Fantasy Football 2020: Red Flags You Need to Avoid
Shrewd fantasy football managers often take calculated gambles on high-risk players.
But in some cases, you should avoid red flags, especially in the early rounds of the draft.
Perhaps a player's production has dipped over time, or an extensive injury history raises some concern. With others, a new quarterback, more competition at a position or the implementation of a fresh system can adversely affect fantasy value.
We'll highlight some red flags to avoid among the top 10 quarterbacks and tight ends along with the top 20 running backs and wide receivers in average draft position (ADP) for point-per-reception leagues.
QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
ADP: 8.09 (QB10)
Aaron Rodgers hasn't shown signs of sharp decline, but the two-time MVP has an uninspiring supporting cast. The Green Bay Packers passing offense finished 17th last year, and the unit won't feature any notable upgrades this season.
The Packers focused on their future during the draft, trading up in the first round to select quarterback Jordan Love and selecting three offensive linemen in the sixth round for depth.
Third-rounder Josiah Deguara can provide a boost in a passing game as the fullback, though he's more likely to fill a niche role as a rookie. Marcedes Lewis and second-year pro Jace Sternberger could handle the majority snaps at tight end.
Green Bay signed Devin Funchess in free agency, but he opted out of the 2020 campaign, leaving a wide receiver corps in prove-it mode with the exception of Davante Adams. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and Equanimeous St. Brown must make strides to establish themselves in the other starting spots.
Based on the Packers' roster makeup, head coach Matt LaFleur seems prepared to emphasize the ground attack, featuring Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie second-rounder AJ Dillon. Fantasy managers should buy into the Packers running backs and sell their stock in Rodgers.
RB Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
ADP: 2.11 (RB15)
Todd Gurley passed his physical with the Atlanta Falcons in June, which is positive news for a running back with major question marks about his knee.
However, we shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief for Gurley's fantasy outlook yet. Last season, he recorded career lows in total rushing yards (857) and yards from scrimmage (1,064).
The Los Angeles Rams offensive line shares some responsibility for Gurley's lackluster campaign, as it ranked 19th in run blocking, per Football Outsiders. However, the Falcons' unit also struggled to clear lanes for its ball-carriers, ranking 24th.
Atlanta retained four of its five starters across the offensive line, so take Gurley's supporting cast into account if you consider him in the second round. Furthermore, as an offensive coordinator and head coach, Dirk Koetter hasn't fielded a rushing offense that ranked higher than 24th in yards since 2015.
While Gurley should handle the bulk of Atlanta's carries in place of Devonta Freeman, he's a shaky option early in drafts.
RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
ADP: 3.06 (RB17)
Through five seasons, David Johnson had one standout year in 2016. Since then, he's struggled with injuries and average production.
After missing nearly the entire 2017 season because of wrist surgery, Johnson averaged a career-low 4.5 yards per touch while logging a mediocre 3.6 yards per carry in 2018.
Last year, Kenyan Drake usurped Johnson for the lead position in the Arizona Cardinals backfield. The club re-signed the former using the transition tag and traded the latter after his injury-riddled 2019 showing.
Johnson should handle the majority of touches in Houston, with Duke Johnson behind him on the depth chart. However, fantasy managers should tread cautiously after he recorded only 715 yards from scrimmage last year and lost his starting job to a player acquired before the trade deadline.
Both Johnsons can run and catch out of the backfield. If David struggles to move the ball or takes too many bumps and bruises, Duke becomes an attractive handcuff option.
The Texans' starting running back situation seems a bit dicey because of Johnson's modest output and spotty availability in recent seasons.
RB James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
ADP: 3.03 (RB16)
With Le'Veon Bell holding out from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018, James Conner took the ball and ran with it—all the way to a Pro Bowl appearance. He logged 1,470 yards from scrimmage as the sixth-ranked running back in PPR leagues, per FantasyPros.
Last year, Conner battled significant shoulder and thigh injuries, which limited him to 10 games. Head coach Mike Tomlin plans to use him as a lead ball-carrier again this year, though he has a backup plan in place, per TribLive.com's Joe Rutter.
"James is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy. We're excited about him getting back to health and displaying that in 2020. Benny Snell is a guy that is capable of being a featured runner who plays with a physical style in a similar manner to James. He's capable of being a James-type of guy if James is unavailable."
Tomlin's comment leaves the door open for Snell to see an expanded role if Conner doesn't play through a full 16-game slate, which he hasn't done in three seasons.
Rookie fourth-rounder Anthony McFarland Jr. could also steal some carries. And 2018 fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels made an impact in the short passing game last year, logging 47 receptions for 305 yards and a touchdown.
