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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