Love/Hate is Matthew Berry’s definitive preseason column on which players to draft in fantasy football in 2020, from the top players in the rankings to endgame sleepers of an ESPN fantasy football salary cap draft. Still need a league? Sign up for free today!
You should know right off the bat there is nothing particularly unique or interesting about The Jack Attack Fantasy Football League based in New City, New York.
It’s a ho-hum, right-down-the-middle, standard 10-team ESPN league. They use PPR scoring, they play a typical one-QB lineup, and it comprises a bunch of friends from the area. As basic and normal a league as there is.
And that’s exactly what league member Jack Posnack loves about it.
Because, you see, Jack is anything but basic and normal.
For starters, he shouldn’t even be alive.
Jack was born with familial dysautonomia, and his parents were told he had a life expectancy of three to five years. And that those three to five years were going to be HARD.
The National Institute of Health website describes familial dysautonomia (“FD”) as “a genetic disorder that affects the development and survival of certain nerve cells. The disorder disturbs cells in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions such as digestion, breathing, production of tears, and the regulation of blood pressure and body temperature.”
In other words, all the normal bodily functions we take for granted? They actually go haywire in people with FD.
Jack can’t swallow. He can’t suck a straw. Because his sensory nervous system is so compromised, he can’t sense heat, cold or even pain, which is dangerous for a young child because a parent can’t tell if the child is hurt if the child doesn’t know.
Jack can be fed only via a tube, through his stomach, every three hours.
After he is fed, because of a multitude of issues with his digestive system, he goes through what is known as “FD Crisis,” so he gets sweaty and starts retching and convulsing.
Every single time.
He cannot be in direct sunlight, and if his body temperature gets too high, he cannot sweat or perspire to cool it down, which can also put him into an FD crisis. In fact, because Jack’s blood pressure and internal body temperature are so out of whack, has had to be put in a stand-up freezer to cool down his body enough to get him back to “normal.”
Any one story about Jack is completely impossible to fathom, and yet, all of them are true and are his everyday existence.
He has trouble breathing, so he needs to sleep with oxygen every night.
His nerve endings never finished growing, so he has nerve damage in the back of his eye that is incurable. And because his eyes can’t produce tears or any kind of secretion, he needs eye drops every one to two hours otherwise he risks getting corneal abrasions. As it is, his eyesight gets worse every year and he is at risk of going blind.
He needs 24/7 nursing care, his growth has been stunted, and he has way too many additional respiratory, cardiovascular, orthopedic and digestive issues to list.
As you can imagine for someone with such a compromised immune system, COVID-19 is incredibly dangerous for him. As a result, he is quarantined by himself in his family’s pool house, with only his mother and nurses allowed to see him. This poor kid can’t even see his brothers and sister.
It’s an awful, unbelievably heartbreaking disease, and if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of FD, it’s because, in the entire world, there are only 350 people alive known to have it.
There is no known cure, so all Jack’s mother, Robin, can do is try to manage his symptoms.
As a widowed mother of four.
That’s right. As if Jack’s mother didn’t have it tough, his father died suddenly at age 47, when Jack was 8.
And yet through it all, through all the medical issues and daily struggles, through the loneliness of having a rare disease and through having to attend his father’s funeral at a young age, Jack has persevered.
That Jack turned 14 on Dec. 7 last year is nothing short of a miracle. He, along with his mother, his older brother, Cody, his younger twin siblings, Hunter and Charlotte, and his healthcare staff, deserve incredible praise. But Jack has done much more than survive.
He has thrived.
He has not let his limitations deter him from doing many things other teenage boys do. He goes to school when he can. He had a Bar Mitzvah. Balance can sometimes be a challenge for him and he tires quickly, but to the extent he can, Jack plays sports, playing on his younger brother’s basketball and flag football teams. He watches his beloved New York Giants football team. He does everything and anything he can, going at it with gusto.
Referred to as “Jack Attack” by those lucky enough to know him, he always has a mega-watt smile on his face. Upbeat and full of life, he has an infectious spirit and a personality that quickly turns strangers into friends. Be it in person, or online playing video games. He loves video games.
Jack’s a PS4 guy with Madden and NBA2K and his current favorite, Fortnite, in heavy rotation. As Robin notes, “So many people think video games are harmful, but for us they’ve been a blessing. In Fortnite, Jack is like every other kid, with a powerful avatar that can run, jump and fight. It’s the basis for his online gaming fan base, JackAttackLTPF.com, where LTPF stands for Level The Playing Field.
And it’s through video games that Jack became close friends with Jordan Jacobs. Jordan is the son of Howie Jacobs, who, through our mutual friend Glenn Colton, was the one to tell me about Jack Attack. Howie and his wife, Hillary, along with Jordan and their daughter, Taylor, have all become close with the Posnacks.
As Jordan wrote to me, “During my visits, we would talk for hours at a time. I gained a better understanding of his health situation and his perspective on his own life. Jack just wanted to be able to do the same things that kids his age typically do. I promised myself I would try to help him accomplish this goal. And Jack often talked about playing fantasy football.”
Now, Jordan plays in many leagues, including one with his father, a long-time fantasy fanatic who also plays in multiple leagues.
But Jack had never played before.
So Jordan started making calls, to his own friends and to Jack’s friends, and soon they had enough for a league. Jordan took $100 out of his own savings account to put up as prize money, and last August, they gathered for the first draft of the Jack Attack Fantasy Football League.
As I told you already … there was nothing unique about it. Ten kids sitting around a table in August, cheat sheets in front of them, drafting players for a standard ESPN league with PPR scoring. Just a normal, typical league.
Which is precisely what Jack loved about it.
The league would gather on Sundays at a local restaurant to watch the games or sometimes go to Jack’s house. There were moves and trades and Jack was just another player, sweating his weekly flex spot just like the rest of us.
Exactly like the rest of us.
And throughout it all, you could see Jack’s famous smile from miles away.
The brilliance of fantasy football is that it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, man or woman, young or old. Grandma or rock star, CEO or kid in the mailroom, 30-year veteran or nervous first-timer, perfect physical specimen or kid with an obscure disease. It doesn’t care as you alternate between highs and lows with every goal-line vulture, with every touchdown called back by penalty, with every big run, pass and catch. Fantasy football levels the playing field for every single one of us.
And this year, Zoomed from his pool house, fantasy football will once again be a way back for Jack to his friends. And I believe, in what has been the toughest year in memory for so many, fantasy football is a way back for all of us.
So as we embark on another incredible season of fantasy football, I smile knowing we will soon all be sitting in a draft room, nervously hoping someone doesn’t snipe our sleeper. Soon after that we’ll be scouring the waiver wire, firing off trade offers and watching Monday Night Football, hoping our guy bails us out for a W.
