99 Stats But a Mitch Ain’t One

Aug 02, 2021
99 Stats But a Mitch Ain’t One

I just finished writing draft blurbs for most of the fantasy-relevant players in the league heading into the 2021 draft season, so I thought I’d once again share some of the more interesting stats and splits I ran across researching each position. The draft blurbs can always be accessed on the rankings page (click the little text box next to the player’s name) and on each individual player page.

I discovered many of these stats while using 4for4’s Market Share Splits App, developed by 4for4 Contributor and data scientist Kevin Zatloukal (Twitter: @kczat).

More Helpful Tools & Articles: Hot Spot Tool | Rankings | Multi-Site ADP | Player Profiles | Player Debates |

Here’s a link to last year’s article for those who want to view the receipts. There are always a few duds but I think for the most part the stats were actionable in 2020.

So let’s jump right in…

Expect a bounceback season from Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott had a down year by his standards, finishing No. 11 in half-PPR with the No. 16 per game average. Since he did struggle with soft tissue injuries, there are some who are wondering if he’s starting to decline. He turns 26 years old this summer, so I wouldn’t worry too much about a potential decline, especially since he was the No. 4 running back through the first four weeks while Dak Prescott was still healthy. In fact, [1] in the 21 games over the past two seasons with a healthy Prescott, Elliott has generated 18.3 fantasy points per game (half-PPR). That would have been the fifth-highest production at his position last season.

Dak Prescott has No. 1 QB upside.

In 2020, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, Prescott was the No. 2 quarterback through the first four weeks. He finished as the No. 2 quarterback the year before, and is set up well for a comeback season given a potent receiving corps consisting of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin.

In 20 non-injury games over the last two seasons, [2] Prescott has averaged 330 yards, 1.95 touchdowns and 0.7 interceptions, adding 18 yards and 0.30 touchdowns as a runner. The resulting 23.0 fantasy points per game would have been good enough for a top-five finish in 2020, which was historically one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the league.

Look for Michael Gallup to be the primary deep threat in Dallas.

The first four weeks of the 2020 season (with a healthy Prescott at quarterback) gave us a glimpse as to how Gallup will fit in with CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. In 2019, [3] Gallup had an average depth of target of 13.5. In the first four games of 2020, that metric jumped to 17.6, which was the sixth-highest in the league in that span.

He averaged 3.3 catches (6.0 targets) for 69 yards and 0.25 touchdowns for 10.0 PPG in half-PPR formats. Those are solid WR3 numbers, and Gallup is currently being drafted as a low-end WR3 as the 36th receiver off the board.

DeVonta Smith should immediately see real-world WR1-type targets.

Since 2010, the seven receivers drafted inside the top 10 who have played at least 13 games as rookies have averaged 61-915-6.9 on 113 targets or high-end WR3-type numbers. [4] When Tavon Austin’s disappointing season (40-418-4 on 69 targets) is removed from the sample, the averages jump to 65-997-7.3 on 120 targets, or low-end fantasy WR2 numbers.

If Smith stays healthy, he should push for 1,000+ yards in a 17-game season. Matt Harmon of Reception Perception: “When it comes to his route-running, there’s no need to mince words. DeVonta Smith is without a doubt the best separator in the 2021 NFL Draft.”

If Jalen Hurts can develop as a passer, the sky is the limit.

Hurts looks like the sort of player who could make a Josh Allen-like leap in 2021 due to his rushing floor (272 yards and three touchdowns in four starts as a rookie) along with the addition of DeVonta Smith as a bona fide WR1. My rookie quarterback model suggests that he should have completed 60.4% of his passes based on his college accuracy. (Instead, he posted a 52.0% completion percentage.)

He was the No. 9 fantasy quarterback in his four starts from Week 14 to Week 17, but [5] if we only look at the games that he started and finished (Week 14-Week 16), he averaged 25.2 points per game, including an average of 282 yards passing and 79 yards rushing. He completed 54.9% of his passes in that span.

If Zach Ertz is traded, Dallas Goedert is going to break out in a big way.

Goedert’s per-game average (9.2 PPG, half-PPR) in his non-injury games would have been the seventh-highest at his position in 2020. [6] In the five games that he’s played without Ertz in the lineup, Goedert has averaged 4.2 catches for 53 yards and 0.40 touchdowns. Those would have been Top-3 numbers in 2020.

Ertz is at camp, but he may be moved before Week 1.

Ryan Fitzpatrick should post QB1-type numbers on a weekly basis.

Fitzpatrick doesn’t always finish the games he starts, nor does he always start the games he finishes. But this year feels different. He signed for starter’s money ($10 million, one year), has no major competition, and is expected to lead a dangerous offense that features Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson.

[7] In the last 16 games that Fitzpatrick has played from start to finish, he has averaged 283 yards, 1.69 touchdowns and 0.8 interceptions, while adding 21 yards and 0.31 touchdowns as a runner. The resulting 20.7 points per game is about what Justin Herbert averaged as last year’s No. 11 fantasy quarterback.

Antonio Gibson is set up for success in 2021.

2020 4for4 subscribers will remember that Gibson was our biggest draft day value at the running back position for much of the summer, at least until his ADP caught up with the release of Derrius Guice. [8] He turned in a No. 12 fantasy finish (half-PPR) despite a 44% snap share and finishing a paltry 27th in touches per game at his position. For most backs, this lack of playing time and/or usage would be worrisome, but not for Gibson, who was playing running back full-time for the first time.

This offseason, Washington has already revealed that it wants to get him more involved as a receiver (36 catches last year), while the coaching staff has said that Gibson’s improvement is like “night and day” compared to last year and that they expect a “big jump” in 2021 production. Washington also projects to have one of the best offensive line units in the league.

Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel should benefit from Ryan Fitzpatrick’s deep ball accuracy.

[9] Fitzpatrick posted the fourth-highest adjusted completion percentages on his deep ball (20+ yard) attempts, per PFF. He was 22nd out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in 2019 and eighth (out of 35) the year before.

Washington’s quarterbacks last year were Alex Smith (17th in deep-ball accuracy) and Dwayne Haskins (38th), so Fitzpatrick’s deep ball accuracy should show up in the box scores for both McLaurin and Samuel, who both possess sub-4.40 speed.

If you squint really (really) hard, Daniel Jones could be the next breakout Konami Code quarterback.

There are some things potentially pointing to a Jones bounce-back season. [10] He posted 16.4 points per game as a rookie–17.9 if you don’t count his ELEVEN fumbles–and has the sort of rushing floor (26.0 career rushing yards per game) that we’re looking for in a modern fantasy quarterback.

But his sophomore season was an utter disaster: 14 starts, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Heading into 2021, there’s good (the arrival of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, the return of Saquon Barkley) and there’s bad (a dreadful offensive line). There is low confidence in OC Jason Garrett in turning this ship around, which is why Jones is the 23rd quarterback off the board.

Offensive line woes aside, Jones does have a good set of weapons to throw to.

There are question marks surrounding Saquon Barkley in 2021.

