Part of the job description of being a fantasy football analyst is you need to have a take on pretty much every offensive player in the league.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret: That’s pretty tough to do!
At the very least, while we might believe everything we say/write/project, not everything you espouse is held with the tightest grip.
However, every offseason, if you really love this grind, you’re going to land on a handful of takes you believe will happen with the utmost conviction.
After all my offseason work, these nine takes are mine.
1) People will wonder for years why Austin Ekeler wasn’t a top-10-ranked RB going into 2020
The Chargers offense has to be one of the most overanalyzed units I can remember in my time writing about football. An outfit stocked with quality players, no turnover at head coach or offensive coordinator, and is making what, at worst, might be a lateral move at quarterback is being wildly discounted.
No player more so than Austin Ekeler.
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Ekeler doesn’t push for 800 rushing and receiving yards in 2020. Do people really expect his passing game role to just evaporate? That’s wild.
Of course, rushing quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor don’t dump it off to running backs as much as statue passers, but Ekeler isn’t some typical running back. This is a player who saw more slot snaps than all but four backs last year. A player who drew a target on 28 percent of those snaps. A player who lined up even more frequently as an outside wide receiver than he did in the slot. A player who has posted double-digit yards-per-catch figures in all three of his seasons, he is one of just three running backs to average over 10 yards per catch over the last three seasons (minimum 100 targets).
Honestly, he might be second only to Christian McCarrey in terms of receiving backs. Remember when so many sheep doubted whether the similarly built McCaffrey could handle a full workload? That was cute.
So ... this guy is going to see his passing game role reduced? I don’t think so. Even if the offense does run a bit more in 2020, pretty sure that will be good news for Ekeler. Sure, Justin Jackson is a quality player and Joshua Kelly is a nice sleeper but Ekeler has scored on five percent of his NFL touches.
You don’t take the ball away from that player. You feature that player.
2) Terry McLaurin will clear 1,100 yards
If you’re familiar with my work, you know I’m bullish on Terry McLaurin’s talent and ability to become a super-star level receiver. Let’s just cast that aside for a moment. From a pure statistical angle, McLaurin is a good bet for this mark.
If you just take his rate stats from games with Dwayne Haskins starting, McLaurin averaged 4.2 catches and 65.9 yards per game, maintained a 63.8 percent catch rate, and posted 15.4 yards per catch. Over the course of a full season that would be 68 grabs for 1,053 yards. He maintained a 23 percent target share in those seven games with Haskins starting.
So all we’re asking for is a yardage increase of less than 50. Such an ask doesn’t even include the fact that we ought to be projecting a passing increase for Washington in 2020, considering their new offensive coordinator Scott Turner called passing plays at a 64.7 percent rate in neutral game scripts last year. It also doesn’t account for any potential improvement in Haskins, the type of development he showed as the year went on (even if some outright refuse to admit it). Nor does it account for McLaurin taking another leap forward, which feels like a lock, or garnering a target share north of 23 percent. The latter is also on the table given the state of Washington’s pass-catching corps.
Honestly, this isn’t bold at all.
3) Davante Adams leads the NFL in targets
My projections have Davante Adams leading the NFL with 166 targets in 2020. Adams trailed Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins with a 29 percent share of the Packers’ targets in games he played last season. Once again, we aren’t asking for much from this star wide receiver.
Thomas could see his target shares drop a bit after the Saints boosted their own receiver corps with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, while Hopkins is changing teams. Adams, on the other hand, could see a 1-2 percent increase given the devastated state of the Packers’ wide receiver and tight end rooms.
Additionally, while the Packers were a 13-win outfit in 2019, they profiled closer to a 9-7 type team from an advanced analytics perspective. With some baked-in regression bound to hit and a defense with many question marks still in place, we can comfortably project Green Bay to be in more negative game scripts this year. That will call for them to pass more often than in 2019, when they boasted a 59.8 percent passing-play rate — 16th in the NFL.
4) Josh Allen will be in the MVP conversation
The Ravens boosted Lamar Jackson to an MVP 2019 campaign by a few simple steps. The team designed an offense to feature his strengths by building off his already existing ability as a rusher. Baltimore’s front office also gave his pass-catcher corps a shot in the arm, specifically by drafting playmaker Hollywood Brown in Round 1. The team did all this while already fielding a top-flight defense. It all vaulted the Ravens to an NFL-best 14-2 record.
