News & Analysis

McFarland: 2020 fantasy football ADP values and fades

Every year, a handful of mid-round to late-round players drastically outperform their average draft position to help carry fantasy owners toward a title. Equally as important, several early-round to mid-round players will underperform their ADP, leaving owners running to the waiver wires for reinforcements.

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Drafting Lamar Jackson, Aaron Jones, Chris Godwin and Mark Andrews in 2019 delivered a significant advantage. Combined, they outproduced their positional ADP by 41 spots. Each of these players also yielded results in their expected preseason role — not due to an injury.

Using my rankings and the latest ADP data from fantasymojo.com for the Footballguys Player Championship, run by the Fantasy Football Players Championship (FFPC), let's analyze some 2020 values and fades.

Many of the top high-stakes fantasy veterans play at the FFPC, making it a significant ADP data set. Because of this, some of the deltas won't be as broad in rankings vs. ADP. The FFPC starting lineup consists of 1QB, 2RB, 2WR, 1TE, and 2FLEX positions. The scoring format is PPR with tight ends receiving a premium of 1.5 points per reception.

QUARTERBACKS

VALUE: Tom Brady (MY RANK: QB8 | ADP: QB11)

After the top dual-threat quarterbacks are off the board, Brady is a primary late-round target. He is surrounded by arguably the best weapons of his career and plays in an aggressive scheme under Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay. His range of outcomes includes leading the NFL in passing and touchdowns, and his floor is his current price.

Some analysts argue that Brady has lost his touch and is doubtful to uncork a Buccaneer's onslaught. When shining a light in the dark corners of that argument — and employing the PFF 2020 QB Annual — the shadows of deterioration aren't that scary.

Tom Brady 2019
Accuracy Metric Rank Difference vs. NFL Average
Accurate+ % 3 of 35
Accurate % 10 of 35 +3.4%
Catchable Inaccurate % 4 of 35 -2.5%
Uncatchable % 16 of 35 +0.4%

For a full breakdown of how charting works, see Steve Palazzolo's summary here.

In terms of putting the ball in an ideal location (Accurate+ and Accurate), Brady is still one of the finest. The Goat also eclipsed league accuracy averages at all depths of target in 2019.

Tom Brady 2019
Accurate+ and Frame Difference vs. NFL Average
Behind Line of Scrimmage +1.0%
0 – 9 yds +1.4%
10 – 19 yds +1.6%
20+ yds +11.5%

Most experts are anticipating hefty utilization of Chris Godwin in the intermediate and underneath passing game, but Mike Evans could also prosper. Brady was above league accuracy averages in vertical lead (+4%), vertical back shoulder (+30%) and over the shoulder (+8%) attempts in 2019.

In 2019, Godwin (90.4) and Evans (85.2) both ranked inside the top 15 in receiving grade for receivers and tight ends with at least 50 targets — ranking third and 12th, respectively, among 111 qualifiers. The Patriots' top qualifier was Julian Edelman (73.6), who ranked 49th.

Brady's finishes over the last 10 years, along with top targets who played at least 10 games:

2019: QB13 (Edelman, James White)

2018: QB12 (Edelman, White, Gronkowski, Josh Gordon)

2017: QB3 (Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan)

2016: QB19 (Edelman, White)

2015: QB3 (Gronkowski)

2014: QB9 (Edelman, Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell)

2013: QB14 (Edelman)

2012: QB3 (Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Gronkowski)

2011: QB3 (Welker, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez)

2010: QB3 (Welker, Deion Branch, Hernandez)

When Brady has two or more legit weapons, exceptional fantasy finishes follow. His most comparable weaponry to 2020 is 2017 — which is also his most recent top-three QB season. After factoring in the return of Rob Gronkowski, it is conceivable the Bucs thrust the accelerator even when leading.

In Brady's career year in 2007, the Patriots passed on 55.3% of plays when leading by seven points or more — second-most in the NFL. Last season when leading by seven or more, the Bucs ranked fourth (58.1%). It's feasible the passing splits sag with improved scripts, but expecting a tectonic shift isn't sensible. Brady is fond of pushing the tempo, averaging 1,041 attempts over the last six years — a full game more (61) than the NFL average.

The 43-year-old signal-caller won't boost profit on the ground, but a top-five finish is a reasonable expectation, and he goes in the 12th round. Stack skill position depth and enjoy the perks of waiting on a quarterback.

Value Honorable Mention: Cam Newton (MY RANK: QB11 | ADP: QB13)

If you want to read more on Newton, see the great work from PFF's Ian Hartitz and Andrew Erickson.

FADE: Aaron Rodgers (MY RANK: QB19 | ADP: QB14)

Where Brady has nearly everything going in his favor, Rodgers has almost nothing. The once perennial top-two fantasy quarterback is a player to avoid in 2020 for two big reasons: wimpy weapons.

