Team-by-Team Analysis: AFC East (2021 Fantasy Football)
A few weeks ago, I provided a glimpse at fantasy rankings across the NFL for every team, where notable offensive powerhouses like Kansas City, Green Bay, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay rose above the rest. Alternatively, offenses in New York (both the Jets and Giants), New England, and Cincinnati underwhelmed fantasy managers who selected highly drafted players like Saquon Barkley (at least due to injury), Joe Mixon, and Le’Veon Bell.
In this first article since that overview, I want to examine the AFC East division, which features three previously mentioned teams. Overall, this division was disappointing from a fantasy point-of-view (and fandom as well if you are a Jets fan wanting the team to “Tank for Trevor”), with three of the teams finishing the bottom fourth of all NFL teams in fantasy output; only Buffalo finished better than 24th in total fantasy points.
So how do these teams fare across the four major fantasy roles (i.e., QB, RB, WR, and TE), and which present potentially rewarding opportunities for fantasy managers in 2021? Let’s dive in!
Using FantasyPros data, the following visualization depicts each team’s total points ranking, along with their positional ranks in fantasy and associated median and mean values. In short, this division has much left to be desired, with baffling quarterback and receiver play in 2020. Additionally, a run-heavy approach by New England following Tom Brady’s departure led to a 10th-ranked fantasy, albeit frustrating as always for managers, RB group. Furthermore, it’s apparent that fantasy managers invested in Jets players can immediately reap the rewards if they select a QB with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. It shouldn’t be difficult for the new regime to improve upon the last-ranked QB finish that the Gase-Darnold combination produced in 2020. Even when we observe the cream of the crop in this division (Buffalo), we may still see some deficiencies and opportunities for fantasy managers, namely in the RB and TE positions. Lastly, Miami is the team that seemingly possesses the widest range of fantasy success in 2021 and is wholly dependent on their QB: do they trade for Deshaun Watson, or can Tua Tagovailoa take the necessary step forward after a tepid rookie campaign, or does passing inconsistency limit the entire offense?
In this section, I wanted to dive deeper into the AFC East and each team’s fantasy output by segmenting each of the four positions into the generally startable roles (i.e., QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3, and TE1). By breaking the analysis out and ranking them accordingly, we can better understand the 2021 opportunity from analyzing production distribution.
There are a few major observations and takeaways that can be made from the above chart:
- Extremely effective WR corps, with passes focusing on WRs and not TEs.
- Strong split in RB1 and RB2 output, leading to neither being particularly good for fantasy in 2020.
- Considering the stark difference in aerial production, we shouldn’t bank on much changing WR-TE disparity. Dawson Knox may improve, but I wouldn’t anticipate much production beyond TD upside.
- There is a TON of potential in this backfield if Buffalo implements a bell-cow approach – or even a 70-30 split similar to New Orleans with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. The question is: are either Zach Moss or Devin Singletary capable of becoming that true RB1? If either accounted for 70% of Buffalo’s aggregate production in 2020, he would have finished as the RB9.
- Beyond Mike Gesicki, who should be a WR in my opinion based on his more than 4:1 ratio in terms of WR snaps versus inline (i.e., standard TE) snaps (365 slot WR, 133 wide WR, 122 inline) per PFF, Miami didn’t offer much fantasy success in 2020.
- Miami’s passing game was dreadful for fantasy in 2020 and can be attributed due to Tagovailoa’s inconsistent play along with underwhelming WR play outside of DeVante Parker, who was just
- Miami is set up well to immediately improve their offense by possessing the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Barring a trade (especially one in which they part with this pick and Tagovailoa for Watson), many expect Miami to take either Penei Sewell, the consensus top offensive lineman in the draft, or Ja’Marr Chase, the general top WR, with the #3 pick.
- This team presents significant fantasy implications in 2021, as no single player should be too expensive in fantasy drafts but can return immediate gains if the offense takes the next step. Miami also went with a bellcow approach for many of their games, so this backfield may again return value for fantasy managers.
New England Patriots
- After a tumultuous post-Brady season, New England is surely looking to upgrade the QB position, which saw Cam Newton benched several times throughout the year. Although Newton continued to be a beast at the goal line, his passing inconsistency was extremely disappointing.
- Despite low expectations for this WR corps entering the season, fantasy managers still felt underwhelmed outside a few impressive games from Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd. Furthermore, New England, once again, split their backfield, with each of James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, and Sony Michel playing more than 181 snaps across the season, with none playing more than 33% of total offensive snaps, per PFF.
- It would be shocking if New England doesn’t aggressively seek a new QB for 2021, hopefully improving the fantasy performances for all involved. With an anemic passing game in 2020, New England offers immense upside for fantasy managers considering players’ anticipated depressed costs if Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels can generate improved QB play.
- Even in a post-Brady – who’s often been “criticized” for favoring the short-passing game and receiving specialists at RB – New England still refused to commit to a single – or even two-man split – RB. I would avoid this backfield completely, even if both White and Burkhead leave in free agency.
New York Jets
- Oh, the Jets. Everyone’s favorite punching bag ever since Cleveland became relevant with Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett. The Jets were pretty much awful across the board in 2020, plagued by bad coaching, poor QB play, and injuries to a player they (unfortunately) paid to be the center of their offense, Le’Veon Bell. The only position that didn’t rank in the bottom third of the NFL was their WR3, Braxton Berrios, who finished as the 17th best WR; nothing to write home about.
- With a new coaching staff and many anticipating the team moving on from Sam Darnold, there could be life for this offense. With the third-most cap space entering the 2021 season, per Spotrac, the Jets could rebound nicely in 2021, relatively speaking. Let’s just hope they don’t repeat their recent free-agency mistakes, where they overspent on an off-ball linebacker and a running back.
- Depending on the Jets’ moves in the offseason, there could be some really nice value in 2021 fantasy seasons. Both Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder (who’s been rumored to be a cap casualty this offseason) were solid when they were healthy. Perhaps drafting Zach Wilson or Justin Fields at #2 in the draft could buoy either of these WRs. It’s really all a value play, as none of the Jets players should retain high ADPs.
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