Welcome to the 2020 Footballguys Roundtable, where our fearless panel of fantasy pundits share which players changed their minds this summer, free agents worth a look in a variety of league sizes, how to parse the Detroit Lions' backfield, and some bold predictions for the season ahead.
On Second Thought
Jason Wood writes a series of features every August that covers players whose performances have led Wood to have second thoughts about his stance on their fantasy potential. Here's where you can find his articles on running backs, quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers.
Wood is part of the roundtable this week, so we're going to do something a little different. With the exception of Wood, I want each of you to do the following:
- Check out Wood's four articles and pick 2 players where Wood's arguments might change your mind and explain why.
- Give me one player independent from Wood's features who is leading you to have second thoughts about his value this fall.
Jason, since you wrote these features, I want you to give me two players who didn't change your mind and you're still pessimistic about their value and one player who you've been bullish on all along.
Maurile Tremblay: I agree with a lot of Jason's takes, but many I've agreed with all along, so the following views don't count as changing my mind: D'Andre Swift won't live up to the hype and Jonathan Taylor will and Keenan Allen remains underappreciated, etc.
The two calls Jason Made that I've come around to only recently are on Leonard Fournette and Antonio Gibson. Some see Fournette's transfer from the Jaguars to the Buccaneers as a positive. I do not. For one thing, the fact that the Jaguars released him is signal that he's not as effective as a runner as he once was.
The Jaguars would not have released him if he still showed as much promise as he did as a rookie. They would not have released him if he were a workhorse candidate clearly superior to Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, or James Robinson. And if he's not clearly superior to them, he's not clearly superior to Ronald Jones II, either.
Daniel Simpkins: I'd like to note that Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr, Ronnie Harrison, Calais Campbell, T.J. Yeldon, Leonard Fournette, and Yannick Ngakoue is the list of players that I can think of off the top of my head that have either been traded out of Jacksonville or left in free agency. In almost every case, there was a documented dispute between the coaching staff or team brass.
Every time another Jaguar leaves, there’s practically a party on Twitter among these guys about that guy getting out of a bad situation. The NFPA warned free agents not to sign there, which is unprecedented.
To me, it’s a culture problem, not a talent problem, that contributed to Fournette leaving. I’m not saying it’s all on the team, either, because Fournette’s been rumored to not have the work ethic he needs to and not love football.
I just think it may be a bad idea to assume his release is talent related. The evidence points to it being more connected to years of a player not getting along with the organization and the market value for trading running backs (especially those whom GMs have heard rumors about not being a hard workers) being incredibly depressed.
As for why he’s not automatically the starter in Tampa, that probably has more to do with giving the incumbent who is more familiar with the offense the first chance and going to Fournette only if he stumbles. Jones has earned that opportunity with his improvement last year. But make no mistake, if Jones doesn’t get it done, Fournette is more than capable of taking the job. It’s not diminishing talent. If you see that on Fournette’s tape, I would like to know where, because I haven’t seen evidence of that when I’ve watched.
Tremblay: Duly noted, Daniel.
Antonio Gibson is in nearly the opposite situation. Instead of being released to make way for various newcomers, he is the newcomer that helped prompt the release of Adrian Peterson (after Darrius Guice had already been shown the exit). Washington has, by their actions, shown more confidence in Gibson than I would have expected back in June, but they are in the best position to evaluate their own running backs. If they believe that Gibson is an NFL starter, I will draft him as if he's probably an NFL starter.
One player independent from Wood's features who is leading me to have second thoughts about his value this fall is N'Keal Harry. Mohamed Sanu wasn't so terrible that he'd have been released without a replacement that the Patriots had some confidence in.
Harry's rookie season was mostly lost to injury, but he is an outstanding talent who can make the spectacular catch and is also a terrific runner in the open field. Beyond Julian Edelman, there isn't a lot of receiving talent on the Patriots, so Harry should get plenty of opportunities. I expect a breakout season for him.
Will Grant: I like Wood's view on David Johnson being the running back we all hate ourselves for undervaluing. Earlier this summer, I was pretty low on David Johnson. It seemed like he was an afterthought to the Cardinals getting DeAndre Hopkins and he would ride his terrible 2019 season right into obscurity by the end of 2020.
But Johnson is the clear No.1 back in Houston, and Duke Johnson Jr and Buddy Howell will be undrafted in most fantasy leagues. By pure volume and lack of competition, David Johnson could be a second-round value back. Yet is ADP is closer to a late third or even a fourth round back, even as the season is about to start. I think Wood is right: If David Johnson stays healthy, he's going to surprise everyone who wrote him off a solid fantasy back.
I'm also onto the idea that Blake Jarwin is a legitimate sleeper. There may not be enough passes to go around in Dallas this season, but in the red zone with Ezekiel Elliott keeping defenses honest, Jarwin is going to see a lot of miss-matches.
Last season, even with Jason Witten as the primary guy, Jarwin still had some solid games as a fantasy tight end. This year, Jarwin is a backup fantasy tight end in most leagues, but we've seen plenty of tight ends who become waiver wire hot picks after a week or two with a red zone score. With so much attention on every other aspect of the Dallas offense, Jarwin could be just that guy.
As for a player outside of Wood's features, I think Stefon Diggs will make Josh Allen a better fantasy quarterback. The Bills gave up a ton to get Diggs this off season, and he does have a few miles on his compared to the rest of the Buffalo receivers, but that's a good thing. I think his value is excellent now and in fantasy drafts, you can take a potential No.2 receiver in Dallas (Michael Gallup), Miami (Preston Williams) or Cincinnatti (Tyler Boyd), or you could get the guy who is going to finish as the top of the Buffalo receiving list.