And yet, as awesome as all that sounds, this is sure to be the most surreal season we have ever played. And so, somewhere along this journey we’re about to set out on, there will be things we’ve never had to deal with before. And there will still be players who don’t pan out and bad calls that will take points off your board, and there’s no doubt there will be, in hindsight, some bad advice from that guy you read on ESPN every Thursday.
And when that happens this year, I’d like you to take a moment to think of my friend Jack Attack, who realizes the real joy is in just getting to play the game at all.
Let’s get to it.
First, for the new kids in class, this is not a sleepers and busts column.
I personally hate those terms. Any player can be a “sleeper” or a “bust” — it all just depends on what it costs to draft said player. This column is actually less about players and much more about ESPN Average Draft Positions, which is a real-time report of where players are drafted in ESPN leagues. Obviously, ADP varies by site, so someone I think is undervalued in ESPN drafts might be going four rounds earlier somewhere else. What can I tell you? I’m a company man, and we’re using ESPN’s ADP. Now, ADP is sure to rise or fall, as the case may be, but this is a snapshot of how players were being drafted in the first few weeks of August.
It’s an important distinction because “Love” and “Hate” refer entirely to a player’s ADP. I don’t actually “hate” Amari Cooper as a player. I do hate his ADP as a top-10 WR when Michael Gallup is going many rounds later.
This is also not a ranking. I have Miles Sanders listed as a “Hate” and Jordan Howard as a “Love,” but that does NOT mean I advocate drafting Howard over Sanders. Far from it. What it means is that I believe a top-10 RB price tag is too rich for Sanders and that Howard’s ADP outside the top 35 at the position is a bargain.
That’s what this column does: It highlights players I believe will outperform or fall short of their ESPN ADP. News and player value change all the time, so please check my frequently updated ranks, both positional and Top 200, to see exactly where I value a player in comparison to others.
These names are based on players you might draft in ESPN 10-team leagues with PPR scoring, starting one quarterback and one flex. And, of course, there are always more “love” names than “hate” names, as you don’t need me to tell you players with lower ADPs are already poorly thought of and unlikely to return value.
Finally, be sure to check out the Love/Hate special of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+ (you can binge all our preseason shows now, and we will have multiple episodes every week during the season).
The Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast is back, and you can listen to it right now five days a week wherever you get podcasts, or watch us do it live at 10 a.m. ET on the ESPN App, the ESPN Fantasy App, ESPN’s YouTube page, the @fantasyfocus Twitter handle and the ESPN Fantasy Facebook page. You can also catch a replay on either of those social media pages.
The Fantasy Football Marathon is live Aug. 24 and 25, and once the season starts, the gang will be back on Sunday mornings starting at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2 with the award-winning Fantasy Football Now program. A huge thanks, as always, to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 and Damian Dabrowski, “The Stat-a-pillar” from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, for their help at various points in this column.
And with that, here we go.
Quarterbacks I love in 2020
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: All the fantasy team names using his name are fairly obvious and hacky. (How many years do we gotta see “Dak to the Future”? Movie came out in 1985, you know.) And no doubt, the soup commercials he does aren’t going to win him any acting awards. I don’t even believe he’s asleep in his mattress commercials. But legit those are the only negatives I can see for Dak Prescott. Somehow going as QB6 in ESPN live drafts, last year’s second-best QB in total points continues to get no respect on the virtual field. This will be a common theme among many of the players listed here, but in a year with no preseason games and just 14 padded practices, I want as much continuity as possible. So yeah, gimme Dak as a top-three QB coming off a season with 11 top-12 weekly finishes at the position (tied for the most with Lamar Jackson), 10 games with 20-plus fantasy points (second most), the second-most passing yards, the fifth-highest YPA (8.22), the second-most deep completions and the fourth-most deep pass attempts. Dak gets back all his key pieces from last season, is in the same offensive system and adds star rookie CeeDee Lamb, who averaged 21.4 yards per reception in 2019 at Oklahoma, third most in the FBS. Prescott leads all QBs in rushing TDs since 2016, and ever since Amari Cooper showed up in Dallas, Prescott has the second-most total points among QBs and is QB4 in PPG. Baby Got Dak! (Couldn’t help myself. Argh.)
Tom Brady, Buccaneers: OK, so yes, after talking up continuity and the need for rushing touchdowns in my Draft-Day Manifesto and above in the Prescott write-up, I’m now talking up a 43-year-old non-mobile QB on a new team and in a new offensive system. But then again, when we are talking about Tom Brady, conventional wisdom goes out the window. He’s a genetic marvel, and on a simple, global scale, people who bet against Brady always end up losing. I’m in on Brady this year, and it’s not just that he’ll be playing with arguably the best total group of pass-catchers he’s ever had in his career. This is an offensive system that is going to throw, throw and throw some more. Jameis Winston was QB5 in this system last season despite 30 interceptions. Think about Carson Palmer going to Arizona toward the end of his career. After averaging just 14.4 PPG in his two seasons in Oakland, Palmer came to Bruce Arians in Arizona and crushed. As a 36-year-old in 2015, Palmer was QB5. Playing in warm weather can only help (Weeks 9-17: five home games, a bye week, road games against Carolina, Atlanta and Detroit). The idea that Brady is washed is absurd (before everyone on the Patriots got hurt last season, Brady had 20-plus fantasy points in five of his first six games), but here’s something I don’t have a stat for. Brady is an extremely rich man, he has six rings and he will be a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer. There is no reason for him to leave New England and do this except one: He wants to prove he can do it without Bill Belichick. Similar to Peyton Manning’s first season in Denver, you have a highly skilled and motivated QB in a fantasy-friendly offense. Every possession in close? That’s gonna be a cheap TD pass. Bucs up big? Still gonna be throwing. Entirely a gut call, but I believe Brady wants to not only win this season but put up massive “told you so” numbers while doing it. You either believe or you do not. I believe. I’m in on Brady as a QB1 this season.