Barkley played one full game last season before tearing his ACL in Week 2. In Week 1, he carried the ball 15 times for six yards and caught six passes for 60 yards against the Steelers. [11] He was the No. 10 fantasy back (half-PPR) in 2019, though he played just 13 games and owned the No. 6 per game average. He was famously the No. 1 running back as a rookie back in 2018.

There are two concerns: 1) his offensive line stinks, and 2) it’s no sure thing that Barkley will be ready by Week 1. There are already rumors swirling that the Giants may limit his workload to keep him healthy early in the season.

Kenny Golladay should be Daniel Jones’ No. 1 target, but it’s no sure thing.

Generally, receivers that change teams will see a drop in production unless they get a quarterback upgrade and/or an increase in targets, and Golladay isn’t likely to see either. In Detroit, he averaged 7.6 targets per game in 2018-19, and he would need to see even more in New York to offset the downgrade at quarterback.

Over the past two seasons, [12] Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard have averaged 7.4 and 7.9 targets per game, respectively, so they may be the proverbial thorns in Golladay’s side in 2021.

Aaron Jones’s ADP is puzzling.

Jones was the No. 5 running back last season (half-PPR) after finishing No. 2 the year before. [13] In his last 30 games, he has averaged 17.8 touches for 101 yards and 1.0 touchdowns per game.

Jamaal Williams is gone, but Jones is currently the 11th running back off the board. I’m assuming his ADP will start to rise now that Aaron Rodgers has reported to camp.

A.J. Dillon should have weekly flex value.

Dillon should fill the Jamaal Williams role in the Packers’ offense. Williams averaged 9.6 touches for 48 yards and 0.31 touchdowns in the 26 games over the last two seasons that Aaron Jones was also active. The resulting 7.8 points per game (half-PPR) would have been good enough for a No. 33 finish last season. It’s nothing special, but it’s serviceable in a pinch.

[14] In the nine games that Williams saw at least 10 carries, he averaged 16.6 touches for 84 yards and 0.33 touchdowns. If anything happens to Jones, Dillon has Top-10 upside.

Don’t expect miracles from soon-to-be 31-year-old Randall Cobb.

Cobb’s best season came in 2014, when he turned 127 targets into 91-1,287-12. It was his only season with more than 80 catches or more than 1,000 yards. [15] In the 15 games from 2017-2018 that Cobb played with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, he averaged 4.7 catches for 48 yards and 0.27 touchdowns. Those are fantasy WR4 numbers and probably Cobb’s ceiling at this point.

Side note: He has averaged a cool 5.0-69-0.75 as a Packer in his last 12 games against the Bears.

David Montgomery’s upside hinges on the health/role of Tarik Cohen.

Montgomery finished as the No. 4 running back last season (half-PPR) after a No. 25 finish the year before. He was more efficient (3.7 YPC in 2019 versus 4.3 YPC last year) and saw a big spike in catches (25 to 54), thanks in no small part to the absence of Tarik Cohen, who missed the final 13 games of the season due to a torn ACL.

Cohen’s return is some cause for concern. Over the past two seasons, [16] Montgomery has averaged 21.0 touches and 16.9 fantasy points in the 12 games that Cohen has missed. When Cohen has been active, Montgomery has averaged 16.6 touches and 10.1 fantasy points. Nothing had changed as recently as early last season. In Cohen’s three active games, Montgomery averaged 52% of the snaps. His playing time spiked to 80% for the remainder of the season.

As of late July, Cohen was “still walking gingerly” on his right knee. If Cohen misses a good chunk of the season, Montgomery will be a steal in the third or fourth round, though Damien Williams is the wild card in this backfield.

Justin Fields should provide high-end QB2 numbers, once he wins the starting job.

Fields is going off the board ahead of obvious Week 1 starters like Tua Tagovailoa, Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield, yet the Bears continue to insist that Andy Dalton is the starter. My research shows that [17] highly-drafted rookies typically start by Week 3 or Week 4, so unless things change, that’s the expectation here. According to my rookie quarterback model, Fields should rush for 22 to 27 yards per game, so he has the rushing floor that is so valuable in today’s fantasy landscape.

Jimmy Graham may be the only thing standing in the way of Cole Kmet’s breakout season.

As a rookie, Kmet played fewer than 50% of the snaps in his first nine games and averaged 0.9 targets per game. [18] In his final seven games, he played 70%+ snaps in every game and averaged 5.1 targets per game (producing 3.1-23-0.14 per game).

He should play starter’s snaps for the Bears in 2021 and has breakout potential, though when Jimmy Graham is healthy, he’s still likely to soak up end zone targets. In those aforementioned final seven games, [19] Graham out-targeted Kmet inside the opponent’s 10-yard line by a margin of 4-to-2.

Don’t expect Adam Thielen to keep his 2020 touchdown pace up.

Thielen turned in a No. 8 fantasy season in 2020 after an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. He caught a career-high 14 touchdowns, which isn’t a particularly sticky stat year-to-year. [20] Had he caught his average of 0.58 touchdowns per game (from 2018-2019), the resulting 9.2 touchdowns last year would have made him the No. 18 fantasy receiver (instead of No. 8).

Irv Smith is primed for a breakout season, no matter what HC Mike Zimmer says.

Smith enters his third season after posting 36-311-2 on 47 targets as a rookie and 30-365-5 on 43 targets in his second year. It doesn’t look like it at first glance, but his role did increase a bit since he played three fewer games as a sophomore. He’s a breakout candidate since Kyle Rudolph is no longer around. [21] In the 11 career games where Smith saw at least four targets, he averaged 3.7 receptions for 39 yards and 0.45 touchdowns (on 5.2 targets per game), which works out to 8.7 PPG. That’s about what Dallas Goedert averaged as last year’s No. 10 tight end.

Vikings head coach and noted party-pooper Mike Zimmer indicated in June that Smith would not be seeing a bigger role “whatsoever” and that honor went to new No. 2 tight end Tyler Conklin. However, OC Klint Kubiak confirmed in July that Smith is “going to have more opportunities” this season.

Justin Jefferson was the No. 6 fantasy receiver despite low target volume in the first two weeks.

Jefferson began the year as the team’s WR3 behind Adam Thielen and Bisi Johnson, catching just five passes (on six targets) for 70 yards in his first two games while playing less than 70% of the snaps. He finished with 88-1400-7 on 125 targets and [22] he was the No. 4 fantasy receiver from Week 3 on, averaging 5.9-95-0.50 on 8.5 targets per game in that span.

He looks like a good value as the eighth receiver off the board.

The Lions led the league in vacated targets.

After letting Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones walk (among others), [23] the Lions have 21.9 targets per game up for grabs heading into the 2021 season. Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and Amon-Ra St. Brown are the team’s likely top three receivers, but T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams should see a big share of looks from new quarterback Jared Goff.

D’Andre Swift still has RB1 upside.

Even with the arrival of Jamaal Williams, Swift could still turn in an RB1-type season. Swift started to see more playing time after the Lions’ Week 5 bye. From that point on, [24] he averaged 15.0 touches for 79 yards and 0.89 touchdowns, which equate to low-end RB1 numbers.

The arrival of Jamaal Williams is worrisome, though the Lions’ backfield had 399 touches last season, and they can probably find 220-230 for Swift, especially given his ability to catch the ball.

Whoever is starting for the Saints should post high-end QB2 numbers, at worst.

In his four starts, Taysom Hill was the No. 6 fantasy quarterback from Week 11 to Week 14. [25] Excluding the start against the Broncos when they had a practice squad receiver playing quarterback, Hill averaged 252 yards, a 74.3% completion rate, 1.33 touchdowns and 0.3 interceptions. He added 56 yards and 0.67 touchdowns in those three games as a runner. He also posted the highest adjusted completion percentage, per PFF.

When last we saw him in a starting role, Winston was finishing as the No. 5 fantasy quarterback in 2019, and that was before he had LASIK surgery to fix his eyesight.

Giddy up.

Alvin Kamara should be a usage monster while Michael Thomas is out.

Thomas’s injury is probably good news for Kamara, who has insane splits in games that Thomas has missed. Over the past two seasons, [26] in eight games without Thomas, Kamara has averaged 20.5 touches for 148 total yards and 1.51 touchdowns per game. That works out to 27.3 PPG (half-PPR), or No. 1 RB-type numbers. Even if his touchdowns regress to with-Thomas levels, he still would have scored 23.0 PPG. Kamara owners should probably be rooting for Jameis Winston to win the job since Kamara’s numbers dipped when Drew Brees was sidelined over the last two seasons.

Tre’Quan Smith should produce while Michael Thomas is out, maybe longer.

With Emmanuel Sanders gone, Smith figures to have the inside track for the WR2 job in New Orleans and should serve as the WR1 while Michael Thomas is out. Smith’s career yards per route run (1.10) is about what Keelan Cole (1.11) posted as the 98th of 112 eligible receivers in 2020. In other words, not good.

But thus far, Smith hasn’t had the consistent opportunity that should present itself this season. And to his credit, whenever he has been called upon, he’s usually delivered. [27] In the eight career games where he saw at least five targets, he has averaged 4.8 catches for 66 yards and 0.38 touchdowns per game. That equates to fantasy WR3-type numbers. In those aforementioned eight games, he posted 2.04 yards per route run, which is what Nelson Agholor posted as the 23rd receiver of the 112 eligible receivers in 2020.

So there is hope for Tre'Quan.

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were impacted differently by Antonio Brown.

Godwin’s production took a dip when Brown joined the Bucs. [28] In the 11 games (including the playoffs) with Brown in the lineup, Godwin averaged 11.8 PPG (half-PPR), which equates to midrange WR2 numbers. He posted 13.2 PPG (low-end WR1 numbers) in the five games without Brown.

Unlike Godwin, Evans’ production actually increased in the games that Brown was active. [29] Including the playoffs, Evans averaged 13.1 PPG (half-PPR) in 11 games with Brown and just 11.9 PPG in the nine games without an active Brown. That’s the difference between low-end WR1 numbers and midrange WR2 production.

Brown first played for the Bucs in Week 9, and over the remainder of the season, he was the No. 21 receiver in half-PPR formats. Evans and Godwin are both great receivers, but they’re being drafted several rounds ahead of Brown, and the numbers just don’t bear that out. [30] In the 11 games in which they all played (including the postseason), Brown had a 20.0% share of the receptions, a 17.4% share of the yards and a 20.0% share of the touchdowns. When those shares are applied to Tampa’s 2020 passing totals, the resulting 85-831-8.4 equates to low-end WR2-type numbers.

Leonard Fournette carried the load down the stretch, but Ronald Jones is still poised to have a big role.

After Jones landed on the COVID-19 list, Fournette started the team’s final seven games, [31] averaging 16.9 touches for 87 yards and 1.0 touchdowns, including 135 total yards and a score against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Jones was a more efficient runner–5.09 yards per carry–during the season, while Fournette averaged just 3.78 YPC. But in the postseason, the production flipped. Fournette posted 4.69 YPC while Jones managed just 3.97 YPC. Did “Playoff Lenny” do enough to win the RB1 job heading into the season? Earlier this summer, Bruce Arians indicated that they’d be “splitting time” if they were both healthy.

Complicating matters, Giovani Bernard was brought on board due to his pass-catching ability. This backfield could be a serious headache again in 2021.

There is reason for optimism surrounding Sam Darnold.

In three seasons, Darnold has never ranked higher than 24th in total fantasy points or per game production. He posted reasonable numbers as a rookie (220 yards and 1.31 touchdowns per game, 6.9 yards per attempt) under HC Todd Bowles/OC Jeremy Bates and even improved in his first season under Adam Gase (233 yards and 1.46 touchdowns per game, 6.9 yards per attempt) before a dreadful third season.

Carolina HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady decided to trade for Darnold this offseason, giving up a future second-rounder in the process, as opposed to finding a quarterback in the draft. They ultimately passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones, so they must feel pretty good about Darnold.

[32] Teddy Bridgewater had a career 7.15 yards per attempt when he arrived in Carolina, and he posted 7.59 YPA last season, a 6.1% increase. If Darnold sees a similar increase in his YPA from his first two seasons (6.89), he would post a solid 7.30+ YPA in 2021.

Robby Anderson looks like a nice value in the middle rounds.

Anderson finished as the No. 23 receiver (half-PPR) in his first season with the Panthers, drawing a career- and team-high 136 targets from Teddy Bridgewater. Now he’s being reunited with his old quarterback, Sam Darnold, his teammate for three years in New York. [33] In the 24 games from 2018-19 that Anderson played with Darnold, he averaged 3.5 catches for 56 yards and 0.46 touchdowns, which are solid WR3 numbers.

It’s a new team and a new scheme, but Anderson’s familiarity with Darnold should help. Some are worried about the team’s transition from Bridgewater to Darnold, but Bridgewater’s numbers (3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns) were nothing Darnold can’t replicate or even improve upon.

Continue reading for 66 more interesting stats and splits!

Christian McCaffrey should continue to see monster touches.

McCaffrey had one healthy game in 2020 (Week 1) and [34] he saw 26 touches and played 97% of the snaps, so that should quell any concerns that the fantasy community may have about how much the new regime intends to use him. In his two other games, he left early with injuries, but still managed 22 and 28 touches.

Calvin Ridley has No. 1 overall receiver upside.

In the 10 games over the past two seasons when Julio Jones played fewer than 30 snaps (i.e. he was out or limited), [35] Ridley averaged 6.3 catches (on 10.3 targets) for 95 yards and 0.30 touchdowns. The touchdowns were low given that usage–he averaged 0.72 touchdowns in the games that Jones played his full snaps–so expect Ridley to catch plenty of touchdowns in 2021 and perhaps crack the 1,500-yard mark if he stays healthy.

Mike Davis may be better than his numbers indicate.

The Falcons led the league in vacated touches per game (21.6) and all they did to address the running back position is sign Davis and a 183-pound undrafted free agent, Javian Hawkins. Davis’s career YPC (3.7) is pretty ugly, but digging deeper into his 2020 season, there are reasons to like his upside. [36] He was tied for 12th in yards after contact per attempt and led the league in broken tackles per rush attempt. He was also fourth among running backs in catches (59) and was fifth among backs in broken tackles per reception. Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

Don’t underestimate the boring production of Russell Gage.