Conner, who's missed 11 contests in three seasons, has competition for his carries and a running back in Samuels who's capable of handling third-down receiving duties. If the 25-year-old can stay healthy, he has a high ceiling, but fantasy managers would be gambling on his availability and touch volume with a deep running back group.
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
ADP: 3.08 (WR10)
Odell Beckham Jr. played through a sports hernia last season, which likely contributed to his downtick in production. He recorded 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns with a 55.6 percent catch rate. While that's a decent output, it doesn't compare to his three Pro Bowl years between 2014 and 2016.
Although Beckham is going into the 2020 season healthy, he'll have to share targets with another high-potential pass-catcher in tight end Austin Hooper, who registered 71-plus receptions in each of the last two campaigns in Atlanta.
Furthermore, new head coach Kevin Stefanski may opt to implement an offensive system that worked with the Minnesota Vikings in 2019. He provided strong support for quarterback Kirk Cousins through the ground attack, which ranked fourth in carries. The offense racked up the sixth-most rushing yards.
Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt may have a busy season. The latter has also been involved in wide receiver meetings, per Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram, which suggests he'll have a decent share of targets as well.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield can spread the ball around among a bevy of offensive playmakers and even lean on the rushing offense. With Jarvis Landry (hip) already off the physically unable to perform list, Beckham doesn't have a high fantasy ceiling. He'll likely have some duds if Landry or Hooper has a better matchup. Don't underestimate the possibility of a run-heavy Browns offense, either.
WR DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers
ADP: 3.12 (WR13)
DJ Moore has produced with a different primary quarterback in each of his first two seasons, catching passes from Cam Newton and Kyle Allen. He'll now have to adjust to Teddy Bridgewater in 2020.
Moore's biggest fantasy obstacle isn't the change at quarterback, though. He has competition for targets with a legitimate No. 2 wideout in Robby Anderson, who has ties to head coach Matt Rhule from his collegiate years at Temple. That's an issue because of Bridgewater's low-volume output.
Bridgewater averages 173.9 passing yards per game for his career. In 2019, he started five contests for the New Orleans Saints and recorded 240 passing yards or fewer in three of those outings—that's with wideout Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook on the field for most of those outings.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, who just signed a four-year, $64 million dollar extension, will handle the majority of touches as the Carolina Panthers' top offensive threat. Curtis Samuel also remains as a pass-catching option. Rhule says it's Ian Thomas' "turn" at tight end, which may equate to a solid number of targets for him, too.
Bridgewater hasn't provided a lot to go around in yards, while Moore has caught only six touchdown passes in two seasons. Without the volume, his fantasy outlook could take a major hit in 2020.
TE Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 6.12 (TE6)
"... the main reason why I came down to Tampa to play is because my mother lives two hours away," Gronkowski said. "She can get to all the games, all eight of our home games. Whenever I have days off, she's two hours down the street and I get to see her."
Gronkowski didn't make his way to Tampa Bay solely for the opportunities in the Buccaneers offense. Actually, his role may shrink in comparison to the volume of targets he saw in New England.
In addition to Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers have two capable pass-catching tight ends other than Gronkowski. Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard combined for 70 receptions, 770 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Out of the backfield, Ronald Jones II, LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale are all capable pass-catchers. Brady will work with a full deck in the passing game, which may leave Gronkowski idle for extended stretches.
TE Evan Engram, New York Giants
ADP: 7.06 (TE7)
In today's NFL, a dynamic tight end can add a new dimension to his team's aerial attack. Evan Engram has the physical tools with his 4.42-second 40-yard speed and soft hands, but he's missed 14 games in three seasons.
The New York Giants offense also figures to cater to running back Saquon Barkley. Team reporter John Schmeelk thinks Big Blue will operate a run-heavy offense under head coach Joe Judge and play-caller Jason Garrett.
"I expect Barkley, who must avoid the injuries that plagued him in his sophomore campaign, to be the focal point of a run-heavy offense in 2020," Schmeelk wrote.
With an emphasis on the run game, Engram may not see the number of targets comparable to his rookie campaign (115) even if he stays healthy. He'll share looks in the passing game with Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and surprising 2019 fifth-rounder Darius Slayton, who led the team in receiving yards (740) and touchdowns (eight) as a rookie.
Schmeelk projected Tate would lead the Giants' receiving corps.
"Tate can still create separation and win on every level of the defense," Schmeelk wrote. "He is still one of the best receivers in the NFL running after the catch. I think he will lead the team in receptions and become Daniel Jones' go-to receiver."
If quarterback Daniel Jones locks in on Tate and Slayton and Barkley is the engine of the offense, how much would that leave Engram? That's something fantasy managers must consider if they see him as a top-10 tight end.
With his injury history and outlook as a third- or fourth pass-catching option, Engram has too many red flags in 2020.
Average draft position provided by Fantasy Football Calculator.