Fantasy Noise: Season Preview
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
It’s been building. Slowly all summer long. That sound you hear is fantasy football noise and it’s peaking right now. It’s opening week in the NFL and the truth is about to be revealed. Everyone’s hot takes, must-haves, must-avoids, values, sleepers, busts, and breakouts are about to come to fruition. Or fall flat on their face.
The 2020 NFL season is upon us and with it brings even more noise. Let’s sift through some of the off season noise and find the most important fantasy news going in to week 1.
Tom (and friends) in Tampa
Maybe the biggest off season news is that Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay. With Tom Brady comes attention. Lots of it. And apparently Rob Gronkowski too. Brady’s arrival has the Bucs fans dreaming Super Bowl but what have you done for me lately in fantasy.
Last year Brady was 19th according to ESPN in points per game. Not great but other than Julian Edelman and James White his receiving options were extremely limited. Now, he immediately steps into an offense with 2 of the top 4 points per gaming scoring wide receivers in the league.
As mentioned earlier, Rob Gronkowski is now in Tampa Bay as well. Whether he can revert to his old self is still up in the air though. He’s well rested which hopefully can help him stay health because injuries have been a theme for the last 3 years that he’s played.
Shifting to the running back position, the Bucs backfield is anything but set in stone. What started as a battle between incumbent Ronald Jones and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn now includes 2 recent signings. LeSean McCoy, who may work himself onto the field in passing situations, and Leonard Fournette, the recently released Jaguar, now join the battle. Most see it as some type of time split between Jones and Fournette. Personally, I think Fournette will eventually emerge as the main guy. McCoy was left on the Chiefs bench last year during their super bowl run and even though Jones is “our guy” according to Head Coach Bruce Arians the Bucs still signed Fournette. With what could be a high scoring offense, whoever can dominate the snaps could very well be fantasy relevant.
Injuries are the worst part of the game. You never want to see anyone get hurt. It’s a part of the game that you can’t do anything about, but every year injuries ruin fantasy teams. Some injuries are season long and some only cause a few missed series. Either way, opportunity is value in fantasy and sitting on the bench is zero value.
Injuries run the gamut from concussions, broken bones, ankle sprains, to soft tissue injuries and below are some of the players looking to rebound from 2019 injuries to regain their fantasy values.
Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben’s 2019 season was cut short by a torn ligament in his elbow similar to a tommy john injury. After missing 14 games in 2019, Big Ben would like to return to his 2018 form which according to fantasypros.com was the QB3. Throwing 675 times for 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns. Word out of Steelers camp is that Ben’s arm strength is just as good or better than before the injury. Good news for those with Big Ben on your rosters.
A.J. Green – Green’s season never got started as he suffered torn ligaments in his left ankle in July and never played a game. 2018’s season was short as well. Green only played 9 games in 2018 because of torn ligaments in his toe. In 2017, according to fantasypros.com Green was wide receiver 10 in PPR formats but after not playing for a season and a half what’s left in the tank for the 32 year old Green. Green is a free agent after this season so he’ll have to show people he’s still got it if he wants to get paid.
Matt Stafford – I profiled Stafford in an earlier article but long story short he broke his back. Before that he was lighting up fantasy score boards to the tune of 27 points per game according to espn.com which was good for QB2 up until that point. Reports out of Lions training camp have Stafford looking like the gunslinger of old though.
Desean Jackson – Jackson suffered a core muscle injury and basically only played the first game of the year. Even at age 33, Jackson showed he still has his trade mark speed by blitzing The Washington Football team for 8 catches 154 yards and 2 touchdowns in that first game. Jackson has an extensive injury history but hopefully he’s fully recovered. The Eagles desperately need him to be on the field since Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffrey are already hurt and will miss time.
Evan Engram – The former 1st round draft pick has shown immense talent when on the field. But Engram has missed 14 games in his short 3 year career so far. A foot injury shut down his season after 8 games last year but not before putting up 44 catches for 467 yards and 3 touchdowns. If Engram can put together a full season, he has top 5 potential as a tight end.
Preston Williams – The undrafted rookie wide receiver was putting up impressive numbers before suffering an ACL injury against the Jets. Through 8 games, Williams led the Dolphins with 60 targets, out pacing veteran DeVante Parker. By all accounts, Williams is having a strong training camp and on track to play opening day against the Patriots.
Jerick Mckinnon – McKinnon signed a 4 year 30 million dollar deal with the 49ers before the 2018 season and has yet to play for them. A torn ACL in 2018 shut his season down and another knee procedure in 2019 ended his year before it began. In 2017 McKinnon showed his versatility with the Vikings with 51 receptions and 150 rushing attempts which in turn got him his deal. He may not be the same player after 2 missed seasons but I think everyone is rooting for McKinnon to get on the field this year.
This year there seems to be an inordinate amount of teams with backfields that are up for grabs. With an influx of rookie running backs clouding these situations and with no preseason games to help sort things out, fantasy players are searching for any bit of information coming out of training camps to get a better idea. The following are some of the backfield battles fantasy managers will be closely watching.
Colts - After rushing for over a 1,000 yards last season, incumbent Marlon Mack probably felt like his job was secure. Then the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor, who had multiple 2,000 yard rushing seasons at Wisconsin. Early reports have these 2 in a split but if Taylor can fix his college fumbling problems (18 in 3 seasons), I expect him to become the main guy sooner than later. Maybe even week 1 against a bad Jacksonville defense.
Washington – This is a crowded back field, even with the releases of Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice. Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber are all on the roster. This back field appears to be Gibson’s to lose. Gibson was electric in college with the ball in his hands. Even with only 77 touches in college, I think Washington gives the ball to Gibson to see what they got. I think 4th round draft pick in 2019, Bryce Love may factor in a bit but he hasn’t played since 2018 in college.
Lions – It looked like rookie D’andre Swift might step right in to a starting spot with Kerryon Johnson in a knee brace and himself raving about the rookie’s abilities. Then Swift suffered an undisclosed leg injury and was mostly out of practice for almost 2 weeks. Then the Lions signed recently released Adrian Peterson. Now the backfield situation is completely up in the air.
Bills – Another rookie in Zach Moss steps in to a situation with opportunity for the taking. Fellow 3rd round pick in 2019 Devin Singletary returns but has size and fumbling concerns. Frank Gore’s 166 rushing attempts are gone and Buffalo’s reluctance to give Singletary goal line carries presents immediate opportunity for Moss.
Rams – Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson Jr. and rookie Cam Akers occupy this crowded backfield. Sean McVay said the Rams won’t officially name a starter but are “going to ask a lot” of Akers. With Henderson nursing a hamstring injury and unable to practice since August 22, Brown and Akers should split carries against the Cowboys Sunday night. I think Akers will eventually take control of this backfield but that may not be immediate.
Broncos – Denver signed Melvin Gordon to a 2 year $16 million dollar deal in spite of incumbent Phillip Lindsay rushing for over 1,000 yard for the second straight year. Other than his rookie year, Gordon was a touchdown machine with the Chargers. Despite being slightly bigger and a better receiver, this backfield looks to truly be a split with the official depth chart listing them as co-starters.
Cam Newton to New England
After going almost all off season with no takers, Newton finally signed a highly incentivized contract with New England in late June. Part of the reason for team’s hesitancy to sign Newton is that he’s returning from a Lisfranc injury and 2 shoulder surgeries in the last 3 years. Newton’s fantasy value has always been tied to his running ability and a Lisfranc injury doesn’t help his situation. He’s never been the most accurate passer either and the 2 shoulder surgeries were also reasons to give teams pause. Newton’s only 31 years old, which isn’t old in quarterback years, but he’s played a lot of those years like a running back.
Newton is the definition of a high risk high reward player. Even as a late round pick, I would not be drafting Newton with his injury history and lack of pure passing ability. In New England though, with the uncertainty at running back, I feel like he’s going to get goal line carries which could bring fantasy value. With the number of bonuses attached to his contract and the fact that he’s playing for his next contract, motivation will not be a problem for him this year. But will we get a 2015 MVP “superman” version of Cam or a surgically repaired lesser version of one.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire Debut
The hype train for Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been rolling since April’s NFL draft. Considered a top 5 running back going into the draft, CEH ended up being the first running back chosen. In the first round. By the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs high scoring offense and draft capital was driving CEH’s 2nd round fantasy draft value. Then his main competition, Damien Williams, opted out for Covid reasons. Now the train is full steam ahead as it has taken CEH into the 1st round and in some cases top 5 pick in fantasy drafts.
Andy Reid, after drafting Edwards-Helaire was quoted as saying, “We’re excited to put him in this offense and cut him loose.”
Reid has a history of producing top 12 fantasy running backs and the fantasy community has anointed Edwards-Helaire as the next in line.
The defending champs open the season on Thursday night against Houston and CEH will be center stage for his debut and a prime time audience. I’m a believer in CEH’s talent but expectations will be high and the fantasy community will be quick to judge.
Chiefs and Texans kick off what’s sure to be an unforgettable 2020 season. Tonight people’s fantasy teams will slowly start to take form. People will see if their 12th round sleeper is going to return value or if he was a sleeper for a reason. From highly anticipated rookie debuts to sitting on the edge of your couch during a blow out to see if your guy can squeeze out a couple more points. This season will have all the highs, lows, and everything in between. I’ll be back next week with more noise to sort through in regards to player and team performances (both good and bad), injuries and other relevant fantasy news. Until then, good luck this weekend …..unless you’re playing me.