If not for the arrival of Kyle Pitts, Gage would be projected higher than the WR4-type numbers that he’s currently slated for. [37] Gage was relatively unaffected by Julio Jones’s availability in the Atlanta offense last year, averaging 7.1 targets per game with Jones and 6.6 targets per game without him. He finished with 72-786-4 on 109 targets, finishing as the No. 37 fantasy receiver. He’s currently the 52nd receiver off the board in best ball drafts.

It was a tale of two seasons for Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks “let Russ cook” in the first half of the 2020 season, and Wilson responded with an average of 310 yards passing and 3.1 touchdowns per game. He was the No. 3 fantasy quarterback at that point, but after the Seahawks lost back-to-back games against the Bills and Rams, Pete Carroll and Co. reined Wilson in, and his numbers dropped precipitously. [38] He averaged 26.5 PPG in the first 10 games and 17.4 PPG in the final seven, while his pass attempts dropped from 37.1 to 32.0 and his touchdowns dropped from 3.1 per game to 1.7.

The good news is that Wilson expects that new OC Shane Waldron will push the tempo, perhaps leading to more snaps and pass attempts.

Chris Carson is primed to be a value yet again in 2021.

Carson is the 18th back off the board in the late third, making him a good option for owners who don’t draft more than one back with their first two picks but want more of a floor than (perhaps) Mike Davis or Myles Gaskin can provide. Carlos Hyde has moved on, so Carson should see an uptick in carries, even if his catches fall off a bit. [39] In his last 27 games, he has averaged 18.2 touches for 91.3 yards and 0.66 touchdowns.

Tyler Lockett is being drafted near his fantasy floor.

Lockett turned in the No. 9 fantasy season in 2020. But around Week 11, about the time the Seahawks stopped letting Russell Wilson cook, [40] Lockett’s production took a nosedive from 6.4-76-0.78 (8.8 targets per game) to 6.0-53-0.43 (7.6 targets per game), which is the difference between top five production and low-end WR2 numbers. Making matters worse, Lockett’s best game in the second half of the season came in Week 17 (12-90-2), which didn’t help many fantasy owners.

Still one of the best route-runners in the league, Lockett’s production largely depends on the Seahawks’ willingness to throw the ball at a consistent rate. It does sound like new OC Shane Waldron intends to make that happen.

Darrell Henderson has played at an RB1 level before. He can do so again.

Henderson served as the Rams’ lead back from Week 2 to Week 7, [41] racking up 86 total yards (4.84 YPC) and 0.67 touchdowns on 15.5 touches per game. Those are low-end RB1 numbers, which are possible now that Cam Akers is done for the year with an Achilles injury.

The team moved away from Henderson once before–by drafting Akers and then giving Akers a bellcow workload down the stretch–so the Rams could sign a veteran like Le’Veon Bell or Adrian Peterson to avoid pressing Henderson into 15- to 20-touch service. Henderson had the overall No. 3 pass-blocking grade (per PFF) and is a good receiver, so he’s fully capable of playing on all three downs.

Tyler Higbee might be a post-hype sleeper.

Higbee still has a chance to break out, thanks to the departure of Gerald Everett and the arrival of Matthew Stafford. Remember, [42] he posted four-straight 100-yard games back in 2019, which is not an insignificant feat for a tight end. With Everett gone, maybe Higbee becomes a bigger and more consistent part of the passing game, though Jacob Harris has been the one turning heads in camp.

Robert Woods is my spirit animal (in the fourth round).

Woods finished as the No. 13 receiver in 2020 after a No. 17 finish the year in 2019 and a No. 10 finish in 2018. He has added at least 115 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the last three seasons, and he is getting a quarterback upgrade (Matthew Stafford). [43] He’s one of 10 receivers with at least 3,200 total receiving yards in the last three seasons. He offers a great floor as a fourth-round pick.

Kyler Murray was on pace to finish as THE QB1 before his shoulder injury.

Murray injured his shoulder in Week 9 after the Cardinals’ Week 8 bye. Through the first seven weeks, [44] he was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback and had the second-highest per game average behind Russell Wilson, who was still being allowed to cook at that point in the season.

Murray posted 283/3 in his injury game against the Dolphins (adding 106/1 as a runner) and didn’t miss a snap. He posted good fantasy numbers in the next two games but struggled against the Patriots and the Rams in Week 12 and Week 13. He was knocked out of Week 17, and when that game is removed, he posted the second-most fantasy points through Week 16.

Chase Edmonds might be the Cardinals’ RB1, but touchdowns may be an issue.

James Conner is going roughly 2-3 rounds later than Edmonds, though it’s not clear which player is likely to lead this backfield in touches. Adam Beasley of Pro Football Network cites a source in Arizona who indicates that the training camp battle at running back “might be a battle in name only” and that “Edmonds is the favorite to be the team’s featured back” in 2021. If that’s the case, Edmonds should return value on his RB28 ADP in half-PPR formats and fare even better in full-PPR.

However, [45] he was out-touched 34-to-5 inside the opponent’s 10-yard line last season. With both Kyler Murray and Conner vulturing goal-line work, he’s unlikely to see an uptick in those opportunities in 2021.

Raheem Mostert is too productive to bench.

Take a look at what Mostert has done over the last couple of seasons: In his last 16 games, including the playoffs, [46] he has 221 carries for 1,236 yards (5.59 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns and has added 25-233-2 as a receiver. The resulting 15.6 PPG (half-PPR) is about what Jonathan Taylor scored as last year’s No. 9 running back.

Some fantasy analysts label Mostert as a system back, and maybe that’s true to a certain extent, [47] but system backs don’t register the two fastest speeds for a ballcarrier in a given season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Kyle Shanahan may be able to turn any running back into a star, but he’s also smart enough not to shelve this sort of production just to force-feed his third-round rookie, Trey Sermon.

Brandon Aiyuk is not a no-brainer fantasy starter in 2021.

Aiyuk missed four games due to injury and COVID-19, but when he played, he had a great run from Week 7 to Week 15, averaging 7.5 receptions for 95 yards and 0.67 touchdowns in six healthy games. That equates to 17.1 points per game (half-PPR), or top-five numbers. Unfortunately, Deebo Samuel was only active for three of those games, while George Kittle was active for two.

Aiyuk’s mid-to-late-season production is encouraging, but [48] his splits in the four games he played with both Samuel and Kittle are not: 16.3% target share, 15.9% reception share, 21.9% yards share and an 11.1% touchdown share. When applied to the 49ers’ 2020 passing numbers, that would work out to a 59-946-2.8 season (on 93 targets).

His good route-running was confirmed by Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception, so we know he can play. But if Samuel and Kittle are both healthy, it’s unclear if Aiyuk is even a top-two target for whoever is quarterbacking the 49ers (probably Trey Lance). He’s the No. 27 receiver off the board which seems like fair value given the circumstances.

Deebo Samuel’s workload may be more influenced by George Kittle than Brandon Aiyuk.

