The Primer: Draft Day Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)
There are a lot of times where we go through a week of the NFL season and we look back thinking, “how could I have missed that breakout performance?” Was there something wrong with the process? A lot of times, it’s unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, but when it comes to season-long performances, we should’ve been able to see the potential for that situation.
I wanted to come up with something to hold myself accountable for those season-long situations. A place I can come back to and look at my mistakes. A place I can talk through my process. A place I can be honest with myself about potential situations and outcomes, even if it’s not what I believe will happen.
Welcome to The Primer: Draft Day Edition.
There are many outcomes for every player in the NFL, but we know by now that a player like Jarvis Landry won’t finish as a top-five wide receiver, right? That doesn’t mean he’s not a good football player. It just means there’s a limit to his fantasy upside. In a season where absences are more likely than ever, we should be talking about the potential ceiling of every fantasy player.
In case you haven’t checked it out, I write The Primer every week during the NFL season, which includes a paragraph on every player from every game. Seriously, it’s about 30,000 words per week to help you understand the potential outcomes for every fantasy relevant player. This is the season-long version of The Primer.
Kyler Murray: There’s a realistic scenario where Murray is the QB1 at the end of the season, though I can’t say we should expect it. In the first year of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, he averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt. While it was his rookie season, the Cardinals also had the element of surprise, in that no one had existing tape on Kingsbury’s offense. Remember how ridiculous the Rams were in their first season under Sean McVay? Adding DeAndre Hopkins surely helps his chances, though. Did you know there were six games that Murray didn’t throw a touchdown last year? Based on where his pass attempts and rushing attempts took place, Murray should’ve scored the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks last year. He posted QB1-type numbers just 37.5 percent of the time, which is obviously not ideal, though natural progression in his career should improve efficiency. If you’re looking for upside, he’s got it. He belongs in the same tier as guys like Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson, but I’d say he belongs at the end of it. The difference between him and those guys? They’ve proved to be top-three fantasy quarterbacks already. You shouldn’t be paying for his ceiling. I shared this below in the Gardner Minshew paragraph, but I’ll share it here as well. Does Hopkins help that much?
Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds: The Cardinals put the transition tag on Drake, which puts him in another contract year. From the time he joined the Cardinals last year (Week 9), he was the No. 4 fantasy running back while racking up 18.2 half PPR points per game. If the offense takes a step forward, Drake can finish as a top-three running back in fantasy football. He averaged 18.9 touches per game in that span. Think about it this way: No team can walk into a gameplan and say that Drake is their No. 1 priority with Kyler Murray‘s dual ability and DeAndre Hopkins‘ presence. Not many realize that Drake has just 456 career carries on his frame, which is just six more than Aaron Jones, who’s considered super young. Drake deserves consideration as a first-round pick as there’s no competition for the starting job. Edmonds appears to be the handcuff, but don’t forget about seventh-round rookie Eno Benjamin, who fell further than expected in the NFL Draft. If we get clarity that Edmonds is the no-question handcuff, he’s definitely worth rostering.
DeAndre Hopkins: Did you know Hopkins hasn’t seen less than 150 targets since way back in 2014? Now going to a Cardinals team with Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald, it’s unlikely he reaches that mark. The odd offseason also hasn’t given him a lot of time with new quarterback Kyler Murray. From reports, the first time the duo got together was at the end of June. Is that enough time to develop any sort of chemistry? Hopkins has played with a lot of bad quarterbacks in his time, though the only one who held him back from producing was Brock Osweiler, as Hopkins finished as the No. 29 wide receiver in 2016 despite seeing 151 targets. Murray’s rookie season wasn’t particularly efficient (both Fitzgerald and Kirk saw over 105 targets but outside the top-36 wide receivers), but we should expect growth in year two. There is a scenario where Hopkins is a rock-solid player but not a top-five fantasy receiver, however, given his history of producing with guys like Tom Savage, TJ Yates, and Brian Hoyer, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Still, his targets will take a hit, making him a second-round pick rather than the first-round one he’s been.
