Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Never Too Early 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

I've never liked the way a lot of fantasy football writers release their "way too early" rankings for next season.  It's never too early to start thinking about next year!  FantasyPros has their 2021 draft rankings tool available, and they've even added rookies to the list.  So I have it all here in my initial rankings for 2021, and I've added notes next to a few guys as well.  So let's get right into it and let me know what you think on Twitter!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Fantasy Football 2020 End of Year Review

Every year before I get into my first edition of next year's rankings, I take a look back at my preseason articles and see what I got right and what I got wrong.  This is always a long article, but it's fun to go back and check in on those preseason takes.  In fact, I looked at a bunch of these picks midway through the season and wrote about it here.

I won't recap every pick from every article, but each section will have a hyperlink to each piece I wrote in case you want to take a look at all of it.  I'll also show how these picks were looking midseason versus end of season (after Week 16 and not Week 17).  

Let's get to it, shall we?

Back in August, I looked at all 32 teams and tried to find one "value" guy on each squad who I liked the most based on his ADP at that time (Average Draft Position - using FantasyPros as my reference for half PPR leagues).

Here are a few guys I highlighted in that article who were outperforming their preseason ADP at the midway point.  Some of them kept it going but many actually had rough finishes (mostly due to injuries/COVID):

James Conner - ADP 44, midseason RB11, end of season RB25
Tyler Boyd - ADP 76, midseason WR8, end of season WR33
Will Fuller V - ADP 85, midseason WR16, end of season WR25 (missed last 4 games - susp.)
Ronald Jones - ADP 95, midseason RB13, end of season RB17
Darrell Henderson - ADP 111, midseason RB17, end of season RB33
Hayden Hurst - ADP 114, midseason TE8, end of season TE14
Jonnu Smith - ADP 138, midseason TE7, end of season TE9
Chase Edmonds - ADP 193, midseason RB28, end of season RB26
Justin Jefferson - ADP 133, midseason WR18, end of season WR7!

And excluding injuries, these were my really bad takes from that article who I said could be values:
Jordan Howard - ADP 88, midseason RB76, end of season RB86
Golden Tate - ADP 147, midseason WR68, end of season WR87
Ian Thomas - ADP 193, midseason TE48, end of season TE55

My big takeaways here:
Justin Jefferson is awesome.
Will Fuller needs PEDs to stay healthy.
Tyler Boyd could be an amazing value in 2021 because his stock plummeted when Burrow got hurt.

This is by far my favorite preseason article to write every year.  It's a Q&A format that includes my picks for "sleeper", "bust", "long shot", etc. based on historical trends.  I've highlighted a few below that I talked about at the midway point, and I'm following up now to show which one I actually got right!

Q: Who is this year's Alfred Morris (2012), Zac Stacy (2013), Tre Mason (2014), David Johnson (2015), Jordan Howard (2016), Alvin Kamara (2017), Phillip Lindsay (2018), or Devin Singletary (2019)?
[Description: A rookie NOT taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft who is virtually UNDRAFTED in fantasy leagues.  He's not expected to be the Week 1 starter, but he could really help your fantasy squad by mid-year.]

My preseason Answer: Zack Moss
Midseason ACTUAL Answer: James Robinson 
End of season ACTUAL Answer: James Robinson 
Robinson was a top-5 RB, and he missed the last two games of the season.  With the Jags likely revamping their entire coaching staff, I'm not confident he'll get this same workload in 2021, but he'll still be in the RB2 conversation for me.

Q: Who is this year's Danny Woodhead (2013), Darren Sproles (2014), Danny Woodhead (2015), Theo Riddick (2016), Chris Thompson (2017), James White (2018), or Raheem Mostert (2019)?
[Description: Shifty veteran who sneakily finishes in the top-20 overall fantasy RBs.]

My preseason Answer: Tarik Cohen
Midseason ACTUAL Answer: Chase Edmonds 
End of season ACTUAL Answer: Nyheim Hines & J.D. McKissic 
Both of these guys ended up just outside the top-20 in half PPR and inside the top-20 in full PPR.  Tarik Cohen unfortunately had a season-ending injury, but we'll see if he can make a run at this category in 2021.

