Imagine hearing your company hired someone younger and likely paid less to do your job live on TV. That's the NFL draft. These current NFL veterans' fantasy values were negatively impacted by the results of the 2020 NFL Draft. Let's figure out how this year's crop and surrounding moves could hurt them.
RB Austin Ekeler, LAC
I mention Ekeler in an earlier article about the potential fantasy impact of Justin Herbert and Tyrod Taylor on the offensive players on the Chargers.
Last year, Ekeler finished fourth in running back scoring (311.0) in PPR leagues thanks to a hot start over seven games (736 combined yards with seven TDs and 49 catches) with running back Melvin Gordon holding out. Over this span, he had four games (22/64) where he rushed the ball fewer than ten times.
When reviewing his value as an early-down runner, Ekeler only played well in three games (12/58, 12/70, and 8/101). Over his other 13 weeks, he rushed for only 328 yards (25 yards per game) on 100 carries (3.3 yards per rush).
With that said, there is no doubt that Ekeler is an excellent receiver out of the backfield (92/993/8 on 108 targets in 2019). The struggle here is the lost running back chances in the passing game after the loss of quarterback Philip Rivers.
Here’s a look at the passing splits for Los Angeles over the last three seasons:
Rivers ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL throwing to the running back position over the past three years. His backs averaged 123 catches for 1,084 yards and six TDs on 163 targets from 2017 to 2019. The Chargers were the best team in the league, passing the ball to running backs last year.
The fallout here is that Ekeler is now considered one of the top backs in fantasy football with an early ADP of 16 in PPR leagues. Over his final nine games, he averaged seven rushes per game while receiving about 52 percent of the running back snaps.
With Gordon out of the picture, there is a natural attraction to Ekeler’s success and his opportunity early in the season. The Chargers will continue to rotate in a second back on early downs, so Ekeler should only average between eight and ten chances in the run game.
I expect his targets to fall by about 30 percent. I question the timing and rhythm from either starting quarterback, leading to a drop in his yards per catch.
In the end, Ekeler still ranks as an RB2 in PPR leagues, but he is not a foundation running back. A fantasy owner should expect between 120 and 160 rushes and between 70 and 80 catches. His TD production will fall well short of his success (11 TDs) in 2019.
RB Aaron Jones, GB
Aaron Jones turned into a beast in his third year in the league, despite the Packers only have him on the field for 67.4 percent of their plays. He led the league in TDs (19) while more than doubling his production in the passing game (49/474/3). Jones did have regression in his yards per rush (4.6), while still ranking highly in this area.
Based on his success, fantasy owners should be giddy about his success in 2020, especially when adding in his play over his final six games (110/557/8 plus 16 catches for 138 yards and one TDs.
Despite his growth, Jones has an ADP of 9.4 in the early draft season in the high-stakes market.
The rub for me is twofold.
First, Green Bay chose the future of the franchise instead of protecting the present in this year’s draft. Everyone expected them to add a wide receiver with one of their first two draft pick in 2020. Quarterback Jordan Love and running back A.J. Dillon are talented players, but they almost act as thorns in the sides of the Aaron Rodgers and Jones.
Rodgers has to feel like the Packers cheated the end of his career by not surrounding him with elite depth in the passing game.Green Bay transition to a running team last year, and Rodgers is one of the best in the game in limiting the damage in turnovers. He guaranteed $13.4 million in 2020 and 19.5 million in 2021, which sets up a bailout for the Packers in 2020 (Rodgers has a base salary of $25 million over his final two years of his contract).
Jones will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, while only making $2.1 million this year. His success will command a higher salary, but Green Bay showed their hand by adding another running back in this year’s draft. Also, Jones may get the itch to holdout to avoid getting hurt so that he’ll get paid the road.
In the end, the passing game isn’t better in Green Bay. The Packers brought in a power runner, who has to eat away at some of the scoring ability of Jones. Matt LaFleur has the wise guy feel after an excellent rookie season (13-3) as Green Bay’s head coach.
In the end, Jones should be in a position for another successful year, but he can’t be happy. His offense doesn’t look improved based on no real addition to the passing game, and a newly added running back to snipe short-yardage TDs.
RB Marlon Mack, IND
About 15 minutes into the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Mack saw his opportunity/job stripped away from him quicker than a hard-hitting linebacker with a clean run through the offensive line.
Despite missing six games over the past two seasons, Mack played well as an early-down runner for the Colts. He gained over 100 yards rushing in seven games while averaging 0.69 TDs per contest. Unfortunately, Mack looks to be in lame-duck status while becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
Running back Jonathan Taylor is the same type of runner, but he offers much more top-end speed. Last year Taylor even showed growth in the passing game (26/252/5 on 39 targets).
Mack went from a 250-touch guy to a handcuff with a questionable role.
Over a couple of competed fantasy drafts since last weekend, Taylor has an ADP of 39 while Mack slipped to the 34th running back drafted with an ADP of 89.
The only hope for Mack to hold fantasy value this year is a trade to another team over the summer.
WR Michael Gallup, DAL
Heading into 2020, there was a lot to like about Gallup and the development of the Cowboys passing game. He set career-highs in catches (66), receiving yards (1,107), TDs (6), and targets (113) while adding 18 catches over 20 yards and five catches over 40 yards. His only strike was his ten drops.
Last year Dallas moved to second in the league in passing yards (4,751), fifth in passing TDs (30) and sixth in completions (388). Their wide receivers finished with 224 catches for 3,475 yards and 20 TDs on 356 targets.
The addition of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb should be a great win for the Cowboys going forward, but it does create a dilemma for fantasy owners on how to rank the top three wide receivers for Dallas in 2020.
I expect wide receiver Amari Cooper to hold his 80-catch value, which takes away a minimum of 35 percent of the wide receiver opportunity in Dallas. Based on last year, Gallup finished with 29.4 percent of the Cowboys’ wide receiver completions, 31.7 percent of the wide receiver receiving yards, 30.0 percent of the wide receiver TDs, and 31.7 percent of the wide receiver targets.
Dallas does have a step down in pass-catching talent at tight end. They also have a new coaching staff, which may change the play-calling and the dynamics of the offense.
Lamb is an explosive type wide receiver that could hit the ground running. His role and skill set is going to overlap Gallup, which points to some regression for him.
Over the month before the draft, Ghad an ADP of 74 as the 29th wide receiver in the high-stakes market. Last year he finished 24th in wide receiver scoring (212.7) in PPR leagues. Gallup slipped to 86th in ADP as the 35th wide receiver in a couple of leagues since the 2020 NFL Draft. For reference, Lamb moved to the 39th wide receiver with an ADP of 99.
WR Courtland Sutton, DEN
Fantasy owners and Broncos’ fans have to be excited about the direction of Denver’s passing game in 2020. They added wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who has the tools to be a future WR1, and WR2 K.J. Hamler gives quarterback Drew Lock another play-maker out of the slot.
Last year, Courtland Sutton was the uncontested WR1 for a team after catching 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six TDs on 125 targets. No other wide receiver caught over 28 passes.
The Broncos’ quarterbacks passed for only 3,401 yards with 16 TDs. Their wide receiver finished with 154 catches for 2,046 yards and nine TDs on 263 targets.
In essence, Sutton had about 50 percent of Denver’s wide receiving opportunity.
The natural progression in 2020 should be more passes and success in the passing game for the Broncos. Sutton could conceivably lose a big portion of his wide receiver opportunity, but still hold value or even have growth based more overall targets to the wide receiver position.
The challenge for me is the addition of a pass-catching back (Melvin Gordon), the growth expected at tight end by Noah Fant, and the improved talent at wide receiver (Jeudy and Hamler).
Last year Sutton ranked 19th in wide receiver scoring (224.9) in PPR leagues. His ADP (41) over the last month before the 2020 NFL Draft had him ranked as the 15th wide receiver this year. Over the last week, he slipped to the 18th wide receiver drafted with an ADP of 48. It’s a small sample size, but it does support my initial thought after the draft.
Over the last five games in 2019 with Lock starting at quarterback, Sutton caught only 55 percent of his targets compared to 63.6 percent over his first ten contests.
Sutton is a talented player who should get better over time. His value this year falls on the development of Drew Lock as a passer. His competition for targets will be much higher than in 2019, creating possible regression in his stats.
MORE FROM SI FANTASY: