NFL

8 Players to Avoid in Fantasy Football Drafts This Year

Who should you look to avoid in fantasy football drafts this season?

We can't predict the fantasy football future with complete certainty. Sure, I think Miles Sanders is going to have a big year, and I like Diontae Johnson, too. But I can't say that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those two players are going to far exceed expectation this season. What if they get hurt? What if their coaches don't use them optimally? What if I'm just flat-out wrong with my player analysis?

When we do fantasy analysis, it's really just a big probability-driven equation. We want to increase our chances of finding hits in our draft. One way to do that is by saying, "I really like this player!" and drafting him. That's what I covered last week. Another way is to point out players who seem to be overvalued, which can limit your pool of potential players to select. You're essentially decreasing the denominator and...

...what am I even saying?

Let's just keep this simple: Here are players who I think are overvalued right now in fantasy football drafts. Does that work as an introduction for you?

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Last year's late-round quarterback darling is understandably being drafted as this year's top quarterback, and while I've got Lamar Jackson as my QB1 (you can peep my rankings here), he's not worth it at his current draft cost. According to BestBall10s.com average draft position (ADP) data, over the last month, Jackson's fallen off of draft boards at Pick 22. That ain't it, chief.

Jackson is highly unlikely to repeat his MVP performance from last year. We know that he's a special player when running with the ball, but his 2019 campaign came with one of the most historic throwing seasons in NFL history as well.

Player Year TD Rate TD Rate Next Season Difference
Peyton Manning 2004 9.9% 6.2% -3.7%
Lamar Jackson 2019 9.0% N/A N/A
Aaron Rodgers 2011 9.0% 7.1% -1.9%
Tom Brady 2007 8.7% 5.0% -3.7%
Patrick Mahomes 2018 8.6% 5.4% -3.2%
Nick Foles 2013 8.5% 4.2% -4.3%
Dan Marino 1984 8.5% 5.3% -3.2%
Ken Stabler 1974 8.4% 5.5% -2.9%
Peyton Manning 2013 8.3% 6.5% -1.8%
Kurt Warner 1999 8.2% 6.1% -2.1%
Russell Wilson 2018 8.2% 6.0% -2.2%
Randall Cunningham 1998 8.0% 4.0% -4.0%


Jackson's 9.0% touchdown rate last year was the second-highest that we've ever seen at the NFL level.

Here's the bad part: There've been 13 quarterback seasons in league history where the passer had an 8.0% touchdown rate (touchdowns divided by attempts) or better. Of the 12 with next-season data (Tom Brady's 2009 was used above), none were able to improve on that touchdown rate. And the average dip in rate was 3.0%.

If Jackson were to throw the same number of times as he did last year, at a 6.0% touchdown rate, he would've tossed 12 fewer touchdowns.

Now, of course, some of those touchdowns would've turned into rushing scores. And those are more meaningful in fantasy football anyway. But Baltimore, as a team, is likely not going to score as many offensive touchdowns in total this season.

Team Year Total TD Total TD Next Season Difference
DEN 2013 71 55 -16
KC 2018 66 46 -20
GB 2011 63 49 -14
NO 2011 62 53 -9
NE 2012 59 44 -15
NO 2018 59 48 -11
BAL 2019 58 N/A N/A
ATL 2016 58 33 -25
NE 2011 57 59 2
NO 2016 55 46 -9
DEN 2014 55 32 -23
LAR 2018 55 42 -13


The Ravens scored 58 times last year on offense, and of the teams with 55 or more touchdowns over the last nine years, only one saw an increase in touchdowns the following season. It's not that each of these offenses became bad, it's just really hard to maintain such a high total.

So even if Jackson keeps up his rushing pace -- which is entirely possible -- you still have to fear some big regression in passing. And when that regression hits, he may not be able to overcome it with his rushing thanks to the Ravens scoring fewer times in 2020.

Probably.

But like I said, I've still got Jackson as the QB1 this year. He can regress and still be a top option. The problem is, if he's not going to give close to the same type of edge as he did last year, then he probably shouldn't be a second-round pick.

