Bold Predictions for the 2020 Fantasy Football Season

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 26, 2020

Bold Predictions for the 2020 Fantasy Football Season

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Fantasy football devotees are dealing with a canceled preseason, limited training camps and fewer reports than we're used to regarding the performances of potential fantasy draft picks.

    Instead, we have to work with what we have. That might cause a lot of us to approach draft day in a more conservative fashion than usual, which is understandable.

    Still, you gotta be bold in some spots. Here are 10 predictions that might cause you to take a chance or two despite the lack of information from the football world this summer.

Matthew Stafford Will Be a Top-5 Fantasy Quarterback

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    Nobody is putting Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in a tier with Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. But if Stafford can pick up where he left off before a back injury ended his 2019 campaign at the midway point—and if he can remain healthy this time—the 32-year-old could wind up on a level with second-tier signal-callers Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson.

    When Stafford went down last year, only five quarterbacks had more fantasy points on the season. He threw 10 touchdown passes and averaged 370.7 passing yards per game in his last three outings.

    Top receiver Kenny Golladay continues to ascend toward superstardom, Marvin Jones Jr. is a quality No. 2 wideout, and rookie running back D'Andre Swift should only help keep opposing defenses honest.

    Stafford is healthy now, and it's worth pointing out he hadn't missed a game since 2010 before last season. Drafting a perceived higher-rated quarterback like Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers instead of Stafford could be a big mistake.

Jace Sternberger Will Emerge as a TE1 Option

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    Before Darren Waller became a top-five fantasy tight end with the Oakland Raiders in 2019, the 27-year-old had caught 18 passes in three NFL seasons. But Waller was in the right place at the right time, and he delivered in a supportive offense.

    Jace Sternberger could be that guy in 2020.

    The 2019 third-round tight end didn't catch a single pass as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, but he emerged this offseason as the favorite to replace departed veteran Jimmy Graham. By practically ignoring that position as well as the receiver spot in the offseason, the Packers signaled that they believe in the guys they've got, and the 6'4" Sternberger is the most intriguing option outside of presumed top receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard.

    Sternberger needed time to develop, but he's a crisp route-runner with tremendous hands and athleticism.

    With the highest-rated passer in NFL history set to lean on him in a critical season, it might not take long before a tight end with an average draft position in the 200s becomes as productive as starting-caliber options like Jared Cook and Austin Hooper.

Noah Fant Will Become a Top-5 Fantasy Tight End

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    Sternberger isn't the only tight end we're high on. While Denver Broncos sophomore Noah Fant isn't as far under the radar as Sternberger, watch for him to greatly outperform his ADP and become a fantasy star in 2020.

    Fant scored just three touchdowns as a rookie, but the out-of-this-world athlete out of Iowa formed tremendous chemistry down the stretch with quarterback Drew Lock. The pass-catching corps in Denver is somewhat crowded as Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler join the fray, but those rookies might need time following a severely limited offseason and a canned preseason.

    Look for Lock to rely heavily on Fant, who in one six-week stretch during the second half of the 2019 season averaged an incredible 21.4 yards per reception and 12.5 yards per target.

    Last year, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote: "Fant is unlike anything most evaluators have seen from an athletic standpoint. He's fast, agile and brings an exciting element to red-zone plays." With the Denver offense bolstered and another offseason under Fant's belt, watch for an explosion in 2020.

    He might not be grouped with George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and Mark Andrews, but he has the ability and opportunity to become as productive as Waller, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Cook and Hooper.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire Will Outproduce Derrick Henry

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    Few fantasy stocks have shot up this offseason like the one belonging to Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who joins one of the league's most lethal offenses as the clear top backfield option following Damien Williams' decision to opt out this season.

    Edwards-Helaire has the versatility, vision, hands and pedigree to come out of LSU and dominate immediately. He won't become the top option in an offense that contains Kelce and Tyreek Hill, but there's plenty to go around.

    Chiefs backs scored 17 touchdowns in 2019, and now the team is without both Williams and LeSean McCoy at that position. CEH is ready to rock, and his trajectory might even cross that of Derrick Henry.

    Henry was the league's leading rusher in 2019, but he runs hard, and he lost standout offensive tackle Jack Conklin in the offseason. He had never been a Pro Bowler before exploding with a wild hot streak down the stretch last year, so that might have been an aberration.

    Watch CEH climb as Henry comes back to earth—a dynamic that could be exacerbated by the potential emergence of Titans rookie third-round pick Darrynton Evans.

DK Metcalf Will Outproduce Amari Cooper

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    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper is the second-highest-paid player in the NFL at that position, and he's coming off a second consecutive campaign with 75-plus catches, 1,000 or more yards and at least seven touchdowns.

    Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf was limited to 58 catches for 900 yards as a rookie, but the 2019 second-round pick still scored seven touchdowns, and he became a force later in that campaign. In Seattle's last three regular-season/playoff games, Metcalf caught 17 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns.

    Cooper is still unsurprisingly being drafted as a WR1 while Metcalf is viewed as a bottom-end WR2 at best, but the former's production declined a tad later in the year as Michael Gallup excelled. Now, the Cowboys have used a first-round pick on CeeDee Lamb, and new Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy has endorsed Gallup as "a No. 1 wide receiver."