I'll take Diggs every time.
Daniel Simpkins: J.K. Dobbins is Wood’s most compelling case. I thought it would take longer for Dobbins to earn his opportunity behind Mark Ingram II but after tearing up camp, the Ravens have tried to control their excitement as they’ve talked about him. It feels very Patrick Mahomes II-ish in that respect.
The second player that Wood’s argument changed my mind on was Jace Sternberger. I fully expected him to be the starter headed into year two, but between a lackluster camp performance and quotes that may indicate a confidence problem, I’ve abandoned that expectation. It looks like Robert Tonyan Jr is going to delay any Sternberger takeover for at least another year.
As far as my own second-thought player, it’s Evan Engram. When healthy, he’s a spectacular receiving tight end. It’s just that the more I’ve examined the Giants offense, the more I’ve soured on Engram’s upside.
Daniel Jones isn’t taking a step forward this year, as many folks think he will. Jones is a quarterback that doesn’t sense pressure behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. It doesn’t help that Golden Tate and Sterling Shephard can’t seem to stay off the injury report and support their struggling signal caller.
That’s going to impact the production of this offense to the point that I don’t even think Engram will hit the modest 60-reception, 700-yard, five-touchdown projections that many fantasy pundits are giving him. The injury concerns are just icing on the stay-far-away-from-Engram-this-year cake.
Jeff Pasquino: Since Jason and I tend to agree a lot at the other positions, I am going to pick two wide receivers from this list. The first is Bryan Edwards of the Raiders. As a fan of Derek Carr as a high-end QB2 with QB1 upside, his wideouts have to get open and make plays. Ruggs III is going to play the part of the WR1 in that offense that Las Vegas desperately needs, but Edwards can be that WR2 to round out that offense along with Pro Bowl TE Darren Waller.
The other name comes from a disappointment with Josh Reynolds of the Rams. Los Angeles loves to use three-receiver sets, and with Brandin Cooks now in Houston, I initially thought that Reynolds would be the guy, as he was most familiar with the offense and could fill in at any of the three spots. Turns out that the name to circle and draft late is rookie Van Jefferson, who could start and be a solid contributor here, especially if the offense is pass heavy in a post-Todd Gurley era.
One sleeper I am picking up on more is a late-round tight end for New England. Dalton Keene is getting some buzz, and there have been articles comparing him to Aaron Hernandez on the upper end and Kyle Juszcyzk (whom I affectionally call "scrabble"). Keene is listed as a fullback but could line up as a tight end, a position that new starter Cam Newton loves to target.
Andy Hicks: Of the 60 players listed here, there are some arguments I agree with wholeheartedly and others where I vehemently disagree with the conclusion. Opinions at this stage of the fantasy season tend to be forged in stone, but Jason often has an interesting take and keeping the eyes and ears open, especially on differing opinions is never a bad thing.
An interesting take was on Gibson. Almost for what it doesn’t say rather than what it does. Nowhere does it say that Gibson is worth drafting. It doesn’t mention that he is a good back who is likely to perform well.
He will get the first shot and a chance to prove the doubters wrong. That lack of confidence is what interests me. The coaches are going with him, there are positive reports out of camp, but inexperienced mistakes are going to happen. How vital those mistakes are will determine his worth for this season and beyond.
The points about CeeDee Lamb gave me pause. I, like many others, don’t think that three star receivers are going to be viable as fantasy options. I just have lacked the conviction to rate Lamb higher because of his inexperience.
While I have associated this situation to that of the Vikings team in the late 90s that had Jake Reed and Cris Carter coming off 1,000-yard seasons and a hotshot rookie in Randy Moss came in and upset the applecart. Michael Gallup is seen as the Jake Reed character, but I’m seeing that in Amari Cooper more and more. His inconsistency is infuriating and with more options available for Dak Prescott his role could dissipate, especially if Lamb is ready straight away. I would much rather take the chance of Lamb and his value compared to Cooper and his brutal downside.
I have Drew Brees well inside the starting quarterback group, but I'm having second thoughts. He will be 42 by the time the season ends.
His passing attempts decrease every year, his yards per completion as well. His efficiency goes up every year, but he also takes less risk downfield and his arm isn’t what it used to be. When you get to that point of every draft and Brees is your highest rated quarterback left and you don’t take him, you need to ask yourself why?
A brutal reassessment tells me that the Saints offense would be a monster if they just let Jameis Winston play. Watching Brees play after his thumb injury last year and I saw signs of decline and overt caution. It’s generally better to be off the player a year too early than too late.
Waldman: Negative on Cooper and Brees? Wow. This will be a fascinating develop to monitor this year (noting for future topics as the season progresses.).
Jeff Haseley: I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with Jason's content depending on the player, but one of his arguments made me think, "he may be onto something," and that's Mark Andrews as the riskiest of the top-5 tight ends
Jason mentioned Andrews scored 10 times on 98 targets in 2019 and only played on 45 percent of the team's offensive snaps. That's a notably high touchdown rate.
Perhaps in his second year, he figured out the offense? Or maybe it was the presence of Lamar Jackson that lifted him up well beyond his three scores in his rookie season of 2018? We aren't quite sure what to expect in 2020, but that touchdown rate and possible regression are difficult to ignore.
Andrews was the No.10 tight end from Week 12-17 last season despite scoring four touchdowns in that span. He topped four receptions in a game only once after Week 11. In order for him to make good on his TE3 draft capital, he will need to produce a full season's worth of production like what we saw from him in weeks 1-8 and not 12-17.
