One of the best parts about fantasy drafts is talking ourselves into whichever players we wind up selecting. Before the draft, we might use logic and reasoning to properly weigh the upside and risk of any particular pick, but there’s no quicker way to have a “my guy” feeling about a player than by literally picking him to be on your fantasy squad.
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Of course, things happen. Players get hurt, teammates cause unforeseen issues, coaches do irrational things, etc. Throw in the reality that a 16-game sample size is incredibly small for such a random game predicated on constant collisions between multiple high-caliber athletes, and it’s clear that even the “safest” fantasy football investments can go south in a hurry.
While I have gone through my values and fades at every position based on my rankings vs. average draft position (ADP), today’s goal is to break down the potential path to failure for every top-five fantasy player at each skill position. I’m not telling you to not draft the following players; these are all ballers who almost unanimously deserve to be top-five selections.
We’ll use best-ball ADP since the sample-size and general sharpness of the picks is higher than redraft ADP at this point. Special thanks to FantasyPros for the ADP data. Obviously, any player could get injured, have off-the-field issues or experience COVID-related complications, so those items won’t be prioritized in discussion.
Jackson threw 36 touchdowns on just 401 attempts last season, good for a league-best 9% TD rate. Historically, this sort of efficiency simply hasn’t kept up the following season, because how can anyone continue to be that damn good for so long? Overall, Jackson’s 2019 season was just the ninth instance in which a QB posted a TD rate of at least 8% in a season since 2000:
- 2004 Peyton Manning: 9.9%. Next season: 6.2%
- 2007 Tom Brady: 8.7%. Next season: 5%
- 2011 Aaron Rodgers: 9%. Next season: 7.1%
- 2013 Manning: 8.3%. Next season: 6.5%
- 2013 Nick Foles: 8.5%. Next season: 4.2%
- 2017 Deshaun Watson: 9.3%. Next season: 5.1%
- 2018 Russell Wilson: 8.2%. Next season: 6%
- 2018 Patrick Mahomes: 8.6%. Next season: 5.4%
PFF fantasy projections have Jackson throwing for 24 scores. Of course, this would still be plenty fine for theoretical QB1 production assuming the 2019 MVP continues to look like the best rushing threat the position has ever seen.
I won’t pretend to envision a scenario where Jackson fails to be a terror for defenses to handle as a pure athlete, and expecting him to carry a higher risk of injury than statues in the pocket doesn’t make a lot of sense, either.
The only way Jackson will not finish as a high-end fantasy QB in 2020 is if the Ravens truly try to take their foot off the gas in terms of his rushing usage. It would be somewhat warranted; Jackson has set the NFL record for rush attempts by a QB in each of the past two seasons. From Jackson himself back in April:
“I doubt if I’m going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future. We’ve got dynamic running backs. We’re going to have even more receivers.”
Jackson (176 rush attempts) and Josh Allen (109) were the only QBs who had triple-digit carries in 2019; it’s going to take a major and largely uncalled-for change in offensive philosophy for Jackson to not lead the position in rushing again in 2020. This dual-threat ability is a true cheat code in fantasy football land.
The $500-million man was the 2018 QB1 and 2019 QB6 in fantasy points per game. The Chiefs have league-best continuity in their passing game and potentially upgraded their underneath threat via Clyde Edwards-Helaire. There are a terrifyingly high number of playmakers all over the field during any given Mahomes snap.
One thing Mahomes would have to do to somehow mess up this paradise is to refrain from running. The dual-threat talent had two of his three career games with over 50 rushing yards during the Chiefs' 2019 Super Bowl run. In reality, this talent has always been there: Mahomes racked up 22 rushing scores in 25 games during his final two seasons at Texas Tech.
I mean, goodness gracious.
Still, CEH will provide Mahomes with arguably his most-versatile receiving back since Kareem Hunt. This could theoretically result in Mahomes taking more check-downs than in the past in lieu of taking off to scramble.
Mahomes has almost never looked mortal as a passer. However, the Chiefs did seem to make an effort to keep him safer post-injury during the 2019 regular season, as Mahomes surpassed 35 pass attempts in just one of six games in Weeks 11-17 upon returning from injury.
Basically, the only way we should expect Mahomes to even somewhat bust in 2020 is if his own team actively attempts to limit his volume, which seems incredibly unlikely.
