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Mon Dec 14th 2020

2020 Week Fourteen Review

Rookies Rock

Week fourteen, week one of dynasty playoffs, is almost in the books. It was a low scoring week overall for fantasy, and the NFL games were not very competitive. Nevertheless, dynasty teams advanced or got bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

I advanced to the semifinals in four of my eight dynasty leagues, so I am pretty pleased with that, but there's the one game that I lost yesterday that still is eating me up. I have to remind myself like I always remind you that win or lose; it's a joy to watch football all weekend and cheer on our dynasty teams.

After following all of the games, here are my thoughts on week fourteen (playoff week one). I'll also reflect on my good and bad calls this year, what I'll call "Victory Laps."  Next week I'll discuss my bad calls because I have plenty of those too.

Week Fourteen Observations

Rookies Rock

  • At the end of the dynasty regular season, it's good to reflect on the rookie class. This year's class is one of the best I have ever seen. It took some time for most rookie running backs to break out, but five rookie running backs are now ranked among the top 24 running backs in scoring this season. Five rookie wide receivers are ranked among the top 36 in scoring. That means that there are ten rookie running backs and wide receivers that are startable every week, including undrafted free agent James Robinson who already has more scrimmage yards than any undrafted free agent in NFL history. When I looked at the top 24 draft picks taken in most of my rookie drafts last year, only Ke'Shawn Vaughn and A.J. Dillon (two players I avoided and did not draft on any team) appear to be total busts. Top-24 rookies like Zach Moss, Jalen Reagor, Jerry Jeudy, Denzel Mimms, and Michael Pittman have at least shown some promise and earned starting roles on their team. The verdict is still out on Bryan Edwards, who cannot stay healthy. I already have six rookie running backs ranked among my top 24 dynasty running backs and six rookie wide receivers ranked among my top 36 dynasty wide receivers. It's been a stellar class, one that enabled rebuilding teams to rebuild quickly. One team went from worst to first this year after compiling 2020 first-round picks in my favorite league. Almost every manager can look back at their 2020 draft class and get excited about their rookies' future; some are even riding their rookies into the playoffs.

A New Narrative

  • One of the common narratives that, for the most part, held true was that wide receivers who get traded would struggle on their new teams, especially in year one. That gave many dynasty managers concern for Stefon Diggs, and DeAndre Hopkins headed into this season. The new team narrative was only part of why managers questioned the value of these two stud receivers. Diggs also had a concern about Josh Allen's inconsistent play and inaccuracy with the ball. Hopkins carried the concern that Kliff Kingsbury's offense spreads the ball around too much. Going into week fourteen, Diggs and Hopkins only trailed Keenan Allen for most NFL targets. Diggs was targeted 14 times on Sunday night, turning them into ten catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday afternoon, Hopkins was targeted 11 times, turning them into nine catches for 136 yards. Josh Allen's completion percentage is 10 points higher than last year (69% compared to 58%). Kyler Murray is not spreading the ball around. Hopkins has almost twice as many targets as Arizona's second most targeted receiver, Christian Kirk (127 to 65). In today's pass-happy NFL, wide receivers are breaking the old switching-teams narrative. Robby Anderson has done the same this year, as has Brandin Cooks, who has done well in year one of three different times when traded to a new team. It's time to start seeing wide receivers that get traded as a buying opportunity rather than a selling opportunity in dynasty leagues.

Not A Lock

  • Two players that have been steady parts of winning rosters are questionable starters in the playoffs or could have kept their teams from advancing after consecutive poor performances. Terry McLaurin was having an incredible season, even with all of the changes at quarterback in Washington, but he has really disappointed the last two weeks. He's had two consecutive games with only two catches, even though he was targeted six times in each game. He's likely not going to get much better if Dwayne Haskins is starting for Washington next week in the fantasy playoffs. I have survived to the semifinals in two leagues where I have McLaurin on my teams, but I'm likely not going to start him next week. What concerns me more from a dynasty perspective is how Washington is winning and building their team. They're building their team and winning games through their defense, making the passing game one of the worst in the league, averaging 213 passing yards per game. What's worse, their winning is taking them out of the running to draft and quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft, so unless they trade for one or pay for one in free agency, Washington will run back Alex Smith or Dwayne Haskins next year or re-sign Kyle Allen who is a free agent after this season. None of this bodes well for McLaurin, who is a great wide receiver. He just might be locked onto a lousy team. I am glad to have him on my rosters and would not like to sell him, but his dynasty upside is concerning. The other player in the same boat is Tyler Lockett. He's not underperformed as much as McLaurin the last few weeks, but he has certainly not helped fantasy teams win. He's averaged less than 50 yards receiving the previous three weeks and has not scored a touchdown, whereas David Moore and Freddie Swaim have caught a combined three touchdowns alongside D.K. Metcalf's one touchdown. Metcalf has become more than Russell Wilson's big-play guy. He's become his first target. The next two weeks, in the fantasy playoffs, Seattle plays the fourth and first best defenses against quarterbacks, the Washington Football Team, and the Rams. Dynasty managers may be wise to bench Lockett in the playoffs and sell him this offseason since he's 28 years old and one of the most boom or bust players to roster.

