News & Analysis

Erickson: Top fantasy football fades

You can’t win a fantasy football league at the draft (unless it’s Best Ball), but you can surely find a way to lose it. Reaching on certain players — especially in the early rounds — can be detrimental to any team. Missing on early-round picks can hurt just as much. 

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Le’Veon Bell, Odell Beckham Jr., Kerryon Johnson, Devonta Freeman and David Montgomery commanded at least a third-round selection last season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find them on any league-winning roster.

That’s why I've compiled my list of top fantasy football fades for the 2020 season — to fully ensure that you avoid these landmine players who have an extremely high bust rate at their current ADPs compared to where they fall in the PFF Fantasy Rankings. I’ll also offer better choices in the same ADP range.

Step aside optimism, because this is the #fade list.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans | ADP RB6

Among PFF fantasy analysts, Nathan Janke and I both have Derrick Henry ranked as the RB9 and the 11th player overall in the PFF fantasy rankings in PPR formats. This means neither of us is likely to roster much of Henry this season based on his current ADP.

The the fade is largely based on the fact that the Tennessee Titans are going to be nowhere near as efficient on offense as they were in 2019, which will Henry’s touchdown upside.

A large chunk (36%) of Henry’s fantasy points came from touchdowns last season, and with Ryan Tannehill under center (including postseason) the Titans scored touchdowns per drive at the second-highest rate in the NFL (33.6%). Since 2016, no team has been able to repeat a touchdown per drive rate of over 30% the following season.

The other reason Henry was so efficient in 2019 was his ability to pick up chunk yardage, but breakaway runs are not a particularly stable metric from year to year. The bruising back accumulated the most rushing yards (381) on runs of 15 or more yards from Week 7 onward.

You also need to consider that Henry has been a non-factor in the passing game, and based on how the Titans’ deployed their running back last season (23 targets), I do not project that changing. The team spent a third-round pick on Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans, who should fill the void as the pass-catching back left by veteran Dion Lewis.

Though the buzz report from training camp is that Evans fumbled twice at practice (hadn’t fumbled since his freshman year), what’s going unnoticed is his quarterback praising him as a natural catcher of the football.

And let’s not forget the Titans also lost starting right tackle Jack Conklin this offseason. Conklin earned the sixth-highest PFF run-blocking grade for tackles in 2019 (80.5). The team will be forced to turn to Dennis Kelly and first-rounder Isaiah Wilson.

The Titans also have an extremely difficult strength of schedule for running backs, and it’s especially tough to start the season.

To wrap a bow on this fade, just know that my track record of projecting Henry in fantasy has been spot on (humble brag) the past two seasons. I predicted he would lead the league in rushing last season, in addition to boldly projecting his 200-yard rushing performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football in 2018.

So, trust me when I say, Henry is not the running back you want to select with your first-round pick.

Instead Draft: Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals | ADP RB9

Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals | ADP RB10

It’s never a good sign when your NFL head coach is praising your backup as a starting running back in the league. You don’t hear Dallas Cowboys coaches praising Tony Pollard or Cincinnati Bengals coaches praising Giovani Bernard as RB1s. Yet, we hear the buzz about Chase Edmonds, who is one of my favorite late-round running backs to target.

That’s not to say that Edmonds is going to just flat out beat Kenyan Drake as the Week 1 starter, but it adds to the list of concerns surrounding Drake amid his high draft capital. Not to mention the latest reports claiming Drake is in a walking boot

My biggest concern is that both he and DeAndre Hopkins can’t reach their current cost with a mobile quarterback under center. This might sound counterintuitive, but the research backs it up.

Since 2010, 45 teams have had a quarterback with at least 65 rushing attempts. None of those teams supported both a top 10 fantasy WR and RB. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray had 93 rushing attempts in 2019 and will likely reach at least 65 rushing attempts in 2020.

The other concern about having a mobile quarterback is that it could limit the upside of Drake in the passing game. Quarterbacks that rely on their legs throw to their running backs much less frequently, and Murray was no different in 2019. He had the fourth-lowest percentage of check downs to running backs.

Touchdown regression is also not being discussed enough with Drake, as the running back led the team with eight touchdowns playing in just eight games and seeing 151 touches. Before his trade from the Miami Dolphins, Drake’s eight touchdown pace would have required at least 240 touches.

If he is the bell-cow all season, then he can surely total 240 touches and amass eight touchdowns, but those scores will look a lot different over a 16-game sample as opposed to eight games.

If you do draft Drake, he would be a player I would be looking to trade early in the season. I don't like him season-long, but he has a favorable matchup Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Instead Draft: Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders | ADP RB11

Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers | ADP RB27

Remember how I mentioned how that breakaway percentage is not a particularly sticky stat? Well, meet the leader in breakaway percentage from 2019: Raheem Mostert. During the last 11 weeks of the season, his 45.3 percent breakaway rate ranked No. 1 among all running backs with at least 40 carries.

With such a crowded backfield and a head coach embracing the #RRBC lifestyle, you are much better off waiting and taking another 49ers running back in later rounds.

It’s also hard to get too excited about Mostert’s ceiling when he was involved in the passing game so little last year with just six receptions in his five starts.

Instead Draft: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams | ADP RB28

Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys | ADP WR8

The biggest problem with investing such a high pick in Amari Cooper is the inconsistent play. Last season, he had less than six receptions in 12 games and was held under 10 fantasy points in six.

He finished as a top-10 wide receiver just four times. The other 12 games his average finish — *drumroll* — WR46.

With teammate Michael Gallup — who outscored Cooper during the final eight weeks — going several rounds later, investing in the most expensive receiver in theDallas Cowboys offense does not seem like money well spent.

Additionally, the Cowboys upgraded massively at their No. 3 wide receiver spot with CeeDee Lamb replacing Randall Cobb, so there’s even more competition for targets in the offense.

Also consider that because Cooper is the bona fide No. 1 wide receiver, he is most likely to attract the most difficult cornerback matchups. Week 1 could be a long day at the office for Cooper with Jalen Ramsey trailing him.

There just isn’t value here for Cooper considering the availability of other wide receivers in that range and the other Cowboys’ receivers you can get by waiting. His boom/bust profile weekly is too volatile to rely on as a WR1.

Instead Draft: D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers | ADP WR9

 DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins | ADP WR25

Almost the entirety of DeVante Parker’s breakout happened in the second half of the season with no Preston Williams and Ryan Fitzpatrick fully entrenched under center. The 2020 season is shaping up to be a different situation for Parker with Williams back fully from his knee injury and first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa waiting in the wings to become the  Dolphins’ starting quarterback.

During the beginning of the season when Williams was healthy, he led the Dolphins in targets (59) and ranked well ahead of Parker in target rate on routes run (22.1% vs. 15.8%). Specifically, his target rate (35.7%) in the red zone stood out, ranking second in the league among wide receivers with at least nine red-zone targets.

Williams was the more productive receiver when he and Parker shared the field in 2019, and losing Fitzpatrick at quarterback at some point this season could tank Parker’s value.

Parker relied greatly on Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger mentality, compiling the fourth-most contested catches among wide receivers. It was especially beneficial in scoring situations, as no quarterback threw more #yolo tight window touchdowns (nine) than Fitzpatrick from Week 7 on.

Tagovailoa is anything but a tight-window thrower — over his last two collegiate seasons, he ranked outside the top 50, throwing just seven touchdowns into tight windows.

Not to mention, I would not feel great slotting Parker into my starting lineup early knowing he has to face-off versus top cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White the first two weeks of the season.

Instead Draft: Will Fuller V, Houston Texans | ADP WR26

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals | ADP WR31

I feel like we've been down this road before. Veteran wide receivers who develop lower-body injuries seemingly never return to form. Most recent examples include Dez Bryant and Doug Baldwin — spoiler — who are both younger than the 32-year-old A.J. Green.

