Key Surprises from the 2020 Season

Updated: November 27th 2020

Each year we find unexpected fantasy performances which alter the landscape of fantasy leagues.  This week’s article takes a look at a few of the major surprises from the early 2020 fantasy season, highlighted by some rookie performances.

 

Buffalo Passing Attack

Many thought Josh Allen would be a quality fantasy quarterback in 2020, largely due to his rushing production. Many believed we would see another leap from Allen in his passing effectiveness.  I don’t think many in the industry predicted Allen’s massive jump in quarterback play this year.  Allen was a bottom-tier passer by most metrics through his first two seasons.  He ranked just 25th in passing yards per attempt, 24th in QBR, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ QB30 last year.  A big leap would have put him in the middle tier of passers.  Allen blew those expectations out of the water so far in 2020.

He ranks 8th in YPA, 6th in QBR, and is PFF’s QB8.  Maybe more surprising is how Buffalo changed the offense.  This was a run-first offense in previous years, sitting among the bottom 3rd in passing attempts last season while ranking 6th in rushing attempts.  Buffalo currently ranks 14th this season in passes with the 8th least carries so far.  Allen is on pace for a whopping 26% increase in throws.  The offense truly runs through the 3rd year quarterback.  We don’t see this massive of a change in offensive philosophy very often with the same head coach and quarterback.  Stefon Diggs benefited from Allen’s emergence (and vice versa) ranking second in targets and receiving yardage.  He vastly out-produced his RSO salary in most leagues.

Justin Herbert Crushes from the Start

Many of the thoughts from Buffalo may be copied and pasted here.  Not much was expected from the Chargers passing game with Tyrod Taylor or rookie Herbert when he eventually would be put in as the starter.  Taylor got hurt early, Los Angeles started Herbert, and the Chargers never looked back.  Herbert has been a locked-in rock solid QB1 thanks to tremendous deep-ball success and quality play when pressured.  Herbert’s success translated to Keenan Allen who, like Diggs, was coming at a sharp discount in RSO leagues due to the questionable quarterback situation.  Allen dominated, like usual, this season as the WR3 with usual sticky hands and jaw-dropping separation skills.

Jonathan Taylor Struggles

Jonathan Taylor was widely expected to post huge fantasy numbers this season once Marlon Mack suffered a season-ending injury early and was the rookie RB1 for many analysts coming into the year.  The super-athletic running back crushed Big Ten competition putting massive rushing totals.  The expected fantasy points have not materialized so far.  Taylor struggled mightily, looking timid and missing open rushing lanes routinely.  So what happened to the near sure-loc k running back?

Wisconsin largely utilized I-back/fullback formations with power/gap running concepts giving Taylor fairly easy reads for him to utilize his breakaway speed and nifty feet.  Early in the year, Indianapolis used much more offset single-back looks and zone rushing schemes forcing Taylor to make reads and manipulate linebackers in a way he simply was not used to.  We are so use to thinking of running back as ready to contribute straight out of college but, with Taylor, we see a player who really misses needed preseason reps.  A few positive notes going forward for Taylor is that the Colts utilized more I-back runs last week and Taylor consistently shows off his explosiveness when given chances in the passing game.  I definitely view him as a buy for any leagues where people are down on him.

The James Robinson Undrafted Rookie Party

On the other end of the spectrum, Robinson is one of the feel-good fantasy stories of the year.  It took a lot of bizarre twists for Robinson to see the field.  The Jaguars released former first-round pick Leonard Fournette early in the preseason, Ryquell Armstead was lost for the season due to COVID-related complications, while Devine Ozigbo and passing-down specialist Chris Thompson struggled with injuries.  The undrafted free agent assumed the RB1 role for Jacksonville week one and stuck ever since.  Robinson posted double-digit PPR fantasy points each week, averaged over a 100 scrimmage yards per game and stayed healthy so far.   Fantasy players lucky enough to get Robinson early have a RB1 on their roster for waiver wire costs. 


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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2020 Rookie Rankings Explained: Part II

Updated: May 10th 2020

This was my fourth year creating the rookie rankings for Reality Sports and it was as rewarding as ever in 2020. I look forward to the rankings each year because it’s such a unique experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help inform literally every single RSO rookie draft. Since my rookie rankings can have a large impact on roster composition, I shy away from “hot taeks” and am more risk-averse than I might be in my own personal rookie drafting. I view the rookies through the lens of an RSO league and how a 3- or 4-year rookie contract can change the value of a player compared to dynasty formats. In order to create rankings that are representative for the majority of RSO leagues, I made a few assumptions on rosters and scoring (i.e. 1QB, offense scores more than defense and IDP scoring heavy on tackles/sacks). Each year there are a few themes and surprises that emerge as I’m ranking and over two articles I will share those with you. First up were my notes about this historically deep wide receiver class. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the rest of the roster.

Click here to view the 2020 Reality Sports rookie rankings, compiled by Robert F. Cowper

Love Hurts?

My quarterback rankings started so simply. Joe Burrow first, no brainer. Tua second and Herbert third, less certain but I was confident. Then I ran into the roadblock that was Jordan Love vs Jalen Hurts. After much consideration, I put Hurts above Love despite the draft capital the Packers spent on Love. My thinking is this: I believe Hurts is more likely to return value on an RSO rookie contract than Love. We don’t know how much longer Aaron Rodgers will be the starter in Green Bay but if it’s closer to four years than one year, you may waste your pick on Love. We also know that Love’s performance and efficiency declined in 2019, so while we love his physical tools we aren’t sure about his consistency. Conversely, in 2019 Hurts showed us that he can adapt to a new system and a new coaching staff and flourish. We saw a side of Hurts that we never saw at Alabama and that gives me hope that he can stick as a passer at the NFL level. Eagles starter Carson Wentz has suffered a number of multi-game injuries throughout his college and pro career so it’s not unreasonable to think that Hurts may get an early chance to prove himself. We may also see Hurts get some Taysom Hill-like touches so he could have utility in 2QB leagues when you’re hit hard by injury or bye weeks. Hurts is a leader and a winner so I’ll take my chances with him over Love.