3. Dak Prescott
Dak has always been at least a borderline fantasy QB1 in terms of season-long production, but we have seen different versions of the Cowboys’ QB1 over the course of his career. Generally, Prescott has thrived when given above-average receivers and O-line play throughout his career, although we did see a relatively shallow ceiling in 2017 and during the first half of 2018.
|Year||Cmp%||TD%||Int%||Y/A||AY/A||Rate||FP Per Game||Position Rank|
The 2020 Cowboys boast PFF’s No. 3 offensive line and No. 1 receiver room. We’re going to have to see Dak regress to 2017-2018 levels due to his own incompetence, not because of an issue with teammates or coaching.
We could also see continued regression from Dak as a runner. He averaged a career-low 17.3 rush yards per game in 2019, and his three scores on the ground marked the first season of his career that he failed to rush for six scores. Prescott has never seen a first-down marker he didn’t think he was capable of reaching, but he’s certainly trending toward becoming more of a pass-first QB (as he should).
Part of the allure of Dak as a fantasy investment are his own dual-threat talents. Additionally, he’s surrounded by talent on offense and paired with what looks like a mediocre defense on paper. Volume is unlikely to be an issue in 2020, so it will take rather startling regression from Prescott as a passer and runner alike for him to tank next season.
4. Kyler Murray
Murray is the most bust-worthy QB in this upper tier considering he’s the only member who hasn’t functioned as a top-five fantasy QB before. Just because we’ve never seen something happen doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect it to occur in the future, but Murray would objectively be a bust at his present ADP if he again ranks 12th in fantasy points per game.
The reason why most are in favor of Murray improving on last season’s goodness is simple: DeAndre Hopkins. The dude catches everything and is a QB’s best friend.
The return of all five offensive linemen and coaching staff should help Kyler and company continue to function as one of the league’s most-devastatingly efficient rushing attacks.
Murray is anyone’s idea of a top-four rushing QB alongside Jackson, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson. This rushing floor is the biggest difference in proclamations that 2020 Murray could bust in a similar manner to 2019 Baker Mayfield.
Rather, Murray’s path to bust-ness is via continued struggles through the air. He made dozens of high-level throws throughout the season that demonstrated the sky-high ceiling at hand, but as a whole Murray was a below-average passer regardless of the situation in 2019:
- QB rating: 83.8 (No. 23)
- Deep-ball rating: 94.5 (No. 16)
- Under pressure rating: 62.1 (No. 21)
- Kept clean rating: 94.8 (No. 32)
Natural progression in Year 2 and the addition of Hopkins are fair reasons to expect a jump. The only other rookies to finish as a top-12 QB since 2010 have been Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Robert Griffin. I’d bet on Murray’s fantasy success more resembling the former QBs than the latter, but another borderline QB1 performance is certainly in his potential range of outcomes without a leap as a passer in 2020.
Wilson is a top-five QB *ever* in pass TD rate, INT rate, QB rating, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt and rush yards per game. He’s been a fantasy darling along the way, never functioning as anything other than a top-12 QB since entering the league in 2012.
And yet, Seattle just won’t let Russ fully cook. Things grew particularly ridiculous in 2019, as the Seahawks wouldn't even utilize Wilson's unique dual-threat talents in 2019: He gained just seven total yards on designed runs after going for an average of 151 rush yards per season from 2012-2018 on non-scramble rushes.
Wilson ranked 38th and 30th in pass attempts per start in 2018 and 2019, respectively, among all QBs with at least 100 pass attempts. His ceiling is as fantasy’s overall QB1; the floor is somewhere closer to the borderline if his TD rate ever decides to regress a bit.
The newfound uncertainty surrounding his rushing floor, combined with potential for the Seahawks to again function as an extreme run-first offense, has me treating Wilson as the fantasy QB7 as opposed to a top-five pick. Of course, betting against one of the better talents the position has ever seen hasn’t historically led to much fantasy success; just keep your expectations for fantasy-friendly coaching in check for the Seahawks.
CMC posted an outrageous 93.4% snap rate in 2019 while functioning as the Panthers’ leading rusher and receiver. His 403 touches easily surpassed Ezekiel Elliott (355) and Leonard Fournette (341) for the league-high mark. McCaffrey has two seasons with at least 100 receptions; every other RB in NFL history has combined for three such seasons.
This volume is absolutely absurd. But also warranted for a player of CMC’s caliber. But also absurd. It truly has almost nowhere to go but down.
It remains to be seen what new head coach Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady will bring to the table. There's a chance that we see the offense's various talented WRs get more involved in a quick-hitting passing attack led by Teddy Bridgewater, but this expected scheme also sets up nicely for McCaffrey to once again see all the check-downs he can handle.
The Panthers’ decision to not add any additional RBs to the roster reinforces the idea that CMC should again see all the touches and snaps he can handle. The most-realistic potential issue is probably scoring regression. McCaffrey found the end zone on 19 of 403 touches despite working inside of the league’s 20th-ranked scoring offense. Nobody had more rush attempts inside the 5-yard line.
The Panthers boast league-worst continuity in their passing game. While there’s a scenario that their new shiny pieces gel immediately, it’s also easy to see a path to another last-place finish in the NFC South. The pass-game floor is too ridiculous for CMC to bust, but it’s at least unlikely that he manages to average a full 6 PPR points more than the next-highest skill-position player again in 2020.
Like CMC, Barkley has to deal with a new play-caller in 2019. Jason Garrett certainly knows a thing or two about giving talented running backs absolutely massive workloads, although it’s fair to wonder if Barkley’s target share will be as high as past years: Dallas had the 12th-lowest target share devoted to the RB position from 2010-2019.
Barkley has ranked ninth in rush attempts and fifth in targets per game over the past two seasons. It would be coaching malpractice if new backup Dion Lewis takes Barkley off the field for any considerable amount of receiving reps, although it wouldn’t be the first time a professional coach deemed Lewis as the superior pass-down weapon when compared to a physical freak. Still, we did see some signs of decreased involvement in 2019: Barkley ranked fifth on the Giants in targets per game with Daniel Jones under center last season; he finished behind only OBJ in targets in 2018.
It shouldn’t be that hard to give Barkley the rock 30 times a game in some way shape or form.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 4, 2020
Betting against a generational (I hate that word but in this case it’s true) talent like Barkley isn’t smart. His path to bust-ness in 2020 will need to be through coaching incompetence and lack of attention from his QB. Unfortunately, both of these scenarios are on the table, but this is a case where talent should (continue) to win out in a major way.
Zeke joins CMC and Barkley as the league’s only true 80%-plus snap confirmed workhorses.
Probably. Unlike McCaffrey and Barkley, Elliott has some serious competition in his own backfield for touches. Tony Pollard led the NFL in elusive rating as a rookie and racked up an astronomical 26 broken tackles on just 101 touches. Kareem Hunt is the only handcuff that deserves to go in front of Pollard in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.
Elliott, McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley have been PFF’s most-valuable RBs since 2017 in terms of WAR. The Cowboys happen to be blessed with potentially *two* great RBs, but only one of them was just signed to a $90 million contract extension.
Coach Mike McCarthy could feasibly force OC Kellen Moore’s hand to change the backfield’s heavy Zeke splits; it’s just unlikely considering Elliott’s own success and the front office’s investment in his future. Zeke remains one of the league’s better locks for 300 rush attempts, and he could even see his targets spike with Jason Witten no longer meandering the underneath areas of the field.
There simply seems to be too much volume here to fail. If anything, Zeke would need 1) Dak to majorly regress and allow defenses to pack the box, and 2) The O-line to collapse without C Travis Frederick. Neither seems particularly likely inside of what looks like one of the NFL’s better offenses.
4. Alvin Kamara
Kamara has caught 81 passes in each of the past three seasons. McCaffrey has also accomplished this feat. Every other NFL RB has combined for just four-such instances during this span.
Kamara missed two games due to injury last season and admitted that he didn't feel like himself upon returning. And yet, he finished as the PPR RB9. Kamara’s broken tackle rate resumed 2017-2018 levels when healthy, and his ceiling remains as a top-five RB in 2020 considering positive scoring regression is also well within his potential range of outcomes.
Kamara played more than 60% of the offense’s snaps in every non-blowout/injury game in 2019. Latavius Murray performed more than admirably during Kamara’s absence, but this is much closer to a 70/30 split than Kamara and Mark Ingram’s previous 60/40 system.
