Let Someone Else Draft Julian Edelman in Fantasy Football This Year
If you've engaged with any amount of fantasy football analysis, you've likely heard the following phrase: "he won't win your league, but he won't lose it, either."
The problem with this line of thinking is that winning fantasy leagues requires being more proactive than simply "not losing." In your average league, you stand roughly an 8% (1 in 12) chance of winning the title, give or take a few percentage points for skill, strategy, and activity levels. Finding "this year's Lamar Jackson" is always a difficult task, but it's one made more likely by avoiding obvious floor plays.
Obvious floor plays like Julian Edelman.
Edelman the quintessential example of a low-risk, low-reward selection, and his lack of ceiling makes Edelman one of fantasy football's clearest players to avoid for 2020.
Let's dig in.
The Art of Slot Receiving
Yeah, yeah, yeah. “He’s better in real-life than fantasy.” It’s the go-to cop out in fantasy analysis. In Edelman’s case, it has to be said though. I say this because I’m throwing out what are normally great numbers to look at -- things like our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, separation and target premium -- all of which rightly paint Edelman as great.
Instead, I’ll be pivoting to a much simpler stat: yards per target.
While yards per target normally takes a back seat to other metrics, Edelman fills a very specific niche on the football field, and it hurts him on a per-target basis. Because of this, Edelman has never exceeded 7.9 yards per target in a full season (the typical receiver hovers around 8 yards per target.) Yards per target doesn’t tell the whole Edelman story, but neither does raw fantasy points. Edelman’s role puts a hard cap on his fantasy upside.
What Is Edelman’s Ceiling?
We saw the extent of his upside in 2019, with Edelman hitting a career high 1,117 yards to go along with 6 touchdowns. That was good for WR10 in half-PPR scoring. However, it took Edelman 153 targets to reach those numbers. More notably, it took 620 team pass attempts to hit those numbers.
As you may have heard, Edelman will have a different quarterback in 2020. While we could get into the difference in ability between Cam Newton and Tom Brady, the more important distinction is in their styles. Newton probably scrambles less than people think, but he still runs more than Brady. What could be more impactful may be the amount of runs that the New England Patriots are likely to design for Newton.
The total impact is a likely reduction in passing attempts for the Pats. We project them to have 545 team pass attempts this season, a big drop from the 620 team passing attempts they had in 2019. Revisiting the hard cap on Edelman’s receiving production, any reduction in targets could spell a drastic drop in fantasy points for Edelman.
The best hope to offset this would be an increase in target share. Edelman saw a 26% target share in 2019 (throwaways don’t count toward team targets,) a number that will be difficult to improve upon with N'Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu likely to make bigger impacts than they did a season ago.
Edelman’s 2019 production is not a true reflection of his upside. If you draft him with 2019 in mind, you will be getting only downside.
Granted, that’s not exactly what current ADP reflects. Edelman isn’t going especially high in drafts, carrying an ADP of 79th overall and WR34, according to Bestball10 drafts within the last 30 days.
But that doesn’t mean taking him comes without opportunity cost. There are a few guys in Edelman's price range who are more enticing.
Tevin Coleman is an intriguing running back going later than Edelman. Ke'Shawn Vaughn may not see the role we once thought possible but still possesses tremendous upside. Diontae Johnson is a same-position alternative to Edelman who is worth targeting as Johnson offers the ceiling Edelman lacks. More unconventionally, I’ve mentioned my interest in Deshaun Watson in the middle rounds. I wouldn’t typically recommend quarterbacks in that range, but Watson is a high-end fantasy signal caller at mid-tier quarterback ADP. I'm also willing to bet Edelman's ADP increases in the average home league based on name recognition.
Draft cost isn’t the only cost you pay when drafting a player; you also pay the cost of a roster spot. If Edelman sinks to just below 800 receiving yards, as our projections suggest, he becomes a black hole of a roster spot -- a guy who isn’t droppable but also isn’t providing much upside and may not be a weekly starter for your team.
The roster spot you aren't using on Edelman could instead become the roster spot you use on a league-winning waiver claim. In a season where more players than ever will likely be missing games, roster spots are going to be especially valuable, and congesting your roster with middling options is not a winning strategy.
Fade the Known
Fading Edelman is an exercise in fantasy football game theory. There are ways to increase your chances of winning in fantasy football, and Edelman is the exact opposite of a league-winning pick. High-end fantasy production wins fantasy football titles, and Edelman won’t provide that in 2020.