Fantasy Football: The Changing Landscape Heading Into 2020

How has the fantasy football landscape changed since the start of the 2019 NFL season?
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Fantasy Football: Aaron Jones

There is so much change over the course of just one fantasy season. Players who were consensus first-round picks finished as just another guy. Complete afterthoughts on draft day emerged and became league winners. Some rookies made an easy transition to the NFL while others faltered.

Every one of those factors has an effect on the 2020 fantasy football season. Let’s take a closer look at the changing fantasy landscape and which players have experienced the most change since draft day. Here’s what you need to know to put a bow on the 2019 fantasy football season.

FALLING STARS

David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

Johnson more than earned his spot on my LVPs list for the 2019 season. The promise of a new high-powered offense and the shakiness of the running back position as a whole drove Johnson all the way up draft boards in the summer, with many taking him in the Top 5. Everything was going as planned for the first six weeks at least on the stat sheet, but Johnson didn’t pass the eye test of being the player he once was. He suffered an ankle injury in Week 7 and his role in the Cardinals offense mostly dried up. From Weeks 7-16, Johnson was the No. 77 RB in average fantasy points per game behind names like Jordan Wilkins, Spencer Ware and C.J. Ham. In short, he wasn’t even worth rostering for more than half of the fantasy season. Johnson won’t be featured in the same face, new place section below, but with the acquisition and likely re-signing of Kenyan Drake, Johnson appears unlikely to remain in Arizona in 2020. Depending on where he lands he’ll likely be a risky mid-round flier.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

A lost season at 31 years old in the final year of a contract was about the worst possible scenario for Green in 2019. Fantasy managers felt the pain too. Depending on how early your league drafted, Green went anywhere from the third or fourth round to the sixth round. Regardless of when he was drafted everyone got the same result: a goose egg. Green tore ligaments in his ankle all the way back in July when the Bengals practiced at the University of Dayton. Originally diagnosed as a 6-8 week injury, fantasy managers were hopeful that Green, a perennial Top 20 fantasy WR, would only miss a few games and could be treated as a rich man’s Golden Tate (who was suspended for the first four games of this season). Alas, everyone who had him wasted a roster spot for months before eventually giving up later in the season. Green’s future is in doubt because he’s a free agent, but it would not be surprising to see him return to Cincinnati. If he does, he’ll be in the low-end WR3 range and taken somewhere around Round 7 as a high-risk, high-reward option. If he lands in a more pass-friendly offense, he could be a high-end WR3 (or even a low-end WR2 if the hype train gets rolling).

Antonio Brown, Free Agent

Here are Brown’s finishes among all fantasy wide receivers in average fantasy points per game since 2013 in PPR leagues: 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd. It’s hard to be any more consistent than that. That type of safe production is what fantasy managers banked on when taking him in the first round the past couple seasons. Even after his inauspicious Pittsburgh exit and trade to Oakland, fantasy managers were still willing to use their first- or second-round pick on the superstar receiver. There was so much more risk associated with him this season anyway, then came training camp and one calamity after another. There were his burned feet, helmet-gate, fights with his GM and his eventual dismissal from the team. He landed in New England for one game against Miami and was cut again due to off-the-field issues. He never played another game in 2019. Who knows if Brown will even play in the NFL in 2020? Will any team overlook all his on-field and off-field drama in favor of his talent and give him a shot? Depending on where he lands, he could be a third- or fourth-round pick or a last-round flier if he’s still unsigned. However, his days as the WR1 are over and not coming back.

EMERGING SUPERSTARS

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

The star of the 2019 NFL season and likely MVP, Jackson was the No. 1 overall player in fantasy. He scored a whopping 28.2 fantasy points per game and had the best rushing season for a quarterback in NFL history. He’s already surpassed 2018 Patrick Mahomes as the highest single-season scoring fantasy player of all time. The path wasn’t easy, either. Jackson overcame a dreadful playoff performance against the Chargers last January and a ton of offseason criticism to get to this point. He’s the clear QB1 next season and is likely going to sneak into the first round in most drafts. In superflex or two-QB leagues he’s in the conversation with Christian McCaffrey as the No. 1 overall pick.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A trendy break out candidate when the season began, Godwin lived up and surpassed everyone’s expectations before his season ended a couple weeks early with a hamstring injury. He averaged 19.7 fantasy points in 14 games, good enough to be the No. 2 WR behind only Michael Thomas. Assuming Jameis Winston returns in 2020 as the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback, Godwin should be in line to finish as a WR1 yet again, health permitting. We now know that there are plenty of fantasy points to go around for both him and Mike Evans, a slight concern for some heading into 2019. Expect Godwin to go as an early second-round pick in 2020 drafts, possibly sneaking into the end of Round 1.

