With just 1 game left in this NFL season, it’s clearly time to move on to …
More drafting, of course!
Best-ball drafting for the 2021 season has already opened up on MyFFPC.com and Underdog Fantasy. So let’s start looking ahead.
It’s obviously too early for worthwhile projections, with free agency still more than a month and a half away and the NFL Draft 3 months out.
So let’s start by looking back at last year’s drafting and zero in on who helped -- or hurt -- us most.
We’ll go position by position, comparing ADPs to final fantasy standings to see who made the biggest climbs and took the biggest falls.
Of course, you probably know most of the highlights -- and lowlights -- already (e.g. James Robinson or Kenny Golladay). More important than the specific names, though, will be what they might signal us to look for in 2021.
ADPs are based on our numbers from 2020 FFPC drafts. Let’s see what they say ...
Lamar Jackson’s 2020 reminded us once again that there’s not much value in chasing the hot QB from last year. Keep that in mind as you consider Josh Allen in 2021 drafts.
Dak Prescott, of course, wound up a disappointment only because he went down in Week 5. He was killing it to that point.
Other big stories at the position:
Carson Wentz fell apart. Even if you weren’t chasing him at draft time, nobody was predicting a total meltdown.
Aaron Rodgers put it all back together. Just like with Wentz only the exact opposite, even Rodgers’ biggest fans couldn’t have expected anything close to a 22-TD jump over last year and his best-ever completion rate.
Justin Herbert balled out after a doctor took Tyrod Taylor out of the lineup in Week 2.
Drew Brees, Joe Burrow and Jimmy Garoppolo all lost multiple games to injury.
So what can we take away?
Waiting on your QBs continues to work -- especially in best-ball formats. Ryan Tannehill, Herbert, Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr all finished among the top 13 despite going 20th or later. Early 2021 drafts suggest QBs might get pushed up the board even a bit more than in 2020. Don’t get pushed into reaching for your QBs.
In addition, rookie QBs remain a potential point of value. Besides Herbert, Joe Burrow was challenging for a top-12 fantasy spot before his injury.
Don’t expect Trevor Lawrence to linger on the board too long among this year’s crop, with Justin Fields likely next and currently among the top 20 QBs. Players such as Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Jones can be had significantly later, though.
We might as well just call this the James Robinson Zone, and the takeaway from his meteoric rise is the upside of opportunity. None of us really knew what to make of that Jacksonville backfield once the Jags dumped Leonard Fournette. According to Fantasy Mojo, Robinson only got picked at all in 3 of 317 August best-ball drafts on FFPC last year. That’s 10 fewer times than Kyle Juszczyk landed on a team. And no drafter picked Robinson earlier than the final pick of Round 24.
The rookie sat in the top spot on Jacksonville’s depth chart, though, upon 1st release. We all just laughed it off and kept drafting Ryquell Armstead, Chris Thompson and Devine Ozigbo (in that order) -- even while knowing that we weren’t sure how things would shake out.
This year, if you see a similarly wide-open backfield come late spring and summer, spread the ownership around. Or even just grab some shares of the cheapest piece if it’s a situation you’re generally avoiding. We’re not likely to see another full-on James Robinson situation, but it always makes sense to buy low on uncertainty.
J.D. McKissic’s season presents a similar message, as do those of Jeff Wilson and Myles Gaskin. Wilson benefited from injuries ahead of him on the depth chart -- something we see every year in some backfields, of course. Gaskin, on the other hand, was another player we didn’t afford enough attention amid a shaky depth chart in August.
Antonio Gibson is an interesting case. You got great value on him early last offseason, when Washington seemed headed for a Derrius Guice-led backfield. Gibson’s ADP skyrocketed after Guice’s release, yet he still wound up a strong value. A big part of that was some good TD luck: Gibson tied for 6th in the league with 11 rushing scores. But he also did well on touch volume, ranking 18th among RBs in both carries and total touches despite missing 2 games.
So do we have any true red-flag players here?Every pink (or maybe salmon?) row above represents a guy who lost 3+ games to injury in 2020. We know that injuries hit this position even more than the others, but that doesn’t make Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley a bad pick even in retrospect.
To me, the big takeaway from this group is to beware of buying too early on a fragile player -- and I’m not talking about injury risk.
There’s obviously downside risk to absolutely every player in the league, just for the sheer fact that anyone can succumb to a season-ending injury on any play. When I say “fragile” here, though, I’m talking about players with fragile fantasy outlooks. There will be plenty of guys who fit that category and then deliver big fantasy points every year. James Robinson would have been a “fragile” player at this time last year, because it would have been easy to see a path to him not producing. But he basically went undrafted, so there was no risk to taking a shot on him.
Justice Hill and AJ Dillon clearly entered 2020 as fragile fantasy options. But there’s not much risk to your roster if a RB you draft outside the top 50 at the position doesn’t hit. So although they disappointed even vs. relatively low expectations, I don’t think either really classifies as the kind of player we should avoid going forward.
Who does? I’d say Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Mark Ingram jump out first.
Edwards-Helaire opened last best-ball season as a value, but he quickly climbed into Round 2 and then Round 1 after the Chiefs made him a 1st-round selection. At that level, he just looked like football’s version of the housing bubble -- even if you projected him into that range. Every year brings some players that just carry too many “what ifs” for me at their ADPs, even if I can’t make the numbers agree totally. That’s where CEH fit as a 2020 fantasy first-rounder.
Gurley and Bell were similarly set up for opportunity. Whereas Edwards-Helaire looked to benefit from the strength of his team’s offense, Gurley and Bell brought the potential to dominate touches. But Gurley had the knee question; Bell played for the Jets. Keep both in mind when you’re considering that veteran RB this year in Round 2, 3 or 4 who just doesn’t leave you feeling comfy -- even if it’s difficult to map where else the touches will go in his backfield.
Ingram was similar; we just knew who his competition was. He wasn’t a terrible chance to take in Round 5 of 2020 drafts … but the Baltimore backfield also wasn’t difficult to avoid in that round (usually in favor of a WR).
Calvin Ridley was 2020’s version of 2019 Chris Godwin, delivering even vs. heightened buzz and a rising ADP. Ridley climbed into Round 3 in some drafts ahead of last season, but his ADP never got out of Round 4 -- at least in FFPC drafting. Similarly, Godwin settled in at 3.12 on the cusp of the 2019 draft.Justin Jefferson was the ultimate fragile fantasy prospect who came at an acceptable risk level and then exploded. He -- and, to a lesser degree, Chase Claypool -- are what you’re dreaming of when you grab a talented rookie later in your draft. “Later” is key.
Be careful about chasing similar prospects up the draft board in 2021 and beyond. But like with Antonio Gibson at RB -- and Diontae Johnson in the table above -- we don’t always need to jump ship just because a guy is climbing in popularity.
Stefon Diggs and Robby Anderson lead a different category, and one I plan to pay a bit more attention for 2021: the positive side of “what if.”
We addressed the negative side with Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the RB section. At WR, I wasn’t buying Diggs and barely considered Anderson last summer because I got too set in my expectations for their teams.
The Bills headed toward 2020 as 1 of the league’s perennially most run-heavy offenses. Combine that with a good 2019 for John Brown and Josh Allen’s inaccuracy, and it wasn’t hard to see the volume downside for Diggs.
But what if the team traded a 1st-round pick for a top wideout because they planned to alter the offense? What if they planned to target him like a true #1 WR? Even if I didn’t buy wholly into these 2 things happening or Allen realizing dramatic improvement as a passer, opening up to the what-ifs could have gotten me at least a few shares of Diggs … which obviously would have paid off big time.
Anderson would have been even easier to buy, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since his strong open to the year.
I knew I thought D.J. Moore too expensive at his 2020 ADP. I knew I liked Curtis Samuel but also that he was fragile. I also knew that Panthers HC Matt Rhule had coached Anderson in college -- and then been part of the staff that brought him in for $20 million over 2 years in free agency. Why the heck didn’t I combined all that into buying at least a chunk of a 27-year-old wideout with 14.8 yards per catch and 20 TDs through 4 seasons with the Jets?