Christian Kirk: He has the benefit of playing a year with Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, while DeAndre Hopkins may go through a learning curve. Despite playing just 13 games last year, Kirk saw 107 targets (132 target pace over 16 games). The issue is that Hopkins will get a large chunk of the pie, and Larry Fitzgerald didn’t return to play another season to see just 50 targets. It’ll be hard for anyone to correctly predict the target share among these receivers, but Kirk is an ascending talent who’s entering year three of his young career. Knowing the Cardinals receivers combined for 368 targets last year, it’s hard to see a scenario where Kirk sees more targets than he did last year, especially when you know they run a lot of 4WR sets (which cuts into the overall target pie). Kirk has also scored just three touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, so touchdowns aren’t likely to make up for a lower target share. He’s likely going to be somewhat of a hit-or-miss WR3/4 in 2020 with inconsistent targets.
Larry Fitzgerald: Now entering his age-37 season, we kind of know what to expect from Fitzgerald. He did see a team-high 109 targets last year, and it’s difficult to say his role changed much. He’s going to be the safety valve over the middle of the field while DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk work the perimeter. There were just six games that Fitzgerald broke the 50-yard barrier last year, so knowing he scored just four times, you understand the lack of upside despite his decent target share. Still, with Hopkins in the mix, that target share will certainly go down. Kyler Murray threw just 20 touchdown passes last year, so it was tough to expect more than the four that Fitzgerald scored. Even with a bump for Murray, it’s tough to say the increased touchdown potential will make up for Fitzgerald’s decreased target share. He’s just a low-upside bye-week filler at this stage of his career. Even with an injury to someone like Hopkins or Kirk, we’ve already seen that scenario in 2019, and it wasn’t more than a WR4-type.
Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, and Hakeem Butler: It’ll be interesting to see how the trio of rookies from 2019 are deployed. The Cardinals do use a lot of 4WR sets, so someone will be getting playing time. After producing just 187 yards on 42 targets last year, it shouldn’t be Johnson, but he was playing over Isabella. With Hopkins and Kirk on the perimeter, it’d make sense for Isabella to play the second slot role alongside Fitzgerald. Still, he’d only be on the field in 4WR sets. Butler was on IR last year and is a better receiver than Johnson. If there were an injury to one of the perimeter players, Butler should get the first shot.
Maxx Williams: Do you know how many times a Cardinals tight end saw more than three targets last year? Once. It was in Week 17. How many times did they score more than 7.1 half PPR points? Three times. There’s no upside or targets in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense for a tight end, especially knowing they added DeAndre Hopkins to the offense.
Matt Ryan: His finishes over the last four years are (most recent first): QB11, QB2, QB15, QB2. So, are we supposed to expect another QB2 finish this year? The bad news is that Ryan offers nothing on the ground. The good news is that he’s played under Dirk Koetter in four separate seasons and has finished top-8 in pass attempts in each of them. It also doesn’t hurt throwing to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and now Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst. Knowing there isn’t any running back depth behind the trending-downward Gurley, it seems more likely than ever that Ryan chucks the ball up 620-plus times. Heck, even with Gurley, it’s not like they’re having him tote the ball 20-plus times per week. Ryan’s weekly floor won’t be as high as some of the top-six quarterbacks considering his lack of mobility, but Ryan is certainly in the next tier. The best part is that you get him at a discount because he’s not the “sexy” pick that someone like Josh Allen is. He’s my No. 7 quarterback and I feel pretty good about that.
Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, and Brian Hill: After being cut by the Rams, the Falcons moved quickly, signing Gurley to a one-year, prove-it deal. The downside is that Dirk Koetter seems to continually destroy the fantasy value of his running backs. Since 2012, Koetter has coordinated or coached eight different teams. Just one of them finished better than No. 24 in rushing yards. Just two of them finished better than No. 22 in rushing attempts. Gurley’s knee is a question mark, though it’s been for years. Many talk about his arthritis, but he’s had that since college when he originally had it surgically repaired. As time goes on, it’ll get worse, which is why he’s falling in drafts. But playing for the Falcons, an offense that is very likely to finish top-12 in scoring (none of Koetter’s teams over the last eight years have finished outside the top-20), Gurley’s chances to be an impact fantasy running back go way up (check out this piece I did on team scoring and what it means). There are a lot of question marks and boring players going in his area of drafts, so give me the upside he presents if he stays healthy. Don’t automatically assume that Smith is the handcuff, either. He was losing the backup role to Devonta Freeman last year before he suffered a season-ending head injury. Hill wasn’t very good in his place, though. It’s unlikely either backup gets a workhorse role if Gurley goes down, and we already know Koetter’s offense hasn’t produced great results on the ground. Gurley is the most talented back he’s ever had, which is why you “might” see a break in that trend.