There are four main reasons to avoid early-round quarterbacks in fantasy football: supply and demand, predictability, scoring variance, and opportunity cost.

With supply and demand, you're looking at the sheer fact that there are lots and lots of usable quarterbacks out there to choose from, and in single-quarterback formats, you only need to start one. That means the position is inherently devalued.

Predictability is what you'd think: the position is predictable week in and week out. What that means is, because of the excess number of worthwhile fantasy quarterbacks out there (supply and demand), you're able to correctly predict which bad quarterbacks are in store for a good week.

Scoring variance simply tells us that the difference between one quarterback to the next typically isn't that significant, and then there's opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the single most important term in fantasy football. It's "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen." When you pick Lamar Jackson, your opportunity cost is all of the great running backs and wide receivers you chose not to select at that spot.

For more detail on each of these ideas, you can check out this study on the position in superflex leagues.

The opportunity cost in getting Jackson is high in the second round. I pointed this out earlier this offseason, but league-winning running backs and wide receivers are largely being selected in the first two or three rounds of drafts. That's not shocking by any means, but the drop-off from Round 2 and 3 to Round 4 and 5 is pretty dramatic. And that's the cost you're taking on when you select Jackson -- a player playing a relatively replaceable position in fantasy football -- so early.

It's just not a smart bet to make.

(For more on Jackson and why you shouldn't draft him so early this season, click here.)

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

My projections actually don't hate Aaron Jones, and my heart loves the guy. But I'd be lying if I said I felt confident drafting him this year.

Jones was last year's second-best running back in fantasy football, largely because he was able to find the end zone 19 times. That scoring total is probably (almost definitely) not going to be repeated here in 2020.

According to ESPN Mike Clay's opportunity-adjusted touchdowns metric, or oTD, which weighs every carry and target to show how many touchdowns a player should have scored, Jones overperformed in the touchdown column by 8.2 total scores last year. Only Derrick Henry was more fortunate.

Yours truly has a weighted rushing touchdown metric that similarly looks at where running backs see their touches to go along with how many yards a player has (more yards leads to more touchdowns), and within that statistic, Jones overperformed by 8.1 touchdowns.

Since 2011, we've seen 16 instances where a running back tallied 15 or more total touchdowns in a single season. Take a look at how those backs did the following year:

Player Year Games TD TD/Game Year N+1 Games TD TD/Game
Todd Gurley 2018 14 21 1.50 2019 15 14 0.93
LeSean McCoy 2011 15 20 1.33 2012 12 5 0.42
David Johnson 2016 16 20 1.25 2017 1 0 0.00
Aaron Jones 2019 16 19 1.19 2020 0 0 N/A
Christian McCaffrey 2019 16 19 1.19 2020 0 0 N/A
Jamaal Charles 2013 15 19 1.27 2014 15 14 0.93
Todd Gurley 2017 15 19 1.27 2018 14 21 1.50
Derrick Henry 2019 15 18 1.20 2020 0 0 N/A
Alvin Kamara 2018 15 18 1.20 2019 14 6 0.43
LeGarrette Blount 2016 16 18 1.13 2017 16 3 0.19
Marshawn Lynch 2014 16 17 1.06 2015 7 3 0.43
Arian Foster 2012 16 17 1.06 2013 8 2 0.25
Ezekiel Elliott 2016 15 16 1.07 2017 10 9 0.90
Mark Ingram 2019 15 15 1.00 2020 0 0 N/A
Ray Rice 2011 16 15 0.94 2012 16 10 0.63
Saquon Barkley 2018 16 15 0.94 2019 13 8 0.62


Funny enough, 4 of those 16 seasons came in 2019, with Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, and Christian McCaffrey hitting the mark. But among the 12 that didn't, only one saw an increase in touchdowns the following season (Todd Gurley from 2017 to 2018), with the remaining running backs seeing a dip in touchdowns per game.

It's hard to score that many touchdowns year in and year out. Regression is inevitable.

