With the 2020 fantasy football season wrapping up in most leagues, it’s time to take a look at what happened this year. Every year we subject ourselves to hundreds of expert opinions and in-depth analysis, yet we are still left clueless as to what will happen. The roller coaster ride we call fantasy is filled with the highest of highs when we dominate our opponent, followed by the lowest of lows when we lose a close match due to our top stars underperforming. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, it is only fantasy football. But we take this thing so seriously that we really are affected by the tragedy of a loss. When that happens, who do we turn to to save our season? In 2020, those players and even positions have differed from previous seasons. Who, and what, surprised us in this fantasy season? Let’s dive in!
Rookie Wide Receivers Are Not Fantasy Starters
Although this this is a commonly held belief, how many times have you seen late round fliers turn out to be league winners? It happens almost every year. The difference is that up until now, RBs were the ones winning your week or year. This year, it’s the WR position that shocked us the most. We had a small taste of this last year when A.J. Brown finished the season with 165.1 standard fantasy points. He was WR9 by the end of the season. Only one other WR finished in the top 25 last season, and that was Terry McLaurin. This season, we have seen the emergence of even more rookies contributing well above expectations. Justin Jefferson, and Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb finished within the top 25 WR ranks, thus dispelling the myth that rookie WRs do not contribute.
What About Rookie Running Backs in Fantasy?
When I said it was the WRs that surprised us the most for this fantasy season, it was not a slight on the rookie RBs. Running Backs just have an easier path to fantasy relevance. Unlike WRs, they are not typically running complex routes, requiring precision timing and synchronization between themselves and the QB. Who were this year’s studs? Un-drafted Jacksonville rookie James Robinson finished as RB4. Antonio Gibson from Washington was drafted in round 3 and finished as RB6. CEH, Jonathan Taylor, and D’Andre Swift also finished in the top 25. Even with an easier path to fantasy relevance, 2019 only had three rookie RBs finish in the top 25. Josh Jacobs finished as the top rookie RB at RB14. Miles Sanders and David Montgomery finished as RB15 and RB22 respectively. Five RBs finishing in the top 25 in 2020, including two in the top ten is a shock to say the least.
Justin Herbert Fantasy Stud or Dud?
As well as the aforementioned WRs and RBs performed, the loudest noise of the season was about Justin Herbert. He took over for Tyrod Taylor in week 2, and by Week 4 everyone was talking about his accuracy and how the game doesn’t look too fast for him. Herbert finished the season as QB8. As much noise as this generated, a top 10 QB has happened before. Last year it was Kyler Murray and in 2018 it was Lamar. The shocking difference between Herbert and the other two is that he did it with his arm as well as his legs. Many running QBs have succeeded year one. Very few QBs have had good statistical rookie seasons through the air. His ability to dissect complex coverage schemes so early on in his career is simply on another level. One more unexpected surprise in 2020.
Winning With Rookies
Here is a starting line up that you easily could have drafted and who have turned into every week starters. For the purposes of this article I have chosen to start my draft with five skill position players whose ADP was round six and up.
QB: Justin Herbert – 21.8 ppg, ADP = 302
RB: Antonio Gibson – 12.6 ppg, ADP = 72
RB: James Robinson – 15.2 ppg, ADP = 165
WR: Justin Jefferson – 12.3 ppg, ADP = 130
WR: Chase Claypool – 10.4 ppg, ADP = 116
Before I continue, you likely noticed that I excluded TE from the list. If you want to know why, please check out the article I wrote about the TE roster spot for fantasy football.
Back to the list. These five rookies alone combined for an average weekly output of just over 72 standard fantasy points per game. I realize that the road was rocky for many of these rookies but combined with your first five picks you have a league winning roster. Not convinced yet? Let’s take the draft a step further. Did you draft Barkley? CMC? Chubb? If you had Robinson or Gibson on your bench, you inserted them into your lineup and got exactly what you hoped for; studs replacing studs. What about Michael Thomas? Davante Adams? Justin Jefferson and Chase Claypool were life savers. Tee Higgins and CeeDee Lamb were solid flex plays later on in the season as well.
How Will This Affect ADP For 2021?
The 2020 rookie class faced extreme disadvantages compared to previous draft classes due to COVID, yet many still had exceptional seasons. The reality is that the ADP for rookie RBs and QBs likely won’t change that much. The biggest question we must ask ourselves is this: Was 2020 just a statistical anomaly with abnormally talented Wide Receivers? Or is the game changing in a manner which will produce more rookie studs early on in their NFL careers? Only time will tell, but given this year’s performance, I’m sure we can expect rookie WRs to see higher average draft positions in 2021.