Julio Jones: Fade aging wide receivers, they said. Julio laughs as he posted his sixth straight season with more than 1,390 yards. He still has just one season under his belt with double-digit touchdowns, which is quite ridiculous when you consider he’s had three seasons with 1,500-plus yards. He’s as safe as they come at the wide receiver position. Think 31 years old is too old? Check out this piece on what age a wide receiver declines. There are a lot of fantasy owners drafting Tyreek Hill over him, and while I understand the upside Hill presents on a weekly basis, Jones presents stability that Hill can only dream of. Hill has posted WR2 or better numbers in 21-of-43 games (48.8 percent) over his career. Meanwhile, Jones has hit that mark in 64.8 percent of his career games and has posted WR1-type numbers in 42.4 percent of them. Sure, Calvin Ridley is going to ascend, but a lot of his ascension comes from the missing targets from Mohamed Sanu. Jones should be the No. 3 wide receiver off draft boards, at worst.
Calvin Ridley: Prior to getting hurt and having his season cut short, Ridley was on pace for 1,066 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019, which would have had him as the WR14. Now going into his third NFL season, there’s a real chance for a breakout. Sure, Julio Jones isn’t going away but he doesn’t have to. Not many realize that Mohamed Sanu saw 94 targets in 2018 and was on pace for 96 targets before being traded in 2019. We don’t really expect Russell Gage to fill that role, do we? If you want to know if there’s room for both Ridley and Jones to be WR1s, look no further than the Bucs last year with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, even if it is rare for that to happen. Ridley saw 49 targets in the six games he played without Sanu, which would amount to 131 over an entire 16-game season. Ridley has real top-five breakout potential and is an ideal high-end WR2 on your fantasy team.
Russell Gage: Once Mohamed Sanu was traded, Gage saw a ridiculous 66 targets in nine games, though it did help that both Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper both missed time during that stretch. I expected the Falcons to fill that role with someone in the draft or free agency, but it never happened, so it’s possible we see Gage as a bye-week filler on fantasy rosters, especially if any of the other pass-catchers were to miss time. There isn’t much upside here, though. Best case scenario is that we’re looking at someone like Cole Beasley from 2019. Again, could play a role in fantasy, but don’t see a consistent fantasy producer.
Hayden Hurst: When projecting Matt Ryan for somewhere in the neighborhood of 620-plus pass attempts, you need to disburse them somewhere. The Falcons didn’t even make an offer to Austin Hooper but decided to spend a second-round pick to acquire Hurst from the Ravens. It’s clear they view him as someone who can step right into Hooper’s role. It may take some time for Hurst to get acclimated to the new offense with a shortened offseason, but Hooper’s role was massive last year. He totaled 97 targets in just 13 games, which was a pace of 119 targets on a full 16-game season. Did you know that of the 116 tight ends who’ve seen more than 85 targets the last 10 years, that 97 of them finished as top-12 tight ends? That’s an 83.6 percent success rate and it seems highly likely that Hurst is going to hit that. Move that number up to 90 targets and it’s a 92.4 percent success rate. One of my bold predictions this year is that Hurst finishes as a top-five fantasy tight end. Don’t think he was bad because he was playing behind Mark Andrews, one of the best tight ends in the league.
Lamar Jackson: If we were replaying the 2019 season, Jackson would be the No. 2 pick in fantasy leagues, and it wouldn’t be a reach. He was behind only Christian McCaffrey in value based drafting score. We talk all the time about regression when it comes to quarterbacks with a high touchdown rate, and Jackson is no different after posting a ridiculous 9.0 percent touchdown rate in 2019. That’s going to come down. Lowering that mark to 5.0 percent (which is still above average), he would’ve thrown 20 touchdowns instead of the 36 that he did. However, something to help offset that is his rushing touchdown output. Based on where his carries took place last year, Jackson should’ve scored closer to 12 rushing touchdowns rather than the seven that he did. The downside to Jackson is that he’s a bit thinner than you’d like as a mobile quarterback. While it’s tough to get a clean hit on him, we have a history of mobile quarterbacks not withstanding a lot of hits. When you invest a second- or third-round pick on a quarterback, you need him on the field. If Jackson were a lock to play all 16 games, he’d be my QB1 and well worth a second-round pick. When you add in some of that risk, he’s more of a third-round selection. There were nine separate occasions last year where he delivered 28-plus fantasy points. Those are week-winning performances.