Quarterback Market Mark-up

  • It's becoming increasingly evident which teams need a new quarterback in 2021. The Jets and Jaguars need to say good-bye to their young quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Gardner Minshew, who will likely remain under contract with their teams while being replaced with the first and second pick of the NFL draft. Cincinnati is the only other team that could end the season with a worse record, but they have the quarterback of their future in Joe Burrow. New quarterbacks and new coaches for both teams will lead to increased dynasty value for all of their offensive weapons. While that much is clear, there are a few other four to six-win teams that I believe also need a new quarterback but may not be in a position to do so depending on how they finish this season. As many as six rookie quarterbacks may get drafted in the first round this year, so quarterbacks may fall to these teams in the middle or late first round. Teams that I think will be in the rookie quarterback market in addition to the Jets and Jaguars are the Patriots, 49ers, Bears, Panthers, Broncos, and even the Cowboys, if they don't sign Dak Prescott. The Lions and Falcons may be in the rookie quarterback market, too, if they decide to do a total rebuild. In that case, Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford could be bridge quarterbacks, much like Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers were this year. Jameis Winston is the free-agent quarterback with the most upside. First-round busts Mitch Trubisky and Sam Darnold could be attractive prospects if a team were convinced that they still have promise. Trubisky is a free agent, and Sam Darnold could be traded when the Jets draft a rookie quarterback. There's going to be a quarterback carousel this year in the free agency and the draft, and I would not rule out a quarterback trade either. Like it or not, dynasty players' values are always tied to their quarterback, so I expect to adjust my rankings quite often this offseason.

2020 Season Review

Now that we're in the fantasy playoffs, I'd like to reflect on things I got right and things I got wrong this year. I can't mention one without the other, and every analyst has hits and misses. Every good dynasty manager needs to reflect on the year to learn from what they got right and what they got wrong to become a better manager the next year. That said, here are a few of my Victory Lap players. Next week I will write about my Walks of Shame players because I have plenty of those too.

2020 Victory Lap Players

Robby Anderson

  • Anderson started the year a lot hotter than he is finishing the year, but he's heating up again and will be a solid contributor in my playoff match-ups this weekend. As I wrote about last August, Anderson is one of my most owned players. Any player that leaves the Jets for another team gets a boost in their dynasty value. When he signed with Carolina, I bought into the narrative of him playing for his college coach, who knew how to use him. I also followed the money. His contract was for two years at ten million dollars a year. That's too much money to invest in a player that would not see significant playing time. I have historically been lower on Curtis Samuel and believed Anderson would play the number two role beside D.J. Moore. I was not only right; Anderson scored just as much as Moore. As of today, Moore is averaging 12 points per game while Anderson is averaging 11.9. Anderson was a steal in the 15th round of my most recent start-up, and he'll be in my starting line-up on two of my semifinal teams this weekend.

Brandin Cooks

  • Cooks did not have a stellar year, but he was the 29th highest scoring wide receiver heading into week 14. That's a respectable WR-3 after many dynasty managers thought he was dead. His 2019 season was the worst since his rookie year, but he had four straight 1000-yard seasons on four different teams before that. After his poor last season with the Rams, dynasty analysts labeled him injury-prone, but the fact is that he only missed four games in his career until he missed his fifth game this week. I took advantage of managers who soured on him. I traded a late second-round rookie pick for him in one league, and I drafted him in the 8th round of a start-up draft just before the season started. I did not expect Will Fuller to have such a great season and stay healthy. I expected Cooks to be the WR-1 in Houston, but instead, he was the WR-2. That said, Houston may not re-sign Fuller next year, so Cooks could be in line to be DeShaun Watson's primary target next year. Cooks was a stable WR-3 for many of my teams this year, which is far better than where his dynasty value was at this time last year.

James White

  • Once Tom Brady left New England, I had no interest in carrying White on my roster. I sold him for a 2021 third-round pick in a PPR league and let his contract expire in a salary cap league. I only have him rostered on one team now. As a policy, I try not to roster New England running backs because of the way New England rotates their running backs. The only exception I made was for James White in PPR leagues where he always provided a steady floor with Brady led teams. Once Brady left for Tampa Bay, I was no longer interested in White. Even when Cam Newton signed and analyst pointed to how Christian McCaffrey caught a ton of passes from Cam. In his last two seasons with Brady, he averaged more than 12 half-PPR points per game. This year he's averaging just six.

Adam Thielen

  • Thielen ended the 2019 fantasy season with a dud, missing seven games in his 29-year-old season. Entering his 30-year-old season in 2020, most dynasty managers were eager to get rid of Thielen. However, I drafted him in the 7th round of my most recent start-up, and he's far surpassed that value, even though he let me down in my playoff loss this week. As of this week, he was the 6th highest scoring wide receiver, based mostly on his 12 touchdown catches. Minnesota's commitment to the running game and Kirk Cousin's mediocre play caused most dynasty managers to devalue Thielen. While those are factors to consider, I just believed in Thielen and Cousins' connection with one another. Even when Stefon Diggs was on the team, Cousins always had eyes for Thielen. Rookie Justin Jefferson has indeed outscored Thielen this year, but you can't point that out without noticing that Cousins and the run-heavy Vikings have produced the 4th and 6th highest scoring wide receivers this year, so far. Two years ago, while Antonio Brown was starting to act crazy, I traded Brown for Thielen straight up. I've not regretted it.

Justin Herbert

  • I'm not going to say that I had Herbert ranked way higher in my 2020 rookie rankings than other analysts or dynasty managers, but I must have had him higher than many because I drafted him in three of my eight dynasty leagues. One of the things I note is players who were once thought to be a top prospect who fall in the draft because of a bad senior year in college. After his junior year, Herbert was considered the top NFL quarterback prospect by many draft analysts, but he returned to school and did not play well his senior season while Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow had great final seasons. I drafted Herbert in the third round of three leagues. I traded away my fourth and fifth-round picks to move into the third to draft him in one of those leagues. He's become one of my most favorite players to watch. Now I can enjoy watching him as an NFL fan and a dynasty manager.

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