A question we get a lot as fantasy football analysts is who is this year’s ___? Whether it’s a late-round tight end who broke through as a weekly starter or a running back who gained surprise relevance down the stretch of the season, all fantasy players would love to replicate the previous success that they or their league-mates enjoyed. After all, identifying values and gaps in the market is how we succeed as fantasy football players. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest success stories of the 2020 season and players who could replicate that narrative this season.
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Who is this year’s Josh Allen? Justin Herbert
Josh Allen was a consistent QB1 for fantasy football prior to last year thanks to his rushing production and talented deep ball, but we didn’t expect him to have the upside to finish as the QB1 overall. The addition of Stefon Diggs was massive and Allen improved his game in several ways in Year 3. We’re looking for a young quarterback here who was a solid QB1 last season but could make the leap and become the top scorer at the position like Allen did last year.
My vote is for Justin Herbert who will be more confident as he enters his second season in the NFL. The Chargers’ offense is loaded with weapons in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler featuring as pass-catchers. The offensive line is also much improved after the additions of veterans Matt Feiler and All-Pro center Corey Linsley as well as first-round pick Rashawn Slater. Herbert challenging for the league lead in touchdown passes may not be totally outside of the realm of potential outcomes and in the fifth or sixth round in most fantasy drafts, he provides league-winning upside at the quarterback position.
Who is this year’s David Montgomery? Ronald Jones
Before last season, you could have drafted David Montgomery in the fifth or sixth round in most leagues as he suffered a groin injury in training camp and was met with a lack of excitement from fantasy football players as he was on a Bears offense that scored the fourth-fewest points in the NFL in 2019. Montgomery finished as the RB4 in half-PPR scoring and was a crucial part of many fantasy football championship rosters last year. That was especially true as he feasted on a light end-of-season schedule.
Ronald Jones is not a player most fantasy managers are excited to draft, but the USC product has legitimate RB1 upside for this season. RoJo may not be a high-level pass catcher, but the Buccaneers play in a ton of positive game scripts with Tom Brady at the helm. Additionally, Jones is a strong red-zone rusher with a career 63% TD rate inside the five-yard line compared to 50% for Leonard Fournette. 10+ touchdowns isn’t completely out of the question for Jones over a 17-game season and you can currently draft him in the sixth or seventh round in most leagues. He also faces a great schedule to close the season with the Falcons, Bills, Saints, Jets, and Panthers (twice) on the docket to end the year.
Who is this year’s James Robinson? Javian Hawkins
James Robinson came from out of nowhere last season as an undrafted free agent to take 240 carries for 1,070 yards and 7 touchdowns in 14 games. He finished as the RB7 in half-PPR scoring despite only playing in 14 games and his production was especially impressive on a Jaguars team that endured a lot of turmoil at the quarterback position. Finding another UDFA who can replicate that performance is no easy feat, but there are plenty of reasons to like Javian Hawkins this season.
I was surprised when Hawkins didn’t hear his name called in the draft as Louisville’s product has game-breaking acceleration and is a big play waiting to happen. Opposing teams will be simply incapable of stacking the box against the Falcons with Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts headlining a stacked receiver group, so whoever is the starting running back for the team should have a ton of value. There are some out there who believe Hawkins is the most talented runner on the roster and I don’t have a ton of confidence in Mike Davis to hold down the starting job all year long. Keep an eye on Hawkins, particularly in dynasty leagues.
Who is this year’s Stefon Diggs? Kenny Golladay
Stefon Diggs was always a talented receiver and a great fantasy weapon, but I’m not sure anyone saw a WR3 overall finish within the realm of possible outcomes. Diggs was simply outstanding last year as he broke through on his new team in the Bills and formed an exciting combination with third-year quarterback Josh Allen. Who is the wide receiver joining a new team who could provide great value in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts? My vote is for Kenny Golladay.
Formerly the top wide receiver for the Lions, Golladay was signed to a sizable 4-year, $72 million contract with the Giants to provide third-year quarterback Daniel Jones with the most talented pass-catcher he’s ever played with. Like the Bills last year, there are those who will voice their concerns over a lack of passing volume holding back the Giants and Golladay from reaping the full rewards on the acquisition. I still have my doubts about Daniel Jones. However, Golladay is the most likely wide receiver to have a breakthrough season with a new team like Diggs last year.
Who is this year’s D.K. Metcalf/A.J. Brown? CeeDee Lamb/Brandon Aiyuk
Last year, Metcalf and Brown (former Ole Miss teammates) both broke out in their respective second season in the NFL. Those breakout campaigns emphasized that the second-year breakout is the new third-year breakout. There are a number of talented second-year wide receivers who could fit this mold and breakthrough this season, but the two who stand out the most to me are CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk.
Lamb is reportedly going to be taking snaps all over the field, not just in the slot, for the Cowboys this season, and the injury to Amari Cooper only further bolsters Lamb’s likely massive role in the offense. He’s a polished wide receiver and a great talent who finished as the WR20 in his rookie year despite Dak Prescott missing most of the season. Lamb’s ADP is only going to continue to rise, but I’ll take him and run all day long in the third round.
Brandon Aiyuk is the other guy who I really have my eye on this season. In just 12 games as a rookie, he caught 60 balls for 748 yards and 5 touchdowns. Kyle Shanahan hand-picked Aiyuk to be the true X receiver for this team and he showcased game-breaking agility and change-of-direction ability last year. I currently have Aiyuk as my WR22 in half-PPR leagues, making him a screaming value in the sixth or seventh round.
>Who is this year’s Robert Tonyan? Mo Alie-Cox
It’s very difficult to find a tight end you can trust in your starting fantasy football lineup every week, but Robert Tonyan surprisingly joined that list last season as he caught 52 balls for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns as a top red-zone threat in Aaron Rodgers’s MVP season. Tonyan is a great value at tight end again this year.
The top candidate to replicate that red-zone-heavy, TE1 season from out of nowhere in my estimation is the Colts’ Mo Alie-Cox. At 6’5”, 267 lbs, he’s built more like an old-school linebacker than a modern-day tight end and there are very few secondary defenders who can box him out in the red zone. With Carson Wentz under center, Indianapolis’s offense should look very different in 2021 and Alie-Cox could stand to benefit.