Mark Ingram, JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill: Yeah, this is a crowded running back room. When you add in the fact that Lamar Jackson is going to get quite a few goal-line carries, you’re losing upside. Sure, Ingram finished as the No. 8 running back in half PPR formats last year, but based on opportunity, he ranked as the No. 23 running back. Another player who’s due for regression. Did you know there was just one game last year where Ingram topped 16 carries? Now you add in someone like Dobbins – who the Ravens had a first-round grade on – into this timeshare? Ingram will be 31 years old in December and now has over 1,500 carries on his frame in the NFL alone. Relying on him for RB2 production would be a mistake. He’s more of a flex-type option who will be a bit touchdown reliant while seeing 12-14 touches per game. Dobbins is the upside pick of the bunch, but knowing how well Ingram was playing last year, and that the Ravens still decided to give Edwards/Hill a combined 12-15 touches per week, you have to wonder just how much upside he’ll have. If everyone is healthy, it’s tough to say any of them have RB1 upside, even in this high-scoring offense. If there’s an injury to either Ingram or Dobbins, then we’d have an every-week starter.
Marquise Brown: He was coming off foot surgery last year, and it was the reason I was avoiding him in drafts. Same calendar year surgery on foot/ankle never goes well for pass catchers. Still, Brown went out there and played well the first two weeks, racking up 253 yards and two touchdowns over the first two weeks. Unfortunately, the injuries to his lower body added up as the year went on and his performances reflected that, as he topped 50 yards just once over the remaining 12 games he played. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has said Brown’s “had a great offseason.” Brown’s schedule is great to start the year, too. In Weeks 2-5, he’ll play against the Texans, Chiefs, Washington, and Bengals. The upside to Brown is a DeSean Jackson-like presence of someone who won’t be a consistent WR1, but rather one you play as a WR2/3 who gives you “boom” potential on a weekly basis. However, if the Ravens don’t up their pass attempts, it’ll be hard figuring out when those booms will come. Relying on him as more than a WR3 this year would probably be a mistake, because there’s not much evidence suggesting they’ll throw the ball a lot more than they did in 2019.
Miles Boykin: Have the Ravens written him off as a bust? After drafting him in the third round last year, they had him playing behind guys like Seth Roberts and Willie Snead. He played just 27.2 snaps per game and saw just 22 targets his rookie year despite being healthy for all 16 games. He did score three touchdowns on those targets, and outside of Mark Andrews, he’s probably the dark horse to lead the team in receiving touchdowns at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Still, he needs to be on the field for that to happen. My guess would be that he starts on the perimeter opposite Marquise Brown with Roberts gone, so there’s some sort of opportunity here. The issue is that they targeted wide receivers just 172 times last year. Even a 15 percent increase (which is a lot) would bring them up to 200 targets. Without an injury, it’s going to be difficult for Boykin to see more than 50-60 targets, even as a starter.
Devin Duvernay and Willie Snead: These two are likely to battle for the slot duties in the Ravens offense, but what does that actually amount to? Snead had the job all last year and saw just 45 targets. Duvernay was drafted in the third round and has had no offseason to build any chemistry with Lamar Jackson. Let’s not forget the Ravens were hesitant to play third-round rookie Miles Boykin last year. Kyle Yates is extremely high on the rookie Duvernay, but I’m not seeing the appeal in a low volume passing offense.
Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle: The trio of tight ends in Baltimore accounted for a massive 40.2 percent target share last year, which easily led the league. Just one other team (Eagles) had their tight ends see over a 30.0 percent target share. Hayden Hurst is gone, which shifts those targets to the duo of Andrews and Boyle. While I anticipate some of them moving to the wide receivers, it’s not a bad thing for Andrews supporters. I think many have forgotten just how hard it is for young tight ends to produce elite numbers, yet Andrews posted 852 yards and 10 touchdowns in his sophomore season on a team that threw the ball just 440 times. He’s very good. With a slight bump in pass attempts for the team overall combined with the exit of Hurst, and we could see Andrews reach 120 targets this season. My issue with Andrews is that he’s been a bit more inconsistent than the likes of Travis Kelce and George Kittle, so it takes a bit of projecting to see him reach that tier. Andrews played just 46 snaps per game in 2019, while those two averaged 60 snaps. For me, Andrews is in the tier directly behind them alongside Zach Ertz. If you can get him in the late-fourth or early-fifth round, I’m good with that. If you take him earlier, you’re have to project 120 targets. Boyle is just a handcuff to Andrews, as he’s entering his sixth season and has yet to total more than the 43 targets he saw in 2019. We don’t handcuff tight ends.
