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When the 2020 fantasy gods open the four of their first seven seals, it summons four players that ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses. They've been sent in 2020 to patrol the earth—sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague.
They are fantasy football's Four Horsemen of the 2020 Apocalypse. The first rider on the white horse carries a bow, wears a crown, and rides forward as a figure of Conquest.
The second carries a sword and rides a red horse. He is the creator of War. The third sits atop a black horse symbolizing Famine. And the fourth and final horse is a pale green, and upon it rides Death accompanied by Hades.
The question is not if these four riders are harbingers of final judgment, but whether they are setting a divine end time upon those who draft them or those who don't.
This week, I profile Antonio Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Marshawn Lynch, and Josh Gordon: four league veterans who could emerge from football's netherworld and tell you who could terrorize your opponents, who will haunt your every waking moment, and who will never leave the paddock.
No longer premiere options on draft boards, it's an important exercise to filter high upside players from options with low-to-moderate floors and low ceilings.
These options are about as likely to all hit the ground running as all Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but, as many seem to believe, it's worth being prepared.
Conquest: Antonio Brown
Considered a growing pestilence for the Steelers and Raiders in 2018 and 2019, Antonio Brown self-destructed last year. He recently pleaded no contest to charges of burglary and battery and there's a civil suit for sexual assault and rape.
Mental health counseling has been part of Brown's pre-trial program and at least anecdotally, it appears he's making progress. He hasn't been on social media or in the news displaying erratic behavior. Footballguy Daniel Simpkins is a therapist. In his estimation, Brown's behavior was symptomatic of issues he's often diagnosed with his patients.
"I really thought his behavior last year was consistent with patients I’ve had that suffered from severe bipolar disorder. We’ll never have that confirmed unless he himself comes out and says it, but that’s at least what some of those close to him were telling media members was going on," says Simpkins, who explains that with consistent treatment, Brown can lead a normal life. "I think what we saw for the past 18-24 months was a man not taking his medication and not going to therapy. If he can stick with both, I think we could see him back on the field this year, barring his legal issues."
Footballguy Drew Davenport is an attorney. He sees a reasonable chance for Brown to earn a minimal suspension.
"I wouldn't ordinarily say that, but the league putting out a statement to teams about his 'status' with the league is what I'd hang any legal argument on," says Davenport. He views the time without a team has essentially been a suspension because he hasn't been free to sign with an organization. As the judicial process reaches its final stages, Davenport sees a strong possibility the Brown will contribute in 2020.
"Although it's a felony, an assault of this nature will earn, at most, a 2-4 game suspension but considering the time he essentially spent without a team last year, the league could essentially say Brown's suspension has been served. This is contingent upon the league's ability to verify the allegations of sexual assault," which according to Davenport, nobody knows. "I speculated in my April feature on Brown that if the league had something damning on him they wouldn't just sit on it. Can you imagine that press conference? 'Yeah, so we found out during our investigation that he probably sexually assaulted three women but we just didn't tell you.' I'm guessing what they found is a ton of conjecture and statements and very little evidence so they haven't said anything until the civil case runs its course. Keep in mind, this isn't a value statement about whether he did it or not, just a straight 'reading the legal tea leaves' opinion."
The Seahawks and Ravens have been linked as teams interested in signing Brown. Both are logical choices because they are two of the most progressive organizations in the league and likely possess fewer hangups about mental health issues than some of the prehistoric teams that have owners who think of themselves as wardens.
Echoing what Davenport said, this isn't a value statement about whether Brown should have an opportunity to play, it's simply about how teams view mental illness as an underlying behavior that led to a crime and the fact that Brown will be legally eligible to work.
If you're a fantasy general manager who expects your players to have no legal woes or societal controversy, then Brown is not a consideration. And, that's your private business. Most of you reading this compartmentalize a player's off-field and on-field behavior.
Brown's best fit would be in Seattle. Russell Wilson has been lobbying for Brown for months. As deep as Lamar Jackson's skills are, Wilson's talents have greater breadth, and it means a greater variety of uses for Brown that will benefit the offense and the two players.
Brown and Tyler Lockett are interchangeable, which means they can alternate in the slot and on the perimeter. Wilson's elite deep passing and play-action work is a great fit for Brown and Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks superior to Ben Roethlisberger at the combined skill of buying time and finding the open man deep.
Brown could be a league-winning value pick with the Seahawks. In Baltimore, he'll still be an asset relative to his ADP but lacking the high-volume upside because the Ravens offense lacks a productive perimeter passing game due to Jackson's limitations as a power thrower with accuracy that's required of these intermediate and vertical timing routes at the boundary.
However, Jackson will have no problem finding Brown roaming the middle of the field, and Brown's work after the catch in traffic makes him especially dangerous based on what the Ravens do best.
Brown's current ADP is in the same range as Lynn Bowden Jr, Collin Johnson, K.J. Hill, Justice Hill, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Thaddeus Moss—mostly rookies with high athletic upside in some area of their games but a lot to learn. None of these players offer Brown's upside. Even if you move Brown's value up by 40 picks, there isn't a player with the floor or upside that's more compelling.
You have to move Brown's ADP up 80 picks to even approach a commensurate value of players on the board that include Tyrell Williams, Greg Olsen, O.J. Howard, Laviska Shenault, and Devin Duvernay. And only half of these players have a compelling enough floor to match Brown's floor. You could bump Brown's ADP up 100 picks and still feel good about Brown's upside versus his would-be peers in this range—Tua Tagovailloa, Denzel Mims, Brandon Aiyuk, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Fantasy players could easily live without any of these options for a shot at Brown returning to form in 2020. While Olsen, Howard, Shenault, and Duvernay are compelling, they are likely depth or in Olsen's case, an option you've considered targeting as your late-round starter but could easily adjust if you are sold on Brown as a worthwhile risk.