What does regression mean for Jones, though?

Let's just assume that Jones scored the number of touchdowns that he should have based on the metrics above -- that he scored 11 instead of 19. That means he would've tallied 48 fewer fantasy points, giving him RB7 numbers instead of RB2 ones. On a points per game basis, Jones would've gone from being the RB3 (Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey had more points per game) to the RB10.

This isn't really how projections are made, but it does give you an idea that Jones still would've been valuable. Regression doesn't mean obsolete.

The thing is, there are other forces working against Jones this year. The Packers went out and drafted A.J. Dillon in the second round of this year's draft, and he's a big-bodied back (a huge-bodied back, really) who could end up not just stealing work from Jones, but stealing some goal-line work from him. Last year, only five running backs had more carries at the goal line than Jones, and he was one of two backs (Ezekiel Elliott is the other one) to score 10 times from that area of the field.

The Packers were also good last year. They won 13 games, which led to a lot of positive game scripts. When teams have favorable scripts, they tend to run the ball more: the Packers were 15th in overall pass-to-rush ratio, but they ranked 8th in neutral script ratio, or the ratio of passes to rushes when games were within a six-point margin. More simply, they threw the ball more when games were close.

That latter number is stickier year over year. With an over/under win total set at 9 over on FanDuel Sportsbook, Green Bay could be more pass-heavy than expected. That may help Jones as a receiver -- and targets are way more valuable for fantasy running backs than attempts are -- but that also could hurt the Packers' pass-to-rush touchdown ratio. Historically, there's been some correlation between teams who run a lot and teams who then score a disproportionate amount of touchdowns via the ground.

In the end, where I have Jones ranked isn't dramatically different than where he's being drafted. But you'll have a choice in the second round to take a handful of high-upside running backs, and there are strong receivers to select there, too. To me, Jones should be ranked at the bottom of that tier.

Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Historically, RB2s in fantasy football -- running backs ranked between RB13 and RB24 -- haven't provided a super high ceiling. Since 2011, of the 108 running backs drafted in that range, 17.6% of them have finished the year as top-12 running backs, or RB1s. When looking at higher-end RB1s -- true league-winners -- that rate is just 4.6%. And it's not far off from what we see from typical RB3s, or players drafted in the RB25 to RB36 range.

Top-12 Rate Top-6 Rate
RB2s 17.6% 4.6%
RB3s 8.3% 2.8%


Essentially, RB2s aren't great bets. That was made pretty clear in the study done earlier this offseason on where league-winners come from in fantasy football.

So that's an immediate knock on Raheem Mostert, last year's late-season running back breakout.

Mostert's also got serious touchdown regression coming. Strictly from a rushing touchdown standpoint, my method saw Mostert exceeding expectation by 4.8 rushing touchdowns last year. Meanwhile, Clay's oTD showed Mostert with 6.2 more touchdowns than he should've had. The difference there is largely receiving, as Mostert scored twice through the air on just 22 targets.

And speaking of receiving, that's also a big concern with the 28-year-old starter. Mostert started playing more than half the 49ers' snaps in Week 13 last year. From then through Week 17, he had a running back rush share per game average of 62.3%, which is solid, but his target share per game was just 6.8%. Over that stretch, he didn't hit a double-digit percentage target share in any game, tallying 1.8 targets per contest.

We should be striving for upside with every pick we make in our fantasy drafts. Mostert has a chance to hit expectation and maybe even outplay his ADP a bit, but does he really have top-10 upside? Can he really be a league-winning player? Well, for what it's worth, since 2011, only five running backs have finished in the top-10 in season-long PPR scoring with a sub-7% target share. That's 5 out of 90 running backs. And only one -- Derrick Henry last year -- was able to finish as a top-five option with that low of a target share.

Really, if Mostert doesn't see an uptick as a receiver, in order for him to be a true difference-maker in fantasy football, he's going to have to produce like Henry did last year.

That's not something I'm willing to bank on. And you shouldn't, either.

