By Adam Levitan, Establish the Run
Special to Yahoo Sports
Every year there is a fistful of polarizing players who define fantasy drafts. Having a strong stance on these players heading into your draft is crucial.
Here is our take on seven players who fit this “polarizing” definition.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars: FADE
Fournette fumbled away his first and probably only season of true every-down opportunity, scoring a career-low three TDs in 15 games and averaging an anemic 5.2 yards per target in Fournette’s career-high 76-catch year. The Jags were willing to punt on Fournette before this year’s draft but found no takers, then declined his fifth-year option for 2021. Fournette enters his final season with the Jaguars facing heavy competition for early- and passing-down touches as Jacksonville’s nominal lead back on what projects as the NFL’s worst team. Fournette’s floor is the lowest among this year’s projected RB2s.
Will Fuller, WR, Texans: TARGET
Will Fuller enters his contract year staring at the opportunity of a lifetime as Houston seeks to replace DeAndre Hopkins’ 150 targets, and Fuller — by far — returns as the Texans’ pass catcher with the best built-in rapport with Deshaun Watson. Durability remains Fuller’s greatest hurdle in the way of eruption years, as Fuller’s receiving line even with Hopkins hogging volume is 82/1,237/7 over the last 16 games in which Fuller drew more than two targets. Through four NFL seasons, Fuller has missed 22 games due to three hamstring strains, a broken collarbone, fractured ribs, 2018’s ACL tear, and ongoing groin problems that required sports hernia surgery this past January. Nevertheless, Fuller is one of fantasy’s highest-upside receivers based on his affordable ADP and league-winning post-Hopkins upside.
James Conner, RB, Steelers: TARGET
Even amid injury-induced offensive turmoil — the Steelers lost their first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback and on-field play caller last season in Week 2 — Conner was on pace for 1,408 total yards, 66 catches, and 14 TDs seven games into 2019. His body stopped cooperating after Week 8, encountering a blizzard of knee, shoulder, and thigh injuries — he only played 56 snaps the rest of the way.
Conner enters his contract year facing unimposing in-house competition and Ben Roethlisberger back to reinvigorate the offense. Four-of-five starters on the line return, while Sharp Football identified the Steelers as facing 2020’s second-softest run-defense schedule. As Ben remains the unchallenged engineer of Pittsburgh’s offense, we’re betting the grizzled veteran wants Conner in the game at almost all times as a true every-down back.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals: FADE
DeAndre Hopkins arrived in Arizona via (lopsided) trade to upgrade the Cardinals’ pathetic perimeter wideout rotation. As Hopkins averaged 166 targets the last five seasons in Houston, it’s notable that no Cardinals pass catcher commanded so much as 110 targets in Kingsbury’s first year. Even with Hopkins being more talented than Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, his scenery-change and volume-loss risks are worrisome enough to keep Hopkins out of Establish The Run’s top-five re-draft receivers. We expect him to finish in the 130-140 target range, disappointing drafters still valuing Hopkins as a fringe first-round pick.
Ian Thomas, TE, Panthers: TARGET
Ian Thomas checks nearly every 2020 breakout box as part of an up-tempo offense that will have to lean on the pass with an exciting profile and productive spot-start resume. A 91st-percentile athlete, Thomas banked stat lines that extrapolate to a 70/728/6 pace over Greg Olsen’s last eight games missed. Olsen is gone to Seattle, while Carolina did nothing to upgrade at tight end. As Thomas also runs routes in areas of the field where Bridgewater throws the ball best, he makes for an exciting late-round TE2 pick.
Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: FADE
Keenan Allen is destined for the most frustrating season of his career as a volume receiver downgrading from one of the most efficient quarterbacks of all time to either a dual-threat journeyman or a work-in-progress rookie. During Tyrod’s two years with Anthony Lynn in Buffalo, the Bills ranked 31st and 32nd in pass attempts. Allen thrived over the past three seasons by ranking 5th, 12th, and 6th among wide receivers in targets, almost certainly unrepeatable considering his new quarterback’s playing style in what’s likely to be one of the NFL’s lowest-volume passing attacks. I am almost completely fading Allen in 2020 drafts.
Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: TARGET
Thielen went from ranking ninth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,373) and tying Calvin Johnson’s record for consecutive games with 100-plus receiving yards (8) to a colossal 2019 bust. Entering last season having never missed a game, Thielen went down in Week 7 and never got right after opening Weeks 1-6 on a 70/976/14 receiving pace. Thielen did return for the playoffs, catching 12-of-16 targets for 179 yards against the Saints and 49ers. The Vikings’ downgrade from Diggs to a rookie on limited practice and prep foreshadows potential market share domination by Thielen, while Minnesota’s pass attempts are likely to rise after last year’s offense ranked 30th, ahead of only the Ravens and Titans. As all signs point to 2019 being a misfortunate fluke, Thielen is an aggressive “buy.”
Adam Levitan has been writing about Fantasy Football professionally since 2008 and is a two-time FSWA award winner. A podcast host since 2015, his podcasts have been downloaded over 5 million times.
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