Best Ball Players to Avoid (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Who should you avoid in best ball next year? I’ll run through some guys to avoid, and change is a common theme among them.
Two players included in this space as best-ball players to avoid are on new teams for the 2020 season. Another player featured will be catching passes from a new starting quarterback. The fourth player will be the lead back for a new offensive coordinator, but his inclusion is primarily based on his inefficiency to date in his career. Having said that, the change at offensive coordinator is unlikely to do his fantasy value any favors this year.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR – ARI): ADP — 10.0, WR2
After spending his first seven seasons with the Texans and proving to be arguably the best receiver in the game despite a rag-tag collection of quarterbacks throwing him the ball with the exception of Deshaun Watson over the last two and a half years, he’ll be adjusting to playing in a new uniform with the Cardinals this year. Among receivers over the last three years, Hopkins ranks first in targets (487), second in receptions (315), third in receiving yards (4,115), fourth in receiving yards per game (89.5), and first in touchdown receptions, per Pro-Football-Reference. There’s no questioning Nuk’s talent level, but changing teams creates some questions about his usage in 2020.
Look no further than \last offseason to find a similar story when the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. Most pundits agreed the Browns got the better end of the deal. Cleveland acquired a new top weapon in the passing attack for the quarterback they’d spent the first overall pick in the NFL Draft and who had impressed in his rookie year. Does this all sound familiar with Kyler Murray, the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, coming off of a stellar rookie year?
In his first year with the Browns, OBJ tallied 74 receptions on 133 targets for 1,035 receiving yards, four touchdown receptions, and 64.7 receiving yards per game in 16 games. Eliminating Antonio Brown’s single game with the Patriots left OBJ tied for 35th in full-point point-per-reception (PPR) scoring among receivers last year. I’m not expecting Hopkins to fall from fourth in per-game fantasy scoring at the position to outside the top-30, but last year does provide a cautionary tale for projecting a seamless transition to a new club for an elite receiver.
Circling back to usage, as I noted above, Hopkins has topped receivers in targets over the last three years combined. League-leading volume has helped fuel Hopkins’ fantasy stats, but what does the range of outcomes for his usage in 2020 with the Cardinals look like? Dwain McFarland of Establish The Run did an exquisite job of breaking down variables and presenting per-game target outcomes in a lengthy Twitter thread you can dive into below.
ICYMI – Put together this thread a couple of days ago on DeAndre Hopkins' outlook for 2020 in #Arizona
-Floor: 35 passes per Game * 22% = 7.7
-Conservative: 36 * 24% = 8.6
-Median: 37 * 25% = 9.3
-Aggressive: 38 * 26% = 9.9
-Ceiling: 40 * 28% = 11.2
Full details 👇👇👇 https://t.co/kiJXE1gZOs
— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) March 26, 2020
Hopkins is awesome, but the cost of rostering him is too rich for my blood when factoring in adjusting to a new offense, quarterback, and team. He’s not getting cheaper to draft, either. In MFL10 classic leagues from March 29 through April 5, he has an average draft position (ADP) of 11.0 with a minimum pick of 10 and max pick of 12. Nuk is off my radar until around pick 20, so I’m unlikely to roster him in any best-ball leagues.
Leonard Fournette (RB – JAC): ADP — 18.0, RB12
Last year, Fournette enjoyed the best season of his three-year career. He finished sixth in yards from scrimmage with 1,674, the fifth-highest total among running backs. Additionally, his receiving usage blew up. After totaling just 74 targets, 58 receptions, and 487 receiving yards through 21 games his first two years in the NFL, he amassed 100 targets, 76 receptions, and 522 receiving yards last year. Further, he played a new high 15 games. Add it all up, and Fournette’s output resulted in finishing ninth in per-game PPR scoring among running backs.
He also left a lot to be desired in regards to efficiency and finding pay dirt. Fournette’s career-high 4.3 yards per carry last year ranked just tied for 28th out of 47 qualified backs. Football Outsiders (FO) wasn’t overly impressed with his work as a runner, either. Out of 45 backs who rushed a minimum of 100 times, Fournette ranked 34th in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). As for touchdowns, he tallied a pathetic three on his 265 carries and zero on 76 receptions. For his career, he has only two receiving touchdowns in 36 games and 17 rushing touchdowns.
As for Fournette’s receiving work, it also checks out as inefficient. Out of 40 backs targeted a minimum of 35 times in 2019, Fournette’s 5.22 yards per target ranked 34th. Once again, FO ranked him poorly, too. Out of 50 backs targeted at least 25 times, Fournette ranked 42nd in DYAR and DVOA. Last year’s receiving output was an outlier even going back to his collegiate career, and he didn’t do much to demonstrate he should continue to be force-fed targets. In fact, Fournette’s 2019 receiving work reminds me of Carlos Hyde’s outlier usage in the passing game in 2017. Hyde has since returned to little usage in the passing attack, and a similar fate could await Fournette.
Adding fuel to that fire is Jay Gruden taking over as Jacksonville’s new offensive coordinator. Looking back at Gruden’s career as a head coach and offensive coordinator before that, he’s routinely utilized a pass-catching backs such as Giovani Bernard, Roy Helu, and Chris Thompson. The Jaguars don’t have an obvious in-house candidate to serve the pass-catching back role, but there’s still ample time for them to add one through free agency, trade, or the upcoming draft.