Daniel Jones, Giants: A funny thing happened on the way to Jones being a huge bust and proving everyone who thinks Dave Gettleman is an idiot right. Jones was good. Thrown into the starting lineup to replace a living legend on a team that was going through lots of organizational issues, Jones looked the part of a franchise QB last season and had flashes where he showed his massive potential. Despite starting only 12 games in his rookie year on a bad team, Jones had four games with at least 28 fantasy points (tied for third most in the NFL). He’s more mobile than he gets credit for (at least 20 rushing yards in seven of 12 starts), and I’m not sure people realize how good Jones was during the second half of last season. From Week 8 on, Jones was the fifth-best QB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis. Now, he had some stinkers during that stretch that were propped up by some huge games, so he needs to be more consistent week to week, but in his second year, coming into the season knowing he is the starter, I believe he will, especially with all his guys healthy. That’s right. The craziest part about Jones’ first season is that he played zero — count ’em, zero — snaps with Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton on the field together. He’s my pick for “Breakout of the Year.” Welcome to Danny Dimes SZN.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: “Big Ben” isn’t just about his height — I’m pretty sure it’s relevant to the size of his beard. And his gut. Oh, and his fantasy production. Out of quarantine and back onto the field, Ben has trimmed the beard, shed the winter weight and, most important, is healthy. On a recent episode of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast, Stephania Bell gave him a “clean Bell of health,” which I am trying to make a thing. Anyway, health is really the only question for Roethlisberger. He was the third-best QB in fantasy in 2018, when he led the NFL in passing yards and passing attempts per game while averaging more than 21 points per game at home and on the road. Sure, he no longer has Antonio Brown as he did in 2018, but the Steelers have a deep and talented group of pass-catchers, they will be a pass-heavy and fantasy-friendly offense, and he’s currently going as QB17 in the 16th round. Of all the guys going that late, he clearly has the best chance of being top five at his position, and if he’s not, it didn’t cost you much in draft capital. Ben is a massive bargain this season.
Others receiving votes: Jared Goff may not be great, but he’s not QB20 either, which is where he’s currently going. Last season, he had the fourth-most passing yards per game, the third-most pass attempts per game and the second-most completions per game, and yet he finished 16th in touchdowns. He was incredibly unlucky in that area (3.5% TD rate, compared with 5.7% in 2018 and 5.9% in 2017), so I expect the volume to be there and positive regression for Goff. As my friend Rich Hribar noted on Twitter recently, Goff had his receiver get tackled at the 1-yard line on seven occasions last seasons (most in the NFL) and didn’t throw a TD pass after those plays on any of them. … I’m in on Gardner Minshew II as a late-round QB with upside. Another who is more mobile than he gets credit for (at least 27 rushing yards in eight of 12 starts last season), Minshew should build on a rookie season in which he scored at least 16 points in eight of 12 starts. He’s also playing with mostly the same core group, and I’m excited to see what Jay Gruden brings to the offense. From 2011 to 2018 (Gruden was fired five games into 2019), Gruden had a QB finish 13th or better five of eight seasons. The three seasons he didn’t: 2011 (Andy Dalton’s rookie year), 2014 (he had to use three different QBs) and 2018 (he had to use four different QBs, including Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson). … Speaking of guys who could get a ton of junk-time production, Teddy Bridgewater has what should be a pass-happy offense, a terrible defense and a lot of guys (Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson) who can take a short pass and run to the house. I won’t be surprised if the Panthers are among the league leaders in receiving yards after the catch.
Quarterbacks I hate in 2020
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: He’s an amazing real-life NFL QB, he’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and he is a bad, bad man. But last year’s QB13 on a points-per-game basis comes into 2020 off a season where he had the lowest fantasy point total of any in his career in which he played at least 15 games. He had nine weekly finishes of QB20 or worse. Think about that. Want more bad stats? I got more bad stats. Rodgers was held to fewer than 15 fantasy points in 10 of 16 games last season, was off target on his passes at the fourth-highest rate in the league and he had his lowest completion percentage since 2015. From Week 9 on, he averaged just 1.3 passing TDs and 209.8 passing yards per game. So to help out their franchise QB, the pass-catchers that the Packers added this year are (checks notes) … third-round rookie tight end Josiah Deguara. That’s it. That’s the list. (Free-agent signing Devin Funchess has opted out of the 2020 season.) OK, then. But here’s the biggest issue: Matt LaFleur’s run-heavy approach worked! It worked great! Green Bay went to the NFC Championship Game last season. Why would the Packers want to go away from that? Given that the team used a second-round pick on 250-pound RB AJ Dillon and did little in the way of adding additional pass-catching help, it seems likely this offense will once again be run-heavy. Rodgers is currently going as QB11 on ESPN, and while he obviously has the talent to earn that and more, I have him comfortably outside of my top 12 QBs for 2020.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: As mentioned in the intro, it’s hard to really “hate” the QB currently being drafted as QB19. But I’m putting him here because he is currently being drafted ahead of guys with much more upside. Guys I wrote about above, like Goff, Minshew and Bridgewater, plus others like Baker Mayfield, Drew Lock and Sam Darnold. I like all of them more than the starting QB on the second-most-run-heavy team in the NFL. Considering the Niners were 28th in red zone pass percentage, it’s not surprising he had nine games with zero or one passing TDs. Jimmy G ranked 30th of 32 qualifiers in air yards per pass attempt, and while he was great in two games against Arizona (29.2 PPG), he averaged just 13.5 points per game against everyone else. Much like with Rodgers, the issue here is … it worked! The Niners were thisclose to winning a Super Bowl by running the ball, controlling the clock and playing really good defense. I don’t see them changing much with that winning formula, especially since their pass-catching corps took hits with Emmanuel Sanders‘ departure and injures to Jalen Hurd (torn ACL, out for the season) and Deebo Samuel (foot surgery, questionable for start of season). Like I said, it’s a little like shooting fish in a barrel by putting him on this list, but considering he’s going top 20 at the position, I wanted to mention him because there are a lot of much-higher-upside QBs going later than he is. So this is for those in deeper leagues, superflex or 2-QB leagues, or for those who want to draft multiple QBs because of health concerns this year.
Running backs I love in 2020
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs: BE. STILL. MY. BEATING. HEART! That’s what I was screaming into my phone as I recorded videos for ESPN on draft day. Edwards-Helaire, the first player in SEC history with more than 1,000 rushing yards and more than 50 receptions in a single season; the player who forced the second-most missed tackles in the FBS; the versatile and elusive player who was going to an Andy Reid offense. The perfect fit for player and offense, CEH was going to be my “fantasy ride-or-die” this year and I talked him up extensively on social and on the post-draft episodes of Fantasy Focus and The Fantasy Show on ESPN+. And then Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season, hype for CEH went over the top, he vaulted into the first round of drafts and there went making him my ride-or-die. Way too obvious now. But I still put him in here because there are a lot of questions about whether a rookie, in a season with no preseason games and just 14 padded practices, is worth a mid-first-round pick. That’s what it’s going to cost, at a minimum, on draft day. I’m here to plant my flag on yes. The talent is undeniable, but I’m actually not sure that matters that much. If you are the lead back in an Andy Reid offense, you will have fantasy relevance. I mean, Andy made guys like Charcandrick West, Correll Buckhalter, Spencer Ware … the list of, let’s call them, inconsistent talents that Reid has turned into fantasy factors is long, not to mention elite players like LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook. In fact, on draft day Reid compared Edwards-Helaire to Westbrook. Westbrook was a top-seven RB for five straight years, including two as the No. 1 guy in fantasy. Look, here’s all you need to know: In the past 15 seasons, Reid’s lead RB has averaged 18.0 PPG, which would have been RB8 last season (just ahead of Alvin Kamara) on a PPG basis. And, of course, most of those seasons were without Patrick Mahomes. At CEH’s price point, you’re either all-in or you’re not. I’m in.
