2020 Season In Review: Fantasy Football Scoring Tiers
Identifying trends in fantasy football while we are fresh off the end of the season is one of the best ways to start preparing for next year. Historical data can help us determine the threshold for points in a given week and see what positions are trending which way for fantasy purposes. This gives us an edge, as we can alter our draft strategy to reflect these trends and zig when our opponents zag. You will see there are a couple of positions (quarterback and running back) that we need to approach differently moving forward.
For this article, I took the point per game average of players who played at least 12 games in a given season dating back to 2016 to gather the data below. I am listing the top player at the position as well as the 12th ranked player on a per-game basis. I also calculated the average of the top-12 to determine what it would take to be in the top tier over the last five seasons. All scoring was based on a typical PPR league: one point per reception, four points per touchdown pass, and six points for a rushing or receiving touchdown.
1. Only three quarterbacks finished this season with more than 600 passing attempts, the fewest since 2017.
2. Along those lines, eight of the top ten quarterbacks added at least 200 rushing yards to their fantasy total this year. Only Tom Brady (6) and Aaron Rodgers (149) missed the mark, with Brady being the main outlier. With the way the NFL is trending, athletic quarterbacks who can extend plays with rushing upside are the ones to target on draft day.
3. Carson Wentz was the QB1 in per-game scoring just four seasons ago, but he would have barely finished in the top-10 in 2020. Not for nothing, he finished this season as a healthy scratch in Week 17 against Washington.
4. Dak Prescott’s emergence as a top-five option at the position isn’t fluky. In each season since 2017, he’s upped his attempts, average yards per attempt, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio. He was on pace for 650-plus passing attempts before his injury and, with his efficiency, would have challenged Mahomes as the overall QB1. He should come at an injury discount next year, and he will find his way on a lot of my rosters.
5. Although drafting a quarterback in the early rounds is still a bridge too far, an argument can be made for drafting one in the middle rounds. Both Kyler Murray and Josh Allen were hovering around the sixth and seventh rounds of drafts and both ended up carrying fantasy teams. You can also hope to strike gold with someone like Aaron Rodgers, who was available after the tenth round but ended up as the QB3.
The quarterback position is changing in fantasy football, as the average weekly score for a top-12 quarterback has increased almost five points in the last five years. The position now has to be more of a priority for fantasy players from a draft capital perspective. But even with quarterback becoming more top-heavy and those with higher-end options gaining an advantage, I still don’t think drafting a quarterback in the first three to four rounds makes sense, but you can argue for taking one in the sixth or seventh.
1. The scoring gap between the RB1 and RB12 is wide, and the position is top-heavy. This gives running backs a lot of variance outside of the top four or five options. Theoretically, this means a zero-running back strategy can pay off, but I still think that there’s a stronger case for trying to get one of the studs at the position. That said, if you don’t, it’s best to avoid running backs in rounds three through six, as you can target upside backs later in the draft.
2. The per-game scoring average for running backs has remained relatively flat. There was a bit of a spike in 2018, but that was aided by seven running backs who averaged over 20 points per game, which marked a major bounce-back from a disappointing 2017 for the position.
3. Christian McCaffery is a cheat code. He was averaging over 30 PPR points per game before his injury this year, and his per-game average in 2019 was one of the best seasons of all time. If you can get him at any type of discount in a keeper or dynasty format, I would strongly urge you to pursue that.
4. Derrick Henry is a monster, but with over 680 carries the past two seasons and him having just turned 27, some important indicators are working against him. I’ve managed to fade him in most season-long formats and will likely do so again as I am betting on a breakdown coming at some point sooner rather than later.
5. Barring injury, Dalvin Cook will lead the NFL in rushing and be the RB1 in 2021. The combination of talent and workload is mouthwatering for next year.
Running backs don’t matter! Right? Right?
I don’t know if that’s entirely true from a fantasy perspective. Yes, James Robinson came from the waiver wire to be the RB7 on the season, and Mike Davis finished just outside of the top-12 while filling in for Christian McCaffery. However, the three backs who finished with more than 300 PPR points this year? Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. Each one of them had no worse than an early second-round ADP.
It seems that locking in a running back with an 18-touch floor makes the most sense, as volume is king, and it trumps efficiency. Zeke Elliott had his worst season as a pro but finished in the top-10 at the position because he had almost 300 touches. The same goes for Josh Jacobs, who, despite averaging just 3.9 YPC, finished as the RB8. The riddle we have to solve is determining how to go about acquiring those backs who have an 18-touch floor. Getting that right on draft day will be the key for a lot of fantasy players in 2021.
1. The NFL has become a more pass-heavy league, so it should come as no surprise that no less than 48 receivers averaged over 10 PPR points per game. The depth at the position makes the mid-round receiver targets a better investment than running backs as well.
2. Davante Adams had one of the best seasons in fantasy football history on a per-game basis this year. His combination of targets and red-zone market share makes him the easy WR1 choice heading into next season. He may go in the top-five of some PPR drafts, and for good reason. With 149 targets and 18 touchdowns in just 14 games, Adams would have finished with one of the best seasons of all-time had he played all 16.
3. The 2020 rookie class is deep and talented, with four rookies — Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool — among the top-36 at the position. Jefferson was spectacular; he finished as the WR8 in points per game and set the rookie record for yards in a season. With other rookies like Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, and Laviska Shenault also flashing this year, the position looks to be as healthy as it has ever been.
4. Some receivers I like to outperform their 2020 season next year: A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Diontae Johnson, and D.J. Moore. If Brown can get 130 targets, he will be a top-three receiver. McLaurin and Moore just need steadier quarterback play, while Johnson is primed to continue to see even more volume with JuJu Smith-Schuster likely departing Pittsburgh this offseason. Johnson is already one of the better route runners in the league, and with Chase Claypool drawing defenders on the other side of the field, he should find himself in winnable matchups most weeks.
5. My favorite buy low this offseason is Chris Godwin. He fell off a bit after his monster 2019, but he had some nagging injuries that slowed him down. He still scored seven touchdowns, and having a full offseason with Tom Brady should help their rapport.
Receiver is deep, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait to draft one. In fact, getting a running back in the first round and then going WR-WR with your next two picks would have given you a major advantage in 2020 — as long as you didn’t take Smith-Schuster in the third. With this year’s rookie class being one of the best in recent memory and the position being choc-full of other studs in their mid-20’s (Calvin Ridley, Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson), there is no lack of strong options at the position.
1. The tight end position was an albatross for most fantasy rosters in 2020. Only four tight ends averaged more than 12 points per game, and that includes George Kittle, who missed half the season and didn’t finish as a top-12 tight end. Outside of Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, the position was a dart throw for most weeks. To further that point, consider this: Waller was the TE2 with 278 points on the season. Robert Tonyan finished as the TE3 with 177.
2. Speaking of Kelce, it’s his world, and everyone else is just living in it. He has one of the best seasons for a tight end in league history, and his 312 PPR points would have made him the WR4 on the season. Playing with Pat Mahomes has its advantages, but Kelce is a different breed at the position and is worthy of a second-round price tag next summer.
3. There is some optimism for the youth at the position. T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, and Noah Fant all had moments where they looked tremendous. Hockenson can be a real threat for Detroit if they can get a coaching staff who will maximize his talents. I would bet on him to take a big step forward in 2021. As for Andrews and Fant, the weekly volume will be a concern, but they both have the athletic ability to turn a five-yard route into a 50-yard play.
4. Irv Smith Jr. probably won’t creep up on anyone next year, but just in case you didn’t notice, he had a solid finish to the season. He had 15 catches for 183 yards and three scores over his last four games. The Minnesota offense has some weapons, and Smith can hopefully get more involved in 2021.
5. Depending on what team drafts him, Kyle Pitts will have a chance to be a top-10 option almost immediately. He can be used all over the formation, and at some point soon, we may be talking about him as the best player at the position.
If you don’t get one of Kelce, Waller, or Kittle, it probably makes sense to take a similar approach to tight end as you do at quarterback most years. Wait until the later rounds, draft a couple of guys who you think can pop, and then stream the position. For the most part, the variance is too high to bet on anyone in the middle rounds.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.