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One of the biggest keys to successful roster construction is balance. It’s important to insure high ceiling players with solid floor options.
This article, though, isn’t about that.
Instead, I’m playing with possibility. These are guys that could, in my estimation, outperform their current ADPs and close out the year as fantasy starters.
Behold, my All-Upside Team.
Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots
The current record-holder for the most career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era (58), Newton burst onto the fantasy scene as a rookie, managing a top-three FF finish in 2011. Since then he’s been a top-four producer in five of the last eight seasons and has never (except for 2019) fallen outside of the top-15 players at the position. And, yet, he’s the Yahoo Consensus QB20 (behind Kirk Cousins!) heading into 2020.
Are there concerns about his health? Worries about his ability to pick up a new playbook? Doubts about his surrounding talent? Yes, yes, and YES.
Do any of those have to do with his upside? NOPE.
Cam may be entering his age-31 season with recent shoulder and foot issues but he’s also had plenty of time to recover and condition. According to Dr. Alex Weber — whose medical expertise was featured in my Rest vs. Rust series — Newton figures to start the season at “100 percent.” There’s no guarantee, especially given his physical approach to the game, that he won’t get banged up, but his rushing ability alone gives him an obvious advantage in fantasy scoring.
So then the question becomes … will Belichick and McDaniels scheme for his legs? Of course they will. A mobile QB is the only advantage Belichick has been without since the Tom Brady era began over 15 years ago. Plus, Cam was signed to a one-year bare-minimum deal. (Talk about value!) There is no way the Pats’ coaching staff doesn’t attempt to squeeze every ounce of upside out of Cam, as they have done with numerous vets in the past.
He may not be surrounded by elite playmakers, but he’s got just enough to remain productive. While accuracy has long been an issue for Cam, it’s important to note that his most efficient year as a passer came in 2018 (67.9% completion rate) when DJ Moore (who was deployed via the slot for 25 percent of his snap share) joined pass-catching wunderkind Christian McCaffrey (who Cam targeted 7 times per game in 2017 and 2018). The duo of Edelman and White is not a perfect comp, but they figure to be utilized similarly in order to get the best out of Cam. Additionally, the presence of sophomore wideout N’Keal Harry — a first-round draft pick who excels in contested situations — provides the former Panther with a go-to red-zone option.
There’s admitted risk in rostering Newton. But that’s all baked into his current 12th-round ADP. A top-11 finish is absolutely in his range of possible outcomes. (Fearless Forecast based on a 16 game projection: 3,654 passing yards, 24 passing TDs + 464 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs)
Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Maybe Drake is better suited for an “All Breakouts” team, but after putting together a top-five fantasy effort over the back half of the year, I think he’s already broken out. Traded from Miami, Drake landed in Glendale to spell a hobbled David Johnson and ended up stealing the incumbent’s gig.
From Weeks 9 through 17 the Alabama product averaged nearly 19 touches and 102 total yards per game. Demonstrating his fire burst and speed (4.45), Drake posted 20 runs over 10 yards and evaded nearly 3 tackles per contest as a Cardinal. With Johnson now attempting a comeback in Houston and after signing a one-year deal to play on the transition tag for $8.5 million, Drake appears to be the team’s clear-cut RB1. Manning the backfield in Kingsbury’s spread offense, with Kyler Murray’s mobility opening up lanes and DeAndre Hopkins’ physicality stretching the field, the former Fin has top-five fantasy potential.
A lack of consistency and/or workhorse usage over his career (since college, really) have created enough doubt to keep Drake’s ADP out of the first round. Those stock depressing reservations are exactly what fantasy managers seeking upside need to lean into. After all, this is a talent who averaged 18.5 touches for 98 total yards in 20 career efforts in which he carried the rock at least 10 times (props to John Paulsen for the actionable stat).
Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Outside of the top-15 RBs coming off of draft boards, Gurley would only need to replicate what he did last year (1,064 total yards and 14 TDs) to ROI on his current fifth-round ADP. Sure, I suppose he could be cooked. Though he’s only missed four games over the past three seasons, he managed double-digit TDs in each of those years and posted the third-most rushing yards after contact since 2016 (2,830). The point is, he’s a better-than-average player, attached to a potent offense, and figures to work as the team’s undisputed RB1.
It’s also worth noting that Gurley averaged 4.4 YPC when facing base fronts. Devonta Freeman faced base fronts 47.8 percent of the time (RB4) last year. So even if Gurley isn’t as explosive as he once was, he’s got field stretchers lightening his load. Plus, the Falcons' o-line has improved at the same rate that the Rams’ has declined.
Ultimately, all of this is moot because volume is king ... and that’s what gives Gurley the edge over other RBs being selected at the same spot (ex: Melvin Gordon). Managers holding to strong absolutes about players being “washed” and wanting to fade the olds (pssst — Gurley just turned 26) are missing out on loads of value and obvious upside when skipping over TG3.
