Faces in New Places for Fantasy Football
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Faces in New Places
The Arizona Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins back in March for David Johnson. Draft picks were also involved in the exchange. This move was a no-brainer for the Cardinals. Johnson has dealt with injuries in recent years, and the emergence of Kenyan Drake allowed them to move on while adding an elite wide receiver for Kliff Kingsbury to feature. Hopkins has already been a top-five fantasy wide receiver in PPR formats for three years running. Arizona may throw the ball more than Houston, but Hopkins’ 32 percent target share over the last three years will likely decrease. In the end, it is probably a wash and does not figure to change his fantasy value. Hopkins will likely be a second-round fantasy pick in all formats. The acquisition of Hopkins increases the chances that Kyler Murray can be this season’s breakout fantasy quarterback.
Atlanta has moved on from both running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper. The team released Freeman back in March after six years. The Falcons quickly signed Todd Gurley to a one-year deal. Gurley turns 26 next month and is a former Offensive Player of the Year. But he has an arthritic knee and was far less efficient last season than he had been in previous years. Despite those issues, he still finished as the overall RB12 in PPR leagues last season. In Atlanta, he will be running behind a subpar offensive line, as he did in 2019. Even in a best-case scenario, I believe he will fall short of last year’s numbers. Target Gurley as a solid RB2, but be prepared for missed practices and questionable tags throughout the week.
Gurley is not the only new face in Atlanta this year. Hayden Hurst was acquired via trade as the Falcons let Austin Hooper walk in free agency. Hooper was the overall TE6 last year while averaging 7.5 targets per game. Matt Ryan has attempted at least 600 passes in six of the last eight years, so there is volume to be had here. I do not think Hurst’s target numbers will be quite to the tune of Hooper’s 2019 output, but there is meat on the bone for Hurst. Had Hooper not missed three games last year, his numbers would have stood out even more. Do not expect Hurst to crack the top five at the position, but he is not a bad bet for low-TE1 value in 2020.
Buffalo acquired Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings, which should help Josh Allen in his real-life development. In fantasy, it will not mean as much. Allen’s primary weapon for fantasy purposes is his rushing, but having Diggs may lead to fewer rushing opportunities. I would still consider him a low QB1, but I believe this may hurt Allen’s fantasy prospects, as counterintuitive as that sounds. As for Diggs, he has finished as a top-18 fantasy wideout in standard-scoring leagues in three consecutive years. He is currently coming off the board at WR24. John Brown was a top-20 receiver last year with Allen, and Diggs is a far better receiver. I believe many (myself included) are probably too low on Diggs. He will likely creep up draft boards throughout the summer. Diggs’ arrival likely torpedoes both Brown and Cole Beasley into WR5 territory.
I am happy that Teddy Bridgewater will finally get a chance to lead an NFL team. Still, it is hard not to scratch your head when you see Bridgewater get $40 million guaranteed, while Cam Newton signs for the league minimum. Bridgewater is a notorious game manager, who rarely tries to stretch the field. We will find out this year whether that was a byproduct of scheme or Bridgewater’s limitations. New coach Matt Rhule is willing to take shots down the field, so there is potential for Bridgewater to be productive. He also has YAC magnets Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore to bail him out when he dumps it off underneath. Bridgewater is being drafted 26th among starting quarterbacks. That seems fair given his propensity to dink and dunk. But there is potential for him to finish as a top-20 fantasy quarterback considering the weapons around him.
One of those weapons is Robby Anderson, who Carolina signed to a two-year deal in free agency. If Rhule indeed trusts Bridgewater to throw the ball deep, Anderson will have his moments to shine. However, I am not sure that will happen. The Panthers also have Curtis Samuel, who they have used in the past as their deep threat. Of the 30 wideouts who had at least 100 targets last year, Samuel was tied for first in aDOT (average depth of target). I realize the scheme may be different under Rhule, but I would expect Samuel and Anderson to cancel each other out to a degree. That leaves both on the outside looking in for fantasy purposes. I just do not expect either to have weekly consistency. Moore will still get his, though I consider him a WR2 and not a WR1. McCaffrey’s value remains steady as the overall preseason number-one fantasy pick.