Fournette’s fantasy value is entirely driven by his gaudy volume. A slip back in receiving usage would take a sizable bite out of his value. Also, maintaining a massive workload could be quite the challenge for a back with the checkered injury history Fournette has. Last season snapped a three-year stretch going back to his junior season at LSU in which he missed fewer than two games. There are at least a dozen players with an ADP after Fournette’s that I’d prefer outright to him, so I’m unlikely to end up with him in any best-ball leagues.
Keenan Allen (WR – LAC): ADP — 39.5, WR16
The Chargers and Philip Rivers have parted ways, breaking up the highly effective quarterback and receiver pairing of Rivers and Allen. Allen was peppered with targets by the departed Rivers, and he parlayed the frequent looks into fantasy points. Looking back at the 2017-2019 receiver table previously linked to in Nuk’s write-up, Allen is also prominently featured near the top of numerous categories. Among receivers during that time frame, Allen ranks fifth in targets (444), third in receptions (303), fourth in receiving yards (3.788), eighth in receiving yards per game (78.9), and tied for 16th in receiving touchdowns (18).
Unfortunately, he’ll no longer be receiving targets from Rivers. Instead, it appears he’ll be paired up with Tyrod Taylor and/or a rookie signal-caller. A rookie would bring uncertainty to the table, however, that’s likely better than what Taylor offers Allen’s fantasy outlook.
From 2015 through 2017, Taylor started 43 games for the Bills. His production slipped each season with him averaging a paltry 186.6 passing yards per game in 2017. Making matters worse for Allen, much of Taylor’s limited passing work was directed toward tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy with the former finishing first on the team in targets (87) in 2016 and tied for second in 2017 in targets (74) while Shady finished fourth in targets (57) in 2016 and first in targets (77) in 2017. Below, there’s a table featuring the top-five target seasons for receivers during Taylor’s three-year run as Buffalo’s starting quarterback.
Yikes. That sufficiently summarizes the content of the table above. Unless the Chargers do an about-face and veer from their current path of being led by Taylor or a rookie this year, Allen’s completely off of my draft board.
Austin Hooper (TE – CLE): ADP — 61.5, TE6
Hooper’s free agency ended with signing with the Browns, and his ADP has plummeted. Looking at MFL10 classic drafts held from March 29 through April 5, Hooper has an ADP of 86.83 with a minimum pick of 80 and a maximum of 95. Even with the drop in cost to draft him, he’s a poor investment of a top-100 pick.
It’s easy to understand why folks would think otherwise, though. Hooper’s turned in back-to-back seasons of top-10 finishes in fantasy scoring among tight ends. Last year, Hooper’s 15.0 fantasy points per game in full-point PPR formats was the third-highest mark at the position.
Despite being limited to 13 games last season, Hooper set new highs across the board, including 97 targets, 75 receptions, 787 receiving yards, 60.5 receiving yards per game, and six receiving touchdowns. It was Hooper’s second straight year north of 70 receptions and third straight in a four-year career with more than 525 receiving yards.
The numbers suggest the 25-year-old tight end is a matchup problem, but a deeper look indicates otherwise. In a tweet from Pro Football Focus on March 16, Steve Palazzolo discusses Hooper’s excellence against zone coverage and struggles against single coverage. As Palazzolo puts it, Hooper’s production largely came from being schemed up.
— PFF (@PFF) March 16, 2020
The Browns made a sizable financial commitment to Hooper, so they likely have a plan to continue scheming him open. Having said that, he’s joining a new team. That means getting acclimated to a new quarterback, offense, and coaching staff. The concerns regarding changing teams I alluded to discussing Nuk out of the chute in the piece also apply to a pass-catching tight end like Hooper.
More alarming, however, is Hooper leaving last year’s most pass-happy offense and joining a pair of target hogs in OBJ and Jarvis Landry. Atlanta’s pass rate of 67% in 2019 was the highest in the NFL, per Sharp Football Stats. In addition to leading the NFL in passing play percentage, they also led the way in raw pass attempts with 684 — 51 more than the second-highest total of 633 by the Panthers, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Comparatively, the Browns passed on 60% of their offensive plays, and the Vikings — that had new Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski as their offensive coordinator — passed on the fourth-fewest percentage of offensive plays at 52%. The Browns finished 19th in pass attempts at 539, and the Vikings finished 30th with 466. A near-certain drop in passing volume is bad news for Hooper’s target outlook in 2020.
Also, OBJ and Landry haven’t gone anywhere, either. Among players targeted a minimum of 50 times last year, Landry’s 26.7% target share was the sixth-highest, and OBJ’s 25.9% target share was tied for the eighth-highest mark, per Sports Info Solutions. Hooper’s a strong bet to finish behind that duo for targets while competing with fellow tight end David Njoku and others — such as Nick Chubb and possibly more talented pass-catching back Kareem Hunt — for the remaining looks. A return to his 2018 output feels far more likely than a repeat of last year’s career year for Hooper, and that’s not worth a top-100 pick investment.