My Guys: Davis Mattek’s Priority Fantasy Football Targets In 2020
My Guys: Davis Mattek’s Priority Fantasy Football Targets In 2020
CoVid-19 or not, the NFL season is coming. Some players have already begun opting out and make no mistake, we are going to see more fantasy football-relevant players choose not to play in 2020 and that will shake up the fantasy markets. However, we are all continuing with drafts and here at SportsGrid, we are participating in the highest-stakes and most competitive fantasy football contests in the world.
Our projections and rankings have been curated over the course of the offseason to reflect all the player movements and shifts in coaching personnel. This group of players are all guys that I am targeting in almost every high stakes draft (such as the Football Guys Players Championship, the FFPC Main Event, and the NFFC Primetime) and the various Best Ball Championships on Underdog, DraftKings and the Drafters app.
They make up the building blocks of potential championship fantasy football teams. Reasonable cost, exponential upside, and by and large they make appealing stack options. In every draft, we are trying to have at least one QB/pass catcher stack and then use these pieces as building blocks.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
There has been some fantastic discussion in the fantasy football space this offseason on why drafting “mid-round QBs” finally makes mathematical sense. As JJ Zachariason pointed out, the quarterbacks who add significant fantasy value with their leagues are now also amongst the top passers in the league. This did not use to be the case.
Prescott, Kyler Murray, DeShaun Watson, and Josh Allen (and uber-studs Lamar Jackson + Patrick Mahomes) are all projected to have above league-average passing stats while also adding in 50+ fantasy points with their legs over the course of the season. Compare this to a decade ago: only nine total QBs threw 500 or more passes and only ONE of those QBs added more than 15 fantasy points with their legs (it randomly happens to be Mark Sanchez).
Of all QBs, Dak Prescott is the best positioned to have a truly nuclear season that puts him in the top five overall scorers. Dallas lead the NFL in yards per play last season while dedicating over 160 targets to Jason Witten and Randall Cobb. Those two have been replaced by CeeDee Lamb and Blake Jarwin. Dak finished second in the NFL in passing yards last season but actually had his lowest tally of rushing yards and touchdowns in his four-year career. The hiring of supposedly analytics friendly Mike McCarthy and the retention of Kellen Moore have every single arrow pointing up for Dak as an elite pick even in the fifth round of your draft.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
You can like Daniel Jones the fantasy quarterback without liking Daniel Jones the actual NFL QB. Much like Josh Allen was able to finish as the QB6 last season despite nine interceptions and 14 fumbles, Jones has the capability to the hair-on-fire style of quarterbacking to propel himself to a top-five fantasy finish. Jones was one of the most turnover-prone players in the NFL season but had five 300+ yard passing games, added 295 rushing yards, and two rushing TDs in 11 games.
Using the RotoViz stat explorer, we can see Jones had a wild weekly variance in 2019 with crushing games against New England and Green Bay in particular but also had some of the highest highs of anyone at the position. Surrounding Jones are Sterling Shepherd, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram, and one of the most efficient pass-catching back in the NFL, SaQuon Barkley. Anyone rational would rate this as a well-above-average group of players to throw passes too.
As the fantasy football markets have gotten sharper, it has gotten much more difficult to draft truly league-winning players like Lamar Jackson in 2019, Patrick Mahomes in 2018, or Dak Prescott in 2017. Even Josh Allen now goes well inside the top 100 picks of fantasy drafts. Jones is our last bite at the apple for a QB with 4,000+ passing yards while also adding 50 or more fantasy points with their rushing ability. He will likely have wider variance on a weekly basis than we want but no LRQB offers a better asymmetric upside bet.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
We are all aware of what Sean McVay said about his running back rotation, essentially intimating that all of Akers, John Kelly, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson will see significant snaps in 2020. There are a lot of reasons to not listen to what Sean McVay says and instead look at what he does. First, the McVay Rams have only ever used a RB rotation for essentially four games at the end of the 2018 season when Todd Gurley’s knees were giving out. Second, the Rams spent a second-round pick on Cam Akers after spending a second-round pick on Darrell Henderson and then playing him behind Malcolm Brown as a rookie (after McVay spent the offseason talking Darrell Henderson up).
The Rams are in one of the most desperate salary cap situations in the NFL and still spent a premium pick on Cam Akers who is one of the best RB prospects we have seen over the last several years. Akers was far and away the most dominant rusher in his backfield at Florida State, totaling 87% of the team’s RB production in his junior season. His RotoViz Sim Scores are almost exclusively above-average NFL players.
