earn the WR2 role right out of the gate, and quarterback Gardner Minshew has already been impressed by his new weapon.

Shenault is the type of player that offensive coordinators manufacture touches for because they are just so explosive that you need to get the ball in their hands a few times a game. He currently sits at WR77 in ADP, but he offers top-40 upside. If he does not appear to have a role early on, then fantasy owners can cut him without batting an eye, but if he takes off and becomes a favorite target of Minshew, he could be a weekly flex play for his fantasy owners.

Denzel Mims (WR, NYJ)

New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims is a star in the making. He stands at 6'3" and his athleticism metrics are off the chart, ranking in the 90th percentile or higher in the 40-yard dash (4.38), speed score (115.6), burst score (131) and catch radius (10.34) according to playerprofiler.com. He also excels in contested catches which should make him a go-to target in the red zone.

Mims will start right away on the outside for Gang Green because Jamison Crowder runs primarily out of the slot and Breshaad Perriman is the only other wide receiver worthy of any playing time. He has the frame of a prototypical WR1 in the NFL, and his big-play potential makes him one of the most exciting rookies to watch this season. His current ADP sits at WR67, but he has top-30 upside given the volume he should see in his rookie year. Mims is a prime candidate to be this year's Terry McLaurin.

Brandon Aiyuk (WR, SF)

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk has an opportunity to fill the X receiver role in Kyle Shanahan's offense this season. He was drafted in the first round of this year's NFL Draft after the 49ers traded up to get him, and Shanahan said afterward that Aiyuk was the number one wide receiver on his board.

Aiyuk is a big play waiting to happen. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception last season at Arizona State and 10.5 yards after contact, which emphasizes his elite run-after-the-catch ability. The 49ers will likely be without Deebo Samuel for the first few weeks of the season due to a Jones Fracture in his foot back in June. The team's other wide receivers are non-threatening to Aiyuk's prominent role as a rookie since Kendrick Bourne should operate mainly out of the slot, Jalen Hurd suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season, and it is an understatement to say that Dante Pettis has failed to live up to expectations. Having been hand-selected by Kyle Shanahan, Aiyuk should have an immediate role and finish well ahead of his current WR63 ADP. He recently left practice with a hamstring injury himself which bears watching but if it is not deemed serious, it may make him an even better draft value.

Michael Pittman, Jr. (WR, IND)

The Indianapolis Colts selected wide receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. with its first pick in the draft at number 34 overall. He stands at 6'4" and is as physical of a receiver as there is in this draft class. He projects as the prototypical X receiver for the Colts which means he will likely line up opposite T.Y. Hilton. Pittman should have an impact right away.

The Colts have not had a true possession wide receiver since Reggie Wayne retired, but Pittman should fill that role on day one. The USC receiver should be Phillip Rivers' favorite target in the red zone since he tested with a 36.5 inch vertical at the NFL Combine, and Playerprofiler.com ranked his catch radius as a 10.24 (89th Percentile). His current ADP sits at WR60, but his situation and his skill-set should result in a top-35 finish. Do not be surprised when Pittman finishes just short of 1,000 yards and hauls in eight or more touchdowns.



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Pierre Camus's 2020 All-Sleeper Team

What's fantasy football draft season without sleepers?

Don't worry, I won't waste your time with some convoluted explanation of what constitutes a sleeper. That's because these picks were created with specific guidelines I was given, so it removed some of the brainwork required and left more in the tank for me to elaborate on why I picked these players.

This isn't really a "team" so much as a list because it's too many players to make a starting lineup, even in Superflex, and too few to fill out an entire roster. All-Sleeper Team just makes for a catchier title; I'm sure you understand.

 

Criteria

FantasyPros recently invited its expert rankers to pick their top sleepers at each position based on the following criteria relative to the Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR).

"Each expert submits 13 sleepers at the following positions. For positions where multiple sleepers are entered (QB/RB/WR/TE), the expert must rank-order their picks.

  • 2 QB
  • 4 RB
  • 4 WR
  • 2 TE
  • 1 DST

We define Sleepers as players that fall outside of specific Expert Consensus Rank cutoffs. All experts have access to the same player selection pool that corresponds to the following:

  • QB: outside top 15 ECR
  • RB: outside top 45 ECR
  • WR: outside top 55 ECR
  • TE: outside top 15
  • DST: outside top 10 "

You may be tempted to stop reading as soon as you see Mitch Trubisky below but rest assured that stat-based rationales are forthcoming. Among the many players I'm targeting in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts this year, here are my top choices at each position.

 

Top Sleeper Picks for 2020

 

Quarterback Sleepers

Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Let's start with the selection that is sure to draw some pitchforks and torches from the fantasy community. This isn't a contrarian pick or simply done to justify the fact I still have Trubisky on my roster in the RotoBaller Dynasty Superflex league. I won't go so far as to call myself a Trubisky defender, but I have never thought he was quite as bad as everyone else seems to, so I guess I'm one of the few people on his side. I truly believe Trubisky can bounce back and be at least a top-20 fantasy QB, if not a serviceable streamer.

First, the Foles factor is vastly overblown. The guy had a great postseason run in Philly but has never succeeded elsewhere and was basically ditched in favor of a sixth-round pick who wasn't expected to even play last year (Gardner Minshew II). If you get outplayed by Uncle Rico, that should spell trouble.

Foles wasn't signed to replace Trubisky, who cost the team the second overall pick and three other mid-round picks back in 2017. Foles was brought in to push and mentor the young QB so that he would take advantage of what is effectively his last chance to retain the starting job in Chicago.

Trubisky gets ripped by fans and the fantasy community all the time, but it's not as if he was an unmitigated disaster last year. His 64.2% xComp% sits in the middle of the QB pack and was higher than both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. He can also pitch in with his legs, having rushed for 421 yards in 2018 before tapering off last year.

Don't be surprised if Trubisky gets off to a hot start, especially if David Montgomery misses the first game or two, forcing the team to pass more often than they'd like. The start of the Bears' season has a tasty schedule for opposing passers. The first five weeks of 2020 they will face the Lions (#1 in passing yards allowed per game in 2019 - 284.4), Giants (#5 - 264.1), Falcons (#11 - 244.9), Colts (#10 - 248.9), Bucs (#3 - 270.1).

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Based on the above criteria, players like Jared Goff and Cam Newton qualify for this spot. I know Goff will likely end up with better numbers than Burrow but I can't consider him a sleeper after he's thrown for 4,600 yards two seasons in a row. Let's go with the better value in Joe Burrow, who is QB20 on RotoBaller's preseason rankings and going at 150 overall according to average industry ADP.

Relative to the competition, Burrow is worth a shot as your QB2. I predict a hard fall back to Earth for Ryan Tannehill, fewer pass attempts for Baker Mayfield, and as much as I like Daniel Jones this season, he has every bit as much risk. Even as a rookie, Burrow could be less turnover-prone than Jones.

There's no real way to know how Burrow will handle the transition to the pros but preseason reports have been positive.


With a healthy A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and second-round pick Tee Higgins, not to mention a strong all-around running back in Joe Mixon, Burrow has a great situation and upside that surpasses many of the aging veterans in the same tier.

 

Running Back Sleepers

Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans

This is the hill I will most likely die on as a fantasy analyst in 2020, aside from the fact I'm taking Cam Akers everywhere I can. I'm also targeting Evans as my RB4/5 as much as possible for the same reason - opportunity.

It goes without saying Derrick Henry is the workhorse and undisputed RB1. Then, Evans is the clear backup and passing-down back. After that comes... *checks Titans depth chart* Khari Blasingame? Senorise Perry?? Maybe Jeremy McNichols will finally stick with a team???

There's no way Tennessee gives Henry 300 carries again after investing $50 million in him. Evans will see the field more than you might expect, especially on passing downs which already gives him PPR value.

The biggest appeal is that he is automatically the most high-end insurance policy of all at RB if Henry were to get injured. That would leave a ton of touches available. Assuming that doesn't happen, Evans can at the very least fill the role Dion Lewis tried to the past two years, hopefully with more success. That could mean close to 1,000 scrimmage yards and 50+ receptions if he matches what Lewis did in 2018. If he proves to be better, you've got a weekly flex starter at the cost of a last-round pick.


Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers

Resisting temptation to show his incredible SPARQ scores again, seeing as how that NFL Combine was six years ago, let's instead focus on the touches McKinnon could get in 2020.

As part of an RBBC in San Fran, McKinnon should at least take over Matt Breida's touches from last year. If he manages to stay on the field most of the season, it could be even more. I went into greater detail on McKinnon in my Bold Predictions for 2020, so just go straight to that article after you're done here.

Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers

It's hard to believe the Bolts spent a third-round pick on a running back so he could sit behind Justin Jackson. Kelley will have to battle Jackson for the job but he has the goods to do so. He also won't usurp Austin Ekeler any time soon, but he could be the thunder to Ekeler's lightning and more than just a backup. Ekeler saw an average of 38.1 snaps per game while Melvin Gordon III took 36.1 on average in the 12 games he played. If Kelley continues to earn the coaching staff's trust, he could be that complementary back.

The Athletic's Daniel Popper claimed that Kelley “might be having the best training camp of any player on the roster” and is "already looking like a mainstay in the Chargers' running back room." It's not a guarantee he sees a ton of usage and it may not come until later in the season, but this is the type of player that could emerge at the right time and become a waiver-wire must-add. If Justin Jackson's preseason toe injury keeps him on the shelf, Kelley could emerge sooner than later. For the time being, stash him on your bench and save yourself the in-season FAB.

Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars

I'd like to say this wasn't a late addition to my sleeper list but that would be mostly fibbing. I've picked Thompson in a couple of best-ball leagues for the same reason he becomes a more viable fantasy presence now that Leonard Fournette is gone. He is a reliable pass-catcher with a defined role that will now grow larger. He was brought in by new OC Jay Gruden, who coached him in Washington.

Thompson has even been seeing red-zone work throughout training camp. Although he didn't score a single TD last year, he should have done better. FantasyPros' Touchdown Regression rankings have him as the leader among RB in projected positive TD regression. There may not be many scores to go around in Jacksonville this year but there will be plenty of playing from behind, which works in a pass-catching back's favor. Thompson could be a solid RB3 each week, even if he isn't a league-winner.

 

Wide Receiver Sleepers

Scotty Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

To be clear, I am not drinking the Tompa Bay Kool-Aid anywhere else. I have Gronk as a bust, Brady as overvalued, and will not reach for any Bucs running back, including Leonard Fournette.

I am buying the preseason hype on Miller. Ignore this as a cliche of the diminutive white slot receiver becoming Brady's target of choice, but it's based on years of factual evidence as well as very recent beat writer observations.


For the cost of a last-round pick, why not take a chance?

Also this:

Breshad Perriman, New York Jets

Somebody's got to catch passes for the Jets, right? With Denzel Mims sidelined throughout training camp, his rookie year could be a wash if he doesn't recover soon. Recently signed Chris Hogan is listed as a starter opposite Perriman with Lawrence Cager, Josh Malone, and Jehu Chesson backing them up on the outside. Yeah, Perriman's going to see a ton of targets. His recent MRI is disconcerting but thankfully revealed no serious injury, so he may be ready for Week 1 and may even see a drop in ADP as a result.

While Jamison Crowder is a solid pick, he's also the type of boring player that won't win you a week, much less a league. Michael Florio is on board with this, as he advises Perriman is the type of player to target while avoiding Crowder based on limited upside.

We talk a lot about advanced stats and regression in baseball but it applies equally to football. Perriman wasn't a YAC monster in 2019, falling in the middle of the pack at 4.2 yards after catch. He was the biggest underperformed in that category compared to xYAC/R, as NextGenStats say he should have averaged 6.2 YAC, which would have placed him eighth among wide receivers. For what it's worth, A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith both massively overachieved in this stat, with Corey Davis also at +1.5, so expect a major step back for Ryan Tannehill's yardage totals. Just sayin'

Perriman is the type of home run threat you want as a backup receiver. There are plenty of boring slot receivers that you can stream throughout the season if he turns back into a pumpkin.

Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers

Opportunity is everything in fantasy, right? Lazard has the WR2 role in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers at QB. I know we've said that to build up other Packer receivers before but this is the guy to watch in 2020.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranked last among qualified receivers in catch rate at 46% and moved backward in his second NFL season. Ignore Rodgers trying to build him up in the media - he has no other choice at this point.

Without other reliable options at receiver or tight end, Lazard should be Rodgers' clear No. 2 option near the sidelines and in the red zone. Jimmy Graham and Geronimo Allison leave 18 RZ targets vacant. With Devin Funchess opting out, nobody else is inheriting those precious throws. His value will be higher in standard than PPR but Lazard is a great plug-and-play option for byes and injuries throughout the year.

Bryan Edwards, Las Vegas Raiders

I felt good about this pick when I drafted Edwards in a dynasty rookie draft and traded for him in an FFPC Startup draft back in May. I felt really good about it when he was announced as the starting X receiver for the team about a week ago. Now that Tyrell Williams is on IR, it's nice to see that he's finally getting on some fantasy radars before the final weekend of draft season.

Edwards has a great chance to not only outsnap and outproduce first-round pick Henry Ruggs on this team, he has a legit shot to be a top-three rookie receiver in 2020. That's saying something considering the depth of this class. It isn't the most pass-happy offense, finishing 22nd in pass plays per game and 25th in pass play percentage last year. For that reason, we can't expect huge volume. Nonetheless, Edwards could be a solid WR4 with a high weekly floor.

 

Tight End Sleepers

Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys

I changed my second pick here several times. First, it was Jack Doyle but my growing interest in Trey Burton made me think to replace him. Then I realized two tight ends on the same team might cancel each other out, so it was between Ian Thomas and Jonnu Smith. Finally, I gave in to the conclusion that Blake Jarwin is just too great a value to ignore.

Chris Herndon, New York Jets

It troubles me that I have not one but two Jets players on this list. On the other hand, if Perriman gets hurt or busts, then that just means more receptions for Herndon, right?

He's catching on as a sleeper in the fantasy community, partly due to the injuries across the Jets' WR corps. Also, he's a great athlete at tight end and could finally fulfill the promise of a year ago before suspension and injury cost him essentially all of 2019. As much as I don't trust Adam Gase's offense, he praised Herndon quite a bit upon first arriving in Gotham and the team still has big plans for him. They'll have no choice at this point.

You may be thinking, "Didn't the Jets target the tight end just 11.6% of the time last year at the third-lowest rate in the NFL?" True, but that's largely because they were without Herndon and had precious little depth behind Ryan Griffin. As I stated previously with Chris Thompson and the Jags, this team may be losing quite a bit and have no choice but to air it out and Herndon might wind up being the best target Sam Darnold has outside of Jamison yawn Crowder.