Q: Who is this year's Keenan Allen (2013), Odell Beckham, Jr. (2014), Tyreek Hill (2016), JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017), Calvin Ridley (2018), or A.J. Brown (2019)?
[Description: Rookie WR with playmaking ability and a solid QB, who is a late-round fantasy pick or even undrafted in most leagues but ends up being a top-20ish fantasy WR.]

My preseason Answer: Tee Higgins
Midseason ACTUAL Answer: Tee Higgins (WR24) & Brandon Aiyuk (WR26)
End of season ACTUAL Answer: Tee Higgins (WR26)
A lot of rookie WRs were being taken in the top-150 or so in August drafts, including guys like CeeDee Lamb & Justin Jefferson, so they were excluded from this question/answer.  Also Brandon Aiyuk finished as the WR31, and he was my honorable mention in my preseason article.  Chase Claypool was actually the WR23, so he could fit this category but if you take away his huge 4 TD game, he was hardly useable.  Tee Higgins is the closest fit for me, and I'll be trying to draft either him or Tyler Boyd next year to get a piece of that Bengal passing attack with Burrow healthy.  
***The big takeaway here is this year's rookie WR class was absolutely stacked.

Q: Who is this year's Andrew Luck (2013), Russell Wilson (2014), Derek Carr (2015), Kirk Cousins (2016), Carson Wentz (2017), Patrick Mahomes (2018), or Lamar Jackson (2019)?
[Description: A young starting QB ready to jump from one fantasy QB tier to the next.]

My preseason Answer: Daniel Jones
Midseason ACTUAL Answer: I said if Kyler finished as the overall QB1 then it's him.  
End of season ACTUAL Answer: Kyler Murray & Josh Allen
Justin Herbert is a rookie, so he doesn't quite fit this category.  Depending on your format, Kyler Murray might've finished as the QB1, and even in 6 points per passing TD leagues he was top-5.  Either way, it was decidedly NOT Daniel Jones (I'm sorry!).  I guess the answer can be Kyler here, but Josh Allen is right there with him.

This was the very last preseason article I wrote before the season started, and it was a new one this year for me.  I felt like I heard a lot of the same narratives over the summer from people like me who write, tweet, podcast about fantasy football.  I wanted to play devil's advocate and give a take on each team that wasn't being considered much.  These weren't takes I was "all in" on, but it's important not to get too focused on the groupthink mentality and make sure you step back and consider other possibilities.  There were obviously 32 of these, so it was a long article. I'll just highlight a few.

Buffalo Bills
Preseason take:
[If Josh Allen] is better, I think a big part of that could be because he now has Stefon Diggs to throw to...No one is talking up Diggs like he can be a WR1 this year, but he has that potential if Allen can get him the ball.

Midseason Verdict:
Josh Allen was the QB4 around midseason and a big part of that was Diggs (who was the WR6 after 8 weeks and led the NFL in targets).  

End of Season Verdict:
After 16 weeks, Diggs led all WRs in targets, receptions, and yards.  He finished as the WR3 both overall and in fantasy points per game.  Just writing this take in the preseason gave me the perspective to land Diggs in the 6th round in my main league, and he was a big reason why I did so well there.

Indianapolis Colts
Preseason take:
What if Jonathan Taylor gets 75-80% of the carries from Day 1?...In that "Day 1" scenario, I could see Jonathan Taylor finishing as a top-5 fantasy RB.

Midseason Verdict:
The crazy thing is, this was gifted to the fantasy community with the unfortunate injury to Marlon Mack.  Taylor had the opportunity since Day 1 to be the guy.  He just didn't do a ton with that opportunity by midseason.  Still, he was the RB21 at that point and he was past his bye week.  There was still time for him to explode in the second half and finish in the top-5.

End of Season Verdict:
He definitely produced way more in the second half of the season and finished all the way up at RB7.  If the Colts have a competent QB next season and mostly keep that offensive line intact, Taylor should end up in the first round pick conversation in 2021 drafts, and he has the upside to finish as the #1 overall player...seriously.

Tennessee Titans
Preseason take:
What if Ryan Tannehill just keeps doing what he did as a starter in 2019?...Tannehill is getting no love this year, and everyone expects him to regress.  What if he just doesn't...?

Midseason Verdict:
Was anyone outside of Tennessee expecting Tannehill to continue to be a viable fantasy starter this year?  In short, no.  He was the QB10 at the midway point and a consistent fantasy QB week in and week out.

End of Season Verdict: 
Tannehill finished as the QB7, so you were happy if you drafted him in the last round or picked him up off the waiver wire this season.

Detroit Lions
Preseason take:
What if T.J. Hockenson is healthy for all 16 games and is the next George Kittle? 

Midseason Verdict:
While the Kittle-like breakout hadn't quite happened yet, Hockenson was the TE4 at the midway point.

End of Season Verdict: 
Hockenson finished as the TE4 behind just Kelce, Waller, and surprise top-3 tight end this year Robert Tonyan.  I feel like the breakout mostly happened, and there's plenty of meat left on the bone here.  T.J. can be a top-5 fantasy TE again next year if he has a decent QB throwing to him in the event that Stafford ends up leaving Detroit.  

I didn't review these lists in my midseason review article, but let's take a look back and see how many of these I got right at each position.  

As a reminder: These were NOT my preseason position rankings.  

My preseason/draft rankings always have things like injury risk, coaching changes, RB committees, and a ton of other things built into them.  These were my preseason predictions for who could finish the season in the top-12 at each position in a best case scenario with fully healthy seasons.  I highlighted in BOLD the guys who actually finished in the top-12 at their position this year.

My preseason top-12 QBs
Deshaun Watson  
Patrick Mahomes
Kyler Murray 
Lamar Jackson  
Russell Wilson 
Matt Ryan
Dak Prescott  
Joe Burrow
Josh Allen  
Daniel Jones
Cam Newton
Jared Goff

Seeing the top-5 highlighted just goes to show that the QB position can often be somewhat predictable at the top.  But then again, if you spent a first round pick on Lamar or Mahomes, that might not have worked out for drafting a good overall team.  But maybe it did.  One thing that sticks out to me is having Joe Burrow on this list felt bold in the preseason.  But this really could've worked out if not for the season-ending injury, so who knows?  If he fully recovers and is ready for Week 1 of the 2021 season, he'll be a prime late-round QB target who can finish in the top-12.

My preseason top-12 RBs
Ezekiel Elliott 
Saquon Barkley 
Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Christian McCaffrey
Derrick Henry 
James Conner 
Miles Sanders
Kenyan Drake  
Ronald Jones 
Dalvin Cook 
Jonathan Taylor
Austin Ekeler

It feels like a lifetime ago at this point, but I actually left Alvin Kamara off this list because he was looking like a potential holdout in August.  It's also crazy to look at this list and realize I only got 4 of the top-12 right.  Wow.  Lots of injuries.

My preseason top-12 WRs
Davante Adams 
Michael Thomas  
Adam Thielen 
Tyreek Hill
Will Fuller 
Julio Jones
Robert Woods
Odell Beckham, Jr.
D.J. Moore
DeAndre Hopkins 
Marquise Brown
Kenny Golladay

You'll notice a theme because I didn't project guys to repeat as the #1 at their position.  I said in the preseason that if anyone was going to overtake the single season reception record holder, it was Adams.  And while he didn't come close to that record, he also missed 2.5 games and dominated 2019@cantguardmike in the touchdown department.  I'd also like to point out that I nailed Robert Woods, who I had ranked higher than Kupp.  This was not a common preseason take, and I said I would have no problem drafting Woods as my first WR if I went RB-heavy early in a draft.  That would've worked out well with the consistency from Mr. Bobby Trees, and he'll continue to be a boring/safe pick next year.

My preseason top-12 TEs
George Kittle
Mark Andrews
Travis Kelce 
Hayden Hurst
Zach Ertz
Jonnu Smith
Darren Waller 
Blake Jarwin
Hunter Henry
Chris Herndon
Ian Thomas
Jack Doyle

I really liked Jonnu Smith if you were doing the late-round tight end strategy, but I also had guys like Chris Herndon & Ian Thomas at the bottom of this preseason list.  It's the tight end position, so you have to throw a couple of darts.  I mean, who saw someone like Logan Thomas in the top-12 this year?  Pretty much no one.  Honestly my biggest miss here is not locking Darren Waller into my top-5, but I won't make that mistake next season.  He'll be locked into my top-3, and he could be a Round 3 type of player.  He's clearly a difference maker at a frustrating fantasy position.

That's it for my end of year review.  If you made it this far, that's pretty amazing.  Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to hit me up on Twitter so we can keep the conversation going this offseason.  I'll have my first edition of 2021 rankings out likely next week!