One of the trends we've seen in the NFL in the past several seasons is the blurring of positional designations. Tight ends split out wide far more today than they did 10 or 20 years ago, wide receivers seem to add more rushing production, and running backs have been targeted down the field at a higher (and more effective) rate.
Then there's the consideration of scheme, and how it impacts Fantasy Football. Across the NFL, 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers — has overwhelmingly become the most frequent grouping. But there are select teams, like the Eagles last year as a great example, that are employing heavy two-TE formations. While it can feel difficult to trust Dallas Goedert given he's not even the top tight end on his own team, he ran the 15th most routes of any tight end in the league in 2019 … meaning drafting a team's second tight end at his TE15 Average Draft Position in 2020 shouldn't really give you much pause.
This piece is intended to tie those two things together and focus on the team level, applying a "pecking order" of Fantasy production to each AFC team's skill position players. For those of you who are just tuning back into football, hopefully this will help get you up to speed. For those of you locked in all offseason, there should still be some interesting nuggets to consider.
For teams like the Eagles — when we get to the NFC — you will find multiple tight ends higher in the pecking order than you might find any tight end on another roster. Understanding schematic differences and which players are utilized in unique ways is an important part of building a successful draft strategy.
Also keep in mind that not all offenses can support the same number of productive Fantasy options. There are cases where I'm more interested to draft the fourth option in an offense than the second in another. That may be doubly true if we're talking about a player like Mecole Hardman with the Chiefs who, while he appears blocked somewhat for playing time, has the ability to skyrocket in value if a role materializes. Sometimes blocked players in great offenses are the ones with the most upside.
With a rushing quarterback who soaks up Fantasy production, the Bills aren't an offense that can support five or six Fantasy stars. But four could be solid, led by Diggs, who Buffalo has discussed as a clear No. 1 wide receiver they intend to force feed, backing up the capital they traded away to acquire him (a first-round pick plus a fourth, fifth, and a late-round pick swap in Minnesota's favor).
With Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out, Williams and Gesicki look to have fairly secure passing game roles alongside Parker. Isaiah Ford and Jakeem Grant lead my best guess for the third most productive receiver, and it's feasible Patrick Laird could carve out a pass-catching role. I have Breida as more of a focal point for Fantasy despite projecting Howard for more touches overall, because Breida looks like the better fit in the passing game and is the more explosive back.
This is one of the most difficult offenses to get a feel for right now. The big August story is Damien Harris, who has been running with the first team because Sony Michel could reportedly miss up to half the season. Behind him, I have Burkhead as more Fantasy-relevant than recent free agent add Lamar Miller, and Sanu and rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are all worth keeping an eye on.
With Denzel Mims falling behind in camp, this could become a relatively concentrated passing game. Adam Gase offenses have trended that way before, but they've also trended toward not being very good for Fantasy.
Figuring out who to put atop the pecking order here is tough. Andrews is the higher pick because of positional scarcity, and I love targeting him in the fourth round. Brown could have an explosive second year if he can stay healthy, and might have the edge in target and production upside as a wide receiver. Ultimately, they are essentially tied.
I think Tee Higgins is more of a long-term No. 1 solution for the eventual departure of Green, while Ross's speed could give him a more defined 2020 role. Higgins is worth watching, though, while Boyd isn't as far behind Green as it may seem and is a favorite mid-round wide receiver target of mine in PPR.
It's teams like this where I think this is a useful exercise. It's difficult to rank the top four, particularly if Hunt is as involved alongside Chubb as it appears he could be. Landry is arguably as involved as Beckham, and there's a case having Hunt two spots behind Chubb, and Landry two behind Beckham are both mistakes. But I do think Hooper is a clear fifth, and Njoku might be a more interesting deep league or Dynasty option than some realize given Kevin Stefanski's heavy reliance on two-TE formations in Minnesota.
There's been chatter about how good Washington was in 2019, but keep in mind second-round rookie Chase Claypool profiles as more of a threat to his downfield role than Johnson's other outside receiver role. I'm high on Smith-Schuster bouncing back, and Snell might prove to be a solid late-round running back option as seemingly the top Steelers backup right now.
Fuller is the only player in this offense that I have any degree of confidence in how they will be utilized. Given the shortened offseason, I'm not sure enough has been made of his rapport with Deshaun Watson. He's the clear top Fantasy option in this offense for me, with David Johnson a potential star if he returns to form but a costly pick to find out.
Pittman will look low to anyone high on the rookie, but I think Campbell is destined for the slot role, while Pittman might rotate a bit with Zach Pascal opposite T.Y. Hilton if the Colts' receiver trends in 2019 are any indication. Hines looks headed for a nice PPR role, and I think all three running backs could be solid this year for an improved team behind a great offensive line and with a quarterback in Philip Rivers who targets the position often. But it's the rookie Taylor who has more upside than anyone in the offense.
Conley and Westbrook are heading into their age-28 and age-27 seasons, and neither has hit 800 yards in a season. Both are free agents after the year, too, so I expect Shenault to make a splash in Year 1, though it might take until the second half of the season. This team isn't going anywhere, and that could spell bad news for Fournette as well, with Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo as reasonable deep league stashes that could wind up with roles. After sophomore Josh Oliver broke his foot, there's an outside shot Eifert could be a decent tight end option.
The Titans return their main offense from a strong late-season stretch, so things should probably shake out similarly. I'm, and think Evans could have some stand-alone value as a rookie given GM Jon Robinson mentioned after the draft they project him as a strong pass protector, though Evans fumbled twice in one practice already.
This is an interesting Fantasy offense, but my concern is we just don't know yet whether Drew Lock can sustain this many weapons. The Broncos didn't really address the backup quarterback position in an offseason full of options, settling on journeyman scrambler Jeff Driskel. Sutton is the clear top option to me, and the backfield sounds like more of a split than Average Draft Positions suggest. Jeudy, Fant and Hamler are all very intriguing, but the question is whether there is enough volume for all of them. I've tended to go other ways in drafts.
Kansas City Chiefs
- Tyreek Hill
- Travis Kelce
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- Sammy Watkins
- Mecole Hardman
- DeAndre Washington
- Darrel Williams
The answer to the Watkins/Hardman debate should probably be "both" given their ADPs. If it's Hardman, as my rosters would tell you I'm hoping, he'll be an absolute steal. But Watkins is even cheaper, and it's hard to understand why he goes so late because he probably has to project for a starting spot in an explosive offense. Meanwhile, the secondary RB slots are very important here, even as Edwards-Helaire is expected to be a star and is my RB6 in PPR. Darrel Williams might turn out to be one of the best values in all of Fantasy drafts as the back with the most extensive experience in this offense in a shortened offseason, and yet I still like Washington more. Both make great late-round upside dart throws in this offense.
- Josh Jacobs
- Darren Waller
- Henry Ruggs
- Hunter Renfrow
- Bryan Edwards
- Lynn Bowden
- Tyrell Williams
- Jalen Richard
Look, I have no idea how this is going to shake out from about the third spot on down. But this is another team where this exercise is helpful — tons of these players are getting camp hype, and it's not likely all of them will be productive. I didn't even list free agent additions Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten, and that might have been a mistake. There are intriguing options all the way down, but typically I'm not loading up on secondary pieces in deep offenses where I expect nine or 10 players to be contributors.
This offense will look a lot different, especially if Tyrod Taylor starts a substantial portion of the season. Expect as many as 100 fewer pass attempts, which will limit the target volume Allen, Henry, Williams and even Ekeler can rack up — Williams is the only one I find myself considering often because of his depressed ADP. The veteran Jackson looks to be the favorite for the No. 2 RB role early in camp.
So which Fantasy football busts should you completely avoid? And which running back going off the board early should you fade? Visit SportsLine now to get cheat sheets from the model that called Baker Mayfield's disappointing season, and find out.