2020 Waiver-Wire Recap (Fantasy Football)
Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope the fantasy season treated you well. The grind never stops so now is the time to look back on things that went right and wrong this year. Draft night is important and can set you up well for season-long success but working the waiver wire is usually the biggest reason teams make the playoffs.
This season was one of the best in recent memory for consistent contributors that were picked up in-season. Justin Herbert, James Robinson, and Justin Jefferson were all league winners while the likes of Jalen Hurts, Brandon Aiyuk, and Irv Smith helped teams down the stretch. I used a simple letter grade format to rank players and tried to consider how much and when these players impacted your teams:
A – League-winner and top-12 at the position.
B – Weekly starter and occasional week-winner.
C – Weekly flex play or bye-week starter.
D – One-week wonder and eventual roster casualty.
F – Waste of FAAB and/or waiver priority.
There is only a handful of A’s but those who earned one most certainly deserved it. Let’s dive in.
Justin Herbert (QB – LAC)
Herbert made his NFL debut in Week 2 and threw for 311 yards and a touchdown and never looked back in being a league winner. Herbert was magnificent logging seven 300-yard passing games and nine weeks as a top-10 fantasy QB on his way to a record-breaking season. Herbert was the rare quarterback pickup that turned out to be more than a streaming option, something that is even more incredible when you consider he is a rookie who wasn’t expected to play much this year. Herbert’s rushing upside and the weapons he has around him should make him a mid-round target in 2021 fantasy drafts.
Cam Newton (NE – QB)
After two games, it appeared Bill Belichick had once again outmaneuvered the league in signing Cam Newton. With four rushing touchdowns and a near 400-yard passing game against Seattle, Newton was looking like a possible MVP candidate. The wheels eventually fell off and he managed just two 20-point fantasy games after Week 2. Without any weapons at his disposal and throwing mechanics that seemingly worsened with time, Newton finished the season as QB20, behind the likes of Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, and Kirk Cousins. He was unplayable most weeks outside of 2QB or dynasty leagues.
Nick Foles (CHI – QB)
Foles was named the Week 4 starter after lighting the Falcons on fire in a little over a quarter and a half of action, giving hope to overzealous fantasy owners hoping to catch some magic. What they got instead was an over-hyped game manager that often relied too much on his secondary options and not enough on Allen Robinson. Foles produced one QB1 week (Week 9 against Tennesse) in a game where the Bears were down 24-3 in the fourth quarter. He was otherwise pedestrian and was eventually benched for Mitch Trubisky.
Jalen Hurts (PHI – QB)
After being used as a gadget player for most of the season, Hurts was inserted at starter for the Eagles in Week 14. He responded with two top-5 fantasy weeks and was a QB1 for all three starts to finish the fantasy season. His Konami Code rushing upside was expected but Hurts twice threw for over 300 yards, something Carson Wentz did just once across 14 starts. This is a tricky evaluation because most teams who picked up Hurts had a tough decision to make in Weeks 15 and 16. Some questions I got both in private and through social media:
Obviously, Hurts was a league-winner for some teams and, if you play in dynasty leagues or DFS, he was a nice holiday bonus. For other teams, he represented an option that may have backfired if you started him over Brady or Watson in Week 16. I think there is a chance Hurts could offer the same dilemma for teams in 2021 as there are some red flags in his overall performance.
Taysom Hill (NO – QB)
In a very 2020 twist, Sean Payton finally got his wish and made Taysom Hill, QB1, a thing this year. Hill stepped in for Drew Brees from Weeks 11-14 and not only kept the Saints going but also helped fantasy managers who dared to start him. He was predictably effective as a short-yardage runner scoring four rushing touchdowns but he also threw for over 230 yards in three of four starts. Hill only threw for 78 yards against Denver but that game included a Broncos practice squad receiver at quarterback so it is a bit of an anomaly. There is also the added caveat with Hill having TE eligibility on ESPN platforms meaning he was the ultimate cheat code for a week.
James Robinson (RB – JAC)
When the Jaguars parted ways with Leonard Fournette, they opened the door for Robinson and he responded in a big way. He finished the season with over 1,400 total yards and 10 touchdowns adding 49 receptions along the way. He posted RB1 numbers in 10 of 15 games played and was remarkably consistent scoring in double figures in PPR formats in every game he played. One of the lone bright spots in Jacksonville in 2020, Robinson’s future outlook is bright with the likely addition of Trevor Lawrence to the offense. If you were fortunate enough to pick him up, he likely led you to the playoffs and possibly won you your league.
Mike Davis (RB – CAR)
Davis was one of the darlings of my weekly handcuff report so it’s unsurprising that he finds his way onto this list. From Weeks 3-6, Davis was arguably a top-5 running back in fantasy filling in admirably for Christian McCaffery. He posted weekly PPR scores during that time of 23.1, 22.1, 29.9, and 11.5. He then resurfaced late in the season with double-digit scoring weeks to help owners down the stretch as well. Davis was cheaper than some other backs like Jerick McKinnon and Joshua Kelley making him one of the sneakiest waiver wire additions this year. If you were savvy enough to go with Davis, your team stayed afloat even despite the loss of McCaffery.