The statement I can get on board with is "Mecole Hardman may still be a year away from relevance." Hardman is definitely a better option for best-ball leagues where you don't have to pick your lineup every week.
Hardman is good for a few long touchdowns and run-after-the-catch plays, but he's not a volume receiver and Jason is reminding us of that. Looking at his 2019 season, Hardman had three games—THREE—where he had more than two receptions.
He managed to score six times, which is what kept his fantasy value afloat. The fact that he is on a potent offense is enough for some people to get excited but so far, we have not seen the consistency.
The addition of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the ever-present Travis Kelce leads me to believe that they will be the focal points of the offense. Hardman may have a few gems, but he's not seeing the workload and targets to be dangerous enough to be comfortable with him as a mainstay in your lineup.
Jason touched a little on the Jacksonville running game, mentioning Devine Ozigbo as a player who could have some value on an underperforming team. What he didn't mention was the fade from prominence that Ryquell Armstead is enduring.
In a small window of time between Leonard Fournette being released and Armstead's second trip to COVID-IR, there was some hope for Armstead as the Jaguars rushing savior, as uniquely odd as that sounds, there was a crack, and Armstead had his foot in the door—a very small foot and a very small door. The emergence of little-known backs Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson, in addition to COVID concerns, have completely shut the door on Armstead as a fantasy option right now, and arguably, this year.
Drew Davenport: Andrews is someone that Wood has swayed me on quite a bit. I was really interested in him right up until the past week or so. Jason's words have persuaded me even more.
When Hayden Hurst was traded to Baltimore it was assumed, me included, that his absence suddenly meant that Andrews would vacuum the majority of the vacated targets and snaps. But this might be specious reasoning at best.
The Ravens offense is quite possibly one that simply won't ever feature Andrews like fantasy owners want them to. They use multiple tight ends, and love to run the ball as much as possible. His elevated risk from COVID is also not something to be discounted. He's all around much riskier than I wanted to admit this summer. If his targets and snaps don't get bumped up a bit then he'll regress in the touchdown department and be a big disappointment.
Waldman: I'll tell people to keep an eye on rookie receiver Devin Duvernay as a potential wrinkle in the scheme. Instead of the Ravens replacing Hurst with the much slower Nick Boyle, look for Baltimore to use Duvernay from the backfield and the slot, shifting him around pre-snap to create mismatches with linebackers and safeties in a way that mimics two tight end looks pre-snap to set up these shifts and the resulting mismatch.
Who is your other player, Drew/
Davenport. I like Wood's argument for Cam Akers. I was also big on Henderson earlier in the draft process, but as the summer went on his injury issues popped up again, and Akers has been learning quickly.
Malcolm Brown is a solid player who knows the system, but he's not special. Henderson could be, but he isn't running with the opportunity. Instead, the guy they selected in the draft is looking like the favorite to finish the year getting all the touches. After reading Jason's thoughts I drafted Akers for the first time this past weekend and I think he's got a legitimate shot to be a top-18 player by year's end.
DeVante Parker is the one that most readily comes to mind as a player I've been thinking about lately. I've been singing his praises to anyone who will listen as a draft day value the whole summer. But things just haven't been in his favor since the Dolphins started their workouts. He's been dinged up, and the praise for Preston Williams has been steady. It sounds like Williams is fully recovered from his knee injury and showing the ability he flashed before going down last year.
I think the "with and without Williams" splits for Parker are misleading because they almost coincided with the switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, but I do think there is some reason to be nervous about Parker's target share with Williams in the lineup. The fact that Parker is already hurt doesn't instill me with confidence either.
While I ran around snapping up Parker early on, as draft season progressed, I've become increasingly wary of drafting him. His one big season could be an anomaly, and while I think he's still in a decent spot, I can't help but be concerned about the lack of positivity around him.
Jason Wood: Matt I'm blushing over here having everyone riff on my preseason parting thoughts.
Waldman: It was Adam Harstad's idea.
Wood: For real?
Waldman: No, I'm kidding. He's 25 paragraphs deep into is discourse on the strange likelihood that a single blade of grass determined the outcome of the 1978 NFL season.
Wood: I'll start with my bullish pick before Harstad gives us the breakdown.
Waldman: Good idea.
Wood: My view has been unwavering but also among my most controversial. Aaron Jones is a top-6 fantasy back and has been in my Top 10 throughout the preseason. When I did my initial projections and started seeing the rest of the staff's rankings and other industry sources, Jones stuck out as a guy I was MUCH higher on than consensus. Yet, I kept reading the analysis as to why he shouldn't repeat last year and I'm just not buying it.
Yes, he's not going to score 19 touchdowns again. But I've seen nothing to indicate his role isn't secure. There's been no buzz about A.J. Dillon opening eyes the way we've heard about Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis or J.K. Dobbins in Baltimore. And the Packers still lack enticing WR2/WR3 options or a difference-making tight end. If not Jones, then who?
On the downside, I was nonplussed by the Patriots signing Cam Newton initially, and remain so even after being officially named the starter. Newton didn't win the job by most accounts, Jarrett Stidham lost it. As I scan the 53-man roster, I just don't understand how Newton is supposed to justify all this talk about being a dark horse QB1. He hasn't been a good quarterback in years and now had a much worse supporting cast.
