You can smell it – no, not the stagnant air under your COVID mask – the beginning of football. Fantasy draft season is nearing. Many wondered if it was even going to happen. With all of the issues MLB and the MLBPA had in negotiating for a baseball season it made me wonder if football would run into the same issues. However, the relationship seems to be better between the NFL and NFLPA (at least somewhat).
Mock drafts have been going for most of the summer now and establishing ADPs (average draft positions) across multiple fantasy platforms. With training camps starting up it is time to finally start looking at which players’ draft value is being inflated by hype. Tomorrow I plan to look at which gems are getting left behind for you to grab for free. In these articles I will be using .5 PPR scoring as that has become the “standard” scoring for many (but not all) of the top platforms.
Before you go ripping me apart with, “I can’t believe you won’t draft _______!” That is not what I am saying. These are players are players that I would probably draft, if they fall below their current ADP.
So lets get started!
Joe Mixon – RB7, #9 Overall (2019 – RB13)
Like every year since he came into the league there is a ton of hype around Joe Mixon. With the Bengals drafting Joe Burrow as their new QB and AJ Green supposedly healthy once again, it looks like the hype train is ramping up again. However, there are a few things that keep me from getting too excited about Mixon’s prospects as a potential top 5 RB. (If you are drafting him as the 7th RB off the board and number 9 overall, you are thinking he could finish as a top 5 RB.)
Mixon had a decent year overall in 2019 running for 1,137 yd and 5 TDs in spite of the fact that the Bengals were not a very good football team. According to Pro Football Focus (I know I already lost some of you there), the Bengals finished with the 2nd worst offensive line in the league for 2019. The line play was bad enough that Mixon averaged only 4.1 YPC while facing a 8+ man defensive box on only 7.9% of his snaps in 2019. Take it from a Seahawks fan who knows something about a crappy O-Line – you don’t become a top 5 fantasy RB without a half-way decent line in front of you.
Another reason for my apprehension about Mixon – Joe Burrow (I just lost more of you, didn’t I?). Usually I would not mind a rookie QB coming into an offense and being a help to the run game. In a normal year I would suggest that Joe Burrow is going to open things up for the running game, but 2020 is anything but a “normal” year. Burrow has not had OTAs or Mini-Camp, will have a shortened training camp, and no preseason games. There just is not the amount of time you would want to develop a solid chemistry as a team with a rookie QB. I understand that this isn’t a “measurable” way to judge Mixon’s potential for this season, but it is hard to separate the disruptions of COVID from how those disruptions could impact the season.
Now, Mixon did have a few solid games last season, but three of his five games of over 90 yards rushing were against defenses who couldn’t stop the run (twice vs CLE – #30 rush D, ARI – #24 rush D). His other two games over 90 yards were both in blowouts (BAL, NE) where the Bengals were so far out of it that their opponents were in prevent defense, which allowed Mixon a little more room to run.
Again, when you draft a RB in the first round, there is an expectation that he can finish as a top 5 guy. With the still rebuilding Bengals, I feel like Mixon will be closer to RB15 than RB5
Who I would rather draft at that point: Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Josh Jacobs
Odell Beckham – WR9, #27 Overall (2019 – WR26)
There is no denying the talent of OBJ. The guy single-handedly extended Eli Manning’s career a couple years farther than most thought it would go. Many thought that Odell going to the Browns was an upgrade because of having Baker Mayfield as his QB – not so much. Baker was a major disappointment after a solid rookie season where he broke Peyton Manning’s rookie record for TD passes. However, Odell had his own issues in 2019. He finished with a career high of 7 drops and a career low catch percentage of of 55.6%. Of OBJ’s five games over 80 yards, three of them were against awful pass defenses (CIN – #21, SEA – #27, MIA – #26).
There are also some changes for the Browns in 2020. They have a new coach in Kevin Stefanski who was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019. Stefanski was responsible for turning the VIkings offense from a pass-happy show with Cousins slinging the ball to Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs in 2018 (64.4% pass plays) to a grinding run first offense with Dalvin Cook in 2019 (only 51.7% pass plays). With the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, I find it hard to believe that Stefanski is going to be slinging the rock all around in 2020.
