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Fantasy Football Mailbag: Leonard Fournette, Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton and late-round quarterbacks

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Submit questions for Andrew either via email ([email protected]) or Twitter @AndrewErickson_ or @PFF_Fantasy. Without further ado: Let's talk about a few 2020 wide receivers and some late-round quarterback strategy.

This week’s questions come courtesy of @profootballfocus on Instagram.

What do you think about Leonard Fournette this year?
— @ryanwarner04

I'm not as high on Leonard Fournette as I was last season. In 2019, he was an inefficient producer who relied on massive volume (341 touches) to finish as the RB7 in PPR. Among running backs with at least 100 carries, Fournette’s PFF run grade (65.3) ranked 41st out of 45 qualifiers, while his missed tackles forced per attempt (0.16) ranked 31st.

I would expect Fournette’s total of three touchdowns to increase in 2020, but I do not trust new Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to keep Fournette as involved in the passing game. Running back Chris Thompson joined the roster this offseason — he's had at least 35 receptions and 48 targets in each of the past five seasons. 

Thompson is a major threat to Fournette’s role as a receiver. Per PFF's Ian Hartitz, only Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey had more targets than Thompson in Weeks 1-5 last season before Gruden got the boot. A decrease in receiving volume could really hurt Fournette — 49% of his fantasy points in 2019 came from his work as a receiver, excluding rushing touchdowns.  

Even if Thompson or second-year running back Ryquell Armstead don't eat into Fournette’s role as a pass-catcher, having a scrambling quarterback like Gardner Minshew behind center is going to limit Fournette’s upside as a receiver. Minshew is also a potential touchdown vulture.

Minshew’s 50 scrambles led the NFL last season. Every other quarterback who had at least 30 scrambles averaged five rushing touchdowns.

Ultimately, Fournette is going to have to be more efficient as a rusher and score more touchdowns to pay off based on where he's being drafted. His three scores last season was a major aberration considering his overall usage and red-zone work. But, even so, he'll have to overcome an offensive line in Jacksonville that earned PFF’s 26th rank in our latest OL rankings update

There’s also the possibility that Jacksonville will be a disaster on offense in 2020, so investing a third-round pick in Fournette, who has plenty of red flags, is something you should just avoid. His production is going to be extremely reliant on TDs, which is going to leave fantasy owners frustrated many weeks.

There are so many other running backs or wide receivers I'd rather target in the range Fournette is being selected. Also keep in mind that 2019 was the first NFL season Fournette played 15 games, and the team was very open about wanting to trade the veteran running back earlier this offseason. 

Which WR do you think leads the Texans in receiving: Will Fuller or Brandin Cooks? — @ingow1

For me it has to be Will Fuller. He's been with the Houston Texans since the team drafted Deshaun Watson back in 2017. The two have a special connection and his presence on the field has historically boosted Watson’s production. 

Forty of Watson’s 71 career passing touchdowns have come when Fuller has been on the field. In 28 games played with Watson, Fuller has 14 receiving touchdowns. Over the past three seasons when Watson has targeted Fuller, he has a 125.0 passer rating and an 81.5 PFF passing grade.

Fuller has the best opportunity to rise to the role of the No. 1 receiver. If he can stay healthy for the full season, he will put up gaudy numbers. Just last year, he scored more than 50 fantasy points against the Atlanta Falcons. In an uncertain offseason, chasing continuity is the smart approach.

I do think that Brandin Cooks can make an impact in the Texans’ offense. He is no stranger to having to adjust to new teams and quarterbacks. In his first seasons with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, he finished as the WR15 and WR13, respectively, exceeding 1,000 yards both seasons.

The concussions are a concern, but Cooks has missed just two games since his rookie season. Since 2015, he's played in 78 games, which ranks fifth-most among all wide receivers. And it is not like Fuller is any stranger to missing time. Cooks’ ADP as WR38 is a great value.

What are your thoughts on T.Y. Hilton with Philip Rivers now playing for the Colts? — @ethan_naim123

Speaking specifically to Philip Rivers at quarterback as opposed to Jacoby Brissett from 2019, I think it is an upgrade for T.Y. Hilton

Hilton only saw four catchable targets on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield in 2019, and his average depth of target (10.1) fell drastically from his two-year average prior (12.6). Rivers completed the seventh-most deep passes last season (27) and ranked fourth in deep ball attempts (79). 

Hilton has much more upside with Rivers, especially considering his new quarterback will have more time to throw and let routes develop downfield. The Los Angeles Chargers had the lowest average time to throw a pass (2.52), while the Indianapolis Colts had the fourth-highest (2.90) in 2019. 

Also, Rivers frequently targeted wide receiver Keenan Allen in the red zone in 2019 — Allen ranked second in the NFL in red-zone receptions (24) and third in red-zone targets (36). 

During Weeks 1-7 last year — before Hilton was hit by injuries — he ranked No. 2 among wide receivers in red-zone touchdown receptions (five). 

Who are your favorite late-round QBs? — @bolt_gang

Among quarterbacks going outside the top-15 according to BestBall10s, my four favorite late-round quarterbacks are Cam Newton, Joe Burrow, Gardner Minshew and Tyrod Taylor

Newton has so much upside if he is able to stay healthy during the 2020 season. When Newton has played a full 16-game season, his overall finishes at quarterback are QB3, QB4, QB3, QB1 and QB2. 

We are not 100% sure how Burrow will translate to the NFL, but his situation could be sneaky good. He has a nice group of offensive skill players to throw to in Cincinnati, and the Bengals’ roster features one of the league’s worst defenses. 

That could lead to more negative game scripts where Burrow will need to be more aggressive as a passer. He also offers an underrated rushing ability — he accumulated over 500 rushing yards in his last two collegiate seasons.

Minshew rushed for the fifth-most yards (344) among quarterbacks in just 14 games in 2019. Considering Minshew’s rushing yards all came on scrambles, he’ll likely continue to run in 2020. Don’t forget, he was the QB8 through the first five weeks of the 2019 season.

Taylor is being vastly underrated by drafters, and there is a strong chance he opens as the Day 1 starter for the Chargers. In a shortened offseason, I can't imagine the team will turn the offense over to Justin Herbert quickly. It's almost like everybody forgot that Taylor’s best seasons in Buffalo from 2015-2016 were with current Chargers head coach and former Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. 

During those two seasons, Taylor rushed for 10 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards. He ranked third in fantasy points per dropback (0.59) in 2015 and sixth (0.52) in 2016. His two-year average of 0.55 fantasy points per dropback would have tied Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson for sixth-highest in 2019.

If you have a pick at the end of the first round, do you prefer going RB or WR this year? — @jeff_battle76

In the first couple rounds, it is crucial that you draft a running back. As for the back end of the first round in a traditional 12-team league, we're most likely looking at Joe Mixon, Davante Adams, Miles Sanders, Nick Chubb, Kenyan Drake, Tyreek Hill, Josh Jacobs, Aaron Jones and Julio Jones.

I almost certainly would take one of these running backs first, because even if I do like one of the wide receivers, one should fall to me at the top of the second round. 

For example, I'd take Mixon with the ninth overall pick, then potentially have the option to double-up at the running back position with Jacobs or draft Julio Jones as my No. 1 wide receiver. If I were to go with Adams with my first pick, then I'm hoping either Jacobs or Aaron Jones makes it back as my first running back.

Drafting a running back with your first pick gives you more flexibility to take a wide receiver with your second pick rather than potentially forcing a reach on the running back position in the second round. 

It is very important to leave the first two rounds with at least one stud running back, and there's more risk in waiting until the second when drafting in the back half of the first round. 

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