Oh, and don't forget that, when things mattered most last season, Tevin Coleman was the one getting work in that backfield. San Francisco had a bye over the first week of the playoffs, but during the Divisional Round, Coleman had 22 rush attempts versus Mostert's 12. Neither player had a target. Coleman then got hurt in the NFC Championship game, allowing Mostert to grab hold of that backfield through the end of the playoffs.

It's easy to understand the allure with Mostert: the 49ers are probably going to score a lot of fantasy points on the ground, and he was effective when he got the rock last season. The problem is that his effectiveness in fantasy was largely unsustainable (touchdown regression), and without a big increase in receiving usage, he doesn't have nearly as high of a ceiling as his ADP suggests.

Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Now take all of those things that I just said about Raheem Mostert and attribute them to Mark Ingram. Because, really, their situations are kind of similar.

Ingram has touchdown regression coming, too. Clay's oTD shows that Ingram should've had 4.2 fewer touchdowns last year than he actually scored, and that's mostly due to his receiving numbers. He scored 5 touchdowns on just 30 targets, something no other running back has done in NFL history. On average, over the last nine seasons, running backs have scored through the air on every 37 targets. Ingram was doing it on every six.

Seems sustainable.

Ingram's high-level peripheral numbers weren't even that strong last season. His running back rush share per game -- the percentage of team running back rushes he saw in each contest -- ranked 27th-best in football at the running back position. His target share per game was 41st.

What helped him get by and finish as the 10th-best running back in fantasy football was situation. As I mentioned earlier with Lamar Jackson, the Ravens scored 58 times last season. Lamar Jackson had a touchdown rate of 9%. That helped catapult Ingram into the 15-touchdown club, which, as you can see in the chart above, isn't exactly a club worth buying into.

So there's a lot working against Ingram this year. And I haven't even mentioned that the Ravens spent a second-round pick on one of the best backs in this year's draft class, J.K. Dobbins.

What happens if and when Dobbins digs into Ingram's workload? It's not like that workload was even that big to begin with.

To me, Ingram's ADP of 72 overall and RB24 doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's just too much working against him.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

The wide receiver market is really efficient this year. It's tough for me to heavily disagree with where the early-round wideouts are being selected, making it even more difficult to find pass-catchers to write up as "avoids" in fantasy football drafts.

I don't think Stefon Diggs is someone you absolutely, positively need to stay away from this year, per se, but I doubt he'll be on a lot of my fantasy football rosters.

The Bills -- Diggs' new team -- don't have the most attractive passing offense in the world.

Pass Attempts Pass-to-Rush Ratio Rank Neutral Script Ratio Rank
2018 499 29th 31st
2019 513 26th 20th


Over the last two seasons -- two years with Josh Allen as quarterback and Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator -- Buffalo's ranked in the bottom 10 in overall pass-to-rush attempt ratio while also finishing on the low-end in neutral script ratio. They've been run-heavy, and that generally limits upside for pass-catchers.

The last five seasons have seen the 12th-ranked wide receiver (the last of the WR1s) score an average of 15.9 PPR points per game. Take a look at how frequently wide receivers made it to that average in offenses with low passing volume over the last nine years:

Pass Attempts Percentage of Team Seasons Percentage of WR1 Seasons
< 500 17.0% 4.4%
< 525 30.2% 11.5%


Since 2011, only 4.4% of the players (minimum 10 games played) who hit that points per game mark were part of offenses with 500 or fewer pass attempts. Yet, 17.0% of offenses over that time had passing volume that low. We've seen about 30% of offenses at or below the 525 pass attempt mark -- which is where the Bills have been the last two years -- and only 11.5% of WR1 seasons have come from those offenses.

Some of this is because teams with low passing volume likely have bad quarterbacks. It's also the result of volume meaning a whole lot to wide receivers (among other positions) in fantasy football.

This has actually limited Diggs historically, too. He's finished as a WR1 once in his five-year career, and it came back in 2018, when the Vikings threw the ball at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

Year Pass-to-Rush Ratio Rank Neutral Script Ratio Rank Pass Attempts PPR PPG
2019 30th 23rd 466 14.1
2018 4th 6th 606 17.8
2017 28th 21st 527 14.1
2016 9th 5th 588 13.8
2015 30th 28th 454 11.5


Diggs did see the highest target share of his career that season (25% in 15 games versus 21% in 15 games last year), but his points per game was exceptionally high thanks to the volume in the Vikings' O.

You may be thinking, "Man, 14.1 PPR points per game last year on just 466 team pass attempts is pretty impressive, though!" And it kind of is. Diggs was a freak last year. That's also a reason to fade him in 2020.

Among the 79 wide receivers with 50 or more targets last season, only A.J. Brown's 12.5 yards per target rate was higher than Diggs' 12.1. Diggs' average was actually the seventh-highest we've seen since 2011.

There've been 14 wide receiver seasons over this time where the wideout had a yards per target rate of 11 or better on 50 or more targets. None of those wide receivers saw an increase in yards per target the following season, and the average decline within the statistic was 3.14 yards.

All of this is to say that if you're using last year's numbers to make sense of what Diggs will do on a new team in Buffalo...don't. The chance that he's as efficient as he was last year is slim, and without volume to make up for that, his ceiling is capped.

Maybe the Bills throw far more than expected. Maybe Diggs overcomes the lack of prep this pre-season and is able to immediately click with Josh Allen. Maybe I'll look like an idiot in December for writing negatively about him.

It just seems logical to avoid him this year.

Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

It's not fun putting two wide receivers on this list who are objectively very, very good at football. Keenan Allen has posted nearly 1,200 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons, and he's one of three wide receivers who's scored 16 or more PPR points per game in each of those three years. The other two? Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins.

So, yeah, it doesn't exactly feel super comfortable putting him in this article. There are just a lot of question marks surrounding his situation, and there are lots and lots of good wide receivers being selected around him.

The obvious place to start is at quarterback. Allen hasn't played without Philip Rivers during his seven-year career, so we don't fully know how that'll impact his target share. In each of the last three seasons -- three years where he's really shown elite production -- Allen's hit a target share of 26%. There've only been 25 instances during this timeframe where a wide receiver got to that high of a share, so Allen owns 12% of those seasons.

That's not a bad thing, but it is when a quarterback change is happening. We just don't know what that target share will look like with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert under center, but considering how high it's been with Rivers, it's tough to imagine a share that tops that number.

And are we sure those quarterbacks are going to be much of a fit for Allen from a fantasy perspective? Allen's a good enough wide receiver to make any quarterback look good, but he's been a pass-catcher who's benefitted from lower average depth of target (aDOT) throws. His typical aDOT over the last three years has ranked in the 26th percentile among all wide receivers, and across his career, Allen's seen 18.6% of his targets come on passes that traveled 15 or more air yards. The league average during this time is 25.5%.

Philip Rivers has ranked below the average in intermediate- to deep-ball rate during this time period, but that hasn't been Tyrod Taylor's game -- Taylor's had just one season where he's thrown it deep at a rate below the norm.

Maybe that won't matter at all, but it's at least something to consider with the change from Rivers to Taylor. Add in that Allen may not be able to maintain quite as high of a target share, and things start to get a little rough in terms of projectable output.

It doesn't get much better with Justin Herbert, either. Historically, rookie quarterbacks haven't been kind to wide receivers. Rich Hribar of Sharp Football Analysis did a study that looked at how wide receivers fared with rookie quarterbacks through the years. What he found was that, since 2001, 75 different rookie quarterbacks started 5 or more games. Only 9.3% of those quarterbacks helped produce a top-12 wide receiver, and 29.3% saw one of their wideouts have a top-24 campaign.

