This article is about a 20-minute read.
Every player has potential value...
You shouldn't remove players from your draft board...
Having a Do Not Draft List is dangerous...
Drafting is choosing and the best choices are as much or more about what you decide not to do. There's nothing wrong with agonizing over difficult decisions, but your draft room isn't the Oval Office and the draft isn't the Cuban Missile Crisis.
At best, you have 2-3 minutes for each decision, so you better have anticipated enough of these potentially difficult scenarios with your draft plan before you walked in or logged on, or else you'll be more prone to emotional decision-making round after round, and it will get the better of you.
Yes, every player has potential value—if they fall further than expected or a teammate gets injured, suspended, or suddenly opts to retire. These things happen but at some point, you need to know before your draft who isn't realistically worth consideration unless there's a dramatic change to their situation.
When you make cuts from your draft list ahead of time, you'll have fewer considerations to weigh as the clock is ticking. Making advanced decisions de-clutters your mind to be aware of things that matter—players who slide for no logical reason, staying ahead of or leveraging position runs, and acting on breaking news that alters the value of a player.
The "Every Player Has Potential Value," logic sounds smart, but it's so often misapplied that it sucks fantasy players into a state of overanalyzing too many potential choices. Do your research and make firm decisions based on it. If the rationale changes and you have time to adjust your views on the player before the draft, do it. Otherwise, lead your draft; don't let it lead you.
Many of the 19 players on my 2020 No Fly List are excellent talents, but it doesn't make them good fantasy picks based on their ADP. There will be no participation trophies handout out here. If you want to win, some of these players--as talented as they may be--are overvalued as a fantasy asset due to surrounding talent, scheme, or enough comparable talent available later that drafting them isn't a great choice.
The average draft positions (ADPs) in parenthesis next to the names are from late July. In all circumstances, unless specifically stated within the analysis below, they won't be erased from the No-Fly List if their ADP drops.
19. James Proche, Baltimore (ADP 254)
Proche earns love in part because of NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, who loved sharing the "Alpha Catches" that Proche displayed numerous times on tape against tight man coverage. If you recall, slot receiver Anthony Miller of the Bears made a lot of these at Memphis and earned a lot of heavy touting among the draft and fantasy community
The difference is that Proche is smaller, slower, and has more difficulty against physical coverage at the line of scrimmage than Miller. He's also not much of a runner after the catch. The fact that Proche is getting drafted in the final rounds but speedster Devin Duvernay—a far more compelling rookie prospect with speed, skills after the catch, great hands, and skill to play multiple spots in the offense—is drafted 4-5 rounds later, if at all, is pure ignorance.
Expect Duvernay to earn playing time before Proche and even if Proche manages to carve out a contributing role early in the season, his upside is too small to consider.
18. Cole Kmet, Chicago (ADP 250)
The Bears have blind spots with selecting talent. Mitchell Trubisky is a perfect example. Trubisky has the athletic ability, physical dimensions, and baseline technical skills of a field general. His feel of the pocket, decision-making inside the 20s, and his penchant for foolishness make him a private.
Kmet, like Trubisky, has the athletic ability, physical dimensions, and baseline technical skills of a starting tight end. His catching ability against contact and ability to move with top athletes as a blocker are problematic. Despite diminished athletic ability, Jimmy Graham will be the top-targeted tight end this year and yet, Kmet is earning a higher ADP.
The hype for Notre Dame prospects remains a real thing—warranted or otherwise—and in this case, draft the starter or at least a rookie with a shot to contribute in an offense that has a greater potential for statistical upside. Devin Asiasi of the Patriots is on Line 1. And, if you're truly thinking about drafting the No.2 tight end on a team other than Dallas Goedert, Jason Witten, or Irv Smith, then David Njoku or Harrison Bryant of Cleveland or Adam Trautman are worth greater consideration.
17. Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco (ADP 228)
McKinnon hasn't played a regular-season game since 2017 and rookie JaMycal Hasty has a better feel as a between-the-tackles runner. Hasty also catches the ball well. If he can show enough as a blocker, McKinnon has no chance of making the roster.
If Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman stay healthy, McKinnon's "opportunities for a third-down role," as stated to the media will be sparse. McKinnon is a fine waiver wire target but at this point in a draft, taking a chance on Hasty makes more sense if you're targeting a 49er back. If you're simply targeting a quality runner with skills to produce if called upon, Damien Harris, Jalen Richard, Ito Smith, and Jaylen Samuels come to mind. Even Royce Freeman is a more compelling talent with opportunity as the third back on his depth chart.
16. Rashaad Penny, Seattle (ADP 181)
Fantasy players can't quit you, Penny. I get it. You're fast, you catch well, and you've had flashes of the athletic skill to earn big gains even when you completely screwed up how to read the play. You were getting better at not "going college" on plays and actually following the blocking scheme last year before you got hurt.
Unfortunately, your multiple ligament tears kept you from cutting even in May and the Seahawks' addition of Carlos Hyde and drafting of DeeJay Dallas means it's unlikely that you'll be ready to begin the season. The fact that fantasy players are drafting you ahead of Hyde shows how much they love the idea of your talent.
I would love it if you get healthy, first. The difference between me and them is that when I see ladder drills, I know it doesn't mean you're able to make hard cuts with deep bends or take a hit to the knee. Their optimism and wishful thinking are charming.
I'll take Hyde until there's clear visual evidence that you're ready to assume the No.2 role.
15. Mecole Hardman, Kansas City (ADP 133)
Sure, Hardman earned big plays last year—26 catches, 538 yards, and 6 touchdowns. His rookie year was touchdown dependent and that's no good for fantasy projection. Hardman only had 3 games where he caught more than 2 targets, and he only had 4 games with more than 60 yards receiving. Three of these games came when Tyreek Hill was out.
While it's possible that Hardman overtakes Sammy Watkins for the starting role, it's unlikely. Watkins had a great postseason and took a pay cut to maintain his spot with the team. While Hardman is faster and a better runner after the catch, Watkins has finally begun fulfilling his vast promise as a route runner. Even before Watkins made these strides, he was always a more accomplished pass-catcher and more versatile with the spots he could play in the offense than what we've seen thus far from Hardman.
I'm not convinced that Hardman would perform much better than he did last year with Hill out if Hill misses time again. Calling Hardman, a Tyreek Hill clone ignores how rare Hill is. Few receivers improve their games at such a dramatic rate as young pros as Hill.
It's likely that the Chiefs would have felt confident about its passing offense without Watkins' new deal, the underlying reason is more than Hardman. Byron Pringle flashed enough during the 2019 preseason and in limited playing time during the regular season that he could supplement what Hardman lacked as a rookie.
Even if you're not buying into the Watkins-is-better-than-Hardman argument, consider that Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and the combination of Watkins and the running backs will keep Hardman in a low-target, inconsistent yardage, and touchdown-dependent role. You're more likely to earn greater yardage and consistency or production from Mike Williams, rookie Michael Pittman Jr, Preston Williams, and Golden Tate. There are also non-receivers with greater upside within the same ADP range such as Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Dallas Goedert, Jimmy Garoppolo, Boston Scott, and A.J. Dillon.
Hardman could pay dividends for you, but he's one of the tougher calls in middle routes of 20-round formats. For me, I'd rather have upside with potential for greater volume than what Hardman likely offers. If you're in a league with distance scoring bonuses, Hardman should remain on your list but PPR formats that start fewer than four receivers render Hardman an enticing and inconsistent distraction for the good of your team.
14. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (ADP 130)
Shepard's career year is a 66-catch, 872-yard, 4-score output that placed him 30th among fantasy receivers. It's unlikely to get any better, folks. Shepard is no better than fourth in the pecking order of offensive talents in the passing game behind Golden Tate, Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley, and likely Darius Slayton.