The answer: Because I wasn’t nearly as excited about the Panthers’ new offense as many others were and viewed Samuel as the better buy than Anderson.
My big error: Not hedging more on the fragile Samuel (or maybe just not giving Anderson enough credit).
The red-flag players to me in this table A.J. Green, D.J. Moore and T.Y. Hilton.Again, the pink rows represent guys who lost 3+ games to injury. We can’t kick ourselves too much for the way 2020 went for Michael Thomas, Cortland Sutton, Kenny Golladay or even Julio Jones. You might say, “I always knew Julio’s injuries were going to catch up to him.” But the guy had missed just 4 total games over the previous 6 seasons.
Coming off a season lost to injury, Green was already struggling to stay on the field last training camp. Even though he ultimately missed no games and topped 100 targets for the year, that profile screamed “Beware!” at a top-30 positional ADP.
Hilton didn’t come with as strong an injury red flag as Green, but he headed toward 2020 with signs of decline. I was buying on him in WR3 range but wound up wrong. I’ll likely be a little more wary of aging speed WRs who seem to be losing a step.
In Moore’s case, I thought heading into the year that his situation was too fragile -- new coaching staff, new QB, new target challenger (Anderson) in his WR corps -- to support a WR1-level price tag. Passing on him at draft time wound up paying off.
In Tonyan’s case, the ADP climbed slightly as we got closer to the season. But we all clearly ignored the slight buzz on him through August in favor of more heralded 2nd-year TE Jace Sternberger (ADP: TE26). It would have been easy to pair Sternberger with Tonyan on best-ball rosters throughout last summer. I’ll be keeping that in mind this year when favoring an unproven new guy in other situations.Robert Tonyan, Logan Thomas and Jimmy Graham are the biggies here.
The only thing new about Thomas this season was his setting, which presented clear opportunity. That’s why I liked him as a late flyer, and he panned out even better than I could have imagined. Washington pretty clearly presented opportunity for some TE as a low-risk depth option. The path to Thomas over players such as undrafted rookie Thaddeus Moss or holdover Jeremy Sprinkle lay in Washington signing Thomas as a free agent last spring -- to a decent-sized contract: 2 years, $6 million, with a $3.5 million cap hit in 2020.
Graham was the easiest buy among these 3 once his ADP settled into TE3 range. The Bears gave him a laughably large contract last offseason. So even if everyone outside Chicago could clearly see a declining player, the Bears’ commitment made Graham a clear best-ball value on opportunity alone.
Dalton Schultz, by the way, would have been a value even at Blake Jarwin’s TE18 ADP. Which leads us to ...
Tyler Higbee’s downfall, on the other hand, was more foreseeable. His 2020 serves as a reminder to not ignore the size of your samples. Sure, sometimes a late-season hot streak can signal a breakout. Other times, it’s just a late-season hot streak. The key is what you have to pay to place your bet. And the TE7 price tag on Higbee was clearly too high.The pink rows represent players significantly altered by injuries. We obviously couldn’t foresee George Kittle sustaining a foot fracture or Blake Jarwin tearing an ACL after just 1 catch.
Zach Ertz succumbed to injury for 5 games, but he was letting us down before he went down. No one foresaw the dramatic decline in Carson Wentz’s play. But Dallas Goedert’s presence was a risk factor (which I didn’t weigh enough) and probably should have pushed Ertz’s positional ADP down a bit.
Evan Engram is a unique case among this group. He finished 4th among all TEs in targets for the season but managed just 1 TD catch. Had he scored at the TD rate of his 1st 3 seasons, Engram would have finished 7th among TEs in total PPR points. We certainly could have lived with that result -- especially considering his career lows in catches and yards per game.
Engram is opening 2021 best-ball season as a potential draft value.
Finally, here were last year’s top 24 in TE ADP and how they delivered vs. draft price: