Every year there are a handful of players that can elevate a fantasy team to the championship or sink them to the depths of the standings. All players are unique in their skill sets, team context, and career trajectory but some profiles do line up.
As we get into draft season, we’re all searching for value. However value alone rarely wins fantasy championships! What is needed is a shooting star who not only outperforms their ADP but gives elite fantasy production even in a vacuum. To put it simply, outliers win titles. So while I frequently don’t plan on unsustainable efficiency when selecting players, I understand that we should pick guys who have a path to explode.
So who will be this year’s all NEXT team?
Lamar Jackson – young quarterback who becomes a weekly star
Joe Burrow – ADP QB18, 166 overall
To be honest, there is no one like Jackson. Not only is his running talent unmatched, there is also no offense that will sell out their scheme to support his game the way the Ravens have. However Burrow will walk into an offense with a good supporting cast and a bad defense. He had the most efficient college season ever and that bodes well for a quick transition to the NFL. Burrow is likely to challenge Baker Mayfield’s rookie touchdown record and can chip in 20 yards on the ground every week which adds up.
Miles Sanders – rookie RB who starts slow but will finish carrying teams in the playoffs
Cam Akers – ADP RB27, 87 overall
There are many exciting backs in the 2020 class, but Akers earns this comp because I believe his trajectory could be the closest to Sanders. Similar to the Philly sophomore, Akers was drafted into an uninspiring and unclear RB depth chart. I would not be surprised if the Rams mix and match their talents to see who excels in what role early on. As a junior at Florida State, Akers accounted for 11% of the team receptions and 16% of the receiving touchdowns. Those are tremendous numbers for a running back, implying he can be an excellent contributor in the passing game. While the rushing attempts may be split, the only back on the roster who can be a weapon through the air is Cam Akers. Like Sanders I can see him with a role that includes 10 attempts + 3 receptions immediately. Should he prove worthy, a workhorse role is possible by the stretch run.
Austin Ekeler – multi-dimensional back thrust into feature role due to holdout
Gio Bernard – ADP RB74, 253 overall
The former UNC product has spent his entire career as a backup but has shined when given starter’s touches. He has had a role in the passing game even when not the featured runner, much like Ekeler. Joe Mixon already hinted at a hold out as many backs do before their rookie contract is up. When Mixon’s has been forced to miss time over the last 3 years Gio has averaged about a 16-70-1 rushing line while chipping in 5-30 as a receiver. That’s a season long pace of 1600 total yards and 16 touchdowns. Obviously that would be the extreme perfect scenario, but it’s in the range of outcomes should Mixon hold out.
Chris Godwin – considered his team’s WR2 but rises to alpha status
Robert Woods – ADP WR24, 49 overall
These receivers are not quite as cheap as the other players on this list, but major upside is still present. Godwin entered 2019 as the second fiddle to Mike Evans, a former first round pick who had exceeded 1000 yards in each of his first 5 seasons. While there was excitement for Godwin, it was hard to see him overtaking such an established starter and yet he did. Robert Woods has been trailing his teammates in fantasy relevance ever since joining the Rams, mostly due to bad touchdown luck. He has earned almost 150 opportunities each of the last 2 seasons and now Brandin Cooks is a Texan. Last year he was the WR14 in points per game while scoring only 3 touchdowns. Should Woods fall into the endzone a bit more, he could make his way into the top 5 WRs in points per game.
A. J. Brown – rookie WR drafted into an unfavorable situation but produces anyway
Laviksa Shenault Jr. – ADP WR78, 233 overall
Once thought of as the head of the 2019 class, Brown tumbled down draft boards after landing in Tennessee. The Titans’ run heavy approach and the presence of former first round pick Corey Davis deflated any excitement the fantasy community had for AJB. We all know how that went for those that faded him. This year we saw a similar turn of events with Shenault, although post-combine core surgery also played a factor. Despite D. J. Chark’s 2019 breakout, Jacksonville is still in need of playmakers. The multi-talented receiver can spell Fournette out of the backfield, mimic a tight end in some formations, and also play a traditional WR role. Gardener Minshew’s average depth of target was on the lower end at 7.1 and Shenault should thrive in that area of the field. I think the Jaguars will find ways to give him 5-7 touches early on and that is all he should need to showcase his explosive potential.
D. J. Chark – sophomore WR left for dead who becomes a weekly fantasy starter
J. J. Arcega-Whiteside – ADP WR100, 297 overall
Speaking of Chark, there is another WR who shouldn’t be counted out completely after an ugly rookie season. Both these players were selected in the second round of the NFL draft and did basically nothing in their first year. One thing draft capital will do is buy you a few extra chances. The Philadelphia WR room is still thin and may experience more attrition before the season starts, leaving JJAW as a featured target. In some ways, his situation is even more promising than Chark’s because Carson Wentz is a quality QB and the offense as a whole should be more productive than Jacksonville’s. I believe JJAW can be a chain moving possession WR and an asset in the end zone. He’s a free lottery ticket now and hopefully he makes the jump like Chark did.
Mark Andrews – efficient TE with a path to increased volume
Jonnu Smith – ADP TE17, 157 overall
As a rookie Andrews showed incredible efficiency, earning 16.2 yards per reception on 34 receptions and a 68% catch rate on 50 targets. It was clear that if given a bigger role, he could flourish. I called him the next George Kittle prior to 2019. Now it’s Jonnu’s time to shine. He is an athletic freak who will be a first time starter in 2020. Like Andrews in 2018, Smith was second in yards per reception for TEs in 2019 and boasts a fantastic catch rate of about 80%. And now he’s due for a target bump. With Delanie Walker gone, A. J. Brown dominating the coverage and Corey Davis fading into obscurity there is a chance Jonnu will be second on the team in targets. If that happens, with his knack for big plays, look for Smith to break out.
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