The other guy I've been down on from the start, and am sticking to my guys is A.J. Green. I tend to rank and project players coming off injuries conservatively until I see them back on the field. It's why I had Alvin Kamara much lower than consensus in May but raised him back into the top five by camp's end; he was healthy and practicing in full. But Green, as we know, started out camp well and then got yet another hamstring injury. It appears he'll be active in Week 1, so maybe his supporters will have the last laugh. But I'm comfortable knowing he's not on any of my rosters.
Scouting the Waiver Wire
Waldman: Sigmund Bloom's Upgrades, Downgrades, and Waiver Wire feature is published every Monday evening during the season and it's a must-read feature at Footballguys. In anticipation of Week 1, Bloom posted 38 players to claim or release before the Week 1 slate.
In the spirit of fantasy football's favorite Phish Head, give me your top choice of free agents that fantasy players should monitor this weekend so they can make an appropriate bid for that player next week if needed:
- 1 candidate who is likely a free agent in leagues with rosters of 15 players.
- 1 candidate who is likely a free agent in leagues with rosters of 20 players.
- 1 candidate who is likely a free agent in leagues with rosters of 40 players.
We could generalize these as church league, work league, and mother's basement league in terms of knowledge although all churches, workplaces, and basements are not the same
Hicks: In shallow leagues I would be looking at Parris Campbell or Michael Pittman Jr Jr. I’m not convinced that T.Y. Hilton remains a No.1 receiver, and the arrival of Philip Rivers means we are likely to see several successful fantasy options here. Both Campbell and Pittman are high draft picks for the Colts and have done well in training camp.
In standard sized leagues, I would be all over Will Dissly. The Seattle tight end has been a top end TE1 when he has been on the field. Injuries have prevented that happening too frequently. The arrival of Greg Olsen shouldn’t scare you away.
Olsen is well past his best and seems to be insurance for Dissly rather than a preferred option. Dissly has been fit and is ready to surprise again. You don’t get to be the No.1 fantasy tight end after five weeks last year without being worth considering.
In deeper leagues I would seriously look at Olabisi Johnson. Sure, the Vikings drafted Justin Jefferson early, but there are no sure things in rookies. Look at the teams last two first-round wide receivers in Cordarelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell. If Jefferson is slow to learn or can’t cope, Olabisi Johnson has developed well, learned from his rookie season and showed good signs last year.
Waldman: I appreciate the Dissly call, even as someone who disagrees with you about Olsen lacking the skill to deliver.
Pasquino: For both the 15-player league and also the 20-player league, I think the answer could easily be Devine Ozigbo for Jacksonville. Starting tailbacks are gold in fantasy, and if shines at all (or just gets a decent workload) against the Colts, he would be the guy at or near the top of the waiver wire list.
If I am bidding on him, I would probably put him around the $200-$300 range out of a $1,000 budget, as starting tailbacks for a full season are worth it.
In extremely deep leagues (yikes Matt, 40?), we are probably looking for a player well off of the radar, so I am going to go back to Dalton Keene once again barring an injury that prompts a promotion from a practice squad. For example, if the KC backfield implodes on Thursday, a call-up of DeAndre Washington might be on speed dial.
Waldman: You ain't livin' if you don't have at least one league with that big of roster.
Pasquino: Consider me happily lifeless, Matt.
Simpkins: Darrel Williams is widely available on waiver wires of leagues this size. I’m stashing him on the back end of my roster in every league I can. I’m skeptical of Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s ability to run between the tackles with effectiveness and pass block.
Williams will be more involved than most fantasy analysts are accounting for. I know to say this is blasphemy that will get an analyst excommunicated from the church of fantasy, but I struggle to see Edwards-Helaire as a top-10 fantasy running back, even in PPR leagues, because of these deficiencies. If Edwards-Helaire gets hurt, Williams is instantly an every-week start, regardless of format.
Olsen isn’t getting rostered in leagues of this size and I think that’s a mistake. Yes, there are the chronic foot issues he’s been struggling with the last two years, but there’s also the upside of playing with the best quarterback of his career. He can be taken as your back-up tight end and might end up outproducing your starter if his second surgery to correct the problematic plantar fascia was a success.
I really like Auden Tate, and he’s available in several of my league with 40-plus roster sizes. He has grown each year and reportedly had an outstanding camp. If Joe Burrow can elevate this offense above where it was last year with Andy Dalton and if A.J. Green once again doesn’t stay healthy, there’s a super opportunity for Tate to be an afterthought player that helps win championships for his managers.
Davenport: Steven Sims Jr. is one of my favorite to keep your eye on. His finish to 2019 should have him on anyone's radar. He ended the year with 16.8 PPR points per game over his last 4 contests, courtesy of 4 touchdowns.
Now, there are plenty of fantasy finishes like Sims had that don't result in that player being relevant the next season, but Sims is in roughly the same position he was during that strong finish. He's fought off challengers to his role, he has the same quarterback, and now he has a more competent coaching staff. Sims shouldn't be slept on. He could get real expensive fast after Week 1.
Darrel Williams is a name everyone should know. He's just one injury, or one missed pass blocking assignment from a rookie, from having a significant role on the most explosive offense in the league. While people are talking about guys like Tony Pollard, Chase Edmonds, and Alexander Mattison, few are mentioning Williams in the same breath.
He should be monitored by way of looking at how Kansas City uses Clyde Edwards-Helaire early on. If there is room to add him to a roster then leaving him on the wire isn't advisable as he'll command top Free Agent Acquisition Budget money if he becomes the starter.
Logan Thomas is someone Bloom mentioned that I'm definitely watching for large-roster formats. He seems to have nailed down a role in an offense that is hurting for real pass game options.
