Dynasty Buys for the 2020 Offseason

It's tough to label players as a clear "buy" or "sell" in dynasty.

Beyond the obvious factor of varying league formats, the long-term aspect of dynasty fantasy football leaves a lot more room for varying valuations. Some of us care a lot more about age than others and would rather jump on the 23-year-old upside candidate than the 26-year-old who has been rolling for 3 years. You and I might look at the same player season and disagree on whether it was a breakout or a fluke.

That also means you and your league mates won't agree on every player. So if there's a guy you want -- whether he's listed below or not -- it's always worth making an offer. You'll be surprised at who can be had at times.

Among the 17 players listed below, you'll find guys coming off disappointing seasons, players whose uncertain situations will make some fantasy owners nervous and some who just seem to be generally undervalued from what we've observed elsewhere.

It is NOT a comprehensive offseason shopping list, of course. You can always feel free to ask us in the comments section or via email about specific trade scenarios in your league.

Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers

There’s a chance that Ekeler finds himself with a new team in 2020. He’ll hit restricted free agency when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 18. More likely, though, he returns to a backfield that will almost certainly lose Melvin Gordon to free agency.

We all saw what a beast Ekeler was while Gordon sat out the 1st quarter of this season. Through 4 weeks, only Christian McCaffrey had scored more PPR points. After Gordon returned, though, … Ekeler still ranked 5th among RBs in PPR points from Week 5 on. He finished 4th at the position in total PPR points for the season. And his performance was no illusion.

Pro Football Focus graded Ekeler the 4th-best RB in the league for the season, boosted primarily by his position-leading receiving grade. Since 2017, in fact, no RB has graded out better as a receiver than Ekeler. Football Outsiders rated Ekeler top 3 among 51 qualifying RBs in both its main receiving-efficiency metrics.

Ekeler rated much closer to average as a rusher by the same advanced-metrics outlets. But PFF also ranked him 10th in elusive rating among 68 RBs with 70+ touches. He rated 8th among 71 such backs in 2018 and 3rd among 75 in 2017 (as a rookie). That rating uses tackles avoided and yards after contact. So Ekeler seems to be faring pretty well with the ball in his hands.

We’ll see who else joins Ekeler in the renovated Chargers backfield -- and whether that backfield finds a new QB at the helm. But a 25-year-old Ekeler who has already displayed RB1 potential and top-shelf receiving ability looks like a good investment, regardless of what changes come.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Rams

Your league mates will all be excited about this year’s class of rookies -- and for good reason. The group looks loaded at RB and WR. But that could make bargains out of some players who excited us at this time last year.

In case you forgot, here’s a quick refresher on Henderson’s college numbers: 8.2 yards per rush and 36 TDs among 431 carries; 12.0 yards per reception and 8 TDs on 63 catches. And Henderson probably would have piled on many more touches if he hadn’t shared his Memphis backfields with Tony Pollard and Patrick Taylor (career: 536 carries, 5.4 yards per rush; 55 receptions, 7.9 per catch).

Henderson’s talents had even redraft owners fired up last summer. He climbed to Round 6 in ADP and had best-ball drafters racing to grab a piece. Then came a rookie season even quieter than we anticipated in constantly criticizing his draft position.

Henderson carried just 39 times and totaled a mere 6 targets; 22 of those rushes and 4 targets came in consecutive games that RB Malcolm Brown missed. For the season, Brown beat Henderson by 30 carries and 5-0 in TDs. And Todd Gurley continued to clearly lead the backfield.

But Gurley also tallied career lows in carries per game and yards per catch. His yards per rush dipped to 3.8 from 4.7 and 4.9 in HC Sean McVay’s first 2 campaigns.

Gurley’s not going anywhere … yet. He’ll turn just 26 in August, and his contract will likely keep him with the Rams for at least 2 more seasons. Malcolm Brown is no lock to return, though. And that slowed-down Rams offense we just watched sure seems like it could stand to add a playmaker in the backfield.

See if you can pick up Henderson cheaply before we start hearing about offseason plans to incorporate him more.

Alexander Mattison, RB, Vikings

If the Mattison owner in your league has him handcuffed to Dalvin Cook, then you probably shouldn’t bother sniffing around the Minnesota backup. That’s the most valuable spot he could sit. If Mattison’s free of the Cook tether in your league, though, give him a look.

Cook broke in 2019 out to a level that had to pleasantly surprise even his biggest fans. He’ll obviously remain Minnesota’s workhorse for the upcoming season. And even though OC Kevin Stefanski has moved on to Cleveland, we’d bet on lots more running from the Vikings. After all, Minnesota switched late in 2018 from John De Filippo to Stefanski because Mike Zimmer wasn’t happy with the pass-heaviness.

