2020 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards as Season Approaches

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 11, 2020

2020 Fantasy Football: Players Flying Up Boards as Season Approaches

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    The 2020 NFL offseason has been unlike any other, and that has most assuredly had an impact on fantasy football.

    Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the benchmarks that fantasy managers use to help adjust player values have been wiped out. There were no minicamps. No OTAs. Training camps are only now just getting underway, and there aren't going to be any preseason games.

    Given that news, most player values have stagnated. The guys who were drafted early two months ago are still being drafted early. Late-round dart throws are still late-round dart throws.

    However, there are some players who have made a push of late. For some, it's been a matter of circumstance. With others, it's just hype. And for at least one, it has been a steady ascent over the past several weeks.

    Whatever the case, if you want to invest in these players, it's going to cost more than it did not that long ago.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The "August Effect."

    That's the phrase coined by Isaiah Sirois of Fantasy Pros to explain why so many quarterbacks are seeing their ADP spike in recent days. None has gone up more than Russell Wilson, who has seen his average draft position jump by over half a round.

    Long story short, the logic behind the "August Effect" is this: Earlier in the summer, most fantasy drafts are conducted by either industry analysts or hardcore players. The closer we get to Week 1, the more "casual" drafts generally take place. And in those "family and friends" and workplace drafts, quarterbacks tend to be overvalued.

    If your fantasy league only starts one quarterback each week, you don't need to take one early. The fifth-round pick being used on Wilson (and the second-round pick being used on Lamar Jackson) are better spent on one of the other positions—especially with players like Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger (both of whom have top-five fantasy upside) being selected outside the top 10 at the position.

    But all it takes is one drafter to start a run. Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are gone by the end of Round 2. Once someone takes the first of the second-tier quarterbacks (Wilson, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson), the other two are following almost immediately afterward.

Cam Newton, QB, New England Patriots

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    It's been an interesting year for Cam Newton. The 2015 MVP has gone from quarterback of the Carolina Panthers to a man without a team to Tom Brady's replacement. From fantasy starter to complete afterthought to upside backup with an ADP of 14th among quarterbacks...and rising.

    The reason for that rise is simple enough: Newton's upside is appealing. As recently as 2017, he reeled off over 750 rushing yards and finished as fantasy football's runner-up under center. In his MVP season, he racked up 45 total touchdowns and finished as fantasy's top quarterback by over three points per game.

    Bill Belichick has long been the master of tailoring the scheme to match what his players do best. In theory, it won't be any different with Newton.

    The problem is that games aren't played in theory, and over the past two seasons, Newton has had trouble staying on the field. Two years ago, he struggled with a shoulder injury and missed two games. Last year, he barely played before a bad foot ended the season after two games.

    For his part, Newton said he's excited to show that he can recapture past form.

    "I'm just looking forward to the challenge. ... My job is to come here, compete, put this team in the best situation to win," he said, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "Do my part. Be as accessible to the team, and Coach Belichick, as well as Coach [Josh] McDaniels, as possible. And to just get better each and every day."

    If he can come close to accomplishing that, Newton will be a steal for fantasy managers who wait at the quarterback position.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    There isn't a player rocketing up fantasy boards faster than rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Not that long ago, he was being drafted as a mid-range RB2 and coming off the board in the early part of the third round.

    Then Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season, and now, per Fantasy Football Calculator, Edwards-Helaire is coming off the board sixth among all running backs as the seventh overall pick.

    The question is whether that's such a great idea.

    It's not a matter of talent. Edwards-Helaire topped 1,400 yards on the ground at LSU last year, averaged over 6.5 yards per carry, caught 55 passes and found the end zone 17 times. The Chiefs thought enough of him to make him the first running back drafted in 2020 (32nd overall), ahead of Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins.

    But while the Chiefs are undoubtedly a potent offensive team, they aren't big on running the ball—or at least they weren't in 2019. Last year, the Chiefs were 23rd in rushing yards and 27th in rushing attempts. The year before, in Patrick Mahomes' MVP season, they were 16th in rushing yards and 23rd in attempts.

    Even if you expect Edwards-Helaire to better those numbers by a fair margin, he's still going to be hard-pressed to justify his ADP.

    Getting excited about a player is fine. Drafting a player at his fantasy ceiling is not.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Football Team

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    From a fantasy perspective, Adrian Peterson is a bit like Freddy Krueger.

    Last year, Peterson led a Washington team that was hit hard in the backfield by injuries with 898 yards in his age-34 season—numbers that slotted him at No. 28 among fantasy running backs in standard-scoring formats.

    However, with a healthy Derrius Guice set to return, Peterson had been relegated to late-round flier status in early drafts...until Guice was arrested last week on domestic violence charges and promptly released by the team.

    That thrust Peterson, who averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry in 2019, into lead-back status in a crowded backfield that also includes rookie Antonio Gibson, free-agent additions Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic, and second-year pro Bryce Love.

    And per B/R's Tim Daniels, it also thrust "All Day" into mid-round consideration as an RB3.

    "Peterson is worth targeting somewhere around the seventh or eighth round in 12-team fantasy drafts," Daniels wrote. "He's also a player who will be worth putting on the trade market if he gets off to a hot start, however, because maintaining big-time production could prove difficult with four other rushers fighting for touches."