The Chicago Bears brought in a trio of new (to them, at least) faces for the 2020 season. It will be hard to put a ton of trust in any of them in fantasy. First and foremost is Nick Foles, a player with more Super Bowl MVPs than 3,000-plus yard passing seasons. He will compete with Mitchell Trubisky to be the team’s starting quarterback. For all the issues Trubisky has had with regards to his decision making, he has a higher career completion percentage than Foles does. Regardless of who wins this battle (I expect it to be Foles as of this writing), I do not see either having much appeal outside of SuperFlex leagues.
Chicago added 35-year old Ted Ginn and 33-year old Jimmy Graham to its pass-catcher group. Ginn can still beat coverage deep despite his advanced age, but he will not get enough work to be a fantasy asset. His 9.6 percent target share from last season does not figure to increase in the Windy City. And (spoiler alert) neither Foles nor Trubisky is anywhere near as accurate as Drew Brees is. Graham is also in the twilight of his career and joins a Chicago team that has more tight ends than any team in football, including second-round draft pick Cole Kmet. Ginn is not currently being drafted among the top 100 wide receivers, and Graham sits outside the top 30 tight ends. It will take a lot for either to see an increase in his fantasy stock over the next two months.
Cleveland made what I considered a curious move when they inked Austin Hooper to a four-year deal back in March. The Browns already have David Njoku on their roster. Njoku is a physical freak who is younger than Hooper and was a popular breakout candidate before breaking his thumb in Week 2 last season. Njoku requested a trade last week, but it does not seem as if Cleveland is in any rush to part with him. Cleveland had nine fewer pass attempts per game last year than Atlanta did. On a per-game basis, I think we saw Hooper’s ceiling in 2019. Playing 16 games could get Hooper into mid-TE1 territory overall, but I think there are too many mouths to feed in Cleveland, particularly if the team holds onto Njoku. Hooper is a borderline TE1 for me in 2020.
Phillip Lindsay has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. That was not enough to satisfy John Elway and company, however. The Broncos plucked Melvin Gordon in free agency from division rival Los Angeles. Gordon has scored 47 touchdowns across 53 games over the last four years, but in only one of those seasons did he average four yards per carry. Denver has a decent offensive line, but Lindsay and (at least for now) Royce Freeman are still in the backfield. Gordon should be the lead back, but I am not sure he gets the volume that made him a fantasy stud from 2016-2018. He averaged over 20 touches per game during that stretch. I would expect that number to be around 17-18 this season. That will still be plenty enough to make him an RB2 in fantasy.
Green Bay Packers
Yes, I am going to bring up Devin Funchess. I know we’ve all been burned before, but let me just make one point. The fantasy community has at least considered the notion that Breshad Perriman has turned a corner and is now a legitimate NFL receiver following his scorching finish to the 2019 season. He is being drafted right around the 12th round. Funchess is going in the 21st round and is seen by many as washed. Except Funchess is actually younger than Perriman! And, he will be on the receiving end of throws from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, unlike Perriman. Funchess will also never see an opponent’s top cornerback as long as Davante Adams is on the field. For the record, I do not expect Funchess to have a better year than Perriman. But he is at least worth a late dart throw.
The 2020 Houston Texans figure to look a bit different than the team who jumped out in front of Kansas City 24-0 in the playoffs before ultimately falling to the Super Bowl Champions. Even though the NFL and fantasy football communities widely panned the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, there is room for some optimism in fantasy circles. David Johnson is a former overall number-one fantasy player. That is not a realistic expectation for 2020, but Carlos Hyde put up RB2 numbers (overall RB23 in standard scoring) in this offense a year ago. Johnson was also the overall RB5 through six games last season before injuries caught up to him. It is not crazy to think he could be an RB1 in 12-team leagues by season’s end. He should at least be able to match his ADP as long as he can stay on the football field.
While there is no replacing Nuk, the Texans traded for Brandin Cooks and signed Randall Cobb. Cobb should man the slot but is mostly a replacement-level player at this point in his career. He is currently going right around pick 200 in fantasy leagues. I might bump him up a notch higher than that in PPR leagues. Cooks is interesting, as is Will Fuller. Hopkins averaged 10.6 targets per game over the last three seasons. Before last year, Cooks had four consecutive top-15 PPR seasons. Oh, and he is also younger than Breshad Perriman, by the way. As long as his concussion issues are behind him, Cooks has all of the makings of a draft day steal. Like Stefon Diggs, Cooks will likely climb draft boards over the next several weeks. Fuller is always a boom-or-bust type, but hopefully, he can show a bit more weekly consistency.
Indianapolis signed longtime Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to a one-year contract. Rivers has averaged over 4,500 passing yards per year since 2015, but I expect a more balanced approach in Indy this year. The team drafted Jonathan Taylor and will also bring back Marlon Mack, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season. Rivers should settle in as a borderline QB2 for fantasy purposes in 2020. His presence should be a stabilizing force for T.Y. Hilton, who had an up-and-down 2019 season. Hilton does not have the fantasy ceiling that he did in his heyday, but he could be a low-end WR2 this year. I do not expect a big boost for the rest of the receiving corps, though Jack Doyle may benefit from Eric Ebron moving to Pittsburgh.
Jacksonville added a couple of pieces that could have fantasy relevance despite not being flashy moves. They signed Tyler Eifert to a two-year contract. Eifert finally stayed healthy for an entire season, playing 44.6 percent of Cincinnati’s snaps in 2019. He should be the lead tight end for Jacksonville, though Josh Oliver will factor in as well. I do not consider Eifert anything more than a streamer, but he could be someone to keep an eye on in deep leagues. The team also added Chris Thompson to bolster their backfield. Thompson is a satellite back, and would only carry minimal value in PPR leagues. However, he could bump Leonard Fournette into a two-down role. A large part of Fournette’s fantasy value last year came via the passing game. This situation is one to monitor for anyone who has already drafted (or is considering drafting) Fournette.
The Miami Dolphins revamped their backfield this offseason. First, they signed Jordan Howard to a two-year contract, then traded for Matt Breida during the 2020 NFL Draft. Howard was a top-20 back in standard leagues for the first half of last season before he went down with an injury. Expecting that level of production in Miami, however, is unrealistic. Miami has one of (if not the worst) O-line in football. They also figure to play from behind a fair amount. Howard is an early-down back, so his prospects for success are slim. He is being drafted outside the top 30 running backs in standard leagues, and that feels about right. Howard will be a low-floor, low-ceiling option during most weeks. I would prefer him as a bye week fill-in as opposed to a weekly starter.
I find Breida more interesting for fantasy purposes. He has averaged 5.0 yards per carry over his three NFL seasons. Breida has also shown flashes as a receiver out of the backfield and is a much more explosive runner than Howard is. Howard has had one run of more than 25 yards in his last 450-plus NFL carries. Breida has nine such runs in 381 career rushing attempts. Of course, some will say his success had more to do with Kyle Shanahan’s scheme than anything Breida did on his own. He may find it tough sledding behind Miami’s woeful offensive line, but I think he has a higher weekly ceiling than Howard does. He is currently being drafted after Howard in standard leagues, but ahead of him in PPR formats. I would prefer to have Breida regardless of the scoring system.
New England Patriots
Only the Patriots can replace an all-time great by signing a former NFL MVP for the league minimum. I really can’t stand them. Personal bias aside, if Bill Belichick is buying into Cam Newton, then so am I. His days of approaching double-digit touchdown runs are likely behind him, but he is still a better rusher of the football than Sony Michel is. I do not expect Newton to sling the football around the yard left and right, but it is worth noting that his career-high in pass attempts is 517, set in his rookie season. Tom Brady exceeded that mark 13 times in New England. Newton certainly comes with some risk, but I love the thought of him as my QB2 in SuperFlex leagues. He can be a top-12 fantasy quarterback once again if his health cooperates.
I would downgrade New England’s wide receivers slightly due to Newton struggling throughout his career with accuracy, but I would not go overboard because there are simply not a lot of options. Julian Edelman should still be the number-one pass-catcher despite being 34 years old. He figures to be a high-floor, low ceiling WR3 in most fantasy drafts. Beyond Edelman, the pickings are slim. Mohamed Sanu relies on heavy volume to remain fantasy relevant. I don’t know if he will get many opportunities in New England. N’Keal Harry hopes to rebound after a dismal rookie campaign. I still consider running back James White to be their second-best option in the passing game. Fantasy managers are once again overlooking White, even in PPR leagues. He is currently being drafted at RB29 despite finishing at RB7 and RB18 over the last two years.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans made a savvy move by adding Emmanuel Sanders to their receiving corps. The team desperately needed a secondary option behind Michael Thomas. Thomas had 185 targets last season, while the rest of their wide receivers combined for just 92. And 56 of those were to Ted Ginn, who is no longer around. Sanders is not what he was with Peyton Manning in Denver, but he has still surpassed 90 targets in each of the last three seasons. He should probably be in the WR3 conversation, making him a value at his current ninth-round ADP. Thomas is still the presumed overall WR1 in fantasy, but I think the volume will be down just a tad. It will not surprise me if Thomas ends up trailing Davante Adams in targets this season. Such an occurrence could lead to Thomas falling off his perch as the top wideout this year.
