The Biggest Fantasy Breakouts: 2020 Edition

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Patrick Yen

Just a guy trying to make a living doing what he loves, writing about sports. Eagles and 76er's fan, but currently live in Ohio so I have a soft spot for those teams. The Ohio State University graduate, Go Bucks! Come chat, always willing to talk sport, video games or my current love, Masterchef Australia!

This terrible year is almost over, and thank goodness for that. The fantasy football finals are upon us for some lucky souls, but the rest of us are already planning for next year. One way to make a deep run is to find the sleepers and the breakouts. In a reverse of my last article, I’ll be running through some of the biggest breakout stars this year and how likely it is for them to repeat. After all, these players will have massive premiums on them now, and you need to know if they are worth it.

(Ranking data taken from FantasyPros.com, using their composite ADP rankings and PPR scoring.)

Quarterback

Josh Allen: ADP 88, QB 10. Actual QB 3, PPG QB 3

(7 games played to qualify on a per game basis. Data taken from weeks 1-15.)

After two solid seasons, Josh Allen had a Lamar Jackson-esque breakout in year three. Allen has made unbelievable strides as a passer. He’s gone from 10 to 20 to 30 touchdowns, and from 52.8 to 58.8 to 68.7% completion percentage. He’s also up 1000 yards from last year. Allen managed to keep a fairly similar rushing production as well. He’s averaging just four less yards per game from 2019, and is on pace for essentially the same touchdowns. Stefon Diggs has no doubt been a massive part of Allen’s numbers (they are the first Bills QB-WR duo to make the pro bowl since 2002), but it’s clear that Allen has improved overall. The accuracy change in particular is startling, but his 2019-2020 jump isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Jackson increased his percentage eight percent, Deshaun Watson seven percent, Jared Goff eight percent, etc.

How will Allen fare in 2021?

Unlike Jackson however, Allen’s touchdown percentage isn’t an absurd number. It’s just 5.9%, a good but repeatable number. This bodes well for his production going forward. Allen has also now had three straight years with at least eight rushing touchdowns. Diggs will be on the team again, and Gabriel Davis has had a solid rookie year and a healthier John Brown will continue to provide a good receiving corps for him next year. Everything about Allen’s performance suggests it can be repeated.

The one caveat was Allen’s middle of the season. Between weeks five through eight Allen struggled against not-so-great defenses on the whole. However, he bounced back significantly afterwards, so I don’t think there’s cause for concern. His completion percentage may dip as his 10% increase in one year is a little bit out of the normal standard deviation, but average completion percentage is going higher every year and even a 2-3% drop would still put him in the QB five range.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Tannehill. ADP 150, QB 19. Actual QB 7, PPG QB 9.
Justin Herbert. ADP: Undrafted, QB 49. Actual QB 9, PPG QB 8.
While both these QB’s made way bigger jumps, they were still back half of start-able QB’s in a standard 12 team league, and probably won’t garner attention in the first 3-4 rounds of a draft like Allen might.

Running Back

James Robinson: ADP Undrafted. RB 63. Actual RB 4. PPG RB 5

Robinson may have only got his shot because of a rash of injuries and COVID, but he did the most with his opportunity. He’s third in rushing yards and fourth in yards from scrimmage. He’s also going to finish his year with ten total touchdowns on a team that only scored 33 total. He grabbed that starting job and no one else on the team threatened it at all, and he also got basically all the passing work, which was a surprise. He ended up the best value pick of 2020 by far, a breakout star that catapulted many to the finals.

How will Robinson fare in 2021?

Robinson is someone I would avoid if I’m drafting. He’s likely going to cost at least a 2nd round pick given his performance this year, and his bust potential is a lot higher than anyone else in the area. A couple things are troubling. He’s tied 20th amongst RB’s with a lot of players on yards per attempt, with just 4.5. He’s 21st amongst RB’s in yards per reception, 18th per target. The efficiency just isn’t there to justify that high of a pick. His touches are, as he’s third in touches. Will that continue? It’s hard to say. On one hand they gave him everything even when other options were available.

But if the Jaguars draft a running back, it would not be a shock to see him lose the job, or at the very least see his touches go down immensely. There is some precedent. Zac Stacy and Tre Mason of the Rams were starting running backs with bad to middling efficiencies and were replaced. Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Morris, Broncos RB’s in general… the list goes on and on. It’s no guarantee with Robinson, but I’d pay very close attention to any pickups the Jags make in the offseason.

The effect of projected new QB Trevor Lawrence is also interesting. If Lawrence was as good as advertised, it might take pressure off Robinson and give him space. On the flip side, they may also rely on Robinson a lot less.