    Peterson isn't the back he used to be. He's not much of a factor in the passing game. And Gibson and Love could challenge for touches if the youngsters shine in camp.

    But Peterson is also one of the best running backs to ever play the game, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him peel off the ninth 1,000-yard season of his career—and second in three seasons in the nation's capital.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    For much of the summer, Odell Beckham Jr.'s ADP hovered around the back end of WR1 territory. If he wasn't being drafted inside the top 10 at his position, he was coming off just after—usually in the later stages of the third round.

    But as Jake Trotter reported for ESPN, then came comments in July from Beckham voicing concerns over playing football in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—concerns that Beckham raised again while speaking to the Wall Street Journal's Lane Florsheim.

    "Obviously with everything that's going on, it doesn't make sense why we're trying to do this," Beckham said. "We're not ready for football season. So why are we trying to push forward? It's obviously for their money."

    Given those comments, there was speculation that he might opt out of the 2020 season. However, the deadline for players to opt out has come and gone, and after visiting the team's facilities and seeing Cleveland's protocols, Beckham will take the field in 2020.

    With Beckham in, his fantasy stock has rebounded; he's coming off draft boards 10th among wideouts and 33rd overall.

    It's likely that his asking price will remain in that spot as we move through the meat of the draft season, but the variance we've seen in recent weeks is indicative of just how unprecedented the 2020 offseason is.

Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    For most of the players in this piece, recent circumstances have caused a sudden spike in ADP. But for Diontae Johnson, it has been more of a slow, steady climb.

    With Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf last year, the passing game in Pittsburgh wasn't pretty, but as Vaughn Dalzell reported for numberFire, Johnson's performance as a rookie was a quiet bright spot:

    "Johnson's stat line of 59 receptions (on 92 targets) for 680 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie was impressive, especially considering that he did it with [Devlin] Hodges and [Mason] Rudolph. Johnson received a 66.9 percent snap share and a respectable 18.9 percent target share in his first season.

    "Two hundred ninety-seven of Johnson's 680 receiving yards (43.67 percent) came after the catch, and he ranked first among wide receivers last season in target separation (2.39), per PlayerProfiler. As the Steelers' No. 2, Johnson had an 88.1 percent true catch rategood for 16th-best in the leagueto go with only three drops."

    That showing and Roethlisberger's return made Johnson a trendy pick, and it's still possible in some drafts to get him in a position of value. But landing him outside the top 100 has become rarer—his current ADP of the fourth pick of the eighth round represents a jump of about two rounds over where he was available early on.

    That trend isn't going to be reversed as we move through August.

Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    There's no question who the top two tight ends are in fantasy: Travis Kelce and George Kittle. By the end of Round 2, both are gonesville.

    After that, the waters muddy a bit. Some believe that Zach Ertz is the No. 3 option. For others, it's Mark Andrews, and that latter group appears to be winning out.

    Based on 2019 performance, it's not hard to see why. Despite managing just 64 receptions (over 20 fewer than every other top-five fantasy tight end), Andrews finished ahead of Kittle and behind only Kelce in standard scoring systems. In PPR leagues, Andrews was fifth.

    On average, he has risen to about half a round higher than Ertz—he's coming off the board about halfway through Round 4.

    That increased ADP carries with it concerns, though. Believe it or not, Andrews has never had a 10-target game, and according to Mike Tagliere of Fantasy Pros, there were six games last season where he managed fewer than 10 PPR fantasy points. His fantasy production was buoyed largely by having 10 scoring grabs.

    If Lamar Jackson's passing touchdown numbers regress in 2020 (a real possibility), then Andrews' likely will as well. That means he is going to need a bump in both targets and receptions to match last year's finish.

    Andrews is an excellent young tight end, but like many of the risers in this column, he's also being drafted precariously close to his ceiling.

Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In some respects, it makes sense that Hayden Hurst would be listed alongside Mark Andrews. After all, it was Andrews' emergence in 2019 that essentially led to Hurst being dealt to Atlanta in the offseason.

    Hurst muddled his way through two seasons with the Ravens, recording 43 catches for 512 yards and three scores. But there was a reason why the Ravens made him a first-round selection a few years back. The 6'4", 260-pounder has the athleticism and ability to stretch the field that modern NFL teams seek at the position, and per Dan Pompei of The Athletic, head coach Dan Quinn said the team plans to take advantage of that.

    "We really want to feature him with the seam routes and the things we can stretch the field," he said. "With Julio [Jones] and Calvin [Ridley] outside, there are some matchup opportunities for a tight end in this system. You have a clear role for the player."

    Last year, Austin Hooper had a career year in Atlanta: 75 receptions, 787 yards, six touchdowns and a sixth-place finish in PPR fantasy points on 97 targets.

    From all indications, fantasy drafters anticipate a similar season from Hurst. Back in early June, he was coming off boards late in Round 9. Now, he's moved into the middle of the seventh round—ahead of Hunter Henry, Tyler Higbee and Jared Cook.

          

    Unless otherwise noted, ADP info courtesy of Fantasy Football CalculatorUnless otherwise noted, fantasy scoring data courtesy of FFToday.