Although he's worked his way through several teams before Washington, the news from camp is that he could be an intriguing player very soon. The Washington offensive upside remains to be seen, but in in deeper leagues the tight end position could be pretty scarce and Thomas needs to be considered.
Haseley: If it weren't for a late-season knee injury in college, Bryan Edwards would've been a much higher draft selection than the third round. He is vaulting to the Raiders' depth chart due to Tyrell Williams' IR designation, but he's also a talented player who could be this year's Terry McLaurin. If he shows well against Carolina in Week 1, he could be a big waiver claim for Week 2.
James Robinson, the relatively unknown back from Illinois State is making waves in camp and has led some to believe he's the reason why Leonard Fournette was released. He can apparently "do it all" and his hideout in a small school kept him from being noticed.
He led all players in FCS in yards after contact (1,332) in 2019 and totaled nearly 2,000 combined yards from scrimmage. He's someone to keep a watchful eye on as the back who steps forward for Jacksonville.
In such a deep league, finding a hidden gem is a challenge, but here's one who could rise to relevance. The Bucs are expected to go heavy into 12-personnel with their two strong tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, however, they also will be looking for a slot receiver to emerge if it's not Chris Godwin.
Enter Scott Miller, a fast, agile, and capable receiver who is coming in under the radar. It sounds like Julian Edelman doesn't it? You can bet Tom Brady has taken notice of Miller's strong camp, plus with a 4.36-second, 40-Yard Dash, Miller has turned heads and could find himself with an increase in snaps as the season wears on.
Wood: In a 12-team league with 15 players, I'm going to assume 60 running backs were drafted. That leads me to Joshua Kelley, the rooking running back out of UCLA who stayed in town after the Chargers selected him.
Justin Jackson is already hurting, which gives Kelley the chance to be Austin Ekeler's complementary piece in Week 1. While Ekeler is rocked up and coming off a terrific season, he's yet to prove he can withstand a full-time workload. If he gets hurt, Kelley steps into a system perfectly suited to his running style.
In a 12-team league with 20 players, I'm going to assume 72 wide receivers were drafted. I'm also zeroed in on Edwards, who has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Henry Ruggs III in the hearts and minds of the football media.
Yet, both Edwards and Ruggs are listed as starters on the Week 1 depth chart, along with slot maestro Hunter Renfrow. With Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller also commanding looks, it's possible Edwards—even as a starter—is the fifth wheel. But what if he's not? What if he's a younger, faster, more disciplined version of the oft-injured Tyrell Williams?
In a 12-team league with 40 players, by definition, the only options on the waiver wire are players deeply buried. You're only going to find No. 3 and No. 4 running backs, and No. 4 and No. 5 receivers, and of course backup quarterbacks and tight ends.
In terms of digging deep for value, Eno Benjamin comes to mind. Benjamin is a seventh-round rookie who played at Arizona State. The hometown product will be a huge fan favorite with the Cardinals, and he made the 53-man roster as the No. 3 tailback behind Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. He needs help to see the field but has the talent and vision to earn a regular role if the opportunity presents.
Grant: Benny Snell is actually being drafted in the final round of some sharper drafts because the Steelers could be the rebound offense of the season and Snell could be a surprise if James Conner can't shake the injury bug. Snell has looked solid in camp, yet he's still on the waiver wire in many leagues. He's worth keeping an eye on this week and next.
Jason isn't a fan of Ebron, but I'm quietly keeping an eye on him in medium-sized leagues. In leagues with 20 people, it will be common to have teams take a backup tight end and yet Ebron still doesn't make the cut. He had some great seasons in Indianapolis before missing a chunk of last season due to injury. If he's healthy and Ben Roethlisberger is back, I think Ebron has more upside potential than a lot of people are giving him.
A 40-player roster is a monster roster. If you're looking for value when teams are taking backup defenses during the draft, you are looking at guys who nobody is considering.
Jerick McKinnon fits that mold. After missing the last two full seasons with injuries, may fantasy owners have written McKinnon off. With Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman drawing all the attention, it's McKinnon who has quietly had a great camp.
The Niners have proven that anyone running the ball in that offense can do very well, and Coleman and Mostert are not guaranteed successes. McKinnon will be a guy I'm watching closely to see if he has the potential to resurrect his career this season.
Tremblay: James Robinson is an obvious choice here for a 15-player roster. He's at least technically at the top of the current depth chart and will get significant playing time in Week 1. He may flop. But he may perform well and, if so, will immediately be at the top of the waiver-wire adds in Week 2.
Tyrod Taylor has gone undrafted in many leagues with 20-player rosters, but he's a starting NFL quarterback with good receiving talent around him and the ability to gain fantasy points on the ground as well. He is generally underrated as a fantasy player this season even if he's a big step below Philip Rivers as a pure passer.
Frank Gore is a good choice for a large roster format. The Jets offense may not be very good, but you can't rule any NFL team out at this point. And Le'Veon Bell is untrustworthy, in my view. There's a decent chance that the Jets will give Frank Gore enough carries to compare favorably to Bell, and there's a decent chance that he'll actually do so..
Detroit Lions Backfield
Waldman: Adrian Peterson is a Lion. Kerryon Johnson has a knee brace during practice that won't help him, according to Jene Bramel, and only worry fantasy players more about his short-term and long-term upside. And, D'Andre Swift has been nicked up during camp.
- Rush Attempts
- Rushing Yards
- Rushing TDs
- Receiving Yards
- Receiving TDs
AND I want you to tell me the percentage balance of pass to run that this offense will use.