Obviously, Brown's value will jump once he's signed to a team but until then, you could reach 70-80 picks based on his May ADP and still have no qualms about the pick in most formats.
Great route runners with jump-ball skills transition fast in offenses. If there's an unsigned veteran most fitting of riding the white horse of conquest, Brown is that option. Based on the talents you'd otherwise consider, it's a greater risk not to take him.
War: Marshawn Lynch
Lynch can still run. He proved that during his 21 games as a Raider, earning 297 attempts, 1,267 yards, and 10 scores behind an offensive line that the Raiders didn't fully upgrade until Lynch left Oakland.
Lynch only earned 12 carries down the stretch in Seattle as an emergency signee who did crash training program to get ready. Or, more accurately, attempt to get ready. Consistency and time are more important for getting in shape than any kind of spin-doctoring to encourage fans and media otherwise.
When Lynch is ready to play, he can still summon that red horse and go to war. He's one of the most combative runners in the history of the game and still brought it in 2018 when he was training to serve as a full-time contributor.
There were reports that Seattle considered Lynch for its backfield in May but ultimately went with the younger Carlos Hyde. If Hyde or Carson gets hurt before August, Lynch will have enough time to get into shape and perform at a productive level as a contributor in 2020. If not, it's unlikely we see this old warhorse ready for battle.
Only the deepest of re-draft formats are taking Lynch and it's at the very end as a flier. You're better off investing in promising young talents at the position who could prove their worth during the preseason and rise up depth charts as injuries strike—Eno Benjamin, Darwin Thompson, and Mike Warren could all carve out roles or earn more playing time than many expect. Lynch only becomes more viable if he's signed before August and in a training program.
Otherwise, let the rest of your league mates get sucked into a bidding war for Lynch during the season as a waive-wire option who will likely disappoint.
Famine: Colin Kaepernick
Atop the black horse is one of the catalysts for taking a longstanding human rights issue and bringing it to the forefront of American minds that weren't thinking deeply about it before. Despite the fact that Kapernick has been added to several workout lists, it's likely that he won't earn another NFL opportunity.
Giving Kaepernick an opportunity will be a significant admission of guilt by the NFL that it excluded him from the league until societal pressure became too unbearable for them not to capitulate. Because the NFL sees that our nation remains emotionally split on the Kaepernick protest—and businesses are more apt to value emotions ahead of facts when it comes to customer satisfaction—it's difficult to believe that the NFL will take this next step in its attempt to assuage its players.
Therefore, Kaepernick's job prospects remain in famine mode.
At his best, Kaepernick was a capable starter in a spread offense who had top-12 upside as a fantasy quarterback. Could he have had greater upside if Greg Roman were allowed to go as far with Kaepernick's scheme in San Francisco as he did with Lamar Jackson?
While possible, I don't think so. I've shown time and time again why Lamar Jackson is one of the best pocket managers in the game
Kaepernick was not a bad pocket manager but never this sound nor as accurate in the middle of the field despite having a more powerful arm. Kaepernick's optimal scheme fits would be the spread offenses of the Chargers, Texans, Eagles, Colts, and with some slight alterations, the Bears and Cardinals. Only the Chargers and Cardinals might have a true need for additional depth where the demand for more talent could push them over the edge to sign Kaepernick.
Even if this happens, fantasy players don't draft reserve quarterbacks in most formats unless it's a deep Super Flex format. This is the only type of league where considering Kaepernick at the end of the draft is worthwhile.
Until then, consider Kaepernick as a preemptive waiver selection if there's an injury to key backup or wait until there's a definitive need.
Death: Josh Gordon
Want to know that a fan or fantasy analyst isn't watching football? Let he or she tell you that Josh Gordon can't play anymore. Gordon caught 57 percent of his targets and averaged nearly 20 yards per catch last year.
Russell Wilson targeted Gordon in late-game situations and the receiver often came through on third and fourth downs during the fourth quarter of Seahawks games. Of his 27 catches in 2019, Gordon caught 5 of 8 targets on 3rd or 4th downs and 7+ for 83 yards. He also earned 4 of 5 targets for 68 yards on 3rd or 4th downs with 3-6 yards to go.
Gordon may not have known the offense well enough because Seattle made a midseason acquisition, but teams don't place players in these situations unless they trust that player's skill.
Still, most have written-off Gordon as dead to pro football in terms of skills, teams that desire to work with him, and the league's attitude. However, it's pretty clear based on Gordon's recent opportunities that the league sees this as a psychological issue and has taken a less draconian stance than before.
Gordon's latest relapse occurred after his older brother died on November 11. Considering Gordon's transparency during recent years, the NFL will likely maintain a more empathetic perspective.
If the Seahawks can't land Antonio Brown, Gordon will still be in its plans. Give Gordon a summer and it's possible he can deliver no worse than the fantasy WR3 production he generated between Weeks 4-15 in 2018 as a Patriot. In fact, Gordon was fantasy football's No.28 PPR receiver during that span, which is more than you can expect from ADP-mates James Proche, Gabriel Davis, and Chris Conley.
Bump Gordon another 20-30 spots higher on your board and you're still looking at talented receivers less likely to out-perform Gordon on a per-game basis, including Bryan Edwards, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Collin Johnson, and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Do you really prefer Devin Funchess to Gordon? His best season of 63 catches, 840 yards, and 8 scores is something Gordon can still post in 10-12 games. I'd rather draft and see with Gordon let these other options prove me wrong because most of them will be available multiple times on the waiver wire.
His work at this ADP is more likely to kill your league than another one of his disappointing outcomes killing your roster.
Did you enjoy this article? Find more of Matt Waldman's work here.