There are just a lot of question marks, and there are a lot of good, young wide receivers being selected around Keenan Allen's range. Some ADP sources have Allen as a top-20 wideout, when I've got him closer to a fringe top-24 pass-catcher. I'd be taking players like Tyler Lockett and Terry McLaurin over him, when they're both below him in average draft position.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

There's nothing wrong with Tyler Boyd, and I understand why there are a lot of fantasy managers who are excited about drafting him as a mid-range WR3. He's likely to meet expectation at that cost.

So why the hell is he someone to avoid?

My fear is upside. A common argument for Boyd is that he's finished as a top-20 wide receiver in each of the last two seasons, and now he's being drafted 10 spots below that area here in 2020. That's not wrong when looking at cumulative numbers, but he's also been worse on a points per game basis.

Year Targets 16-Game Target Share Target Rank PPR PPG PPG Finish
2019 147 25.00% 7th 13.9 26th
2018 108 23.30% 21st 15.8 19th


Boyd only played 14 games in 2018, which is why his target total looks so low. Had he played a full 16-game season, we would've seen a comparable target share to 2019. His points per game average was higher in 2018 versus 2019 thanks to a couple of more scores and a higher catch rate. His numbers, in sum, though, are similar enough.

The issue here isn't about baseline production. He's proven to be able to get that. It's the ceiling. Where is that coming from?

Over the last two seasons, Boyd has tallied just six end-zone targets. There were 53 different wide receivers with that many end-zone looks in 2019 alone. That's a huge reason he was only able to score 5 times on 147 targets last year, and it's a reason to believe that there's no regression coming in the touchdown column despite the high volume numbers.

Some will point out that Boyd has had pretty favorable splits with A.J. Green in the lineup and healthy -- specifically in 2018, his breakout year -- but the sample size is fairly small. Boyd's fantasy points scored may have been better with AJ Green that year, but his target share was only a couple of percentage points better with Green than without him.

It's hard to sell Green coming back as a good thing for Boyd's projected volume. I think we'd all agree on that. And that's a problem, considering our most recent sample of Tyler Boyd showed a wide receiver who absolutely needed volume -- 147 targets worth -- just to get to a high-end WR3 finish in PPR points per game.

Add in the data above about how rookie quarterbacks tend to not support high-end fantasy football wide receivers, and it seems clear to me that Boyd is a floor play, not a ceiling play. That works in some leagues with deeper rosters, but in the majority of fantasy football formats, Boyd's likely not someone who's going to finish the year as a league-winner.

And I want league-winners.

Jared Cook, TE, New Orleans Saints

Jared Cook low-key balled out last year. It was his first season with Drew Brees and the Saints, and it was his best in a number of categories. He ended up with a career-high in touchdowns and yards per target.

That's part of the problem, though. Yards correlate well to touchdowns, and based on the yards to touchdowns conversion since 2011 at tight end, Cook should've had closer to five to six touchdowns in 2020 as opposed to the nine that he had. For even more proof that he was a fortunate touchdown scorer, Clay's oTD metric had him at 5.3 touchdowns.

This ties directly to Drew Brees having a crazy-good year, too. He had a career-high 7.1% touchdown rate, and the Saints ended up with the fourth-highest pass-to-rush touchdown ratio in the league. It was the highest ratio they've had over the last five years.

YearPass TDRush TDTD Ratio
201936123.00
201833261.27
201723231.00
201638172.24
201532162.00


The way teams score touchdowns tends to regress year over year. To put this another way, the Saints are probably going to see a larger proportion of their touchdowns come via the ground than the air this year, which will hurt the entire passing attack in fantasy football.

Regarding Cook's yards per target rate, well, it was was 10.9 last season. That's really, really high. The only tight end with 50 or more targets in a single season since 2011 with that high of a yards per target rate was Mark Andrews in 2018. There's almost no chance Cook keeps up that pace in 2020.

And what happens if and when his target share declines, too? The Saints added Emmanuel Sanders to the mix this offseason, and that should have some impact on Cook's overall volume outlook.

There's a lot working against Cook this year. You may see last year's TE8 being drafted at TE11 this season, but I see a player set to regress while being drafted alongside some legitimate breakout candidates.