Apr 28, 2020
Matthew BerryESPN Senior Writer
- • Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of “Fantasy Life”
The 2020 NFL draft was amazing for a variety of reasons, but certainly, for fantasy purposes, it was a fascinating one. Such a deep class, and with so many situations that have been affected, that this is going to be a long column. As a result, I’m blowing off my usual opening story and just diving into it.
So this edition of “Love/Hate” is based entirely on the NFL draft and which players’ fantasy stock went up (“love”) or went down (“hate”) based on how the draft went for their team. As always, please check my updated ranks to see exactly where I have every player in relation to others. And of course, it’s April. Lots can and will change between now and the more important draft day … yours.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are for PPR scoring. And a huge thank you to “The Stat-a-pillar” from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski, and “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast for their help at various points in this column.
Let’s get to it.
Quarterbacks I love after the 2020 NFL draft
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: The third-best QB in fantasy last year had the second-most passing yards, deep completions and games with 20-plus fantasy points. And he just added CeeDee Lamb (6-foot-2, 198 pounds, 4.5 40 time), who averaged 21.4 yards per reception in 2019, third most in the FBS. Lamb’s 31 forced missed tackles as a pass-catcher were more than any other FBS wide receiver, and he should be a big improvement over Randall Cobb and Jason Witten in the middle of the field. Lamb’s big-play ability (11.1 yards after catch per reception last year was sixth most among WRs in FBS) along with established playmakers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup and a strong running game to keep defenses honest has Dak locked into my top 3 at QB this year.
Tom Brady, Buccaneers: I was already a big fan of Brady this year to throw to a great group of receivers when he went to the offense that was sixth in pass percentage last season. The only question was his protection. But then the Bucs drafted highly regarded Outland Trophy finalist Tristan Wirfs (6-foot-5, 322 pounds) to shore up the offensive line. Adding Rob Gronkowski wasn’t a draft-day move, but it happened a few days beforehand, so I’m gonna count it. Then the Bucs drafted talented running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (more on him later) and 6-foot-1, 206-pound Tyler Johnson for wide receiver depth (Johnson was tied for first in red zone catches last year in Division I) and, yeah … here for all the TB puns. Easy top-10 QB for me this year.
Joe Burrow, Bengals: Much more appealing as a dynasty pick than a re-draft one, don’t be surprised if Burrow has immediate 2QB/Superflex league appeal and is in the weekly streaming discussion come the second half of the season. Burrow comes into an offense that was top 7 in the NFL in pass attempts per game, pass percentage and red zone pass percentage last season. Four of the past five QBs to be drafted No. 1 overall finished their rookie year as a top-16 QB in fantasy points, and with a receiving corps of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, newly drafted Tee Higgins (more on him later), John Ross III, Auden Tate and good pass-catching running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, Burrow has way better weapons than most top-picked quarterbacks usually get.
Drew Lock, Broncos: This is more for his dynasty stock than anything, as it’s unlikely Lock contributes this year other than in deep or 2QB leagues; but man, is his dynasty future much brighter! Adding Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy (44 receptions of at least 20 yards over the past two seasons, second most in FBS), speedster KJ Hamler and 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, Lock’s former teammate at Missouri, are all steps in the right direction. Add those guys to a depth chart already featuring Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and new running back Melvin Gordon and suddenly Lock has the keys to a much-improved offense.
Others receiving votes: Very quietly the QB7 over the final five weeks of last season, Carson Wentz just got a ton of wide receiver help in the form of Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Add in a trade for Marquise Goodwin and returning wideouts Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson and it’s very unlikely that Philadelphia’s wide receiver corps finishes 31st in receiving yards again next season. … One of my favorite sleepers this year is Daniel Jones and, honestly, the entire Giants offense. Just having all his pass-catchers healthy will be a big part of it, but so will an improved offensive line, which the Giants addressed multiple times during the draft, most notably with highly touted left tackle Andrew Thomas now protecting the blind side. … Among deeper names who improved their dynasty stock, Derek Carr and Dwayne Haskins Jr. both saw their teams add multiple weapons in the passing game. And by virtue of the Patriots not drafting a quarterback, Jarrett Stidham‘s dynasty value stays afloat, for now … unless, you know, they sign Cam Newton or trade for Andy Dalton sometime soon.