Samuel was limited Week 4 and played one snap in Week 14. When those games are excluded, he averaged 6.0 receptions for 71 yards and 0.20 touchdowns. The resulting 11.5 PPG (half-PPR), which includes some rushing production, would equate to midrange WR2-type numbers. It’s a five-game sample, and Brandon Aiyuk was active for four of them, while George Kittle was active for only three.

In the four games where all four players were active, Samuel saw a higher target share (16.9%) and reception share (18.2%) than Aiyuk, though Aiyuk had a higher share of receiving yards (21.9% to 18.2%). [49] Since 2019, Samuel has averaged 9.5 PPG in 17 games with Kittle and 12.6 PPG in the five games without him, and the target difference (8.6 vs. 4.8) is stark. Kittle might impact Samuel’s usage more than Aiyuk.

Zack Moss and Devin Singletary cancel each other out.

As a rookie, Moss finished No. 45 at his position while playing 13 games. Devin Singletary played a full season and finished No. 34. They averaged 7.3 and 7.8 PPG (half-PPR), respectively. [50] As a team, the Bills backfield averaged the third-fewest points per game (16.1), so it’s hard to get too excited about either player. Josh Allen is basically the team’s goal-line back, and with Moss and Singletary splitting the work, it cancels out the value of both players.

Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic broke the season’s numbers down further, arguing that Moss’s injuries impacted the backfield landscape. [51] In eight “all things equal” games–i.e. Moss wasn’t injured or in the dog house due to a fumble; I think he’s talking about Weeks 7-10, Week 12 and Weeks 14-16–he out-snapped Singletary 294 to 262 and averaged 11.6 touches for 58 yards and 0.50 touchdowns. Conversely, Singletary averaged 10.0 touches for 57 yards and 0.13 touchdowns.

Buscaglia suggested that these splits indicate that Moss is ahead of Singletary in the team’s eyes and argued that the team’s decision to trade up to draft Moss in 2020 potentially signaled how they felt about Singletary all along. The bottom line–if Moss can earn a 65% share of this backfield, he would likely finish as a solid fantasy RB2, but that’s far from a sure thing.

Gabriel Davis’s breakout season may have to wait.

In 16 games as a rookie, Davis turned in 35 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns on 62 targets. [52] He was 19th among receivers in fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) but his yards per route run (1.29, per PFF) was fairly mediocre, so those seven touchdowns really helped.

Had the Bills let John Brown walk and not signed Emmanuel Sanders, Davis would likely be going a couple of rounds earlier, but as it stands he’s the WR59 going off the board in the 11th round. Sanders is still probably the better player and the beat writers seem to think that he’ll start alongside Stefon Diggs, but Davis is the wildcard in this receiving corps.

Tua Tagovailoa is set up for sophomore success.

[53] In the six games where Tagovailoa played at least 50 snaps–which excludes his first start (Week 8) along with partial games in Week 11 (thumb injury) and Week 16 (benched)–he averaged 256 yards and 1.3 touchdowns through the air, while adding 16 yards and 0.5 touchdowns as a runner. The resulting 18.9 fantasy points per game are more than what Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Joe Burrow averaged last season.

The split indicates that Tagovailoa can produce when things are going well, and he’s poised for a jump heading into his sophomore season, especially with the addition of Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller.

Jaylen Waddle might lead the Dolphins in receiving.

The Dolphins drafted Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick in the Draft. Since 2010, the seven receivers drafted inside the top 10 who have played at least 13 games as rookies have averaged 61-915-6.9 on 113 targets or high-end WR3-type numbers. When Tavon Austin (40-418-4 on 69 targets) is removed from the sample, [54] the averages jump to 65-997-7.3 on 120 targets, or low-end WR2 numbers.

Two other factors are working in Waddle’s favor: 1) he played with Tua Tagovailoa for two seasons at Alabama, and 2) Matt Harmon of Reception Perception found that Waddle was the best receiver in his class at beating man coverage. He wrote: “It’s difficult to remember a recent prospect who can so easily flip the field, control their speed and devastate with a stop/start-move all while doing the little things like Waddle does so effortlessly.”

The Dolphins treated Myles Gaskin like a workhorse back in 2020.

Gaskin averaged more than 18 touches per game when active last season, [55] including 4.1 receptions per game, which put him on pace for 60+ catches over a full season.

The thing that jumped out to me about Gaskin’s 2020 season is how the Dolphins went right back to him even as he was coming off of a couple of injuries. After missing four games midseason, Gaskin returned to 23 touches in Week 13. After missing two more games, he returned to 19 touches in Week 16. The missed games are certainly a concern, but the certainty of his role is not, at least at this point.

If Nelson Agholor is the No. 1 receiver in New England, he should put up WR3-type numbers.

Agholor had his best season as a pro, racking up 48-896-8 on 82 targets for the Raiders. He set a career-high in yards per catch (18.7) since the Raiders used him more frequently as a downfield threat. [56] He finished No. 29 in half-PPR, which wasn’t even the highest finish of his career (No. 23 in 2017), so there is a path to WR3-type numbers in New England if Agholor can become the primary target for Cam Newton and/or Mac Jones.

Damien Harris needs a role in the passing game if he’s going to produce as a fantasy starter.

From Week 4 to Week 14, when Harris was relatively healthy and serving as the Patriots’ lead ball-carrier, [57] he was the No. 27 fantasy back with 5.04 yards per carry and a minuscule role (0.5 receptions per game) as a receiver.

Beat writer Mike Reiss says that Harris is the “surefire No. 1” option in the Patriots backfield, though without 2-3 catches per game, his upside will be severely capped.

Hunter Henry has a better pass-catching resume, but Jonnu Smith is the better athlete.

Over the past two seasons, [58] Henry averaged 4.4 catches for 49 yards and 0.35 touchdowns per game, which would have been good enough for a No. 4 overall finish last season had he played at that rate for a full 16-game season.

If either (but not both) of Henry and Jonnu Smith had signed with the Patriots, they would certainly be in the TE1 conversation, but as it stands, the two players may serve to cancel each other out.

Of the two, Henry is the more accomplished receiver–115 catches, 1,265 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two seasons–but Smith (76-887-11 in the same span) is a more explosive athlete. Don’t forget, the Patriots signed Smith first.

Michael Carter is more than just a third-down back.

Carter is being pigeonholed as a pass-catching back [59] despite the 94 rush yards per game he posted in his final two seasons at North Carolina, and that was with Javonte Williams in the same backfield! Carter’s weight (~200 lbs) seems to be the major hangup, but his primary competition for touches, Tevin Coleman, is only listed 5-10 lbs higher. Who cares?

After The Athletic’s Connor Hughes said that Carter would be the “eventual 1A” in the Jets’ backfield, he started training camp with the first-team offense.

A new coaching staff and better receivers mean that Zach Wilson has a chance to produce as a rookie.

Wilson is a surefire Week 1 starter and should enjoy a better environment than Sam Darnold did the last few years. Robert Saleh should offer more competency than Adam Gase and Mike LaFleur should solidify an offense after spending the last few seasons as Kyle Shanahan’s passing game coordinator in San Francisco.