Josh Allen: Did you know that 36.4 percent of Allen’s fantasy production came on the ground last year? His nine rushing touchdowns were the sixth-most all-time, while his 631 rushing yards ranked 18th on that list. According to where his carries took place on the field, he scored 30.97 more fantasy points than he was supposed to on the ground alone. As a passer, he scored 1.66 fewer fantasy points than expected. The Bills want to play solid defense with a ball control style offense, and knowing Allen’s strengths, they’ll be running the ball quite a bit. The addition of Zack Moss to the backfield will lower Allen’s rushing touchdown ceiling, as Moss is a better version of 2019’s Frank Gore. Not many realize Gore ranked 13th among running backs for carries inside the five-yard-line. Adding Stefon Diggs will certainly help his choices when scanning the field, but Allen needs to get better completing the deep ball. My issue with Allen is his inconsistency, and I can best explain it with this stat: It took 18.6 fantasy points on average to finish as a top-12 quarterback in 2019. Allen hit that mark just 43.8 percent of the time, which was worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the same percentage as Jared Goff. Sure, the booms will be bigger with Allen than those guys, but he’s not someone you want to put in your starting lineup every week.
Devin Singletary and Zack Moss: Why does everyone automatically assume that Singletary is a better running back than Moss? They have different roles on this team, but the Bills clearly feel just as good about Moss as they did about Singletary, as both were third-round picks. Singletary played well his rookie year but didn’t get touches when it mattered most. He saw just two carries inside the five-yard-line all season. GM Brandon Beane already said that Moss will take over the Frank Gore role in the offense, which means getting those valuable goal-line touches. Singletary didn’t catch a whole lot of passes in college (just six receptions in 12 games his final year), and some wondered why, but after seeing him average just 4.73 yards per target in 2019, we might be seeing why. Knowing he’s third in line for red zone touches behind Josh Allen and Moss, it’s tough to find the upside with Singletary without injury. Remember Kenyan Drake in Miami? That’s kind of how I view Singletary’s role in Buffalo, only less efficient as a receiver. If Moss and Allen are healthy, I wouldn’t want to rely on anything more than flex-type production out of Singletary. Moss, on the other hand, will post flex-type numbers when he scores, but comes with upside as an RB2 if Singletary were to miss time. I like Moss more at his ADP than I do Singletary.
Stefon Diggs: Going from Kirk Cousins to Josh Allen isn’t going to be a highlight of Diggs’ career, as Cousins has continually been one of the better deep-ball passers, while Allen was among the worst in 2019. Diggs actually led the league in yardage on passes that traveled over 20 yards in the air last year. The Bills are still a run-first team that has a top-tier defense, so it’s hard to expect a big jump in pass attempts. They targeted their wide receivers 310 times last year, which was a lot for a team that threw the ball just 513 times. The 60.4 percent target share was the fourth-highest mark in the league. So, again, it’s tough to say there will be more to go around. Knowing that John Brown was fantastic last year (115 targets), as was Cole Beasley (104 targets), it’s tough to take targets away from them, but we have to start taking them from someone because you don’t trade for someone like Diggs and not target him. Still, giving him even 115 targets might be too generous, as it’d completely crush the value of Brown, who already has experience with the quarterback/offense. Realistically, I have Diggs down for 111 targets in my projections. When tied to Allen’s inconsistencies, that is a WR3 in fantasy who can get into WR2 territory at year’s end, similarly to the way Brown did last year. Diggs is probably a top-eight wide receiver in the league, but you need to targets to move up the boards in fantasy football. I’d be happy landing him as my WR3, but that’s about it.