There is also a mistaken perception that perhaps the lead back in the Rams offense is not all that alluring of a position. In essentially a season where everything went wrong for the Rams (injures to Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp, Todd Gurley’s shocking decline, Jared Goff’s regression), the Rams gained the seventh-most yards in the NFL and scored the 11th most points. If Akers is going to be the lead back, you’re going to want on him on all your teams.
Really drafting Akers comes down to: how likely is that he beats out Darrell Henderson entirely? We think that it is more likely than not and therefore, we like Akers. However, Henderson also makes an interesting ZeroRB target in drafts where you do not take Akers because he potentially has some standalone value as a pass-catcher and massive contingent value.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite the signing of LeSean McCoy, we are not deterred from drafting Ronald Jones. Over the last week, Ronald Jones is being drafted as the RB31 and 68th overall in the FootballGuys Players Championship, as seen on fantasymojo.com. Even in a time-share with Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Jones offers profit potential at that price tag. The upside if Jones were to take on a David Johnson in 2016-esque role in this Bruce Arians offers is almost not accounted for at all.
Greg Auman from The Athletic detailed just how hard Jones has been working on improving his pass-catching and blocking over the offseason. Auman wrote on The Athletic: “Another major focus in this offseason was working on his hands, preparing for the chance to be much more involved in the Bucs’ passing game. Brady, signed in free agency in March to a two-year, $50 million contract after 20 years with the Patriots, has always liked throwing to his backs, completing at least 100 passes to backs in each of the last three seasons. Jones already took a big step in that department last season, catching 31 passes in 2019 for Tampa Bay after totaling 32 in his three years at Southern California.”
Jones was the only Tampa Bay running back to finish with fantasy points above expectation in their back in 2019 and was better at catching passes than you remember. Despite basically not playing at all as a rookie, his early-career comps provide some optimism. Using a screen on Pro Football Reference for players within between 1,100 and 1,500 scrimmage yards in their first two seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the first or second rounds, there are a handful of players who went on to have RB1 seasons.
C.J Spiller, Steven Jackson, and even Darren McFadden would be hopeful names from that list if we are just wondering can a player like Ronald Jones out-perform what his baselines had been in his first two seasons. RoJo is a highly drafted running back, coming off of a 1,000+ yard season who has an equitable chance at being a lead back in one of the better scoring offenses in the NFL. Compared to guys like Marlon Mack and Derrius Guice who are being drafted around him, he is an easy selection.
Boston Scott, Philadephia Eagles
Of all the amazing Zero RB targets (Tony Pollard, Chase Edmonds, Darrynton Evans, Antonio Gibson, DeAndre Washington), Scott is the one who wears the crown in 2020. He has the best combination of standalone and contingent value. Every day that passes that Philadelphia doesn’t sign Lamar Miller, DeVonta Freeman or another dusty old vet RB, Scott gains more value.
Pat Kerrane laid out the case beautifully for Scott having not only contingent value in the event that the studly Miles Sanders gets injured but also has a fair amount of standalone value as well. Kerrane writes: “From Week 14 – 18, Sanders averaged 4.2 receptions, while Scott averaged 5.2 receptions. And they were surprisingly even in term of green zone work as well. While Sanders averaged 15.2 total carries, to Scott’s 8.8, Sanders and Scott each had 7 green zone rushing attempts. And Scott was better on his chances, turning his 7 green zone carries into 4 TDs. Sanders scored just 2 TDs on his chances. In fact.. during this 5 games stretch, while sharing the backfield with Sanders, Scott was on pace to hit both of the 745 profile thresholds we’re looking for.”
Scott is a really interesting player because of his size. Despite weighing in at over 203 pounds at the NFL combine, Scott stands only 5’6 and as a result is really type-cast into a role in the NFL. Luckily, that role is extremely valuable. These are the RB seasons of the last fifteen years with over 25 targets and five touchdowns by an RB 5’6 or shorter.
Any time you run a screen for a running back and you return a player like Darren Sproles, you should be considering targeting that player more. Given that the Eagles are likely to be without Alshon Jeffrey to start the season, DeSean Jackson hasn’t played a full season since 2016, Marquise Goodwin opted out, JJ Arcega-Whiteside was losing targets to Richard Rodgers in the playoffs last year and Jalen Reagor may or may not be ready to contribute in a major way Week One, there is a cleary 70+ target season sitting there for Scott in a role that seems to favor him near the goal line.
DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers
DJ Moore is the next great wide receiver. Of all the fantastic young wide receivers in the NFL (Chris Godwin, A.J Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster), it is DJ Moore that is most likely to rip off five straight years of WR1 seasons in fantasy football. This is likely the last time that we are going to see Moore go later than the second round in fantasy drafts for quite some time.’
Moore is not the best of the bunch by any means so it is definitely possible that he finds himself in that second-tier of “greatness” but any comp list with Mike Evans, Randy Moss, Amari Cooper, and DeAndre Hopkins should have us excited.
The biggest reasons to be excited about the Panthers are that they might actually be a competent offense in 2020 as opposed to the Kyle Allen acid nightmare of 2019. In addition to hiring Matt Rhule and signing Teddy Bridgewater, the team also hired the mastermind of LSU’s offensive resurgence in Joe Brady. Likely the biggest change from the 2019 Panthers horizontal passing game is how willing Rhule and Brady will be throw further down the field. Allen had even fewer Air Yards in 2019 than Kyler Murray!
“I think one of the strengths of our team is that Robby Anderson’s a deep-play threat, Curtis Samuel is a deep-play threat, DJ Moore is a deep-play threat,” Rhule said. “So we feel like we have the power to be able to take advantage of throwing the ball downfield, and we know Teddy can do that.”
The recipe of improved QB play, a hyper-innovative and pass-heavy offensive coordinator, new head coach, and his absurdly good performance (even without any touchdowns to speak of) through two seasons make Moore an absolute slam dunk pick in the third round of any fantasy football draft.
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Without even getting into arguments about pedigree, size, or talent, the simplest explanation for why Marquise Brown is about to take off is that Brown averaged 8.2 yards per target and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie despite getting injured so badly that he played with a screw in his football season long. In the midst of that injured season, Brown racked up 1.81 yards per route run which ranked 33rd in the NFL. That was more than Odell Beckham, D.J Chark, D.K Metcalf, and Tyler Boyd.
You can also note that Lamar Jackson believes in the young wide receiver and think his foot injury is a thing of the past. “I feel like he’s going to have a huge jump, more than people may think. He was hurt last year, people didn’t know that, but he went out there and battled his tail off each and every game on a messed up foot. Now his full potential is going to show this year I feel. He’s still young, but he’s going to show off. My job is to get the ball out quicker because he’s a lot faster with that foot 100 percent.” The Ravens did draft Devin Duvernay but there is no serious challenger to Brown in the hierarchy for the Ravens wide receivers.
It also helps that it seems that Brown has been insanely committed to bulking up for play in 2020. As the Baltimore Sun explains “Interviews with three trainers who’ve worked with Brown this offseason depict a player hell-bent on domination and healthy enough at last to do it. He is stronger and faster now, a more complete receiver. But it is not the made-for-social-media highlights that have left them awed; it is Brown’s complete commitment to reconstructing his body, almost from the ground up.”
We have covered this on the site in the past but the fact that Lamar Jackson threw only 401 passes in 2019 is going to be even harder to repeat than his 9.6% touchdown rate. The Ravens are likely to play in more competitive games than they did in 2019 and therefore, we have the Ravens projected to throw over 100 more passes in 2020 than they did in 2019. I also have no concerns over Brown’s size or ability. The comps for players Brown’s size who played well as rookies are mixed but include long term A+ comps like DeSean Jackson, Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks.
The first wide receiver selected in the 2019 draft played injured and still produced and now is likely going to finish second in targets on what projects to be one of the best offenses in football. It is simply a layup to take Brown in the 7th/8th round almost every single time.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
We have covered Mecole Hardman extensively in “Draft Mecole Hardman In Every Single Fantasy Football League” but this flag plant series is about the guys who are going to make up the building blocks of championship rosters and Hardman fits that fold. Essentially, there is a school of thought that Hardman is being drafted at an almost unreasonable ADP because there are so many obstacles in his path to a 100+ target season. What we presuppose is that those obstacles are going to look silly a few months from now.
The Chiefs are the most pass-heavy team in football, so the pie from which to cut a target sliver is larger than on average. Players who score 100+ PPR points as a rookie see a massive year-over-year increase in targets per Blair Andrews’ fantastic research on Rotoviz. The Chiefs did re-sign Sammy Watkins and DeMarcus Robinson, which gives more cautious drafters pause in loading up on Hardman.
However, the reason to invest in a productive rookie who was drafted in the second round and who has blazing speed in the best offense in football should be self-evident. Hardman also goes in an area in the draft where we are just not that confident in the outcomes of players and should be focusing on what happens when everything goes right. If everything breaks correct for Hardman, you win your league.
