Surprising Performances that are Unsustainable in 2020 (Fantasy Football)
Sure, it’s still January, but the 2020 fantasy season is right around the corner. If you want to start getting prepared, digging into the stats from this season is an excellent way to stay involved before free agency and the NFL Draft get underway. We were fortunate to see quite a few breakout seasons this year, from guys like Lamar Jackson, Chris Godwin, and post-trade Kenyan Drake. But which of these guys is likeliest to disappoint owners next season? I already covered the guys who I think are good bets to sustain their numbers, so let’s get into who I expect to regress.
Touchdowns are one of the least sustainable year-to-year stats, so if we want to figure out who’s unlikely to reproduce their 2019 numbers, that’s a good place to start. That said, players who see high volume and lots of touchdowns are more likely to maintain their numbers than guys who depended on scoring to be fantasy-relevant. If you played fantasy in 2018, Eric Ebron rode 13 touchdowns to a TE4 finish — even though he averaged just 4.12 targets per game. As a result, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see him crash back down to earth this season.
I’ll be looking at volume and touchdown regression to give you a list of guys I don’t expect to repeat their 2019 performances. While that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re good players, it means I anticipate that they’ll get overdrafted in 2020. Let’s get started!
Aaron Jones (RB – GB)
Negative touchdown regression, thy name is Aaron Jones. Just to be clear, Jones finished as the overall RB2 this season. While I think Jones will be a low-end RB1 or a high-end RB2 next year, he won’t repeat his impressive 2019.
For some context to his absurd season, Jones scored the same number of touchdowns as Christian McCaffrey (19), and the same number of rushing touchdowns as league-leader Derrick Henry (16). But he did so on far fewer touches. He had just 285, while McCaffrey earned 405, and Henry logged 321. Jones scored at an insane clip — one score for every 15 touches. Of all running backs in the top-200 for total touches, only Chase Edmonds scored at a higher rate (14.4).
Jones doesn’t see the volume necessary to sustain his stats from 2019. He finished 10th overall in total touches, but he was closer to David Montgomery (267) than to consistent RB1s like Henry (321), Joe Mixon (315), and Chris Carson (313). Plus, Matt LaFleur seems to like what he’s got with both Jones and Jamaal Williams, and any rebound from Aaron Rodgers would limit the Packers’ need to use Jones.
Raheem Mostert (RB – SF)
Mostert finished as the overall RB24 in 2019, but from Week 10 onward, he was the RB11. He helped a good number of fantasy owners through the playoffs, but I don’t expect him to be the RB2 he was this year in 2020.
The 27-year-old’s late-career breakout was reminiscent of Damien Williams’ end to 2018 — and the two backs were born just six days apart. Mostert’s 151 touches were a career-high by a 91-touch margin, and the running back was able to stay fresh by splitting work with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. One of my two concerns with Mostert is that we haven’t seen him play a full season in his expanded capacity. If the Williams comparison holds any water, it’s worth noting that the Chief got hurt twice and missed five games in his first year as their featured back.
My second concern is touchdown regression. Mostert scored 10 times on his 151 touches, putting him just below Jones at 15.1 touches per score. Time will tell how Kyle Shanahan chooses to distribute the work among his rushers next season, and even if he ends up featuring Mostert, I doubt he’ll play as efficiently as he did this year.
Chris Godwin (WR – TB)
Will Godwin be a WR1 in 2020? Maybe. Will he finish as the overall WR2 again? Absolutely not. While Godwin wasn’t propelled by an unsustainable scoring rate (his 9.67 scores per touch was lower than the rates of teammates Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, and Breshad Perriman), he was propelled by an untenable situation in Tampa Bay.
Except for Tampa, we’ve seen six NFL teams feature two fantasy WR1s in the same year since 2015: the Steelers (2018, Brown and Smith-Schuster), the Vikings (2018, Thielen and Diggs), the Rams (2018, Woods and Cooks), the Packers (2016, Nelson and Adams), the Raiders (2016, Crabtree and Cooper), and the Jets (2015, Marshall and Decker). No receiving duo has ever repeated the feat, and no team appears on this list twice. Sure, while Mike Evans could be the guy to fall off in 2020, he’s also the first player since Randy Moss to open his career with six-consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards. Meanwhile, this was just Godwin’s first time clearing the 1,000-yard mark.
Evans and Godwin can only coexist as WR1s in a pass-heavy offense. Tampa passed the ball 630 times this year, but that number could fall if their defense can keep them in games or if they part ways with Jameis Winston. Bruce Arians hasn’t committed to his gunslinger for 2020, and if Winston doesn’t return to Tampa, then Godwin probably won’t finish as a WR1 again.
Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR)
Kupp already showed us that his 2019 performance was unsustainable. He finished as the overall WR4, but from his Week 9 bye onward, he was the WR21 — and that includes the Rams’ late-season offensive renaissance when Sean McVay remembered how to coach football. Kupp won’t sustain his top-five status at receiver again next season, but I don’t think I needed to tell you that.
Kupp seriously faded down the stretch. He averaged 10.8 targets per game until the Rams’ bye, but after that, he earned just 5.87 looks per game to finish the year. One reason was Sean McVay’s decision to re-emphasize Todd Gurley, but Kupp was also getting beat-out for targets by Robert Woods, Gerald Everett, and Tyler Higbee. While I expect all three to return to Los Angeles for next season, Brandin Cooks’ substantial cap hit may lead the Rams to cut him, which would open up some targets in their offense.
Even if Cooks were to get cut, however, it’s hard to get excited about Kupp’s odds to maintain the elite production we saw in the first half of 2019. That said, Kupp still deserves to go in the fourth or fifth round next year, as he’s a good option at WR2.
A.J. Brown (WR – TEN)
Brown finished as 2019’s WR15. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who entered his Week 10 bye as the WR46. I think that Brown will be a high-upside option at WR2, but I don’t think he can sustain his late-season WR1 numbers, and I doubt he’ll finish among the top 20 again next year.
The Ole Miss product finished 61st in total targets (84) and 66th in total receptions (52), and his rate of 6.1 touches per score was the sixth-highest among wide receivers with at least 20 touches. While Brown earns a bunch of air yards and yards after the catch, he is due for some touchdown regression in 2020.
I’m also concerned with his ability to succeed in Tennessee’s offense. The Titans finished the year with just 448 passing attempts, putting them at 31st in the league. While Brown led the team in targets and receptions, they came in fits and starts — Brown ended three games with just one catch, one of which came with Ryan Tannehill under center. He also caught three or fewer passes in ten games this season, and four of those came with Tannehill. Brown’s an exciting fantasy prospect for next season, but he’s a boom-or-bust option, and I don’t think he’ll finish as a top 20 fantasy receiver.
DeVante Parker (WR – MIA)
Parker finally broke out in 2019, finishing as the overall WR7 on the year. While I respect his talent, I don’t think that he can replicate his WR1 performance next season, and I don’t think he’ll finish in the top 20, either.
My biggest concern with Parker is Miami’s quarterback situation. It’s still unclear if Ryan Fitzpatrick will return or not, and even if he does come back, he’s been super inconsistent throughout his career. For example, he dominated as a Jet in 2015 only to stink it up the next season. Miami could opt to start a rookie instead, but whoever it is, he’ll still be playing behind the league’s worst offensive line. With the Dolphins’ situation under center in flux, that makes Parker’s rate of eight touches per touchdown all the more susceptible to regression.
I’m also expecting that Parker will have more competition for touches in 2020. The Dolphins ran the ball a league-fewest 349 times this year, and as long as they find someone better than Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird, I’d expect them to try running some more next season. They’ll also have Preston Williams back on the roster, and that’s bad news for Parker’s volume. Although Parker earned 9.5 targets per game after Williams’ season ended in Week 9, he was only getting 6.5 targets per game until then, compared to Williams’ 7.5 per game. Parker is a good bet to finish as a WR3/4 next year, but he won’t be back in the top 20 receivers anytime soon.
Mark Andrews (TE – BAL)
I’m a Ravens fan, but I know a touchdown regression candidate when I see one. Andrews exploded to finish as the overall TE4 this year, and a big part of his production stemmed from his ability to score touchdowns. Andrews broke the plane 10 times this year on just 64 catches and 98 targets, scoring once every 6.4 touches. Only two other tight ends who touched the ball 20-plus times surpassed that mark: Jared Cook and Darren Fells.
Andrews was the Ravens’ best receiving option this year, but given their run-heavy scheme, that’s not saying much. He’s also had the benefit of working with former tight ends coach Greg Roman since he was drafted, and after this season, Roman is likely to take a head coaching job elsewhere. I’m unsure if the Ravens can reproduce their incredible 2019 numbers without him around.
That said, there aren’t too many tight ends to go around. Andrews should be a safe bet to finish as a top-10 option next year, but don’t let yourself overdraft him, especially if the Ravens make some changes at wide receiver. With precariously few targets to go around, even a slight change in their distribution could hurt Andrews’ production.