Besides the move to a more run-centric offense, you have to look at the other talent around Odell. I have already mentioned Chubb and Hunt in the run game. Hunt is also a great receiver out of the backfield. The Browns also have Odell’s BFF in Jarvis Landry in the slot and new TE Austin Hooper who tore up defenses in 2019 as well as David Njoku and 4th Rd draft pick Harrison Bryant. When was the last time that Odell had this much talent around him? There are just too many mouths to feed for me to be confident in Beckham getting anywhere close to being a top 12 WR in 2020.
Who I would rather draft at that point: Allen Robinson, Amari Cooper
DJ Moore – WR14, #33 Overall (2019 – WR18)
I know I may receive a lot of flack about this one, but here we go anyway. DJ Moore is another WR who has been hyped to the hilt. Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros.com said in his latest Wide Receiver article, “Moore is part of a new offense with a new quarterback, but neither can get any worse than last year where he still finished as the WR18.” Now Mike has probably forgotten more about football and fantasy analysis than I will ever learn. He is a fantastic analyst and his ranking accuracy bears that out. However, I see things a little differently.
I agree that the QB situation in CAR was terrible last season as Cam Newton went down with an injury and so Kyle Allen and Will Grier were forced into action as starting QBs. However, it could be argued that Moore’s production did not fall off as much with Kyle Allen as many would think.
DJ Moore finished with the 12th most targets among WR/TE in an offense that had the 4th highest passing percentage in the league in 2019 (64.16%). That was 5%+ increase over 2018 (58.85%) when Cam Newton at the helm. Carolina attempted the 2nd most passes on the season and completed the 8th most amount of passes in 201 so there was no shortage of opportunity or targets for Moore.
The Panthers have added Teddy Bridgewater as their new QB for the 2020 season, but lets not assume that he is an automatic upgrade from Kyle Allen in terms of production. Bridgewater had no shortage of weapons at his disposal with Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Jared Cook last season when he was forced to take over for an injured Drew Brees. He still finished behind Kyle Allen in Completed Air Yards and Average Intended Air Yards meaning he was not throwing the ball as far down the field as Allen was. While Bridgewater was the more accurate passer in 2019, part of that had to do with throwing to shallower routes.
Moore’s drop in YAC/Rec (Yards After Catch per Reception) from 7.9 in 2018 to 4.8 in 2019 could have to do with Allen throwing him the ball instead of Cam Newton giving him less chance for YAC, but that is still to be seen. It could also have to do with how often the Panthers were behind in games, having to throw and defenses sitting back on pass plays.
New Offensive Coordinator Joe Judge will hopefully be able to help the efficiency of the passing game for Carolina as he did with the NCAA National Champion LSU Tigers and Joe Burrow. That is the only way I see Moore finishing with a better season than 2019 considering I see the Panthers running less total plays and therefore, less passing plays in 2020. This means that Moore needs to increase his efficiency due to there likely being less opportunity. And lets not forget that the Panthers still have CMC, Curtis Samuel, and added Robby Anderson.
Who I would rather draft at that point: AJ Brown, Cooper Kupp
Tyler Higbee – TE7, #70 Overall (2019 – TE8)
Higbee had a dominant end of the season for the Rams last year finishing the 2019 season as the #1 TE over the last 5 weeks. For .5PPR scoring, Higbee scored 90.2 of his 125.9 points in weeks 13-17 (43/522/2). Before the beginning of this epic run of production, he was the TE36 in fantasy. So, was he just a hidden talent that never had his shot or did things just happen to fall his way?
In week 12 of last season Gerald Everett went down with a knee injury and was not able to play for the rest of the season. Everett had been the preferred TE to own in the Rams offense up to that point as he was the TE14 and Higbee was TE36. Everett going down allowed Higbee to take advantage of the easiest TE schedule for fantasy football to end 2019. Over the last 5 games of the season, the Rams faced the Cardinals twice (#32 defense against TEs), the Seahawks (#29 against TEs), and the Cowboys (#25 against TEs).
Some of the hype around Higbee has to do with his run at the end of the 2019 season while the rest has to do with the Rams stating that they plan on running more 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) formations in 2020. This will allow both Everett and Higbee to have more playing time for targets, but that does not mean all of those targets will be going to Higbee. Everett is still on the team and has been doing a ton of work this off season to be ready for 2020. The Rams also still have Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, as well as drafting Brycen Hopkins in the 4th round of this year’s draft.
Personally, I would rather take one of the big name TEs earlier in the draft, or punt and stream TEs throughout the fantasy season.
Who I would rather draft at that point: Drew Brees, Kareem Hunt