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Fantasy managers hoped they struck gold when Jones fell to them at the end of the third round of drafts this past summer. Jones’ talent was undeniable, but his workload was a major question mark. Both things proved to be true early in the season, but Jones eventually emerged as a major pass-catching threat for Aaron Rodgers and Jamaal Williams was slowly fazed out of the offense as the season went along. The result was Jones finishing as the No. 3 RB in fantasy, averaging just a shade under 20 points per game. When expectations match up with performance the hype only grows larger. Jones will likely sneak into the back end of the first round of fantasy drafts next season. He could even be the first running back taken after the first tier of wide receivers goes off the board.

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

Only three running backs scored more fantasy points on a per-game basis than Ekeler this season: Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones. Ekeler performed with Melvin Gordon on or off the field, proving he’s a true fantasy asset that can be relied upon in 2020. The most impressive stat about Ekeler is that he only had one game all season with fewer than 10 points. Keep in mind there is a good chance Gordon is playing elsewhere next season, opening the door for Ekeler to be the featured back. Justin Jackson and maybe a rookie will spell him, but having such a clear path to 20 touches per game puts him in RB1 territory next season. Ekeler should go late in the second round of 2020 fantasy drafts in any sort of PPR format.

DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins

From Week 4 on Parker was a Top 10 wide receiver, averaging 17.1 fantasy points per game. From Week 11 on Parker was a Top 5 wide receiver, averaging 20.1 fantasy points per game. Not bad for a player typically going outside of the Top 200 on draft day. With Adam Gase’s coaching in the rearview mirror, Parker emerged into the star may thought he could be coming out of Louisville. He developed a strong chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick and should carry that over into next season with (hopefully) more talent around him. As long as FitzMagic is back, Parker should come off draft boards in the fourth or fifth round next season as a WR2.

AGING VETS

Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

Rivers really showed his first major signs of a rapid decline this season. He was perennially just outside of QB1 territory on a per-game basis the last few seasons but finished as the QB23 this season with an average of just 15.9 points. He turned the ball over a bunch and had eight games this season with fewer than 13 fantasy points. He wasn’t usable in single-QB formats for much of the season and was far from the high-upside back-up plan many fantasy managers drafted him to be. He may be done with the Chargers and even the NFL after this season. We’ll see, but he shouldn’t be drafted in single-QB leagues in 2020.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

This may be the end of the road for Fitzgerald, but don’t rule out him returning in 2020. The future Hall of Famer had a strong start to the season under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, ripping off three straight 14-plus point performances. He slowed down considerably after that and finished as the WR45 with an average of 11.3 fantasy points per game. Things won’t improve for Fitzgerald next season, especially if the Cardinals spend their first-round pick on a receiver, so don’t expect him to be a Top 50 option next year. As such, he’s maybe a 13th-round pick in 2020 drafts as a low-upside flier.

PROMISING ROOKIES

Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders

Jacobs had a big game right out of the starting gates to begin his NFL career, slowed down a bit and then began to find his groove late in the season. A fracture in his shoulder derailed him during the fantasy playoffs, but overall it was a strong rookie season for the player many expected to pace all rookies in fantasy points in 2019. Jacobs finished as the RB15 in fantasy points per game and will likely be a trendy second-round pick next season as a low-end RB1. Unless the Raiders decide to replace back-up DeAndre Washington with a starting-caliber running back, Jacobs has a clear path to 20-25 touches per game as a sophomore. Volume is a scarce commodity in fantasy and Jacobs has that and the talent to be a cornerstone to a championship-worthy fantasy roster.

A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

Many fantasy managers groaned when two of the most promising rookie receivers got drafted to Baltimore (Marquise Brown) and Tennessee (A.J. Brown) in April. Both receivers struggled to find consistent production early on, but a quarterback change in Tennessee opened up the door for the latter’s fantasy boom. A.J. Brown was the WR16 from the time Ryan Tannehill took over as the Titans’ start to the end of the season. He was the No. 3 WR following Tennessee’s Week 11 bye. Assuming the Titans extend Tannehill, Brown will come into the 2020 season with a tremendous amount of confidence and chemistry with his quarterback. He’ll be a fan-favorite in fantasy drafts, maybe going as high as the third round. He’s a solid WR2 entering next season, but be aware that the Titans may add more weapons on the outside.

Daniel Jones, New York Giants

The guy everyone mocked the Giants for taking too high in the 2019 NFL Draft finished with more fantasy points per game than Aaron Rodgers this season. He also finished higher than Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff and a whole host of others fantasy managers had high hopes for this season. Is Jones turnover prone? Yes, at least at this stage of his career. However, he’s been able to overcome it for fantasy purposes and now has a full offseason to prepare as the unquestioned starter. Jones finished as the QB14 in average fantasy points per game and should have a full season of Golden Tate and Evan Engram and a healthy Saquon Barkley at his disposal in 2020. If he doesn’t sneak into the back end of QB1 territory, he’ll be a high upside back-up rostered in every league.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Howard’s injury opened the door for Sanders to be the true featured back in Philadelphia. He made the most of his opportunity, scoring 112.5 PPR points from Weeks 11-16. That was good enough to be the No. 6 RB on a per-game basis. Howard’s contract expires at the end of the season, so Sanders should have the lead role all to himself in 2020. Doug Pederson has shown reluctance to trust one back with the consistent lion’s share of the workload in the past, but it looks like he’s softened that stance a bit. Sanders seems like a likely third-round pick in next year’s draft with the upside to do what Aaron Jones did this season.

Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins

Despite getting average-to-terrible quarterback play all season, McLaurin emerged as a true threat in the receiving game for the Redskins for years to come. He finished as WR28 with an average of 13.7 fantasy points per game. The most encouraging part of his rookie production is how he ended the season. It took a few games for McLaurin and fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins to get on the same page despite playing together in college. Before his injury in Week 16, Haskins looked like he was turning a corner in his development. McLaurin was reaping the benefits, finishing with 15.7, 24.0 and 15.6 fantasy points in Weeks 14-16, respectively. Expect the former Buckeye to go somewhere early in the fifth round next season.

SAME FACE, NEW PLACE (maybe)

Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

A season that began with a holdout ended with a slight fumbling problem and overall disappointment for both Gordon and the Chargers. He may have finished as the No. 19 RB on a per-game basis, but fantasy managers who took a risk by drafting him while he was holding out wanted more than mid-level RB2 production once he returned. He still flashed his premier talent frequently enough to be encouraged about his future production, but we still don’t know what team he’ll be running for in 2020. It’s possible his volume is improved slightly and he goes somewhere with 20-25 guaranteed touches per game (like Miami). It’s possible he steps right back into a timeshare but in a much better offense (like Kansas City). It’s also possible he goes somewhere that pays him the most money but is a terrible situation for fantasy production (like the Jets). With so many questions it’s tough to evaluate where he should be taken in 2020 drafts. However, RB2 territory seems fair.

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets

Several reports out of New York seem to indicate that Bell will be a one-and-done with the Jets. Getting away from Adam Gase’s offense is the best-case scenario for Bell and fantasy managers. A reunion in Pittsburgh would be incredibly intriguing and likely keeps Bell in RB1 territory on draft day. Houston seems like a possibility as well and they do have a need despite how well Carlos Hyde played at times this season. He’d be an amazing fit and a surefire first-round pick in fantasy drafts if he went to Kansas City. Bell finished as the RB17 this season despite missing all of 2018 and being attached to an offense with little commitment to the run. It’s hard to imagine him landing in a worse scenario in 2020, so he should fall somewhere between low-end RB1 and high-end RB2 territory come draft day.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Henry is a pending free agent and the Titans are yet to engage in contract talks with the star running back. This is extremely intriguing for a number of reasons. They can’t franchise both him and Ryan Tannehill this offseason, so if they can’t come to a long-term agreement with one ahead of the tag deadline they’ll lose at least one of them to free agency. Taking either player out of this offense will have a profoundly negative effect on the Titans as a whole and a player like A.J. Brown. Taking Henry out of Tennessee isn’t likely to net him more opportunities to succeed, so the best case for all involved is to get Henry re-signed. If he does, he’ll be a late-first round pick in fantasy drafts. If he goes elsewhere the uncertainty might cause him to slip into Round 2.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Where will Newton play quarterback in 2020? It’s a question that’s been pondered for months already with the former Heisman winner on IR, but we still have no clear answers. The possibility of returning to Carolina can’t be completely ruled out. It seems unlikely he’ll head to Chicago after Mitchell Trubisky appeared to turn things around late in the season. What’s left? The L.A. Chargers? Bengals? There just doesn’t seem to be an easy fit unless another starter gets hurt. As such, Newton is not draftable in single-QB formats in 2020 despite finishing as a Top 10 QB in three of the past five seasons.