Myles Gaskin (RB – MIA)
Jordan Howard was projected to lead the Miami running game but it was Gaskin who emerged early in the season and was a waiver target by Week 3. A bet-on-volume RB2, Gaskin averaged over 19 touches per game and was a big contributor in the passing game with 37 receptions. He suffered a knee injury and was placed on the COVID list so he only played two games after Week 9, but he was a monster for fantasy players in Week 16 with over 30 PPR points in the win over Las Vegas. Gaskin falls short of the league-winner tag because of the missed games but he was a big contributor when healthy.
Grade: B/C (Injuries dock him a letter grade)
Damien Harris (RB – NE)
Due to Bill Belichick’s unpredictability, I have a hard and fast rule of not using the Patriots’ running backs. Harris’s game logs tell the story of why:
|Week 4:||17 Carries, 100 Yards|
|Week 6:||6 Carries, 19 Yards|
|Week 7:||10 Carries, 58 Yards|
|Week 8:||16 Carries, 102 Yards, 1 Touchdown|
|Week 9:||14 Carries, 17 Yards|
|Week 10:||22 Carries, 121 Yards|
|Week 11:||11 Carries, 43 Yards, 1 Touchdown|
|Week 12:||14 Carries, 47 Yards|
|Week 13:||16 Carries, 80 Yards|
|Week 14:||11 Carries, 50 Yards|
While he did get double-digit carries, he was used minimally in the passing game (5 receptions on the year) and his Red Zone role was uncertain. Harris did provide fantasy owners with three weeks of RB2 production or better but his weekly floor was that of a low RB3/4 with minimal ceiling making him a risky investment.
Jerick McKinnon (RB – SF)
Raheem Mostert’s sprained knee opened the door for McKinnon to see an increased role in San Francisco’s run-heavy offense in cherry matchups with Philadelphia and the New York Giants. McKinnon was solid in those two games but was not worth the heavy FAAB bidding that preceded them as he was back to a split role by Week 5 and probably dropped before a Week 9 RB2 performance against Green Bay. McKinnon’s boom or bust nature combined with Kyle Shanahan’s unpredictability is not a combination we should look to attack in fantasy. The FAAB dollars spent on McKinnon would have been better allocated to Mike Davis or Myles Gaskin and that decision likely cost some players their season.
D’Ernest Johnson (RB – CLE)
Johnson was one of the biggest whiffs of the year from a production and sunken cost perspective. A Nick Chubb injury allowed Johnson to rush for 95 yards on 13 carries against Dallas in Week 4 and it looked like Johnson would have the opportunity for 12-15 carries in a timeshare with Kareem Hunt. Instead, what fantasy owners got was 19 carries for 66 yards over the next 11 games. For some, Johnson was the priority add in a week where Damien Harris and Justin Jackson were both also available. Those two back ended up making at least meaningful contributions to keep teams alive while Johnson never amounted to anything.
DeeJay Dallas (SEA – RB)
Heading into Week 8, Seattle was down Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde in their backfield. While Russell Wilson was still cooking at that point, the lead back duties fell to Deejay Dallas and he responded with 22.8 PPR points. The news on Carson and Hyde broke late in the week so Dallas wasn’t overly expensive and he provided owners with two weeks worth of fantasy relevance making his grade look worse than it should be.
Wayne Gallman (NYG – RB)
It took an injury to Saquon Barkley and an ineffective Devonte Freeman for Gallman to gain relevance but he was serviceable once he did. From Week 7 to Week 13 he averaged 15.5 PPR points a game, doing so somewhat under the radar. His grade is tarnished a big by two duds during the fantasy playoffs but he gave most fantasy owners weekly RB2 numbers in a Flex role making him a major value at the position.
Devontae Booker (LV – RB)
If you were part of the group who grabbed Booker off the waiver wire for Week 13, there will continue to be meetings on Twitter every Wednesday night at 7:30. We are switching from punch and pie to coffee and fruit to start the new year.
Booker was supposed to be a slam dunk play in the absence of Josh Jacobs. I had him in my handcuff article as being a top pickup and with a matchup against New York, he was in the smash spot of all smash sports. Until he wasn’t, that is. Booker ran for just 50 yards and torpedoed the playoff hopes of many who picked him up.
Chargers Running Backs
Depending on the part of the season, any of the trio of Kalen Ballage, Justin Jackson, or Joshua Kelley (and even Troymaine Pope) showed up on waiver wire reports. Jackson and Kelley were the primary beneficiaries early in the season with Kelley getting carries even when Austin Ekeler was healthy. Oddly, Kelley was eventually phased out of the offense and by Week 9 Ballage was brought in and getting 20+ touches. This was a tough spot to nail down this year and, generally speaking, was a headache for fantasy despite the aggregate output of the backfield as a whole.