John Brown: The addition of Stefon Diggs likely crushed the appeal that Brown had in fantasy football. The Bills gave up a first, fourth, fifth, and sixth-round pick for Diggs (and a seventh rounder). That’s a lot. The fact that there will be no preseason certainly helps Brown, as he has experience and chemistry with Josh Allen, as well as knowing the offense. Here’s the crazy part about Brown last year: He hit WR3 or better numbers in 73.3 percent of his games, which ranked 11th in the league. He only hit WR2 or better numbers in 26.7 percent of his games, which ranked 51st in the league. Now start removing targets to get Diggs his, and we suddenly lose some of that WR3 floor that he had. He is a good football player who just won’t get enough targets to start on a consistent basis. Now, if Diggs were to miss any time, we could go back to playing him as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3. Until then, Brown is in the WR4 range for me.
Cole Beasley: It’s odd, but the trade for Stefon Diggs doesn’t really affect Beasley’s role at all. He’s the slot receiver in the offense when they go three-wide, and he’s the safety valve for Josh Allen. With that being said, many more plays will be designed to the perimeter in order to get the ball into Digg’s hands. That will cap the number of targets Beasley sees, which was at a tremendous 104 last year. Even without Diggs on the roster last year, Beasley produced just two games with more than 14.3 half PPR points, so it’s not like you were winning weeks because of him. He was a fine streamer during bye weeks as someone who wouldn’t crush your lineup. Lowering expectations to around 80-85 targets, Beasley’s floor has been lowered and there will be better options to choose during bye weeks in 2020.
Dawson Knox: There were some plays that Knox made last year that suggested he could be a fantasy asset in the future, but the Stefon Diggs trade threw a wrench into any increase in projected targets we could give him. There were eight games where Knox had four-plus targets in his rookie season, which is actually quite good, but we can’t pretend the Bills are going to become a team that throws the ball 600 times overnight. Knox is someone you might want to stream when the Bills receivers have tough matchups, but even then, it’s going to be hard to project more than five targets for the second-year tight end.
Teddy Bridgewater: It’s going to be tough for the Panthers to have much success this year, as they have a new head coach, new play-caller, new quarterback, and an offensive line that’s been shifted around, all while having very little offseason practice time. The defense is in a position to allow a ton of points, which does add appeal to Bridgewater. We should see him rack up the pass attempts, and it doesn’t hurt to know that his 6.2 intended air yards per target was the lowest in the league, which should mean a lot of short completions to D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey. The issue is that Bridgewater offers no mobility after his reconstructive knee surgery. That means he’ll have to be more efficient than other pocket passers available later in the draft, guys like Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff. Again, with no offseason, that’s going to be incredibly hard to do. Save Bridgewater for 2QB leagues where he’s a great target as a No. 2 quarterback with no chance to lose the starting job.
Christian McCaffrey: Say what you want about just one running back repeating as the No. 1 fantasy option since 2003, but that’s the only argument you can make. If you’re going to use logic, there’s no argument against McCaffrey as the top pick in fantasy drafts. He outscored every other running back by a whopping 122.9 half PPR points. In fact, McCaffrey would’ve finished as the No. 1 running back if he’d stopped playing in Week 12. There is a new head coach and quarterback, which does present some obstacles, but let’s not pretend that Scott Turner is a great offensive mind, or that Kyle Allen was a great quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater actually had the lowest average depth of target (6.2 yards) among any quarterback last year, highlighting his willingness to check the ball down. That’s a good thing for McCaffrey. It’s worth noting that Alvin Kamara‘s best receiving game in 2019 came with Bridgewater under center (9 receptions, 92 yards, touchdown). The Panthers talked about potentially taking some of the load off McCaffrey, but they didn’t add anyone who’ll do that this offseason. He’s the RB1.
D.J. Moore: It really stinks that we may not get to see Moore play with a top-tier quarterback during his early years. He’s an extremely good football player who’s been stuck in a bad situation. He made the most of bad targets last year, finishing as the WR18 and delivering WR2 or better performances 60.0 percent of the time, which ranked eighth among wide receivers. Now another obstacle to cross. He’ll have a new quarterback and a new head coach in 2020. The coach (Matt Rhule) also decided they needed to bring in Robby Anderson, a receiver who previously played under him, which could mean the targets get spread out a bit. The good news is that Bridgewater attempted a deep ball on just 7.1 percent of his pass attempts, which was the second-lowest rate in the NFL, and not an area where Moore operates. The talent is there for Moore to make a jump into WR1 status, but the situation doesn’t seem ideal with virtually no offseason. He’s best suited as a WR2 on fantasy teams, as top-24 should be his absolute floor.