D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
In his sophomore effort, “The Flash” was unlocked to the tune of a 73-1,008-8 stat line. Chark’s breakout aligned with Gardner Minshew’s unexpected promotion, which is good news since nothing — not COVID nor Nick Foles — is keeping Minshew off the field. The duo proved particularly efficient in the red area of the field, as Chark managed the most TDs (6) off of end-zone targets (11) in the NFL.
It’s also likely that Chark draws more high-value looks in 2020. Not just because of Jay Gruden’s presence, but because the defense lost so many key players. The Jags are going to be playing catch-up often, which means Gardner is going to have to keep the ball in the air. Considering the fact that Jacksonville did little to beef up the team’s receiving corps — adding only Colorado product Laviska Shenault in the second round and Collin Johnson out of Texas in the fifth — Chark’s target share figures to increase well beyond the 22 percent he managed in 2019.
I have him projected for 82 catches for 1,148 yards and 8 TDs, which is evidence of his upside, especially in the seventh round of 12-team exercises.
Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears
A player whose toughness extends far beyond the trite superlative, Miller is an ace talent. He posted 7 TDs in 2018 despite playing through a shoulder dislocation over the last three months of his rookie effort. He started slowly in 2019 but by mid-November was back to form, posting five consecutive fantasy-relevant stat lines and averaging over 86 yards per game from Weeks 11-15 before spraining his AC joint in Week 16.
Because both injuries were sustained in the same shoulder, and because they both required offseason surgery, there’s an obvious concern that this issue could become recurrent and potentially limit Miller’s ceiling. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Miller start slow again in 2020. But assuming that managers are drafting him with patience, his 14th-round ADP remains an amazing value.
Don’t expect him to hit the field sans rust. Do look forward to him flirting with top-25 upside.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Obviously, 2020 hasn’t provided ideal conditions for players moving teams and learning a new playbook. However, Hursts’ massive opportunity can’t be overlooked, especially when noting his late-round ADP. Admittedly, I figured his stock would gradually creep upwards and out of the double-digit rounds, but the former Gamecock remains a value, ironically coming off of the board one spot after Austin Hooper. After all, it is Hooper — who posted a top-four hog rate (15.9%) in 2019 — that Hurst figures to replace.
A natural hands catcher with fluid athleticism and a robust frame (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), Hurst was picked by the Ravens in the first round of the 2018 draft. The 27-year-old gets knocked for being “old,” but it’s worth mentioning that he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 and played minor league ball for two years before joining the Gamecocks as a walk-on. Hurst has repeatedly proven that when given a shot, he’ll rise to the occasion. In fact, that’s exactly what his former teammate and draft classmate Mark Andrews said in a recent press conference.
It’s simplistic to believe that Hurst’s 2020 production will be a copy-and-paste equivalent of what Hooper did over the past two years. But there’s no denying that Dirk Koetter has an affinity for the position and knows how to unlock potential, having done it with Tony Gonzalez, Cameron Brate, and the aforementioned Hooper. With physical tools, pedigree, and a play caller all working in his favor, Hurst has the potential to flirt with top-five fantasy numbers.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns
While it’s been a minute since Hunt posted a workhorse season, front offices and fantasy managers have long memories when it comes to the Toledo product. Back in 2017, the theoretical backup to Nick Chubb was fantasy’s RB4 overall, managing 1,782 scrimmage yards and 11 scores (17 attempts/game, 3.3 receptions/game). Off-the-field issues have … well … kept Hunt off the field for a full 16-game slate since then, but his potential remains evident.
Last year, after joining the Browns in Week 10, Hunt played second fiddle to Chubb on the ground, averaging 5.4 attempts per contest (to Chubb’s 18). But he was also the team’s preferred back on passing downs, averaging 5.6 targets per game (to Chubb’s 3.1). Interestingly, Hunt was more effective in the red area of the field. While Chubb received more red zone totes (an average of 3.25 per game), he only converted two scores. On the other hand, Hunt turned a total of 6 red zone opportunities (5 on the ground and 2 via the air) into 3 TDs.
Were Chubb to miss time, there’s no doubt that Hunt could step in and produce immediately. It’s also possible that Hunt may see plenty of action even with Chubb on the field. Last year, the Vikings’ OC Kevin Stefanski called the fourth-most rushing plays in the NFL, at a rate of nearly 50 percent. The Kubiak acolyte figures to employ a run-heavy approach as the HC of the Browns, which according to Ellis Williams of cleveland.com could mean upwards of 15 carries per game for Hunt. That sort of opportunity and positional upside is rarely found in the seventh round, making the 25-year-old a fantastic value target.
All Upside Team
QB: Cam Newton
RB: Kenyan Drake
RB: Todd Gurley
WR: D.J. Chark
WR: Anthony Miller
TE: Hayden Hurst
FLEX: Kareem Hunt
How would you draft an All Upside Team? Let Liz know on social @LizLoza_FF.