Austin Ekeler, Chargers: This is one I just do not get. Have people just not seen pictures of him without his shirt off? It’s very impressive, I promise you. In fairness, I have a dad bod, so pretty much anyone without a muffin top impresses me, but still. Somehow Ekeler is going in the middle of the third round on ESPN and outside the top 10 RBs. I have him at No. 11 overall, a borderline first-rounder. You know about the pass-catching ability, but did you know that since the start of 2018 he is sixth among RBs in yards per rush after first contact? Showing his potential in the first four games of last season (before Melvin Gordon showed up), Ekeler was the second-best RB in fantasy, scoring just 4.9 fewer total points than Christian McCaffrey. Then Gordon returned, and from Week 5 on, Ekeler was still the fifth-best RB in fantasy. Now Melvin is once again gone and somehow Ekeler has … (checks notes) dropped two rounds? What? Yes, new QB Tyrod Taylor (or rookie Justin Herbert) is unlikely to check down as much as Philip Rivers, fine, but if you think Ekeler won’t once again be the focal point of former NFL running back and now Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn’s offense, I don’t know what to tell you. However much you like Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley (and I actually really like Kelley as a late-round flier), I assure you they ain’t as good as Melvin Gordon. Melvin is gone and Ekeler is going to get even more touches this season. A lot more touches. Like he did in the first four games last season. Since Ekeler entered the NFL, he is third among all RBs (minimum 100 carries) in fantasy points per touch. Fantasy doesn’t have to be this hard, kids.
Josh Jacobs, Raiders: My fantasy ride-or-die from last year worked out well for those true believers. A late-season injury was the only blemish on an otherwise strong rookie season in both real life and fantasy. I always say fantasy success comes from two things: talent and opportunity. Jacobs has both in abundance, so I’m surprised to see him, like Ekeler, going in the third round and barely inside the overall top 25. I have him as a top-10 player overall. That’s partially due to my RB-heavy approach in the first round this year, which I outlined in the Draft Day Manifesto, and partially due to the fact that I expect the Raiders to be even better offensively. I also expect Jacobs, who has no real competition for touches (he was fourth in carries per game last season), to be even more involved in the pass game this season. He was third among RBs in yards per rush after first contact last season and the Raiders were fifth in rush percentage. Jacobs is a legit RB1 this year.
Chris Carson, Seahawks: Death, taxes and me banging the drum for Chris Carson. I’m Alex Van Halen over here, banging away trying to get people to respect Carson. Every. Damn. Year. Carson is currently going in the middle of the fourth round, and I’ve seen him go outside the top 20 running backs in some early drafts. I don’t get the arguments. It can’t be competition. He has none. What year are we on for Rashaad Penny taking over full time? Three years now? Five? Ten? I’ve lost count. Penny is very possibly going to start the season on the PUP list. I’m not worried about Carlos Hyde, now on his sixth team in four years. He’s there as depth because of concerns around Penny’s health, not Carson’s. Oh, and when Pete Carroll got up to talk about RB DeeJay Dallas after the team drafted him, the first thing he mentioned was how excited he was to see Dallas on special teams. Carson will once again be the lead back on one of the NFL’s run-heaviest teams (he was fifth in the NFL in carries per game last season). OK, so it’s not usage that’s the problem. Injury? He’s played 29 games the past two seasons. That’s the same as Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley, more than Dalvin Cook’s 25 and just one fewer than Joe Mixon’s 30, just to mention some guys being drafted way ahead of him. One of only two players in the NFL with at least 1,100 rushing yards and nine total TDs in each of the past two seasons (Ezekiel Elliott is the other), Carson started to be used more in the passing game in 2019, with 2.5 receptions and 3.0 targets a game (up from 1.4 and 1.6, respectively, the season before). He’s not sexy and no one will go “oooh” when you draft him, but all he does is produce at a high level for a way-too-low ADP. Grab a drumstick and help me beat the drum for Carson. AGAIN.
David Johnson, Texans: I can give you stats that show he was more effective than you think last season (before he was injured, he was RB5 in Weeks 1-6, averaging 20.2 PPG on 17.7 touches per game, including 52.5 receiving yards per game, which was second best among all RBs). I can tell you about the Houston offense, which last season used Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson (two players who are not as good as David) to combine for 1,480 rushing yards, 54 receptions, eight touchdowns and 307.2 fantasy points (if that was one RB, it would have been RB5 last season). But instead I’m just gonna talk gut here. Remember when the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley over a QB and everyone roasted them for it? The organization, from the front office to the coaches on down needed to make Saquon work. He was going to get a ton of work no matter what, because if nothing else worked that year, Saquon was going to be a success. We’re talking about different players, obviously, and Barkley is really talented, but so is Johnson. After trading away DeAndre Hopkins and taking on Johnson’s salary, Bill O’Brien needs David Johnson to work. In the worst way. Johnson may not be a league leader in any efficiency categories, but that won’t matter. He will get enough work and short touchdowns that he will appear to have been a success. Now, I understand the concern if they use him more between the tackles (the “Carlos Hyde role”) instead of on the edges and in the passing game (the “Duke Johnson” role), because he’s much better on the edge than between the tackles. That’s fair. But my argument is that he will take on both roles, and the usage will be so massive it will mask any inefficiencies in the run game. As long as Deshaun Watson is there, this will be a good offense, and David Johnson is going to be the lead back in a good offense. He just isn’t being drafted like it.
