The temperatures are rising and the days are getting longer — will someone please toast me another marshmallow! Summer is here and draft season is just around the corner. This is my Christmas time – when we start to look toward the long road ahead painted with white lines, paved with freshly cut grass, populated by bears, dolphins, zebras and other magnificent creatures. You can almost smell it.
Now that we’re all a little hungrier, let’s get into the meat of this article – finding draft value. Before you head into your draft, you are going to find players that you really want to have on your team. Obviously we’d all like a team with Michael Thomas, Christian McCaffrey and Travis Kelce, but that’s not happening this year. But maybe you can put together a team of later-round studs like people did in 2019 with Lamar Jackson, Austin Ekeler and Mark Andrews? Let’s see if we can’t give you a head-start on your competition by going through a few players that are potential league-winning players for the 2020 season.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
With all the hype following him into 2019, Smith-Schuster was being drafted at the end of the first round to early second round in most fantasy drafts — he did not pay well. After Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season, the Steelers’ entire passing game became as unappealing as anchovies on a fudge sundae. Smith-Schuster’s struggles were amplified later in the season as he was frequently fighting the injury bug and the revolving-door at quarterback didn’t help either. These are some of the reasons the former Pro Bowler’s Average Draft Position has fallen into the fifth or sixth round. On the positive side, you have the return of Roethlisberger, who can only improve the overall passing game. When the Steelers addressed the position by drafting Chase Claypool in the 2020 rookie draft, they did it for Smith-Schuster’s benefit. With Claypool, as well as Diontae Johnson, playing well on the outside, Smith-Schuster will settle back into his slot receiver role and excel. During his 2018 campaign, he played primarily from the slot and caught 111 balls for 1,426 yards.
Let’s just forget that 2019 ever happened for the Steelers and look into the future. The sky is still the limit for Smith-Schuster as he could easily finish this coming season in the range of WR10 to WR15 in Point Per Reception formats.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a successful collegiate career at USC, Jones was an early second-round draft pick in 2018 and expected to do great things. He averaged 1.91 yards per carry in his rookie season and notched double-digit touches only once in nine games. Things got quietly better in 2019 when he was averaging 4.55 yards per carry through his first five games. In eight of the last ten games of the year, Jones had at least 11 carries and finished the season with 4.21 yards per carry. His numbers significantly improved last year while also losing carries to Peyton Barber, who has since left for Washington. Although the Buccaneers did spend a third-round pick on Ke’Shawn Vaughn, you needn’t worry, Jones has value in the passing game – historically, a very important part of a Bruce Arians offense. Jones caught 80.1 percent of his targets for 8 yards per reception in his last nine games – including an eight-target, eight-catch, 77-yard performance in Week 10.
Jones has worked hard to make the most of his chances, and this season it’s going to pay off. A Top-24 running back finish should be expected.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
A tough, between-the-tackles runner, Jackson hasn’t had a lot of opportunity in his two seasons – eclipsing 40 percent of snaps played only once in 2018 (76 percent). Playing behind Melvin Gordon III and Austin Ekeler would make it hard for anyone to shine. Gordon just got paid to leave for Denver and Ekeler isn’t the type of running back who gets his numbers running between the tackles. Enter Justin Jackson. While dealing with injury, Jackson still managed to play in seven games. In those games, he ran for 6.89 yards per carry and caught every pass that came his way after Week 1. Jackson will also get a ton of short yardage and goal-line work – 69 percent of his 2019 carries resulted in at least 3 yards – leading to many first downs and touchdowns.
This will be the make-or-break season for Jackson and I’m banking on him making it. He probably won’t be a Top-20 running back, but expect well over 100 carries this season with a handful of touchdowns – making him a solid flex guy or maybe even a Top-24 running back is some chips fall his way.
Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins
Jordan Howard hasn’t done much in his four-year NFL career; just two 1,000-yard seasons, 32 scores, 4.34 yards per carry and a Pro-Bowl appearance in his rookie year. His worst statistical season was 2019 when he had 525 rushing yards on 119 carries in 10 games of an injury-shortened season – that’s still 4.41 yards per carry. Now with a new offense in Miami, Howard will take the role of lead back again. The Dolphins did also bring in Matt Breida to make it a two-headed backfield, but that only takes away from Howard’s potential in the passing game, of which there isn’t a lot of. Breida does hold a wee-bit of concern as he averages 4.99 yards per carry over his three-year career, but again, he is to be a feature in the passing game.
Nonetheless, Howard will lead the Dolphins in carries and he could do it by a large margin but Breida could be a statistical nuisance here and there. Howard’s current Average Draft Position at the running back position is 42, which is criminally low for a guy who could end the season among the league-leaders in rushing yards.