David Montgomery: ADP 66, RB 28. Actual RB 6. PPG T7.

Montgomery left it till late, but if you had him on your team and you made the playoffs, you’re in your championship. After coming back from an injury and a bye in weeks 10 and 11, Montgomery has been the best RB in fantasy. In the past four games he’s averaged 26.5 points per contest, punching in six TD’s and averaging 6.11 yards per carry. Before that though, Montgomery was not amazing. He was RB 21 (24 in PPG) in weeks 1-11, just on the border of RB 2.

What was the difference? In week 10 of this season, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties. Montgomery didn’t play in that game and the Bears were dreadful. But after the week 11 bye, Montgomery thrived under Lazor. Does this mean this is the new Montgomery? The improvement seems to be too much to infer it’s all on the coordinator. Jumping from 3.6 YPC to 6.11 is an absurd difference. And while Montgomery is averaging around three more carries per game under Lazor, that’s nearly all due to his week 16 game where he got 32 carries, a complete outlier. Take out his highest carry games pre-Lazor and post-Lazor, and he’s actually averaging less carries under the new play-caller. Perhaps Lazor really is just that good at calling plays. After all, even Trubisky has looked quite solid under the new scheme.

How will Montgomery fare in 2021?

This one is really tough. On one hand, we have a season and half worth of data that shows Montgomery as ineffective. His rookie year he was given 242 rushes, and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on them, without offering much of anything as a receiver. Weeks 1-11 of this year were much the same. He averaged 3.6 yards per carry and although he was slightly more useful as a pass catcher, he only got into the end zone twice in the nine games he played.

Another factor to take into account are the defenses that Montgomery has played over his strong stretch. Every single game he’s played with Lazor as his play-caller has come against a bottom ten defense in points allowed to running backs, including No. 1,2,5 and 10. And he plays Jacksonville this week, the No. 3 worst defense. He’s also scored at an insane clip in the past four weeks, 1.5 touchdowns per game, which he probably won’t come close to replicating over the course of a whole season. 1.5 touchdowns per game for 15 games is 22.5 total touchdowns. That’s a top ten all time season.

Who’s the real Montgomery? Has Bill Lazor turned Montgomery into the stud the Bear’s thought they were drafting in 2019, worthy of RB one consideration? Or has Montgomery’s run been fueled by dreadful defenses (to be fair, the No. 1,5 and 10 defenses he played are in his division) and touchdown luck? I’m leaning towards the latter. If Montgomery is going to cost you a top 24 pick, I’m staying away.

Honorable Mention: Antonio Gibson. ADP 106, RB 39. Actual RB 12, PPG RB 11

Wide Receivers

Calvin Ridley: ADP 44, WR 18. Actual WR 6, PPG WR 4

There were a billion breakout wide receivers that could’ve easily made the list, but I picked Ridley because he has a more interesting case than someone like Metcalf or Justin Jefferson. If you’re wondering about those guys, don’t. Draft them high.

Ridley has been on the cusp of a breakout for a while now. He’s always been a TD machine next to Julio, but really stepped up the yards this year. Ridley’s got 1,192 yards on the season, which should land him in the top ten despite missing two games. He’s also kept his touchdown numbers with nine in just 13 games and has the potential to hit double digits again. We already knew Ridley was good, but he jumped into the top tier of WR this year.

How will Ridley fare in 2021?

This should seem like a no-brainer right? But there is some trouble looming on the horizon. His talent and production are not in question. But as Matthew Berry says you need talent and opportunity, and there is reason to doubt some opportunity for Ridley. He played five games without Julio Jones in 2020. He averaged 25.2 points per game. In his eight games with Jones he averaged 18.6. Depending on whether you count the Green Bay game as a game with Jones (who did play but only played 15 snaps on offense) changes the averages dramatically. We can remove that game entirely (Ridley also had his lowest snap count of the season that game) and it goes 25.2 without and 21.2 with. Targets (11.6 without Julio and 8.2 with) and yardage (116.6 without and 87 with) spike without Julio while touchdown rate goes down (.6 without to .85 with).

Essentially, Ridley with Julio is what he was his first two years in the league. Average yardage and catches but a ton of touchdowns. But without Julio he’s the best fantasy WR in the league. The problem is in 2021’s draft you’re likely to be paying for the latter rather than the former. Ridley was WR 22 in 2018 and 2019. When he’s with Julio he’s much closer to that than the WR six he’s been this year. Ridley will probably be drafted like a top ten WR in 2021, and if Julio is playing it is hard to see him actually retaining that value.

In addition to all of that the Falcons are pretty clearly a team in flux. How much does Matt Ryan have in the tank, and how much longer will the Falcons hold on to him are questions that grow louder each day. That uncertainty is something you can’t afford when using a precious 1st or 2nd round pick.

Brandon Aiyuk: ADP Undrafted, WR 64. Actual WR 29, PPG WR 13

Aiyuk is yet another breakout rookie WR, and he’s done it with a revolving door at QB for the injury-ridden 49ers. He himself missed three games due to various injuries, but when he plays he has been great as evidenced by his PPG ranking of 13, a near WR one. Hes rushed for two TD’s and caught five, showing playmaking ability through the air and on the ground. And once again, he’s only a rookie! WR’s often breakout in year two or three, which bodes well for the young man. After a slow start which makes sense for a first year player, he’s been on fire.

From week 2-6 (he missed his first game) Aiyuk was a bit part of the 49ers offense, with just 25 targets and 14 receptions to his name. However starting from week seven he’s been nigh unstoppable, averaging double digit targets and 94.7 yards per contest. He was WR three over that span. If this is Brandon Aiyuk once integrated into the offense, then watch out.

How will Aiyuk fare in 2021?

Remember when I said the 49er’s have been injury ridden? Therein lies the problem with Aiyuk. Deebo Samuel the presumed 49ers No. 1 WR missed half the season. George Kittle, the true lead pass catcher on the team also missed most of the year. If both those guys come back and play a whole year with Aiyuk, does he slide down to the third most targeted player on the team instead of first by a mile? What happens when the 49er’s run game gets properly healthy? The 49ers also had to play catchup much more than they would like to. If they have a fully healthy squad and are leading, will that also cut into Aiyuk’s opportunities? Finally, Aiyuk showed the best rapport with Mullens. If Garoppolo regains his starting job does Aiyuk’s production also drop?

Point is, there is a lot of uncertainty with Aiyuk and his role going forward. He’s shown a lot of ability, but can you risk a high draft pick on him? The 19th wide receiver in 2020 was taken pick 46, late round four in a 12 team league. If Aiyuk is going to cost you a 4th or 5th round pick, that’s a bit too rich for my blood for a player that may see a dramatic decrease in targets.

Honorable Mentions:
Cole Beasley. ADP undrafted, WR 68. Actual WR 16, PPG WR 20.
Robby Anderson. ADP 121, WR 49. Actual WR PPG 18 WR 24.
Will Fuller. ADP 75, WR 34. Actual WR 22, PPG WR 9

Tight End

Robert Tonyan: ADP Undrafted, TE 66. Actual TE 3, PPG TE T4

Tonyan has been a touchdown machine for Rodgers and Green Bay. He’s scored ten on the year, tied with Kelce for the lead amongst tight ends. His yards haven’t been there quite so consistently, only going for 50 or more four times, but the tight end isn’t generally a high yardage position anyways.

Tonyan proved he can still score even with Davante Adams in the lineup, a major question mark when Tonyan had his break out, scoring a touchdown in the past five games. He’s clearly earned Rodgers trust down in the end zone, and a trusted receiver on Green Bay means fantasy money.

How will Tonyan fare in 2021?

Rodgers and tight ends have a tumultuous relationship. Every time you think a tight end will finally produce steady results for one of the greatest QB’s of all time they just…don’t. In Rodgers 13 years as a starter he’s really only had a usable TE maybe four times. Jermichael Finley in 2009 and 2011, Richard Rodgers in 2015 and Tonyan this year. TE just doesn’t seem to be a position Rodgers reliably goes to in his career. Maybe things change with Tonyan, and the touchdowns over the course of the season are encouraging. Like I said, Tonyan has the most touchdowns by a Packers tight end in Rodger’s career.

The question really comes down to where are you going to draft Tonyan realistically? Kelce, Waller and Kittle are absolute locks over Tonyan. Andrews and Hockenson are likely as well. Tonyan probably falls around TE 6-10 which puts him in the late 70’s overall. If tight end is something you value, then that seems decent for him anyways. He has bust potential based on the fact that GB tight ends haven’t been consistent, but his upside as a trusted Rodgers end zone target is very high. At the very least you know the QB play will be good for Tonyan, not something you can say for many TE’s drafted higher.

Honorable Mention: T.J. Hockenson. ADP 130, TE 14. Actual TE 4, PPG TE T4
Dallas Goedert. ADP 146, TE 17. Actual TE 18, PPG TE 6

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Episode 116