Others receiving votes: I hinted at this point pretty strongly in my 100 Facts You Need to Know Before You Draft article, but at his current ADP (RB26), Kareem Hunt is an absolute steal. From Week 10 on last season (when he returned from suspension), he was RB17 in total points. He’s an incredibly talented running back on what figures to be a much-improved, run-first team with a better offensive line. There’s even been talk out of Cleveland that Hunt will actually serve as the Browns’ slot receiver a little. Either way, he’s very likely to outearn his current ADP and be a high-end flex or low-end RB2, and if anything were to happen to Nick Chubb, Hunt would be a top-five RB. … I appreciate that people are worried about the RBBC nature of the 49ers, but that offense is run-heavy and effective enough (third in rush percentage, fifth in red zone rush percentage) to support two viable fantasy running backs. Raheem Mostert was fourth among RBs last season (minimum 100 touches) in fantasy points per touch and is slated for a much bigger role this season. Meanwhile, people are forgetting Tevin Coleman still actually led the team in red zone carries (he had 45% of San Fran’s RB goal-to-go carries last season) and led all 49ers running backs in target share. Both are talented, and I like both to outproduce their ADP in a significant way (Mostert’s ADP is currently RB28 in the ninth round and Coleman’s is RB39 in the 13th round). … Two first names, always a crowd pleaser. Since Jordan Howard came into the league in 2016, he is third in the NFL in rushing yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns. He was sixth among RBs (minimum 100 carries) in percentage of rushes that went for at least 10 yards, and Howard now goes to a Miami team that spent this offseason significantly improving its offensive line and whose only real competition for touches is oft-injured Matt Breida. Howard will be the first- and second-down back, as well as the goal-line back, and he’s going as RB37(!) in the 12th round. He’s not sexy, but he is very serviceable and has a legit chance at double-digit touchdowns. … I know everyone is all gaga for Cam Akers, but he’s a rookie in a year with no preseason games and very limited practice time. So somehow, Darrell Henderson Jr., who was the buzzy rookie last year, is going much later this year than he did last, despite the fact that Henderson has a much clearer path to significant playing time in 2020. What are we doing here gang? It’s all small sample size with him from last year, but more than 10% of his carries went for 10-plus yards. A big play waiting to happen, he has a legit shot to have the majority of the Rams’ run game to himself (at least early on, and if he crushes, he ain’t coming out). Henderson is one of my favorite fliers, and as RB35 (11th round), he’s not going to cost much. … Another later-round flier I like a lot is Antonio Gibson of Washington. The team’s release of Derrius Guice will cause Gibson’s ADP to rise, but his versatility is something I know Washington is very excited about. Gibson was the only player in the FBS last season to have at least 700 receiving yards and 300 rushing yards. … One reason I’m a little nervous about the rushing touchdowns for Josh Allen and Devin Singletary this season is the presence of Zack Moss, who is a very tough tackle (he was top 10 in yards per carry after first contact and missed tackles forced per touch last season). Add to that the fact that Frank Gore, who had a team-high 52% of goal-to-go rushes, is no longer around. … I believe James Conner has a short leash this year. Partially because of his injury history, but also partially because of Anthony McFarland Jr., who I like a lot. … Small sample size, but from Week 14 on last season, the seventh-best RB in fantasy was … Boston Scott. Doug Pederson is going to use multiple backs this season (more on that in a minute), but unless Philly signs a veteran, Scott has a real chance at carving out a nice fantasy-relevant role for himself. … In a year with COVID-19 and so much unknown, I’m a fan of insuring your main RB or taking a shot at having a backup pop, so I always get at least one, if not two or three, of J.K. Dobbins, Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, Latavius Murray, Chase Edmonds, Joshua Kelley and DeAndre Washington in drafts.
Running backs I hate in 2020
Leonard Fournette, Jaguars: The argument for Fournette is volume, his new pass-catching role and how unlucky he got with touchdowns last season. He has to have more luck with touchdowns this season, right? Well, sure. If he’s on the team. Fournette was the subject of trade rumors earlier this year, and Jacksonville declined to pick up his fifth-year option, a stunning and seemingly final nail in the coffin for his time with the Jags. I’m not 100 percent convinced he finishes the season with Jacksonville, and he’s an obvious candidate to be dealt if a contending team finds itself needing a RB this season. But even if he stays with the Jags this season, the passing-game volume is very likely to go down with the acquisition of Chris Thompson, now reunited with his former Washington coach Jay Gruden. And that’s if Fournette stays on the field. He’s missed 12 games in three seasons and not all of them for injury. Who misses a team photo? With a career 3.95 yards-per-carry average, he’s a guy who needs volume to produce significant fantasy numbers. And maybe he gets it this season if the team decides to just run him into the ground, and he’d certainly score more touchdowns. But a more likely scenario is he splits time or isn’t on the team, the Jags center the offense around Gardner Minshew, pushing the ball down the field, and Fournette doesn’t come close to earning his RB17 ADP. I’d much rather take a late flier on Ryquell Armstead.
Miles Sanders, Eagles: I want to be very clear here. I think Miles Sanders is a good football player and will have a very good season, OK? I’m gonna repeat it. I THINK MILES SANDERS IS A GOOD FOOTBALL PLAYER AND WILL HAVE A VERY GOOD SEASON. But he’s on this list because he’s currently going as RB8 and I’m like … what? A top-eight running back? That … that is aggressive. The argument for Sanders is basically that he crushed last season when he was the lead running back and this season he’s the lead RB, so he will crush again. OK. Let’s take those two arguments. Last season, when Jordan Howard got hurt, Sanders got six games as the lead RB. Let’s throw out Week 17, because he didn’t play much in that one. In the other five games, Weeks 12-16, he averaged 21 touches per game, 117 yards from scrimmage and 21.2 fantasy points. He was the fourth-best RB in fantasy in that span and he was awesome. Here’s the issue with that: He was all they had. I mean, during the same basic time frame (Weeks 14-17), Boston Scott was the seventh-best RB in fantasy on the same team. The Eagles were so banged up, they had to eventually start Greg Ward, former wide receiver of the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF, soon after his activation from the practice squad. They truly had no one else. Except, of course, Sanders, and even then the Eagles gave Scott, a former practice squad RB, 13 touches per game in Weeks 14-16 (the games Sanders played fully). But if we assume much better health for all the Eagles’ skill-position players, I’m not convinced Sanders gets that kind of workload. Oh, he’ll get work. But consider that Doug Pederson has been the head coach of the Eagles for 64 regular-season games. Only nine times in those 64 games has a single running back gotten more than 20 touches in a game. (In fairness, three of the nine were Sanders late last season.) And those nine instances have been spread among five players, so Pederson has always been a running back by committee (RBBC) guy. “But he’s never had a talent like Sanders!” I hear you scream. Hey, I get it. Just like the “Bruce Arians has never had a TE like O.J. Howard” talk last season. But OK, fine, let’s play that game. Let’s say the rumors of Philly looking at Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde and LeSean McCoy were just smoke screens and the team does, in fact, plan to give Sanders the same workload he got late last season, despite much better health for the rest of the weapons. Fine. You’re dealing with a six-game sample. If we are in on using small samples, why is Austin Ekeler, who was all-world in four games last season in the same situation he will be in for this entire season, going after Sanders? Why is Sanders going before Kenyan Drake, who was all-world for eight games? Sanders is going before Aaron Jones, who was all-world for a full season. He is being drafted ahead of Josh Jacobs, who also has no competition and has a full-year sample size of being a rock star. He is being drafted ahead of Joe Mixon, who also has no competition and has multiple years of being elite. Miles Sanders may very well work out this season and make me look like an idiot. It won’t be the first or last time for that. But even if he does work out, he is being drafted at his best-case-scenario ADP with no room for profit.