It just does not vibe with me how Green is still valued as a top-35 receiver when we haven't seen him play since 2018.

Green truthers will cite his 2018 pace as the fantasy WR6 from Weeks 1-8, but 67% of his total fantasy points came from slot production. That's where the Bengals’ other wide receiver, Tyler Boyd, played the fifth-most snaps under the current coaching regime.

With Green regulated to work on the outside, we are not going to be seeing those 2018 statistics anytime soon. 

Also, factor in that Green has already sustained a hamstring injury early in training camp —  limiting his time to work with his new quarterback Joe Burrow — all indications are that you need to be 100% hands off this guy.

Instead Draft: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals | ADP WR33

Daniel Jones, New York Giants | ADP QB15

Strength of schedule is most important to the quarterback position, and those who have difficult matchups to start the season are far off my draft board. Quarterback Daniel Jones opens against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that is a matchup I want zero part of.

Pittsburgh ranked third in pressures, and Jones led the NFL in fumbles in last season.

The Giants have a new offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett who is going to implement a much more balanced run/pass approach than former play-caller Pat Shurmur. Under Shurmur, the Giants threw at the fourth-highest rate in the league, while the Cowboys passed at the 21st rate.

It remains to be seen how quickly Jones has learned the new offense. With two rookie offensive linemen potentially starting at the tackle positions (Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart), this offense couldn’t be farther from a sure bet in 2020.

Jones is a much better option to add off waivers than to select in your draft.

Instead Draft:  Cam Newton, New England Patriots | ADP QB13 

Instead Draft: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers | ADP QB16

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins | ADP TE12

Mike Gesicki is a popular breakout candidate among the tight ends this season, but he's also one of the priciest of the late-round tight ends. Gesicki's efficiency in 2019 was lackluster and his schedule is tough for tight ends for the first half of the season.

His yards per route run ranked 32nd out of 44 qualifying tight ends, and his target rate per route run ranked 25th out 35 qualifying tight ends. He has also failed to translate his athletic ability to on-field production. He ranked 36th in yards after the catch per reception (3.6) and forced zero missed tackles.

Part of this can be attributed to Gesicki seeing more downfield targets (11.2 aDOT from the slot), but relying on low-catch-percentage throws might lead to a lot of bust weeks.

And, like DeVante Parker, Gesicki also greatly benefitted from the absence of Preston Williams. Gesicki was the TE8 from Weeks 10-17 without Williams. Over the nine weeks prior he was TE25.

We are always looking for the opportunity for touches for tight ends to breakout, and Gesicki had that path last season when he finished second on the team in targets (89), receptions (51) and receiving yards (570). But with Williams back, Gesicki could easily be demoted to third in the pecking order on an offense that does not project for hefty numbers.

Instead Draft: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions | ADP TE13

More Fades and Replacements: 

For more of my fantasy football fades, check out these pieces from July: 

And I would have put Leonard Fournette on my list as well, but my guy Ian Hartitz beat me to it. Make sure you check out his fantasy football fades as well. 

David Johnson, Houston Texans | ADP RB22

Instead Draft: David Montgomery, Chicago Bears | ADP RB23

Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns | ADP RB26

Instead Draft: Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP RB29

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP RB46

Instead Draft: Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals | ADP RB47

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams | ADP TE7

Instead Draft: Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons | ADP TE8

Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints | ADP TE11

Instead Draft: Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans | ADP TE15

DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals | ADP WR5

Instead Draft: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP WR6

Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions | ADP WR34

Instead Draft: Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals | ADP WR38

Darius Slayton, New York Giants | ADP WR43

Instead Draft: Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers | ADP WR50

Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos | ADP WR55

Instead Draft: Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins | ADP WR58

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings | ADP WR61

Instead Draft: Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts | ADP WR65

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