Justin Jefferson (MIN – WR)
Jefferson’s Week 3 explosion against the Titans was a sign of things to come for the rookie out of LSU. He turned in nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown in jump-starting what is likely to be an NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year season. Expectations for Jefferson were tempered by Mike Zimmer’s run-heavy offense and Kirk Cousin’s limitations but he finished the season as a WR1 and was the model of consistency down the stretch. He turned in double-digit PPR weeks in six of seven games to close the season and eased the loss of Stefon Diggs. Jefferson’s ceiling is sky-high moving forward and he will be a 2nd/3rd round selection for many next year.
Chase Claypool (PIT – WR)
Another rookie receiver with a massive early-season performance, Claypool scored four touchdowns on his way to a 42-point PPR performance against Philadelphia in Week 5. He followed that up with six double-digit PPR weeks over his next seven games but fell off the fantasy map after Week 12. He failed to catch more than four passes in any of his last four games putting fantasy players in a weekly predicament of whether or not to chase his massive upside. Still, Claypool came from out of nowhere to finish as WR25 in PPR leagues his production in the middle of the season kept teams afloat.
Travis Fulgham (WR – PHI)
An XFL standout, Fulgham burst onto the scene with a huge game against Pittsburgh in Week 4. In torching the Steelers for 152 yards on 10 receptions, he made himself one of the main waiver wire additions for Week 5. Injuries to the Eagles’ offensive pieces gave Fulgham target counts of 13, 10, 11, and 7 from Weeks 5-8. Once Philadelphia came out of their Week 9 bye, however, Fulgham failed to register more than two catches in any game. He eventually fell behind Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, Alshon Jeffrey, and even DeSean Jackson on the depth chart and faded from relevance.
Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)
Higgins only played 15 snaps in the season-opener for the Bengals but by Week 3 he was a starter and by Week 5 he was playing on over 80% of the snaps. Before Joe Burrow’s injury, Higgins was on pace to be a WR1:
Weeks 2-8 (With Burrow): 40 Receptions/603 Yards/5 Touchdowns
Weeks 9-16: 24 Receptions/305 Yards/2 Touchdowns
Higgins’s relative scuffle down the stretch was due to the Bengals issues at quarterback, which is unfortunate. With the Giants, Cowboys and Texans all presenting juicy matchups we can dream about what might have been had Burrow stayed healthy. As it is, Higgins was a solid buy and he should be atop your list of mid-round receivers in 2021.
Grade: C (With a healthy Burrow this might have been an ‘A’)
Brandon Aiyuk (SF – WR)
Aiyuk had more draft day equity than either Claypool or Higgins as he was roughly 30-35% owned on Week 1. His availability ebbed and flowed throughout the year as the 49ers were hit with injuries almost every week but there is no denying that he was one of the top receivers in fantasy from Week 7 on. Over that span Aiyuk was a volume monster racking up 59 targets in six games and going over 100 yards or scoring a touchdown every game. Despite the egg he laid in Week 16, Aiyuk was one of the best receiver pickups this season and for many teams, he was the reason they made a playoff run. Even if your investment was made on draft night, it eventually paid off.
Nelson Agholor (LV – WR)
Agholor is one of the better stories of the season. He popped off in Week 7 with a 5/107/1 game against Tampa Bay and was a consistent contributor (especially by his standard) the remainder of the year. Agholor represents the type of mid-season pickup savvy owners make that ends up paying off come playoff time. He finished as a top-24 PPR option three times after his blow-up game against the Buccaneers including a monster 5/155/1 line in Week 16 that vaulted some owners to championships. If you were smart enough to look at Agholor’s current situation and talent while ignoring some of his past failures, you were rewarded handsomely.
Robert Tonyan (GB – TE)
Tight End was a wasteland this year but Tonyan was easily the best pickup of the position. After not receiving a target in Week 1, Tonyan was gradually worked into the offense and in Week 4 exploded for a three-touchdown game against Atlanta. He only threw up two true duds and from Weeks 11-15 he scored a touchdown in every game. The third-year pro from Indiana was one of Aaron Rodgers’s top red-zone targets and he finished as a top-5 tight end across all formats this year.
Logan Thomas (WFT – TE)
A converted quarterback, Thomas ended the season as a top-5 tight end finishing with a flurry down the stretch. He averaged 16.7 PPR points per game from Week 12 to Week 16 and ended up on the winning roster of a lot of teams. Thomas was remarkably consistent turning in nine double-digit fantasy weeks and amassing over 100 targets. With an ADP in the late 200’s, Thomas was the best of the second tier at the position.
Irv Smith Jr. (MIN – TE)
At a position as barren as tight end, this is where we land. Smith probably burned fantast players early in the season leaving him as waiver wire fodder right up until the point people needed him most. Smith was magnificent beginning in Week 14, Smith scored 16.3, 6.7, and 22.3 fantasy points rewarding those who had enough faith to start him. His grade is in recognition of his late-season performance more so than his early-season struggles.
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.
Jason Kamlowsky is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JasonKamlowsky.