Eight to Avoid: Scott Pianowski's 2020 fantasy football fades
We don’t need splashy names and marketing plans when we assemble our fantasy rosters. We just want the numbers. It’s a bottom-line business.
And with that in mind, as I value-hunt and prepare for the 2020 fantasy season, I know a bunch of buzzy, big-name players will likely fall through the cracks. I’m not trying to win the back page of the sports section here. I’m trying to find risk-reward profiles that make sense at the current costs.
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A bunch of stars and name players are on my 2020 Fade List. Now, understand what that means. I am not saying these players are bad players or will even have bad seasons, I’m saying their investment profiles don’t fit what I’m trying to accomplish this year. Appreciate the nuance. Understand what we’re trying to do.
It’s no fun to pan the defending league MVP, but you need legitimate names to consider. No one needs fade advice on inexpensive or widely panned players.
Regression and Increased Cost: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — paying for a vanity quarterback is usually a fantasy mistake. It’s a position with a ton of options, where the supply easily outpaces the demand in start-one leagues. No one ever feels stuck at this position.
So now that Jackson has become a pricy fantasy commodity, I have to reluctantly look the other way.
Jackson was a fantasy league winner in 2019 for two reasons — his bountiful production and his minuscule cost. But there’s little room for profit this year, as he carries a Yahoo ADP of 14. And keep in mind the opportunity cost; if you’re paying for Jackson, you’re not filing a premium slot at running back or wide receiver. You’ll be playing catchup there.
Jackson figures to post star numbers again, but his 2019 level of production probably isn’t repeatable. That 9.0 touchdown rate is a sure bet to regress, and the Ravens would probably prefer Jackson to run for fewer than 176 times and 1,206 yards. Jackson could have another MVP-contending season and still be a modest loss on his fantasy draft price. That’s how it works when a player becomes an expectant commodity.
It’s no fun to be the Regression Police, but it’s simply difficult to maintain this stratospheric level of production. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Michael Vick, the list goes on and on — they had dips after outlier seasons, too.
Let’s play the value game at quarterback. There are so many good ones. Perhaps you like Kyler Murray to take the sophomore leap that Jackson and Mahomes did. Maybe Dak Prescott can challenge for the No. 1 quarterback slot, though his price is rising too. If you prefer cheaper options, Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford come discounted after injury-prone years. Sam Darnold enters his age-23 season. This is not a complete list of upside plays; lottery tickets are all over the place.
Shiny New Toy: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Buzz is expensive. I hate paying the tax to make a fun pick, a hipster pick.
And when Edwards-Helaire landed in Kansas City — in an Andy Reid/Mahomes offense — he instantly became one of this year’s fantasy fun picks.
CEH is currently a Top-30 fantasy pick in Yahoo, a slot that could be hard to justify if Damien Williams maintains a role in the offense. And given how well Williams played in the postseason, I don’t see him getting kicked to the curb. Williams also checks the versatility boxes, excelling in route running and pass protection. Even if we concede that running back pass-pro is somewhat overrated, I nonetheless consider Williams squarely in the Kansas City Circle of Trust.
Now Williams will have to share and perhaps take the secondary role. But I don’t expect the Chiefs to give Edwards-Helaire anything close to an immediate Bell Cow role. With that in mind, I’m priced out of the Fresh Prince business.
New Neighborhood: DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals; Stefon Diggs, Bills; Austin Hooper, Browns
I usually get nervous when star wideouts pack for new cities, at least for that initial acclimation year. Yes, Randy Moss broke football in 2007. Sure, Terrell Owens splashed in several cities. But Randy Moss in Oakland (or Odell Beckham Jr. last year) is the more common type of result; a lukewarm return, a fantasy value loss.
Passing success is largely tied to rapport, timing, familiarity. And when you’re headed to a new team, you don’t immediately have those things. This could be even trickier in the uncertain practice context of 2020. Continuity is our best friend this year, and these guys can’t check that box.