    Combine that with a push to "let Russell Wilson cook" in Seattle—where they appear to be looking for new ways to expand Metcalf's usage—and it's not hard to imagine the raw but evolving Metcalf leapfrogs Cooper as he competes for reps in a crowded Cowboys offense.

Aaron Jones and Ezekiel Elliott Will Be Fantasy Letdowns

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    That crowded Dallas offense should also be problematic for those who invest heavily in Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who saw his team add Lamb to work with Cooper and Gallup before standout center Travis Frederick announced his retirement.

    The 25-year-old three-time Pro Bowler has received at least 250 touches in each of his first four seasons. He's been superbly consistent and durable, but he plays a position known for short shelf lives. It's fair to wonder if he could be in for a down year under current circumstances.

    Ditto for Green Bay Packers back Aaron Jones, who emerged as one of the highest-scoring fantasy backs last year but could be in a tough spot in 2020. Those in control of Jones in keeper leagues have to be extremely concerned about Green Bay's decision to use a second-round pick on A.J. Dillon, who went over 1,100 yards in each of his three seasons at Boston College.

    You don't use a second-round pick on a back these days unless you plan on putting him to work early, and the 247-pounder looks ready to vulture touchdowns and eat into Jones' workload. Plus, it's worth noting that said workload has never been huge, and Jones' yards per attempt sank from 5.5 in 2018 to 4.6 in 2019.

    Despite what most rankings will tell you, treat Elliott like a bottom-end RB1 and Jones like an RB2 with a handcuff.

DeAndre Hopkins' Production Will Decline Significantly

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray believes receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk can all go over 1,000 yards in 2020, which would be a great development for the Cards and their fans but a troubling one for those who decide to use a second-round pick on Hopkins.

    That Murray prediction could also be an indication of what Kliff Kingsbury's offense might look like this year. There's little doubt Hopkins is the top option in that passing game, but Arizona's receiving corps is a lot deeper than Houston's (don't forget about 2019 draft picks Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson), and both Fitzgerald and Kirk were targeted more than 100 times in 2019.

    Murray will also be adjusting to life with Hopkins after the two were robbed of a proper offseason together, so you have to wonder if the two will have trouble establishing chemistry in Hopkins' debut season with the Cards.

    Throw in the presence of expensive breakout back Kenyan Drake, and it's tough to envision another campaign of triple-digit catches, 1,110-plus yards and seven touchdowns from Hopkins.

David Johnson Will Gain Redemption

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    Meanwhile, the player sent to the Texans in exchange for Hopkins will likely become a satisfactory fantasy option in 2020 for the first time in several seasons, even if Houston head coach Bill O'Brien has to will it.

    O'Brien drew loads of heat for trading away an All-Pro in exchange for a player who has scored just 16 total touchdowns in three consecutive non-1,000-yard campaigns. But if you give up that kind of capital for a dude and your job essentially rides on his success, you'll likely do everything in your power to make him a centerpiece.

    Even though David Johnson looks as though he's got little left in the tank at the age of 28, expect O'Brien to do exactly that, especially by utilizing Johnson's impressive skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Drafting Johnson to be an RB2 might be scary, but if the draft value is there, don't shy away.

Drew Brees Will Fall Off a Fantasy Cliff

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    It happened to Tom Brady during his age-42 season, and it happened to practically every other quarterback in NFL history well before that. Now, it'll likely happen to New Orleans Saints signal-caller Drew Brees.

    The decline comes sharply and suddenly, but it always comes before 43. Brady was just the fourth quarterback ever to make starts at or beyond 42, but none experienced any real success at that age before Brady got off to a hot start at 42 in 2019. But then he threw only 14 touchdown passes in his final 11 games, averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt during that stretch.

    It's Brees' turn now. While he's coming off the highest-rated season of his career, he's become less of a yardage and touchdown king, and opposing defenses are going to find it easier to counter him.

    Brees shouldn't be viewed as an obvious QB1 right now. Don't draft him ahead of Stafford, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz or even Ben Roethlisberger.

Saquon Barkley Will Be the Runaway Fantasy Player of the Year

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    We leave you with a gut feeling. Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers might be a more popular No. 1 overall pick, and arguments can be made for big fantasy seasons again from Elliott or Michael Thomas of the Saints, but this is Saquon Barkley's turn.

    The 23-year-old saw his production decline during an injury-derailed sophomore season. However, he tore it up with 274 total yards in his first two games, and he still ultimately averaged 4.6 yards per carry while going over 1,000 yards despite missing three games and being limited in plenty of others.

    New Giants head coach Joe Judge has also said his offense will resemble Jason Garrett's system in Dallas, which always got the most out of Elliott and the backfield. And with veteran left tackle Nate Solder's opt-out, the Giants would be smart to keep pressure off young quarterback Daniel Jones by focusing heavily on Barkley as both a rusher and receiver.

    While McCaffrey works with a target on his back in a new system, Elliott works in a deep crowd and Thomas deals with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and Brees' potential decline, watch for Barkley to wear the fantasy crown in 2020.