The Saints again boast continuity all over the offense. The path to Kamara busting is for the same reason as most of the offense: Taysom Hill. While Kamara had a team-high seven rushes inside the five-yard line last season, Hill (five targets) was nearly as involved as Kamara (seven) as a receiver inside the 10-yard line.
There’s too high of a target floor for Kamara to finish a 16-game season outside of fantasy’s top-12 backs; he’ll need to again experience Julio-esque inability to find the end zone due to his play-caller’s fascination with getting others involved in the red zone.
5. Dalvin Cook
Cook pushed for an 80% snap rate more weeks than not when healthy in 2019, functioning as the Vikings’ bell-cow back and No. 2 receiver along the way. The rising fourth-year player has established himself as one of the league’s best talents with the ball in his hands, and RBs inside of OC Gary Kubiak’s offenses have historically been a cheat code in fantasy land.
More negative game script in 2020 wouldn’t necessarily hurt Cook; he’s the offense’s pass-down back and is plenty capable of handling a larger receiving role. The issue could be if the Vikings suddenly emerge as a less-potent overall offense. Cook was one of just five backs with at least 15 carries inside the 5-yard line in 2019 in the league’s eighth-highest-scoring offense. Note that the Vikings ranked 19th in scoring back in 2018 during Kirk Cousins’ first year with the offense.
No Stefon Diggs to take the top off defenses downfield could feasibly lead to more loaded boxes for Cook. It won’t be easy to again dominate in the screen game to the extent of averaging 8.2 yards per target.
Of course, many have feared a holdout from Cook for most of the offseason. The new CBA, combined with the reality that he has reported for training camp, should put those concerns to rest. The more realistic issue would be scoring and efficiency regression inside of a suddenly porous offense. Cook should see all the volume he needs to function as a top-five fantasy back in 2020, but a similar pass-game role and worse offensive environment could feasibly produce more of a borderline RB1 finish.
Thomas hasn’t managed to reach double-digit scores in any of his four seasons, but his receptions and yards simply keep increasing. Last season's explosion was fueled by an asinine 185 targets — a full 28 more pass-game opportunities than the next-closest player.
A majority of those targets were intended for Thomas simply because he’s one of the best receivers in the game and deserves all the chances he can handle. Still, his 149 and 147 targets in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, respectively, could be a better estimate for what’s on the horizon after the Saints added arguably the best No. 2 WR of Drew Brees’ tenure in Emmanuel Sanders.
Thomas was the WR8 and WR6 during the 2017-2018 seasons before averaging a full 3.7 PPR points per game more than the next-closest finisher in 2019. Suddenly the Saints have high-end weapons everywhere with Thomas, Kamara, Sanders and TE Jared Cook.
There’s no debate who the No. 1 option is in this passing game…
MiChaEl tHomAs oNlY rUnS SLanTs pic.twitter.com/w2bfRF0MnE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 8, 2020
… but it wouldn’t be shocking if Thomas finishes closer to 150 targets than 200 this time around.
The Saints’ No. 1 WR has already proven plenty capable of returning top-10 production even without an astronomical role; just realize his lack of consistent fantasy-friendly red-zone and downfield targets would make him more of a mid-range WR1 considering the other talents at hand. Of course, there’s also a chance Thomas continues to exhibit out-of-this-world chemistry with Brees and receives even more targets. The floor is sky-high for pretty much everyone involved in this Saints offense.
Adams has been next to unstoppable when healthy for the better part of the last four seasons:
- 2016: WR10 in PPR per game
- 2017: WR9
- 2018: WR1
- 2019: WR6
Adams has never missed more than four games in a single season since entering the league in 2014, although he's only played 16 games twice. This is why we've only seen him surpass 1,000 yards once, which some point to as a reason why he shouldn't be named among the league's best WRs.
The question is whether Adams’ scoring upside simply regressed in 2019, or if it was a sign of things to come.
- 2016: 12 TDs on 121 targets (9.9% TD rate)
- 2017: 10 TDs on 117 targets (8.5%)
- 2018: 13 TDs on 169 targets (7.7%)
- 2019: 5 TDs on 127 targets (3.9%)
There is virtually no competition for targets in Green Bay after the front office curiously declined to add any sort of real upgrades at receiver. Aaron Rodgers has gone from functioning as a weekly world-beater to more of a consistently great signal-caller.
