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2020 Season in Review: Fantasy Football Hits & Misses

2020 Season in Review: Fantasy Football Hits & Misses

Another NFL season has come and gone, and while the research and preparation never stop, it’s always healthy to take a break from the constant studying and just have some fun. That’s what we’re going to do here.

In addition to providing a look back on my thought process and whether I hit or miss on particular players, I’m also going to include a discussion on the general consensus surrounding each player. Did the fantasy community as a whole get this right or wrong? And, most importantly, why?

Each year, all of us will hit and miss on many players. After all, we are required to have an opinion about literally every player, so it goes without saying that some will be correct, and some will be not so correct.

The focus will be on relevant hits or misses. I told everyone way before the 2020 season began that JJ Arcega-Whiteside is one of the least talented wide receivers in NFL history and belongs nowhere near fantasy rosters in even the deepest of leagues. While that was obviously a smash hit, it doesn’t actually matter. No one was drafting JJAW in redraft leagues and even if someone did, it was in the last round. It’s an irrelevant prediction.

On the other hand, predicting Alvin Kamara would be one of the best running backs in fantasy isn’t what we’re about either. First-round picks that perform like first-round picks need little discussion.

The most important calls in fantasy football are about those players that there isn’t necessarily a consensus on or where there is, but you’re going against the grain for a particular reason. Right or wrong, it’s essential to understand why the fantasy community, and I, thought something would happen in order to further fine-tune our process because, as we know, process > results.

*Note that whenever you see fantasy points, unless otherwise indicated (and this goes for every article I ever write), I use average fantasy points per game from Weeks 1-16 with a minimum of 8-10 games played to qualify.

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Draft Theory

The prevailing strategy for 2020 was to pound running back early and often. My draft strategy was Robust RB. It was predicated on the fact that since there were so many desirable wide receivers in Rounds 3-7, it made sense to go out of your way to get running back early, even if the wide receiver you were passing on was objectively superior.

While Zero RB is dead and just a terrible strategy you should never use, 2020 was a unique season in that it’s hard to say Robust RB really worked. The fantasy community was correct about the mid-round wide receivers, but the early-round running backs were a disaster. Obviously, the rest of this article will touch upon why so I’ll leave that for later sections.

My biggest takeaway from the 2020 season is the value of difference-making players. In August, I was willing to forego guys like Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill at the 1/2 turn in order to force the Robust RB strategy. That meant taking players like Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire over these elite WR1s. The thought process was that the difference between those running backs and the running backs available in the mid-rounds would be much greater than the difference between those wide receivers and the wide receivers available in the mid-rounds. That turned out to be true, which exposed the flaw in the strategy. It didn’t matter. The way you win in fantasy football is with players that make a difference. Adams posted the greatest wide receiver season in fantasy history, scoring 4.4 more ppg than the WR2, Hill. While a difference-making running back will always be more valuable than a difference-making wide receiver, passing on a difference-making wide receiver for a running back that you don’t actually think will make that difference is not good process. I’ve already carved out space in my brain to store this information for the 2021 season.

Quarterback Hits

Kyler Murray (ARI)

The fantasy community as a whole anointed Kyler Murray as the next big thing before he proved it. The key to success in fantasy football is finding the breakout guys before they breakout. Even though Murray was that guy, everyone knew it so it was baked into his cost. I was all in on Murray as that guy, but I wasn’t willing to pay the cost in advance. I had Murray ranked as my QB4 so, from that perspective, this is a hit, but it’s also a miss for me personally because I wasn’t willing to draft Murray in the middle rounds, sticking steadfastly to the late-round quarterback strategy.

Murray finished 2020 as the overall QB1 and although he faded a bit down the stretch, he was a legitimate difference-maker for the majority of the fantasy regular season and well worth his fifth-round price tag.

2021 Outlook: By my very early count, there are 10 quarterbacks you want next year. It is still bad process to take a quarterback early, but there appears to be a shift in the ideal time to take a quarterback going from the double-digit rounds/streaming to the mid to late single-digit rounds (5-8 range). I expect Murray to once again be ranked in the QB3-4 range, but I will be taking a quarterback ranked in the QB5-10 range.

