Fantasy losers from NFL draft: Aaron Jones' value takes hit after Packers strangely prioritize backfield depth

Dalton Del Don
·7 min read

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Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

I’m a huge Jones fan who considers him one of the five best real-life running backs (despite not being a great blocker), but he’s also an obvious candidate for major regression and someone who’s being taken too high in fantasy drafts (after being perennially underrated). It’s never a great bet to bank on outlier touchdown seasons like Jones’ 19 last year, and it’s especially the case considering he played just 60% of Green Bay’s snaps even with Jamaal Williams getting hurt. The Packers then drafted AJ Dillon in the second round - a Derrick Henry type who at minimum is immediately a goal-line threat. Volume is king in fantasy football, and 14 backs had more carries than Jones last year despite him staying healthy for once (he also has an extensive injury history).

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Put differently, Jones ranked No. 18 in Opportunity Share (the percentage of total team running back carries plus targets) last season under ideal circumstances and without a second-round RB with elite measurables who averaged the fifth-most rushing yards in college in the last 20 years. Over the second half of last season, Jones recorded just 15 catches, and favorable game scripts are tough to count on repeating, especially with teams that just played deep into the season, are due for natural regression and now have a first-place schedule (think the team version of “The Madden Curse”). It’s becoming clearer Matt LaFleur is a shaky coach (although credit is due for now possessing an ARod + JLo quarterbacks room), and we won’t even get into if an unhappy and near 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers goes down. I have Jonathan Taylor ranked ahead of Jones, which is apparently a hot take.

Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens

Similar to Jones, Ingram is entering a contract year and saw his team spend an early pick on running back after coming off a year that screams TD regression (he scored five receiving touchdowns on 14 targets over the last six games). Unlike Jones, Ingram is on the wrong side of 30, and J.K. Dobbins is an even bigger threat who was taken in the mid-second round after leading the nation in Yards Created per attempt. Justice Hill and Gus Edwards both deserve downgrades as well, as this is one of the most crowded backfields in football. While Lamar Jackson and the Ravens can’t be expected to match last year’s point totals, they should remain plenty productive on the ground, but fantasy managers are likely going to be frustrated with the committee. Dobbins over Ingram at ADP seems like an easy call.

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

He’s about to become a free agent in 2021, PFF graded him 56th out of 57 running backs in blocking last season (and as one of the worst receiving RBs) and just watched Indy draft his replacement in stud Jonathan Taylor. Mack was previously ranked highly because of the Colts’ desirable situation, so he’s still on the radar given Taylor’s fumbling history, but I buried him outside my top-45 RBs (he also has a long injury history), and apparently that’s not on par with the market. Do not draft Marlon Mack ahead of Jonathan Taylor.

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions

Johnson has shown flashes but has also proven impossible to trust to stay healthy, and he’s now going to take a backseat to D’Andre Swift, whom the Lions grabbed at pick #35. It’s too bad Detroit looks like a committee situation, because Matthew Stafford was playing at another level (8.6 YPA) before getting injured last season (and with T.J. Hockenson still in infancy), revealing serious upside for Detroit’s 2020 offense.

Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

This breaks my heart, as there’s little doubt in my mind Williams was about to turn in an RB1 type fantasy season before the draft, but after the Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire in round one, he’s just a flex option (albeit with the most upside of any backup RB). At least Williams is fresh, as the 28-year-old still has fewer than 300 career carries.

Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

It should be noted both Cooper and Gallup ranked top-10 in yards per route run last season, so they are less reliant on volume than other wideouts, but their fantasy values decreased when the Cowboys stole CeeDee Lamb at pick No. 17. Randall Cobb and his 83 targets are gone, and rookie receivers should have a tougher time this season with the lack of prep work thanks to the unusual circumstances, but there are a lot of mouths to feed in Dallas (Blake Jarwin is another one, as he’s a big upgrade over Jason Witten). Lamb is a legit prospect who’s going to eat, so while his addition helps make Dak Prescott a real MVP candidate, it’s also a fantasy hit to Gallup and Cooper (who’s oddly averaged just 42.5 yards on the road over the last two seasons).

Dec 23, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup (13) celebrates his third quarter touchdown with Amari Cooper (19) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Cowboys receivers Amari Cooper (19) and Michael Gallup (13) are the top two receiving options in Dallas, but things are a lot more crowded coming of the NFL draft. (Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

I had Sutton ranked as a WR1 after he finished top-five in WOPR as a sophomore, but it’s doubtful he finishes top-10 in target share again after the Broncos spent the No. 15 pick on Jerry Jeudy. Denver then selected another wideout in Round 2 (K.J. Hamler), and Noah Fant is another absolute alpha who just posted one of the best YPT ever by a rookie tight end and is also going to demand looks. And then there’s Drew Lock, who should be projected to provide somewhere around bottom-five quarterback play this season. I like Sutton the player a lot more than his situation.

Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

His ADP doesn’t match the downgrade in QBs he suffered this offseason. Philip Rivers threw some awful picks last year and is in clear decline, but he also got 7.8 YPA and locked onto Allen. The Chargers have plenty of options to throw to with Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler, and Mike Williams, the latter of which is a red-zone beast who saw the sixth-most end-zone targets last year (Allen hasn’t scored more than six TDs since his rookie year in 2013). Most importantly, Justin Herbert simply looks like he’s going to be one of the league’s most inaccurate quarterbacks, with a sub-50% on-target rate on deep throws, 25% when scrambling and 18.1% off-target rate to open receivers. PFF also graded Herbert fifth-worst among qualified QBs on negative throws over the past two seasons. At Allen’s ADP, I’d rather draft a receiver not approaching 30 and without bottom-shelf QB play.

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Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders

While I appreciate the Raiders keeping Al Davis’ “speed kills” spirit alive, this is a poor landing spot for the fast receiver. While not quite a Darrius Heyward-Bey level reach, it was still surprising to see Ruggs drafted ahead of Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb, and especially by a team that employs a quarterback who averaged the fewest intended air yards each of the past two seasons and ranked last in Aggressiveness last year (minimum 200 attempts). Ruggs’ skinnier frame and modest targets were already red flags, but now joining the dysfunctional Raiders franchise that might be the least equipped to take advantage of his skills (even during a normal offseason), sadly the safe bet is to fade Ruggs’ career (although I’m buying Hunter Renfrow, who quietly finished 11th in yards per route run as a rookie last year).

Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars

Turns out, winning the Biletnikoff Award and Nick Foles loving the slot didn’t mean all that much (my bad!). I really liked Westbrook last year, but he flopped badly and can now be removed from draft boards after Jacksonville took tackle-breaker Laviska Shenault Jr. early in Round 2 to join D.J. Chark on an offense with Leonard Fournette and Gardner Minshew in the backfield. It’s a pretty strong strategy to win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes in 2021.

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