Robby Anderson: Switching teams as a wide receiver this offseason seems… less than ideal. It does help, however, when there’s a new quarterback on that team, as well as a coach you’ve played for in the past. Matt Rhule was the coach while Anderson was at Temple back in 2015. The issue is that Bridgewater’s strengths don’t really align with Anderson’s. Bridgewater threw the ball 20-plus yards just 7.1 percent of the time last year, which ranked second lowest in the league. Anderson’s skill set just doesn’t align with Bridgewater’s strengths as a passer, though they may try to force the issue after spending $20 million over two years on Anderson. Not having an offseason to build rapport makes me a bit more concerned, especially knowing we’ve seen Anderson’s effort level best described as “inconsistent” on the field. It’s tough to say he’ll be a better fantasy option than he was in New York, only now his asking price is much lower. Being taken outside the top 50 wide receivers is a discount worth taking in best-ball leagues, but in redraft, it’s tough to say he’ll be a consistent contributor. He’s the third option, at best.
Curtis Samuel: There are a lot of analysts making excuses for Samuel’s poor production last year, stating that his quarterback play was atrocious. While I don’t disagree, there are plenty of wide receivers who’ve had bad quarterback play but managed to be useful. Samuel’s 0.96 yards per route run in 2019 ranked dead last among the 157 wide receivers with at least 100 targets over the last five years. Heck, his teammate D.J. Moore was able to finish as the WR18. Based on the targets Samuel received and where they took place, he should have finished as the WR16. Look, I’m not saying Samuel is as bad as he was in 2019, but for him to become a reliable fantasy player, he’d have to overcome the fact that he’s now the fourth-best target in the offense, behind McCaffrey, Moore, and Anderson. The Panthers also tried shopping Samuel this offseason, but ultimately held onto him. He’s someone to look at during bye weeks when the Panthers are double-digit underdogs. Outside of that, you’re just looking for an injury to him to become anything more than a WR5-type option.
Ian Thomas: With Greg Olsen out of town, Thomas walks into the starting role. What does that mean under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady? That’s tough to say, but there’s suddenly a lot of mouths to feed in this offense. Christian McCaffrey is Thomas’ biggest issue, as there’s been just one team over the last four years who’ve had their top running back and top tight end combine for more than 198 targets. Keep in mind that’s the max. It’s rare for teams to have that duo combine for more than 180 targets. So, when you see that McCaffrey saw 141 targets last year, that’s a big issue for someone like Thomas. You aren’t going to take targets away from McCaffrey to feed him. During Teddy Bridgewater‘s stint as the starter for the Saints last year, Jared Cook finished with 7, 21, 41, and 37 yards, though he did score twice. Those yardage totals are not what we look for out of streamers, and keep in mind there’s more competition for targets in Carolina than there was in New Orleans. Thomas is someone you may want to stream from time to time, but I don’t see a breakout season with McCaffrey on the field.
Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles: The biggest mistake people are making right now is assuming Foles will be the starter. It should be common knowledge that Ryan Pace’s job as the general manager was tied to Trubisky. Both his and Matt Nagy’s jobs are likely on the line here. Outside of his time with the Eagles, here are Nick Foles‘ numbers compared to Trubisky:
When you add in the rushing upside that Trubisky presents, as well as the equity they used to draft him, he might be under center in Week 1, though he’d be on a short leash. With an opening schedule against the Lions, Giants, Falcons, Colts, Buccaneers, and Panthers, whoever is under center should get off to a hot start. Want to hear something crazy? On average, it took 18.6 fantasy points to finish as a top-12 quarterback in 2019. Trubisky hit that mark as many times as Kyler Murray and Tom Brady did. As a fantasy player, you want Trubisky to win the job, as he makes for a better streamer. There’s been just two games over the last three years where Foles has scored more than 17.8 fantasy points. Let’s be real – you aren’t drafting either of these guys in 1QB leagues, but if you want to select both of them to be your QB2/QB3 in 2QB leagues, I actually like that strategy, especially with that early-season schedule.