Cam Newton (NE)

This one goes down as a hit for the fantasy community and a largely irrelevant miss for me. I was in on Cam Newton as a late-round flier at quarterback. The fantasy community as a whole was not really buying the Newton resurgence as his ADP remained well outside the top 12 quarterbacks. Newton finished as the overall QB26 and looks completely done. The process behind targeting Newton was that it was a low risk, high reward pick. If Newton returned to his 2015 form, he would be a league winner. If not, just drop him. Although it didn’t work out, Newton is the right type of player to target late.

2021 Outlook: I think Newton’s career is pretty much over. I expect him to be in the NFL in 2021, but it’s hard to imagine him as a starter. He is certainly going undrafted in fantasy leagues.

Quarterback Misses

Matthew Stafford (DET)

After an extremely disappointing 2019 season, the fantasy community, myself included, was a bit bullish on Matthew Stafford’s chances of bouncing back in a big way. Losing Kenny Golladay for the vast majority of the season and constantly being banged up did not help, but Stafford ultimately played in 15 games and after being drafted as a fringe QB1, finished as the overall QB23. I called Stafford the premier late-round quarterback. That was not particularly prescient. The biggest takeaway here is the days of the pocket quarterback are over.

2021 Outlook: I can’t tell you if the pocket quarterback will ever make a comeback, but I can tell you that for the foreseeable future (at least the next decade), NFL quarterbacks will have to at least be as mobile as someone like Justin Herbert. That is the wave of the future and it goes for fantasy as well. If a quarterback can’t run, don’t even think about drafting him.

Running Back Hits

Mark Ingram (BAL)

Despite finishing as the overall RB11 in 2019, the fantasy community, myself included, wanted very little to do with Mark Ingram in 2020. Ingram was priced as a high RB3, which, although still way too high, was reflective of the fact that he was very clearly the third-best running back on his own team, over the age of 30, and unlikely to repeat his touchdown heavy 2019 campaign. This was a smash hit as Ingram finished outside the top 60 running backs, averaging just 5.4 ppg, and closing out the season as a healthy inactive.

2021 Outlook: Mark Ingram is almost certainly going to retire. He’s done.

Jonathan Taylor (IND)

It wasn’t pretty with Jonathan Taylor, but all the people bullish on him eventually got their league winner. Taylor showed flashes early, then got essentially benched for Jordan Wilkins, but eventually, talent shined through and Taylor went on to finish as the overall RB12. That is a great return for someone drafted as a mid RB2. I had Taylor ranked as my overall RB14, just two spots lower than where he finished.

I would consider targeting rookies like Taylor good process. Taylor came into the NFL with a three-down skillset, was drafted to a team with a top-five offensive line, and was priced at a cost that left room for growth. One of the most difficult things to find in fantasy football is a running back worth taking in the third or fourth round. Taylor was one of the players worth passing on a wide receiver for.

2021 Outlook: Taylor is going to be drafted in the back half of the first round, hopefully by me.

Running Back Misses

David Montgomery (CHI)

Last year, David Montgomery was a smash hit for me. I thought he was a terrible prospect and a below replacement level NFL talent. With that being said, my 2020 outlook on him wasn’t the worst: “As I stated, I don’t think Montgomery is particularly good at football. Tarik Cohen is not going anywhere, and the Bears are not exactly an explosive offense. He will be worth a shot if his ADP falls low enough, but I don’t foresee it getting late enough to where I’d be willing to gamble.”

While Montgomery’s ADP was nowhere late enough where I was willing to gamble, he turned out to be well worth it. The fantasy community was largely in agreement in fading Montgomery, too, as he had a mid-RB3 ADP. At the risk of looking like I’m making excuses, Cohen’s injury played a role in Montgomery’s significant usage. It’s fair to say Montgomery would not have finished as high as he did (overall RB7) if Cohen stayed healthy. With that being said, Montgomery legitimately improved significantly as a player this season and I did not see that coming. I’m not sure if there’s much to take away here because there was no evidence Montgomery would suddenly get this much better this quickly. The best I can say is perhaps we should be a little more hesitant on writing off players just because of one terrible rookie season. But even doing that is not necessarily bad process. For every Montgomery you miss out on, there will be a dozen actually terrible players you safely avoid.

2021 Outlook: Montgomery’s 2020 performance will catapult him into the second round of fantasy drafts, likely early second round. I can already tell I won’t be interested and while I’m obviously open to being wrong, I expect to be on team fade Montgomery once again.

Leonard Fournette (TB)

I feel obliged to include Leonard Fournette here because he’s a case worth talking about – the Jacksonville version of Fournette. Once Fournette was cut and subsequently signed by Tampa Bay, I plummeted him down my rankings to a mid RB3. The fantasy community did the same. Post-Jacksonville Fournette’s ranking was a hit.

The relevant discussion here is on the analysis of Jacksonville Fournette, who I had ranked somewhere around RB12 and the fantasy community had as a late second/early third-round pick. There were a lot of smart people fading Fournette hard, but just as many smart people were advocating for buying Fournette. He was undoubtedly one of the most polarizing players of 2020. So who was correct? Well, both, kind of.

One of the reasons the Fournette haters were fading him was because of the prospect that he may get cut. Even though getting cut isn’t typically something you’d take into account when that’s the specific reason contemplated by fantasy analysts and it actually happens, they have to get credit for it. On the other hand, fading Fournette because you thought he wouldn’t be a good fantasy asset in Jacksonville would seem to have been disproven. James Robinson finished as the overall RB5 and, most importantly, led the NFL in opportunity share. That was the exact process behind targeting Fournette – the massive volume we knew he would get based upon 2019. I don’t think it’s unfair to say Fournette would have been an RB1 if the Jaguars didn’t cut him. The fantasy analysts that faded Fournette based upon some baseless prediction that 30-year-old washed-up Chris Thompson would somehow matter at all – they were more wrong than the Fournette enthusiasts.

And to top it all off, after Ronald Jones went on the Covid list during the two most important weeks of the fantasy season (Weeks 15 and 16), Fournette posted a low RB1 and mid RB2 game.

2021 Outlook: Despite Fournette proving he can still produce if given volume, he did not look anything like the elite prospect from three years ago. Fournette will be on an NFL team – probably not the Bucs – and will be the type of running back you want to target if he falls far enough because you have tangible proof of the upside. Just don’t overpay for a player that will start the season as a backup.

Wide Receiver Hits

The Rookies

There were so many wide receiver hits in 2020 that I have to do so something to streamline the discussion. Lumping all the rookies into one boat seems like a good way to do that. Five rookie wide receivers finished inside the top 36. Justin Jefferson was a WR1. Brandon Aiyuk was a WR2. Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool were WR3s.

The fantasy world as a whole was very bullish on this rookie class even with the lack of minicamp and preseason. Not only was this class a smash, but it could’ve been even better if Higgins and Lamb didn’t lose their quarterback and if Aiyuk didn’t end up injured and on the Covid list a couple of times (and also losing his quarterback multiple times).

The most important lesson I learned from this rookie class is that talent almost always wins out. Jefferson did not have a real role to start the season. Lamb was drafted to a team that already had Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Higgins was behind Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green. Claypool was buried behind Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington. Only Aiyuk was poised to start from the get-go. Yet, all of these wide receivers were able to make an impact. Why? Because they are all good at football. Even though the fantasy football regular season is just 13 weeks (14 next season), that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to sit on a player for a few weeks while he works his way into more volume. If you think a player is talented enough to produce, trust that his talent will eventually force his team’s hand and be there to reap the rewards.

2021 Outlook: All five of these wide receivers and a handful more of the 2020 rookies will continue to improve. Lamb and Higgins in particular stand out to me as potential league winners in 2021.

DeAndre Hopkins (ARI)

I know I normally don’t include highly drafted players that do well as hits, but DeAndre Hopkins was actually a bit polarizing this season. I had Hopkins down at WR11 and some places had him even lower. However, the general consensus put Hopkins’ ADP at overall WR5, which is exactly where he finished.

There were justifiable concerns about an elite wide receiver switching teams. Historically, wide receivers switching teams tend to struggle in their first season with their new team. We saw this with Odell Beckham and Allen Robinson before that. Not Hopkins, though. Hopkins immediately became Kyler Murray’s top target and performed like the top five wide receiver he is. The process wasn’t necessarily flawed because there is merit to the wide receiver switching teams analysis, but perhaps exceptions should be carved out for elite talents.

