Today is an important day, you might have heard, and I’m not going to try to downplay that. But I do know that distractions can be very important, and I’m going to try to provide that today with a fun column.
We’re midway through a 2020 NFL season that we never knew for sure would get to this place. And “midway” is projecting out the season if it plays as scheduled, so it could always be less. For fantasy football, we’re midway through the entire thing, counting playoffs, and your regular season may have as little as four weeks left if you play in certain high-stakes leagues.
You know if you have a chance to take down your title by now, and if not, you know who’s to blame.
Given this line of demarcation, I thought it would be fun to hold a little poll of my own with an extremely narrow electorate: one vote, mine. There’s nothing creative about a midseason awards article, but they’re fun, they’re a distraction, and it allows us to look back on what has been a two months we should all be thankful for — the NFL is the ultimate distraction after all, and fantasy is a stellar hobby toward which we can refocus our brainpower.
I had fun writing this — if you have comments or want to debate some of my awards, give me a holler on our premium Discord channel or on Twitter.
Fantasy MVP: Alvin Kamara (RB, NO)
The most important award was the easiest one for me to give out. Kamara is certainly the beneficiary of some misfortune at the top of draft boards — Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Ezekiel Elliott were the three players generally going ahead of him. CMC missed six games, Saquon tore his ACL, and Zeke is in a black hole in Dallas (part of which is his fault, given his fumbling woes).
But even if all three were healthy and on teams at full strength around them, it’s hard to imagine any of them outpacing Kamara this year. Kamara’s 28.0 PPR FPG are obviously #1 among RBs, but by a thinner margin than you might think over Dalvin Cook (27.2). However, Kamara’s health and massive floor give him the edge. That PPR floor comes from his absurd reception total — 55 in seven games thus far. He’s on pace to catch 126 passes, which is 10 more than McCaffrey had last season (the NFL record). Kamara’s 10.1 YPR and 5.0 YPC are also the second-best totals of his career, to his rookie season in 2017 (when he split the backfield with Mark Ingram). At this rate, he will top 81 receptions — the total he’s hit exactly in each of his first three NFL seasons — in his 11th game.
The Saints’ offense hasn’t been the well-oiled machine we’ve anticipated (largely because of Michael Thomas’ injury), but Kamara has been the engine that makes it go. I know the “RBs Don’t Matter” evidence is overwhelming in a lot of respects, but it’s hard to imagine the Saints having this much success if Kamara were out or banged up, as was the case last year. Your fantasy teams would clearly be in worse shape.
RUNNER UP: Dalvin Cook (RB, Min)
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: James Robinson (RB, Jax)
I went on the record as saying I loved this rookie RB class for fantasy, but it’s been slow going for most — Jonathan Taylor and Cam Akers can’t shake a three-man rotation, D’Andre Swift can’t shake his coaching staff, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire had the unexpected wrench of Le’Veon Bell thrown into the mix in Kansas City.
So that leaves one rookie RB who has produced as an RB1 — the undrafted Robinson from Illinois State.
Robinson’s 19.2 FPG rank him 6th among all backs in PPR. The five above him (Kamara, McCaffrey, Cook, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry) all carried either 1st or 2nd-round ADPs. So the fantasy community did a great job identifying the RBs who would carry teams this year, overall, but Robinson is having a historic campaign. He’s already broken multiple records for UDFA performance this early in his career, overtaking what guys like Phillip Lindsay and Austin Ekeler have done.
But he’s also become the first Jay Gruden back ever to be a true three-down bell cow. Presuming Robinson finishes the season as Jacksonville’s leading rusher, his 27 catches are already the most by the leading rusher in a Gruden offense. And again, that’s if he doesn’t catch a pass the rest of the season! (Gruden’s leading rushers have averaged 15.4 receptions per season in his time as a head coach or offensive coordinator.)
Inasmuch as Alvin Kamara is showing that yes, running backs can and do matter, Robinson is the screaming example of the opposite being true in many instances. Every year, I remind readers and listeners in August that there will be a fantasy-relevant RB whom you’ve never heard of and/or we aren’t talking about. There have been multiple this year, but Robinson’s success is something we’ve never seen, and the fact that he’s doing it on a bad Jaguars team is all the more remarkable.
Runner Up: Justin Herbert (QB, LAC)
Comeback Fantasy Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB)
In our annual Players to Avoid article in August, here’s what we wrote about Rodgers.
The case to be made for drafting Rodgers at his QB14 ADP, six spots ahead of where we have him ranked, isn’t a terribly strong one. At least as far as we can deduce, it’s merely anecdotal — “Rodgers will be pissed off at the Packers for drafting Jordan Love in the first round, and he’ll have an ‘F.U.,’ MVP-level season with his middle fingers raised at the GM’s suite.”