 

Team Defense Sleepers

Tennessee Titans Defense (D/ST)

The original pick here was the L.A. Chargers but the news that safety Derwin James would be out for the season changed my mind quickly. The Titans are an underrated defense that has been streamable but not a weekly lock in fantasy. The Titans finished 12th in total DST scoring last year, which placed them as a fringe starting unit. That may change this year.

Young players Jayon Brown, Harold Landry, Rashaan Evans, and Adoree Jackson are all 25 or younger and coming into their own. The addition of second-round pick Kristian Fulton out of LSU solidifies the secondary further. If pass-rusher Vic Beasley can get on the field, that could give them a nice boost as well. Recent reports indicate that the Titans may have an offer out for Jadveon Clowney as well.

Tennessee has a favorable strength of schedule (.498) and face divisional opponents like Jacksonville and Indy twice. Philip Rivers tossed 20 INT last year and the Jags are just going to be terrible. For Weeks 13-15, a.k.a. fantasy playoff time, they face Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Detroit. You may want to find a better option for Week 16 though, as they travel to Lambeau to play the Pack.

With Henry toting the rock and Ryan Tannehill limiting turnovers, the defense can rest easy and do its thing. Although the star of this team is really going to be Darrynton Evans...



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Justin Carter's Bold Predictions for 2020 Fantasy Football

It's time for my favorite piece to write every year -- my bold predictions for the upcoming NFL season.

Last year's bold predictions went...okay. I hit on Leonard Fournette becoming a receiving threat and was basically correct on Josh Allen, who was almost a top-five fantasy quarterback. My Albert Wilson take, however, was something we can just safely ignore because...yeah, that wasn't great.

Anyway, below are five bold predictions. Will they be right? Who knows! These are the kinds of things that I really want to happen, even if I'm not so sure they actually do happen. Let's go!

 

Will Fuller V Is A WR1 On A Per-Game Basis

Yes, I'm hedging here with the per-game part, because there's no way I'm predicting a fully healthy year for Will Fuller.

But look, if we're talking about a per game kind of thing, a healthy Will Fuller is -- and always has been -- the perfect wide receiver for Deshaun Watson. He stretches the field, allowing Watson to buy some time in the backfield and then launch the ball to him for the big play.

Let's talk about 2018. Fuller played just seven games but caught 503 yards and four touchdowns. That included three games with 100-plus yards and a touchdown, and it happened on a team that had DeAndre Hopkins taking on a huge target share. That also included a game against the Colts where Fuller played just 31 percent of the team's snaps, but still had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Fuller might lead the NFL in air yards per target this year. He's a key deep threat for a vertical offense. When he's on the field, he'll be a WR1.

 

There's No Quarterback Breakout

In 2019, the breakout quarterback was Lamar Jackson, and to lesser extents, Jameis Winston and Josh Allen. In 2018, it was Patrick Mahomes. In 2017, it could have been Deshaun Watson if he'd played more than seven games.

So, who will be this year's breakout QB?

No one.

Kyler Murray is a candidate, but he was already QB7 last year, so 1) improvement is expected and he's a No. 1 overall pick, so if he improves to QB4 or so, is that really a breakout, and 2) I'm not convinced he gets the passing volume or the touchdown rate needed to actually improve on his 2019 production.

Beyond Murray, breakout candidates are...who, exactly? Baker Mayfield, who had plenty of chances already and didn't do it? Daniel Jones, who ranked 28th among quarterbacks in true completion percentage last year and 23rd in accuracy rating? Joe Burrow, a rookie in a year where it will be harder than ever to be a rookie?

Nope. To borrow a phrase from the DFS world, I expect the quarterback position to be pretty chalky this year. If guys surprisingly sneak into the QB1 tier, it'll be because of injuries or struggles from players who we thought were better than them.

 

Someone In Washington's Backfield Becomes A Viable Fantasy Option

Look, no one is saying that the backfield is Washington isn't a mess. It is. They've got approximately 23 different running backs on their roster right now, none of whom inspire confidence.

But with Dwayne Haskins and some unproven wide receivers, Washington's going to need to rely on their running game, which is where someone comes in.

I think things could shift as the season goes along, but for 2020, Antonio Gibson could get the workload to be a fantasy flex starter as veteran Adrian Peterson was released. Bryce Love, Peyton Barber, and J.D. McKissic all exist, but it's unclear which could challenge Gibson when it comes to playing time.

It's worth noting that before Christian McCaffrey, Ron Rivera teams pretty consistently had someone finish as an RB2/3. From 2011 to 2016, the lead back in Carolina finished between RB24 and RB29. That's not great, but it's playable, which is better than people seem to expect from this team.

 

Jonnu Smith SZN

Hold on, let me pull up a graphic:

So, Jonnu Smith ranked second among tight ends last year in yards per target, fourth in catch rate, and third in fantasy points per target.

He's a top-10 tight end.

That's it. That's the whole section on Jonnu Smith.

 

Mike Evans And Chris Godwin Can't Save Tom Brady

Tom Brady has the best weapons around him since what...the Randy Moss days? It won't matter.

Brady is 43 years old. He's coming off a season in which he had his worst completion percentage since 2013 (and third-lowest of any full-time season). He had his fewest adjusted yards per attempt since 2002 and fewest adjusted net yards per attempts since 2013. All of those stats help us see Brady's fall off.

Want some more? His completion percentage on everything but his deep ball last year was rough:

Now, the completion percentage isn't everything. His supporting cast last year was not good, ranking 17th among quarterbacks in supporting cast efficiency while Jameis Winston's supporting cast efficiency ranked sixth.

But still. Brady's supporting cast can't get all the blame for his struggles in so many phases of the game last year. Brady took a step back. It happens when players get to this age. It usually happens way before players get to this age. No one can be good forever.

Many people think Brady's a QB1 this year. And if his deep ball completion percentage holds up like it did last year, sure. But I can't actually sit here and tell you that a 43-year-old quarterback is going to be a top-10 deep-ball thrower. Nothing is going to make me believe that. Brady is going to keep regressing. Bruce Arians' offenses are built around gunslinging, but if Brady can't gunsling, something's going to change. Brady will throw it short more. He'll hand it off to Leonard Fournette more. And when he has to throw it, he'll complete his passes at a progressively lower rate.

Age has caught up to Tom Brady.

He's not a fantasy QB1.



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Hayden Epinette’s Bold Predictions for 2020 Fantasy Football

With a strange set of circumstances surrounding this NFL season, there may be far more unexpected breakouts and stunning disappointments than ever before. This could be the golden age of bold predictions, as many surprising claims could become a reality. On the other hand, it could be unpredictable in the opposite direction, with the consensus holding true as often as it ever has. No one can know for certain, which makes the coming campaign the most intriguing that the NFL has ever seen.

One thing remains true though: there are plenty of players who will attempt to make a name for themselves, and likewise, there are plenty of players whose roles are highly sought after by their teammates. The competition will be as prevalent as ever, and with competition comes a chance for surprises.

Because this is my first year at RotoBaller, I have never made any bold predictions here before. This means that I have never gotten any wrong either, so if you want to hear from the undefeated expert, keep reading to see some daring projections!

 

N'Keal Harry is a Top-25 WR in PPR

I am a big fan of N’Keal Harry. Considering he is projected to be New England’s top outside receiver with Julian Edelman working from the slot, it is downright shocking that his ADP is as low as it is. Going as just the WR64 in drafts, Harry is in line to provide massive value.

While Harry’s 2019 campaign was marred by injuries, his athleticism provides ample reason for optimism. Running a 4.53 40-yard dash at 228 pounds, he has the necessary size and strength to be an impact player in the NFL. Additionally, his six-foot-two frame and 38.5 inch vertical give him an 81st percentile catch radius, making him a real threat in the red zone. His 27 bench press reps, tied for the most among receivers at the 2019 combine, revealed his supreme strength at the receiver position.

Clearly, Harry has the toolset to be highly productive. Yet, managers are selecting receivers with far more competition for targets, such as Curtis Samuel and Sammy Watkins, before him. Perhaps drafters are wary of a Cam Newton-led offense after his subpar, injury-riddled performances in recent years. It’s true that Newton threw for just 3,302 yards in 2017, his last season in which he was fully healthy. However, you’d better believe that Bill Belichick, who turned a sixth-round afterthought into a six-time Super Bowl champion, can make something of a former MVP.

There is little chance that Harry is surpassed by either Jakobi Meyers or Damiere Byrd in New England’s WR pecking order. Sitting behind just Edelman, who is now 34, Harry has a great opportunity to shock many fans this year. Keeping in mind his player comparison to Allen Robinson, the WR's potential is nothing to scoff at for sure.

Harry is just one year removed from being drafted in the first round, ahead of 2019 breakouts Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and D.K. Metcalf. Without being hampered with health issues, Harry will have the opportunity to prove that he deserved to be selected so highly. Many managers are looking to 2020 rookies like Justin JeffersonJerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and more while ignoring one of last year’s brightest prospects. Make sure that you are the one that puts an end to this trend.

 

Kareem Hunt Outscores Nick Chubb

This is a scenario that, while unlikely, needs to be talked about more. Chubb's ADP of 13 is much higher than Hunt's ADP of 61, and yet both are spectacular players. People seem to be forgetting that Hunt was an absolute beast with the Chiefs before his off-field conduct ended his tenure there. Hunt is more than capable of being a feature back, and with a new coach in Kevin Stefanski, there are no guarantees that he will play second-fiddle to Chubb.

After returning from suspension last season, Hunt played more snaps than Chubb in three out of eight games. Additionally, during this same stretch, Hunt scored 101.4 PPR points to Chubb's 103.8. Of course, as mentioned before, Freddie Kitchens and the old coaching staff are gone. Because of this, the above statistics may not carry over to this season. Nonetheless, Hunt has shown that he can produce at a similar level to Chubb already.

Hunt's efficiency last year was also astounding, especially compared to Chubb's. In fact, Chubb's production premium ranked just 56th among running backs last season, suggesting that he left valuable fantasy points on the table. By contrast, Hunt's ranked fourth, showing that he still possesses the otherworldly talent that made him a fantasy star in Kansas City. Hunt's 1.15 fantasy points per opportunity ranked 17th at the RB position in 2019, and Chubb's 0.73 was just 82nd. Clearly, there is an opportunity for Hunt to outproduce Chubb.

Hunt is very likely to get more of the receiving duties than Chubb, considering Hunt had more receptions in eight games than Chubb had all season. This is unlikely to change even with a new coaching staff, as Hunt's 82.2 percent catch rate surpassed Chubb's 72.0 percent by a decent margin. These receiving opportunities will be especially valuable in PPR and could let Hunt outscore Chubb even if Chubb garners more of the team's carries.

None of this is to say that Chubb is a bad player. However, his ADP being so much higher than Hunt's is surprising. Hunt is certainly a better value than Chubb and could even outperform him in 2020.

 

CeeDee Lamb Finishes with 200+ Points in PPR

Dak Prescott ended last season as the QB2, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns. While the Cowboys may remain skeptical of Prescott's abilities, fantasy managers should not. Dak is capable of some monster numbers, meaning that his receivers are as well.

CeeDee Lamb has entered the chat. As the 17th overall pick in this year's draft, Lamb must be salivating over the opportunities available to him. Even with fellow studs Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in Dallas, there will be plenty of yards and touchdowns left over. After taking note of Lamb's downright absurd YAC talents, the only reasonable conclusion is that he will be a reliable fantasy option sooner rather than later.

Lamb's 21.4 yards per reception came in at the 96th percentile in college last season. In 2018, he had a catch rate of 82.3 percent. His player comparison is Jerry Rice! Lamb is not only falling much too far in fantasy drafts (ADP 93), but he never should have fallen to the Cowboys in the real draft either.

I claimed that Lamb would score 200+ points in PPR. 70 receptions, 1,000 yards, and five touchdowns add up to exactly 200 PPR points. Are these predictions that outlandish for a first-round rookie in an offense that led the league in yards per play? It certainly doesn't seem like it. Even with Cooper and Gallup present, these numbers are attainable. If either one misses time, Lamb could explode for even more production. This upside is unmatched by anyone else going around his ADP. Do not let someone else snatch him away from you; make Lamb a priority in your draft.

Lamb has a very bright future in the NFL, but he has a very bright present as well.

 

Cam Newton is a Top-Five QB

I can only imagine how the NFL community would react if, under Bill Belichick's tutelage, Cam Newton returns to his dominant 2015 self. While that might be a little too far-fetched (although can we really count it out?), he could certainly come close enough to be a top-tier fantasy option. In 2017, his most recent fully-healthy season, Newton threw for 3,302 yards, ran for 754 more, and had 28 total touchdowns. That stat line would've been good enough for a QB6 finish last season. Assuming that Cam is free of his lingering injuries, such production is more than possible.

Cam arrived in Foxborough in late June after being a free agent for months. Once the Patriots signed him, Newton immediately began to work with his new teammates, including second-year wideout N'Keal Harry. I already mentioned above that Harry will be a breakout performer this season. Having such a weapon on the outside, along with Julian Edelman in the slot and James White coming out of the backfield, will only help Newton.

Newton has already won the respect of his new team, which is a great sign. Also promising is his 75.7 percent play-action completion rate and his 68.4 percent red-zone completion rate from 2018, which ranked first and fifth, respectively. These came even with his receivers dropping the eighth-most passes; his true completion rate was fifth in the league. That same season, Newton also ran for the fourth-most yards and fifth-most touchdowns among QBs despite missing two games due to injury and being hampered in others.

For Cam to finish in the top-five at his position, he would have to outscore the likes of Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, and Josh Allen. Watson just lost his best target in DeAndre Hopkins, leaving him with two receivers who struggle to stay on the field. Murray and Allen both have potential, but they have not yet proven they can be among the league's elite quarterbacks while Newton has. Cam's ADP is currently 19th among QBs, yet he has so much more upside than those going before him. Jared Goff did not play well at times last season, and he just lost Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks as weapons. Joe Burrow will likely be spending a fair amount of time handing off to Joe Mixon while he acclimates to the nature of the NFL. However, Goff and Burrow are still going before Newton in drafts.

Newton could be the biggest steal at the quarterback position this season. Don't be scared by his injury history; his upside will make drafting him worth it.

 

J.K. Dobbins is the Top Rookie RB

Yes, this includes Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Hear me out.

Dobbins piled up major stats at Ohio State, including a 2,000-yard, 23 touchdown explosion last season. But his counting stats aren't the only impressive part of his time in college. His 6.7 yards per carry in 2019 are at the 87th percentile; in 2017, he performed even better than that with a YPC of 7.2. He did all of this against some sturdy Big Ten defenses like Wisconsin and Penn State, so it's not like he racked up his stats against cupcake teams.