He's a smart route runner with (at best) average speed, quickness, and strength. His best games have come from overwhelmed defenses that can't tackle in the open field due to injury or below-average play. It means you're selecting a low-upside player with a mediocre floor. Unless you have set lineups that for you to start five receivers who aren't flex-plays, you'll wind up with more consistent and productive players from the waiver wire than Shepard--even if you don't take Shepard and miss on a boom-bust option or talented backup whoever earns significant time on the field.
13. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland (ADP 123)
Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Drew Lock are all available after Mayfield in the average league. All four have offenses with greater upside for those players to deliver QB1 production than Mayfield. This is especially the case with Roethlisberger, who had a career year in 2018 and returns to an excellent offensive line.
Mayfield earns an upgraded offensive line with the addition of tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin but the hiring of former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as the head coach and the acquisition of tight ends Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and fullback Andy Janovich are significant indications that Cleveland will be using the same scheme that Stefanski used in Minnesota.
For those of you with short memories, Kirk Cousins had four consecutive seasons as a top-10 fantasy quarterback with Washington and Minnesota between 2015-2018. Despite the strong production, there have been criticisms among former teammates and analysts that Cousin's production belies his actual value as an offensive leader.
Last year, the Vikings opted for an offense with a heavier run component and more play-action passing. Cousins' efficiencies remained as high as his career years but his yardage and touchdown outputs dipped. Most important, his interceptions were effectively cut in half from the previous four-year average. As a result, Cousins was the No.19 fantasy quarterback in 2019, his lowest performance as a full-time starter.
Unless you're demonstrably obtuse, there's little denying that the Browns have learned that Mayfield isn't the next coming of Brett Favre or Russell Wilson and it's best to reign-in Mayfield's decision-making with a strong ground game that can dictate efficient action. This is a perfect offense for Mayfield to get back on track as an efficient passer even if it costs him fantasy upside.
But the Browns are loaded at the skill positions, you say? What about the Vikings? They had two excellent receivers, receiving backs, and receiving tight ends and even with an injury to Adam Thielen, it appears that the Vikings offense wasn't conducive to supporting its receivers with the same production as previous seasons.
If Mayfield falters, the Browns are also in a position to hand the job to Case Keenum this year. Cleveland is a linebacker and quarterback away from contending. We'll see if the Browns have those players developing and emerging in-house this year. I'd rather take Cleveland's archrival quarterback in fantasy or opt of upside at another position. T.J. Hockenson, Mike Gesicki, Jalen Reagor, Darrell Henderson, and Tony Pollard all come time mind rather than Mayfield as a low-ceiling fantasy QB2 on my roster.
12. Noah Fant (ADP 119)
In last week's 10 Toughest Picks of 2020 feature, I highlight Fant as one of those selections. The addition of Jerry Jeudy renders Fant no better than the third option on the production totem pole. Drew Lock's lobbying for former teammate Albert Okwuegbunam further clouds the picture because the Okwuegbunam has better deep speed than Fant and superior skill with contested catches and positioning with underneath routes.
Fant's deficiencies put him in danger of becoming a Ladarius Green type of player whose production comes mostly from set plays that scheme him wide open but aren't used with repeated success within the same game. There are better options. Fant's former teammate T.J. Hockenson is available later in drafts as is Mike Gesicki, the steady Greg Olsen, and the cheaper O.J. Howard who has equal upside.
11. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh (ADP 98)
The love for Johnson is fascinating. They see the 92 targets, 59 catches, 680 yards, and 5 touchdowns from last year and they're ready to proclaim him the next Emmanuel Sanders. First of all, Sanders is available within the same range with an excellent quarterback in an offense that could help him earn 1,000-1,200 yards and 7-9 scores, so the idea that Johnson should earn the nod is a lapse in judgment.
Don't get me wrong, Johnson has long-term promise. He forced more missed tackles than all but one receiver in the league as a rookie. If JuJu Smith-Schuster gets hurt, James Conner underwhelms, and Eric Ebron doesn't have one of his good seasons, Johnson could increase his target share significantly in 2020.
However, when you count more than 1-2 "ifs" when tracking the conditions for greater success, the value of the player drops significantly. Johnson didn't earn the consistent targets of a fantasy starter even with Smith-Schuster limited or out of the lineup.
What seals the deal for Johnson joining the No-Fly List are the players available within the same range. In addition to Sanders, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb will likely be one of the two most targeted options in their respective offenses. And even if Lamb is the third-best, he's in what's projected to be a prolific passing offense that supports three receivers with 1,000-yard capability.
I'd also add Christian Kirk and Henry Ruggs III as players with equal floors and greater upside as Johnson. A good young player but valued too highly, if he falls 3-4 rounds later within range of Shepard and Hardman, he's worth considering.
10. Sony Michel, New England (ADP 97)
Maybe he'll stay healthy. Maybe he'll perform with greater consistency with Cam Newton opening creases because opponents have to account for all 11 players in the run game.
However, Matt Brieda is drafted within the same range, and he has proven more productive when healthy enough to be on the field. Phillip Lindsay will likely have a role in Denver that merits weekly consistency and higher upside than Michel even as the No.2 committee back to Melvin Gordon III.
What about Zack Moss? He'll have the Frank Gore role in Buffalo and the upside to reduce Devin Singletary's red-zone work and overall touches (see below). The 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio only had Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley as more compelling talents in the running back class than Kerryon Johnson--and that includes Michel. If healthy, don't be so sure that D'Andre Swift will rule the day in Detroit (see below).
And even if you're simply looking for the best player available, Marvin Jones Jr, Matthew Stafford, Jared Cook, Lamb, Jeudy, Sanders, and Ruggs all offer more assurances as contributors. Let Michel prove you wrong this year and take Damien Harris later.
9. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay (ADP 89)
I like Vaughn's talents. He was among my favorite backs at the Reese's Senior Bowl. He's a smart runner between the tackles with enough burst, speed, receiving skills, and pass protection chops to develop into a full-time starter.
Unfortunately, Vaughn is just slow enough and small enough for his team to consider him a Chester Taylor-type of back who is always looking over his shoulder when his organization drafts a more athletic back and expects that back to emerge the winner of a competition for the starting role. Ronald Jones II is still a little shaky with his decision-making but there's no denying that he made significant gains with his vision between the tackles in 2019 after a disastrous rookie year in 2018.
If Jones gets hurt, Vaughn has value, but the reason his ADP is well inside the 10th round isn't that he's a promising backup. There's a prominent number of fantasy players who believe Vaughn is the sleeper back of this draft class and will emerge the full-time starter in a Tom Brady offense.
It's possible Vaughn carves out a niche in this offense with Jones as the starter, but Dare Ogunbowale probably maintains his third-down role so it's risky to take Vaughn ahead of options like Tarik Cohen, Kerryon Johnson, and Tevin Coleman much less Moss and Lindsay who will definitely have contributing roles of value.
As we'll see soon enough, fantasy players get a contact buzz from having players in prolific offenses. In this instance, the love is unwarranted without a Jones injury.
8. Evan Engram, New York Giants (ADP 69)
When Engram reverses the downward trend of games played and reaches 12-14 starts again, let me know.
7. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo (ADP 67)
One of the excellent route runners in the league, Diggs chose a Buffalo offense that's philosophically similar to the team he just left. Josh Allen was the No.10 fantasy quarterback last year.
Isn't that nice?
If the Bills intend to continue using him like the running quarterback he is, Allen will remain a viable fantasy starter. It won't help Diggs unless John Brown gets hurt. If you cut Allen's rushing production in half, which is something the Bills would like to see--especially in the red zone with Moss joining the club--that's conservatively 50 fantasy points removed from his 2019 fantasy totals.
This would drop Allen from 10th to 20th.
Not so nice, and this adjustment is simply showing how bad his passing production is relative to his peers. Considering that Allen's rushing production is the highest among all quarterbacks other than Lamar Jackson and Jackson threw 16 more touchdowns and earned 1.1 yards per attempt more than Allen and 3 fewer interceptions, it's clear that the only "running quarterback" in the NFL who fits the worrisome stereotype of running quarterbacks is Allen.
The Bills are good enough with Allen to make the playoffs, but Allen might not be good enough to keep good receivers happy and productive. A 58 percent completion rate and barely sniffing 3,000 yards in an offense that doesn't really design plays for Allen to run as much it looks the other way when Allen chooses to scramble when he couldn't spot open receivers isn't a recipe for happy receivers.
Allen has to prove he's a much better NFL passer before believing he can support more than one top receiver, and it means I'm not coming near Diggs.
6. D'Andre Swift, Detroit (ADP 56)
Kerryon Johnson is the more talented runner right now. He also has the worst track record of the two when it comes to staying healthy. Because the gap in talent between the two is narrow enough for most not to notice and Swift is the most recent early-round pick of the two, it's Swift's draft capital that leads media and fans to the belief that he'll be the lead back in Detroit.
It's a good assessment even if Johnson is the more talented back today. Swift has some correctable issues with routes, pass protection, and decision-making between the tackles that could keep Johnson ahead of Swift this year. With this being a contract year, Johnson is on notice that he must show he can stay healthy to earn a lead opportunity elsewhere.
Swift is a hard worker and should develop into a capable starter so it's not a long-term concern. It's the price tag in fantasy drafts that worries me. Swift's value is on par with Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, Darren Waller, Terry McLaurin, T.Y. Hilton, and D.J. Chark Jr. And if Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, or Courtland Sutton are still on the board when Swift is available to me, there's no way I'm rolling with Swift.
5. Mark Ingram II, Baltimore (ADP 51)
This one hurts because I've long-admired Ingram's game since his year's at Alabama. However, J.K. Dobbins is too good to stay on the bench for any length of time, and it will either cut into Ingram's yardage potential, scoring prowess, or both.
Ingram earned over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage last year and with Dobbins in the fold, here are the most likely scenarios to play out:
- Dobbins earns most of the touches between the 20s and Ingram earns the work in the red and green zones.
- Dobbins and Ingram alternate enough series, including red- and green-zone looks that Ingram's totals are almost halved from 2019.
- Dobbins overtakes Ingram as the starter by mid-year and Ingram, who earned 15 touches per game last year, is reduced to a situational contributor with no more than 4-6 touches per contest.
Any way you slice it, Ingram appears headed for no less than a reduction of 5-7 touches per game. Ingram averaged 1.08 points per touch last year. Take 6 touches away per game and if he maintains that rate, he's on his way to a 145.5-point season in PPR formats, dropping him from likely low-end fantasy RB1 to RB36.
Late July ADP has Ingram as its RB24. If I'm right, the consensus has overestimated Ingram by a positional tier. Unless Dobbins gets hurt or struggles in camp, Ingram's best fantasy years as a Raven are already behind him. With Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray available here, it's probably a good time to take a QB1. If you're a Late-Round QB drafter, Zach Ertz, Sutton, Lockett, Metcalf, and Waller are all compelling.
4. Devin Singletary, Buffalo (ADP 45)
Of the players on this list, Singletary is the most likely one that I'll likely put back into my draftable rotation.
The little engine that could, Singletary proved that he could produce in the NFL, earning nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns in 12 games. On a points-per-touch basis extrapolated to 16 games, Singletary's efficiencies would have bumped him from the 31st-ranked PPR back last year to the 20th-ranked option.
Singletary has excellent vision and above-average contact balance. He's a smart runner with enough quickness to reach the second level. He's still short, slow, and not significantly quick or powerful.
It matters because when I studied Singletary, the Bills offensive line deserves a lot of credit for creating huge creases by NFL standards. Singletary played well but the Bills line played even better. Enter Zack Moss into the Bills' backfield and you have a runner who is a lot like Travis Henry with much better pass protection and receiving skills—including those of Singletary.
The coaching staff already expects Moss to earn Frank Gore's role in the offense. Gore earned 179 touches to Singletary's 180 but after Week 12, Singletary out-touched Gore 79 to 33. From Weeks 7-12 when both players were on the field, Singletary earned 85 touches to Gore's 65. This six-game distribution of touches is probably truer to what the Bills would like to see split among the two.
Project that to a 16-game season, and Singletary earns 227 touches to Moss's 173. Before doing this analysis, I had Singletary at 230 touches to Moss's 194, taking away some of Josh Allen's carries. While difficult to project five yards-per-carry despite the talent of the Bills line, I had Singletary a close to that figure (4.8) and splitting rushing touchdowns with Moss.
If Moss doesn't earn the red-zone role or the Gore role, Singletary will likely prove his worth at his ADP and the 23rd back off the average draft board. If Moss performs as I expect, Singletary loses at least half of the red zone opportunities if not all most of them and Moss earns enough touches for a near-even split. This would place Singletary, at best, in fantasy RB3 territory. It's where I have him now
As you can see, unless Moss takes away Singletary's lead role, Singletary's floor is probably enough that he's worth his ADP and the No-Fly List is unwarranted. Still, I can't see taking Singletary ahead of A.J. Brown, Zach Ertz, and Courtland Sutton.
For now, I'm monitoring Moss's camp as closely as the NFL allows.
3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City (ADP likely on the rise from 27 to at least 15)
You know you have Rookie Fever if you're drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire as one of the top-10 backs in fantasy football. Granted, Helaire has talent and he could finish the year at a rate of play that's equal to one of the top 15 producers over the final 6-8 weeks of the year.
For that to happen, some degree of pass protection and power are skills that Helaire must assert with his game that aren't currently present. No, Kareem Hunt wasn't a skilled pass protector and he thrived as a rookie. However, Hunt also ran with power between the tackles that made him an asset for play-action targets and its best third-down back, Spencer Ware, was hurt for the year when Hunt earned his career highs.
If Edwards-Helaire is more like Brian Westbrook-lite as an interior runner, his projected takeover of the Chiefs backfield will be premature. Because Andy Reid compared Edwards-Helaire to Westbrook, it's worth considering that it took Westbrook a few years to assert himself into the lead role, and Westbrook was a more talented all-around player.
We've seen Reid take a committee approach to begin seasons when he doesn't have a lead talent who has proven as much in the NFL. Once that runner proves it for 3-5 weeks, Reid begins to give that player the workload of a lead runner.
It's why taking Helaire as one of the top 10 backs on the board is betting on a great stretch run after playing at least a month in a committee. If you draft so you can afford your second back taken to perform below expectation for 4-6 weeks while counting on 7-10 weeks of elite production, then go for it.
Update: I'm skeptical that Edwards-Helaire will earn his current buzz as a fantasy RB1 after Damien Williams opted out fo the season. He's projected as my 22nd-ranked fantasy back. Darwin Thompson, a player that the coaching staff says improved every week and shouldn’t be counted out? 56th.
Unless Helaire laps my preseason expectations, he's overrated this year. I'd prefer every-week go-to options available within his tier and later: Amari Cooper, Chris Carson, Odell Beckham Jr, Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, and definitely JuJu Smith-Schuster sand James Conner. Even Davis Johnson.
2. Aaron Jones, Green Bay (ADP 21)
I wrote extensively about Jones as one of the 10 Toughest Picks of 2020 in last week's Gut Check. To summarize, Jones is an excellent talent but A.J. Dillon is a threat to cut significantly into Jones' yardage and scoring opportunities. and Jones' durability remains a question mark whereas Dillon has proven durable with a heavy workload in ways Jones didn't at UTEP. Austin Ekeler, George Kittle, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans are among the players in Jones' tier that are more appealing.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona (ADP 11)
Also, my top player among my 10 Toughest Picks of 2020, most signs point to Hopkins earning his lowest target totals (115-140) in five years. At best, that volume would place him in range of WR15 when current ADP has him at WR4. To be valued appropriately, Hopkins's ADP would need to drop to at least 36 where you can debate the merits of him against the likes of Beckham, Robinson, Thielen, and Smith-Schuster.