The receivers are also better. The Jets signed Corey Davis, who just had a breakout season with the Titans, and also added veteran Keelan Cole from the Jaguars. The Jets drafted Elijah Moore, who is drawing rave reviews during offseason activities. Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims and Braxton Berrios return, so the Jets’ receiving corps is certainly deeper than last season.

Wilson fared very well in my rookie quarterback model, [60] posting top 11 projections in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, interception percentage and projected rushing touchdowns, though that might have something to do with the competition he faced while at BYU. The model projects Wilson for 16.9 rushing yards per game, which should offer a nice fantasy floor.

Diontae Johnson is the WR1 in Pittsburgh.

Johnson finished No. 22 last year in half-PPR (behind both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool), though he had a couple of injury games that dragged down his overall numbers. [61] In the 12 games that he played at least 30 snaps, he averaged 6.9 receptions for 74 yards and 0.58 touchdowns, or 14.2 PPG, which are top 10 numbers. He saw double-digit targets in 10 of those 12 games.

Sure, he had some struggles with drops, but I’m betting that he’ll clean that up and will continue to get open at will.

The Steelers are likely to feed Najee Harris.

For a rookie running back, Harris landed in arguably the best spot possible. With James Conner gone, the Steelers have 12.8 vacated touches per game, and Harris figures to get all of that work and more. [62] The last 10 first-round rookie running backs who drew at least 10 starts averaged 284 touches for 1,424 total yards and 9.4 touchdowns. The resulting 15.1 PPG (half-PPR) would have landed between Jonathan Taylor and Joe Mixon as last season’s No. 10 RB. The only real concern with the rookie is the Steelers’ subpar offensive line.

Chase Claypool should build on a solid rookie season.

In his first season, Claypool finished No. 19 last year and is currently the 30th receiver off the board. He did fade down the stretch, but later implied that was by design since the team didn’t want him to hit the “rookie wall.”

He posted 5-101-1 in Week 17 and then turned in 5-59-2 in the team’s sole playoff game. [63] He led the Steelers in yards per route run (2.00) and was second only to Justin Jefferson (2.66) in YPRR among the 2020 rookie class.

He fared pretty well in Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception route charting as well. Harmon wrote, “Chase Claypool flashed massive upside so often during his surprising 2020 rookie season. It’s almost insane to think about what this dangerous vertical threat could have done had he not been stuck in the NFL’s worst small-ball passing offense.”

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to be healthier heading into 2021 which may lead to more deep ball opportunities for Claypool.

If the Ravens do involve J.K. Dobbins as a receiver, watch out.

The Ravens essentially shut down Mark Ingram by Week 8 last season. In the final nine games, [64] Dobbins averaged 12.9 touches for 77.4 yards and 0.78 touchdowns, which equates to 13.2 points per game (half-PPR), or low-end RB1 numbers.

His limited usage is a bit concerning, but it’s certainly possible that he’ll get most of Ingram’s 78 touches and push for 14+ touches per game. If that happens, he’ll have a real shot at fantasy RB1 numbers since he’s a very productive runner and the Ravens’ running game is top-notch. HC John Harbaugh indicated that he wants to involve the running backs in the passing game more often this season and Dobbins did have a sizable receiving role while at Ohio State.

Gus Edwards is more than just a thorn in J.K. Dobbins’ side.

Edwards has some appeal as the RB2 in Baltimore. He’s not going to set the world on fire as J.K. Dobbins’ backup, but he has serious upside in the event of a Dobbins injury, and he did score at least 7.0 fantasy points (half-PPR) in 10 of his final 11 games last season after the Ravens put Mark Ingram out to pasture. Edwards scored 10+ in four of those 11 games. [65] He also has the fourth-highest yards per carry (5.18) among running backs with at least 150 carries over the past two seasons.

Mark Andrews is a solid option in the middle rounds.

Andrews’ 2020 season felt like a disappointment, but he did finish with the third-highest per game average at his position. The problem is that Darren Waller outscored him by 4.0 points per game (half-PPR) and was available two rounds later in 2020 drafts.

The script is flipped in 2021, with Andrews going off the board in the fifth and Waller in the third. [66] He posted the sixth-highest yards per route run (2.00) among tight ends last season. If healthy, Andrews should finish as a midrange TE1 at worst.

Baker Mayfield posted QB1 numbers down the stretch.

Mayfield quarterbacks a run-oriented team and doesn’t offer much as a runner himself, so it typically takes an out-of-the-ordinary passing effort to post a big game. He played all 16 games last year and finished as the No. 17 quarterback with the No. 22 per game average.

[67] He did post great numbers down the stretch–286 yards, 1.8 touchdowns, 20.4 points per game from Week 12 to Week 17, No. 7 QB numbers–which perhaps bodes well for his second season in Kevin Stefanski’s offense.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both fantasy starters, even if they limit each other’s upside.

Chubb finished as the No. 9 running back in half-PPR despite playing only 12 games. (He had the No. 6 per game average.) In 2019, he was the No. 7 fantasy back. [68] He consistently ranks among the top at his position in PFF rushing grade (fourth), yards after contact per attempt (sixth) and broken tackles per attempt (sixth). There are only two concerns with Chubb: 1) he doesn’t catch many passes (just 16 in 12 games last season, though he had 36 catches the year before, so he’s capable), and 2) the presence of Hunt caps his upside.

As for Hunt, he’s certainly intriguing given his top five upside (in the event of a Nick Chubb injury) and his consistent scoring whether or not Chubb was active in 2020. [69] He was actually slightly more productive with Chubb in the lineup (12.5 PPG in half-PPR vs. 12.4 PPG) than in the four games Chubb missed, though his touches fell from 18.8 without Chubb to 13.4 when Chubb was active. Oddly, he averaged 0.50 rushing touchdowns when Chubb was playing and failed to score a rushing touchdown in the four games that Chubb missed.

Jarvis Landry’s 2020 doesn’t bode well for 2021.

Landry finished as the No. 36 receiver last year after a No. 13 finish the year before and a No. 20 finish back in 2018. His 2020 production (840 yards) fell short when compared to 2018 (976) and 2019 (1,174), and that was largely due to a drop in targets.

[70] In Kevin Stefanski’s run-oriented scheme, he saw 101 targets after averaging 144 targets from 2018-19. This is pretty alarming considering that Odell Beckham basically missed 10 games. Landry averaged just 5.5 targets per game with Beckham in the lineup. That number jumped to 7.6 in the nine games that he played without Beckham. With Beckham, he was a fantasy WR4. Without him, he was a fantasy WR2.

If Joe Burrow’s knee is right, QB1 numbers are well within reach.

Burrow went down with a torn ACL in Week 11. Through 10 weeks, he was fantasy’s No. 14 quarterback and had the No. 16 per game average–he was tied with Drew Brees at that point in the season. [71] With a healthy Burrow, the Bengals averaged the second-most pass attempts per game, so this pass-friendly environment should continue in 2021, especially with first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase in town.

Chase replaces A.J. Green, who was extremely inefficient in 2020. [72] When Burrow targeted Green, he averaged a paltry 4.69 yards per attempt. He averaged 7.39 when targeting all other Cincinnati receivers. Chase, along with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, gives Burrow one of the best young receiving corps in the league.