Cook has also lost time to injuries in each of his 3 seasons so far. That’s not to call him soft. It’s a reminder of how tough the position is. Even amid his 2019 breakthrough, Cook carried 11 times or fewer in 4 of his final 6 appearances. More importantly, Cook is set to hit unrestricted free agency after 2020.

If the Vikings are smart, they’ll let Cook sign his big deal elsewhere. If that happens, we might be looking at the 220-pound Mattison as 2021 lead back. As a rookie, Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 8.2 yards per catch, with solid efficiency in both areas. He gained workhorse experience with 514 carries and 55 receptions over his final 2 seasons at Boise State.

Bryce Love, RB, Washington

Love just might be the biggest value among these 2019 rookie RBs.

Unlike Henderson, Mattison and the next player listed, Love doesn’t need anyone else to get hurt to clear his path. Chris Thompson is about to hit free agency, and Love presents the speed and receiving ability to complement Derrius Guice even if the 2018 second-rounder finally proves ready to lead his backfield.

Should Guice continue to have issues, Love has the upside to lead the backfield. No, his 200-pound frame isn’t likely to land him a workhorse role. But Love -- who racked up 2,118 rushing yards at 8.1 per carry as a Stanford junior -- could prosper as the leader of a committee.

The 4th-round pick from 2019 isn’t likely to cost much in dynasty leagues right now.

Damien Harris, RB, Patriots

Harris managed only 4 carries for his rookie season (all in Week 7) after the Patriots drafted him in Round 3. But that didn’t stop New England RBs coach Ivan Fears from talking him up in late December.

“Damien’s done a great job,” Fears said. “I think he’s got a great future. I think he’s gonna be a real good back in this league.”

The coach chalked Harris’ lack of game-day exposure up primarily to the Pats staying healthier than usual at RB and simply not needing him. And Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden play lots on special teams.

Bolden and Burkhead remain under contract for 2020, though with cuttable contracts. Perhaps more importantly, Sony Michel still has 2 more years on his rookie deal -- plus the club option for 2022. Michel has also had knee operations each of the past 2 offseasons. And he remains lightly involved in the passing game.

Harris will continue to face an obstructed path to touches. But a Michel injury would pave over those potholes quickly. And Harris has the talent to capitalize on opportunity. He led each of hs final 3 (talented) Alabama teams in RB carries.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers

This time last year, would you have traded Smith-Schuster away in your dynasty league for any WR?

Only Randy Moss and Josh Gordon collected more receiving yards through their age-22 seasons than Smith-Schuster. And even after injury cost him 4 games and obliterated Pittsburgh’s QB play, only 7 players have ever racked up more receiving yards through their age-23 seasons. Even if you overlook age, Smith-Schuster checks in 35th all-time in yards per game and 27th in total receptions over his 1st 3 NFL seasons.

You shouldn’t overlook age, of course, because Smith-Schuster just turned 23 in November. He’s 9 months younger than Chris Godwin, a little more than a year younger than Courtland Sutton. He’s 2 years younger than draft class mate Mike Williams. Even teammates James Washington and Diontae Johnson are older.

Smith-Schuster never dominated targets in 2019 the way many hoped after Antonio Brown got himself booted. But he had all of a game and a half with an NFL-level QB this season.

Perhaps Smith-Schuster doesn’t ever blossom into a dominant #1 wideout. Or perhaps he does. This time last year, you would likely have had to pay a lot more to find out than you will right now.

Allen Robinson, WR, Bears

Most of the guys in this article appear because a disappointing 2019 created a potential discount. That’s certainly not the case for Robinson.

Robinson finished his 2nd Bears season 7th among PPR wideouts. That marks his 2nd career top-8 finish, with Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky the QBs in those seasons. That 2nd name seems likely to keep suppressing Robinson’s price.

Bears GM Ryan Pace said after the season that Trubisky will be the starter in 2020 and spoke of the potential reward for being patient. But he also said the team hasn’t decided yet on whether to pick up the 5th-year option on Trubisky’s rookie contract for 2021.

At the moment, both Trubisky and Robinson head into a 2020 contract year. Even if the Bears stick with Trubisky beyond that, Robinson could get free on his own. And he’ll be just 28 when that 2021 season begins. Robinson has also showed us that his ceiling rises high even with Trubisky.

You’re bound to find varying valuations of Robinson, but he currently sits in mid-to-low WR2 territory in both Fantasy Pros’ consensus “expert” dynasty rankings and Dynasty League Football’s startup ADP. If he’s floating around in that area generally, Robinson is worth looking into -- especially with all of fantasy land fired up about this year’s rookie class of WRs.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams

Someone asked HC Sean McVay early in December why Cooks and Cooper Kupp had seen their playing time dip.