Now, Dobbins heads to Baltimore, the team that set the NFL record for rushing yards last season. The Ravens also had the second-most rushing yards per carry before contact, illustrating that the run blocking was superb. The incumbent starting RB, Mark Ingram, turns 31 in December. The Ravens clearly took Dobbins believing that he can take over for Ingram at some point; if that ends up being this season, lookout.

Edwards-Helaire, on the other hand, has a less rosy outlook than many would have you believe. While CEH landed in a high-octane Kansas City offense, the Chiefs ran the sixth-fewest times last season. With Patrick Mahomes still at the helm, why would they change that? Furthermore, Edwards-Helaire's athleticism may be overstated. While his burst is impressive, he ran just a 4.6 40-yard dash despite being just five-foot-seven. CEH also only broke out when LSU teammates Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, and Ja'Marr Chase set records last season.

Although the Chiefs have a similarly threatening offense, this makes you wonder how much of Edwards-Helaire's success was due to defenses having too much to worry about rather than his own ability. CEH is going as highly in drafts as Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott did as rookies despite being a lesser athlete and prospect.

Other rookie running backs have significant hurdles to overcome as well. Jonathan Taylor has to deal with the presence of Marlon Mack, who has been sneakily productive over the last few seasons. D'Andre Swift has talent, but the Lions went 3-12-1 last season and aren't exactly playoff favorites this season, so the game script might be uncooperative. Additionally, Kerryon Johnson averaged 5.4 YPC in Detroit in 2018, so he won't lose his role without a fight.

Cam Akers is very intriguing, as he will compete with long-time backup Malcolm Brown and unproven Darrell Henderson for touches. Akers did average a lackluster 5.0 YPC at Florida State, but his offensive line was among the worst in the Power Five. Dobbins has more upside than Akers though, simply because the Ravens rushing offense is so efficient. A large role in Baltimore's backfield means much more than it does with the Rams.

Should Dobbins assume the lead role in Baltimore, he could be a league winner. There are just so many carries to go around with such efficient blocking that Dobbins would feast on defenses weekly. Make sure to nab him (ADP 76) before someone else does.



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The Incendiary Sophomore Ready To Explode: Mecole Hardman

Finding the next breakout player in fantasy football is not always an easy task. If it were, we would all be winning more championships. However, sometimes a player jumps off the screen and the analytics jump off the page, making it a little easier.

Kansas City Chiefs sophomore wide receiver Mecole Hardman is such a player. His speed on film is game-breaking and his analytics in both athleticism and production from his rookie year are jaw-dropping. He was always wide open and is as dynamic and versatile as they come.

Another year in Andy Reid's system can only mean more opportunities for a player of Hardman's caliber, and fantasy players are going to wish he was on their team in 2020.

 

College Career

Hardman was highly sought after coming out of high school, where he was an All-American cornerback and the 2015 State of Georgia Offensive Player of the year as a quarterback. He was ranked as ESPN's number two athlete in the country and chose to remain in his home state and become a Georgia Bulldog. As a freshman, Hardman played cornerback and special teams where he impressed his coaches with his elite athleticism. The team decided to give him a shot at wide receiver in his sophomore year and the speed demon turned 25 receptions into 418 yards (16.7 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. He also showcased his versatility and added eight carries for another two touchdowns.

When the season was over, he ran the lead-off leg in the 4x100-meter-relay for the Georgia Track and Field team. In his last season, Hardman showed ridiculous efficiency with seven touchdowns on only 35 receptions. For comparison's sake, Julio Jones had seven touchdowns on 78 receptions in his final year of college. Hardman's numbers coming out of college were nothing to write home about, but his breakaway speed and versatility on offense jumped off the screen to NFL scouts.

 

Unreal Athleticism

Hardman was impressive with his minimal touches at Georgia, but he put himself on the map during the NFL Combine and his Pro Day. At the Combine, the Bulldog ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.33 seconds (99th percentile) and leaped an admirable 36.5 inches in the vertical jump and 116 inches in the broad jump. Then, at his Pro Day, Hardman performed the three-cone drill in an impressive 6.75 seconds, which showcases a prospect's agility, quickness, and change of direction skills.

It became clear to NFL scouts that if a team was looking to add an explosive player with incredible speed to their roster, Mecole Hardman out of the University of Georgia was the answer. As it turned out, the Kansas City Chiefs were looking for exactly that type of player due to the off-field domestic violence allegations made against Tyreek Hill.

 

Tyreek Hill 2.0?

With their second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected Hardman, an exact replica of Tyreek Hill, on the off chance that the team may have to replace him. The comparisons between Hardman and Hill are downright freaky. Hardman is 5'10" and 187 lbs, and Hill is 5'10" and 185 lbs. Hill played wide receiver, running back, and kick returner at Oklahoma State and the University of West Alabama and Hardman played the same positions at Georgia. The similarities continue with their speed, as Hardman ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the NFL Combine and Hill ran an unofficial 4.29 at his Pro Day.

The two receivers also had similar production in their first NFL season. Hill finished his rookie year with 61 receptions for 591 yards and six touchdowns, and added 267 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and another two touchdowns in the return game. Hardman only had 26 receptions, but he turned them into 538 yards and six touchdowns, and he added another touchdown in the return game. Hopefully, the similarities continue because once the Chiefs saw how explosive Hill was, they made him a focal point of the offense and he has produced as an elite WR1 ever since.

 

Impressive Rookie Campaign

Last season, Hardman showed the Chiefs and the fantasy football community that he can be an explosive weapon capable of breaking any game wide open. Despite his lack of targets, the former Bulldog proved to be one of the best deep-threat receivers in the game. He finished first out of all receivers in yards per reception (20.7), yards per target (13.1, an NFL record for a rookie), fantasy points per target (2.77), and fantasy points per touch (3.48).

He also made life for quarterback Patrick Mahomes even easier than it normally was by finishing third in target separation (2.02), which means whenever he was targeted there was on average at least two yards in between Hardman and the nearest defender. Even Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen could hit that window! Not surprisingly, Mahomes had a Quarterback Rating of 153.9 when targeting Hardman, which was also first out of all receivers, and 19.5 QBR points higher than number two (Marquise Brown).

As impressive as all that is, there is one statistic that jumps out when projecting Hardman for a breakout second season: target premium. Playerprofiler.com defines target premium as " the percentage of additional fantasy points per target that a wide receiver or tight end generates over and above the other pass receivers on his team." Hardman also finished first in target premium with +51.6%, meaning he averaged 51.6% more fantasy points than Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins each time they were targeted. Combine his efficiency with a natural bump in both snaps and targets in year two, and we could be looking at a fantasy star in the making.

 

2020 Fantasy Outlook

Hardman should have his way with cornerbacks in 2020 for the simple fact that he will be facing opposing defense's third or fourth best defenders due to the overwhelming talent on the Chiefs offense. Opponents are going to focus all of their attention on rushing the passer and line up their best defenders in coverage on Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. That leaves Hardman to use his elite athleticism and speed to routinely burn the cornerbacks covering him.

While the majority of the targets in Kansas City are going to go to tight end Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, there are still plenty of targets to go around. Last season, Kelce had 24% of the Chiefs targets, and Hill and Watkins each had 16%. However, Hill would have had around 24% as well if he played a full 16 games. That leaves roughly 50% of the Chief's targets still up for grabs between Watkins, Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, the running backs, and the depth receivers. The writing is on the wall for Hardman to rise to the top.

It is not easy for a rookie to earn valuable playing time on a team with a bunch of superstars, and it is even more difficult when said team runs a complex offense. Hardman had to deal with both of those obstacles in 2019, but he should enter 2020 with a firm grasp of Andy Reid's master plan. Last season, Robinson had a 70% snap share and Hardman had a 45% snap share, mainly due to his inexperience with the offense, but those numbers should flip-flop this season because Hardman's talent and efficiency are undeniable. Sammy Watkins will operate as the WR2 early on since the team restructured his contract, but it is his last season on his restructured deal, so Hardman could see his role increase even further as the season goes on. He has already been impressing in training camp and appears ready to take the next step.

Even with Watkins on the field, Hardman should operate as the full-time slot wide receiver for the Chiefs in three-wide sets since he played in the slot on 83% of his snaps last season. Did you know that all six of his receiving touchdowns came in the slot? More time in the slot means more fantasy points for his fantasy GMs. Hardman finished second only to Michael Thomas in slot receiving yards per route run with 2.7, which not only portrays his incredible efficiency, it shows that Mahomes loved to look his way when he got on the field.

All of this sounds great but don't get overly optimistic and draft him in the seventh round expecting 90 receptions and a top-15 finish, because that is not going to happen. However, 60 receptions is certainly in his range of outcomes, which would put him at 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns if he replicated his league-leading 20.7 yards per reception and 23% touchdown rate. Let's be honest, he is not going to do that, but the point is that with an expected increase in snaps and targets, Hardman could find himself flirting with WR3 production, which makes his current ADP of WR44 very juicy.

Further, his versatility and explosiveness will likely lead to a bunch of screens, end-arounds, and jet sweeps for Hardman as Andy Reid tries to manufacture touches for him. Lastly, if Hill or Watkins were to get injured, Hardman would be an every-down player and could win championships. Sounds like a player you definitely want on your fantasy teams.



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Must-Have Players for 2020 Fantasy Football

Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano reveal their must-have players they are targeting across nearly all fantasy football drafts for 2020. Who are the best ADP values and potential league-winners to move up your draft board?

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Got Any of Them Breakouts?

Pierre and Chris list their must-draft players for 2020. These players are undervalued and have tremendous upside.



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

Win Big with RotoBaller in 2020!

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Pierre Camus' Bold Predictions - 2020 Fantasy Football

This marks the fifth installment of my bold predictions for RotoBaller. Boy, how things have changed since my first bold predictions column. We were happily oblivious to Coronavirus. My preseason prediction about Colin Kaepernick was purely football related, just weeks before he became known for something other than his passer rating. RGIII was getting set to revive his career and the Cleveland Browns franchise simultaneously. Yeah, that was just five years ago.

Looking back just a year ago, I fared pretty well except for the whole O.J. Howard outscoring George Kittle thing (remember: BOLD predictions). Oh, and the Josh Rosen one was more of a joke. No, really.

This year, we have a new set of issues and a new crop of players hoping to turn their teams, and our fantasy franchises, into champions. Going out on a limb might make more sense than ever seeing as how we don't know what to expect from anything in 2020! That said, here's my best shot.

 

Cam Akers is a Top-10 Running Back

If you've read anything I've written or watched/heard any podcast this offseason where Akers' name was mentioned, you know my take here. I really want to say he'll be top-five but that could affect my end-of-year accuracy score...

As someone who does way too many drafts, I try to diversify when possible and not oversaturate my rosters with the same players. Akers is my exception this year because I feel he truly has "league-winner" written all over him. Rather than explaining why a former five-star recruit and second-round draft pick could be a viable NFL running back, I'll speak to the point - he is grossly undervalued.


While everyone is drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire at his absolute ceiling (he's now a top-five pick in some drafts for God's sake), Akers is going in the fifth or sixth round in most 12-team leagues around the RB30 range. If the rationale for keeping him that low is that he'll have to beat out Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, then I assume many people didn't follow the Rams last year. Here's how they fared, which is what prompted the team to take Akers:

It wasn't a lingering injury or an anemic offense to blame for Henderson's poor rookie showing. He just isn't cut out to be a primary ballcarrier. Blame the offensive line but Akers is used to running behind far worse throughout his college career as Florida State regularly ranked among the worst O-lines in the NCAA. Akers has the speed to shake defenders and doesn't go down on first contact.


There is zero chance the likes of D'Andre Swift or Raheem Mostert outproduces him and 99.995% chance he brings back positive return on investment. The fact Darrell Henderson tweaked his hamstring the other day just solidifies that Akers should be scooped up as soon as possible.

 

Zack Moss Outscores Devin Singletary

I've never been on the Singletary hype train and I'm not starting now. He's a fine committee back but that's about it and it's clear that's what he'll be again this year. Don't believe me, take Buffalo GM Brandon Beane's word for it.

"I think more of the goal line and things like that as we did with Frank last year, you'll see Zack do. I think Devin will do a similar role that he had."

This works in Moss' favor more than you might think. Dispute Frank Gore's greatness all you want, but he was a reliable chain mover and held onto the primary ballcarrier role even at age 36.

So pencil Singletary in for just under 200 carries and 30 receptions. If he manages to maintain his 5.1 yards per carry average from last year that still puts him under 1,000 rushing yards along with 250 receiving yards.

If Moss takes over Gore's workload and runs for a league-average 4.4 yards per carry, we're looking at approximately 750 rushing yards with something closer to 200 receiving yards since Gore's receiving numbers dropped precipitously the past two seasons and Moss should see more targets.

Now, the key - touchdowns. Singletary lagged behind Gore in the red zone and we've already heard the team's plans for Moss to resume that role.

It's tough to project scores but it's safe to say I expect Moss to get more chances. All we need is for Singletary to decline in his rushing average, much like Alvin Kamara did in his second year, and Moss to perform as we expected before the NFL combine fiasco. Remember, pro production is not about 40 time, it's about opportunity.

 

Jerick McKinnon Finishes with 150+ Points in PPR

Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, Sony Michel. All players who disappointed in 2019. All of them reached the 150-point threshold in full-PPR leagues.

The reason they were considered busts had to do with expectations. Michel should have continued his playoff success from the previous year and taken over the primary RB role in New England (ha ha, as if that's a thing). Duke Johnson finally had his chance to be the guy in Houston! Then they brought in Carlos Hyde and gave him all the carries. Tarik Cohen, well, he was on the Bears.

All that's to say that a top-30 RB isn't a league-winner and could be disappointing if drafted to be a weekly RB2/Flex. If you can get such a player in the last round of your draft or for free off waivers, you should absolutely jump at the chance. McKinnon, health willing, could be that player.

The Niners will deploy a RBBC as usual. With Matt Breida gone, Jet simply steps into that role.

That's not even his main appeal. At last count, the number of healthy receivers in San Francisco was -4. McKinnon is a natural pass-catcher and probably has the best hands of the skill players who will take the field in San Fran. He will get his share of receptions from the backfield and, if Kyle Shanahan listens to my sage advice, could work out of the slot. He's bigger and faster than Hunter Renfrow and Cole Beasley, so why not?

All told, McKinnon has tremendous upside with no risk at his non-existent draft price. And he happens to be an athletic freak too. 'member?

 

Mike Gesicki and Chris Herndon are Top-10 TEs

My breakout tight end pick, Mike Gesicki of the soon-to-be 2020 AFC Champion Miami Dolphins, has seen his ADP creep closer to the top-10 range, currently ranked TE14 by industry consensus. Surely I'm not the only one that suspects a big season could be in store. For that reason, I'm doubling down with Herndon as well. Yes, two AFC East tight ends will be fantasy relevant and neither one is named Gronk.

Speaking of, I believe these two athletic studs will outproduce Rob Gronkowski as well as Jared Cook, Austin Hooper, and Hayden Hurst, all of whom are being drafted earlier. All the ingredients are there. Not only are these two of the fastest tight ends on NFL rosters, they are primed for third-year breakouts on offenses that have precious few options at wide receiver.

The Dolphins saw their WR3 and WR4, Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, opt out of the season while Preston Williams is recovering from ACL surgery. That leaves DeVante Parker and a bunch of question marks. Regardless of who is QB for the Phins, Gesicki should be peppered with targets all year long and get the chance to turn his truly elite athleticism into production.

The Jets are counting on a possible breakout from Breshad Perriman and early contributions from rookie Denzel Mims, who unexpectedly fell down draft boards, to complement Jamison Crowder. That's not a stable corps of wideouts and both Perriman and Mims are nursing injuries during camp. If Herndon simply stays healthy, he should be a featured receiver. Adam Gase has said, "He's a unicorn type of player, you don't see a lot of these players that can do all three phases of the game." Jets beat writer Tyler Calvaruso recently declared that the Jets need to emphasize the tight end more. Hell, the Jets worked out Donte Moncrief the other day, if that doesn't tell you about their WR situation.

I won't go so far as to call either guy a league-winner unless you're in a TE Premium league but if you wait on tight end, target these two. Or both.

 

Allen Lazard Outscores Stefon Diggs

A little sleeper/bust combo action here. I'm not way down on Diggs but have reservations at his current ADP of 59 overall (WR28).

Stefon Diggs got his wish to leave Minnesota but doesn't necessarily arrive in a fantasy-friendlier environment. Free-agent wide receivers switching teams grab headlines but rarely produce better in new situations. Even bona fide WR1 types like Odell Beckham Jr. can have trouble adjusting to a new environment. It wasn't a big problem for John Brown, but that's the other issue - he's already the WR1 there. On a run-first team that had the fifth-fewest pass attempts in the NFL and averaged 204.8 passing yards per game, sixth-lowest in the NFL, there's only so much he can be expected to do.

Lazard is also the WR2 for his team but instead of Josh Allen throwing him the ball, he's got Aaron Rodgers. Allen has surpassed Rodgers on the fantasy totem pole but that's due to his rushing ability. Rodgers didn't have his best year throwing the ball, completing 62% of his passes. That's still better than Allen, whose 58.8% Comp% ranked 32nd.

Rodgers has shown he trusts Lazard, which means a lot. He started the final two games of the season, seeing nine and eight targets respectively. With Devin Funchess opting out and no new receivers drafted, the competition is scarce. Lazard doesn't have blazing speed but his 6'5" frame makes him an easy target, especially in the red zone. WR3 upside at a WR6 price? Yes, please. At an ADP of 179, I'm grabbing him everywhere. As far as Diggs, I'm simply waiting a round or two and taking John Brown instead.



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Marquise Brown: 2020 Fantasy Football Sleeper

Many football fans know of the epic 2019 season the Baltimore Ravens had. Though it resulted in a bitter divisional-round exit at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens return a young and highly-talented roster in 2020. After boasting a historic rushing attack last year, many have their eyes on Lamar Jackson and the stable of running backs.

Nevertheless, Baltimore does have a couple of prolific pass-catchers. One flying under the radar is wide receiver Marquise Brown, the cousin of Antonio Brown and a 2019 first-round pick. Brown is a speedster who has recorded a 4.33 40-yard dash despite not being able to attend the 2019 draft combine. He went rather unnoticed in fantasy last season as a rookie because much of the attention was shining bright on Lamar Jackson.

Now entering his second year, “Hollywood” is an enticing candidate to be a fantasy sleeper due to the Ravens being known as a run-first team. However, no team can rush on every play of the game, so that’s where Brown’s value increases on this relatively unknown Baltimore receiving corp. Let’s break down his stats and outlook:

 

2019 Recap

It didn’t take long for Marquise Brown to acclimate to the NFL. In the Week 1 throttling of the Dolphins, the speedster smoked the Miami secondary all day, notching four receptions for 147 yards and two touchdowns on only FIVE TARGETS. He averaged an incredible 36.8 yards per catch. Owners could easily decipher that the WR could turn on the wheels when he needed to and blaze past hapless defenders.

Due to the Ravens being a run-first team, Brown never put up those numbers again during the season, but his potential remains. In 14 games last season, he grabbed 46 receptions, 71/440 targets (16.1%), 584 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, and seven touchdowns. The receiver also had 7.8 yards before the catch per reception, 4.9 yards after the catch per reception, and a 2.8 dropped passes per target percentage.

Brown ranked 45th among fantasy receivers. The wideout finished second on the pass-catching group in receptions, targets, yards, and touchdowns, all after TE Mark Andrews. Among the Ravens WRs, Brown easily came in first in receptions, targets, yards, and touchdowns. He remains the WR1 on this team despite Baltimore not throwing the ball much (182 total WR targets in 2019, lowest in NFL) If Brown was given more opportunities, he could have shined last season.

 

2020 Outlook

The Oklahoma product has been conditioning rigorously this offseason and a hopeful breakout season could emerge if Baltimore gets him the ball more. In terms of targets and receiving production, the only real threat to Brown is TE Mark Andrews. Despite Andrews’ massive red zone presence and 2019 breakout, Lamar Jackson cannot only throw to the same receiver. This is where Brown steps in.

The Hollywood, Florida native remains atop the WRs depth chart. With one year of NFL experience under his belt and a stronger rapport with QB Lamar Jackson, all the pieces are in place for Brown to have a stellar campaign. The Week 1 blowout against Miami was just a glimpse of the WR’s potential if he gets on fire.

The other receivers on the Ravens’ depth chart are Willie Snead IV, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, and Chris Moore. They are generally unknown or not explosive wideouts.

Snead finished second after Brown in the stat sheet last season, albeit an unimpressive finish overall for the former Saint. Snead compiled 31 receptions, 46/440 targets (10.5%), 339 yards, 10.9 yards per catch, and five touchdowns in 16 games. These numbers are a somewhat decent drop off from Brown’s numbers (46 receptions, 71/440 targets (16.1%), 584 yards, 12.7 yards per catch, and seven touchdowns).

Miles Boykin was also a rookie last season, but he had an underwhelming campaign that ended in 13 receptions, 22/440 targets (5%), 198 yards, 15.2 yards per catch, and three touchdowns in 16 games. Chris Moore was virtually non-existent on the field last year, only mustering three receptions, five targets, and 21 yards in 14 games.

The Ravens did draft Devin Duvernay out of Texas this year. He will slide into the WR4 spot on the depth chart heading into the 2020 season. The rookie has a lot of potential, as he nearly compiled 1,400 receiving yards in his senior season last year.

Despite the potential being there, it is important to note the 22-year-old is still a rookie who is further down the receivers' depth chart on a team that does not pass all that often. Therefore, he should pose no immediate threat to Hollywood Brown. The fact that the rest of the Baltimore wide receiving corp is rather unproven bodes well for Brown and more passes being thrown his way.

Helping Hollywood’s case in addition is the fact that TE Hayden Hurst and WR Seth Roberts are no longer on the team. Hurst finished third among Ravens receivers last season and Roberts finished sixth. Combined, they had 51 receptions, 74/440 targets (16.8%), 620 yards, and four touchdowns.

Consider Brown a WR2 in redraft with massive upside. He can stretch the field, is the clear-cut WR1, and brings plenty of potential with his skills and large role on this receiving corp. His emergence is contingent on Baltimore passing the ball more, but Brown is a sneaky candidate to have big weeks if he gets the right opportunities against weak defenses.



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Meet the Mount Rushmore of 2020 Fantasy Football

We all know the big names that dominated their positions last year: Lamar Jackson, Michael Thomas, Christian McCaffrey, and Travis Kelce were league-leaders and often league-winners for a lot of fantasy managers. All these players finished at number one at their respective positions. This does not mean they were the best values though. C-Mac was a consensus first-rounder, Kelce was the top-drafted TE, and there is no way you could have rostered Thomas along with the other two, even if you were lucky (smart?) enough to land Jackson later.

Having Jackson, Thomas, McCaffrey and Kelce would be nice. It would have also been impossible. But what about Lamar Jackson, Derrick Henry, Chris Godwin and Darren Waller?

In this article, we are going to look at the 2020 players who represent the best value based on draft cost and where they are likely to finish. To put it another way, who are this season's Mt. Rushmore of fantasy players? Who can you wade out into the wilds of South Dakota to get to and find the value needed to make a league-winning roster?

 

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

ADP: Pick 107

Constantly underappreciated. This is the mantra for Matthew Stafford in the fantasy football community. This is evident again in 2020 as he is currently coming of the board with the last pick in the eighth round of drafts. Much of this has to do with his injury-shortened season of 2019. This was a mirage.

Stafford has rarely missed a game before last season. Despite having a fractured back for almost the entirety of the 2018 season, he played all 16 games. On top of this, he now has a legitimate WR one to finally replace Calvin Johnson.

I am not going to call Kenny Golladay as good as Johnson. This would be crazy as Johnson was one of the best ever. But Golladay is better than any WR one the Lions have had since Johnson. And this matters for the entire offense.

In eight games last season before injury forced him out, Stafford had 2,399 yards and 19 passing TD. This put him on pace for 4,798 yards and 38 TD. The 38 TD would have led the NFL. Beating out Lamar Jackson who had 36. His production in the first eight games also had him at QB two for fantasy before the injury.

With Patrick Mahomes hopefully healthy for all 16 games and Lamar Jackson still in the league, QB two is not likely for Stafford. A top-five finish is feasible though and getting this in the Eighth or even ninth round is great value. Perhaps league winning value.

With Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson joining Golladay in the pass game along with Danny Amendola in the slot, weapons are not a problem in Detroit. The real key will be the effectiveness of the run game. One which has not been good in 20 years. In hopes of changing this, the Lions drafted D’Andre Swift out of Georgia to add to talented but oft-injured Kerryon Johnson in the backfield.

After a rookie season which saw him garner over 5.0 yards per carry, Johnson was more disappointing last season. He is already being seen in a walking boot early in training camp and this is not a good sign for his truthers.

In contrast, D’Andre Swift is already drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff for his pass-catching abilities. This will not only help the run game; it will also help the prospects of Matthew Stafford having a great season.

While others are reaching to take Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, relax, build up a monster roster and draft Matthew Stafford late. Your league mates may be laughing now. But you will be the one laughing when you bring home the championship.

 

Running Back: Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

ADP Pick 75

After returning from suspension last season, Kareem Hunt took a bite out of the production of Nick Chubb.

In those eight games, Hunt out-snapped Chubb in six of them. He also took a large chunk of the targets which had been going in the opposite direction for the first half of the season.
Odell Beckham Jr. is still there. He is also still an elite receiver. Jarvis Landry is a great slot guy holding down the underneath routes will be extremely important for Beckham and the run game to get on track this season.

Hunt will be a major part of this run game. Not only is he as talented as Chubb in the run game, he is far better in the pass game. This means the current price of a seventh-round pick for Hunt is a far better value than using a late first on Nick Chubb. Chubb will need to duplicate his rushing totals from last season. While this might happen, his receiving numbers will plummet. This will far outweigh the rushing numbers he will put up for Cleveland.

The best thing Cleveland did this offseason was to sign Jack Conklin to a contract to solidify the right side of their offensive line. By doing so and drafting Jedrick Wills Jr. for the left side, the Browns should move from one of the worst lines in the NFL to a top 15 line. At least good enough for Baker Mayfield to have time to throw. If Mayfield is given this time, he will find Hunt open and often quite often. Much the way Andy Reid used Kareem Hunt as a rookie, Cleveland can do the same with a similar level of offensive line play.

We were all a year too early on crowning the Cleveland Browns in 2019. They struggled with a bad offense and a worse head coach. They seemingly have both figured out in 2020. They are not going to win the division. But in the seventh-round, Kareem Hunt may just win your fantasy league.

 

Wide Receiver: Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

ADP Pick 55

Most fantasy players are not going to wait until the fifth-round to pick their first WR in a draft. If you do, Robert Woods is a great option for this pick. If you already have a Michael Thomas or Julio Jones though? Woods makes an even better WR2 for your team. Whether the Rams play in 11 personnel or 12, the one constant will be Robert Woods on the field.

His two TD receptions are not what you like to see from a top-flight receiver. But in 15 games in 2019, Woods averaged six receptions and 76 yards per game despite a down season by Jared Goff and the entire Rams offense. His 90 receptions and 1,134 yards are both likely to go up as the Rams hope to bounce back from their disappointing season. Woods also became only the ninth WR since 2000 to have more than 1,100 yards and less than three TD. This leads to the conclusion that the TD numbers should regress positively in the upcoming season.

Cooper Kupp is great. At 6’2" he is bigger than normal slot receiver. But he is a slot receiver. Like Julian Edelman, this limits the upside potential of his yardage numbers. Woods, on the other hand, gets downfield for the big play and is fast enough to outrun coverages.

In 2018 while playing in all 16 games, Woods was on the field for 95% of the Rams offensive snaps. In 2019, despite missing a game, he still managed to be on the field for 89% of snaps. If he is not injured, he does not come off the field in any formation. This is perfect for a WR 2 as someone who not only is always on the field but translates this into consistent production numbers.

Is Robert Woods likely to finish as the top fantasy receiver in 2020? No. With just a bit of positive regression in the TD area, he could finish in the top-10 though. Not bad at all for a fifth-round pick in your fantasy draft.

 

Tight End: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

ADP Pick 109

In a rookie season marred by quarterback instability, Noah Fant still managed to produce a solid first season. In 16 games, the athletic Fant caught 40 passes for 562 yards and three TD for a Broncos team who disappointed in the AFC West behind eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have not gotten worse this offseason, so it is up to the rest of the division to catch up. This means an explosion of offense will be forthcoming.

Denver has tried to get in on the explosion by drafting both Jerry Judy and K.J. Hamler to add to emerging star receiver Courtland Sutton. They also added Melvin Gordon to a backfield which also has Phillip Lindsey to provide a good duo of complementary backs.

The addition of Gordon, a first-round pick of the Chargers who feel out of favor in Los Angeles means the team finally will move on from Devontae Booker and allow Lindsey to take a preferred role as the second man up.

All of these new weapons and a full year of Drew Lock will do wonders for the offense. This includes the lost man of the bunch in Fant. With defenses needing to focus more on the likes of Sutton, Judy and even Gordon in the pass game, Noah Fant will roam free and find seams in opposing defenses to make major gains in his second season out of Iowa.
Like Evan Engram in New York, Fant is not a blocking tight end. He is a large-bodied wide receiver playing the tight end position. This mismatch will be exploited by new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Fant will take his place near the top of the offensive tight end rankings.

Whereas last season Darren Waller made the leap in the AFC West, this season it will be Noah Fant. Instead of using a second-round pick on Travis Kelce or George Kittle, take a stud RB or WR early. Then you can grab Fant in the ninth round - a much nicer price for a tight end.



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JJ Arcega-Whiteside - 2020 Fantasy Football Sleeper

As so often is the tradition with second-year receivers who fail to make a big splash in their rookie years, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside has quickly become old and un-exciting news. Arcega-Whiteside was a trendy sleeper pick going into the 2019 season after the Eagles drafted him with a second-round pick.

The Eagles were extremely short-handed at wide receiver at the time and offered an extremely favorable landing spot given head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive acumen and Carson Wentz’s need for reliable targets. Unfortunately, Arcega-Whiteside struggled to get consistent snaps in 2019 and earned just 22 targets over the season, catching 10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

There’s still reason to believe Arcega-Whiteside could be a significant fantasy contributor and soon. All the reasons we had to believe in him last year still mostly exist this year. The Eagles are in need of playmakers at wide receiver. Will JJAW be the one to deliver this season?

 

2019 Foot Injury

Arcega-Whiteside was plagued with a foot injury for much of last season. Despite playing in all 16 of the Eagles’ games, he certainly wasn’t 100% for a number of them. In an interview from this past May, he even stated that he had trouble walking at times during the season.

A foot injury is a particularly alarming one for a rookie wide receiver. Especially one that makes even walking difficult at times. In order to excel in the NFL, Arcega-Whiteside is going to need to have elite footwork and the ability to get a clean break off the line. He’s a physical receiver who won’t be blowing by any cornerbacks, but will instead need to win positioning battles, which largely begin with precise footwork.

It’s hard to know exactly how much of his struggles in 2019 we can attribute to the injury, but the more slack you give him, the more potential you can start to see for a 2020 bounce-back.

 

Post-Bye 2019 Focus

After the Eagles came out of their Week 10 bye in 2019, there was a clear focus to get Arcega-Whiteside involved. He hadn’t earned a single target in the team’s previous six games before the bye, but he had a 29-yard reception on his only target in Week 11 and was then targeted five times in Week 12, reeling in two catches for 43 yards. His first and only touchdown of the season came in the following week.

The Eagles were without Alshon Jeffery in Week 11 and Week 12 after Jeffery had been the team’s leading receiver from the wide receiver position in the first half of the year. Jeffery’s absence helped open up a small window of opportunity for Arcega-Whiteside, but it closed quickly when Jeffery returned and earned a whopping 16 targets in Week 13.

All in all, despite the disappointing rookie campaign, Arcega-Whiteside still wrapped up the 2019 season averaging a sturdy 16.9 yards per reception. When he came down with the ball, he was making big plays.

 

2020 Opportunity

The Eagles wide receiver depth chart entering 2020 looks shockingly similar to how it did last year. Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson return as the two veterans of the group. There are just two primary differences. First, the team lost Nelson Agholor to the Las Vegas Raiders. Second, and probably more notably, the team selected Jalen Reagor with their first-round pick, 21st overall, in this year’s draft.

While the drafting of Reagor may seem like an ominous sign for Arcega-Whiteside, it really shouldn’t be. Reagor is a speed receiver who should be valuable in a number of ways to the offense, stretching defenses and providing an option for quick dump-off plays. His style of play is a stark contrast to the physical play of Arcega-Whiteside. The two could very much form a strong duo for the team in the coming years if they can develop properly.

Jeffery had foot surgery himself in this past December. He was placed on the PUP list in July this year and there’s a solid chance he won’t be ready by the start of the season, which should give Arcega-Whiteside more opportunities in camp to run as the X receiver with the first team. Keep an eye out for any updates on his progress with the first team. Positive progress could lead to him trending back onto the sleeper radar soon.

 

Non-Existent ADP

Identifying the best fantasy sleeper isn’t exclusively about tracking down the sleeper who is going to have the biggest individual season. It’s also about finding which sleeper will outperform their draft value by the largest margin. So while other potential wide receiver sleepers like Diontae Johnson or Darius Slayton may certainly outperform Arcega-Whiteside, those guys are going to cost you a pick somewhere around the 9th or 10th round, as opposed to Arcega-Whiteside, who is widely going undrafted in fantasy leagues at this point.

He can be your last round pick or even potentially an undrafted pickup if you lose someone to injury leading up to the season. The one positive from Arcega-Whiteside’s dreadful rookie campaign is that it is heavily built into his draft stock this year. Many fantasy owners are too fearful for a repeat season from Arcega-Whiteside, which opens the door to him becoming a potentially massive steal.

 

2020 Expectations

There are a wide, wide range of possible scenarios for Arcega-Whiteside in 2020, with the worst-case scenario of course being basically a repeat of his rookie season. With late-round picks, the possibility of a dud season is always on the table. However, if Arcega-Whiteside is able to stay healthy and Jeffery continues his long-proven track record of hobbling through seasons, we could very well see a much more involved and productive player out of Arcega-Whiteside this year.

Carson Wentz threw for 4,063 yards and 27 touchdowns last year. With healthier and more reliable receivers, he could easily end up closer to 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. A massive amount of Wentz’s production in 2019 went through the tight end position. The Eagles got a combined 146 receptions, 1,523 yards, and 11 touchdowns out of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. It’s extremely rare to see reliance like that on a tight end, so it’s likely that those numbers go down, particularly for the No. 2 tight end Goedert, who contributed 58 receptions, 607 yards, and five touchdowns.

Jeffery, meanwhile, finished the 2019 season with 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns. With a bigger season from Wentz and the likelihood of less production from Goedert and the recovering Jeffery, a lot of potential yardage enters the equation.

Reagor will certainly figure into that equation but may be more likely to soak up and improve upon the vacated 39 receptions, 363 yards, and three touchdowns of Agholor. All in all, there’s certainly room for both Arcega-Whiteside and Reagor to deliver a capable WR3 type of season.

Arcega-Whiteside should be able to make a number of long-yardage plays while becoming a focus of the team’s red-zone approach. He’s very able to finish the year with similar totals to Goedert last year, something in the ballpark of 50 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns. Overall, he should be slightly more attractive in non-PPR leagues. His best-case scenario could offer something even better than that, but we’ll wait for more lofty predictions until we start to see him assert himself more in the preseason.



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How Will CeeDee Lamb Affect the Cowboys Offense?

The Dallas Cowboys enter 2020 fresh off a season in which they led the NFL in total offensive yardage, averaging 431.5 yards per game. The core offensive group returns but a certain key addition has fantasy drafters worrying about the outlooks for recent 1,100-plus yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup while celebrating quarterback Dak Prescott.

To the surprise of many, talented wide receiver CeeDee Lamb fell to Dallas at pick 17 of this year’s draft.

Debatably the top receiver available in what was pegged as an exceptionally talented draft for the position, Lamb’s addition merits investigation as to the level of impact to the team’s other pass-catchers, as well as its quarterback.

 

Cowboys’ Passing Outlook

The Cowboys are second in the NFL with 190 vacated targets. The majority of these available targets come from the departure of slot receiver Randall Cobb and long-time Cowboy tight end Jason Witten. Both of these players received 83 targets last season, with Cobb doing so on a 15.5% target share in 15 games and Witten doing so with a 14.4% target share.

Promising for all pass catchers in this offense is Kellen Moore continuing to call plays, as his promotion to offensive coordinator last season coincided with the Cowboys attempting 597 passes. There is no reason to believe this team will throw less but projecting any reasonable decrease would still leave plenty of opportunity available with so many vacated targets. The Cowboys ranked second in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA and Mike McCarthy’s influence is unlikely to be a drastic negative, as McCarthy’s offenses ranked top-10 in offensive DVOA in 11 of his 13 seasons in Green Bay.

Fortunately for the Cowboys’ trio of talented wideouts, Kellen Moore utilized 11 personnel nearly two-thirds of the time last season. Further, this is a characteristic that has been shared by Moore’s new head coach throughout his Packers’ tenure. This is an important note, as 11 personnel will allow each of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb to see the field simultaneously. The Cowboys were near the top of the league in offensive plays run per game and led the NFL in average yards per play at 6.46. All of this shows that this is an offense worth investing in.

 

Rookie Role

Randall Cobb spent the majority of his time in the slot last season and this is likely where CeeDee Lamb is to be utilized in his rookie season. While Lamb has the makings of a potential number one receiver, his exceptional ability to make plays after the catch should suit him well in this role. Although not a burner, Lamb possesses incredible hands and an ability to change direction at top speed without gearing down. A strong route runner who fights for extra yardage as a ball carrier, Lamb has the talent to post big numbers even if his average depth of target matches Cobb’s 9.5 yards from last year. 42% of Lamb’s catches last season with Oklahoma came out of the slot, so this position will not need to be learned from scratch. With 190 vacated targets and no significant additions in the passing game outside of Lamb, there should theoretically be enough targets to support fantasy production from three wide receivers.

If Lamb commands a target share similar to Cobb’s 15.5%, he should have a floor of nearly 90 targets in his rookie season. With the number of vacated targets in Dallas, it is difficult to envision Lamb not accomplishing this feat. Ultimately, Lamb’s season may mirror that of Cobb’s 2019 season, but with room for upside should he prove more dynamic or be a larger factor in the red zone.

 

Dynamic Duo

Amari Cooper finished as the WR9 in half-PPR last season, while Michael Gallup ranked as the WR22 in only 14 games. Gallup actually led the team with a 21.7% target share, with Cooper trailing close behind at 20.7%. In terms of average fantasy production, the duo contributed almost exactly evenly, with Cooper at 12.9 points per game and Gallup at 12.8. Their production came in different ways, however. Cooper lined up all over to exploit matchups while Gallup mainly lined up as the team’s X-receiver. This deployment propelled Cooper to a healthy 15.1 yards per reception and Gallup to an even more impressive 16.8 yards per reception. This level of production should be sustainable sans any decrease in target volume, as Cooper held an average depth of target of 12.8 yards and Gallup 12.4 yards. This highlights the need to examine Lamb’s impact, as Cooper and Gallup are clearly otherwise set up for significant fantasy success.

Lamb’s draft capital means the team is invested in his success, but Amari Cooper was acquired for a first-rounder and got paid handsomely this offseason. According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, Cooper has never finished above the 71st percentile in success rate versus man coverage. This obviously limits him, but the flexibility in his utilization should allow him to continue to overcome this flaw. The Cowboys’ depth at receiver should enable them to continue putting Cooper in advantageous situations. If Lamb stays mostly in the slot and Cooper reprises his role from last season, then Gallup is likely to be utilized as the X-receiver in this offense. As encouragingly pointed out in Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, Gallup faced plenty of press coverage last season and succeeded by posting a 71.2% success rate versus man coverage and a strong 81% contested catch rate.

Cooper and Gallup both clearly possess the talent to succeed in the roles they are expected to play. Lamb’s addition should not limit their time on the field, as this team is likely to run a significant number of three-wide sets. There is room for this offense to throw even more, but a repeat of last season should be enough for both players to receive at least 110-120 targets, assuming roughly 20% target shares. Cooper has a 77.5% catch rate since joining the Cowboys, but even last season’s 74.3% catch rate would give Cooper a floor of 82 receptions with that target volume. It is clear that Cooper is much safer than feared. Gallup, meanwhile, has a much lower floor reception-wise. As evident by his career 54.7% catch rate, Gallup is riskier in half or full-PPR leagues, with a floor of roughly 60 receptions.

Both Cooper and Gallup possess tremendous touchdown upside but are still likely to cap each other’s ceiling in this regard. The Cowboys scored 30 touchdowns through the air last season and have an even more imposing aerial attack this year. Thirty touchdown passes did mark a career-high for Dak Prescott, though, so there is certainly room for regression.

All in all, the fears associated with Lamb’s addition appear to be overblown as they relate to the fantasy outlooks for Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cooper remains a good bet for a WR1 finish and can be attained in the third round with his ADP of 33rd overall. This draft cost means that owners who solidify the running back position in the first two rounds can still grab a WR1 for their squad. Michael Gallup represents a screaming value at his ADP of WR32 and 74th player overall, as he is likely to finish as a top-24 receiver this year.

 

No More Witten

Blake Jarwin steps into the number one tight end role vacated by future Hall-of-Famer Jason Witten. The athletic Jarwin is capable of taking advantage of increased opportunity and Witten’s 83 vacated targets present just that. The question is whether Lamb’s presence in the slot will take away from the number of underneath targets intended for the tight end.

Jarwin received 41 targets of his own last year and does not need to command a significant percentage of the Cowboys’ 190 vacated targets in order to be fantasy relevant. If even half of the targets vacated by Witten go to Jarwin, he will finish as a backend TE1. For evidence of this, look no further than Jason Witten’s TE12 finish last season. Jarwin is capable of doing more than Witten did with a similar level of volume. Witten and Jarwin combined for seven touchdown receptions in 2019 and Jarwin should be a lock for a handful of scores this year.

 

The Running Backs

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 69 receptions on 91 targets a year ago. Pollard has the chops to contribute in a meaningful way in the passing attack, as he spent time as a wide receiver in college. Pollard can be expected to receive a slight bump in targets this season, which will eat away at the ceiling of other pass-catchers such as Lamb and Jarwin. However, Zeke is a capable pass-catcher who excels in pass protection and will not cede snaps easily. Pollard remains little more than a handcuff, albeit a high-end one, behind workhorse Elliott. He may see slightly fewer targets this season thanks to Lamb’s addition, but not enough to alter his fantasy outlook.

 

Dak-to-Dak QB2 Finishes?

Dak Prescott finished as the QB2 in 2019 and has the type of arsenal to make it back-to-back QB2 performances. He will have to beat out one of Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson to do that, but Dak should be the favorite to finish as the QB3. Dak offers an underrated rushing floor, but it is CeeDee Lamb’s addition that has Prescott’s value soaring to new heights. With Pro Football Focus’s number one ranked wide receiver corps, Prescott has an envious group of offensive weapons.

There is room for regression in the touchdown department due to his above-average 5% touchdown rate, but the talent of this offense should keep it producing at a potent clip. Dak’s 54.7% deep ball accuracy rating was sixth-best in 2019, according to Football Outsiders. If Lamb offers more than Cobb it will open up those deep balls even more, making the sky the limit for Prescott this season.

 

Range of Outcomes

The range of outcomes for rookies during an unusual offseason tormented by the pandemic is even more difficult to project than normal. It is clear on tape that Lamb is an alpha receiver with elite potential. What is not clear is how quickly he will learn the playbook, mesh with a new quarterback, and acclimate to the next level with a limited training camp and no preseason. Lamb’s floor appears to be somewhere near Randall Cobb’s 2019 season, with the upside to approach 100 targets and emerge as a viable flex play in fantasy.

Amari Cooper appears poised to finish as a WR1, although Lamb’s addition is unlikely to quell any concerns over his history of inconsistency.

Michael Gallup’s floor includes the possibility of being surpassed by Lamb for number two in targets but also includes the possibility of leading the team in targets. The most likely outcome is Gallup remaining the Cowboys’ WR2 while significantly outperforming his current ADP.

Blake Jarwin is essentially free to obtain in drafts and represents a savvy pick for owners who miss out on more sure-fire options. He is likely to surpass 80 targets and score enough to be relevant.

Ultimately, Lamb’s addition should not cause fantasy owners to shy away from targeting Cowboys’ pass-catchers this season.



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Nick Chubb: 2020 Rushing Champ and Top-Five Fantasy RB

Nick Chubb has established himself as one of the premier pure runners in the NFL, rushing for 2,490 yards and 16 touchdowns on 490 attempts (5.1 yards per attempt) in his two-year career. At 5'11, 227-lbs, Chubb is a bruising back with 90th-percentile scores in speed and burst. Chubb can fight for the tough yards between the tackles and also take it to the house using his 4.52 speed. Simply put, this is a back with the ideal combination of size and speed.

Despite his limitations in the passing game - 36 receptions for 278 yards (7.7 yards per reception) in 2019 - Chubb has been a highly productive fantasy back, finishing as the RB11 in PPR points per game last year in his first full season as the starter. Chubb is currently being drafted as RB8 (13th overall in PPR leagues).

In this article, we'll take a look at why a change in scheme, improvements on the offensive line, and positive touchdown regression has the stars are aligning for a career season for the third-year back out of Georgia. Chubb is poised to deliver as the focal point of new head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense for the Browns.

 

New Scheme

Stefanski brings over a run-heavy scheme that was highly successful with the Minnesota Vikings last season, allowing Dalvin Cook to have a career year where he ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 attempts (4.5 yards per attempt) in 13 games. Let's take a look at the difference between the Vikings and Browns' schemes in 2019 to get a sense of what we'll see in 2020.

Pass ATT Rush ATT Rush YDS per Game Y/A Rush TD
Browns 539 (19th) 393 (22nd) 118.8 (12th) 4.8 (4th) 15 (T15th)
Vikings 466 (30th) 476 (4th) 133.3 (6th) 4.5 (12th) 19 (6th)

We can clearly see that Stefanski prefers to emphasize the running game, so it's safe to project an increase in rush attempts for the Browns in 2020. This is a prudent move because it can mitigate the turnover issues that have plagued quarterback Baker Mayfield (21 interceptions in 2019). The increase in rushing volume bodes well for Chubb, who should be able to sustain or even eclipse his rush attempts from 2019.

Detractors would argue that the presence of Kareem Hunt caps Chubb's upside, but there should be enough volume for both backs to provide fantasy value. Hunt will play a larger role on passing downs, as he's the superior receiver out of the backfield, so it's unlikely that his presence will impact Chubb's rushing volume too much. If we project the Browns to run the ball 450 times, Chubb should be good for 300 attempts.

Some would also point out the talent in the Browns' passing game to attempt to disprove the transition to a run-heavy offense. With wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, they figure that there is too much talent here to waste by running the football so frequently. But there are two things to point out with that statement: 1) The Vikings also had a terrific receiving corps with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, yet they still emphasized the run; 2) Jarvis Landry is recovering from hip surgery, so he'll start the year on the PUP list.

The Browns signed tight end Austin Hooper to a lucrative deal in free agency, signifying their desire to move towards more 12 personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends), using a combination of Hooper and David Njoku. We can also see Stefanski deploy three tight ends to help with the running game, as the team also drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round. The signs are clear: the Browns are going to establish the run and pound the football.

 

Improved Offensive Line

The Browns beefed up their offensive line this offseason with the addition of two offensive tackles: veteran Jack Conklin in free agency and rookie Jedrick Wills in the draft. Both of these linemen are known for their run-blocking, so the Browns should have a significantly improved unit for Stefanski to run his scheme at full capacity. This bodes well for Chubb, as the Browns' offensive line was an unmitigated disaster this past season.

In fact, the Browns ranked dead-last in runs to the left in 2019. It speaks volumes about his talent as a runner to produce behind such poor run-blocking. This year, Chubb will be running behind perhaps the most-improved offensive line in football.

 

Positive Touchdown Regression

Chubb's eight rushing touchdowns are a low number considering the amount of volume he received in the red-zone.

Inside 20 Inside 10 Inside 5
50 ATT (4th) 32 ATT (T1st) 15 ATT (T3rd)
6 TD (15th) 4 TD (T25th) 2 TD (T38th)

As we can here, Chubb had a tough time in the red-zone due to his lackluster offensive line. He was tied for first in carries inside the 10 with Dalvin Cook (11 TD) and Christian McCaffrey (10 TD), but finished with six fewer touchdowns. He tied for third in carries inside the five, behind Christian McCaffrey (8 TD), Joe Mixon (4 TD), Dalvin Cook (9 TD), and Mark Ingram (8 TD), but only put up two touchdowns. This will change under Stefanski.

It's also encouraging to see how much work Dalvin Cook received in the red-zone.

Inside 20 Inside 10 Inside 5
43 ATT (T5th) 32 ATT (T1st) 15 ATT (T3rd)
12 TD (T2nd) 11 TD (T1st) 9 TD (T1st)

Cook was able to put up this type of high volume between the 20s despite missing the final two games of the season (he also left early in the third quarter prior to these two games).  This demonstrates how Stefanski likes to feed his franchise back in the red-zone. Chubb will likely see positive regression here because of the new scheme and improved offensive line, making double-digit touchdowns a virtual lock in 2020.

 

Final Thoughts

The Browns are an improved team heading into 2020 because they fixed their biggest weakness: the offensive line. They no longer face the pressure that burdened them as the media darling heading into the 2019 season. This team is going to be in playoff contention, which means that they'll be leading in games more often in 2020, resulting in more volume for Chubb.

Don't worry about Kareem Hunt, there are enough slices on this pie for both backs to eat. Nick Chubb is going to win the rushing title and finish as a top-five fantasy back.



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Yes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire Is a First-Round Pick

Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be a top-10 RB going off the board in the first round. That statement shouldn’t be controversial, but people are always hesitant to pay that high of a price for a player we haven’t seen in the NFL before. But you should not let that fear scare you from drafting CEH.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was already viewed as the top fantasy rookie by many. I had previously thought Edwards-Helaire was worthy of a mid-second round pick and I have him on a lot of my best-ball teams. I am a firm believer in the talent, draft capital spent on him and the situation. My only concern was Damien Williams and how long it would take for CEH to get the majority of touches. I expected a split early on with CEH pulling away as the season went on. But that all changed once Williams decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Now, Edwards-Helaire is expected to start the season as the Chiefs' lead back.

My goal is to get you on board with drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round too! But before I even go into all statistical analysis, I want to bring up two recent success stories. Remember Ezekiel Elliott was a first-round pick even as a rookie? That worked out. Former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt was going in the second and still proved to be a league winner. Just because we haven’t seen a rookie does not mean at all that the talent cannot immediately transcend and lead to stud fantasy seasons from the moment they step on the field.

 

The Case for Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a tremendous talent in college. He was part of a historic LSU team from last year that, along with Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and others, had one of the best and most efficient seasons in history. He rushed for 1,414 yards and 16 touches while adding in 453 receiving yards on 55 catches and one touchdown. He averaged 0.33 missed tackles forced per attempt, which ranked tied for 10th with Cam Akers among all RBs with at least 125 carries.

He is a dynamic talent that can run between the tackles but his real strength is his route running. He will not just catch screen passes but he will actually run routes down the field. He is a back in the same mold as a Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara or Austin Ekeler.

Andy Reid had never selected a running back in the first round of an NFL Draft before. The only other back he had drafted in the first two rounds was LeSean McCoy. He took Brian Westbrook in round three years back as well. That right there shows you how highly the Super Bowl-winning coach values his new RB. There were two quotes that came out after the NFL draft that shows how much both Reid, and the Super Bowl MVP, highest-paid QB and new MLB franchise owner, Patrick Mahomes, felt about CEH.

First, Chiefs GM Brett Veach said he told Reid to watch Edwards-Helaire tape. “I told Coach, ‘Wait until you finish up your work on Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He’s going to remind you of Brian Westbrook.’ Coach called me back and said ‘He’s better than Brian.’”

That is very high praise since Westbook is in the Eagles Hall of Fame cause of all the success he and Reid had together. The other quote came from Mahomes, sort of. When Reid was asked why they picked Edwards-Helaire, he said it was because Mahomes wanted him.

“We asked Pat Mahomes, who do you want? He picked you,” Reid told Edwards-Helaire, which is the highest of praise.

The fact that we have a dynamic and highly-talented running back that was clearly highly sought after by both Reid and Mahomes is enough to get me fired up. But now with Damien Williams out of the picture for 2020, the path for the necessary volume to finish as an RB1 is clearly there.

The other RBs on the Chiefs roster are Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams and DeAndre Washington. Thompson had a ton of hype by the fantasy community last offseason and was still the fourth RB on the depth chart and hardly saw the field at all. Williams has always been a depth piece. DeAndre Washington is actually a late-round target and the backup I most want to own here, but even so, the Chiefs have invested just a one-year deal worth a little over a million dollars. None of those backs should be expected to see a workload like Damien Williams was, which right there is a big value boosts for the rookie.

There’s also the concern that the Chiefs can bring in a veteran back. They did last year, picking up LeSean McCoy right before the season. McCoy's name was swirling around for the Chiefs, but he has since signed with the Bucs, taking him out of contention. Additionally, he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs so I’m not so sure the Chiefs were knocking his door down trying to bring him back. The other names are Devonta Freeman and Lamar Miller.

Miller is a 29-year-old back that is coming off a serious injury. Also, he has never rushed for 1,100 yards or had 400 receiving yards in a season. He would provide depth but not a threat to win the starting gig in my opinion. The biggest threat would be Freeman, who is 28 years old and coming off a 59-catch season. However, his rushing efficiency really took a hit last season. Freeman signing with the Chiefs wouldn’t be ideal, but he’d come in at an elevated age, with a long injury history and likely on a cheap veteran deal. I think he would be a secondary piece here because CEH can’t handle 100 percent of the RB work (no RB does) but I wouldn’t worry about Freeman stealing the starting gig.

 

Chase Chiefs Running Backs

Last year, I was a Damien Williams believer. Truth be told, it had nothing to do with Williams himself or his talent. No knock to him, but to be honest, I would be interested in anyone who is the lead back in an Andy Reid offense led by Patrick Mahomes.

In the past two seasons, the Chiefs running backs as a whole have averaged 1.02 PPR points per opportunity. An opportunity is a carry or a target. The only teams with higher in that span are the Panthers (1.08) which is thanks to McCaffrey and the Chargers (1.05). The Chiefs backs also finished third in that span in PPR points per touch, at 1.07, behind just the Panthers and Chargers again.

Perhaps the stat that should have you most excited for CEH is that the Chiefs backs have been the most efficient pass catchers in the NFL in the past two seasons. They’ve averaged 2.05 fantasy points per target, by far the most in the NFL. The closest to them was the Chargers, at 1.85. That means when a Chiefs RB receives a target, they score on average 0.20 fantasy points more than the RBs on the next closest team. The gaps only get larger and larger when comparing that number to other teams.

But there is even more reason to be optimistic. It’s very possible that the Chiefs RBs are more efficient than even that two-year average since both Mahomes and Williams missing multiple games in 2019. Having backup RBs play with a backup QB is surely going to bring those numbers down. When you look back at 2018, when Mahomes had that magical season and Kareem Hunt was a league winner until he was let go due to off-the-field issues. But Williams stepped up in his place and led plenty of fantasy players to championships. That season, Chiefs RBs absolutely dominated the NFL. They averaged 2.54 fantasy points per target. No team was above 1.85 that season, so that shows that they were otherworldly that season. The Chiefs also led all backfields in PPR points per touch (1.21) and PPR points per opportunity (1.16).

 

Where To Take Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Drafts

We now know that CEH is a superbly-talented back and that the Chiefs are a very favorable situation for running backs. In PPR leagues, it is fine to take him off the board in the middle of the first round. I have him ranked as my RB6 in PPR, behind just McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook. I would take him as high as sixth overall in this format, since I am a believer you need to get RBs early.

In half-point PPR leagues, CEH comes in as my RB8, with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake going ahead of him. I still think in that format he is worthy of a first-round pick, but more in the back end. In standard, his worst format since he is such a great receiver, I have him as my RB11. That would put him either as a late first or early second-round pick.

Remember what Hunt did his rookie season with the Chiefs? Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the second coming, but he is a better receiver and gets to play with the greatest thrower of the football that I’ve ever seen. It may feel worrisome to spend that high of a draft pick on a player we’ve never seen suit up in the NFL, but it’ll feel way worse once we see him in action if you pass him up!



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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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Damien Harris is the Answer at RB for New England

As it currently stands, the New England Patriots' backfield is a mess. For the most part, this is more-so by design rather than personnel. The Patriots run one of the heaviest split backfields in the NFL from year-to-year. We would be in the right to call Bill Belichick a "Running Backs Don't Matter" truther, save for the part where he drafted Sony Michel in Round 1 of the NFL Draft just two years ago.

The Patriots have not had a true "workhorse" running back since Corey Dillon in the mid-2000s. Sony Michel was presumably the future of the backfield but he fell flat on his face in 2019 and has been working with rocks for hands since his rookie season.

As we've seen in New England, for every Benjarvus Green-Ellis, LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, or Sony Michel there is Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and James White. Occasionally, we will see the mythical Dion Lewis who will be utilized as both a runner and receiver but unfortunately, these are few-and-far-between. Damien Harris falls within the former category but has the potential for more. At the moment, we are strictly concerned with not only getting the most bang for our buck but also seizing control of one of the most productive running environments in the NFL.

 

Why Not Sony Michel?

Michel came into the NFL with a reported bone-on-bone injury to his knee which is typically degenerative and requires serious workload management. While he has not missed a game due to a flare-up, he does typically miss practices for rehab mid-week. The injury is mostly a pain management issue with potential long-term repercussions.

His career thus far has been such an anomaly after posting 64 receptions on 83 targets in four college seasons at Georgia with nearly 10 yards-per-reception. Michel is one of the biggest one-trick ponies in the NFL and defensive coordinators realize that by-and-large. In 2019, he faced stacked boxes (eight or more in the box) on nearly 34% of his carries which is an increase from the 26%~ rate in 2018. His presence on the field is a full-on tell.

Michel excelled as a runner during his rookie season. He posted 931 yards on 209 carries in the regular season and 336 yards on 71 carries across three playoff games (including a Super Bowl win) with six total touchdowns to match his regular-season total. While a good chunk of the credit is due to the offensive line and good scheming, he "did his job" as the New England motto goes.

2019 was a different story as he rightfully earned more work, played a full season, and lost a large chunk of efficiency. He averaged fewer than four yards-per-carry and saw nearly double the targets from his rookie season but yet again failed to do much with them. He's totaled 19 receptions on 31 targets for 144 yards and no scores as a pass-catcher thus far.

What's most shocking is Michel's lack of burst. Michel looks like he's maintaining his posture at all times with his straight-up running style and hits cruise control in open space rather than accelerating.

To be fair to Michel, he does have one elite trait: pass-blocking. PFF has him graded as one of the best in the league with an 82 grade last season and it would explain why Belichick liked having him on the field so often despite the production being lesser than that of other running backs in New England.

Now, Michel is coming off of a foot surgery from June and could begin training camp on the PUP list. While this PUP is not as severe as the regular season PUP where a player must sit out at least six games before activation, it is concerning that he will not be ready in time for what should the oddest training camp maybe ever due to current conditions with the global pandemic.

 

Why Damien Harris?

Do not get me wrong, the claim here is not that Harris will take over the entire backfield and command a monster workload as a dual-threat who usurps even James White. While it is in the realm of possibility (a sliver of a chance), the assertion is that Harris will take Michel's primary rushing role as soon as this season.

No one has a better sense of Sony Michel's medicals than the Patriots and their team doctors. Maybe that is what led them to draft Damien Harris in Round 3 of the 2019 Draft. Maybe they just really liked him and couldn't pass? Who knows for sure, but the fact of the matter is that they spent a premium, top-75 pick on two running backs in back-to-back years which is peculiar, to say the least.

Despite sharing a backfield with Josh Jacobs, Bo Scarbrough, Najee Harris, and technically Jalen Hurts throughout his productive, last three years at Alabama, Harris managed to accrue two 1000 yard seasons and did it while averaging just over 7 yards per carry in both of them. Obviously, playing with NFL-level QBs and pass-catchers while behind top tier offensive lines will benefit any running back, Harris's sustained success is impressive, especially against SEC competition.

Harris is a very talented one-cut runner who does not spend much time behind the line-of-scrimmage. He is the embodiment of a power-back with an incredibly wide frame and tough, head-first running style. While he may not be agile, Harris's mix of size, speed, and athleticism is enough to make him the most dangerous RB in New England from a talent stand-point. Harris has something none of the other rushers have in his ability to burst into open space.

The addition of Cam Newton is a plus for every running back in New England, which makes it difficult to use that as a plus for anyone in particular. It is definitely possible that one of Sony Michel or Damien Harris benefits more from read-option plays but that is tough to tell at the moment. Harris was quite successful with Jalen Hurts back in Alabama while Michel was more-so in a pro-style offense throughout his career at Georgia with a mix of Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, and Greyson Lambert.

Also, with Newton in town, not only will he team's pass attempts go down but the shape of the backfield could look a lot different. With Tom Brady at QB, the offense was working around an immobile QB who needed a clean pocket to operate. Brady could always improvise and work towards a quick-hitting offense to work around the bad OL at times but that is not when he was at his best. Brady, to his credit though, was agile in the pocket and tough to bring down. Cam Newton is even tougher and has the ability (when healthy) to escape the pocket and improvise plays.

Pass protection will absolutely still matter but the degree to which it does for running backs, in particular, could change. Why do I bring this up? Well, it just so happens that Damien Harris's fatal flaw is pass-protection. It would explain why he only received four total carries in the 2019 regular season despite consistently poor outings from Sony Michel. Michel's leash was extremely long last season as he managed to stay healthy and touch the ball 250 times.

 

In Conclusion

Harris's current redraft price is between pick 150 and 200 (fluctuating based on league). Drafting him in the teen round will not tank your draft if he does not see much more work than last year or fails to produce with an expanded workload. Harris provides immense upside given that he may be the lead-back in one of the consistently great offenses in the NFL that is ready to adapt to a new style of QB with the departure of Tom Brady.



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Engel's Angles: The DK Metcalf Love Affair Is Real

When I have watched the NFL over the years, it has always been fun to pinpoint the moments when I realize that some players are just going to be special. One of the first times I recall saying “this player is going to be very good” was when I watched a young Brett Favre handle the offense like a veteran field director.

Over the years I have watched players such as a young A.J. Green show off his superstar potential immediately. Nowadays, I enjoy watching the pretty jukes of Miles Sanders and flashes of promise from Noah Fant and believe they could be stars and significant Fantasy contributors very soon.

The second-year player who seems to be generating the most fantasy intrigue is Seattle wide receiver DK Metcalf. A player like Sanders seems to have a defined role that can elevate his statistical ceiling. With Metcalf, the upside is so tantalizing, yet how good and productive he can be is uncertain in a positive manner. I am here to admit I have a Fantasy Football man-crush on Metcalf and he keeps climbing up in my ranks and in my draft queues as I consider and review all the factors.

 

Beginnings of The Relationship

Opinions were mixed among scouts and analysts on Metcalf as he came out of Ole Miss last season. While most were in agreement that his natural abilities were enticing, there was a lot of criticism and reservations about his route running and fundamentals. Then his agility drills at the Combine led to more doubts and dropped Metcalf's NFL Draft stock.

He did not go in the first round, and as I watched Seattle let him slip by at pick 29, I thought he would have fit well with the Seahawks. After the first round was over, I was talking to Mets outfielder and Seahawks fan Michael Conforto and told him Seattle should strongly consider him in the second round, as they had a need for a potential difference-maker at WR opposite Tyler Lockett.

But the Seahawks then passed on him with the 47th pick, so I started to believe that whoever else landed Metcalf may have been getting a good value as he continued to slip. Then Seattle made a creative move as they often do in drafts, and traded up to nab Metcalf with the 64th overall selection in the second round. I thought it would be an ideal fit for Metcalf all along.

Russell Wilson had never worked with such a talent like him in terms of the size/speed combination. The rookie was headed into a situation where the QB would be well suited for his skill set. Wilson has always been regarded as one of the very best deep passers in the game and needed a big target on key downs and in goal line situations.

Other fantasy experts I really respected did not agree. Veteran analyst Corey Parson said Metcalf was the type who looked great getting off the plane and disappointing on the field. High stakes standout Chris Vaccaro said he “just did not see it happening” for Metcalf and would not be targeting him in drafts. Yet I maintained that Metcalf’s skills would mesh very well with Wilson’s, and he would be an ideal receiving partner for Lockett.

 

Stirring Feelings of Excitement

Metcalf heard the doubters and worked diligently on his techniques heading into and during his rookie season. He made an immediate impact in his first pro game, catching a 42-yard pass and finishing with 89 yards. Metcalf scored for the first time in Week Two and had a 54-yard catch in Week Three. In Week Four, he had a 30-yard catch in Week Six and a 37-yarder in Week Seven.

The big-play skills were very evident in the first half of the schedule. His route running, techniques and abilities to diagnose defenses progressively improved, and Metcalf displayed more development as an all-around pass-catcher in the second half of the season. He finished the first half with a two-TD outing in Week Eight.

After not catching more than four passes in a game during the first half of the season, Metcalf had a pair of six-reception games in Weeks 9 and 10, with his first  career 100-yard outing in the first of those two matchups. His six-catch, 123-yard performance in the 10th week featured a 53-yard TD reception and a key 29-yarder in overtime. Metcalf had five six-catch games between Weeks 9 and 17 and caught three TD passes in the final four games. He finished the season averaging 15.5 yards per catch (13th in  the NFL) with seven TD receptions and nine games of 60-plus yards.

 

The Big Breakthrough and Saying “I Love You as a Fantasy Player”

Metcalf flashed a lot of potential during the regular season, but he only had one 100-yard game. He was not consistently winning on tight battles for catches and drops were also an issue (seven). According to playerprofiler.com, Metcalf’s catch rate of 58 percent was 77th in the league, and was glaring when you consider Wilson had a 66.1 percent completion rate last season.

Metcalf impressively demonstrated he was ready to start challenging defenders more frequently in an epic showing in the NFC Wild Card Game at Philadelphia, a true breakout performance I witnessed first-hand while covering the game for Seahawks.com. Metcalf caught seven of nine targets for 160 yards and a TD with his longest reception covering 53 yards.  The yardage total set an NFL playoff record for a rookie and was a Seahawks postseason record.

In the postgame locker room, Lockett told me that Metcalf showed he could prevail in key situations where he had to win against defenders, and that factor was a big reason for his great outing.

"He took advantage of all his opportunities. He really did great in those one-on-one matchups,” Lockett said.

Late in the game, Wilson threw the ball up to Metcalf for a 36-yard catch that sealed the Seattle victory. Metcalf indicated that Wilson had been encouraging him throughout the season to get the upper hand on tough catches, and he delivered in his first postseason outing.

"All year he has been telling me don't let the ball come down, don't let the ball come down. That's all I was thinking. Just attack the ball,” Metcalf said.

I left Lincoln Financial Field that night knowing that I had fallen in love with Metcalf for fantasy purposes, because he had proved himself when the spotlight was the brightest, and his career was just beginning.

Metcalf's recent ADP action has not fluctuated but we could see a rise soon as the preseason buzz swells. (playerprofiler.com)

 

Going Steady on Drafting Metcalf

Metcalf’s ADP is 58 overall and No. 23 at WR. That was right in line with my rankings a month ago (55 overall and 22 at WR), but with further review of Metcalf’s rookie year, I find myself pushing him up closer to the Top 15. There are so many other Fantasy players who are enthralled by the upside, and while I have Cooper Kupp and DeVante Parker ranked ahead of him, I have to take Metcalf over those WRs in many drafts to ensure having him on my team.

If you truly want Metcalf you will have to make an aggressive move and target him in the 15 to 20 range. I have landed him as a Fantasy WR2 or WR3 in the fourth to fifth rounds depending on league size and makeup.  He is often being taken ahead of Lockett, I do believe the Seattle offense can support two Fantasy WR2s. Wilson led the league in TD passes last year, but was 12th in attempts. He is incredibly efficient and there is some conjecture the Seahawks may open up the passing game more in 2020.

I have consistently been able to select Metcalf in early drafts, and as he continues to gain experience while working with the ideal QB to suit his talents, there seems to be unlimited promise. Some of the most optimistic early pro comparisons on him were to Julio JonesDemaryius Thomas and Andre Johnson. Eventually, it’s not crazy to think he could land in that range of performers if he reaches his full potential.  His floor can be as a very good Fantasy WR2. In one of my dynasty leagues, I traded Chris Godwin for Metcalf and Darren Waller while also swapping two early draft choices. That is how much I believe he will become an outstanding Fantasy player in the future.

Sigh. I have a real Fantasy Football crush on DK Metcalf and I think my feelings will deepen during the 2020 season. He will at least be a top-level fantasy WR3 with high-end WR2 promise.

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All Aboard the Austin Ekeler Hype Train!

Hello, this is your conductor speaking. Welcome aboard the Austin Ekeler hype train! I am glad to see that you decided to get onboard. We are heading straight towards Titletown! Now, please stand clear of the closing doors.

I’m not going to lie, as a former New Yorker who has ridden the subway every morning and evening, I have always wanted to say that. But it is only fitting that I do so as the leader of the Austin Ekeler hype train. If you are not aware, I have been hyping up Ekeler on RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM Fantasy each Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 11 pm ET. It is at the point where my co-host Scott Engel refers to me as Michael “Austin Ekeler” Florio. But there are lots of good reasons why I am so excited about Ekeler.

At the same time, I understand the arguments against him. I will address both of those in this article. First, I will tell you all of the reasons I am excited. Then, I will tell you why many of the concerns are being blown out of proportion.

 

Reasons to be Excited about Ekeler

The first step is explaining why I am so excited about Ekeler. And the reason is pretty simple: he is one of the most talented backs in the NFL. He is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league today and perhaps, maybe to ever lace them up. He really is that good.

Last season Ekeler finished as the RB4 in PPR and was the RB6 in PPR points per game. He did so despite averaging just 34.8 rushing yards per game. Since 2000, he was the only RB to score over 300 PPR points, while averaging less than 35 rush yards per game. He is a unicorn, but this is just the start.

Ekeler averaged 9.19 receiving yards per target last season. Not only did that lead the NFL, but it was second-best since 2009 (as far back as I can check) behind only Chris Thompson’s 9.44 in 2017. But Thompson had just 54 targets that year, which is literally half as many as Ekeler last season. Ekeler also averaged 2.22 fantasy points per target last season, which not only led the league but was the best by any RB since 2009.

But wait, there’s more! Ekeler led all RBs in receiving yards per route ran with 3.06 and in fantasy points per route ran, with 0.73. Both of those marks are the best any RB has posted since 2016, as far back as I can track this data. Being the most efficient pass-catching back in recent history is one huge reason why I am excited about Ekeler.

Another is that Ekeler can be a better runner than we anticipate. First off, he averaged 1.29 PPR points per opportunity. An opportunity being a carry or target, so that stat is still influenced by his pass-catching ability. But, as a pure runner Ekeler also flashed his abilities. He had 132 carries last season. Of running backs with at least 130 carries, Ekeler finished tied for second in missed tackles forced per carry, with 0.22. That means that on average, Ekeler averaged a missed tackle forced the second-most among all RBs. He also averaged 2.6 yards after contact per carry, which ranked tied for seventh amongst all RBs. Ekeler was effectively able to force missed tackles and create yards after contact. Those are two very big traits for an RB to have success in the NFL.

So, at this point we can all agree that Ekeler is a superb talent, right? But that is only half the battle in fantasy football. We have seen players who are superb talent’s falter in the wrong scenario. But, Ekeler should actually be due for an uptick in opportunity.

Last season in the first five weeks, Ekeler was used more than ever before. Remember, Melvin Gordon sat out the first four weeks and was limited in his first week back. In those first four weeks, Ekeler played 65 percent of the snaps or higher. In three of those five weeks, he played over 72 percent. He saw at least 16 touches in each of those five games, including 12 or more carries in three. He had just two games the rest of the season with at least 16 touches and hit 12 carries just once the rest of the way. The obvious change in usage was due to Gordon being back on the field. This season, Ekeler will have competition, but I do not believe any will eat into his workload the way Gordon did.

I will be addressing this more when defending Ekeler against detractors, but knowing how efficient Ekeler is, any uptick in opportunity should be welcomed. Last year in the first five games, he was averaging 25.86 fantasy PPG. That would have made him the third-best player in fantasy over the course of a full season, behind only Christian McCaffrey and Lamar Jackson, who each put up historic seasons. From Week 6 on, Ekeler averaged 16.34 fantasy PPG. That would have made him the RB10 in 2019.