Burrow can run too; he was on pace for 227 yards and 4.8 touchdowns on the ground, though those numbers may decline after the ACL injury.

Joe Mixon should see bellcow touches.

Prior to his injury in Week 6, [73] Mixon was the No. 11 fantasy back (half-PPR) and was tied with Christian McCaffrey for the third-most touches per game (24.0). In 2019, he finished No. 13 after a No. 9 finish the year before.

Giovani Bernard is gone, so Mixon may pick up even more passing-down snaps, which should raise his floor as a receiver. But Mixon was going to be a bellcow regardless of the presence of Bernard.

Ja’Marr Chase is primed for a productive rookie season.

The Bengals have 9.0 vacated targets per game, and Chase should absorb most of those after Cincinnati made him the fifth player off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft. [74] Since 2000, receivers drafted inside the top 10 with at least 12 games played as rookies averaged a hefty 120.3 targets and 210 fantasy points (PPR) per season. Those are low-end fantasy WR2 numbers.

I think that’s a fair valuation for the talented Chase. Matt Harmon of Reception Perception: "Finding a comparison for Chase has been difficult, especially with how high the expectations are for him coming into the league. However, I’m settling on early-career Larry Fitzgerald. ... That version of Fitz looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer because he was just so good at everything. Chase checks those same boxes, can line up anywhere and still brings explosive potential."

Ryan Tannehill once again looks like a great middle-round value.

Tannehill finished No. 7 last season after posting the No. 9 per game average once taking over as the starter in 2019. [75] Since Week 7 of that season, he has averaged 247 yards, 2.12 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions to go along with 17 yards and 0.42 touchdowns per game as a runner. The resulting 21.7 points per game would have been good enough for a No. 9 finish in 2020 and a No. 2 finish the year before. (Offenses exploded across the league last season with no fans in the stands.)

After losing Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith, it appeared that he may take a step back, but after the Julio Jones trade, he’s back in the top 10. The offense shouldn’t change too much under Todd Downing, who was promoted to offensive coordinator (from tight ends coach) once Smith took the Falcons’ job. With an ADP in the 9th/10th, he’s my top target at the quarterback position.

Julio Jones may buck the trend of most receivers who change teams.

[76] Jones played at a 91-1371-5.3 pace in nine games last season. His 85.7 yards per game were the sixth-most at his position, so the 32-year-old can still play.

Receivers changing teams often disappoint compared to previous production, but [77] Tennessee has 18.7 vacated targets per game that are up for grabs after losing Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries, so there is plenty of usage available in this offense. As the 16th receiver off the board in the early fourth round, this is as late as Jones has gone in fantasy drafts in years.

Jonathan Taylor’s workload is more important than his (potential lack of) snaps.

Taylor finished No. 6 last season (half-PPR) but owned the No. 9 per game average. Excluding Week 1, he did have two games with fewer than 10 touches, so his weekly floor feels a little low for a consensus first-round pick. [78] 26 running backs played a higher snap percentage, but Taylor was No. 11 in touches per game, so there’s enough usage there.

The Colts have a great offensive line, though the presence of pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines does serve to cap his PPR upside a bit.

Parris Campbell’s usage foreshadows a sizable role.

It’s tough to sell a third-year receiver with only 198 career receiving yards, but hear me out. Campbell started three of his last four games as a rookie, [79] garnering 18 targets in three starts while playing an average of 57% of the snaps.

In his only healthy game in his second season, he caught 6-of-9 targets for 71 yards while playing 82% of the snaps. With 4.31 speed, Campbell is an exciting prospect if he can just stay healthy. For now, he says his knee is “100 percent” recovered.

It’s hard to get excited about David Johnson.

Someone in my Scott Fish Bowl league called Johnson an “oatmeal pick,” which sums him up perfectly at this point in his career. Johnson was the No. 19 back (in half-PPR) while only playing 12 games last season. [80] His 13.6 PPG was the No. 15 per game average, so he produced solid RB2 numbers when healthy. The Texans seem likely to be without Deshaun Watson, so the offense is expected to take a big step back. Houston added Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead, but lost Duke Johnson (9.5 touches per game).

[81] Johnson played at a 45-reception pace despite the team’s 4-12 record, so another season of negative game script may not result in an increase in catches. New HC David Culley comes from Baltimore, where he was the assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. This is notable since the Ravens did not utilize their backs much in the passing game in recent years.

Tim Kelly stays on as the offensive coordinator so there is some continuity there. Kelly said that the team will run the ball more in 2021, and Johnson’s rushing efficiency (4.7 yards per carry) wasn’t bad, though that was with Watson in the fold. Johnson’s 12th-round ADP is incredibly cheap for an NFL starter, though he certainly lacks the sort of RB1-type upside that drafters are looking for when taking swings in later rounds.

Brandin Cooks might be a “garbage time hero” in 2021.

There are obviously major questions at quarterback when it comes to the Texans. But even if Deshaun Watson isn’t under center, and it doesn’t look like he will be, Houston has the capable Tyrod Taylor as a bridge along with rookie Davis Mills.

[82] Cooks saw 119 targets last year in 15 games and has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in five of his last six seasons. The Texans aren’t going to be good, so they’ll probably be throwing the ball more than they’d like.

Trevor Lawrence should deliver QB2-type numbers as a rookie.

Lawrence has been called the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. [83] The five quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall since the 2010 season and have started at least 13 games have averaged 3,904 yards, 21.8 touchdowns and 15.2 interceptions en route to 17.4 fantasy points per game. 2020 quarterback scoring was wild, but in 2019, that sort of production would have been good enough for high-end QB2 numbers.

There is some speculation that the Jaguars may go run-heavy in order to protect Lawrence in his rookie season. [84] My rookie quarterback model also projects Lawrence to rush for between 16-23 yards per game, so he has an element of the so-called “Konami Code” to his game.

Marvin Jones is once again a sneaky pick in the later rounds.

[85] Here are Jones’s finishes in the last few years, working backward: No. 17 (in 16 games), No. 27 (in 13 games), No. 61 (in nine games–with the No. 30 per game average) and No. 9 (in 16 games). Jones always seems to outperform his average draft position, which is in the 10th round this season as he joins a new team and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

He was signed to replace the production of Keelan Cole and Chris Conley but will compete with D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault for targets in what may be a conservative, run-oriented offense meant to protect Lawrence as much as possible. At 31 years old, Jones is at the tail end of his prime.

Per Lawrence, “Marvin has been the leader in the wide receiver room with an offense that he already knows. … He’s done a great job with teaching everyone else.”

What if the Jaguars go very run-heavy in 2021?

Connor Orr of SI was the first I saw to suggest this–the Jaguars may lean on the run in Trevor Lawrence’s first season. [86] In his final three seasons at Ohio St., Urban Meyer’s offenses had a 44.5% pass rate. And in Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer, he has an offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator who both went very run-heavy when working with young quarterbacks in Seattle (Russell Wilson, 2012-13) and in New York (Mark Sanchez, 2009-10), respectively. Bevell’s Seahawks threw at a 40.6% rate while Schottenheimer’s Jets threw at a 44.4% rate.

The league average in 2020 was 56.6%, so the difference is stark.