Adams remains a prime example of when to bet on talent meeting volume; just pay attention to coach Matt LaFleur’s proclamations about wanting to run the ball more and make sure it doesn’t piss off A-aron enough to tank the team’s passing game. Otherwise, don’t expect Adams to function as anything other than a weekly fantasy WR1 (again) in 2020.
3. Tyreek Hill
The Chiefs’ No. 1 WR has worked behind Travis Kelce in terms of targets in each of the past three seasons. Still, life with Patrick Mahomes under center has made life plenty fruitful for the artist known as TyFreak. One only needs to go back to 2018 to find the last time Hill finished as the PPR WR1.
Last season wasn’t particularly prolific for Hill due to injuries to himself and Mahomes. Still, the most concerning part of the season for future fantasy owners was the lack of dominant target share from Hill throughout most, not all, of his games with Mahomes under center:
- Week 6: 10 targets
- Week 7: 5
- Week 10: 19
- Week 13: 8
- Week 14: 8
- Week 15: 7
- Week 16: 5
- Week 17: 5
- AFC Divisional Round: 4
- AFC Championship: 7
- Super Bowl: 16
Hill is too good to go long without breaking off a massive play. Improved health should also allow him to approach 2017-2018 levels of rush attempts.
Still, we’ve seen Mahomes willingly look elsewhere for extended stretches of time when defenses have focused most of their attention on Hill. The 2018 AFC Championship perhaps laid out the blueprint for handling Hill, as the Patriots held the NFL’s most-explosive WR to a 1-42-0 line on three targets thanks to consistent double-coverage.
Hill averaged 17.9 PPR per game in non-injury-shortened affairs last season (including playoffs). This wasn’t too far removed from his mark in 2018 (20.9); he’s going to put up a copious amount of fantasy points again in 2020. Still, the sort of 150-target workload that would vault Hill to overall WR1 territory seems unlikely as long as Mahomes continues to 1) Be surrounded by other talented play-makers, and 2) Refrain from taking too many chances into tight-window situations.
4. Julio Jones
The future Hall of Famer led the NFL in yards per route run in each of 2015 (3.04), 2016 (3.12), 2017 (3.08) and 2018 (2.93). He ranked “just” fifth in 2019 after averaging 2.44 yards per route run. Jones turned 31 in February and averaged a career-low 8.9 yards per target last season, but his reduced performance was still good enough to function as the PPR WR3.
Just 8% of top-12 PPR WRs since 2010 have boasted double-digit years of experience. Jones has been bucking trends his entire career, but father time is undefeated. The often-nicked-up but rarely-injured WR has missed just four games since 2013; just realize that even the league’s best receivers slow down at some point.
Julio had 163, 203, 129, 148, 170 and 157 targets during the 2014-2019 seasons, respectively. The Falcons have the most available targets in the league. Even somewhat jarring regression in efficiency likely wouldn’t drop Jones outside of fantasy’s top-10 WRs due to this massive workload.
It remains tough to name a safer WR to target in fantasy land than Jones, but his strength has always been in efficiently racking up yardage like no other. An enhanced red-zone role seems unlikely (for whatever reason) at this point, so further reduction in Jones’ overall skill-set could result in a less-boomy option at the position than we’re used to. There’s nothing wrong with having a high-floor WR1, although personally I’ll be investing my high-end draft picks on fantasy’s top-12 RBs before going after Jones.
Hopkins has 192, 151, 174, 163 and 150 targets over the past five seasons. Antonio Brown (four), Julio Jones (three) and Allen Robinson (three) are the only other players with more than two such seasons during that span. Christian Kirk was the Cardinals' No. 1 WR in 2019; his average of 8.3 targets per game would be good for 133 targets if extrapolated over a 16-game season.
It would be surprising if Nuk's per-game average isn't higher than Kirk’s pace in 2020. Realize that this is a somewhat crowded offense attempting to factor in a high-volume receiver who won't have as much time to get on the same page with his quarterback during this unique offseason.
Brandon Marshall is the only traded WR to immediately turn in WR1 production on his new squad. There have been various examples of WR2 production, although they’re largely outweighed by numerous seasons of disappointment. All in all, 40 of 56 (71%) WRs failed to clear even 500 yards during Year 1 with their new squads.
Of course, Hopkins is arguably the single-best WR to be traded during the offseason over the past decade. We have more than enough evidence of Hopkins thriving with underwhelming quarterbacks to feel comfortable that WR1 production should be on the way with a player of Kyler Murray’s caliber under center:
- Brandon Weeden (Hopkins averaged 22.8 PPR per game)
- Tom Savage (20.8)
- Deshaun Watson (19.7)
- Brian Hoyer (19.7)
- Ryan Mallett (18.7)
- T.J. Yates (17.3)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (16.9)
- A.J. McCarron (15)
- Brock Osweiler (13.4)
- Case Keenum (9.8)
- Matt Schaub (8.7)
Weird things have happened with perceived perfect situations with incoming stud WRs (see: Beckham, Odell), and it’s clear Hopkins is being drafted closer to his ceiling than floor at the moment. Still, it’s rare to have a WR that has already demonstrated the ability to function at a high level with so many various atrocities under center. Even if Nuk drops off a bit in the production department in 2020, don’t expect his reputation as one of the league’s single-best WRs to go anywhere.
1. Travis Kelce
Kelce hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2013, although fellow-HOF talent Rob Gronkowski is only 144 days older. It’s easy to imagine Kelce aging gracefully with Patrick Mahomes under center and Hill out wide to take the attention away, and none of the long-time stud TE’s efficiency stats dipped in an egregious manner in 2019.
If anything, we should expect Kelce to experience some positive scoring regression in 2020 after converting just five of 136 targets into scores. Even this lack of scoring didn’t end Kelce’s four-year streak of leading his position in fantasy points, so a more pronounced dip would likely have to come through 1) Continued inability to consistently find the end zone, and 2) Unforeseen drop in efficiency.
We already saw Kelce experience some positive TD regression with 10-134-4, 3-30-0 and 6-43-1 receiving lines in last season’s playoffs. The TE position isn’t exactly like RB and WR in terms of being a young man’s game; 20% of all TE1 seasons have come from players with double-digit seasons of experience.
We’re seemingly looking at a worst-case scenario here of top-three production assuming health. Madness, but a reality of life with arguably the greatest QB we’ve ever seen under center.
Kittle is long overdue for some positive scoring regression considering he’s converted just 12 of 306 career targets into six points. He’s my pick for the best-overall player at the position when also considering blocking and finds himself more entrenched atop the offense’s pass-game totem pole than ever with Emmanuel Sanders now in New Orleans and Deebo Samuel (broken foot) looking iffy for Week 1.
The only thing that could seemingly slow down Kittle’s rocketship is more domination from the offense’s run game. Overall, he posted mundane 3-16-0, 1-19-0 and 4-36-0 receiving lines during the 49ers’ playoff run and only had more than eight targets in two games all season.
Kittle has averaged a position-best 8.1 yards after contact per reception during his career. Jonnu Smith (7.8) is the only other player to average at least seven YAC per reception among all TEs with at least 100 targets since 2010.
I tend to treat high-YAC marks as more of a sign of a great player than something that you should actively look to fade. This holds true with Kittle. I mean, the guy is a monster.
Most receiving yards 2018-2019:
Michael Thomas (3,130)
Julio Jones (3,071)
DeAndre Hopkins (2,737)
Mike Evans (2,681)
Travis Kelce (2,565)
George Kittle (2,430) ????pic.twitter.com/TzlhJryWPd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 5, 2020
Still, for the purposes of this article, Kittle’s path to busting in 2020 would be 1) Heavily sporadic volume from another wildly successful run-first offense, and 2) Regression from the greatest TE after the catch we’ve ever seen to something more in the above-average range.
3. Mark Andrews
Only Kittle (3.1 yards) was more efficient on a per-route basis than Andrews (2.9) among all TEs with at least 25 targets in 2019. Of course, Andrews isn’t used all that often as a traditional TE; the second-year talent lined up in the slot or out wide on 61% of his snaps last season. Lamar Jackson fed his trusty No. 1 receiver at least six targets in all but four games last season, and Andrews has demonstrated enough elite ability with both the ball in his hands and in contested-catch situations to continue to warrant high-end fantasy appeal.
Clearly, Andrews is one of the league’s better receiving talents at the position. Still, it’s going to be tough to be so efficient again; Andrews’ 2019 campaign marked just the 13th instance of a TE scoring at least 10 TDs on fewer than 100 targets in league history.