Laviska Shenault, Jacksonville Jaguars
Of all of the rookie WRs, it is Shenault who provides the best value. He stepped into a unique situation in Jacksonville in which he can become both the second wide receiver from week one and a team that is willing to use his unique skillset in creative ways. If you are unfamiliar with Shenault, not only was he a dominant WR in college but he was also used as a wildcat QB and as a runner.
please help me i can’t stop drafting Laviska Shenault pic.twitter.com/Ze3tLvr8S6
— Davis Mattek (@DavisMattek) July 13, 2020
Before you think of Shenault as just a gadget player like Cordarelle Patterson or Dexter McCluster, he has legit all-time level comps as a WR prospect. Using the Rotoviz Box Score Scout, we can see he has pantheon quality comparisons.
With Shenault, we have an elite prospect who was drafted highly coming into a team that is projected to be above league average in terms of passes thrown and who doesn’t have much competition for targets especially in the back half of the 2020 season. The team seems to be wanting to move on from Dede Westbrook and if Shenault is in fact good, Chris Conley will not be a playing-time obstacle. There is also the scenario where the team looks at how bad Leonard Fournette was on the goal line in 2019 (23 rushing attempts inside the 10 and only three touchdowns) and chooses to occasionally use Shenaul the way he was used in college.
Given how cheap Shenault is in drafts in 2020, he is one player you should guarantee that you leave every single fantasy football draft with.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
There is a whole tier of young athletic tight ends being drafted from rounds nine through eleven that are attractive options for those who miss out on Kelce/Kittle/Ertz/Andrews. Noah Fant, T.J Hockenson, Mike Gesicki, Jonnu Smith and Blake Jarwin all go in this range and offer appealing upsides. While all are good selections compared to the TE dead zone (historically rounds five through eight tight ends underperform ADP), Fant is the crown jewel for us.
While Fant was not the most efficient of this group finishing the year with 1.52 yards per route run, Fant saw a huge boost once the Denver Broncos parted ways with Emmanuel Sanders. His targets per game rose to 4.67 from 3.57 and his PPR points per game went to 8.56 from 5.2. His above-average production as a rookie tight end puts him in a really interesting group of historical comps.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez need no explanation as good comps for rookie tight ends who had more than 500 yards and 40 receptions. Dwayne Allen never had a 100 fantasy point season but Tony McGee and Jeremy Shockey both had multiple 100 fantasy point seasons. The truly ancient comps (Chester/Ditka/Ross/Sanders/Young) aren’t super useful for our purposes but show just how rare it is for tight ends to actually produce.
The Broncos are also showing signs of tilting more towards a pass-heavy team with the selections of Jerry Jeudy, K.J Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam in the 2020 NFL draft. The local media in Denver has explained that the team is basically all in on second-year QB Drew Lock, viewing their investment in skill position players as a sink-or-swim moment for the young QB. It should stand to reason that last years’ 20th overall selection should be in for an increased role. Fant looks like an elite TE (with above 90th percentile athleticism in literally every category), produced as a rookie and is playing in an offense that we expect to ascend in 2020. Get in while the getting is good.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
Finally, on our list, we have Blake Jarwin. After a redshirt season for the Cowboys in 2017, Jarwin split snaps with Geoff Swaim and Dalton Schultz in 2018. Jason Witten returned from retirement in 2019 and somehow managed to grab 83 targets to Jarwin’s 41 despite Jarwin averaging almost three more yards per target than Witten. With Witten departed and no real fourth wide receiver on the roster, this will be the season we found out if Jarwin is fit to be an NFL tight end.
If in fact Jarwin, who has scored six touchdowns on only 77 career targets and is one of the three most efficient players who have played with Dak Prescott in his career, is ready to play in the NFL then he will have one of the best opportunities of any late-round TE.
Dallas threw the 10th most passes in the NFL last season and lost 83 targets a piece with Randall Cobb and Jason Witten departing. Tavon Austin and his 24 targets are also no longer on the team; even assigning a decent chunk of those vacated targets to CeeDee Lamb leaves well over 100 targets for someone in Jarwin’s role.
While unlike Fant/Hockenson/Gesicki, Jarwin doesn’t have jaw-dropping athleticism, he plays on by far the best team of any late-round TE target and has no impediment to playing time. His fantasy value is just simply going to rely on if he is good enough to play 80% of Dallas’ snaps in 2020; if he is, then he will blow his ADP out of the water.