On Fantasy Football Today, Adam Aizer, Dave Richard and Jamey Eisenberg looked back at the 2020 FFT Fantasy draft to see exactly what we could learn, take away and then improve on in our 2021 Fantasy drafts. Among the most interesting takeaways they included the concepts of not moving on from the rookie receiver class too early, whether or not the first and second-round running back investments returned value, how important tight ends were to overall roster success and a review of how the one team who utilized a zero-RB strategy draft fared. You can listen to the entire breakdown below:
Their breakdown of their one draft sparked my interest and got me rolling. I looked back through my 2020 drafts and determined the five most important lessons I learned that I will be applying for my 2021 drafts.
1. Drafting RBs based on projected volume
Former Steelers RB James Conner was one of my biggest misses in 2020 drafts and it wasn't just a byproduct of him falling to me in my snake drafts -- I landed him in multiple salary cap leagues at what I thought was a value. At the time, I convinced myself that part of the value involved in drafting Conner focused around recency bias (after a down 2019), but the reality is that he wasn't ever a back who created much on his own via the run game or the pass game. I loved Conner because of coach Mike Tomlin's history leaning on a workhorse back (and offseason coach speak that confirmed this bias) plus what I thought would be a voluminous role in a borderline high-end scoring offense. In the process, I overlooked what kind of impact a Steelers offensive line that had major red flags entering 2020 plus an aging one-dimensional quarterback would have on Pittsburgh's offense overall.
Conner once again battled through an injury-plagued season and ultimately never held down the voluminous role that was so vital to him returning value at his ADP. Avoiding overrating backs based on projected volume is one piece of a larger puzzle that if completed could help you retool your draft strategy for the better. What I'm saying is, Conner was part of the "running back dead zone" we've referenced on numerous occasions (and although impossible to define this zone generally starts in Round 3 and runs through Rounds 7 or 8). He wasn't the only example of a running back pushed up draft boards due to projected volume and/or the panic of missing out on the position after so many have already been selected in Rounds 1 and 2.
A few other dead zone backs you may/may not have selected based on projected volume who ultimately didn't return much value included: Todd Gurley, Raheem Mostert, Le'Veon Bell, Mark Ingram, Kenyan Drake and Devin Singletary.
2. Not drafting for enough upside at QB
As an avid supporter of the late-round quarterback drafting strategy (in leagues that only require you to start one QB and even more specifically in leagues with shallow benches), it's hard for me to admit this, but the QB landscape might be changing. The emergence of young dual-threat QBs who can rack up points a lot faster than traditional drop-back QBs has created a larger gap in the haves and have-nots at the position. For years, the late-round QB strategy has been so efficient because: 1. Depending on the size of your league only 8-16 are starting each week and 2. Weekly production is correlated to matchups. This is what led us to avoid drafting a QB in the middle rounds like the plague.
However, the LRQB strategy may have finally met its match. Last year, avoiding the middle rounds for drafting quarterbacks meant missing out on Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott (who was having a league-winner type Fantasy season before the injury), among others for trendy late-round targets like Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz -- neither of whom worked out. The former four were all Fantasy difference makers and carry a sky-high floor (in addition to their upside) into 2021 drafts due to their ability to accrue Fantasy points with their legs. Of course, this doesn't mean you still can't find upside in the final rounds (or on the wire in shallower leagues), but in order to do so, you might want to consider another lesson I learned looking back at 2020 drafts:
Not pairing my LRQB strategy with a high-upside backup QB
By avoiding the middle rounds at QB in one-QB leagues, I missed out on every dual-threat breakout QB mentioned above. However, there's another lesson I learned that will lead to an alteration to my LRQB strategy -- in too many leagues I selected just one sleeper QB I loved. In doing so, I missed out on potential per-game Fantasy breakouts like Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert. Moving forward, if you're taking a LRQB approach, it makes sense to target a high-upside backup QB given the depth and talent you've already accrued at RB and WR. It's easier to take another swing at landing an upside RB or WR, but the high-upside backup QB will likely be more important to you (when using this strategy) given your roster construction.
3. Not completely going studs or 'duds' at TE
It's easy to make a case to yourself that you're going to find the next breakout Fantasy TE, but the reality is that it is extremely unlikely to be the case. In 2021, I will be targeting tight ends who fit the elite billing (massive projected volume plus elite talent) or avoiding the position entirely until the final few rounds of the draft.
With the exception of Travis Kelce and Darren Waller (and George Kittle on a per-game basis), trendy tight end picks didn't return much value in 2020. Mark Andrews shot up draft boards in August, and although he finished as the TE3 in PPR leagues, he was outscored by 27 running backs and 36 wide receivers on a per-game basis, per Chris Towers.
Andrews included, TE4-16 all averaged within two Fantasy points per game from each other in PPR leagues. Unlike at RB and WR, they averaged between 9-12 Fantasy points per game -- those aren't the type of mid-round breakout picks that move the needle in PPR leagues.
This doesn't mean you can't win with an elite TE build, and that's why I'm prioritizing drafting Kelce, Waller (avoiding Kittle since his injury history is not currently baked into his ADP) and Kyle Pitts in 2021 drafts. Towers, who also subscribes to the elite TE strategy for 2021 drafts, perfectly illustrated the value in the haves and have-nots at TE during the 2020 season:
"The gap between Waller (16.9 PPR points per game) and the No. 12 TE (Dallas Goedert, 10.6 points per game) was bigger than the difference between RB5 (Aaron Jones) and RB30," Towers wrote. "It was bigger than the difference between D.K. Metcalf (WR6) and Sterling Shepard (WR42). They're the biggest advantage you can find in the sport."
If you miss out on an elite TE, don't burn a mid-round pick trying to find the next breakout.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.