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Identifying bounce-back or breakout players for the following season is a long-standing strategy to maximizing roster value in the offseason. Here are my favorite bets for a value uptick in 2020:
Baker Mayfield was a dynasty darling heading into the 2019 season. As high as the QB2 off startup draft boards, Mayfield was anointed as if he had already achieved elite status with a promising rookie season and now amassing an all-star surrounding cast of weapons in Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and David Njoku. The result? Mayfield is firmly in a sophomore slump with barely more touchdowns than interceptions and a fringe starter even in 2QB formats. Mayfield has been much better after his bye week, however, despite a still difficult schedule with a better than a 2-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions after 5-to-11 over this first six weeks of the season. In the offseason, many will focus on the year-long totals for players when the season is a medley of stretches and weekly oscillations. Mayfield's sophomore slump has been far more centered at the beginning of the season than later, where he can be viewed as more of a mild disappointment than a categorical bust. Looking ahead to 2020, the Browns may have a new coach, but the drove of offensive talent will remain and get a healthy David Njoku into the mix
Carson Wentz has battled through a tidal wave of wide receiver injuries in 2019 with DeSean Jackson essentially missing the entire season, Alshon Jeffery missing a chunk, Nelson Agholor as well, and Day 2 rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside barely finding the field let alone supplying any impact. Wentz has fallen off by 2 PPG from his 2018 season and more than 4 PPG from his 2017 (to-date) peak. The lack of a vertical presence in the offseason has crushed Wentz as well as missing overall speed in the passing game. Miles Sanders has even been used as a vertical weapon as a proxy with DeSean Jackson a key absence.
Alvin Kamara is the RB9 in PPR PPG and yet has found the end zone just once on the ground. Kamara is one of the bigger touchdown abnormalities in the NFL. Kamara is in a near-even split with Latavius Murray for carries inside the 20, 10, and 5-yard-line zones but has just one goal-line conversion on the season for a strong offense (two goal-line carries). The situation was similar last season with Kamara and Mark Ingram in a sturdy goal line split but Kamara averaged almost one rushing attempt inside the 5-yard-line per game compared to just two total in 2019. Kamara has also been held more in check as a receiver compared to previous years. Kamara was a ~5% touchdown rate receiver in 2017-18 and is below 2% this season with his yards-per-reception down 1.9 yards from his career rate. Overall, this is a categorical down season for Kamara while being firmly in his prime production window at 24 years old. Kamara is joined by Christian Christian McCaffrey and Herschel Walker as the only running backs to eclipse 1,800 rushing and 1,800 receiving yards to this point in their careers (all are over 1,900 yards in each category as a point of reference).
Miles Sanders is already breaking out of late with Jordan Howard out with injury. The Eagles as an offense overall, however, have been tempered this season with minimal downfield presence (see above with Carson Wentz comments) and any speed dimension on the outside will help the entire offense (and Sanders) in 2020. Sanders was a one-year starter at Penn State and has flashed as a rookie, but still is refining his game for his ultimate upside. Sanders with Jordan Howard in the lineup (through Week 9) was RB32 in PPR PPG. Since Howard has been out, Sanders is inside the top-20. Sanders can push for RB1 status in 2020 with some assistance from a better Eagles offense overall and Howard is an upcoming free agent as added potential.
Damien Harris has sparsely played for the Patriots in his first season, but his profile is sound as an Alabama running back and landing on Day 2. The previous Alabama Day 2 backs have hit (produced a fantasy starter season) 4-of-5 times previously with the sample size being Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, and Glen Coffee (the lone miss). If filtering for elite recruiting scores, like Harris, Henry and Yeldon are the closest comps. Yet Harris is sure to sag in fantasy consciousness with Sony Michel not sustaining a major injury (as of publication) despite a ho-hum season and James White both still in the crowded backfield of note. Harris may be one of the highest upside handcuffs in the NFL as a floor, but the upside of even a partial season running with a majority of carries as the hot hand or healthy back between him and Michel is enough to warrant priority.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is outside the top-50 receivers in PPR PPG in 2019, this after historically strong 21 and 22-year-old seasons to open his career. The biggest difference from 2019's monster season to 2019 has been targets as Smith-Schuster has gone from roughly 10 per game down to 6.2 per week. Looking at the historical lens, Smith-Schuster, despite the 2019 downturn is still on par with T.Y. Hilton, Marques Colston, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen, and Brandin Cooks of note among active players over his opening 40 career games. An even better reminder of Smith-Schuster's young dominance in the NFL is his peers of production before age 23 seasons, where only Randy Moss and Josh Gordon have more yards than Smith-Schuster. Other similar producers at such a young age include Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Mike Williams is playing the best ball of his three-year NFL career in 2019 and yet is producing less on a fantasy front per game compared to 2018 due to one single number: ONE touchdown. Williams is a deep ball and contested-catch maven, averaging more than 20 yards per catch. Yet, Williams finally found the end zone for the first time in Week 14 after 10 trips to scoring land last year. Williams' limitation might be with targets, on the same passing game as Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry, but his Year 3 progression has been noteworthy outside of touchdowns. Williams is in the top-30 receivers in yards despite the competition for targets.
Mike Gesicki has come on of late, posting his three biggest games of the season since Week 9. Gesicki is also entering the prime breakout window for tight ends in Year 3 and 25 years old in 2020. Another valuable part of the equation to find tight end upside is a good enough quarterback and the team lacking in wide receiver prowess and ideally a true WR1. DeVante Parker is an upcoming free agent and his departure would leave a gaping hole for a Miami team on the clear rebuilding track. If Miami has a functional quarterback situation and no Parker (or high-end veteran signing in the offseason), Gesicki fits the breakout and higher-end TE1 formula closely for 2020. If playing the negative Gesicki side, Gesicki would be a surprise by his historical comps with the closest peers (active) through less than 30 career games as Ed Dickson, Seth DeValve, Clive Walford, and Ricky Seals-Jones.