News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Mailbag: Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, DeVante Parker and dynasty strategy

Welcome to the Weekly Fantasy Football Mailbag!

PFF's Andrew Erickson is here to answer any and all fantasy football questions on a weekly basis throughout the NFL preseason. The mailbag will appear periodically throughout the regular season.

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 running backs and some dynasty strategy.

Why are you so high on Joe Mixon

I currently have Joe Mixon ranked sixth among running backs, and I think he has the upside to finish as a top-five back in 2020. Start with his situation, which is much improved from 2019. Last year, Mixon ran behind PFF’s 31st-ranked offensive line, but in 2020 the team will return its first-round tackle from 2019 in Jonah Williams, who was PFF’s third-highest-graded tackle (89.2) in his final season at Alabama. 

Even if the offensive line only improves minimally, Mixon has shown the ability to make plays on his own, forcing the fifth-most missed tackles (52) in 2019. He also has a clear role in the passing game — he'd had at least 30 receptions for three consecutive seasons and was more efficient in the passing game than Giovani Bernard. Mixon caught five more passes on the same number of targets and outperformed Bernard in yards per route run (1.19 vs 0.89). Mixon also ranked fourth in yards after the catch per reception (9.5), which was well above Bernard (7.3).

I expect the offense as a whole to improve from last year’s abomination with the addition of quarterback Joe Burrow — he's a clear upgrade over Andy Dalton/Ryan Finley

As a final note, Mixon still finished 2019 as the RB13 despite all the hurdles he had to overcome. He's used in all phases of the game and will see plenty of touches to warrant a top RB selection. His 18 carries inside the 5-yard line were third in the NFL but resulted in only five TDs. This is going to regress positively, which only further bolsters Mixon’s 2020 outlook. 

What is the trade value of the 1.01 rookie draft pick in a 20-team dynasty league?

In a 20-team dynasty league, the 1.01 is extremely valuable — we have to assume every roster is diluted because of the sheer volume of teams. Presuming the 1.01 is spent on the next season’s top rookie running back, that draft pick could make your team a contender for several seasons.

In 2020 rookie drafts, Clyde Edwards Helaire and Jonathan Taylor were the prime candidates for the 1.01 selection. These are the type of players who are building blocks of winning dynasty teams — young, talented running backs in great situations. They're worth potentially overpaying for in trades, so if I'm shopping the 1.01, I'm looking for an upper-echelon running back/wide receiver in return or multiple first-round picks to give up such an advantage in dynasty leagues. 

Can DeVante Parker continue his run from last season?

I don't think DeVante Parker will continue the roll he finished the season on last year. For starters, the majority of his success came in the second half of the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and Preston Williams injured. If Williams returns to form from his ACL injury, he is going to push Parker for targets in the offense, as he did in the first half of 2019 when the undrafted free agent actually saw more targets than Parker.

With rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa waiting in the wings, we don't know how many games Fitzpatrick will start. A change under center could hurt Parker, who greatly benefited from Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger mentality. The fifth-year wide receiver led the NFL in receptions over 15 yards from Week 10 on. 

The 2019 season was the first year of Parker’s career in which he ever played a full 16 games. Plus, Fitzpatrick’s track record of sustaining his wide receivers' fantasy success year-over-year is not good. In Buffalo, Steve Johnson fell from WR10 to WR21 in consecutive seasons. With the New York Jets, Fitzpatrick allowed Brandon Marshall to drop from WR3 to WR53

Parker also plays the New England Patriots Week 1 — unless Parker can “Moss” reigning defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore again, we're better off targeting another wide receiver. His strength of schedule also ranks sixth-worst among wide receivers.

Can you talk about the tier of RBs in the late-third to fifth rounds?

This is the running back tier that comes with the most question marks: running backs on new teams, players returning from injuries and guys who just flat out failed to produce in 2019.

Perhaps more importantly than the running backs' flaws, the success rate of wide receivers in this range is much higher than the RBs. It's better to take care of running backs earlier and then smash wide receivers in the late third, fourth and fifth. 

Last year, we saw running backs like David Montgomery, Sony Michel, Josh Jacobs, Mark Ingram II, Derrick Henry, Marlon Mack, James White, Duke Johnson Jr. and Philip Lindsay drafted in this range, resulting in a slight majority of underwhelming seasons. 

If the draft plays out in a way that requires running backs to be targeted in these rounds, the players to consider are Le’Veon Bell, Chris Carson, Melvin Gordon, Jonathan Taylor and Montgomery.

Outside of Taylor, I'm confident each of these running backs will see enough volume to warrant a pick where they're going. Taylor’s volume is more difficult to project, but he comes with league-winning upside should the Indianapolis Colts turn the backfield over to him behind the best offensive line in the NFL.

Should Derrick Henry be a first-round pick?

PFF’s consensus fantasy football rankings view Henry as a first-round pick across all formats. He's going to finish as one of the select few running backs who will garner at least 300 total touches in 2020. 

The Titans just signed Henry to a new contract, demonstrating that the team is committed to making him a significant part of the offense. The depth is also extremely light behind him in 2020 third-round rookie Darrynton Evans and Dalyn Dawkins.

Evans graded well as a pass blocker in his last season at Appalachian State (80.3), ranking 22nd out of 159 college running backs with at least 100 pass-blocking snaps. This makes him a potential threat to Henry's work on passing downs, but it's hard to imagine the rookie taking a large role early. Still, there's no reason to expect Henry to see a boost in the passing game based on how the Tennessee Titans deployed him last season. 

It's not like the Titans need to continue dominating for Henry to remain involved. With Ryan Tannehill as the starter last year, the Titans ran the ball at the third-highest rate in the league (41.5%) when they were trailing by seven or more points. Again, this is a workhorse back with a fresh new contract. 

In 2019, Henry ranked No. 1 in the league in yards after contact per attempt (4.18) among running backs with at least 100 carries, and his total yards after contact (1,268) would have ranked fifth among all running backs’ total rushing yards. He's not slowing down any time soon. 

The only concern for Henry is how the offensive line will respond to the loss of OT Jack Conklin. The line earned the sixth-highest PFF grade in 2019 (73.8) and will look to Dennis Kelly and first-rounder Isaiah Wilson to fill the void.

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