Jackson’s aforementioned potential to experience some negative TD regression through the air could feasibly be paired with No. 1 WR Marquise Brown taking on a larger role now that he’s healthy. Rumors about the team adding Antonio Brown certainly wouldn’t help Andrews’ target share. Defensive coordinators have had an entire offseason to at least try to slow down Jackson and company, which *should* mean limiting Andrews will be a priority.
Of course, the newfound presence of AB would hurt the fantasy appeal for literally any receiver in the league. Andrews remains the clear-cut fantasy TE3 as his offense’s primary receiver with the reigning MVP under center. Even a return to earth in the scoring department could be out-weighed by more targets if the Ravens experience less-positive game scripts in 2020.
4. Zach Ertz
Ertz didn't quite replicate his historic 2018 campaign, but a season-long 88-916-6 line on 135 targets was hardly a problem for fantasy managers. Still, the rise of Dallas Goedert is near: Ertz narrowly out-targeted Goedert 60 to 55 after the Eagles' Week 10 bye. Ertz remains the preferred fantasy option, but the ceiling is lower than past years.
Ertz (9 targets per game) joined Kelce (8.5), Evan Engram (8.5), George Kittle (7.6), Darren Waller (7.3) and Andrews (6.5) as the only non-WRs to lead their teams in targets last season. Even continued accession from Goedert and the insertion of the offense’s various rookie WRs likely won’t take Ertz below a triple-digit target total. We have five consecutive seasons of evidence to back this latter point up.
We did see a rather steep drop off in efficiency from Ertz on a per-route basis:
- 2013: 1.92 yards per route run
- 2014: 1.74
- 2015: 1.79
- 2016: 1.66
- 2017: 2
- 2018: 2.01
- 2019: 1.69
Ertz turns 30 in November and didn’t appear particularly washed in 2019; it would just hardly be a surprise if it turns out the most-productive years of his career are in the past. Further integration of Goedert, combined with less of a pass-first approach on a potentially #good Eagles team, could result in Ertz posting a productive, albeit underwhelming, 2020 campaign.
Unfortunately, the Raiders have chosen to surround him with additional options who will likely command plenty of snaps and targets alike:
- Talented second-year TE Foster Moreau (5 TDs on 25 targets in 2019) joins the likes of Dallas Goedert and Irv Smith as a truly talented backup who could thrive with a full-time role, although his health is in question entering the 2020 season.
- Ageless wonder Jason Witten could feasibly assume a part-time backup role, but that doesn’t really seem like a scenario that the ex-MNF commentator would willingly sign up for.
The team also added three high-end receiving talents inside of the draft’s top-three rounds. This went from being one of the league’s most-depleted passing games to suddenly full of talent at every spot.
Jon Gruden’s No. 1 pass-game option has averaged 133 targets during his time as head coach. This has been TEs Jared Cook (101) and Waller (117) in 2018 and 2019, although Gruden was much more prone to feeding alpha WRs during his time in Tampa Bay. Triple-digit targets were dished out to the likes of Joey Galloway (152, 143), Keyshawn Johnson (142), Keenan McCardell (139, 101), Antonio Bryant (138) and Michael Clayton (122) between 2002-2008, not to mention some of the success Gruden had with Tim Brown and Jerry Rice during his first stint with the Raiders.
This is a situation where I’m largely a believer in Waller’s worst-case scenario. He’s my PPR TE9 and a tough sell as a top-five pick due to the newfound flux of competition inside of his own offense.
Complete Hartitz offseason series:
- Fantasy Football Top 150 PPR Rankings
- 32 fantasy football questions for all 32 NFL quarterbacks entering the 2020 NFL season
- Taking fantasy football stock of every NFL backfield entering the 2020 season
- Breaking down the fantasy football potential of all 32 NFL wide receiver rooms in 2020
- Fantasy Football: Which NFL tight ends have the best and worst chances of earning high-volume roles?
- Evaluating 2020 fantasy football winners and losers based on Weeks 1-4 strength of schedule
- Fantasy Football: The impact of players changing teams and how it will affect the likes of Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins and more
- How we can use playcaller tendencies to find fantasy football upside
- Fantasy football targets bound for positive regression after extremely unlucky seasons in 2019
- Fantasy Football: Rankings and projected roles for every 2020 rookie
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