Explain the why behind these numbers in terms of who is most valuable, when they will be most valuable, and if there's a worthwhile short-term and long-term play.
Davenport: First, my projections...
- 155 Attempts
- 550 Rushing Yards
- 2 Rushing TDs
- 28 Targets
- 20 Receptions
- 150 Receiving Yards
- 0 Receiving TDs
- 170 Attempts
- 750 Rushing Yards
- 6 Rushing TDs
- 50 Targets
- 40 Receptions
- 370 Receiving Yards
- 1 Receiving TD
- 90 Attempts
- 360 Rushing Yards
- 3 Rushing TDs
- 18 Targets
- 10 Receptions
- 65 Receiving Yards
- 0 Receiving TDs
I think the Pass/Run balance will be 58 percent pass and 42 percent run. The Lions, even with terrible quarterback play in 2019, were pretty heavily skewed to the pass.
Their defense didn't improve this offseason, and if possible, it got worse. The combination of the defense and Matthew Stafford returning from injury should put the Lions in fairly heavy passing situations. They may want to run the ball, but that isn't likely to be very effective, or practical, for them in 2020.
The best short-term plays in the backfield are definitely Johnson and Peterson. Oddly, even though Peterson is new in town, his value might peak early in the season.
With Swift unable to take control of things because of injury, the Lions are going to need Peterson to carry some of the load right out of the gate. Johnson has value as both a long, and short, term play if he can stay on the field. The problem is that he hasn't done that so far in his career so the best gamble to make on him is to use him now while the Lions wait for Swift to get healthy and learn the ropes.
Swift's value is the one that is likely to climb the most as the season goes on. Stash him on your bench for now as he's not ready to contribute yet, but Johnson and Peterson are hardly worthy competitors to Swift if he gets things going in the right direction. His long term value is the strongest of the trio.
Pasquino: My projections...
- Rushing: 150-615-5
- Receiving: 60-40-225-2
- Rushing: 125-500-2
- Receiving: 30-20-115-1
- Rushing: 100-415-3
- Receiving: 20-12-90-0
I see the balance of pass-to-run in the range of 60-65 percent pass versus 35-40 percent run. Matthew Stafford is going to throw a lot, and Stafford was doing really well in the first eight contests last year before his injury.
I think Johnson is the most valuable right now as the starter, and if Swift can't get going soon (it is possible that Swift's injury is more significant than Detroit is admitting, which is part of the reason they added Peterson), Johnson could hold on to that starting role for much longer than expected.
Simpkins: My projections...
- Rush Attempts: 130
- Rushing Yards: 520
- Rushing TDs: 4
- Targets: 30
- Receptions: 25
- Receiving Yards: 130
- Receiving TDs: 1
- Rush Attempts: 110
- Rushing Yards: 450
- Rushing TDs: 3
- Targets: 25
- Receptions: 20
- Receiving Yards: 100
- Receiving TDs: 1
- Rush Attempts: 110
- Rushing Yards: 460
- Rushing TDs: 4
- Targets: 15
- Receptions: 10
- Receiving Yards: 80
- Receiving TDs: 0
I predict 53 percent pass and 47 percent run. The Lions will want to run the football, but the plan will fall apart (as it usually does for this team) and they’ll face game scripts that force them to pass. I feel that this backfield is going to be a headache to predict from week to week because they’ll use each of these guys situationally against their opponent instead of relying on one guy.
I’m most optimistic about Kerryon Johnson because I feel he’s the best marriage of physical ability and skill in this platoon. Adrian Peterson isn’t as far behind Johnson as one might expect. Peterson can still play and what he has lost in physical ability is compensated for in understanding of how to use leverage, operate behind blockers, and other nuanced techniques he has gained from years of experience.
I’m much more bearish on De’Andre Swift than most general managers because of the three-way split, the presence of two more experienced backs on the roster, and Swift’s lack of acclimation time that rookies typically get in camp.
- Rush Attempts - 75
- Rushing Yards - 300
- Rushing TDs - 2
- Targets - 15
- Receptions - 10
- Receiving Yards - 70
- Receiving TDs - 1
- Rush Attempts - 125
- Rushing Yards - 525
- Rushing TDs - 3
- Targets - 20
- Receptions - 15
- Receiving Yards - 130
- Receiving TDs - 1
- Rush Attempts - 150
- Rushing Yards - 630
- Rushing TDs - 5
- Targets - 55
- Receptions - 45
- Receiving Yards - 400
- Receiving TDs - 3
I see the Lions with a 60 percent pass and 40% run balance. Sadly for Detroit fans, the Lions will be fighting with Chicago to avoid another fourth-place finish this season.
Detroit has been surprisingly consistent in passing for the last three seasons with 570, 572 and 570 attempts in their last three seasons. Although the running back corps is deeper than it's been in recent seasons, as Matt points out—none of them are really screaming 'big season'.
The late addition of Adrian Peterson almost guarantees a RBBC approach with Peterson being the weakest option given his age, milage and familiarity with the offense. I was a big fan of Johnson last year, but when the Lions drafted Swift this offseason, it signaled a 1A and 1B type of thing. Swift's injuries have prevented him from really distinguishing himself this summer, and it will take a few weeks if he is ever going to push Johnson for the bulk of the offense.
I agree with Jason and Drew that Swift probably has more late season value, and you'll need to stash him on your roster and carry him for a few weeks while Peterson and Johnson have better numbers at the start. By the middle of the season, Peterson is going to struggle for 10 touches a game without a major injury to Johnson or Swift.