The Jaguars may not have the luxury (or the defense) to be able to stick with the run on a weekly basis, but the history of Meyer and his coordinators should concern those owners counting on Lawrence and the passing game to produce at above-average levels. This is why I’m a bit low relative to my peers on Lawrence and Co.

On the other hand, [87] if the Jaguars are able to run the ball the 36.8 times per game that Bevell’s Seahawks and Schottenheimer’s Jets averaged in those four seasons, then the 2021 Jaguars are looking at 625 carries, and James Robinson and Travis Etienne could both easily outperform their current draft positions. (Note: the Jets and Seahawks were a combined 44-20 in those four seasons, so they were able to run the ball as much as they wanted to, within reason. The 2021 Jaguars may not be so fortunate.)

The league has become more pass-happy since those 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons–do Meyer, Bevell and Schottenheimer follow suit or do they stick with their run-heavy tendencies?

Clyde Edwards-Helaire could see bellcow touches this season.

Edwards-Helaire saw [88] 21.3 touches per game in the first six games, prior to Le’Veon Bell’s arrival. He ran well (4.73 YPC) and was productive as a receiver (29.5 yards per game), though he didn’t score many touchdowns (0.17 per game).

[89] In the 10 games where he played at least 40 snaps (roughly 56% snap share), he averaged 19.1 touches for 97 yards and 0.30 touchdowns per game. That equates to 13.0 fantasy points per game, which are solid RB2 numbers.

[90] In his final four non-injury regular-season games, he averaged 15.8 touches per game. He struggled with an ankle injury heading into the playoffs and played behind Darrel Williams against the Bills, but the Chiefs went right back to him in the Super Bowl (11 touches, 87 yards).

Bell was enough of a headache to make Edwards-Helaire a shaky start on a weekly basis, but he’s since been released, so Edwards-Helaire’s snap share should rise in his second season. He’s a serious threat for RB1 numbers.

Mecole Hardman’s splits without Sammy Watkins aren’t encouraging.

[91] In the eight games that Watkins missed, Hardman averaged 2.6 catches for 39 yards and 0.25 touchdowns on 31 snaps per game. In the 24 games with Watkins, Hardman averaged 1.9 catches for 33 yards and 0.33 touchdowns on 30 snaps per game.

In other words, Hardman’s role hasn’t increased when Watkins has been out, so unless the Chiefs decide to give him more run by playing him ahead of Demarcus Robinson and/or Byron Pringle, a breakout season is unlikely.

Josh Jacobs’ short-term fantasy outlook is murky.

Jacobs finished No. 8 last year (half-PPR) after a No. 18 finish the year before. He had the No. 13 per game average in 2019. Normally, if a 23-year-old back had this resume, he’d be ranked near or inside the top 10, but Jacobs has a couple of things working against him this year.

First, the Raiders gave $11 million guaranteed to Kenyan Drake on a two-year deal, making it clear that they envision him as more than a pure backup. Drake’s arrival is likely to affect Jacobs’ touches, certainly his catches, which increased from 1.5 per game as a rookie to 2.2 per game last year.

The other problem is that the Raiders overhauled their (already good) offensive line, and [92] are a net $25.3 million worse, per my offensive line free agency study. Las Vegas now projects to have a bottom 10 unit. For Jacobs, this means he’s looking at fewer touches and less room to run, which is why he’s more of a low-end RB2 this summer.

Justin Herbert should build on a fantastic rookie season.

Herbert didn’t play in Week 1 but got the start in Week 2 after Tyrod Taylor’s pregame chest injection went awry. [93] From Week 2 on, Herbert was the No. 6 fantasy quarterback. The Chargers have invested in their offensive line and replaced Hunter Henry with the still-productive Jared Cook. He should once again finish as a fantasy starter in his second season.

Expect a big season from Austin Ekeler.

Ekeler finished as the No. 29 running back (half-PPR) in just 10 games last season. The previous year, he finished No. 6. More than just about everyone else at his position, Ekeler’s value will depend on the scoring format. He’s a top seven back in full PPR, but more of a high-end RB2 in standard formats.

[94] In his eight healthy games with Justin Herbert at quarterback, Ekeler averaged 18.4 touches (including 6.5 receptions on 7.9 targets) for 104 total yards and 0.38 touchdowns. The resulting 15.9 PPG (half-PPR) is what David Montgomery scored as last year’s No. 4 running back.

The Chargers added Corey Linsley in free agency and tackle Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 pick in the draft, so the offensive line unit should be much improved in 2021. This all points to a bounceback season for Ekeler.

Keenan Allen is great. He was even better with Justin Herbert.

Allen was a fifth-round fantasy pick last year and finished as the No. 14 receiver in half-PPR formats. [95] In the 11 non-injury games that he played with Justin Herbert at quarterback, Allen averaged 8.5 catches (on 12.2 targets) for 83 yards and 0.64 touchdowns. The resulting 16.1 PPG would have been the fourth-highest average behind Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs last year. He’s a rock-solid option in the third round.

Don’t sleep on Jared Cook.

Given his 15th-round ADP and a favorable quarterback situation, he’s likely to outproduce the draft capital required to get him. He’s still quite athletic and [96] posted low-end TE1 numbers in the 11 games that Drew Brees was healthy last season. Outside of maybe Austin Ekeler, the Chargers don’t have a clear No. 2 option in the passing offense (maybe Mike Williams?) and Hunter Henry garnered 93 targets in 14 games last season. Most of that work could go straight to Cook.

The success of Jerry Jeudy’s sophomore campaign will depend on his teammates.

Jeudy’s rookie season–52 catches for 856 yards and three touchdowns on 113 targets–is viewed as something of a disappointment, but it was actually above average when looking at rookie receivers with similar draft capital. His quarterback situation wasn’t great (and still isn’t), and the return of Courtland Sutton could impact Jeudy’s targets.

[97] He was sixth amongst qualified rookies in yards per route run, trailing Justin Jefferson, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk. Jeudy finished as a fantasy WR4 as a rookie and seems destined for a similar finish in his second season unless Sutton’s knee isn’t right or the Broncos get better play at quarterback.

Melvin Gordon or Javonte Williams? Drafters have chosen Williams.

Early drafters have decided that Williams (No. 24 RB off the board) is going to take over from Melvin Gordon (No. 39) sooner rather than later. [98] History shows that teams that trade up for a running back are more likely to use them as rookies, and the Broncos did trade up for Williams in the second round.

It may be premature to write off Gordon, who is only 28 years old and was solid last year (986 yards rushing, 4.59 yards per carry, nine touchdowns). However, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post predicted that Williams will start Week 1 since Gordon was a “complete no-show during OTAs.” Time will tell.

Is Noah Fant primed for a breakout?

Fant is incredibly athletic for the tight end position. He is in the 96th percentile or higher in 40-speed, speed score, burst score, agility score and catch radius, per Player Profiler. [99] He also posted the eighth-highest yards per route run (1.64) among tight ends in 2020, per PFF.

The only question marks for Fant are quarterback play and whether or not he’ll see enough targets to join the elite players at his position. He averaged 6.2 targets per game last season and Courtland Sutton is back in the mix.

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