New York Giants
The Giants signed Dion Lewis in the offseason. Lewis has very little fantasy value at this point. After carrying the ball 155 times and hauling in 59 passes in 2018, Tennessee substantially diminished his role last year. Lewis had just 79 total touches despite playing in all 16 games. It would be foolish to think Lewis could be in for any type of career renaissance in New York. Saquon Barkley is more effective than Lewis in all phases of the game. Even if Barkley were to miss time, Lewis would be part of a committee at best. There is no reason to consider him for fantasy purposes.
New York Jets
Breshad Perriman is currently being drafted outside the top 50 wide receivers, so the price is right for those who believe in his late-season breakout. He should get plenty of looks in New York, but I would not expect too much considering his checkered past and having to learn a new scheme with an inconsistent quarterback throwing him the football. The Jets also added 37-yeard old Frank Gore to back up Le’Veon Bell at running back. Gore is a freak of nature, and the fact that he is still going at it, at a position where many are considered over the hill before they hit 30 is remarkable. However, there is no reason to invest in fantasy. I still think Bell has a bit of a bounceback season for fantasy purposes. Things got about as bad as they could get last year, and he was still the overall RB16 in PPR leagues.
Bell’s former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, inked Eric Ebron to a two-year contract back in March. Ebron is a great example of recency bias that many of us hold onto in fantasy football. Ebron was the overall TE13 in 2017 before crushing expectations with a TE4 finish the following year as a newly minted member of the Indianapolis Colts. He then had offseason groin surgery and struggled to regain his prior form before an ankle injury cost him the remainder of the year. While a new crop of tight ends burst onto the scene, Ebron was still the overall TE17 on a per-game basis. Now he is a complete afterthought in drafts as he heads to Pittsburgh to resurrect his career. If you are looking for a second tight end with top-10 upside, Ebron is a better candidate than most in his ADP range.
The Seattle Seahawks grabbed Carlos Hyde as insurance for their wounded backfield. Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny both suffered significant injuries late last year. Carson suffered a fractured hip in Week 17 and should be ready for the season opener, although that is no sure thing. Penny will likely begin the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after tearing his ACL. Hyde was picked up off the scrap heap by Houston last summer and turned in a 1,000-plus yard season. He is worth a late-round draft pick if neither Carson nor Penny can make it onto the field come Week 1. If Carson can play, Hyde would be in line for backup duties and possible goal-line work.
Greg Olsen thought about trading in his helmet for a headset but ultimately joined Seattle after nine years in Carolina. The 35-year old has not played a full season since 2016, though he did suit up 14 times last season. He was the overall TE13 (TE12 per game) in PPR leagues in 2019. Seattle has been a source of value at tight end in recent years, but it is unclear if Olsen has enough in the tank to be considered a fantasy starter. Olsen seems to have a higher floor than many of his counterparts in the low-TE2 range, but that is not something I am looking for with that roster spot. If I am drafting a second tight end, I want this year’s Darren Waller. Olsen is certainly not that, so I see no reason to roster him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Far be it from me to question the leadership of an NFL franchise, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some very curious offseason personnel moves. Four years after drafting Jameis Winston with the number-one overall pick in the NFL Draft, they watched as Winston blossomed in his age-25 season. He threw for the eighth-most passing yards in NFL history and 33 touchdowns. Yet, rather than reward that development with a contract extension, they let him walk for nothing and signed a 42-year old former sixth-round NFL draft pick to replace him. The craziness did not end there. Another former first-rounder, tight end O.J. Howard, matched a career-high in receptions in 2019. But the Bucs decided that instead of increasing his role in the offense, they would bring in a professional wrestling champion to compete with him. If that isn’t 2020 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.
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