The 2020 Do Not Draft Fantasy Football List
The 2020 Do Not Draft Fantasy Football List
If you are putting in the work to do tens (or hundreds) of fantasy football drafts, who you choose NOT to draft is almost as important as who you do choose to draft. Even if you are really only focusing on your friends and family 12-team PPR league, looking at the draft board and identifying who you do not want to pick will help inform your strategy from the jump.
One of the best exercises a fantasy football drafter can undertake is looking at their draft backward, and establishing players they like more than the market in the later rounds. This sets you up well in the earlier rounds in terms of positional structure. The purpose of the “Do Not Draft” list is to illustrate where there AREN’T pockets of value and to direct SportsGrid readers away from ADP traps.
Try as we might, there is no way to look at this QB market and advocate for any stone-cold “fades”. There is definitely an argument that DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Josh Allen might be a little overpriced relative to the next tier of QBs (Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Tom Brady) but when you account for the rushing upside that each of them has, that quibble disappears pretty quickly. Should you be targeting the Kyler/Dak/Russ/Watson/Allen tier in most of your drafts? Probably. Does that mean that the throw-only quarterbacks are obsolete? Definitely not.
As we have come to learn more about predictability and stability of fantasy point-scoring, we have learned we are pretty bad at projecting weekly fantasy points. Our pal Justin Freeman shows us this pretty clearly with his correlation plots on Twitter:
I love, love, love projections, so it pains me to say… NFL projections are bad. A study of industry projections on a weekly basis (min 7 point projected) shows 14% correlation for QBs, 11% for RBs, 6% for tight ends, 5% for WRs, 3% for Ks. The lesson is simple – learn leverage. pic.twitter.com/tWaZXMMKHb
— Justin Freeman (@JustinFreeman18) August 6, 2020
If we accept that we are not great at projecting weekly point-scoring, one of the best ways to compensate for that is stacking. The reason why I am not making a conscious effort to “fade” Aaron Rodgers is that when I select DaVante Adams, I want to take Aaron Rodgers with him especially in best-ball leagues. I’m not fading Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Ryan because I target Juju Smith-Schuster and Calvin Ridley frequently in drafts. While we are not heading into our drafts with the plan of taking the non-rushing QBs, outside of maybe truly no upside players like Derek Carr or Philip Rivers, there aren’t players who are truly not worth drafting. Even the Gardner Minshew/Jimmy Garrapolo/Joe Burrow/Teddy Bridgewater tier of QBs has appealing stack options though they are all better as your 2nd QB in best ball as opposed to your planned week one starter.
Perhaps the best way to think about QBs in drafts this year is in two categories: standalone value QBs and “stack-only” QBs. Someone like DeShaun Watson projects so well that you are under no pressure to force a stack with him whereas you have no reason to roster Aaron Rodgers if you have not already drafted DaVante Adams. Instead of thinking of pure fades at the position, especially in best-ball leagues, we should think about QBs we would only draft in stackable situations.
“STACK-ONLY” QBS: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff
The only person who expects Leonard Fournette to repeat his performance from 2019 in terms of touches is Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars spent the offseason trying to trade the LSU product but were not able to find any takers. While they did not actually spend a large amount of draft capital on an RB replacement, the team did bringing Laviska Shenault who was used as Wildcat QB and goal-line rusher in college. All of Fournette’s allies in the Jags building are gone. The coaching staff that drafted Fournette is out of the door and his replacement champion Tom Coughlin has moved on as well.
Perhaps most worryingly, the new offensive coordinator in Jacksonville is Jay Gruden. Gruden prompted the team to sign the oft-injured Chris Thompson, a player who is much more natural fit for third downs and pass-catching that Fournette is. From 2015-18, spanning four seasons, Thompson lead the Gruden-coached Washington pro football team in backfield targets despite never attempting more than 68 rushes. In fact, Gruden has never had a “lead running back” tally over 26 targets.
In all of those seasons in Washington with Matt Jones, Robert Kelly, Alfred Morris, Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, and Roy Helu, Gruden’s leading rusher NEVER had more than 26 targets. Applying this very simple logic to Fournette who was an inefficient rusher but racked up 100 targets last season, we can start to see why we are basically never selecting Leonard Fournette where he is going in drafts.
In trying to come up with reasons to draft players like Le’Veon Bell or Leonard Fournette, you’re essentially just hoping “this guy can get a lot of volume because the team doesn’t have a better option”. In Fournette’s case, we know that he really isn’t a special player and Chris Thompson, Ryquell Armstead, or Devine Ozigbo could pretty easily do what Fournette does. Le’Veon is a little different because he can at least say, at one point, he was actually a star at his (mostly meaningless) position. However, Bell was one of the worst players in the NFL last season in terms of how he actively stole expected points from his team.
He had no rushes over 20 yards… at all. None. He received 245 carries and his longest run was 19 yards. He ranked only above Peyton Barber amongst all qualified rushers in Football Outsiders’ defensive yards above replacement, 44th of 45 running backs. You would think that since Le’Veon was always great as a pass-catcher in Pittsburgh, that perhaps he was better there? He was not. He ranked 39th of 50 RBs in DYAR on Football Outsiders and was the per-touch equivalent of C.J Ham in the passing game. Bell gained 1.18 yards per route run per Pro Football Focus, 28th amongst all RBs with at least 28 targets.
The fact that Le’Veon might not be good anymore, the market does not expect the Jets offense to be very good (even in a season where their QB doesn’t get mono), and you’re being asked to draft Bell over the likes of A.J Brown, Courtland Sutton, Tyler Lockett, and D.K Metcalf basically make him an untenable selection. Historically speaking, Bell is drafted in a range where RB bust rates are out of control and we will be leaving him to other drafters.
Other fades: David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Mark Ingram
While there probably is not anything different about Edelman the player in 2020 than there was in 2019, the circumstances that made him a fantasy star have dramatically changed. New starter Cam Newton has a career completion rate of 59.6% compared to Tom Brady’s 63.8%. In 2019, Tom Brady’s averaged intended air yards per throw was 7.6; Newton has only one year of his career with an air yards per throw under eight.
The only 1,000-yard pass catchers who have been QB’d by Newton are Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and Kelvin Benjamin. The Smith seasons happened back in 2011 and 2012 and the Benjamin season was in 2014. Lower average depth of target wide receivers like Edelman have never had success with Newton (until DJ Moore had a solid rookie year with Newton in 2018.) Edelman and Newton are just not good stylistic fits, whereas it appears that N’Keal Harry and Newton likely will be.
There is an interesting element with wide receivers as they crest past 31 years old as well, as Edelman enters into his age 34 season.
We know that this is an age where players start to have lower probabilities of WR1/WR2 seasons and yet really great players with multiple WR2 seasons past 30 makes it MORE probable in the sim scores that they have a good season at 32/33/34. While I think there are routes to Edelman not getting to 100 targets this year, I thought a fair screen of why I am not super interested in him at ADP is a look at what 34+ year old WRs do when they get 100 targets or more in the last decade.
Speaking of Steve Smith, he finds his way onto this list as a 34-year old WR with 100+ targets and… recorded only 745 yards and four touchdowns. Even amongst parts of his sample that have a positive bias in terms of volume, it is sort of hard to see a real league-winning season coming from Edelman. Considering the new QB, the addition of a healthy N’Keal Harry, and the fact that you can take Jarvis Landry, Diontae Johnson, Mecole Hardman, and Will Fuller over Edelman, it is hard to imagine him being on many championship teams in 2020.
The last time that a Drew Brees/Sean Payton WR2 (as in actually the second wide receiver, not the second pass catcher) finished as a fantasy starter was Brandin Cooks in 2016. You’ll remember that this was Michael Thomas’ rookie season, before Alvin Kamara was on the team, and the year Coby Fleener was supposed to be Jimmy Graham. If you go back to 2012, you can find a hyper-efficient Lance Thomas season that got him to a borderline WR2 season. In other seasons, we have seen Devery Henderson, Ted Ginn Jr., Robert Meachem, Kenny Stills, and countless others rotate in and out but never stick as actual fantasy studs.
