Bounce Back Players For 2020
Last year there were more than a few players who let down fantasy owners. Some were due to injury, while others just didn't play well. In any case, here are some of those players and why I think they are destined to rebound in a big way in 2020.
ADAM THIELEN: A combination of a run-first offense mixed with a hamstring injury left Thielen with only 10 games played and a WR63 overall finish. Looking ahead to 2020, Thielen will be healthy and playing without former teammate Stefon Diggs. In some ways this feels a little bit like what Juju Smith-Schuster dealt with in 2019 when Antonio Brown left. Diggs often pulled coverage from the opponents best corner leaving Thielen to beat up on smaller slot corners, linebackers and safeties. This could end up being a bad thing for Thielen if he is not able to able to show true number one wide receiver capabilities. I however don't think that will be case with Thielen. He was graded as one of the best route runners in the NFL by PFF in 2018 and we have seen him play well vs top corners in the past. In this instance, I think Diggs leaving will be a good thing for Thielen's volume and that will be enough. In 2017 and 2018 we saw him garner target shares above 25%. In 2019, we saw that number drop below 18%. With Diggs out of the picture those targets will shift back above 25% and put Thielen back in the high-end WR2 picture.
ALVIN KAMARA: If you just took the pulse from most fantasy players on how Kamara played in 2019, you would think he finished as an RB2. He gets a ton of comments in my rankings about being too high and he should be outside of the top 10, even though he finished as the overall RB9 in just 14 games. The big difference between 2018 and 2019 was 14 less touchdowns. Let that sink in. Most projections have Kamara scoring more than 10 touchdowns in 2020 and I agree with that. Even though he was good in 2019, expect him to be better in 2020.
DAVANTE ADAMS: I have been surprised how low so many people seem to be on Adams this year. He was the third or fourth wide receiver taken in most drafts in 2019, so his WR22 finish obviously left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. Missing one month of the season will do that. However, his 17.6 points per game ranked sixth among all wide receivers. We don’t know what Green Bay will do yet in the draft, but as of now I think it is safe to put him ahead of receivers like Hopkins, Julio, Tyreek and Godwin based on lesser competition for targets. If he can avoid injury or the Packers taking one of the top wide receiver talents in the draft, he will be a top 5 wide receiver at the end of 2020.
CALVIN RIDLEY: Through 14 weeks, Ridley had a great shot at finishing as a WR1. He was only trailing that mark by 10 points. An abdominal strain in week 14 however ended his season short and lead to an overall WR27 finish. Going into his third season with Matt Ryan and running the same offense with the same coaching staff that lead to the most pass attempts in the NFL last season should keep Ridley as a fringe WR1 in 2020.
DAVID JOHNSON: If Bill O’Brien has any interest in making his horrible offseason trade with David Johnson and DeAndrea Hopkins look less terrible, Johnson should get the most touches of any player in the NFL this season. He needs to rack up over 2,000 all purpose yards and close to 20 touchdowns to make that trade stomach-able. It still won’t likely change the opinion of most, but at least he could point to the numbers from the running back he traded so much away to get. O’Brien will have every incentive to use Johnson just based on the contract the Texans are absorbing, let alone giving away one of the best wide receivers in the league. I do think Duke Johnson will be a little bit of a nuisance in the passing game, but Johnson should get enough touches to flirt with an RB1 season.
EVAN ENGRAM: There probably isn’t a more injury prone tight end in the NFL right now than Evan Engram. Well.....maybe Tyler Eifert. Through his first eight games of the season Engram was balling out. He was the TE6, but then he suffered the dreaded Lisfranc injury and was forced to miss the rest of the season. Engram’s upside is undeniable. His targets per game, target share, receptions per game, receiving yards per game and points per game were all top 10. He finished as the TE18 despite only playing in half the games. Yes, he is an injury risk, but banking on him to miss half the season again is a fools errand. His reputation for being injured will drive down his ADP, so take advantage and draft his upside because few tight ends offer as much as.
ODELL BECKHAM JR: A month ago I had Odell as a back end WR1 in my rankings. After they signed Austin Hooper however, I had to adjust it. Hooper wasn't made the highest paid tight end in the NFL just to block. He will pull targets away from both OBJ and Jarvis Landry. I do however fully expect OBJ to do better than his WR25 finish from a year ago. His targets and target share will drop, but they will still be over 20% which is good, and I expect his efficiency to go up as well as his touchdowns. I now have finishing as a mid range WR2 with WR1 upside.
JOE MIXON: Joe Mixon has been hyped up every year since he was a rookie. Unfortunately for him, that hype has overshadowed the fact that he has actually been pretty good. Despite having one of the worst offense of lines last season and a bad quarterback situation he still managed to finish as the RB13. You would have thought from the general public he finished as the RB33. Zac Taylor‘s offense took a little while to get going, but once they fully committed to using Mixon he was outstanding. From week eight on, Mixon was the RB6. He was top 12 in attempts per game and rushing yards per game, and was top 20 in yards created. He was good despite having little to work with. 2020 projects to be much better with the Bengals most likely adding Joe Burrow with the first overall pick and getting back both AJ Green as well as their 11th overall pick from last season, offensive tackle Jonah Williams. This offense could be great and I easily have Mixon finishing as an RB1.
BRANDIN COOKS: This former WR1 hit rock bottom last season. Cooks finished outside of the top 50 in points per game, targets per game, target share, receptions per game, and receiving yards per game. That combined with two games missed due to a concussion led to a WR61 season. Cooks can’t do any worse than he did last season, and now he plays with a superior quarterback with inferior competition. Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee will not demand the same number of targets as Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee. The days of Cooks being a WR1 are long gone, but he can be a high end WR3, low end WR2 in this offense.
SAQUON BARKLEY: Barkley is being drafted as either the first or second player in drafts right now, so it's not like people are concerned about what he will do. In fact, I would argue they are a little too high on him. I have him ranked as the 2nd best player to take in the draft this year, but I don't think in a separate tier from players like Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott or even Michael Thomas. It just goes to show how much everyone believes in his talent, and that alone is the best of any player in fantasy football. Barkley's 2019 season saw him miss three games due to an ankle injury that he likely rushed back from and wasn't himself until the last couple of games of the season. Even through those obsacles, he was able to end the season as the RB10. In points per game he was the RB7. It will be interesting to see what Giants' new head coach Joe Judge does with the run game. He comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree that is known for its RBBC usage. Barkley however it too talented to take off the field and if anything could benefit from an offensive system that saw James White catch 90+ passes the last two seasons.
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