“I think a lot of it is, ‘What do we think is the best way to have a little bit of a balance on some of the early downs? What do we think is the best way in some instances to run the football?’” McVay said. “It is also predicated on, ‘All right, what does this defense do and what does that mean in terms of some of the matchups that you want to create?’”

How’d that work out? Well, that Dec. 10 quote followed the team’s 3rd- and 2nd-largest rushing outputs for the season, in lopsided victories over the Cardinals and Seahawks. For the season, though, the Rams ranked just 26th in the league in rushing yards and 27th in yards per carry -- each lower than their #18 ranking in rushing attempts. Each of McVay’s first 2 seasons found the Rams ranking higher in total rushing yards and yards per carry than they did in attempts. In fact, 2019 marked just the 2nd time in McVay’s 6 years as an NFL OC or HC that his offense failed to rank higher in rushing yards and yards per carry than it did in attempts.

So what does all that have to do with Cooks? Frankly, I’d be shocked if McVay reviews the way he ran the 2019 offense and likes what he did with it in the 2nd half of the year. Leaning hard on again in 2020 on multiple TEs and what sure looks like a declining Todd Gurley wouldn’t seem to make much sense. Getting back to more 3-WR sets, on the other hand, would seem like a pretty good plan. Remember when that helped L.A. rank 1st and 2nd in the league in scoring the previous 2 seasons?

Cooks took easily the biggest hit among Rams WRs in 2019. He lost 2.2 targets, 2.0 receptions and 33.7 yards per game. His catch rate and yards per reception also dropped.

If you believe the 26-year-old (27 in September) Cooks is declining or that the Rams just don’t like him anymore, then go ahead and sell. But it was just 2018 when they traded a 1st-round pick for him and then gave the wideout an $85 million extension. That season finished with consecutive 107+ yard outings for Cooks in the postseason and 7 total 100+ games across the regular season and playoffs.

The Rams have already made changes, hiring Kevin O’Connell as the new OC after McVay served in that role the past 2 seasons (following Matt LaFleur’s departure after 2017).

Bet on further changes including more Cooks, who ranks 11th in the NFL in receiving yards since the start of his 2014 rookie season.

Robby Anderson, WR, ???

Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bryce Petty. Geno Smith. Josh McCown. Trevor Siemian. Luke Falk. Sam Darnold.

That’s who has started Jets games at QB through Anderson’s 4 pro seasons. Yet he has managed 3 straight top-40 PPR finishes among WRs. Since the start of 2016, Anderson ranks 20th in the league in targets. Among all players with at least 50 receptions in that time, Anderson ranks 23rd in yards per catch; just 79th in yards per target. Only 5 of the 78 players ahead of him have sported a worse catch rate over those 4 seasons.

Anderson is about to hit unrestricted free agency. Whether he lands with another team or re-signs with the Jets, though, he’s likely to see improved QB play over what greeted his first 4 campaigns.

We’ll see whether Anderson commands a healthy multi-year contract on the open market, or whether his off-field questions lead to a 1-year, “prove it” type of deal. But his current mid-to-low WR4 valuation makes for an easy “buy” call on a 27-year-old (in May) WR who ranks 26th at the position in PPR points and 23rd in non-PPR since he entered the league.

Will Fuller, WR, Texans

Our Fuller ranking probably doesn’t make him a significant value vs. consensus opinion on him. But there’s room for a big jump this year.

What Fuller needs is obviously better health. He has lost 5+ games to injuries in 3 straight seasons. But he has also delivered when on the field.

Fuller finished 2018 ranked 21st among PPR wideouts in points per game. If you take out the 3 games he left early this season, he improved on that scoring average by 0.7 points per game and tied Allen Robinson for 10th in that category at the position.

Sure, 40% of his 2019 fantasy production came in that Atlanta game. And Fuller’s likely to remain highly volatile. That’s what he is by nature; boom/bust. DeSean Jackson.

But just like his 7 TD catches across 4 games with Deshaun Watson in 2017 exhibited amazingly good luck, Fuller’s 0 TDs outside of the Falcons blowup last year was mostly bad luck.

Maybe Fuller will continue to have lower-body issues. But he’s not likely to continue missing 5+ games a year. It’s more likely that he has plenty more big weeks ahead, with 2020 both his age-26 season and a contract year.

2019 Rookie WRs

We already hit on some 2019 rookie RBs coming off quiet campaigns. Well, the WR class also produced some disappointing debuts from some players who seem to have plenty of talent.

