Wednesday - Jan 27, 2021

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FANTASY FOCUS: Looking forward to 2021

What we learned from the 2020 season

Due to the fantasy season being over in almost all leagues, everyone will look to either recap the season or move on to dynasty leagues. Dynasty leagues have been growing exponentially over the last two years. This offseason I will be digging into dynasty rankings more than ever which also helps the rankings for next year the most. Draft capital spent on a player significantly dictates how that player will be used in the offense. I will recap the most fantasy-relevant rookies from the season and how they translate to dynasty leagues and the next year.

Young running backs rule the NFL

Several experts have concluded that draft position is actually one of the best indicators of success in terms of fantasy production. Competition in the backfield and offensive scheme make up the remaining chunk of this. Except for players that had severe and career-altering injuries, running backs drafted in the first three rounds proved to be significant value each year. Rashaad Penny, DOnta Foreman and Derrius Guice are the biggest examples of underperforming due to injury. Running backs drafted Round 4 and beyond proved to have a significantly lower chance of producing.

For example, Joshua Kelley and La’mical Perine did next to nothing this year and they were the leaders in fantasy points for the remainder of the draft class for players drafted past Round 3. Last year, Tony Pollard and Benny Snell were the leaders in fantasy production in this range. Nyheim Hines and Chase Edmonds are the best producers from the 2018 class. Since 2010, Lamar Miller and James White were the most productive backs drafted from Rounds 4-7. Looking for production past them is ugly to say the least.

The 2017 class is the only one that breaks the trend as it seemed almost everyone drafted landed a starting position. Aaron Jones and Chris Carson obviously go against this trend. Let us look at even the 2020 draft class versus the average draft position. Dynasty ranks will also be included in this.

Running Back

1st Round

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

This was a weird year for all rookies, and Edwards-Helaire entered a backfield that many did not want to admit was a timeshare. Last year, no running back had over 500 rushing yards for Kansas City, and the team has had just one 1,000-yard rusher over the last five years. Before that, coach Andy Reid did use a workhorse as the rest of the NFL did but he changed as the NFL did. Edwards-Helaire ranked 18th in fantasy points for running backs this year in half-point per reception (PPR) points which justified his original third Round average draft position. Being drafted in the Top 10 like he was, was never going to be a good idea. Temper expectations for him and you will be better off. He is a lower end RB2 on your team who should be drafted in the fourth round next year.

2nd Round

Jonathan Taylor

He was touted as a workhorse back entering the NFL. Indianapolis had a clear void at running back after Marlon Mack went down. Taylor was drafted in the 35-40 range last year but finished as the seventh-best running back this year. This is an example where the offensive scheme favored a clear lead back. He had a slow start due to no minicamp. Even Marlon Mack had 900 plus yards the last two years despite starting just 22 games (11 average). These two backs represent the need to analyze the coaching situation. He enters Round 2 territory for next year and competes with players like Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb.

J.K. Dobbins/Cam Akers

Their coaches each preached that they would use a running back by committee approach to the season and they were right. It also did not help that the offenses lost significant efficiency from last year. Both have ceiling caps next year but only one will be a high floor player moving forward. Dobbins has a much safer future as it is the same offense that had 21 rushing touchdowns last year and 19 the year before. He also had 13-plus fantasy points in the last five weeks. Akers has been dependent on others missing time to step into the lead role. Outside of the weeks Darrell Henderson missed, he never had over nine fantasy points. Akers had a draft position of around 62 and Dobbins was around 84. This shows the value of throwing darts at Round 2 picks as both provided major value for at least four weeks. Dobbins could be worth a Round 3 pick and Akers is a risky fifth-round pick at best.

D’Andre Swift

He was another player with an average draft position of over 80 (81) that provided significant value. This one should have been more obvious as he was the only pass-catching back on the team and was clearly the most talented. He played in 11 games but had nine touchdowns and 39 catches. From Week 4 on he had 11 or more half-PPR fantasy points in all but one game. He is easily worth a late second-round or early third-round pick next year depending on the draft.

A.J. Dillon

Many expected him not to play much when it was clear this team drafted for 2-3 years down the road. Between the third string quarterback, running back, tight end and offensive linemen it was clear the front office did not care about this year. Without Aaron Jones next year, he will feast and he already looks like the second coming of Derrick Henry. Watch the game against Tennessee and think back on Aaron Jones’ production over the last two years. He is a trade target in all dynasty formats. Aaron Jones was a Top 5 running back in points for the last two years. He is not as good in the passing game but is worth a late third-round pick next year if no one is added in free agency. He has a significant amount of upside.

3rd Round

Ke’Shawn Vaughn/Zack Moss/Darrynton Evans

All face significant competition for rush attempts and targets. They will have more value next year but would need an injury to see significant playing time. These players actually belong in a tier slightly below backups Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard.

Antonio Gibson

This is a good player to transition from running back to receiver. Coming out of college weighing 228 pounds and running a 4.39 40-yard dash was impressive. His production this year was more impressive. He actually ranked 13th in points or better in all fantasy football formats. In Weeks 9-12 with Alex Smith under center, Gibson totaled eight touchdowns and had point totals of 11, 16.9, 20.5, and 34.1 in half-PPR league points. Studies have shown that running backs who weigh at least 220 pounds are best able to avoid injuries and produce consistently. Think of the lack of career games missed of Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb. Joe Mixon, LeSean McCoy and Melvin Gordon are a small tier below in weight but have bigger injury histories. He is my other top value for the draft next year and a trade target in dynasty. He is an upside pick in Round 3 next year.

About Justin Weigal

Medical professional turned fantasy football pro... I hope. Love best ball and the Packers.