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Tough picks generate ambivalence within a fantasy owner. At the sight of their name, you can imagine the glorious heights of their ceilings and the dark and dank floors of their basements — and with little clarity about the direction that they're headed.
Here were my 10 Toughest Picks for 2019 in order of easiest to toughest:
- Curtis Samuel (Warranted): Ultimately the preseason hype was unbelievable and I continued to project Samuel as WR48. Samuel finished as the WR36 in PPR formats
- David Njoku (Warranted): Not buying the ADP that the fantasy community inflated due to athletic ability, Njoku couldn't stay healthy or in the good graces of the coaching staff. A year later, he wants a trade because he can see that Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper will be the future of Cleveland's depth chart.
- Derrius Guice (Warranted): Love the talent but believed Guice was suffering from 2018 Ronald Jones II Syndrome--a condition where a portion of the fantasy community is deluded by the promise over the production of the player, his surrounding talent, and competition on the depth chart. Washington executive Doug Williams essentially characterized Guice as a likable kid who is "hard-headed" and must mature. Grice produced down the stretch but only played five games.
- David Montgomery (Warranted): I told readers last year that if I had to choose between Montgomery and Chris Carson despite the buzz for Rashaad Penny, I'd take Carson because the talented Montgomery still had a lot more to prove. Montgomery finished as RB24 in PPR formats, Carson finished as an RB12.
- Cooper Kupp (Ultimately Correct): Concerns about Kupp's timeline of rehab from a 2018 ACL dampened my outlook on Kupp in late June but I explained if all reports were good, I'd amend my outlook. Kupp performed as the No.4 fantasy receiver in 2019.
- Phillip Lindsay (Unwarranted): I was too cautious about Lindsay, who performed one spot better than his June '19 ADP of RB21. I preferred James White, who finished a spot above Lindsay and was available 10 picks later, and Tarik Cohen who also was 10 picks cheaper but finished as RB27. Not awful alternatives but the call on Lindsay was too low.
- Patrick Mahomes II (Warranted): I recommended bypassing Mahomes in 2019 because of his ADP and the uncertainty with Tyreek Hill. On a per-game basis that was a mistake if you had a quality backup. If not, it was the right call--especially if you took Dak Prescott as my top recommended alternative.
- Nick Chubb (Warranted): I recommended sticking with Chubb all year. While is production waned, I showed last week that the Browns offense and Baker Mayfield were a larger reason for Chubb's late-season dip than Kareem Hunt. Chubb finished as the No.8 back and if Mayfield and company were better during the final two games, Chubb would have been a top-five option. Even his dip was still fantasy RB2-caliber play.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (Warranted): I had concerns that he'd have a streaky year with the loss of Antonio Brown to keep defenses honest, and Brown's absence and extra attention on Smith-Schuster would lead to low-end fantasy WR2, high-end fantasy WR3 production. Smith Schuster only played 12 games and the loss of Ben Roethlisberger derailed this offense. Even on a points-per-gam basis, Smith-Schuster wasn't a fantasy starter in three-receiver leagues. Considering his ADP was a top-15 pick, the caution due to the lack of surrounding talent (even with Roethlisberger was warranted.
- Le'Veon Bell (Warranted): While it wasn't what those to picked Bell hoped for, I considered Bell no worse than a fantasy RB2 option and he finished as the No.16 PPR back.
Overall, the Gut Check steered you right on about 8-9 of these picks, depending on how finely you followed the advice. Here are my 10 toughest picks heading into 2020 drafts. Yours will surely differ, but you may find that your picks share similar reasons as mine.
10. Noah Fant (ADP119, TE13)
Big, strong, fast, and an early pick of the Broncos last year, Fant was the No.10 fantasy tight end from Weeks 8-15. The Broncos found ways to target Fant on quick-hitting plays or designed looks that worked Fant open with a little extra help from teammates.