Rodgers' touchdowns per attempt used to live in the 6%-plus range. As the weapons around him have depreciated, that number has plummeted to 4.2% and 4.6%. Unfortunately, the Packers opted to forgo infusing any oomph into their aerial assault despite a robust receiver class. Instead, they decided to add backup quarterback Jordan Love and running back A.J. Dillon in the first two rounds.

Davante Adams is the unequivocal alpha, but Aaron Jones is the next best option in the passing game. Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will joust for the second receiver spot with Devin Funchess opting out of the season. Second-year tight end Jace Sternberger is an intriguing option that could emerge, but he isn't a lock after barely playing last season.

Matt LaFleur wants to tie everything to the run game — similar to Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. While the approach can be successful, it can erect challenges to fantasy-friendly production in the absence of hyper-efficiency.

In the present form, the Packers lack the firepower to make the passing game sizzle. Not a favorable formula considering LaFleur has averaged 939 plays in two seasons as a play-caller — 41 below the NFL average of 980.

Rodgers finds himself in a situation where the two problems synergistically compound. Where Brady has multiple paths to insulate value, Rodgers has few outs beyond individual heroics. While that carries a non-zero chance of happening, having the seventh-toughest quarterback schedule over the first 12 weeks doesn't help.

Fade Honorable Mention: Baker Mayfield (MY RANK: QB24 | ADP: QB13)

Another player Hartitz and I see similarly — check out his recent rundown on why Baker is a name to avoid.

RUNNING BACK

VALUE: James Conner (MY RANK: RB14 | ADP: RB16)

In 2019, Conner was a first-round fantasy pick, but an injury to Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1 quickly derailed the Steelers' season. Conner also eventually missed time in what amounted to a forgettable year. Now the 25-year-old back can be had at pick 3.4, and much of the logic that hoisted him to a first-round valuation last campaign is in play again.

In a recent interview, Mike Tomlin declared, “I'm a feature runner type guy by mentality.” When talking about Conner, he also added, “James is a feature runner.” Tomlin admitted that feature runners need supplemental support in case of injury and to create tactical advantages in certain situations. Most telling, he explained that he prefers to build those roles off of the feature runner who provides his offense with a chance to get into a rhythm through a core set of plays.

Tomlin's track record supports his professed love for feature backs. When adjusting for games missed, here are the workloads for his top back:

2019: 47% (Conner)

2018: 76% (Conner)

2017: 79% (Le'Veon Bell)

2016: 86% (Bell)

2015: 51% (DeAngelo Williams)

2014: 70% (Bell)

2013: 77% (Bell)

2012: 47% (Jonathan Dwyer)

2011: 56% (Rashard Mendenhall)

2010: 79% (Mendenhall)

2009: 61% (Mendenhall)

2008: 67% (Willie Parker)

2007: 67% (Parker)

Last season, Conner averaged 63% of carries over the first eight games before injuries. He bogarted 83% of the attempts inside the 5 over that span. Jaylen Samuels cut into his passing routes, but Conner still garnered 16% of targets in four contests where he and Samuels were both healthy.

The Steelers finished 2019 as the ninth-best offensive line and enter 2020 with the same expectation, returning four of five starters. The run blocking has taken a bit of a hit over recent seasons, but it is still a sturdy group.

The Steelers provide consistent scoring opportunities to their running backs. Attempts inside the five:

2019: 12 (Conner 5)

2018: 21 (Conner 17)

2017: 16 (Bell 10)

2016: 10 (Bell 7)

2015: 24 (Williams 18)

Conner doesn't come without pitfalls. He has missed six, three and four games in his first three seasons, but his upside in this offense is undeniable. If healthy, his role is as favorable if not superior to multiple backs being selected ahead of him in the second round.

Value Honorable Mentions:

Chris Carson (MY RANK: RB17 | ADP RB22)
Cam Akers (MY RANK: RB23 | ADP RB27)
Tevin Coleman (MY RANK: RB34 | ADP: RB39)
Darrynton Evans (MY RANK: RB50 | ADP RB57)

By all accounts, Carson is recovering well from his season-ending hip injury. If that holds, he is a value in the fourth round on a run-first team.

Akers' situation is convoluted right now with the Sean McVay running back by committee quotes circulating. McVay states, “We're going to be committed to trying to have some balance, and then we'll go with the hot hand or whoever really expresses himself as deserving of carries.” This quote doesn't sound like a steadfast commitment to sticking with an RBBC; it seems like it will start as an RBBC with an opportunity for one of the backs to take charge.

Akers enters an offense with top-five upside vying for time with two guys who have done nothing at the pro level in Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. The rookie is the favorite to lead this backfield and could dominate touches.

Coleman has access to touches in a dynamic run game. With Shanahan's hot-hand approach, he could push for a more even opportunity distribution or overtake Raheem Mostert for periods.

Evans belongs in the company of Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison and Chase Edmonds. He is currently the clear handcuff to Derrick Henry in an offense that wants to bludgeon opponents by pounding the rock.