D’Andre Swift, Lions: Very talented player who was all that and a bag of peaches in the SEC at Georgia, so I get the excitement, I just don’t get the ADP. Swift is currently going as RB24, ahead of guys like Kareem Hunt (talked him up above), Mark Ingram II (lead back on the best rushing offense in the NFL) and David Montgomery (has the backfield all to himself). I know I’m a broken record here, but we have no preseason games. Only 14 padded practices. I’m not convinced Swift starts the season as the guy, and even if he is, it’ll be a RBBC. Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia come from the Bill Belichick Patriots school and they like multiple backs. And by the way, Kerryon Johnson is good. It’s not like he’s some retread who resorts to holding a clipboard just because Swift showed up in town. Even if Swift is the lead in the committee, he’s the lead in an offense that was 19th in rush percentage, 20th in red zone rush percentage, 22nd in RB target share and 23rd in yards per rush before first contact on RB carries. Yes, there was a lot wrong with Detroit’s offense after Matthew Stafford got hurt, so this is all a bit skewed, but still. Swift is another guy who is being drafted at best-possible-outcome ADP. I’d much prefer Kerryon three rounds later.
Tarik Cohen, Bears: He’s a nice player, but this is all about draft philosophy. I want no part of Cohen. He’s currently being drafted as RB31, ahead of guys with much more upside, like Darrell Henderson Jr. or J.K. Dobbins. There is no scenario where Cohen is anything more than a usable flex piece. He averaged less than nine touches per game last season, had only 12 total red zone touches, and even if anything happens to David Montgomery, the Bears’ starting running back isn’t going to be Tarik Cohen. Meanwhile, if anything happens to Mark Ingram, Dobbins would be a top-10 RB for as long as Ingram is out — a potential league winner. In the 10th round or later, I’d much rather swing for the fences with a guy like Dobbins (or even Henderson, who could wind up as the lead RB for the Rams) than draft a usable flex-play guy like Cohen. Unless there’s an injury to Ingram, Cohen likely finishes the season with more total fantasy points than Dobbins. But that won’t help you win a title at all. And what the hell are we even doing if not aiming for a title?
Pass-catchers I love in 2020
“Allen Robinson was WR8 last season, despite having Trubisky as his QB.”
“Trubisky focused only on Robinson, as A-Rob was third in target share and top five in end zone targets and led all NFL players in red zone target share last season.”
“Imagine how good Robinson could be this season if Nick Foles is even slightly better than Trubisky!”
The challenge is it’s all true. Robinson is a very talented pass-catcher who is now clearly fully healthy. He enters a 2020 season where one of two things are going to happen. 1.) Trubisky will get better and hold off Nick Foles, or 2.) Foles will improve the offense. And either way, Robinson will be the focal point of a passing offense that will be … wait for it … passable. He is currently going in the middle of the fourth round on ESPN, so Robinson is a legit WR1 this season being drafted at a WR2 ADP.
Robert Woods, Rams: Here’s another guy, like Robinson, who doesn’t have a flashy name, isn’t a diva and often doesn’t get talked about the way elite fantasy wide receivers should. Woods, the 13th-best WR in fantasy in points per game over the past two seasons, is currently going in the sixth round as WR20, despite the fact that more than 120 targets from last season are up for grabs in L.A. with the departures of Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley II. Woods is a precise route-runner who averaged more than nine targets per game last season and should continue to lead a pass-heavy Rams attack. He was top 10 among WRs in yards per game and targets per game, and only one wide receiver in football ran more routes per game (Chris Godwin). He’s had some bad touchdown luck the past few years, and while he’ll never be a huge touchdown scorer, he should see some positive regression on last season’s two touchdowns and get into the five-to-seven range. Even with the lack of touchdowns, he was WR12 last season in terms of points per game, he remains in the same system with the same coach and QB, and his situation has improved with no Cooks. So why is he going 20th at WR? Don’t make me come to your house and draft him for you, because I will.
Terry McLaurin, Washington: We got rid of Washington’s team name, can we do away with “F1” and finally lose all the bad nicknames in our nation’s capital? Please? He’s Terry McScorin, and he’s gonna be a monster this season. Despite inconsistent QB play, tons of double teams and an offense that did a 180 to a run-heavy approach when Jay Gruden was let go after five games last season, McLaurin still excelled in his rookie season. He was 12th or better among WRs in catch percentage above expectation, yards per target and end zone targets, and he’ll once again be the focal point of Washington’s passing attack. Why does that matter, you sneer? Because this is a team that will be pass-heavy. The Panthers (where offensive coordinator Scott Turner comes from) were second in passing attempts last season. Now, some of that was due to their horrific defense, and I actually think Washington’s defense will be pretty good this season, but still. Turner, son of Norv, is going to be calling pass plays. A lot of them. The team sees McLaurin as the DJ Moore in this offense, someone who got 135 targets last season en route to a WR16 finish. I don’t know for sure who will be the QB for Washington, but I do know that person will be looking early and often for Terry McScorin, whose mid-seventh-round ADP is a bargain.
Michael Gallup, Cowboys: Which WR do you want based on 2019 per-game averages?
WR A: 4.9 rec., 7.4 targets, 74.3 yds., 15.1 yds/rec., 31.0 routes, 0.50 rec. TDs, 15.4 fantasy pts.
WR B: 4.7 rec., 8.1 targets, 79.1 yds., 16.8 yds/rec., 35.0 routes, 0.43 rec. TDs, 15.2 fantasy pts.
Basically the same, right? Maybe you lean slightly toward one or the other, but whatever. Dealer’s choice, right? Well, WR A is 2019 Amari Cooper, currently going as WR10 on ESPN. And WR B is 2019 Michael Gallup, currently going as WR31, in the ninth round. Now, critics will point out that Gallup’s per-game averages are inflated by his huge Week 17 game against Washington last season when he caught three touchdowns. Fine. Here are those same categories for Weeks 1-16:
Cooper: 5.0 rec., 7.6 targets, 73.1 yds., 31.0 routes, 0.53 rec. TDs, 15.5 fantasy pts.
Gallup: 4.7 rec., 8.2 targets, 77.6 yds., 35.8 routes, 0.23 rec. TDs, 13.8 fantasy pts.
OK, Cooper looks better now … but does he look 54 picks better? Because Gallup is going five-plus rounds after Cooper. Oh, let’s do one other thing. Remember, Gallup got injured early last season and wasn’t 100 percent the first few games back. So here’s their numbers in Weeks 9-16 last season, after the Cowboys’ Week 8 bye:
Cooper: 4.6 rec., 8.0 targets, 59.5 yds., 34.3 routes, 0.38 rec. TDs, 12.8 fantasy pts.
Gallup: 4.3 rec., 8.3 targets, 73.7 yds., 38.5 routes, 0.25 rec. TDs, 13.1 fantasy pts.
You already know I am high on Dak Prescott this season. Same QB, same system. Gallup’s third season in the NFL is going to be a special one, and if you’re going to invest in the Dallas passing game, why wouldn’t you do it with the guy who can give you similar or better production five rounds later?
Marquise Brown, Ravens: He was injured coming into his rookie season, learning a new system with an inexperienced QB, and yet Hollywood was still incredibly efficient, catching 66.7% of his targets (top 20 in the NFL). Now entering his second season, he is the No. 1 wide receiver on the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL (33.2 PPG in 2019) with little competition for targets other than tight end Mark Andrews, and he is going in the ninth round as WR32. Fantasy doesn’t have to be that tough, kids. An increase in targets is expected this season for Brown, who in his six games last season with five-plus targets averaged 15.5 PPG. (Last season, WR13 Kenny Golladay averaged 15.5 PPG.)
Mark Andrews, Ravens: Speaking of the Ravens and that narrow target tree, Andrews is on this list because I have him at TE3, ahead of Zach Ertz, who everyone else has at TE3. Same argument as Brown — Lamar Jackson led the NFL in touchdown passes last season and his only competition for significant targets is Marquise Brown. Andrews led all players in percentage of routes he was targeted on last season and was top three among tight ends in yards per route, receptions per route, slot catches, slot yards, end zone targets, air yards per target, total air yards and TE target share, and he was fourth in fantasy points per catch. If we all agree last season’s leader in touchdown passes will have another strong season (and we all agree on that, right?), why wouldn’t you want one of his top two targets, especially at a position like tight end? Especially when he is going in the mid-fifth round?
Hayden Hurst, Falcons: When I interviewed Hurst at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere a few years ago, we spent much of the interview talking about fantasy football. His fantasy football teams. He had played with buddies for years and was a three-time champion of his league. I don’t know if he still plays, but if he does, he should think strongly about drafting himself. A talented player who dealt with injuries and depth chart issues being stuck behind Mark Andrews, Hurst now finds himself in a great opportunity in Atlanta. The Falcons were 10th in tight end targets last season and tied for sixth in tight end red zone targets, and they helped Austin Hooper become the No. 1 tight end in fantasy prior to Hooper’s injury. In general, I’ve been trying to stay with players in the same situation as the season before, but while it’s a new team for Hurst, the QB, coach and offensive system is the same as the season before, when Atlanta led the NFL in pass attempts. A good offense and a wide-open role make Hurst a bargain at his current 13th/14th-round ADP.
Others receiving votes: A lot of these guys could’ve easily been legit “loves” on their own, but even I have space limitations. Marvin Jones Jr. is another unsexy guy who no one will get angry about when you draft him, but he was WR14 last season in the eight games he played with Matthew Stafford and finished the season as a top-20 WR on a points-per-game basis. Jones is very quietly fifth in receiving touchdowns since 2017, and he was 13th among wideouts last season in red zone targets per game. He’s currently being left for dead as WR35. Bonkers. … With DeAndre Hopkins moving on to Arizona, there are 150 targets up for grab in Houston. In Will Fuller V‘s past 16 games with at least seven targets, he’s put up this line: 87-1,192-8 (259.9 FP). That would’ve been good enough for WR7 last season. Health is always the concern with Fuller, but at a 10th-round cost (WR36 in ADP), that risk is more than baked into his draft stock. Worth the gamble. … You know I like Daniel Jones this season, so it stands to reason I like Sterling Shepard as a value. Currently going as WR40, Shepard was WR24 on a points-per-game basis, averaged 8.6 targets per game (13th best among WR), and the offense should be better as a whole this season. … Small sample size, but Diontae Johnson was WR12 in Weeks 14-17. That was as a rookie with, shall we say, inconsistent QB play. He led all rookies last season (minimum 50 targets) in average separation, and we’ve seen a Big Ben-led offense support two fantasy-relevant WRs before. I like Ben’s chances this season to do it again with JuJu and Diontae. Johnson is currently going as WR41 in the 13th round. … Speaking of quarterbacks who have shown they can support two fantasy-relevant WRs, Aaron Rodgers has done it many different years. I say he does it again this season and Allen Lazard is the non-Davante guy you want in Green Bay. … Quietly, Sam Darnold was sixth in deep pass attempts per game last season and seventh in deep completions. So give me some Breshad Perriman late in drafts. He was the third-best WR in fantasy during the fantasy playoffs last season and he finally looked like the guy we all expected when he was drafted in the first round, with great route-running and good hands. Robby Anderson is gone, so I expect Perriman to make some noise, especially once he gets up to speed in New York. … We saw what Anthony Miller was capable of last season when he was WR8 in Weeks 11-15. If Nick Foles wins the job in Chicago (and that’s what I expect), he has traditionally been better when targeting the slot. I can’t believe I am recommending two Chicago wideouts. Hey, that’s where the value is. … My expectation is that Cam Newton will be the starting QB for the Patriots and he’s gonna have to throw to someone. Cam doesn’t mind throwing a jump ball, so why not take a late-round flier on N’Keal Harry, who had 26% of his targets last season come in the red zone. … So many tight ends I like are going outside the top 10. Among them is Noah Fant, who had some big plays and flashes of brilliance last season, which helped boost his TE-best 8.3 yards after the catch and 14.1 yards per reception (second best among tight ends). The Broncos’ offense should be better this season and Drew Lock will lean heavily on Fant. … Mike Gesicki tied for the most end zone targets among tight ends last season. As a rookie, Gesicki was TE8 in fantasy points per game from Week 9 on. … No Delanie Walker anymore in Tennessee, so Ryan Tannehill and the Titans coaching staff will turn to Jonnu Smith, who led all tight ends in catch rate last season and was sixth among tight ends in fantasy points per target. He’s gonna get a lot more targets this season. … As a Washington fan, I hate how high I am on the Cowboys’ offense this season, but yeah, Blake Jarwin is a young, athletic tight end they like a lot in Dallas and he should have an increased role this season. Jason Witten leaving Dallas for Las Vegas means 85 targets (ninth most among tight ends) are now up for grabs, and last season Jarwin was ninth among tight ends in fantasy points per target. … Let’s shift to deeper leagues briefly, where Ian Thomas has eight career games with five or more targets. In those games he averages 11.1 PPG, which last season would have been TE11. … Greg Olsen is now in Seattle, which is where Will Dissly will be. He needs to get and stay healthy, but they love him in Seattle, and Dissly was TE9 last season in PPG. Finally, super-small sample, but for really deep leagues, Dan Arnold had two scores in his final three games and is getting some buzz in Arizona.