Fant's production also coincided with the Broncos trading Emmanuel Sanders and rolling with rookie quarterback Drew Lock. These two changes in personnel and the alteration of the offense to accommodate Lock were enough to throw off the advanced scouting for many offenses around the league.
Fast-forward to July, and the Broncos have acquired Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Lock's former teammate Albert Okwuegbunam. Jeudy has the skills and refinement to produce immediately as the flanker and slot receiver in two-, three-, and four-receiver sets. It's likely that Jeudy challenges Courtland Sutton for the team lead in targets and/or yardage.
Hamler will likely earn a contributing role in the offense when the Broncos use multiple receivers. His ability to stretch the field will benefit Jeudy, eventually force safeties to pay less attention to Sutten, and open the field for the tight ends.
Speaking of tight ends, Okwuegbunam's deep speed was the best measured at the Combine among the rookie tight ends. He's also an excellent fade-route option--a target type that is not Fant's strength. Lock and Okwuegbunam have excellent rapport from their years together at Missouri and Lock lobbied for the Broncos to select Okwuegbunam.
Combine these factors and there's a disturbing potential that Okwuegbunam renders Fant an afterthought in the red zone and Jeudy and Sutton are, by far, the top two receivers in terms of targets and yardage. We could be looking at Fant as a distant-third option, at best, and because of Okwuegbunam's high-leverage skill in the red zone and Hamler's big-play upside, Fant could be the fourth or fifth option on the box score despite earning significant snaps.
The Broncos have had a lot of failures with selecting the tight end position in the draft since Julius Thomas left. While Fant's athletic upside is undeniable and the baseline skills were enough to consider him one of the top prospects at his position in 2019, there were enough technical and conceptual problems with route running, positioning, and hand usage to recognize that Fant's floor was deeper than one might expect due to his enticing ceiling.
Verdict: There are too many targets that could limit Fant's upside in Denver, especially when comparing him to options available later in the draft. T.J. Hockenson is the better route runner and has a proven quarterback capable of supporting 3-4 productive receivers. Hockenson and Jones are also the top two red-zone options in this scheme and Hockenson is available within the same range as Fant.
Mike Gesicki has grown into a reliable seam threat and should benefit in Miami's play-action game. Dallas Goedert likely has as strong of a floor as Gesicki and both are available a round or two later.
If none of these options appeal to you, Eric Ebron and Greg Olsen join good offenses with star quarterbacks that have an affinity for what each receiver does well. Ebron is available 3-4 rounds later. Olsen is available 8-9 rounds later.
9. Will Fuller V (ADP95, WR36)
Players with consecutive injury-shortened seasons are easy decisions for the conservative drafter because you simply avoid them. However, the appeal of Fuller's skills remains strong because when he's on the field, he’s a productive fantasy starter. Here's a look at Fuller when he's been healthy for stretches of consecutive games. In parenthesis were the weeks used to determine the "Before Injury" ranking.
Will Fuller V Overall vs. Healthy
For three of the past four years, Fuller had consecutive games prior to an injury where he produced as a fantasy starter. Even when Fuller's injuries didn't cost him the season, his production upon his return rarely met starter standards during a given week.
After a strong start in 2017 that ended with an injury in Week 10, Fuller didn't exceed 50 yards after he returned in Week 14 and had three games below 30 yards. In 2018, Fuller missed the year after a few 100-yard weeks and 4 out of 7 games with a score.
In 2019, Fuller was solid during Week 1-3, exploded for a 14-catch, 217-yard, 3-score output against the injury-riddled Falcons defense and after a Week 7 injury, only had two quality games between Weeks 11-17.
Fuller is an excellent route runner, but the Texans have used him as its deep threat opposite DeAndre Hopkins. If Brandin Cooks earns Fuller's role and Fuller assumes Hopkins' responsibilities, this could be a career year.
Of course, this presumes that Fuller can stay healthy with an expanded route tree when he's missed two seasons worth of games in his four-year career.
