With the 2020 NFL season nearly upon us, and with it Week 1 of fantasy football, Sportsnet’s Matt Marchese lays out 10 thoughts about what is sure to be a season unlike any other we’ve seen.
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will not be 2020’s highest-scoring rookie running back
I think the Fresh Prince of Helaire will have a fine season this year, but Jonathan Taylor is a stud. Let’s not forget that Taylor was either RB1A or 1B with D’Andre Swift in rookie rankings before the NFL draft and Helaire was closer to RB4 with the likes of Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins.
Taylor is running behind one of, if not the, best offensive lines in the NFL and has a quarterback in Philip Rivers who loves targeting the running back in the passing game. Do you know how many times Rivers has not targeted the running back position 100 times in his career? If you guessed zero, you would be correct.
For those who want to argue that Taylor didn’t catch the ball much in college (42 catches in 41 games), I present to you another Wisconsin product, Melvin Gordon, who caught the ball even less in college (22 catches in 45 games). Gordon had 224 catches in 57 games with the Chargers, an average of 3.92 per game.
I think you can lock in Taylor for 1,500 total yards and eight touchdowns.
2. Aaron Rodgers will finish outside the top-12 in QB scoring
In a full season, Aaron Rodgers has never, I repeat NEVER, finished outside the top-10 in fantasy QB scoring. If you do not include his injury-shortened seasons from 2013 and 2017, the Packers quarterback has an average finish of 3.2 in QB scoring over 10 full seasons.
In no way is this an indictment of Rodgers and his skill level, as I do believe he is one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever play the game, but more of an indictment of head coach Matt LaFleur and his inclination to run the football. The Pack threw the ball an average of 35.5 times per game last year (17th in the NFL) compared to 40 times the previous year under Mike McCarthy (2nd in the NFL). These numbers resulted in Rodgers having his lowest passing attempt total (569) since 2014 and his lowest yardage total (4,002) in a full season since 2015.
The off-season would also dictate that the Packers want to run the ball more with the addition of second-round pick AJ Dillon, a running back out of Boston College. They didn’t spend their first-round pick, or any pick for that matter, on a wide receiver, which to many looked like a glaring need.
This is a Packers team that finished with a 13-3 record and a trip to the NFC Championship game, the highest win total under Rodgers since 2011, by running the ball and killing clock, so the need for change doesn’t look all that great right now.
3. DeAndre Hopkins doesn’t live up to the fantasy hype in Arizona
We have known Hopkins to be one of the most QB-proof wide receivers in the NFL and he was force-fed targets in Houston, regardless of who the signal caller was. Nuk has had no less than 150 targets since 2014 and goes to an offence in Arizona that has plenty of options in the passing game, including Larry Fitzgerald (yes, I’m aware he’s old), Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella (getting some pre-season hype) and Kenyan Drake, who head coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to involve more in the passing game.
Despite the Cardinals having the 7th-most vacated targets in the league, Drake will certainly eat into those targets, Isabella will have more than the 13 targets he had last season and Kirk missed three games. Arizona should improve on their five wins from last year, which could very well lead to less work in the passing game.
All of this information, coupled with the fact he was dealing with a hamstring injury or missed some of camp because of his contract concerns, could mean a rocky start to his tenure with the Cardinals and a finish outside the top-12 of wide receiver scoring.
4. Joe Burrow will rack up fantasy points and break records
No pressure here for the first-overall pick, aside from being looked at as the guy to turn around a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991.
The college resume aside from last year at LSU wasn’t impressive, but that last season was one for the ages. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 5,671 yards, an NCAA-record 60 touchdowns and only six interceptions en route to a national championship.
Not too shabby!
He joins a Bengals team that has offensive talent with the likes of Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, John Ross and 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins. The offensive line is a bit of a concern, but gets 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams back healthy and should give some added protection for the Ohio native.
At the end of the day, the Bengals defence isn’t very good, so that’ll mean that Burrow is going to need to throw the ball a lot in order to keep them in games, leading to big numbers and plenty of fantasy points.
Burrow will finish the season as a top-12 QB, break Andrew Luck’s rookie yards mark and Baker Mayfield’s rookie passing touchdown mark, making his mark early on as the franchise quarterback many think he will be.
5. Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes will battle for second in QB scoring
I’ll certainly get criticized for this one, but this isn’t completely out of left field.
Dak Prescott finished last season as QB2 behind Lamar Jackson, almost solely because Patrick Mahomes missed games. Having said that, Prescott is coming off of the most successful season of his career with 4,902 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 65.1 per cent completion rate, and he gets a new offensive-minded head coach in Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers had four seasons as QB1 under McCarthy, and Prescott has more talent surrounding him than Rodgers ever did in one season.
There is a legitimate chance the Cowboys boast three 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and first-round pick CeeDee Lamb. Pair that with the fact opponents have to account for Ezekiel Elliott as a runner and receiver, as well as the potential emergence of tight end Blake Jarwin, and this has all the makings of a second-straight career year for Prescott – one that leads him to the crown of top-scoring QB this season.