No player on the Saints last season outside of Kamara, MT, and Latavius Murray saw more than 46 touches. Forty-six! Sanders himself played in 17 regular-season games last year due to a scheduling quirk after he was traded and saw more than seven targets only four occasions. Really, the WR market in 2020 is very efficient and finding players whose ADP is actually *bad* is tough but I cannot come up with a reason to draft Sanders. If MT gets hurt, maybe his role increases a little but not enough. Going after Sanders in ADP are all players who can actually win your league: Deebo Samuel, Jalen Reagor, CeeDee Lamb, Mecole Hardman, Henry Ruggs, and even someone like Sterling Shepherd should see more volume.
Taking Manny Sanders as likely the fourth option on an increasingly more-ground heavy team is really rooting for the friendliest loss. The selection won’t ruffle any feathers but you’re so unlikely to generate any positive value with the pick.
Other underweights: T.Y Hilton, Diontae Johnson, Jamison Crowder, Deebo Samuel
Waller was a great victory for sharp fantasy football players last season. He was a long-time favorite of the metric crowd because of his dominant performances at Georgia Tech and his 90th+ percentile athleticism at the combine. However, problems with substance abuse kept him from ever finding a full-time role in the NFL until last season with Oakland. Waller had the best season he could have ever hoped with 1,145 yards (but only three touchdowns).
Unfortunately, Waller is being priced at his absolute ceiling and the team brought in a load of players to compete with him for volume. Waller benefited from Antonio Brown never playing a down for the Raiders but was targeted significantly less in games where Hunter Renfrow was active.
There is always noise in football samples but the fact that Renfrow, a rookie slot wide receiver, had that much of an impact on Waller’s role does not make me feel super optimistic about the additions of Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Lynn Bowden Jr. for Waller’s target share. Right now, in the SportsGrid fantasy football projections, I have Waller projected for 18% of Oakland’s team targets down from 23% last season due to all of the offseason additions.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Waller is the sort of frustrating player that goes through long stretches of 3-24-0 type games but also finishes as the TE7 on the year because he scores a few long touchdowns. We know Waller is talented but I am having a harder time drafting him over Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee, and then the later group of TEs (Fant/Gesicki/Hockenson) when we consider how squeezed he could be for targets, particularly if Jon Gruden makes good on his claim that Josh Jacobs will be targeted more often this season.
An important point to make with this list is not that these are “bad players” or that they can’t possibly pay off their ADP’s. It is just simply in the context of fantasy football in 2020, they likely to do not fit the framework of what a winning team will be. Hooper is one of those guys who has so many obstacles to a league-winning season that it is hard to make him a large part of portfolios.
To begin with, Hooper is an extremely average athlete so there is not some reason to project him taking a massive next step on a new team (unlike someone like Darren Waller last offseason, for example). Also, even the staunchest Austin Hooper supporter has to acknowledge that his best stretches have come when other key players are out. In games over the last two years that Calvin Ridley hasn’t played, Hooper averaged 1.89 targets more per game. His big run last season was in the first 10 weeks where he scored seven times in nine games and six games with 56 or more receiving yards.
However, that stretch included just his second and third ever career 100+ yard games. Hooper is now on a new team (always a troubling sign for pass catchers) where he will be at best the third option in the passing game behind All-Pros Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. There is a sizable chance that Kareem Hunt ends up out-targeting Hooper as well given just how involved Hunt was a receiver last year when he returned from suspension. There is also the wide-spread assumption that Kevin Stefanski is going to install a fairly ground-based (or at least balanced) offense in Cleveland that may not leave much on the bone in terms of fantasy points for a third and/or fourth option in the passing game.
Is Hooper UNDRAFTABLE? No, he isn’t. You can certainly take him in the DraftKings and Underdog Best Ball Championship’s in Baker Mayfield double stacks but he likely should not be the sole focus of your tight end strategy. He also goes in an ADP range where we literally prefer every other player (Jarwin/Fant/Gesicki/Hockenson) which leaves him out in the cold of our portfolios.