There are times when you notice a seismic shift in the NFL happening before your eyes and it’s obvious when you notice it. A decade ago we noticed the decline of the running back as the NFL started taking on the successful components of the college passing game and transformed itself almost overnight.
That transition remains. Through 15 games of the season, only five running backs have rushed for 1,000 or more yards, while 14 players have more than 1,000 receiving yards. The balance of power in fantasy football remains with running backs, but primarily because they’ve become a scarce commodity, not the big scorers of fantasy football. When you have a true featured back, his value skyrockets because of the rarity of those breeds.
What 2020 has taught us is that there is a youth movement shift at the quarterback position that is pronounced, as the runner/passer has become the new big thing. Until three years ago, Cam Newton was the trailblazer who cut against the grain, providing more fantasy value with his legs than him arm. Patrick Mahomes may have defined the switch, but he is not alone. Lamar Jackson followed suit and you have similar skill sets in younger players like Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts – all of whom came into their own in 2020 as the future of the position for their respective organizations.
When you throw in other young emerging quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and the anticipated arrival of Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, the transformation is more than simply beginning. It’s here and there’s no reason to think it will let up any time soon.
For Week 17, our Fantasy Market Report will focus on the players whose stock will be the most improved heading into 2021 – good and bad – and how their draft stock will change from this year to next year.
Fantasy Football Risers
Stefon Diggs, WR, Bills
Viewed as little more than a WR2 at best in most leagues, Diggs’ talent was never in question, but he was seen as a malcontent who forced the hand of the Vikings to trade him. All he has done in Buffalo is lead the league in receptions (120), catch six or more passes in 14 of 15 games and post seven 100-yard games, including each of the last three when Buffalo needed them most. The only question heading into next year is how high will he go?
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
I remember shaking my head at fantasy rankings last summer that had Rodgers ranked below guys like Daniel Jones. Sure, he was coming off a sub-par 2019 season and the Packers front office did nothing to help him out (other than drafting his eventual replacement), but, in the second year of the new offensive system, Rodgers is having the best season of his illustrious career. He has thrown for 4,000 yards with 44 touchdowns and three rushing TDs. He has accounted for two or more touchdowns in 14 of 15 games, with three or more in 12 of those. The question heading in 2021 is how much carryover will there be because reigning MVPs rarely go unnoticed the following year.
Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings
When Minnesota traded Diggs, Jefferson was viewed as merely his replacement. He didn’t go in the initial flurry of receivers that saw Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor come off the board. He was viewed as a consolation prize. But, nobody is looking at it that way now. After playing limited snaps in his first two games, over the last 13 Jefferson has posted eight games with 85 or more receiving yards and has scored seven touchdowns. In the process, he broke the organization’s rookie record for receptions and yards, which is saying something considering those records were previously held by Randy Moss. In what was regarded as the deepest wide receiver draft in league history, Jefferson has emerged as the biggest star of them all.
Tom Brady, QB, Buccaneers
People have been predicting that Brady would hit the age wall for three or four years now and all his does is keep defying the odds. In 15 games as a Buccaneer, he has thrown for 275 or more yards eight times and has two or more TD passes in 11 of them, including each of the last six. He’s not going to give you a lot on the ground, although he scored three rushing touchdowns, but he is surrounded by an all-star team of receivers and won’t be viewed as a QB2 next season despite turning 44 in 2021.
James Robinson, RB, Jaguars
In a year when 1,000 yard rushers have been hard to come by, Robinson has hit that mark in 13 games, despite topping 100 yards just three times. He has been steady, scoring 10 touchdowns along the way. When the team abruptly cut Leonard Fournette, Robinson wasn’t viewed as the top candidate to replace him initially and was plucked off the waiver wire by most owners who ended up with him. Don’t expect that to happen again this year, because he has proved capable of being a three-down back and Trevor Lawrence is going to need him to take the heat off him in his rookie season.
Fantasy Football Fallers
Cam Newton, QB, Patriots
An abject failure in New England, Newton’s 12 rushing touchdowns couldn’t make up for the fact that he played in 14 games and had just five TD passes – a total some quarterbacks have posted in a single game. In his last 10 games, he has fewer than 125 passing yards in six of them and never seemed to catch on the Bill Belichick’s offensive scheme. This may be the end of the line for Newton because any coach or G.M. who looks at his game film can only be sickened by what he sees.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
In the five games he played with Dak Prescott, it was the Zeke was have come to remember. He rushed for five touchdowns, was catching passes and looking like a first-round fantasy draft pick. In the nine games he has played without Prescott, he has no rushing touchdowns, has topped 100 yards just twice and rushed for 63 or fewer yards in six of those games. Injuries played a role in his lack of production, but he was on the field almost every week and was a disappointment in almost every game for those who were counting on him as their crown jewel of their fantasy roster.
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Injuries happen and Thomas went down in Week 1, crippling those fantasy teams that made him the first receiver to come off the board. But, it was what he didn’t do when he was in fantasy lineups that was so troubling. In the seven games he played, he didn’t score a touchdown and 50 or fewer receiving yards in four of the five games he played with Drew Brees at QB. He was the No. 1 guy on most boards last year. It’s safe to say he won’t be in 2021.
Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
Wentz was viewed as being prepared for a breakout season with the Eagles. Instead, he became a turnover machine who never had more than two touchdown passes in any game, threw for less than 250 yards in nine of the 11 games he started before being benched and had almost as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes (16). Saddled with a huge contract and the Eagles seemingly willing to move on with Jalen Hurts, Wentz seems like a man without a team heading into 2021 and his future is more cloudy than sunny.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams
It’s hard to put a guy with so many receptions on this list, but, in many rankings, Kupp was ranked ahead of guys like DK Metcalf and Stefon Diggs and produced next to nothing in terms of the big breakout games he was known for earlier in his career. He had just one touchdown in his last 11 games and was held to 70 or fewer receiving yards in nine of his last 12 games. For a receiver with such potent ability, he became a roster liability and may never be taken in front of guys like Metcalf or Diggs again.