Prescott will not run away with the title, but it’s certainly going to be a fun race to watch.
6. D.J. Moore will arrive on the WR1 scene
Last season was a dog’s breakfast at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers after Cam Newton’s season-ending injury and Moore still managed to finish as WR21 in standard and WR16 in PPR scoring. This season, there’s a shiny new toy at quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and a very offensive-minded head coach in Matt Rhule, which should bode very well for the third-year pro.
Moore exploded in his second season with 87 catches on 135 targets for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns with a combination of Newton (two games), Kyle Allen (12 games) and Will Grier (two games) in only 15 contests. Based on his yards-per-game average last season, if Moore had played the extra game, he would have finished with the fourth-most receiving yards behind Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Chris Godwin.
The Carolina offence should be much-improved under the watchful eye of Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who is coming off a national championship win with LSU as their passing game coordinator, so we should also see an increase in touchdowns for Moore.
It’s hard to believe the Maryland product will see only 12 red-zone targets and only two targets inside the 10-yard line, like in 2019, which should help pave the way for a top-12 wide receiver finish.
7. Kareem Hunt’s fantasy value is much higher than you think
It was well documented how good Hunt was last season once he got back into the lineup following his suspension, which put a dent into Nick Chubb’s fantasy value (as outlined here). Here’s the take: if there was an injury, Hunt has more value as the starter than Chubb does.
There, I said it.
Hunt’s ADP has been climbing over the past month, and for good reason. People are finally realizing that he’s the most talented running back in that backfield, not Chubb. The Browns are going to run the ball more under new head coach Kevin Stefanski (fifth-most rushing attempts per game as Minnesota offensive coordinator last season compared to 22nd-most carries for Cleveland in 2019) and we might see an uptick in running back targets (126 for Minnesota compared to 115 for Cleveland last season).
This all leads to more opportunity for Hunt. If Chubb goes down with injury, Hunt will be a league winner.
8. Jameis Winston will be relevant in the fantasy playoffs
Quarterbacks get hurt every season, it’s a guarantee – kind of like death and taxes. Fifty-seven quarterbacks made starts last year, including the likes of David Blough, Luke Falk, Will Grier, Brandon Allen and a whole host of others. What do all of those names have in common? They aren’t nearly as talented as Winston, who is coming off a 33-touchdown season and his contract pays him a maximum of $1.76 million with incentives. What I’m saying here is, he’s affordable for teams and he’s way better than every other backup quarterback in the NFL.
I’m also aware that he had 30 interceptions last season, but most fantasy leagues do not punish the turnover-prone quarterbacks, instead favouring quarterbacks who put up big yardage and a lot of touchdowns like Winston. He is absolutely worth a speculative add and hold in deep roster leagues, super-flex, two quarterback and best-ball leagues.
9. The “Zero RB” strategists will be rewarded in a big way this year
As we know, 2020 has been a nightmare, so why would the football season be any different?
There is always a sense of uncertainty when it comes to injuries but now with camps not being as long and without pre-season games, there is a higher chance for soft tissue injuries and you would think that running backs who are doing a lot more cutting might be more prone to these. Add in the threat of COVID-19 and it could be an absolute mess.
More than any other year, I believe that “handcuff” running backs will have plenty of value. Guys like Chase Edmonds, Benny Snell, Tony Pollard, Darrel Williams and Boston Scott will pay dividends for those who decided against taking running backs early. That’s not to say that all will have value, but they are definitely worth speculative adds in deeper leagues and should be monitored in more shallow leagues as if the RB1 on their respective teams goes down, they become league winners.
10. This will be the most difficult fantasy football season to navigate of all time
This is not only a piggy-back on the zero RB conversation as it pertains to injuries and the threat of COVID-19, but it’s also a testament to the amount of talented football players in the league and the almost over-emphasis on the offensive side of the ball. This could mean a lot of parity in fantasy leagues across the board because of all the talent that currently exists.
Have you ever seen this many good tight ends in the league? Guys like Blake Jarwin, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, Hayden Hurst and Mike Gesicki could all easily finish as top-12 tight ends. Add those names to the list that includes Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller and Evan Engram, among others, and you’ve got quite a list.
Some teams look like they could have three fantasy-relevant wide receivers, like the Cowboys and Texans. The Falcons, Seahawks and Buccaneers could each boast two top-15 scoring wide receivers. It seems the outcomes are endless this season.
Teams are deploying multiple running backs in their offensive structures and could boast multiple every-week fantasy starters. Would it be at all surprising if both Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are flex plays every week? How about Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay in Denver? Those two are just the tip of the iceberg.
How do you best manage all this for the fantasy season? Have a keen eye on the waiver wire, try and balance out your roster and don’t be afraid to accumulate assets so that you can make deals for the attainable sure-fire league winners like Julio Jones, Adam Thielen, Ezekiel Elliott and more.