Tremblay: My projections...
- 121 rushes
- 502 yards
- 3.3 touchdowns
- 48 targets
- 35 receptions
- 272 yards
- 0.9 touchdowns
- 147 rushes
- 576 yards
- 3.4 touchdowns
- 30 targets
- 22 receptions
- 190 yards
- 0.6 touchdowns
- 69 rushes
- 287 yards
- 1.6 touchdowns
- 8 targets
- 6 receptions
- 46 yards
- 0.1 touchdowns
Team Pass-Run Ratio: 57-43.
I am avoiding this entire situation. I don't believe Adrian Peterson will be effective, and his carries will therefore be limited. Kerryon Johnson appears to be at less than full strength, and hasn't really lived up to expectations anyway. D'Andre Swift is the one I'd take a shot on if I had to take a shot. But the backfield is rife with uncertainty and the offense will emphasize the pass.
Haseley: I envision a season where Peterson and Johnson start off as the primary beneficiaries of the rushing offense with Swift getting some looks early on, but they are limited. He'll do well in his limited touches and eventually warrant more snaps and touches. By mid-November he'll be the primary weapon out of the backfield.
An injury to Peterson or Johnson could speed up this process. Old habits die hard, so I don't project the Lions to all of the sudden become a heavy, run-oriented offense. This is still Stafford's offense that will feature a lot of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr, and T.J. Hockenson.
My projected run to pass ratio will still be fairly low, 40/60 split favoring the pass.
- Rush Attempts: 105
- Rushing Yards: 336
- Rushing TDs: 2
- Targets: 30
- Receptions: 20
- Receiving Yards: 130
- Receiving TDs: 0
- Rush Attempts: 150
- Rushing Yards: 690
- Rushing TDs: 4
- Targets: 58
- Receptions: 48
- Receiving Yards: 450
- Receiving TDs: 3
- Rush Attempts: 125
- Rushing Yards: 500
- Rushing TDs: 4
- Targets: 12
- Receptions: 10
- Receiving Yards: 85
- Receiving TDs: 0
Wood: I'm a bit more run-heavy in my projections balance than colleagues, it seems. I project the Lions to run the ball 429 times, which would be 43% of projected offensive snaps. I've still got D'Andre Swift leading the team. He was banged up in camp and that's going to slow his emergence, but there's no denying he's the most talented back on the roster and still has the best chance of being the workhorse in the second half of the season.
- Rushing: 60/700/5
- Receiving: 28/240/1
- Rushing: 140/550/4
- Receiving: 21/185/1
Most of Swift's production and his fantasy value comes in the second half, while most of Johnson's comes in the first half. Peterson will get a drive or two every game, both to get fans excited and to keep the Hall of Famer happy.
Hicks: It would be easy to throw out some numbers that correlate to ADP or are similar to someone else’s projections, but that seems almost pointless in this backfield. I guarantee that if we looked at the projections for the Detroit backfield over the last 20 years we would be lucky to get within 50 percent in any given season.
There are more stable units or more reliable players to do this with. I’m not even convinced Matthew Stafford plays a full season. Two consecutive years with back issues is a major red flag. Add in the likely last season for Matt Patricia with the Lions and I’d rather take my chances with other players.
Simply put the running backs would have to fall way below their current ADP to be worth considering for me.For the sake of complying with instructions:
- Rushing: 100-394-2
- Receiving: 27-22-196-1
- Rushing: 120-411-3
- Receiving: 40-35-280-1
- Rushing: 80-300-4 and
- Receiving: 12-10-75-0
- Rushing: 100-400-2
- Receiving: 30-25-195-2
Pass/Run will 57 percent/43 percent. Like Daniel and Jeff said the plans to run the ball often are likely to be blown out of the water by the reality of where the Lions find themself in game scripts. How successful they are depends on if Matthew Stafford can stay on his feet and if Detroit remain competitive.
Matt Waldman: Call your wildest fantasy-related shot for the 2020 NFL season that's rooted in some basis of reality.
No conspiracy-theory stuff, so ditch anything along the lines of cellphone towers, Sigmund heads a cult out of a dilapidated hotel out of New Orleans or that Jene assassinated an alien general.
Pasquino: DeSean Jackson is the top fantasy WR in Week 1 and explodes back on the scene, making him a must-start every week and a candidate for the NFL's Comeback player of the Year. Jackson always seems to shine against Washington, and he lit them up in Week 1 last season for 154 yards and 2 scores.
Haseley: Jerry Jeudy will lead the Broncos in receptions. I know, rookies in 2020 aren't likely to be involved much. There were no OTAs, mini-camps, or preseason games to get a better understanding of how the NFL operates. Learning the offense has been through zoom meetings and limited practices, but I'm here to tell you, despite all of that, Jerry Jeudy will be ready and he will be utilized.
To use a baseball term, Jeudy is a five-tool player, in that he possesses several important skills needed to be successful. He is an excellent route-runner, therefore he is familiar with the entire route tree.
He positions himself well to make receptions over his defender. He already knows how to draw flags on routes. He has the awareness to cut off his route to help his quarterback in trouble.
When he catches the ball, he is elusive as a runner and has adequate speed and strength to gain separation to break tackles. The sky is the limit on the young talented receiver.
Drew Lock will have his work cut out for him but at the same time, Jeudy will make his job easier.
So what about Courtland Sutton? Sutton is a great talent on his own, but he is arguably not a great possession receiver, that job will belong to Jeudy which is ultimately why he will lead the Broncos in receptions in 2020. Sutton may outscore him, but Jeudy is the next Jarvis Landry with a higher yards per catch average. Another comparison that I see with Jeudy is D.J. Moore with better route-running skills.
Davenport: Jimmy Garoppolo is a top-8 quarterback at the end of the year. It is easy to dismiss him as a quarterback playing in a run-heavy scheme who isn't much use for fantasy purposes.
But last year, he recorded 28 total touchdowns, and was knocking on the door of QB1 territory. What is easy to forget is that Garoppolo still has less than two full seasons as a starting quarterback in the league. He is also heading into another year with Kyle Shanahan's offense and it is worth noting that it is really only his second season of running the offense. He lost 2018 to a torn ACL, and only played a few games at the end of 2017 for the Niners coach.
Now, some might point to his touchdowns as a spot for regression because the 49ers only threw the ball 476 times in 2019, and Garoppolo's touchdown rate was a little above average at 5.7 percent. But this offense is one that will produce those slightly elevated numbers as it thrives on play action passing to open things up for the easy throws for the quarterback.
Considering where he finished in 2019, Garoppolo's average draft position hovering near the bottom of QB2 territory could be a big mistake come fall. He has plenty of play makers in George Kittle, rookie Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel returning to health, and red zone maven Kendrick Bourne.
The only thing holding this offense back from pushing 500 pass attempts is a really good defense. But things happen to defenses year over year, and if they falter even a bit and the passing numbers spike, Garoppolo has Top 8 written all over him.
Tremblay: When all is said and done, people will wish they picked Austin Ekeler in the first round over players like Joe Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Nick Chubb, and possibly even Alvin Kamara. Ekeler is the class of the Chargers' backfield: I don't see Joshua Kelley or Justin Jackson as major threats to infringe on his workload.
Ekeler is strong and durable and productive as both a runner and as a receiver. He is the lead back in an offense that should score a lot of points, and his fantasy owners are getting a huge steal at his preseason average-draft position.
Grant: Maurile, I saw an NFL video on Ekeler last week... the guy is ripped. He was doing 1 arm pull-ups. Strong is an understatement. Probably hits like a truck at full speed.
Waldman: There are a lot of muscle-bound boxers who can't punch or take a punch, so as much as I appreciate Ekeler's game and work ethic to get into shape, consider me less impressed with the potential of it translating to the field in a significant way.
Grant: Maybe It's a homer alert, but I think Dak Prescott passes for more than 5,000 yards this season and challenges Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes II for the top fantasy quarterback slot this season. With Michael Gallup hitting his stride, Amari Cooper as sharp as ever and rookie CeeDee Lamb being a genuine stud, the Cowboys could have three receivers with more than 1,000 yards receiving as well.
Dallas's defense isn't nearly as formidable and so they are going to have to score 29 or 30 points a game to win this year. Prescott is going to get them there and 5,000 yards passing will be how he does it.
Wood: Alex Smith starts for the Washington Football Team in December and helps fantasy managers win a playoff game or two. We all thought Smith would never play football again. Yet, he was cleared to play as we all know, and finished the last week of camp participating in 11-on-11 team drills. He also made the active roster and is owed a ton of money.
I don't think Dwayne Haskins is the guy, and yet I suspect the Washingon Football Team's defense will be good enough to keep them out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Whereas some teams end up going to the rookie quarterback late in a lost year to get fans excited about the next season, the Football Team's best chance to maintain fan interest in December is by giving Smith a shot at being back on the field.
Hicks: I need to know more about these alien generals and what their plans were.
Hicks: I see you, Waldman...
Looking at everyone else’s forecasts, projections and rankings, the Pittsburgh situation is where I may be alone on an island. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner will be considerable fantasy disappointments.
Waldman: And you raised me with that take.
Hicks: The old saying of follow the money should be applied to following the drafting habits of NFL Teams. In the case of both Conner and Smith-Schuster, the team keeps drafting players at the same position in roughly the same slot or higher for three consecutive years. Both Smith-Schuster and Conner are in the last year of their rookie deals and until the team extends their contracts you have to believe that they will be allowed to test free agency.
If that’s the case, then Pittsburgh will want to see what they have in their draft picks. Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Chase Claypool all have had very good training camps and while I may be the the only one, I rate Claypool very highly as a dynasty option.
Now while JuJu Smith-Schuster had a fantastic first two seasons, last year was a mess. It would be easy to assign all this on injury or the absence of Roethlisberger, but life isn’t that simple. The absence of Antonio Brown proved to me that JuJu is not a true NFL WR1 and Pittsburgh won’t pay him like one.
I have more confidence that Conner will get closer to his fantasy value, but Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland Jr will all have a role. Maybe 2019 was a bad nightmare, but it’s also possible that 2018 was a one off everything going right year.
Simpkins: Matt, I’m disappointed that you won’t let me talk about Jene using his ability to communicate with squirrels to pass messages for QAnon. Maybe one day, the truth will be made known…
Waldman: You just did.
Simpkins: Say no more...
As I examine Todd Gurley’s fit in Atlanta’s offense, I am convinced he could have a top-five finish. I already called my shot that he will have a top-10 finish back in June, but my optimism continues to build the closer we get to the season.
He seems to be back to his best health since the injury he suffered in the Chiefs game nearly two years ago. I also think Atlanta has no worries about using him up, being as they are not invested in him beyond this year. Neither Brain Hill nor Ito Smith are going to challenge him for significant work in either the passing or running game. Call me crazy, but I think he’ll make his way back into the first round in next year’s fantasy drafts.