Verdict: Although Marvin Jones Jr is older and he's missed 10 games during the past 2 years, he also had 4 seasons prior with only 1 game missed. Jones excels as a route runner and with contested catches as Matt Stafford's most trusted option. Jones' ADP is one spot lower than Fuller's.
CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy aren't proven NFL players but they're excellent route runners with a history of staying healthy and they'll be used in two different roles for teams that employ three receivers in its base offenses. Both are available 10-15 picks later.
Fuller might be one of those players wound too tight as an athlete. The quick-twitch skills are enticing but the break-downs are frustrating. No thanks.
8. Carson Wentz (ADP90, QB11)
Wentz stayed healthy for the second time during his four-year career and earned top-10 quarterback production for fantasy leagues in 2019. And despite consecutive seasons in 2017-18 where he got hurt, he averaged 12 starts during that span.
On a per-game basis, Wentz is a fantasy QB1 with elite statistical upside. He has a veteran offensive line, a promising ground game, and a balanced mix of veterans and talented youth in the receiving corps. And it's a big-play unit that can earn deep separation early in routes for quick completions that move the chains or explosive gains down the field.
The injury prediction business is a problematic one when examining the broach spectrum of players. Yet, there are players whose on-field behaviors elicit greater concern than others.
Wentz is one of those players. He's a tough and athletic player who will hang in the pocket and deliver a target in the face of punishment. The quarterbacks that are the greatest injury risks aren't the elite athletes as runners.
Sure, there's a risk of ankle, knee, and foot injuries that come with planting at the wrong angle or taking an awkward hit, but they generally do a better job of protecting themselves and avoiding big hits. It is the pocket quarterbacks who are at greater risk because they take more awkward hits from angles that they cannot see or avoid from the pocket and on the move.
Wentz is just athletic enough to generate chain-moving gains and the occasional big play as a runner as well as avoid 1-2 defenders in the pocket to buy time for his receivers. However, he's not sudden enough to buy enough time to reset into fundamentally-sound stances. While he can generate big gains because of his ability to extend plays, he exposes himself to hits while he's in awkward positions that can exacerbate the risk of injury.
Part of the issue is awkward footwork. Although Wentz operated the West Coast Offense at North Dakota State, he always struggled with executing longer drops as well as hitches and pivots after the drop with precision.
These issues led to accuracy woes and the Eagles figured out during the first month of Wentz's second season that the offense needed to adjust to Wentz's flaws to maximize his talents. As a result, the Eagles have become a quick-hitting offense predicated on short drops from pistol and shotgun.
Although the Eagles have acquired more deep threats via free agency and the draft, don't count on Philadelphia returning to longer drops. The hope is that Wentz and these receivers can connect at ranges of 15-30 yards and allow the receivers to do the rest.
While possible, Marquise Goodwin and DeSean Jackson also have significant injury histories. Goodwin has missed 13 games during the past 2 years and 38 games during his 7-year career. Jackson has missed 29 games since 2014 and hasn't played a full season but twice during his 12-year career.
Then there's rookie John Hightower, a rail-thin speedster who has avoided contact during kick returns by sliding to the ground or flopping after catching middle-of-the-field targets. Let’s also not forget Alshon Jeffery who has missed 10 games during the past two years and only has three full seasons played during his eight-year career.
Verdict: This offense has upside but most of the key talent has had year after year of injuries based on their builds or how they play. Neither of these underlying reasons is easy to change.
If Wentz will be your second quarterback for your team, the injury history isn't as pressing of a concern. However, it's more likely Wentz is your first choice and there's less risk to consider Matt Stafford who is available around the same point as Wentz, has equal-to-greater upside and despite missing 8 games with broken bones in his back, Stafford played 8 straight 16-game seasons until last year.
While Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have some injury history as of late, Stafford as your first choice provides a player with a more durable track record while adding an upside play with recent injury history but appropriately as your backup. And if Roethlisberger is too risky for you due to injury, a youngster like Drew Lock is appealing later on.
7. Julian Edelman (ADP85, WR33)
Edelman had a career year in 2019, approaching or earning highs in targets (154), receptions (100), yards (1,117), and touchdowns (6) in a Tom Brady-led offense that lacked additional firepower after Josh Gordon got hurt and subsequently traded. Cam Newton is a compelling NFL quarterback but this offense will change to mesh with Newton's skills.
Many of the things Newton does well will mesh with Edelman's game. Expect the pair to hook up on quick-hitting slants, crossers, and whip routes, as well as intermediate routes like digs, speed outs, and comebacks. We may even see the duo connect on the deep cross or an occasional double move up the seam or sideline.
It should be enough for Edelman to lead the Patriots in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns once again. The difference between this year and last is that Cam Newton runs the ball more and the offense will design plays to accommodate this skill.
A mediocre year for Tom Brady's passing totals in New England would be a good year based on Newton's career.
Verdict: The fantasy community recognizes the difference between Edelman’s likely output with Newton versus Brady and has assigned Edelman’s ADP accordingly. I agree with them, projected a little over 800 yards and 5 scores and this equates to the 30th receiver off the board.
However, there's an extra layer of caution when examining Edelman's upside versus the upside of his peers within the same tier. From a projection’s standpoint, I have Odell Beckham Jr, Jr., Tyler Boyd, Michael Gallup, Brandon Cooks, Marquise Brown, and Sammy Watkins projected within the same range as Edelman, but I value their ceilings of potential far more.
In terms of ADP, Cooks, Deebo Samuel, and Marvin Jones Jr are all available in the same range and have greater upside. CeeDee Lamb, Emmanuel Sanders, and Henry Ruggs III, and Sammy Watkins are all preferable options that are available significantly later and possess greater upside.
Edelman has arguably a higher floor than most of these options until you consider his track record with injuries. Edelman has strung together a full 16-game season three times in his 10-year career. To his credit, he's earned two of these complete campaigns in the past three seasons. However, he's also missed 13 games in the past five years.
Overall, Edelman's recent reliability to play, his talent compatibility with Newton, and his high floor make him a compelling fantasy selection but the overall injury history, age, Newton's capped upside as a passer, and lack of surrounding offensive talent in the receiving corps make it tougher to pull the trigger on him.
6. Keenan Allen (ADP51, WR19)
Allen’s production has essentially been Edelman's upside--and a little extra--for the past three seasons since he's figured out how to stay healthy. He hasn't missed a game for three consecutive seasons and has earned at least 137 targets, 97 catches, 1,196 yards, and 6 scores during this span.
He's among the best route runner in the league, and he's deadly from the slot because of his patient-but-sudden style with setting up and executing breaks that cross over defenders into open space. There are at least 20 teams where Allen could continue earning that level of production but with the combination of Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert replacing Philip Rivers in 2020, there's reason for concern.
During Taylor's three-year campaign as a starter in Buffalo, he supporting one, 1,000-yard campaign. One. The next highest total? 613 yards.
In the four games Taylor started in Cleveland, he averaged 118.25 yards per game. That said, Jarvis Landry earned 24 catches, 312 yards, and a touchdown during that span, so there's hope for Allen in this respect.
There's also hope that Justin Herbert will be ready to play within the first 4-6 weeks of the season. Herbert's style of play is similar to Carson Wentz. He's a big-bodied option with just enough speed and quickness to break the pocket for positive gains or remain in the pocket and buy time for a receiver to break open.
He's often reckless with his decisions and reads of the field, especially with vertical targets, but he has been accurate in the short and intermediate passing games. This may hurt the likes of Mike Williams but Allen, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler may have salvageable production with Herbert under center.
Verdict: If the Chargers staff doesn't think Herbert is ready to play for most of this year, Allen might be the only reliable fantasy option on this team. However, that may only last four to six games because once opponents examine the Taylor-led offense and determine that he heavily favors Allen, those teams will pay enough attention to Allen to shut down the easiest targets.
If that's the case, I'd rather take my chances with Courtland Sudden, Tyler Lockett, or D.K. Metcalf within the same range of most draft boards.
If Herbert earns the starting job immediately, I'd be more inclined to think of Allen as a plus-version of Nelson Agholor or Jordan Matthews in the Eagles offense under Wentz. In 2018, they combined for 105 targets, 84 catches, 1,036 yards, and 6 scores. That's close to Allen's three-year baseline.
I love Allen's game but there's a hole in his fantasy floor this year and I'd rather pass on him at his current ADP range and hope he falls to the 71st-80th pick where I'd be more apt to take a chance on him than Landry.
5. David Johnson (ADP39, RB21)
If you listen to our resident Mayor of Narrative Street, Sigmund Bloom, (and obviously, he's a voice worth listening to at Footballguys), you fear that Johnson has lost the edge necessary to remain a starting runner in the NFL. Bloom commented about Johnson looking lost and uninspiring prior to his ankle injury during a recent Audible podcast.
That may turn out to be true, but prior to Week 7, Johnson had 4 games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, including 2 with 130 yards and 1 with over 150. Johnson was the No.6 PPR back in fantasy during the first six weeks of 2019.
That's pretty inspired and focused football.
Johnson joins a Houston team that needs to consolidate its running back skill set. Duke Johnson Jr is a fantasy industry favorite, but he's a hidden injury problem. His injuries don't show up as games missed, but he has a track record of missing quarters and halves of games multiple times during the year and then being declared ready for the next week for the same thing to happen again.
Duke is capable of winning between the tackles on isolated carries but he can't support the volume required to be a starter. David is another story. We know that David can generate 1,500-2,000 yards from scrimmage with his talents.
The real question is whether the Texans have the offensive scheme and quarterback to support Johnson's upside. So far, the answer is no.
Since Deshaun Watson became the starter in 2017, Texans running backs have not earned more than 605 yards receiving—as an entire depth chart. As for rushing yardage, the depth chart generated 1,491 yards in 2017, 1,471 yards in 2018, and 1,530 yards in 2019.
If you believe David's purpose in Houston is to consolidate the production of the ground game, then 1,000-1,200 yards rushing is a reasonable expectation if you give Duke 200-400 yards of production and presume the run-to-pass ratios remain consistent. This also means that you'd expect David to earn 200-400 yards receiving.
You'll expect David to earn the low-end of that range if think Duke will be the primary and the high end of you think David will be the primary passing-down weapon.
As Mayor Bloom opines about Rational Coaching—the tendency for us to believe that coaches will do the most logical thing when they often don't and fail because of it--we'd expect a team that acquires David to use him to his potential.
If David earns the primary passing-down role and Carlos Hyde's workload, a 1,500-yard season with 8-10 scores is likely. If you listen to football writers opine about Houston's coach Bill O'Brien, the idea of counting on David to get those touches scares you out of taking him at the top of the fourth round.
To compound matters, Watson lost his best receiver, and as good as Brandin Cooks is, he's not the tight-coverage dynamo that Watson had with DeAndre Hopkins. We already know Fuller's ability to stay healthy is a question mark.
Does this mean Houston decides to run the ball more often on down-and-distance situations where they might throw to Hopkins? Will some of those targets go to David? Will O'Brien change anything at all? If you're an O'Brien doubter, you're already envisioning fans cursing the television because they aren't using David to his potential as a short and intermediate receiver.
Verdict: I'm bullish on David this year. Despite the valid fears about O'Brien a leader, his offense has some imaginative wrinkles and I think he'll incorporate David's receiving prowess into the mix. I also think he'll lean on David enough for fantasy players to see 1,200-1,400 yards from scrimmage.
The Texans have good run-blocking offensive line. Laremy Tunsil, Nick Martin, and Zach Fulton are a good nucleus that should open strong creases for the backs. Expect this unit to have a lot of success running inside zone and off-tackle option plays--often to the left side of the line that's the strength of this unit.