RBBC

I, like many draft fans, was surprised to see Clyde Edwards-Helaire be the first running back off the board to Kansas City. For the longest time, the consensus RB1 in this class was D’Andre Swift from Georgia. Jonathan Taylor came on strong after another 2,000+ yard season and a good combine performance, bumping Swift from the top spot in some rankings, including mine. CEH going in front of both Swift and Taylor caused me to reevaluate. I decided to keep Taylor at RB1, moved Edwards-Helaire up to RB2 and dropped Swift to RB3. Taylor and Swift will both see some early competition for touches from Marlon Mack and Kerryon Johnson respectively. I figure Johnson is likely to stick around longer than Mack so Taylor is more likely to be the unquestioned starter in 2021. Some have compared it to Nick Chubb competing with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson for touches in Cleveland in 2018 but becoming the guy the following year with great results. Edwards-Helaire will have the biggest opportunity in 2020 but I hesitate to catapult somebody to RB1 who I did not even consider for the spot two months ago. During his seven seasons in Kansas City, Andy Reid has had five different running backs lead the team in rushing yards. There’s no doubt that CEH will have value in 2020 but I think that Taylor has a better shot at having value over the duration of his rookie deal.

Light End

This year’s tight end class was weaker than the previous three so it wasn’t a surprise that none went in the first round. What did surprise me though was just how hard they were to rank. By virtue of his draft capital and the fact that he should have no problem getting on the field early for the Bears, Cole Kmet was my TE1. Two of the next three off the board went to the Patriots which complicates rankings a bit (I slid Dalton Keene down as I expect him to serve as a blocker more so than as a receiver). As far as how Josiah Deguara (Packers), Devin Asiasi (Patriots) and Adam Trautman (Browns) end the season, your guess is as good as mine. I clumped them together in the mid 40s to hedge my rankings. One guy to keep an eye on is Albert Okwuegbunam in Denver. He has been reunited with his college quarterback Drew Lock and was the presumed TE1 back when they teamed up back in 2017-18. Chances are that only one tight end will be drafted in your rookie draft so I would wait on these guys to see how training camp and the offseason shakes out and target any preseason standouts in free agency.

Frequent Flyers

One of my favorite thought exercises each year is trying to identify the UDFAs who have the best chance at fantasy relevance. It’s impossible to predict injuries but we can study team depth charts to see where the road to relevance is shortest. I don’t recommend you draft any of these players in your rookie draft but monitor them during the preseason and pounce on any who find themselves an injury away from a sizable role.

  • Michael Warren, RB, Eagles (Rank: 68): Behind starter Miles Sanders, the Eagles have two previous practice squad poaches as their running back depth. Neither Boston Scott nor Elijah Holyfield inspire confidence if Sanders were to go down. I think Michael Warren from Cincinnati would be a reliable fill-in if needed. Over the last two seasons, Warren amassed nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 36 scores in the competitive AAC. In five games against Power 5 opponents during that span he rushed 112 times for 520 yards and 6 TDs. I was surprised to see him go undrafted.
  • JJ Taylor, RB, Patriots (Rank: 71): Taylor measured smaller (5050/185) and ran slower (4.61) than I expected at the combine which definitely hurt his chances of being drafted as a gadget player. Would anybody be surprised if a 5’5″ undrafted free agent running back ended up scoring two touchdowns in a game for the Patriots this season?
  • Austin Mack, WR, Giants (Rank: 116): The bad news: Mack did not test particularly well and was often buried on the Buckeyes depth chart. The good news: the Giants receiving depth chart is littered with other UDFAs and waiver cast-offs. Somebody will need to be the fourth receiver and maybe it can be Mack who I always wanted to see get more targets at OSU.
  • James Robinson, RB, Jaguars (Rank: 117): The Jags running back depth chart is busy behind Leonard Fournette but there always seem to be rumors about him being traded. Whether by injury or trade, if running back touches were to open up in Jacksonville it’s possible that FCS star James Robinson (1,917 yards and 18 TDs last season) could get into the rotation.

Chase-ing the Quarterback

Sacks or tackles? The age-old question when it comes to making IDP rankings. The IDP leagues I play in tend to favor sacks over tackles so I typically value a rush end or outside linebacker over an off-ball tackling machine. So, it should come as no surprise that DE Chase Young is my DE1 and my first ranked IDP player. Most IDP leagues still weight offensive stats more than defensive so I slot Young into my 15th slot overall, making him a mid-2nd rounder. My next decision was on do-everything LB/S Isaiah Simmons or seek and destroy LB K’Lavon Chaisson. I went with Simmons because I have him listed as a LB and that’s almost unfair with his coverage ability. Simmons may never come off the field if he’s utilized to his full potential which means he’ll accrue tackles, sacks, interceptions and passes defended. Chaisson will join fellow new faces in free agent Joe Schobert and fourth rounder Shaquille Quarterman. Chaisson, who was drafted largely on potential and one season of production, will likely start as a pass rush specialist as he rounds out his game.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2020 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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