Uh, yeah, about that…
The fact was this — After Rodgers finished as the overall #1 QB in fantasy points per game in the 2016 season, he declined each year — 6th in 2017, 10th in 2018, and 15th in 2019. But despite WR Davante Adams being his only consistent receiving threat, Rodgers currently ranks 7th among QBs in FPG, and one of the guys in front of him, Dak Prescott, is out for the season. So not only was Rodgers not overvalued, he turned out to be a screaming value, and a big miss on our part.
Rodgers is indeed having that “F.U.” season, and it has been fun to watch, especially since he’s scraping it together with riff-raff outside of Adams. In fact, despite a couple of stumbles (a bad game against the Bucs and a weird loss to the Vikings in Week 8), Rodgers is firmly in that MVP conversation.
We remain adamant that Rodgers’ play was slipping, both statistically and on film, the last number of years. His 2020 campaign is a stark reminder that it isn’t particularly wise to throw a massive bet against all-time greats.
Runner Up: Rob Gronkowski (TE, TB)
Waiver Wire Pickup of the Year: Travis Fulgham (WR, Phi)
The Eagles were bound to have some fortune at WR at some point. Following their run to the Super Bowl title in 2017 — when Alshon Jeffery played through a torn rotator cuff all season — they have had abominable luck (and arguably worse decision-making) at that spot.
Jeffery has had multiple injuries, to that shoulder and then to his foot. Mike Wallace, brought in to replace Torrey Smith in 2018, played two games for the Eagles, never caught a pass in green, got hurt, and never played a game in the league again. DeSean Jackson, brought in to replace Wallace, has played seven games in two seasons. Meanwhile, the Eagles used a second-round pick in 2019 on JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who has 12 catches for 214 yards and a TD in two NFL seasons. DK Metcalf, taken seven picks after Arcega-Whiteside, has 12 catches for 161 yards and 2 TD in his last game alone. Rookie Jalen Reagor, a promising talent, missed five games with a torn thumb ligament.
A lot of the Eagles’ wounds at WR are self-inflicted, with an over-reliance on aging veterans to extend their Super Bowl window. One mistake, the JJAW disaster, was an absolute failure of scouting.
But if we’re going to lambast GM Howie Roseman for what he got wrong, give him credit for plucking Fulgham off the waiver wire, where two WR-needy teams — the Lions and Packers — decided to put him this year. Simply put, Fulgham has shown the traits to be the successor to Jeffery as Philly’s big-bodied X, the role Arcega-Whiteside was supposed to play.
Fulgham has played five games for Philly — he’s finished as a top-24 WR in three of them, and a top-36 WR in all of them. That includes one top-five WR finish and two top-12 finishes. Since his debut, his 96.5 PPR FP are #1 among all wide receivers. His 435 receiving yards over that span lead all players. And remember, this is with QB Carson Wentz having a bizarre season, playing like he’s actively trying to turn the ball over.
In a bizarre year for the NFC East, Philly might have found its most bizarre star. And that star is a weekly fixture in fantasy lineups until proven otherwise.
Runner Up: Mike Davis (RB, Car)
Bust of the Year: Lamar Jackson (QB, Bal)
Note that I am not including injured players in this “award.” Yes, Saquon Barkley has killed your fantasy teams far more than Jackson has, but that was for reasons outside of his play.
As we speak, Lamar is QB12 in fantasy points per game. That is, by definition, a QB1 in a 12-team league. So how could he possibly be the winner of this award when guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Jonathan Taylor are crippling teams? It’s simple — drafting Lamar with a second-round pick was poor process that is now reaping what it deserves.
You drafted Lamar to be an every-week difference-maker where we know every-week difference makers are easier to find than at any other position. In seven games this year, he has finished as a top-5 weekly QB just twice, a top-14 QB just twice more, and outside the top 16 at the position three times. He has just three games as a top-12 QB, behind 13 other QBs and tied with five more.
Among the QBs who have more top-12 finishes than Lamar are Justin Herbert and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who likely weren’t even drafted in your average league, and Cam Newton, whom the entire world is declaring as cooked. Carson Wentz, who looks like he’s playing the game with the explicit goal of turning the ball over, has four top-12 finishes. Among those who are tied with Lamar with three top-12 finishes are Kirk Cousins, Gardner Minshew, and Dak Prescott (Prescott finished only four games before injury). All of the players ahead or tied with Jackson — with the exception of Patrick Mahomes — were available at least 30 picks after Jackson was drafted in August.
There are multiple reasons for this — the Ravens’ line has been a problem spot relative to what it was last year, and Lamar simply isn’t throwing the ball well. But it’s more of a bigger-picture issue that we come across every season. We’re told every year someone else is the exception to the rule, and every year we’re proven correct. Lamar is one of the main reasons the QB position is changing in the NFL, especially in how it’s coached. But we need way more evidence to suggest that we should change the way we draft the position for fantasy.
Runner Up: Mike Evans (WR, TB)