Of course we need to consider every pass-catcher shift on a case-by-case basis, not that it offers comfort here. Hopkins goes to a lush Arizona offense, but the system could easily become a matchup-driven one (the favorite target is the cushy matchup guy). Contrast this to the Houston approach, where the Texans peppered Hopkins with targets as soon as he stepped off the bus. Still commanding a Yahoo ADP of 13.3, Hopkins is an easy skip for me. I don’t think he’ll get the hog rate he’s used to.
Diggs couldn’t wait to get out of Minnesota, but he might miss Kirk Cousins more than he initially realized. Diggs is a precise route runner (Matt Harmon’s metrics love him) who proved he could thrive with the reliable, almost robotic Cousins. Now he links with Josh Allen, a quarterback who often plays with his hair on fire (something Cousins rarely does, perhaps to his detriment). I’m expecting a while before Diggs and Allen are on the same page. (I also expect Diggs to miss a game here or there, as the sports car that sometimes can’t perform when minor tweaks are needed.)
I’ve been a pro-Hooper guy in recent years, and linear improvement is always easy to digest. But he’s never been a major touchdown guy (16 spikes in four years) and the shift from Matt Ryan to Baker Mayfield is lateral at best, and perhaps a drop down. The Browns usage tree looks far more crowded than Atlanta’s. I don’t expect Hooper to be a flop, but I don’t see enough upside to justify his current TE10 tag.
Too Many Cooks: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
Sutton’s rookie year had a handful of splash plays, and many fantasy analysts called his 2019 a breakout. It was a fun season. But now we need Sutton to justify something around a Top-40 pick, and that might be difficult with Denver’s current offensive construction.
The Broncos went after playmakers early and often through their 2020 team building. First it started with RB Melvin Gordon, and then Denver drafted nifty rookie WRs Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Perhaps Jeudy and Hamler will have sluggish onboards as freshmen, but they’re certainly going to be on the field. It’s also possible TE Noah Fant sees an opportunity spike as a sophomore.
And are we sure QB Drew Lock is ready for his close-up? Sutton’s production had a pronounced dip during Lock’s trial last year.
I love Sutton as a player. I’m nervous about the crowding.
Gravity Eventually Wins: Todd Gurley, Falcons; A.J. Green, Bengals
Keep in mind these things are always cost-driven because there’s a time when I’ll consider Gurley. He slid to Pick 40 in a recent Best Ball draft, and at that point I held my nose and took the plunge, banking on projectable volume in Atlanta. But Gurley’s body has been through a ridiculous amount of attrition through his college and pro career; although he only turns 26 in August, I’d argue he’s the oldest 26-year-old body in the league.
Gurley suffered an ACL blowout in college and he’s dealt with arthritic knees in the pros. His efficiency fell apart in his final Rams season; 3.8 yards per rush and a crummy 4.2 yards per target. Only a truckload of touchdown deodorant — 14 spikes in all — bailed out his season, buoyed him at RB12.
Most NFL windows evaporate far quicker than our minds are willing to accept. It’s human nature to want to be optimistic about a player’s potential, or get nostalgic for a player who has won titles for us. Heck, Gurley was fantasy’s best player only two years ago. But when these stories start heading in the wrong direction, I prefer to be proactive when it comes to accepting the new reality. I won’t even look at Gurley in the first three rounds, and it’s possible I might not draft him again this year.
[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]
To be fair on Gurley, any running back you take in his ADP neighborhood is going to come with fleas. The fade on Green is much easier to swallow. He’s still commanding a Yahoo ADP inside the Top 80, despite missing chunks of time in three of the past four years. He didn’t play at all last fall, and he’s entering his age-32 season. Even if Green stays on the field, it’s possible Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd have usurped him.
Wide receiver is extremely deep on the fantasy board, and I have no problem finding lower-risk WRs around Green’s price. Heck, they might have more upside, too. DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, and Jarvis Landry are all mildly cheaper than Green at the moment.
Often the prudent move is to proactively look away.