While Jonathan Taylor and James Conner are compelling options within the same tier and they have better offensive lines, and I'd consider all three within this range, pick them in the same order as their ADPs: Conner (better offensive line), Johnson, and Taylor (questions about his third-down game).
4. Aaron Jones (ADP21, RB13)
Jones comes off a career year of 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns and the Packers draft A.J. Dillon in the second round fo the 2020 NFL Draft. If this selection is anything other than the Packers screaming to Jones, "We're not going to give you another contract," I don't know what that statement is.
It's clear the Packers believe they earned peak production from Jones and don't trust his track record with injury to award him a second contract. Yes, Jones wants to remain a Packer, and there have been conversations about a new deal but that's a nice way of saying that Jones' camp broached the idea, the Packers said let's wait and see how the season goes, and Jones' camp spun it as an ongoing negotiation.
Jones scored 14 touchdowns in the red zone last year. This was a league-leading figure and Jones's vision and footwork make him a slippery runner between the tackles who can win in this role.
Still, Dillon has the promise to become a better red-zone option--not only due to his size and strength, but he's a lot more agile than part-time draft media describes him and he also has good vision between the tackles.
Football analysts will also tell you that Jones is a superior receiver to Dillon. They'll use two faulty methods for the comparison: box score data and intermediate and vertical targets.
Yes, Jones is a superior receiver to Dillon if you watch their range of skills on the field but it also means you're giving much greater weight to intermediate and vertical targets than you should. Few running backs earn a reliable volume of intermediate targets, much less vertical looks. The runner with the most targets of this type, Austin Ekeler, still earns them as a small percentage of his total volume.
It's wiser to compare Jones and Dillon as receivers where they're most likely to earn use and that's the short zones. While Jones is quicker and has great hand-eye coordination, Dillon isn't a bad receiver and he'll do just fine on passes to the flat, screen passes, and other dump-offs.
There's also the fact that Dillon is a superior blocker and has the potential to become one of the better pass protectors at his position.
I love Jones' game but a team doesn't draft a running back in the second round with the durability, athletic ability, and football skill of Dillon so it can re-sign an existing back to a large contract. However, they may give that second-round pick some acclimation time before moving on from its incumbent.
What makes Jones a tough pick for this year is that he could come close to repeating that production if the Packers give Dillon that acclimation period or Jones's production could take a precipitous drop because Dillon is too good to keep off the field.
Verdict: While the idea that Dillon was drafted to replace Jamaal Williams, Williams is the best pass protector of the backs, and more important, Jones is the player whose contract is up at year's end. While Dillon is a good pass protector, Williams' proven track record should allow the Packers to ease Dillon into that role.
It's more likely that Dillon earns a percentage of running-down touches that cut into Williams and Jones's carries. Expect Dillon to earn 400-600 yards this year and it will come at the expense of Williams and Jones.
You should also expect Jones' red-zone touches to be cut in half with the other half going to Dillon. And if Dillon performs well by mid-season, there's also an increased likelihood that the team uses him more often at the expense of Jones.
If Jones were available at the end of the fourth round, I'd be more inclined to take him. At the end of the second? A tough choice because with the shortened preseason, Dillon might not get the same shot to carve out a role this year. However, running backs acclimate fast and if Dillon does so, the floor could drop out of Jones's production by midseason.
Give me Chris Carson who is available 12 picks later or James Conner or David Johnson 17-18 picks later. If I'm dead-set on a second back and all the backs on the ADP list ahead of Jones are gone, I'd reach for the three mentioned above rather than going with Jones.
Again, it has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with depth chart and opportunity.
3. Austin Ekeler (ADP19, RB12)
Earning 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 2019, Ekeler assumes the lead role in the Chargers backfield. That's the headline, but wasn't he already the lead back last year?
As already discussed with Keenan Allen, Ekeler should benefit from a spread attack as a runner and receiver. He's arguably the second-most reliable receiver behind Allen and if not, he's a close third to Mike Williams. The advantage Ekeler has over Williams is his versatility as a receiver who can run short and intermediate routes from the backfield and the slot.
This should buoy his target volume even if Tyrod Taylor starts for half of the year. It should also weather any expected lows that a rookie like Justin Herbert will endure with processing defensive trickery.
While this gives Ekeler a high enough floor to consider him a viable fantasy flex-play at worst, should we expect another 1,500-yard, double-digit scoring campaign without Philip Rivers? And is Ekeler's lead role going to yield a higher workload than last year?
The argument against fantasy RB1-caliber volume from Ekeler comes in the form of two talented runners behind him. Justin Jackson has the skills to perform in Ekeler's place when called upon. He's not as sturdy as Ekeler between the tackles, but he has more short-area explosion and excellent vision.
Jackson alone is not a significant threat to Ekeler's touch volume. However, Joshua Kelley has the upside to deliver circa 2017-18 Melvin Gordon III production that rendered Ekeler a flex-play, at best. Yes, Kelley has to-12 potential as a running back.
He possesses better vision and decision-making than most realize, he has the big-play speed to challenge the secondary, and he's a better receiver than credited. Kelley is also built for lead back volume between the tackles.
Even Anthony Lynn remarked that Kelley has the skills to eventually assume Gordon's role in the offense. How one defines "eventually" is the important part. Is that midseason or next year? And is that the entire Gordon role or only part of it, considering that Ekeler just signed a new deal?
With Jackson's contract ending this year, it's a reasonable expectation that the Chargers backfield will be a split between Ekeler and Kelley in 2021. This year, especially with the pandemic generating uncertainty with the season and altered routines leading up to kickoff, expecting Kelley to earn a role that cuts into Ekeler's workload could be too optimistic.
Still, when you combine the new quarterback situation and the potential for a three-headed backfield, it makes taking Ekeler as a high-end RB2/low-end RB1 a difficult choice.
Verdict: In PPR leagues, I'd rather have Chris Godwin, George Kittle, or Mike Evans, who are all within the same ADP tier as Ekeler. Their quarterback situations are stable. There are enough good backs available in the next two rounds--Chris Carson (32), James Conner (38), Jonathan Taylor (42), and even the combo of Mark Ingram II (50) and J.K. Dobbins (79) to draft Ekeler at 19.
2. Kenyan Drake (ADP12, RB8)
The Cardinals made Drake their featured back after trading for him mid-year and he responded with 151 touches, 814 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Fantasy players are expecting a 302-touch, 1,628-yard, 16-score campaign from Drake, which would place him well within the range of elite fantasy production in 2020.
Drake has made steady improvement as a runner since he arrived in Miami as a raw player between the tackles who would jump cut into the hind parts of his own player and knock himself silly. He actually looked like a starting-caliber back in 2018 thanks to the work he did and the influence of the venerable Frank Gore.
Still, the Cardinals offensive line hasn't changed its personnel from 2019 and Drake wasn't a beacon of consistency. Of the 814 yards and 8 scores he earned as a Cardinal last year, 492 of those yards and 7 of those touchdowns came in 3 games.
Three games accounted for 60.4 percent of Drake's yardage totals and 87.5 percent of his touchdowns. Granted, two of those were division games against quality opponents (San Francisco and Seattle), but the other five games, Drake averaged 64 yards from scrimmage and 0.2 touchdowns per game.
Will fantasy players get consistently high production from Drake that makes him an elite player with close to 1,600 yards from scrimmage and double-digit scores or will he be closer to 1,000 total yards and 3 scores?
The real answer is likely somewhere in between and a lack of consistency that drives fantasy players to distraction. Expecting 1,200-1,400 total yards and 8-10 touchdowns makes sense. Add 50 receptions into that mix and you're looking at 220-255 fantasy points in PPR formats--a total that ranged from the equivalent of RB15 to RB9 in PPR rankings in 2019.