Quarterbacks I hate after the 2020 NFL draft
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Last year’s QB13 on a points-per-game basis comes into 2020 off a season when he had the lowest fantasy point total of any in his career in which he played at least 15 games. In fact, Rodgers was held to fewer than 15 fantasy points in 10 of 16 games last year, and he had his lowest completion percentage since 2015 and his third-lowest completion percentage on deep passes. So to help out their franchise QB, the pass-catchers that the Packers selected were (checks notes) … third-round tight end Josiah Deguara. That’s it. That’s the list. OK then.
Tyrod Taylor, Chargers: Seemingly having the starting job to himself once Philip Rivers left town, Taylor was on track to be a sneaky fantasy sleeper this year. In the three seasons from 2015 to 2017, Taylor was the 12th-best QB in fantasy (total points and points per game) while playing for a Bills team with much less talent around him than he has with the Bolts. But then, Los Angeles drafted Justin Herbert, and there goes that. Whether it’s Week 1 or later, at some point, Herbert is gonna start.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins: You can laugh, but unless you had him on your roster last year, you don’t realize how good Fitzmagic was down the stretch. The fourth (fourth!) best QB in fantasy from Week 9 to 17 last season, Fitzy won a lot of people their leagues in Week 16 when he had 31.7 points against Cincy in a wild, high-scoring game. (I’m still bitter that I lost my 2QB expert dynasty league by a single point to a guy who started Fitzy.) Anyway, I realize there are injury concerns, but Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall. He’s gonna start this year at some point. Since 2010, there have been 30 QBs taken in the first round, and 26 of them have started at least four games their rookie year. And all 13 of the QBs drafted in the top five overall since 2010 have played at least four games. Tagovailoa will start at some point, and when he does, so much for underrated fantasy asset Fitzpatrick.
Running backs I love after the 2020 NFL draft
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs: Wait. So the only player in SEC history with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 50-plus receptions in a single season just got drafted by … Andy Reid and the Chiefs? BE STILL MY BEATING HEART! Apologies in advance for how much I’m going to hype this guy this summer. There is a very real chance CEH has to get a restraining order on me at some point in 2020.
Make no mistake, Damien Williams (who will be a free agent after this season) will still see some time, but this is going to be the Edwards-Helaire show in Kansas City, and it’s gonna be awesome. As was widely reported after CEH was drafted, Reid was told to watch his tape because it would remind him of Brian Westbrook. After he saw it, Reid said, “He’s better than Westbrook.” From 2004 to 2008, Westbrook never finished worse than RB7, and he was RB1 in 2007 and 2008. Since Reid came to K.C., the Chiefs are sixth in RB fantasy points. All in. ALL. IN. I might have just carved CEH + TMR 4 EVA on my desk. Be still my beating heart, indeed.
Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, 49ers: It’s very simple. The team that was third in rush percentage last year and fifth in red zone rush percentage did two important things during the draft: They traded for left tackle Trent Williams and traded away Matt Breida, without adding running backs to the depth chart. Don’t get me started on Bruce Allen killing Williams’ value so much that my Skins could only get a fifth-rounder and a future third-rounder for him, so I’ll just say this: We will see what happens with Jerick McKinnon, but for now, my expectation is that both Mostert and Coleman will have nice value this year. In Kyle Shanahan’s first three years as head coach of the Niners, only four times in 48 games did one RB get 20-plus carries in a game. So both Mostert and Coleman will see time — and the 49ers run so much and so effectively that they can support two solid fantasy running backs.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers: Ultimately, this all comes down to Tom. If Tom doesn’t trust him, he ain’t playing. But man, is Vaughn going to get an opportunity. Vaughn enjoyed multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Vanderbilt, and he was third on the team in receptions last year as well. Bruce Arians was asked in his post-draft news conference, “Back at the combine, you said you were looking for a David Johnson-type of pass-catching running back. Did you find that guy?” Arians answered: “Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a guy who can play every down.” Later in the response, Arians mentioned seventh-round RB Raymond Calais and said he could see Calais having a “Tarik Cohen-type role” in which the rookie runs but also catches passes. Arians described Calais more than once as a “joystick”-type player and mentioned a potential kick-return role as well. Remember, Arians inherited Ronald Jones II, and now it sounds as if he just drafted the players he wants to play the primary and secondary roles in his defense. There’s a chance it’s all coachspeak, and again, it really just comes down to whom TB12 wants to hand the ball off, but Vaughn is gonna have a chance at a significant role in a Brady/Arians offense, and I am very willing to spend a midround draft pick to see if that materializes.