N’Keal Harry is likely to see a wide variety of opinions from his dynasty owners. The more patient will reason that he had little chance to contribute in 2019 after an August ankle injury landed him on IR. Others might doubt the talent or simply be more excited about this year’s loaded WR draft class. We had Harry as the clear top WR and #1 overall pick in our rookie-draft rankings last year. He’s well worth at least a price check this offseason.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was unquestionably more disappointing than Harry. He suffered no time-consuming injury. Instead, JJAW saw quicker-than-expected opportunity. DeSean Jackson went down early and stayed down. Alshon Jeffery went down multiple times. Yet Arcega-Whiteside managed only 22 targets and 10 receptions, trailing undrafted free agent WR Greg Ward in targets, catches and receiving yards. So were we -- and the Eagles -- just wrong on JJAW? Perhaps. But it’s way too early to jump off a 6’2, 225-pound 2nd-round pick who caught 28 TDs in 3 college seasons and then ran a 4.49-second 40 at his Pro Day.

Hakeem Butler endured an even quieter rookie year after a surprising drop to the 4th round of the draft. Perhaps we need to follow that signal and dramatically lower our expectations. But you just might be able to do that and still take a cheap shot at Butler delivering on his upside. He posted impressive numbers and tape over 3 seasons at Iowa State. And Arizona didn’t seem to settle much in its WR corps in HC Kliff Kingsbury’s 1st year. Larry Fitzgerald returns for 1 more (?) run in 2020. Christian Kirk looks like the lead wideout heading into his age-24 season. But no other Cardinal exceeded 47 targets in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers

This season couldn’t have gone much worse for Howard -- short of a devastating injury. Even so, guess how many TEs have averaged more yards per target than Howard since he hit the league in 2017. Did you guess 0? That’d be right. Among TEs with at least 20 targets in that time, only Garrett Celek of the 49ers stands ahead of Howard’s 15.5 in yards per reception. And even though he has yet to top 34 receptions in a season and has averaged just 2.5 catches per game for his career, only 10 TEs have tallied more receiving yards over the past 3 years.

HC Bruce Arians isn’t leaving this offseason, and his arrival has proved unequivocally bad for Howard so far. Will the TE’s usage change in 2020? We’ll see. Cameron Brate remains under contract for now but has no more guaranteed money on his deal and could be cut.

Most importantly, though, Howard remains a big talent heading into just his age-26 season and plays a position notorious for slow statistical starts. How many TEs out there sport the long-term upside of Howard, who is now widely valued around the bottom of TE1 territory rather than among the position’s top 4.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Titans

Three years into his career, the former 3rd-round pick isn’t winning on target volume -- or even target share -- yet. But his explosive athleticism -- 83rd-percentile 40, 92nd-percentile vertical, 95th-percentile broad -- has translated to 12.7 yards per catch and 9.4 yards per target over the past 2 seasons. Those marks rank 16th and 11th among the 85 TEs with 20+ targets over that span.

As of this writing, a lot is undecided with the Tennessee offense. Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are set to hit free agency in March. Delanie Walker still has 1 more (expensive) year on his deal. And Smith heads into the final year of his contract.

That uncertainty also leaves opportunity for Smith to grow his role in a changing offense for 2020, his age-25 season. If you need TE help, check Smith’s price before a true breakout occurs.

Ian Thomas, TE, Panthers

Greg Olsen has lost 9 games to injuries over the past 2 seasons. Thomas has averaged 4.9 targets, 3.9 catches, 38.7 yards and 0.3 TDs over those 9 contests. That extrapolates to a full-season line of:

78 targets
62 receptions
619 yards
5 TDs

That stat line would have ranked Thomas 9th among TEs in PPR points in 2019; seventh at the position the year before.

After the Week 17 loss to the Saints, Olsen addressed questions about his future with, “Sometimes the writing’s on the wall.” Sounds like he’s done.

The 23-year-old Thomas -- 24 in June -- on the other hand, might just be getting started. We’ll see what the offseason brings for QB Cam Newton. But new HC Matt Rhule (from Baylor) and OC Joe Brady (from LSU) offer reason for general passing-game optimism.

Jace Sternberger, TE, Packers

We didn’t expect much from Sternberger right away after he landed in the 3rd round with a Green Bay team that still had Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis at his position. Those expectations fell even further when he hit IR with an ankle injury in the preseason finale.

But the regular season still found a shrinking role for the 33-year-old Graham, who has 1 year left on his contract but could be a cut candidate. It also revealed that Green Bay has little beyond Davante Adams at WR.

He reminds me of Travis Kelce,” NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said of Sternberger last April, before the draft. Kelce, by the way, was also a 3rd-round pick (in 2013) who basically lost his 1st season to injury and then broke out in his 2nd year.

Get Sternberger before that opportunity presents itself to him.