Five Burning Questions for Week 1 (2020 Fantasy Football)
It’s finally here. Football is finally here. Today we will start the long-awaited Week 1 of the NFL 2020 season, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. 2020 has been nothing short of a crazy, wild year, and football will continue to be no exception to that standard. Even in a typical year, fantasy players have a multitude of questions heading into the start of the season, but this year feels monumentally more confusing. The NFL has had an abbreviated offseason, no preseason games, and an overhaul of how players can interact with one another.
Let’s tackle five burning questions that are looming as we approach the first week of the 2020 season.
1. How will volume shake out with the growing number of running backs by committee?
One trend permeating through the NFL is a copious amount of running backs being signed to teams. Whether this is due to creative new offensive schemes or coaches worried about depth during a pandemic is unclear, but it is clear for fantasy players that it’s more challenging to figure out who will see the volume this year.
It may take less time to list out which teams do not have a potential running back by committee (RBBC) than those that do. The Titans and Panthers are the first teams to spring to mind with RB Derrick Henry and RB Christian McCaffrey as the bonafide featured backs for their teams. You can also include the Giants, Raiders, Vikings, Bengals, Falcons, and the Eagles (although I don’t think the Eagles will stay with one featured back for long). Other than that, and I am sure I may have missed one or two, we have potential battles or split-volume for every other team.
This uncertainty is more problematic during our drafts when it’s impossible to draft every RB2 or backup. Or, if you were able to draft at least one backup/RB2, which one you start Week 1? Confidence levels in your team’s potential can thrive or die based on who gets the nod. We didn’t even have a preseason to get some idea of what teams may be thinking for the upcoming year.
It’s even more of a guessing game than fantasy football inherently is by its nature. Watching how the teams utilize their RBs in Week 1 will be a make or break for your roster after the season has already begun. I have a feeling that as each week passes and injuries start to mount, the muddy waters of RB starters will get a bit clearer for fantasy GMs.
2. How will a shortened training camp and no preseason games affect passing volume, reliance on the run-game, or scoring?
Since many teams keep adding running backs like it’s going out of style, what does that mean for the offensive schemes? Will they be protecting their quarterbacks and relying on the run? If so, what will that do to QBs’ fantasy production? What will the final scores look like if teams are running the ball the whole time?
After all, we are living an unprecedented time in football history, right?
Well… maybe not. While we have never had to live through a pandemic of this nature before, the NFL had seen a shadow of this kind of offseason weirdness back in 2011. The details are too intricate to explore in this article, but there are eerie similarities between the lockout and COVID-19. Basically, players were unable to workout at their NFL training facilities, unable to communicate with their coaches, and essentially weren’t even sure which teams they were going to be on to start the season.
If you think about it, in terms of communication, 2020 is less complicated than during the lockout. At least they have video conferencing and the ability to communicate with their coaching staff.
When you look at passing volume, rushing attempts, and completions, there isn’t a glaring dip in production, despite the lack of any preseason. My biggest takeaway by comparing post-lockout 2011 and the potential for 2020 is the incredible amount of injuries, particularly to the RB position.
It may take a few weeks for players to settle in with no preseason games, and the injuries will inevitably stack up, as will illness. However, I don’t see how this will affect passing volume, rushing volume, or scoring in such a drastic way that it will be an obvious outlier in a few years from now.
But, this is 2020, and weird things are going to happen.
3. Who will stand out as a late-round PPR darling in Week 1?
Now that we have looked at some broader questions as we start the beginning of the year let’s look at some more specific questions. We all look for those late-round gems in drafts who have the chance to break out.
There is a ton of depth at the WR position this year and narrowing this prospect down to just one was difficult. Anthony Miller of the Bears and Cortland Sutton in Denver spring to mind, but one name stands out the most to me: Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson.
Johnson was being drafted between the 10th and 12th Round in drafts but has the upside of seeing multiple WR1 weeks. Remember, Johnson was a rookie last year and had to play his first season with two different backup quarterbacks who were also both making their NFL debuts. The season was disastrous for the Steelers, but Johnson was able to thrive. He posted 59 receptions on 92 targets, 680 yards, and five touchdowns with 11.5 yards per reception and a 64.1% catch rate.
With QB Ben Roethlisberger back under center, Johnson should be able to see those numbers grow this year. In 2018, the Steelers led the NFL in passing with 675 attempts. Over 60% of those attempts went to the WR1 and WR2 position. In fact, there was less than a 1% difference between the WR1 and WR2 in targets. Of course, one of those receivers was Antonio Brown, who has since departed, but even if the volume gets close to 2018, you’re looking at a prolific year for WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and Johnson. WR James Washington is still around, and he has more experience with Roethlisberger than Johnson does, but I believe Washington will be a WR3 and less relevant than Johnson.
4. What will we see from the Tompa Bay Gronkaneers?
Please pardon my play on words, but it seemed appropriate given that many, many eyes will be watching to see how these two players fare on their new team. I don’t mean simply in terms of fantasy production, either.
If you would have told me last year that Brady would be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Gronkowski would come out of retirement to join him… I would have said (you guessed it), “you’re crazy.”
Yet, here we are.
Seeing Brady and Gronkowski in the Buccs colors is certainly odd, but their new home is far from a work-in-progress. In fact, the Buccs are considered Super Bowl contenders in 2020, which isn’t hard to believe.
The talent surrounding Brady is obvious with two WR1s in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, two productive tight ends in Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, plus the new addition of RB Leonard Fournette to the backfield with RB Ronald Jones, veteran LeSean McCoy, and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. However, these pieces lead us to fantasy questions that aren’t so easy to answer since we haven’t seen Brady or Gronkowski outside of HC Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
On paper, the most confusing part of this offense should be the rotating running backs. I am not so convinced that this is true. Sure, HC Bruce Arians named Jones the starter, but there is a big “for now” that is looming. As much as Jones’ supporters want to see him dominate against defenses scheming for the pass, their hopes are dashed with Fournette’s addition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fournette start by Week 4, if not sooner.
5. Can Matt Stafford rekindle the chemistry in Detroit?
We were about to see Stafford have a career year in 2019 before his season was cut short. In eight games, Stafford threw 187 completions on 291 attempts for 2,499 yards and 19 touchdowns. If we stat this out over a full 16 games, we could have seen 374 completions on 582 attempts for 4,998 yards and 38 touchdown passes.
To give you some comparison, Patrick Mahomes posted 319 completions on 484 attempts for 4,031 yards, and 26 touchdowns in 14 games, and Lamar Jackson posted 265 completions on 401 attempts for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns in 15 games.
If Stafford can pick up where he left off in 2019, the Lions will surprise people this year, and fantasy GMs who waited until the 12th Round to grab Stafford will rejoice. I love WR Kenny Golladay again this year as well as deep-threat Marvin Jones, Jr. The running back pieces are yet another example of an RBBC with rotating components. I expect Kerryon Johnson and newly acquired Adrian Peterson to have a role early, then De’Andre Swift will take over in the passing game once he’s healthy. If you have Swift, hold onto him until he starts playing. Once he has a big game, I would look to trade him for a more consistent piece of a different offense.
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