Jonathan Taylor, Colts: Darren McFadden. Ricky Williams. And Jonathan Taylor. The only running backs in history to win the Doak Walker Award twice. Taylor is 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds, and his 4.39 40 was the third-fastest 40 by a RB listed as at least 225 pounds in the past 15 years. He is powerful, and now he gets to run behind one of the best offensive lines in football — a line that was fifth in yards per rush before first contact on RB carries and sixth in red zone rush percentage. And it should be a better offense that is in scoring position more often with Philip Rivers under center. Now Rivers is a veteran, and pass protection is an area Taylor needs to work on, so you’ll still see some Nyheim Hines on passing downs, and I do think Marlon Mack has a role. But Taylor should have a big role initially, and he will eventually take over the job entirely. (And Mack will be a free agent next year.) And when Taylor does take hold, watch out. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is my No. 1 dynasty running back, but Taylor is right there behind him.
Others receiving votes: The only reason Cam Akers is in this section and not a full-on “love” is because I don’t know yet how much work Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown are going to get. But there’s a real chance Akers, who had 11 rushing TDs in between tackles in 2019 (tied for ninth most in FBS), is the lead back on a Rams team that, despite having a brutal offensive line, generated the third-most red zone carries last year. Worth noting for dynasty purposes, Brown will be a free agent after this season. … At his post-draft news conference, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn commented: “Not to say that Joshua Kelley can be Melvin Gordon, but he is that downhill, physical runner that I like watching tape.” Austin Ekeler is safe as the lead back, but whether it’s with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert, remember that Lynn, former NFL running back, is likely to continue to run a lot and will need more than just Ekeler to do it. Kelley over Justin Jackson for me. … I know it seems to be counterintuitive, but Matt Breida and Jordan Howard saw their fantasy stock tick up after the draft. Breida is obvious; he went from buried on the depth chart in San Francisco to a starter in Miami. But Miami was rumored to be in on a lot of bigger-name running backs. So the fact that they added only Breida is good news for Howard. Breida, who has missed five games over the past two years and has left even more games early, isn’t meant for a full-time role and certainly not at the goal line — where since Howard entered the NFL in 2016, he is seventh in rushing touchdowns. Also, the Dolphins drafted three offensive linemen in the first four rounds. Breida and Howard will both be flex-viable this year, but their average draft position (ADP) is unlikely to reflect that. … I’m a big Devin Singletary fan, but Zack Moss can play. He runs hard (his average for missed tackles forced per touch was seventh best among running backs, and his 4.1 yards per carry after first contact was ninth best. With Frank Gore’s 179 touches (including 16 goal-to-go attempts) up for grabs, there’s potential that Moss has legit flex value this year and, at worst, makes life more complicated for those who invest in Singletary.
Some players who don’t have a ton of stand-alone value this year but landed in great spots for dynasty include J.K. Dobbins in Baltimore, where he is a great fit for the Ravens’ offense (30-year-old Mark Ingram II will be a free agent in 2022); Anthony McFarland Jr. in Pittsburgh (he averaged 3.1 yards per carry after first contact for his college career); and La’Mical Perine for the Jets. Given how much the Jets invested in offensive linemen this offseason, plus their first-round selection of 6-foot-7, 364-pound Mekhi Becton and the fact that the Jets can get out of Le’Veon Bell‘s contract after this season, Perine is an interesting dynasty stash. Speaking of that rebuilt Jets offensive line, I actually think Bell is undervalued this year and will provide strong RB2 numbers at a bargain ADP.
Running backs I hate after the 2020 NFL draft
Damien Williams, Chiefs: Is there a more “what have you done for me lately?” business than the NFL? Damn, man. Not three months after winning the Chiefs the Super Bowl (he should have been the game’s MVP), Williams has gone from the starting running back on the best offense in football to hoping he can carve out some sort of role before becoming a free agent in 2021. Whatever his value winds up being this year, it took a massive hit when K.C. took Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Marlon Mack, Colts: Similar to Williams, this is not a matter of if but when Jonathan Taylor makes the lead job his. Another guy scheduled to be a free agent in 2021, Mack has rarely been used in the passing game (just 1.2 targets per game), and he has multiple missed games in all three of his NFL seasons. Given that he was just 34th among running backs in fantasy points per touch last season (minimum 100 carries), Mack needs volume to be a fantasy asset. He was top 10 in carries per game last season, and with Taylor in town, that ain’t happening.
Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift, Lions: Oh, good. A running back by committee situation. On a team that doesn’t run. That’s just great. Sigh. Last year, Detroit was 19th in rush percentage, 20th in red zone rush percentage and 22nd in running back target share. Now, in fairness, the Lions’ offense was a mess. Matthew Stafford missed a ton of games and Johnson got hurt, among other things that went wrong in Detroit. So maybe the Lions just didn’t feel like they could run effectively given the state of their offense. And certainly, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been in charge of heavy run offenses before. But even if they decide to run more, remember that general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia come from the Patriots school of football — that is, multiple running backs to be deployed in whatever way the matchups dictate on any given week. Johnson and Swift are talented and both will have fantasy value this year, but where I had them tentatively ranked prior to the draft has dropped considerably now that they have to share the ball.
Devin Singletary, Bills: I am a huge Singletary fan and literally just drafted him last week in a dynasty startup. Oops. The concern here is scoring. Josh Allen was already a concern given that he actually had more red zone carries and goal-to-go carries last year than Singletary, leading to Allen scoring nine of Buffalo’s 13 rushing touchdowns last season. However, with Frank Gore gone, I had Singletary penciled in for a breakthrough year. But then Buffalo drafts Zack Moss, whom we discussed above. Tough to tackle, Moss’ 41 scrimmage touchdowns (most in Utah history) — along with Allen’s red zone abilities — should tell you there’s a chance Singletary’s scoring opportunities from in close might once again be scarce this year. I still think Singletary is the Buffalo running back you want, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moss carve out a nice role for himself, and certainly Singletary is much lower in my post-draft ranks than he was in the pre-draft edition.
Aaron Jones, Packers: OK, so I could never hate Aaron Jones. But I hate that once again, we’ve got to fire up the ol’ #FreeAaronJones. Say this for Matt LaFleur: He might not have gotten Aaron Rodgers a real pass-catcher in the draft, but he stayed true to his word from the combine, where he mentioned that not only did he expect to use both Jones and Jamaal Williams this year, but “he’d like to add a third.” Add a third Green Bay did, with 6-foot, 250-pound AJ Dillon, a bruising back whose 38 career rushing touchdowns are the fourth most in ACC history. We already expected Jones to have some touchdown regression from the 19 he scored last year, but this most certainly doesn’t help. Jones is still clearly the Green Bay running back you want, but he is more RB2 than the RB1 I had him at prior to the draft.
Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers: See Vaughn, Ke’Shawn. An underperformer for his NFL career, Jones’ big calling card in fantasy this year was expected volume and lack of competition. That is likely now out the window.
James Conner, Steelers: I wasn’t a huge Conner fan this offseason to begin with. He missed six games and had another three with single-digit carries last season. Understanding that the offense was really challenged last year with Ben Roethlisberger out, it’s still worth pointing out that Conner failed to gain yardage on 25.9% of his carries. No other qualified running back (minimum 100 carries) was even at 24.5%. My fear going into the draft was that Conner, who will be a free agent after this season, would be in a RBBC. Now, after the Steelers took Anthony McFarland Jr., I feel sure of it. Averaging a strong 3.1 yards per carry after first contact, McFarland is 5-foot-9 and 198 pounds, and he ran a 4.44 40. He’ll get enough work this year along with Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels to make me not want Conner at his expected ADP.
Pass-catchers I love after the 2020 NFL draft
Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst, Falcons: The Falcons went all defense on draft day (save for a center in Round 3), and that’s good news for the offensive stars already on the roster. With newcomer tight end Hurst likely to see a smaller target share than Austin Hooper, the door remains open for Ridley to have a huge season as the No. 2 wideout in a high-scoring offense. In the eight career games Ridley has been targeted at least eight times, he has averaged 24.2 fantasy points. To give you a comparison, New Orleans’ Michael Thomas was WR1 last season at 23.4 PPG. Meanwhile, as my friend Mike Clay pointed out on Twitter, Gage had a 16% target share as Atlanta’s slot guy after Mohamed Sanu Sr. was sent to New England (counting only the weeks when Ridley and Julio Jones also played). Gage remains a nice deep-league PPR sleeper. Finally, at the point Hooper was injured last year, he was the best TE in fantasy. Hurst doesn’t have to put up Hooper-type numbers to return a profit on his low ADP. But considering he has no real competition, Hurst should have a nice fantasy year, benefiting from an offense that was top 10 in tight end targets last year and tied for sixth in tight end red zone targets.