Josh Allen has just about all of those ingredients. Already one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, the Bills have done a ton to improve the receiver corps around Allen after he threw to Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin as a rookie. Stefon Diggs gives the Bills one of the best separation receiver corps in the NFL. I think Lamar Jackson is a much better football player than Josh Allen but the latter has the type of ecosystem on a good team to jump a tier in Year 3.
I’m not saying he will win the award. I’m not sure I’ll ever comfortably project anyone but Patrick Mahomes to be that player as long as the defending champ plays pro football.
However, if you’re looking for a dark horse — exactly what Jackson was last year — Allen has the setup of such a player.
5) DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett both clear 1,000 yards
Tyler Lockett already did this last year despite not being healthy for a full 16-game season. DK Metcalf was just 100 shy in his rookie season. Both will comfortably be in the four figures this year.
When you look at the rest of the Seattle pass-catching group, it’s not hard to imagine Lockett and Metcalf splitting 50 percent of the team’s targets between the two of them, much like the Tampa Bay duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans did last season. Of course, there won’t be as much raw volume in Seattle but such a split would have earned the two 123 targets apiece. That’s more than enough to smash at ADP this year, considering Russell Wilson is one of the most efficient passers in the league, and both Lockett (first) and Metcalf were among the league-leaders in red-zone targets.
Make no mistake, Lockett and Metcalf are a good enough duo to earn this type of funneling. The answer to which Seahawks receiver to draft in 2020 is: “Both ... and then run it back with Russ for the stack.”
6) The gap where Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup finish in fantasy won’t be as wide as their ADP gap
You can take this a couple of different ways. Either Amari Cooper disappoints at a WR9 ADP and finishes closer to Michael Gallup’s WR29 ADP or, even better, this entire Cowboys offense just becomes a rising tide that lifts all boats.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine Gallup finishing 20 spots behind Cooper. The opportunity was within one percentage point between the two in 2019. Gallup actually bested the latter in both percentage of team targets (21 percent) and air yards in games played. He did all that while playing the more difficult position as the X-receiver. My bet is Gallup exceeds his ADP.
Dak Prescott is poised for a top-three fantasy finish in 2020 playing on an offense that was already No. 2 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA — and one that got rid of Jason Garrett. Cowboys stacks with Dak, Cooper, Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb (not far behind at WR39) are going to win fantasy leagues. I see all three receivers clearing 100 targets, but no one pushing to finish over 130.
7) Teddy Bridgewater clears 4,200 passing yards
The Panthers defense is going to have some growing pains this year. Carolina is projected to field the youngest defense in a decade with an average starting age of 23.5 years old. In a year when rookies are already behind the curve in terms of offseason prep time, that feels unideal.
Luckily, the Panthers have the personnel on offense to support an extremely pass-heavy approach. Christian McCaffrey is a special receiver as a running back, DJ Moore is on a clear upward trajectory at wide receiver, and Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, and Ian Thomas at tight end is a strong crew to round out the skill position room. Joe Brady brings a Saints-style of offense to Carolina which will put these guys in positions to thrive.
Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have the touchdown or rushing outlook to become a consistent fantasy starter but he’s going to throw the ball a lot in 2020. The coaching staff wants to do it, the skill position talent is there to do it and most importantly, the defense is green enough to force him to do it.
8) Two Steelers receivers will clear 1,000 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster is definitely getting back into the four digits this season with Ben Roethlisberger in the fold. However, one of the main reasons I’m bullish on him accomplishing this is that the Steelers have several young wide receivers ready to break out who can win deep/outside and keep JuJu in his comfortable role as the big slot.
Diontae Johnson is my favorite bet to follow JuJu to 1,000 yards. My colleague Terez Paylor told me on the latest episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Forecast the team is extremely high on Johnson internally and his training camp injury didn’t slow that momentum. Still, James Washington could also push this mark too if Johnson doesn’t pan out. He led the team with over 1,200 air yards last year.
The Steelers should return to their pass-leaning ways in 2020 with Roethlisberger healthy. The team was top-10 in pass attempts from 2017 to 2019. That’s the way they want to play as long as they don’t have nightmares behind center (again).
9) Derrick Henry catches 30-plus passes
This could easily be ill-fated considering no coaching staff has ever used him this way. However, with Dion Lewis gone and rookie Darrynton Evans on the slow burn coming out of camp, it’s time for Derrick Henry to be unleashed as, at the very least, a complementary receiver.
The big man has averaged over 10 yards per catch over the last three seasons. This just has to happen.