David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen: I did a study this offseason that went through which players should’ve scored the most fantasy points in 2019 (read it here). Of the 14 running backs who were expected to score the most, 13 of them finished in the top 14. That’s about as predictable as it gets. Montgomery was No. 15 on that list, and keep in mind that he didn’t start right away. The Bears did nothing this offseason that will take away his role in the offense. The offensive line was a problem in 2019 and it’s going to be a problem in 2020, so Montgomery is going to rely on Matt Nagy to create some room for him. There was just one running back in the league who received a higher percentage of his team’s carries inside the five-yard-line last year (Leonard Fournette), so if the offense takes a slight step forward, Montgomery is a candidate for 10 touchdowns. If you want to snag wide receivers early in your draft, Montgomery makes for a sturdy RB2 in fantasy, even if he’s not a sexy pick (see update below). Cohen is one of the best values in fantasy drafts right now, as many have attached to the “Bears suck” mentality. This is the same running back in the same offense who finished as the RB13 in 2018 and then RB37 in 2019, which was the worst possible scenario, as the offense struggled to move the ball and Cohen failed to break off any long runs. Seriously, he had one run of more than 15 yards. In 2018, he ripped off nine of those runs for 197 yards. There’s a middle ground in his performances, and he will be a useful RB3/flex most weeks who’ll give you some big RB1/RB2 performances when those big plays happen, especially in PPR formats. *Update* Montgomery suffered a groin injury in camp and is now questionable for the season opener. He should be moved down into the middling RB3 tier with the injury news. This is the type of injury that could pop back up if he doesn’t give it proper time to heal.
Allen Robinson: We saw a 150-plus target season for Robinson in 2019, which was a rarity among wide receivers. Based on where his targets took place, he had the fourth-most expected fantasy points among wide receivers last year. There’s little reason to expect that to change, as the Bears lost Taylor Gabriel and replaced him with an older, slower version in Ted Ginn. There were just two games last season where Robinson finished with fewer than seven targets, making him an easy every-week start. In fact, he posted WR2 or better numbers in 62.5 percent of his games, which ranked fifth behind only Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, and Davante Adams. The fact that the Bears snagged Nick Foles only helps the Bears receivers, as they have twice the chance at competent quarterback play. Robinson should be considered a high-floor, low-end WR1, as it’s unlikely he comes with the ceiling of those with better quarterback play.
Anthony Miller: I’m not sure many realize just how many targets Taylor Gabriel was getting in this offense the last two years and losing him may have been the key to unlocking Miller’s potential. Gabriel totaled 141 targets in 25 games, which amounts to 5.64 per game, or 90 over a full 16-game season. Check out the splits from last year when Gabriel was in/out of the lineup:
The 16-game pace without Gabriel would be 103 targets, 66 receptions, 846 yards, and five touchdowns. There’s a good reason the analysts in the industry (ECR) are higher on Miller than the public (ADP). Before you say that he still has to deal with poor quarterback play, here are his stats over his first two seasons (with Trubisky) compared to Robert Woods‘ 2019 season:
This highlights that he’s capable of producing solid numbers, even while playing through injury and with poor quarterback play. Foles has shown tendency to target the short, intermediate area of the field, too. Just like Allen Robinson, Miller only benefits from the quarterback competition, as it increases the probability of competent quarterback play. Miller should be drafted as a WR4 considering the projection you have to make to his targets, but there’s real potential as a top-30 wide receiver.
Ted Ginn, Darnell Mooney, Riley Ridley, and Javon Wims: This is the depth chart behind Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, though it’s hard to see any of them having fantasy relevance, even with injury. Mooney is likely the handcuff to Ginn, Ridley the handcuff to Robinson, and Wims just a depth piece. If there were an offseason, Mooney would’ve been someone to watch potentially take the Taylor Gabriel role in the offense, but he’ll likely be redshirted with the veteran Ginn there.
Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet: There wasn’t a single Bears tight end who recorded 100 yards last year. No, I’m not talking about a game. I’m talking about the entire season. Signing Graham isn’t something they should’ve done to solve that issue. He’ll be 34 years old in November and has averaged just 6.5 yards per target the last three years, and that’s despite playing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, he can still come down with a jump ball from time-to-time, but he’s not someone you should hinge your fantasy season on. He’s a streamer, at best. On top of that, Kmet will get on the field as a second-round pick who’s pro ready. If Kmet turns out to be what I think, he’s going to prevent me from trusting Graham as even a streamer. These two will cancel each other’s appeal, though Graham should be the better producer, as we know not to trust rookie tight ends.