Verdict: While I might prefer Chubb and Jacobs as players, Drake is an offense that supported David Johnson as the No.6 fantasy back in PPR leagues during the first six weeks of the year. I expect less consistency from Drake compared to Chubb and Jacobs, but more highs in a given week. It depends what you're willing to live with but Drake's ADP is warranted from a tiers standpoint, even if I prefer Chubb and Jacobs week-to-week.
1. DeAndre Hopkins (ADP11, WR4)
I imagine that many of you don't think Hopkins is a difficult selection at all. He's a top receiver heading to a team with a celebrated offensive mind and an up and coming quarterback on the verge of a breakout.
However, there are underlying concerns for a player considered a top-five fantasy pick at his position. You want a target hog from a top-five fantasy receiver and the Cardinals offense spread its targets around in 2019.
Larry Fitzgerald (109) and Kristian Kirk (108) had roughly the same volume while the collection of Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Andy Isabella, and KeeSean Johnson accounted for 134 of the remaining 152 targets thrown to receivers on the depth chart. While it may seem obvious that those 134 targets would solely go to Hopkins and damn the rest, Isabella and Hakeem Butler are expected to take another step forward in this offense.
There's also Kenyan Drake. The Cardinals running backs earned 104 targets in the passing game and there's no reason to expect a decrease from that total in 2020, especially with the receiving skills that Drake, Chase Edmonds, and rookie Eno Benjamin bring to the backfield.
Returning to the receivers, there are a few ways of looking at the depth chart's projected volume. Hopkins could become the clear target hog and we see Fitzgerald and Kirk as the players who cede a significant amount of their 2019 targets to the likes of Butler and Isabella.
If this happens, expect Hopkins to earn 130-ish targets (which would still be his lowest volume in six seasons) and at least get within range of fantasy WR1 production if he can generate double-digit touchdowns. However, Hopkins will likely need 150-plus targets to easily be inside the top-10 at his position. A total of 130 likely places him somewhere in the bottom half of the top-15--good but not a return on WR4 value that's his current ADP.
These are the two most optimistic outlook for Hopkins and neither translates to top-five production at his position.
The third is that Hopkins joins Fitzgerald and Kirk in an even spread of targets, let's say it averages to 108 apiece and it accounts for 324 of the 369 targets the receivers earned last year. That leaves 45 targets for the likes of Butler, Isabella, and the rest of the reserves.
Considering that Hopkins' career catch rate is 60.3 percent and his yards per catch average is 13.6, an optimistic expectation for Hopkins in this 2020 projection scenario is 108 targets, 65 catches, 886 yards, and 7 touchdowns.
That was fantasy WR27 value in 2019 and if the Kliff Kingsbury system values an even spread, a whole lot of fantasy players are about to be mourning this first-round pick by December.
Fortunately, the final three years of Kingsbury's coaching career at Texas Tech doesn't suggest this possibility.
College Football Reference doesn't supply targets but in terms of receptions, the totals aren't closely grouped among the top three receivers except in 2016:
- 2018: Antoine Wesley (88), Ja'Deion High (62), T.J. Vasher (54)
- 2017: Keke Coutee (93), Dyland Cantrell (71), and Cameron Batson (59)
- 2016: Coutee (55), Batson (60), Jonathan Giles (69), Cantrell (58).
The one concern about 2016 is that this was the year that Texas Tech had four pro-caliber receivers with relatively comparable talent level (at least relative to all college players, not pros).
If Kingsbury's spread creates scenarios where Murray is targeting the receiver to one side that comes open the quickest, we could see a decline in Hopkins' totals that's well below top-15 production.
Verdict. While it won't surprise me if Hopkins fit in the Kingsbury system leads to shockingly low fantasy numbers relative to his production history, I'm not counting on it. At the same time, I do not see him being the target hog in this system, either. It's more likely that Hopkins leads in targets but with a total of 120-130 and not the 150-plus that we've come to expect from him with the Texans.
It means, I'm not touching Hopkins as a top-five fantasy pick, even if I think he's a top-five NFL receiver.