Allen Lazard, Packers: A favorite of Aaron Rodgers (who lobbied to get him into the lineup), they reportedly are close friends and spent Thanksgiving together last season. With Green Bay drafting no wide receivers, only free-agent addition Devin Funchess stands between Lazard and a significant role as Rodgers’ No. 2 wideout. Lazard looked good in limited time last year, Rodgers likes him and, well, someone has to catch it this year. I say it’s gonna be Lazard.
Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden, Redskins: I’m listing Gibson here as a wide receiver, because that’s where I think he gets the most run this year, but he will see time as a running back as well. Gibson played both positions at Memphis, and I know the Redskins were thrilled to get the versatile 6-foot, 228-pounder with 4.39 speed. Head coach Ron Rivera said his skill set reminded him of Christian McCaffrey. Consider there was only one Skins wideout from last season with more than 365 receiving yards or 35-plus receptions, there’s opportunity here opposite Terry McLaurin. Remember, the Panthers were second in pass attempts last year under Rivera and new Skins offensive coordinator Scott Turner. Now, hopefully the Skins’ defense is better than Carolina’s and is not in as many blowouts; but still, Gibson and Gandy-Golden (in that order) arrive in what will be a better offense than people think, with massive opportunity to grab a significant share of snaps.
Others receiving votes: I really like Cincy as a landing spot for Tee Higgins (6-foot-4, 216 pounds, 4.4 40-yard), and I thought about just putting him up above as a “love.” The Bengals will be pass-first again after putting up the sixth-most pass attempts last year, and with A.J. Green and John Ross III both having trouble staying on the field, it’s not hard to see Higgins have significant value and soon. Love him in dynasty. Candidly, this was such a wildly deep WR class, you can pick a lot of people for this list for dynasty, but Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson and Michael Pittman Jr. should be gone early. … Laviska Shenault Jr. is a guy I like who landed in a really good spot in Jacksonville. … With the Dolphins not taking a pass-catcher until the seventh round, DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki look poised to continue last year’s fantasy success. … Brycen Hopkins was second among FBS tight ends last year in receptions and receiving yards. With Gerald Everett due to be a free agent in 2021, Hopkins is an interesting dynasty tight end, with the expectation that the Rams will be using more two-tight end sets moving forward. … The jury is still out on what the Patriots’ offense will look like, but they didn’t draft a wide receiver, and Phillip Dorsett II is now in Seattle. When the season starts, Julian Edelman will be 34 and Mohamed Sanu Sr. will be 31, which means the dynasty arrow on N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers is pointing up.
Pass-catchers I hate after the 2020 NFL draft
Alshon Jeffery, Eagles: Coming off a season when he averaged a career-low 11.4 yards per reception and considering he has missed nine games over the past two seasons, you can’t feel great about the fact that Philly drafted three wide receivers and traded for Marquise Goodwin. When Jeffery was out there last season, he was targeted on 26.3% of his routes (seventh best among WRs), and it is hard to see him getting that same kind of volume this year, as it’s clear the Eagles want to overhaul their passing attack this year.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos: Last year’s WR27 is super talented, but he definitely benefited from a ton of looks. He was seventh in the NFL in total target share, air yard target share, red zone targets and end zone targets per game. With Noah Fant emerging, the addition of Melvin Gordon to the backfield (92 receptions in 24 games during the past two seasons) and the drafting of Jerry Jeudy, it’s hard to see Sutton getting the 26.1% target share he had with Drew Lock in 2019.
Amari Cooper, Cowboys: So, here are two wideouts:
Wide receiver A: 15.4 points per game on 7.4 targets a game.
Wide receiver B: 15.2 points per game on 8.1 targets a game.
Which guy do you want? Well, player A is Amari Cooper last year. And player B is his teammate Michael Gallup. Both are talented players, but they are closer in fantasy talent than people realize, and Gallup is clearly the better ADP value. And now the Cowboys just drafted CeeDee Lamb. Look, I’m an Amari Cooper apologist, and this offense proved last year that it can support three viable fantasy wide receivers, but I certainly have Cooper lower now than I did before. It might take a few games, but eventually Lamb will take more looks away from both guys than Randall Cobb ever did last year. And since Gallup is the better value, Cooper makes this list.
Matthew Berry — The Talented Mr. Roto — thinks we should keep the at-home draft format for next year.