FADE: Ronald Jones (MY RANK: RB47 | ADP: RB32)

Jones finds himself in a choice situation with the arrival of Brady. The dilemma is his inability to pry the job away from Peyton Barber — a decent but not exceptional back. Arians doesn't trust Jones in the passing game — he ran a route on just 24% of dropbacks. He was a non-factor near the endzone, with only 15% of team totes inside the 5. Rojo is a between-the-20s runner to this point in his career.

Third-round rookie, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, will begin camp on the Covid-19 list. Once Vaughn is ready, he will challenge for looks inside the 5 and could overtake the lead role by October. Dare Ogunbowale will be the passing-down back, leaving Jones with few paths to value.

WIDE RECEIVER

VALUE: Adam Thielen (MY RANK: WR7 | ADP: WR15)

The math on Thielen is pretty simple. He has proven capable of demanding 25% of targets and topping 2.0 yards per route run multiple times and is now the undisputed alpha. One of those seasons came with Kirk Cousins in 2018, with whom he has a two-year rapport.

The Vikings will seek to run the ball often in 2020 if their wilting defense can keep game scripts close. Gary Kubiak's offense has a long history of funneling truckloads of targets to worthy wide receivers. If the 30-year-old can remain healthy, his number will get dialed early and often. He is a lock for 150 targets and a steal in the early fourth round of drafts.

Value Honorable Mentions:

A.J. Brown (MY RANK: WR12 | ADP: WR16)
Robert Woods (MY RANK: WR13 | ADP: WR18)
Julian Edelman (MY RANK: WR27 | ADP: WR34)
Diontae Johnson (MY RANK: WR29 | ADP: WR36)

FADE: Cooper Kupp (MY RANK: WR26 | ADP: WR17)

Business was booming for the Rams' slot receiver over the first eight weeks of 2019, when he posted 27 or more points in four of eight games. In contests one through 11, he averaged a 25% target share, but that dipped to 14% over the final five games. During that span, Kupp topped 20 points only once.

Kupp amassed more snaps than any Rams receiver in 11 personnel (559), but as the year progressed the team moved to more 12 groupings. Sean McVay deployed 12 personnel on 22% of plays versus 6% the previous year. Kupp only saw 11 receiving snaps when the Rams used two tight ends. Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods were the primary outside weapons in that situation.

With Brandin Cooks gone, we could see more two-tight-end sets in 2020. Over the final five games, the team dropped back to pass on 79% of plays, and Kupp topped 90% of snaps in only one of those games.

Kupp will be a factor along with Tyler Higbee near the endzone (22% of targets) and provide substantial weekly upside. His weekly totals will also suffer from dips — the days of the Rams utilizing three wide receivers on 80% to 90% of plays each week are in peril. That means his snaps and routes will more closely resemble other slot receivers like Danny Amendola.

Fade Honorable Mentions:

Amari Cooper (MY RANK: WR17 | ADP: WR13)
Kenny Golladay (MY RANK: WR11 | ADP: WR7)
Deebo Samuel (MY RANK: WR46 | ADP: WR38)

TIGHT END

VALUE: Irv Smith Jr. (MY RANK: TE16 | ADP: TE23)

The Vikings are in search of their No. 2 target, presenting the 2019 second-round pick with an opportunity. He will battle the team's 2020 first-round pick, Justin Jefferson, and aging tight end Kyle Rudolph.

He is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak's scheme, which creates mismatches against defenders who are keying on the run game. Smith is a handful in man coverage, touting 4.63 speed at 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds. Adept as an in-line blocker, there is a possibility he distances himself from Rudolph this season.

The Vikings utilized 12 personnel the second-most in the NFL behind the Eagles in 2019 at 34.9%. After starting the season as Rudolph's backup, the young tight end pulled slightly ahead in routes per dropback (76% vs. 69%) and matched the veteran in target share at 12% over the last six games.

Smith has a similar range of outcomes to Ian Thomas, Jonnu Smith and Dallas Goedert. Each is likely the third option on their respective teams but has an opportunity to secure more — Smith comes at a discount.

Value Honorable Mentions

Mike Gesicki (MY RANK: TE10 | ADP: TE13)
Jace Sternberger (MY RANK: TE18 | ADP: TE24)

FADE: T.J. Hockenson (MY RANK: TE15 | ADP: TE12)

The Lions‘ 2019 first-rounder is long on talent but may come up short in the opportunity department in 2020. He will battle three established veterans in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola for the attention of Matthew Stafford.

Hockenson ran a route on only 58% of dropbacks in the games he played because he shared time with Jesse James. Amendola averaged 75% and topped Hockenson in target share per game 16% to 10%.

Drafting Hockenson when he slides is still a viable option — betting on his talent could pay off. He is just going too far ahead of players in similar or slightly better situations.

Fade Honorable Mention:

Jared Cook (MY RANK: TE14 | ADP TE11)

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