2021 Outlook: Hopkins will be 29 years old next season so the end is closer than the beginning, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest Hopkins can’t continue to produce at a high level for at least another three or four years. He will be priced as a top-five wide receiver and worth what I expect to be an early second-round price tag.

Diontae Johnson (PIT)

If you want a poster boy for the phrase, “just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it isn’t true,” it’s Diontae Johnson. Everyone was on the Diontae Johnson hype train this season. I am convinced that if we had a preseason, Johnson’s ADP would’ve spiked into the fifth round.

By the end of 2019, it was abundantly clear that Johnson is the most talented wide receiver on the Steelers. He profiled much more like an X receiver than JuJu Smith-Schuster. With a seventh-round ADP, Johnson was a popular target for just about any fantasy player and someone we were all happy to reach for to make sure we got.

Johnson epitomized good process for a number of reasons. He flashed elite ability as a rookie with some of the worst quarterback play in NFL history. He was getting his quarterback back. He was on a pass-heavy offense. He was the clear primary outside receiver. He was priced as a WR3 with WR1 upside. Johnson is everything you look for in a mid-round fantasy target and we will spend much of the 2021 offseason searching for the next Diontae Johnson.

Johnson finished as the overall WR18 despite leaving two games very early due to injury and getting benched for the entire first half of a third game. If you remove just the two games he got hurt early in, Johnson would have finished tied with Adam Thielen as the overall WR8 with 17.3 ppg.

2021 Outlook: Give me all the Diontae Johnson. He probably won’t be priced as a WR1 even though he so clearly is a WR1. I anticipate a third-round ADP for Johnson, which will be as much of a steal as Thielen was in 2020.

Wide Receiver Misses

Chris Godwin (TB)

One player I had no idea what to do with this past season was Chris Godwin. I knew I didn’t want to draft him, but that was mostly because he cost a late second-round pick and I didn’t think he was better than the slew of wide receivers I could get in rounds 3-5. Godwin had this price tag that just didn’t make sense given the increase in target competition and the significant downgrade at quarterback from a fantasy perspective (obviously a huge upgrade for the Bucs).

Godwin was priced as the overall WR6, but finished as the overall WR21 while also missing four games. In a season where so many wide receivers were hits, Godwin was one of this season’s biggest busts.

In retrospect, it does appear as though Godwin’s ADP didn’t make much sense relative to the wide receivers priced after him. Godwin was very clearly not a full round or two better than guys like Allen Robinson and Adam Thielen and he certainly wasn’t three rounds better than D.K. Metcalf or the next guy on this list.

Unfortunately, the late second round was kind of no man’s land in 2020 fantasy drafts. By then, the perceived trustworthy running backs were gone along with Travis Kelce. You didn’t want to take a quarterback, but all of the running backs felt risky and like a reach while the wide receivers weren’t any better than the next 12 available. It was just a weird spot that likely won’t exist in 2021.

2021 Outlook: Godwin’s price will come down from where it was in 2020 and depending on what the Bucs do with Antonio Brown, Godwin may end up being a value once again.

Stefon Diggs (BUF)

The biggest miss of the 2020 season is unquestionably Stefon Diggs. I missed. You missed. We all missed. This may come as a surprise to many, but Diggs had actually been perennially overrated prior to 2020. Every year, Diggs would be drafted as this mid WR2 with WR1 upside and he would never live up to expectations. Whether due to nagging injuries or lack of volume, Diggs was always this talented player that couldn’t truly break out.

Then, he changes teams (red flag) to join a quarterback completely incapable of throwing accurate passes. Then, a couple of things happened. The Bills became this ultra pass-heavy offense. Diggs stayed healthy. And, most importantly, Josh Allen became an elite quarterback. I want to say I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong about Allen, but was I? Allen had never reached the 60% completion percentage threshold going all the way back to high school. There was not a shred of evidence that he would suddenly become this accurate passer. Aside from a 2.5 game blip in the middle of the season where he reverted back to his old ways, Allen has been fantastic, which was the catalyst for Diggs’ ascendance to the plane of the elite.

Diggs’ ADP fell all the way outside the top 24 wide receivers for the first time since his 2016. We all thought the move to Buffalo was a negative. We’ve never been more wrong. Diggs finished as the overall WR3 and given his cost, gets my vote for most valuable fantasy wide receiver.

The lesson to be learned here goes back to what I said earlier about talent. At some point, it becomes worth it to bet on talent. We all agreed Diggs was talented, but there was concern about volume and Josh Allen. Those were valid concerns and legitimate reasons to pass on Diggs…to a point. But in the sixth round, more of us should’ve been willing to take a shot on Diggs based on upside alone.

2021 Outlook: I’m buying the Josh Allen ascendance, which means I’m buying that Diggs is here to stay. Diggs will come with a second-round ADP and will be a fine pick at that price.

D.J. Chark (JAX)

As an example of where things went wrong with Stefon Diggs, I present you with D.J. Chark, who was drafted ahead of Diggs in just about every league. Whoops.

Even though Chark was a popular breakout candidate this year after his mini-breakout 2019 season, things just never materialized. Chark was banged up for much of the season, missing a game here and there. The Jaguars’ quarterback situation completely devolved into chaos. Gardner Minshew was terrible. Mike Glennon wasn’t much better. Eventually, they turned to Jake Luton. The Jaguars were a bad team that we expected to be bad. While I’m not suggesting to always fade players on bad teams, especially in the passing game when you know a team will throw a lot, it was definitely bad process to take Chark over someone like D.K. Metcalf, Calvin Ridley, or A.J. Brown. Unless there’s a significant talent disparity, take the player on the better offense with the better quarterback.

There’s a pretty strong parallel we can draw between Chark and Diggs, though. Despite Chark’s complete bust of a 2020 season where he finished as the overall WR37 (I’m actually surprised it’s even that high), he’s still a talented wide receiver. That means a future breakout with improved circumstances like we saw with Diggs, is very possible.

2021 Outlook: I would be shocked if I wasn’t back in on Chark with a further reduced price and Trevor Lawrence throwing to him.

Tight End Hits and Misses

For the sake of brevity in what is my longest article every year, I will lump fantasy’s most useless skill position into one. If you didn’t have Travis Kelce, who finished as not just the overall TE1, but the overall WR4, or Darren Waller, who was still 3.9 ppg behind Kelce as the TE2, your tight end didn’t matter.

Kelce was the equivalent of WR4. Waller was the equivalent of WR11. The TE3, Mark Andrews, was not only an absurd 8.2 ppg behind Kelce, but didn’t even return top 36 wide receiver value.

George Kittle was a bust due to injury, but the strategy of Kelce, Kittle, or be the last one to take a tight end was unquestionably the correct one. You were just as well off streaming the position than you were rostering any non Kelce tight end other than the sole mid-round tight end that hit, Waller. And even fading Waller could be viewed as good process when lumped in with the aforementioned strategy. Waller was surrounded by Zach Ertz, Andrews, and Evan Engram in ADP, with Hayden Hurst, Hunter Henry, and Tyler Higbee not too far behind. Simply avoiding all of these guys was the way to go in 2020.

2021 Outlook: Even though the position was a disaster in 2020, there were a couple of players that showed some flashes. I will be very interested, depending on cost, in Noah Fant, Irv Smith, Logan Thomas, and a possibly returning from injury Blake Jarwin in 2021.

Closing Thoughts

As we shut the proverbial door on the 2020 fantasy season, there are always many lessons to be learned that we can apply going forward. It is extremely important to use what happened in 2020 to try and predict what will happen in 2021, but it is imperative to avoid overreacting to one season. It’s cliche, but it’s true: process over results. Sometimes bad process produces good results and vice versa. When you understand why an outcome came to be, you can use that information to predict future outcomes better. We have a long break until Week 1 of 2021. Most of you won’t even think about fantasy football until at least June or July. Now is the time to set yourself up for the 2021 pre-draft process. Everything that happened this season is fresh. Do whatever it is you need to do to ensure you don’t forget the lessons you learned in 2020.

Enjoy the NFL playoffs and look forward to a much more normal 2021 NFL season!

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive follow him @jasonkatz13.

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