Currently, Ekeler has an FFPC ADP of 2.08, as the RB12 off the board. Even if Gordon, he was able to put up top-10 RB numbers. Yet, this year we are ranking him lower than that? We are ranking him lower while also completely ignoring his ceiling. I am not saying the guy is going to average 26 fantasy PPG, but if he plays over 70 percent of the snaps and is seeing 16+ touches per week? His ceiling is a top-five fantasy back… which he already finished as last season.

 

What Detractors Say About Ekeler

The biggest knock on Ekeler is that he lost the check-down whisperer in Philip Rivers. No QB threw more to RBs in 2019 than Rivers, who did so 11.19 times per game. The only other QB to average double-digit pass attempts per game to RBs was Tom Brady (10.19). I can’t lie, the loss of Rivers is going to hurt Ekeler. If Rivers was still with the Chargers, Ekeler would likely be a top-five back for me. But I do think the move to Tyrod Taylor is getting overhyped.

In 2017, the last full season that we saw Taylor, he attempted 7.7 passes per game to RBs. That would have ranked eighth amongst QBs in 2019. In that season, LeSean McCoy finished with 77 targets, 59 catches, 448 yards and two receiving touchdowns. McCoy is a great receiving back, but I do not think he has the chops of Ekeler. Also, it is worth noting that McCoy was 29 and that was the last we’ve seen him play well in the NFL.

I believe the Chargers will run plenty of plays for Ekeler. He averaged 3.9 routes out wide per game last season, the second-most among all RBs. He also averaged 2.7 slot routes, which ranked fifth. Those numbers climbed to 4.2 out wide per game and 3.3 in the slot with Gordon back, showing that the Chargers are not afraid to use Ekeler as a receiver if and when they want to get another back involved.

Ekeler may even be the Chargers' best receiver after Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Last season, Ekeler had five targets of 20+ air yards, which put him in a tie for second among RBs. He caught four of those, the most catches of 20+ air yards amongst all RBs last season. Plus, with Gordon gone now, there is the chance he is used even more both in general and specifically in the passing game.

Last season, Gordon ate a lot of work when he returned. This takes me to the next point detractors of Ekeler will often bring up: the Joshua Kelley/Justin Jackson affect. I do believe we will see one of these two backs utilized. I think it will be Kelley, as he has the size to be the hammer to Ekeler’s lightning. But last season Gordon saw 162 carries, which breaks down to 13.5 per game. He also was utilized more in the passing game than I think many realize. He averaged 15.8 routes per game, 4.6 targets, 3.5 catches and 24.7 receiving yards. Those are valuable passing opportunities where the Chargers took Ekeler off the field for Gordon.

Ekeler is the superior pass-catcher, so it is a questionable decision. Gordon has shown that he is a strong pass-catching back and was their big named RB, so I get it. But Jackson has never averaged six routes or more than 1.3 receptions per game. Kelley did have 27 catches as a junior, but that dwindled to 11 as a senior. I do not view either of these two as the threat to passing down work that Gordon was to Ekeler. I also would be shocked if any of those backs had more than the 204 touches Gordon saw last season.

My thinking is that this backfield will operate much like the Saints. Ekeler will dominate the passing down duties, while splitting carries with another back. We saw the Saints do this when they had Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Chargers won’t be the Saints offense, but if Ekeler is touching the rock 16+ times per game, I do not think we will be complaining.

Another knock is that Ekeler simply can’t be a workhorse back. I think that is largely based on the fact that he has never been asked to be one. His entire tenure with the Chargers he’s been behind Gordon. He got a shot last year and really ran with it. The Chargers opted to pay Ekeler and let Gordon walk. I think they view him as a special piece in this offense and will make sure to put the ball in his hands plenty. It often happens in the NFL where a player gets pigeonholed into a role simply because that is all they’ve been asked to do.

Ekeler for the first time in his NFL career is in a position to lead a backfield. It is not something he has never done before. Ekeler went to college at Western State, a division two school, so you can take this how you want. But he attempted at least 227 carries in each of his final three seasons. He had 298 carries as a sophomore and averaged 24.4 carries per game in those three seasons. You can discredit it and say it is a D2 school, but the fact that we have seen him carry a heavy load before at any level is a positive to me. It is certainly better than if he had never done so before.

Another knock on Ekeler is that he won’t be able to perform against stacked boxes, which the anticipation is he will see more as he is now a larger part of the Chargers offense. And that could be the case. But in 2019 there were 50 running backs that had at least 30 carries against boxes with 8+ defenders. Ekeler ranked fifth amongst them putting up 0.22 missed tackles force per carry. He ranked 26th amongst them in yards after contact per carry, at 2.6. I am not saying Ekeler is going to be an unstoppable force, but him being a better runner of the football than we have given him credit for is very much so in the realm of possibilities. And due to that, it makes his ceiling that much higher.

The next bash on him is that Ekeler will lose touches near the goal line. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t something that worried me. But at the same time, what if Ekeler receives more touches than we expect near pay dirt? Last season, he had 15 touches inside the 10-yard line. He turned those into five touchdowns, three of which we rushing. Gordon saw 20 touches inside the 10 and turned them into eight touchdowns, seven of which were rushing. That is a 40 percent success rate for Gordon and 33 percent for Ekeler. Inside the five-yard line, Gordon turned his 14 touches into seven touchdowns (50 percent). Ekeler on the other hand turned his 10 touches into three touchdowns (30 percent).

I do believe Kelley will be a TD vulture at times. But I do not expect Ekeler to lose all of the touches near the goal line. He showed last year that he can at least be competent near the line of scrimmage.

 

Concluding Thoughts

There are concerns that come with Ekeler. But there are concerns that come with most players outside the obvious elite high-end picks. But the one thing no one is questioning is just how good and efficient Ekeler is, especially in the passing game. Pairing how efficient he is with a larger than ever workload has me very excited for Ekeler. I especially feel he is safe and less likely to bust because we know he has the role of pass-catcher locked down here and in PPR last season a target (worth 1.55 fantasy points on average) was nearly three times more valuable than a carry (worth 0.60 on average) for RBs. We know what Ekeler’s floor is, at least in terms of usage, in this offense. What many seem to be overlooking, is the fact that it is very much in the realm of possibility that Ekeler can see 70 percent of the running back work here.

To me, Ekeler is an RB1 that you barely have to pay an RB1 price to acquire. Going off the board as the RB12 is much closer to his floor than his ceiling. I mean, the man finished as the RB4 a year ago and had Gordon leave. Do we really think he is going to be that much worse this season? Not me.

If you are now on the Ekeler hype train, welcome aboard. Someone will be coming by soon to check your tickets. If you are not, well, this is where you got to get off! Cause in the infamous words of the late Walter White, “Nothing stops this train!”

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CeeDee Lamb Will End 2020 as the Cowboys' WR1

While the Cowboys may not have expected CeeDee Lamb, the talented Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver, to fall to them at 18th overall in the 2020 Draft, they made the correct choice in selecting him rather than reaching for a position of need like a cornerback. Lamb's fall in the draft from a potential top-10 selection to the Cowboys was peculiar but nonetheless, it is not the first time a clear elite talent has fallen further than expected (Randy Moss in 1998).

Lamb will begin 2020 as the WR3 in Dallas and start in their base 11-personnel alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. While usurping receivers who efficiently eclipsed over 1000 yards just last season will not be easy, Lamb is special enough to accomplish the task. He is the best bet of any WR from this class to end up a top-two round pick next draft season even though he has more competition than the likes of skilled first-rounders Justin Jefferson, Jalen Reagor, and Henry Ruggs III (Jerry Jeudy has the most difficult of any).

Just to clarify the title of this piece though, the assumption is not that CeeDee Lamb will finish as WR1 in scoring for Dallas but that he can take control of the WR1 role before season's end and into 2021. You should continue drafting Cooper well ahead of him and Gallup just above him. But Lamb could end the season at the top of the pile at a far lower ADP given the target distribution available from early on in the season.

 

Lamb is a 2021 WR1

Dak Prescott is one of the more efficient and reliable passers in the league with a 65.8% completion rate and no games missed throughout his career. He has incrementally increased his pass attempts year-by-year from 459 his rookie year, to 490 as a sophomore, 526 in his third year, and 596 last season. While the volume climb will plateau at some point, it is a good bet to believe that it will not be 2020. Passing is often dictated by whether you are leading the game or not. Teams with substantial leads run more, teams in trailing, tied, or in close, late-game situations will pass more.

Also, talent dictates a good amount too. With the Cowboys adding Cooper/Gallup over the past two years, they have leaned on the pass given that they can efficiently operate. Last season, in particular, they were middle-of-the-pack in terms of playing with a lead/deficit.

The Cowboys' defensive ranking by weighted DVOA last season was 19th in the league and they just lost two key starters on that end: Byron Jones and Robert Quinn. They are now left with massive holes that they failed to properly fill over the offseason. While they still have Demarcus Lawrence wrecking tackles on one end of the line, opposite him is going to be some mix of Tyrone Crawford, the oft-suspended Randy Gregory/Aldon Smith duo, or fifth-round picks from the past two seasons, Joe Jackson and Brandley Anae. Whatever comes to start opposite Lawrence will surely be a downgrade from Quinn who just had his best season since hitting the Pro Bowl in 2014.

 

Byron Jones is probably even harder to replace given how much he has improved since the transition from safety early in his career to cornerback. Jones cemented himself as a premier, shut-down CB last season and was rightfully paid $82.5 million for five years with $57 million guaranteed. 2017 second-round pick, Chidobe Awuzie, will look to step into the CB1 role in Dallas but he will be hard-pressed to come close to replicating Jones' abilities on the perimeter. Awuzie has been a viable CB2 since getting drafted. However, he might not be suited to overtake the tasks asked of a primary CB.

Dallas has added some safety help in the form of HaHa Clinton-Dix to complement Xavier Woods in the back-end but neither of them is elite and capable of overcompensating for mediocre CB play despite possessing competent enough abilities in coverage. Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys' second-round rookie CB is probably going to see some snaps early on due to his draft capital and skillset but he is a few years away from anything close to CB1 duties (if at all) due to his tendency to lose receivers in space.

The loss of Maliek Collins is negated by the addition of veteran Gerald McCoy. Both McCoy and Collins serve similar duties and have produced similarly of late, which makes that transition marginal. A healthy Leighton Vander Esch returning is the biggest addition to this Cowboys' defense given that a neck injury obliterated his 2019 season and caused him to play poorly even when on the field.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy assigned Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and while a new scheme could help mitigate the losses, I am firmly on the side of talent being more important than scheme. All-in-all, it is hard to envision that the Cowboys' defense looks any better heading into 2020, and is more likely to get worse if anything.

 

Vacated Targets

The Cowboys may have a front-loaded wide receiver room in four-time Pro Bowl WR Amari Cooper and a rising Michael Gallup but there's enough love from Dak Prescott to go around in 2020. With the departures of slot receiver Randall Cobb and former announcer Jason Witten, the Cowboys look to a fresh-faced receiving corps of Cooper, Gallup, Lamb, and Blake Jarwin to overtake primary receiving duties. Ezekiel Elliott will have his role as the short-area target/dump-off but likely will not be motioned out wide as better receiving backs like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey.

Disregarding more marginal target earners like Cedrick Wison, Tavon Austin and Devin Smith, the departures of Cobb and Witten open up over 160 targets going into 2020. While that may not be exact, again, we can assume the passing volume due to a poorer defense and playing with a deficit as often if not more will remain relatively high.

TE Blake Jarwin will be a major beneficiary from the shorter-area targets that had gone to Witten as well as seeing his fair share of work otherwise rising to TE1 on the roster. However, even by taking those away, along with the sprinkled looks around to Gallup, Cooper, and Pollard, Lamb should easily find a way to triple-digits. Lamb, Cooper, and Gallup should all deservedly hit at least 100 targets easily this season. If one of them were to get injured, that would skyrocket the other two into easy WR1 territory for the weeks that follow.

Michael Gallup missed two games early last season due to arthroscopic meniscus surgery which only kept him out for two games. Amari Cooper has only three games in his five year NFL career, however, he has suffered several ankle and foot injuries that he has played through. Short-term lower leg sprains are not the only deterrent for Cooper, he claims to have played through plantar fascitis during his rookie season which "got worse" as the year progressed. Nevertheless, he managed to play a full 16 and has for three out of his five seasons. There's no reason to assume that either of Cooper nor Gallup (Lamb as well for that matter) will see an injury recur that hinders their performance/ability to see the field but particularly, Cooper's injury history is something to keep in the back of your mind.

 

This Lamb is a GOAT

Lamb displays excellent ball-skills as a receiver at the point of attack and can contort to make high-difficulty catches in traffic. While his speed may not be the fastest receiver in the world, he uses his patience as a runner with the ball as an advantage over defenders. Lamb has a special stop-start ability. Much like Le'Veon Bell behind the line-of-scrimmage, he can shake around defenders to force them to miss and then break tackles with relative ease.

The scenario for him as a WR1 is simple. He will begin the year behind Gallup and Cooper on the target totem pole. Probably see a similar share early on in the same range as Zeke and Jarwin but if he were to shine with low volume early on (the expectation give his talent level) then the Cowboys will undoubtedly increase his target share to similar levels as their top-two receivers. From what we've seen from Cooper throughout his career and how Gallup projects as more of a vertical threat in the mid-to-deep field, it's fair to say that the Cowboys do not have a true alpha between them. Lamb could find himself as the 1A to Cooper's 1B by season's end and even lead the Cowboys in targets per game.

Hell, Gallup averaged more targets per game in 2019 as a sophomore (8.1 vs 7.4) than Cooper. If Lamb performs as well as he is capable of early on, he could absolutely top both of them by the end of the year and come into 2021 as the clear WR1.

There are also obvious trade rumors surrounding Jamal Adams of the Jets. Dallas is a ~loudly voiced~ landing spots given their need for secondary help and it is not impossible to envision Michael Gallup as part of a trade package given New York's need for receiver help along with Gallup's free-agent status next offseason. This would make the avenue to WR1 level targets MUCH for feasible but the situation seems unlikely as of now.

While Lamb did play in the offense-friendly Big-12 with Heisman-caliber/winning quarterbacks throughout his college career, the numbers he piled up and performances he displayed were overwhelmingly incredible. Lamb increased his yards per reception from 17.5-17.8-21.4 and scored 33 total touchdowns in those three seasons. He operated as a punt-returner given his skillset and was essentially his QBs' first-read these past two seasons with a quarter of his team's targets.

If none of this convinced you to believe in CeeDee Lamb as the WR1, just know that he is taking on the coveted number 88 jersey worn but historic Cowboy receivers Dez Bryant, Michael Irvin, and Drew Pearson. Buy in now because Lamb's price will not be cheaper for a long time.

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