Pass-catchers I hate in 2020
Amari Cooper, Cowboys: See: Gallup, Michael. As you read, following the Cowboys’ Week 8 bye, on a per-game basis, from Weeks 9-16 (so excluding Gallup’s big three-touchdown Week 17 game vs. Washington) Gallup averaged more targets, more yards, ran more routes and averaged more fantasy points than Cooper. Cooper is just 26 and barring injury will once again be a very good player and fantasy option. He’s just not five rounds better than his teammate. There were seven weeks last season in which Cooper was WR30 or worse. If I’m going to draft Cooper as a top-10 WR, which is where he’s currently going on ESPN, I not only need the big blow-up games (which Cooper has) but I also need a high floor and consistent production. He had five games last season — almost a third of the season — where he scored fewer than 7 points, including a brutal Week 12 game where he had zero points. Those are the kind of weeks that just crush you, and you can’t have that from a guy you have to draft top 10 at the position.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos: I don’t hate players, I hate ADPs, the saying goes. So let me be clear. Courtland Sutton is an extremely talented player who has managed to produce despite very shaky QB play in each of the past two seasons, but consider this: In 2019, Sutton ranked sixth in both target share and end zone targets per game. Yet even with all that opportunity, he was WR27 on a PPG basis and had only three games all season with more than five catches. A full season of Drew Lock will make the offense better and more likely to score, but the Broncos spent their first two draft picks on Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, signed a very capable pass-catching back in Melvin Gordon (92 receptions in his past 24 games), and as you’ve read, I’m in on TE Noah Fant getting a larger role. So less of a target share on a run-first team and he’s going ahead of target monsters like A.J. Brown, Tyler Lockett and Robert Woods. Gonna be tough to earn a “profit” on an ADP of WR15.
Henry Ruggs III, Raiders: I get the excitement for rookies and especially one as talented as Ruggs, but WR38 is really high to me given he’s going before all other rookie WRs and guys like Sterling Shepard, Diontae Johnson, and Brandin Cooks, who prior to last season, had four straight 1,000-yard seasons. Suddenly there are a lot of pass-catchers in Las Vegas (Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams and even-more-buzz-worthy-rookie Bryan Edwards) for a team that last season ranked 28th in pass percentage, 30th in WR target share and 28th in WR red zone target share. Now there’s a chicken-and-egg thing happening with the Raiders. Were they conservative because of a lack of confidence in Derek Carr and his weapons or did the failings of Carr and his weapons make them more conservative? Certainly drafting Ruggs and Edwards is an attempt at trying to fix that, but Ruggs has already been hurt this offseason and like I’ve said multiple times, the talent isn’t questioned but with no preseason games and only 14 padded practices, I prefer other more-proven guys in the range Ruggs is going.
Jared Cook, Saints: He needs touchdowns, plain and simple. How lucky do you feel? Last season, tight ends that had at least 50 targets earned 24.5% of their fantasy points from touchdowns. Jared Cook got 49.4% of his points last season from touchdowns. In games last season where Cook didn’t score a touchdown, he averaged 7.3 points, which would have been TE22, just ahead of Kyle Rudolph. So he needs touchdowns. How likely is he to get them in bunches again? He did get a lot of end zone targets last season, I’ll give him that, but overall he averaged just 4.5 targets per game (16th among tight ends) and finished 17th among tight ends in target share. My feeling is it’s more likely than not that the touchdowns go down with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, some positive regression for Alvin Kamara in the touchdown department and the emergence of Taysom Hill. Touchdowns are generally fluky (prior to his nine last season, Cook had six in his breakout year in Oakland and a total of three in the three seasons from 2015-17), and this also works in concert with draft philosophy for me. This year, I either want to be one of the first guys in my league to grab a tight end or one of the last, as there are a number of young tight ends with huge upside who are likely to have significantly larger roles in their offenses than the 33-year-old Cook.
Hunter Henry, Chargers: Another guy who is touchdown-dependent (for his career, Henry averages just 6.9 points in games in which he doesn’t score touchdowns), Henry has a couple of concerns this season beyond just being overly reliant on touchdowns. First, of course, is health, as Henry has missed 22 games in his first three seasons and has never played more than 14 games in a NFL season. Second is the change in QB. Philip Rivers was known for targeting tight ends, especially in the red zone. Current starting QB Tyrod Taylor not as much. Now, the talent around Taylor with the Chargers is a significant upgrade than what he had in Buffalo, so it’s not apples to apples, but it’s worth noting that Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn had a variety of roles with the Bills in 2015-16, including offensive coordinator and interim head coach when Taylor was Buffalo’s starting QB. Again, not apples to apples but if you take Taylor’s second-most productive WR/TE pass-catcher each game, that “player” averaged 9.4 FPPG on 4.8 targets and 3.2 receptions. OK, we can all assume Keenan Allen is the Chargers’ top pass-catcher, right? And we won’t count Austin Ekeler — who you know I’m all-in on — because he’s an RB. So let’s say Hunter Henry is consistently the second-most-productive WR/TE pass-catcher for the Bolts this season and he produces the same 9.4 fantasy points per game the second-best guy in Buffalo did. Well, 9.4 would’ve been TE12 last season (minimum eight games played). And that’s making the assumption he stays healthy and is better every game than Mike Williams and others. Again, I believe the Chargers’ offense will be better and more explosive than Buffalo’s was, but in Taylor’s three seasons as the Bills starter he averaged 28.1 pass attempts per game. Rivers averaged 36.9 last season. Taylor has never been a high-volume passer and now, playing under former NFL running back Anthony Lynn, I don’t see that changing. There are lots of other tight ends going much later in drafts, who have as much, if not a lot more, upside, basically the same floor and fewer injury concerns as Henry.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — desperately needs football this year.